Joey Berlinger released his blood-curdling documentary Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes on Netflix January 24th. This weekend Berlinger releases his feature film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile in theatres and on Netflix, recounting the horrific story from the point of view of Bundy’s long-suffering girlfriend Elizabeth Kendall. The opening slate quotes Goethe “few people have the imagination for reality” and we are more than aware of that these days. But long before Trump was Bundy an early champ of the art of lying. Zac Efron plays the buff charmer, the chick magnet who dismembered victims as he cut a swath across the US. He fooled or girlfriend Elizabeth Kendall (Lily Collins) allowed herself to be fooled for years; she believed he was innocent despite mounting evidence to the contrary. He confessed to thirty murders before his execution in Florida but officials believe the number is far higher. Kendall’s book The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy look at the singular, powerful denial that held her captive as yet another victim. Haley Joel Osment appears as Elizabeth’s empathetic friend. This is straight to the point, no nonsense, shot with a dash of claustrophobia and wonder that this man even existed. Efron’s transformation indicates the heartthrob of musical TV and film has grown up with a vengeance.
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Dame Judi Dench stars in Red Joan as elderly widow Melita Norwood who lives quietly in a London suburb. One morning she’s startled by an obit on an old government co-worker who is revealed as a Soviet spy. Within moments, MI5 agents arrive to arrest her on 27 charges of treason. She denies everything as her mind races back to Cambridge 1938 and a turbulent romance with a Communist, her close friendship with a Russian woman and her subsequent life choices. It was a time when women were underestimated in fields like physics, but Norwood excelled and was soon recruited to work in an atomic bomb research lab in Montréal. When she learns the destructive energy of nuclear blasts via Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the rising international arms race, she can’t let it pass. Award-winning theatrical director Trevor Nunn’s stories are generally major scale – King Lear, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Cats, Les Misérables, and Porgy and Bess – and this small story feels off. Uneven flashbacks and forth are seriously distracting, the pace is slow and the execution flimsy. Nunn’s trying to make a personal film but underdoes it. For all the real-life Sturm und Drang, it weighs about the same as a marshmallow; too bad considering the story goldmine of the shadowy Cambridge Spy Ring. Co-starring Sophie Cookson who ably plays young Joan, Tom Hughes and Stephen Campbell Moore.
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Another real-life story that suffers in translation is Justin Kelly’s adaptation of Savannah Knoop’s memoir Girl Boy Girl: How I Became JT LeRoy. Known simply as JT LeRoy Kelly follows an author and her “avatar” as they pull off a six-year-long literary scam. Laura Dern is writer and promoter Laura Albert whose phenomenally popular books about JT, a fictional marginalized gay male prostitute take the pop culture world by storm. Kristen Stewart, who plays Albert’s husband’s sister casually agrees to play JT at literary events, but retain a mysterious, unknowable persona so they aren’t detected as frauds. Albert is soon overshadowed by Koop’s appeal as JT as “he” switches from one character and gender to the next. Courtney Love is an actress completely taken in by JT and Diane Kruger a director who uses JT’s popularity for her own ends and takes ownership of his “life story” in a film that premieres at Cannes. Mick’s son James Jagger plays an impressive guitar in a cameo – otherwise, a rather dull tale of cheating nowhere near as interesting as others on literary fraud like Can You Ever Forgive Me, Shattered Glass, Quiz Show, Selling Hitler etc. Shot in Winnipeg and France.
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Season Two of Sarah Richardson: Off the Grid Sundays on HGTV finds the upbeat design superstar and her sidekick Tommy Smythe lending their considerable talents and outrageous sums of money to sprucing up an old Victorian farmhouse in Creemore, Ontario. When I say lots of money, I mean, aspirational money few of us could ever muster. So, count this as simply instruction, ideas and capable of inspiring viewers to pick up a paintbrush. It’s also a powerful platform for Richardson to push new sponsor Wayfair which is – fair. She salvages an historic home, her tips are enlightening, her eye is unerring and her banter with Tommy is always a fun sideshow. It’s what they do, but I can’t shake anxiety watching them throw fortunes at blown out walls, wallpaper and marble (they got a deal on that at least) but conspicuous consumption on this scale is troublesome. I watch and enjoy but with caution.
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Christina Applegate’s fabulous new comedy series Dead to Me on Netflix is a real springtime boost, despite the fact it’s about a Los Angeles widow trying to recover from the recent hit and run murder of her husband. Jen’s bitter sense of humour drives the fun, starting with a chance encounter at a grief group therapy session. Judy played by Linda Cardellini, is also suffering a loss. She challenges Jen’s uptight impatience and anger and over a late-night phone conversation, they realise they’re a good friendship match sharing tragedy and find comforting. Bonding over weed and The Facts of Life they start to revive. However, cracks appear in Judy’s grandiose tales of her sad life, which Jen initially brushes aside. It’s so well written and Cardinelli and Applegate have that essential chemistry – so we want to follow wherever things take them. These are appealing, mysterious and complicated women who win us through humour and keep us through the power of their created characters. And we gals can enjoy a front row view of what unfolds. And it’s a whopper.
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Audible presents Heads Will Roll, a new original series from Saturday Night Live star Kate McKinnon and her co-creator/co-star (and real-life sister) Emily Lynne. It’s a 10-episode, star-studded, audio comedy with Meryl Streep (did I bury the lead?) Tim Gunn, Peter Dinklage, Queer Eye’s Fab Five, and more. McKinnon is Queen Mortuana of the Night Realm and Lynne is her minion JoJo – they receive a prophecy about a peasant uprising and set out to find the “Shard of Acquiescence” to stop it in its tracks. But first, they must deal with “sensitive generals, chatty sex slaves, whiny behemoths, princes with bird fetishes, and the notion of democracy”. Also onboard are Andrea Martin, Carol Kane, Audra McDonald, Bob the Drag Queen and loads more. It’s on, kind Sir. Go to www.audible.ca to join.
Arctic starring Mads Mikkelsen is now available on DVD. It opens a moment after Polar pilot Mikkelsen’s plane crashes in a wind-whipped frozen mountain range. Common sense and barebones supplies keep him going until a small plane comes to his rescue but crashes. He takes the surviving pilot, an immobilised and unconscious woman, leaves the body of her male copilot and begins a horrific trip to a distant polar station. Just one person pulling another on a makeshift sled, a few words and a frozen living hell. Director Joe Penna’s attention to minute detail, his unerring gift for the dramatic build and Mikkelsen’s quiet, stoic heroism make for a screen experience so specific and intimate that you simply can’t look away. I get shivers just thinking about it, partly due to onomatopoeia but mostly tension. Not to be confused with Mikkelsen’s upcoming comic book thriller Polar.
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ON May 7,9 and 14, Toronto’s Goethe Film will celebrate three of Germany’s top filmmakers on the eve of the Cannes Film Festival with a mini-retrospective at TIFF Bell Lightbox. All films will be presented with English subtitles. Producer Maren Ade whose excellent Toni Erdmann was nominated for an Oscar has won 35 awards for her work. Goethe Film presents her bittersweet 2009 domestic comedy Everyone Else, about a couple on enforced holiday “together” time that pits them against one another in order to come out of the trip unscathed and in one piece, emotionally speaking.
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Also screening is A Summer Without Gitti, a director’s cut of material from Everyone Else reconstructing the holiday from the man’s POV.
On May 9 Ulrich Köhler’s 2002 drama Bungalow screens, the story of a 19-year-old who deserts the army and hides in his parents’ home in the middle of nowhere. Tensions escalate when his elder brother returns home with his girlfriend. Conflict arises and before long, the girlfriend becomes the focal point of their rivalry.
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On May 14 the 2001 romance Be My Star follows 14-year-old Nicole, in her final days of school as she ponders the big questions of identity and her life’s path. She meets Christopher and begins an awkward romance, modelled on what they’ve observed in adult behaviour versus what they are actually feeling.
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