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DVD Report

New Releases | Tom Russo

A tantalizing glimpse into the lives of nine women

A producer on writer-director Rodrigo Garcia's debut film, the Showtime feature ''Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her," tells a story about initially thinking an unlabeled copy of the script was the work of a really strong female writer. Garcia, the son of author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, further demonstrates his affinity for the female condition with his new vignette collection ''Nine Lives" (2005), this time telling his characters' loosely interwoven stories in long, single takes. Actually, he doesn't tell their stories so much as simply observe them, intelligently giving each mini-drama background texture while deliberately leaving many of them tantalizingly vague or just hanging, period. Robin Wright Penn is a pregnant woman thrown into quiet turmoil when she bumps into an old lover on a late-night supermarket run. Amy Brenneman (like castmates Glenn Close, Holly Hunter, and Kathy Baker, a ''Things You Can Tell" vet) is a woman whose presence at a funeral turns strange when viewers learn that the bereaved is her ex.

Close and Dakota Fanning (''War of the Worlds") make the movie's closing segment one of its strongest, offering an intimate glimpse at a mother and daughter sharing time together during a visit to a cemetery. This is the closest ''Lives" comes to breathing for a moment -- something Garcia might want to give us more often, just to show he knows how to capture a woman's smile as well.

Extras: A Q&A with Garcia and some of his cast has its down-to-earth moments, as when Brenneman aptly notes that shooting single, continuous takes isn't much different than doing a play. Of course, a featurette on the logistics of staging said takes is also included. (Sony, $26.96)

''PROOF" (2005)

For a film rooted in the big-brained abstractions of mathematics, director John Madden's adaptation of David Auburn's Pulitzer-winning stage play is actually pretty straightforward. Gwyneth Paltrow is a woman who's spent much of her 20 years caring for her father, Anthony Hopkins, a pioneering mathematical mind felled by mental illness. With his death, she finds herself slogging through a morass of guilt and anger, snapping at the helping hands extended by would-be boyfriend Jake Gyllenhaal and her far less deep-thinking sister, Hope Davis. It's all quite reminiscent of ''A Beautiful Mind" -- until a revolutionary new proof is discovered among Hopkins's papers, and Paltrow's integrity is compellingly called into question.

Extras: Commentary by Madden on, among other subjects, working with Paltrow again after directing her Oscar-winning performance in ''Shakespeare in Love"; production featurette; deleted scenes. (Miramax, $29.99)


You'll come for a look at Henry Fonda in a proboscis prosthetic that does make him an awfully close likeness to Abraham Lincoln; you'll stay for the ''Sophie's Choice"-like dramatic dilemma that director John Ford ultimately makes the focus of the story, as self-made litigator Lincoln is drawn into a case that demands a family turn on itself. While much of the film feels old-fashioned, Fonda's performance endures because the effect was intentional, and not simply the product of golden age Hollywood style. Fonda and Ford's take on Lincoln -- all amusing self-deprecation and homespun wisdom -- is Americana at its most earnest.

Extras: The two-disc reissue includes BBC segments on Fonda and Ford; archival audio interviews with both; and an essay booklet. (Criterion, $39.95)

''MIRRORMASK" (2005)

Graphic novel writer Neil Gaiman (''The Sandman") and artist Dave McKean project their flights of fantasy on the screen with the dreamlike tale of a teenage girl (Stephanie Leonidas) whose strange little life in a circus family segues into big adventures in a magical realm shaken by an imbalance between Light and Dark. The story works intermittently, but director/designer McKean's mix of live action and computer animation fascinates throughout.

Extras: Creator commentary and interviews; extensive production featurettes. (Sony, $26.96)

DVD Reissue | Howard Karren

Coming of age on the Upper East Side

''You're totally impossible and out of control," a female friend tells Nick Smith, the character played by Chris Eigeman in Whit Stillman's ''Metropolitan" (1990), then adds, ''you're a snob, a sexist, totally obnoxious, and tiresome, and lately, you've gotten just weird." To which Nick retorts, ''I am not tiresome." Precisely.

Those who quibble over the flaws of writer-director-producer Stillman's revelatory, low-low-budget debut film, complaining that it indulges the trivial angst of Manhattan rich kids who dub themselves ''urban haute bourgeois" while drinking copiously at dress-up debutante parties during a holiday season ''not so long ago," are simply missing the point. For Stillman is all about wit (minus the h), latter-day Wildean wit, and though the line readings of his young actors are at times awkward and stiff, they're always appropriately adolescent -- not to mention touching and often hilarious.

