Thor: Love and Thunder

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 9/27/22;
Disney/Marvel;
Sci-Fi Fantasy Action;
Box Office $ 343.15 million;
$29.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $43.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language, some suggestive material and partial nudity.
Stars Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Christian Bale, Taika Waititi, Russell Crowe.

Imagine a story that tackles subjects such as cancer, religious fundamentalism and child endangerment, tied together by a tongue-in-cheek intergalactic Viking adventure, and you’ll get some sense of the wacky roller coaster ride that is Thor: Love and Thunder.

Taika Waititi returns to the director’s chair after injecting his signature irreverence into 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok, and tries to make Love and Thunder a similarly breezy, lighthearted romp. However, the darker themes this time around end up clashing with an abundance of jokes and situational humor, leading to some jarring tonal shifts as the film progresses through its various plot points. Then again, the guy who won an Oscar for writing a movie about a German boy who has Hitler as an imaginary friend probably thought he could pull it off. Or maybe he just felt like making a two-hour video tribute to his favorite band, Guns N’ Roses.

To be fair, the degree the film works at all can be attributed to Waititi’s skills as a storyteller and his ability to keep such disparate elements from spinning out of control. It certainly has its moments and the cast seems to have had a good time making it. However, the biggest strength of the film is not its story but its visual splendor. Thor: Love and Thunder looks spectacular, from colorful costumes to and exotic locales, to a surrealist black-and-white realm of shadows and monsters (which were designed by the children of the filmmakers, according to Waititi).

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Picking up from where we last saw him in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been traveling with the Guardians of the Galaxy, but finds himself consumed with self-doubt.

He gets a chance to snap back into action when he learns that deities throughout the universe are being slaughtered by Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), who declares his next target will be the Asgardian refugees now living on Earth.

Upon his return, Thor learns that his former love, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), has now gained her own Thor powers thanks to a newfound ability to wield his old hammer. Her transformation into “Mighty Thor” temporarily protects her from stage four cancer, but also negates any treatments her mortal self is receiving, so the illness becomes more aggressive each time she transforms back.

When he can’t defeat the combined forces of the two Thors, Gorr ends up kidnapping the children of Asgard. So Thor, Jane, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Korg (Waititi) embark on a mission to enlist the help of Zeus (Russell Crowe), free the children and defeat Gorr once and for all.

It’s definitely the kind of plot that makes more sense to those who have been enmeshed in the MCU for a while. The screenplay adapts a few different story arcs from the “Thor” comics, so reaction to the film may tend to vary based on the viewers’ familiarity with the source material — those who just follow the MCU versions of the characters might enjoy it more, as hardcore fans of the comics usually get more annoyed by changes made in translating a story from page to screen.

Of course, even from the perspective of the continuing adventures of Thor and his supporting cast in the movies, things feel a bit off. It’s nice to see an attempt at resolving the Thor/Jane relationship after she was absent in Ragnarok, and the New Asgard scenes have some fun references in them. But the ending feels like it was constructed in order to fulfill a number of contractual obligations to most of the main actors.

Love and Thunder is a bit of a milestone for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as Thor becomes the first character to score a fourth solo movie. But as the 29th MCU film, it continues the franchise’s general malaise since Endgame, meandering through an undefined bigger picture while the most-lasting impact of recent entries has been the introduction of numerous children and young adult heroes to seemingly serve as the next-generation of the Avengers when the storylines eventually come to a head again.

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The Love and Thunder Blu-ray includes a standard set of bonus materials (The 4K disc has no extras on its own — they are contained on the regular Blu-ray in the combo pack).

The highlight is a commentary track from Waititi, who reveals all sorts of fun information about the film and kicks up the hijinks when he’s joined by his two young daughters.

Behind-the-scenes information is also presented in three short featurettes: the eight-minute “Another Classic Taika Adventure,” about Waititi’s return to the franchise; the six-minute “Shaping a Villain,” about Bale’s performance; and the five-and-a-half-minute “Hammer-Worthy: Thor and Mighty Thor,” about Portman’s return, and her and Hemsworth’s preparations for the physicality of their roles.

