5/21/13: The Last Stand, Stand Up Guys, Love Sick Love, Side Effects, A Common Man

The Last Stand (R, 2013, Lions Gate)
It isn’t Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fault he’s getting old, even if nine years in politics probably expedited the process somewhat. But if one thing is clear the instant Schwarzenegger turns around and steps into Sheriff Ray Owens’s shoes for his first star vehicle since 2003’s “Terminator 3,” it’s that he is, indeed, looking old. Fortunately, whether he’s overmatched is a question for another day, because whether by design or by happy accident, “The Last Stand” doesn’t really put him in a position to fail. In character, Ray isn’t simply old and fairly tired: He’s also pretty small potatoes, manning a post in a minuscule middle-of-nowhere town while a chase involving a federal agent (Forest Whitaker) and an extremely gifted and wanted drug kingpin (Eduardo Noriega) rages around him and over his head. What happens next is as B-movie comic as it is action-hero serious, and even when Schwarzenegger gets to chew scenery as the top name on the marquee, he usually does so in the company of good guys and bad guys who are crazier, feistier, stupider and generally more out of touch with their mortality than Ray is. “Stand” isn’t a sterling movie by any measure, but it’s a stupidly fun good time that embraces its place as a live-action cartoon and takes itself not a tick more seriously than that. Schwarzenegger plays along gamely, and rather than look old and out of place, he fits right in as a valuable piece of an endearingly weird puzzle. (Bonus points for perhaps the best clearing out of a cornfield since another man named Ray turned one into a baseball diamond.) Johnny Knoxville, Peter Stormare, Jaimie Alexander, Luis Guzmán and Christiana Leucas also star.
Extras: Deleted/extended scenes, three behind-the-scenes features, Dinkum Firearm and Historic Weaponry Museum tour.

Stand Up Guys (R, 2013, Lions Gate)
“Now confess each and every serious sin that separates you from Christ.” “Oh, no. We’d be here forever, Father. Can we just deal with what happened today?” Twenty eight years after he walked into prison as a fall guy, Val (Al Pacino) is an old, defeated but free man. Step one on his first day out: Reunite with old partners in crime Doc (Christopher Walken) and Hirsch (Alan Arkin). Step two: Get back into trouble. And step three? Evade the target on his head for what ostensibly is payback for what happened 28 years earlier. That’s a lot to pack into a day’s work, and as an account of all that productivity, “Stand Up Guys” regularly struggles to keep things cohesive and in the spirit of the many moods it wants to convey. Is nostalgia the prevailing emotion of the day? Loyalty? Comedy through pain? Bitterness? Maybe none of the above, and “Guys” just wants to be a wild and crazy night out with a bunch of not-so-reformed bad boys? It isn’t always clear, nor is the film’s footing all that steady. But even though all that stumbling is hard not to notice, “Guys” clomps around with an earnestness that’s palpable even when scrambled, and when it has fun, that fun is contagious even when the reasoning doesn’t always make a lot of sense. “Guys” has its heart and soul in the right place, and though the script has its share of warts, it also regularly clears the way for all three stars to ham it up and have some fun with their characters. Through all of the stumbles, that talent shines though, and for a tolerant audience, that’s all “Guys” really needs.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes, three behind-the-scenes features.

Love Sick Love (R, 2013, Monarch Home Entertainment)
There’s someone out there for the hopelessly romantic Dori (Katia Winter), and for right now, she’s convinced it’s fellow serial dater Norman (Matthew Settle). Problem is, Norman is a perennial dater for different reasons, and finding love is expressly not among them. When that realization comes to a head one evening, Dori, to put it one way, just kind of goes crazy. So, too, does “Love Sick Love,” which springs a trap slightly out of nowhere that ensnares Norman in a fantasy scenario with Dori, her two children (where’d they come from? Who knows), her parents (same), and a year’s worth of family holidays crammed into a weekend that would make “Misery’s” Annie Wilkes extremely proud and perhaps a little jealous. Fittingly, like a lunatic who catches her prey and has no concept of what to do with him once caught, “Love” spends the next two acts flailing its arms and debating whether to be an extremely dark comedy or something genuinely creepy while Norman himself shuffles between being flummoxed, enraged and resigned (sometimes to funny or dark effect within the span of the same mood). In another genre, all the flailing would be violent enough to send the story completely off course and toward irreparable harm. But when the entire crux of a movie hinges on complete insanity, the line between disrepair and genius is so thin that only individual perception can decide which side ultimately wins out. That, fortunately, is part of the fun. For all its inconsistencies, “Love” at least is too consistently bizarre to be dull.
Extras: No extras.

