- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 18, 2002

In The Mothman Prophecies director Mark Pellington, late of the disturbing terrorists-next-door thriller "Arlington Road," and screenwriter Richard Hatem adapt John A. Keel's fact-based book into an unnerving, "X-Files"-styled exercise in sustained dread. It's our…


Video pick of the week

"Mothman" is new from Columbia/TriStar (priced for rental VHS, also available on DVD). The plot: After his wife's death, from a long-festering brain tumor detected only after a freak car accident, Washington journalist John Klein (Richard Gere) is inexorably drawn to the small city of Point Pleasant, W.Va. There, locals report sightings of a strange, shadowy "moth creature," the very figure Klein's spouse described seeing just before her demise.
Klein's inquiry leads him to paranormal specialist Alexander Leek (Alan Bates), who tries to warn the journalist off his dangerous investigation. But Klein fears the locals' lives may depend on his solving the mystery and attempts to win police sergeant Connie Mills (Laura Linney) to his cause.
While "The Mothman Prophecies" leaves a couple of tangential threads dangling, the film shapes up as a satisfying, deeply unsettling experience, with a brilliantly realized climax that accentuates the alarming fragility of human life. Mr. Bates and Will Patton, as a haunted factory worker, turn in especially striking work.
The DVD is fairly light on extras beyond a Pellington-directed music video entitled "Half Light" but does offer full-frame and widescreen options. Fans of intelligent, understated fright-film fare will definitely find their viewing time well rewarded here.


Long live the King

Universal Studios prepares a treat for Elvis Presley fans with this month's release of the new documentary Elvis: His Best Friend Remembers, wherein Presley pal "Diamond Joe" Esposito recounts his 20-year friendship with the King, from their shared Army days to the singer's premature death in 1977. The documentary also encompasses rarely seen home movies and photos, press conferences, newsreel footage, musical performances and more.
Universal likewise announces the DVD debut of Mr. Presley's final dramatic film, 1969's Change of Habit, with El playing a progressive ghetto doctor opposite Mary Tyler Moore's with-it young nun. The titles are tagged at $19.98 DVD, $9.98 VHS each.
Next month, 20th Century Fox counters with a trio of additional Presley titles making their DVD bows: Pres' first feature, Love Me Tender, along with the superior Don Siegel Western Flaming Star, with El scoring one of his best roles, as a half-American-Indian character, and 1961's Wild in the Country ($19.98 each).


Serial thrillers

For viewers seeking to return to the thrilling days of yesteryear, VCI Entertainment (800/331-4077, www.vcientertainment.com) presents a plethora of classic cliffhangers on VHS and DVD.
New releases include 1940's 15-chapter serials The Green Archer, starring Victor Jory as Edgar Wallace's venerable hero, and John Hart as all-American Jack Armstrong ($22.49 each, VHS only), along with Ray Mala in the exotic 1936 Robinson Crusoe of Clipper Island (14 chapters) and Ruth Roman as 1945's Jungle Queen (13 chapters, $14.99 each, VHS only).
Vintage chapter plays joining the DVD ranks include The Phantom ($22.49), with commentary by author Max Allan ("Road to Perdition") Collins, and the Buster Crabbe sci-fi sagas Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe ($19.99 each).


The 'A' list

Among recent theatrical films headed to vidstores during the next few weeks, we find the offbeat Nicole Kidman showcase Birthday Girl (Miramax), in which Tom Cruise's former squeeze stretches as a cagey (as opposed to KGB) Russian gal with a mysterious past; actor/artiste Ethan Hawke's star-laden if determinedly downbeat ensemble drama Chelsea Walls (Lions Gate); the retro rumblefest Deuces Wild (MGM), set in the 1950s and starring Stephen Dorff, Brad Renfro and Frankie Muniz of "Malcolm in the Middle"; and the Broken Lizard comedy troupe's frenetic big-screen vehicle Super Troopers (20th Century Fox). All will be priced for rental VHS and also available on DVD.


Phan mail

Dear Phantom: I need your help on a couple of movies I can't seem to track down. I saw this very intense film about two schoolteachers who are accused by a young student of being lesbians; I think it was called The Children's Hour. Also, is the film Percy out on video or DVD? Thanks for your help.
John Castiglia, Harrisburg, Pa.
Both "The Children's Hour" and its earlier, 1936, version, "These Three," are no longer in circulation; you may want to try Video Library (800/669-7157, www.vlibrary.com) for rental copies. "Percy" is available ($16.99 DVD) from Movies Unlimited (800/4-MOVIES, www.moviesunlimited.com).
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] Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.


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