Adventures in space and time: 'Adjustment Bureau,' 'Eagle'

By Tom Von Malder | Jul 10, 2011
Photo by: Universal Studios Home Entertainment Matt Damon and Emily Blunt star in “The Adjustment Bureau,” based on a Philip K. Dick story.

Owls Head — The Adjustment Bureau (Universal DVD, PG-13, 106 min.). Even though there is a nice fantasy spin in this adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story “Adjustment Team,” it really is a romantic thriller, giving star Matt Damon his first chance to play a romantic lead. Damon plays David Norris, a Congressman from New York, whose run for the Senate is derailed by the Post literally baring one of his indiscretions in print. He loses the election big time, but meets a mysterious woman while rehearsing his concession speech in the men’s room. She is Elise Sellas, played by Emily Blunt, who went through some vigorous training so she could perform as an accomplished ballerina.

From the start, there is great chemistry between David and Elise, and it intensifies in an easy-going manner when he accidentally sees her on the bus as he is headed to the first day on his new job. David has a watcher (Anthony Mackie as Harry Mitchell), who was supposed to make David spill his coffee so he would miss the bus, but Harry falls asleep for a couple of critical minutes. Thus, when David arrives at the office 10 minutes ahead of schedule, he is amazed to see everyone frozen and mysterious figures adjusting his co-workers (the aim is to get his boss to accept David’s solar energy proposal). David is then taken through a door to a vast industrial space that cannot be there and it is explained that The Chairman upstairs has a plan and they are with the Adjustment Bureau that makes sure things go according to the plan. David is told that if he ever reveals this to anyone, his brain will be reset, and that he should never see Elise again.

The basic theme is free will versus predestination, although by letting David go it seems he is allowed free will, even when being told everything is predetermined. Later, even one of the watchers shows free will when he agrees to help David. Meanwhile, David is determined to find Elise and does so, even though it takes three years of riding the same bus. That brings a higher-up adjuster into play (Terence Stamp as Thompson “The Hammer”).

There are many wonderful scenes of doors leading to the unlikeliest of next places. It is a good tour of New York City and is explained in one of the extras. There also is an audio commentary by writer/director George Nolfi; six deleted and extended scenes (two with the otherwise excised Daniel Dae Kim); an extended look at Blunt’s dance training; and a more generic promo featurette. Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 2.75 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

The Eagle (Focus/Universal Blu-ray disc, PG-13/NR, 114 min.). The disc contains both the rated and unrated versions, but the time is almost the same, so I’m guessing some of the severed limbs are only in one version. Channing Tatum plays Marcus Aquila, the new commander of a Roman outpost in Britain. Marcus has a history with the place even though he has never been there. Twenty years ago his father led 5,000 men into unconquered Britain and they were never seen again. Marcus is determined to find The Eagle, the Ninth Legion’s treasured standard to restore his family’s honor.

Within the first 25 minutes there are two battles, including a night-time storming of the fort. Here is where the film’s attention to authentic period detail pays off. Marcus is injured in the second battle and is sent to his uncle’s (Donald Sutherland) to recover. There, he saves a slave (Jamie Bell as Esca) from death  in the arena, only to have his uncle assign Esca as his personal slave. Soon the pair are journeying north past Hadrian’s Wall, seeking the standard. As expected, the two bond en route, although at one point, Esca has to pretend to be the master.

The film is solid and has a very real feel (not a lot, if any, computer-generated stuff; the actors really slog through the mud etc.), even if it is unspectacular. The extras include audio commentary by director Kevin Macdonald; an alternate ending that defeats the movie’s momentum; two deleted scenes, including a chariot race (!); and a 12:12-long making-of feature in which Macdonald talks about his love for the source book and the overall mystery in presented. There also is a digital copy of the film. Grade: film and extras 3 stars

The Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy Extended Edition (New Line, 6 Blu-ray and 9 standard DVDs, PG-13, 33-plus hours). It is finally here, the extended versions of “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001, 4 Oscars), “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (2002, 2 Oscars) and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003, 11 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director) in all their glory on Blu-ray. While director Peter Jackson says the theatrical versions are his director’s cuts, these extended versions add much depth and nuance to the characters and their stories.

