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Romantic interlude Just in time for Valentine's Day -- two love stories

Prolific author Nicholas Sparks has said that he writes dramatic fiction, not romance novels. He can call them what he wants, but there's no denying that love is the central theme to his stories.

Though his romances aren't of the happily-ever-after sort, two new DVD releases of films adapted from his novels -- "The Notebook" and "Nights in Rodanthe" -- are still good choices for a gift to give around Feb. 14.

"The Notebook," which interweaves two stories of young and mature love, was the first of Sparks' 14 novels and it is arguably still his best. It's also, by far, the most popular of the movies adapted from his novels. An older man (played by James Garner) reads a story from a notebook to a woman (Gena Rowlands) that is about the hardships endured by two young lovers (Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams) who fought to be together in the 1940s.

The movie is extremely well acted (Garner's performance is especially heartbreaking) and directed by Nick Cassavetes (the son of Rowlands and influential filmmaker John Cassavetes).

"The Notebook Limited Edition Giftset" ($29.98 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, Warner Home Video) is not the first DVD release for the film, but it is the most romantic. It comes in a collectible keepsake box with a red ribbon. It holds a photo/scrapbook album; scrapbooking items such as stickers and photo corners; a stationery set with postcards and envelopes; and two bookmarks. The book has photos and quotes from the movie, including that memorable rainsoaked kiss scene with the "it still isn't over" quote. Blank pages in the back allow you to add your own photos and memories. (Guys, if you're giving this as a gift you might want to put something memorable of your own here.)

The DVD extras are plenty, but they were all in the New Line Platinum Series DVD. Included are commentaries by Sparks and Cassavetes; deleted scenes with optional commentary; and featurettes on Sparks, casting, locations and Cassavetes.

"Nights in Rodanthe" ($28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, WHV, available Tuesday) is the most recent film adaptation of a Sparks' story. It stars Diane Lane and Richard Gere as two sad people who unexpectedly find romance.

Lane plays Adrienne, a woman whose unfaithful husband has decided he wants to return to the marriage. She leaves for a few days to take care of an oceanfront inn for a friend and bonds with the inn's only guest, a doctor (Gere) with problems of his own.

Although the stars bring the proper amount of passion and longing to their roles, they can't overcome the light story. The movie is lovely to look at though, and is great publicity for the picturesque Outer Banks of North Carolina. Surprisingly, the DVD lacks bonus material.

Classic movie fans are the winners in a new collaboration between Turner Classic Movies and Warner Home Video that showcases 60 films from the Warner library. The collection, called "TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection" ($27.92 each), are being released in 15 themed groups (or DVD sets); each with four movies. Though there is not an abundance of bonus material, many of the movies include commentaries from such noteworthy names as Peter Bogdanovich, Donald Spoto and Jeanine Basinger.

The series begins this month with two themes that fit in with February: romance and the Oscars. The "Romantic Dramas" set has four films that may not be typical romances, but are filled with passion and desire: "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," "A Streetcar Named Desire," "Rebel Without a Cause" and "East of Eden."

The four excellent films in "Romantic Comedies" all feature Katharine Hepburn. She stars alongside Cary Grant in "The Philadelphia Story" (also with James Stewart) and "Bringing Up Baby," and with her great, true-life love Spencer Tracy in "Adam's Rib" and "Woman of the Year."

The four films in the "Best Picture Winners" set are also great love stories: "Casablanca," "An American in Paris," "Gigi" and "Mrs. Miniver."

I highly recommend these sets because they feature quality films at an affordable price. My only complaint is that the discs aren't marked except for extremely small print on the inner rim. Otherwise, they look blank. That's even more confusing since these sets have four movies on two discs (meaning there is one on each side of the discs).

The next "wave" of these films arrives in May with six sets: "American Musicals," "Broadway Musicals," "Western Adventures," "WWII Battlefront Europe," "WWII Battlefront Asia" and "John Wayne Westerns." More films will be released in September and November, including murder mysteries, sci-fi and horror.


DVD Extra

"Daniel's Daughter" -- Laura Leighton plays a businesswoman who returns to her small hometown and finds what you would expect in a romance from the Hallmark Channel. Sebastian Spence co-stars. ($14.95, Genius Entertainment, available Tuesday).


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