The Adjustment Bureau – Review

The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

Directed by George Nolfi. Starring Matt DamonEmily BluntNatalie CarterJohn SlatteryTerence Stamp

Loosely adapted from a short story by Philip K Dick from 1954 (The adjustment team), the Adjustment Bureau tries to take the usual Dick’s elements about conspiracy and paranoia and mixes them up into what’s essentially a love story.

If you really wanted to take this film apart you’d probably have quite an easy time: of course, the original conceit is ludicrous, the plot holes are everywhere and when you stop and think about it for more than 5 minutes you might even be able to draw a line connecting all the dots much before the actual ending is revealed. But all that doesn’t take away from the fact that if you did manage to suspend your disbelief, you might actually enjoy the ride.

There are a few interesting ideas here and there: the argument about pre-destiny and free will, or the fact that happiness of spirit can make a fighting relax too much (successful politicians are people who are not very lucky in love and only a broken heart can give them the anger for a real political victory). None of them is highly original to be honest, or even dealt with in any depth, but it’s all added to the mix and it’s there for whoever care enough to pay attention to the details.

The film is more concerned with the actual romance between the two leads and they both play their parts in the best possible way. Matt Damon once again demonstrates his versatility (My God, how many films has he done recently!?!) and the chemistry with his co-star Emily Blunt is quite strong despite the absurdity of the plot itself (and that awkward first scene of them together in the bathroom, which is particularly contrived and seemed a bit out of place, compared to the rest of the film).

It’s interesting to notice that the film was meant to come out about 6 months ago but rumors of disappointing test screenings, re-shoots and some of the similarities people felt the film had with Inception, delayed the release of the film. In fact I believe it had 3 different release dates.

While it might not have the scope or ambition of Inception (it’s interesting that even the UK critic Mark Kermode calling it “Inception-Light”), at the same time the film is intriguing, entertaining and even romantic enough to sustain its length (mercifully only 106 minutes), though I must say there are as many plot holes as there are people working for the “adjustment bureau itself it seems… And moreover, I thought that the ending did come a bit too abruptly and felt rushed (I do wonder if that’s the one that was planned).

It is set in today’s world and yet it has a slightly retro feel, from the way it’s filmed to the way it’s paced and acted and even the way it looks (the way the “Adjustment Bureau People” are dressed, and even the lack of in-your-face-special-effects). It almost feels like one of those episodes of the Twilight Zone from the 60s. That feeling is then enhanced even more by the presence of people like John Slattery, that we are so used to see in Mad Man (that one too set in the 60s).

I saw this film about a week ago and I am already starting to forget it, so I suppose it’s not going to be one of those cult classic that will live forever, but while I was with it I had enough fun and I find it quite enjoyable.

6.5/10

Inside Job – Review

INSIDE JOB (2010) 

Directed by Charles Ferguson. Narrated by Matt Damon.

When reviewing a documentary like this I think it’s fair to make a distinction between the subject matter of the documentary and the actual merits of the film-making itself.

On the subject matter front, “Inside Job” surely deserves all the awards it is receiving (it recently won the Oscar for best documentary too). The film sets to explain the reasons (or arguably, some of the reasons) behind the financial crisis that’s hit the whole world. How did we end up where we are and whose to blame?

It could be a fairly dry and dull subject , and a rather complicated one too, but Inside Job, for most of it, manages to keep it simple and gripping at the same time without dumbing it down too much. Inevitably it ends up focusing more one one side of the argument (the  bankers) as opposed to following the more controversial route (going against the politicians. Though they do get mentioned, the film prefers not to be so hard on them as it is on those corporate people, obviously a much easier target).

And since we are all on the same boat in this never-ending financial crisis and we are, forgive me the term, rather pissed off at the way the whole thing has been carried out and handled, we are perfectly happy to see it all laid out the way it is and eventually everyone will come out it feeling even more angry and frustrated than they were before.

On that respect the film obviously really works.

As a piece of film, “Inside Job” is less interesting.

