DVD releases

'The Conspirator' "The Conspirator" (Claudette Barius/The American Film Company via Associated Press)
By Tom Russo
Globe Correspondent / August 14, 2011

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Did she conspire to kill Lincoln?

Abraham Lincoln’s assassination is examined from a different vantage point in “The Conspirator’’ (2011), Robert Redford’s look at the case of Mary Surratt, boardinghouse host to John Wilkes Booth, and the lone woman among those charged in the plot. In a featurette and a director’s commentary track (available as a visual on Blu-ray), Redford quick-pitches the material’s inherent interest, calling it “a story that no one knows inside of a story that everybody knows.’’ That’s true on a couple of levels, as our guide to the film’s historical portrait and civil liberties ruminating is Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy), the young Union veteran and lawyer reluctantly tasked with defending Surratt (Robin Wright). Are her sober professions of innocence to be believed? Aiken is doubtful, and War Secretary Edwin Stanton (Kevin Kline) and the military tribunal trying Surratt aren’t listening, interested only in swiftly restoring the nation to order. Redford efficiently communicates the Guantanamo-era relevance of the case - in commentary, he recalls Kline’s early query about whether the actor was supposed to be thinking Dick Cheney - and McAvoy and Wright play their uneasy interaction with skilled, intelligent restraint. Still, as with Redford’s last film, the issues-minded 2007 Afghanistan drama “Lions for Lambs,’’ a bit more fire would have helped. When Aiken forges ahead with the case despite all his misgivings, he can come off like someone obsessively confounded by a Times crossword puzzle rather than as a man driven by constitutionalist idealism. Extras: An hourlong Surratt documentary offers details about her background glossed over in the film. (Lionsgate, $29.95; Blu-ray, $39.99)


Charlotte Brontë’s classic is adapted yet again, this time by director Cary Fukunaga (“Sin Nombre’’), who overdoes some narrative fracturing but also delivers striking visuals and strong casting. Mia Wasikowska (“Alice in Wonderland’’) is all milky grace as the young heroine doggedly clinging to her sense of self while being buffeted from childhood hardship to a life of suppressed yearning. Michael Fassbender (“X-Men: First Class’’) commands attention as Rochester, enigmatic lord of Miss Eyre’s heart. (While you mull Orson Welles comparisons, we will wonder when Jon Hamm look-alike Fassbender is going to play Don Draper’s inscrutable cousin on “Mad Men.’’) Extras: Fukunaga commentary; featurettes. (Universal, $29.98; Blu-ray, $34.98)


The Dude’s mental acuity may still have a slight, um, fuzziness of focus, but his misadventures look sharper than ever on Blu-ray, man. The debut marks the start of a sweet few weeks for devotees of the Coen brothers and the format: “Blood Simple,’’ “Raising Arizona,’’ and “Miller’s Crossing’’ each get hi-def reissues this month. (They come boxed as a collection with “Fargo,’’ if you’re a completist.) In September, the Soggy Bottom Boys’ bluegrass stylings get an audio boost with the Blu-ray release of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?’’ Extras: On “Lebowski,’’ picture-in-picture production material; hardcover booklet packaging. (Universal, $29.98)


John Carpenter scares up one more fright flick, with Amber Heard (right) as a damaged (yet nubile) girl committed to an asylum where sinister doings are afoot. Are she and the other girls being preyed on by staff? By a ghost? The atmosphere ranges from effectively tense when Carpenter is rehashing Jamie Lee Curtis jeopardy to pretty ridiculous when the movie tries to dimensionalize characters. (One is, yep, a thumb sucker.) Plays like a comeback tour set list: the familiar stuff, plus some clunkers and contemporary knockoffs. Extras: Odd-couple commentary by Carpenter and asylum shrink Jared Harris (“Mad Men’’). (Arc Entertainment, $24.99; Blu-ray, $29.99)


Julia Stiles has a memorable run as a scarred woman aggressively working out her vengeance issues with an antiheroic assist from Michael C. Hall (pictured). Extras: Cast interviews. (Paramount, $49.99; Blu-ray, $67.99)


Something old, more like. Ginnifer Goodwin (“Big Love’’) is a goody-goody all mixed up by her feelings for Colin Egglesfield, BFF Kate Hudson’s fiance. With John Krasinski. Extras: Featurettes with source novelist Emily Giffin. (Warner, $28.98; Blu-ray, $35.99)

PRIEST (2011)

Even with a cross tattooed on his face, Paul Bettany pulls off a genre trick he has managed before, lending a touch of British class to this showdown between neo-clergy and post-apocalyptic vampires. Extras: Commentary by Bettany and costar Maggie Q; effects featurettes. (Sony, $30.99; Blu-ray, $35.99; 3-D, $45.99)


With Disney’s Muppet revival imminent, Kermit and Piggy’s last studio handlers give a Blu-ray reissue to their own underrated try to recapture something Muppetational. See Gonzo’s past revealed! Hear the gang getting their funk on to “Brick House’’! “The Muppets Take Manhattan’’ (1984) gets a companion release. (Sony, $19.99 each)


The cleverness of the Little Red Riding Hood riff “Hoodwinked’’ seems far, far away in this sequel. Red (Hayden Panettiere), Granny (Glenn Close), and the Big Bad Wolf (Patrick Warburton) are now secret agents trying to rescue Hansel and Gretel (Bill Hader and Amy Poehler). Extras: Voice cast featurette. (Anchor Bay, $29.98; Blu-ray, $34.99; 3-D, $39.99)

Titles are in stores Tuesday unless specified. Tom Russo can be reached at

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