Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.
WHAT: Bond salesman Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) gets pulled into the extravagant world of Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) when he rents a small house on Long Island next to the reclusive millionaire’s lavish mansion. But Gatsby has ulterior motives for befriending Nick – he’s in love with his cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), who’s currently trapped in a loveless marriage with wealthy socialite Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).
WHY: If you ever wondered what a bad movie starring good actors looks like, then you’ll want to check out this disastrous adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” Though Warner Bros. tried to put a positive spin on the film’s delay, it’s pretty clear why they decided not to release it during awards season like originally planned: it’s a boring mess. The only thing worse than a dull movie is one that tries to disguise it with razzle-dazzle, and director Baz Luhrman’s kitschy vision of the Roaring 20s is so oversaturated in style and off-the-wall choices (like the use of a contemporary, mostly hip-hop soundtrack) that he completely ignores the many nuances of Fitzgerald’s novel. The whole thing is executed so poorly that I came up with a drinking game just to keep myself entertained. Take a sip every time DiCaprio says “old sport,” and take a shot every time someone slicks back their hair. You’ll be plastered within the hour, but at least the film will be a lot easier to watch.
EXTRAS: Sadly, there’s no audio commentary by director Baz Luhrmann, but there are a number of featurettes on things like pre-production, costume design and the soundtrack, as well as on-set video diaries by Tobey Maguire, an in-depth look at five sequences and some deleted scenes.
FINAL VERDICT: SKIP
WHAT: Based on an unbelievably true story, physical trainer Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) enlists the help of fellow bodybuilder Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and recently paroled born-again Christian Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) to kidnap a Miami businessman (Tony Shaloub) and force him to sign over all his assets.
WHY: After three “Transformers” films, it’s nice to see Michael Bay challenging himself with something on a much smaller scale – one that doesn’t involve blowing shit up every 10 minutes – although it may not necessarily look like it due to the director’s trademark ramped-up style. Bay’s movies can be pretty grueling to watch at times between the relentless high energy intensity and overlong runtimes, and “Pain & Gain” is no exception. But whereas a film like “Bad Boys II” had the added annoyance level of Martin Lawrence (to the point that it gave me a headache), this movie actually benefits from its cast. Wahlberg, Johnson and Mackie all deliver enjoyable performances as the amateur criminals, and though no amount charm makes them come across any less idiotic, that’s part of the fun. “Pain & Gain” is a lot like “Raising Arizona” in many respects – if that film was shot up with a potent cocktail of steroids and speed – and though it’s fairly entertaining at times, it eventually becomes too crazy for its own good.
EXTRAS: Surprisingly, there’s no bonus material available. Nothing, nada, zilch.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: After the fallout of last season, Jax (Charlie Hunnam) has officially taken over as club president, but that hasn’t stopped a debilitated Clay (Ron Perlman) from trying to claw his way back to the top. Meanwhile, the Sons gain a new enemy in Oakland crime boss Damon Pope (Harold Perrineau), although it’s the schism within the club that proves to be the biggest threat.
WHY: “Sons of Anarchy” may be nothing more than an adrenalized soap opera for men, but the FX drama is still one of the best series on television. Creator Kurt Sutter has never been one to shy away from controversy, and this season presented some especially hard-to-swallow moments, perhaps none more so than the shockingly brutal death of fan favorite Opie, played brilliantly by Ryan Hurst. Though his murder actually served a purpose in progressing the story (unlike most TV deaths these days, which are all about shock value or unhappy actors), Opie was the Horatio to Jax’s Hamlet, and his death left a gaping hole in the dynamic of the show. Thankfully, other cast members really stepped it up in his absence, including Kim Coates and newcomer Jimmy Smits as a former gangster who becomes an unlikely mentor to Jax. Then again, “Sons of Anarchy” has always been an ensemble effort, and with storytelling this great, it’s no surprise why so many talented actors want to be involved, no matter how small the role.
EXTRAS: The three-disc set contains audio commentaries for two episodes, deleted scenes, a gag reel, and a pair of featurettes, including a retrospective on Opie.
FINAL VERDICT: BUY
WHAT: Three seemingly unrelated stories – featuring a pair of white supremacists (Paul Walker and Kevin Rankin) planning to hold up a meth lab, a man (Matt Dillon) searching for his kidnapped wife, and a down-on-his-luck Elvis impersonator (Brendan Fraser) – are connected by a Southern small-town pawn shop.
WHY: Director Wayne Kramer’s twisted dark comedy has been marketed as some kind of redneck “Pulp Fiction,” but while it may be similar to the Tarantino classic in spirit, the two movies couldn’t be further apart in quality. “Pawn Shop Chronicles” is one of the dumbest films you’ll see all year, with some terrible performances from its B-list cast (particularly Dillon and Fraser) and devoid of any genuine laughs. Most of the stuff that happens in this movie is so incredibly random that it was probably assembled using a Mad Libs pad, and because each story is so different, Kramer fails to strike a consistent tone throughout. That doesn’t stop him from straining to link the three vignettes together anyway, as if doing so will somehow make the film (which feels more like a compilation than an interconnected narrative) seem cleverer. But there’s nothing clever about “Pawn Shop Chronicles,” and at nearly two hours long, it’s difficult to see why anyone would want to spend the time to find that out.
EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Wayne Kramer and writer Adam Minarovich, but that’s it.
FINAL VERDICT: SKIP