“Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” movie review

If you loved Blanchette in her award winning role in Blue Jasmine, then you will love her in Richard Linklater’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette? Once again, Blanchette takes on the demanding role of someone struggling with an inner turmoil brought on by losing one’s identity. By no means is Bernadette the same character as Jasmine, but there are many similarities; however, these similarities are expressed in vastly different ways, which makes the story relatable and thought-provoking. Whereas this film has not been critically received nearly as well as Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, after watching it for myself, I absolutely loved it. Is it as strong a picture as Blue Jasmine? No. But it is still a film that I feel creative and academic persons will connect with because often the most creative or intelligent people can experience bouts of identity crisis, mania, and depression when he or she is not in the process of creating something for the world to see. Whether that world is as small as your hometown, your network on social media, or the global stage, there is a catharsis that is experienced when crafting something new. Take away that creative outlet and you may as well remove an arm or leg. Furthermore, destroy that which one has poured his or her soul into, then you metaphorically kill that creative person. The creation is an extension of the soul of the creator. I imagine that my fellow creatives and academics will also be able to identify with Bernadette much in the same manner as did I. Linklater’s film is an existential exploration of the creative genius when the very foundation of that genius is rocked off its foundation. There are many metaphorical visualizations of this concept in the film, including the catalyst that launches Bernadette into her acute downward spiral–the removal of that which was holding everything together. Perhaps the story execution lacked the precision that this plot truly required to be exemplary, but there is a strong message therein coupled with Blanchette’s excellent performance that makes Where’d You Go Bernadette? a thought-provoking movie to watch.

Former architect Bernadette Fox seems to have it all — a beautiful home in Seattle, a successful and loving husband, and a brilliant teenage daughter who’s about to attend boarding school. When Bernadette suddenly disappears without a trace, her concerned family sets off on an exciting adventure to solve the mystery of where she might have gone.

If you’re searching for a human movie, then you you have found the right one. The experience of watching this movie sticks with you long after the credits role. Not being familiar with the book, I cannot comment on the similarities and differences; fortunately, this allows me to evaluate this as a movie without influence from knowledge of the book. While most of the characters are mostly flat, the character of Bernadette is complex, vulnerable, and quite human. Despite being an architectural genius of on the level of Frank Lloyd Wright–something that most of us cannot identify with–we identify with her because of the struggle to manage personal and professional life when we’ve lost our way. The title Where’d You Go, Bernadette? works in two ways. (1) during the second and third acts of the movie, Bernadette’s family is literally searching for her and (2) after learning the news that her masterpiece house was bought simply to be destroyed, she ceased to be herself and became a new, even more eccentric and reclusive person. Essentially she took on a new identity, which posits the question, “where did she go?” The movie is a journey for Bernadette to find herself, and of course for her family to find her. Further evidence of the successful visualization of internal conflict, is when Bernadette removes the blackberry bushes in full knowledge that they will make way for a landslide, even though her neighbor wants the bushes gone. Just as the blackberry bushes were the only thing keeping the hillside together, the 20-Mile House was the primary component that kept Bernadette together. When it was destroyed, so was she.

Where this movie fails is in the adaptation from novel to screen. And I am not talking about commitment to details and such. Novels are internally driven whereas movies are visually driven. Sometimes there are novels that explore inner turmoil to such a degree that it makes visualizing it for the screen difficult to achieve. Without having read the novel, I cannot comment fully on why most of the characters are flat and the much of the dialogue is vapid, but my educated guess is that the novel explores the psychology of each character to a greater extent than a movie allows for. Where this movie excels is the performance delivered by Blanchette as the title character Bernadette. Whether quiet or a raving lunatic, she maintains a powerful screen presence that draws the audience in to the heart of the story. There is an unapologetic authenticity in Blanchette’s performance that feels fresh and powerful. It’s a command performance that should not be overlooked. Through her character of Bernadette, we witness just how complex depression, mania, and anxiety are. And not just how complex they are for the individual burdened with them, but for those around the individual.