In addition, there are four deleted scenes that run just under eight minutes in total that provide some additional if superfluous context for scenes that are in the final film.

Rounding out the extras is a three-minute gag reel.

Apple Orders Limited Series ‘Lady in the Lake’ Starring Natalie Portman and Lupita Nyong’o

Apple has given a straight-to-series order for “Lady in the Lake,” a new limited series that will co-star Academy Award winners Natalie Portman and Lupita Nyong’o.

The series is directed and co-written by Alma Har’el. Dre Ryan, who will co-create and co-write the series with Har’el, will write the pilot.

“Lady in the Lake” is an adaptation of Laura Lippman’s New York Times best-selling novel of the same name. The series takes place in 1960s Baltimore, where an unsolved murder pushes housewife and mother Maddie Schwartz (Portman) to reinvent her life as an investigative journalist and sets her on a collision course with Cleo Sherwood (Nyong’o), a hard-working woman juggling motherhood, many jobs and a passionate commitment to advancing Baltimore’s Black progressive agenda.

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“Lady in the Lake” marks Natalie Portman’s first foray into television, as well as Alma Har’el’s first television project. Har’el’s most recent film, Honey Boy, won her the Sundance 2019 Special Jury Directing Award for Craft and Vision, received four Independent Spirit Awards nominations including Best Director, and made her the first woman to win the DGA Award for First-Time Feature Film. She is also the first woman in DGA Awards history to be nominated for both commercial directing (2018) and narrative directing (2020).

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“Lady in the Lake,” produced by Crazyrose and Bad Wolf America, is executive produced by Har’el alongside producing partner Christopher Leggett through her new production company, Zusa. In addition to starring, Portman and Nyong’o will serve as executive producers on the series, alongside Portman’s producing partner Sophie Mas. Crazyrose principals Jean-Marc Vallée and Nathan Ross will also serve as executive producers, and Julie Gardner will executive produce for Bad Wolf America. Author Laura Lippman and Dre Ryan will also executive produce on the project. Endeavor Content is the studio.

Apple’s SVOD service Apple TV+ is $4.99 per month.

Warner Releasing ‘V for Vendetta’ on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Nov. 3

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release 2005’s V for Vendetta on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray and digital Nov. 3.

Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, V for Vendetta was adapted and produced by the Wachowskis (The Matrix), and directed by James McTeigue. The film stars Natalie Portman as a woman in futuristic Britain who becomes the unlikely accomplice of a mysterious freedom fighter (Hugo Weaving) in his radical effort to rid the country of oppression. The cast also includes Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, John Hurt and Tim Pigott-Smith.

The 4K Ultra HD release of V for Vendetta comes from a new scan of the original camera negative and includes HDR and a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. The combo pack includes a 4K disc with three new extras, a regular Blu-ray Disc with previously released extras, and a digital copy of the film.

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New extras on the 4K disc include the featurette “V for Vendetta Unmasked”; a conversation between McTeigue and Lana Wachowski; and Portman’s previously unreleased audition footage.

Extras from the previously released Blu-ray include a theatrical trailer; a montage of Cat Power music played to images of the film; a “Saturday Night Live” digital short Easter Egg; and the featurettes “Making V for Vendetta,” “Designing the Near Future,” “Remember, Remember: Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot” and “England Prevails: V for Vendetta and the New Wave in Comics.”

‘Lucy in the Sky’ Flying to Digital Dec. 17

The astronaut drama Lucy in the Sky will land on digital Dec. 17 from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

The film stars Natalie Portman and Jon Hamm in a story inspired by true events ripped from the headlines. After star astronaut Lucy Cola (Portman) earns a coveted spot on a NASA mission, she’s moved by the transcendence of being in space. But when she returns to Earth, her everyday life feels too small. Soon, she engages in a reckless love triangle that threatens her career and her sanity.

Special features on the digital release includes four deleted scenes and four making-of featurettes.

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Analyst: Marvel/Disney+ to Help Disney Double Earnings by 2024

Expect an increase in Marvel-related content by Disney across all distribution channels, including the branded $6.99 Disney+ subscription streaming video platform launching on Nov. 12.

The latter strategy could lead to Disney doubling its earnings by 2024, according to Benjamin Swinburne, analyst at Morgan Stanley.

Indeed, Marvel Studios — not Disney — was on major display at the recent San Diego Comic-Con 2019.

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The studio’s panel presentation featured surprise appearances by Oscar winners Natalie Portman and Mahershala Ali touting their separate roles in upcoming movies (Thor: Love and Thunder and Blade) reportedly generated some of the confab’s biggest buzz.

To Swinburne, Marvel’s outsized presence on Disney+ could help double Disney’s stock earnings from $6.50 per share in fiscal 2020 to upwards of $12 per share in 2024.

“For all the complexities of Disney’s business model transition and the stock’s investment case, the durability of its content underpins everything,” Swinburne wrote in a note.

Specifically, the analyst contends Marvel has successfully transcended the narrowly defined superhero genre to mass appeal.

Swinburne cites this year’s theatrical release Avengers: Endgame, last year’s release, Captain Marvel, and pending Disney+ exclusives, “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier,” starring Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan and Daniel Brühl; “WandaVision,” featuring Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany; “Loki” with Tom Hiddleston, and “Hawkeye,” starring Jeremy Renner, among others, as proof of Marvel’s expanding impact on Disney investors.

With Disney+ targeting 60 million to 90 million subs globally by 2024, the analyst contends more than 60% of that subscriber base will come from Marvel’s growing worldwide appeal.

“Marvel has broken beyond fanboy demand to mass market,” Swinburne wrote, adding the aforementioned streaming series will “lock in Marvel fans between theatrical releases.”

Annihilation

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office $32.73 million;
$25.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality.
Stars Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Benedict Wong, Oscar Isaac.

Director Alex Garland is settling into a nice niche making deliberate, thought-provoking science-fiction films that defy the usual tropes of the genre.

His 2015 directorial debut Ex Machina made waves for its exploration of artificial intelligence and the nature of identity and what it means to be alive, and Annihilation deals with some of those themes as well.

Based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation is a sublime mix of alien invasion movie, psychological thriller and horror film. In the disc’s bonus materials, Garland discusses his apprehension in trying to adapt the source material, before settling on the strategy of, as he cleverly phrases it, adapting his subjective reaction to his reading of the book, rather than attempting a straight linear narrative.

The film stars Natalie Portman as a member of a team of scientists who explore a strange barrier that has surrounded an area of Southern swampland and continues to expand, distorting the biological processes of all life within it. The team encounters a litany of bizarre occurrences, such as different species of animals merging together. They find videos left by previous teams that explored the region, including Portman’s character’s husband, and watch their descent into madness. And the women soon realize the area is beginning to change them as well, adding urgency to the need to uncover what is happening and how to stop it.

The film is visually stunning, both for its reinterpretation of nature and also, in a twisted way, the very artistic ways the production crew has re-created the aftermath of some of the violent deaths of previous explorers. The film’s rich subtext and visual details will require multiple viewings to fully absorb Garland’s vision.

The Blu-ray includes six featurettes grouped into three categories, which all told equate to a comprehensive and insightful 75-minute behind-the-scenes documentary.

Paramount Brings ‘Annihilation’ Home in May

Paramount Home Media Distribution will release Annihilation digitally May 22 and on Blu-ray and DVD May 29.

Directed by Alex Garland, the sci-fi film stars Natalie Portman as a biologist who leads a team to investigate a beautiful but mysterious phenomenon that threatens all life on Earth. Annihilation, which earned $32.7 million at the domestic box office, also stars Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson and Tuva Novotny.

The Blu-ray includes a digital copy of the film and several behind-the-scenes featurettes.