- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Macabre-movie master David Cronenberg delivers another masterpiece of psychological menace with Spider, an underexposed 2002 theatrical release receiving a new lease on life via Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment ($24.95 DVD, priced for rental VHS). It’s our…

Video pick of the week

Scripted by Patrick McGrath from his own novel, the film charts a tangled journey of painful discovery undertaken by the eponymous “Spider” Cleg (Ralph Fiennes in a virtually nonverbal role), a schizophrenic outpatient assigned to a halfway house in a drab London neighborhood.

Oedipal wreck Spider is drawn to his nearby childhood home, where he becomes a sort of ghostly voyeur as he reimagines his traumatic upbringing through his repressed, disoriented vision.

Mr. Cronenberg and Mr. McGrath artfully build an atmosphere of intense primal mystery, while frequent Cronenberg composer Howard Shore contributes an alternately ominous and bittersweet score. Mr. Fiennes and Gabriel Byrne, as the young Spider’s possibly violent dad, turn in textured work, but the film ultimately belongs to an Oscar-worthy Miranda Richardson, who proves a revelation in three thoroughly disparate, fully realized roles — as Spider’s saintly mom Mrs. Cleg, as coarse local prostitute Yvonne, and as middle-aged halfway house director Mrs. Wilkinson.

The fewer details the viewer knows about “Spider” going in, the richer the film’s rewards. For post-movie viewing, the DVD offers an insightful commentary by Mr. Cronenberg, three behind-the-scenes features and other bonus materials.

The ‘A’ list

The anxiety level continues to rise with a pair of recent big-screen thrillers. Several strangers, John Cusack and Ray Liotta among them, endure a lethal motel layover in James Mangold’s twisty psycho chiller Identity (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment, $27.95), due Sept. 2. The DVD incorporates a Mangold audio commentary, an alternate ending, deleted scenes, an on-the-set featurette, storyboard comparisons and more.

The following week, director Jon Amiel goes underground with his disaster epic The Core (Paramount Home Entertainment, $29.99), starring Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank and Stanley Tucci as members of a scientific-military team desperate to save the Earth from a deadly subterranean force. An Amiel commentary, 10 deleted/extended scenes and a two featurettes lend further audiovisual heat to the disc. Both titles will also be available on VHS.

Tele-video

In documentary developments, next week A&E Home Video debuts a pair of History Channel double-disc sets. The History Channel Presents: Winston Churchill ($39.95) offers a definitive, five-hour documentary portrait of the British statesman, with an emphasis on his pivotal impact on World War II. The same label journeys further back in time for The Last Days of the Civil War ($29.95), a six-hour examination of the final battles and political events that signaled an end to that tragic conflict.

In a contemporary fictional vein, StudioWorks Entertainment introduces the TV crime series Wiseguy: Season 1 Part 1: Sonny Steelgrave and the Mob ($69.99). The four-DVD set, also due next week, includes the two-hour series pilot, 11 complete episodes, audio commentary by star Ken Wahl, interviews with creator Stephen J. Cannell, and more.

Art-house update

The venerable art-house troika of producer Ismail Merchant, director James Ivory and scenarist Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, currently represented on the big screen with “Le Divorce,” arrives on homevid this week with a pair of acclaimed Henry James adaptations (Home Vision Entertainment, $29.95 each). 1984’s The Bostonians stars Christopher Reeve, Vanessa Redgrave and Madeleine Potter in a drama about the early women’s movement, while Lee Remick and Tim Woodward topline as a scheming sister and brother act in 1979’s The Europeans.

Both DVD editions, boasting new digital transfers, offer a “Conversation with the Filmmakers” bonus and an original theatrical trailer; “The Europeans” also includes “Sweet Sounds,” a documentary short by composer Richard Robbins.

Different folkies

Speaking of music, while Christopher Guest’s send-up “A Mighty Wind” (Warner Home Video) is still a month away, folkie fans can score the real deal with Judy Collins — Wildflower Festival (Pioneer Entertainment, $24.98). Fellow folk legends Arlo Guthrie, Tom Rush and Eric Andersen share a San Diego stage with Miss Collins for a stirring lineup of songs old (“Both Sides Now”) and new (“Kingdom Come” or “The Fireman’s Song”). The two-DVD set is available now.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Many popular television shows are showing up on DVD. Any word on whether “The Waltons” will be appearing?

Alesia, via e-mail

No word yet on a DVD collection, but several The Waltons TV episodes and specials are still available on VHS via Movies Unlimited (moviesunlimited.com), with most priced between $8.99 and $13.49 each.

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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