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Bernie


Darren H
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Just yesterday morning, as I was driving into work, I found myself wondering what Richard Linklater was up to. His new film, Bernie, opened the LA Film Festival last night. It stars Jack Black and has been described as a cross between Errol Morris and Christopher Guest. Apparently, Linklater's been obsessed with the idea for more than a decade. Here's an interview from Indiewire.

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  • 9 months later...

NY Times has an essay about Bernie written by Joe Rhodes, the nephew of the real-life frozen woman.

Linking doesn't seem to be working right now, so here's the URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/magazine/how-my-aunt-marge-ended-up-in-the-deep-freeze.html?pagewanted=1&google_editors_picks=true

It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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Take Jack Black out of that description and I'm in.

I have heard from friends who are not Black fans that this is a solid performance by him, and worth seeing.

Some of Jack Black's best work is in Linklater's SCHOOL OF ROCK (perhaps edged out by his supporting role in HIGH FIDELITY), so I don't find this too surprising.

Edited by Anders

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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  • 4 weeks later...
Jonathan Rosenbaum: "I haven’t had more fun at any new American movie this year".

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Much of this film is highly enjoyable, but the concern about the film condescending to its characters -- something I got past early on, only to have it resurface in the late going of the film -- is, I think, going to grow over time rather than recede.

Bernie also reminded me of Contagion in that the loss of a key character hurts the remainder of the film, but your mileage may vary.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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  • 3 months later...

Watched this on Google Play yesterday. Loved it.

I'm really curious now to know why vjmorton finds the inclusion of the real-life footage during the end credits to be so offensive, or off-putting, or whatever.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I, too, saw BERNIE last night and also loved it.

Much of this film is highly enjoyable, but the concern about the film condescending to its characters -- something I got past early on, only to have it resurface in the late going of the film -- is, I think, going to grow over time rather than recede.

I did not get this sense when watching BERNIE. Are there moments in the film you could point to that illustrate this concern?

Edited by Ryan H.
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It's fuzzy for me now, Ryan, but it had to do with the "townsfolk" segments -- the "real people" the movie's marketing talked up. (I'm still not sure those are real people as opposed to actors; or maybe Matthew M.'s mom is a "real person" who lives in the town, and maybe that guy from "Sling Blade" who appears in this film also happens to be a "real person" who lives in that town?) One older man was made to look foolish, I thought, but I can't remember why! Sorry that I can't be more specific. There was much I liked about this film, but once

Shirley Maclaine

disappeared from the story, much of my interest went with

her

. Matthew M. tries to fill the void, but despite reading raves about his performance, I found him rather one-note after my initially amused reaction to his performance.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Watched this on Google Play yesterday. Loved it.

I'm really curious now to know why vjmorton finds the inclusion of the real-life footage during the end credits to be so offensive, or off-putting, or whatever.

Same here. In my review I mentioned that the film is best watched as a species of horror film, and that final footage hammers this point home.

Much of this film is highly enjoyable, but the concern about the film condescending to its characters -- something I got past early on, only to have it resurface in the late going of the film -- is, I think, going to grow over time rather than recede.

I agree with Ryan here. Have you read the article that serves as the source material for the film? It is not condescending at all, and I argued that the film does well at adapting the tone of that article.

Matthew M. tries to fill the void, but despite reading raves about his performance, I found him rather one-note after my initially amused reaction to his performance.

This I do agree with. A different actor in this role would have kicked this Linklater up among my favorites of his.

Edited by M. Leary

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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[

Much of this film is highly enjoyable, but the concern about the film condescending to its characters -- something I got past early on, only to have it resurface in the late going of the film -- is, I think, going to grow over time rather than recede.

I agree with Ryan here. Have you read the article that serves as the source material for the film? It is not condescending at all, and I argued that the film does well at adapting the tone of that article.