I’m not naive to the movie’s shortcomings, but there is so much that I find was delivered with excellence that it helps to make up for the mostly weak screenwriting. I believe that the character of Bernadette offers us a fascinating character to explore as she offers great opportunities for relatability. Perhaps we aren’t genius architects, but many of us know what it’s like to see our creations destroyed or being prohibited by internal or external forces from creating.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa and teaches high school TV/Film production. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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“Thor Ragnarok” movie review

Norse mythology meets Gladiator meets 80s vintage video game in this non-stop adrenaline pumping action film. Suffice it to say, everything you’ve heard about Thor Ragnarok from your friends is true. It is an incredibly fun movie that is equally well written and directed. For anyone who follows my blog, it is no secret that I typically do not like the Disney-Marvel films (and for good reason), but the focus of this review is on THIS particular film. I state that because, honestly, I very much enjoyed this film! So, it comes from liking the structure, characters, plot etc. not just from being a fan boy, or lack thereof in this case. Not only an excellent third sequel, but this movie can easily stand on its own. Whether you have watched the other MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) films or not, you can rest assured that you can enjoy this superhero movie. With the way the initial trailers were cut, I thought that this was MCU’s way of jumping onto the 80s nostalgia band wagon–not so. Oh, there is definitely an 80s video game vibe about the film, but the focus is on the characters and storytelling, not the nostalgia. There is also a self-aware element of this film. Not to the extent Deadpool is self-aware, but Chris Hemsworth’s Thor has a twinkle about his eye that winks at the audience so that we know that he is aware of the corniness and ridiculousness of the characters and plot. But the magic of this film is just how well balanced the content of the film is. There were many times that the plot lended itself to falling apart, but the solid cast held the film together and provided audiences with one of the best movies in the MCU.

When Thor learns of a dark, hidden family secret, he must confront the deadliest enemy he has ever faced off with in his life. But the legendary hero encounters far more than he ever expected. The mighty Thor finds himself imprisoned on a faraway planet and forced to battle in gladiator-style games. Little does he know that the winningest challenger on the planet is his former ally The Hulk. Thor must survive the deadly gladiator-like battles in order to build his team to defeat Hela, the Asgardian goddess of death who is destroying his home world.

One of the principle themes in this film that enables this one to be more and deeper than other MCU films is just how similar it is to a conventional war picture. There are hints of courts of intrigue as well. The complex plot provides a comprehensive foundation upon which a more superficial story can be developed in order to appeal to wide audiences, with few appreciating the deeper themes and subtext. But it takes more than effective and well-developed writing to build such a solid movie, it takes multi-dimensional characters portrayed by impeccable screen talent. You’ll find all of that in Thor Ragnarok. Although his screen time is brief, Anthony Hopkins’ Odin commands the screen with confidence, wisdom, and sincerity. Few actor’s can take a few minutes of screen time and put more cinematic magic in it than Hopkins. After all, he won his Oscar for Silence of the Lambs for his collectively few minutes on screen. Joining the cast are Jurassic Park’s Jeff Goldblum and the beautiful, talented Cate Blanchette. Goldblum’s Grandmaster of Sakkar is hilarious and brilliant. As you’d expect a Goldblum character in a film like this to be: detached intellectually from that which is seen as conventional, smart-alecky; yet, he is also petty, sadistic, and relentless. Blanchette’s Hela is elegant, sadistic, and intelligent. She is perfectly able to be the comic book-esque villain she needs to be, all while bringing about a pedigreed acting to it.

All the technical elements of the film works excellently together. The most memorable of those elements is the music, for me, followed by the visual effects. I absolutely loved the nod to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory during Thor’s transport to through Sakkar. This works because (1) the scene it shot and edited similarly to the boat scene in the aforementioned movie and (2) Goldblum’s Grandmaster is a Willy Wonka type. Throughout the film, there are 80s video game sound effects and a score that could fit into a nostalgic 8bit video game. However, the nods to Willy Wonka and video games do not overpower the more conventional score. Whereas the visual effects could have gone overboard and made the film play off as a video game, the video game like effects where carefully integrated in order for the film to maintain a high show quality.

The film was initially sold as a funky, colorful, comedic MCU film. And there are times that the film also encroaches upon that animated feel, but it never crosses that line–thankfully. The more serious aspects to the film balance out the slapstick moments. All of this works together to execute perfect pacing and plot/character development. Like with most MCU films, the more adventurous parts of the film are not quite adventurous enough to be an adventure film and there is typically a predictable nature about the film. I find that this film is not as predictable as previous MCU movies, but there is still that experience with this one. There is one particular part to the showdown of the film that prohibits this from falling victim to another cliche MCU ending with an epic battle, bodies flying through the air, and cities on fire, but I cannot reveal that without giving away the ending.

Looking for a fun movie to watch with your friends? Then this is a solid choice. Although the film has its diegetic flaws, the ways it succeeds outweighs the shortcomings. You also do not have to have seen the other Thor movies and really don’t even need to have seen the previous Avengers films, albeit helpful to understand some of the minor plot points. It’s definitely one that has re-watchabbility.

