This Week in Movies & TV, August 6, 2013: E.T. Killed Home


Based on director Joseph Kosinski's acclaimed graphic novel, Oblivion is set in the post-apocalyptic future in which an invading alien army is beaten but only through the use of nuclear weapons that leave the planet uninhabitable.

Jack (Tom Cruise) is assigned to go back down to dangerous, desolate Earth to locate and fix militarized droid drones brought down by Scavs - surviving scavengers left from the invading army. But an encounter with the Scavs' leader (Morgan Freeman)and a beautiful survivor of a spaceship crash (Olga Kurylenko) makes him question his duty, loyalty, and his whole world.

Oblivion (Universal) has state-of-the-art picture and audio. The extremely sharp 2.40:1 images are filled with striking scorched, ruined and rough jagged landscapes and slick shiny, smooth, perfect surfaces to rooms. Both come across with a tactile quality due to the excellent contrast, sharpness, and detail. Lovely Kurylenko's hair is the deepest black as are silhouettes against the rising sun, whites are bright, and there's a wide range of blues and greys to the lab-like homes, browns and charcoals to the scorched earth, and greens in the one untouched valley. Skin tones are natural.

All Cruise's pores, face stubble, and individual hair lock are visible as are stiches in his Yankees cap. You can see grains of sand in the endless deserts, texture to rocky surfaces, and the well-defined striations and patterned indentures on an Empire State Building telescopic viewer. Even tiny writing on its identification plate is readable. Figures and faces are solid and rounded and room spaces and the lush foliage are dimensional.

DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack is exceedingly clear, open, and completely immersive. The big, dramatic orchestral and electronica score by Anthony Gonzalez, Joseph Trepans, and M.8.3 moves along quietly in the background and then surges up with bassy brass in moments of action, beats bouncing nicely back and forth across the front. Sound effects like Jack's jet copter rumbling past, shooting diagonally towards you and roaring overhead into the rears and surrounds, or blasting beside you and up onto the screen are all accurately panned. The drones also swoop and whoosh around the room, blasting their lasers. And their are plenty of other LFE effects including dread-inducing electronica, explosions and roaring flames all around at the crashed spaceship's wreckage, and a booming nuclear blast as a space station's reactor explodes.

Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. Extras: commentary by Cruise and Kolinsky, isolated score track in Dolby TrueHD 5.1, "Promise of a New World" 48-minute making-of featurette consisting of the five segments include "Destiny," "Voyage," "Combat," "Illusion," and "Harmony," 5 minutes of deleted scenes; DVD and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: Universal.

On the Road

After more than half a century, Jack Kerouac's iconic autobiographical novel about young bohemians in postwar America - the Beat Generation - has finally made it to the screen, and under the direction of Brazilian Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries, Central Station, Dark Water).

A young writer, Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) takes to the road in search of himself and freedom from the conservative conformity that was washing over America in the postwar years, a quest fueled by jazz and poetic license as much as Benzedrine. He's accompanied on his odyssey by charming, charismatic ex-con Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedland) - suicidal, living life to the full, fearless free spirit - and his friend's girl, Marylou (Kristen Stewart). Along the way we get to meet their co-conspirators to committing unfettered life: writer Old Bull Lee (Viggo Mortensen) based upon poet William S. Burroughs and Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge) based on Allen Ginsberg, as well as a series of series of oddball characters they encounter on their travels.

Francis Ford Coppola bought rights to the 1957 book in 1980 (and I was one of thousands of young men and women that waited out in the snow all day over a decade later to get the chance of a once-over from the director, drop off an audiotape of the reciting of a Beat poem, and even, if you were lucky, exchanging a few words with Francis Ford all in the hope of being cast) but it was 30 years more before executive producer Coppola chose Salles to direct instead of himself. (Kerouac wrote to Marlon Brando asking the actor to portray Dean Moriarty in a movie of the book whiled Kerouac played Sal Paradise).

On the Road co-stars includes Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams, Alice Braga, and Elisabeth Moss. It was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival

Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: deleted scenes. Studio: MPI.

Smiley's People

In this 1982 sequel to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the hit 1979 BBC miniseries based on John le Carré's beautifully written novel, British Secret Service spymaster George Smiley (Alec Guinness) is brought out of forced retirement when an old agent, General Vladimir (Curd Jürgens) tries to contact him and then is shot in the face at close range with a dum-dum bullet. Patient, persistent, terrier-like Smiley follows the trail of clues and contacts leading him through London, Paris, Hamburg, and Bern as he starts to see the shadow of his Soviet espionage opposite and nemesis, Karla (Patrick Stewart), behind a highly complex plot.

