13 posts categorized "True Crime"

April 22, 2012


Bernie_movie_posterEast Texas Folklore
Linklater Goes Regional
By Cole Smithey

Richard Linklater’s impeccable black comedy — based on the real-life exploits of Carthage, Texas mortician Bernie Tiede — is so infectiously eccentric you don’t want the movie to end. In a role he was born to play, Jack Black portrays Bernie, a hopelessly altruistic giver who is not the best judge of character — least of all, his own.

The movie opens with the effeminate Bernie giving an instructional lecture in a classroom auditorium on how best to put the finishing touches on a corpse. Bernie humorously elucidates the importance of gluing shut the eyes and lips, as he demonstrates on the stiff before him.  

Image result for BERNIE 2012 movie

Throughout the film, a cadre of Carthage locals provides personal recollections about Bernie, especially as they relate to the town’s wealthiest widow Marjorie Nugent (hilariously played by Shirley MacLaine). Linklater goes for broke using colorful character actors to deliver preciously funny lines.

Image result for BERNIE 2012 movie

Linklater-regular Matthew McConaughey stands out as the bespectacled Carthage District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson, whose crystal-clear memories of Bernie extends to questions of Bernie’s sexuality. “That dog don’t hunt” is how one woman explains Bernie’s lack of interest in women. The comedy is riddled with such humorous colloquialisms indigenous to the East Texas town that Bernie Tiede treated as his personal project for community improvements.

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Jack Black savors every ample opportunity to exemplify his well-meaning character’s optimistically generous approach to life through song and sometimes dance. Whether singing alone in his car, for a congregation at a eulogy, in a local theatre production, Bernie is the life of the party. He’s also not uncomfortable with the deceased or even the nearly dead.

Bernie Tiede’s story is not an obvious choice as the subject for a Richard Linklater movie, other than the fact that the saga is part of Texas folklore. As a native Texan, Linklater has expressed his intrinsic affinity for the state’s culture in his early films (see “Slacker” and “Dazed and Confused”).

Image result for BERNIE 2012 movie matthew

“Bernie” has sparked controversy for [allegedly] not properly representing 81-year-old Marjorie Nugent’s side of the story. The real-life Danny Buck Davidson went so far as to say, “You can’t make a dark comedy out of a murder.” Of course, the attorney is neglecting the fact that murder — or at least death — is one of the fundamental elements of the genre.

Image result for BERNIE 2012 movie matthew

“Bernie” is about quirky regional characters, and the hilarious ways they express themselves. It is also about two polar-opposite character types that attract, before reaching a volatile schism. If an offhand symptom of the story speaks to the problematic nature of self-sacrifice, then so much the better to prompt serious discussions that can go off in a million different directions. One thing is certain; you’ve never before seen a character quite like Bernie Tiede.

Rated PG-13. 104 mins.

3 Stars

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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February 16, 2012


BullheadJacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts) is not your run-of-the-mill Flemish mafia thug. He has serious emotional and physical issues stemming from an attack by the son of one of his father’s criminal partners. Jacky belongs to a family of Belgium cattle farmers who use growth hormones to increase profits.

Debut writer/director Michael R. Roskam based his gut-wrenching crime drama on the true story of a Belgian veterinarian who was murdered in the mid-‘90s.

The CineFiles: BULLHEAD (2011)

The murder of a local investigator causes Jacky to advise his boss not to rush into inking a deal with De Kuyper (Sam Louwyck), an illicit meat market kingpin from a neighboring region. Not that any of his gangster cohorts take the steroid-pumped Jacky seriously enough to follow his instructions. Jacky is of course correct in guessing that a police investigation is in full swing, and the he and his compatriots could be swept up in its net.

Film International

Roskam’s gift for cinematic storytelling comes through in every affecting frame. The filmmaker’s scrupulous use of flashbacks brings the audience into a visceral empathy with Jacky, whose daily injections of testosterone explain much of his erratic behavior and his private turmoil. With his blunted facial features, Flemish actor Matthias Schoenaerts (“Loft”) is ideally cast for the role. Schoenaerts’s gutsy performance is remarkable.

