This Week in Blu-ray, we adjust our own futures, laugh at grumpy gingers, take a business trip with Ed Helms and that guy who said “Sheeiiiitt” on The Wire, fight back for the Wimpy Kid, find love in movies with unmarketable titles, figure out who Liam Neeson really is, and watch Channing Tatum get dressed up like a Roman soldier and make a complete fool of himself. It’s not exactly a busy week, but there’s still plenty to talk about.
The Adjustment Bureau
In a week that saw its share of competition for Pick of the Week (it really didn’t), it seemed that a ginger comedian would eventually emerge as the winner. Then I popped The Adjustment Bureau into the ole’ Blu-ray player and 106-minutes later, I was sold. This incredibly stylish, meticulously crafted adaptation of work by Phillip K. Dick is well acted, creatively conceived and impressively ambitious. Matt Damon plays a politician who meets the girl of his dreams, then uncovers a secret group of “adjusters” who are tasked with keeping the world “on plan.” Unfortunately for him, that plan doesn’t include him dating this girl (Emily Blunt). Unfortunately for them, he’s Matt F&*king Damon, and he’ll fight for the girl he loves. It’s a stylish love-letter to New York, a taught thriller and a resonant love story all wrapped into one. The Blu gets extra points for its Interactive Map of New York City that plays around with some of the concepts and locations explored in the film. A few more featurettes and it’s a lock — this is the release I would most urge you to own this week. Somewhere along the way, The Adjustment Bureau got lost in a release date shuffle. A fact made all the more depressing based on the realization that it’s actually a damn good movie.
Louie: The Complete First Season
If there’s one evident thing about his comedy, Louis C.K. is a grumpy guy. His observations about the world often reflect on the stupidity, self-importance and lack of common sense that plague our latest generations. But in this show, C.K. consistently displays some range in the form of narrative vignettes about raising kids, interacting with friends, dating at his age, and more. Sprinkled in between moments of stand-up, using a format similar to Seinfeld, but in a more naturalistic style, he tells stories from his life, both true and perhaps somewhat embellished. The end result is a show that consistently finds ways to balance being very funny and somewhat heartfelt. The Blu-ray release gets a standard set of extras: commentary tracks on a few episodes, deleted scenes and a lone featurette. It also utilizes a 2-disc set format in which each disc has Blu-ray on one side, DVD on the other. The benefit to you is that it should keep the cost down. The downside is that it’s a real pain figuring out which side is which. You have to read. How dare they.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules
There’s something so infinitely charming about this damned Wimpy Kid series. There I was, sitting around trying to do work while having this film on in the background. And there I was some moments later, just as the case was with the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid, caught up in watching a movie about a little dorkling who draws stick figure comics, is tormented by his older brother, and tries to woo the prettiest girl in his grade. Perhaps its the charm of Zachary Gordon, the young man who plays wimpy to perfection. Or the supporting cast, including Rachael Harris and Steve Zahn. But there’s something superbly charming about this series of films, and I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t tell you to rent, or possibly buy, especially if you’ve got little ones to entertain. What I enjoy most about it is that there’s no need to be crass or juvenile with the humor, it’s all earnest, genuine kids-being-kids entertainment. Even though I’m no square, I can certainly appreciate something that is wholesome without being stiff and lifeless. The Blu-ray release is pretty well loaded with extras, including a gag reel, a series of “Summer Vacation” shorts linking this and the previous film, and some extra scenes. It’s a quality package for a fun little film.
The thing about workplace comedies is this: it’s something that most of us can relate to. Many who have ever worked in corporate America are familiar with business trips to mid-range hotels, where conferences are held and copious amounts of alcohol is consumed not always in celebration, but to numb the experience. It’s about karaoke and half-priced appetizers, neon blue indoor swimming pools and the off-chance that you might meet get to hook up with someone just as lonely as yourself who you can talk to because you share the same shitty job. What? You don’t connect with that? Maybe it’s just me. Anyway, Cedar Rapids is a consistently hilarious take on all these things, with performances from Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche and Isiah Whitlock Jr. that are authentic representations of stereotypes you see on these kinds of business trips. The gags get the laughs, Ed Helms provides the emotional center of the story, and the entire affair has an aesthetic that feels like a more subtle version of Jared Hess’ mid-west and the people dynamic of Office Space. It’s not quite as absurd, but it’s almost there. I found it to be a wonderful surprise, something you should take a chance on. The Blu-ray, especially for those who have seen and enjoyed this under-the-radar winner, has plenty of great extras to keep the party going. If you’re already sold on the film, it’s a buy. For everyone else, you won’t regret renting it.
