New to DVD and Blu-ray: ‘The Dictator,’ an Oscar Winner and a Murderous Jack Black
New on DVD, Blu-Ray and streaming this week, a mix of strange satire, strong drama and dark comedy — and a host of films you may have overlooked …
After 'Borat' and 'Bruno,' 'The Dictator' may not be the freshest concept in the world -- as star and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen gives us another mix of serious satire and outrageously fake accents and facial hair -- but, for my part, I laughed, and laughed hard. Here, Cohen's Admiral General Aladeen, a made-up Middle-East-ish spoiled strongman with a very large beard and a very little brain. The Blu-ray is unrated, with over 20 minutes not-in-theaters cut back in, with deleted and alternate scenes and some other weird extras (like a mock music video) as well. Just judging it as a film, though, 'The Dictator' still benefits from Cohen's skill as an appealing funnyman, and if some of his material is too rough to laugh at, well, considering how much of it is drawn from life, maybe that's as it should be.
Last year's Best Foreign Film Oscar-winner 'A Separation' is a stunning drama, going between the universal and the very specific with superb direction and writing and performances. A struggling married couple receives a valuable and rare visa so they can leave Iran; and while the wife wants to leave with their daughter, he feels he has to stay for his father's fight with Alzheimer's disease. With its location-specific notes on the nature and the challenges of life in modern Iran intertwined with its timeless and placeless concerns about love and family, divorce and moving on, 'A Separation' is one of the best films-- never mind "Best Foreign Films" -- of 2011.
Not just an exercise in nostalgia -- although it's hard to imagine this film not making anyone who saw it in theaters when it came out in 1983 smiling a little bit at its mention. Matthew Broderick stars as a pre-teen "hacker" who uses his computer skills to play games with a secret high-tech military supercomputer... not knowing that the computer's "games" with him are real exercises where it prepares to fire our real nuclear arsenal. Full of bulky monitors and deft writing -- and the too-cute sight of a very young Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy saving the day -- 'WarGames' is old school, but it still makes the grade.
With a deadpan Texas mix of down-home kindness and real-world murder, 'Bernie' is an impressive film from director Richard Linklater ('Dazed and Confused,' 'Fast Food Nation') and also a breakout role for Jack Black. Black is the real-life Bernie Tilde, a gregarious pillar of the community who befriended the richest woman in his small Texas town, Marjorie Nugent (a great Shirley MacLaine), and lived the high life as her confidant and travel companion. When Bernie accidentally kills Mrs. Nugent, well, he sees no reason to give up his lifestyle over a little thing like murder... Smart and slick and sharp, 'Bernie' has courtroom drama and human comedy, plus a great supporting performance by Matthew McConaughey as the poor lawman trying to make what seemed like a slam-dunk murder conviction against the best-liked man in town. ...