Movie Review: Cate Blanchett Brings Us All Along to Antarctica in the Low-Key Unique ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’

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CREDIT: Wilson Webb/Annapurna Pictures

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Emma Nelson, Kristen Wiig, Judy Greer, James Urbaniak, Laurence Fishburne

Director: Richard Linklater

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Arguments Between Neighbors and Family Members

Release Date: August 16, 2019

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is the sort of movie that I don’t want to say whether it’s good or bad. I’d rather just talk about what makes it unique. Because when you see more than a hundred movies per year like I do, uniqueness can seem like an endangered species, so when I come across it, I feel compelled to deconstruct it. First off, this movie doesn’t fully realize its premise until about two-thirds of the way through its running time – and that’s not a criticism! The title would seem to suggest that architect Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) runs right off from her family as fast as she can, but it actually takes quite a while until she is on her own in Antarctica. And get this – that destination was originally meant to be a family trip with her husband Elgin (Billy Crudup) and daughter Bee (Emma Nelson), so it’s not exactly like it’s supposed to be the most unpredictable hiding place.

You may have noticed that I mentioned that Bernadette is an architect, and that’s significant because this is a movie that cares A LOT about architecture. Director Richard Linklater apparently has a hidden passion for construction. Either that or he did his homework, because significant chunks of Where’d You Go, Bernadette could pass for an architecture mockumentary. The other major upending of expectations comes in the examination of Bernadette’s mental breakdown, or lack thereof. Everyone in her life is a little worried about her, but it turns out that the best solution is much less drastic – and much more fulfilling – than this genre has us conditioned to anticipate.

Pretty much everything about Where’d You Go, Bernadette is both slightly off-key and generally pleasant. A marriage that looks like it’s on the brink of disaster is actually quite healthy! Kristen Wiig plays a queen bee suburban mom who it turns out is actually a genuine human being! There’s a dog named Ice Cream! Anyone who is mildly adventurous will find something to enjoy.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is Recommended If You Like: Crucial James Urbaniak Supporting Performances

Grade: Not Applicable out of 5 Russian Identity Thieves

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Last Flag Flying’ Hashes Out the Personal Effects of War with Endless Conversations

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CREDIT: Wilson Webb/Lionsgate

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2017.

Starring: Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne

Director: Richard Linklater

Running Time: 124 Minutes

Rating: R for Dropping Some Profanity with Your Buds

Release Date: November 3, 2017 (Limited)/Expands Nationwide November 17, 2017

Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying is a sequel to Hal Ashby’s 1973 film The Last Detail, but you wouldn’t know that from any of the promotional materials, which make no mention of the earlier flick. You also wouldn’t know it from looking at the character names, which are not consistent between the two films. I have not seen The Last Detail, but as far as I can gather, Bryan Cranston is playing a version of a character played by Jack Nicholson, Laurence Fishburne is doing a spin on Otis Young, and Steve Carell is updating a role by (of all people) Randy Quaid. Anyway, as for the actual narrative of Last Flag Flying, all this background info is basically just as a curiosity, as this unofficial sequel stands perfectly well enough on its own.

If you were to go into Last Flag Flying completely unaware of The Last Detail (and presumably many people will), you would possibly find yourself thinking, “Hey! There’s plenty of room to craft a prequel out of this story.” Vietnam War veterans Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Carell), Sal Nealon (Cranston), and Richard Mueller (Fishburne) are psychologically torn asunder but forever bound by an incident at the end of their time in the same Marine unit. Doc committed a petty crime, Sal and Mueller helped discipline him, and he spent a couple years in a military prison. There is no ill will between the three of them, but they have gone decades without seeing each other. Now they are reuniting in a way that reunions so often unfortunately happen. Doc’s son has followed his father into the Marines, enlisting for the Iraq War, where he has died in an ambush. With few close family or friends, Doc turns to his old service buddies to help escort his son’s body to the funeral.

What follows is a trip from Virginia to New Hampshire. Instead of wide open shots of the open road we get cramped moments along the heavily trafficked Mid-Atlantic and northeast United States. Also, talking. Lots and lots of talking. Doc, Sal, and Mueller shoot the shit, air out grievances, ask pressing philosophical questions about their country and life and death, and generally strengthen an eternal bond of friendship.

While it may not necessarily be their most well-known trademark, all three stars are notable for their oratory. Just consider Cranston’s deadly commands as Walter White, Carell’s wild verbal dexterity in the likes of The Daily Show and Bruce Almighty, or Fishburne’s spellbinding declarations in The Matrix. For the most part, Last Flag plays its conversations in a much more mild key than those examples, but the effects are still quite pressing. There are questions about the point of even venturing into Iraq. It’s still 2003, thus before the falsification of evidence that led to this war has fully been revealed, so these worries are not about especially particular objections, but they are no less pressing. Running through the bloodstream of this film is a very human desire for simple respect, to be told straight what is actually going on. Last Flag Flying is for anyone who values forthrightness, and for anyone who can share in the joy of three middle-aged guys buying their very first cell phones in the middle of Manhattan.

Last Flag Flying is Recommended If You Like: The Big Chill, My Dinner with Andre, Catching up with old friends.

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Black Men Named Richard