Coming Aug. 27
"The Great Gatsby" (PG-13, 142 minutes, Warner): "It's like an amusement park." That's Nick Carraway, the wide-eyed, ever-present narrator of "The Great Gatsby," describing one of the legendary parties thrown by the movie's fabulously wealthy and elusive title character. But Carraway (played by Tobey Maguire) could just as easily be referring to the very movie he finds himself in, a hyper-real, hyperactive, hyperbolic adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel that spares no flower, flapper or fringe in bringing Jazz Age decadence to throbbing life. It takes a singular brand of chutzpah to consider perhaps the greatest piece of American literature of the 20th century and say, "What this story needs is 3-D." Australian director Baz Luhrmann is just that audacious, staging Fitzgerald's tale of reinvention and self-deception as a 21st century visual spectacle and multicultural musical mash-up of Jay-Z, George Gershwin and just about everything in between. For all of Luhrmann's swagger, though, the net effect is akin to seeing "The Great Gatsby" miniaturized, its characters carefully choreographed against storybook illustrations of overworked perfection. It's glib to suggest that Luhrmann has made a "Great Gatsby" for idiots; it's more like he's made it for infants, who prefer their stories pictorialized by way of bright, arresting images. By no means is "The Great Gatsby" a disaster: Even at its most shallow, the film rescues Jay Gatsby (played here by Leonardo DiCaprio) as a largely sympathetic, romantic figure rather than a cynically ironic one. But neither is it necessary. Childlike, fetishistic and painfully literal, Luhrmann's experiment proves once again that it's Fitzgerald's writing -- not his plot, his characters or his grasp of material detail -- that has always made "Gatsby" great. Contains some violent images, sexual content, smoking, partying and brief profanity. Extras: "The Greatness of Gatsby" featurette and six other behind-the-scenes looks including a close-up with Maguire, an homage to Fitzgerald's "visual poetry," the soundtrack music videos and "Razzle Dazzle: The Fashion of the '20s"; deleted scenes. Also available in 3-D.
"Pain and Gain" (R, 120 minutes, Paramount): The most important thing you need to know about this action comedy is neither that it's anchored by the double-beefcake sandwich of Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson nor that it's inspired by real events. All of those statements are accurate, more or less. Its factual basis -- a series of grisly crimes committed by a group of Miami bodybuilders in 1994 and 1995 -- would hardly seem the stuff of comedy, even a dark one. No, the most important thing you need to know about this sour attempt to turn tragedy into farce is that it's a Michael Bay project. The man behind such loud and unsubtle popular entertainments as "The Rock," "Pearl Harbor" and the "Transformers" franchise brings his trademark truncheon approach to directing something that demands finesse, not blunt force: the attempt to find humor in the horrible. And the source material is pretty darn horrible. Based on a series of articles by Pete Collins in the Miami New Times, "Pain and Gain" is the story of Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg) and a group of accomplices who came to be known as the Sun Gym Gang. They perpetrated crimes such as murder, kidnapping, torture and extortion in their pursuit of what their film counterparts describe as the "American dream." Their victims are a Miami deli owner (Tony Shalhoub) and a phone-sex entrepreneur and his girlfriend (Michael Rispoli and Keili Lefkovitz). "Pain and Gain" makes much of the fact that it's true, reminding us of its veracity, with on-screen titles, whenever the story begins to strain credulity. Contains obscenity, violence, torture, gore, drug use, nudity, sex and crude humor.
"Tyler Perry Presents Peeples" (PG-13, 95 minutes, Lionsgate): Craig Robinson, "The Office" co-star and Judd Apatow utility player, makes a play for leading man with uneven results in "Tyler Perry Presents Peeples," a bland, quickly disposable romantic comedy. Playing opposite Kerry Washington -- in a wan, underwritten departure from her wildly popular "Scandal" persona -- Robinson sings, mugs, riffs and vamps his way through a barely warmed-over version of "Meet the Parents" redux. Robinson plays Wade Walker, a would-be child therapist who has carved out a living singing inspirational songs to schoolchildren. (The movie opens with him belting out a gospel-tinged toilet training ballad called "Speak It, Don't Leak It.") Wade's girlfriend, Grace Peeples (Washington), is a successful lawyer, and has studiously avoided introducing Wade to her high-achieving family for fear of their disapproval. Wade finally decides to take matters into his own hands, following Grace to a Peeples family weekend at their gorgeous beach house in tony Sag Harbor. Robinson maintains his signature openness and warmth throughout "Peeples," which marks the directorial debut of Tina Gordon Chism (best known for cowriting the wonderful "Drumline" as well as "ATL"). And he's surrounded by consistently game supporting players, who at one immensely gratifying point include Melvin Van Peebles and Diahann Carroll. The schematic script and clunky pacing of "Peeples" notwithstanding, Chism clearly has a knack for casting and humanistic stories. With luck, her sophomore outing will find her in more assured control of stronger material. Contains sexual content, drug material and profanity. Extras: commentary with Chism, producer Stephanie Allain and actors Robinson, Washington, David Alan Grier, Tyler James Williams, Kali Hawk, Malcolm Barrett and Kimrie Lewis-Davis; "Meet the Peeples" three-part featurette, gag reel.
Also: "At Any Price," "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," "Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's" (documentary), "A Company Man" (South Korea), "Damian Lewis Double Feature" (BBC), "Eclipse Series 39: Early Fassbinder" (five films by the New German Cinema filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder), "Missions That Changed the War: Germany's Last Ace" (2011, two-disc, four-part Military Channel documentary, Athena), "Online," "Seattle Superstorm," "2nd Serve," "Super Buddies" (Disney), "Meddling Mom and the Sweeter Side of Life" (Hallmark Movie Channel double feature) and two Scholastic Storybook Treasures, "Children Make Terrible Pets ... And More Stories About Family" and "Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late ... And More Stories by Mo Willems (animated).
Television series: "The Walking Dead: The Complete Third Season," "Elementary -- The First Season," "Sons of Anarchy Season Five," "Tales of the City: 20th Anniversary Edition" (1993, two-disc set includes all six episodes of the Peabody Award-winning PBS miniseries based on the Armistead Maupin novel, Acorn Media), "Call Me Fitz: The Complete Third Season" (DirecTV series) and "Frank Riva: The Complete Series" (2003-04, French mystery series starring Alain Delon, in French with English subtitles).