Its pace is very uneven: sometimes a bit too fast when it should be slow and a bit slow when you just want it to get on with it, for example there are way too many beginnings (one of them is probably there just because it plants the seeds for one of the best jokes  of film later on about the instability of Iceland). Not everything hits home as it probably should and not everything is as clear as it should be. After a while one million begins to sound a lot like 10 millions or 100 millions or even a billion… it’s just a whole lot of money which we’ll never see anyway… It gets slightly repetitive.

In most sequences the documentary unravels like a series lectures of economy: it is mainly voice over driven (read by Matt Damon who seems to be everywhere these days), visualized by unimaginative graphics and straight forward unremarkable archive footage. The real skill here seems to be more in the writing than the actual film-making. That’s by no means a criticism. This isn’t a film by Micheal Moore and, for most of its length, it doesn’t even try to be one: there are no stunts, and, on the surface, no tricks either.

And yet, everyone who has seen this film will most likely remember the last third, which is probably the closest thing to something that Michael Moore would do, and to me, the most interesting part. It is the moment the film-makers turn against their contributors: economists, journalists and professors, who are just as guilty as everyone else.

Watching them squirm in their seats having to defend  themselves when they thought they were just there to give us a history lesson is the most pleasurable part of the film.

And because we all want to point fingers and blame everyone for their greedy needs, we probably fail to notice the slightly biased use of the editing: I’m thinking of all those moments when questions are asked off-camera just so that we can catch the surprised faces of the people who are being interviews, and then the films cuts away to the next sequence, without giving them really the chance to answer.

We really don’t mind though: we hate those people anyway and as long as they look stupid and guilty we are happy with it.

In the end, it’s great to see a documentary like this, on a subject like the big economic crisis, getting all the awards it’s getting and though that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a masterpiece, I hope it does mean we are ready to chance the way people regulate our economy…

7/10

Hereafter – Review

HEREAFTER (2010)

Directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring Cécile De France, Thierry Neuvic, Jessica Griffiths,Frankie, McLaren, George McLaren

I just can’t believe this film has been getting some good reviews. If it hadn’t been directed by CLINT EASTWOOD I’m sure people would have looked at it in a different way, but it seems it’s become a sin to bad-mouth a Clint Eastwood‘ film. What’s the matter with people and Clint Eastwood?

Just because the guy is 80 we should forgive him films like these?

First of all let’s all admit that Clint’s recent work has been rather inconsistent, and then let’s try to see how with this film he’s really touched rock bottom.

On paper HEREAFTER could almost work. It is the story of 3 different people in 3 different countries having to deal with death in 3 completely different ways. In the first story, Matt Damon has psychic abilities and he’s able to communicate with the dead (or rather listen to them).

The second story is about a French woman, Cécile De France (probably known to the US audience from the latest “AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS“) who has survived a near-death experience and she’s now dealing with the post trauma.

And finally the third story is set in London and it’s about a young schoolboy who’s just lost his twin brother and he’s also trying to deal with the loss.

Unfortunately the film doesn’t really manage to go beyond these simple intriguing plot lines and what should have been an interesting story about loss, grief and death, told by an old aged man (who certainly must feel this subject very close to him, given his age) slowly (very slowly) becomes a heavy-handed gush of sentimentality, with a script riddled with a series of spoon-fed clichés.

People may argue that since Spielberg is the executive producer of this film, all this was meant to happen from the start. However , not only Spielberg had very little to do with the film itself, but also “subtlety” hasn’t been a word present in Eastwood’s dictionary either, especially in the last few years (Clint’s family in GRAN TORINO for example was so over the top and it almost felt like a parody). Hence the obviously gratuitous images like the one of the “lonely person” shown eating alone in the kitchen, or the poor boy you’re supposed to feel sorry for, or the business woman who’s not listening to his colleagues during a meeting at work, because she’s really concerned about more important stuff…

The whole film is a series of telegraphed sequences where you can tell exactly what’s going to happen miles before it actually does. Everything feels so formulaic, remote and non-engaging that after a while it all gets rather boring as the film unravels towards the most terrible and sentimental ending of all (with the added bonus of a musical surge in strings which feels like you’re watching “Airplane!” ), and yet all this sentimentality lacks of any emotional truth.

