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Bernie - Blu-ray Review

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Bernie - Movie Review

3 Stars

Born from the pages of a Texas Monthly magazine article, Bernie tells the story of gregarious assistant funeral home director Bernhardt Tiede (Jack Black) and wealthy widow Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). But more than it is the tale of the curiously improbable, but equally misunderstood relationship the unlikely acquaintances shared following the death of Marjorie’s husband, it’s about the small town of Carthage, Texas, its townspeople, and the peculiar way they talk, think, and behave in the wake of a tragic murder that rocks their small town of 5,000. And for that reason, Bernie may struggle to connect with anyone living outside a 250-mile radius of the small east Texas town.

Director/co-writer Richard Linklater creatively unfolds his story as both a dark comedy narrative and a documentary. Throughout the film we meet – via interviews – many of the town’s colorful occupants as they tell stories about the selfless, naively sweet Bernie who knows how to make everyone around him at ease, especially the crotchety old widow Marjorie, with whom no one seemed to be able to get along. Though none of the townsfolk quite understand the nature of the pair’s attraction to one another, their lavish European trips and expensive spa treatments - all on Marjorie’s dime – don’t go unnoticed.

In between the dramatic narrative that reveals what led Bernie to eventually shoot Marjorie four times in the back, are faux interviews that draw laughs from bare-gummed back-porch country witticisms and blatant mispronunciations. It’s these interviews that draw the film’s biggest laughs as yokels stare into the camera with oddly asymmetrical faces and utter things like “that dog don’t hunt,” or  “those people had more tattoos than teeth.” Funny? Certainly. But the mockumentary structure, while deep-fried in Texas batter and rolled in rural evangelical seasoning, eventually loses its cutesy southern appeal, even to southerners. Will the non-natives catch the humor in a jury member lovingly clutching a Sonic Route 44 cup? Does spotting a bottle of Big Red soda on the District Attorney’s desk strike a humorous chord to anyone outside the state of Texas? Revealing Bernie’s nature through the impact on the people around him is a brilliantly creative tact, and one that largely works. But can it entertain a broad audience for two hours?

What will certainly hold our attention however, are the performances of leads MacLaine, McConaughey, and particularly Jack Black who turns in one of his strongest to date. He seems born to portray the sweetly effeminate Bernie, which he carries off with an almost uncanny natural ability. The weight of the entire film rests on his penguin waddle, high-slung trousers and well-groomed pencil-thin moustache, and he never falters. A failure by Black to convince us of his character’s selfless charm and universal likeability – that masks his true dark nature - brings down the entire illusion.

MacLaine’s crusty Nugent calls for near unbearable disdain while simultaneously peeling back tiny bits of vulnerability. After all, there needs to be something for Bernie to see in the almost repulsive demeanor of the old biddy. And as odd as it may seem, we find ourselves almost rooting for the unlikely couple. MacLaine convinces us, even though we know better.

Add a great follow-up to McConaughey’s brilliant turn in The Lincoln Lawyer. He’s District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson, one of the few people in town who sees through Bernie's façade of charisma as the disgusting monster he truly is. Nearly unrecognizable in a wig of limp gray hair, oversized glasses, and a weight belt that adds twenty pounds to his waist, the actor  - with his natural Texas “y’all drawl” - comes across as a genuine town hero. In a tale full of moral ambiguity and unyielding loyalties, his DA is as welcome as a plate of delicious down-home cooking.

With such well-accepted films as Slacker, Dazed and Confused, and School of Rock under his shingle, Linklater continues his roll of endearing indie filmmaking with Bernie, the ripped-from-the-headlines true-crime story. But the filmmaker’s biggest success this time around is Jack Black in the titular role. That’s not to take anything away from Linklater’s storytelling, which keeps us enthralled for the full two hours. Well, we Texans, anyway.

{2jtab: Film Details}

Bernie - Movie ReviewMPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violent images and brief strong language.
Runtime:
104 mins.
Director
: Richard Linklater
Writer
: Richard Linklater; Skip Hollandsworth
Cast: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey
Genre
: Comedy | Crime
Tagline:
A story so unbelievable it must be true.
Memorable Movie Quote: "It's like he cast a spell over the entire town."
Distributor:
Millennium Entertainment
Official Site:
bernie-the-movie.com
Release Date: April 27, 2012 (limited); May 4, 2012 (wide)
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
August 21. 2012

Synopsis: In the tiny, rural town of Carthage, TX, assistant funeral director Bernie Tiede was one of the town's most beloved residents. He taught Sunday school, sang in the church choir and was always willing to lend a helping hand. Everyone loved and appreciated Bernie, so it came as no surprise when he befriended Marjorie Nugent, an affluent widow who was as well known for her sour attitude as her fortune. Bernie frequently traveled with Marjorie and even managed her banking affairs. Marjorie quickly became fully dependant on Bernie and his generosity and Bernie struggled to meet her increasing demands. Bernie continued to handle her affairs, and the townspeople went months without seeing Marjorie. The people of Carthage were shocked when it was reported that Marjorie Nugent had been dead for some time, and Bernie Tiede was being charged with the murder.

{2jtab: Blu-ray Review}

Bernie - Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - August 21, 2012
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles
: English SDH, Spanish
Audio: English: Dolby TrueHD 5.1; English: Dolby Digital 2.0
Discs: 25GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Playback: Region A reviewed

Wow, wow, wow.  Cinematographer Dick Pope's warm, small-town color palette shines through in this release.  Presented by Millennium Entertainment, the 1080p, 1.78:1-framed transfer should delight viewers.  Images are clean and crisp and resonate well with the small town feel of the feature.  The details are impressive and defined with a natural sharpness.  Facial features and clothing fibers are defined and vibrant.  While the picture is probably warmer than it ought to be, the artificial tinting helps bring out the East Texas feel.  The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix is mostly center-channel and some opportunities for immersion are missed.  The dialogue is entirely clean and audible.  The numerous music and score cues are well handled.  It’s admirable and pleasant, just not memorable.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • Unfortunately, there is no Linklater commentary.  Boo.

Special Features:

The supplemental features are a bit thin for this release.  There is an EPK-style look at Black's performance, with interview snippets with Black, MacLaine, director Linklater, and other collaborators. Another focuses on the story and looks at the evolution from a print story by Skip Hollandsworth to a feature film, via cast interviews.  The most interesting one – entitled The Gossips - takes a look at the decision to use real people for the doc-style interviews and shows clips from audition tapes. The deleted scenes are mostly short and non-essential.

  • Amazing Grace (7 min)
  • True Story to Film (9 min)
  • The Gossips (13 min)
  • The Deleted Scenes (11 min)
  • Theatrical Trailer

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