Finally, a week of home entertainment releases to get excited about! With one modern blockbuster and two major sets of reissues out this week, your wallets and purses will likely be empty for weeks to come. Read on for the details.
What It's About: Based on the Marvel Comics long-running action hero, 'Thor' follows the Norse god of thunder as he's cast out of the realm of Asgard to Earth, where he must do penance for going against the wishes of his father. On Earth -- lacking his super powers -- Thor teams up with astrophysicist Jane Foster and her mentor Dr. Erik Selvig, to stay one step ahead of the special agents of the secret government agency S.H.I.E.L.D., retrieve his cast-out hammer and his powers, and stop his evil brother Loki, who wants to become the new ruler of Asgard.
It's Kinda Like: 'Superman' meets 'Hamlet' and 'Richard III'
What We Say: Director Kenneth Branagh thankfully imbues 'Thor's' comic book father-son/sibling rivalry with a Shakespearean sensibility that helps anchor this blockbuster's fabulous action sequences and special effects. (The CGI realm of Asgard is some of the best "set design" we've seen in a long, long time.) He knows how to move the story fiercely ahead from beginning to end -- with hardly a dull moment. Hunk Chris Hemsworth -- the centerpiece of this adventure, eclipsing love interest Natalie Portman (whose awe, wonder and googly-eyed lust for Thor is right out of a Disney high school musical) and Stellan Skarsgard (who apparently took too much valium for his role as a doubting scientist) -- is perfect as Thor, who arrives on Earth with godly arrogance only to discover how much humanity he really has inside. Anthony Hopkins puts in his regular duty as Thor's papa Odin, and Tom Hiddleston is a perfect, weaselly evil brother/villain. All in all, a popcorn-munching, fun outing.
• Extras: Commentary by director Kenneth Branagh, four deleted scenes, featurettes. Also available in Blu-ray 3D.
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'Citizen Kane Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray'
Why the Release?: This year marks the 70th anniversary (May 1941) of 'Citizen Kane' (voted the No. 1 film of all time by the American Film Institute), meaning it's the .perfect time for Warner Home Video to bring the classic out of the vault with an all new 1080p hi-definition restoration from original nitrate elements in 4K resolution and revitalized digital audio. They've packed the film in a black and white box with a 48-page collector's book filled with photos and behind-the-scenes details, a 20-page reproduction of the original 1941 souvenir program, five one-sheet lobby cards, and 10 reproductions of rare production memos and correspondence. The three-disc set also includes the 1995 documentary 'The Battle Over Citizen Kane' and the 1999 telefilm 'RKO 281,' about the making of 'Kane.'
New Special Features: The original DVD release included two commentaries, one by Peter Bogdanovich and one by Roger Ebert, as well as storyboards, call sheets, still photography, the ad campaign, a press book, the film's premiere and trailer. This set adds a couple of five-minute interviews with Ruth Warrick (the actress who played Kane's first wife) and Robert Wise (the film's editor and future director of 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture,' 'West Side Story,' etc.).
Is It Worth Upgrading?: The image is breathtaking and the sound superb; if you own a Blu-ray player you must run out and buy this edition and sell your old copy on e-Bay. (Warner is also releasing a remastered DVD version for those lacking Blu-ray capability.) Unless you have a 35mm projector and a mint print, you won't get better reproduction. The boxed souvenirs are a plus. The set carries a $79.89 price tag but is for sale for $55.99 at Amazon.
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'Star Wars: The Complete Saga (Episodes I-VI) Blu-ray'
Why the Release?: With home video sales suffering, and the holiday season fast approaching, George Lucas has taken it upon himself to boost the DVD/Blu-ray industry with the release of the complete 'Star Wars' saga on Blu-ray. Either that, or this is just an arbitrary release date to prepare everyone for the next round of 'Star Wars' reissues, which begins in February 2012 with the re-release of 'Episode I' in 3D, followed by the other five movies, and then their Blu-ray equivalents.
