Superb extras in Oscar-winning 'Lives of Others'
By Susan King
Los Angeles Times
By Susan King
The versatility of Ulrich Muhe — one of Germany's leading actors, who died last month of stomach cancer — is on display in two movies being released on DVD Tuesday: "The Lives of Others" and "The Castle." Winner of the Oscar for best foreign- language film this year, Germany's "The Lives of Others" (Sony, $30) is set in East Berlin in 1984 and features Muhe as a secret agent with the East German secret police, the Stasi, who has been ordered to spy on a popular playwright (Sebastian Koch) and his actress girlfriend (Martina Gedeck). It's a remarkable piece of moviemaking that heralded the arrival of a new talent: director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck.
Extras on the DVD include an above-average production documentary, a fascinating interview with the young filmmaker and his forceful commentary, in which he discusses the difficulties in getting the film made because the actions of the Stasi are still too painful for the country to talk about.
In "The Castle" (Kino, $30), a drama based on Franz Kafka's unfinished novel, Muhe gives a multilayered performance as K, a land surveyor who is hired to work at a castle, only to discover he doesn't have a permit to enter the abode. Directed by Michael Haneke, the film originally aired on German television.
Halle Berry and Bruce Willis can't salvage "Perfect Stranger" (Sony, $29), a silly thriller about an ambitious New York newspaper reporter who gets in over her head when she tries to nab the high-powered ad executive who is the main suspect in her friend's death. Extras are threadbare.
Zoe Cassavetes, the daughter of the filmmaker-actor John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands, made her feature directorial debut with the engaging romantic drama "Broken English" (Magnolia, $30). Parker Posey plays a successful hotel executive who can't seem to find Mr. Right. Rowlands plays her mother; Drea de Matteo is her best friend; and French charmer Melvil Poupaud is the younger man who sweeps Posey off her feet. Extras, though, are limited, with a behind-the-scenes featurette and a sequence from a TV interview with Cassavetes.
"The Milky Way" (Criterion, $30): Reviews were decidedly mixed for this surreal 1969 Luis Bunuel dark comedy about two French beggars traveling to Spain's holy city of Santiago de Compostela. Extras include an informative interview with film scholar Ian Christie, who sheds some badly needed light on Bunuel's themes in the film, and a well-crafted new documentary, "Luis Bunuel: Atheist Thanks to God."
"She: Deluxe Edition" (Kino, $25): Merian C. Cooper of "King Kong" fame produced this lavish 1935 adaptation of H. Rider Haggard's action novel about a group of explorers looking for the "flame of life" in the glacial north who encounter She (Helen Gahagan), a powerful woman who rules over a subterranean kingdom. Randolph Scott and Nigel Bruce also star. The film lost more than $180,000 at the box office and was the only movie that stage actress Gahagan made.
The special edition includes both the restored, original black-and-white version and a newly colorized version supervised by special-effects legend Ray Harryhausen, who also provides audio commentary.
Other extras include an interview with composer John Morgan about Max Steiner's evocative score; comparisons between this version and the 1911 and 1925 adaptations of "She"; production stills; and advertising art.
Also new this week: "House of Games (Criterion, $40); "Dexter — The First Season" (Showtime, $40) "The Ex" (Weinstein, $20); "Sacco & Vanzetti" (First Run, $25); "The Dark Backward: Special Edition" (Sony, $15).