The Last Word (2017)


Even in the movies selfies must be taken.

(2017) Dramedy (Bleecker Street) Shirley MacLaine, Amanda Seyfried, Ann’Jewel Lee, Philip Baker Hall, Thomas Sadoski, Gedde Watanabe, Anne Heche, Tom Everett Scott, Todd Louiso, Joel Murray, Yvette Freeman, Valerie Ross, Steven Culp, Adina Porter, Chloe Wepper, John Billingsley, Sarah Baker, Nicki McCauley, Marshall Bell, Marcy Jarreau, Brooke Trantor. Directed by Mark Pellington

 

As we get older we begin reflecting on our lives; the accomplishments we’ve made, the opportunities we’ve squandered. It’s a natural part of the process. For some, however, that’s simply not enough.

For Harriet Lauler (MacLaine) life is all about control. She’s a smart, tough woman who built an ad agency in a small California town into one of the biggest and best, a great accomplishment for anyone but particularly for a woman in the era she was doing the building. In the process, she alienated just about everyone; her husband (Hall) from whom she has been divorced for decades, her daughter (Heche) with whom she hasn’t spoken in five years but the separation between the two had been going on for far longer and eventually her colleagues who couldn’t stand her domineering and belittling. Even her gynecologist and priest can’t stand the sight of her.

As she reads the obituaries of contemporaries, she knows that when she goes her obituary will read like a greeting card and say nothing about what she’s accomplished. To prevent that from happening, she goes to the local newspaper which her company kept afloat for years and commandeered their obituary, perky young Anne (Seyfried) to write her obituary while she’s still alive so that Harriet can make sure it’s up to snuff.

As Anne gets into this daunting task, the frustration grows with both the job and with Harriet whom, in one angry moment, Anne exclaims “She put the bitch in obituary!” This being one of those movies, the two women begin to find common ground and help each other grow. Harriet, hoping to get a “she unexpectedly touched the life of…” lines in her obit also commandeers Brenda (Lee), a cute as a button street-smart urchin, the “at-risk” youth as the kids today call it.

There isn’t anything in this movie you haven’t already seen in dozens of other movies like it. The script is like it came out of a beginning screenwriting class by someone who’s seen a lot of movies but has no ideas of their own. What the movie has going for it is MacLaine. Ever since Terms of Endearment she has owned the curmudgeon role and has perfected it in dozens of movies since. This is more of the same and I frankly can’t see what attracted her to this part; she’s done dozens like it and this character isn’t really written as well as the others. Still, MacLaine is a force of nature, a national treasure who at 82 is still going strong but one should take any opportunity to see her perform, even in a movie like this.

Seyfried is getting a bit long-in-the-tooth for doing waif-ish ingénue roles. She still has those big doe eyes and pouty lips that give her the physical attributes but she is much smarter than parts like this allow her to get. She does get a few good zingers off but her character has so little backbone – and it is sooo inevitable she’s going to grow one by the end credits – you expect her to be blown to kingdom come by Harriet, but that never really happens and it is to Seyfried’s credit she holds her own with MacLaine.

There really is no reason for the movie to have the street-smart urchin in it. Lee in particular is cute enough but she suffers from the curse of child actors – she doesn’t act so much as pretend. The difference is noticeable and you never believe the character for a moment but then again Brenda doesn’t really add anything to the movie that couldn’t have been delivered there by an adult. I suppose they wanted her in there so that she could appeal to the grandchild instincts of the target audience.

I can’t say this was a disappointment because the trailer was pretty unappealing but for the most part this is disposable as it gets. You won’t waste your time seeing this exactly but then again you won’t make the most of it either which, ironically, is the message Harriet is trying to deliver to Anne. Definitely the filmmakers got an “A” in Irony 101.

