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Blu Tuesday: Oblivion, The Place Beyond the Pines and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Oblivion”

WHAT: Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is one of the last remaining humans on Earth – a drone repairman that’s part of an operation to extract vital resources from the planet after a decades-long war with an alien race known as Scavengers. But when Jack rescues the literal woman of his dreams (Olga Kurylenko) from a crashed spacecraft, her arrival triggers a series of events that forces him to rethink everything he knows about the world.

WHY: Following the massive disappointment of “TRON: Legacy,” Joseph Kosinski’s sophomore effort looked like it would just be more of the same, but much to my surprise, his latest sci-fi project is a lot better than expected. Unlike the “TRON” sequel, Kosinski created the world of “Oblivion” from the ground up, and it really shows, from the rich mythology to the Apple-inspired production design. Kosinski’s outstanding visuals are still front and center, but this time around, he’s also delivered an engaging story in addition to the effects-driven spectacle. Though genre fans will notice that “Oblivion” borrows pretty heavily from a recent sci-fi movie that will remain unnamed (not to mention other classics), it’s still a really great concept that, while not exactly original, is cool to see realized on a grander scale. The final act isn’t handled quite as gracefully as its indie counterpart, but between Kosinski’s visuals and Tom Cruise’s commanding performance, “Oblivion” is still one of the better sci-fi flicks of the past few years.

EXTRAS: There’s a good deal of bonus material here, including an audio commentary with star Tom Cruise and director Joseph Kosinski, a making-of featurette, four additional production featurettes on things like stunts, visual effects, the bubble ship and scoring the film, some deleted scenes, and the ability to watch the entire movie accompanied by M83’s isolated score.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Place Beyond the Pines”

WHAT: When motorcycle stunt rider Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) discovers that he has a son, he turns to robbing banks as a way to provide for him and his mother (Eva Mendes). But Luke’s actions place him on a collision course with a rookie policeman (Bradley Cooper) who gets caught up in an investigation involving some dirty cops.

WHY: Derek Cianfrance’s multi-generational crime drama is an incredibly ambitious piece of work, though he seems to have bitten off more than he can chew. Divided into three interconnected stories, there’s not much to each one, but they’re all necessary to telling the larger narrative, and that’s what makes the movie so frustrating. Cianfrance deals with some familiar themes of fatherhood, consequences and destiny, but it’s such an epic undertaking that it ultimately becomes too much movie for its own good. The opening segment is the standout, mainly thanks to some great performances by Gosling, Mendes and character actor Ben Mendelsohn, and although the other two stories aren’t bad, they’re noticeable weaker, causing the film to feel a bit lopsided. “The Place Beyond the Pines” isn’t perfect (the first hour makes up for some of the more unflattering heavy-handedness that Cianfrance resorts to in the latter half), but it’s a movie that demands a lot of respect for not only taking big risks, but the way that it resonates emotionally.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary with director/co-writer Derek Cianfrance, a short but sweet making-of featurette and four deleted/extended scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Mud”

WHAT: Two young boys (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland) encounter a mysterious stranger named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) hiding out on a deserted island in the Mississippi River. When they learn that he’s on the run for killing a man to protect the woman he loves (Reese Witherspoon), the boys agree to help reunite them before the police and the victim’s vengeful family hunts Mud down.

WHY: Director Jeff Nichols has built a respectable career making movies outside the Hollywood system, but sometimes that kind of freedom can be just as destructive as studio interference, and this Southern-fried coming-of-age tale is evidence of that. Though “Mud” features some excellent performances by the red-hot McConaughey and youngster Tye Sheridan, the film is marred by a bloated runtime that could stand to lose about 20 minutes. There’s just too much going on for such a simple story, and while each subplot is related thematically, Nichols doesn’t seem willing to make any sacrifices. “Mud” is at its best when McConaughey’s titular outlaw is interacting with the two boys, but as soon Nichols turns his attention elsewhere (including the scenes with lucky charm Michael Shannon, who appears in a brief but entertaining cameo), the movie loses focus and starts to drag. It’s not as memorable as 2011’s “Take Shelter,” although with better pacing and a few simple edits, “Mud” could have been even better.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary with writer/director Jeff Nichols and a series of production featurettes about the cast, location shooting in Arkansas, filming the snake pit sequence and the long road to getting the movie made.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Strike Back: Cinemax Season Two”

WHAT: When a set of nuclear triggers is smuggled out of Libya, British SIS agent Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) is called back into action alongside former partner Damon Scott (Sullivan Scott) to locate and secure the devices before they fall into the wrong hands.

WHY: The Cinemax original series doesn’t pretend to be anything that it’s not, so it’s fitting that a show targeted at a predominantly male audience thinks more with its figurative dick than its brain. This is a TV series more interested in blowing shit up and cramming gratuitous sex scenes into each episode than it is about story or character, and although “Strike Back” delivers some of the best action on television, it’s a whole lot of style with no substance. The cast has been given a slight upgrade with the addition of Rhona Mitra as Section 20’s new boss and Charles Dance as the season’s big bad, but the acting is still pretty spotty and the overarching plot lacks the complexity to warrant 10 episodes. It’s also incredibly unrealistic (for elite soldiers, they manage to botch up missions an awful lot), but that comes with the territory, and although it’s not exactly quality programming, “Strike Back” is a good bit of harmless fun if you turn off your brain.

EXTRAS: Sadly, the only extras included are four audio commentaries featuring various cast and crew, including stars Philip Winchester and Sullivan Stapleton.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Sapphires”

WHAT: Set in 1968, the film tells the true story of The Sapphires, a quartet of young and talented Aboriginal girls who, under the management of Motown-obsessed Irishman Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd), left their humble lives in Australia to pursue a singing career performing for the U.S. troops stationed in Vietnam.

WHY: This feel-good musical drama is pretty much the Down Under equivalent of “Dreamgirls,” only without any of the emotion. Director Wayne Blair tries to balance the energetic musical acts with some commentary about race relations at the time, but he never digs deep enough into the issue, making it seem fairly tame as a result. There’s also very little in the way of actual conflict between the characters – at least any that lasts for more than one scene – although that’s not a big surprise considering the movie was co-written by one of the real-life Sapphires’ sons, who’s obviously biased. Although it’s a unique angle on a familiar story, it’s not one that necessarily deserved the cinematic treatment, especially a film as pedestrian and formulaic as “The Sapphires.” The two female leads (including singer-turned-actress Jessica Mauboy) deliver solid performances, and O’Dowd keeps the mood light with his usual nice guy shtick, but there’s nothing about the movie that makes it stand out from all the other likeminded music biopics. In fact, it’s actually quite forgettable.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette, an interview with co-star Jessica Mauboy about the film’s soundtrack and a brief discussion with the original Sapphires.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Aftershock”

WHAT: An American tourist (Eli Roth) heads to Chile to party with two local friends (Ariel Levy and Nicolas Martinez) and a trio of hot girls that they meet along the way. But when their night is interrupted by a violent earthquake, the group must deal with panicked citizens, escaped convicts and the inevitable aftershocks if they hope to survive.

WHY: It’s amazing that Eli Roth still gets work, because “Aftershock” is merely the latest in a long line of misfires by the filmmaker. Though he didn’t actually direct the film, he did co-write the script in addition to playing one of the lead characters, which makes him just as culpable. Falling somewhere between horror and a disaster movie, “Aftershock” is so bad that it’s unintentionally funny at times, with many of the characters dying due to sheer stupidity. Of course, it doesn’t help that most of them are so incredibly unlikeable (bordering on deplorable in some cases) that you don’t even feel bad about them being killed. The whole escaped convict subplot is also pretty ridiculous, because it’s hard to imagine that a bunch of criminals wouldn’t have something better to do during a natural disaster than attacking people – like, say, running for their lives. Director Nicolas Lopez thinks that he’s making some kind of statement about human nature, but when your characters don’t even act like real human beings, it only exposes the movie as the soulless piece of garbage that it is.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Nicolas Lopez and co-writer/producer Eli Roth, a short making-of featurette, and a hidden camera gag played by the film’s casting agents on some of the locals auditioning to be extras.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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