"The Adjustment Bureau" (2011)

The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
Directed by: George Nolfi
Running time: 106 minutes approx.

First of all, let me apologise for the lateness of this review. I spent the weekend down on the coast of Victoria, Australia and was unfortunately out of range of any internet services so I could not post. But since I’m sure you were all binging on so much very-loosely-related-to-the-death-of-a-Christian-prophet chocolate to notice my tardiness, so let’s just get on with things!

Now Showing this week is The Adjustment Bureau which I saw while I was down on the coast. It was not until I read the credits that I discovered it was a film based off a work by science-fiction writer Phillip K. Dick. You may have heard of  Phillip K. Dick from films such as Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly and Blade Runner. The Adjustment Bureau revolves around a man running for a seat in the U.S. Senate named David Norris (played by Matt Damon) who, by complete chance, meets a woman named Elise whom he falls head-over-heels in love with. An altercation with security officers separates them and he does not meet her again until three years later, again by chance, on a bus. They catch up, he obtains her phone number, and then leaves the bus. Only then to be ambushed in his office building by a group of men in trench coats and fedora hats, who take him to a warehouse location. These men then tell him that he has somehow deviated from something called “The Plan”, and they are the people who have the power to manipulate events so that everyone stays on “The Plan”. Norris’ deviation is, you guessed it, that he met Elise a second time when he wasn’t supposed to and that he must never see her again or else these men will lobotomize him.

I went into this film thinking it was going to be a bad re-hash on the masterpiece film that was Dark City, which has a similar concept of a group of strange men manipulating the world and the people in it. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was nothing like Dark City and was actually quite original in it’s own right. The Adjustment Bureau is, in a sense, a great new take on the lovers-kept-apart-by-destiny story. In fact, they are literally being kept apart by destiny! The story is very interesting, in the way that it is constantly keeping you guessing about why these two can’t be together in “The Plan”, how the Adjustment Bureau will manipulate reality to foil Norris’ plans and how will Norris overcome their immense power. On top of that, the dialogue between Norris and Elise is fantastic. Aside from the initial jump to “we love each other! *kissy kissy muhhhhh*” towards the beginning, their interactions are witty, meaningful and realistically portrayed. Well done scriptwriter/director George Nolfi.

There were, however, some things I took issue with. For example the first point of conflict in the film, the whole “Norris met Elise again when he wasn’t supposed to” moment, was caused because a member of the Adjustment Bureau missed the opportunity to make Norris spill coffee on his shirt and making him go back home and change and as a result he would miss the bus. That’s all well and good, but the reason this Adjustment Bureau man missed that opportunity was because he was asleep on the job! I mean come on, these guys are clearly some sort of immortal beings that are masquerading as humans (it isn’t explained what they are, but they’re clearly god-like creatures of sorts) who are tasked with the job of watching over mankind and controlling the unfolding of history. Do you really think beings that were created for that purpose would fall asleep at the wheel?!

On the romance side of things I found a few issues; or at least some problems with the romance’s integration into the sci-fi storyline. Like I mentioned before, the initial meeting between Norris and Elise was an excellently written, humorous conversation in which all of a sudden they start pashing like a couple of teenagers! Completely randomly; I remember being taken aback and looking at my girlfriend sitting next to me and she looked equally surprised by the sudden turn of events. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I should ever be surprised by something like that unless it’s meant to be comedic. It should have been romantic but instead it was just like Norris just decided to mack her before she could escape him, like she was his best mate’s sister or something. It just seemed silly.

Speaking of silly, the films gets quite silly towards the end. The cliche of “love conquers all” starts coming into play, which I guess is fine but there was this one moment where Norris and Elise are cornered by Bureau guys. They’re trapped, they know they’re about to be lobotomized and they just go “I love you” and mack on again, all in a matter of seconds. It was so fast it was laughable! There was no time to soak in the despair that they’d been caught, that the end had come and this was the last time they may be able to express their love for each other. No, it was just trapped, “love”, make out. That quick. Again, hilarious not romantic.

