Film and TV

DVDs & Blu-rays: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, A Lonely Place to Die, Buster Keaton and More

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy stars Gary Oldman and Colin Firth; Tomas Alfredson directs.

The Set-Up: It's the 1970s and there's a Russian spy inside the British secret service. Agent George Smiley (played by Gary Oldman) has been tasked with finding him. The suspects? Powerful men from the agency's inner circle.

The film is based on John le Carré's 1974 novel, which was in turn inspired by the true story of British/Russian double agent Kim Philby. Prior to becoming a novelist le Carré, born David John Moore Cornwell, was a British spy. That career ended when he was outed by Philby.

The Execution: At its heart, Tinker, Tailor is a love story, but this time it is love of country and a cause. Oldman is perfection as the world-weary Smiley. He's silent for much of the film (in fact, it's almost 20 minutes into TInker, Tailor before Smiley speaks). That might have limited another actor's performance, especially in a film full of mysteries and secrets, but here it frees Oldman's character as he figures out who's on what side and what he should do about it.

The rest of the cast matches Oldman's excellence. John Hurt is Control, the head of the agency who sets things in motion. Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch are among the other agents.

Director Tomas Alfredson keeps the action taut, and Bridget O'Connor's and Peter Straughan's screenplay is lean.

The Extras: There's audio commentary by the director and Oldman, interviews with the principals, including John le Carré and co-screenwriter Peter Straughan, along with a 13 minute featurette, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy First Look, and deleted scenes.

A Lonely Place to Die stars Melissa George and Ed Speleers; Julian Gilbey directs.

Another film worth attention this week is the action/adventure flick A Lonely Place to Die. A small group of mountain climbers discover an eight-year-old girl buried alive in a box in the mountain side. One of the climbers, Alison (Melissa George), is determined to get the girl to safety, but the group soon finds it's being hunted by both the girl's kidnappers and the mercenaries the girl's war criminal father sent to save her. George's performance, especially her interaction with the little girl, gives Lonely Place a good anchor. In addition to the exciting action, there's plenty of beautiful scenery and the cinematography is excellent. Unfortunately, extras are limited.

For film addicts interested in the classics, there's Lost Keaton: Sixteen Comedy Shorts 1934-1937, a must-have for every cinephile's collection. All 16 of the films Keaton made with Earle W. Hammons Education Pictures are here, 14 of them have never been available on DVD or Blu-ray before. Don't let the studio title throw you, Education Pictures specialized in short comedies and was the perfect home for Keaton after talkies came along. Keaton's comedic persona, Elmer, is featured in many of the shorts.

There are just a few extras, including a gallery of still photographs and film notes by David Macleod, the author of The Sound of Buster Keaton. There's also Why They Call Him Buster, a montage of Keaton's prat falls and stunts that highlight the physical aspect of his comedy, including his performing a Russian folk dance that somehow ends with a backwards flip.

This is the perfect companion to the previously released Buster Keaton Short Film Collection: 1920 - 1923. You'll notice an 11-year gap between the two collections. Keaton was signed to MGM during that time and many experts regard his work during those years to be less than stellar.

Electric Shadows stars Zhang Yijin and Xia Yu; Xiao Jiang directs.

Among the box sets being release this week is the gem Secret Pleasures: Four Asian Films about Love, Longing and Fish Hooks. .The quartet of award-winning films include the erotic thriller The Isle by Kim Ki-Duk and charming Electric Shadows by first-time director Xiao Jiang . There's also the witty The Personals by Chen Kuo-fu, and the mystery Ghosted by Monika Treut. Each of the titles made big news on the film festival circuit. The films are in Korean, Mandarin, German with English subtitles.

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Olivia Flores Alvarez