Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest: pick

2006

How to Eat Fried Worms: PASS

2006

Superman: The Theatrical Serials Collection: PICK

1948-1950

Holiday: PICK

1938

Content advisory:

Pirates: Much stylized swashbuckling action violence and menace; moderately scary and gross imagery; some gross-out humor; mild sensuality and innuendo; a soothsayer/witch. Teens and up. Fried Worms: Much gastronomic grossness; verbal bullying and harassment; minor rude humor; a profanity-derived expression. Older kids and up. Superman: Much action violence and menace. Kids and up. Holiday: Romantic complications; semi-comic inebriation. Teens and up.

New this week on DVD, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest follows the middle-movie template established by The Empire Strikes Back, with a darker, more sprawling story, bigger threats and a cliffhanger finale. Where the original Pirates offered a ghost-story twist on the Errol Flynn-style seafaring swashbuckler, the sequel is a pastiche of everything from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to King Kong to The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad.

At the same time, Dead Man’s Chest takes the slapstick swashbuckling to a new level, evoking the ingenious physical comedy of Buster Keaton or Jackie Chan crossed with Looney Tunes. A slight spiritual vibe runs through the film: A sailor clutching rosary beads chooses death and judgment over spiritual slavery, and a comic pair of pirates debates the efficacy of Bible study for the illiterate.

Also new on DVD, How to Eat Fried Worms marks a new low for Walden Media, transforming Thomas Rockwell’s cheerfully disgusting tale of boyhood bravado and rivalry among friends into an unpleasant endurance test about coping with bullying by humiliating yourself before bullies do it for you. Jettisoning nearly everything about the book except for the gross-out subject matter, the film replaces Rockwell’s ode to 1950s rural American boyhood with modern suburban trappings.

The inversion of self-humiliation as triumph reaches its height in the climax, as previously violent enemies embrace a self-imposed penalty as a badge of honor. It’s one of the most aggressively phony happy endings in recent memory.

Did you know George Reeves wasn’t the first live-action Superman — and Christopher Reeve wasn’t the first big-screen Man of Steel? Kirk Alyn beat them both in serialized adventures in 1948-50, now available on DVD in Superman: The Theatrical Serials Collection.

Despite limited production values — including an animated Superman in the flying sequences! — these early adventures have their charms. Noel Neill, the TV series’ Lois Lane, originates the role here. The 1948 serial is at its best in the first third, with Superman’s arrival from Krypton, but bogs down later with poor writing. The 1950 sequel is better, with more super-heroics and the arrival of Lex Luthor.

Long unavailable on DVD, Holiday, the lesser-known sister film to the celebrated The Philadelphia Story, gets the DVD release it richly deserves. Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn star in a George Cukor comedy-romance from the same playwright-screenwriter team. With their light comic touch, romantic complications and class consciousness, both films resemble screwball comedy (yet aren’t quite that).

Where Philadelphia Story is more satiric, Holiday is more compassionate and bittersweet. Its premise — working-class man falls in love with society heiress — may be familiar, but it eschews such plot mechanics as comic misunderstandings and elaborate deceptions. Dialogue and characterizations are note-perfect, and the story never missteps. This is one of the great ones.