But minor gripes aside, The Adjustment Bureau was quite enjoyable. Not a film to rave about to everybody, but it was a fairly solid sci-fi, romance thriller with a good script and cast. Not the best of films adapted from Phillip K. Dick’s work, but it certainly isn’t the worst (the worst being Blade Runner but that’s a story for another review!). I shall speak to you all next week when I review something I’ve been looking forward to: Thor! Dunno what I’m gonna think of it, I love it when I’m like that going into a film! See you next time!

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"Valentine’s Day" (2010)

Valentine’s Day (2010)
Directed by: Garry Marshall
Running time: 125 minutes approx.

Howdy internet! So I know what a lot of you are thinking: why the hell is Tom reviewing this obviously terrible movie when there is so much more awesome cinema out there to experience? Ok, well probably very few of you are thinking that but I’d like to think that a lot of you are. Anyway, the reason I am reviewing this film is because when choosing a film to watch with my girlfriend the other night, she suggested Valentine’s Day because she wanted to see me review a film she assumed I would absolutely loathe rather than think was average and meh (as I have been lately). I protested slightly, I tried to convince her to watch a hilariously trashy film called My Bloody Valentine (“It’s got Valentine’s Day in it!” I pleaded), but in the end I relented and decided to give her little experiment a shot. And I cannot believe I am about to say this but: I didn’t loathe Valentine’s Day.

That’s not to say its a good film, it’s definitely not a good film. It’s essentially a poster film: a film that’s not very good but caters to a specific demographic and covers its poster with lots of big names that are appealing to said demographic. The Expendables is an example of this, an awful action movie aimed at boys aged from 15 up that has a poster listing huge action actors like Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham and Bruce Willis. Valentine’s Day is almost The Expendables‘ direct opposite in the sense that it is marketed towards girls aged about 15 up, is a pretty awful romantic comedy and stars huge rom com actors such as Julia Roberts, Patrick Dempsey, Ashton Kutcher and Taylor Lautner. The thing about poster movies is that the presence of all these big name actors doesn’t make the movie any better, it just makes it look amazingly appealing on the poster. These films aren’t completely terrible, they may have one or two moments that are really good, but in essence they are terrible.

Valentine’s Day strings together a series of interconnecting vignettes all taking place in Los Angeles on Valentine’s Day that are all tales of love, loneliness and heartbreak. They are all very different, about people from ages varying from a child to an old man, and each one results in them learning something about themselves and love. Now, if you’re brain has started saying to you: “Hang on, I’ve seen this film…” it’s because you have, but it’s name is Love Actually. The main difference, however, is that Valentine’s Day has almost none of Love Actually‘s British wit and uses a lot of American teen movie humour. You know the kind of humour I’m talking about, don’t lie. All this “I’m gonna try something ridiculously weird before I have my first sexual experience! I’m going to get-naked-while-playing-guitar/stick-my-dick-in-a-pie/wank-first-and-claim-my-semen-is-hair-gel. Oh no, someone walked in on me! Oh the embaressment!!!!!”

Majority of the little tales play out in that fashion, that fashion being very dumbed down. However, I’d say about a third of the vignettes were quite good, but since none of the vignettes happen all at once that one good third is spread out across the whole movie. It was the ones that didn’t have the physical room for ridiculous pie-dicking that were interesting and entertaining to watch. My personal favourite was the one starring Bradley Cooper and Julia Roberts, who played a handsome man and a female army captain sitting next to each other on a long flight to LA. They have never met, but the stewardess assumes they’re a couple and keeps bringing them heart shaped candies etc. So they bond over a loathing of their past relationships and a similarity of loneliness. And that’s all they do, they talk, and it’s funny, cute and concludes with them leaving the plane and never seeing each other again. I thought that was fantastic, it was so theatrical to have just two actors stuck in a confined space where all they can do is talk and be interesting and not know anything about one another then what can be analysed from what they say. And what’s more,  it didn’t end with a cliched “they fall in love and get together, nawwwwww” but more a “after all they’ve been through in the past, they had an emotional/romantic connection with a stranger and felt better for it.” I know the latter is just as sappy, but it’s not what I expected so I applaud it. There was another I liked about an old couple, and the old man likes to brighten the spirits of his grandson by telling him how he and his wife have been in love for fifty years and its never wavered. The space is restricted by most of these conversations taking place in a car or at a table. But, his wife has not been entirely honest with him, having had an affair many years previously. It was this great tale of a chirpy old man with such a great life view having it shattered in an instant, and it was truly heartbreaking.

