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Hidden treasure DVD releases not seen in theaters are pleasant surprise

Video store shelves are a great place to discover movies that never found their way to local theaters.

Take the wonderful "Neverwas" ($29.99, Buena Vista Home Entertainment). Although the film from Miramax studios premiered at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival, it didn't make it any closer to Buffalo.

On the surface, the plot sounds a bit familiar: A psychiatrist takes a job at a mental hospital where his father committed suicide years earlier. But the story, written by first-time feature director Joshua Michael Stern, is a refreshingly original tale that is an adult drama but carries a sense of wonderment, imagination and plenty of heart.

As a youngster, Zach Riley was the basis for the main character in an enchanting children's book his father wrote called "Neverwas." Now an adult and dealing with demons about his father's death, Zach (played by Aaron Eckhart) meets Gabriel (Ian McKellen), a schizophrenic who swears he is the king of Neverwas, a real kingdom.

What is real, what is fantasy and what role Gabriel played in the life of Zach's father is part of the mystery that is mesmerizing to watch as it unravels.

The acting is a joy to watch. Eckhart has quietly become one of our best actors, capable of displaying a human complexity in all of his roles. Watching Nick Nolte play Zach's father in flashback makes you wish this man took on more roles. William Hurt, Alan Cumming, Jessica Lange and Brittney Murphy round out the cast.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan fans bummed about having to settle for his brief "reappearances" from the dead on the television shows "Grey's Anatomy" and "Supernatural" can watch him in the full-length feature "JAM" ($26.97, Starz Home Entertainment).

Morgan plays a divorced father traveling with his kids in this film where carloads of folks are delayed by a traffic jam on a fairly picturesque and tree-filled road. Marianne Jean-Baptiste ("Without a Trace"), Jonathan Silverman, Amanda Detmer and Tess Harper are among the other motorists whose lives intersect in comical and emotional ways.

Bonus features include deleted scenes, featurettes and commentary with director Craig Serling, cinematographer Jeff Venditti and composer Andy Kubiszewski.

Fans of the lovely cult TV show "Beauty and the Beast" get to hear a bit from stars Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman in "Beauty and the Beast: The Second Season" ($49.99, Paramount).

The actors speak for two to three minutes before one episode on each of the six discs included in this set. It's not much, but it's something. Perlman, whose face was hidden behind the animalistic makeup on the show, speaks of music and literature as he discusses the series.

"There was a musicality to the way he wrote," Perlman says about series creator Ron Koslov. "It was almost like listening to chamber music. It was very lyrical, very fluid and very romantic. It was almost like listening to Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky."

"The Astronaut Farmer" ($27.95, Warner Brothers) is a sweet and uplifting movie. Billy Bob Thornton plays the title role of Charles Farmer, a former astronaut who never realized his dreams of flying into space. But those dreams live on and, with the support of his loving family, Farmer is building a life-sized rocket out of scraps in the barn.

The film is the traditional, inspirational story of a man with a dream that is quite lovely while still having its feet on the ground. But once Farmer actually launches into space, you don't know know what to think (can that really fly?). Still, the movie is highly recommended for family viewing.

Bonus features include outtakes, a making-of featurette and a conversation with NASA astronaut David Scott.

***

Coming Tuesday

"Avenue Montaigne" (Velocity/Thinkfilm), "Carlos Oscar: Life is Crazy Good!" (Warner), "Factory Girl" (Weinstein/Genius), "The Mormons" (PBA/Paramount), "P.Diddy Presents The Bad Boys of Comedy, Season 2" (HBO), "Premonition" (Sony), "The Rookies: The Complete First Season" (Sony), "Surf School: Unrated" (Lionsgate) and "Taxicab Confessions: New York, New York" (HBO).

***

DVD EXTRA

24 X 24: WIDE OPEN WITH JEFF GORDON: This DVD is an extended version of the recent documentary-style TV feature on the racing legend. It has 30 minutes of additional footage, deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes look. ($14.98, Lionsgate/Pepsi Entertainment. Available now.)

e-mail: truberto@buffnews.com

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