Cedar Rapids (NR, 2011, Fox)
If the 40-year-old virgin had a brother, he might look a little something like Tim Lippe (Ed Helms), a small-town insurance salesman who works in the shadow of his co-workers, has a degree from the Ned Flanders Academy of Sheltered Living, and is “pre-engaged” (his words) via promise ring to a woman — his former schoolteacher (Sigourney Weaver) — who just got divorced and just wants to have fun. A change of fortune affords Tim the chance to ride his first airplane and descend on the annual regional insurance convention in Cedar Rapids, where he runs into a trio of significantly less sheltered insurance people (John C. Reilly, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Anne Heche) and kicks off a coming-of-age journey that’s better enjoyed late than never. “Cedar Rapids” surfs a weird timeline that makes it as much a movie about insurance sales as it is about Tim Lippe. But the way it mixes the two — and the similar way it allows a stupidly funny scene to credibly co-exist with something legitimately sweet in the next (or even same) scene — makes this the first movie you ever see that will make you care (however briefly) about the politics of insurance conventions. And if not, no worries: Those funny scenes are truly funny, Helms is masterfully sheltered as Tim, and Reilly plays out of his mind as the convention’s resident sleazebag. Alia Shawkat, Stephen Root and Kurtwood Smith, among others, also star.
Extras: Deleted scenes, three behind-the-scenes features, bloopers, Top Notch Insurance commercial.
Louie: The Complete First Season (NR, 2010, Fox)
Louis C.K. has tried this standup-comedian-gets-a-sitcom thing before, and a quick glance at his newest attempt might leave one with the impression that he isn’t going to put his back into it this time. A typical 22-minute episode of “Louie” fits in two separate storylines and glues them together with standup footage that may not necessarily be related to the subjects of the storylines. Sometimes, you’ll see a standup joke from an earlier episode repeat itself in a later episode. Even the theme song, which simply croons “Louie” repeatedly until the very last line, feels like it was probably written during a bathroom break. But all any of this really does is complement a show that, more than anything, is about a 42-year-old guy who is divorced, feels old, looks defeated and will repeatedly remind you that no year in his future can possibly be better than the ones in his past. So really, why break a sweat? Fortunately, the notion that “Louie” mails it in is, as it relates to the actual quality of the show, completely illusory. The stories, though short, ring true at worst and are extremely funny at best, and Louie’s standup is so funny that even a repeated joke is good for a fresh laugh. Even if it’s trite by now for a standup to get his own show, the thin line C.K. cuts between fact and fiction makes this one pretty special.
Contents: 13 episodes, plus commentary, deleted/extended scenes, behind-the-scenes feature.
Unknown (PG-13, 2011, Warner Bros.)
Ready for something new in the “guy gets into accident and can’t remember who he is upon waking” genre? Try this out: Four days after Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) nearly drowns in a taxi that careens into a river, he wakes up remembering not only who he is, but who his wife (January Jones) is, why they’re in Berlin together and even the name of his hotel suite. Problem is, nobody believes him — and that includes his wife and another man (Aidan Quinn) whom everyone believes is the real Martin. That leaves Martin wondering if he’s gone insane … but has he? This being (a) a movie and (b) a thriller that sets a foreboding tone almost immediately, of course not. Fortunately, “Unknown” eventually reveals a pretty good explanation. And if you think you know what it is — and, roughly halfway through, the movie’s hand seems all but shown — there’s a good chance you’ll be happy to know you guessed wrong. “Unknown’s” second half initially appears on a collision course with cliche, albeit with methods (a great car chase and some terrific introductions of what otherwise might be bland role-players with predictable intentions) that somewhat cushion the disappointment. When the big reveal flies in, though, it does so in the best way possible — as a legitimate surprise for many, but a logical one that closes some plausibility holes that were starting to plague the story. That it builds to a rather simple conclusion is disappointing, but by that point, “Unknown” has done enough right to offset even this arguable wrong.
Extra: Deleted/extended scenes.
The Adjustment Bureau (PG-13, 2011, Universal)
Aspiring politician David Norris (Matt Damon) is moments removed from a losing election when he meets Elise (Emily Blunt) in the nearest men’s room. The chance encounter leads to feelings that inspire one spectacularly candid (and very popular) concession speech. That, in turn, creates some serious headaches for the Adjustment Bureau, an ultra-secret group of god-like string-pullers who look like normal Joes but secretly write the script for what we mistakenly perceive to be our own free will. A happy ending for David and Elise means an unhappy end for the aspirations the Bureau has for David, and when David stumbles into the revelation of their existence, the headache becomes a migraine. Too bad “The Adjustment Bureau” only has a couple hours and not a couple seasons to play this all out. David’s discovery uncorks some seriously cool ideas that come alive in some visually awesome ways without going overboard with effects. But because “Bureau” hinges on what essentially is a love story, it’s obligated to rush things along and give neither the science fiction nor the love story their full profound due. A ton of really compelling questions are left unanswered in the interest of time, and even though “Bureau” ends things on a reasonably satisfying note, it still feels slightly like a cop-out simply because the final revelation isn’t able to play itself out as elaborately as it so clearly could. The result still makes for a fun movie, but it’s impossible to ignore the potential that goes unused in this medium.
Extras: Writer/director commentary, deleted/extended scenes, three behind-the-scenes features.
