Blu Tuesday: Arnie’s Return, Soderbergh’s Farewell and More

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.

“The Last Stand”

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.

“Side Effects”

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.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to February

If this past January proved anything, it’s that the movies weren’t nearly as bad as those from previous years. Unfortunately, I highly doubt the same will be true of February’s line-up when all is said and done. Though there are certainly a couple movies to look forward to (including the latest John McClane adventure and only the second rom-zom-com in existence), the pickings are even slimmer and less promising than last month.

“WARM BODIES”

Who: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich and Rob Corddry
What: After a zombie named R saves Julie from an attack, they form a relationship that sets in motion a series of events that might transform the entire lifeless world.
When: February 1st
Why: If there’s one movie that I’m actually looking forward to this February, it’s the big screen adaptation of Isaac Marion’s clever YA novel. Director Jonathan Levine has already tackled some pretty ballsy material between “The Wackness” and “50/50,” but this is probably his most adventurous and challenging project yet, if only because the subject matter is about as outside-the-box as you can get. Vampires are one thing (and though the “Twilight” comparisons are inevitable, they’re completely unwarranted), but the idea of doing a romantic comedy where a zombie falls in love with a human is ripe for exactly the kind of dark humor that “Warm Bodies” will hopefully deliver in spades.

“BULLET TO THE HEAD”

Who: Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Jason Momoa and Christian Slater
What: After watching their respective partners die, a New Orleans hitman and a Washington D.C. detective team up to bring down their common enemy.
When: February 1st
Why: Arnold Schwarzenegger may be back to reclaim his action hero title, but Sylvester Stallone never gave it up, and though his latest movie doesn’t look very good, you have to respect the guy for grinding away all these years. Though director Walter Hill has made his share of fun buddy action films (including “48 Hours” and its sequel), that formula has been run so far into the ground that only a dinosaur like him would think it’s still relevant. It’s always nice to see Sung Kang getting work, because he’s probably one of the best Asian-American actors in the business, but if the cheesy dialogue from the trailer is any indication, “Bullet to the Head” is destined for the Wal-Mart bargain bin.

“IDENTITY THIEF”

Who: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Amanda Peet and Morris Chestnut
What: When a mild-mannered businessman learns his identity has been stolen, he hits the road in an attempt to foil the deceptively harmless-looking thief.
When: February 8th
Why: Jason Bateman reteams with “Horrible Bosses” director Seth Gordon for a new film co-starring Hollywood It Girl Melissa McCarthy. On paper, “Identity Thief” sounds like it should be comedy gold, but go watch the trailer again and count how many times you laughed. Did you get zero too? It’s not entirely surprising considering the film was written by the same guy behind a trio of spoof movies and “RocketMan,” but I’ve come to expect better from Bateman. McCarthy, on the other hand, continues to overact the only way she knows how, and though some people seem to find her funny, I’m not one of them. In other words, unless you’re a fan, you can probably wait for it to hit home video.

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