New Special Features: In addition to all the bonus features from previous DVDs of the series, this set adds deleted, extended and alternate scenes; concept art; interviews; featurettes galore; 'A Conversation With the Masters: The Empire Strikes Back 30 Years Later," a 25-minute piece with Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Lawrence Kasdan and John Williams looking back on the making of the film; and 'Star Wars Spoofs,' a 91-minute mashup of spoofs and parodies of the sci-fi series, including clips from 'Family Guy,' 'The Simpsons,' 'How I Met Your Mother' and more, plus Weird Al Yankovic's music video tribute to 'The Phantom Menace' set to 'American Pie.'
Is It Worth Upgrading?: Despite the fact that Lucas has received heavy drubbing for altering several scenes in the films -- the most notorious: Adding audio to the scene at the end of 'Return of the Jedi,' when Darth Vader throws Emperor Palpatine down a shaft; in the original, Vader was silent, but now he cries out "No!" -- there's other changes, too. CGI versions of Yoda and the Ewoks, audio changes for Obi-Wan Kenobi's Krayt Dragon howl when he rescues Luke Skywalker from a Tusken Raider attack, and probably more tinkers here and there. Die-hard 'Star Wars' fans are sure to gobble up the set -- even with its steep price tag of $139.99 (though Amazon is selling is for $79.99 with free shipping, quite reasonable for nine discs). Available this Friday.
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Other September 13 Blu-ray Debuts:
- 'The Count of Monte Christo' (2002)
'My Life as a Dog' (1985)
- 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' (2000)
'The Tempest' (2010)
- '3 Women' (1977)
Other New September 13 DVD Releases:
- 'Conan O'Brien Can't Stop': After a much–publicized departure from hosting NBC's "Tonight Show," O'Brien hit the road with a 32-city music-and-comedy show. The "Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour" was O'Brien's answer to a contractual stipulation that banned his appearance on television, radio and the Internet for six months following his last show.
- 'Hesher': An anarchistic slacker (Joseph Gordon Levitt) squats in the garage of a young man (Devin Brochu) and his father (Rainn Wilson) who are grief-stricken by the loss of their mother/wife; soon the long-haired, tattooed Hesher becomes a fixture in the household and, like a force of nature, shakes the family out of their grief and helps them embrace life once more.
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- 'Incendies': When their mother dies, twins Jeanne and Simon discover they have a brother they didn't know existed, and are shocked to find that the father they thought was dead is still alive; the pair travel to the Middle East to unravel the mystery.
- 'Meek's Cutoff': Revisionist, minimalist Western tracks a group of settlers in 1845 on the Oregon Trail, who split off (for no given reason) from the main wagon train, hire dubious mountain man Stephen Meek to guide them over the Cascade Mountains, and proceed to get lost in the high plain desert. This is a Western like none you've ever seen: Instead of using the panoramic desert as an exhilarating metaphor for the boundless wide open spaces and endless possibilities for the settlers of the American West, director Kelly Reichardt turns the open spaces into a prison encapsulating all the pain and suffering of an arduous pioneer journey, making the viewer feel and understand the anger and confusion of the lost settlers. Stars Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Will Patton, Zoe Kazan, Paul Dano, Shirley Henderson.
- 'True Legend': Directed by Woo-ping Yuen and starring Vincent Zhao, Andy On, Michelle Yeoh, Jay Chou and David Carradine in his final screen performance. Ex-warrior Su Can's (Vincent Zhao) respectable life as a kung-fu teacher is obliterated when his vengeful brother, Yuan (Andy On), returns from war armed with the deadly Five Venom Fists. Weakened but not destroyed, Su Can learns a never-before-seen form of martial arts: the Drunken Fist. Armed with this new power, he returns home to honor his family through retribution by taking on his brother in a battle to the death. Amazing action sequences and special effects -- and the distinct fighting styles of Woo-ping Yuen -- makes this one a notch above most period martial arts epics. The opening battle scene in a mountain fortress is incredibly intense and exciting and over the top. Watch an exclusive clip:
Check out more September 13 DVD releases at OnVideo.