The Painting (NR, 2011, GKIDS/Cinedigm)
Explaining “The Painting” in words is like describing an actual painting the same way: It can be done with some effort, but there’s no way to do it justly, and it’s probably best just to see it for yourself and take from it what you will. “The Painting’s” world is a living, in-progress painting come alive. Visually, it looks utopian, but the reality — a classist system where fully-painted people separate themselves from the partially painted and treat incomplete sketches as if they aren’t human at all — is another story. That’s the simple explanation, and it’s a premise “The Painting” handles simply, perhaps heavy-handedly so. But it’s hard to worry too much about hamfisted literalism in a world like this, where paintings come alive inside paintings, lines blur between worlds and painters are spoken of as if to be gods. On-the-nose though it may be with regard to class discrimination, “The Painting” is incredibly inventive with regard to pretty much everything else that constitutes the reality of its world. And the visual design keeps pace, twisting around itself and bending all rules with regard to color, texture, scale, medium and dimension. That “The Painting’s” animation and writing feel this in tune with one another shouldn’t be a surprise given the nature of the story, but that doesn’t make it any less extraordinary an accomplishment.
Extras: Making-of feature, concept art, original French audio track.
The Great Gatsby (PG-13, 2013, Warner Bros.)
Isn’t it weird how someone can love a story enough to make a movie in its honor, yet fully miss what makes that story so revered in the first place? Apparently it isn’t, because it happens constantly, and it happens again in Baz Luhrmann’s gorgeous, glitzy and stunningly insecure and fatigued tribute to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic. Purely on its own merits, as 143 minutes of sensory entertainment, “Gatsby” offers plenty to like. Bright lights, bright colors, ornate costumes and magnificent set pieces run rampant, Leonardo DiCaprio’s attempted embodiment of Jay Gatsby is fun to watch, and the hip-hop soundtrack is strangely in step with the atmosphere despite being so pointedly at odds with the time period. But try though the kinetic presentation does, it cannot mask the repeated fumbles “Gatsby” commits as it attempts to do even reasonable justice to the book’s heart and soul. Too much that’s implied and left to debate in the book is hammered down with literal strokes here. All that hammering starkly alters the story’s perspective — so much, in fact, that Nick (Tobey Maguire), who is the novel’s narrator and arguable true main character, nearly submerges into irrelevancy here before coming back up for air toward the end. Luhrmann’s vision, meanwhile, seems wedged in an undesirable middle — bold enough to believe in the soundtrack gimmick that easily could alienate those who cherish the book, but too scared to parlay that boldness into a completely new time period and setting that would reinvent this “Gatsby” as a fearless beast of its own creation. For all its audial and visual noise, the most apparent thing about the entire film is that it has no real idea whom its audience even is.
Extras: Alternate ending, deleted scenes, seven behind-the-scenes features, trailer for the 1926 “Gatsby” silent film.
At Any Price (R, 2012, Sony Pictures)
If “At Any Price” wanted to present family man and independent farming magnate Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) as something other than a snake, its opening impression — wherein Henry and son Dean (Zac Efron) crash a funeral in hopes of buying land from the son inheriting it from the father he just buried — does it no favor. But at least the wobbly tone established by that opening scene is an honest, albeit potentially polarizing, harbinger of what lies ahead. “Price” juggles a handful of storylines, including but not limited to Dean’s desire to race cars instead of inherit the family business, the prospect of Henry facing investigation for illegal farming practices, issues of varying ugliness between rival farming families, and relationship subplots for father and son alike. Some of the stories go somewhere but seem to just kind of disappear without resolution, while others (particularly the investigation) may be too inside baseball for many to fully understand without looking elsewhere for background information about the terms and politics. Almost none of them draw any kind of line in the sand in terms of which characters we should actually like and care about, which seems like a colossal oversight for a movie focused around one family and its patriarch. But it’s that refusal (or inability) to draw lines that makes “Price” an engaging movie in spite of its missteps. From the minute Dad commits a gross faux pas at a funeral, the stage is set for a movie where nobody really comes away looking all that clean, and for all its warts, “Price” never takes the easy way out to undo the mess its characters make.
Extras: Director/Quaid commentary, rehearsal footage, Toronto International Film Festival Q&A.
Pawn Shop Chronicles (R, 2013, Anchor Bay)
As reality television show producers have already discovered, every item on a pawn shop shelf has at least one story attached to it. Perhaps fortunately, the vast majority of them aren’t as bloody and deranged as the saga of the wedding ring Richard (Matt Dillon) spots behind the counter and recognizes as the ring he gave to his first wife, who had since vanished from his life. As the title indicates, the shop in which Alton (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Johnson (Chi McBride) hold fort is the gatekeeper of all the traffic that passes through “Chronicles,” which takes a trio and change of disconnected stories — of two-bit criminals, a wounded ex-husband, an Elvis impersonator (Brendan Fraser) and more — and ties them all together into a strange and occasionally wondrous story about crime, violence, revenge, love, happiness and complete and total life fulfillment. “Chronicles” crams its stories together in a fashion no one should ever describe as subtle or seamless, and the line between endearingly stupid and just plain cut-rate filmmaking is awfully thin as it tries to reconcile the violence in its heart with the purity of its intentions. But there’s something contagious about a movie that’s having as much fun as “Chronicles” seems to be having even during its downtime (or closest facsimile of downtime, anyway). For all it does awkwardly, strangely or even poorly, “Chronicles” never stoops so low as to be dull or predictable, and when the goal is to have as much fun as possible whether it makes sense of not, there is no higher priority than that.
Rapture-Palooza (R, 2013, Lions Gate)
At long last, the Rapture has arrived, and as perhaps was predicted, Lindsey (Anna Kendrick) and Ben (John Francis Daley) were left behind to fend for themselves. Depleted population and the occasional locust, wraith, blood downpour and falling rock aside, Earth after the Rapture isn’t terribly different from its pre-Rapture self. And had the Antichrist (Craig Robinson) not finally revealed himself as the man formerly known as a politician named Earl, and had he not decided to steal Lindsey from Ben, life might have just marched on. It’s a premise so banal as to be sort of clever with this backdrop, and that turns out to be “Rapture-Palooza’s” schtick in a nutshell. Once this becomes Robinson’s movie to own, he only occasionally owns it, because “Rapture-Palooza” doesn’t give him much to work with as an Antichrist whose only ambition is to woo a girl. The more the movie hones in on this, the worse it gets. But from the undead guy (Thomas Lennon) who just wants to mow the lawn to the Antichrist lieutenant (Rob Huebel) who simply wants to be held, “Rapture-Palooza” has a lot of silly characters and ideas that keep the end times gag going surprisingly strong. And as it zooms back out and lets the Antichrist do what he does best while all hell sort of literally breaks loose, it finds a funny second wind to carry it through to the end.
Extras: Robinson/Huebel/Rob Corddry commentary, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature, bloopers.
Pain & Gain (R, 2013, Paramount)
You know that guy who, when stapling two pieces of paper together, needlessly slams on the stapler as loudly and fiercely as he can when a simple press will do? That’s Michael Bay making movies, and were “Pain & Gain” not based on a true story, that approach, for better and worse, would be what separates this from every other movie about three frustrated nobodies (Dwayne Johnson, Mark Wahlberg and Anthony Mackie) who turn to crime to jump a few rungs on life’s ladder. From literally the opening minute, “Gain” offers a vision of crime, violence and American dream pursuits that’s rife with as much screaming, yelling, sweating, exploding and bumbling as the frame can safely contain. Nearly every character has a narrator track at some point, and almost nobody gets through this saga without a significant quotient of ineptitude, slapstick and dialogue that’s as purposefully stupid as it is loud. In a vacuum, “Gain” is wondrous and terrible all at once — an Olympic-level demonstration of stupidity and activity that bends over backward to please those with an appetite for dumb but self-aware entertainment. Problem is, “Gain” doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s based on a true story from the mid-1990s, it uses the real names from that story, and it turns an incredibly gruesome and very unfunny crime spree into a slapstick comedy that dares to position its three main characters — two still alive on death row, one now a free man — as endearingly silly folk heroes. For those accusing Hollywood of being morally decrepit, Merry Christmas and please accept this gift-wrapped validation on behalf of the one director with enough tone deafness to box it up and hand it over. No extras.