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posted: 8/3/2013 6:25 AM

DVD previews: 'Mud,' 'Place Beyond the Pines'

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  • Tye Sheridan, left, Jacob Lofland, and Matthew McConaughey, right, star in the coming-of-age drama "Mud."

    Tye Sheridan, left, Jacob Lofland, and Matthew McConaughey, right, star in the coming-of-age drama "Mud."

The Washington Post

Coming Aug. 6

"Mud" (PG-13, 130 minutes, Lionsgate): In an impressively versatile "Bernie," "Magic Mike" and "Killer Joe" hat trick, Matthew McConaughey proves that the rom-com star with the bedroom eyes and bong-hit grin is a real actor, after all. His low-key comeback continues with "Mud," in which he plays the title character as a modern-day cross between Boo Radley and Robert Mitchum's Max Cady. As the slippery central figure of Jeff Nichols' richly observed coming-of-age fable, McConaughey injects a note of danger into a bayou noir story of youthful adventure that is lyrical and sobering at the same time. Aided by extraordinarily assured performances from young co-stars Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, McConaughey defines his own version of a familiar Southern character -- the frightening Other who can strangle as easily as save -- as an enduring archetype rather than irritating stereotype. Simple values -- hard work, honesty, trust, basic decency -- inform everything about "Mud," from its story to its aesthetic. That simplicity makes Nichols' film something of the anti-"Beasts of the Southern Wild," last year's art-house darling that depicted a similar world and its marginal figures with stylized and troubling exoticism. Contains some violence, sexual references, profanity, thematic elements and smoking. Extras: commentary with Nichols and featurettes on Nichols' writing and directing, the characters and cast, "Southern Authenticity: Shooting the Real Arkansas" and "The Snake Pit: The Slithering Co-stars of Mud."

"The Place Beyond the Pines" (R, 140 minutes, Universal): Ryan Gosling plays a kind of tattooed lover-boy role as a drifter named Luke, who makes his living on the road as a motorcycle stunt rider. For a minute, it looks like "The Place Beyond the Pines" will be a deeply psychological character study in the tradition of "The Wrestler" or "The Fighter." But Derek Cianfrance goes for something more sprawling and self-consciously dramatic: a meditation on fate, destiny and sins of the fathers delivered as a three-act triptych with diminishing returns. During the film's first act, Gosling commands attention with every flick of his eyelashes. Luke is paid a visit by Romina (Eva Mendes) and decides to hang around, fetching up at a roadside mechanic's shop run by a motorcycle enthusiast named Robin (Ben Mendelsohn). Even though Luke's subsequent actions are motivated by his devotion to Romina, the real romance in "The Place Beyond the Pines" is between Luke and Robin: Cianfrance shoots them in the high key light of lovers, their blue eyes flashing toward each other amid the garage's sooty grime. Luke's chapter of "The Place Beyond the Pines" features the film's best scenes, including at least two impressive chases through the Schenectady, N.Y., streets and a cemetery. As the sum of some admittedly imperfect parts, "The Place Beyond the Pines" still manages to cast its own haunting, sorrowful spell. Contains profanity throughout, some violence, teen drug and alcohol use and a sexual reference.

"Oblivion" (PG-13, 125 minutes, Universal): "Oblivion" looks marvelous, in the deliciously dystopian way of so many post-apocalyptic films. It's set in 2077, after alien invaders called Scavengers (or "Scavs") have laid waste to the moon, leading to cataclysmic floods and earthquakes that have ravaged Earth. The film features gorgeous CGI shots of such broken, half-buried landmarks as the Washington Monument and the Empire State Building, whose observation deck can now be accessed by walking onto it from a mountain of rubble. The movie, by director Joseph Kosinski ("Tron: Legacy"), is said to be based on a graphic novel by Kosinski and comic book writer Arvid Nelson. Although that book was never published -- and probably never will be -- the mock-up of the story drew the attention of star Tom Cruise, along with not one, but two, studios. Disney, which originally had the rights, and Universal, which ultimately made the film. It's an engrossing, if complicated and twisty, story, with plentiful sci-fi action and a provocative subtext about the nature of the human soul. It's as if "Oblivion" is inviting us to undergo our own memory wipes before seeing the film. If you're able to forgive and forget, "Oblivion" isn't a bad place to start loving Tom. Contains obscenity, brief nudity and some violence. Extras: Commentary with Cruise and Kosinski; deleted scenes; M83 isolated score (watch the entire film accompanied by the music track); multi-part making-of featurette. Also, on Blu-ray, featurette tracing the creation of the Bubble Ship from its design conception to its journey around the world; and shorts on the film's action and death-defying stunts, visual effects and "Harmony," the innovative musical world of M83.

"The Sapphires" (PG-13, 99 minutes, The Weinstein Co.): This portrait of a Supremes-esque girl group from Down Under is so unabashedly earnest and well-intentioned that one is almost tempted to overlook the little indie's shortcomings. But "The Sapphires" is a pedestrian and derivative effort whose ambitions exceed its plucky, determined grasp. That's a shame, because when the members of the film's female quartet croon tunes from a genre best described as Aboriginal Australian Motown, the movie bubbles over with joy. But as soon as the music stops, the whole enterprise sputters and goes clunk. It's 1968, and three sisters who have been harmonizing since they were little girls are hunting for their big break. Director Wayne Blair tries to draw connections between America's civil rights era and Australia's struggle for ethnic equality during the pauses between all the musical numbers. But the messages are often obscured by a screenplay that relies too heavily on the cliches of the typical music-movie narrative. "The Sapphires" is based on a true story, but a film based on the very real musical dreams of very real people deserves to feel much more authentic than this. Contains sexuality, a scene of war violence, some language, thematic elements and smoking.

Also: "West of Memphis" (documentary on the 18-year fight to free the "West Memphis 3" teenagers wrongfully convicted of the 1993 murders of three boys in Arkansas, Sony), "On the Road" (adaptation of the Jack Kerouac novel, IFC Films), "To the Wonder" (directed by Terence Malick, Magnolia Home Entertainment), "Adventures in Zambezia" (animated), "The Cloth," "Duch: Master of the Forges of Hell" (France/Cambodia), "Living Downstream" (2010, documentary), "The Bruce Lee Legacy Collection" (11-disc Blu-ray/DVD box set), "Charlie Chan Collection" (1946-48, four remastered films), "My Amityville Horror," "Gallowwalkers ," "Tom and Jerry's Giant Adventure" (animated), "Magic Magic," "Not Today," "Paradise Love" (Austria/Germany/France), "My Little Pony Equestria Girls" and "Care Bears: A Belly Badge for Wonderheart -- The Movie ."

Television series: "Duck Dynasty: Season 3," "Smash: Season Two," "Political Animals: The Complete Series," "Gunsmoke: The Ninth Season Volume One and Volume Two" (1963-64), "The Twilight Zone: The Complete Fourth Season" (1963), "The Borgias -- The Third Season," "The Best of Fridays" (1980-82, ABC late-night skit comedy) and "Midsomer Murders Set 22" (four-disc set of the British mystery miniseries, Acorn Media).

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