The Adjustment Bureau
Coolest extra: “Leaping Through New York” featurette (DVD); “The Labyrinth Of Doors: Interactive Map Of New York” featurette (Blu-ray only)
Complex says: Back in March, the commercials for The Adjustment Bureau lied to viewers. The result of a delicately planned marketing strategy, Universal Pictures sold the Matt Damon-starring flick as this year’s Inception, a trippy action-thriller with a big-name star and a lofty concept. In reality, though, The Adjustment Bureau has very little in common with Christopher Nolan’s dream-within-a-dream, 007 meets Carl Jung blockbuster; it’s a cerebral romp, sure, but it’s mainly a romance. And not just any romance—one that dudes can easily dig.
Helmed by The Bourne Ultimatum screenwriter, and first-time director, George Nolfi, The Adjustment Bureau takes a darker Philip K. Dick short story, “Adjustment Team,” and fashions a much more accessible narrative. Damon plays a hotshot New York City congressman who meets a sexy and feisty ballerina (Emily Blunt), and they both catch the inner butterflies; it’s too bad for them, however, that their budding relationship goes against the preordained life plans set into motion by an otherworldly group of suited angels, a secret outfit focused on keeping Damon and Blunt apart for the universe’s sake.
The script, written by Nolfi himself, liberally slathers on the absurdities, taking Dick’s streamlined and threatening premise and going overboard with magic hats, doors that lead into rooms and exterior settings miles away from the previous locale, and an underlying religious message that’s quite cheesy in its deliverance. Through it all, though, Damon and Blunt carry the film, forming a believable chemistry that elevates the central star-crossed lovers theme and saves Nolfi’s endeavor from becoming a laughable mess.
The Adjustment Bureau’s hook might be its sci-fi elements, but the main attraction is ultimately its mushier side, which makes it an ideal choice for DVD night with the wifey. If need be, get her in the mood by promising an Inception-like experience—if you can’t beat those lazy Hollywood gatekeepers, you might as well join them.
Buy it now: The Adjustment Bureau
Coolest extra: “Wedding Belles: Crashing A Lesbian Wedding” featurette (DVD); “Fox Movie Channel Presents: Direct Effect – Miguel Arteta” featurette (Blu-ray only)
Complex says: Now that The Hangover Part II has broken all global comedy records, Ed Helms’ year will no doubt be defined by his role in that creatively deficient sequel. And that’s unfortunate, because the affable funnyman’s best work thus far in 2011, as well as his entire career, frankly, came in Cedar Rapids, an unfairly bypassed indie comedy that’s easily the year’s best laugh flick aside from Bridesmaids.
In some ways, Helms forms an all-new, and much less obnoxious, Wolfpack in this alternately raunchy and endearing quirk-fest, about a nerdy insurance agent (Helms) whose first work-related convention turns into a weekend full of debauchery, courtesy of three fellow attendees (John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, and The Wire’s Isiah Whitlock Jr.). Drug use, run-ins with prostitutes, dry-humping in a swimming pool, and a plethora of dirty one-liners from Reilly are on the agenda, and it’s all staged with uncommon warmness by director Miguel Arteta—“uncommon” when compared to comedies like, yes, The Hangover Part II, which has less subtlety in its entirety than Cedar Rapids does in one scene.
Helms, usually an ensemble’s second or third fiddle, holds the proceedings down in a totally likeable performance, treating a rube of a character with palpable affection. The same goes for the rest of the cast, from Heche’s attractive turn as a troublemaking housewife to Reilly’s Step Brothers-esque scenery chewing as a hard-partying lush. The characters are all engaging, the laughs hit often without feeling forced, and the creative minds involved are uniformly on-point. So why aren’t more people talking about Cedar Rapids? They’re too busy pushing Helms’ other flick to new, record-setting heights—for shame.
Buy it now: Cedar Rapids
The Eagle (Unrated)
Coolest extra: “The Eagle: The Making Of A Roman Epic” featurette (DVD/Blu-ray)
Complex says: Imagine director Kevin Macdonald’s first meeting with the suits behind The Eagle: the Scottish filmmaker, coming off the respectable, though also minor, Russell Crowe/Ben Affleck political thriller State Of Play, accepts the job of shooting yet another Roman empire action flick. Having just worked with Gladiator star Crowe, Macdonald suggests a leading man of the Aussie actor’s caliber, someone who’s tough enough to sell the material’s brutish side but can also act his ass off. The suits, not trying to hear that logical jazz, say they want someone who’ll get teenage girls all hot and bothered, thus leading to ticket sales. Macdonald, taking an epic L, concedes.
And thus we’ve got The Eagle; if that’s now how it went down, and Macdonald wholeheartedly wanted Channing Tatum to play the film’s Roman centurion hero, then dude’s out of his mind. Which would compliment his inability to shoot an action sequence rather fittingly; each of The Eagle’s battle scenes is more incoherent than the previous one, robbing the pic of its lone chance at providing any degree of satisfactory enjoyment. Instead, Macdonald’s sloppy handling of action adds to the movie’s overall shoddiness.
It looks pristine enough, with some impressive cinematography, yet The Eagle is ultimately a misguided attempt at capturing some of that Spartacus heat for a teenybopper crowd. There’s hardly a drop of blood in sight (which is glaring since, you know, the flick features several swordfights), Tatum drops the ball thanks to an awful accent and a performance more wooden than Pinocchio, and the whole thing feels like a fraternity’s costume party gone horribly wrong. Twenty-three years ago, western lovers cringed over Young Guns; now, sword-and-sandal heads have their very own youth-minded slog.
Buy it now: The Eagle (Unrated)
Coolest extra: “Unknown: What Is Known” featurette (DVD); “Liam Neeson: Known Action Hero” featurette (Blu-ray only)
Complex says: It’s no small accomplishment that Unknown manages to entertain enough to earn a recommendation; truth be told, it’s one of the more derivative movies to hit theaters in a long time. Thematically, the Liam Neeson action vehicle is the far less interesting, not to mention more confusing, offspring of old Alfred Hitchcock thrillers like North By Northwest; on its surface level, it’s a shallow cash-grab designed to reel in the adrenaline junkies that made Neeson’s previous action pic Taken, which this one basically Xeroxes, a surprise box office champion.
Such a predominant sense of familiarity, as well as a twisty plot covered with more holes than mesh shorts, prevent Unknown from reaching any tier higher than forgettable camp status. And, furthermore, Unknown’s flaws (an overzealous script, illogical plot points, busty co-star January Jones’ flat acting) ring loudly throughout the overlong running time (five minutes’ shy of two hours).
But that’s OK, frankly, since Neeson’s stoic performance and convincingly sharp ass-kicking chops lend certain credibility to director Jaume Collet-Serra’s uneven production. At times undeniably jolting (there’s an elaborate car chase sequence that’s admittedly badass), Collet-Serra’s flick, about a prestigious doctor (Neeson) who literally fights his way through identity loss in Berlin, is an entertaining diversion. Unknown is the kind of muddled thriller that thinks it's smarter than it actually is yet can’t help but effectively pass one’s time. Though, once it’s over, you’ll forget about this high-concept non-event faster than one of Neeson’s roundhouse kicks strikes a nameless goon’s temple.
Buy it now: Unknown
Louie: Season One
Coolest extra: Unaired and unrated comedy sketches (DVD/Blu-ray)
Complex says: One man’s misery is the audience’s gain in Louie, the off-kilter FX sitcom created by, and starring, veteran comic Louis C.K. Structurally the show is similar to Seinfeld, with its scenes broken up by excerpts from the star’s stand-up comedy routines. But that’s where the parallels to “the show about nothing,” or any other half-hour show, cease, since Louie is too self-abusing to fall in line with any of its broadcast peers or predecessors.
Louis C.K. taps into his own life’s woes to portray a 42-year-old divorced father of two who’s accepted his shortcomings, such as his flabby physique (“I have the body that I want…. I’m going to tell how to have the body you want: You just have to want a shitty body.”), marginal social skills, and an altogether cynical outlook. Louie’s humor comes from rather dark places; his neurotic demeanor makes Woody Allen look like Mr. Jovial, yet it's also hilariously uncomfortable. One bit, involving Louie’s reconnection with a former high school crush he finds on Facebook, would be a total downer if it weren’t so well-written.
This two-disc set includes all 13 episodes from Louie’s first season, timed perfectly with the premiere of Season Two this Thursday night. It’s not exactly Lost, though, so catching up with Season One isn’t mandatory, though it’s certainly advised. Louie isn’t the funniest show on TV (the likes of Parks And Recreation and Community serve more laugh-out-loud moments per episode), but it’s definitely one of the most unique and brutally honest.