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Chris Hicks: Redford's 'River' goes on Blu-ray

One of Robert Redford's best films as a director gets the Blu-ray treatment and leads off this look at new-to-DVD movies.

"A River Runs Through It" (Columbia/Blu-ray, 1992, PG, $38.98). For my money, Blu-ray reissues are best when they give a hi-def upgrade to movies with scenic outdoor locations, and this adaptation of Norman Maclean's memoir certainly qualifies.

One of Robert Redford's best pictures — certainly right up there with his Oscar-winner "Ordinary People" as one of his best directing efforts — this one is deep and rich and has gorgeous, poetic visuals that are enhanced in this edition.

Redford narrates but does not appear on camera, letting young Brad Pitt fill in for him, a terrific choice. Pitt and Craig Sheffer play brothers who grow up in the early 20th century under the thumb of their stern minister father (Tom Skerritt, also excellent).

Sheffer is bookish and hopes to teach literature at a university; Pitt becomes a rough-and-tumble newspaperman, and the family's black sheep. But they both love fly fishing, which brings them together, and which their father uses as a metaphor for life and faith.

Extras: widescreen, deleted scenes, featurettes; 32-page photo book; screen savers

"Mary White" (E1, 1977, $14.98). This terrific network-TV movie is a deliberate and episodic but very moving adaptation of a remembrance by small-town newspaper-owner (and future Pulitzer Prize-winner) William Allen White (superbly played by Ed Flanders).

It's primarily about his 16-year-old daughter Mary (Kathleen Beller, actually 21 at the time), who died in a horse-riding accident in 1921. In memorable flashbacks, the intelligent, fiery Mary lectures a teacher on women's suffrage and stands up to the Ku Klux Klan. Fionula Flannagan, Tim Matheson and Donald Moffat add able support.

Extras: widescreen

"A Dog of Flanders" (E1, 1959, $14.98). Netherlands locations richly filmed in CinemaScope bolster this beloved children's film about a young boy (David Ladd) who takes in an injured dog and uses him to pull a milk cart while he dreams of being an artist.

Fine supporting characterizations by Donald Crisp and Theodore Bikel, and the remarkable dog is the same one that played "Old Yeller."

Extras: widescreen

"Dakota Skye" (E1, 2008; R for sex, language, drugs; $24.98). This little independent comedy has a disillusioned high school graduate (Eileen Boylan) with the "super power" of discerning when people lie to her (shown in subtitles) — and everyone lies all the time. Then she falls for her boyfriend's best pal, who is either an "arch-nemesis" thwarting her abilities or someone who really tells the truth.

Amusing idea is too low key and meandering, and could use some punchier dialogue in order to climb up to the league of "Juno."

Extras: widescreen, audio commentary, featurettes, bloopers, trailers

"Angel of Death: Unrated & Unedited" (Sony, 2009, $24.96). This violent thriller follows a mob killer (New Zealand stuntwoman Zoe Bell) who begins to feel remorse after a large knife is lodged in her head and she kills an innocent girl, whose spirit occasionally appears to chastise her.

This throwback to "La Femme Nikita" and "Romeo Is Bleeding" benefits from Bell doing her own action scenes but suffers from her inability to act. Lucy Lawless (for whom Bell did stunts on "Xena: "Warrior Princess") shows up as a neighbor and character actor Ted Raimi has a cameo as a victim. (An expansion of the popular Web series.)

Extras: widescreen, audio commentary, featurettes, screen test, Webisodes, trailers

"The Fifth Commandment" (Sony, 2008; R for violence, language; $24.96). Disappointing Rick Yune martial-arts epic with lots of fights and explosions and an attempt by character actor Keith David to bring some acting to the proceedings.

The plot has an assassin turning down a job and finding his employers coming after him. (And my reading of Exodus 20 calculates "Thou shalt not kill" as commandment No. 6, not 5.)

Extras: widescreen, featurettes, trailers

e-mail: hicks@desnews.com