REASONS TO GO: MacLaine is one of the last of the old-time movie stars and any chance to see her is worth taking.
REASONS TO STAY: Unnecessary child actor alert.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film’s world premiere was actually here in the U.S. at the AFI Latin American Film Festival last September.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/17/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 35% positive reviews. Metacritic: 41/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Bucket List
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: The Comedian

New Releases for the Week of March 17, 2017


BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

(Disney) Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Directed by Bill Condon

This live-action version of the beloved Disney animation contains the classic songs from the original as well as some brand new songs by original composer Alan Mencken and legendary lyricist Tim Rice. We all know the story; an inquisitive young girl rescues her father who has been poking around a castle where he shouldn’t have been and has been captured by a terrible Beast. She offers herself in his stead and stays at the castle where everything is alive – even the candlesticks. What she doesn’t know is that a curse has been laid on the Beast and his castle and time is running out on reversing it. It will take a miracle; after all, how could Beauty ever love a Beast?

See the trailer, interviews, clips, featurette and B-Roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Romantic Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for some action violence, peril and frightening images)

The Belko Experiment

(BH Tilt/Orion/MGM) John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz. A group of American workers are trapped in a high rise where a mysterious voice orders them to kill some of their number – or more of them will be killed at random by the owners. And as things progress, the dog eat dog world of business turns into a deadly game of survival. James Gunn, director of the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 wrote this.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence throughout, language including sexual references, and some drug use)

Kedi

(Oscilloscope Laboratories) Bülent Ustün. Istanbul (not Constantinople) is one of the world’s most ancient cities. They’ve had a tradition over the years of taking care of stray cats as a community. The cats have become an indelible part of Istanbul’s charm and personality. Told from a distinctly feline point of view, this is the viral cat video to end all viral cat videos.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: NR

Land of Mine

(Sony Classics) Roland Møller, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman, Mikel Boe Følsgaard. As World War II came to a close, German prisoners of war in Denmark are given a daunting task to complete before being allowed to return to their homes. They must clear a beach of literally thousands of land mines that had been placed there by the German army. The painstaking and crazy dangerous work is high stress and the Danes are not terribly happy about having the Germans around at all but slowly the Danes begin to see the Germans differently as the beach is slowly made safe again.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: War
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for violence, some grisly images, and language)

The Last Word

(Bleecker Street) Shirley MacLaine, Amanda Seyfried, Ann’Jewel Lee, Philip Baker Hall. A formidable woman, in the twilight of her life, has been of late reading obituaries of people she knows and finds that the obituary writer is making their somewhat ordinary lives sound extraordinary. She decides that having exerted control over everything her entire life she wants to read her obituary before she actually dies, but to get the kind of write-up she wants she may need to make a few changes. Cinema365 was privileged to be invited to a press screening for this; the review will run tomorrow.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for language)

The Sense of an Ending

(CBS) Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Matthew Goode, Emily Mortimer. A recluse who is happy in his quiet existence is confronted with secrets from his past. This will force him to face that his flawed recollections of what actually happened are not the truth about his first love and that he has yet to experience the full consequences of decisions made long ago.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, a violent image, sexuality, and brief strong language)

New Releases for the Week of November 7, 2014


InterstellarINTERSTELLAR

(Paramount) Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, Casey Affleck. Directed by Christopher Nolan

The Earth is dying. It will soon be unable to support life as all our ecological chickens are coming home to roost. Desperate to preserve our species, an expedition is sent through a newly-discovered wormhole to find habitable planets that one day may be our new homes, but the trip will be full of perilous unknowns and those who are sent to the stars will be separated from everyone and everything they love.

See the trailer, interviews, a featurette and a promo here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard, IMAX (opened Tuesday)
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for some intense perilous action and brief strong language)

Big Hero 6

(Disney/Marvel) Starring the voices of Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung. In a future megalopolis, a young boy stung by a family tragedy gets involved with his brother’s inflatable robot Baymax who was programmed to heal the sick. However, the boy, his robot and his friends get caught up in the machinations of an evil villain who was at the core of the boy’s pain. The boy will transform himself, his robot and friends into high tech heroes to fight the madman who threatens to destroy everything – and everyone – he loves. Sound familiar?

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for action and peril, some rude humor, and thematic elements)

 

Birdman

(Fox Searchlight) Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone. An actor best known for playing a costumed superhero decades before is making one last comeback on Broadway in the hopes of reviving a moribund career as well as to reconnect with a family that has given up on him. Getting in the way is his own ego and an encroachment of his fantasy life into his reality.

See the trailer, a clip and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Dark Comedy/Fantasy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence)

The Blue Room

(IFC/Sundance Selects) Matthieu Amalric, Lea Drucker, Stephanie Cleau, Laurent Poitrenaux. A torrid extramarital affair between a successful family man and a beautiful woman ends with the man being question by the police. What happened to their relationship? And what is the man accused of doing? This stylish and sexy thriller was directed by Amalric, one of France’s most accomplished actors.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for sexual content including graphic nudity) 

Elsa and Fred

(Millennium) Shirley MacLaine, Christopher Plummer, Marcia Gay Harden, Scott Bakula. A curmudgeonly man who wants only to live out his remaining years with as little human contact as possible moves into a seniors apartment complex in New Orleans. However, a gregarious neighbor absolutely refuses to let him give up on life and the two strike up a friendship that deepens unexpectedly. Now treading in an emotional minefield, the two struggle to make it through without everything blowing up in their faces.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Downtown Disney
Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language)

Laggies

(A24) Keira Knightley, Chloe Grace Moretz, Sam Rockwell, Jeff Garlin. 26 and not ready for adulthood quite yet, a young woman panics when her boyfriend proposes and goes to live with her new 16-year-old friend and her friend’s damaged dad. Dragging herself kicking and screaming into adulthood is one thing but arriving there wiser than when you left childhood is a whole other thing.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Select Theaters
Rating: R (for language, some sexual material and teen partying)

 

Mr. Pip

(Freestyle Releasing) Hugh Laurie, Kerry Fox, Eka Darville, Xzannjah Matsi. During the brutal civil war in Bougainville in the 1990s, an English teacher – the last Englishman in the village – makes a connection with his students through the reading of Dickens’ Great Expectations. A wildly imaginative young girl begins to believe that Pip, whom the young girl calls “Mr. Pip” is her friend and he takes her into the fantastic world of Dickens’ London. However her belief in her friend Mr. Pip inadvertently puts the entire village in mortal peril.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Touchstar Southchase
Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing situations involving violence and threat, and for some mature thematic material and brief language)

On Any Sunday, The Next Chapter

(Rd Bull Media House) Travis Pastrana, Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa, Doug Henry. The 1971 documentary film On Any Sunday helped popularize motorcycle racing in the United States. More than four decades later, the oldest son of the original film’s director revisits the sport, showing its acceptance as an Extreme Sport and becoming more popular than ever.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Select Theaters
Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing situations involving violence and threat, and for some mature thematic material and brief language)

Whiplash

(Sony Classics) Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist. An ambitious jazz drummer, wanting to become elite at his chosen profession, is tutored by an autocratic teacher who continues to push him to the breaking point. Either the student will crack like a walnut and lose everything or he’ll reach his potential and become one of the best drummers in the world.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for strong language including some sexual references)

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)


Walter Mitty doesn't exactly stand out in a crowd.

Walter Mitty doesn’t exactly stand out in a crowd.

(2013) Adventure (20th Century Fox) Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Adrian Martinez, Patton Oswalt, Jonathan C. Daly, Terence Bernie Hines, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Gunnar Helgason, Kai Lennox, Conan O’Brien, Andy Richter, Haroon Nawabi, Marcus Antturi, Paul Fitzgerald, Grace Rex. Directed by Ben Stiller

There is a real difference between the lives we lead and the lives we lead in our heads. In our own worlds, we’re beautiful, smart, popular, courageous, daring, heroic and irresistible to our preferred sex. We are saviors of the weak and protectors of the helpless.

