If

Peter Dinklage

looks cranky and unpleasant as Trumpkin, the dwarf saved from drowning in

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

, it's not entirely due to the screenplay.

It could be the wig, the beard and the fake nose that the diminutive actor has glued onto his face.

"He hated it," says

Prince Caspian

writer/director

Andrew Adamson

with a laugh.

"I should rephrase that. He was very good about it. On the first day of shooting, Peter shaved his head, he was covered in yak fur, we were on the South Island of New Zealand in a really remote location where there were sandflies biting his newly shaved head. He was lying tied up in the bottom of a boat and thrown in a river. And wearing all these prosthetics. . . .

"I thought, 'He's not going to stay.' "

But he did. Dinklage, who wowed moviegoers in the title role of the 2003 art-house hit

The Station Agent

, is a little person with a big film career. (Other credits:

The Baxter

,

Elf

,

Death at a Funeral

.) And Adamson had Dinklage in mind for the part of Trumpkin - a sourpuss Narnian who befriends the four English kid heroes - from the get-go.

"I loved

The Station Agent

," says Adamson, "and I loved that character - and that character is so much who Trumpkin is."

Adamson says he feels lucky that Dinklage agreed to go along for the ride. "If he hadn't, I don't know what I would have done," the filmmaker says. "He doesn't traditionally play little-people roles, and obviously this is a little-person role, but it turns out that he loved the books and he liked the script, so he was actually anxious to do it.

"He's got such gravitas. He's really like the soul of old Narnia."

"Gone," never here.

One of the better among last year's spate of movies dealing with the war in Iraq,

Grace Is Gone

comes out on DVD next week, having failed to make it to Philadelphia-area screens during its brief theatrical run.

The film stars

John Cusack

as a mild-mannered Midwestern home-store manager whose wife is killed while on duty in Iraq. Cusack's character, Stanley, is left to tell his two daughters, 12 and 8, that their mother is dead. And he can't bring himself to do it.

Instead, Stanley and his girls climb into the car and take a long road trip to a theme park, Enchanted Gardens.

"Every interview I've had, I get asked, 'What do you think about all these Iraq films that are failing? How is yours going to break through?' " says

James C. Strouse

, who wrote and directed

Grace Is Gone

. "And I had that feeling before these films started to come out: I thought, I'm not sure if the time is right."

Unlike

Rendition

and

Redaction

,

Grace Is Gone

is set entirely on the home front. And unlike

In the Valley of Elah

, the violence and ugliness of the war doesn't come back to root in the States.

Grace Is Gone

is about loss, and grief, and coming to terms with the sad reality of life: Sooner or later, it ends.

But it's also about picking yourself back up and carrying on, which is what Cusack's Stanley does with his girls - played very nicely by

Gracie

Bednarczyk

and

Shelan O'Keefe

.

"There was something so interesting, for me, about a guy who is a little emotionally shut off and a 12-year-old girl sort of bursting into womanhood," says Strouse. "Before I had the context of the war, or anything else, I knew I wanted to find a story for that relationship."

Winner of an audience award at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival,

Grace Is Gone

is worth checking out. Strouse hails from Indiana (from Goshen, Howard Hawks' hometown) and now makes his home in New York. He's worked selling cupcakes, as a clerk in a bookstore, as a writer of short stories, and as a cartoonist. He started on his first screenplay -

Lonesome Jim,

which went on to be directed by

Steve Buscemi

-

with the encouragement of his film-producer wife,

Galt Niederhoffer

.

"I enjoyed the process of writing a screenplay so much that I really wanted to work on another one," he says. "I didn't necessarily think that I would direct it. . . . I just felt I knew how to do it."

He did, and he does.

Short subjects.

News from Cannes, where

Woody Allen's

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

- that's the

Javier Bardem

/

Penelope Cruz

/

Scarlett Johansson

menage-a-trois deal - screened last week, is about the Woodman's

next

project: No Johansson this time - instead, 20-year-old

Evan Rachel Wood

has been cast opposite

Curb Your Enthusiasm's

curmudgeonly coot

Larry David

. It's thus far untitled, slated for a 2009 release. . . . Another videogame-to-screen title,

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

, is gearing up. The trades say

Jake Gyllenhaal

and coming

Quantum of Solace

Bond girl

Gemma

Arterton

are set for the leads in the

Jerry Bruckheimer

fantasy adventure, about a sixth-century princely dude who teams up with a feisty, foxy princess to thwart the evil plans of an evil noble trying to put his evil mitts on the Sands of Time, which would, yes, allow him to rule the world - and get all the free Ubisoft video games he can.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire's

Mike Newell

will direct.

Fancastic, and free.

Comcast has a new site called Fancast - an interactive guide for Hollywood entertainment that can be personalized according to your tastes, needs, and tolerance for celebrity gossip.

Fancast also offers up free movies. And right now, the

Coen Brothers

' 1998 stoner classic,

The Big Lebowski

, is on the rotation (along with

The Jerk, Moonstruck, Psycho

and a bunch more). Just log on to

» READ MORE: www.fancast.com/movies

, look for the "Now Showing on Fancast" box, and watch

Jeff Bridges

bark, "Nobody calls me Lebowski. You got the wrong guy. I'm the Dude, man."

You don't have to change out of your bathrobe, either.

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online,"

at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.