Each film is presented on two Blu-ray discs (for the highest visual quality), accompanied by three standard DVDs of bonus material. While the bonus material is extensive, and includes the behind-the-scenes documentaries created by Costa Botes, the sole disappointment with the set is there is no new bonus material whatsoever, not even a mention of the just-started Jackson two-film adaptation of “The Hobbit.” I have read a bit of controversy about the coloration of some scenes in the new transfer of “The Fellowship of the Ring” included here. It was remastered from the original 2k digital files. It looks fine; no need to worry. Each film comes with four audio commentaries. Everything is housed in a rigid slipcase that flips open to reveal a map on the inside cover. Each of the films then comes in a separate, five-disc normal case.

For those unfamiliar with the films, they tell the tale of hobbit Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), who has to return the One Ring to Mount Doom so it can be destroyed, otherwise the ring can be used to enslave Middle Earth. Trying to prevent him is the Dark Lord Sauron. Initially, Frodo is joined on his journey by the Fellowship, fellow Hobbits Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin), Pippin Took (Billy Boyd) and Merry Brandybuck (Dominic Monaghan), joined by fairy Legolas Greenleaf (Orlando Bloom), dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), the good wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Boromir (Sean Bean). Grade: films and extras A+

13 Assassins (Magnet/Magnolia, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 125 min.).
Japanese director Takashi Miike is noted for pushing the envelope, but here he presents a very traditional film, reminiscent of the “Seven Samurai” and a remake of a 1963 film. The story is set in 1844 at the end of Japan’s feudal era, a time when the samurai era was ending due to extended peace. However, that peace is threatened by Lord Naritsugu (played by Goro Inagaki, a member of the boy band SMAP). He is the Shogun’s sadistic younger brother, who is gaining in power.

Miike spares the viewer nothing in showing Naritsugu’s horrors. But first, there is a ritual suicide in protest of Naritsugu’s actions. In a flashback, we see Naritsugu kill his host’s son after murdering the man’s wife. We meet a woman whose limbs and tongue he cut off so he could make her his plaything. And we see him use a whole family as archery target practice. It is clear Naritsugu must die, and so top Shogun official Sir Doi (Mikijiro Hira) takes action, enlisting Shinzaemon (a wonderful Koji Yakusho) to do the deed. Shinzaemon enlists 11 other samurai to help him and decides to take a stand at the town of Ochiai, which lies in the path they force Naritsugu and his warriors to take, by having another route blocked by the man whose son he had killed. Shinzaemon and his men booby trap Ochiai, after buying out all the innkeepers. Along the way to Ochiai, they pick up member 13, a strange mountain man who seems impervious to pain. Ultimately it is 13 versus 200 in the final, climatic battle, which takes 50 minutes of screen time.

The Blu-ray version looks great -- Miike knows how to frame a scene -- but it also has a superb audio track, from footfalls when walking to the whiz of arrows and the sound of a sword entering flesh. There are 18 short deleted scenes (18:14), including four bits excised from the battle sequence. There also is a 15:43 interview with Miike, but with a very weak questioner. The Blu-ray comes with a digital copy. Grade: film 3.75 stars; extras 2.75 stars

The Warrior’s Way (Fox, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 100 min.).
In this highly stylized film -- nearly every backdrop was done via green screen -- Jang Dong-Gun plays Yang, the greatest swordsman in history (we know this because we see him defeat the previous greatest swordsman). He is part of the Sad Flutes (“The sound made when the throat is cut.”) assassin clan, ordered to wipe out an enemy clan totally. However, Yang spares the last of the enemy, a young infant girl that he decides to protect. This act, though makes him the enemy of his own clan.

Yang decides to head for the U.S. Badlands, where a friend of his had moved. That friend is dead and the town, Lode, is down to about 500 souls, but, led by midget 8-Ball (Tony Cox), they hope to turn things around with the circus they are putting together. (How poor is the town? Well, the hotel door just leads to the desert beyond . There is no real building. Lynne (Kate Bosworth) befriends Yang and helps him run his dead friend’s laundry. Lynne has a violent past  involving the Colonel (Danny Huston), and now he and his cowboys ride into town. She is determined to get revenge, and again parts of the town are set as traps for the cowboys. However, the Sad Flutes arrive midway through the battle, adding a whole other dimension. Geoffrey Rush (“The King’s Ransom”) plays the town drunk, who just happens to be a gunslinger with the weapon known as The Circumciser (the 11 deleted scenes  include two versions of how the gun got its name).

