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Murder Week: Bernie by Jamie

I don’t know what it says about our culture that the first to movies I’m reviewing for Murder Week are comedies. Also not sure what the hell it says about me. Still, up on the docket today is another little known comedy which reunites “School of Rock” director Richard Linklater and star Jack Black by the name of “Bernie”. Now, there’s one thing that really kind stands out about this movie and that’s that it’s a comedy based on a real murder. And not a real life murder that happened two centuries ago as is the case with John Landis’ “Burke and Hare”. No, this was an actual murder that happened in 1996. Stranger still, the film contains testimonials featuring people from the town where the murder happened. So, yeah, I think it’s fair to say I’ve never really seen anything quite like this before. Now, there are spoilers ahead but it’s not really the kind of film that can be spoiled. The characters and how they react to the plot are far more important than the plot itself.

Bernie (Black) is the assistant funeral director in the small town of Carthage, Texas. His good and exceedingly giving nature has made him the most beloved member of the community, particularly the fact that he goes out of his way to ensure the well-being of the relatives of the departed. Due to this, he soon becomes the only friend of the recently widowed Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), someone who is pretty much reviled in Carthage. It isn’t long until Nugent is abusing Bernie’s insanely kind nature and soon the poor man’s seemingly infinite patience begins to run thin. In a fit of blind rage, Bernie picks up a gun and shoots Nugent four times in the back. He finds he can keep the crime hidden for some time because of Nugent’s unpopularity in town. He finds that few people ask questions about her and those that do quickly take his word for it. He also begins to use Nugent’s money to help out people in town and using pretty much none of it for himself.

Unfortunately for Bernie, there’s one person who isn’t satisfied with Bernie’s answers and that’s Nugent’s Stock Broker. He brings in the District Attorney, Danny Buck Davidson (Matthew McConaughey) who quickly uncovers Bernie crime. Davidson suddenly finds himself in a bit of a bind. He quickly discovers that, even though Bernie is clearly guilty and has confessed to the crime, none of the townsfolk will convict him if they are on the jury. In an unprecedented move, Davidson requested that the trial be moved to San Augustine, not because he felt that Bernie would be convicted unfairly but because it seemed as though conviction would be completely impossible for a conviction at all in Carthage.

So that’s pretty much the plot of the film, though I’ll leave the result of the trial out so there’s something there for you to find out for yourself. I’ve got to say, I was pleasantly surprised by this film. Jack Black is playing a very different character from what he usually does and it’s a pleasant change indeed. He manages to pull off the loveable murderer brilliantly and for the most part, he plays it fairly straight with most of the humour from his character basically coming from just how unbelievably nice he is. Also worthy of note are MConaughey and MacLaine who are both excellent, particularly McConaughey as he becomes more and more frustrated with a town who has pretty much decided that they don’t care if Bernie has murdered someone.

The real star of this film and the main source of its humour, however, is the town of Carthage. The testimonials from the townspeople are just fantastic and the fact that Linklater decided to include them is truly a stroke of genius. It’s the gossip nature of this film that really sells it and the thing that really kept me watching what would otherwise be a serviceable if somewhat played out true crime film. You just cannot help but fall in love with these people as they express their love for Bernie. In particular there’s an older women who keeps on insulting Nugent whilst another woman just sits next to her laughing. It’s great.

So yeah, I would definitely recommend Bernie if you want to see a comedy about a true life murder. I’d recommend it if you want to see Jack Black do something different. And I’d definetly recommend it if you want to see something that you’ve probably never seen before. Four pints out of five. Laterz.



Murder Week: Salvation Boulevard (2011) by Jamie

Quite by accident, I ended up watching a number of films that all seemed to revolve around the worst crime a human being can commit that doesn’t involve touching children in inappropriate ways. So I’ve decided that, hell, I might as well review ’em and make a theme week out of it. So yeah, murder. It’s something that humans are pretty good at. There are those out there that would say that humans are especially evil being the only species that kill their own kind. To that I’d say that Black Widow Spiders and Praying Mantises would have a number of arms to raise in objection to that. Hell, we’re not even the only species to go to war.

