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Bernie Blu-ray Review



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#1 of 1 Richard Gallagher

Richard Gallagher

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Posted August 19 2012 - 01:27 PM

Everybody in Carthage, Texas loved Bernie Tiede, and he was especially loved by the town's older women. The men in Carthage may have grumbled about Bernie a bit, but the worst they could say about him was that he was "a little light in his loafers." Conversely, Marjorie Nugent was perhaps the most disliked person in town. The wealthy widow of a banker/oil man, she was a mostly friendless woman who was not on speaking terms with her own siblings, and she even was sued by her grandchildren. As one resident of Carthage put it, "There are people in town, honey, who would have shot her for five dollars." In some respects Bernie is reminiscent of the 1995 Gus Van Sant file, To Die For.





Bernie

Studio: Millennium Entertainment
Year: 2012
Rated: PG-13
Program Length: 99 minutes                 Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p
Languages: English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, English Stereo 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

The Program

Marjorie Nugent was the richest widow in an eccentric town full of rich widows. Bernie Tiede was an assistant funeral home director who became her companion. When she disappeared, nobody seemed alarmed. When he confessed to killing her, nobody seemed outraged. - Skip Hollandsworth, "Midnight in the Garden of East Texas"

Everybody in Carthage, Texas loved Bernie Tiede, and he was especially loved by the town's older women. The men in Carthage may have grumbled about Bernie a bit, but the worst they could say about him was that he was "a little light in his loafers." Conversely, Marjorie Nugent was perhaps the most disliked person in town. The wealthy widow of a banker/oil man, she was a mostly friendless woman who was not on speaking terms with her own siblings, and she even was sued by her grandchildren. As one resident of Carthage put it, "There are people in town, honey, who would have shot her for five dollars." In some respects Bernie is reminiscent of the 1995 Gus Van Sant file, To Die For.

Bernie is a black comedy which is based upon a true story. Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) arrives in Carthage in the mid-eighties, having just been hired as an assistant funeral home director. He turns out to be a revelation, a caring, outgoing man who excels at comforting those who have lost loved ones. He also sings like an angel and he becomes the choir director at his church. During a pregnant pause during a funeral service, caused by a scheduled eulogist failing to appear, Bernie immediately sits down at the piano and flawlessly sings "Amazing Grace." He also takes charge of the local community theater.

Bernie's life takes a dramatic turn when the husband of Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) dies. At the funeral Bernie attempts to console her, but she brushes him off. Marjorie is a cold, unpleasant woman who thinks nothing of firing her household help on a whim. This does not discourage the indefatigable assistant funeral director. It is his practice to follow up with the recently-widowed women of Carthage, even well after the burial. He brings flowers to Marjorie, which she accepts but immediately closes her door on him. However, when Bernie returns with a basket of toiletries and a box of chocolates, she relents and invites him in. Before long they are close companions. They attend concerts, take cruises together, and he accompanies her on trips around the world - all paid for by Marjorie. The relationship is entirely platonic (Bernie almost certainly is gay), but what seems to be an idyllic situation for him turns dark as Marjorie becomes obsessively demanding and controlling.

Jack Black is positively brilliant as Bernie. His insightful acting makes it easy to understand why the people of Carthage continue to support Bernie even after he confesses to committing a heinous crime. Black also displays an outstanding singing voice and does some impressive dancing during Bernie's rehearsals for a performance of "The Music Man." Shirley MacLaine is excellent as Marjorie, convincingly transforming from a reclusive, unpleasant old lady to one who glowingly embraces life, only to ultimately become a woman who is overcome by jealousy and possessiveness.

Matthew McConaughey is fine as Danny Buck, the publicity-hound District Attorney who faces the prospect of having to prosecute a case against a defendant who is beloved by most of the area's potential jurors. Many of the townspeople of Carthage (who appear as something of a Greek Chorus in the film) do a fine job of playing themselves. The subject matter obviously struck a chord with director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, The School of Rock), who is a native Texan. The entertaining screenplay was co-written by Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth (whose magazine article inspired the film).

Despite receiving overwhelmingly favorable reviews, Bernie has had a difficult time finding an audience in theaters, never appearing on more than 332 screens. This excellent Blu-ray release from Millennium Entertainment gives potential viewers a great opportunity to give this film the exposure it deserves.

The Video

The 1.85:1 1080p image is very nice, with excellent detail and vivid, accurate colors. The exteriors were filmed on various locations in Texas, including Carthage. Contrast is excellent, black levels are sold and shadow detail is very good. The film appears to be properly framed. The wonderful set designs are shown off to great effect. There is an astonishing shot of Marjorie's living room which demonstrates that her late husband spent more than a few dollars on taxidermy. The transfer is immaculate and shows no evidence of excessive DNR or other anomalies.

The Audio

The Dolby 5.1 TrueHD soundtrack is superb.. Dialogue is mostly confined to the center channel and is clear and completely understandable. The film contains a considerable amount of music, including well-known hymns, show tunes and country music. The sound mix gives all of the musical numbers a wide and pleasing sound stage. The surround channels are used to effectively deliver discrete ambient sound effects.

The Supplements

The Blu-ray release of Bernie contains just a few extras, but they are entertaining.

"Amazing Grace" is a seven-minute featurette which focuses on Jack Black's musical talents. He did all of his own singing, although the musical accompaniment was pre-recorded.

"True Story to Film" is a nine-minute featurette which discusses the evolution of the film from a magazine article to the finished project. One interesting note is that when director Linklater first envisioned the film he thought about casting Shirley MacLaine as Marjorie, but at that point he thought that she might be too young for the role. By the time he actually was in a position to cast the film, she was in her mid-seventies and he was convinced that she was perfect for the part.

As noted, townspeople from Carthage and its vicinity were cast as members of the Greek Chorus, many of them playing themselves. "The Gossips" is a 13-minute look at their auditions and includes some comments by the director.

Finally, eleven deleted scenes have been included (several are very entertaining), as well as the original trailer for Bernie and previews of A Little Bit of Heaven; Rampart; Red Lights; and Intruders.

The film has been divided into twelve chapters.

The Packaging

The single disc is packaged in a standard Blu-ray keep case, which in turn is encased in a relatively study cardboard slipcase. The artwork is identical on both.
The Final Analysis

Bernie is a fascinating, sometimes very funny black comedy which explores one of the most unusual male-female relationships I have seen on film. It boasts an outstanding cast, including a tour-de-force performance by Jack Black and an outstanding characterization by Shirley MacLaine, who is still going strong at age 78.

Equipment used for this review:

Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specification by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable

Release Date: August 21, 2012




Rich Gallagher