- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Director and co-writer Alex de la Iglesia’s Common Wealth (aka “La Comunidad”) is something of a darker-hued update of such literally killer vintage British comedies as “Kind Hearts and Coronets” and the recently remade “The Ladykillers.” New from Ventura Distribution’s Cinema Latino line (venturadistribution.com, $19.99), it represents a deft combo of jaundiced wit and twisted suspense. It’s our ?

DVD pick of the week

Frequent Pedro Almodovar diva Carmen Maura (late of “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”) plays Julia, a Madrid real-estate agent who lucks into a huge stash of cash hidden in a locked apartment with a long-deceased tenant.

As it develops, Julia’s find is not so secret as she’d hoped: The building’s avaricious residents are well aware of the money’s existence and Julia’s discovery of the hitherto elusive treasure.

Will our resourceful heroine live long enough to escape the building and enjoy her ill-gotten gains?

Mr. de la Iglesia, who had earlier impressed audiences with his tongue-in-cheek 1995 chiller “Day of the Beast” and his equally offbeat 1997 English-language kidnap caper “Dance With the Devil” (starring Javier Bardem, Rosie Perez and James Gandolfini), here fashions a fun, frantic fable about the self-destructive power of all-consuming greed.

The building’s crew of dangerous eccentrics, brought to vivid life by an able supporting cast, recalls Roman Polanski’s 1977 paranoia parable “The Tenant,” but the show ultimately belongs to the ever-capable Miss Maura and her wide-reaching range of comic skills.

Extras include an entertaining “making-of” featurette, deleted scenes, Mr. de la Iglesia’s short film “Killer Mirindas” and a photo gallery. The disc also offers Castilian- and Spanish-language options, along with English subtitles.

Gleefully sardonic but never mean-spirited, “Common Wealth” arrives as a most welcome digital bargain.

The ‘A’ list

Elsewhere in the import arena, Mira Sorvino and Olivier Martinez search for a serial killer in the Spanish thriller Angel of Death (MGM Home Entertainment, $25.98), while Jane Austen receives a radical musical Bollywood makeover in the Indian “Sense and Sensibility” adaptation I Have Found It (Kino Video, $24.95).

Three recent homegrown, theatrically released thrillers stalk vidstores this week:

• New Line Home Entertainment grants the gala, extras-enhanced “Infinifilm” treatment to David R. Ellis’ Cellular ($27.95), scripted by genre vet Larry Cohen (late of “Phone Booth”) and starring Kim Basinger.

• Julianne Moore toplines in the supernatural The Forgotten ($28.95), new from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

• Touchstone Home Entertainment issues M. Night Shyamalan’s latest existential fearfest The Village ($29.99), with Joaquin Phoenix and Bryce Dallas Howard, complete with bonus featurettes.

Adding to the Shyamalan cache is Buena Vista Home Entertainment’s direct-to-DVD documentary feature The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan ($29.99).

Elsewhere, Halle Berry suits up as the titular feline fatale Catwoman ($27.95) in Warner Home Video’s superheroine adventure, complete with a clawful of special features, including documentaries and additional scenes.

In a more earnest vein, Billy Bob Thornton paces the coaching lines in Peter Berg’s fact-based high-school football drama Friday Night Lights (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, $29.98), with featurettes and deleted scenes.

Tele-video

In fresh TV-on-DVD developments, comic curmudgeon Larry David returns in Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Third Season ($39.98). HBO Video’s double-disc set includes all 10 Season Three episodes, cast and crew featurettes, and more.

The same label releases director Jim McKay’s ensemble drama Everyday People ($26.98), set in New York City.

Warner Home Video issues the British espionage series MI-5: Vol. 2 ($79.98), in a bonus-enhanced five-disc set.

Video verite

Three recommended new biographical documentaries also join area DVD shelves:

• Ken Burns’ Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (PBS Home Video, $24.99), with Samuel L. Jackson providing the famed fighter’s voice.

• Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew (Rhino Video, $19.99), a portrait of the jazz singer.

• Bill Hicks Live (Ryko Distribution, $19.95), a collection of the late satirist’s classic performances, plus a bonus documentary exploring his brief but influential life.

Collectors’ corner

On the vintage-film front, Warner introduces three classics to the digital ranks: the 1940 Bette Davis mystery The Letter, the 1950 jungle adventure King Solomon’s Mines, starring Deborah Kerr and Stewart Grainger, and the 1952 Sir Walter Scott adaptation Ivanhoe, with Robert Taylor as the title knight. The discs are tagged at $19.97 each.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: I would like to know whether Motown is planning on releasing their TV specials on DVD? The shows I’m interested in are: “TCB on Broadway”; “Diana,” with Bill Cosby, Michael Jackson; and “Lady Sings the Blues” (the movie).

Decarlo, via e-mail

No word on the Motown specials, but Lady Sings the Blues is available (VHS only, $22.49) via Movies Unlimited (moviesunlimited.com).

Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002, or e-mail us at phanmedia@aol.com. Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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