by Takis Garis (@takisgaris)

Episode 24 Sinister Bernie


Hanging Out
It’s only once in a long while that a horror film is hitting the target in virtually all the right ways. Funnily enough, we witness this happening due to the Paranormal Activity industry creative team (notorious franchise producer Jason Blum) and Scott Derrickson who once again gives a good stir to metaphysical shock factor and clinical psychology pathogenesis (The Exorcism of Emily Rose). Add the commanding, highly committed performance of Ethan Hawke and there you have it; it’s not only Sinister, it’s downright scary. It’s Tales from the Crypt meet The Shining scary. Yes, admittedly it also has a ludicrous resolution, the one that can be plainly called The Boogeyman but we have already managed to empathize with the true crime novelist Ellison Oswalt, a has been successful (his big hit was “Kentucky Blood”) self-centered yet family loving man-child Ethan Hawke that we don’t really give a darn.

Finally, after a zillion blunt efforts that posed for originality and fell flat booooring, the found footage genre has discovered a credible, ingenious and griping way to give the thrills and the spooky chills; it doesn’t take much novelty, just knowledge of Super 8mm vintage eeriness and the basic concept of voyeuristic guilt. The novelist finds archived home tapes depicting horrendous family crimes. Wife and two kids are put in ominous peril; he insists watching. He starts drinking, loses sense of what’s real; unless it’s all real, which means that’s his family is Boogeyman’s next slaughterhouse show. Unless the real Boogeyman here is our hero, ready to sacrifice everything for a comeback, although the wife (Juliet Rylance) insists that he’s had his 15 minutes of fame already long ago.

Isn’t this a clear parable of Hawke’s real career story? Seeing Ethan making the connection on Jimmy Fallon Late Night show himself, it felt genuinely heartfelt. The ending is twisting and twisted enough to feel for him and his futile desperation to write the epilogue of his hero’s own life, even more so when he makes the against the tide decision to abandon the evil house, burning the visual evidence of the crimes. For some this conclusion might ring falsified and frivolous, for me it’s devastating and wrenching. Blame it on composer Christopher Young (A Nightmare On Elm Street 2, Wonder Boys and Spiderman 3) who masterfully navigates us through agony, fright and despair. Last but not least, Derrickson delivers adequately by creatively lending from classic horror past material (from The Exorcist to The Ring) and sticking to his protagonist’s story; you can’t get your eyes off of what he sees, even though you may detect in his eyes that he’s worshiping the wrong God. This little ($3M budget-$40M b.o.) scary movie is flawed but I am already praying for a sequel.

BERNIE (6/10)

The Old Ladies Man
Moving full throttle to year end awards consideration realm, this piece is to bear witness to a significant omission ready to happen; Bernie is that rare film that defies Hollywood studios logic, mixing dexterously documentary and dramedy, showcasing a brilliant performance by heavy weight comedian Jack Black that catapults him in post Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey stratosphere. It’s a true crime story which shook up Carthage TX (population: 7,000) fifteen years ago, reported by co-screenwriter Skip Hollandsworth in a Texas Monthly article that caught the versatile filmmaker Richard Linklater’s attention and has been developed through the years, always keeping in mind Jack Black (remember his breakthrough role in Linklater’s School of Rock) and legendary actress Shirley McLaine for the protagonist duo.

The happy mortician, assistant director of Hawthorn Funeral Home Bernie Tiede is a well adored member of the local community. He’s an unparalleled professional who can make any corpse look awesome for burial, an apt choir singer and an amusing stage player in local youth cultural programs. Bernie is also a philanthropist of ambiguous sex fame, clashing between gerontophilia and closeted homosexuality. He is Carthage’s patron saint and a bundle of joy for its people, as this is attested across the board by the real town residents, in hilarious Midwestern dialect & idioms, perfectly nuanced by Tex-bred Linklater. When Bernie met widow Marjorie Nugent (MacLaine, so believable in a role she can go through sleepwalking) the sparkle ignited a fatal attraction of increasing interdependency that inevitably led to sweet Bernie shooting Marjorie four times with her armadillo hunting rifle, then putting her in the freezer for nine months while he was spending her fortune on trivialities, giving Carthage’s people tattoo smiles to the point that, when his crime was uncovered by deadpan district attorney Danny Buck Davidson (the again stupefying good as much as unrecognizable Matt McConaughey) everyone started coming up with the most risible reasons to justify his crime that led him serving for life in Telford State Unit Prison.

Local notoriety was Bernie’s drug and Jack Black excels at downplaying this with sympathy and surgical precision. Linklater has him on the leash and this is a huge pay off for a movie that could go entirely south, by slapstick direction and hysterical overacting. In a way, Black’s dramatic turn plays like the flipside of Zach Galifianakis stretched arc of parody in The Campaign. Difference is, Black rings absolutely true, funnily darkish and awkwardly lovable. This is the kind of acting that should not go unnoticed, distinguished Academy members. As it pertains to McConaughey, what a year is having for real! A show stealing (most probably to be nominated for supporting) performance in otherwise ludicrous Magic Mike and then, Killer Joe, The Paperboy and the upcoming Jeff Nichol’s Mud, I mean excuse me but, this guy has to be recognized somehow.


The Toronto Connection brought you by DENON

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