Thor – Available in 3D as well as 2D, my favorite comic book movie of the summer wields its thunderous hammer in stunning high-definition. Director Kenneth Branagh proves that he’s just as adept at making popcorn action romps as he is stuffy British epics, telling the origin story of the Norse god-turned-superhero with aplomb. Chris Hemsworth fills out the breastplate well, and Anthony Hopkins is stately as Thor’s disapproving father, Odin. Natalie Portman co-stars, as she has done in seemingly every other movie the past couple years. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy trifecta includes Branagh’s commentary and 11 deleted scenes.
The Big Bang Theory: Season 4 – The nerdstravaganza continues to pick up steam as it rolls through its fourth season, dropping astute unpopular culture references while crafting some genuinely funny situation comedy about the misshapen social circle of a bunch of geeky geniuses. A delightfully robotic Mayim Bialik is a perfect complement to the cast. The most notable special feature is a peek inside the filming of an episode, and there are also some lighthearted cast interviews, with the interviewing being done by other cast members.
Camelot: Season 1 – A searing Joseph Fiennes stars as medieval sorcerer Merlin in this searing Starz drama, which blends the King Arthur Legend with the sensibilities of The Tudors. Jamie Campbell Bower plays the young Arthur, and Eva Green is Morgan, his evil, undermining sister. Lush scenery, strong performances and clever writing help the season get better as it goes. Scene breakdowns and several featurettes, including looks at the knights and women of the show, fill out the round table.
Citizen Kane 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition Blu-ray – The landmark 1941 Orson Welles drama, which many hail as the greatest ever made, receives a fitting tribute in this lavish set, which makes the black-and-white epic blossom in HD. Welles directs and plays the protagonist, a ruthless media baron who gobbles up people and power while lamenting his lost youth. Warner Home Video doesn’t quite pull out as many stops as it did in 2009 for the Gone with the Wind and Wizard of Oz 70th anniversaries, it still stuffs the box with all manner of extras, although none of them appear to be new. The three discs include RKO 281, the 1999 HBO drama about the movie’s making, a 48-page book about the film and its impact, a reproduction of the movie’s 1941 program, deleted scenes and interviews with film historians and actors. Unfortunately there’s no digital copy.
Glee: Season 2 – The sophomore go-round for the pop culture phenomenon isn’t quite as stunning as the first season, but definitely has its high points — usually when the series steers away from After School Special-style preaching and sticks to its magical realism-infused showstopping, well-choreographed song and dance numbers. A well-stacked slate of extras includes a Glee virtual jukebox, behind-the-scenes peeks at the guest stars’ experiences, as well as closer looks at several of the show’s funnier characters, including Sue and Brittany.
Hesher – Joseph Gordon-Levitt steps out of his comfort zone to play a trashy, unkempt thug who unilaterally decides to squat in the home of a man and his boy following the death of the woman of the family. A tenuous friendship begins to form between the thug and the child, who harbors a hopeless crush on a grown woman (Natalie Portman). A dark comedy with more than a touch of heart, Hesher is an unexpected treasure. Deleted scenes and a few behind-the-scenes clips are included.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Season 6 – Although the insanely hilarious sitcom, about a group of fairly clueless and evil friends who badly run a dive bar, has finally plateaued over the past couple seasons, it’s still by far my favorite on TV, which is why late-night Thursdays are holidays in my living room. The extras, as usual, are strong, with commentary tracks for four of the best episodes — The Gang Buys a Boat, Who Got Dee Pregnant? Charlie Kelly: King of Rats and The Gang Gets Stranded in the Woods. Deleted scenes, an extended cut of the pathetic-yet-perfect Lethal Weapon 5 home movie from one of the episodes and Dennis and Dee’s podcasts make up the extras.
Just Peck – The tragically underused Brie Larson (United States of Tara) is the main attraction of this indie high school comedy, in which she plays a popular girl whose real life is revealed to be a torrent of despair and loneliness. She takes a shining to Peck (Keir Gilchrist, who played Larsen’s brother on Tara), an outcast who defiantly marches to the beat of his own broken drum. The charming story has shades of Can’t Buy Me Love and Say Anything, and is well worth a look for those who adore diamonds in the rough.
Spartacus: Gods of the Arena – The Starz prequel series to Spartacus: Blood and Sand edges closer to soft-core porn territory, gratuitously shoehorning in lavish sex scenes at just about every opportunity, reveling in the bacchanalia of Ancient Rome. There’s also a compelling story going on, detailing the rise of the gladiator Gannicus (Dustin Claire) to battle his way to success in the arena amid the backdrop of political treachery. Lucy Lawless steps into the show in a supporting role, lending it some late-night geeky TV cred. A behind-the-scenes featurette about Lawless, as well as brief looks at the costumes, weapons and special effects buff up the package.
Trainspotting Blu-ray – Danny Boyle’s kinetic 1996 drama explores the plights of Scottish heroin addicts who struggle to get by in the 1980s. Wildly creative shot selection and presentation blend with excellent performances by a strong cast led by Ewan McGregor help the film maintain its iconic status 15 years on. Boyle and McGregor are joined by a screenwriter and producer in a commentary track in the Blu-ray/digital copy combo, and there’s also a making-of documentary and retrospective.
Wishful Drinking – In a painfully funny and incisive film of Carrie Fisher‘s Broadway show, which is based on her 2008 autobiography, Fisher places her stunning wit and intellect on display. She finds ironic joy and humor in some dark spots in her life, including substance abuse, failed relationships and the struggles of aging. Fisher proves to be an able stand-up comic who is prepared to launch yet another promising act to a storied career. The DVD features few notable extras.
Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop – After the iconic TV personality was ousted in a game of musical night show hosts, Conan O’Brien took to the streets for a therapeutic stand-up tour. The film has echoes of the 2002 Jerry Seinfeld doc Comedian, as it not only shows O’Brien at the top of his game, but also peeks into his insecurities and fears. Deleted scenes and commentary from O’Brien and the filmmakers round out the package.
Phil’s novel, Stormin’ Mormon, is available as a Kindle book for $1.