- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Fans of clever sci-fi horror with a twist of dark wit will want to check out director/co-writer Michael Laughlin’s 1981 chiller Strange Behavior, new from Elite Entertainment. It’s our…

Video pick of the week

Set in small-town Illinois but filmed in New Zealand, “Strange Behavior” ($19.98 DVD, elitedisc.com) focuses on John Brady (Michael Murphy), a law enforcement official who becomes understandably upset when previously straight-arrow teens inexplicably turn into crazed killers. With John’s own young son Pete (Dan Shor) in imminent danger, our hero focuses his attention on suspicious experiments being clandestinely conducted by imperious scientist Fiona Lewis (sporting a 1940s Joan Crawford coif) at the local high school’s psychology department.

To reveal more would risk ruining the surprises that Mr. Laughlin and his since-ascendant co-writer Bill Condon (2003 Oscar nominee for his “Chicago” adaptation) have in store. The indie filmmakers often succeed in using their paucity of resources to their movie’s advantage, with the sometimes obviously non-American locations and underdressed sets lending the pic a subtly surreal feel that adds to its nightmare quality. A top supporting cast, including Louise Fletcher, Scott Brady and Australian actor Arthur Dignam as a particularly creepy villain, likewise belies the film’s modest budget.

Among the disc’s many extras, the audio commentary track stands out, with Mr. Condon eloquently explaining the film’s production history, with assists from actors Shor and Dey Young. It’s easy to see why “Strange Behavior” won a select cult following during its initial release, one that’s bound to grown via Elite’s new DVD.

The ‘A’ list

Two Nazi-themed titles arrive at May’s end: An Oscar-winning Adrien Brody stars as a Jewish fugitive in Roman Polanski’s acclaimed fact-based World War II drama The Pianist (Universal Studios), while John Cusack portrays a Jewish art dealer who encounters angry young painter Adolf Hitler (Noah Taylor) in post-World War I Germany in Menno Meyjes’ speculative drama Max (Lions Gate Home Entertainment). Both are priced for rental VHS and also available on DVD.

Closer to home, next week a peripatetic Jack Nicholson tools into vidstores in his hit vehicle About Schmidt (New Line Home Entertainment, $27.98 DVD/$22.99 VHS), co-starring Kathy Bates, Hope Davis and Dermot Mulroney.

Miramax, meanwhile, reissues “About Schmidt” director Alexander Payne’s edgy social satire Citizen Ruth, with Laura Dern, Burt Reynolds and Kelly Preston, in a new DVD edition ($19.99) offering filmmaker audio commentary and other extras.

Collectors’ corner

The archivists at Home Vision Entertainment introduce a trio of new Criterion Collection titles representing as many countries. From Germany comes Volker Schlondorf’s 1976 Russian Revolution-set drama Coup de Grace, complete with interviews with Mr. Schlondorff and star Margarethe von Trotta. France is represented by suspense specialist Henri-Georges Clouzot’s (of “Diabolique” and “Wages of Fear” fame) 1947 Parisian noir Quai des Orfevres ($29.95 each), arriving with rare Clouzot interviews, essays and more, while England takes center stage in Derek Jarman’s post-apocalyptic 1977 rock ‘n’ roll fantasy Jubilee ($39.95).

Artisan Entertainment accentuates suspense, with two taut titles making their DVD debuts: Gary Cooper portrays an American scientist on a secret mission in Nazi Germany in Fritz Lang’s 1946 spy thriller Cloak and Dagger, co-starring Lilli Palmer and Robert Alda, while Jessica Lange plays a Chicago lawyer who defends her accused war criminal father (Armin Mueller-Stahl) in Costa-Gavras’ 1989 courtroom drama Music Box. The discs, available now, are tagged at $14.98 each.

Video verite

In documentary developments, Home Vision Entertainment harks back to one of the form’s true pioneers, Robert Flaherty (famed for “Nanook of the North”), with restored editions of two of the filmmaker’s landmark works. Man of Aran, from 1934, dramatically examines the harsh life of hard-working Aran Islanders off the Western coast of Ireland, while 1948’s Louisiana Story focuses on Cajun culture in the bayous of Louisiana. Both beautifully restored discs come equipped with a wealth of fascinating extras. The Flaherty titles are $29.95 each (DVD only).

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Have searched and searched trying to find out when the miniseries “Taken” will be out on DVD and have had no success. I see that the DVD has been released in the United Kingdom and wonder why it has not been released in the United States. Thanks.

Lynn McDonald, Alexandria

I haven’t heard any official announcement yet, but considering the current popularity of TV series and miniseries on DVD, a release shouldn’t be far off, maybe as soon as the fall.

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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