For the week of August 27th, Paramount Home Media Entertainment is releasing Pain & Gain on Blu-ray. As the previews so memorably depicted, most of what transpires here actually happened; the film looks at three personal trainers (Mark Walhberg, Dwayne Johnson, and Anthony Mackie) who instigated an extortion/murder racket in Miami during the late 1990s. Director Michael Bay certainly embellishes this tale in certain areas - Dwayne Johnson's ex-con is an invention of screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (Captain America: The First Avenger), and the film contains two extended shootouts/chase scenes that never occurred - but for the most part, he sticks to the facts of the actual crimes, which are as bizarre and over-the-top as anything in Bay's fictional entertainments like Bad Boys II or The Rock. The incompetence of the three leads is staggering, and it caused what might have been a routine case of identity theft to spiral out of control. We're talking grilled body parts, murder-by-dumbbell, and more tanned flesh and fast cars than an average episode of Miami Vice, but these excesses perfectly mirror Bay's directorial excesses - this is easily his best film since 1995's Bad Boys, and one could argue it's the best thing he's ever made, period. Tonally, Bay pulls off a funhouse, Coen-Brothers-on-crack atmosphere, and he gets brilliant performances from the likes of Wahlberg (whose Daniel Lugo feels like the missing link between Tom Ripley and The Situation), Ed Harris, Mackie, Tony Shalhoub, and Johnson, who deserves an Academy Award nomination (really!) for his work as Lugo's childlike, frighteningly unstable right-hand-man.
In his Blu-ray review, Martin Liebman calls Pain & Gain "a fascinatingly morbid tale of material obsession, of allowing good ideas, strong words, and positive results to become mutated somewhere on the way into the eyes and ears, through the brain, and back out the mouth, hands, and feet. Lugo takes pride in his physique and his ability to turn the fortunes of his gym and allows that pride to transform into a want for more, to expand his status beyond his body and acquire the material goods to match. He wants social status as big as his arms, no matter the price. And it's his pursuit of those things - or, his wayward, unintelligent pursuit of those things - that destroy several lives along the way. Pain & Gain is as much a tragedy as it is anything else, the story of how one bad choice can destroy a lifetime's worth or work. It almost needs that underlying sense of humor in order to make it bearable. Bay blends it all together with an expert hand, keeping things in his familiar style but, perhaps more than in any other film he's made, finding a legitimate center beyond sight and sound and constructing a story and the characters that make it with an expert touch along every step of the way."
From Warner Home Entertainment comes The Great Gatsby, director Baz Luhrmann's bold re-imagining of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. Viewers expecting a staid, conventional interpretation along the lines of Jack Clayton's 1974 version might be shocked by this iteration; this is Gatsby done in the style of Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge: vivid, primary colors abound, captured by a perpetually moving camera and goosed with contemporary needle drops (the soundtrack features contributions from Lana Del Rey, Jack White, Andre 3000, Beyoncé, and executive producer Jay-Z) and abundant CGI (and all in 3D, no less). For fans of Luhrmann, this new Great Gatsby should delight and amuse, but his detractors should seek refuge elsewhere - his hyperkinetic style threatens to overwhelm Fitzgerald's delicate prose, with the cast often struggling to make an impact alongside the directorial flourishes (while Leonardo DiCaprio, Joel Edgerton, and newcomer Elizabeth Debicki each do a terrific job of distinguishing themselves, co-stars Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan get lost in the aesthetics, and Isla Fisher and Jason Clarke are reduced to playing shrill cartoons). Still, like Luhrmann's other films, this one offers a full-throated, singular screen vision, and it's easy to respect what Luhrmann has done.
Kenneth Brown struggles with the film in his Blu-ray review, asking "how is it that an adaptation arriving in the midst of another boom-crisis-boom-crisis economic cycle has so painfully little to say to a modern audience...Here, Nick and his money-grubbing compatriots are superficial, altogether alienating caricatures. Every last one of them and everyone in between. Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, George (Jason Clarke), Myrtle (Isla Fisher), Jordan (Elizabeth Debicki)... brash, one-dimensional exclamation points whose wide eyes, grand gestures, laughably exaggerated performances and simultaneously stiff period delivery are baffling. Who Framed Roger Rabbit was less cartoony than Gatsby...More troubling is Luhrmann and [screenwriter Craig] Pearce's hyperactive vision and sledgehammer script, which utterly fail to tie decadence to decay, connect the '20s to the 21st century (the film's modern music is a transparent trick that leads nowhere), or convey the intricacies of a fascinating period in American history rife with opportunity and ruthlessness, opulence and cruelty. The director's Roaring '20s are more rowdy than roaring, and lack texture and truth; his actors proceed as if they've literally been snorting copious amounts of cocaine between takes, and suffer the limitations such feverish intensity and spastic energy bring. Even if you've never cracked a copy of The Great Gatsby...it's all too obvious there's a lot of noise to the film but nothing that might make it quintessential or meaningful. Or, quite frankly, entertaining at all."
