The Sympathetic Spy

The Lives of Others rates high, while Robocop still dazzles.

The Lives of Others (Sony)

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's film, easily the best of last year, exists on many levels: as tragedy, dark comedy, and love story -- not between a man and a woman, but between two seemingly opposite men bound by the same damnation. On the one hand is Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), a playwright and pianist trapped in an East Germany where artistic freedom is an oxymoron; on the other is Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe), the secret police officer charged with listening in on Dreyman's intimate moments. Wiesler's got a thing for Dreyman's actress girlfriend, yes, but he's also interested in protecting the playwright -- the "good man" suggested in the sonata Dreyman performs, though the moniker likewise applies to Wiesler when the hunter begins falling for the hunted. How remarkable is this movie? The scant deleted scenes are as powerful as most movies -- beautiful compositions of ugly deeds. -- Robert Wilonsky

Dexter: The First Season (CBS)

This marks the furthest stretch yet in our fascination with anti-heroes: the sociopathic serial killer as the evil-thwarting good guy. That's what Dexter's title character delivers, a man (played with a smart mix of menace and humor by Six Feet Under's Michael C. Hall) trained by his cop stepfather to use his murderous urges to take out criminals who elude the justice system. It's high-concept all right, but the show also milks laughs from Dexter's inability to feel human emotion. Dexter ain't for the queasy -- everything is gorgeously shot, right down to the fantastically butchered corpses and fountains of blood -- but for everyone else, it's another pile of proof that Showtime is gunning for HBO's cable crown. -- Jordan Harper

Serenity: Collector's Edition (Universal)

A colleague shrugs that Serenitygets a little old after, say, eight viewings. And while the cynic may frown at Universal's repackaging and repurposing of Joss Whedon's sardonic space opera -- Wagon Trainset on the Millennium Falcon-- there are plenty of extras that make this a worthwhile upgrade, chief among 'em the fleshed-out commentary track, including a giddy Whedon ("I totally made this!") and the cast, and several docs and extras that provide more details for fetishists to pick over. And while the short about Whedon's taking "the most canceled show of the season," Firefly, from small screen to big is entertaining, it's still nothing compared to the movie itself -- which, turns out, gets better on the ninth viewing. One question remains unanswered, though: How is Nathan Fillion, funny and hunky, not a movie star yet? -- Wilonsky

Robocop: 20th AnniversaryCollector's Edition (Fox)

Exploding heads, triple-breasted whores, a man melting in toxic waste, epileptic swimming-pool sex: Gaze upon the oeuvre of Paul Verhoeven and bow down to a fucking artiste. Here his first -- and maybe best -- movie gets the treatment it deserves, with the theatrical cut and an (admittedly superfluous) extended edition. A commentary track with the filmmakers marvels at how well Robocop holds up to modern viewing, and a doc on the special effects confirms that, indeed, they used to do this stuff without computers. Stop-motion worked just fine for the ED-209, and the section on its design (inspired by killer whales?) and construction, along with a narrated storyboard of a stop-motion action scene, plays like an invaluable lesson in old-school sci-fi. -- Harper

 
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