Still, there’s something which fascinates us about this darker side of human nature. The fascination with death is probably only second in the human psyche to our fascination with sex. It probably comes with being, as far as we know, the only species that is fully aware of our mortality. It’s why we created myths to ease the fear of death. The fact that we could comprehend that we were alive made it hard to accept that one day everything we were would come to an end, hence we came up with the idea of the afterlife. This idea was then taken by the ruling classes of several different societies and cultures in order to keep the peasants in line. Just work hard and do as you’re told in this life, and you’ll get rewarded in the next. Its Marx’s opiate of the masses, if you will. And so it is that we come to today’s film, Salivation Boulevard, a comedy-thriller-religious satire from 2011. Yeah, that’s right. All that build up was for the review of a little known comedy film. I’ll admit, the opening got away from me a bit there.

The most notable thing about this film is probably the cast. Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connelly, Marissa Tomei, Ed Harris, Jim Gaffigan, Ciarán Hinds. Hell, that’s a fairly impressive list of pretty solid people. So how was it that this thing slipped through the cracks and ended up with a 21% rating on Rotten Tomatoes?

Well, to be fair, it’s just not that great of a film. To be fair I don’t think it’s really 21% bad but it could have done so much more with the premise. The basic set-up is that Pierce Brosnan plays Pastor Dan Day, the head of a Mega Church in a small town in Western America. He’s beloved by the community, in particular former Deadhead turned Christian Carl Vandermeer (Kinnear) and his wife Gwen (Connelly). The Mega Church that every obedient follower of the Lord could want, including a daycare centre with colouring books featuring Pastor Dan’s smiling face. Yes, the people of the town pretty much worship Dan as much as they do a 2000 year old Jewish Carpenter Zombie and the film isn’t particularly subtle about it, at least at first.

After Dan engages in a spirited debate with atheist Dr Paul Blaylock (Harris), he and Carl head back to the professor’s office for a night cap. One thing leads to another and the Pastor accidentally shoots Blaylock in the head. Fearing that the shooting will put his plans for a new Christian community that he plans to build in jeopardy, he tries to pass off the shooting as an attempted suicide whilst also trying to silence Carl. “Hilarity” ensues and all manner of madcap mix-ups and misunderstandings occur.

The main problem with the film is that it never quite balances its genres. It feels like it could have been a decent enough comedy about a man wrongly accused of a crime or a decent religious satire but in trying to combine the two, the final product is a bit of an unsatisfying mess. It’s the religious satire aspect, in particular, that really seems to suffer. It just never seems to go beyond the fairly obvious. Also I was a little disappointed that Pastor Dan actually seems to believe in the product he’s selling. Yes, he’s using that belief to gain and profit for himself but it’s pretty clear that he’s a believer himself and he suffers a great deal of guilt over what he’s done. Not enough to come clean but still, it tortures his religious soul. Personally, I feel it would have been better from a satirical viewpoint to have Dan simply pay lip service to Christianity in order to get what he wants. Sure, that might have been obvious too but it could have been a little more biting.

Perhaps the oddest thing in the whole film is Pierce Brosnan’s accent. It starts of as one thing and ends up something like an Australian accent and I honestly have no idea why. Honestly, it’s just bizarre. Why not just have him using his normal, British accent if he’s not going to play an American anyway? It’s possible it’s inspired by Australian Ken Hamm, director of the Creation Museum and a man whose choice of facial hair leaves him looking far more like a product of an evolutionary process he insists didn’t happen.

This man certainly didn’t evolve from apes…

So yeah, I kinda had high hopes for this film. The subject matter put it firmly in my wheel house and I thought that maybe it might be a nice little treasure that I could appreciate even if the critics didn’t but sadly I was disappointed. There were a few moments where I did laugh out loud and Kinnear puts in a great, believable performance as poor put-upon Carl but as a whole the movie just leaves you wishing it had been so much more. Two pints out of five. Laterz.



Documental: Cropsey by Jamie

It seems that every town has an urban legend involving some kind of scary maniac, weirdo or boogeyman who lives away from the rest of society doing untoward things like kidnapping or murder. The one we had growing up was Bill, a homeless man who lived down by the river. Admittedly ours was an actual person though the legend that grew up around him was probably somewhat exaggerated. There were those who said he was an eccentric billionaire who actually owned a rather nice house but decided to live down by the river instead because he was mental. I don’t really remember any tales of murder but I do remember that our parents would warn us of him when ever we were going down that way.

I remember one day when a few of us were walking across the Cow Pipe (a pipe elevated of the ground that ran from one part of the river to a cow field next to it) and Bill came round the corner. My friend fell and I grabbed him. Unfortuantely he took me with him and I landed in a big pile of stinging nettles. Bill sat there on the pipe laughing at us for a few minute before wandering off. It was one of the times that I remember being really and truly afraid.

