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

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to April

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April has always been an odd month for new releases, particularly now that the spring movie season doesn’t really exist anymore, at least not in the minds of studios. Instead, everything seems to be split into two groups: films that fit the summer mold and those that don’t. But while moviegoers will be pretty limited with their options this month, it’s definitely one of the more promising Aprils in recent memory.

“EVIL DEAD”

Who: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica Lucas and Lou Taylor Pucci
What: Five friends head to a remote cabin, where the discovery of a Book of the Dead leads them to unwittingly summon up demons living in the nearby woods.
When: April 5th
Why: Remakes are always a worrying proposition, especially for fans of the original film, but when it was announced that Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Rob Tapert were behind the modern-day update of “Evil Dead,” there was a collective sigh of relief. After all, who better to trust then the trio responsible for the 1981 cult original? It’s also nice to know that the film isn’t just a rehashing of Raimi’s first movie, but rather a whole new story with new characters in an otherwise familiar setting, and if the early buzz from the film’s world premiere at last month’s SXSW festival is any indication, Fede Alvarez’s remake/reboot/sequel (whatever you want to call it) has everything horror fans could possibly want – namely, the gooey red stuff, and plenty of it.

“TRANCE”

Who: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel and Danny Sapani
What: An art auctioneer mixed up with a group of criminals teams up with a hypnotherapist in order to recover a lost painting.
When: April 5th
Why: Danny Boyle’s follow-up to “127 Hours” can’t get here quick enough, especially after being delayed by the director’s other engagements on stage (the National Theatre production of “Frankenstein”) and for his country (the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony). His new movie is a return to roots of sorts, reteaming with frequent collaborator John Hodge (“Shallow Grave,” “Trainspotting”) for the kind of gritty, edgy crime thriller that he cut his teeth making in the mid-90s. It’ll be interesting to see what Boyle brings to the genre now that he’s a more mature and wiser filmmaker, because “Trance” looks a lot more experimental than his recent work, and despite its “Inception”-like premise, that’s probably the most exciting thing of all.

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