Film of the week: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
Cert: 16; Selected cinemas
Joe Berlinger's documentary series The Ted Bundy Tapes offered insight into one of the most depraved serial killers in history. Bundy is a name as ubiquitous in US culture as bin Laden or Escobar, and yet this dramatised follow-up from Berlinger appears to play a sort of game with its audience - "is he/ isn't he".
Bundy's charm was a terrifying hallmark that lured women to their deaths and saw scores of hormonal young women flock to get a glimpse of him during his murder trial.
And so the camera duly laps-up Zac Efron as the dreamy, impeccably mannered law student who hooks up with single mother Elizabeth Kloepfer (Lily Collins) before embarking on a gooey romance. There is no sign of the titular evil, just his loving tenderness to Liz soundtracked by sweet caresses of soundtrack.
When poor Ted is pulled over and harassed by cops, the score reflects what a bummer this is for our hero.
And what do we hear when dashing Mr Bundy is escaping out a courtroom window? Groovy 1970s heist-rock. What a scamp he was.
Besides being deeply insulting to the families of those butchered by this monster, this is quite problematic. For starters, it is a sharp deviation from the film's remit of being an adaptation of Kloepfer's memoir about her time with Bundy. She is nowhere to be seen during these scenes so why the sympathetic portrayal in this first half from Berlinger and screenwriter Michael Werwie?
Are they hoping to keep us guessing until the ultimate courtroom trial and conviction under Judge Cowart (John Malkovich)? If so, this is a bizarre decision.
There's no doubting Efron's committal to the job and the sense of the era whipped together, but despite the portrayal's "idiosyncrasies" and ethical question marks, this film feels as awkward as its title and oddly lacking in verve or inspiration. ★★ Hilary A White
Cert: 12A; Now showing
It's embarrassing, but I have been pronouncing it wrong forever. The author of the Lord of the Rings is pronounced JRR Tol-keen. This is but one of the many facts about the writer's formative years presented in Dome Karukoski's film, of which one of the most frequent criticisms is that it fails to break free of the traditional biopic frame. But what is unclear is why it should break free from that frame. Although Tolkien has flaws and is a bit workmanlike, failing to rewrite the genre doesn't seem like a major crime.
The screenplay by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford jumps back and forth between 24-year-old Tolkien (an arguably too old Nicholas Hoult) ill in the trenches of World War I, remembering the life that has led him there. From becoming an orphan at the age of 12, his guardian (Colm Meaney) finding him and his brother a place in the home of a charitable lady and the private school where he made three firm friends. A fellowship as the film has it.
He also meets Edith (Lily Collins), his beautiful, free-spirited but tightly controlled fellow boarder.
The film focuses on life up to World War I and fans will enjoy references to his work throughout. It's main flaw to me is that it doesn't know exactly what to focus on and the pacing is odd, some parts are told slowly, others too fast. However, especially regarding the decimation of war, it works, and as a life story it is interesting. Aine O'Connor ★★★
A Dog's Journey
Cert: PG; Now showing
Bailey (voiced by Josh Gad) is the loveable shaggy pooch trotting around the farm of his beloved master Ethan (Dennis Quaid) and helping to keep granddaughter CJ out of harm's way. With their son having passed away, Ethan and wife Hannah (Marg Helgenberger) have taken in CJ and her frazzled, neglectful mum Gloria (Betty Gilpin). When Gloria takes CJ with her to the city to pursue her own selfish ends, the little girl is wrenched from her stable, loving grandparents, setting in train an uncertain upbringing estranged from them.
After Bailey heads off to that big farm in the sky, he finds himself reincarnated in the body of another dog, and then another, and so on. The common thread is he always crosses paths with CJ to act as guardian angel for the girl.
This sequel to 2017's A Dog's Promise (based on the novels by W. Bruce Cameron) has surprising pedigree. Once you get past the bizarre premise, the odd iffy cast member, and (if we're honest) the slightly superfluous mugging of Gad's voiceover, Gail Susan Mancuso's film brings younger viewers into some admirably weighty themes, using winning doggies, light interludes and a broad scope to impart its wisdom. ★★★★ Hilary A White
Woman At War
Cert: 12A; Selected cinemas
They do things differently way up north. In this case, we mean Iceland, that much mythologised island on the fringes of the Arctic Circle. The environment of volcanic rock and glacial cool make the place an enigmatic setting, and its filmmakers know this. They're also wont to inject a healthy dollop of outdoorsy oddness into their offerings.
Take Rams (2014), for example, or Of Horses and Men (2013). And then there's this picaresque saga by the writer/director of the latter, Benedikt Erlingsson.
It tells of Halla (Halldora Geirharosdottir), a hardline eco-warrior who dons the public persona of a middle-aged choir mistress. She has a large multinational in her sights and leads covert missions to dismantle its energy supply via the horrid pylons dotted through the beautiful landscape.
But she is forced into a bit of self-examination when an adoption application filed four years previously is finally approved and her dream to be a mother is within grasp. How will she square this with the extreme secret life she leads, while also keeping international investigators off her trail?
Make a note to seek out this beguiling gem that manages to be a gripping eco quasi-thriller as well as a quirky and sensitive character portrait. There is a post-modern eccentricity where the soundtrack is concerned (you'll see what I mean) that threatens to go over the top, but it is tempered by Geirharosdottir's muscularity (she also plays Hall's yogic twin sister) and the story's sideways take on environmentalism. ★★★★★ Hilary A White
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