Side Effects (R, 2013, Universal)
Following a stint for insider trading, Emily’s husband (Channing Tatum) is out of prison, and Emily (Rooney Mara) is so happy to have him back that she literally drives her car into a concrete wall shortly after his release. That’s all we get at the beginning of “Side Effects,” so that’s all it looks like. But there’s more to the story, and that comes closer to light once Emily gets her hands on an experimental antidepressant called Ablixa, which her doctor (Jude Law) prescribes following a series of unsuccessful prescriptions and a conference with her former doctor (Catherine Zeta-Jones). The Ablixa works, but there are — wait for it — side effects, and mercy, is that title ever an understatement. Without spoiling the primary side effect that sends “Side Effects” into another gear, what happens next is, in addition to pretty clever with how it parlays prescription drugs into psychological thrills, altogether remarkable in its ability to balance intrigue and restraint. Or rather, it’s all those things until it slightly, then completely, then crazily isn’t quite any of those things. Turns out, the source of some of that intrigue is just a red herring, and the only thing more disappointing than how fiercely “Effects” drives into its own wall is how stock it feels in spite of going so completely crazy in its second half. You’ve seen these psychological thriller bits and pieces before, and that’s more disappointing than it should be given how promisingly original “Effects” initially seemed poised to be.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature, mock Ablixa marketing materials.

A Common Man (PG-13, 2013, Anchor Bay)
You have to hand it to “A Common Man,” which found an absolute dead ringer for Ben Kingsley to play a disgruntled citizen who has planted C-4 explosives all over a Sri Lankan city and will detonate them if the government doesn’t set some dangerous prisoners free. Wait, never mind — that is Ben Kingsley, and if he looks strained, it’s probably the fault of all the dead weight he has to pile on his back in order to haul this story anywhere. The unnamed man’s endeavor, though hardly novel, is morbidly intriguing enough to carry a movie that’s serviceable enough to coast on suspense, character development or an appetite for surprise. “Man,” to its credit, has that appetite, and perhaps that’s enough. But those surprises are forced to wage one hellacious battle with a torrent of dreadful dialogue and a supporting cast incapable of making it sound better than it reads. Occasionally, “Man’s” delivery — be it through bad line readings or a suffocatingly overwrought soundtrack — just piles on the harm, and the net result feels like an amateur imitation product that spent all its positive energy snagging a first-class actor to give it some hope. Kingsley does what he can, which is enough to nudge “Man” toward a conclusion that’s entertaining in spite of the arduous mountain of problems it climbs to get there, but the view from the summit still isn’t pretty enough to make that climb worthwhile. No extras.

5/14/13: Cloud Atlas, Frankie Go Boom, Upstream Color, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III

Cloud Atlas (R, 2012, Warner Bros.)
Oh, did you think the three-hour “Cloud Atlas” was simply a movie? It isn’t a movie. It’s six films in one if you obey the official synopsis, but it might actually be a dozen or two movies chopped and sprinkled into a salad that only can be made when three directors have a ton of money to spend and seemingly nobody minding how it’s spent. It might also be the most joyously grand or most treacherously self-indulgent piece of cinematic magic/tripe you’ve ever seen. “Atlas” takes place across time, with crisscrossing stories set in the past, present, distant future and a future even more distant than that. Albeit loosely — as in “pay attention with all your might and you’ll see it” loosely — the stories all hook together to form a single timeline. But whether these hooks even matter — enough not to find themselves completely engulfed by the surrounding spectacle, to say nothing of being profound enough to stand out in front of it — is a question contentious enough to span the entire spectrum of hyperbolic debate. Put another way? “Atlas” is completely bananas — a loud clash of epics, thrillers, science fiction, revenge fantasies and more that winds its heart up and lets it run with abandon down its sleeve. The same cast (Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving and Doona Bae, among others) plays different roles in each story, often transcending the boundaries of race and gender via makeup that’s sometimes amazing and sometimes amusingly crazy, and “Atlas” is both way too long and not nearly long enough to do justice to its grand ambition. Watched casually, it’s a crazed mess. But “Atlas” sprays its emotion and excitement without fear or filter, and soaking it in on these terms is bound — on first, second, third viewing and beyond — to unlock new surprises every time.
Extras: Seven behind-the-scenes features.

