Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Double Feature! Sympathetic Murderers Edition: Bernie and God Bless America

Dark comedy is a hard line to walk, and very little of it is well done. Make it too gorey and you end up with your standard horror flick, make it too light and joyful and you lose the grimmer elements that make it thought-provoking in the first place.

In honor of my favorite holiday, I'm going to look at two stand-out films in this genre I recently watched back to back; Bernie and God Bless America. Perhaps it will give you some good ideas for something to watch tonight after the Trick or Treaters have gone to bed.

Image courtesy of Millenium Entertainment.
Bernie is based on a true story of a mild-mannered undertaker Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) living the small town of Carthage, TX, who is SO good, SO kind, that he finally cracks under the tyrannical demands of Marjorie Nugent, a disgruntled, selfish rich widow played brilliantly by Shirley MacLaine that Bernie is taking care of. The more he gives, the more she takes, until finally much to his horror he snaps and kills her. At this point, the plot really takes off as he goes to creative lengths to convince everyone in the town for almost a year that she is still alive.

The real Bernie Tiede with director Richard Linklater
What makes this film such a gem is way the story is told through the eyes of the town's residents. There are multiple cutbacks to them talking about Bernie and what kind of a person he is, and these people are a mixture of actual residents and actors. This creates a unique blend of mixing the movie's creative license with the actual people and story. It also features one of the best performances of Matthew McConaughey (who was born in Uvalde, TX, about seven hours outside of Carthage) as a straight-shootin' prosecutin' lawyer Danny Buck Davidson, who has his suspicions about Bernie from the start. Fun fact: his mom, Kay McConaughey, has a cameo as one of the townsfolk interviewed.

It's clear the actors did their homework, and the director as well as Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine were in touch with the real Bernie Tiede (see photo above, courtesy of Samuel Haun Photography). It's a singular tale about how people with even the best of intentions can completely lose it, but it doesn't necessarily make them bad people at heart. It makes you think about why people do what they do, and how motives aren't always what they seem.

Toby gives this title:

Image courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

God Bless America is much edgier, and doesn't pull any punches in regards to blood and gore. Written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, the off-beat renaissance man known for everything from his distinctive character voice (e.g. Pain in Disney's Hercules) to Eliot Loudermilk in 1988's Scrooged, it is clear from this film he has a major axe to grind.

Frank, played by Joel Murray, is in your middle class suburban nightmare. He's divorced, has a self-absorbed brat of a daughter that doesn't love him, lives in a crappy apartment with terrible next-door neighbors, and on top of it all, he may be terminally ill. Desperate times call for desperate measures - and away we go.

The plot moves quickly - not much time to stop and chat when there's so many stupid people that need their just desserts. But the pacing does slow down enough to develop the relationship between Frank and Roxy, the equally jaded teen played by Tara Lynne Barr he happens to stumble upon. It has heartwarming elements in the sense that Frank finally gets at least a glimpse at the father/daughter dynamic he's always wanted before it is too late.

Without spoiling anything, it is refreshing the film ends in the only way that makes sense. There's no last-minute change of heart or regrets, which would've cheapened the tale overall. Frank and Roxy came in guns blazing and they go out the same way. There's a kind of defiant, heady charm to that attitude, but after the rush is over, there's not much left to chew on afterwards.

While it is great fun watching ignorant, shallow people get taken out (who hasn't had the urge to do some damage to the person that double-parks in an already crowded lot?), the film smacks of self-indulgence. The film was not made for us, but rather for Mr. Goldthwait, and while it is a fun ride, the sheer anger and resentment leaves the film with a hollow feel, and precious little substance.

Toby gives this title:

Toby sez:

Bottom line: if you're looking for a morbidly funny, thought-provoking tale, go with Bernie. If you're in the mood for thrill and sheer vengeance, go for God Bless America.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

October AudioFile Book Reviews: Widdershins & CHRONO SPASM: Deathlands 109

 Yes dear readers, I have been busy while I've been away. The move to Providence went well, I currently know where MOST of my stuff is, and I'm hitting the keyboard hard to have some movie-related content coming soon. In the meantime I will share with you my latest crop of reviews for AudioFile Magazine. I also have links at the bottom of each if you would like to see the review on the original magazine website. Of course, E.E. happens to be me. Enjoy! 

Image courtesy of Audible, Inc.
 WIDDERSHINS :Whyborne & Griffin, Book 1   

 Julian G. Simmons gives a heartwarming portrayal of early-twentieth-century linguist Percival Endicott Whyborne, who finds himself unexpectedly falling in love. This experience is accompanied by a mystery of surprisingly supernatural proportions when he encounters the brash detective Griffin Flaherty, his perfect opposite. Set in Victorian New England, this story of a romance budding amid the taboos of the time is wrapped up with an intriguing plot. Simmons differentiates the two men by giving Flaherty a bold, sarcastic tone befitting his personality but trips up on delivering a convincing Irish accent when the detective has to go undercover. Thankfully, the scene is brief. Overall, Simmons's tender narration gives added dimension to this unique adventure story. E.E. © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

To view the review on the AudioFile website, click here.

Image courtesy of Graphic Audio, Inc.
CHRONO SPASM :Deathlands 109
James Axler
Read by Richard Rohan and a Full Cast

The harsh elements of Alaska and equally harsh scenes are described with a cool efficiency by Richard Rohan and enhanced by a range of character voices, music, and sound effects. Although the plot can be difficult to follow due to the multiple subplots, one involving a time portal, the balance of volume between Rohan and the rest of the cast is excellent. The depictions of violence are not for the faint of heart and are made all the more realistic by the accompanying sounds; for instance, when a man is burned to death, you actually hear the crackle of the flames and his agonized screams of pain. Russian accents are believable and not overdone. A well-executed thriller. E.E. © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine

To view the review on the AudioFile website, click here.

 Look for my reviews of the splendiferous children's classic The BFG by Roald Dahl and The Clockwork Man by Edwin Vincent Odle in November!