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DVD Report

New Releases | TOM RUSSO

When Benjamin met Mrs. Robinson

Frequently with a DVD reissue as notable as "The Graduate" (1967), everything there is to be said has been said already - hence, you'll get commentary that's been recycled, sometimes from laser disc. It's quite a treat, then, that this 40th anniversary edition boasts a pair of brand new audio tracks, one featuring Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross, and the other director Mike Nichols and colleague/chat facilitator Steven Soderbergh. Hoffman amusingly notes that he thinks he was miscast as Benjamin Braddock - a WASPy blond kid in Charles Webb's source novel - even while scoffing at the "walking surfboards" who would have been the alternative. Nichols, meanwhile, confirms discussing the project with Robert Redford, with whom he'd done "Barefoot in the Park" on Broadway. But he insists he merely told Redford that no one would buy him as a loser fumbling to get a foothold in life. "I said, 'All right, how many times have you struck out with a girl?' " Nichols laughs. (The way Hoffman's casting revolutionized traditional notions of a leading man is a point aptly made by Soderbergh, who is fast supplanting Peter Bogdanovich as the go-to cineaste commentator of choice.) Ross and Hoffman both marvel at how much they look like "young Republicans" in stolen exterior shots on Sunset Boulevard and the Berkeley campus. They attribute this to Nichols's preference not to muddle the already provocative nature of the story, originally published in 1962, with update nods to the counterculture or Vietnam. Other extras aren't as compelling. A Simon & Garfunkel CD sampler is included only in specially marked packages. New featurette material about the film's legacy is passable, but couldn't they have found someone other than Henry Rollins to pay tribute to Anne Bancroft? (MGM, $24.98)

"AWAY FROM HER" (2007)

Indie-leaning actress Sarah Polley steps behind the camera to write and direct a poignant adaptation of an Alice Munro story about a long-married intellectual couple (Julie Christie and fine Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent) struggling with the realization that she's got Alzheimer's disease. One of the film's strengths is the understated nature of Christie's performance. There aren't tears as she tells her husband why she's grown affectionate with another Alzheimer's patient (Michael Murphy, in a silent role) - she simply, achingly explains that the stricken man doesn't confuse her thoughts. Pinsent is even more impressive, as his character is by turns heartbroken, self-centeredly sulky, and, ultimately, lovingly selfless. The last aspect comes through in a series of fractured-narrative scenes Pinsent shares with Olympia Dukakis, who shoulders some emotional burden of her own as Murphy's wife. It says something about the beauty of what Polley has crafted that you may want to go back and watch this thread uninterrupted as a mini-drama within the drama.

Extras: Commentary by Christie; some pertinent deleted scenes with commentary by Polley. (Lionsgate, $27.98)


Helen Mirren retires signature policewoman character Jane Tennison in fine style, a tangle of boozy world-weariness, self-doubt, and unbroken righteous resolve. Mirren's recent turns as Elizabeth I and II also lend some humor to Tennison's familiar grousing about "don't call me ma'am - I'm not the bloody queen."

Extras: A 50-minute retrospective of the series' 15-year, 22-hour run takes fans back and is a good primer for those coming to the finale as stand-alone fare. (Acorn Media, $29.99)


Stand-up-and-comer Martin showcases his brainy brand of humor in a recent concert in Austin, Texas. The Steven Wright comparisons are partly on target, but with Martin, the shtick is superficial - his alt-dork style sense and easel doodling are (amusing) gimmicks, but his persona is just regular guy.

Extras: Martin's fondness for giving family members cameos in his act is cute, but a commentary with the whole clan? Footage from other stand-up appearances is also included. (Paramount, $19.98; available now)


Amber Tamblyn grows up fast

At 23, it seems that Amber Tamblyn (TV's "Joan of Acadia," "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants") has finally graduated from playing wisecracking teens. In "Stephanie Daley" she portrays a teen who's too depleted and numb to crack wise (much), which at least represents a dramatic progression for the actress if not a chronological one. The important thing is: She's tremendous.

As the title character in Hilary Brougher's long-overdue second feature (she also wrote and directed 1997's "The Sticky Fingers of Time"), Tamblyn is a 16-year-old ripped from adolescence and pilloried for allegedly killing the infant she secretly gave birth to. Stephanie claims not to have known she was pregnant, and she insists the baby was stillborn. But there is evidence suggesting something far less innocent, and a forensic psychologist named Lydie (Tilda Swinton) is assigned to evaluate the darker side of this ordinary-looking girl.

As movie luck would have it, Lydie is pregnant herself, recovering from a recent stillbirth of her own, and questioning the strength of her marriage to an architect played by Timothy Hutton. She wonders about blame and denial and choice, which she inevitably learns aren't so easy to define outside a courtroom.

