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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Where’d You Go, Bernadette

“Angel Has Fallen” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

In spite of the lack of a question mark at the end of the movie’s title, “Where Did You Go, Bernadette” is a good question. It’s also a good movie, both as a character study of a woman named Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) and the story of this same woman re-discovering her passion after two decades of malaise.

The question of the movie’s title can be applied both mentally and physically as well as personally and professionally. Let’s take a look at her in all four categories:

Professionally, we learn that Bernadette was a rising star on the L.A. architecture scene twenty years ago. After a disastrous incident, she stopped producing and was never heard from again after she and he husband Elgie (Billy Crudup) moved to Seattle.

Personally, not only does she have no friends, she has a contentious relationship with overachieving next door neighbor Audrey (Kristen Wiig). Her closest companion is her daughter Bee (Emma Nelson), whom she loves more than anything or anyone else.

Physically, she’s a recluse. She lives with her husband and daughter in a dilapidated building that it looks like she never got around to fixing up—for the past twenty years. After learning that she needs to fulfill a bargain made with Bee about a cruise to Antarctica, her biggest concerns are not chapped lips and frostbite, they’re having to make small talk and deal with strangers at dinner.

Mentally, she’s unstable and unfocused. She clearly needs to talk to a professional therapist—something her husband tries to bring up as delicately as possible but to no avail. As a substitute, she sends long email requests to her online assistant Manjula, whom we never see but we know is very reliable, in which she vents all of her fears and frustrations before getting to the point and asking for Manjula to get her what she needs, whether it’s something as innocuous as a fishing vest or something “strong” for her anxiety and sea sickness while on the cruise. She also makes impulsive snap decisions, such as an ill-advised sign that she puts on her property, which she later regrets when she comes to her senses.

She sounds like a mess, right? On paper, I see how that impression is given. However, under the direction of Richard Linklater she does not come across that way. It would have been easy for him as director or Blanchett as actress to take a superficial approach to the character and just turn her into a set of quirky behaviors with very little going on underneath rather than the vibrant, lived in character we see on screen. But doing so would have defeated the point of the screenplay by Linklater and co-writers Holly Gent and Vincent Palmo, based on a novel by Maria Semple, which very much cares about who Bernadette Fox is, why she is that way, and how it all came to be. It also asks the question of what she can do to become a better person and improve all aspects of her life. In doing so we get a fantastic character arc and go on an amazing journey of self-discovery that is well worth taking. Buy it.

Also New This Week

Angel Has Fallen

I had hope for “Angel Has Fallen.” I should have known better.

After all, I’ve seen countless numbers of these types of action thrillers over the years involving things like the government, the military, the alphabet agencies (FBI, CIA, etc.), covert ops, special ops, wet work—the list goes on. As a result, it takes some effort to wow me. But wow me it did, in the beginning, when a swarm of bat-looking drones flies over the tree tops in the distance to attack the president (Morgan Freeman) while he’s fishing on a lake with trusty Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) and the rest of the security detail. The design on the drones is sleek, and the attack using them is horrifying in its ruthless and inescapable efficiency. Plus the movie has Danny Huston, an actor I always enjoy watching, introduced as a friend of Mike’s who now runs a Blackwater-esque mercenary unit. For the first fifteen minutes of “Angel Has Fallen” things were looking pretty good.

Then the remaining hour and fifteen minutes happened. It’s not a spoiler to say that Mike miraculously survives the attack—there wouldn’t be a movie otherwise. But rather than being spared for the usual plot armor kind of reasons, in this case there is a story reason. That reason being that the majority of the movie is a Hitchcockian, innocent man wrongly accused type story, but with more chases, shootouts, seemingly re-spawning enemies (this nonsense is not just for videogames), and lotsa ‘splosions making stuff go boom with tons of smoke and fire. It wouldn’t be so bad if I hadn’t seen it all before, done better, and in better movies.

Then there are the plot twists and big reveals. I won’t spoil them here, but suffice it to say that even someone who has not seen as many movies as me will see them coming. There are two main villains, both of whom I found fairly obvious, and a “protect the president in a secret room” scenario that was un-suspenseful due to the fact that I knew how it would play out—and I was right. While I wasn’t expecting “Angel Has Fallen” to be more than a two hour shootout and chase type actioner, I thought maybe—just maybe—based on the first fifteen minutes I would get something on a higher level. I didn’t want the movie to necessarily re-invent the wheel, just give me a better wheel. But instead of giving me a better wheel, “Angel Has Fallen” decided to give me the same worn out old wheel as usual and just spin it for an hour and forty-five minutes. Skip it.   

More New Releases: “Don’t Let Go,” about a man who receives mysterious phone calls from a supposedly murdered niece, starring David Oyelowo, Mykelti Williamson, Storm Reid, Byron Mann, and Omar Leyva; and “Now, Voyager,” classic Bette Davis weepie from 1942 about a middle-aged woman who struggles to break free of her domineering mother and find love with a man she meets on a cruise, also starring Paul Henreid and Claude Rains.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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