Good Views: ‘Thor,’ ‘Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop’

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For nearly 10 minutes, all we do is watch a wagon roll across the prairie. We hear the sound of a rushing river nearby and birds chirping - and nothing else. We see no people, hear no discussions, learn little or nothing about the story.

The background, meager as it is, is this: The time is 1845, and a group of settlers is traveling across the Oregon desert to a new homestead. They are led by Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood), a rugged and single-minded guide with a somewhat dark reputation for honesty. The unofficial leaders of the settlers are Soloman Tetherow (Will Patton) and his wife, Emily (Michelle Williams).

When it becomes clear the group is lost and running out of water, dissent grows until an unlikely source of help appears, forcing the settlers to make some difficult choices.

Director Kelly Reichardt (“Wendy and Lucy”) and screenwriter Jonathan Raymond seem more interested in examining the tedious nature of the settlers’ journey than exploring their identities as people and their reasons for traveling westward. Several scenes drag, sapping the film of storytelling energy.

To their credit, both Miss Williams (who worked with Miss Reichardt on “Wendy and Lucy”) and Mr. Greenwood manage to make their characters stand out. Miss Williams’ Emily proves to be a woman of quiet strength and resolve, while Mr. Greenwood makes Meek a fascinating, if not totally trustworthy, character.

The extras on the disc are minimal and include a making-of feature and an essay on the film by writer Richard Hell.

“Meek’s Cutoff” isn’t your typical Hollywood portrait of life on the prairie - and that may be both its greatest strength and its biggest weakness.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some intense violence.

Documentaries

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop

Magnolia Home Entertainment

★★★1/2

In January 2010, less than eight months after taking his dream job as host of NBC’s “Tonight Show,” Conan O’Brien left the program with a multimillion-dollar contract settlement and an agreement that he wouldn’t start another talk show for several months.

Left with lots of free time and more than a little bit of “creative anger” directed toward the network for the way he was treated, Mr. O’Brien planned and presented his “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television” tour. The comedy and music tour and his interactions with fans and fellow comics are the basis of this funny and often surprisingly poignant documentary from director Rodman Flender.

A number of top comic minds appear in the movie, offering support to Mr. OBrien, including Jim Carrey, Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart and Jack Black. Behind the laughs, however, is a moving portrait of a man who believed he had climbed to the top of his industry’s heap, only to find his future thrown into doubt by the very people he thought wanted him to succeed.

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