- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2003

While long acknowledged as a master of cinematic mood and menace, director Roman Polanski also displays considerable acting skills in his classic claustrophobic 1976 thriller The Tenant, new from Paramount Home Entertainment ($9.99 DVD). It’s our…

Video pick of the week

Viewers who associate Polanski the actor with his memorable but gimmicky henchman turn in “Chinatown” may be surprised to see him virtually carry a film on his thespian shoulders. Here, he plays Polish immigrant Trelkovsky, a meek clerk who leases a shabby Paris apartment. While Trelkovsky’s neighbors, along with creepy landlord Melvyn Douglas and concierge Shelley Winters, treat him with gratuitous hostility, our humble hero receives a greater shock when he learns the previous tenant is lying in a terminal coma following a suicide attempt.

As Trelkovsky grows more obsessed with his doomed predecessor, he becomes increasingly alienated from his co-worker friends and would-be squeeze Isabelle Adjani, gradually descending into a hallucinatory hell. Frequent Ingmar Bergman cinematographer Sven Nykvist perfectly captures Trelkovsky’s mental disintegration with his subtly vertiginous camera work.

While “The Tenant” operates on several levels and remains open to myriad interpretations, the film also powerfully succeeds as a darkly witty chiller in the style of “The Twilight Zone,” one that’s nearly the eerie equal of the auteur’s better-known “Rosemary’s Baby.”

Paramount’s “Widescreen Collection” DVD arrives with few frills beyond the original theatrical trailer and a welcome English subtitles option (the cast members’ widely divergent accents sometimes makes their dialogue difficult to decipher), but the digital transfer perfectly preserves the film’s dramatic shifts in visual tones. A rare thriller that delivers both a cerebral and a visceral punch, “The Tenant” rates as a must for quality-film buffs.

The ‘A’ list

Several major-studio films that received only limited theatrical play will be getting second chances on home video later this month.

MGM Home Entertainment introduces a pair of critically lauded titles: Douglas McGrath’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby, starring Jamie Bell, Anne Hathaway, Christopher Plummer and Nathan Lane, arrives in a gala DVD edition ($26.98) containing audio commentary with director McGrath, the documentary “Creating a Classic: The Making of Nicholas Nickleby,” a behind-the-scenes photo gallery and other special features. Austin Chick’s relationship drama XX/XY ($26.98), with Mark Ruffalo and Kathleen Robertson, shows up in a more modest package but with widescreen and full-screen options.

Columbia/TriStar weighs in with Lisa Cholodenko’s culture-clash drama Laurel Canyon, starring Frances McDormand as a hip Los Angeles record producer and Christian Bale as her conservative son, along with Jonas Akerlund’s wild drug-themed black comedy Spun ($24.98 each), with Brittany Murphy, Jason Schwartzman, John Leguizamo, Mickey Rourke and a dentally challenged Mena Suvari. All four titles will also be available on VHS (priced for rental).

Fassbinder fest

For fans of the late German innovator Rainer Werner Fassbinder, summer ‘03 shapes up as a virtual home-theater retro fest. Wellspring Media recently issued no fewer than four remastered titles from the prolific filmmaker’s oeuvre: the intense drama Chinese Roulette, the psychological breakdown Fear of Fear, the modern noir Gods of the Plague and the crime caper Love Is Colder Than Death. The DVDs are tagged at $24.98 each.

Home Vision Entertainment (homevision.com) lavishes still more audiovisual attention on the Teutonic auteur with its Criterion Collection double-disc edition of Ali: Fear Eats the Soul ($39.95), an offbeat romance-cum-homage to 1950s Hollywood director Douglas Sirk. Bonus features include documentaries, interviews with lead actress Brigitte Mira and editor Thea Eymesz, an introduction by “Far From Heaven” director Todd Haynes, a 16-page booklet and more.

Musical notes

For classical music buffs, Kultur Video introduces the 3-DVD Glenn Gould Collection, assembling three complete documentaries showcasing the legendary pianist at work and play: “Life & Times,” “Russian Journey” and “Extasis.” DVD extras include additional interviews with Mr. Gould, who died of a stroke in 1982, and his manager Walter Homburger, plus a quartet of bonus Gould performances. The box set, available now, is tagged at $49.95.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: While I was watching a rented video, a sneak preview was shown of a new movie called “Caruso” (spelling?), with Pierce Brosnan playing the lead, and it was mentioned that it was coming soon. It has never appeared in theaters. Where can I get it?

Lisa M., via e-mail

The film you’re looking for is actually titled Robinson Crusoe, based on Daniel Defoe’s novel of 1719. While it failed to nail a U.S. theatrical release, it is now available on video ($17.99 DVD, $13.49 VHS) from Movies Unlimited (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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