Coolest extra: “The Road To The Avengers” featurette (DVD); “Marvel One-Shot: The Consultant” featurette (Blu-ray only)
Complex says: Heading into the summer movie season, Thor was Marvel Comics’ biggest wild card. X-Men: First Class had the franchise familiarity, and Captain America: The First Avenger benefitted from a recognizable star (Chris Evans) and years of outspoken fan support. Thor, on the other hand, has never been as identifiable in the mainstream as its company’s other long-running titles; furthermore, director Kenneth Branagh had the dangerous task of executing intergalactic landscapes and human drama in equal measure. The fact that the guy playing Thor, Aussie newcomer Chris Hemsworth, was an unknown at the time was the least of Branagh’s problems.
As it turns out, though, Hemsworth is the director’s saving grace. As the Norse God of Thunder, the diesel rookie owns the screen, generating charisma in moments of dialogue-driven character development and persuasive brawn whenever Thor knuckles up. He’s the film’s anchor, leading an all-around solid cast through the summer’s best comic book movie not co-starring Michael Fassbender; Tom Hiddleston, as Thor’s brother turned villain Loki, is also a revelation, though, on the flipside, Natalie Portman is a non-factor as Thor’s token love interest. Her scenes distract Branagh from what he does best: stage familial drama with Shakespearean aplomb. Thor’s power struggle between its titular hero and Loki isn’t exactly Hamlet, but its story is stronger than most superhero movie origins.
Buy it now: Thor
Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop
Coolest extra: Commentary with Conan O’Brien (DVD/Blu-ray)
Complex says: Team Coco, it’s time to admit the truth: Our redheaded pal’s new late night show, the TBS-backed Conan, isn’t all that good. As a host, Conan O’Brien is, obviously still ten times funnier than Jay Leno, yet the gonzo irreverence of his old NBC program, Late Night With Conan O’Brien is a thing of the past—where’s the Masturbating Bear when we need him? The answer comes in Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, the candid and highly entertaining documentary that follows O’Brien from his near-depression, in the wake of losing his Tonight Show job last year, to the end of his Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television road show tour.
The Masturbating Bear, like several other Late Night characters, is the property of NBC. And, like O’Brien’s biggest fans, the talk show veteran grieved over the loss. In Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, director Rodman Flender captures the heartache in ways that O’Brien’s fans would otherwise have never seen; cracking self-deprecating jokes, his post-NBC pains are apparent throughout the film, a documentary that works better as an honest look at a celebrity whose only way to cope with sadness is to get back into the spotlight. For O’Brien, the roars of crowds and attention are like drugs: He realizes that abusing the fixes too much is bad, but he can’t fight the urge to indulge, i.e., take any time off.
Buy it now: Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop
The Silent House
Coolest extra: None available (DVD)
Complex says: As a technical exercise, the Uruguayan spook-show The Silent House (La Casa Muda) is a must-see. The film’s ambitious first-time director, Gustavo Hernandez, presents it as one long, edit-free 78-minute take; think the magnificent finale of Children Of Men, only less superb. Never leaving actress Florencia Colucci’s side, Hernandez shadows her around a creepy old cottage where an evil spirit might be present, loud noises reverberate from upstairs, and the tension never lets up.
What a downer, then, that screenwriter Oscar Estevez drops the ball during the movie’s third act, wrapping the plot up in a suffocating, python-like twist that’s High Tension bad. It’s one of those inexplicable reveals that undermines everything that came before it and leaves the viewer scratching his or her head with one hand and flipping the bird toward the screen with the other.
An American remake, starring the youngest Olsen sister, Martha Marcy May Marlene powerhouse Elizabeth Olsen, is already in the can and set for a first quarter 2012 release; hopefully they’ve scrapped the ending of Hernandez’s film and done something that’s, you know, not a confusing mess. They’d also be wise to study Hernandez’s sure-handed direction, because, in spite of its narrative flaws, The Silent House is still one of the year’s most unsettling flicks.
Buy it now: The Silent House
Coolest extra: Cast and crew interviews (DVD/Blu-ray)
Complex says: File this one under “When Bad Movies Happen To Good Actors.” Giving it his best, Joseph Gordon-Levitt marauds through the independent coming-of-age pic Hesher with the brashness and vileness of a tornado scored by Anthrax; he plays a long-haired, shirtless slacker who forces his way into the life of a damaged youngster (an impressive Devin Brochu) whose mother recently died in a car accident. The problem is, director and co-writer Spencer Susser’s feature debut never chooses one distinct tone: Is it a dark comedy? A sad look at adolescence? A psychological mind-fuck?
In the end, it’s none of the above. Hesher doesn’t earn its laughs, even though Gordon-Levitt’s timing with deadpan profanity does salvage a few scenes, but the film’s overall coldness and mean-spirited vibe overshadows all of its levity. And when the script busts its ass and falls into a ridiculously sentimental ending involving characters pushing a casket down a street, in a sign of father-and-son unification, Hesher is finally able to muster up some laughs—just not the kind that Susser desired.