On DVD & Blu-Ray: May 21, 2013

Scott Z. Burns has written two of my favorite Steven Soderbergh films since 2009 and up through his recent rush of films from late 2011 into what is being called his last major feature that is the subject of this review, Side Effects. Burns penned the lovably goofy 2009 farce The Informant! as well as the first and very well crafted of Soderbergh's final run, Contagion. Each of these films have a very distinct tone and a very good sense of what they are while not relying on the conventions of their genre to restrain or define them. The same could be said for this latest Burns and Soderbergh collaboration as it is hard to even tell what category it might fall into. As soon as you'd like to think you know where it is going Side Effects begins to venture down a different path. I love it, walking into the film with only a vague knowledge of what the film is about (thank you deliberately fuzzy marketing campaign) and being able to relish in the execution of the film as it slowly unfolds to reveal itself as something much more than I ever expected it to be. There are hints of the cautionary tale, of the talespin into madness, even the courtroom drama with an element of mystery, but what makes the movie such an enjoyable and rather brisk experience despite the slow start, is the fact it melds each of these elements together seamlessly creating a mixed bag of drama and emotions, dynamics and expectations that are still able to form a cohesive and satisfying story while throwing twist after twist at the audience and keeping us on the edge of our seats as we anxiously await which character will pull back the next layer. With a more than firm hand on the wheel from Soderbergh and a fantastic ensemble cast Side Effects was easily the first great film of 2013. A

Personally, I was rooting for Beautiful Creatures from the get-go after first seeing the trailer and its stellar mix of southern goth and use of Florence & the Machine music. Though I haven't read the young adult novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl on which the film is based; I was intrigued by the setting, the fantasy and trying to assure myself that the next teen-lit adaptation featuring witches, wizards, or vampires had to be better than those Twilight movies. While the film was pretty much dead in the water upon hitting theaters, I truly hope it becomes a talking point among its target audience and even beyond as I would love to see this series continue and have the opportunity to tell all four of its stories on film (though unless this becomes a cult fave on home video quick this is unlikely to happen). While I enjoyed the movie plenty, there is much left to be desired and to a certain degree this takes away from the experience of the film. In some ways, it is as if this first film only exists to set things up for what might come in the future and granted, that might just be due to the fact that there is still very much to come in the future. Still, for a first chapter there is much to enjoy here as the film adaptation of Beautiful Creatures features an impressive and very likable cast that executes its somewhat familiar story with a flair for the fun in it. There was a film a few years ago called Stardust and I always wished it had become a bigger success than it was. Based on a Neil Gaiman story it was a fun, enjoyable, and almost great film that took itself just seriously enough to feel credible while also not feeling overly cheesy when dealing with such things as witches and wizards. Beautiful Creatures is not as good a film as Stardust, but is very much in the same vein and contains several of the same, positive treats that film does. Any movie that can involve elements of such genres and still manage some humor and honest drama is a welcome treat. B

You get what you pay for with The Last Stand and though that may be a generic movie, it is a generic action movie in top form. It earns this reputation largely due to the fact it has the man who defined the action genre at its center. It is a good thing Arnold Schwarzenegger chose this as his welcome back film otherwise it wouldn't be nearly as fun or even been made in the first place I imagine. There has been a good amount of positive press going towards these kind of throwback films to 80's no-brainer B-movies that shoot first and think later. Schwarzenegger has been featured in both Expendable films and though he makes his grand return with this one he doesn't plan on stopping anytime soon as he will re-team with pal Sylvester Stallone again later this year in The Tomb. As the shoot first, think later train of thought plays fast and loose with the standard script structure allowing plausibility and logic to fly right out the window, none of it matters as the reason people even go to see a movie like this is not for the insightful story or original storytelling methods but instead to see things and people blow up. There is no shortage of that here as director Jee-woon Kim makes his English-language debut with a film that mixes in tons of over-the-top violence with a cartoonish style that never meshes as well as it should to find a balance in tone. I haven't seen any of Kim's previous films, but despite his lack of story to work with and his tendencies to sway between gritty and silly the guy knows how to utilize his star and he plays that angle nicely. He helps the iconic action star prove he really might be back even if not as many people were waiting on his return as he expected. C

Based on a series of novels written by Donald E. Westlake, Parker has seen the screen several times before but for some reason has never gone by the name of Parker. In different incarnations he has been portrayed by Lee Marvin, Jim Brown, Robert Duvall, Peter Coyote and Mel Gibson but I have unfortunately neither read any of Westlake's novels nor have I seen any of the films adapted from his works that include the Parker character. As the first film to fully embrace the character, name and all, this film is supposed to be based on Flashfire but I've heard it hues closer to the The Hunter. It tells a rather typical story of a thief who has an honorable code of ethics that has him not stealing from those who can't afford it and not killing those who don't deserve it. When he is double crossed on a job by a bunch of dishonorable thieves he naturally needs to seek revenge not only to get back his payday but also for the flat out reason he has to let them know you don't mess with Parker. In following their trail Statham's Parker makes his way to Palm Beach, the glamour capitol of the U.S., and wreaks bloody havoc on the town as he seeks to foil the plot of the gang that betrayed him. Here he meets a realtor with divorce issues and money problems by the name of Leslie (Jennifer Lopez) and she too becomes entangled in the jewel heist plot for seemingly no other reason than to take everything but her lingerie off in one scene and develop some type of voice for the audience, but if that is the intent we really don't want to be the Jennifer Lopez of the movie as she is more annoying than she is helpful and as vital to the story as Jason Statham would be in a romantic comedy. C+

Stand Up Guys is a stand up film about friendship and mortality, about life and how time waits for no man. It is an enjoyable and sometimes poignant film that breezes by at an hour and a half and rises above its tired script with three performances that aren't phoned it but truly felt. The magic of the film is that it captures each of its actors in that perfect stage of life. Though both Christopher Walken and Al Pacino do a fair amount of films each year (plenty of which can be horrible) there is something about this film that brings them together and instead of using their images and stature as some kind of inside joke or piece of propoganda to lure in audiences they are treated like actual human beings. Well, as far as human beings who were once crooks and gang members might be humanized. I think Christopher Walken gave one of the best performances of his later career in last years Seven Psychopaths and while this role doesn't allow him the range of that character, here his reclusive Doc is something of a different man in general. Doc is what anchors the film and though Pacino gets the flashier role of Val and Arkin is here for purely comic relief and realization. Doc is the guy who has given the situation time and perspective and Walken does a fine job of doing a lot with a little. I enjoyed Stand Up Guys immensely despite it taking the easy way out every now and again (especially with the humor). We can see the jokes coming from a mile away and I would have much rather had some natural banter between the two leads than typical viagra jokes. The complacent direction from Fisher Stevens helps nothing about the film stand out either, but he should be more than thankful his actors are more than capable of getting the point across. B-

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