And here’s the great big “but” of the above paragraph: BUT the movie still managed to ruin those stories for me. The old man and woman have a huge reuniting in front of hundreds of people while she delivers a speech about why they should be together, and they kiss to mass applause. And Bradley Cooper turns out to be gay, hence why he didn’t pursue Julia Roberts. That frustrated the hell out of me! It ruined my favourite of the vignettes. I was much happier thinking that all they did was impact each other’s lives, but never become part of each other’s lives. It was sweet, and it’s hard to make a man think a moment like that is sweet!

So none of the vignettes are perfect, and most of them are horrible. Jennifer Garner and Patrick Dempsey almost had a good one involving her being the girlfriend of a man that didn’t tell her he was married, but it ended with her just scaring him and not ever revealing to the wife that he was a cheating bastard, so he just gets away with it! All the other stories were just a bit dull and cliched, but the prize for worst story ever goes to Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift as high school sweethearts. Lautner just acts like he’s got to prove he can act as someone who isn’t Jacob in Twlight and just ends up being the exact same handsome douche bag; and Swift is just so teeth grindingly painful as the dancer girl it isn’t funny. And what’s more, she has the over zealousness to be in a kissing scene in a film that’s playing one of her own songs as the romantic backing track! It’d be like John Williams putting on the Star Wars theme every time he has sex with his wife.

…That image will be tough to shake won’t it….

Anyway, basically this movie lacked the reality of Love Actually. A lot of the vignettes in Love Actually showed us ridiculous, yet plausible, romantic stories. Like the two people who met and fell in love while being naked body doubles on a film set; it was hilariously ridiculous, but I would believe that that sort of thing happens. Whilst Valentine’s Day simply went for the plausible situations and either added an element that ruined the beauty of the moment (Cooper suddenly being gay) or simply had a cliched or pie-dicking conclusion (guy gets naked with a guitar and is caught; old couple reunite to applause from the masses). All in all, an awful film with two rare but slighty chipped, gems. See you next time!

"Sucker Punch" (2011)

Sucker Punch (2011)
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Running time: 110 minutes approx.

Let me start off by saying that I had an awesome weekend this past Saturday and Sunday. Through going to a festival held in Melbourne, I got to meet Charisma Carpenter (Cordelia from Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Clare Hamer (Glory, also from Buffy), Denis O’Hare (Russell Edgington from True Blood), Tom Felton (Malfoy from Harry Potter) and I got to see Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) doing a Q&A session and I saw William Shanter (Denny Crane from Boston Legal and also one of my personal heroes) on stage at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre! All in one weekend! It’s been amazing, I love meeting famous people. Dunno why, I mean they will have forgotten me about ten seconds after I met them but I still enjoy it.

Anyway, somewhere in that hectic weekend I got the time to go see Sucker Punch, the new film directed by Zack Snyder who is a directer I rather like. He’s directed a fantastic remake of the classic zombie film Dawn of the Dead; he made a very enjoyable and legendary telling of Frank Miller’s 300; and he also made a brilliant adaptation of the graphic novel Watchmen, which many people said was “un-filmable”. But he did it, so I was quite excited to see Sucker Punch since it is the first of Snyder’s films in which he wrote the original story as well as directed it, so I was very keen to see him attempt an original story. And I must say that my reaction to the said attempt is a great big: ehhhhhhhhhh.

