Blu Tuesday: Mobsters, Mothers and More

After what can only be described as a really lousy last few weeks, things are finally starting to pick up again in the land of Blu-ray, with several key titles (including the 3D edition of “Jurassic Park”) arriving in stores today. Though the selection isn’t as great as it was a few months ago, when compared to the rest of April, it’s hard to complain.

“Gangster Squad”

It’s been a while since Hollywood delivered a truly great mobster movie, and though “Gangster Squad” falls a little short of remedying that, it’s still an entertaining and welcome return to the genre, partially because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Will Beall’s script does a good job of balancing the drama with brief moments of humor, while Sean Penn’s gleefully over-the-top turn as Mickey Cohen is just campy enough without being distracting. The action sequences are also really well done, although the unique visual style that Ruben Fleischer brought to “Zombieland” isn’t as prevalent here as it was in that movie. If there’s one thing that really makes the film worth seeing, however, it’s the killer cast. Josh Brolin is great as the leader of the titular squad, and it’s nice to see Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone rekindle their chemistry from “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” even if both parts are poorly underwritten. The other cast members don’t get as much to do, but having top-notch actors like Nick Nolte, Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña, Giovanni Ribisi and Robert Patrick in those supporting roles definitely elevates the material. The story is predictable, and it owes a lot to “The Untouchables,” but “Gangster Squad” is enjoyable in spite of all that.

Blu-ray Highlight: It’s a shame that Warner Bros. didn’t include the original movie theater shootout sequence among the deleted scenes, but the rest of the bonus material is pretty good. “The Gangland Files” collects many of the disc’s extras (including Focus Point mini-featurettes, historical trivia and other bits) into a picture-in-picture track that plays alongside the film, while the audio commentary with director Ruben Fleischer is informative but not terribly engaging.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to January

It’s hard to decide what the worst part about January is – the cold weather or the crappy movies – but at least with the winter chill, you can always add extra layers to help stay warm. There’s not a lot you can do to make a bad film more tolerable, and unfortunately, the turn of the year is typically brimming with cinematic duds. Though there are a few potential surprises in the cards this January from some heavy hitters, it’s best to keep your expectations low, because even the biggest stars are due a stinker every once in a while, and if there was ever a good time to release it, this would be the month to do it.

“GANGSTER SQUAD”

Who: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone and Nick Nolte
What: A crew of LAPD enforcers team up to take down vicious mobster Mickey Cohen.
When: January 11th
Why: After getting bumped from its September release date to accommodate reshoots following the Aurora, Colorado tragedy (particularly a scene involving machine guns in a movie theater), it’s a little sad to see Ruben Fleischer’s police drama land in the dregs of January, because it deserves better than that. Loosely based on the LAPD’s war against organized crime during the late 40s and early 50s, the film’s cast is packed with enough talent – from its major stars to supporting players like Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena and Robert Patrick – to rival any of the “Ocean’s Eleven” movies. Though I was disappointed by Fleischer’s last effort, the crime comedy “30 Minutes or Less,” it’ll be interesting to see how the “Zombieland” director handles more serious material, and whether his unique visual style clashes with the particular look of that era.

“A HAUNTED HOUSE”

Who: Marlon Wayans, Essence Atkins, Nick Swardson and David Koechner
What: When Malcolm and Keisha learn that a demon resides in their dream home, Malcolm turns to a priest, a psychic, and a team of ghostbusters for help.
When: January 11th
Why: Unless you’re a fan of the “Scary Movie” franchise, which Marlon Wayans helped launch over a decade ago, it’s hard to imagine you’ll have any sort of interest in his new horror comedy, which parodies found footage films like “Paranormal Activity” and “The Devil Inside.” But if those awful spoof movies by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer taught us anything, it’s that there’s definitely a market for this brand of lowbrow idiocy, although you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone to actually admit it. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but even for a spoof movie, “A Haunted House” looks embarrassingly bad for everyone involved, including those dumb enough to waste their time and money.

“THE LAST STAND”

Who: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Johnny Knoxville, Forest Whitaker and Luis Guzman
What: The leader of a drug cartel busts out of a courthouse and speeds to the Mexican border, where the only thing in his path is a sheriff and his inexperienced staff.
When: January 18th
Why: Between the English-language debuts of Kim Ji-woon and Park Chan-wook, and Spike Lee’s upcoming remake of the cult classic “Oldboy,” the Korean invasion is in full swing, and deservedly so, because they’re making some of the best movies at the moment. Kim Ji-woon’s revenge thriller “I Saw the Devil” was one of my favorite films of 2011, so it’s not surprising that his fans have been drooling over the prospect of his Hollywood debut, and the fact that it also happens to be Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first starring role in a decade will probably bring it even more attention. That could end up hurting the movie more than it helps it if expectations are set too high, but the script didn’t earn a place on the Black List for nothing, and if it’s anything like Kim’s oddball Western “The Good, the Bad, the Weird,” then U.S. audiences could be in for a fun treat.

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