TV-on-Blu-ray gets a big boost with Anchor Bay's The Walking Dead: The Complete Third Season package. In its third season, AMC's high-watched series about the survivors of the zombie apocalypse has pulled off an unusual feat: it's managed to right a course that many viewers took issue with in previous seasons. Despite a phenomenal pilot episode, the inaugural year of the program stumbled to overcome a six-episode season load that was simultaneously abbreviated and repetitive, and the first half of the second season only made matters worse, as the narrative got bogged down in an extended search for a largely inconsequential supporting character. Further complicating matters was the much-publicized exodus of Shawshank Redemption auteur Frank Darabont from his position as showrunner, yet his replacement, Glen Mazzara, is largely responsible for addressing the program's biggest concerns. Beginning with the second half of Season Two, the story and characters began moving more purposefully, and that momentum carried into Season Three, which found its heroes trying to fortify an abandoned prison while avoiding the wrath of "The Governor" (David Morrissey, in a spellbinding Big Bad turn), another survivor of the plague who runs a local refugee camp with fascist aplomb. In the most important change, Mazzara turns Andrew Lincoln's Rick Grimes into a fascinating, multilayered protagonist who just can't shake his many demons, and that internal conflict plays well off Morrissey's showier villain, but Lincoln isn't the only one to benefit - most of the cast gets meatier stuff to chew on (pun intended), from Norman Reedus to Chandler Riggs to Walking Dead newbies Dallas Roberts and Danai Gurira. This third season isn't perfect - as Andrea, Laurie Holden never makes the most of her character's arc, and the season finale boldly confronts all the major conflicts...and then sidesteps many of them - but by and large, this is propulsive, scary stuff, and a real improvement from what preceded it.
Martin Liebman makes reference to AMC's other hit genre series, writing "sorry, Breaking Bad, but with its third season The Walking Dead may have finally stepped up and overtaken the acclaimed drug manufacturing drama as television's best program...It's hopeless, dark, nearly unwatchable in places, but it's insanely addicting, too, creating a world that's absolutely repulsive on every level but at the same time a world the audience does not want to escape. Season three in particular is defined by exceptionally hard choices, disastrous turns of events, emotional overloads, heartbreak, and intense action. There are gallons of blood spilled from the living and from the dead, but season three is more about people breaking on the inside rather than on the outside. It's about new hopes, dashed dreams, warped sensibilities, questioned allegiances, loss, gain, and everything in between. It's an incredible program that's only getting better, and season three is the best season yet."
Also from Anchor Bay is Kon-Tiki. This Academy Award-nominated (for Best Foreign Language Film) adventure adapts biologist Thor Heyerdahl's account of his travails across the Pacific Ocean; Heyerdahl (played in the film by Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen) wanted to test if he could replicate the conditions of a mythical Polynesian sea race, and so he and five other explorers set out on the water in a raft built to mimic those early sailing conditions. Their journey took them over 4,000 miles - and helped shape Heyerdahl's Academy Award-winning documentary from 1950, in addition to his book - and the new film dramatizes the trip for modern audiences. That means we get shark attacks utilizing a mixture of practical and digital effects, a hissable villain (Baasmo Christiansen as Heyerdahl's second-in command Herman Watzinger), and a softening of Heyerdahl's own racially insensitive hypotheses (he believed that primitive cultures only advanced their technologies with the help of white Europeans). Still, even though this might be the Hollywood version of Kon-Tiki, it's a red-blooded, exciting Hollywood version all the same. Hagen is a perfect hero, driven and courageous, and directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg give Heyerdahl's saga a pleasingly physical texture that's more Master and Commander than Pirates of the Caribbean (ironically, following Kon-Tiki's success, Jerry Bruckheimer and Johnny Depp tapped Rønning and Sandberg to helm the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean installment).
Unless you saw To Be or Not to Be when it first premiered in 1942, it's impossible to fully grasp the cutting-edge, satirical bite of this Ernst Lubitsch favorite. Lubitsch might have taken his film's major story beats from classic farce - here, a husband-and-wife theater duo (Jack Benny and Carole Lombard) have to contend with their dueling egos as well as with a covert spy plan - but the details were as topical as it got for 1942; Benny and Lombard's characters become spies for the Polish Resistance in order to combat the Nazi menace. Considering how sensitive contemporary audiences are when it comes to mingling comedy with real-life horror - note the outrage that erupted over the suicide-bomber spoof Four Lions - it's no surprise that audiences in 1942 generally recoiled from To Be or Not to Be, and the film received poor-to-middling critical and commercial notices. Seventy years, To Be or Not to Be is finally divorced from its release controversy, and we can appreciate it for what it truly is: one of the greatest screwball comedies ever made. Benny and Lombard are a screen partnership for the ages (this was Lombard's last role before her untimely death, and she's so good here that you yearn for all her great performances that never came), the "Lubitsch Touch" is in full and sparkling effect, and the picture's gliding mix of suspense and humor continues to influence filmmakers, from Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft's 1983 remake to Quentin Tarantino's Academy Award-winning Inglourious Basterds.