I was not greatly impressed at all, but majority of my gripes are with the storytelling itself. The film tells the story of a girl named Baby Doll who has been committed to a mental institution following her mother’s death and her attempt to murder her step father because he’s a bit of a douche. Why he is such a douche is never properly explained (this was the first fault I picked with the film, and I noticed it within the first five minutes!) which was irritating. Anyway, Baby Doll is put in an insane asylum where she is told that a doctor will be arriving in five days to lobotomize her. The doctor arrives and just before he is about to hammer a nail in her face, we are suddenly in a burlesque house populated with the same inmates and employees of the insane asylum. Baby Doll and her friends Amber, Blondie, Rocket and Sweet Pea decide they must escape from this burlesque house and they decide they need to find some items in order to do so. In order to procure these items, they use Baby Doll’s ability to dance so sexily that all the men go into a trance and the other girls can steal the items undisturbed. However, while Baby Doll is dancing, we regress into her mind and we see a further imaginative state in which she and her friends are embarking on epic quests designed to symbolise what they are really doing in the burlesque house. These quests are things along the lines of sky diving out of a helicopter, armed with M4 Assault Rifles, into a castle under siege by Lord of the Rings-esque Orcs and sneak in to kill a dragon and steal her baby’s fire making throat crystals. So basically, we’re looking at a delusion within a delusion sort of situation. Unsurprisingly, this film has been compared to Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

My main gripe with the story is that fact one of these delusions is completely unnecessary! Why do we need the burlesque house? It serves no actual purpose and the film could have easily been about a group of girls stealing items to escape from an insane asylum, and they are so bonkers that they fantasize about these epic battles while they do it. I can only think of one thing that the burlesque house is useful for and that is sex appeal. All the girls are constantly wearing skimpy outfits for their dance routines, whilst if they were just in an asylum they would be wearing ugly jump suits. I don’t personally have anything against sex appeal in movies, I enjoy a skimpy outfit as much as the next guy will, but just that fact that events that take place during this middle delusion contradicts what happens in the asylum in reality. If the film set out some rules of how the dream like states worked, much like Inception did, then it would have made more sense, but all Sucker Punch ends up with is a sense of confusion. Unless I spoil the ending I cannot really explain it any better so I won’t go further, but it was frustrating. Some of the acting left a lot to be desired as well. Baby Doll has no dialogue for the first twenty minutes of the film, but when she finally speaks she sounded painstakingly ditsy and superficial. All the other characters served their purpose without much difficulty; the girls were beauties who didn’t look too out of place doing kung-fu, the male orderlies were believable molesting bastards, everyone else fit their role quite well.

A point in the film’s favour, however, is the way it looks. Sucker Punch is just beautiful. Beautiful cinematography, beautiful visual effects, beautiful women, it just looked amazing. The fantastical battle sequences were a spectacle to behold, with such gorgeous use of slow motion and still camera shots combined with hand held camera. A film critic I really like named MovieBob said that Zack Snyder “makes every shot look like a painting”. I would agree with that, there are just so many times in Snyder’s films when something goes into slow mo and it just looks wonderful. The angle its seen from, the lighting, it’s all perfect. Not all the visuals were perfect however, there were some design flaws. For example, when the burlesque delusion is established, we see the areas are covered in velvet with deep red colour scheme etc. However, we later cut to Baby Doll scrubbing the floor of a blue, linoleum floor that looks the same as the corridors of the reality insane asylum and I got a bit confused. Are we back in reality now? I asked myself, but then her actions were referred to in the burlesque scenes so it must have been the same delusion but it looked exactly like reality. There must be a distinction between these locations or else things get confusing. This is why Inception had such different scenarios: driving a van in the rain, zero gravity in a hotel, infiltrating a Russian style prison in the snow. It made it easy for the audience to understand which dream they were in at any given time and avoided confusion.

Another point in the film’s favour is the soundtrack. Snyder is usually very good with his music choices, either using music that one wouldn’t expect to be used in a given situation and it makes it ironic or surprisingly poignant; or he will get a song and make a great cover of it to suit the situation. There was a fantastic heavy metal song playing during Sucker Punch and it took a me a minute or two to suddenly realise the song was “We Will Rock You” by Queen! Very impressed on the music front.

All in all, Sucker Punch was aesthetically impressive but other than that it was very disappointing. It had a fantastic concept behind it; but through confusing montages; unnecessary delusions; contradictory ending; unclear levels of reality; a title that, as far as I can see, has no relevance to the film and a weak lead actress; it seemed to fall flat on it’s face. The battle scenes are amazing and lots of fun, that’s true; and it does have an awesome soundtrack but unless you’ve really got your heart set on seeing all skimpy eye candy, I’d recommend you just watch Inception. It tackled to multi-layered subconscious action film much better.

"In Bruges" (2008)

In Bruges

Directed by: Martin McDonagh
Running time: 107 minutes
Now Showing this week is In Bruges, a film written and directed by Martin McDonagh, who wrote the play The Pillowman in which I recently played a role. My time in The Pillowman made me want to revisit this film having now had more time to look into McDonagh’s work and his way of telling a story, so I re-watched it with my girlfriend last night (who had not seen it before). And I must say, I loved it just as much as I did the first time I watched it. But I do have some quarrels which will later come to light.
In Bruges tells the story of two Irish hit men based in London named Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) who, upon completing a hit in London, have been told by their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) to hide out in the Belgian town of Bruges. Bruges is a small, medieval style town filled with beautiful churches, museums and cobbled streets and it is very much enjoyed by the cultured Ken but loathed by the party boy Ray. It is clear that something went wrong on their last job and that they have been sent to hide in Bruges for a reason, but that reason is not initially apparent and is an excellent twist that I shan’t reveal. As a result, we have a fantastic dynamic between the two lead characters. Their cultural conflicts of Ken wanted to take a trip by the canal whilst all Ray wants to do is drink and get the hell out of Bruges.What follows is a hilarious yet heart breaking story about redemption of past misdeeds and honour. 
Now, it’s no secret to anyone who knows me that Martin McDonagh is my favourite playwright. And the reason he is my favourite playwright is that he has this wonderful ability to combine fantastic comedic timing and situations in amongst stories of such tragedy and horror. He can have you in a state of intense fear and sadness, and then suddenly throw in a new element that makes you laugh a ridiculous amount, only then to go back to such crushing horror. As an example (with spoilers taken out as much as possible), at one point, two characters are running through the streets of Bruges, one shooting a gun at the other one as they go. The man being shot at reaches his hotel, runs past the pregnant owner, goes into his room and grabs his gun. When he returns to the corridor, he hears the shooter arguing with the pregnant women about wanting to go up and shoot the man. What follows is a discussion of how they can continue their shoot out without harming the pregnant women, and they come to the agreement that one of them will jump out the window, while the other one runs around the building to follow. They do so, leaving the pregnant woman completely bewildered and the intense action resumes. So that’s an example of the kind of comedy McDonagh works with. He works with moments of such intense, adrenaline fueled conflict and then puts a ridiculous/absurd element into it, then once the absurd overcome the conflict resumes. The way he does this is so seamless that it’s brilliant.
But, upon re-watching this film, I wonder if the absurdity isn’t appealing to most people? Or at least to film watchers, because this style of humour was very positively (and audibly so) received by audiences who saw the production of The Pillowman I performed in. However, when I was watching it last night I, who had seen the film before, was laughing out loud throughout a lot of the jokes, whilst my girlfriend was very quiet, giving the occasional chuckle here and there. I have had this awkward experience when watching In Bruges with other people as well, that I laugh quite openly but others do not. From what I’ve gathered from feedback is that, in a film the actors cannot take pauses and let the audience laugh openly before they continue to speak so that none of the dialogue is missed, like they can in a play, and I guess I would have to agree. In In Bruges, the characters do speak very quickly, often quietly due to being in museums and such, and in very thick Irish accents so to laugh louder then the TV’s sound would be very easy to do and one could miss vital plot/scene information. McDonagh’s plot-lines can be quite complicated and information isn’t often shown, it more has to be gathered from the dialogue. 
So it seems to me that while McDonagh’s style of combining complex, dark stories with very witty humour is absolutely fantastic and should be loved by all, I can see how it may not belong in a film context. Every audience is different and some might react more openly to humour than others. With a play, the actors can adapt on the fly and either pause a little to let a laugh happen or grab the audiences attention with louder speaking so as the story can continue with no dialogue being missed. A film does not have this luxury unfortunately, so perhaps McDonagh’s genius may never be able to be fully integrated with it. Maybe complicated, intelligent and twisted plot-lines can never be fully combined with fast and witty humour in film. Perhaps that’s something that can only happen on the stage. I certainly hope not, but I recommend you all go out and see In Bruges and make up your minds for yourself. I definitely think it works and that it’s brilliant and everyone should love it. But what do you think? Discuss!
See you next time!