- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2002

The Australian import Lantana, recently released by Lions Gate Home Entertainment, is the most cleverly conceived, expertly executed and emotionally gripping mystery we have seen since Richard Dutcher's "Brigham City." It's our

Video pick of the week

"Lantana" (priced for rental VHS, also available on DVD) is one of those rare films that satisfies on every level. Though its opening shot of an unidentified woman lying dead in a suburban field would seem to signal the start of a standard thriller, screenwriter Andrew Bovell, adapting his own play "Speaking in Tongues," wisely steers clear of that direction. He and director Ray Lawrence are far more interested in exploring the tangled relationships among those characters who touched the late woman's life, whether intimately or tangentially. They also make the deft decision to keep the victim's identity a secret until well into the film.

Anthony LaPaglia leads an ace ensemble cast as police detective Leon Zat, a disengaged family man whose brief fling with casual dance-club partner Jane (Rachael Blake) serves as a gradual introduction into the private, uniformly troubled lives of several interconnecting characters.

Among the major players are Leon's bemused spouse, Sonja (Kerry Armstrong); her shrink, Dr. Valerie Somers (Barbara Hershey), herself in extended mourning over her murdered daughter; her aloof academic husband, John (Geoffrey Rush); and a homosexual client, Patrick (Peter Phelps).

While intricately constructed, "Lantana" eschews any flashy postmodern moves, compelling viewers to empathize with the all-too-human characters' pain even when they may not condone the characters' behavior. "Lantana" doubtless would have worked as penetrating drama even without the mystery angle, though that element offers its own surprise.

If you're in the mood for a solid, thoughtful celluloid experience amid the summer popcorn-movie glut, "Lantana" definitely rates a visit. Lions Gate's widescreen DVD includes cast and filmmaker interviews that supply interesting back stories to an already fascinating film.

The 'A' list

The recent VHS and gala DVD arrival of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone via Warner Home Video has already proved a tough (magic) act to follow, but Warner forges on with two additional releases: the Mandy Moore romance A Walk to Remember, co-starring Shane West, out this week, and Gillian Armstrong's Cate Blanchett showcase, the World War II drama Charlotte Gray, based on the book by Sebastian Faulks, due out next month.

Continuing in a romantic vein, Miramax plans a July date with Amelie, director Jean-Pierre ("The City of Lost Children") Jeunet's critically acclaimed exercise in magic realism, starring Audrey Tatou as the eponymous gamin. You also can sight Miss Tatou in another whimsical French romantic comedy, Laurent Firode's Happenstance, available from New Yorker Video.

The same outfit also introduces Michael Cuesta's highly recommended indie drama L.I.E., starring Brian Cox and Paul Franklin Dano in a tale of adolescent angst. All of the above will be priced for rental VHS and also available on DVD.


In TV-to-DVD news, A&E Home Video targets cult-television fans with two new gala DVD sets. Gerry ("Thunderbirds") Anderson's 1960s puppet-animation sci-fi series Captain Scarlett debuts in a four-disc boxed set ($79.95) containing all 32 episodes, along with commentary from creator Anderson and special interactive DVD-ROM features.

The Martin Landau-Barbara Bain sci-fi series Space: 1999 concludes with sets seven and eight ($39.95 per each two-disc set), offering six episodes each, along with vintage cast and crew interviews, a BBC behind-the-scenes segment and other extras. The sets, to be introduced later this month, also will be available on VHS at the same prices.

Video verite

In documentary developments, Zeitgeist Films releases a pair of imports, Agnes Varda's The Gleaners and I, a look at France's crop-scavenging culture, and The Saltmen of Tibet (priced for rental VHS, $29.99 DVD each), focusing on the lifestyle of Tibetan nomads. Hen's Tooth digs up the 1972 Sasquatch docudrama The Legend of Boggy Creek ($19.95 VHS/$24.95 DVD), set in the Deep South.

Jazz fans, meanwhile, will want to scope out documentarian Robert Drew's 1967 portrait On the Road With Duke Ellington, new from Docurama ($24.95 DVD).

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: I am looking for a made-for-TV movie, Shadow of a Doubt, 1995, starring Brian Dennehy and Bonnie Bedelia. Also, any clue as to when the miniseries Once an Eagle, starring Sam Elliott, will be coming out on DVD or video?

Lynn McDonald, via e-mail

So far, neither has joined the video ranks, a fate shared by too many made-for-TV films, even those of recent vintage.

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: phanmedia@aol.com And check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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