No, I haven't read the article, I should. But I Googled to remind myself why I thought the film had claimed "real world" credentials for its supporting cast, and I found this article, which states:

We know this because, in addition to actors, Linklater uses real townspeople to talk about Bernie, about Marjorie, about the trial and about life in Carthage. It's an odd mix, and a fascinating one. These people are pure small-town East Texas -- small-town anywhere, really -- their speech dripping with folksy wisdom and acidic gossip. (One man dismisses the intelligence of the jury in a nearby town where the trial was moved, saying, "I wouldn't let them work on my car.")

I think I resented this mix as I watched the film, after my wife had insisted, based on what she'd heard about Bernie, that the townspeople on screen were actual citizens of that town, and not actors. I knew certain actors were acting. I guess the fact that so many viewers couldn't distinguish between the actors and the citizens could be a plus for the film. But I had my guard up, questioning the film's authenticity. Still, I'm not sure what the actors did that I might have found condescending at the time. I'd have to rewatch the film.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I can see that. It is, at least, distracting at some level. While watching it, I felt that Mcconaughey's performanced was forced enough that the townspeople vs. actor thing became noticeable. Black and Shirley blended right in.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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  • 2 weeks later...

I went in expecting Bernie to be for Jack Black what Punch-Drunk Love was for Adam Sandler. That is, a movie that can take an actor's cartoonish persona and situate it in a world that makes you see their typical character in a different way. In Love, Sandler's Barry Egan is essentially an emotionally stunted man-child with anger issues, with the same type of character Sandler played in Happy Gilmore, The Waterboy, and so on. But instead of enabling and celebrating his issues, as usually happens in a Sandler movie, the way everyone else reacts to Barry--concern, uncertainty, therapy referrals--is the way real people might respond to a friend or family member exhibiting the same kinds of behaviors.

Bernie works with a different dynamic. For one thing, the shy, straitlaced, reserved, effeminate Bernie Tiede is the opposite of Black's typical characters. I think that makes Black's performance all the more impressive, and he showed a range I honestly didn't think he had. The dynamic is more than just Black, though. The way Linklater structures the movie and shoots a lot of the "interview" segments seems designed to underscore the eccentricities of the townspeople for the purpose of emphasizing how normal Bernie is. (The opposite of what the supporting characters in Punch-Drunk Love do.)

That approach makes his eventual crime seem all the more horrific because Bernie has been cast as such a reasonable character. When he kills Marjorie, it's not just that I could understand why someone might act the way Bernie does; it made practical sense in a way that was quite unsettling. I could imagine myself getting to the same point Bernie does, and being just as unable to explain it afterward.

It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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  • 4 weeks later...
  • 1 month later...

Black and Linklater on gospel music:

Linklater: I sent Jack a couple of CDs of gospel jams just to see which ones he liked the most.

Black: I really got into it. The revelation was that Jim Nabors — Gomer Pyle — was actually a huge deal in the gospel music world. His version of "Blessed Assurance" is this amazing, baritone masterpiece. I really latched on to that one.

Linklater: Jim Nabors was a big influence. Hence, the D [Tenacious D, the rock band Black fronts with Kyle Gass] will put out a gospel album at some point.

Black: [Laughs] It could be funny to have a born-again album. There's a movement in music now that comes from a place of glory. Bands like Mumford and Sons, Arcade Fire ... there's a rousing spirituality about them. There's a hunger in the kids for something meaningful, something bigger.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

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that comes from a place of glory.

Wow. Bernie may be a film about "glory." Jack Black's songistriness in the film is welcoming in this respect. Thinking about the film as a critique of red state "glory" is compelling.

Edited by M. Leary

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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How interesting. Lots of love here. Linklater. Jack Black. Comparisons to Adam Sandler's only decent performance from back when PTA used to be the next. big. thing.

I guess I should read some of these threads sometime. I take it this isn't the long awaited sequel to Weekend At.... ?

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

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I thought there already *was* a sequel.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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