Blu Tuesday: Funny Money, Haunted Inns and More

Last Tuesday’s Blu-ray selection wasn’t quite as poor as it has been these last few weeks – with such notable titles as “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” and “Shame” on the schedule – but I didn’t receive any review copies in time for my column. Thankfully, things are finally starting to pick up again, which is great news for Blu-ray collectors. Although there really isn’t a standout title among this week’s releases, there’s still a good variety to choose from, including this trio of very diverse movies.

“Contraband”

Mark Wahlberg’s latest action thriller isn’t a terrible movie by any means, but it is an incredibly unmemorable one that, although it likely earned the actor a nice paycheck and the opportunity to work with guys like Ben Foster, J.K. Simmons and Giovanni Ribisi, isn’t up to par with what his fans have come to expect. A big part of the problem is that director Baltasar Kormakur vastly overcomplicates the film’s simplistic setup by making the actual heist so unnecessarily complex that not even Danny Ocean and his crew could pull it off. Worse yet, the story is so predictable that you can see every twist and turn before it happens. There’s hardly a single original idea to be found, which is ironic considering it’s about counterfeiting, and though Kormakur was presumably given the directing gig because he was familiar with the source material (having played Wahlberg’s role in the Icelandic film that it’s based on), he fails to demonstrate what made that movie so special that it deserved a remake.

Blu-ray Highlight: I’m a sucker for a good making-of featurette, and the one included here is better than most, covering a range of topics including the differences between the Icelandic original and the remake, casting and filming on location in New Orleans.

“The Innkeepers”

I saw Ti West’s “The Innkeepers” two years ago at South by Southwest, and whether it was because “Insidious” had just given me a mini panic attack the night before, or because I was simply expecting more from the film, I didn’t find it to be particularly scary. Though West’s slow-burn approach is pretty effective in the opening half, there’s very little payoff, to the point that when the horror elements finally do kick in, they’re not as terrifying as you’d expect. Instead, the movie spends most of the time camped out at the front desk where its two leads banter back and forth and play tricks on one another. It’s amusing at times, but never enough to hold your interest, despite the fact that Sara Paxton and Pat Healy have good chemistry. If there’s one redeeming quality, it’s the fantastic score by Jeff Grace, which at least makes the movie more watchable. Unfortunately, “The Innkeepers” is a mediocre horror film at best, and that’s a shame, because while it had the potential to revitalize the genre, it falls short.

Blu-ray Highlight: There’s not much to choose from on the single-disc release, but fans of Ti West will certainly enjoy the director’s pair of audio commentaries – one with producers Peter Phok and Larry Fessenden and 2nd Unit Director/Sound Designer Graham Reznick, and another, much livelier affair with stars Sara Paxton and Pat Healy.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to January

I’ve joked in the past about January being a dumping ground for all the misfit movies that the studios deemed unworthy of a more attractive release date, but the truth of the matter is that there are 12 months in a year, and you can’t expect every month to be overflowing with quality programming. With that said, however, this year’s pickings don’t look as bad as usual, with a surprising amount of action films led by big-name stars, some of which have real sleeper hit potential. The general lack of confidence by the studios suggests otherwise, but when expectations are this low, anything is possible.

“CONTRABAND”

Who: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Giovanni Ribisi, Lukas Haas and Ben Foster
What: To protect his brother-in-law from a drug lord, a former smuggler heads to Panama to score millions of dollars in counterfeit bills.
When: January 13th
Why: It’s pretty funny that a movie about counterfeiting should turn out to be an imitation itself (the Icelandic film on which its based featured the U.S. version’s director, Baltasar Kormákur, in the lead role), but despite the fact that its clichéd plot seems to have been ripped off from a number of generic action thrillers just like it, “Contraband” has one thing that a lot of those films didn’t – a killer ensemble cast. Mark Wahlberg has had his share of duds over the years, but he’s always entertaining to watch, and guys like Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Foster and J.K. Simmons are some of the best character actors in the game. It’s probably not something you should rush out to see on opening weekend, but “Contraband” at least looks like it’ll be a fun way to kick off the 2012 movie season.

“UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING”

Who: Kate Beckinsale, Michael Ealy, Stephen Rea and Kris Holden-Ried
What: When human forces discover the existence of the Vampire and Lycan clans, Selene leads the battle to protect both of their species.
When: January 20th
Why: For as entertaining as the first “Underworld” movie was, I’ve never understood how the series has managed to stick around for as long as it has. The second film was really bad and the third one was even worse, but for some reason, Screen Gems is intent on milking the vampire/werewolf franchise for as long as they can. And until people stop blindly handing the studio their money, they’ll keep making them. The only reason anyone should even consider seeing this fourth installment is for the leather-clad return of Kate Beckinsale as vampire heroine Selene, because the rest of the film reeks of desperation. Why else would they be releasing it in (undoubtedly subpar) 3D?

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