For Walter Mitty (Stiller) the disconnect is more than most. He is a shy and somewhat socially clumsy man who works at Life Magazine as a negative assets manager (i.e. he is in charge of the negatives of the photographs for the iconic magazine) and often his daydreams stop him dead in his tracks. His sister (Hahn) calls it zoning out.

Walter crushes on the lovely Cheryl Melhoff (Wiig), recently hired in the accounting department but is too unselfconfident to approach her. What’s worse is that Life is about to be shut down, as announced by the somewhat petty transition manager (Scott) who also says the very last issue will have a cover photo by the magazine’s most famous photographer, Sean O’Connell (Penn). The problem is that the negative for the cover isn’t with the rest of O’Connell’s submissions.

O’Connell, a rootless sort who travels the world looking for that perfect shot isn’t exactly easy to get hold of – he doesn’t even own a cell phone (the teenagers in the audience couldn’t believe their ears). So the only way to get that cover for the last issue is to go out there and fine the reclusive photographer. However that’s easier said than done. The only clues to Sean’s whereabouts lay in the galley sheet of the same set of photos as the missing negative and those clues are pretty vague at best.

While ostensibly based on the beloved James Thurber short story of the same name, the title, the lead character and his daydreaming conceit are basically all that the short story and this movie have in common. Thurber’s short story is much darker in tone and even the Danny Kaye version from 1947 which wasn’t all that much of a match for the short story either was much less uplifting than the Ben Stiller interpretation. It’s all about seizing the day and living life while you still can.

Stiller is a likable enough lead and he has just enough schlubbiness to invest the characters he normally plays with a kind of underdog situation and that is true here as well. Walter is a good-hearted sort who doesn’t have enough go-getter in him to fill a thimble. He is well-liked but not well-respected if you get my drift. People dismiss him as a hopeless dreamer. Stiller fills this role well.

Veteran Shirley MacLaine makes a rare but welcome screen appearance as Walter’s mom but isn’t really given a lot to do – still, she’s always worth the added effort to see her. Comic Patton Oswalt also puts in an appearance as an eHarmony phone representative (mostly we hear his voice in phone conversations) and I’m reminded at how good he can be onscreen as he was in the Charlize Theron black comedy Young Adult.

Stiller the director also makes some interesting moves, nicely going from reality to fantasy and uses graphics within the film to advance the story. It’s a visually clever film. The soundtrack is awfully nice to with Swedish indie artist Jose Gonzalez supplying songs. So why didn’t I like this movie more?

The movie lacked soul, in my opinion, which is a different thing than heart which it has a lot of. I just didn’t get that spark of joy that the film should have produced. Sure one roots for Walter to find Sean and to get the girl but there are too many cliché moves and not enough genuine passion to make the movie more memorable. That’s not to say that it isn’t a pleasant diversion – you can do worse than to spend your entertainment dollar on Walter Mitty. It just let me down a bit so I feel justified in rating it perhaps lower than I would have liked given the source material and the talent involved.

The overall message of doing instead of dreaming is a tricky one to navigate. There is nothing wrong with dreaming big – every action begins as a dream more or less – but it shouldn’t happen at the expense of living life to the fullest. Not all of us can get on a plane to the middle of nowhere and embark on an epic adventure but that doesn’t mean we can’t embark on the epic adventures that are already around us.

REASONS TO GO: Inventive use of graphics and effects. Always a joy to see MacLaine.

