The versatility of Ulrich Mühe -- one of Germany's leading actors, who died last month of stomach cancer -- is on display in two movies being released on DVD today: "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 Mühe 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, Mühe 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 a 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 murder. 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.
"House of Games" (Criterion, $40): Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet made his feature directorial debut with this clever 1987 thriller starring his then-wife, Lindsay Crouse, as a taciturn therapist and author with her own share of psychoses, who meets a charming card shark (Joe Mantegna). The compelling extras include revealing new interviews with the two stars; a compelling short documentary on the film, shot during production; and audio commentary from Mamet and card consultant and actor Ricky Jay.
"The Milky Way" (Criterion, $30): Reviews were decidedly mixed for this surreal 1969 Luis Buñuel dark comedy about two French beggars traveling to Spain's holy city of Santiago de Compostela. Extras include an interview with film scholar Ian Christie, who sheds light on Buñuel's themes, and a well-crafted new documentary, "Luis Buñuel: 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. Married to actor Melvyn Douglas, she entered politics and was defeated in her bid for a Senate seat in 1950 by Richard M. Nixon.
This 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.
"The Ex" (Weinstein, $20); "Sacco & Vanzetti" (First Run, $25); "The Dark Backward: Special Edition" (Sony, $15); "Dexter -- The First Season" (Showtime, $40).