The urban legend that circled amongst the kids on Staten Island was of Cropsey and that’s kind of what the film of the same name deals with. The interesting thing about this case is that something happened after the establisment of the legend that gave the story further credence.

On Staten Island there used to be a mental institution called Willowbrook. It was originally designed for 4,000 residents but by 1965 it had over 6,000 and was the biggest state-run institution for the mentally handicapped. In 1972 the institution was visited by the admirably mustachioed Geraldo Rivera in a report he called ‘Willowbrook: The Last Disgrace”. His footage, some of which is shown in ‘Cropsey’ showed scenes of overcrowding, children screeching naked and covered in filth. The report caused a public outcry but Willowbrook would remain open until 1987.

After it’s closure a few of the former residents and even staff members returned, living for periods in the woods around the institution of in the labyrinthine tunnels beneath the old building. One of these people was a former employee, Andre Rand.

Whilst all this was going on, children were going missing on Staten Island and this just helped to feed the Cropsey legend further. In 1987 a young girl with Down’s Syndrome called Jennifer Schwiezer went missing. Searches were carried out around the island and eventually her body was found close to Willowbrook. Attention turned towards Rand especially when witnesses came forward claiming that Jennifer had last been seen with a man fitting his description. He was brought in for questioning, charged and convicted receiving twenty -five years to life.

The film itself investigates all aspects of the legends and facts around Staten Island and Willowbrook. First it traces the legened of Cropsey before getting more and more involved in the case of Rand, going so far as to contact him and ask for interviews as a new trial is about to begin involving the disappearance of another little girl from 1981.

Overall it’s a pretty fascinating documentary and one which honestly gets more than a little creepy at times, particularly when the film makers are going through the ruins of Willowbrook at night, discovering all the old sleeping places of people who used to live there. It also handles the question of whether or not Rand is guilty quite well early on although as the film progresses I certainly found myself thinking he was probably guilty not so much because of any slant in the film but because of the actions of Rand himself which also ties into things. Is Rand being declared guilty because of any concrete evidence or because he seems like the kind of person who might do horrible things and therefore makes a convenient boogeyman for the community of Staten Island?

In closing the only real problem I had was that the film seemed a little all over the place at times but I’ll put this down to the nature of the story rather than any real fault of the film itself. Four pints out of five. Laterz.



Review: A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010) by Jamie

AVAST, HERE BE SPOILERS.

Ah, Michael Bay. You seem to be set on ruining the things that I loved growing up. If you’re not turning the Transformers into nothing more than giant scrotum jokes and robots humping Megan Fox’s leg then you’re using your production company, Platinum Dunes, to systematically remake the horror films that morphed me into the slightly twisted and desensitized me from violence. From ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ to ‘The Amityville Horror’, it seemed as though nothing was safe from your evil clutches.

This all culminated with the one that was the biggest personal insult to me, last years remake of ‘Friday The 13th’. Jason was always my favourite of the slashers and I was actually genuinely excited to see this film in the cinema. I went into it with the feeling that you couldn’t possibly ruin a series which, arguably, had been ruined several times before. See ‘Jason Takes Manhattan’ for more details. Of course I was wrong to have hope. I left that film feeling angrier than I thought I could feel about a film. What had happened to my hockey masked hero? Little did I know that I could actually feel angrier than that but I did when a certain cinematic shitstorm called ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’ hit the screens.

But then came the news of another Michael Bay produced horror remake, a remake of ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’. At first I was dubious. There came the news that Robert Englund wouldn’t be reprising his role as Freddy, that someone else would be donning the fedora, stripy sweatshirt and clawed glove. Of course I could understand. You want to reboot something then you want someone different in that role but for many of us, Robert Englund was Freddy. It was as simple as that.

Then there came hope. It turned out that Jackie Earle Haley would be stepping into the shoes of everyone’s favourite child murderer… Wow, that’s a sentence I never thought I’d write. Still, things seemed to be looking up. Haley was certainly the best thing about ‘Watchmen’ and it seemed as though he was pretty much perfect for the role.

