Blu Tuesday: The Great Gatsby, Pain & Gain 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 Great Gatsby”

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.


“Pain & Gain”

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.


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“Iron Man 3” continues to dominate box office

Iron Man 3

If you one of those guys who loves betting so much that you even lay money down on box office numbers, let’s hope you had week 2 of “Iron Man 3” beating week one of “The Great Gatsby.” Gatsby opened well with a $50.1 million debut, but Iran Man hung in there after a monster opening weekend to pull in another $72.5 million to win the box office last week. It’s nice to see movies live up to the hype, at least when it comes to ticket sales.

You have to give Marvel credit, as they strung together hit after hit across all of their characters. After “Avengers” I thought the third installment of of the Iron Man franchise could end up being a letdown like we’ve seen so many times in this genre, but Marvel is firing on all cylinders, and there’s something about the Tony Stark character created by Robert Downey, Jr. You see Iron Man merchandise everywhere, including slot machines at the Vegas casinos and even virtual slot machines at Betfair casino.

Next week things will get even more interesting as J.J. Abrams is back with “Star Trek Into Darkness” which has a great shot of winning the weekend. As for hype, Abrams is getting plenty of it. With Star Trek he’s already responsible for reviving one of the great science fiction franchises, and then next year he’ll tackle the big one with the Star Wars franchise. After George Lucas belly flopped with the three prequels, let’s hope Abrams is the right choice to take Luke, Han and the others on a worthwhile journey. At the very least the next Star Wars movie will probably be the easiest box office winner to predict. But in the meantime you’ll have to figure out if the Trekkies can rise to the occasion next week.


Movie Review: “The Great Gatsby”

Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton
Baz Luhrmann

Baz Luhrmann was born to make “The Great Gatsby.” Dazzling excess, star-crossed lovers, and tragedy are the cornerstones to nearly every movie he’s ever made, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel has all three in abundance, wrapped in a searing indictment of the pursuit of wealth. All four of those elements of the story are on full display here, but there’s something missing in the execution. For a story with so much passion and longing and regret, it’s surprisingly bloodless. This is not to say that Luhrmann doesn’t hit the emotional buttons; he just doesn’t hit them hard enough. Then again, that may not be Luhrmann’s fault at all, but the source material. A bunch of clueless people ruining their lives by making bad decision after bad decision; it’s like a Mike Leigh movie, with money.

Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is in a sanitarium for a laundry list of conditions (top of the list: morbid alcoholism), and soon begins telling his shrink about the summer of 1922. Nick had taken a job as a bond salesman during the Roaring Twenties, and found a small cottage in the village of West Egg, where he lived next to new-money millionaires. Nick’s cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) lives across the bay from her, and is (unhappily) married to old-money millionaire and unfaithful thug Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). The man who lives next door to Nick is a mysterious fellow named Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Jay would throw massive parties every weekend, but his reason for doing so was surprisingly sweet: he hoped that one day Daisy would attend one of them. Daisy was Gatsby’s girl five years earlier, and once Jay discovers that Nick and Daisy are related, he asks Nick to invite Daisy over for tea. This sets in motion a chain of events that would change the lives of all concerned.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to May


It’s not just the studios that get excited about the beginning of the summer movie season, but audiences as well, because the four-month period marks the release of some of the year’s most anticipated films, from action blockbusters to all-star comedies. This summer is particularly exciting, and it kicks off in May with the latest installments of some of Hollywood’s biggest franchises (“Iron Man,” “Star Trek,” “Fast & Furious” and “The Hangover”), as well as a few lower profile features with the potential to make a big impression.


Who: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce
What: When Tony Stark’s world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, Stark starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution.
When: May 3rd
Why: “Iron Man 2” may be one of the weaker films in Marvel’s Phase One, but it deserves some slack for shouldering a lot of the groundwork leading up to “The Avengers.” With that said, it’ll be nice to see Tony Stark in a more standalone adventure this time out, which is reportedly based on Warren Ellis’ well-received “Extremis” arc, ushering in a change of status quo for the Iron Man armor. The film also marks a change behind the camera as well, with Shane Black taking over for the departing Jon Favreau, although the trailers suggest that it’s business as usual. That’s great news for fans of the first two films, because with the addition of Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall and Ben Kingsley to the cast, “Iron Man 3” is shaping up to the best of the series.


Who: Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Chris Evans, James Franco and Ray Liotta
What: The true story of notorious contract killer Richard Kuklinski, from his early days in the mob until his arrest for the murder of more than 100 men.
When: May 3rd
Why: Millennium Entertainment doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to releasing small movies with big stars, but the cast of “The Iceman” is almost too good to ignore. Michael Shannon tends to deliver his best work in these types of indie films, while Winona Ryder proved in “Black Swan” that she’s still capable of turning in a good performance with the right material. And it wouldn’t be a crime movie without Ray Liotta popping up at some point, so director Ariel Vromen has that box checked as well. Though most people have probably never even heard of Richard Kuklinski or his true life story, sometimes those ones are the best.

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