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
Guillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Peak(Universal, Blu-ray, DVD) has been described, incorrectly, as Gothic horror. This is Gothic romance with notes of horror, bathed in the unreal and magical colors of a giallo and brought to life by Guillermo Del Toro’s beating heart of compassion in the face of evil.
As lush and atmospheric a film as the American cinema has created in years, Crimson Peak stars Mia Wasikowska (whose wide eyes and open face evokes the gothic heroine incarnate) as a smart, passionate American heiress, the daughter of a self-made man (Jim Beaver as the model of paternal affection and American responsibility) and a writer with a romantic streak and an unsullied innocence, and Tom Hiddleston as the dashing suitor from overseas, a handsome aristocrat with a haunted soul whose mystery captures the American’s heart. His calculating sister (Jessica Chastain), however, who dresses in blood red and death black gowns that give her the spiky presence of a predatory insect, has all the warmth of vampire. Suddenly orphaned and swept away to the desolate hinterlands of rural England, she moves into the most haunted manor you’ve ever seen in the movies, a rotting mansion that lets the snow and rain and bitter cold in through the collapsed spire of the roof and literally bleeds red through the floorboards and down the walls. That it is explained away as a geological phenomenon, the churning red clay of hill seeping into the house as it sinks into the hill, doesn’t make it any less ominous. It’s the seeping of that same clay into the winter snows that gives the hill its name.
Only Lovers Left Alive(Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) is the richest film that Jim Jarmusch has made in some time. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are the eternal lovers Eve and Adam, vampire soulmates who have become disenchanted with a world that the zombie inhabitants (their word for humans) are blithely poisoning. They are sophisticates, sensualists, artists, beings who find their greatest pleasure in one another, and Jarmusch suggests that they have evolved to a kind of elemental form, pure beings who revere art and beauty and just happen to need to feed on human blood to survive. The problem is that human blood is also being poisoned, which makes the pure “good stuff” a kind of rare wine that is saved and shared sparingly.
Swinton and Hiddleston bring both a grace and ennui to the screen, suggesting centuries of experience by their very presence, yet the joy they give one another enlivens the mournful tone of their nocturnal existence. In contrast to their languorous sensibilities is Eve’s sister, a wild child played by Mia Wasikowska with an insatiable appetite and an instinct for chaos, while John Hurt is the dying elder, poisoned by the world around him. Read the reviews here.
I did not receive a review copy but the discs should have a behind-the-scenes featurette and deleted and extended scenes.
A Brony Tale (Virgil, DVD, Digital VOD) offers a gentle entry into the very real “Brony” phenomenon: adult fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, a group that is overwhelmingly male, heterosexual and unashamed of their love of a cartoon about pastel-colored talking horses designed for little girls. Our guide through this world is Canadian voice actress and singer Ashleigh Ball, who provides the voices of two little ponies in the current incarnation of the series, Apple Jack and Rainbow Dash. “The pervert alarm, for sure, went off in my head,” she says when she first learned about the subculture, and she takes a tour to investigate the phenomenon on her way to Bronycon 2012 in Manhattan, where she’s been invited as a guest of honor.
If you are expecting some kind of freak show, you’ll be in for a surprise. Director Brent Hodge is a friend of Ball and frames the film through her perspective and experience, which works because she’s a sincere, serious, likable young woman who finds that the Brony phenomenon is far more positive and affirming than surface appearances might suggest. The spokesmen for the Bronies (mostly men, which in this case is representative of the culture at large, though a few women are represented as well) make a fine case for themselves and celebrate the values of the series in their own lives. When we get to the Iraq vet and former artist who was lifted out of his depression and inspired to draw again because of his engagement with the series, you don’t feel like making fun of any of these fans anymore. A Brony Tale isn’t deep or probing but neither is it sarcastic or dismissive.
The DVD features director commentary, the featurette “The Many Voices of Ashleigh Ball” (which basically expands a sequence from the film where Ball performs the voices of her various cartoon gigs), a brief photo-shoot and an acoustic performance by Ball, whose band Hey Ocean! provides the film’s soundtrack.
Given the subject matter—centuries-old vampires, decaying places, boredom with immortality—Only Lovers Left Alive might easily be a dreary slog through genre territory. Instead, Jim Jarmusch’s new film is full-bodied and sneaky-funny, a catalog of his trademark interests yet a totally fresh experience. It’s his best since Dead Man (1995), stirring evidence that the longtime indie darling is back as an expressive force.
Our two principal vampires begin the movie in different parts of the world. Eve (Tilda Swinton) is a denizen of Tangier, where she slouches around the atmospheric streets at night. Here Jarmusch creates an entire imagined city from a few well-chosen shots of plaza, wall, and a cafe called the Thousand and One Nights. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) lives in Detroit, where he creates arty rock music and collects guitars. Adam needs Eve, so she joins him for sessions of nocturnal prowling (daylight must be avoided, so she sticks to red-eye flights).
The Deep Blue Sea (Music Box), adapted from Terence Rattigan’s play by Terence Davies, is ravishing and devastating, a romantic drama of impossible love between the cultured married woman (Rachel Weisz) and a hot-tempered working class war veteran (Tom Hiddleston) in the years after World War II.
The film slips back and forth through the story, as if “drifting in and out of memory” (as Davies describes it in his commentary), and the grace of his filmmaking enhances that quality of floating through her story, both in the moment of intimacy and looking back in hindsight. Davies connects on a deep, devoted level to Hester (Weisz), a woman who clearly married young to a much older man (Simon Russell Beale), a very proper judge from the aristocratic classes and old money. She only realizes how much she has missed out on the swooning ecstasy of love and passion and sex when her heart is carried away by Freddie (Hiddleston), a former RAF bomber pilot struggling to find his place in the post-war world.
All this is suggested rather than explicated as we tour her odyssey, which begins at her lowest, most desperate moment and drifts back on her tumultuous emotional journey. She very much likes her husband, a decent and affectionate and generous man, but she is brought to life by Freddie. Even when it is clear that any permanent relationship between them is doomed (their experiences are simply too different for their characters to bridge), she never wavers: love over compromise, even at the cost of such pain. Davies embraces her story as both tragic and liberating.
This is Davies’ first fictional film in over a decade, since the magnificent “The House of Mirth,” and he seems to have invested every frame of the film with his exhilaration of making movies once again as well as a bittersweet quality of regret for the films he never made. His direction is loving, intimate, and exquisite.
Davies is sensitive to the texture of British films as they looked in the 1950s and uses filters and delicate, soft lighting to achieve a specific look. Unfortunately, the digital mastering doesn’t handle the effects well, exaggerating the grain of the film stock and distorting the texture. The colors and tones shift from scene to scene and there’s a haze across the image in many shots. This may not be a problem for many viewers and it is only a distraction on some scenes, but to my eyes it is not true to the image as seen in theaters.
On Blu-ray and DVD with supplements. Terence Davies is joined by Ian Haden-Smith (taking the moderator role) for a lovely commentary track, where Davies discusses his approach and choices. Though the track has a habit of going silent for long periods toward the second half, it is filled with Davies’ affection not just for the film but the contributions of his collaborators (“You can’t direct that!” he gushes at particularly inspired nuances of performance). His love of making movies and the power of cinema is evident in every comment.
Also features a 28-minute “Terence Davies Master Class” lecture about his adaptation and approach to the film, the 11-minute “Realizing the Director’s Vision” with Davies and collaborators discuss the making of the film, and interviews with actors Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston, plus an accompanying booklet with essays by producer Sean O’Connor and film critic Scott Tobias.