DVD Round-Up: 8/19/2013

The Last Stand (7/5/2013)

Well, here’s a pleasant surprise.  This movie tanked at the box office and was met with general indifference by critics, but I thought it was pretty damn fun for what it was.  At the very least I think this is a much better approach to making an action movie with a geriatric than the shameless nostalgia pandering that Sylvester Stallone has been up to.  Instead of trying to recapture the magic of 80s action movies, Arnold Schwarzenegger has opted to bring in a cool Korean director named Kim Ji-woon and make a fun little tongue-in-cheek action flick with some semi-creative set-pieces.  I don’t want to over-sell the movie too much because it’s only really all that impressive within the realm of B-action movies and I probably would have been less forgiving of its flaws if I’d paid to see it in a theater instead of checking it out on Blu-Ray, but I definitely had a lot more fun with it than I expected.

*** out of Four

Side Effects (7/22/2013)

This is apparently going to be Steven Soderbergh’s last theatrical film, and in my humble opinion he’s going out with a whimper.  Then again, I’ve generally been less impressed than most people with Soderbergh’s work during this period, at least when it comes to his “experimental” films like Haywire and Magic Mike. This one is weird because it has a story that could easily be mistaken for a Lifetime original movie if it didn’t have a name director behind it and didn’t have a bunch of celebrities in its cast.  It was advertised as some kind of expose of the pharmaceutical industry, but it’s really a riff on both 80s erotic thrillers and on exploitative true crime stories, but Soderbergh doesn’t lean into the story’s inherent genre tropes and instead plays it really straight.  That helps to make the ending more of a surprise, though perhaps not an overly pleasant surprise.  There are some good performances here and if I tuned into it on a Saturday afternoon with minimal expectations I would be entertained by it, but I’m not seeing a whole lot of artistry here to really latch onto.

*** out of Four

Oz the Great and Powerful (8/4/2013)

I’ve been fairly outspoken in my dislike of the recent trend of fair-tale inspired action films, a phenomenon that seems rooted in all of Hollywood’s worst instincts, but this one falls firmly into the “I guess it could have been worse” camp.  I think what sets it apart from the rest of the crop is that its acting as a prequel to a fairytale rather than a re-envisioned retelling of a fairy tale and that that fairy tale already has a cinematic legacy that this is building off of.  Sam Raimi gives the film a fairly fun sensibility and brings a few interesting ideas to the table like the living porcelain doll and the film’s fun climax where the wizard uses turn of the century technology to his advantage.  But let’s not mistake this for a truly solid piece of filmmaking, because its not.  Rather it seems like everyone involved seems to just view it as a slightly less embarrassing than usual way to sell out.  All of the actors here are really phoning it in and any rough edges have been fully sanded off to ensure maximum profits at the spring box office.

**1/2 out of Four

Mud(8/14/2013)

Let me preface by saying that I’ve kind of come to despise independent coming of age movies.  It’s the most played out genre in the world, and between The Kings of Summer, The Way Way Back, and The Spectacular Now there have been a lot of them to skip this year.  However, there is one coming of age movie from this year that I did hold out some interest in and that’s Mud if only because it was made by an actual experienced director (most of these movies are made by first timers who were advised to “write what you know” but don’t actually “know” anything interesting) and also because it seemed to actually be about the coming of age of someone who isn’t just another boring suburban kid trying to get a manic pixie dreamgirl.   In fact, Mud is probably closer to an older breed of coming of age movie like Stand By Me or something like that, still not m favorite genre but at least not one that infuriates me.

This one’s directed by Jeff Nichols, who showed promise with Shotgun Stories and really impressed with Take Shelter.  This is probably my least favorite of his three films if only because it tackles material that doesn’t interest me as much as the other two, but it does still show growth behind the camera.  The film is definitely shot really well and Nichols also has an eye for both interesting locations and good performances.  However, all of that good work is in service of a story that is somewhat interesting but also rather shallow.  I can’t say I ever got wrapped up too much in this story about a kid who befriends a drifter and finds himself embroiled in a cockamamie family feud, there are good scenes in it and its never unenjoyable, I was just never all that drawn to it.  If one can rate films objectively then I’d definitely say that this movie is good, but it really isn’t my cup of tea.

*** out of Four

Identity Thief (8/19/2013)

Pretty much every year I find myself getting punked into seeing an absolutely awful comedy.  Last year it was The Dictator, which took the comic genius of Sacha Baron Cohen and used it to create Mike Myers caliber stupidity.  This year’s awful early-spring comedy is Identity Thief, and it makes The Dictator look tolerable by comparison.  I’m not exactly sure why I let myself get tricked into seeing this… I guess I just wanted to check in on this whole Melissa McCarthy craze but didn’t want to wait for The Heat to come out on Blu-Ray.  Anyway, this is a pretty direct rip-off of the Midnight Run formula with a pinch of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles here and there.  Academy Award nominee Melissa McCarthy is terrible as usual, I don’t know what the makers of Bridesmaids put in the water to make the world think that this female Kevin James was some kind of brilliant comic actress but she isn’t.  I’ve also got to say that Jason Bateman is increasingly proving to be a one trick pony, I like his shtick in Arrested Development but it’s a lot more annoying when its being applied to lame material like this.  Aside from all that, this movie’s script is completely contrived and unbelievable, which would be less of a problem if it was actually funny, but it most certainly isn’t.  Not even a little.

* out of Four

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