Korean writer-director Sngmoo Lee has created a visually stunning film. (I particularly like the assassins in their black capes so they look like bats when they jump from the rooftops.) The heightened colors are quite interesting as well. The music, by Javier Navarrete (“Pan’s Labyrinth”), is wonderful. Only the script lets  the film down. Other than the deleted scenes (12:10), the Blu-ray has a 2:26 behind-the-scenes montage and a digital copy of the film. Grade: film 2.75 stars; extras 2 stars

Season of the Witch (Fox, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 95 min.). After a prologue in which three women are hanged and drowned  as witches -- and one proves to be the real deal -- the film goes forward about 100 years. It begins as a buddy movie, with Nicolas Cage (Behmen) and Ron Perlman (Felson) as two Christian knights  fighting in the Crusades. It is supposed to be the 1330s, but there dialogue is way too modern, as they kid themselves and place drinking bets on who will kill the most. The film is only rate PG-13, so the multiple Crusade battle scenes, presented as a montage, actually are quite bloodless. Even though supposedly thousands die, there is only one spry of blood, which makes the green-screen work and digital enhancement of combatants all the more obvious.

After some 10 years of killing, Behmen decides he has had enough and what the Crusaders are doing in wrong. The two desert, but soon wander into Marburg, which is afflicted by the Black Plague along with the rest of Europe. Captured, they are talked into escorting a suspected witch to a remote monastery, where resides The Book of Solomon and what Cardinal D’Ambroise (Christopher Lee) believes is a way to force the witch to remove the plague curse. The Girl (no name, please) is played by Claire Foy, who tempts the men during their journey. Also along are priest Debelzaq (Stephen Campbell), swindler/guide Hagamar (Stephen Graham), Elkhart (Ulrich Thomsen and altar boy Kay (Trobert Sheehan) who wishes to become a knight. The best part of the journey is the suspenseful rotted wood bridge crossing, followed by the wolf attack.

The film is pretty routine, with Cage and Perlman chewing the scenery as if they were clear cutting. However, the final 20 minutes go to a totally different place and there is some genuine excitement finally. Amazingly, director Dominic Sena (“Gone in Sixty Seconds,” also with Cage) says he was influenced by Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal,” in which a knight returning from the Crusades encounters Death on the road. DVD extras include an alternate ending with much less special effects (and it is weaker); seven deleted scenes (9:56), including another scene with Lee and an unrated version of the prologue; an 8:29 look at the special effects; and a 6:07 look at creating the opening battle scenes. Grade: film and extras 2 stars

Sucker Punch (Warner, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13/R, 110/127 min.).
Co-writer/director Zack Snyder knows how to make a movie. His “300” was brilliant in many ways, and “Watchman” had many good moments, but this is the first time he has worked from an original script and the result is a mess. You will still see the man behind “300” in the stylized fantasy segments, particularly the World War I stuff, but the plot is nearly incomprehensible, and overall, the film stoops to a fan boy mentality in which women are objectified and looking good is the aim more than making sense. Sort of like Pussyfoot Dolls on steroids.

Emily Browning plays Baby Doll. In the wordless opening, we see her mother die, her stepfather go bonkers at the reading of the will and then he tries to molest Baby Doll, and failing at that, goes after her younger sister, who is killed in the attempt. He blames her and she is committed to the Lennox House for the Mentally Insane in Brattleboro, Vermont. At that point, reality is left at the door, and it appears the asylum is run by Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac) and doctor/choreographer Vera Gorski (Caral Gugins) as a high-class whorehouse with onstage entertainment. (This includes an interesting version of Roxy Music’s “Love Is the Drug.”) When Baby Doll is forced to dance, she enters a fantasy world where the Wise Man (Scott Glenn) tells her she needs to obtain a map, fire, a knife, a key and a mystery (the goal, a deep sacrifice).

We see Baby Doll battle three giant ninjas and, with new friends Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens, perversely raven-haired) and Amber (Jamie Chung), then battle World War I Nazi zombies, a dragon and a bomb on a train. It is all pointless mayhem, loud and confusing. The Blue-ray version includes the extended version (reviewed) and the 17-minute-shorter theatrical version. While the film is a mess, the extras are much, much better and include Snyder on-screen to introduce behind-the-scenes looks, picture-in-picture commentary and scenes and stills not in the film that help fill in some of the story. Yes, it is Maximum Movie Mode. The Blu-ray also includes the original “Sucker Punch” animated shorts and a look at the soundtrack. Each version of the film gets its own Blu-ray disc. A third disc contains the standard DVD and the digital copy. Grade: film dog; extras 3 stars

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