Tom Cruise peers through the murk of Oblivion.
With two lavish sci-fi movies to his credit, Joseph Kosinksi has revealed himself to be a superb production designer and a deeply mediocre dramatist. Leaving behind the digital circuitry of TRON: Legacy, Oblivion transports audiences to one of this year's favorite settings: a post-apocalyptic Earth destroyed by mankind in a last-ditch attempt to kill an army of invading aliens. With remnants of humanity supposedly long since scattered to the stars, a few people still remain behind on clean-up duty. Tom Cruise's Jack Harper is one such janitor, marking time until he and his companion, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), are allowed to rejoin the interstellar colony. But the unexpected arrival of a woman from his past (Olga Kurylenko) spikes those plans and exposes the big lie behind Jack's presence on Earth. Though it bills itself as an original sci-fi story, Oblivion's narrative influences are all too apparent, to the point where it becomes a steady stream of "spot the homage." That's a lot more interesting than keeping track of the story, which toggles between the improbable and the absurd. Kosinski's undeniable skill for design makes Oblivion a handsome post-apocalyptic Earth to visit, but boy would it be a boring place to live.
Extras: A too-complementary commentary track with Cruise and Kosinksi, a score-only track, deleted scenes, and five making-of featurettes.
Click here to read our original review
Click here to see our guide to Tom Cruise's most memorable musical moments
The Place Beyond the Pines
Two of this year's biggest indie success stories arrive on DVD the same day. Following his small, stripped-down, scenes-from-a-marriage drama Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines finds director Derek Cianfrance going big and sprawling, telling a story that spans decades and generations. Chapter 1 follows Ryan Gosling's motorcycle stunt rider-turned-bank robber, as we attempts to provide for his just-born son through his criminal activities. Chapter 2 shifts the focus to Bradley Cooper's cop, who becomes a hero for stopping Gosling, but puts his reputation on the line by rooting out corruption his own department. And then there's Chapter 3, which I'll refrain from revealing too much about suffice to say that it plays on the oft-repeated theme of the sins of the fathers being visited on the sons. If Cianfrance had stopped himself after two chapters, I might have been hailing Pines as one of the year's best. Unfortunately, that final installment comes along and ruins a lot of goodwill, both due to its extreme contrivances and the completely unappealing young actors at its center. Cianfrance is a very real talent -- he just sometimes has to know when to quit when he's ahead. Mud is another example of a director expanding his vision, with Jeff Nichols (who helmed my favorite film of 2011, Take Shelter) venturing beyond domestic drama into the bigger, more mythic story of an outlaw (Matthew McConaughey), the woman he loves (Reese Witherspoon) and the young boy (Tye Sheridan) that gets yanked into the drama. The film highlights Nichols' ability to capture the rhythms of life in places we don't see onscreen very often as well as his skill at coaxing strong performances out of his cast. Story-wise, though, it's disappointingly conventional compared to the bolder narrative choices of Take Shelter and his first feature, Shotgun Stories. On the other hand, the fact that it's become his biggest hit to date guarantees he'll be able making movies for years to come and his is a voice American cinema definitely benefits from right now.
Extras: Pines includes a commentary track with Cianfrance, plus deleted and extended scenes. (Wait… you mean the movie could have been longer?) Mud also features a director-led commentary track, along with four making-of featurettes.
Click here to read our original review of The Place Beyond the Pines
Eli Roth continues his patented "Assholes Abroad" approach to horror, co-writing and starring in (but not directing) this Chilean set disaster picture in which a trio of jackasses watch their party-hearty vacation turn into a blood-soaked nightmare following an apocalyptic earthquake. Joining them on their desperate flight towards safety are three equally annoying women, who have a knack for getting caught in deathtraps. The one advantage to hating everyone onscreen is that you don't feel too guilty about rooting for their deaths and Aftershock gleefully knocks them off one-by-one, making it clear that absolutely nobody is safe. But if the only thing keeping you engaged is the body count, the film's doing something wrong.
Extras: Roth and director Nicolás López anchor the commentary track, and appear in two making-of featurettes.