REASONS TO STAY: Lacks spark.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a little bit of crude language and some action violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: When the fishing boat lands in Iceland, Walter is urged to grab the lone bicycle before a group of “horny Chileans” from a different trawler gets the bike to use to get to the strip club. Those Chileans would be sorely disappointed because strip clubs have been essentially illegal in Iceland since 2010

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/13/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 48% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Bedtime Stories

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Her

New Releases for the Week of December 27, 2013


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY

(20th Century Fox) Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Patton Oswalt. Directed by Ben Stiller

Walter, a worker drone at Life Magazine as it gasps its last, is a dreamer who sometimes zones out as he imagines fantastic heroic scenarios starring himself. Yet he never acts on these impulses, never does anything memorable or notable. He yearns for love but does nothing to pursue it. When at last he is pushed into it, the greatest adventure he could imagine awaits.

See the trailer and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Adventure Comedy

Rating: PG (for some crude comments, language and action violence)

47 Ronin

(Universal) Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki, Rinko Kikuchi. After a ruthless warlord betrays and murders their master, 47 now-leaderless samurai (known in Japan as Ronin) vow revenge. Standing in their way are wizards and demons who have their own plans.

See the trailer, clips  and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D (opens Tuesday)

Genre: Martial Arts Fantasy

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, and thematic elements)

Grudge Match

(Warner Brothers) Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Hart, Alan Arkin. Two out of shape boxers retired for 30 years are pushed into resuming their bitter rivalry with a final match to determine the whole she-bang, but are these two old codgers ready?

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Sports Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sports action violence, sexual content and language)

Justin Bieber’s Believe

(Open Road) Justin Bieber, Scooter Braun, Usher Raymond, Ludacris. Unaware that his 15 minutes were done about an hour ago, here comes a concert video of Canada’s most shameful export.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Musical Documentary

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements including some unsettling images) 

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

(Weinstein) Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge, Riaad Moosa. The story of the late Nelson Mandela and his struggle to end South Africa’s repressive system of apartheid appears in theaters only a few weeks after the great leader finally passed away. Some studios have all the luck.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: PG=13 (for some intense sequences of violence and disturbing images, sexual content and brief strong language)

The Wolf of Wall Street

(Paramount) Leonardo di Caprio, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Margot Robbie. A stockbroker goes from starry-eyed ambition to absolute corruption as he rides the wave that was Wall Street during the 80s. The rise and fall of Jordan Belfort mirrors Wall Street’s own in the eyes of the public. The latest from Martin Scorsese and a huge Oscar contender.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Wednesday)

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: R (for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence)  

Bernie (2011)


 

Bernie

Shirley MacLaine and Jack Black canoodle, East Texas style.

(2011) True Crime Dramedy (Millennium) Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey, Rick Dial, Veronica Orosco, Brandon Smith, Tommy G. Kendrick, Juli Erickson, Mona Lee Fultz, Sonny Carl Davis, Richard Robichaux, Matthew Greer. Directed by Richard Linklater

 

Truth can be stranger than fiction, but truth is also fairly subjective. Often our judgment when it comes to truth can be clouded by our emotions; even when presented with incontrovertible facts we can still cling to our beliefs that color our objectivity.

Bernie Tiede (Black) was one of the most well-liked men in Carthage, a small town in East Texas. He’s a pillar of his community; a lay preacher at his Methodist church and possessed of an angelic voice. He is generous with both his time and with what small trinkets he can afford to buy on his meager salary. As an assistant funeral director at the local funeral home, he is considered one of the best at what he does in the Lone Star state – taking the corpse of the deceased and making it presentable for the funeral. He is known for being sweet and comforting to widows and checking up on them after the funeral service.

One such is Marjorie Nugent (MacLaine), the widow of a wealthy oil man. She is not the most well-liked person in town – in fact, she’s pretty much despised. She’s cold, rude and mean, sometimes just for the sake of being mean. At first, she refuses Bernie’s friendship like you’d refuse a door-to-door rap CD salesman. However, as he is persistent and genuinely sweet she relents. Soon the two of them are inseparable.

They go traveling together, first class, all on Marjorie’s dime. Bernie takes her to the theater, classical music performances, art openings and other cultural events. Marjorie sees the popularity that her new friend enjoys and may well be intrigued by the sensation of being liked whereas Bernie gets to experience what money can do for a lifestyle.

