Jack Black does more good than harm as the title character of Bernie Credit: Courtesy Millennium Entertainment

Richard Linklater messes with Texas again, seeking comic inspiration from his home state for the first time since Dazed and Confused (1993). His source material here is a Texas Monthly article about the 1996 murder of a wealthy 81-year-old widow, Marjorie Nugent, by her 39-year-old gay companion, Bernhardt Tiede, in small-town Carthage. The story provides great roles for Jack Black as the sunny title character, Shirley MacLaine as his dyspeptic victim, and Matthew McConaughey as the good-old-boy D.A. who prosecutes the crime. But some of the best performances come from real-life residents of Carthage as they share their recollections on camera. Their testimony contributes to a rich sense of small-town society at its most congenial and corrupt—Bernie, who spends months throwing the dead woman’s money around, is so popular with the townspeople that the D.A. is forced to seek a change of venue.