Tag Archives: Shirley MacLaine

A Week at Bernie’s: Bernie

Here we go with the last entry for A Week at Bernie’s. Massive thanks to all the guest bloggers who have helped out this week. All the articles have been fantastic and please make an effort to support their work. Don’t forget that there are double entries up for grabs for this post, so be sure to get involved.

mcIf you are a regular reader of this site, you will already know that I am a big fan of Bernie (2011), so much so that it was my number 4 film of last year. Sorry to ruin any suspense of whether I was a fan or not. This review will give me a chance to expand out upon my reasons for liking the film so much in more detail. I will be giving a spoiler so I can make it easier to discuss why I am such a big fan of the film. If you know anything about the film, then you will know what it is because it is the major plot point, that is revealed about halfway through. But if you are desperate to see the film without knowing anything of what goes on, then it is probably best to save this article for later.

Bernie is the based on fact tale of Bernie Tiede, played by Jack Black. Bernie is the assistant funeral director in the small Texas town of Carthage. After burying her husband, Bernie strikes up a friendship with the most hated woman in town, Marjorie Nugent played by Shirley MacLaine in a rare screen role. After a ‘honeymoon’ period, Marjorie becomes incredibly controlling of the kind natured Bernie, so much so, that he shoots her dead. Distraught at what he has done, Bernie hides her body in the freezer and goes on living for another 9 months before eventually being caught. It is an incredible story, even more incredible given it is based on a true story.

free bernie

There are a couple of things that really make the film for me. The first is the script and structure used by director Richard Linklater. Instead of a straight narrative, the film is presented in a sort of mockumentary style. Real townsfolk are used to give their opinions on Bernie himself and the case more broadly. On my first viewing I thought these were unscripted, but I actually think I was mistaken and they were scripted. Having said that though they feel so true to life. The Texan vernacular and raw spirit of these non-professional actors is intoxicating and elevates the film to another level. These gossiping townspeople also get across just how beloved Tiede was amongst all of the people of Carthage and their feelings about what came to befall him.

The second reason I love this film so much is the incredible performance by Jack Black. From the very first scene you can tell that it is a special performance and a wonderful transformation by an actor widely perceived (probably with a reasonable amount of merit) as only having one setting. What Black’s performance, in conjunction with the screenplay, achieves is that it presents a really three dimensional character, where a caricature could have so easily ended up coming through. There are so many nuances to the character of Bernie – great at his job, beloved by the whole town, closet homosexual, incredibly kind, a man of great faith, a talented musician – which provokes so much thought in the viewer. Much of this is in the script, but it is also down to Black. See his performance in the immediate aftermath of when he murders Marjorie. The immediate reaction is shock and horror at what he has done. Straight after he is panic stricken with what the reaction will be from his god. Finally his thoughts turn to how to get himself out of the hole he has created for himself. Jack Black conveys all of this really well, without another actor to spar with, just him and the camera.

The third and final aspect of the film that I love and will discuss is just how much it does leave the audience with to think about. Marjorie treats Bernie terribly in the film with many of her actions falling into the realm of what you would call domestic violence. She controls him financially and using great guilt, essentially rendering him a prisoner in the situation he finds himself in. Does that absolve Tiede of what it drove him to do? No, but it does give rise to pondering the nature of his crime and the nature of the justice that is metered out to him. Just how easily Bernie gets away with his crimes, also makes you wonder about the notion of trust and how we trust those that we think we know or should trust. It is a theme that has been presenting itself to me a lot lately, especially in Compliance (2012) which I will be reviewing soon, and to a lesser extent Serpico (1973). In this film, the fact that it is the town’s beloved Bernie that is doling out the excuses that explain Marjorie’s continued non-appearance means that his crime is able to go undetected for so long. No one really questions all of this, except the smarmy money-grubbing accountant, who is just chasing his commission. It is only through this level of (misguided?) trust that such a genuine, almost naive man was able to carry on his life after the murder for nine months so easily.

bern n marj

An exceptionally rendered, simultaneously darkly comic & touching, tale of a friendship that grows under strange circumstances and comes shuddering to a halt due to the abuse of one of the parties. The cast are all fantastic, but it is Jack Black who steals the show, in what is definitely not a ‘Jack Black film’. Check out this highly original flick if you have not already done so.

