Blu Tuesday: Sherlock, Frenemies and Dogfights

If you didn’t believe me when I said that May was going to be a great month for Blu-rays, well, you never should have doubted me to begin with, but I forgive you. Following in the footsteps of last week’s releases, there are several great movies and TV series arriving in stores today, including Season Two of the BBC drama “Sherlock.” Although I would have liked to see Studio Ghibli’s latest animated film, “The Secret World of Arriety,” in time to review, it’s probably safe to say that it’s at least worth renting. Sadly, that’s not the case for every new release, but one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and that applies to one’s taste in movies as well.

“Sherlock: Season Two”

Fans of Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ modern-day update of Sherlock Holmes have had to endure an agonizingly long wait between seasons, but I think most people would agree that it was well worth it, because “Sherlock” is every bit as good (and perhaps even better) in its second year. Part of that likely has to do with Moffat and Gatiss choosing to adapt arguably the three most popular stories in Sherlock Holmes canon. Though I’ve never been particularly fond of the oft-filmed “The Hounds of Baskerville,” the two movies that bookend it – “A Scandal in Belgravia” and “The Reichenbach Fall” – are nothing short of perfect, featuring a pair of magnetic performances by Lara Pulver (as the sexy and smart femme fatal Irene Adler) and Andrew Scott, whose deliciously twisted Moriarty is one for the ages. Of course, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are still very much the heartbeat of “Sherlock,” because no matter how clever the writing may be, the show wouldn’t work as well as it does if it weren’t for the chemistry between its two leading men.

Blu-ray Highlight: There’s not a single weak link among the included extras, though it’s a bit strange that they’d include audio commentaries for the first two movies and not the last one. The commentaries are insightful and will appeal to both fans of the show and the original stories, while the making-of featurette “Sherlock Uncovered” offers a behind the scenes look at the work that went into producing each episode.

“This Means War”

Simon Kinberg has written some pretty good movies in the past (“Sherlock Holmes,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”), but he’s also written his share of bad ones as well, and “This Means War” falls somewhere in the middle. The film’s biggest problem is that it squanders its potential at almost every turn, and a lot of that blame falls on director McG, who fails to make the most of the promising setup. Though it’s not as flashy as you might expect compared to some of McG’s other work, “This Means War” really isn’t as much of an action movie. Instead, it’s a romantic comedy where the two love interests just so happen to be real-life action heroes, and while the scenes between Pine and Hardy in the field are a lot of fun, the main plot involving Reese Witherspoon dating both men at the same time is beyond ridiculous. Chelsea Handler is probably the only memorable thing about the movie, and not even in a good way. She’s so terrible as Witherspoon’s advice-bearing best friend that one can only hope it’ll finally expose her as the talentless famewhore she is.

Blu-ray Highlight: McG’s rapid-fire commentary is hands-down the best extra on the disc, with the director offering details on just about every aspect of the filmmaking process, even if he does talk about the attractiveness of his three stars quite a bit.

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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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