Tag: Shirley MacLaine

Terms of Endearment – Review

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3-5Star

by Ken B.

I once said that melodrama is a unique and powerful tool that is too frequently overused to be taken seriously. Terms of Endearment is a perfect example – it does not rely excessively on it, but uses actual characters and scenarios to take a caring audience on for its ride. Director/writer/producer James L. Brooks has truly done a fantastic job, writing an intricate, beautiful script (based on a book by Larry McMurty) and guiding immensely talented actors to give their best.

The story concerns relationships – different kinds, different people, but all interlinked. While most movies will focus on one relationship, multiple are focused on here, over the stretch of a couple of decades. There’s Aurora (SHIRLEY MACLAINE), and her daughter Emma (DEBRA WINGER). There’s Debra and her husband Flap Horton (JEFF DANIELS), and there’s Aurora and the alcoholic womanizer astronaut next door, Garrett (JACK NICHOLSON). There are highs and lows, laughter and tears. There’s an obvious focus towards the first relationship between mother and daughter. It is the first we are exposed to at the start of the film and the last we are exposed to at the end.

I was captivated by the absolutely wonderful way this idea is executed. Terms of Endearment is heavily emphatically based on character and emotion, and had anything been overdone for a long period of time – acting, writing, or even music, this movie would have begun to crash and burn. But it doesn’t. It remains mostly disarmed and completely fascinating for all 132 minutes.

But notice I said “for a long period of time”. This is a movie that isn’t afraid to go for the easy pressure points of the audience – this can be a flaw, as much as a stylistic move. If you watch this, you might come across a few groan-inducing moments, but thankfully they don’t stick around long enough to become a serious calamity.

I can see two schools of thought around Terms of Endearment – one is the idea I subscribe to, which approaches the film as a frankly observable unabashed melodrama, and a very good one at that. The other valid idea sees the movie as a sappy, syrupy waste. A bunch of good actors wasted with a script that will stop at nothing to make the audience drown in their own tears. I don’t know of many people that withhold both views – possibly because they’re polar opposites.

In the end, what I can endorse is that Terms of Endearment is a movie with superb acting, a commendable script, and strong direction. It is mostly irresistible, a worthwhile experience that everyone should look at once in their lives.

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Bernie – Review

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3Star

by Ken B.

“Comedy is essentially a sadistic genre… [it] is built off a strong negative emotion.”

                                         – Alex Epstein, television writer

In the first scene, we are introduced to Bernhardt “Bernie” Tiede, played by Jack Black. Bernie is a happy, kind funeral director, a nice guy in general. He is at a university, showing how to prepare a corpse for a funeral. At one point he says “You don’t want to turn grief tragically into comedy”. In a way, this is some strange foreshadowing to the movie ahead of you. Bernie, based off events that occurred in a small Texas town in 1996 and an article in Texas Monthly, joins a group of movies that create a strange comedic value off murder.

Bernie forms a friendship with newly widowed Marjorie Nugent (SHIRLEY MACLAINE), an old woman who is seen by the other residents of the town as nasty and bitter. Indeed, she is, but this doesn’t get to Bernie until suddenly one day, where this kind, gentle, generous man shoots her four times in the back with a gun she made him use to kill an armadillo. His next task is to go to extreme feats to have locals under the impression that this woman is still alive.

One of Bernie’s strongest assets may be its screenplay, written by director Richard Linklater and journalist Skip Hollingsworth (he wrote the Texas Monthly article the movie is based on). It takes a lot of risks, all rooting back to the first big risk, making a dark comedy based on a real murder, and also using the real names of the main people involved. At the same time, the script is also the movie’s main crippling point. While the movie never tells any direct jokes, but simply letting comedy unfold in the way that it tells its story, is it possibly too cheery relaying the story of the killing of an 81 year old woman? Nevertheless, if you watch Bernie, you’ll probably laugh a few times. You’re not going to feel good about it, but you probably will laugh.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m just not usually a fan of Jack Black’s whole demeanor in movies. He has a tendency to enter a generally unappealing persona in the kinds of movies that I really just don’t like. But this movie is different – he really did change some of my impressions of him in his fantastic performance. There’s really a “look-at-that!” kind of attitude I felt while watching him, ranging from marching around a stage singing “76 Trombones” to lines explaining a dislike for cremation.

The movie is told through part narrative and part mockumentary, featuring what Linklater calls “gossipers”, or townsfolk talking about their initial impressions of Bernie. Everyone liked him, but as with all small town gossipers, they were all searching for his secret – something shocking or unpredictable about him. His own dirty secret was big enough to have him serve a life sentence in prison, something clearly far from the fare of said gossipers.

Bernie is far from a perfect movie, but it’s still a good one, and a depressingly overlooked one. According to boxofficemojo.com, Bernie, an intelligent and  forward film reached only 332 theaters upon its widest release last May, while a movie like The Purge, which looks like one of the most idiotic of the year based on its trailer, is currently (as of June 17, 2013) playing on 2,536 screens. There’s a depressing thought for you.

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