Where’d You Go, Bernadette Produced and distributed by Annapurna Pictures; Written and directed by Richard Linklater, from the novel by Maria Semple

Framing John DeLorean Produced by XYZ Films, distributed by Sundance Selects ; Directed by Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce; Screenplay by Dan Greeney and Alexandra Orton

Double Indemnity (1944) Produced and distributed by Paramount Pictures ; Directed by Billy Wilder; Screenplay by Raymond Chandler, from the novel by James M. Cain

Although Where’d You Go, Bernadette stars the incomparable Cate Blanchett along with a strong cast that includes Billy Crudup and Kristen Wiig, the film is a serious disappointment. I shouldn’t have been surprised, given it was released in mid-August, which is when studios dump films they suspect will be losers.

The film is far too precious and crowded with irrelevant detail. The central character, played by Blanchett, is touted as the foremost architect of her era for designing houses and buildings made of recycled materials. One is an office comprised, improbably enough, of eyeglass frames. Whimsical, maybe, but without an ounce of charm. Another pretentiously avant-garde domicile dubbed the Twenty Mile House has been pieced together with what looks like railroad box cars. Why? Perhaps to suggest people living in it are on the move.

There’s a leaden literalness to Bernadette’s work. Because of this I wasn’t entirely surprised when a zillionaire developer decided to buy her oversized house solely for the purpose of tearing it down and replacing it with a parking lot. This inescapably invokes Joni Mitchell’s 1970s song “Big Yellow Taxi,” the chorus of which goes, “They paved paradise/ And put up a parking lot.” Stale then, staler now. This holds true for the rest of the Bernadette script, which was developed from the novel by Maria Semple. Semple is rarely original, perhaps because she’s made a career of writing and producing television sitcoms, a notoriously derivative genre.

When we first see Bernadette, she’s rowing a kayak in the waters off Antarctica. Soon she docks her craft next to a scientific research laboratory sitting on the tundra. Then she enters the complex without invitation and, after inspecting the lab’s equipment and maps, asks for the best way to the South Pole. You’d think she was doing nothing more adventurous than mapping a trip to the grocery store. Discouraged when she’s told such a journey is impossible without elaborate preparation, she nevertheless persists in her quest. Finally, she’s certified to join a team of scientists and their staff traveling to the South Pole. Once announced publicly, the appointment makes her an instant celebrity. Traveling with her unofficial press brigade, she’s hailed wherever she goes for exhibiting the same daring she had summoned in her bold architectural designs.

You can’t help agreeing with her beleaguered husband, Elgin (Billy Crudup), when he testily informs her that her so-called daring has put their lives literally and figuratively at risk. On the other hand, isn’t the benefit of daring worth it? After all, it’s enabled Bernadette to escape the confines of conventional architecture. We’re given evidence of this, but one wonders if the aesthetic results have been entirely worthwhile? The answer, Semple unequivocally asserts, is yes. She portrays Bernadette as though she were the second coming of Howard Roark, Ayn Rand’s rebellious rule-breaking architect in her novel, The Fountainhead.

As played by Blanchett, Bernadette is an impossible woman with little regard for others. She excuses herself on the grounds that she’s agoraphobic. Furthermore, she thinks all the mothers of her daughter’s classmates are middle-class bores and makes sure they recognize her contempt. It doesn’t occur to her that this will instigate displeasure on their part. In other words, she’s a classic narcissist so oblivious to the feelings of those around her that she’s shocked to learn they resent her.

Her daughter, Bee (Emma Nelson), nevertheless loves her and even tries to imitate her, at least up to a point. She’s not nearly as acidulous as her mother. That’s why she can smooth over Bernadette’s disputes with her husband and others. It’s also why Semple has made her the novel’s narrator. She provides a much-needed reasonableness to soften Bernadette’s willful acrimony. Bee’s sanity, however, is not enough. Bernadette routinely outmaneuvers her attempts to establish emotional balance.

