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DVDs In Brief: September 14, 2011

Marvel has gotten awfully good at turning out solid comic-book films that adhere to a predictably professional house style, but most have found some breathing room for individual personality. Thor (Paramount) has the requisite over-the-top action, but also finds room for a sense of humor and a star-making turn by Chris Hemsworth as the Norse god who falls to Earth…

A meditative frontier adventure, Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff (Oscilloscope) uses a real chapter in the history of the Oregon Trail as a thumbnail sketch of how the frontier got settled, and the dangers and moral compromises that made that settlement possible. It builds slowly, but consciously so, to the point where even the simple gestures of everyday routine come freighted with tension. For those who missed one of 2011’s must-see films in the theater, here’s a second chance…

If anyone wanted to conduct an anthropological study of New York fashion, they’d do well to start with the collected work of Bill Cunningham, a shutterbug who’s been snapping photos of street scenes and elite soirées for decades. The charming documentary profile Bill Cunningham New York (Zeitgeist) follows the reticent New York Times photographer, now well into his 80s, as he pedals around the city on a bike and clings to one of the last residencies in Carnegie Hall. He’s slow to reveal much about himself, but director Richard Press has the patience to wait him out…

In the months between his dramatic departure from NBC’s The Tonight Show and his new gig as host of TBS’ Conan, Conan O’Brien embarked on the “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television” tour—partly to meet the fans who had rallied around him, partly to work out his frustrations with NBC, and partly to give him something to do. The candid backstage footage in the tour documentary Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (Magnolia) finds him still frustrated and raw, but it’s a sloppy piece of work, more like a DVD extra than a revealing concert film…

It’s regrettable when hyperbolic coincidence and contrivance take over at the end of Incendies (Sony), since until the big reveal, it’s largely a tense tearjerker, as adult twins backtrack through the life story of their mysterious mother and learn many graphic and painful things about her history. Part mystery story, part historical drama largely set in an unnamed country based on Lebanon, it’s vividly and painfully told, but its last few steps are firmly in the direction of ridiculousness.