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DVD Report

New Releases | Tom Russo

Almodóvar's latest is rooted in female energy


There's a lot going on in Pedro Almodóvar's "Volver" (2006), some of it characteristically dramatic and mischievous, some of it thoroughly tangential, but all of it quite the adoration-filled showcase for Penélope Cruz.

Cruz plays Raimunda , a Madrid woman scrambling to get rid of her husband's body after he makes advances toward her teenage daughter (Yohana Cobo ) and winds up dead. Meanwhile, Raimunda's sister (Lola Duenas ) has her own spooky secret: Their dear, departed madre (Almodóvar veteran Carmen Maura , "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" ) has come back, anxious to attend to some mysterious unfinished business with Raimunda. (The movie's title translates as "return.")

Almodóvar's choice of focus is strange at times; he quickly dispenses with the shock his characters logically would register at certain developments, yet tosses in elaborate bits of misdirection with an enthusiasm that's infectious. What this means for Cruz is abundant opportunity to play, by turns, resilient, resourceful, maternal, fiery, and sexy -- a range not seen in her English-language work. Not that this is exclusively her show -- Duenas and Maura lend their scenes together a breeziness that helps a viewer forgive some of the more obvious seams. True to much of Almodóvar's work, this is a story rooted in collective female energy, where the absent, unwanted, and unneeded men might as well be the ghosts, even if it's a woman who's returning from beyond.

Extras: Almodóvar's artistic infatuation with Cruz, and with his actresses in general, is evident in their joint commentary. Revisiting a pivotal moment for which he handed Maura a six-page chunk of expository dialogue, he notes, "As always, I trust actresses more than flashbacks." (Sony, $28.95)

‘‘THE GOOD SHEPHERD’’ (2006) Robert De Niro takes a rare turn directing with this story of the CIA’s beginnings and the toll the agency takes on point man Matt Damon, here slipping into cipher mode from a different angle than he did with Tom Ripley. The film’s showy cast of espionage spooks — William Hurt, Alec Baldwin, and a particularly effective John Turturro, among others — build the requisite atmosphere of paranoia around Damon, making for a handful of solidly creepy scenes. Still, De Niro’s too-deliberate pacing will likely have your finger hovering over the fast-forward button. (That or the subtitles button: What starts out as an entertainingly literal read on the whispery nature of covert agencies eventually seems like an awful lot of mumbling.) Angelina Jolie raises the volume slightly as Damon’s wife, but her role doesn’t amount to much. Extras: Deleted scenes. (Universal, $29.98)

‘‘DEATH OF A PRESIDENT’’ (2006)

The mock documentary opens with a distraught Muslim woman lamenting the consequences of the assassination, but the only consequences laid out here are the obvious ones: heightened security measures, more aggressive profiling, and a wider cultural gulf. Extras: A solo commentary by director Range, plus another track

and interviews with him and his crew. (Lionsgate, $27.98)

‘‘CHARLOTTE’S WEB’’ (2006)
E.B. White’s classic gets the live-action treatment one might have expected right after ‘‘Babe’’ hit more than a decade ago. The movie is more aggressively cute than the fine, homespun ’70s animated version, but doesn’t overdo it, and offers some fun voice work led by Julia Roberts as Charlotte. (And if casting, say, Thomas Haden Church and Andre ‘‘OutKast’’ Benjamin as chatty crows strikes you as ‘‘rad,’’ then you’re conveniently forgetting Paul Lynde’s vamping as Templeton in the earlier adaptation.) Dakota

Fanning ably plays Fern for director Gary Winick (‘‘13 Going on 30’’). Extras: Voice casting featurette; segment on pig adoptions for those still fretful despite Wilbur’s happy ending. (Paramount, $29.99)

Television DVD | Tom Russo

Finally, a second look at 'Twin Peaks'


How much David Lynch weirdness is too much? For those who've been clamoring for "Twin Peaks": The Second Season (1990-91), there's probably no limit. The set has placed high on consumer wish lists for years -- essentially since the first season arrived on disc in late 2001. (Labyrinthine rights issues were reportedly to blame for the lengthy wait between releases.)

Still, "Peaks" was hardly without its valley; after this batch of 22 episodes, the show disappeared faster than the Log Lady's signature prop on a bonfire. Lynch and series co-creator Mark Frost may have done themselves in by finally having FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) wrap his twisty investigation of Laura Palmer's murder partway through the season. Sure, Cooper continued to have more on his plate than just cherry pie, as subsequent episodes threw him into a deadly chess match with erstwhile partner Windom Earle (Kenneth Welsh). And Bob (Frank Silva), the show's demonic wolf in roadie's clothing, continued to lurk out there in timberland -- even taking possession of Cooper himself in a maddeningly unresolved cliffhanger. But without the eerie whodunit that had helped make "Peaks" a phenomenon in its abbreviated debut season, the series relied more than ever on its true core: odd characters doing odder things, refracting as much as reflecting homey images of small-town life.

Never mind the sharp trajectory from sensation to cancellation, though. Cast members interviewed on the six-disc set are absolutely right to talk about the show's legacy and bold originality. Dana Ashbrook, who played retro rebel Bobby Briggs, aptly cites the debt owed by "Desperate Housewives," for one. Meanwhile, take one fresh, unsettling gander at Bob, and see if you're not reminded of the simply drawn ghouls jolting fans of the current Asian horror wave. (The late Silva was originally just a prop master on Lynch's crew, go figure.)