Bullhead' looks for heart in one grim bruiser of a man - Independent Ethos

At heart, Jacky is a sensitive and intelligent guy trapped in a body that doesn’t belong to him anymore. A subplot involving his best friend from childhood seals the film’s character-study aspect with an added dimension of deeply seeded context. “Bullhead” is an unconventional mafia story told through the eyes of a damaged-goods protagonist you can’t help but feel for.

Rated R. 124 mins.

4 Stars

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

Cole Smithey on Patreon

November 23, 2011


RampartIn Front of the Blue Curtain
Bad Cop Story Too Smarmy for Its Own Good
By Cole Smithey

A flawed, melodramatic riff on the "Bad Lieutenant" corrupt cop theme that Abel Ferrara so eloquently nailed down in 1992, "Rampart" is the result of a partnership between writer/director Oren Moverman and crime novelist James Ellroy. A lot of thought clearly went into creating Woody Harrelson's hyper-articulate, reprehensible police officer.

Harrelson's lunatic white cop prototype is formalized within an inch of its life; all the writing mechanics show. Harrelson does a bang-up job, spitting out every line of faulty logic and well-defended-by-the-book alibis the 24-year-veteran Officer Dave Brown uses to justify his illegal acts. Harrelson's sociopathic cop is notoriously nicknamed "Date Rape" for allegedly killing a violent sexual predator _an event he neither confirms nor denies. And yet, by design, the story overreaches. You keep waiting. But it never comes to life.

Review: As corrupt cop, likeably sinister Woody Harrelson goes for thrills  in blistering “Rampart” - ARTS ATL

Brown’s gleeful intimidation of Jane (Stella Schnabel), a minority female police trainee he insultingly calls cowboy, segues into a nasty traffic accident--a civilian T-bones Brown's squad car. Jane ‘s promise as a significant supporting character falls by the wayside in favor of other, less satisfying, narrative detours. (Our unreliable protagonist responds to the car wreck by beating the shit out of the driver--naturally it's all captured on videotape, à la Rodney King, for the media to chew on like dogs tearing meat from a 300-pound carcass.

Movie Review - 'Rampart' - A Dissolute Centurion, On His Last Legs : NPR

All is business as usual for a cop whose resentful teenaged daughter Helen (Brie Larson) calls him by his cop-buddy moniker when he returns home in the evenings. His younger daughter (by Helen’s-mom’s-sister) has a burning question: are she and her sister inbred? The improbable cop’s female-dominated home life matches in artificiality everything that follows with an adulterous affair involving Linda, a prosecuting attorney played by Robin Wright. Linda likes to announce her love of "sucking cock." You can almost hear the screenwriters yucking it up in the background. Harrelson’s bad-boy cop lives with his wife and ex-wife (siblings played by Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon, requiring even more suspension of disbelief).

Movie Review: 'Rampart' – CBS Philly

Superficially based on corruption involving Los Angeles’s notorious “Rampart” police precinct scandal, the movie is a brief examination of the toxic mindset of corrupt individuals working in a cynical system incapable of managing its sociopathic employees. On patrol Officer Brown firmly believes he is participating in a military occupation. Laws are flexible ideas that work better turned upside-down.

Rampart Review

That the film hardly rings with any meaningful editorial impact is a testament to society’s tacit approval of extremist police corruption and brutality. There’s no need for unethical cops to hide behind the legendary blue curtain anymore. They can proudly exert their blood-spewing punishments against American citizens for the entire world to witness on YouTube. If they're lucky, like the cop in Davis, California, their nasty acts will get turned into a viral meme.

Woody Harrelson feels the heat in brutal cop drama 'Rampart' | Movie  reviews | madison.com

Far from being shocking, “Rampart” practically presents an apologist's view of crooked cops because it doesn’t give anywhere near as much screen time to the victims of police brutality. To observe American police acting like enemy soldiers against its citizens has become a daily routine. “Rampart” doesn’t add anything to the conversation.

Woody Harrelson Revels In Corruption With Debut 'Rampart' Trailer

As a piece of journalistic drama the film is too busy with goofy sex scenes and rambling subplots to make a cogent point about a despicable status quo. If the movie is not part of the solution, then it must be part of the problem. I can imagine the same cops who spray tear gas into the eyes of Occupy protestors going to see this film, and admiring Officer Dave Brown for his Teflon intellect and impudent approach to his job. With anti-hero protagonists like this one, we don’t need more enemies.

Rated R. 105 mins.

2 Stars

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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