- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 6, 2001

While it falls short of matching up with such caper classics as John Huston's "The Asphalt Jungle" or Stanley Kubrick's "The Killing," Frank Oz's The Score is a refreshingly straightforward, unashamedly old-fashioned (in the best sense) heist movie elevated by a top pro cast playing reasonably well-developed characters. It's our …

Video pick of the week
"The Score" due next week from Paramount Home Video (priced for rental VHS, also available on DVD) unites three thieves spanning as many generations brash young upstart Jack (Edward Norton), eager to grab his first major haul; middle-aged vet Nick (Robert De Niro), looking for that venerable caper cliche, the last big score; and Max (Marlon Brando), an elderly and (in Marlon's case) literally fat cat bank-roller too hooked on the lifestyle to quit the game.
The prize is a priceless antique French sceptre that has inadvertently found its way to the comparatively lightly guarded Montreal Customs House, where Jack, posing as a semi-retarded youth, lands a night janitor's job that allows him access to the building's security system.
Honoring heist-movie tradition, director Oz (hitherto noted almost exclusively for his comedies, like "Bowfinger" and "What About Bob?") accords ample screen time to the gig's intricate details hacking computer codes, cracking high-tech safes, etc. and proceeds at an appropriately deliberate pace. Unusual for its nearly total absence of violence, erotic intrigues or contemporary "ironic" attitude (only its frequent but organic profanity earned the film an R), "The Score" rather courageously refuses to insult its audience.
On the downside, Mr. Brando and Mr. De Niro seem almost self-conscious in their early scenes together, improvising to the point of nearly dropping out of character. The climactic payoff may strike some modern viewers as a bit mild, and Angela Bassett hounds may be disappointed by her infrequent appearances. Still, "The Score" is a solid caper that further benefits from flavorful use of its Montreal locations and ever-reliable composer Howard Shore's cool jazz score.

Collectors' corner
The archivists at SlingShot Entertainment plan a DVD treasure trove for vintage genre fans, with five DVDs offering a total of 15 films. "Roger Corman Retrospective Volume II" contains Mr. Corman's original 1960 The Little Shop of Horrors," Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson in The Terror and the 1961 scare send-up Creature From the Haunted Sea.
"Bela Lugosi Collection Volume II" includes the haunting 1932 voodoo classic White Zombie and Bela's less fortuitous but still fun 1943 campfest The Ape Man.
Upping the artistic quotient a notch or two, "German Silent Masterworks" presents a pair of F.W. Murnau masterpieces, the original unauthorized 1922 "Dracula" adaptation Nosferatu, starring Max Schreck (more recently the inspiration for the Willem Dafoe/John Malkovich showcase "Shadow of the Vampire"), along with Emil Jannings in the poignant 1925 fable The Last Laugh, plus 1915's The Golem, with Paul Wegener in the title role.
Completing the label's new release slate are two volumes of "Crime Stoppers." Volume I encompasses Mr. Wong, Detective, Dick Tracy's Dilemma and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome. Volume II proffers Fog Island, The Black Raven and Dick Tracy vs. Cueball. (Why the three Dick Tracy titles weren't gathered on the same DVD represents something of a marketing mystery itself.) The triple-feature DVDs are priced at a collector-friendly $12.99 each.

Indie update
In indie-film developments, New Line Home Entertainment plans an early January launch for the much-lauded recent theatrical release The Anniversary Party, starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cummings, who also jointly directed the ensemble comedy/drama, shooting over 19 days with high-end digital video cameras.
Another double threat, Campbell Scott, directed and stars in the latest version of the Bard's Hamlet, due mid-December via Artisan Home Entertainment.
Columbia/TriStar, meanwhile, preps an early January date for the indie Brit comedy Greenfingers, starring Clive Owen, Helen Mirren and David Kelly in a tale about convicts who get the gardening bug.
All three titles will be priced for rental and also available on DVD.

Phan mail
Dear Phantom: Is Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds available on DVD yet?
Michael Wills, via e-mail
Universal recently issued a deluxe DVD edition, with choice of widescreen or full-frame versions, of that high-flying Hitchcock horror, complete with behind-the-scenes footage, a deleted scene, co-star Tippi Hedren's screen test, the original ending and many other extras. It's available from, among other sources, the online site Deep Discount DVD (www.deepdiscountdvd.com) for $23.39.

Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002 or e-mail us at: [email protected] And check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com

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