After another two week break (I was on my honeymoon, dammit) that saw several noteworthy titles come and go – including “Jack Reacher,” “Mama,” “Cloud Atlas,” “Dexter: Season Seven,” and the big one, “Fringe: The Complete Series” – I’m finally back, and what a great week to return. Despite the fact that the summer movie season has already kicked off, there’s still plenty of good options on Blu-ray, so let’s not waste any more time and get down to which ones are worthy buying, renting or skipping.
It’s been just over a decade since Arnold Schwarzenegger’s last major film role, but after dusting off the cobwebs in last year’s “The Expendables 2,” it’s hard to imagine a more perfect comeback vehicle than “The Last Stand.” Directed by Korean filmmaker Kim Jee-woon, the movie not only reintroduces Schwarzenegger as an older, wiser action hero, but it harkens back to earlier films like “Commando,” when you could get away with being silly as long as it was fun. The first half is a pretty slow burn as Kim patiently builds up to the climactic showdown between Arnie’s band of small-town cops and the bad guys, and though there are some entertaining set pieces along the way, the movie would have benefited from a stronger sense of urgency. Once the film arrives at its big standoff, however, “The Last Stand” is given a much-needed adrenaline shot that cranks up the intensity and violence, more than earning its R rating with some cool gunplay. The movie is far from Jee-woon’s best work, but it’s a mostly enjoyable U.S. debut that will hopefully inspire audiences to track down some of his previous films. It also serves as a welcome return for Schwarzenegger, because no matter how you feel about the man, Hollywood just hasn’t been the same without him.
Blu-ray Highlight: None of the extras are particularly memorable on their own, but Lionsgate has provided a solid collection that includes a behind the scenes look at making the movie, a short weapons featurette, and an in-depth breakdown of the cornfield chase sequence.
It’s a little upsetting to think that “Side Effects” could be Steven Soderbergh’s directorial swan song, because he’s proven over the last few years that while not every one of his movies is a success, his ability to jump between genres with ease makes him one of the more exciting filmmakers in Hollywood. In addition to reteaming the director with past stars like Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Channing Tatum, the film reunites Soderbergh with “Contagion” screenwriter Scott Z. Burns for another medical-themed thriller that strikes a similar chord of paranoia and Hitchcockian suspense. Though it’s not nearly as great as it could’ve been due to a slow first act, once the mystery at the center of the story is revealed, the movie eventually hits its stride, even if that means suspending your disbelief at times. Law, who’s always been a surprisingly underrated actor, delivers another solid performance as the hard-done psychiatrist, while Rooney Mara proves that “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” wasn’t a fluke. It’s hardly one of Soderbergh’s more memorable movies, but “Side Effects” is an enjoyably old school thriller that serves as a worthy bookend to an impressive career cut far too short.
Blu-ray Highlight: There’s a faux behind the scenes featurette that’s good for a few laughs and a pair of fictional drug commercials, but unfortunately, that’s it.
With the exception of a few movies on his resume, director Taylor Hackford has generally been a pretty disappointing filmmaker, so it’s not at all surprising to find that his latest effort follows in those footsteps. Though “Parker” marks the first time that author Donald E. Westlake’s famous hard-boiled criminal (whose adventures have been adapted for the big screen several times before) is referred to by his real name, it doesn’t change the fact that the movie fails on numerous levels. Jason Statham is an incredibly likeable action hero, but his brooding presence just doesn’t feel right for the title character, while Jennifer Lopez is terribly miscast in a part that serves little purpose to the overall story. The rest of the cast is comprised of great character actors like Nick Nolte, Michael Chiklis and Clifton Collins Jr., but their talents are wasted in throwaway roles. Having never read any of the books in the Parker series, it’s hard to say whether the film lives up to the source material, but as a fan of Mel Gibson’s turn as the antihero in “Payback,” it pales in comparison.
Blu-ray Highlight: Director Taylor Hackford provides an informative audio commentary about making the movie, including an interesting recount of the on-the-fly creativity required to capture the opening heist sequence at the Ohio State Fair, but the rest of the bonus material is about as generic as it comes.
It may seem lazy to draw such comparisons, but “Beautiful Creatures” is about as close to a “Twilight” clone that Hollywood has produced, trading vampires and werewolves for witches, and although the film shows more promise than its spiritual predecessor in the early stages, its overdependence on the main love story prevents “Beautiful Creatures” from distinguishing itself as anything other than a “Twilight” wannabe. Of course, one thing the movie has that the vampire saga didn’t is a pair of likeable leads, and that’s credit to authors Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s source material, as well as newcomers Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert for bringing them to life. The film also benefits greatly from the prestige that Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson and Viola Davis bring to the project (particularly Thompson, who’s clearly having a ball hamming it up as the villain), although that doesn’t save the film from its own inadequacies. Characters drop in and out of the story with no explanation and there’s so much babble about destinies, curses and rules that it becomes a jumbled mess of boring exposition. The movie’s unexpectedly goofy sense of humor helps to keep things light, but “Beautiful Creatures” doesn’t feel like it was made by a studio that loved the books, but rather the idea of success that a film adaptation might bring – all business and no soul.
Blu-ray Highlight: The two-disc combo pack includes a collection of mini-featurettes on everything from adapting the book for the big screen, to costumes and special effects, but they’re packed with so much filler that the bonus material feels like an afterthought.