- The Washington Times - Friday, December 26, 2008

The Duchess (Paramount, $29.98) - The pickings are pretty slim this time of year. Nobody wants to release quality movies after Christmas - it makes much more sense to get them out in time for gift-giving. Somehow, this little gem is being released tomorrow as an exception to the rule.

“The Duchess” is a costume drama about people who lived hundreds of years ago, but it reminds us that things haven’t changed as much as we might like to believe. The beautiful, wraithlike Keira Knightley stars as Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, an 18th-century aristocrat far ahead of her time. The film’s trailers played up the parallels between Georgiana and her Spencer descendant Diana, Princess of Wales. This isn’t just promotional wishful thinking. There are three people in her marriage, too, for example. The older Duke (Ralph Fiennes, as tough and dashing as ever), after a long line of mistresses, invites his wife’s confidante Lady Elizabeth Foster (the charming Hayley Atwell) to live with them. Georgiana is outraged - especially after she is forbidden from carrying on her own affair with rising politician Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper).

This period drama is like many others - the sets and costumes are ornately beautiful and the small historical details often are wrong. What sets it apart is the political angle. Georgiana influenced not just fashion, but politics, too. This drama about the Whig trailblazer - who, despite her influence, couldn’t escape the patriarchy - was the perfect movie for what was supposed to have been the year of the woman in politics.

The small collection of extras includes a look at the making of “The Duchess” - which, given some of those extremely heavy wigs, wasn’t easy - a peek at making the costumes, and “Georgiana In Her Own Words.”

Ghost Town (DreamWorks, $29.98) - Ricky Gervais is best-known for playing clueless anti-heroes in the television series he created - “The Office” and “Extras.” In “Ghost Town,” the ubertalented comedian shows some versatility. He’s still an anti-hero, but his cluelessness is limited to the emotional realm. Mr. Gervais plays Bertram, a curmudgeonly dentist who likes his job because his customers can’t talk to him while he works. When he undergoes a colonoscopy and almost dies, he recovers to find he can see dead people - and they want his help.

It seems none of these people can make it to heaven without taking care of some loose ends down on Earth. Particularly pushy is a ghost played by Greg Kinnear. He wants Bertram to break up the engagement of his former wife, Gwen, played by Tea Leoni. That proves tough, as Bertram and Gwen live in the same apartment building and she has been on the receiving end of his rudeness plenty of times. You can guess what happens - Bertram falls for Gwen, and Gwen warms up to Bertram - but it’s how “Ghost Town” gets there that makes it an amusing comedy.

Mr. Gervais is a funny guy and pretty priceless at delivering a good line. “I met this woman,” he says to a colleague, and we think the misanthrope is finally opening up to someone. Instead, he concludes, “What I’m trying to say is, can you write me a prescription for Percocet?”

Extras include a commentary by Mr. Gervais and director David Koepp and some making-of featurettes.

Ghost, The Truman Show, Days of Thunder, Event Horizon, Last Holiday (Blu-ray, Paramount, $29.99 each) - Paramount is bringing a few oldies onto Blu-ray next week so those who got a player under the tree can expand their budding libraries. “The Truman Show” is the best of these. Ten years ago, director Peter Weir imagined that a man’s whole life could be a reality television show - how prescient he was. It’s one of Jim Carrey’s most restrained performances.

“Ghost” won two Oscars: one for Whoopi Goldberg as the jaded psychic whom the title ghost Sam (Patrick Swayze) uses to communicate with his endangered girlfriend (Demi Moore) and another for screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin. Now you can watch that famous pottery-making scene in high definition.

The auto-racing drama “Days of Thunder” first brought together Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. “Last Holiday” stars Queen Latifah as a woman who only starts living when she thinks she’s about to die. “Event Horizon” is a cult favorite, a sci-fi horror thriller with Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill.

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