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Collection is a satisfying film noir sampler

For as often as video distributors seem to be forcing a thin connection -- or clearing dusty titles off their shelves -- with theme-oriented box sets, "The Film Noir Classic Collection" (2004) is hardly a case in point. This five-disc collection, most of which Warner Brothers inherited from Ted Turner's black-and-white library, is a welcome, solid genre sampling. We were most eager to revisit "Out of the Past" (1947), starring Robert Mitchum as a small-town regular joe who thinks he's done with his days as hardboiled problem-solver for heavies like mob slickster Kirk Douglas -- until past entanglements with double-crossing beauty Jane Greer pull Mitchum back in. Favorite moment: Mitchum barges into a shadowy back office, cold-cocks the thug inside, grabs a briefcase he's come for -- and then stops to pilfer a free smoke off the desk and spark up. (The fact that Mitchum died from lung cancer inevitably dampens such moments, but still, the image he cuts with a cigarette constantly dangling from his lips couldn't be more iconic.)

The packaging for "Murder, My Sweet" (1945) asserts that Dick Powell was Raymond Chandler's favorite Philip Marlowe, although this adaptation still seems a little clean-cut. "The Asphalt Jungle" (1950) offers another signature take on noir from John Huston, while Robert Wise directs Robert Ryan in the boxing-themed 1949 "The Set-Up" (with commentary by Wise and Martin Scorsese, who was inspired to further explore this world in "Raging Bull"). "Gun Crazy" (1949), cited as a forerunner to "Bonnie and Clyde," rounds out the set.

Extras: Film historian commentaries. (Warner, $49.92; individual titles also available separately, $19.97)

"MONSIEUR IBRAHIM" (2003) This French import is billed as a relationship story between Omar Sharif's title character, a Muslim immigrant running a grocery store in a seedy Parisian neighborhood, and Momo (Pierre Boulanger), a hard-luck Jewish teen very much in need of an understanding father figure. Interestingly, though, writer-director Francois Dupeyron delivers a film that isn't nearly as precious as all that, and is in fact one of the odder coming-of-age tales to come off the art-house circuit. Momo regularly brings his piggy-bank change to the prostitutes across the street; Ibrahim offers him as much guy's-guy advice as true wisdom. And yet Sharif and company play it all elegantly.

Extras: A rarity -- commentary by Sharif. (Columbia, $29.95)

"SIX FEET UNDER: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON" (2002) What started out as a very strong series continued to hit its groove here, although it's debatable that creator Alan Ball and company deliver the same amount of water-cooler material, between the show's quirky novelty wearing off and somber story lines such as the medical troubles of Peter Krause's Nate Fisher. (Not that Nate's running mortality crisis isn't a logical thematic fit for the show, but still.) The embodiments of Life and Death hallucinogenically getting it on in a back room at the funeral parlor is more likely the sort of thing that will encourage you to stick around for all 13 episodes.

Extras: Commentary by Ball and other series contributors; effects featurette. (HBO, $99.98)

"THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT" (2004) Ashton "Punk'd" Kutcher in a psychological thriller? Sounds like the oxymoron of the week. But give this one a chance and you'll find that filmmakers Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber deliver a "Donnie Darko" riff with some equally cool ideas, albeit with some fairly preposterous ones interspersed. Kutcher plays a college kid slowly, bewilderedly becoming aware that he's able to travel back in time and change traumatic events that shaped him and his friends. The various ways his good intentions backfire sometimes demand a range Kutcher just doesn't have, but there also a number of segments that are eerily effective.

Extras: Filmmaker commentary; segment on "the science and psychology of the chaos theory" (!) (New Line, $27.95)


Maggie Smith won a best actress Oscar for this early standout performance in a long career of them, as a forward-thinking ’30s schoolteacher determined to do things a little differently.
Extras: Director commentary. (Fox, $14.98)

Ultra-conservative Jill Clayburgh is the .rst female Supreme Court justice; Walter Matthau is a liberal colleague with dissenting opinions on everything. Curious how this one was released theatrically just days before Sandra Day O’Connor’s appointment—and on DVD just as Reagan’s passing has dusted off the old O’Connor clips. (Paramount, $14.99)

‘‘KOTCH’’ (1971)
More Matthau grumpiness. This time he’s a widower who .nds a new direction in life when he befriends a feisty pregnant teen. Matthau earned a best actor nomination for pal Jack Lemmon’s lone directorial effort. (MGM, $14.95)

Film festival circuit aspirant Marina Zenovich takes an insider’s look at the Sundance Film Festival—sparing us the long lines, closed-out screenings, and tourist price-gouging. Overall, a well-drawn sketch of the scene.
Extras: Commentary by Zenovich; extended interviews. (Docurama, $24.95)

This six-disc box set includes Sidney Toler’s lesser Chan mysteries of the ’40s, ‘‘The Jade Mask’’ among them. You’ll snicker less at Toler’s ‘‘proverbs’’ than at the set’s please-don’t-picket-us disclaimer: ‘‘Created in a time when casting Caucasians in minority roles was considered acceptable, the [films] continue to spark debate.’’ (MGM, $69.96; individual titles also available separately, $14.95)

‘‘BIG TOP PEE-WEE’’ (1988)
Paul Reubens’s second big screen outing as Pee-wee Herman misses director Tim Burton’s touch—this one was directed by Randal Kleiser of ‘‘Grease’’—but still, kids, it’s Peewee. (Paramount, $14.99)

Snoopy monk Sean Connery investigates a medieval murder mystery in this adaptation of Umberto Eco’s bestseller. Another intriguing period piece from Jean-Jacques Annaud (‘‘Seven Years in Tibet,’’ ‘‘Enemy at the Gates’’).
Extras: Commentary by Annaud; production featurettes. (Warner, $19.98)

‘‘HEARTBURN’’ (1986)
Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep give a class on urban sophisticate romantic comedy at the Nora Ephron-Mike Nichols school. (‘‘Ironweed,’’ presumably, was the pair’s gradlevel work.) (Paramount, $14.99)


‘‘Spider-Man 2’’ seems to be triggering a whole wave of splashily packaged DVDs of superhero ’toons—but if there’s only one you pick up, make it this terri.cally intelligent, noirish Batman revival from the ’90s. Several years on, it’s still the standard-setter.
Extras: Producer commentary; retrospective featurette. (Warner, $49.98)

Capsules are written by Globe correspondent Tom Russo and titles are in stores Tuesday unless otherwise specified.
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