Frankie Go Boom (NR, 2012, Universal)
You know your luck stinks when your brother (Chris O’Dowd as Bruce) is the junkie criminal and you’re the one everyone makes fun of. For Frankie (Charlie Hunnam), the source of that misfortune is a video — of him vomiting on his would-have-been-bride at his not-quite wedding — that 18 million people have seen. (Fittingly, it was his wannabe director brother who filmed and uploaded the incident.) Now with Bruce out of rehab, Frankie is taking a break from avoiding his family to attend a ceremony commemorating the achievement. The reward for his selflessness is, of course, the promise of more traumatic misfortune — provided he can’t stop it this time. In other words, wacky antics ahead, and it’s best not to specify beyond that. “Frankie Go Boom” shows promise from the jump with a very funny opening scene featuring Frankie and Bruce as children, and even though things progressively get stranger in a manner typically befitting comedies that eventually go nowhere, it never loses that edge. Why does Ron Perlman’s character dress in drag and insist he’s a woman? “Boom” never remotely bothers explaining, but it uses the gag to sharply funny effect and Perlman’s part leads to yet more legitimately funny moments, so who cares? “Boom’s” storyline is full of pieces that should work against it, but it continually escapes from underneath them with lines, antics and scenes that are seriously funny. Seeing as the primary objective of a comedy is to be funny, docking “Boom” for not always making sense would be every bit as senseless as anything that happens here. (A note for “Sons of Anarchy” fans: Yes, Perlman and Hunnam have scenes together here. And yes, beyond being novel and really weird, they’re funny as well.)
Extras: Deleted/alternate scenes, two behind-the-scenes features.

Upstream Color (NR, 2013, erbp/New Video)
That spot on a Blu-ray’s packing that’s reserved for a synopsis is, on “Upstream Color’s” packaging, occupied instead by some additional art and a couple critic quotes that are, at best, allusions. And that’s fine, because what could “Color” possibly say for itself here? Here is Kris (Amy Seimetz), here is Jeff (Shane Carruth), and here is a story that is at once extremely simple and so painstakingly opaque as to passively-aggressively scold those who avert their eyes even momentarily, lest they get lost in a scramble to catch up and reconcile the non-verbal cue they missed completely. It isn’t so much that a proper synopsis of “Color” wouldn’t do it justice. Rather, “Color’s” story — such as it is, with style relentlessly battling substance and dialogue at an extreme premium throughout — is a slow peeling away of confusion until all that remains is that premise. It wouldn’t be very nice to just give that away, now would it? So here’s the gist. “Color” is, according to the conventional classification wisdom, science fiction. Arguably, it’s also a manifestation of every validation people seek when explaining why they hate art films. Unarguably, it’s dense and seemingly by design. But “Color,” it bears repeating, is not hard to figure out. Nor does it seem to want to be elusive even if a shallow glance at its style choices — which result in imagery both beautiful and hard to watch — suggest otherwise. Most importantly, as that premise comes into focus, the patience invested gets its due. “Color” exits on an extremely affecting note, and though it has little to say for itself, it leaves behind plenty to talk about once the show is over. No extras.