Longneck of Melbourne Bitter

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Worth Watching August 2012

Worth Watching:

  • J. Edgar (2011), Clint Eastwood – Concerns a very complicated man and the way history remembers him, and by extension all men. DiCaprio is very good in the lead role and the old man makeup does not annoy as much as usual.  The ending features a twist of sorts, which features a really clever way of addressing memory and how one recalls their own achievements. A fantastic film.
  • Young Adult (2011), Jason Reitman – This is a very dark film, almost like a black comedy sans comedy. A great script sees Diablo Cody showcasing the writing chops that gained her so much recognition for Juno. Charlize Theron is very good as a troubled woman looking to recapture something from her past. Patton Oswald is equally exceptional, their relationship is like no other you will see onscreen this year.
  • Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter (2012), Timur Bekmambetov – My expectations for this were so low as to be non-existent. But it impressed, well at least for the first hour or so. Sorta ran out of steam after that. It looks cool, I thought the 3D really popped in this one. The whole film is built on some pretty solid characterisation which helps too. Despite the unimpressive looking vampires and battles, this is still a pleasant surprise.
  • Headhunters (2011), Morten Tyldum – The latest off the Scandinavian thriller production line comes courtesy of author Jo Nesbo. This was really interesting, truly unique in terms of both tone and character motivation. There is no hero, barely even an antihero, at least until the final quarter where these crystallise. A very interesting thriller with an extremely satisfying community.
  • Haywire (2011), Steven Soderbergh – A cracking action flick, set in beautifully shot locales by Soderbergh. Looks awesomely slick, and has some really nice pacing. More artistic than is standard, with cool use of music and black & white. There are some really effective looking MMA inspired action sequences to balance things out. Despite a not entirely satisfying storyline, the awesome cast ensures this is worth checking out.
  • Cosmopolis (2012), David Cronenberg – An examination of the capitalist ails of society presented in an original and episodic way. The film only falls down when it lingers in the last half hour, but an incredible final scene makes up for that. Robert Pattinson is brilliant as a young, isolated multi-billionaire in search of a haircut whilst Cronenberg shoots most of the film in surrealist close-ups. A real adaptation with much of Don DeLillo’s source novel present. Many found this too oblique dialogue heavy, but I think this is a clever, engaging examination of the film’s chosen themes.
  • V For Vendetta (2006), James McTeigue – A singularly original, very British graphic novel adaptation. An awesome cast of British performers support the excellent lead turns from Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving. The story is in the classical dystopian mould, concerning manipulation, the repression of minorities and role of the police in society. There is also a cool structural countdown, making this a film which knows how to build to a crescendo perfectly.
V for Vendetta Graffiti 1

V for Vendetta inspired graffiti

  • The Sapphires (2012), Wayne Blair – The best thing about this is how it subtly weaves in issues such as the stolen generation, Aboriginal purity and the Vietnam War into the storyline, without beating you over the head with them. The film’s storyline is inspired by a forgotten piece of Australia History. Chris O’Dowd is utterly magnificent and the four band members are all really well brought to life, with Jessica Mauboy proving she has acting chops to go along with her singing ones. A rousing and well made tale.
  • The King is Dead (2012), Rolf de Heer – Man this is a dark film. Reminds me of a British era Hitchcock thriller… but you know, made 80 years later in Adelaide. A very suburban nightmare, a young couple buy a home next to the neighbours from hell. In what follows they attempt, not always successfully, to do what most would only ever think in order to solve the problem.
  • Ted (2012), Seth McFarlane – It is turning out to be a good year for comedy. This is a simple narrative, delivered through a firecracker script. Crass, extremely so at times, but even those parts make you laugh because of the charm with which it is all brought to life. The character of Ted looks phenomenal, he is a remarkable technical achievement. Jeff Winger in a smarmy supporting role and a wonderful teddy bear vs Mark Wahlberg fight scene round out the awesomeness.
  • The Campaign (2012), Jay Roach – This is pretty standard Will Ferrell fare. I’m a fan of his and this got me to laugh a fair bit. Despite being concerned with politics, there is nothing particularly cutting here. It’s all standard sex and Will Ferrell being bitten by a rattle snake jokes (the latter I found hilarious for some reason). Despite a short running time, it lags toward the end. If you have seen any Will Ferrell film, you will probably know what to expect with this.
  • Bernie (2011), Richard Linklater – I haven’t seen a film like this all year. Actually I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film like this. Tale of an assistant undertaker in a small town who befriends a widow and what happens when he feels increasingly imprisoned by her. Jack Black is in career best form with an awards-worthy turn. Matthew McConaughey and Shirley MacLaine offer sterling support. The true genius here is the usually tired mockumentary being reinvigorated by using real townsfolk. Their raw, real interviews add a real layer of depth to this darkly comic film which leaves you thinking long after it has finished. Make sure you stay for the credits.
  • Community: Season 1 (2009), Dan Harmon – I’ve generally avoided TV comedy. But this is a fantastic, clever show. A brilliant cast of comedy characters and scripting that gets more consistently hilarious as the season wears on. Some side splitting moments – Troy and Abed’s Spanish rap for example. Abed’s constant stream of self knowing pop-culture references also help to make this extremely fun viewing.
  • The Bourne Identity (2001), Doug Liman – Damon’s man who has lost his identity really made for a very different action hero. Cool, quick and realistic hand to hand combat scenes are fantastic to watch. The emotional and psychological depth that is here is a real point of difference to standard action fare.

Not Worth Watching:

Absolutely Nothing. A good month then.

If you only have time to watch one Bernie

Avoid at all costs Nothing – go and see it all.