Jack Black, James Marsden, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor, Russell Posner
Andrew Mogul & Jarrad Paul
If you followed the news coming out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, then you know that it was a very busy year for acquisitions, including Andrew Mogul and Jarrad Paul’s directorial debut, “The D Train.” Of course, not every movie that gets purchased at Sundance is a surefire hit, and based on the tepid reaction that the film received from attendees, it makes you question why IFC would spend a cool $3 million for the distribution rights. Though it boasts a pair of bankable stars in Jack Black and James Marsden, and features a surprising twist that’s better left unspoiled, this dark comedy about how far someone is willing to go to become popular falls disappointingly flat.
Black stars as Dan Landsman, a schlubby loser who works for an antiquated consulting firm in Pittsburgh and serves as the chairman of his high school’s alumni committee. After seeing popular classmate Oliver Lawless (Marsden) in a Banana Boat sunscreen commercial on TV one night, Dan devises a plan to fly out to Los Angeles and convince Oliver to make an appearance at their upcoming 20-year reunion in the hope that it’ll get more people to attend and earn him the respect of his peers. Dan doesn’t have any trouble tracking Oliver down, but when a wild night of partying takes an unexpected turn (hint: it gives the term “bromance” a whole other meaning), he becomes strangely infatuated with the struggling actor, leading to much bigger problems in his personal and professional life.
It’s Saturday night and you need something to watch. Never fear, Hidden Netflix Gems is a weekly feature designed to help you decide just what it should be, and all without having to scroll through endless pages of crap or even leave the house. Each choice will be available for streaming on Netflix Instant, and the link below will take you to its page on the site. Look for a new suggestion here every Saturday.
When you live in a small town, everybody knows everyone else. They know what you’re like, who your parents were, what you do for a living, whether or not you go to church, and probably a few too many “dirty little secrets” that they use to gossip behind your back. For Bernie Tiede of Carthage, Texas, small town life led to some speculation over whether his effeminate personality indicated he was gay. But it also meant that everybody knew him as the kindest, warmest, friendliest and most generous man they knew. Nobody was more well liked than Bernie.
Then he killed Marjorie Nugent. And despite the logic of that fact, while Bernie Tiede’s life changed, public opinion didn’t.
That’s the stranger than fiction basis of Richard Linklater’s 2011 film “Bernie,” which stars Jack Black in the title role. He’s a 39-year-old assistant funeral director loved by one and all. Kind-hearted soul that he was, he always delivered a gift and checked up on those the deceased left behind. Nobody made him do it, he wasn’t getting paid, he just cared. That habit leads to his befriending 81-year-old millionaire widow Marjorie Nugent, who’s portrayed by Academy Award winner Shirely MacLaine.
Contrary to Bernie, nobody much cares for Mrs. Nugent. Even her own family hates her—she hasn’t spoken to two of her grandchildren in years after they sued her in an effort to get some of her husband’s money. She’s mean, nasty, and entirely lonely, but unwilling to bridge the gap of emotional connection. Until Bernie knocks on her door. Soon they’re eating meals and going on expensive vacations together. Eventually, Tiede even became the sole benefactor of Nugent’s will. She became controlling and jealous. Tiede was on call 24 hours a day, more a servant than a friend, but unable to walk away due to his inherent goodness (not to mention all the money being thrown his way). It was a clash of personalities, and Nugent’s hate beat out Tiede’s love. In a moment of weakness, Tiede snapped and shot Nugent in the back four times.
On paper, it was an open and shut case for Danny Buck Davidson (Matthew McConaughey), the county’s district attorney. A young gay man had gotten wrapped up in the luxurious lifestyle that friendship offered a rich older woman. He was already getting a handsome amount of money, but stood to be the sole benefactor if she was out of the picture. So he killed her, end of story.
Only it wasn’t. Despite the facts, despite Tiede’s confession, the people of Carthage refused to believe their Bernie could have done such an awful thing. Those who would admit it would indicate the old bat had it coming to her. Believing he’d be unable to get a fair decision out a jury made up of people from Carthage, Davidson asked for a change of venue for the trial—a common request of defense lawyers, but a rare occurrence for a prosecutor.
In “Bernie,” Linklater takes the “small town folks who won’t believe the facts” idea and milks it for every bit of comedic and dramatic juice it’s worth. And it works, the film has a 92 percent rating on the Tomatometer. Linklater’s co-writer was Skip Hollandsworth, whose 1998 Texas Monthly article “Midnight in the Garden of East Texas” was the basis for the film.
“Bernie” uses a mockumentary style to give it that small town gossip feel. It often cuts to interviews with fictional East Texas residents (portrayed by real East Texas residents), who weigh in on its events. The question of whether they were genuine accounts was on my mind until McConaughey appeared on screen.