A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III (R, 2013, Lions Gate)
Ivana (Katheryn Winnick) has left Charlie (Charlie Sheen), and Charlie wants her back. And for the 86 minutes that comprise “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III,” and to the consternation of the company Charlie keeps (Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette) and eventually probably anyone watching, that’s almost all Charlie can think or talk about. “Swan” dresses its non-story up with an actual delving into Charlie’s mind, wherein pretty much anything — song, dance, car crashes and explosions — can happen in the service of metaphor. As an extra touch, “Swan” takes place in what looks like the 1970s, with clothes, hair and gigantic tape recorders and other eavesdropping devices to show for it. Some of it is amusing, particularly when Murray or Schwartzman are steering the ship and giving us a brief respite from Charlie’s moaning about Ivana. But even then, most of “Swan” just feels like silly for silly’s sake — not particularly funny, not imaginative, not even all that thoughtful, but just self-indulgently silly and that’s it. With low expectations, that might be enough. But given how much metaphorical activity happens between the first time Charlie aches over Ivana and the umpteenth and final time it happens, it’s remarkable how much, in terms of substantial emptiness, “Swan’s” collage has in common with the story it’s trying so hard to stretch out.
Extras: Writer/director commentary, two behind-the-scenes features.

5/7/13: Witness: A World in Conflict Through a Lens, Jack Reacher, Starlet, Mama, Doctors of the Dark Side, The Oranges, Safe Haven, Doc Martin Special Collection, Henry Jaglom Collection V2, The Great Escape

Witness: A World in Conflict Through a Lens (NR, 2012, HBO)
One of the great ironies of the Information Age is that the better and faster the dissemination of information, the more we take its appearance for granted. But someone still has to witness, process and present that information, and for photographers covering wars, uprisings and other deadly conflicts half a world away, the risk (and price too often paid) for that information is their lives. “Witness” spends each of its four parts in regions — Juarez, Libya, South Sudan and Rio de Janeiro — that are burning under the pressure of rebellion, drug trafficking, gang warfare and other catalysts for regional instability. But rather than break down the nature of these conflicts from a distance, “Witness” tails different photojournalists as they document these events — often from within the heart of them, and always from an uncomfortably close range — as seen and heard through their eyes and ears. The product of that method isn’t as factually comprehensive as a detached view might be, but its effectiveness is another matter entirely. “Witness” takes massive conflicts and makes them considerably more personal by getting up close both with the people living through them and the outsiders working without a net to share these stories with the rest of the globe. That these journalists do their job so effectively as to be taken for granted is a backhanded testament to their skill and bravery, but that doesn’t make it right, so kudos to “Witness” for reopening eyes in thrilling fashion. No extras.

Jack Reacher (PG-13, 2012, Paramount)
Have you met Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise)? No, you almost certainly haven’t, because only Jack Reacher — West Point grad, Army vet and an all-world mastermind-slash-vigilante who more than once has slipped into and out of the United States like a ghost — decides who can meet Jack Reacher and when. When a sniper kills five people in the heart of Pittsburgh and the prime suspect drags Reacher’s name into it, that’s enough to perk his ears, because out of nowhere, here he is, ready to take names while also clearing his own. There’s a lot about “Jack Reacher” that, if examined at all for plausibility, could compel someone to scratch their head until a scar forms. As the story develops and Reacher transforms from an impressively good sleuth-slash-ghost to a superhero who brings fistfights to gunfights, the itch to scrutinize grows. But at that point, why bother? Yes, “Reacher” is silly, often spectacularly so, and we haven’t even discussed the particulars of the suspect, his lawyer (Rosamund Pike) or the fact that his lawyer is the prosecuting district attorney’s (Richard Jenkins) daughter. There’s lots to chew on in “Reacher’s” 130 minutes, and chew it does — loudly, ridiculously, shamelessly and to greatly entertaining effect. It isn’t always clear, when mystery gives way to thriller and thriller gives way to cartoony action movie before the mystery tags back in, what kind of movie this wants to be. But “Reacher” sure seems to be enjoying its identity crisis, and those willing to just ride along will probably have a similarly good time. David Oyelowo, Werner Herzog, Jai Courtney and Robert Duvall also star.
Extras: Cruise/director commentary, three behind-the-scenes features.

