Don’t Mess with Texas or Bernie

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

Wanted: A Better Movie

It’s weird how one movie experience can affect another.

CAPTION:  Yeah, pretty much, what the hell?

Over the July 4th weekend I rented Be Kind Rewind and brought it over to my brother’s place to watch.  I had such high hopes for this flick.  I think it’s amazing what director Michel Gondry was able to do with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and I’ve enjoyed his sense of humor (in Human Nature) and melancholic whimsy (in The Science of Sleep).  It seemed like his brand of moviemaking would fit well with Jack Black’s style of comedy in this movie about a hapless trio of fools who remake classic films when all of the videotapes at a nostalgic rental shop are erased by radioactivity.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Be Kind Rewind desperately tries to capture the magic of independent filmmaking and is a complete failure.  There’s a scene where Jack Black’s character (after being made radioactive) urinates in the street, and his urine is glowing as it goes down the gutter.  That’s how I felt this movie treated films.  Be Kind Rewind is painfully unfunny, lacks a single authentic moment, and contains ridiculous stereotypes pretending to be characters.  It also paints a view of the greater NYC area of northern New Jersey that is like a pot smoking Frenchman’s view of America after watching a marathon of What’s Happening on TV.  This is an insulting film to avoid at all costs.  It’s so awful and unforgivable, I’m not sure if Gondry can ever recover from this.

Embarrassed I had rented it, and wanting to wipe it from our memories, my brother and I headed out to the multiplex for some old-fashioned mindless fun and saw Wanted

CAPTION:  Angelina Jolie, professional bad-ass.

The whole comic-book inspired “average schlub is picked to join mysterious fraternity of assassins” plot didn’t exactly interest me, but everything else about the film appealed to my basest moviegoing desires.  Directed by Timur Bekmambetov (say that five times fast) and starring a tattooed Angelina Jolie and a willful James McAvoy, Wanted is sadistic, profane, action-packed fun.  Our Russian pal Timur was previously responsible for the kinda cool Night Watch and its kinda stupid sequel Day Watch.  With Wanted, he shows no restraint, and crafts a bombastic movie that, like Be Kind Rewind, defies all logic and doesn’t make a lick of sense, but who cares?  What’s not to like when we get to see Jolie stepping out of a bath and one of the most amazing action scenes ever orchestrated involving a train, a car, and a bridge over a giant gorge?  Did I mention the giant army of explosive rats and the magic “Loom of Fate”?  Oh, yeah, there’s all that and more.  Sometimes all you need is a better movie than the last one you saw, and for us, Wanted fit the bill.

Written by David H. Schleicher