It speaks to the strength of The Burning’s reputation among cult-film fans that what’s most memorable about the 1981 slasher is not
that it was written by the Weinstein brothers, nor that it represents
early appearances of the likes of Jason Alexander, Holly Hunter and
Fisher Stevens. It’s that its Cropsy is just a damned good villain.
As Simon Lam gets older, he gets better. The veteran actor has appeared in such in seminal HK action films of the 1990s as Once Upon a Time in China (opposite Jet Li) and Bullet in the Head (directed by John Woo); in the aughts, he graced audience and critical favorites Election and Ip Man.
Lee Van Cleef enjoyed a secondary career in Italy cranking out spaghetti
Westerns, with little regard to quality. However, 1972’s Grand Duel — aka The Big Showdown — is deserving of its Grand label. No wonder Quentin Tarantino borrowed its sweeping theme song by Luis Bacalov for Kill Bill; you'll recognize it in two notes.
Early in The Last Stand,
the small-town sheriff played by Arnold Schwarzenegger says, "It's my
day off. Should be a quiet weekend." That's the new way of saying, "I've
got one week to retirement," because it signals — with flashing neon
and everything — that life is going to royally upend those plans.
The real-life Bernie Tiede was the toast of Carthage, Texas. An
assistant funeral director with a gift for consoling grieving widows,
the portly Bernie was gentle, solicitous and unflaggingly polite. He
spruced up many a funeral service with his spot-on tenor, to say nothing
of his penchant for lavishing gifts on everyone he came across.
Bernie was also a murderer, as it turned out, convicted in 1997 of killing an 81-year-old widow and stuffing her body in a meat freezer. But in the eyes of townsfolk, that didn’t make him any less lovable.
In Bernie, now playing, our antihero is played by Jack Black (Gulliver’s Travels), but it’s not the feisty, mugging Black you’re used to seeing. Affecting a fey Texas accent and dainty mannerisms that stop just short of caricature, he deftly plays against type, but with enough bottled-up edginess to hint at darker recesses under the Southern congeniality.
Director Richard Linklater (Me and Orson Welles) has made Bernie a low-key docudrama and sly black comedy, especially in his generous use of recollections by actual Carthage residents who knew both Bernie and Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine, Valentine’s Day), the mean — and very rich widow — he dispatched with a .22 rifle.
His consoling of Marjorie after her husband’s death had turned into a May-December courtship, despite the town’s widely held suspicions that he was gay. The two became inseparable, at least until she disappeared.
Buoyed by Black’s superb performance and a funny turn by Matthew McConaughey (The Lincoln Lawyer) as the district attorney flummoxed by the killer’s popularity, Bernie is a compelling hybrid of true crime and dark comedy.