Starlet (NR, 2012, Music Box Films)
Whatever Jane (Dree Hemingway) aspires to be — presumably, it’s an actor, but vocation hardly tells the whole story — she isn’t exactly fast-tracking it. Between sleeping in, dabbling in drugs, playing Xbox and tending to a fledgling not-quite career that’s already gone sideways, just about the only thing she’s putting any serious effort into is the spoiling of her little dog. That all changes when she attends an elderly woman’s yard sale and comes away with a thermos, of all things, that’s (a) worth way more than a thermos should be worth and (b) valuable for reasons that may not be on the level. Jane tries to return the thermos, the woman (Besedka Johnson as Sadie) grouchily shoos her away, and be it out of guilt or duty or most likely some deep-seated need of her own, Jane embarks on a quest to befriend Sadie that no one — not even Jane, and certainly not the amusingly resistant Sadie — can understand. That Jane and Sadie’s dance is amusing isn’t to suggest there isn’t some sadness simmering beneath it, but to acknowledge the presence of emotional longing isn’t to dismiss “Starlet” as sad in place of funny, cheerful, dark and any number of other things as well. Subplots aplenty swarm about, and some of them either stall or sink almost as soon as they leave the dock. None of them ultimately make the movie. But all contribute in some small way to the odd, clumsy but entirely inspiring relationship that comprises “Starlet’s” core. Jane and Sadie are a mismatch on every basic level, but sometimes all that crisscrossing lets in an unlikely source of understanding that wouldn’t otherwise shine through. “Starlet” seems to get that, and its stars carry that understanding to bitter, silly and sweet fruition.
Extras: Commentary, interviews, behind-the-scenes features, audition footage.

Mama (PG-13, 2013, Universal)
On the day their parents died in separate incidents, young sisters Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse) disappeared. Five years later, following a tireless and expensive search conducted by their Uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), they’ve been found — living alone in a woodland cabin, acting slightly feral, and traumatized to say the least. Lucas’s musician girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) wasn’t exactly counting on two adopted daughters, much less two girls who spent half their lives in the woods, but she can only wish that was all there is to it — or that the kids were simply a little traumatized instead of full-on haunted by a presence that dials back to the day their parents left them. “Mama” is an odd case, insofar that it reveals all of this almost immediately while still behaving in a manner that can be credibly described, depending on personal taste, as deliberate or plodding. An array of jump scare false starts, mixed in with a few real ones, doesn’t help “Mama” sell its slow creep toward a resolution. But given how many haunted house stories go absolutely nowhere fast, it’s hard to take umbrage with one that goes somewhere and simply takes its time getting there. Without delving into spoilers, neither scariness nor even creepiness prove to be “Mama’s” best assets. That honor instead goes to the kids, who radiate humanity even at their least human and carry that humanity through the story’s dry table-setting and into a finale that pays all that emotion off. “Mama” ends on such an emotional high note that you might wish more time was spent here instead of on those needless jump scares. But given the near-impossibility of ending a story like this on a high note, that’s more nitpick than damning disappointment.
Extras: Original “Mama” short film (with introduction by Guillermo del Toro, who executive produced “Mama”), director/producer/writers commentary, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature.

Doctors of the Dark Side (NR, 2011, Shelter Island)
The typical debate over the effectiveness and morality of torture and/or advanced interrogation techniques — go ahead and circle the term you prefer — isn’t so often a conversation as a factually-deficient shouting match that treats the issue as black or white. To that end, “Doctors of the Dark Side” likely loses its chance to engage proponents of the practice, who, thanks to that needlessly ominous name, may just dismiss the movie sight unseen. And that’s too bad, because despite that name and its unarguable anti-torture stance, “Doctors” makes a case for exploring that grey area. Assembled from declassified government documents and interviews with military, medical and legal experts, the case “Doctors” makes isn’t necessarily a blanket swipe at the practice of interrogation so much as the harm caused by inhumane methods that break a prisoner so fiercely that they barely function at all — much less become reliable wellsprings of valuable intelligence — while trained medical professionals either look the other way or compound the matter by using detainees’ mental collapses against them. Past the matter of the techniques’ humanity is the matter of whether certain methods even work, and the testimony and evidence here make a compelling argument that they don’t. It isn’t the last word, nor should it be, as there’s plenty of value in an equally compelling case for the other side of this argument. But “Doctors” fulfills its end of the bargain by presenting its case thoughtfully and more objectively than its outer presentation suggests.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature, two additional short features “An insider’s view of Abu Ghraib” and “How to Help Doctors Prevent Torture.”

