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 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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