Video Verdict: ‘Oblivion,’ ‘Mud,’ ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’

Tom Cruise stars as Jack Harper in the science-fiction adventure “Oblivion.”

Tom Cruise stars as Jack Harper in the science-fiction adventure “Oblivion.”

It’s an excellent week for home video, with three outstanding movies, including a big-budget science-fiction epic, making their way to the small screen.

Oblivion

3½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language, and some sensuality/nudity
Universal
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

End-of-the-world movies have long been a popular genre, but Hollywood seems particularly taken by them in 2013. “After Earth,” “Pacific Rim,” “World War Z” and “Elysium” all operate on the premise that human control of Earth is a privilege, and that we may someday become outcasts on our own planet. Writer-director Joseph Kosinski (“Tron: Legacy”) offers his own post-apocalyptic vision with “Oblivion,” a science-fiction adventure set about 60 years in the future.

The main character, Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), tells viewers that Earth was nearly destroyed during a devastating war started by alien invaders. Although the humans eventually won, he says, the planet is in ruin because the moon was destroyed and large sections of the Earth were contaminated by nuclear fallout. Jack and his partner, Vika (Andrea Riseborough), are the only humans stationed at an Earth outpost charged with maintaining drones. These machines are programmed to engage enemy that remained on the planet after the war. Jack says his mission is crucial because these beings want to destroy power generators that extract energy from Earth and ship it to the planet Titan, where most humans now live.

Although Jack is diligent about his duties, the feeling that he is somehow connected to Earth plagues him. This is particularly true when he thinks about the impending conclusion of his mission, and his concerns come to the forefront when an ancient human vessel crashes to Earth with most of its crew still in suspended animation. Although a drone kills nearly everyone aboard, Jack rescues one woman (Olga Kurylenko), and his interaction with her takes him on a path he never imagined.

“Oblivion” is a complex and wonderfully imagined science-fiction tale that is as smart as it is beautiful. The “Oblivion” plot takes unexpected turns, and Cruise, Riseborough and Kurylenko deliver excellent performances. They also receive a hand from Morgan Freeman who shows up in an important supporting role.

Because “Oblvion” is a thinking man’s science-fiction film, it doesn’t move at the pace of space operas like “Star Wars” or the new “Star Trek” films. But that’s not a knock. “Oblivion” is a deliberate and beautifully crafted picture that embraces genre trappings without sacrificing the emotional heft of pure drama.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a multi-part making-of feature, the ability to isolate the score, a collection of deleted scenes and an audio commentary featuring Cruise and Kosinski.

 

Mud

3 stars
Rated PG-13 for some violence, sexual references, language, thematic elements and smoking
Lionsgate
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

Writer-director Jeff Nichols has only made a handful of films, but all of them are worthy of attention. His latest, “Mud,” should cement his reputation as a storyteller capable of extracting intense excitement from character-based dramas.

“Mud” centers on two boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), who happen upon a homeless man (Matthew McConaughey) living on an island on the Mississippi River. At first, they are leery, but they grow more and more interested as the man shares his story. He invites the boys to call him Mud and says he is hiding because he killed a man who mistreated the woman he loves. His goal is to reunite with his girl, a beauty named Juniper (Reese Witherspoon).

Neckbone has doubts about Mud’s story, but Ellis is drawn in by the romance, so the youngsters agree to help him. They start by bringing food, and they eventually graduate to carrying letters to Juniper. Their actions come with a price, however, because Mud is wanted both by the law and a group of ruthless bounty hunters. Naturally, the boys face increasing danger as Mud’s pursuers tighten the net they’re forming around him.

McConaughey is in excellent form as the title character, and Sheridan and Lofland play off of him nicely. Witherspoon, although relegated to a supporting role, is also strong, and Nichols uses his actors wisely. “Mud” has a reasonable amount of action, particularly in the finale, but it is essentially a relationship drama. Because of that, Nichols spends plenty of time on character development, a strategy that encourages viewers to fully invest in the story.

“Mud” also packs an interesting message. Although it centers on an escaped killer, the film is really a romance, and Nichols asks viewers to consider the complicated nature of relationships and true love.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include several making-of featurettes and an audio commentary with Nichols.

 

The Place Beyond the Pines

3 stars
Rated R for language throughout, some violence, teen drug and alcohol use and a sexual reference
Universal
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

Writer-director Derek Cianfrance gained considerable attention for his 2010 drama “Blue Valentine,” and he has created an even finer movie with “The Place Beyond the Pines.” The picture poses as a crime thriller, but it is actually a multi-generational tale of fathers, sons and the sins that are passed from one generation to the next.