The Glades: The Complete First Season (NR, 2010, Fox)
We don’t immediately know what Jim Longworth (Matt Passmore) specifically did to lose his job as a Chicago homicide detective, but it happened, and if he harbored any hopes for an easier life at his new post in Florida, a tide of murders have washed that away. Just don’t expect Jim to get too bent out of shape about it, because if “The Glades” has a characteristic that sets it apart from the pile of police procedurals already on television, it’s the near-constant smile on his face and the wave after wave of pleasantly smarmy words that pour out of his mouth. Jim’s happy-go-luckiness is pervasive to the occasional point of irritating, though fortunately, it’s more an irritant to his co-workers, suspects and love interests, who do a excellent job of providing foil service and keeping the show balanced enough to avoid smug overload. As the cases go, “The Glades” delivers: It doesn’t blaze amazing new trails, but it uses its setting well, and it sets a great pace with a nice twist in the very first episode. Mostly, though, it provides the necessary playground for Passmore and his co-stars, who grow on you as characters and give the show a fun quality that doesn’t undermine the police work. If you’ve developed a case of grim police procedure fatigue but don’t want to abandon the genre entirely, the balance this one strikes between casework and comedy makes for an excellent antidote.
Contents: 13 episodes, plus commentary, deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features and bloopers.
strong>Happythankyoumoreplease (R, 2010, Anchor Bay)
Well into “Happythankyoumoreplease,” a character makes the apt assertion to writer Sam (Josh Radnor) that, just as he enjoys writing short stories instead of novels, he is better equipped to cope with life when it’s doled out in similar fashion. As it happens, that’s a pretty apt strike against “Happythankyoumoreplease,” even though it’s entirely possible the short story metaphor was intentional here as well. “Happythankyoumoreplease” isn’t just about Sam: It’s also about Sam’s sick friend Annie (Malin Akerman) and the socially awkward co-worker (Tony Hale) who takes a liking to her, as well as Sam’s other friend Mary Catherine (Zoe Kazan), who faces the prospect of leaving New York if she wishes to stay with her boyfriend (Pablo Schreiber) and help him follow his dreams in Los Angeles. Even Sam’s portion of the movie comes divided: There’s a girl (Kate Mara), of course, but there’s also a kid (Michael Algieri) who Sam finds abandoned on the subway and is determined to help in the clumsiest way imaginable. “Happythankyoumoreplease” is, by and large, good at telling everybody’s story and giving everyone a personality that elevates them beyond simple plot placeholders. But the divided attention keeps some stories from venturing too far beyond predictability, while the ones that do make it end a little too neatly. It’s a nice collection of nice stories, but one wonders what the powers that be could’ve done with fewer characters and more attention to spread around.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature.
Bending All the Rules (R, 2002, Lions Gate)
Bradley Cooper is kind of a big deal these days, and it’s almost certainly for that reason that “Bending All the Rules” — a long-lost 2002 movie formerly more cleverly known as “carnival knowledge” — has resurfaced. No other explanation would really fly. “Rules” is the story of Kenna (Colleen Porch), an aspiring photographer/current cocktail waitress with a checkered past as a philandering carnival worker’s daughter. She’s currently balancing two love interests at once, and in addition to being diametric opposites, Jeff (Cooper) and Martin (David Gail) are fully aware of each other and where everything stands. As you might guess, Kenna’s past plays a role in her present, and “Rules” tries to balance some extremely light romantic comedy with a collection of flashbacks designed to give depth to Kenna’s character. Problem is, even with all the filling in, there’s little about her that makes her very likable or separates her from the millions of other aspiring photographers/emotional opportunists we’ve already met in the movies. Jeff and Martin come off as similarly vapid, and “Rules,” with acting that grows startlingly flat as time ticks away and a script that mostly goes nowhere before wrapping things up with some wincingly bad preaching on behalf of a narrating Kenna, is completely ill-equipped to right the ship. No extras.
Worth a Mention
— “Rocko’s Modern Life: Season One” (NR, 1993, Shout Factory): Shout Factory’s karma-generating revival of 1990s Nickelodeon cartoons continues with this arguable classic about a wallaby named Rocko, who has emigrated from Australia to America and, along with his dim but loyal canine buddy Spunky, must overcome one seriously tall order of culture shock. Includes 13 episodes, no extras.
— Other Shout stuff: The studio’s retro B-movie double-feature bender continues with “Giant Robot Action Pack” (which includes “Robot Wars” and “Crash and Burn”), “Wild West Collection” (“Rio Conchos,” “Take a Hard Ride”), “Action-Packed Double Feature” (“Gordon’s War” and “Off Limits,” with commentaries on both), and the three-film “The Women in Cages Collection,” which includes Roger Corman’s “The Big Bird Cage,” “Big Doll House” and “Women in Cages.” The “Cages” set also includes a new behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of “House,” director commentaries on “House” and “Bird,” and various promotional spots. Shout also has released standalone DVDs for the “Gunslinger” and “Hamlet” episodes of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” though these are available only at ShoutFactoryStore.com. Neither includes extras beyond the original episodes.
— “Squidbillies: Volume Four” (NR, 2010, Adult Swim): It may be one of the more polarizing shows on Adult Swim, which is really saying something when you consider how good that network is at bear-hugging the thin line between uncaged brilliance and complete stupidity. But in spite of its ability to so thoroughly repulse people, and also perhaps because of it, the odyssey of a mean-spirited family of trucker hat-wearing squids keeps rolling along, with more episodes on the way this year. Includes 10 episodes, plus Dragon*Con 2010 footage, a new round of Funny Pete Stuff, two behind-the-scenes features, footage from Dougal County Ink-Off 2009 and various bits of art, music and promotional stuff.