Having built a nice resume as a comedic actor, Jason Bateman turned again to comedy for his first directing effort, “Bad Words.” And he generated one of the best acting performances from his leading man, also Jason Bateman.
Unfortunately, the movie stumbles in its later stages. But “Bad Words” (Universal, $29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray / DVD / digital combo) is often a darkly entertaining movie, one that bears more than a passing resemblance to the similarly titled “Bad Santa.”
Bateman plays Guy Trilby, a 40-year-old man who via a loophole gets to compete in a national spelling bee. His competitive style takes no prisoners, trash-talking competitors one-fourth his age, turning even nastier when adults confront him. He doesn’t even honor the conventions of a spelling bee, matter-of-factly spelling any word thrown at him without requests for derivation or use in a sentence.
Of course, he has a reason for his actions, which becomes clear late in the film — and which is one of the least interesting aspects of it. He also has to contend with a young player (Rohan Chand) who is immune to Trilby’s insults and determined to make him a friend. You can figure out the remaining broad strokes of the movie, although a detail here and there may still surprise.
Working with a script by Andrew Dodge, Bateman has created a grubby and grim film. It is helped considerably by the supporting cast, which includes Allison Janney, Philip Baker Hall and Kathryn Hahn. It hooked me quickly, and kept me engaged most of the time, even when Trilby’s tactics were cringe-inducing.
Extras include commentary by Bateman, deleted and extended scenes and a making-of piece.
Writer-director Lars von Trier (“Melancholia,” “Antichrist”) has long had a reputation for pushing audiences in uncomfortable directions. He certainly did so in the two-movie tale “Nymphomaniac Volume I” and “Volume II,” the account of the life of a sexually voracious woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg). The announcement of the home-video release even promises “graphic depictions of sexuality to a degree unprecedented in a mainstream feature film.” And make no mistake: There are explicit scenes of sex acts in both films.
But there is also the question of whether the films are, in fact, good art — and critics divided not only on that point but also on the relative quality of the two films. The first volume had a 75 percent positive rating on the review-aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, while the second had 60 percent.
That goes to part of the problem with “Nymphomaniac,” which Magnolia Home Entertainment has released as individual films ($26.98 DVD, $29.98 Blu-ray for each) and in a package with both films ($34.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray). The two films form a single, complete work, but there’s a big difference in tone and style between the first and second movie, with the second quickly establishing itself as a bleaker work. In fact, the first at times functions as not only an account of sexual behavior but also a commentary on screen erotica, including and mocking some of the conventions of it. The second was too stomach-turning for me to last until the end. But von Trier might have considered that a compliment.
Each volume includes a few extras.
Also of note on Tuesday: Making its Blu-ray debut is “Southern Comfort” (Shout!Factory, $29.98), Walter Hill’s 1981 contemplation of Vietnam and other American incursions into foreign lands; Powers Boothe and Keith Carradine star as National Guardsmen who run into trouble during a training mission in a Louisiana swamp.
People still feeling soccer fever even after the U.S. elimination from the World Cup may want to find “The Class of ‘92” (Universal, $14.96 exclusively through Walmart). The documentary tells the story of six young players who became the core of the great Manchester United soccer team, among them one David Beckham. Extras include a making-of piece.
Two current public-television shows will arrive on video on Tuesday. “Vicious” (PBS Distribution, seven episodes, $29.98) is the comedy starring Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellen as longtime partners. “Masterpiece Mystery!: Endeavour Series 2” (PBS, four episodes, $39.99 DVD, $44.99 Blu-ray) continues the adventures of young policeman Endeavour Morse in this prequel series to Inspector Morse.
Down the road: “Person of Interest: The Complete Third Season” will be on DVD and Blu-ray on Sept. 2. The fourth season begins Sept. 23.
// Notes from the Road
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