The film offers one of Black’s best performances to date. Perhaps the only role that could could compete came in 2003’s “School of Rock,” another Linklater project that allowed Black to mix in his quirk and musical talents. The actor makes you believe Bernie Tiede is someone who really could (and did) exist. He’s got funny characteristics, finds subtle humor in effeminate movement and body language, but never delves into the realm of the cartoonish. You understand why Bernie might’ve picked up that rifle, you might even approve (as the people of Carthage seem to).
Enjoyable and easy to watch, “Bernie” is a black comedy that mixes just the right amount of both ingredients. It seems to mock the eccentric Southern personalities it contains in a fashion that is loving rather than cruel while implying greater questions about the dangers of faith trumping fact.
Check out the trailer below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.
Derek Waters’ “Drunk History” is one of the strangest, funniest, most absurd concepts in web series history. Playing on the inherent comedy of drunken incompetence and memory loss, each of the series’ six episodes takes a different comedic actor or writer, puts way too much booze in them, and then follows their muddled, profane accounts of important historical events. The episodes then cut between these slurred, rambling monologues and dramatic reenactments of the events, featuring famous actors such as Jack Black, Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel. The genius of these reenactments is how closely the actors follow the exact words of the inebriated nonsense that forms the basis of their script, lip-syncing the dialogue perfectly right down to the inadvertent sniffles and hiccups of the actual speaker.
The first episode features Mark Gagliardi recounting the story of Alexander Hamilton’s famous duel with Aaron Burr after drinking a bottle of Scotch. Though it is unclear how large the bottle was, it was clearly quite a bit of liquor, as he spends most of his segment reclined on a couch with a bucket nearby, just in case. Hamilton is played by a suitably innocent-looking Michael Cera in the reenactment, but the real show-stealer is Jake Johnson in a brilliantly shifty-eyed performance as the loathsome Aaron Burr. In episode 2, Eric Falconer takes on the famous story of Benjamin Franklin‘s discovery of electricity, expounding upon his theory that it was actually Franklin’s “bastard son,” William (Clark Duke), who actually flew the legendary kite with the key tied to it. This is also the series’ first instance of vomiting in the midst of the storytelling, but not its last, so be warned that the series is not for the weak-stomached. Jack Black portrays Franklin again in a special volume 2.5 episode, in which Falconer tells a hilarious tale of Franklin’s sexual deviance.
These are the only official episodes of the series (plus a very special Christmas episode included below), so beware of the unofficial knockoffs, most of which are pretty terrible. In fact, the one I linked to there is pretty much the only one that’s watchable, and it’s still nowhere near as good as the real thing. In addition to the recognizable stars, look for Waters’ name and also that of series director Jeremy Konner to avoid being duped.
Last night at Manhattan’s Bowlmor Lanes / Greenwich Village Country Club, Axe previewed its new interactive global gaming experience, “AxeMan,” at a special, exclusive event shrouded in secrecy. Guests were taken by pre-paid car service to the venue near Union Square, where we were served complimentary food and drinks such as Axe’s signature drink, the “AxeMan” (basically just a good, strong Manhattan), and uniquely delicious breaded-and-fried mac & cheese bites.
We quickly learned the reason for the event’s top-secret, exclusive guest list: as we were seated with our drinks, all the event’s guests were provided with complimentary iPads on which we were given a tutorial on how to play “AxeMan.” In this case, the “axe” in question is an electric guitar played by a tough-looking bro reminiscent of Jack Black‘s “Brutal Legend” character, Eddie Riggs, but with shorter hair and nicer clothes. The game itself combines “Guitar Hero” with a first-person shooter, such as the classic “GoldenEye 007,” though its game-play is a much less complex horizontal scroll.
The object of the game is to collect curvaceous, scantily clad women (hereinafter referred to as “honeys”) to your “crew” while simultaneously defeating bad guys, just like in real life. The game’s setting is the fictional university “PWN U,” and the bad guys are frat-boys who throw either dodgeballs, beer bottles or free-weights at you as you attempt to gain honeys. You can block these by tapping them as they come toward you, and you kill the bad guys by strumming guitar notes at them from a fretboard at the bottom of the screen. The “boss” at the end of the game’s first level is the school’s mascot, a huge bull that comes to life and charges you, depleting your supply of honeys until you defeat him or die. It sounds pretty stupid, and to be honest it is, but it’s also surprisingly fun and addictive.
In addition to the “AxeMan” game, Axe has also launched “Planet Axe,” a social networking hub containing “AxeMan” and other games, where players can connect to share their high scores and talk trash. “AxeMan” also features a user-generated soundtrack of songs supplied by your own iTunes or other music player, so if you prefer to shoot bad guys to the sound of heavy metal, while your friend would rather pick up honeys to the sound of smooth jazz, everybody still wins. Watch out for the bull at the end, though – music of any kind will not likely sooth that savage beast.