WALK PROUDLY, CARRY A HUGE HAMMER—One of the most recent Marvel Comics adaptations, Thor brings the Americanized version of the Norse Thunder God to life with lavish sets and eye-popping effects. Chris Hemsworth boldly embodies the battle hungry title character who defies the orders of his father Odin and instigates a potential war with old enemies. Thus he is cast down to earth without his powers to learn to be worthy of his noble stature, leaving Asgard prey to his twisted brother Loki’s megalomaniacal dreams and alliance with evil frost giants. During his earthly trials, Thor meets up with and falls for Jane Foster (played by Natalie Portman)—whose role has been upgraded from nurse to scientist as Thor’s human alter ego, Dr. Donald Blake, has been removed from the story—while he finds a way to return to Asgard to stop Loki’s terrible schemes. As superhero fantasy, Thor is loads of fun (thanks partly to Kenneth Branagh’s assured direction), with a protagonist who learns something and with characters you actually care about, something that DC competitor Green Lantern did not pull off so well. This movie will undoubtedly look kickass on Blu-ray.
FORECLOSURE BY FEAR—It’s always a good idea to check out a house fully before you buy it. Of course, a small thing like a deranged killer inhabiting the dark corners of your basement should not be too difficult of a problem to overcome, and that’s what the Boyle family contend with then they move into a spooky old New England house. One of the late director Lucio Fulci’s better efforts that is part of an unofficial “Gates Of Hell” trilogy that includes City Of The Living Dead and The Beyond (two insanely fun and gruesome zombie movies), The House By The Cemetery serves up plenty of gore and weirdness for fans of ‘80s slashers along with the surreal feeling that comes from watching a movie whose dialogue tracks were recorded in post-production. (That was common in Italian cinema back then.) As the DVD reissues lean on bonus features, the Blu-ray extras include plenty of new cast and crew interviews and a deleted scene. Frightfully awesome.
DARTH IN HI-DEF—The long-awaited reissue of both Star Wars trilogies on Blu-ray has drawn the expected cheers and also jeers of fan outrage over bonus features that could have come out on DVD (like deleted scenes) and new, unnecessary tweaks (like blinking Ewoks, and Darth Vader inexplicably screaming “Nooooo” as the Emperor tries to kill Luke in Return Of The Jedi). But the sets come with some classy, book-like packaging and a plethora of cool extras, including deleted scenes, new interviews and early art for characters and props that show how the vision for the original films evolved during the pre-production process. (Hey, you have to offer people more for their money than just an HD upgrade.) It’s easy to see how fans get upset over new changes—although I had no problem with the changes made for the 1997 theatrical reissues—and it would be nice to have the original trilogy remastered and reissued for the hardcore devotees who want it. But you know you’re going to buy this one anyway. And the horny teenager in me appreciates Princess Leia’s slave girl outfit in HD.
THE SON YOU NEVER WANTED TO HAVE—Thirteen-year-old TJ has been having a series of tough breaks. His mother was killed in an auto accident, leaving his emotionally crippled father a pill-popping mess. The adult cashier he has a crush on is too old for him, and he gets picked on at school. Then a twentysomething long-haired dude named Hesher—who seemingly lives to blast Metallica in his van, smoke weed and pull of all sorts of crazy stunts like lighting a car on fire and regularly spewing out vulgar remarks—decides to move in with him, his father and his grandmother. Or more appropriately, becomes a squatter in their garage while they treat him like one of their own. Director/co-writer Scott Susser wanted to create an unusual cinematic meditation on death and how we react to it, and the titular character with the hidden past becomes a symbol for TJ’s id as well as the inner caveman his father needs to get in touch with; he alternates between being an anarchistic prick and a fountain of crass wisdom. Hesher does not look for easy answers to any of the characters’ problems, nor does it offer a pat lesson in redemption, but it offers uncomfortable life lessons that might not necessarily sit well with you, but which ring of truth. By the way, if you want to watch Joseph-Gordon Levitt, Natalie Portman and Rainn Wilson play against type, this is your movie.
POSTAL SERVICE BLUES—One of the reasons I enjoy British television is that they can work with lower budgets than their American counterparts and often create more memorable characters and stories. Such is the case with Going Postal, a three-hour adaptation of the same novel from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld saga. This quirky fantasy tale revolves around a con man (oddly named Moist von Lipwig) who gets busted after defrauding hundreds of people and creating a major financial crisis. He has two choices: Face death by hanging or re-open the defunct post office, which has been shuttered because a Jules Verne-ish invention called the Clax has made communication that much faster and less cumbersome. But the owner of the Clax is a sleazy businessman who is being lax while reaping in big profits. Following in the path of four Postmasters who died in unfortunate circumstances, Moist’s new endeavor is an unintended path to redemption that takes many complicated twists and turns, with a rich tapestry of characters to accompany him. Originally published in 2004, the story is very timely considering the U.S. Post Office is teetering on the brink of collapse in the Internet era. At any rate, how can you lose with an offbeat Victorian-style story that includes a haunted post office, a parole officer golem named Mr. Pump and a creepy vampire?
SIMBA ROARS AGAIN—I’m not a big fan of animated animals, but seeing underhanded lion Scar (Jeremy Irons) and his kingly brother Mufasa (James Earl Jones) spar is fun. The Lion King is certainly darker than some Disney fare, with Scar tricking Mufasa’s son (and heir to the throne) Simba into thinking he is responsible for his father’s death in a wildebeest stampede. With Simba running into exile and abandoning his family and people, Scar takes over the Pride Lands with this hyena minions. Not cool. But hey, you know a big confrontation is brewing. Retroactively turned into a 3D feature, The Lion King still possesses the emotional resonance it had upon its original release. Most of the musical numbers, however, I can live without.
A LITTLE BIT MORE OF MOORE—Famed guitarist Gary Moore died of a heart attack earlier this year at the young age of 58, but his stellar playing continues to shake the world. The last recorded concert performance by the veteran solo artist and former Thin Lizzy axeman, Gary Moore – Live At Montreux 2010, captures the man returning to his rock roots after two decades of wailing the blues. Featuring many classic tunes from his ‘80s rock heyday—”Over The Hills And Far Away,” “Out In The Fields,” the Phil Lynott-penned cover “Military Man”—as well as three new songs, this live DVD shows that Moore could still snarl away on his electric guitar with gusto. While behind the mic he just closed his eyes and sang without too much movement, his spirited bandmate, keyboardist/guitarist Neil Carter, infused the stage with extra energy. Live At Montreux is a good post-humous release for Moore fans.