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Lessons to share 'Crash,' 'Mountain' examine issues in a compelling way

It's nearly a month since the Oscars, and the controversy is still simmering about "Crash" winning best picture over "Brokeback Mountain."

It's time to forget that and agree that both movies are brave, tragic, emotionally charged and well-acted. Though "Crash" stars an ensemble cast and "Brokeback Mountain" focuses on two men, the films have much in common. Each deals with the same important subject of intolerance, and, as a result, each had difficulty getting made.

Throughout the extras on both discs, the actors discuss the importance of their movies and why they absolutely had to work on their respective film.

"I told them I would do any role," Don Cheadle says about "Crash," a film he went on to also produce. "Brokeback Mountain's" Heath Ledger found that the story's "levels of complexity were irresistible."

Directors Paul Haggis ("Crash") and Oscar-winner Ang Lee ("Brokeback Mountain") also remind us that the true power of the motion picture is the image. You can turn off the sound and still be mesmerized by the images these two directors put on screen: magnificent landscapes, lonely people, horrific confrontations, a tender touch.

"Brokeback Mountain" ($29.98, Universal) was controversial by its very story of two young cowboys (Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) who fall impossibly in love. The handling of the material is beautiful and emotional; the story is heartbreaking and often gut wrenching.

Extras include a featurette on director Lee and how he shaped the movie (Gyllenhaal says Lee was able to take the story "to a metaphorical level instead of it just being a movie about two gay cowboys"); interviews with Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry on adapting the short story by Annie Proulx ("I wish I had written it," the Pulitzer Prize-winning McMurtry says); a making-of documentary; and a short on "Being a Cowboy."

I have the feeling this DVD release was rushed, so I wouldn't be surprised (and would hope) to see an extended version that would include a director's commentary and other bonus features in the future.

The two-disc director's cut of "Crash" ($19.98, Lionsgate) takes a 36-hour journey into the lives of multi-ethnic characters in Los Angeles. It is relentless and harsh in its portrayal of race relations. If you notice your children are beginning to have problems in this area, watch this movie and see if it would be suitable for them to watch it.

One of the most remarkable facts in the bonus features is that HBO -- the network that lauds itself on pushing the envelope -- turned down "Crash" because of its controversial nature. It seems it's OK for the network to show "accepted" ethnic stereotypes in a big moneymaker like "The Sopranos," but it's not willing to take a chance with a project that would open a discussion on the very subject.

The bonus disc of extras includes a 30-minute making-of documentary; deleted scenes with optional director commentary; script-to-screen and storyboard-to-screen comparisons; and music montages.

The "Unspoken" featurette narrated by star Thandie Newton examines racial hatred and asks the questions of why we hate; how money and class play a role; and possible solutions.

Director Haggis appears to be a fascinating man. He describes his writing process of such a personal film as "Crash" as "Taking a pen knife and digging into the wound; poking around the bone and exposing who I am."

Sandra Bullock, who is much-loved for sweet-as-pie roles, was happy to show an unlikable side for "Crash."

"I don't care what part I play, this is important," she recalls about reading the script. "If it takes my face and my voice to spew that anger out and make people listen to it, then I'mglad."

> DVD Extra

Zoey 101: Spring Break-Up: Jamie Lynn Spears and Nickelodeon's "Zoey 101" gang debut on DVD with this movie that pits the boys against the girls when they perform on a game show during spring break. Extras include two bonus episodes of the series, bloopers and a set tour. ($16.99, Paramount Home Entertainment. Available now.)


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