In every sense, Thor needed a haircut. The Marvel movie universe—which, like the real universe, is pitiless and has no end—featured this character to passable effect in its Avengers movies and with lesser results in Thor’s starring vehicles. Something had to change, especially since a very funny actor, Chris Hemsworth, was visibly hamstrung by the Nordic gloom of his character.
A haircut—literally and figuratively—is exactly what Thor gets in Thor: Ragnarok, the latest Marvel thing. And like Samson in reverse, Thor thrives when his 1970s thrash-rock locks are shorn, finding new life as a comic character
One of the many beautiful women in the screenwriter’s life turns to him and says, “It’s time for you to tell me something interesting.” I suppose this line in Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups is included as a measure of the screenwriter’s empty world, his material success in Hollywood having come at the cost of spiritual blankness. But for a moment, the viewer might quicken to the possibility that something is going to happen in this movie—that the hero might say something definitive, or begin a story, or blurt out a need to visit the men’s room. But he will not, and the moment passes, as all the moments in the film pass—like sands through the hourglass, or tears in rain, or whatever other greeting-card profundity you want to offer.
The Price of Salt is a 1952 novel by Patricia Highsmith (using the pseudonym Claire Morgan) about a lesbian romance. It sold a lot of copies in an underground way, and must’ve had great subversive punch as both a tale about “a love that dare not speak its name” and one in which the gay protagonists were not subjected to either a straightening “cure” or guilt-ridden suicide. In 2015, that layer of illicit discovery is impossible for Todd Haynes’ movie adaptation to resurrect. The Portland-based director instead presents a period piece that presents its passions in impeccably designed scenes that contain remarkably few surprises.
The romance simmers between Therese (Rooney Mara), a department-store salesgirl with vague notions of becoming a photographer, and Carol (Cate Blanchett), an elegant lady currently divorcing her respectable husband (Kyle Chandler).
Blue Jasmine (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, On Demand) earned Cate Blanchett her sixth Oscar nomination and clearly she is a wonder in this film. Woody Allen reworks A Streetcar Named Desire‘s Blanche DuBois as a woman who remade herself into a Park Avenue socialite and is now adrift after her husband (Alec Baldwin) turned out to be a Madoff-like crook. Left with nothing but expensive tastes, an utterly self-absorbed personality, alcohol and pill abuse, and a nervous breakdown from which she has not completely recovered, she takes refuge with her working class sister (Sally Hawkins, also nominated this year) and her contractor boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale) without a shred of appreciation.
Woody is often sharp with character study and Jasmine is something else, but his portrait of San Francisco working class folk is less convincing and carried only by the strength of a typically excellent cast (it also co-stars Louis C. K., Andrew Dice Clay, Peter Sarsgaard and Michael Stuhlbarg) and an honesty and commitment that the socially poised rich of the film lack. But Blanchett is riveting as the unraveling, self-pitying socialite on the skids, drinking and popping Xanax until it lubricates her slide into denial.
Blu-ray and DVD both feature a 25-minute press conference with actor Cate Blanchett, Peter Sarsgaard and Andrew Dice Clay and a shorter promotional “Notes from the Red Carpet” featurette. No surprise, Allen makes no appearance in any of the supplements. The Blu-ray also features a bonus Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film.
Another Oscar nominee, Captain Phillips (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, On Demand) directed by Paul Greengrass and starring Tom Hanks (who was overlooked this year) as the captain of a cargo ship boarded by Somali pirates, arrives on disc and digital. The film picked up six nominations, including Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Actor in a Supporting Role for Barkhad Abdi, a Somali non-actor who made a vivid debut in the role of a pirate in a desperate situation. No review copy was made available before deadline so no notes on the extras.
The Prey (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD), a French crime thriller that goes for rough-and-tumble grit over slick Luc Besson spectacle, is a clever idea with a lazy script more concerned with creating fights, chase scenes, and escapes from police dragnets than in constructing anything resembling intelligent police work. Albert Dupontel has an appropriately scuffed-up quality as Franck, a hard-luck bank robber serving out the last months of a sentence for a success robbery, until he has to escape when he learns that his recently released religious-fanatic cellmate (Stéphane Debac) is actually a serial killer heading for his wife and child. Alice Taglioni is the tough-as-nails detective assigned to track him down as new evidence (planted by the real killer) implicates Franck in a string of unsolved murders.
It’s not as complicated as it sounds—it’s basically The Fugitive with a creepy psycho in place of the one-armed man and the life of a kidnapped child at stake—and Eric Valette delivers on the action if not on the intelligence of the cops (who would forget to stake out the suspect’s own home after he escapes prison?). Franck takes a beating beyond human endurance through it all, but as long as the momentum keeps up, and you can almost overlook the rampant clichés and the script’s glaring missteps. Almost. No surprise, it’s already been picked up for an American remake.