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New Releases: Jack Black shines in the darkly comic 'Bernie'

Also reviewed: Asghar Farhadi's 'A Separation'; 'Solomon Kane' starring James Purefoy; Andrew Haigh's 'Weekend.'

August 18, 2012|By Noel Murray
  • Jack Black as Bernie Tiede in the movie "Bernie."
Jack Black as Bernie Tiede in the movie "Bernie." (Deana Newcomb, Millennium…)

Bernie

Millennium, $28.99;Blu-ray, $29.99

Available on VOD beginning Tuesday

Based on a true story, the wry docudrama "Bernie" stars Jack Black as a charismatic, dandyish small-town mortician who murders a cantankerous local millionaire played by Shirley MacLaine, and then tries to hide the crime from the authorities, including Matthew McConaughey's dogged district attorney. Writer-director Richard Linklater and his co-writer Skip Hollandsworth (who also wrote the magazine article on which the movie is based) frame the film as a documentary, using a mix of real people and actors to describe not just the situation but the culture of Texas. "Bernie" is a darkly comic charmer, featuring Black's best performance since Linklater's "School of Rock," and it offers some real insight into how insular communities have their own way of deciding what's right and wrong. The DVD and Blu-ray add a pair of featurettes that expand on how Linklater blends reality and make-believe.

A Separation

Sony, $30.99; Blu-ray, $35.99

Available on VOD beginning Tuesday

Writer-director Asghar Farhadi's Oscar-winning masterpiece"A Separation"is about a middle-class Iranian couple that petitions for divorce, but it's also about marriage, parenthood, class and religion, all filtered through a fluid notion of what "justice" means. "A Separation" is a drama as riveting as any thriller, pivoting on a terrible event involving the family's devout caretaker and her hotheaded husband. The fragility of each character's position is revealed by their journey through the court system, where every gesture demands justification, and every memory needs to be backed by evidence. The DVD and Blu-ray include a Farhadi commentary track plus featurettes about the filmmaker.

Solomon Kane

Available on VOD beginning Friday

James Purefoy plays Robert E. Howard's second-most famous pulp hero (after Conan the barbarian) in Michael Bassett's long-delayed sword-slinging adventure "Solomon Kane." Frankly, Purefoy lacks the necessary weight to play a man hounded by literal and metaphorical demons — he's oddly mercurial in this film, looking nondescript in one scene and ferocious in the next — but even with a near-blank at the center, the film is still very good B-movie fare, rendered with imaginative creature designs and a crisp, clear narrative, if maybe too few moments of wit. "Solomon Kane" debuts on VOD a month before its theatrical release.

Weekend

Criterion, $29.95; Blu-ray, $39.95

One of the most beautiful romantic dramas to come along in years, writer-director Andrew Haigh's "Weekend" stars Tom Cullen and Chris New as two men who meet in a gay bar, hook up for sex, and then keep reconnecting over the next couple of days, sharing intimate moments along with stories about their families, their past relationships and their attitudes toward their homosexuality. The conversation is implausibly big-picture at times, but Cullen and New make it feel very real, and Haigh captures their performances with close-ups and camera moves that give the audience the sense of eavesdropping on a love affair in bloom. Criterion's DVD and Blu-ray contain several behind-the-scenes featurettes, plus some of Haigh's early short films.

And…

Chimpanzee

Disneynature Blu-ray, $39.99

Available on VOD beginning Tuesday

The Dictator

Paramount, $29.99; Blu-ray, $44.99

Available on VOD beginning Tuesday

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