Of course, there’s a happy ending tacked onto Bernadette, but it’s artificially concocted and therefore unconvincing. Its message seems to be that if you have enough money lying around you can achieve happiness despite the negatives in your life. Many believe this. But outside the sitcom storytelling we encounter in this novel and f film, it’s simply not true.

The narcissism on display in Bernadette is not unlike that parading about in Framing John DeLorean. The film’s directors, Don Argott and Sheena Joyce, have striven to make their documentary about DeLorean as convincing as possible, but to my mind they’ve missed the mark badly. The film is an ungainly mix of documentary and biopic. The real DeLorean is seen posturing before the cameras in newsreel footage one moment and is dramatically portrayed by Alec Baldwin the next. As far as I can see, Baldwin had no brief for his portrayal other than that both men are world-class fatheads.

While DeLorean himself thought a film should be made about his adventures in auto-making and womanizing, only a few Hollywood executives agreed at first.

In the wake of his disastrous attempt to build a high-design sports car for the masses, DeLorean left behind thousands of gravely disappointed people, not only those who purchased the car but also his assembly-line employees in Belfast, Ireland. When the car failed to attract a sufficient number of buyers, DeLorean decided the company needed an infusion of millions to stay afloat. He couldn’t raise the cash through conventional means, so he turned to criminal methods. It would be easy, he was told. He’d buy 220 pounds of cocaine and have it sold on the drug market for a fortune.

As it turned out, DeLorean was a victim of an FBI sting. Agents had taken full notice of his desperation and set him up to purchase cocaine. When he took the bait, they arrested him on the spot. But they couldn’t make the charge stick. As any first-year law student could have told them, the agents had conspired to entrap DeLorean, a man without any previous crimes to his name. Nevertheless, DeLorean’s reputation was so severely damaged that he couldn’t come close to raising sufficient funds thereafter. He found himself on the doorstep of bankruptcy.

This would have been a shame had the car met its much-advertised promise. But it didn’t. From the first, the DeLorean was a loser. Many of its parts and accessories simply didn’t work. Those that did, including its engine, were faulty in other ways. As for its boasted sports car performance, it barely made zero to 60 in 12 seconds. Its power windows failed time and again, and its signature gull-wing doors leaked. Other features were similarly under par. DeLorean might have recovered from these setbacks, but his arrest for trying to sell cocaine did him in. He wasn’t going to find any more supporters. Although he continued to plan, there was no way back to the production line.

Because the film alternates between a documentary and a biopic, it’s continually tampering with our willingness to believe what’s on the screen. At some points, Baldwin’s depiction of DeLorean seems credible. At others, he looks the fake that he is: a cheerfully avuncular middle-aged man in makeup and a white wig splashing about in waters well over his head.

The other players do their jobs reasonably well. Morena Baccarin plays DeLorean’s supermodel wife, Cristina Ferrare, quite believably. And Josh Charles brings DeLorean’s chief engineer Bill Collins persuasively to life. Still, I wonder why they’re in the film at all. I’d have preferred a much more factual account of the would-be sportsman.

To round out my movie-watching this month, I revisited Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity. Filmed in 1944, with Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in the murderous leads, this film illustrates the power of simple film techniques. It specializes particularly in the deployment of shadow and light. For example, there’s the sequence in which Phyllis Dietrichson (Stanwyck) tentatively discusses with Walter Neff (MacMurray) her plan to murder her husband for his insurance value. They enter her darkened kitchen to pour themselves some bourbon. As they do so, their faces are so shrouded in darkness that they’re no longer visible. This was an unusual choice, but it works well to reveal the murderers’ dark intentions and darker souls. Later, when they drive Phyllis’s husband to a train station to throttle him, the reflected glare of oncoming traffic headlights makes her look like a hideous demon. These are simple techniques in lighting and placement, but they greatly enhance this drama of treachery and greed.

Of course, Wilder had the advantage of working with black and white film so useful for creating scenes of intense black and luminous white. The contrast almost tells the story by itself. What more need be said?