boston.com Arts and Entertainment your connection to The Boston Globe

DVD Report

New Releases | Tom Russo

Wry collection gives new meaning to summer camp


For those who prefer their schlock served straight rather than "Mystery Science Theater" -style, the four-volume collection "Cult Camp Classics" is a full meal, heavy on the cheese. The most infamous title of the lot is dorm-room poster staple "Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman" (1958), which anchors a "Sci-Fi Thrillers" set -- and on a certain level, actually boasts the storytelling competence and wryness of a "Twilight Zone" episode. High-strung heiress Allison Hayes is driven to melodramatic distraction by slick, cheatin'-heart hubbie William Hudson , who's carrying on a none-too-discreet affair with trampy Yvette Vickers . The alternating smarminess and cattiness are good fun, and a solid setup for a juicy hell-hath-no-fury payoff when Hayes is infected by a giant radioactive spaceman. But then this 66-minute trifle finally has to start delivering on its hyperbolic title. When a giant latex hand appears and a shrink starts spouting his analysis of female irrationality, you've got your cue to shift viewing mode from "laugh with" to "laugh at." The disc includes commentary by Vickers, although the onetime pinup is as likely to chat about her stage career as goof on the proceedings.

Another highlight of the collection is the even clunkier "Trog" (1969), part of a "Women in Peril" box. ("Gals in Peril" must have already been taken.) In her final performance, Joan Crawford plays a sack-dressed anthropologist confronted with a caveman sprung from prehistoric oblivion (or iParty's Halloween clearance bin). Crawford, though, isn't the only legitimate cinema notable getting roasted here. The "Historical Epics" set includes Howard Hawks' "Land of the Pharaohs " (1955) , with legit commentary by Hawks aficionado Peter Bogdanovich . (Warner, $29.98 each volume; individual titles $14.97 each; available now)

"PRIDE" (2007)

Terrence Howard ("Crash," "Hustle & Flow" ) is fast making a specialty of characters who walk and talk softly, but break out one jarringly big stick when pushed too far. He does it again as Jim Ellis , real-life organizer of an African-American community swim team in 1970s Philadelphia. When Ellis is dispatched to help close down a forgotten city rec center, he instead sees an opportunity to grab a hose, fill the pool, and toss in neighborhood teens otherwise headed for trouble. The story setup, and the kids' arcs in particular, are cliched; Ellis has a harder time making a believer of the janitor (mutton-chopped Bernie Mac ) and a local councilwoman (Kimberly Elise, "Close to Home" ) than this hardscrabble crew. Still, Howard lends crucial dimension to all of those overly familiar inspirational sports-movie moments. Rookie director Sunu Gonera goes over the top by having Ellis's swimmers dive off the starting blocks one by one, declaring, "This is our house," as tears stream down Howard's face. But there's good, tense drama in the way Ellis rages against what's wrong in his world -- racist competitors and a rival coach (Tom Arnold ) snubbing him and his kids, or gangbangers trashing the pool. Sure, Howard is the lead, but he does even more than his share to keep things afloat.

Extras: Commentary by Gonera; deleted scenes. (Lionsgate, $28.98; available now)

"CHANCER": SERIES 1 (1990)

Clive Owen seems capable of playing all sorts of manly: diabolically roguish ("Closer" ); hardened ("Sin City" ); beleaguered ("Children of Men" ). He displays still another shade -- rogue lite -- in this early career effort from British television. Owen is Stephen Crane , a slick London investment banker who smooth-talks his way into using a foundering sports car manufacturer to serve his own ends. While this often means he's pursuing a Gordon Gekko greed-is-good ethic, there's also a fair amount of sticking it to the Man, as personified by his even less scrupulous mentor (Leslie Phillips, "Venus" ). For a show seemingly built on the "Dallas" and "Dynasty" money-and-sex model, this one can feel stuffy at times -- specifically, whenever the action cuts away from Owen. "Chancer" tells you as much about his screen appeal as Hollywood's recent interest in him does.

Extras: Production photo gallery; cast filmographies. (Acorn Media, $59.99)

Indie DVD | Ty Burr

Tale of women in love is fun yet frustrating


Is being a lesbian in Manhattan really as fabulously witty and kooky and fun as "Puccini for Beginners" makes it out to be? Maybe, but no one really gets hurt here, and that's the movie's charm and failing. Nevertheless, it fizzes nicely before the tonic goes flat in the final third.

The belated second feature from writer-director Maria Maggenti ("The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love"), the film begins as Allegra (Elizabeth Reaser) is breaking up with Samantha (Julianne Nicholson), who wants commitment and is willing to shack up with a man to find it. "Bi is in, anyway," says someone here. Thus Allegra finds herself flirting with Philip (Justin Kirk), a Columbia assistant professor of philosophy . Smitten, Philip breaks with Grace (Gretchen Mol), his dizzy yuppie girlfriend; on the rebound, Grace hooks up with Allegra as well. None of the three knows precisely who's been sleeping in each others' beds.

Tellingly, Grace and Allegra meet while coming out of a revival screening of "Holiday," that arch 1938 heartbreaker starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant and written by Philip Barry. "Puccini" wants to be as sophisticated as a Barry play and as appealingly neurotic as a Woody Allen movie, as sassy as "Sex in the City," and as hilarious as Preston Sturges.