“The Place Beyond the Pines” starts with Luke (Ryan Gosling), a motorcycle stuntman who unknowingly father’s a child during a tryst with a woman named Romina (Eva Mendes). When he learns that Romina is raising his son, Luke decides to stick around and attempt to be the father he never had. Alas, Romina has taken up with another man (Mahershala Ali) and doesn’t believe Luke can provide their boy with the life he deserves. In response, Luke uses his motorcycle riding skills to rob banks, and his exploits grow ever more dangerous. Eventually, this leads Luke to a showdown with a rookie cop named Avery (Bradley Cooper), and the policeman’s story is worked into the narrative as well.

Cianfrance allows his film to wander from character to character, giving viewers an intense look not only at the lives of Luke and Avery but at those of their children, Jason (Dane DeHaan) and A.J. (Emory Cohen). The meandering narrative is unexpected but completely coherent. In fact, Cianfrance does such a fine job moving from place to place that he forces viewers to think about ideas that are larger than the characters themselves. For instance, one can’t help but contemplate the ways a parent’s demons are passed to his or her offspring. Likewise, the movie asks viewers to consider how the mere act of having a child can change the life of a parent.

Obviously, “The Place Beyond the Pines” tackles big ideas, but that doesn’t mean its short on entertainment value. The movie also works as a crime thriller, and it sports fantastic performances, particularly by Gosling and Cooper. Both actors approach their characters with subtlety, giving them enough quirks and inconsistencies to make them feel like real people. It helps, too, that both characters are riddled with doubts and that those doubts are key to the plotting.

Cianfrance takes his time with the storytelling, and the movie comes in at about 140 minutes. That’s long, and the picture occasionally feels the strain of that length. That’s not a major problem, however, because the storytelling and acting easily outweigh any inefficiency in pacing.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted and extended scenes, plus a feature commentary by Cianfrance.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

Bruce Lee Legacy Collection: Fans of martial arts films will be hard pressed to find a more impressive release than this 11-disc set containing movies by and about Bruce Lee. Presented in a special book-shaped case, the collection includes the Blu-ray debuts of four Bruce Lee movies: “The Big Boss,” “Fist of Fury,” “The Way of the Dragon” and “Game of Death.” Also included are three feature-length documentaries that consider Lee’s lasting impact on martial arts and film: “Bruce Lee: The Legend,” “I Am Bruce Lee” and “The Grandmaster and the Dragon: William Cheung and Bruce Lee.” As if that’s not enough content, the Legacy Collection also contains bonus features ranging from audio commentaries to interviews with people who knew Lee.

“Lovelace”: Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman deliver a dramatic biopic about pornographic movie star Linda Lovelace. The film, which stars Amanda Seyfried in the title role, will be available on demand Aug. 9, the same day it hits theaters. A DVD and Blu-ray release will come later. Peter Sarsgaard, Juno Temple, Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick and Chris Noth also star.

“Duck Dynasty” – Season 3: Thirteen episodes of the A&E reality series focused on the Robertsons, the Louisiana family that turned a small hunting supply business into the multi-million dollar Duck Commander operation. The fourth season of the popular show is slated to begin Aug. 14.

“Community” – The Complete Fourth Season: The 13 most-recent episodes of the NBC sitcom about students and faculty at a Colorado community college.

“The Borgias” – The Final Season: Last 10 episodes of the Showtime historical drama centered on the exploits of Pope Alexander VI and his corrupt family. Jeremy Irons, Francois Arnaud and Holliday Grainger star.

“Strike Back” – Cinemax Season 2: Fresh collection of episodes from the Cinemax TV series about a British counterterrorism unit. Philip Winchester, Sullivan Stapleton and Rhona Mitra star.

“Smash” – Season Two: This NBC drama about the creation of a Broadway musical was cancelled in May, so the 17 episodes in this set are its last. Debra Messing, Anjelica Huston, Megan Hilty, and Katherine McPhee star.

“Tom and Jerry’s Giant Adventure”: New, feature-length, animated movie starring Tom the cat and Jerry the mouse. The plotting is essentially a reworking of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” with Tom and Jerry teaming with a young boy and facing off against a greedy giant.

“Gunsmoke” – The Ninth Season, Volumes 1 and 2: Paramount Home Video is delivering two DVD sets packed with content from the long-running TV Western “Gunsmoke.” Each volume has 18 episodes of the show, which together make up the entire ninth season. James Arness, Dennis Weaver and Amanda Blake star.

“Aftershock”: Thriller co-written by and starring Eli Roth. He plays an American tourist who is vacationing in Chile when a massive earthquake hits. The chaos that ensues forces his group of friends to run for their lives.

Blu-ray debuts from Shout! Factory: The Shout! Factory label trots out a lot of older horror and science fiction films, and its latest releases include the post-apocalyptic, 1975 fable “A Boy and His Dog” and the 1982 Wes Craven monster movie “Swamp Thing.” Both films are available on Blu-ray for the first time.

 

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. For more of his work visit http://www.ForrestHartman.com. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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