Stylistically the cold Russian film Elena and the perversely American film Killer Joe couldn’t be further apart. Yet they both are prime examples of neo-noir and in their own unique ways wallow in the melodrama of the downtrodden.
In Elena, the title character (Nadezhda Markina, a modicum of pent-up middle-aged rage) trudges through the routines of her day in her posh Moscow penthouse living with the wealthy husband she hooked ten years ago when she nursed him back to health. Her son is the epitome of the post-Soviet downtrodden, living in a trashy tenement tower underneath the shadows of nuclear silos with his lazy teenage son, do-nothing wife and an infant. He begs his mother for money constantly, and she eventually becomes obsessed with funding her grandson’s college education even though we all know he’s not college material. Her husband refuses to continue to support her loser family, even though he continues to dutifully spoil his own screw-up of a daughter. When he has another heart attack and decides to revisit his will, Elena must resort to desperate measures. Continue reading →
And I pray unto thee, Dear Lord Baby Jesus, that Bernie gets what he deserves.
I should preface this review by saying I’m no fan of Jack Black (though I think he sometimes gets an unfair wrap) or Shirley MacLaine (she’s a shrill weird old lady) or Matthew McConaughey (beat your bongos, son). I like some of director Richard Linklater’s oeuvre – most notably Slacker, Waking Life, Dazed and Confused and the Before Sunrise/Sunset films, but he’s made plenty of duds especially when he tries to go mainstream. Suffice it to say I didn’t pay any attention when this foursome got together to make Bernie.
Yet I started to hear some good things – and the plot sounded interesting enough, and I was really bored one Sunday afternoon. So there I was enjoying against all odds this tale of an affable busybody East Texas assistant funeral director (Black – nicely method and oddly endearing), the weird mean rich old bitty (MacLaine – well cast) he befriends, and the cocky country District Attorney (McConaughey – always better at comedy than drama and doing a tongue-in-cheek and dip-in-mouth riff on his own propensity to play impassioned lawyers) out to nail Bernie when the crazy lady turns up dead.
I’ve long made the case that the hardest film genre to pull off is the dark comedy. But there’s a subgenre that’s even harder to pull off - the light dark comedy. Successfully mixing elements of Gus Van Sant’s To Die For, Robert Altman’s Cookie’s Fortune and the mockumentaries of Christopher Guest, Linklater is spot-on in his delivery of this true-crime comedy. Continue reading →