Sadly, Marjorie has a jealous streak and she wants Bernie’s attention literally 24-7, and her cold, mean nature starts leading her to assigning him humiliating things to do, while constantly belittling him and berating him if he is not waiting on her hand and foot. Bernie begins to feel trapped as he has resigned his position at the funeral home to become Marjorie’s assistant and business manager with access to her funds, aggravating her obsequious stockbroker (Robichaux) and making Marjorie’s estranged family, who she has already written out of her will in favor of leaving it all to Bernie, suspicious.

As the story continues to unfold, you may find yourself shaking your head. However, this is pretty much as things actually happened, although the family of Marjorie Nugent is adamant that she is not nearly as nasty as she is portrayed here. However, the other events unfolded pretty much as you see them here, although there are some differences – for one thing, the county district attorney in no way resembles Matthew McConaughey who plays him here.

I’m being deliberately vague about the details of what happened because the movie is much more effective if you don’t know in advance (although the story has aired on a variety of news programs both on basic cable and on the networks). Knowing what’s to come robs you of the shock value of what happens because you literally don’t see it coming.

One of the things I love about the movie is the way the story is told, which is pretty much through anecdotes from actual townspeople of Carthage who knew the players quite well, as well as a handful of actors who play townspeople (one of whom is McConaughey’s actual mother – he was raised in the area nearby). They talk about the characters with (in the case of Bernie) genuine affection or (in the case of Marjorie) genuine loathing, peppered with quite a bit of humor – one curmudgeonly sort refers to a neighboring town as being full of rednecks “with more tattoos than teeth.” I wish I’d thought of that.

One of the big attractions here is Black. Often he tends to do over-the-top smarmy kinds of guys. There is a little bit of the used car salesman to Bernie, but this is a very complicated role. He’s effeminate (the real-life Tiete is gay) to the point that his sexuality is questioned, although in the East Texas Bible Belt the general feeling is “Naw! Can’t be…this is Texas!” He’s also a little bit compulsive, and maybe not all that forthcoming about the demons inside him.

MacLaine is a grand dame of the silver screen, and although she rarely makes appearances, she really inhabits the role. Joe Rhodes, a freelance writer in Los Angeles who happens to be the nephew of the real Marjorie Nugent, pronounced that MacLaine’s pinched, disapproving expression was a dead ringer for his aunt’s. Even if Black weren’t in this movie, it would be worth seeing just to see a legend at work.

Keep in mind that this is Bernie’s story – the title of the film is a dead giveaway – so Marjorie’s perspective is barely acknowledged. Why she acted the way she did, what drove her – nary a thought in that direction. I would have liked to see a more even point of view, one less Bernie-centric. Also, Carthage is portrayed as being completely behind Bernie – contemporary accounts say that the town was pretty evenly divided in its approval of him. However, that so many thought of him as a near-saint – and that if any wrong-doing was done, Marjorie had it coming – which is incredible when you think about it. Then again, truth is stranger than fiction.

REASONS TO GO: Black gives an Oscar-caliber performance. Love the anecdotal way the story is told. Wickedly funny in places with a homespun humor.

REASONS TO STAY: Hard to forget that you’re rooting for a guy who did some awful things. Doesn’t really present Marjorie’s point of view other than to show her as entirely despicable.

