DVDs & Blu-rays: Bernie, Freelancers and One in the Chamber


stars Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, and Matthew McConaughey: Richard Linklater directs.

We aren't always as enthusiastic about Jack Black as some other people, but his performance in Bernie is comic perfection. The black comedy is based on the true story of Bernie Tiede, an assistant funeral director in a tiny Texas town of Carthage, and Marjorie Nugent, a filthy rich widow he first befriends and then murders. Well, actually, murders and stuffs in a freezer for nine months while he gives away $600,000 of her money to needy people and causes of Carthage. (Seems he had had enough of the very bossy, very needy and ruthlessly inconsiderate widow but still found her fortune useful.)

Black plays the prim and proper Tiede, Shirley MacLaine is the wicked Nugent, and Matthew McConaughey is the power hungry district attorney that prosecutes the case. Those are the big, recognizable Hollywood names that audiences will recognize, but the real stars of the film are the Carthage townfolks who appear as themselves. Director Richard Linklater, who co-wrote the film with Texas Monthly executive editor Skip Hollandsworth, has a mix of narrative and documentary style talking heads. Black, MacLaine and the other pros take care of the narrative, the townsfolk are the talking heads. But they don't just talk, they talk funny. Their comments are littered with Texas-isms ("That dog don't hunt," and the like).

Linklater, himself an East Texas native, treats the townsfolk with the same respect as he does Black and MacLaine. They may be larger-than-life, funny talking characters but to his credit Linklater shows them as normal, everyday East Texas residents. Actually it's Black and MacLaine's characters that are over the top. While they might not be as colorful in their language as the townsfolk, they are looney tunes loco.

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Blu-ray extras include a featurette about Black, another that chronicles the story's move from a Texas Monthly feature by Skip Hollandsworth to a film several years later, and another that takes a look at the Carthage residents used for the documentary style interviews in the film (including their audition tapes), deleted scenes and the original theatrical trailer.

Read our interview with screenplay co-writer Skip Hollandsworth here.

Freelancers stars Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, Forest Whitake and Robert De Niro; Jessy Terrero directs.

Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson does a decent job as Malo, a cop who starts down a slippery slope, in Freelancers. Academy Award winners Robert De Niro is Sarcone, a dirty cop, and Forest Whitaker is LaRue, also a dirty cop who's Sarcone's right hand man. 50 Cent and De Niro fans will enjoy Freelancers (there are just enough twists and turns to keep the plot interesting). Blu-ray extras include commentary with director Jessy Terrero and Jackson, deleted scenes and extended interviews with the cast (well, actually only some of the cast - De Niro is conspicuously absent). Freelancers is reportedly part of Jackson's 10-film deal with Lionsgate.

One in the Chamber

stars Cuba Gooding, Jr and Dolph Lundgren; William Kaufman directs.

We had high hopes for Cuba Gooding, Jr's One in the Chamber, we really did. Exotic locations, a lonely hit man with a conscience, loads of bad guys, a beautiful woman, it had all the right ingredients for an enjoyable hour and a half. It wasn't. With too many cliches by the director and screenwriter coupled with too little commitment from the cast, One in the Chamber never really sings. It's too bad, too. Gooding would have made an excellent hit man. (He does do one fight scene with skill and enthusiasm, but quickly falls back into an unfortunate "I'm here, but I'm not paying attention" mode.) DVD extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette.

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