The Oranges (R, 2012, Fox)
“The Oranges” is the story of two close families, each with a wife (Catherine Keener, Allison Janney), husband (Hugh Laurie, Oliver Platt) and daughter (Alia Shawkat, Leighton Meester). One also has a son (Adam Brody), but that isn’t pertinent right now. What is pertinent is that one of those dads, despite being best friends with the other dad, decided one wise evening to kiss his best friend’s daughter despite his own daughter’s feelings about her. (Never mind, of course, that he’s married.) It’s from there that “The Oranges” shifts from an odd would-be comedy about general suburban resentment to a sorta-is comedy about … something. Despite touching on a lot of familiar themes and hinging everything on a plot turn whose messiness needs no explanation, “The Oranges” feels like a movie that created a bunch of characters, set the whole thing around Christmastime and doesn’t really know what to do next once its big can of worms has ripped itself open. Take Platt’s character, for instance: He has a fascination with silly gadgets that exist for the sake of existing, and he demonstrates his fondness during some amusing scenes early on. But once “The Oranges” runs out of things to do with the idea, the bit just disappears (and, to a point, so does he) until the very end. Ultimately, though it was good for a couple laughs, one wonders where “The Oranges” wanted that bit to go, if it wanted it to go anywhere. And while the movie itself is never an outright drag to watch, it often engenders the same aimless feeling.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features.

Safe Haven (PG-13, 2013, Fox)
Roughly 25 minutes in, after Katie (Julianne Hough) has purchased yellow paint from the googly-eyed general store employee (Josh Duhamel) who may very well be the only eligible bachelor in this entire tiny seaside town, it’s easy to drift into a state of forgetfulness about “Safe Haven’s” opening moments, wherein Katie eludes a Boston police officer and boards a bus out of town. Whatever she did, it looks bad, and whatever hope she has of leaving that life behind is, naturally, unrealistic. Following a stark reminder about those opening minutes, “Haven” finds more of a balance as — ostensibly — a movie that’s half serviceable romantic drama and half serviceable thriller. Neither side really soars, but the former is likably pleasant enough and the latter has a few good surprises up its sleeve before it indulges a little excessively in over-the-top silliness later. And yet, absolutely none of this holds even the world’s smallest candle to “Haven’s” parting gift, which takes everything that just happened and tosses it into an Olympic-sized swimming pool of total craziness. For those who take to “Haven’s” serviceable and literal storytelling, what happens here is so jarring as to potentially sink the whole ship. But for those who tolerate rather than enjoy “Haven’s” decent but plain presentation and prepare never to think of it again once the credits arrive, guess what? Those plans are about to change. You’re welcome.
Extras: Alternate ending, deleted/extended scenes, three behind-the-scenes features.

— “Doc Martin Special Collection: Series 1-5 + The Movies” (NR, Acorn Media): In lieu of being a complete collection — filming currently is underway for “Doc Martin’s” sixth series — the “special” in the title will do. The 13-disc set includes the first five series’ 38 episodes, the two movies, and various extras (behind-the-scenes features, photo galleries, trivia, filmographies) from the individual series sets. If you aren’t yet familiar with the show, it’s funny, deeply likable and centered around an irritable surgeon (Martin Clunes as Dr. Martin Ellingham) who develops a crippling fear of blood and the small-town neighbors who love him anyway. What else need be said?
— “Henry Jaglom Collection vol. 2: The Comedies” (R, Breaking Glass Pictures): Browse a list or overhear a conversation about renowned directors whose names you don’t but should know, and there’s a reasonably good chance Henry Jaglom’s name will pop up at some point. Should you take that point to heart, this second low-priced collection — focusing on Jaglom’s funnier side and including 1980’s “Sitting Ducks,” 1983’s “Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?” and 1989’s “New Year’s Day,” starring a pre-“X-Files” David Duchovny — offers as good a starting point as any.
— “The Great Escape” (NR, 1963, Fox): The Steve McQueen classic turns 50 with its first-ever Blu-ray edition, featuring a 4K transfer. (Unfortunately, a 4K television wasn’t handy for testing purposes, so Fox’s word will have to do for now.) Extras include a director/cast/crew commentary, eight behind-the-scenes features and the original theatrical trailer.