FAMILY VALUES: There are images of violence, some gruesome mortuary training sequences and some bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Hawthorn Funeral Home, where Bernie Tiede worked and where he and Marjorie Nugent met, refused to allow its name used in the film nor its image due to the family that owned it feeling uncomfortable with the film having so many comedic elements when at the core it’s about the murder of a real person.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/21/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100. The reviews are strongly positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Alpha Dog

MORTICIAN LOVERS: The film opens with Bernie training a group of students in the art of preparing a body for a funeral.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Kill Bill Vol. 1

New Releases for the Week of June 1, 2012


June 1, 2012

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN

(Universal) Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Claflin, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Eddie Izzard, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Lily Cole. Directed by Rupert Sanders

The fairy tale of Snow White is re-imagined as an epic tale of magic and battle. A wicked queen, obsessed with retaining her youth and beauty, uses a magic mirror to prophesy that her reign would be eternal if only she dispatched the only woman whose beauty could potentially eclipse hers – Snow White. However, the girl has fled into the dark forest in habited by all manner of creatures. She dispatches a brave huntsman who has no fear of the woods in to kill her. Instead, they form an unlikely alliance, along with seven doughty dwarves to take on the might of the queen and her magic minions.

See the trailer, clips, promos and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence, action and destruction, and for language)

Battlefield America

(Cinedigm) Marques Houston, Mekia Cox, Christopher Jones, Zach Belandes. A young businessman takes a group of kids from the wrong side of the tracks and tries to turn them into a champion underground dance crew. They’ll have to battle the odds – and each other – to rise above the streets, the drugs and the hopelessness they came from.

See the trailer and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Urban Dance

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements involving some drug material, and for some language)  

Bernie

(Millennium) Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey, Rip Torn. The true story of a beloved figure in a small Texas town who taught Sunday school, sang in the church choir and worked at the local funeral home. When he befriended a rich widow whose outlook on life was as sour as her bank account was large, nobody was surprised – everybody liked Bernie, after all. When she turned up dead and Bernie was arrested for the murder, though, that was a surprise.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violent images and brief strong language)  

Crooked Arrows

(Freestyle Releasing) Brandon Routh, Gil Birmingham, Michael Hudson, Chelsea Ricketts. A native American reluctantly takes on the lacrosse coaching duty at a reservation high school. As he helps the kids connect with a game that is largely part of their heritage, he in turn reconnects with his own native American spirituality as he leads his decidedly underdog club against an elite prep school with its own longstanding lacrosse tradition.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sports Drama

Rating: PG-13  (for some suggestive references)

For Greater Glory

(ARC Entertainment) Andy Garcia, Eva Longoria, Peter O’Toole, Oscar Isaac. The story of General Gorostieta, a Mexican military officer who had retired from war and hoped to live his life out in peace. However when civil war came to his country fueled by the injustice and repression of a corrupt regime, he feels compelled to take up the cause and turn a ragtag group of farmers and peasants into an army.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: R (for war violence and some disturbing images) 

High School

(Anchor Bay) Adrien Brody, Michael Chiklis, Colin Hanks, Mykelti Williamson. After a high school principal declares a zero tolerance for drugs and initiates mandatory drug testing for all students, the class valedictorian takes offense. In fact, he sees this as a grave injustice. So rather than risk that some of his fellow students be expelled for drug use, he decides to get the entire student body high – they can’t all get expelled, can they? This will take some doing however, but with the help of an epic stoner, he might just succeed.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for pervasive drugs and language, crude and sexual content, some nudity – all involving teens) 

The Intouchables

(Weinstein) Omar Sy, Francois Cluzet, Anne Le Ny, Audrey Fleurot. A wealthy but spiritually bereft white French man who is a quadriplegic brings a black ex-con into his life as his attendant. Both men end up transformed by the experience. Saw this at the Florida Film Festival in April; you can read my review here.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Life Drama

Rating: R (for language and some drug use) 

Rowdy Rathore

(UTV) Akshay Kumar, Kareena Kapoor, Sonakshi Sinha, Supreeth Reddy. A conman meets and falls in love with a woman at a wedding he wasn’t invited to. Yearning to turn over a new leaf in order to keep the girl of his dreams, he runs into a six-year-old girl who inexplicably believes him to be her father. In the meantime the small town that he wants to settle down in, ruthless gangs are set to make life there a living hell…and he will need to find the inner hero to save the town, get the girl and be the father he needs to be.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR