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: 14-year-old loner Duncan (Liam James) has been dragged by his mom (Toni Collette) to a Massachusetts beach home to spend the summer with her overbearing boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and his daughter (Zoe Levin). While the adults party like they’re on spring break, Duncan finds solace at the local water park, where he meets an unexpected friend and mentor in easygoing manager Owen (Sam Rockwell).
WHY: Earlier this year, “The Way, Way Back” made waves at the Sundance Film Festival when Fox Searchlight bought the crowd favorite for a near-record $10 million, and though that may sound like a lot for an indie movie, it was worth every penny. Much like “Little Miss Sunshine” (another Sundance darling), “The Way, Way Back” succeeds due to its winning script and talented cast. James holds his own alongside some really great performers, and Carell proves once again that he may be a stronger dramatic actor than a comedian. But it’s Rockwell who completely owns the movie as the fast-talking king of the water park, channeling Bill Murray from “Meatballs” with an immensely charming and hilarious performance. Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (who won an Oscar for penning the 2011 tragicomedy “The Descendants”) also deserve a lot of credit for writing a movie that’s as smart, funny and sweet as it is incredibly heartbreaking at times, because although their coming-of-age story follows an all too familiar journey, they manage to make it feel like an entirely fresh experience.
EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette exclusive to the Blu-ray, a trio of behind the scenes featurettes (including a tour of the water park) and some deleted scenes.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: After his brother is killed as revenge for raping and murdering a teenage girl, drug smuggler Julian (Ryan Gosling) is pressured by his domineering mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) to track down and kill the Bangkok police lieutenant (Vithaya Pansringarm), who the locals refer to as the Angel of Death, responsible for authorizing the retaliation.
WHY: Those expecting another “Drive” will be sadly disappointed by “God Only Forgives,” because director Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest film is a very different animal – an abstract and morally ambiguous neo-noir dealing with classic themes like vengeance, justice and loyalty that is almost dreamlike in its execution. Though Refn’s artistic flourishes do more harm than good, turning the barebones story into a daring exercise in expressionism, the movie still managed to hold my interest, thanks in part to its great cast. Gosling has such a strong screen presence that he barely needs to utter a word, while Thomas delivers a memorable turn playing against type as the bitchy queen bee. But it’s Thai actor Pansringarm that is the biggest surprise, nearly stealing the show as the bloodthirsty lawman with a God complex. The film isn’t for everyone, but between Larry Smith’s stunning cinematography and Cliff Martinez’s hypnotic score, “God Only Forgives” is an amazing sensory treat that deserves to be seen for the experience alone.
EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary with writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn, a behind the scenes featurette, a look at Cliff Martinez’s score, and additional interviews with Refn.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: Billy McMahon (Vince Vaughn) and Nick Campbell (Owen Wilson) have built successful careers as watch salesmen, but when their company closes due to the economic crunch, they suddenly find themselves without a job and no real marketable skills to speak of. Analog dinosaurs living in a digital world, their futures look bleak – that is, until Billy enlists them in a summer internship program at Google, with the chance to earn a full-time job at the tech giant.
WHY: Moviegoers have been clamoring for Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson to do another film together after the success of “Wedding Crashers,” and though the reunion took longer than expected, it’s nice to see that they didn’t go the easy route with a “Wedding Crashers” sequel, even if their new movie falls well short of recapturing that same spark. “The Internship” isn’t nearly as bad as its trailers suggest, but while Vaughn and Wilson don’t waste any time in renewing their great onscreen chemistry, it’s still not very funny. “The Internship” is essentially a modern day version of “Revenge of the Nerds,” only instead of the Greek Games, these teams face off in computer programming challenges… and Quidditch. Most of the jokes are about five years past their sell-by date and the stereotypical preconceptions about older people and computers is laughable, but Vaughn and Wilson are so damn charming that it’s easy to forgive some of the more frustrating aspects of the movie, especially when there’s no telling how long before they reunite on screen again.
EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Shawn Levy, there’s a small collection of deleted scenes and a featurette titled “Any Given Monday.”
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: The story of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) picks up nine years later in Greece while on summer vacation with their twin daughters as they face the past, present and future of their rollercoaster relationship.
WHY: Full disclosure: I’ve never seen “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset,” the first two films in Richard Linklater’s romantic trilogy, and as such, my unfamiliarity with the lead characters may have affected my reaction to the third installment. With that said, there’s a lot to admire about “Before Midnight,” particularly the long, dialogue-driven scenes (usually one continuous shot) that make up a majority of the movie. It’s almost like a stage play in the way that it’s presented, relying entirely on the performances of Hawke and Delpy to hold your interest. And both actors, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Linklater, deliver some of their best work yet. “Before Midnight” is the closest thing to a true cinematic collaboration, and it really shows in the mature script, which plays out like the version of “This Is 40” that Judd Apatow only wished he had made. Of course, the movie shares many of the same problems, but while it can become grating watching this obviously in-love couple argue over trivial things, it’s much more enjoyable with actors like Hawke and Delpy doing the arguing.
EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary with director Richard Linklater and stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, a short making-of featurette and a Q&A with the trio moderated by Elvis Mitchell.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT