Video Verdict: ‘The Adjustment Bureau,’ ‘Unknown,’ ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules,’ ‘The Eagle,’ ‘Cedar Rapids’

Liam Neeson, rear, and January Jones star in the thriller “Unknown.”

A lot of noteworthy films are making their way to home video this week, including a new action movie from Liam Neeson, a family film based on the works of writer Jeff Kinney, and a supernatural drama starring Matt Damon.

The Adjustment Bureau

3 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexuality and a violent image
Universal
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

George Nolfi, who owns screenwriting credits on “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “The Sentinel,” picked a terrific project for his first foray into the world of a writer-director. He also chose two great actors to give him a lift.

Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, Nolfi’s “Adjustment Bureau” is a deft mix of action, drama and supernatural fun, and Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are just the actors to bring it to life. Damon plays David Norris, an up-and-coming politician, and Blunt is Elise Sellas, a talented dancer who meets him after he’s lost an election for U.S. Senate. The two immediately sense an attraction, but Elise disappears, leaving David to wonder if he’ll ever see her again.

Days later, he runs into her on a bus and attempts to court her, but mysterious forces conspire to keep them apart. It’s not revealing too much to say that those forces are superhuman, but it would be imprudent to go into detail. The important thing is that David must decide whether a relationship with Elise is worth giving up everything he knows.

Nolfi’s script is intelligent, asking viewers to decide whether they believe in free will or a world dictated by fate. One needn’t get too caught up in the movie’s philosophy, however. “The Adjustment Bureau” works just fine as a simple and fast-moving supernatural romance. What sets it apart from weaker films is that it offers deeper layers for those who choose to explore them.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted and extended scenes, several making-of shorts and an audio commentary with Nolfi.

Unknown

2½ stars
Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sexual content
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

In recent years – most notably with 2008’s “Taken” – Liam Neeson has established himself as a late-blooming action star. He continues that trend with “Unknown,” a thriller set in modern-day Berlin.

Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris, a button-downed scientist attending an important Berlin conference with his wife, Elizabeth (January Jones). As they are about to check into their luxury hotel, Martin discovers that he mistakenly left his briefcase at the airport, so he rushes back to retrieve it, only to be injured in a terrifying taxi accident.

Days later, Martin awakes from a coma to discover that his life – or at least the life he remembers – is gone. His passport is missing, Elizabeth doesn’t recognize him and another man (Aidan Quinn) insists that he is, and always has been, Dr. Martin Harris. Desperate, Martin locates the cab driver that rescued him from the accident (Diane Kruger) and enlists the help of a former Stasi officer (Bruno Ganz) who moonlights as a private detective.

Neeson is likable in the starring role, and director Jaume Collet-Serra does a nice job keeping viewers on edge throughout the project. The film also has a number of respectable plot twists and turns. It does have one major flaw, however. It’s impossible to watch a thriller built around identity loss without thinking of the three Jason Bourne films, and they not only share striking similarities with “Unknown,” all three are superior.

Extras on the DVD version of the film are limited to a short that examines the characters and plotting of the film. The Blu-ray release has that plus a bit on Neeson’s work as an action star.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

2½ stars
Rated PG for some mild rude humor and mischief
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

The good news regarding the second film adaptation of writer Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” book series is that title character Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) is at least likable in this outing. Yeah, he’s still selfish and obsessed with popularity, but at least he’s dialed down the annoying traits that made him almost unbearable in part one. The bad news is the project still isn’t as nuanced and layered as the best family films.

The picture picks up with Greg beginning seventh grade, a landmark that he and his best friend, Rowley (Robert Capron), are excited about. Alas, Greg’s teen brother, Rodrick (Devon Bostick), is determined to torture him, and he starts by embarrassing him in front of Westmore Middle School’s beautiful new girl, Holly (Peyton List). Even worse, Greg and Rodrick’s mother (Rachael Harris) insists that the two of them hang out and bond.

This leads to plenty of uncomfortable moments, as the older Rodrick reluctantly complies, introducing Greg to the life of a teenager. Director David Bowers does a good job capturing the dynamic between feuding siblings, noting that these relationships are in constant flux. Although Greg and Rodrick can be bitter enemies, Bowers also demonstrates that brotherly love can win out in the end, and that’s a nice message for the youngsters who are sure to be watching.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include an audio commentary by Kinney and Bowers.

The Eagle

2½ stars
The movie is available in both rated and unrated versions. The rated version received a PG-13 for battle sequences and some disturbing images
Universal
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

Director Kevin McDonald, the man behind the Idi Amin drama “The Last King of Scotland,” has produced another historical epic. With “The Eagle,” he’s dug even deeper into history, taking viewers all the way back to 140 A.D. and the height of the Roman Empire.

The fictional narrative focuses on Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum), a Roman centurion whose father led the Ninth Legion, an infamous unit that disappeared while serving in northern Britain. As a soldier, Marcus hopes to restore his family’s good name, and he sees an opportunity in rumors that the Ninth Legion’s standard, a golden eagle, has been spotted in the English countryside, in an area outside Roman control.

With only his slave, Esca (Jamie Bell), at his side, Marcus ventures into the dangerous region, intent on recovering the eagle. McDonald’s film is an interesting animal in that the set dressing and costumes are period but the acting and filmmaking are pure 21st century. For audience convenience, the Romans speak English and the Britons speak Gaelic, but they do so in such a modern cadence that its clear screenwriter Jeremy Brock wasn’t worried about establishing the historical timeframe.

Also, Tatum seems archetypically heroic, but never particularly Roman, a fact that might bother some viewers. He and Bell have an easygoing chemistry that works but, again, doesn’t reinforce the time period. Out of necessity, the film features a number of action sequences and these are staged reasonably well. The end result is a decidedly modern action film that hangs its hat on ancient times.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes, an alternate ending, a making-of feature and an audio commentary by Macdonald.

Cedar Rapids

3½ stars
Rated R for crude and sexual content, language and drug use
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

“Cedar Rapids” isn’t the most high profile of this week’s releases, but it is the best. Directed by Miguel Arteta, the film tells the story of Tim Lippe (Ed Helms), a naïve, small-town insurance agent whose boss sends him to a convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It’s a high-pressure assignment not only because Tim has no idea how to function in the “big city” but because his predecessor won the convention’s top award for three years running, and Tim is expected to continue the trend. Tim thinks he’s up for the assignment until he falls in with three more experienced insurance reps (John C. Reilly, Anne Heche and Isiah Whitlock Jr.) who believe that all work an no play make for dull times.

Although Tim is a grown man, “Cedar Rapids” is something of a coming-of-age tale because he’s never really matured past a grade school level. This point is reinforced by the fact that he still calls his elementary school teacher (Sigourney Weaver) Mrs. Vanderhei, even though they’re sleeping together.

Once in Cedar Rapids, Tim finds himself doing things he wouldn’t have dreamed of back home and this both terrifies and liberates him. The film wears its indie nature on its sleeve, as there’s nothing slick or glamorous about the cinematography and presentation. Instead, Arteta and his outstanding cast put all their energy into telling a good story that’s funny and engrossing through its entire 87-minute run.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes, a gag reel and several shorts about the making of the film.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“happythankyoumoreplease”: Josh Radnor (Ted Moseby on TV’s “How I Met Your Mother) wrote directed and stars in this comedy about young New Yorkers trying to find themselves. Malin Akerman, Toney Hale, Zoe Kazan, Pablo Schreiber and Kate Mara also star.

“Elektra Luxx”: Comedy starring Carla Gugino as a pregnant former porn star who tries to remake her life as a community college “sexology” instructor. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Timothy Olyphant, Adrianne Palicki and Emmanuelle Chriqui also star.

“Bending All the Rules”: Direct-to-video romantic comedy starring Colleen Porch as an ambitious photographer being courted by two men. One (Bradley Cooper) is a struggling DJ. The other (David Gail) is a successful businessman. Written and directed by Peter Knight and Morgan Klein.

“Kiss Me Deadly”: Criterion Collection release of the 1955 thriller based on Mickey Spillane’s mystery novel. Ralph Meeker plays Mike Hammer, a private detective who gets pulled into a dangerous case after picking up a frightened hitchhiker (Choris Leachman). Produced and directed by Robert Aldrich.

“William & Kate”: Lifetime Original Movie based on the courtship of British Prince William and his new bride Kate Middleton. Camilla Luddington and Nico Evers-Swindell star. Directed by Mark Rosman.

“The Closer” – The Complete Sixth Season: TNT has announced that next season will be the last for “The Closer,” making this DVD set a must for hardcore fans. The show focuses on Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick), a Los Angeles Police detective who focuses on major crimes. This three-disc set includes all 15 episodes from season six.

“Rocko’s Modern Life” – Season One: The first 13 episodes of the 1990s Nickelodeon animated series about an Australian wallaby and his animal friends. Created by animator Joe Murray.

“Squidbillies” – Volume Four: Ten episodes from the fifth season of the Cartoon Network program focused on hillbilly squids living in the mountains of Northern Georgia.

“Playing House”: Thriller about a newlywed couple (Craig Welzbacher and Sarah Prikryl) who invite their friend Danny (Matt Lusk) to move in with them. Things get creepy when Danny brings a beautiful but unstable woman (Mayra Leal) home.

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. For more of his work visit http://www.ForrestHartman.com. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com

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7 Comments

Filed under Video Verdict

7 responses to “Video Verdict: ‘The Adjustment Bureau,’ ‘Unknown,’ ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules,’ ‘The Eagle,’ ‘Cedar Rapids’

  1. smilingldsgirl

    I actually just watched Adjustment Bureau on the plane. I thought it was pretty good but not great (I’d probably give it 2 1/2 stars). It kind of seemed like an Inception want-a-be. The stars had good chemistry and that kept me interested but the special effects got a bit repetitive and I thought there was too much exposition of the bureau and not enough action. Also, the stars were together for such brief periods that it was hard to feel completely invested in their relationship.

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  2. I liked the film a little better than you (a half star’s worth, I guess), but I completely agree with you about the relationship building. I think we needed a little more interaction between them before he became convinced that he couldn’t live without her … even if it meant sacrificing his career and everything else.

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  3. smilingldsgirl

    yeah. Who knows about the star things. Its hard to give a rating because 2 seems too low but 3 seems too high so I went with 2 1/2 but who knows if that is really right. Can I say 2 3/4s!

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  4. You can say whatever you want! Star ratings are tricky. I try to keep a running log of the films I review. Then (if I’m stuck) I often compare a new movie to others that I’ve rated that year. I seem to be more consistent in my ratings that way.

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  5. Great post, do you mind if I re-blog this (with full attribution and linking)? I really want to share it with my readers, they would find it very useful.

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  6. Hi Watch Squidnillies: That’s fine. Thanks for asking.

    Like

  7. Oops. Sorry for the mistake in your screen name.

    Like

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