At times, I consider Richard Linklater to be the best Texan filmmaker. Or at least the most honest and practical about this fair state’s diametric array of personalities and hazy country lifestyles. With his latest film, “Bernie”, Linklater has gone full country bumpkin and crafted a tale of twisted dedication and love gone bad in East Texas. Carthage, in fact… a small city that I used to have family in and spent many a family reunion there as a youngster. Starring Jack Black and based on a true story, “Bernie” grasps onto the black comedy genre with ease as Black portrays the amiable town mortician and friend-to-old-ladies, including wealthy Shirley MacLaine, whom he ends up killing in a fit of blind rage. Linklater fashions “Bernie” as a documentary of sorts, casting real life citizens as speakers to an unnamed filmmaker describing their interactions with the devious murder and eventual cover-up… and where Texas-speak such as “oh shit…. Our donkey’s in a ditch!” lingers across the film alongside the wrinkled, impressionable faces of its cast of non actors. Matthew McConaghy, as the high profile prosecutor, overdoes it a bit in stretches, but overall, “Bernie” is an unassuming comedy that fits right into the patchwork oeuvre of Linklater and his quest to enlighten all corners of the state.
Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano’s “The Intouchables” probably earns a bit more cache due to its European pedigree. I can just imagine Al Pacino and Mos Def in the American remake. Wheel chair bound Phillippe (Francios Cluzet) hires strong-bodied street tough Driss (Omar Sy) as his personal assistant and opposites attract with a good measure of learning-to-love-life mixed in as well. It’s hard to deny the fairly rote narrative procession the film follows, yet it succeeds on the hugely magnetic performances of Cluzet and Sy. And I’ll be damned if I didn’t get a bit choked up in the final moments. The closing credit sequence with clips of home video footage of the real Phillippe and Driss effectively amplifies the relationship between fiction and non-fiction. In the same way Linklater showed footage of Jack Black talking with the real-life, imprisoned persona behind “Bernie”, “The Intouchables” adds an affecting coda that portrays depth and sensitivity to a story already drenched in it.
Take one part Alien trilogy and shake well with Erich von Daniken’s “Chariots of the Gods” and one ends up with Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus”, a sleek looking but infinitely detached sci-fi prequel to the aforementioned “Alien” films. I did get giddy at certain parts of the film, namely its various echoes of trilogy past. The appearance of the ship that starts it all in 1979, further disdain for cyborgs who seem hell-bent on obeying orders from a mischievous corporation and propelling the violence of alien DNA over human survival and especially the idea of strong female lead Noomi Rapace strapping up and taking charge recall the glories of the original two films. But regardless of this eager fan boy attitude, “Prometheus” stalls when it comes to character development. Not only are the characters of Idris Elba and others cardboard recreations, but their ultimate actions failed to move or engage me. “Prometheus” is startling for being a summer movie with some heady ideas and a terrific nihilistic attitude at one point (“there’s nothing”…. “I know”), but that’s about it. Subplots pop up without any credence (Charlize Theron and her father), an elusive backstory concerning Noomi Rapace’s family and an oblique opening scene that raises more questions than it answers all create huge divides in the narrative. Perhaps there’s a director’s cut on the way. It’s just disappointing that we need a later DVD to underscore the intentions now.