Svet Atanasov praised the picture's risky spirit, writing that "it is true that some of the key sequences are far from believable - particularly during the final third of the film where the Polish actors become high-ranking Nazi officials - but this isn't a film that would have benefited from more realism. If anything, more realism would have made it far more politically correct, while its key characters would have evolved into boring patriots with transparent agendas. Lombard and Benny make a superb couple - both have weaknesses, hilarious obsessions, and are willing to play games. Both are also terrific improvisators, the latter in particular being the key figure in the finest Nazi-mocking sequences."
Walt Disney Home Entertainment has picked Tuesday to street The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. As far as Disney creations go, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh would seem to occupy a more unassuming realm than its more ostentatious brethren. It isn't experimental like Fantasia or iconic like Bambi or extravagant like The Lion King; it isn't even the funniest Disney film (that honor would arguably go to Hercules or the Mouse House's underrated The Emperor's New Groove). Yet many Disney fans regard The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh as one of their favorites, and its low-key charm is a big part of the film's appeal. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is the great Disney hang-out movie (or movies, considering that it actually compiles three Pooh-centric short films: Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too), content to emphasize community and tenderness as it follows Pooh and his friends around the Hundred Acre Wood. Additionally, the picture does a sterling job of bringing A.A. Milne's prose and Ernest H. Shepard's illustrations to life, at times turning the frame into replicas of the Pooh pages and then letting the characters play around in the story's text. A sweet, charming little gem.
Kenneth Brown praisesAdventures for "provid[ing] the rare opportunity to trace the path of a classic series' evolution - from its early experimental genesis to the discovery of its now familiar rhythms - and to deliver on both its promises and potential. There's also something to be said for the film's innocence and restraint, which makes modern animated movies feel busier and more erratic than they already are. At first glance, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh seems like a film geared toward pre-school and early elementary school children. And while it is in part, its ease and effortlessness, its dulcet tones and sooting voices, sing-song music score and quaint sound design are refreshing. In a noisy, hyperactive animated landscape, the Hundred Acre Wood is a welcome oasis; one I've never grown tired of visiting and revisiting, no matter how much gray slithers into my hair, or how old Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree or The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh may be."
Finally, Tuesday and Anchor Bay bring viewers Pawn Shop Chronicles. The picture follows the convoluted, often bloody adventures of seven people who all visit the same pawn shop, and with its overstuffed, overqualified cast (Paul Walker, Matt Dillon, Kevin Rankin, Brendan Fraser, Norman Reedus, Vincent D'Onofrio, Elijah Wood, Thomas Jane, Lukas Haas, Chi McBride, Michael Cudlitz, and Ashlee Simpson, oddly enough) and glib mixture of humor and brutality, Pawn Shop Chronicles is clearly inviting comparisons with Quentin Tarantino's great Pulp Fiction - just like that 1994 classic, Pawn Shop Chronicles breaks its plot into three interlocking narratives, with the second one even centering on a missing wedding ring in much the same way that Pulp Fiction's middle third hinged on Bruce Willis' missing gold watch. That said, while imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery, it doesn't make for a satisfying movie. Pawn Shop Chronicles isn't terrible, but it also adds nothing new to the cinema; I'd liken Pawn Shop Chronicles to Pulp wannabes like Suicide Kings or Things to Do In Denver When You're Dead, movies that popped up in the immediate wake of Tarantino's film, a fact that makes Pawn Shop Chronicles feel both uninspired and late to the party. Ultimately, the movie's greatest sin is squandering the talents of director Wayne Kramer. In his The Cooler and the twisted neo-noir-Grimm's-fairy-tale Running Scared, Kramer proved wholly successful at taking a Tarantino-esque template and subverting it through his pulpier, more floridly emotional energies, but Pawn Shop Chronicles constrains his mad genius to dispiriting ends.
@boothill gunslinger. U really don't have to be an ass ok? Most of us pretty much grew up watching Winnie the Pooh including me. Winnie the Pooh the walking dead, sons of anarchy for me. Going to wait for a price drop on the great gatsby and pain and gain.
The Great Gatsby 3D and The Walking Dead Season 3 steelbook for me this week. I'll wait on an inevitable Pain & Gain double dip since this initial release has no special features, save for a DVD and digital copies.
Arriving from my preorders this week are: The Reluctant Fundamentalist; The Great Gatsby (2013; 3D) and And Then There Were None. Also shipping from the UK upon their release this week are: Simon Killer; Exotica and The Fall of the House of Usher (steelbook).
In the near future I plan to buy To Be or Not to Be.
I'll probably consider Pain & Gain at some point at a low price.
Pawn Shop Chronicles is an amazing flick, if anyone is wondering. I thought it would be just another cheesy, filler movie but I was way off. I was kinda blown away by the seriousness of it in certain moments. If you can get past the first 15min, you'll be hooked.