DVD reviews: 'Cedar Rapids' finds strength in screenplay, cast
Filmmaker Miguel Arteta's earlier films ("Youth In Revolt," "The Good Girl") have been under the radar because of their dark comedic elements and quirky moments. And Arteta's latest, "Cedar Rapids" is no different with hilarious characters making an insurance conference look like a fun time. Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) is a small-town insurance salesman heading to the big city of Cedar Rapids for a conference. He hangs out with Dean (John C. Reilly), a loud-mouthed insurance salesman. He also forms friendships with Ronald (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), another excellent salesman, and Joan (Anne Heche), a married woman wanting fun at the conference. The group gets in and out of trouble, and it's a learning experience for straight-shooting Tim, who wants to score the conference's big award. Major strengths in the flick include a slick screenplay that piles up the jokes and a great cast. The DVD — Blu-ray and standard packages — includes lots of special features. Viewers should check in on some of the featurettes about actors getting into character. Deleted scenes and a gag reel add more laughs to the package. Blu-ray adds in more featurettes. R; 2011. 3 Stars.
'The Adjustment Bureau'
Loosely based on a short story from Philip K. Dick, George Nolfi makes his directorial debut with "The Adjustment Bureau," a slick and well-told story that touches on the science fiction, fantasy, action and romance genres. It is helped along by steady performances from Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie and John Slattery, but the real joy of the film resonates from the engaging storyline. David Norris (Damon), an up-and-coming politician on the fast track to the White House, is preparing for a speech when he meets Elise. They end up falling for each other, but as fate plays a role — a relationship between David and Elise was never meant to happen. David comes in contact with a mysterious force that dictates what happens on the planet. Does he stick with his written fate, or go for love in writing a new chapter for his life• An interactive map of New York, based on aspects of this flick, is the only exclusive extra to Blu-ray. Special features that can be found on standard and Blu-ray include character featurettes for Blunt and Damon and an in-depth look at one of the more heart-pounding moments of the picture. All three featurettes do offer some insight into the picture. Also included is commentary from Nolfi. PG-13; 2011. 3 Stars.
When "Unknown" hit theaters in February, it was promoted as another "Taken," the 2008 action hit also starring Liam Neeson. But these two movies are different. "Unknown" is much more of a thriller, and viewers looking for mindless action will be disappointed. "Unknown," based on "Out of My Head," a 2003 novel by Didier van Cauwelaert, is heavy with plot holes, and that's convenient, given the nature of the film's storyline. Dr. Martin Harris (Neeson) and his wife (January Jones) are in Berlin for a conference when the doctor is in an accident. When he wakes up, he realizes things aren't exactly how he remembers them. His wife doesn't know who he is, and a different guy is playing the role of her husband. Harris has the help of a local cabbie (Diane Kruger) and a retired German officer (Bruno Ganz) to help him sort out his life. The confusion of Neeson's character gives the filmmakers an opportunity to tiptoe around the details of a story, arriving at a location without telling the viewers how they got there. That hurts the thriller aspects of "Unknown." The Blu-ray holds two weak featurettes, one on Neeson's prowess as an action hero, and the other on the making of "Unknown." The standard DVD package only carries the making-of featurette. PG-13; 2011. 1.5 Stars.
Channing Tatum, a beefcake in most of his previous on-screen roles, flashes a touch of leading-man potential in "The Eagle," a film that could be seen as the legitimate sequel to last year's "Centurion." Tatum plays Marcus, a courageous Roman soldier who wants to restore his family name. His father was the commander of Rome's Ninth Legion, an army of 5,000 that disappeared in Britain with the Eagle, a golden symbol of Rome's dominance over the rest of the world. Marcus puts it upon himself to find the Eagle and return it. The journey pits Marcus and his slave (Jamie Bell) against the elements and forces that are not particularly fond of Romans. "The Eagle" features battle scenes free of heavy CGI, but it does little to shake the cliches found in medieval-themed movies. The DVD's extras are good, starting with an alternative ending. Also included are theatrical and unrated versions of the film, a making-of featurette, deleted scenes and commentary. PG-13; 2011. 2.5 Stars.
OTHER MOVIE RELEASES:
• "Elektra Luxx" (Carla Gugino and Joseph Gordon Levitt, R, 2010, Sony Pictures): This ensemble comedy follows a pregnant former porn star working toward redemption. Unfortunately, Elektra (Gugino) will have plenty of challenges in trying to get away from her former job. Extras.
• "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules" (Zachary Gordon and Robert Capron, PG, 2011, 20th Century Fox): The second film in this franchise is adapted from the book of the same name from Jeff Kinney. The picture focuses on the sibling rivalry between brothers Greg (Gordon) and Rodrick (Devon Bostick). Extras.
• "Happythankyoumoreplease" (Malin Akerman and Kate Mara, R, 2010, Anchor Bay Films): Josh Radnor, the star of the hit sitcom "How I Met Your Mother," wrote, directed and starred in this comedy that brings the viewer in on the lives of a handful of New Yorkers in their 20s struggling to figure out their lives. Extras.
• "Rubber" (Jack Plotnick and Stephen Spinella, R, 2011, Magnolia Pictures): The unthinkable ensues when a rubber tire (that's right) comes to life and leaves a path of death and destruction in its wake. Extras.
• "Ceremony" (Michael Angarano and Uma Thurman, R, 2010, Magnolia Pictures): Max Winkler, the son of Henry Winkler, makes his feature-length debut as a writer and director with this romantic comedy about a young man dragging a friend to a resort to help break up the marriage of his former girlfriend. Extras.
• "Poison: 20th Anniversary Edition" (Edith Meeks and Larry Maxwell, NR, 1991 Zeitgeist Films) Director Todd Haynes made his feature-length debut with this 1991 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury prize winner inspired by the writings of Jean Genet. The movie weaves three stories that build toward a surprising finish. Extras.
• "Mega Python vs. Gatoroid" (Tiffany and Debbie Gibson, NR, 2011, Image Entertainment): Director Mary Lambert's film pits an animal activist (Gibson) against a ranger (Tiffany) in a cheesy battle of epic proportions. The monster movie made its debut on the Syfy Channel earlier this year. Extras.
• "Playing House" (Mayra Leal and Sarah Prikryl, NR, 2010, Maya Entertainment): The ultimate home-wrecker takes center stage in this thriller about a couple inviting a friend to live at their place. All's going well until the new roommate brings home a new girlfriend. Extras.
• "William & Kate" (Nico Evers-Swindell and Camilla Luddington, NR, 2011, extras, A&E Home Entertainment).
• "Bending All the Rules" (Bradley Cooper and Colleen Porch, R, 2002, Lionsgate Pictures).
OTHER TV RELEASES:
• "Squidbillies: Volume 4" (Voices from Dave Willis and Unknown Hinson, one disc, 10 episodes, extras, Warner Bros./Cartoon Network).
• "Big Time Rush: Season One, Volume Two" (Kendall Schmidt and James Maslow, two discs, seven episodes, extras, Paramount Pictures/Nickelodeon).