Truth stranger than fiction in ‘Bernie’

Published: Thursday, Aug. 23 2012 5:13 p.m. MDT

Jack Black in "Bernie."

Millennium Entertainment

Enlarge photo»

New movies on DVD this week are led by Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine co-starring in a dark comedy that just happens to be true.

“Bernie” (Millennium, 2012, PG-13, $28.99, digital copy, deleted scenes, featurettes, trailers). Playing a gentle, semi-serious, change-of-pace character, Black scores big as the real-life Bernie Tiede, a guileless and beloved figure in the small town of Carthage, Texas, where he was assistant funeral director before eventually becoming personal assistant to the town’s richest and most hated woman, Marjorie Nugent (MacLaine).

Bernie begins managing Marjorie’s affairs and enjoys living large on her money, as they travel together and he acts as her personal servant. But eventually, her petty demands and snippy attitude take a toll, and when Bernie can’t take any more, he snaps. What happens next is even more unbelievable.

Black is perfect at the center of all this, playing Bernie as an innocent caught up in circumstances that take over his life. MacLaine is also great, as are Matthew McConaughey as the local sheriff and other supporting players — and that includes real-life residents of Carthage lined up by director Richard Linklater to offer occasional testimonials throughout the film, some of which are hysterically funny. Bonus documentary features flesh out the real story. (Also on Blu-ray, $29.99.)

“A Separation” (Sony Classics/Blu-ray, 2011, PG-13, $35.99, in Persian/Farsi with English subtitles, audio commentary, featurettes). This Oscar-winner for best foreign-language picture is a compelling, even gripping, look a life in modern Iran and the toll that the choices we make can have on those we love, particularly children.

The story has a married couple desiring to move to another country for better employment opportunities, but the husband won’t leave his Alzheimer’s-stricken father. So the wife sues for divorce in order to depart with their daughter, but her request is denied by a judge. Meanwhile, the husband hires a religious zealot to care for his father, leading to disastrous consequences, all of which is witnessed by the quiet, observant daughter.

Here’s a film that doesn’t lay everything out, doesn’t take sides, but instead allows the audience to interpret the characters’ actions. And despite the strict Islamic laws enforced in Iran, the story has universal applications so that anyone anywhere can identify with the dilemmas posed here. (Also on DVD, $30.99.)

“Good Will Hunting: 15th Anniversary Edition” (Miramax/Blu-ray, 1997; R for language; $14.99, deleted scenes, audio commentary, featurettes (including new interviews, music video, trailer). Matt Damon is great as a troubled young man who is hiding a brilliant mind for math and Robin Williams is also very good as a professor trying to reach him. Damon and Ben Affleck (who has a supporting role) won Oscars for the screenplay, which is, unfortunately, replete with profane and vulgar language.

“Chimpanzee” (Disney/Blu-ray + DVD, 2012, $39.99, featurettes, music video). This year’s Disneynature Earth Day documentary was this entertaining look at a young chimp growing up in the African rain forest. Only downside is cutesy narration by Tim Allen.

“Virginia” (eOne, 2012; R for language, sex; $24.98, featurette). Dustin Lance Black (Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Milk”) wrote and directed this bizarre fiasco about a paranoid schizophrenic (Jennifer Connelly) having a long-term affair with a married Mormon sheriff (Ed Harris). Overloaded with subplots so off-kilter that “paranoid schizophrenia” applies to the movie as much as the central character.

“The Dictator: Banned & Unrated” (Paramount/Blu-ray +DVD + Digital Copy, 2012; R for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, language, violence; two discs, $44.99, R-rated and unrated versions, deleted/extended scenes, featurettes, music video). In a departure from the unscripted/“Candid Camera” format of “Borat” and “Bruno,” Sacha Baron Cohen goes for an equally crass scripted comedy about a bombastic North African dictator set adrift in New York. (Also on DVD, $29.99.)

“Freelancers” (Lionsgate, 2012; R for sex, nudity, drugs, violence, language; $19.98, deleted scenes, audio commentary, featurettes). Sort of “Training Day”-lite as rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson becomes a policeman, following in his father’s footsteps, and finds himself in a squad of crooked cops. Robert De Niro and Forest Whitaker co-star. (Also on Blu-ray, $24.99.)

E-MAIL: hicks@desnews.com

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS