Citizen Kane: 70th Anniversary PICK
Ultimate Collector’s Edition (1941) PICK
The Count of Monte Cristo (2002) PICK
Star Wars: The Original Triology (1977-1983) PICK
Bonus online review: Star Wars: The Complete Series (1977-2005) PASS
Thor (2001) PICK
United 93 (2006) PICK
X-Men: First Class (2011) PICK
The latest crop of home-video releases includes a pair of new superhero flicks: one smart and ambitious, though with some problematic content; the other less impressive, but more family-friendly.
The ambitious one is X-Men: First Class, Matthew Vaughn’s prequel/reboot to the X-Men franchise launched by Bryan Singer. James McAvoy (The Conspirator) and Michael Fassbender (Jane Eyre) persuasively take over the roles of Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr (Magneto) originated by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. There are solid moral themes, but take note: The villains’ dissolute milieu includes a Playboy Mansion-like setting (see “Content Advisory”).
The more family-friendly one is Thor, directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring the muscle-bound, charismatic Chris Hemsworth as the golden-haired son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Tied too closely to next summer’s Avengers movie, Thor has great production values but too little plot. A romantic subplot with Natalie Portman’s astrophysicist is underdeveloped, though Thor chastely kissing her hand is a nice touch.
Among notable home-video releases of older films is Orson Welles’ celebrated classic — and Vatican film-list honoree — Citizen Kane, marking its 70th anniversary with a Blu-ray “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” packed with bonus features. Most of the extras are available in earlier editions, but one is worth springing for: Welles’ second film, The Magnificent Ambersons, bundled with Kane exclusively from Amazon.com. Hard to find on DVD, Ambersons is worth the extra 10 bucks.
The Star Wars saga also debuts on Blu-ray, in three editions: the “Original Trilogy,” the “Prequel Trilogy” and the “Complete Series.” (Do I really need the “Complete Series,” or can I get by with the “Original Trilogy”? More importantly, will Lucas ever break down and release the original original trilogy, without the special-edition tinkering?) Alas, George Lucas's incessant tinkering continues: Vader bellowing "Nooooo!" at the end of Return of the Jedi (an echo of a legendarily bad moment in Revenge of the Sith) is the most glaring of the new bits. I can't bear to watch!
Marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Paul Greengrass’ extraordinary United 93 — the first 9/11 film, and still the best — comes to Blu-ray. Finally, Jim Caviezel fans take note: The Count of Monte Cristo, starring Caviezel as Edmond Dàntes, is worth a look and has some nice religious themes.
CONTENT ADVISORY: Citizen Kane: Implied adultery; divorce and remarriage. Teens and up. The Count of Monte Cristo: Swordplay and violence; implied premarital physical relationships; some crude language; religious questioning. Teens and up. Star Wars: Stylized sci-fi violence and menace; some scary scenes; brief sensuality (some mildly risqué images in Return of the Jedi). Fine for older kids. Thor: Intense action violence; Limited profanity and cursing. Teens and up. United 93: Realistic but restrained depictions of terrorist menace and violence; some profane language and obscenity. Mature viewing. X-Men: First Class: Intense violence; some nonmarital physical-relationship content; brief quasi-nudity and women in states of undress (nothing explicit); profanity, crass language and an obscenity. Mature viewing.