Other pieces of news started to break out. The film-makers said that they’d want to take Freddy away from the jokey character he had become in the later ‘Nightmare’ movies and return him to his dark origins. Not that I don’t enjoy the comic Freddy for what he was but there definitely was something genuinely scary about that first ‘Nightmare’ film. Plus it seemed like they could really do something impressive with the nightmarish dreamscapes that modern CGI would allow. Once more Michael Bay and Platinum Dunes had gotten my hopes up. But would it turn out that once more my hope was misplaced?

Well in a word, yes. The filmmakers took what is a fucking solid concept and completely screwed it up. I didn’t get as annoyed by this as I was by ‘Friday the 13th‘. Rather, I was just bored. When a movie’s main conceit is that your main characters will die if they fall asleep, it’s probably a good idea not to make the audience feel as though a little nap would be more enjoyable than watching the film.

The main problem was that the slightly surreal elements of that first ‘Nightmare’ film have almost been completely stripped away. Yes, there’s the scene where Freddy is coming through the wall but it’s honestly nowhere as impressive as in the original. There’s also a scene later on where a floor becomes a lake of turgid blood which then pools and falls through a ceiling but other than that there aren’t really any examples of Freddy drastically fucking with reality like he used to. There’s no scene where a telephone suddenly sprouts a tongue. There’s no shower of blood exploding from the mattress of a bed (though the scene I mentioned earlier of the blood falling through a ceiling is supposed to be reminiscent of it and again, it’s nowhere near as impressive). There’s not even an attempt to replicate one of the most iconic scenes from that original film where Freddy is walking along with his extra long, Stretch Armstrong arms. Everything just seems too realistic and honestly what is the fucking point?

There’s also issue of the new Freddy, both in redesign and story. I know they were trying to go for a face that looked more like an actual burn victim but what they actually came up with was something that looked like more like Lion-O from the Thundercats or maybe some kind of diseased Na’vi. Just something about the design of the nose and eyes made Freddy seem particularly feline this time around. He does still have his fedora, stripey sweatshirt and, of course, the clawed glove so that’s something I suppose. As for what they attempt to do with the story, well, it’s just bizarre.

You see about an hour into this film they toy with the idea that perhaps Freddy was innocent of his crimes. The problem is that whether or not this is true actually gets resolved pretty quickly afterwards. Of course it does because, well, you’ve only got a half hour left and you still need to fit in the final battle with Freddy which should take up at least ten or fifteen minutes. So yeah, not really enough time to develop this theory. If they’d introduced the idea a bit earlier in the film, there’s a chance that I’d give a fuck about it either way but as it is it just seems kind of empty and pointless. I should also point out that this time round, Freddy is a paedophile. They always danced around the idea in the original films simply because it was a different time and for some reason people found a child murderer more palatable as a villain than a child molester. So yeah, Freddy is a paedophile and this time he’s taking his revenge on the children who ratted him out.

That’s another problem with this version of the story. In the original Freddy was killing the kids as revenge for what the adults of Springwood had done to him. In this version he’s taking revenge against for what the children had caused to happen to him. It removes the whole ‘sons and daughters paying for the sins of the mothers and fathers’ element that the original had and that just plain sucks. It also makes it hard to see just where the planned two sequels for this film are gonna go since the film ends with only two of the original group of kids surviving.

So what about the performances? Well, the kids are there to serve their purpose and do little else. At no point do you really feel any empathy for them, don’t particularly care whether they live or die. I can remember the actual shock and sadness I felt when Jonny Depp’s character died in the original. He was a character that you had come to know and like and his death came as a genuine shock to me. There’s none of that here. Kids are brought on to be killed or fight Freddy as needed and you don’t connect with them at all. Character development is practically non-existant even for the two main characters.

As for Jackie Earle Haley, well, he tries bless him but that’s a pretty big glove he’s got to fill. I tried hard not to think about Robert Englund when I was watching this but it was impossible. The man is Freddy Krueger and he always will be. Haley said that he wasn’t going to let Englund’s performance influence his but that’s clearly something that ended up going out the window. There are the little, swift movements that Haley performs with Freddy’s gloved hand that are just too reminiscent of Englund’s Freddy to have not come from his performance. Towards the beginning of the film Haley does manage to be quite creepy and menacing but by the end it seems that the film-makers forgot that they were going to take away the comic of elements of Freddy because by that point his wise-cracking and punning it up just like he used to. It’s a complete shift in the character and it just doesn’t gel. Either stick to your guns and make Freddy a grim and dark character or have him quipping from the start. You can’t have it both ways especially after the earlier statements you had made.

