- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 2, 2004

As he did in “Adaptation,” Nicolas Cage seizes the screen as a raging but oddly ingenuous neurotic in Ridley Scott’s tricky Matchstick Men, new from Warner Home Video ($27.95). It’s our…

DVD pick of the week

A twitchy, pill-popping basket case, Mr. Cage’s Roy Waller manages to retain his skills as a small-time con artist who works a variety of creative scams, from bilking bogus “contest winners” to arranging phony currency exchange transactions, with the help of his exuberantly crooked younger partner Frank (Sam Rockwell). Roy’s life takes an unexpected turn toward semi-normality when his new shrink (Bruce Altman) convinces him to hook up with the now-teenage daughter he’s never met, Angela (Alison Lohman).

Much of the subsequent action involves the stumbling Roy and bubbly Angela’s budding dad-daughter relationship, a subplot that injects deeper emotions, and unforced laughs, into the caper machinations. But will Roy’s newfound family obsession endanger the major sting Frank’s put into motion with a rich, gullible mark (Bruce McGill)?

To reveal more would be to risk ruining the twists director Scott and sibling scripters Nicholas and Ted Griffin, working from Eric Garcia’s novel, have in store. But viewers in the mood for a film that relies on solid acting and wit rather than big-budget flash will want to go along for the ride.

(One caveat for those with cinematic second-hand smoke phobias: the cigarette consumption in “Matchstick Men” could put the flame-happiest ‘40s noir to shame.)

DVD extras include a director and screenwriters’ audio commentary, plus the documentary “Tricks of the Trade: Making ‘Matchstick Men.’ ” The latter offers an unusually detailed and instructive account of the film’s genesis, from pre- to post-production and all the triumphs and travails in between.

Collectors’ corner

Three foreign classics also make their digital debuts via Warner Home Video. Italian auteur Luchino Visconti is represented by 1969’s The Damned, with Dirk Bogarde and Ingrid Thulin in the story of a German family’s decline during Hitler’s rise, and by his 1971 Thomas Mann adaptation Death in Venice, with a returning Mr. Bogarde as Mann’s obsessed composer Gustav Aschenbach. Both discs include Visconti-focused featurettes.

Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 English-language film Blowup, starring the late David Hemmings as a photographer embroiled in an existential mystery, arrives with a commentary by Antonioni expert Peter Brunette, two theatrical trailers and a music-only audio track (by jazz great Herbie Hancock). The discs are tagged at $19.98 each.

Forbidden passions smolder anew, meanwhile, in Mark Robson’s 1957 screen version of Grace Metalious’ then-controversial best-seller Peyton Place (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, $14.98). The disc also contains an entertaining audio commentary by co-stars Russ Tamblyn and Terry Moore.

The ‘A’ list

In theatrical-to-DVD news, Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment releases Bob Dylan’s all-star but barely seen fable Masked and Anonymous ($24.95), along with Ron Howard’s fast-vanishing Western The Missing ($28.95), starring Cate Blanchett and Tommy Lee Jones. The latter surfaces in a two-disc set armed with a director’s audio commentary, five featurettes, the documentary “The Modern Western,” deleted scenes and more.

Next week, the same label introduces Mona Lisa Smile, with Julia Roberts as a 1950s art-history professor out to shake up her students at an elite women’s college; bonus materials include three featurettes and an Elton John music video. Actress-turned-auteur Rosanna Arquette examines the plight of Hollywood actresses in her documentary Searching for Debra Winger (Lions Gate Home Entertainment, $24.99), featuring Jane Fonda, Whoopi Goldberg and Salma Hayek.

In thriller developments, Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone square off against Stephen Dorff in Cold Creek Manor ($29.98). The disc boasts a commentary by director Mike Figgis, featurettes and more. All of the above titles will also be available on VHS.

Tele-video

Paramount Home Entertainment hurtles into the future with Star Trek Voyager: The Complete First Season on DVD ($129.99). The five-disc extravaganza comes locked and loaded with cast and crew interviews, a photo gallery and featurettes covering everything from location scouting to special effects.

NBC Home Entertainment heads in the opposite temporal direction, back to the 1850s, with Little House on the Prairie: Season 4 ($49.98), starring Michael Landon as a pioneer patriarch, in a six-DVD set containing all 21 fourth-season episodes.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Any idea if the TV series “Murder One” (1995-1997), which Steven Bochco directed, starring Daniel Benzali, Anthony LaPaglia and Vanessa Williams, can be purchased on DVD?

Lynn McDonald, Alexandria

I haven’t heard any concrete plans, but with 20th Century Fox’s recent proliferation of TV-based DVD sets, it would seem a good bet for future release.

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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