Cinderella (2015)

Cinderella (2015)Bibbidi Bobbidi Bomb! That’s precisely what the most current adaptation/remake of the timeless classic is. Watch as everything you loved about the original Disney Classic is sucked out of this version. But, after this same tired story has been remade again, and again, and again, and again, what can you expect??? From the casting–with Cate Blanchette being the exception–to the writing to the over all poor execution of the famous fairy tale, you will understand why Disney had to add the Frozen short film prior to the opening credits just to get people to see this travesty unfold. On that note, it too was poorly produced and shoved down the movie patrons’ throats. After the tragic adaptation of the beloved Into the Woods, laughable revisionist Sleeping Beauty/Maleficent, and this year’s flavor of Cinderella, I am fearful of the upcoming live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast.

Ordinarily, this is where I summarize the plot; however, this story has been remade so many times that I won’t bother. But, I will tell you that in an effort to add some new zest to the story, Disney does modify some of the events and adds in additional backstory. And, I will say that I liked the modifications and additions. So, I suppose the whole thing wasn’t a total flop.

One of the cardinal rules of filmmaking: don’t remake a classic and virtually change nothing! Your audience will most likely be bored to tears. It was Cecil B. DeMille who said, “the greatest art is the art of storytelling.” Unfortunately, the storytelling in this movie was not artful or original at all. And I use the term original lightly. I’m aware that many films are based on other works of literature or plays. However, it is vitally important that, when adapting a work of fiction, adding something new is required. Nobody wants to see the same thing over and over. Good examples of creative twists on the Cinderella story were Ever After, with Drew Berrymoore, and the funny, entertaining Cinderella with the beautifully talented Bernadette Peters. Both these versions took the familiar story and created something new. Speaking of Ms. Peters, I have yet to understand Disney’s blatant aversion to casting her in roles that are made for her, such as the witch in the recent Into the Woods and the role of Godmother in today’s Cinderella. Another excellent choice for Godmother would have been the incomparable Michelle Pfeiffer.

On the note of casting, I am overall very disappointed with the performances. I will directly point out that I am very happy that Disney chose Lily James for the iconic role of Cinderella, because she boasts a very natural beauty that is not typical of those ordinarilly chosen to play–or drawn to play–Disney princesses. She is someone girls could look up to and not feel like they could never measure up to the unrealistic Disney princess image that often graces the screen. Another positive casting choice was Blanchette as Lady Tremaine (stepmother). She played the role with excellence and truly brought the character to life. At first, I wasn’t too sure about her when the cast was initially announced; but, I stood corrected when everything from her look, to her tone of voice, to her attire screamed ‘I am the evil stepmother.’ She took the Disney villain to a whole new level with the addition of taunting and belittling. As far as the rest of the cast, yes–including Helena Bonham Carter (as Godmother)–I am very disappointed and was constantly thinking of who else should’ve been cast in the various roles. 

Pacing is very important to the structure of a screenplay, and the pacing was way too quick for this story. There were many times that it felt like key turning points or plot twists were just glazed over for the sake of runtime. Another area that structurally suffered was the very ridged narrative. It’s like we jumped from scene to scene without well-crafted transitions. An example of this is when Lady Tremaine has Ella’s glass slipper. We are never even given any clue as to how she thinks to look for the iconic shoe. One of the elements that made Ever After such a hit when it came out was the writing and casting. It took a story most people are familiar with and came at it from a whole new angle. This angle allows the storytellers/filmmakers to include what was loved in the more fictitious fairy tale and build upon it to being the story as close to reality as possible. Between the narrative structure and the casting, this live-action Cinderella still remains a favorite by many. Likewise, the (also Disney, by the way) movie musical adaptation of Cinderella in 1997 made its mark on the classic tale/broadway show by giving it an impeccable cast and adding new musical numbers (“Falling in Love with Love” being a fantastic addition). As you can see, both these movies (as well as Into the Woods and the other Cinderella adaptations over the years) often put their own spin on the story to essentially create a new experience for the movie audience. I find that this version of Cinderella failed to create something new and simply rehashed poorly what has already been done.

Note to Disney: Disney, you need to try something new! Please stop your current trend of creating live-action versions of your beloved animated movies that made you the king of the industry that you are, because you are losing sight of the art of storytelling. I really hope this live-action adaptation of the animated movie is not a foreshadow of what we are to expect with Beauty and the Beast. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if they do not cast Angela Lansbury as Ms. Pots–and no one can play that role like she can. Movie go-ers beware: this is not your childhood Cinderella.