Small-town crazy: Reviews of ‘The D Train,’ ‘Bravetown’

D-TRAINEver since he started in the Texas-set Bernie, playing a sweet-natured gay murderer, I’ve had to take Jack Black a little more seriously as an actor. So if he does a boutique film — even a comedy with X-Man James Marsden (perhaps the most underrated actor to appear in a string of huge box-office hits) — you kinda-sorta have to check him out … even though Bernie felt like one of those one-in-a-lifetime roles.

In The D Train, Black plays Dan, another small-town schlub, but unusually obsessed with a heartthrob former classmate, Oliver Lawless (Marsden), whose national sunscreen commercial reminds Dan of the potential he once had. He sets out trying to convince Oliver (too-cool, bisexual, and not as successful as he seems) to return for their high school reunion, making Dan a hero … or will it? And how does he really feel about Oliver, anyway?

The D Train wasn’t written by Mike White, even though he appears in a small role, but it has a definitely Mike White vibe: Maudlin yet awkward, empowering but realistic. (White wrote Black’s School of Rock as well as Chuck & Buck, among other quirky films.) The D Train takes an unexpected turn at the starts of the second act that sets it apart from the typical yearning-for-more middle-aged comedy of which is it definitely a part. Is this a story about an awakening or something more?

Black’s performance isn’t quite at the level of Bernie — it would be difficult to be that specific and full of such pathos — but he’s good at the awkwardness, and Marsden makes for a suitable dreamy yet remote fantasy man. It’s an unlikely teaming for an anti-romantic comedy, but an effective one precisely for its unexpectedness.

Opens Friday in wide release.

Bravetown. If D Train paints the boring side of suburbia, Bravetown shows the dangerous side of the big city. Josh (Lucas Till) is a teenaged club DJ who’s hot (physically and musically) and full of himself … and in trouble as well. After a drug OD and a string of petty crimes gets him in trouble with the law, he’s forced into the custody of his absentee dad (Tom Everett Scott), in Middle of Nowhere, U.S.A. He’s a hip kid among the local dullards. Though of course it might not end up as bad as it first seems.

Bravetown is a difficult film to parse: It has the pulsating rhythms (early on) of a club-centric urban cautionary tale, but quickly becomes an intimate domestic drama with a warmth for the countryside of the Upper Midwest. The a kind of Footloose/Drumline hybrid. Each feels a bit exaggerated, but even so, the emotions resonate. Till is a handsome young man with an accessibility to his brooding, and Josh Duhamel is solid as his court-ordered counselor. It never hits the level of Ordinary People (what has?) but it works on its sincerity alone.

Open Friday at the AMC Mesquite.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

End of an era: “Bernie” closing at Magnolia

We knew this day had to come eventually, but for a while it seemed like it never would. After five months, Bernie is finally going final at the Magnolia Theatre this week. Thursday’s matinee will be its last showing in Dallas.

It was always a good fit. The hilarious comedy about an actual murder in East Texas is as authentic as a Fletcher’s Corny Dog in portraying Texas characters. It opened here on May 3 — that’s the same day as The Avengers, which hasn’t been in theaters in months. Of course, The Avengers made a billion dollars; Bernie hasn’t even grossed $10 million nationwide. But think about that: Five solid months in one theater and still profitable. The Magnolia had an audience at they got it.

It was tough to get a seat sometimes, even when it played on as many as three screens, but everyone who saw it laughed at Jack Black’s surprisingly sensitive portrayal of a goofy murderer and Matthew McConaughey pre-Magic Mike as a blowhard D.A.

It’s not on multiple screens anymore, down to at most two shows a week. (It was “officially” pulled from release last Friday, though Landmark seems not to have gotten the notice.) It has already been released on Blu-ray and DVD, even. But if you missed it and would like to see it in a theater, there’s still time.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

This week’s takeaways: Life+Style

Del Shores is back! For someone who’s not from Dallas, Winters, Texas native Shores has spent a lot of time here, and he’s back on Friday at the Rose Room inside Station 4, for yet another one of his standup performances. If you haven’t seen him before, trust me: He’s bitchy, dishy, energetic and hysterically funny. The show’s at 8 tonight, so get your tickets now.

As a child of the 1980s, I’m not ashamed — OK, I’m a little ashamed — to say I listened to Air Supply. Worse, I even enjoyed them. And bought their records. Why not? They sang catchy songs — and the likes of Jim Steinman (Meat Loaf) even wrote and produced some of their songs, so you can’t dismiss them entirely. Well, at 10 a.m. June 15, tickets for their Dallas concert (on Sunday July 29) at the Winspear go on sale at ATTPAC.org. I can’t guarantee there will be a rush on the box office, but I bet it sells really well. There are a lot of us out there.

After more than a month, Bernie continues to sell out shows at Landmark’s Magnolia Theatre, and with good reason: The East Texas comedy is spot-on hilarious about a gay mortician who is the darling on a town that makes Tuna, Texas, look like San Francisco. Jack Black deserves an Oscar nominations. See if before it goes away. On the other hand, it’s not a bad idea to steer clear of Rock of Ages, a joylessly awkward and slogging film musical that’s saving grace is the romance between Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin.

Jersey Boys plays for about a month at the Winspear Opera House, but Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at Theatre 3 won’t be here quite that long, and is definitely worth a look-see.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Jack Black (maybe) goes gay in “Bernie”

This Friday, the uber-Texas comedy Bernie opens in Dallas, so we thought we’d give you a look-see with this interview by contributor Chris Azzopardi with the movie’s star, Jack Black, who shares his take on the character … and the pedicure he gave co-star Shirley MacLaine.

BLACK IN TEXAS

Is Bernie Jack Black’s first gay role? As a small-town Texan teddy bear who goes off the deep end, it might be. But because the real-life man he’s playing isn’t out, we may never truly know.

Bernie is an offbeat black comedy based on a true story of a flamboyant people-pleaser who befriends the local she-devil, and then turns on her. As the titular mortician who is, as one townie calls him, “light in the loafers,” Black — known for fun-loving roles in School of Rock and Tropic Thunder, and a hilarious kidnapping cameo in last year’s The Muppets — is totally non-Black, playing Bernie Tiede with understated finesse, an effeminate lisp and an endearing touch.

We got Black on the phone for an exclusive chat about his maybe-gay turn, what he has in common with Bernie and how LGBT rights is a “no-brainer” issue for him.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones