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We’re getting into that time of year when good indie flicks, full seasons of television, and popular theatrical films are all getting released on to Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD. New releases may be plentiful, but this also means that buyers may be holding back and pinching pennies in order to spend on the movies and shows they’ve been waiting months to get their hands on. The good news is, there should be something out this week that piques your interest at least a little bit. You can read on to learn about some of August 6th’s best releases, and maybe even a few that may have slipped under your radar.
This past year or so hasn’t been the best period of time for Tom Cruise. He was teased for his short stature in Jack Reacher and almost no one saw his bare-chested act in Rock of Ages. Which brings us to Oblivion, a movie featuring a fine performance from the 51-year-old actor in a movie that loses steam when it comes to a grab bag of plotlines that nod at too many science fiction films over the years. Not even the gorgeous Olga Kurylenko can save the uninspiring storywith her doe eyes and her sincere portrayal of Julia, an astronaut that’s been frozen in space for many years before crash landing back on Earth.
Movies should be buttered up a little before they are lambasted, and there are some good things to say about the gorgeous Oblivion. The visually spectacular film is fine-looking in a way most big budget movies don’t manage to be; instead of roaring with life and action-oriented sequences, Oblivion manages to be quietly pretty, offering wild, barren landscapes juxtaposed with calm and modern-looking space shuttles and living spaces. The landscapes give the film a desolate feel, and make the setting feel like a very different Earth than the one we live on.
Audiences don’t typically attend the movies just to check out scene after scene of pretty looking cinematography, but with this flick, audiences will find that the film’s strength is its mix of CGI and natural beauty. While the scale of the visual spectacle is impressive, the plot is fairly bizarre, even for a science fiction film. Years after an alien invasion, humanity has been relegated to one large ship in space after the devastation of the Earth. Humanity still has some drones in the atmosphere, and a few humans are left to do repairs and keep an eye out for any remaining aliens on Earth. Cruise's Jack Harper is one of these humans, and much of the scenes feature him running around the barren landscape, fixing drones and keeping an eye out for the enemy. He has a by-the-book partner in the sky named Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), who reports to the last known human colony, Titan, in space. But after a U.S. spaceship crashes on earth, Jack begins to ask questions and learns that the alien invasion may not have occurred exactly as he remembers.
Oblivion is the sort of movie that will keep audiences on the edges of their seats, asking them to wait for an emotional or action-oriented payoff. Unfortunately, the only payoff is the film’s beauty.
You can order Oblivion via Amazon.
Best Special Feature: Oblivion is the best type of movie to include a lengthy making-of featurette with. From costumes to weaponry and living spaces, science fiction films are all about the details, and when we get a behind-the-scenes look, these sorts of documentaries help to flesh out some of the small things we may have missed during the first viewing of the film. “Promise of a New World: The Making of Oblivion” is a five-part documentary that takes a look at writing, filming, and putting together the film. A lot of times these sorts of segments can be tedious, but if you listen to director Joseph Kosinski harken back to films like Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey, I bet you’ll find yourself enamored with the material. Some of the landscapes the team shot are perused in the segment, as is the design of the sets, the action narratives, the CGI, and more.
Other Special Features:
M83 Isolated Score
Feature Commentary with Cruise and Kosinski
Oblivion may be a movie that promises more spectacle than story, but Mud takes the untamed nature of Southern landscapes and uses the wild beauty of that as a marker to help tell an unusual story. When two boys (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland) find a boat caught up in a tree on a small island along the Mississippi River, they endeavor to possess it themselves. Instead, they find themselves caught up with Mud (Matthew McConaughey), a mysterious drifter with bad teeth and a crooked grin. Mud is waiting on a woman named Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), but in this Southern narrative, love may not be as clear-cut as it seems.
There doesn’t seem to be much going for the plot, but thanks to its can-do attitude and willingness to ask its audience to buy into some strange characters, Mud works. It’s saccharine without being sentimental and it rings true, despite being filled with a bunch of oddballs. In some ways, the success of the film hinges on its smart writing and deft vision, but it also helps that the film features an all-star cast of actors, which include the aforementioned names, but also Michael Shannon, Sarah Paulson, Sam Shepard, Ray McKinnon and more.
