Friday, September 14, 2012

Film Pairing — Of Death And Freezers

I’m going out on a limb here.  One of the movies I’m recommending was blasted by the critics when it came out.  The other was hailed, but ended up in small, arty theaters for the most part.  I loved them both and will take the stings and errors of outlandish criticism in stride.

The first is Crazy in Alabama, a movie that nearly earned Melanie Griffith a Razzy.  It is about two parallel plots, each about injustice — a woman abused by her husband who resorts to murder, and Blacks not allowed to swim in a public pool in Industry, Alabama.  It was also noted that roadblocks were put up to prevent African Americans from voting as well in the 1960s.  Seems like so long ago.  Or, does it?

“Crazy” (1999) is an important word in the title.  There is a kind of sensibility that the viewer is going to have to buy into in order to enjoy the film.  Melanie Griffith’s over the top character runs around the country with the head of her dead husband in a hatbox (the body is in the freezer). And there is the matter of her life’s ambition as well, which is to appear on the TV show, Bewitched. This half of the film borders on outright goofy.  The other story is warm, moving, and somewhat more believable.  One of the reasons you might want to take in this unheralded movie is to watch a talented Lucas Black and a surprisingly talented Meat Loaf (as the bigoted sheriff) as well as witnessing Rod Stieger chewing up the scenery as the judge who brings the film to a satisfying but unlikely end.  Just remember this film is rated “S” for silly, not entirely a bad thing. Fannie Flagg and Robert Wagner have cameo appearances.  Antonio Banderas directed.

Bernie (2011) is based on a true story.  It is also silly.  When you switch from Crazy to Bernie, you will not move into a different reality.  What’s odd about this is that Bernie is true — or as true as these things can be.  It is based on a story in the Texas Monthly about a beloved mortician in the East Texas town of Carthage who kills his wealthy companion and stuffs her body in a freezer. The story was entitled “Midnight in the Garden of East Texas.”

Jack Black as Bernie
The true stars of Bernie are the town residents (not actors) who offer their views on the murderer and the murder in the spirit of such shows as 48 Hours and 20/20, only much better.  Jack Black is the gay chubby charmer who puts a spell over elderly women church goers and eventually charms an extremely prickly Shirley MacLaine, a wealthy and somewhat sadistic 81-year-old widow into an ill-fated relationship.  Bernie, who was drawn to the benefits of the high life her wealth offers, discovers that hadn’t really conned Shirley as much as he’d fallen into her trap.  There appears to be only one way out.

Matthew McConaughey plays it straight and low-key (he never takes off his shirt) as the law, allowing Black to pretty much steal the movie.  In my view, Bernie is not any less silly than Crazy, just because it’s true.  The similar tone of the movies make them a set.  Bernie is directed by Richard Linklater.  Incidentally, the film provides great insight into the various geographical and cultural aspects of the great state of Texas.

For my drink recommendation, let’s stay in the original South and have an Alabama Slammer — equal parts vodka, Southern Comfort, Amaretto, sloe gin and orange juice.  I think this will work for the Texas as well.  For those opposed to alcoholic drinks, remove the alcohol and you’ll have an Anita Bryant.

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