Brougher's sensitive but keen script (winner of a screenwriting award at Sundance) is weighty and literate without feeling overly crafted. Shot in natural light that can sometimes leave you groping for clarity along with the characters, the movie feels true to everyday life despite its sensational story line. Brougher understands the potential impact of a single mundane detail: Much of Swinton's screen time is spent peeing, which puts it among the most honest portraits of pregnancy in the history of cinema.

Tamblyn's surprisingly measured performance commands attention - especially in interrogations, where she nearly flat-lines emotionally, and in a restrained handling of that gut-wrenching part of the film where she gives birth in the stall of a public restroom. Brougher could have left it there, but she's a brave filmmaker. She takes a stand, ending with a disclosure that may make viewers squirm, tear up, seethe, or all of the above.

Even if Tamblyn fans are more comfortable with her upcoming "Sisterhood" sequel, "Stephanie Daley" announces she's a young actress to watch. And if she keeps playing with moviemakers like this, we'll eventually be watching her collect an Oscar.

Extras: making-of featurette, deleted scenes, audio commentaries from Brougher, Tamblyn.Ta (Liberation Ent, $24.95, already available)


The taste of snow in an Ontario backyard

The small Canadian drama "Snow Cake" prompts many emotions, not least of which is gratitude for temporarily freeing the great Alan Rickman from the bondage of Severus Snape. More mixed feelings arise from Sigourney Weaver (above, with Rickman) in the role of Linda Freeman, an autistic woman living in rural Ontario. Written by Angela Pell and directed by Marc Evans, "Snow Cake" isn't "Rain Woman," but still there's the sense of packaging a prickly, mysterious subject into a convenient dramatic shape.

Rickman plays Alex Hughes, a wreck of an Englishman crossing Canada in a rental car. Almost against his will, he picks up an oddly endearing young hitchhiker named Vivienne (Emily Hampshire) and, after a few plot turns, feels compelled to visit her mother. Linda eats snow (thus the title) and owns a backyard trampoline. Intensely germophobic, she won't let anyone into her kitchen, although she prevails on Alex to stay until trash-collection day because she "doesn't do garbage." Conveniently, this gives him time to attract the attention of the attractive and accommodating lady next door (Carrie-Anne Moss).

"Snow Cake" is conventional in its slow arc toward personal betterment, but one look into Rickman's tormented eyes tells us some things can't be fixed. Weaver plays her part as honestly as she can, even when the script gives Linda a lovely but fraudulent Big Speech about her favorite made-up Scrabble word, "dazlious." "Snow Cake" is dazlious, too: overly forced, a shade too whimsical, but filling a void other words and other movies haven't the nerve or errant taste to confront.

Extras: cast interviews, deleted scenes (IFC, $19.95)


"EVEN MONEY" (2007)

The ensemble is the draw - but can't deliver quite enough - in a crime drama about the sucking black hole of gambling addiction. Kim Basinger is an author blowing all her royalties; for those who've followed the NBA betting scandal, Forest Whitaker could hold some interest as a heavy loser pressuring hoops star nephew Nick Cannon to throw a game. With Danny DeVito, Jay Mohr, and Tim Roth. (Fox, $27.98)



H.G. Wells's tale of nature's little critters turned steroidal gets cheesy screen treatment from director Bert I. Gordon, a veteran of the ginormous creature genre of the '50s. No cautionary A-bomb metaphors here, but that gotcha ending about what's in our milk does anticipate the growth-hormone controversy kind of eerily. (MGM, $14.98)

"FACE/OFF" (1997)

Now this is why John Woo came to Hollywood from Hong Kong: a flying-bullets showdown between the law and anarchy (in the form of FBI man John Travolta and terrorist Nicolas Cage) where Travolta's only chance is to surgically swap faces with him (naturally!). A couple of effects and dramatic notes are shaky, but overall, Woo's visual flair has never been better employed Stateside, and his musings on the nature of identity are intelligent genre fare.

Extras: Commentary by Woo and his writing team, along with a supplemental track by the writers; deleted scenes and alternate ending that teases, "Did they switch back . . . or didn't they?" (Paramount, $19.99)


Master of disaster Irwin Allen adapts Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's tale of explorers discovering prehistoric beasts in the modern world. Allen benefits from having Claude Rains on board, but the main attraction is actually upstaged by the pioneering 1925 silent version, included on a second disc. (Fox, $19.98)



Don't look for an Isaiah Washington commentary giving his umpteenth explanation of what the heck happened. But as ever with these "Grey's" sets, the selection of uncut, extended episodes will make you half-wish the show were on pay cable, and not the network clock. (Buena Vista, $59.99)


The made-for-cable adaptation of Dee Brown's book about the extermination of the American Indian gets an encore on disc.

Extras: Commentary by director Yves Simoneau and actors Adam Beach ("Flags of Our Fathers") and Aidan Quinn; historical and production featurettes. (HBO, $26.98)

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

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