Take Shelter’s Jeff Nichols helmed the narrative that looks at people through the eyes of a young boy who is beginning to work out that relationships are sometimes convoluted and often complicated. Unlike his 2011 drama, Mud is very much a coming-of age narrative, and thus it relies on the performances Lofland and, especially, Sheridan put in. Luckily, Lofland’s portrayal of Neckbone is rough around the edges but always feels real, and Sheridan’s Ellis shows an innate confidence and a keen ability to adapt in different situations that most young teens are unable to show, much less act out for the big screen. If you missed the kid in Tree of Life (and I don’t blame you if you did), he’s one to watch out for.
Which brings us back to the landscapes. Nichols’ is by no means the only director who has panned in the woods and on the rivers for the slick greenery, rust, and old wood that can often be found in the American South. We’ve seen plenty of this look recently, thanks to Beasts of the Southern Wild and Rod Lurie’s Straw Dogs reboot. The look of Mud, of it’s tired strip malls, it’s old houseboats, it’s fludded islands, and its scantily clad residents in the heat of summer gives Mud a setting that allows its characters to come alive. If you reside with them for the 130-minute running time, you may find yourself as invested as I did.
You can order Mud over at Amazon.
Best Special Feature: Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s set makes bookmarking easy and it comes with several bonus features for fans. Most of these show Nichols talking about the Mark Twain influence on his projects as well as his desire to create Mud for a period of years. My favorite extra was a short featurette that looked at the snake pit scene in the film. A total of 111 snakes were used that closely resemble cottonmouths in the scene. Poor Sheridan looks pretty uncomfortable in the water surrounded by snakes, but he handles it pretty well. Skip this one if you are interested in the backstory of how the film was made, but watch it if you want a fun little extra peek at the making of the film.
Other Special Features:
“A Personal Tale”
The Arkansas Ensemble
The Place Beyond the Pines Blu-ray
Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines had a quiet theatrical release, but has also managed to build buzz critically and find its way on to many critic’s ‘best of 2013 so far’ lists. The film isn’t a riot or an action-oriented drama. It’s not a film that is full of heroes, but it is a film that is full of struggling men of different types and from different time periods. Several stories run parallel in the movie, telling stories about genetics, father and son relationships, and how total strangers can sometimes have a large impact on one another’s lives.
In the narrative, Ryan Gosling plays Luke Glanton, a motorcyclist-turned-bank robber who wants to provide for his family. Bradley Cooper plays Avery Cross, a low-end police officer whose life changes thanks to the Glanton robberies. The two have sons who later grow up to meet one another, creating new complications in the film’s small world. The frame of the film is larger than Derek Cianfrance’s last movie, Blue Valentine, but the director proves once again that he can tell an impacting story in a small geographical area.
Universal Studios Home Entertainment’s set doesn’t offer a ton of bonus features, but a few deleted and extended scenes are worthwhile. Additionally, the Blu-ray offers a featurette called “Going to The Place Beyond the Pines” that's worth a watch, along with director's commentary that I couldn't get all the way through. If you buy this one, do so for the film itself.
You can order the film over at Amazon.
You can check out some more of the August 6th releases, below. Unless otherwise noted, the upcoming releases are available on both Blu-ray and DVD. Additionally, if you are looking for our review of The Borgias, stay tuned.
The Borgias: The Third Season
Duck Dynasty: Season 3 DVD
Robin Hood 40th Anniversary Edition
Community: The Complete Fourth Season DVD
The Sword in the Stone 50th Anniversary
Smash: Season 2 DVD
Oliver & Company 25th Anniversary Edition
Strike Back: The Complete Second Season
On The Road
Gunsmoke: The Ninth Season (vol.1 and vol. 2) DVD
West of Memphis
Political Animals: The Complete Series
Battlestar Galactica 35th Anniversary Blu-ray