Even though this is 30-odd-year-old TV shot on 16mm film stock, the picture is a huge step up from the DVD. Yes, the 1.33:1 images are rather soft, shallow-focused, and somewhat grainy, they are far more detailed. You can read street signs (Westbourne Terrace W2), name labels next to doorbells (V. Miller), and London taxi licenses (XHM 728T) - which is important in a story like this, as much as the ability to decipher type in top-secret documents and phone bills. True, shots are occasionally mushy, but you can still make out fine English drizzle, raindrops on cars, and, in the opening credit sequence, fine grain and peeling paint chips on planks.

Some shots are flat, but there's generally a lot more volume to figures and dimension to spaces. Blacks - of taxicabs, Smiley's overcoat, and figures lurking in the shadows - are pretty deep and dress shirts are bright white. Color differentiation could be better with a broader range of tones and a bit more punch beyond that supplied by bright red telephone boxes, but it works with the emotionally grey, dull, bureaucratic world that Smiley is forced to travels through.

The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 is clear and full so that not one of the arch, biting, beautifully delivered lines is lost. Guinness's voice, even when lowered to a secret whisper, is resonant, well defined, and sonorous. There isn't any panning of vehicle sound effects or much separation of instrumentation in the orchestral theme music, which tends to be slightly tinny in the violin highs but fairly bassy in the brass and cellos. Nowhere is there noticeable hiss and the many silences as George goes about his busybody business are very still. The slightest tap of a fingernail, tearing open of somebody else's mail or cigarette packages, and the rasping marking of a post with yellow chalk to signal a meet are all crisp and natural.

After the original screenwriter dropped out, le Carré's adapted his own book into the screenplay that was directed by Simon Langton. Smiley's People co-stars Eileen Atkins, Bill Paterson, Anthony Bate, Bernard Hepton, Michael Lonsdale, Alan Rickman, and Beryl Reid. The series was nominated for three Emmys in 1983 - including Best Director, Actor, and Miniseries - and won four BAFTAs in 1982.  

The six-part thriller- all 6 hours of it - is contained on a 2-disc set.

Video: 1.33:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Extras: 62 minutes of extended and deleted scenes, 20-minute interview with John le Carré from 2002, text production notes, text le Carré biography and booklist, text glossary of main characters and terms used, trailer to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Studio: Acorn Media.

The Earrings of Madame de . . .

From French filmmaker Max Ophuls, The Earrings of Madame de . . . (1953) is a tale told with masterful direction and gorgeous cinematography by Christian Matras (who also collaborated with Ophuls on La Ronde, Le Plaisir, and Lola Montès) of a woman in late 19th century Paris known as Madame de or Comtesse Louise de . . . (Danielle Darrieux) who, through one action, sets off a chain of events that can only end only in disaster - she sells a pair of earrings.

The jewelry was originally bought for her as a wedding gift by her husband, Général André de . . . (Charles Boyer) and now she's selling them in order to pay a debt she owes. Although the General and the Comtesse seem the perfect couple - he handsome, elegant, and regal, she dazzlingly beautiful, aristocratic, and full of joie de vivre - in private they have little in common and less to talk about.

In Constantinople, she meets Baron Donati (Vittorio De Sica), a charismatic charmer whom she has an immediate attraction to which he reciprocates. When they meet again in Paris through the collision of their carriages, it seems like fate that they should get together. The two begin to meet at lavish balls where they spend time together dancing and talking.

As the earrings continue changing hands over the course of the film, the feelings between the General, the Comatose, and the Baron develop and change as they all deceive one another while still trying to be respectful to the feelings of the other parties involved.

This opulent, elegant adaptation of Louise de Vilmorin's fin de siècle novel, Madame de, comes in a new restored high-definition digital film transfer with uncompressed monaural soundtrack.

Video: 1.33:1. Audio: French, LPCM Mono with English subtitles. Extras: commentary featuring film scholars Susan White and Gaylyn Studlar, introduction by filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, interviews with Ophuls's collaborators Alan Jessua, Marc Frédérix, and Annette Wademant, visual essay by film scholar Tag Gallagher, archival interview with novelist Louise de Vilmorin on Ophuls' adaptation of her story, booklet featuring an essay by critic Molly Haskell, an excerpt from costume designer Georges Annenkov's 1962 book Max Ophuls, and the 1951 source novel by Vilmorin, Madame de. Studio: The Criterion Collection.


