- The Washington Times - Friday, May 8, 2009

Mother’s Day is this Sunday. Spend some quality time with the woman who brought you into the world by giving her a film, television series or box set you know she’ll love.

The Charles Dickens Masterworks Collection (BBC, $119.98) and Bleak House: Special Edition (BBC, $39.98 for DVD, $49.99 for Blu-ray) — BBC is releasing the perfect gifts for the mother who loves costume dramas, great literature on-screen, superb acting, or all of the above. “The Charles Dickens Masterworks Collection” features five recent adaptations of the Victorian master’s novels on 10 discs, which should provide weeks, if not months, of viewing pleasure. “Oliver Twist” is a fresh and modern take — particularly with Martin Phipps’ soundtrack that’s as colorful as the characters — on the classic story. The clear-eyed children — William Miller as Oliver and Adam Arnold as the natty Artful Dodger — hold their own among a talented cast, which includes Timothy Spall, Tom Hardy and Sophie Okonedo.

“Little Dorrit,” filmed in high-definition, comes from the pen of BBC “Pride and Prejudice” scribe Andrew Davies and stars Matthew Macfadyen, Tom Courtenay, Andy Serkis and Claire Foy. “The Old Curiosity Shop” might have an even better cast — Sir Derek Jacobi, Gina KcKee, Toby Jones, Martin Freeman and Zoe Wanamaker. And then there’s “Great Expectations,” with Charlotte Rampling, Ioan Gruffudd and Justine Waddell. The British take their heritage seriously and always seem to line up the best talent for their top-notch literary adaptations.

“Bleak House” is also included in that set, and it’s being released separately in a special edition and for the first time on Blu-ray. This is simply one of the best literary dramas ever made. “Bleak House” the novel wasn’t particularly fast-paced — as the jokes in the book about the never-ending case of Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce indicated — but this miniseries is, emphasizing how the various stories with their large cast of characters all spiral together toward their tragic end. Lady Dedlock is one of Dickens’ most sphinx-like creations, and Gillian Anderson brings her to life without losing that sad sense of mystery in what could be her best performance. Extras include interviews with Miss Anderson and co-stars Charles Dance and Denis Lawson, as well as commentaries with the directors, producers and screenwriter Mr. Davies.

Last Chance Harvey (Anchor Bay, $29.98 for DVD, $39.98 for Blu-ray) — “Last Chance Harvey” is that rare romantic comedy that looks at love in the later years, with a man who grasps hard at what could be his last chance at happiness and a woman who gave up on such silly notions as happiness long ago. Middle-aged moms will likely appreciate a movie with a cast their own age. As most romcoms are, this film is predictable from beginning to end. It’s still worth watching, though, if only to see two pros spend a couple hours dancing around each other — Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson are still at the top of their game as a couple of loners who find each other one weekend in London.

The DVD is a two-disc set, but don’t let that fool you into thinking there’s a great collection of extras here. There’s only a commentary with Mr. Hoffman, Miss Thompson and director Joel Hopkins and a making-of featurette.

Gavin & Stacey: Season One (BBC, $24.98) — Actually, if your mom loves romantic comedies, get her the first season of this BBC series that won best new British television comedy at the British Comedy Awards a couple years back. She’s probably seen all the latest releases, anyway, so surprise her with this charming show that won raves on both sides of the Atlantic. The very funny series starring Joanna Page and Matthew Horne shows what happens when a young man from England and a young woman from Wales finally meet after talking on the phone through work for months. It’s written by the actors who play Gavin’s and Stacey’s best friends, James Corden and Ruth Jones. They’re currently working on an American adaptation for ABC, but as shows like “Coupling” proved, the remake is rarely as good as the original.

Jon & Kate Plus Eight Season 4, Vol. 1: The Wedding (Genius, $27.95) — Does the front-page tabloid story swirling around the Gosselins make this a bad or good Mother’s Day gift? Some moms might not want to watch a show about a marriage possibly in trouble, while others will want to hunt for as many juicy clues as they can get. It might seem ironic to some that as one half of the adorable couple is accused of cheating, the season that includes a wedding vow renewal ceremony comes to DVD. “Jon & Kate,” about a couple raising 8-year-old twins and 4-year-old sextuplets, is TLC’s top-rated series.

Lipstick Jungle: Season Two (Universal, $29.98) — Think of “Lipstick Jungle” as “Sex and the City” for a slightly older crowd. At least that’s what NBC wanted viewers to think, as they played up the fact that the series was co-created by “Sex and the City” author Candace Bushnell, whose book “Lipstick Jungle” was a best-seller. The three ladies fighting their way through the urban jungle — Brooke Shields, Kim Raver and Lindsay Price — started the series older and a little more serious than their HBO counterparts. The difficult balance between personal life and career was the focus of “Jungle,” which never became a part of the zeitgeist like “Sex” — it was canceled in March. Perhaps the economy made another high-fashion show untenable, or perhaps women are like men, as “Sex” sometimes posited, and would rather watch a show about, well, the sex lives of women than the tough work-life balance. All 13 episodes of the second and final season are on three discs.

Grease, Saturday Night Fever and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (Paramount, $39.99 each for Blu-ray) — Moms with a Blu-ray player and a taste for nostalgia would likely love to get these three films that each, in their own way, captured the feel of an era. They all have a nice collection of extras, too.

“Saturday Night Fever,” the disco classic, includes a commentary by director John Badham; deleted scenes; a collection of making-of featurettes on the soundtrack, clothes and locations; a ‘70s Discopedia; and even an instructional feature to get you dancing like John Travolta. Try those moves out at your next wedding.

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” has a making-of featurette, a conversation with the cast and a look at the distinctive Ben Stein (“Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?”), among other things.

“Grease” is the perfect choice for the musical-loving mom. There are 11 deleted and extended scenes, reminiscences from Mr. Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, and a few other extras. Most fun for mom, though, will be the Rydell Sing-Along, which lets viewers have their own go at the classic soundtrack.

Kelly Jane Torrance

Barbra Streisand: The Concerts (Live Nation/Hip-O, $34.99) — This three-disc set gives die-hard Streisand fans a reason to rejoice. The artist, one of music’s most celebrated voices, weaves a melodic tapestry of some of Broadway’s most memorable tunes by Stephen Sondheim, Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein II and Jule Styne, as well as some of her beloved chart toppers (“Evergreen,” “The Way We Were”). All are culled from live performances during her 1994 concert at Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, Calif., and various stops from her record-breaking 2006 North American Tour with Il Divo. Bonus features include a “making-of” segment of her 1988 best-seller, “The Broadway Album,” and a performance of “Cryin’ Time” with the late, great Ray Charles.

Robyn-Denise Yourse

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