There's a charming wistfulness to the movie, for the self-seriousness of youth and an Upper East Side culture of downwardly mobile wealth that's about to lose the innocence it never knew it had. ''Metropolitan" takes place in a time before Jennifer Levin's preppie murder and Bret Easton Ellis's ennui, when kids argued about God and Jane Austen novels, cocaine was scarce, and there were Checker cabs and cha-cha but no hip-hop. The movie was a seminal part of the '90s indie explosion touched off by ''sex, lies, and videotape," and it glosses over its cheap production values (unknown cast, no crowds, available locations) with lovely lighting, shrewd editing, and sensitive performances. Stillman went on to make ''Barcelona" and ''The Last Days of Disco" but never duplicated the winning spirit of his debut feature, which focuses so intently on the mostly sexless relationships of teenagers play-acting at adulthood.

Extras: The DVD package includes informative commentary by Stillman, film editor Christopher Tellefsen, Eigeman, and fellow cast member Taylor Nichols, which plays over the movie, outtakes, and scenes shot with alternate cast members. (Criterion, $39.95)

Foreign DVD | Leighton Klein

A French film made to thrill the masses

Whether you find French films winsome or irksome, at least we get a good range coming through local theaters. There are paranoid thrillers (''Caché"), psychological dramas (''The Intruder"), overstuffed period pieces (''A Very Long Engagement"), and documentaries both winged (''March of the Penguins") and wingless (''Genesis"). Foreign films being a boutique business here, however, what we don't see are the country's mainstream releases, the genre exercises that the French domestic market keeps for itself.

And that's a pity. Case in point: ''36, Quai des Orfèvres" (2004), a big-budget cop flick that opened the French film festival at the MFA last summer but never got a theatrical run here. The second feature of writer-director Olivier Marchal, it stars Daniel Auteuil and Gérard Depardieu as equally compromised division chiefs in Paris's police establishment. Léo (Auteuil, above left) seems to spend as much time slumming with criminals as arresting them; Denis (Depardieu, above right), while nominally more law-abiding, is power-hungry and remorseless. Between them there's an enmity that goes far beyond mere rivalry, and their battle plays out as a murderous gang is pulling off a string of armored-car heists that embarrass the force.

While complicated, the plot is crisply laid out, with deeply affecting moments balancing real shockers. Marchal, a former cop, brings a hard-fisted strength to the script that's lacking in the work of American auteurs like, say, Michael Mann. At the same time, Marchal's cinematographer, Denis Rouden, gives even the ugliest scenes of betrayal and death a strange beauty. Yes, it's French, but it's no art film, and that's both a profound relief and a thrill.

Extras: Making-of feature; costume and firearms featurette; production diary. (Gaumont, $33; available now from


''ZATHURA" (2005)

The world of children's book author Chris Van Allsburg (''The Polar Express," ''Jumanji") again leaps to the screen -- this time imagining a kids' board game with a cosmic scope. Jon Favreau (''Elf") dons his director's cap even more skillfully this time around.

Extras: Commentary by Favreau; production featurettes; Van Allsburg spotlight. (Sony, $28.95)


Director Michael Almereyda's unhurried documentary presents an up-close and impersonal view of one of America's greatest living photographers. The impersonality is appropriate, though: It matches the detachment of both the film's subject and his images, which Almereyda acutely describes as ''miracles of casual seeing." (Palm, $26.99)


''SAW II" (2005)

The poor man's (or is it poor sadist's?) ''Seven" gets sequel treatment, for better or worse. Nice work for master of ceremonial torture Tobin Bell, but a questionable gig for Donnie Wahlberg as a cop on the case.

Extras: Commentary by Wahlberg and other principals. (Lions Gate, $28.98)

''DUNE" (1984)

David Lynch's foray into science fiction is rereleased in both its theatrical form and a new-to-DVD television edit of the film, credited to ''Alan Smithee" after Lynch disowned it. The planet-sized cast included Kyle MacLachlan, Virginia Madsen, Linda Hunt, Sting (above), Jürgen Prochnow, José Ferrer, and many, many more.

Extras: Extensive geek-focused production featurettes, but Lynch and his cast are MIA. (Universal, $27.98, available now)

''WHO'S THAT GIRL" (1987)

Madonna's riff on ''Bringing Up Baby" is pretty slight in the comedy department, but it's another interesting case study of her knack for reinvention. With Griffin Dunne. (Warner, $14.98)

''THE FRISCO KID" (1979)

If the ''Firewall" publicity push has you thinking you've seen one too many grimly intense looks from Harrison Ford, you could check out this buddy comedy pairing his cowpoke bandit with frontier rabbi Gene Wilder. But then, you might also very well say oy, and stick with the thrillers. (Warner, $14.98)


Ben Gannon, co-creator of Hugh Jackman's Broadway showcase as Allen, serves as producer on this quick-hit documentary about the flamboyant Aussie showman-songwriter.

Extras: Gannon interview. (Acorn Media, $19.99, available now)


In his adaptation of the novel by Emile Zola, Jean Renoir casts Jean Gabin as a railroad engineer compelled to murder, a snapshot of European fatalism of the day.

Extras: Archival Renoir interview on Zola and other subjects; introduction by Renoir; new interview with Peter Bogdanovich. (Criterion, $29.95)

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

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