Thursday, August 22, 2002

Though oversold by some critics, actor-turned-director Todd Field’s In the Bedroom, new from Miramax Home Entertainment, shapes up as a solid vengeance-fueled drama further bolstered by an impeccable cast. It’s our

Video pick of the week

“In the Bedroom” (priced for rental VHS, also available on DVD) gives us comfortable middle-class Maine parents physician Matt and teacher Ruth Fowler (British thesp Tom Wilkinson, with a flawless Yankee accent, and Sissy Spacek). They see their safe, insular world torn asunder when their son Frank (Nick Stahl) is brutally slain by the volatile ex-husband (Richard Strout, cousin of Tom Cruise, in his first major screen role) of his older squeeze Natalie (Marisa Tomei). When the court frees the perp on bail pending trial on reduced manslaughter charges, the couple’s grief is further intensified, even as their relationship inexorably deteriorates.

We would imagine that the source material, late writer Andre Dubus’ “Killings,” offers greater shading and insights than the movie manages, because what we’re presented with here is an understated, upscale variation on a vintage Charles Bronson story line. (That “In the Bedroom” received five Oscar nominations says as much about Hollywood’s lack of competition as it does about the quality of the film.)

On the upside, director and co-scripter Field and his actors do convincingly convey the anguish of the somber situation, and “In the Bedroom” certainly has far more texture than the vast majority of films dealing with similar subject matter. If watched without inflated expectations, “In the Bedroom” isn’t likely to disappoint video renters in the mood for thought-provoking entertainment brought to the screen with obvious passion by cast and crew alike. Miramax’s DVD edition looks and sounds terrific but arrives sans bonus materials.

Something blue

A new home-video label joins the genre mix as filmmaker and archivist William Lustig (of “Relentless,” and “Maniac Cop”) ushers in his DVD enterprise Blue Underground ( with a trio of old-school drive-in fright faves.

Leading the terror troika is 1977’s Shock Waves, the film that gave Subaqueous Nazi Zombie movies an unexpected good name. Ken Wiederhorn’s indie, set in the Caribbean and shot in Florida, assembles a top pro cast, including John Carradine, Peter Cushing, Brooke Adams and Luke (“Flipper”) Halpin, and wisely relies on atmosphere rather than gore to deliver the chills.

DVD extras include one of the more entertaining audio commentaries we’ve heard of late, courtesy of director Wiederhorn, makeup effects specialist and future screenwriter Alan Ormsby (known for “My Bodyguard”) and production photographer and soon-to-be-filmmaker Fred Olen Ray.

Blue Underground also introduces the Cameron Mitchell major-damage duo The Prowler and The Toolbox Murders. The DVDs, due Sept. 3, are tagged at $24.99 each.

The ‘A’ list

Likewise looking ahead to September, we sight a pair of thrillers from Columbia/TriStar Home Video: Jodie Foster plays an endangered mom who tries to protect her young daughter from ruthless home invaders led by Forest Whitaker in Panic Room. Kate Winslet, Dougray Scott, Jeremy Northam and Saffron Burrows share starring honors in Michael Apted’s World War II suspenser Enigma, based on the Robert Harris book.

In dramatic developments, Forest Whitaker assumes a kinder, gentler role in the same label’s post-Vietnam drama Green Dragon, co-starring Patrick Swayze. All three titles will be priced for rental VHS and are also available on DVD.

Clair vision

Home Vision and The Criterion Collection continue their joint mission to restore vintage classics to pristine condition with a gala DVD edition ($29.95) of Rene Clair’s technically inventive (and very funny) 1931 comedy classic A Nous la Liberte. Special features include deleted scenes, the 1924 Clair surrealist short Entr’acte, a 1998 interview with Clair’s widow Madame Bronja Clair and even the skinny on Clair’s lawsuit against Charlie Chaplin’s purported copycat “Modern Times.” In short, a “Clair” choice for Rene buffs.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: I’m trying to find out the name of a movie that was out in the ‘80s. All I can remember is a group of robbers stole some money from a bank, got on a plane and parachuted onto a cornfield. There was something in the cornfield that kept grabbing them. Would appreciate it if you could advise me of the title. Thanks.

Samuel Cohen, via e-mail

That would be the clever 1988 indie chiller Scarecrows. The title is out of circulation, but you may want to try (coincidentally) Scarecrow Video (206/524-8554, or Video Library (800/669-7157, for rental copies. Online auction sites such as would also be worth a shot.

• 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: Check out our Web site at

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