So what can I say to wrap things up? Honestly, the film was just another subpar remake of a horror classic that we all know and love. Yes, there were times that Jackie Earle Haley worked but at the end of the day it’s impossible not to judge him against Robert Englund, no matter how hard I tried, and he’s just not Freddy. What they needed to do was either completely change the tone of the character, like they said they would or acknowledge Englund’s influence. You can’t just try and do both and hope that people won’t care. So, yeah, it’s fair to say I disliked this film and really apart from the few times that Haley shines, there really is no reason to watch it. One pint out of five. Laterz.



The Depress-A-Thon: Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father by Jamie

I’m not one for openly showing much in the way of emotion. There are times when I’ll waver between the ups and the downs but as for things like weeping openly, well, it just isn‘t me. This doesn’t seem to apply to movies however. I am, as I’m sure I’ve said before, a bit of a crier when it comes to film. For some reason the over-the-top reality of film just seems more realistic to me. I can’t explain why.

Then there are documentaries which are based on truly horrific real life events. They manage to combine the horror of having these things actually having happened and the over-the-top hyper reality of film. By mentioning the hyper reality of film I don’t in anyway mean that any part of these documentaries are not based in truth but rather I mean that the very nature of films means that you can have many years worth of tragic and terrible events condensed down into an hour and a half, making the experience that much more intense. Such is the case with the subject of today’s review, ‘Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father.’

Fuck. This film fucking broke me in ways that I didn’t think possible. It manages to be both a beautiful tribute to a human being that the people in his life genuinely seemed to love and an horrific recounting of a series of tragic events and for that I must say I was truly blown away. The film managed to strike such a perfect balance between two different parts of the story that just seemed to highlight and intensify both.

Right, now I suppose I should go some small way into explaining the basic story of the film without giving away too much. This could be difficult but is absolutely necessary because you simply have to see this film. Might as well just get that out of the way up front. Ok, so the story then. The basic premise is that the film maker, Kurt Kuenne, had a childhood friend, Andrew Bagby, who is murdered by his ex-girlfriend, Shirley Jane Turner. Kuenne decides to travel to visit and interview various friends and relatives of Andrew in an effort to create a kind of video scrap-book for his infant son so he can get an idea of the kind of man that the father he would never know was. Wow. That was a tortuous sentence.

So yeah, that’s all I can really reveal about the plot of the film without giving away many of the twists and turns that cause the emotion to run so high whilst watching this film. What I can say is that the director is certainly a film maker of some talent. He uses some pretty interesting editing techniques to just ramp things up at the appropriate times. In particular his use of dialogue from the various interviews and statements from those involved repeatedly throughout the film in order to massively emphasis a specific point is especially effective.

I’d also be somewhat remiss if I didn’t mention the true heroes of this film David and Kathleen Bagby, Andrew’s parents. Some of the things they go through in this film will have you on the very verge of disbelief. They seem to have the patience of saints despite the horrific trials they are put through on an almost daily basis. And the way they deal with the events of the film at the very end is truly, truly heroic.

If there is one complaint about this film that I could have, it’s this. The director narrates the film and there was something about it that just kept reminding me about the Primus song ‘Mephisto & Kevin’ from the South Park Chef Aid album. I’ve since re-listened to the song and the voices don’t sound that familiar, there’s just something about the talking style and delivery that seems quite reminiscent of it. It’s not really a criticism of the film, just something that bugged me slightly. It’s definitely a problem with me and not the film.

Well, it’s gonna have to be a short one today because going any deeper into it would risk revealing some of the plot points of this truly fantastic film. Was it depressing? Yes, massively so. Did it make me cry? I’m not ashamed to say that it did. Would I watch it again? Surprisingly, yes. There are certainly some films that have been featured in The Depress-A-Thon which I always be hesitant to watch again. The primary examples being ‘Threads’ and ‘Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door’. Still despite this being as depressing as it is, it is also a truly wonderful tribute not only to Andrew but also his truly amazing parents and, for that at least, it is certainly worth watching again. Five pints out of five.



The Depress-A-Thon: Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door Repost by Jamie

Yes, it’s another repost in the Depress-A-Thon but this time it’s a video review! Aren’t you lucky?



The Depress-A-Thon: Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door Repost by Jamie

Yes, it’s another repost in the Depress-A-Thon but this time it’s a video review! Aren’t you lucky?




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