Blu Tuesday: The Way Way Back, Only God Forgives and More

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.

“The Way, Way Back”

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

“Only God Forgives”

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

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to July

july_movies

Audiences have seen quite a few big movies may their way into theaters over the past two months, but the onslaught of summer tentpole films isn’t even close to over. In fact, we’ve just reached the midway point of the season, and as you might expect, there’s plenty more big blockbusters on their way, including a potential new Disney franchise for Johnny Depp, Guillermo del Toro’s answer to Godzilla, and the return of Wolverine.

“THE LONE RANGER”

Who: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner and Helena Bonham Carter
What: Native American warrior Tonto recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid, a man of the law, into a legend of justice.
When: July 3rd
Why: Disney may think that they have another ready-made hit on their hands with this big screen adaptation of the popular radio serial, but I don’t know many people that are actually excited about “The Lone Ranger,” and that includes myself. Though Johnny Depp will almost certainly be a riot as the dead-bird wearing Tonto (he’s at his best when playing eccentric characters), Armie Hammer has yet to prove himself as a viable leading man. Additionally, the rumors about the film’s troubled production don’t exactly exude confidence, and although “World War Z” taught us not to take behind-the-scenes drama at face value, there hasn’t been a single trailer released yet that doesn’t make the movie look like one really expensive mess.

“THE WAY, WAY BACK”

Who: Liam James, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carrell and Amanda Peet
What: Over the course of his summer break, a teenager comes into his own thanks in part to the friendship he strikes up with one of the park’s managers.
When: July 5th
Why: After becoming a smash hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the coming-of-age comedy ignited a bidding war, with Fox Searchlight ultimately acquiring the rights for a near-record $10 million. The indie studio clearly believes that the film can replicate the box office success of “Little Miss Sunshine” (it even features two of the actors from that movie in Steve Carell and Toni Collete), and if the festival buzz is to be believed, an awards campaign might not be too far behind. The film marks the directorial debuts of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who first turned industry heads with their Oscar-winning script for “The Descendants,” and boasts a star-studded cast that also includes Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney, Rob Corddry and Amanda Peet. Though it may seem like an odd time of the year to release such a small comedy, it’s actually a smart piece of counterprogramming that could work to its benefit.

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