Yes, of course, some of it might be quite emotional, but it’s easy to make people cry when you’re dealing with a subject like death. The film is incredibly manipulative to the point of being almost offensive. The way we are introduced to the kid who’s going to die, for example, is one of the most glaring examples of that manipulation (and example of a scene being telegraphed before it happens) as the kid gets depicted as the perfect boy, who takes care of his drug-addicted mother: not only very smart but also very well-behaved, so that we can be even more depressed once he dies.

All the characters are so sketchily drawn out that it’s hard to see something more in them than their one dimension personalization: they do things just because the plot requires them to do so. Let’s take Matt Damon for example: he has a gift but he thinks it’s a curse, well, at least that’s what he says… The film never really properly explains why he thinks what he does. The script makes sure he tells us that he’s tired of having to live with death, but his character does nothing to show us that . All the way trough the film we get constantly told things in very forced lines of dialogue which are never really translated in action or pictures on the screen. For example, what on earth makes him change his mind towards the end of the film. Seeing a kid suffering for the loss of his brother? Is that really different from seeing a husband grieving for the loss of his wife, or a poor woman crying outside his door, begging for help? How’s that different? The film won’t tell us

Clint Eastwood‘s direction comes form a place of belief, something which might alienate a great deal of the audience. He also makes the terrible mistake of showing us what the afterlife is like right from the start, and the film never recovers from it.

The film lacks subtlety: it would have been much more interesting (and stronger) if it had remained less “Sci-fi” and more introspective. All those silly things like the twin’s blowing off the cap in the underground seemed to belong to a different film… Ghost maybe?

That to me is the main problem with the film (aside from the fact that it’s very slow, something which I don’t particularly mind, but I am sure a lot of people will): the fact that it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Is it an introspective drama about death? Is it fantasy story? Is it a religious propaganda? At one point it even seem like an action flick with that massive (and unexpected) Tsunami sequence (which I have to admit took me by surprise and yet it seems to belong to a different film, especially once you’ve seen the rest). Unfortunately the film tries to be all these things and more and in the end by trying too much ends up being quite unsatisfactory on pretty much all fronts. The script is just very clunky and the direction this time doesn’t make it any better.

It’s interesting to see how the trailer makes it look like a cross between the Sixth Sense2012 and even (once again) Ghost… Probably not even the publicists knew what to make of it.

Even the music is fairly forgettable as it keeps on re-hashing the same sort of cues we’re quite used to hear in a Clint Eastwood’s movie. Everything seems half-improvised on the spot without a real unifying theme.

The performances are probably OK, but it’s hard to judge with the weak material they’re given.

In the end this film proves that you just can’t make a film every year, whether you’re Clint Eastwood or Woody Allen: eventually the rush of putting all those ideas onto the screen without having enough time to make them work properly will begin to show. Just because a movie is about important things like death and loss doesn’t make it a good film. In fact this is a fairly pointless one.

5.5/10

PS: Having said all this, a very good friend of mine saw it recently and loved it. There you go. Once again, it’s all subjective.

True Grit – Review

True Grit (2010) 

Directed by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen. Starring Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper

Oh dear, I am not going to be very popular with what I am about to say. Because somehow the unwritten rule about movie reviews of the last few years seems to be that you’re not supposed to speak evil about the Coen Brothers: “they can do no wrong” in the eyes of movie critics and cinema lovers everywhere, and even when they do take a misstep, somehow that gets quickly erased from everybody’s memory as if  it was only a bad dream (like in the case of Intolerable Cruelty for example, or The Ladykillers).

My  relationship with the Coen brothers has been one of love and hate throughout the years. I have seen every movie they have made but  I have got a few confessions to make: I am one of the few people who thought the last 20 minutes of No Country for Old Men were a bit indulgent (though the previous 100 minutes very so good and cinematically perfect that in the end I forgave them for everything) and I was one of those who thought Burn after reading was just simply idiotic. I am also one of the (apparently) few people who didn’t really get A Serious Man, but having said that I loved The Big LebowskiRaising Arizona and still think that with Fargo they reached perfection (Oh, I do love that one!).

Yet, “True Grit” has very little of the Coen’s finger prints on it: a few cold jokes towards the beginning maybe, some beautiful visuals, but that’s pretty much about it. The movie is a pure and simple Western, just like the ones they used to make in the 50s and 60s, and probably just like the one they have been remaking. “True Grit” was also the 1969 movie for which John Wayne won his only Oscar. Though Ethan Coen said that the film was more a faithful adaptation to the novel with the same title written in 1968 by Charles Portis.

But enough history also because I haven’t seen the previous version and I haven’t read the novel, so I am just judging this 2010 “True Grit” on its own merit.

For a start, I have some real problem with the main character of the piece: the girl played by Hailee Steinfeld who’s supposed to be 14 and yet somehow speaks and acts like somebody who’s experienced a full life. You’re supposed to take that for granted right from the start, without any real reason behind it, or without being given much background. Well, I just couldn’t quite buy it, and was never quite comfortable with her character throughout the movie. As a result I ended up not caring about her at all. I’m not criticising Hailee Steinfeld’s performance (which was actually rather good), but more the character herself.

Then we have Matt Damon whose performance is probably masked by his fake mustaches and the big hat, because it wasn’t very apparent to me. His character (like many others in this movie)  is pretty much a one-dimensional one, and even his changes of heart are all so predictable that actually they end up being part of his “one-dimensionality”. Josh Brolin who in the last few years is having the time of his life and is enjoying a great comeback, is in for about 10 minutes, so it’s not even worth talking about him. Same goes for Barry Pepper.

Most of the dialogue in the movie has apparently been lifted from the pages of the original novel, which proves once again that something that works on paper doesn’t necessarily work on a movie (a vice-versa or course). Some of the best lines or jokes belong to Jeff Bridges. However most of them felt quite flat to me, nor particularly clever  or surprising. Also I have to confess that between Jeff’s mumbling (erm… sorry, acting) and the thick accent, I must have missed quite a few of them. And it looks like I wasn’t the only one in the theatre where I was.

Not that it matter a lot. Ultimately the film has a very familiar story, with very familiar characters in a very familiar setting. All too familiar in fact, thus without much emotional drive or drama. It all feels rather cold and it really shouldn’t, because this is certainly not an action film, so it should at least been a character piece.

Maybe my tastes are not refined enough, maybe it’s my slight ignorance for John Ford’s movies and my lack of love for John Wayne and Westerns in general, however I can safely say that this is not a movie for everyone. Some people will love it for what it is “a cold and mannered art western” (as the Hollywood Reporter called it), but it is definitely for a more grown up type of audience, certainly not a crowd pleaser in my view.

On its defense I have to say that the movie does look absolutely beautiful which is why I am feeling almost a bit guilty in saying that I didn’t like it . It’s almost  like saying that I don’t like John Ford.

Roger Deakins‘s cinematography rarely disappoints, and certainly in this one it is a work of wonder: from the cold snowy landscapes, to the great wide sunsets.

Carter Burwell’s score contains one of the most memorable and hummable tune  I can remember this year: it alternates understated cues, emotional piano moments, and grand sweeping themes (to match the widescreen vistas) and yet that too feels like it mainly belongs to a different film. Somehow the emotion that the music tries to raise don’t quite match the stark cold approach to the film.

The editing and pace of the movie is all rather slow, once again paying homage to the old Westerns our fathers probably grew up with. It does pick up a bit towards the very end, but to at that point, it is all just too late.

Unfortunately as we all know beautiful visuals, big names and a lovely tune can only take you so far, after a while if you’re not engaged with the story or the characters you’ll just find yourself looking at your watch more times than you should, and that’s never a good sign.

I must confess I was a bit bored.

6/10

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