In this Southern Gothic tale by writer-director Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter) inspired by Mark Twain's novels Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) the leader of a small gang of teenage kids persuades his friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) to join him in escaping their maddening families to go on an adventure to go out to a nearby island on the Mississippi where there is said to be a boat stuck up in a tree in the recent flood that caused the island to be placed off limits.

Having found the boat the two boys discover a man named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) has been living in it while hiding out on the island from bounty hunters. Mud claims that he killed a man in Texas and is going to run off with his beloved Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) who's waiting for him in town. Despite not completely believing the colorful character's story, the kids agree to help him get the boat down from the tree so that he can escape on the river.

The cast includes Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon, Sam Shepard, and Joe Don Baker.

Video: 2.35:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: director's commentary, "A Personal Tale," "The Arkansas Ensemble," "Southern Authenticity," and "The Snake Pit" featurettes; DVD and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: Lionsgate.

The Borgias: Season 3

Not to be confused with the French-German-Czech-made-in-English Borgia TV series starring John Doman, The Borgias is another saga of the most infamous crime family in history, circa 1492, the Renaissance, Vatican, Rome, Italy. Created by filmmaker Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, The Butcher Boy, Interview with the Vampire) it tells of the Borgia family, an Italian dynasty of Spanish origin, led by Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons) - Pope Alexander VI - who, with the aid of his equally ruthless sons Cesare (François Arnaud), Juan (David Oakes), and Gioffre (Aidan Alexander) and daughter Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger), conspires to dominate the Roman Catholic Church in order to command its massive wealth and power.

Having employed bribery, merciless intimidation, and murder against his rivals in the College of Cardinals to get elected to the papacy in Season 1, by Season 3 Alexander is desperately clinging to power. He takes on Cardinal della Rovere (Colm Feore) and his other enemies and exacts revenge against them through his son Cesare, while striking alliances with other European powers to strengthen his position and secure the family legacy. But Cesare has plans of his own, conniving to ruthlessly establish his own base of power, which leads to a struggle between father and son with Lucrezia caught in the middle.

Other characters who impact of this decadent family includes courtesan and mother of the Pope's children Vanozza Cattaneo (Joanne Whalley), mistress to the Pope Giulia Farnese (Lotte Verbeek), and Cesare's hit man, Michelotto Corella (Sean Harris).

Jordan wrote 6 out of of 10 episodes of Season 3, the last season.

Video: 1.78:1. Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1. Extras: gag reel, Ray Donovan: Episodes 1 & 2. Studio: Paramount.

Midsomer Murders: Set 22

Midsomer Murders premiered in the U.K. in March 1997. Since then, more than 90 feature-length episodes of the smash-hit series have aired with new episodes still in production. The four new stand-alone mysteries in Set 22 are actually the second part of Series 14 (2011-12), which was never broadcast in the U.S.

Inspired by the novels of Caroline Graham, the stories are set in cozy, fictional Midsomer County, a collection of the prettiest, almost picture-perfect hamlets in England, yet probably the most dangerous villages and small towns in the world, where 4 or 5 people get brutally murdered each and every week.

Thankfully, solving the murders and protecting the rest of us from ruthless and crazed killers by locking them up is new Detective Chief Inspector John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon) - younger cousin of Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby (John Nettles) whom he succeeded at Causton CID (Criminal Investigation Department) - as capable a copper as you could hope to be questioned by. He's aided in his endeavors by the intense conviction of his well-organized and competent assistant, Detective Sergeant Ben Jones (Jason Hughes). Together DCI Barnaby and DS Jones study suspects and crime scenes slowly disentangling plots and revealing the secrets of the county's eccentric and often homicidal village people.

The mysteries in this 2-disc set include:

"The Sleeper under the Hill" in which the detectives look into a Druids group in Midsomer Mow.

"The Night of the Stag" where, after the disappearance of a government inspector, local bootleggers become prime suspects.

"A Sacred Trust" in which Midsomer's cloistered nunnery comes under attack in the form of vandalism and something a whole lot worse.

"A Rare Bird" when Barnaby and Jones are concerned whether competition between ornithology enthusiasts led to murder.

Guest stars include Warren Clarke, Joanna David, Genevieve O'Reilly, and James Dreyfus. Fans of Midsomer Murders include Johnny Depp and the Queen of England.

Video: 1.78:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Extras: "Midsomer Murders in Conversation" 34-minute featurette. Studio: Acorn.