On DVD & Blu-ray, 9/13/11: ‘Thor,’ ‘Meek’s Cutoff,’ More

THOR (DVD/Two-Disc Blu-ray,  DVD & Digital Combo/Three-Disc Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD & Digital Combo)

The penultimate pre-Avengers Marvel franchise hit like a thunderbolt! Well, a severe summer shower at least. Chris Hemsworth (Papa Kirk from Abrams’ Star Trek) plays the titular Thunder God, an impetuous and brash young warrior eager to earn the respect of his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Instead, he reignites a war with his people’s ancient enemies the Frost Giants, and finds himself exiled, penitent and powerless, to Earth. There’s a rushed romance with a sexy scientist (Natalie Portman); a fun but sadly bloodless battle to reclaim his birthright Mjolnir, the literal hammer of the gods; and a final showdown with his half-brother, the once and future God of Mischief. But the real highlights of the film aren’t the action set pieces: Hemsworth is a joy, with the muscles and the cocky but charming smirk; Hopkins chews the scenery appropriately, adding to the Shakespearean vibe director Kenneth Branagh was aiming for; and Tom Hiddleston as Loki steals the show with his wounded-little-boy-in-the-body-of-a-god routine. My earlier review was perhaps a bit glowing for what is probably just a good-not-great summer popcorn film…but then perhaps not. I look forward to watching it again and seeing if the ol’ Asgardian magic can still enchant me like it did before. Paul Smith

(Originally reviewed by Paul and myself in “The Hammer Is His Penis.” Like Paul, I also wrote a review for the blog.)

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On DVD & Blu-Ray, 6/7/11: ‘Breaking Bad,’ ‘True Grit,’ More

BREAKING BAD: The Complete Third Season (DVD/Blu-ray)

Breaking Bad‘s terrific second season was tightly plotted ahead of time, with ample foreshadowing throughout. For the show’s third season, however, creator Vince Gilligan and his writers turned into expert jazz players, improvising every note, changing rhythm, and exploring all sorts of new grooves. Gilligan and Co. repeatedly force science-teacher-turned-methmaker Walt and his junkie partner Jesse into corners there’s seemingly no way they’ll get out of; and the creative team had no idea if they could either, until they started writing the next episode. An approach like this could easily have been disastrous, but instead makes for one of the all-time great seasons of television. The jagged, frayed chemistry between Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul makes for the best duo on TV, both giving fierce performances. Stand-out episodes in a stand-out season include “One Minute,” with an intense set piece for the ages; “Fly,” which takes place entirely in the lab, examining Walt and Jesse’s relationship; and “Full Measure,” the epic season finale. Extras include commentaries by Gilligan and the cast; and a number of featurettes. 

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Don Draper Will Have Existential Problems for at Least Two More Seasons

Mad Men fans, rejoice! In recent weeks, the show’s future seemed up in the air as talks between network American Movie Classics and creator Matthew Weiner seemed on the brink of collapsing due to the kind of ordinary Hollywood bullshit negotiating that derails many a project. AMC wanted two cast members cut and more product placement; Weiner wanted neither, plus more money. Weiner even decided to take a ski vacation during negotiations, and just as he hit the slopes, AMC announced that Mad Men would officially return for a fifth season in 2012. Though they didn’t say as much, the implication was clear: “We can get all mad about men with or without you, Weiner.”

Though popular shows changing showrunners isn’t abnormal, Weiner occupies a rarified position among showrunners. He doesn’t just run the show, he is its creative voice. It would be like Buffy the Vampire Slayer without Joss Whedon, or The Sopranos without David Chase. In fact, for the last two seasons of Buffy, Marti Noxon was the showrunner–which some cite as the reason for those seasons’ relative weaknesses–but Whedon was still involved, and his voice and guidance was evident in every major plot twist or character development. What almost happened with Mad Men is that Weiner wouldn’t have been involved at all; not to be hyperbolic, but it would have been like removing Orson Welles from Citizen Kane three-quarters of the way through and replacing him with, say, Frank Capra. That’s not to say the movie still wouldn’t have been decent, but the ending would have been markedly different and it certainly wouldn’t be revered as possibly the greatest film ever made. In essence, we would have seen an ending to a story about the people of Mad Men, but not the ending to the story we’ve been watching for the last few years.

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Top 100 Characters in Modern Pop Culture: #40-31

On last night’s show, Paul and I continued our countdown of the Top 100 Characters in Modern Pop Culture with #s 40-31. Be sure to listen to the show for our full run-downs, but here are some choice excerpts:

#40

PAUL: Jesse Custer (Preacher)

He’s a good ol’ Southern boy, with a hard-drinking work ethic and a code of honor that he follows to an almost fundamentalist extreme.

AJ: The Joker (DC Comics)

Though the Joker is frightening on his own, as has been explored in many comics and filmic adaptations, he would mean nothing without the Batman. He is Batman reflected through a funhouse mirror, living to terrorize and provoke Gotham City as much as Batman exists solely to protect it and keep watch over it.

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DVD Review: ‘Make Way for Tomorrow’

Article first published as DVD Review: Make Way for Tomorrow on Blogcritics.

Director: Leo McCarey
Writer: Viña Delmar, based on the novel The Years Are So Long by Josephine Lawrence and a play by Helen Leary and Noah Leary

For some reason, in our society, we are taught—if not by instruction, then by example—to discard the old. We are solely interested in the new, in the present, what is happening right now. Often, our obsessions or our problems have evaporated in a year or two, but no matter. Elderly people are relegated to nursing homes. The young are worshiped. Just try to get a bunch of kids to watch a movie from the 1940’s and see what happens (now that 80’s movies are being remade, it’s getting to the point where anything from before the mid-90’s is considered a relic). What we often neglect to remember is that one day we ourselves will be old, and then we’ll be on the outside looking in.

This is where Barkley and Lucy Cooper (Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi) find themselves. They are in their 70’s, and the bank has foreclosed on their house. Barkley hasn’t worked in four years, and “with everything goin’ out, and nothin’ coming in, I couldn’t keep up the payments.” They’ve gathered together their children to inform them that their home is no longer their home; they were given six months to move out, but the six months are up this Tuesday. The children, led by George (Thomas Mitchell), immediately start trying to devise a plan, but they aren’t wealthy and they don’t have much extra space in their own homes. Finally, a solution is hit upon: Lucy will stay with George, his wife Anita (Fay Bainter), and their teenage daughter Rhoda (Barbara Read); and Barkley will stay with Cora (Elisabeth Risdon) and her husband Bill (Ralph Remley) in New York City. They’ll be 300 miles apart, but it won’t be forever, right?

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