In his directorial debut, How I Met Your Mother star Josh Radnor charmed the pants off Sundance attendees last year with this star-studded, indelibly charming tale of loves many forms in the Big Apple. Solidifying himself as the new Zach Braff, Radnor also wins points for giving Tony Hale a role that is anything but Buster Bluthe, allowing him to show some chops and eventually steal the film. As I wrote when I reviewed the film at Sundance, “if Radnor accomplishes anything above all else, it is that he makes his characters extremely likable. Almost annoyingly likable. By the end, we’re rooting for all of them to see what is right in their lives and find the love that we all would like to have.” Who doesn’t want to watch a movie like that? The only problem with the Blu-ray release is that while it’s heavy on charm, it’s light on almost everything else. A commentary track, a featurette about the music, 9-minutes worth of deleted scenes and you’re done. That’s not what I would consider to be a sufficient amount of add-ons, but at least the film is good. It’s not revelatory, nor is it going to propel Josh Radnor to the upper echelon of storytellers, but it does show signs of a young Woody Allen. Or less hyperbolic, it shows signs of a young Zach Braff.
Liam Neeson is a man who can’t remember why he’s in Berlin. And he doesn’t know what happened to his hot wife. As Rob Hunter explained when he reviewed Unknown theatrically, “It’s Taken meets Frantic (by way of a handful of titles that would surely ruin the film’s main reveal were they to be named) as Harris is forced to scour his way through Berlin in search of the truth with only a troubled woman (Diane Kruger) and an ex-East German Stasi agent (Bruno Ganz) on his side. Has the world gone mad? Has he? Or is there something far more sinister at play here?” It’s a slightly more stylish film than Taken, but nonetheless they are spiritual brethren. It also plays for the twist, which means that seeing it once is more than enough. If you love you some Liam Neeson in ass-kicking mode (and who doesn’t), it’s more than worth a watch. When it comes to renting or buying the Blu-ray, this one’s an easy choice. There are almost no supplemental features on the Blu, save for two 4-minute featurettes, neither of which takes enough time to say anything interesting. It’s not a bad flick, nor is it a terrible release. It’s just painfully average when stacked against all the other opportunities we have to see Liam Neeson rampaging because someone in his family is missing.
In the commentary track for The Island, which has been reused from the previous DVD release, director Michael Bay takes several opportunities to point out some of the things he didn’t like about his own movie, or the things that “the studio” wanted to cut, but he fought for. He also goes on about why The Island took in an abysmal $35 million at the domestic box office. But as we listen to him take off on all the things that went wrong, there’s also a hint of genuine remorse — he knows that maybe The Island wasn’t his best $125 million dollar effort. And in between all the sharp comments about studios and budgets, there’s some self-deprecation that shows him to be more self-aware than you might think. He’s no fool. Moreover, The Island isn’t as bad a movie as most people remember. It’s more ambitious than anything Bay’s ever conceived and presents us with a relentlessly stylish, motivated and perhaps better-acted action movie than expected. On Blu-ray, it offers us nothing by way of special features, but it does offer us the opportunity to revisit it. Michael Bay may not ever make a “smart” movie, but The Island is proof that he’s tried.
“‘Damn the darkness,’ Marcus says early on as he wonders what fresh terrors lay beyond the reach of their torches. Like much of the script he’s telling us something we can already see and comprehend for ourselves. Worse still are the stretches of dialogue spoken solely as a means to fill us in on the story elements we should be seeing. A prime example of which is the character of Uncle Expositionus Aquila (Donald Sutherland) whose every word is spent telling viewers about something that happened in the past or something that’s happening currently. ‘Look, fun.’” After much debate, I’ve decided that it would be impossible for me to out-do the lashing Rob Hunter gave this movie in his theatrical review. It’s just as lifeless as he describes. And sadly, the Blu-ray doesn’t do anything to save it. There’s little “Unrated” about the “Unrated” version contained in this set, nor is there anything in the light assortment of extras. It’s mind-blowing to think that this film shares a director with State of Play and The Last King of Scotland. Someone must have some dirt on Kevin Macdonald, and I suspect it’s Channing Tatum.