Click here to read our original review
Oliver & Company
Three Disney cartoons celebrate birthdays today and we all get new Blu-ray releases as a present. Starting with the oldest first, 1963's The Sword in the Stone -- the second to last animated movie produced at Disney under its founder's reign -- is a merry adaptation of T.H. White's seminal version of the Arthurian legend, The Once and Future King. Zeroing in on the first half of the book, when young Wart a.k.a. Arthur is tutored by the wizard Merlin, Sword's best sequences are those in which master and pupil change their forms to experience the animal kingdom firsthand. While obviously much lighter than most King Arthur tales, it does function as a gateway drug for young kids into the world of Camelot. Similarly, 1973's Robin Hood would never be confused as the definitive version of England's most famous outlaw (that would be the 1938 Errol Flynn version), but its anthropomorphized versions of Robin, Little John, Maid Marian and the rest of his gang is incredibly appealing for the under-10 set. Also, you can't beat tunes like "Oo-de-lally, oo-de-lally, golly what a day." The youngest (and least memorable) of the birthday movies, 1988's Oliver & Company turns an adorable orphaned cat into Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist. Produced a year before the great Disney renaissance that started with The Little Mermaid, Oliver lacks that movie's lush animation and endlessly hummable score, but it does feature Billy Joel in his first (and last) vocal performance as a crooning mutt so it's not completely without merit.
Extras: Sword offers a new alternate opening, featurettes and vintage shorts. Robin Hood features a deleted storyline, an alternate ending, an art gallery and a sing-along. Oliver includes featurettes and bonus cartoons.
Bruce Lee: The Legacy Collection
Charlie Chan Collection
Shout! Factory routinely puts out great product, but they may have outdone themselves with Bruce Lee: The Legacy Collection, an absolutely beautiful set that packages four of the martial icon's best known films (The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, Way of the Dragon and Game of Death) between the pages of a hardcover book filled with on-set archival photos and production and biographical information. (Those looking for Enter the Dragon should head over to Amazon to pick up Warner's extras-packed anniversary Blu-ray edition.) Watch Lee's fighting and filmmaking skill evolve from the early days of Boss up to Game of Death, a film he had designed to showcase his specific fighting style that he was forced to take a break from in order to shoot Dragon, but died before he could complete it. (Dragon helmer Robert Clouse was brought aboard to shoot additional scenes with a stand-in and carved a movie out of the old and new footage.) This set is an invaluable collection to anyone's action movie library. To give Lee's achievements some historical perspective, take a look at the B-movies offered by Warner's Charlie Chan Collection, which chronicles the exploits of the famous Chinese-American detective who vaulted from a series of mystery novels written by Earl Derr Biggers into a long-running film franchise where the title character was often (and controversially) played by white actors. This 4-movie set includes 1946's Shadows Over Chinatown and 1948's Docks of New Orleans, Shanghai Chest and The Golden Eye, none of which have been available on DVD before. Once you prepare yourself for their inherent un-PCness, the Chan movies are interesting examples as mid-'40s assembly line studio product and decent potboilers to boot. And, in his own way, Chan was as much an action hero as Lee would later prove to be, albeit not in the fisticuffs department.
Extras Shout's Legacy Collection is chock-full of bonus features, including three full-length documentaries, audio commentaries on each of the films by Hong Kong movie mega-fan, Mike Leeder, new interviews with scholars and collaborators, vintage and new featurettes, outtakes, trailers, poster galleries and… well, you get the idea. The Charlie Chan Collection is sadly bare-bones; it would have been nice to get a commentary track or documentary to help further contextualize the origin and legacy of the character.
Also on DVD:
The case of the West Memphis Three, already chronicled in Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's excellent Paradise Lost trilogy, is re-told again in Amy Berg's detailed, but often too-familiar doc West of Memphis, which pays particular attention to one of the accused, Damien Echols, who produced the film with his wife, Lorri Davis. Before Joseph Gordon-Levitt pedaled through the streets of Manhattan in Premium Rush, Kevin Bacon navigated his cycle around San Francisco traffic in the 1986 thriller, Quicksilver. Frequently cited as a poster child for out-of-control productions, Elaine May's much-maligned Ishtar gets the chance to redeem itself via a new high-def release. The 1933 Best Picture winner Cavalcade gets a high-def release. And while it may not be as elaborate as the Bruce Lee set, Shout! has done everyone a favor by releasing the 1975 sci-fi cult favorite A Boy and His Dog, in which a young nomad and his telepathic dog wander a post-apocalyptic hellscape, in a new Blu-ray edition that includes a commentary track with writer/director L.Q. Jones and a video chat with celebrated author/crank, Harlan Ellison, who wrote the novella the movie is based on. And one of Michael Clarke Duncan's final films is also being released today. The aforementioned actor stars in A Resurrection, about a boy with a mental illness who may or may not be making up stories about the death of his brother. The film also stars Devon Sawa and Mischa Barton.
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