All those influences and all that energy, and the movie shares its heroine's weakness: It's too self-conscious to commit. Maggenti keeps breaking the frame for mild meta-comedy, and she writes bright, sharp dialogue that doesn't draw blood. The actors are as willing as puppies, but for farce to work characters need to be knee-deep in their own mishegoss, not holding themselves warily apart as Allegra does. You can't be the novelist of your own misfortune. Well, you can, but that's tragedy.

Actually, Allegra is a novelist, although we never see her write -- or Philip teach, or Grace be a banker (she'd rather, um, blow glass, and we do see that). This is one of those Upper West Side baubles where no one works and everyone plays; a character says "New York's a small town" long after the point has been made. It takes a village to make a well-adjusted lesbian, I guess, and it takes this movie to slowly make her tiresome.

Extras: Director's and editor's commentary; deleted scenes; trailer. (Strand, $27.99)

Performance DVD | Ty Burr

Music and more at England's Woodstock


England's annual Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts is little known to Americans but easy enough to explain: Imagine if Woodstock had kept recurring every blessed year (almost) since 1970. For "Glastonbury," director Julien Temple ("Absolute Beginners ") filmed the fest from 2002 to 2005, and used archival footage to fill in the rest. From hippies to punk to Cool Brittania, Glastonbury has surfed England's pop culture and only occasionally fallen off the board.

Festival founder Michael Eavis decided to give the family farm over to the flower kiddies in 1971, and he's still on the scene 35 years later, grizzled from having tilted with hundreds of egos: pampered rock stars, locals filing suit to stop the fest, gate - crashers, and the ever-problematic "travelers," a tribe of New Age gypsies. Eventually a gleaming, impenetrable high-tech wall surrounded the grounds, ironically cutting Glastonbury off from England and its own past.

There are some great acts, among them Bjork (above), Coldplay, Nick Cave, the Velvet Underground, Morrissey, Ray Davies, and Radiohead. Temple rarely lets us sit and enjoy them without rushing off to investigate the toilet facilities (dire), the mood of the local citizenry (grumbling), or the mental state of the audience (very, very high). As with most rock festivals, you had to be there, and if you're British you probably were, one year or another. In that case, "Glastonbury" is a pointed but essentially nostalgic tour of one country's more noble pop impulses. Otherwise, it's as muddy as Yasgur's Farm back in the day.

Extras: Uncut performance footage; interviews with performers, concertgoers; trailer. (Velocity/ThinkFilm, $24.98; available now)

ALSO THIS WEEK

"DRIVING LESSONS" (2006)

If the upcoming "Harry Potter" installment doesn't let him do enough growing, Rupert Grint always has this modest coming-of-age story, in which he plays a put-upon teen liberated by his unlikely friendship with an eccentric retired actress (Julie Walters) . The film has courted "Auntie Mame" comparisons -- but "Mame" might be more like it. Laura Linney is awkwardly cast as Grint's church lady mom.

Extras: Production featurette; deleted scenes. (Sony, $24.96)

"OUR VERY OWN" (2005)

Jason Ritter and Allison Janney are part of an ensemble that represents the main draw of this low-profile indie drama, which revolves around a Tennessee town's anticipation of a return visit by real-life native daughter Sondra Locke . (Miramax, $29.99)

"STANDING STILL" (2006)

Twenty-something college pals reunite for a wedding, getting amorous, taking stock of their relationships, and talking -- at length. Nothing at all new here, but the sprawling cast offers a little someone for everyone in the target audience. With Amy Adams ("Junebug" ), Mena Suvari , and James Van Der Beek , among others.

Extras: Interview with Adams and castmate Adam Garcia . (Genius Products, $19.95; available now)

"QUEEN DVD COLLECTOR'S BOX" (2007)

Catching a tour appearance sans the late Freddie Mercury is no way to cling to these operatic rockers. Instead, try this two-disc offering, which includes a feature documentary and performance footage spotlighting their formidable run of '70s hits. (Music Video Distributors, $24.95; available now)

FOREIGN

"THE BELLS OF DEATH" (1968)

Hong Kong's venerable Shaw Brothers produce another characteristically brisk martial arts tale of wrongdoing and retribution. The better known "King Boxer," "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin ," and an assortment of other titles from the Shaw vault are also newly available.

Extras: Commentary by Quentin Tarantino and others on "Boxer" and companion titles. ("Bells," Image Entertainment, $19.99; "Boxer," etc., Genius Products, $19.95 each)

TELEVISION

"THIS IS TOM JONES": VOLUME ONE (1969-71)

Flash back to Jones's swingin', eponymous musical variety show in a three-disc highlight set. Clips feature Jones (who was all of 28 when the program debuted) teaming with everyone from Aretha Franklin to the Who.

Extras: New and archival interviews; episode intros by Jones. (Time Life Video, $39.99; available now)

"SLINGS & ARROWS": SEASON THREE (2006)

Our favorite Canadian theater troupers comically toil to -- hey, gang! -- put on not one but two shows. Sarah Polley is among the guest stars.

Extras: Cast interviews; deleted and extended scenes. (Acorn Media, $29.99)

Capsules are written by Globe correspondent Tom Russo and titles are in stores Tuesday unless otherwise specified.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES