R, 1989, 122 minutes, closed-captioned, RCA/Columbia Pictures, $91.95.
"Glory" is art with its convictions showing, great clanking liberal moviemaking, heroic as an outsize statue. Though the epic is as manipulative as it is uplifting, its mission is such that its sins are forgiven in a rush of pride and drumming hearts. On July 18, 1863, the all-black 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry began a bloody assault on Fort Wagner, S.C. When the battle was over, half the regiment's number lay wounded and dying on a stretch of beach near Charleston. The fort was not taken, but the gallant 54th had won a greater glory. The men had proved not only themselves but their race to a fearful nation. Matthew Broderick plays Col. Robert Gould Shaw, a product of Boston noblesse oblige who discovers the horrors of war at Antietam. Sober beyond his 25 years, Shaw returns to Massachusetts, where he takes command of the newly formed 54th, aided by an easygoing college chum, Maj. Cabot Forbes (Cary Elwes), and a bullheaded Irishman, Sgt. Mulchay (John Finn). While the movie begins and ends with Shaw's exploits, five tent mates are the focus of Kevin Jarr's pithy if historically inaccurate screenplay. Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman lead the superlative cast as a hotheaded runaway slave and a soulful gravedigger who becomes the regiment's guiding force. Of course, all along the powers that be plan to use the men as laborers only, so they must first fight the bureaucracy for shoes, uniforms, equal pay and the right to bear arms. Shaw bribes a senior officer into allowing his men to fight in a skirmish, and quickly volunteers his men to lead a charge on the Confederate stronghold. Facing either certain death or the return to slavery, the men storm the ramparts, courageously quick-marching into a hail of Rebel grapeshot. Director Edward Zwick has created a big movie for a big moment in America's hidden history. -- Rita Kempley
R, 1990, 110 minutes, closed-captioned, RCA/Columbia Pictures, $89.95.
A swizzle stick with hair. Skyscraper hair. That's what Christopher Reid looks like as Kid, the teenage hero of Reginald Hudlin's hilariously fresh "House Party." This is hair that's hard to miss. It's a one-of-a-kind phenomenon, but then so is the movie. The teen genre hasn't exactly covered itself with glory, but "House Party" is a swinging exception to the rule. The film, which began with Hudlin's promise to friends that he'd make a picture about the parties they went to in high school, has a beguiling sweetness. Hudlin's style is loose and rhythmic; he keeps the gags coming and his energy up. Hudlin remains steadfastly faithful to the world of middle-class blacks he's set out to describe. His characters are the rarest breed of movie kids in existence -- black kids who tremble at the prospect of being grounded by their parents, who have curfews, who don't drink or do drugs and don't like it much when their friends do. It's infectious, watching these kids run through their teenage rituals, their dances, their raps, their lingo, all of which feel completely their own. Hudlin takes all of it seriously, but not too seriously. His cast, which down to its last member is remarkably assured, helps him greatly. As Kid, Reid is a kind of walking cartoon, but he has a nonchalant one-to-one rapport with the camera that even Bugs Bunny might envy. The lives of the people Hudlin puts on the screen are all the more enticing for having been left off of it for so long. "House Party" isn't a great movie, but it's heartfelt and enormously winning. -- Hal Hinson
Not rated, 1965, 170 minutes (two videocassettes), R5/S8 Presents, $79.95, letter-box format available, VHS only.
"Tokyo Olympiad," Kon Ichikawa's 1965 documentary on the 18th Olympic Games, is one of the most compelling records of sport on film, and as an expression of the mind of the athlete it is unsurpassed. The film's greatness lies in the director's ability to abandon the conventional big-game, crucial-moment approach of most sports movies and concentrate on the stories within the Games. Watching it, what we identify with most in the athletes isn't their superhumanness but their concentration, their extraordinary effort and their fallibility. It's a film in which the soundtrack emerges out of obscure, "found" noises, like those of flags slapping against their poles, and in which the cheers of the crowd seem distant, as if in the heat of the competition the athlete had somehow forgotten that he is not alone with his task. Ichikawa, like Leni Riefenstahl in her 1938 "Olympia," has a deep appreciation for the abstract beauty of bodies in motion, and he pays close attention to the pole vaulter's graceful arc as he lifts himself over the bar and to the patterns the swimmers make in the water. In this sense the film's not about sports at all -- it's about why sports interest us in the first place. The picture itself, which is available now in letter-box video format in its uncut form, was an epic undertaking, but in each event the director places the emphasis on finding the telling nuance that puts us inside the athlete's mind. What interests Ichikawa is the athletes' near-obsessive dedication, not their places in the final standings. But what he seems to appreciate in his subjects are control, execution, attention to technique -- precisely the virtues he displays in his own work. By plunging us into the action, Ichikawa creates a unique intimacy between athlete and audience. Even after countless hours of watching televised sports, the effect is revelatory. -- Hal Hinson
unrated, 1979, 177 minutes, in Italian with subtitles, Kultur, $39.95.
Mozart's "Don Giovanni" is widely considered the greatest of all operas, and certainly it is one of the most complex and ambiguous, open to a wide variety of interpretations. Joseph Losey's film, with its distinctive use of such visual symbols as masks, fire and water, is not the only way to present "Don Giovanni," but it is a good one. Musically, this is a fine performance, with Lorin Maazel conducting a cast that includes Ruggero Raimondi, Jose van Dam, Kiri Te Kanawa, Teresa Berganza and Kenneth Riegel, but it is equally notable for its scenic fluidity and its on-location use of neoclassical Italian architecture and landscapes, which give it solid visual advantages over videotaped stage performances. The standard of acting is also high for an international opera cast, making it usually as interesting to watch as to hear. -- Joseph McLellan
PG, 1989, 96 minutes, closed-captioned, HBO Video, $89.99.
The people responsible for "Shag," a friendly but slight comedy about a group of longtime girlfriends who head to the beach for a final post-graduation blowout, show something that's fairly rare these days -- a genuine delight in having gotten hold of their filmmaking equipment. If only this were all they needed. Directed by Zelda Barron, "Shag," which is set in South Carolina in 1963, runs mostly on youthful eagerness and nostalgia, and for people who spent their teenage years dancing and drinking and falling in love to beach music, the appeal may be great. But the picture is heartfelt and naive in ways that seem totally secondhand. The questions it asks -- This boy or that boy? Should I or shouldn't I? -- have been played out in countless other coming-of-age films, from "Where the Boys Are" to "Dirty Dancing." In bottom-line terms, "Shag" is about not dancing dirty. It's about teen love, not teen sex. Its main characters are Luanne (Page Hannah), Pudge (Annabeth Gish), Melaina (Bridget Fonda) and the group's unofficial leader, Carson (Phoebe Cates). Because Barron and her screenwriters -- Robin Swicord, Lanier Laney and Terry Sweeney -- can't dramatize their young characters' emotions, the dilemmas seem trivial, weightless. Gish and Scott Coffey, who plays the new friend whom she meets at the beach, bring a genuine innocence to their scenes, especially one in which they sit on the beach, answering a quiz about their sexual histories, and are so embarrassed they have to put towels over their heads. Fonda, on the other hand, contributes something more potent, something altogether her own. This icy blond actress -- daughter of Peter, niece of Jane -- has a startlingly confident camera presence. Fonda doesn't bother herself too much with creating a character; instead she creates an attitude that's pure, pouty lasciviousness. You never quite know what she's thinking, but you can bet it's naughty. -- Hal Hinson