The set's interview assortment is worthwhile but incomplete. MacLachlan, Sherilyn Fenn, and David Duchovny are among those reminiscing, but there's nothing from Lynch, Michael Ontkean (Sheriff Harry Truman), Lara Flynn Boyle, or Sheryl Lee (Laura Palmer). Lynch's daughter, Jennifer, does turn up recalling her work on a tie-in "diary" fleshing out Laura Palmer's back story. One tidbit: a diary entry in which Laura dreams that she's got to race a rat to gnaw off her foot came straight from the author's own slumbers. Naturally. She's a Lynch. (Paramount, $61.99)

Box Set | Saul Austerlitz

Schlock and awe in Mario Bava's films


Mario Bava is best known as a godfather to the horror film, but as a close study of "The Mario Bava Box Set" indicates, the Italian director was never entirely satisfied residing at the bottom half of the double bill. The poor dubbing and occasionally ludicrous dialogue of the five films here are compensated for by his remarkable eye for composition and elegant sense of camera movement.

Each film betrays a careful study of Bava's betters -- Bergman sque medieval horror in "Black Sunday," Hitchcock on a budget in "The Girl Who Knew Too Much," and James Whale creep-out for "Black Sabbath." Bava is more filmmaker than storyteller, celebrating the power of celluloid in crafting illusion -- as in the conclusion of "Black Sabbath," where Bava pulls back to reveal the mechanisms (wind machines, scurrying assistants) that assist with the imitation of reality.

"Black Sunday" (above) is the best-known of these films, but "Black Sabbath" and "Kill, Baby . . . Kill!" are equally effective chillers, featuring ancient curses, haunted villages, and their fair share of heaving-chested maidens. Bava builds tension by clever use of swirling smoke, tinted lenses, and shock close-ups. In contrast, "Knives of the Avenger" represents Bava's other genre of choice, the sword-and-sandals epic ; it has all of the horror films' deficiencies but none of their merits. "The Girl Who Knew Too Much" may be the most pleasurable of the films, its Roman setting and intrepid American heroine revealing its roots as a whimsical replay of Hitchcock's tourist-guidebook thrillers.

Each of the films is bundled with one or more theatrical and television trailers, which often rival the films they advertise for entertainment value, and "Black Sabbath" and "Girl" also feature detailed interviews with lead actors Mark Damon and John Saxon. (Anchor Bay, $49.98)

ALSO THIS WEEK

"COPYING BEETHOVEN" (2006)

Ed Harris takes up the maestro's baton in director Agnieszka Holland's awkwardly fictionalized biopic imagining the interplay between Beethoven and a music student (Diane Kruger) assisting him.

Extras: Commentary by Holland and Harris; deleted scenes. (MGM, $27.98)

"OPAL DREAM" (2006)

A small, sticky family drama about an Australian mining clan exiled from their community after the daughter's imaginary friends go missing and dad (Vince Colosimo) trespasses on another man's mine. The movie awkwardly insists on the importance of dreams but its strongest suit is the real-life setting: the desert town of Coober Pedy, "Opal Capital of the World." (Universal, $29.98)

TY BURR

REISSUES

"THE NATURAL" (1984)

Barry Levinson and Robert Redford's sentimental tale of a forgotten ballplayer finding redemption late in his athletic life gets a rerelease with 15 minutes of newly incorporated footage. Escapists have to love the timing, given the number of formerly juiced big leaguers who could use a little redemption themselves these days.

Extras: Extensive production featurettes. (Sony, $24.94)

"REEL BASEBALL" (1899-1926)

This two-disc set marks the start of the season with a little artful silence rather than the usual cry of "play ball," as it collects 1920's Babe Ruth vehicle "Headin' Home" and other curiosities from the pre-talkie era.

Extras: Genre historian essay. (Kino, $29.95)

"ALL THAT JAZZ" (1979)

Director-choreographer Bob Fosse tells all in his semiautobiographical biopic. With Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange, Ben Vereen, and Ann Reinking.

Extras: Editor commentary; production featurettes. (Fox, $19.98)

"BEDAZZLED" (1967)

Sad-sack Dudley Moore experiences a little wish fulfillment (and then some) courtesy of devilish Peter Cook in this swinging comedy. (The 2000 remake is less stylized.) Companion releases include "Royal Flash" and "S*P*Y*S."

Extras: Interviews; production featurettes; Malcolm McDowell commentary on "Flash." (Fox, $19.98 each)

"FREEWAY" (1996)

This long out-of-print movie turns back the career odometer for a look at Kiefer Sutherland pre-"24" and Reese Witherspoon pre-much of anything. She's a troubled teen hitting the road in search of her grandma; he's a predator offering a ride and a carload of nastiness. (Republic, $9.98)

TELEVISION

"ENTOURAGE": SEASON THREE, PART 1 (2006)

It's not just the Emmy's love for Jeremy Piven telling you how good cable's reigning comedy is. The show can even throw in a snippet of a faux "Aquaman" movie -- faking a blockbuster scene on a sitcom budget -- and even make that look sort of cool.

Extras: Cast and crew commentaries; Vegas location featurette. (HBO, $39.98)

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

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