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Cinema Reviews Thoughts

The Adjustment Bureau

An uneven hybrid of drama, romance and sci-fi turns out to be a good deal less than the sum of its parts.

Loosely based on a Philip K. Dick short story called ‘Adjustment Team‘, it involves the chance meeting of a New York politician, David Norris (Matt Damon) and a dancer named Elise (Emily Blunt) as they deal with various mysterious men who have an interest in keeping them apart.

As the film develops we gradually learn more about these shadowy figures, which include Anthony Mackie, John Slattery and Terence Stamp, why they wear Trilby hats and how they mysteriously appear at random.

To say more them would venture too far into spoiler territory but parts of it cover similar ground to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Dark City (1998) and Wings of Desire (1987).

Written and directed by George Nolfi (better known until now as the screenwriter of Ocean’s Twelve) it has an intriguing setup that quickly morphs into a bizarre science-fiction romance.

Despite its problems, there are certain elements which resonate: Damon is highly convincing as an aspiring politician, with scenes of him on the campaign trail featuring expertly woven in cameos from the likes of Mayor Bloomberg, Jon Stewart and James Carville, whilst Blunt makes for a charming romantic foil.

Contemporary New York is also shot in a distinctive way with several real life locations effectively blended into Kevin Thompson’s production design, even though they opted for a drab, wintry feel.

It also deals with some intriguing themes such as fate and the role of chance in our lives and Thomas Newman has a typically polished score with his trademark hanging strings and tasteful electronic flourishes.

Unfortunately the overall film is undermined by a shaky approach to the subject matter as it seems Nolfi was unsure as to what kind of story he was trying to tell.

By playing around with so many different genres, it ends up with an unsatisfactory mix of them: the thrills aren’t exciting enough, the romance is underdeveloped and ultimately the story just doesn’t engage as it should.

The men in suits seem to personify the film’s problems. Crucial to the narrative, they are never satisfactorily explained and their funny hats and flashing notebooks come across as unintentionally funny.

Furthermore, actors who play these mysterious agents, such as John Slattery, Anthony Mackie and Terence Stamp are wasted in one-note roles with lame, expository dialogue. Slattery in particular is a mere clone of his character in Mad Men.

The central concept is also never fully realised on screen. Mostly Nolfi and DP John Toll have gone for a naturalistic look but – apart from some slick use of green screen near the end – there aren’t enough compelling visual ideas, compared to films exploring similar territory like Inception (2010) or The Matrix (1999).

Much of the action is explained away as soon as it happens and the climax to which it builds is underwhelming, to say the least. You know there is a major problem when a key scene feels like a cheap copy from Monster’s Inc (2001).

To be fair, the film deserves credit for trying something different from the usual Hollywood formula (it was funded independently by Media Rights Capital and only distributed by Universal) but Dick’s provocative ideas have been lost in this underwhelming adaptation.

The Adjustment Bureau opens in the UK and the US on Friday 4th March

> Official site
> Reviews of The Adjustment Bureau at Metacritic and MUBi
> More on the Philip K Dick story at Wikipedia

Categories
Cinema Reviews Thoughts

Hereafter

Three parallel stories connected by life after death make for an ambitious but disappointing drama.

Clint Eastwood’s directing career over the last few years has encompassed diverse subject matter, including female boxing (Million Dollar Baby), World War II (Falgs of Our Fathers, Letters From Iwo Jima), retired car workers (Gran Torino), missing children (Changeling) and the 1995 Rugby World Cup (Invictus).

But even by his eclectic standards Hereafter is something of a curveball, exploring how three characters across the globe are affected by the afterlife in different ways.

There is a French TV presenter (Cécile de France) obsessed with death after narrowly surviving the 2004 Asian Tsunami; a former psychic (Matt Damon) in San Francisco who feels cursed by his ability to communicate with the dead; and a London schoolboy (Frankie McLaren) struggling to cope after losing his twin brother.

Scripted by Peter Morgan, best known for political dramas The Queen (2006) and Frost/Nixon (2008), the material boldly dives in to big themes but as it progresses feels curiously disjointed and more like an early draft of something more profound.

The intercutting of the three stories at first feels like a bold move but soon becomes wearying and as the film enters into the final act, the curious lack of tension or revelation for a subject as big as death feels oddly underwhelming.

All this is exacerbated by Eastwood’s signature pared down directing style which (with the exception of the opening) keeps things low key and distant.

This gave his better films of recent years (Mystic River, Letters From Iwo Jima) a slow burning power and richness, but here it works against the material, muting the themes and emotions of the lead characters.

There are parts of the film that show promise: the San Francisco section handles the potentially laughable subject of psychics with an elegant restraint and Damon conveys the loneliness of a decent man haunted by a strange gift.

In a similar way, Cécile de France is convincing as a career woman profoundly touched by death and a scene where she visits a clinic, hints at a more interesting film about humans can briefly experience the afterlife.

Instead the afterlife is presented through the cliché of quick cuts, sound effects and glowing white CGI which is both disappointing and underwhelming.

This is compounded by the London section, which not only bungles key details of the 2005 London bombings (getting the tube stations wrong) but suffers from a dramatic inertia, compounded by a bizarre final section in the city which is lacking in tension.

Morgan’s initial script may have stood out in Hollywood because he wrote it on spec – rather than be commissioned by a studio – and the unusual elements might have piqued Eastwood’s interest because they weren’t chasing an industry trend.

(Strangely, films dealing with death and loss suddenly now appear to be more common, with Never Let Me Go, Biutiful, Enter the Void and Inception all exploring these themes in different ways.)

To be fair to the veteran director, his handling of the locations and interior scenes is impressive, with Tom Stern’s lean and clean cinematography featuring a little more movement than their previous collaborations.

Eastwood’s score is also a plus, with the guitar and piano providing a nice counterpoint to the struggle of the different characters struggling to comprehend their situations.

Some scenes hint at what might have been: such as a quietly disturbing psychic reading on a first date; the startling opening sequence and a brief discussion about the commonality of near-death experiences.

The film deals with the subject of death without the loud bombast favoured by mainstream cinema and moves at a reasonable, if fractured, pace but the story never really digs deep or rises to be anything special.

A set of underdeveloped ideas and a patchwork, dislocated narrative provide a weak foundation, which means that by the curiously uninvolving climax you might have forgotten it is about arguably the biggest subject of all.

Ultimately Hereafter is a film which chooses not to stare death in the face, but give it a distracted, passing glance.

> Official site
> Reviews of Hereafter at Metacritic
> Clint Eastwood at the IMDb

Categories
Cinema Reviews Thoughts

True Grit

This beautifully crafted Western from the Coen Brothers is a much richer adaptation of the Charles Portis novel than the 1969 film version.

It begins in Arkansas during the 1870s with a young girl named Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) hiring grizzled US Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to track down her father’s killer (Josh Brolin).

A Texas Ranger named Le Beouf (Matt Damon), who is also after Chaney, joins them as they head out into Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma) and, despite their differences in age and temperament, gradually form a close bond.

Although regarded by some as a remake of the film that finally won John Wayne his first Oscar, this is actually more faithful to the original novel, preserving the point of view of Mattie and its distinctive depiction of the Wild West.

Both the town of Fort Smith and the rugged surrounding landscape are recreated with consummate skill: regular cinematographer Roger Deakins shoots the terrain with a harsh beauty and Jess Gonchor’s production design helps create a detailed, but never romanticised, world.

The wintry setting makes for palette which emphasizes blacks, browns and greys, which is in stark contrast to the garish Technicolor of the Henry Hathaway film.

Aspects of the setting such as the rough way of life and the violence also mark this out from the previous version.

Not only does this help make the current film distinctive but also provides a convincing backdrop for the actors to shine, although it might surprise some audiences how much of a presence Steinfeld has in the film.

In what is effectively the lead role, she anchors the narrative and acts as a surrogate for the audience, as we see much of the action through her perspective.

A precocious performance, it is amongst the best any child actor has given in recent years and bodes well for her future career.

As Cogburn, Bridges banishes any lingering memories of Wayne in the role, mixing the grizzled, boozy charm of his country singer in Crazy Heart with the believable tough streak of a hardened lawman.

Damon has the slightly lighter role of Le Beouf (pronounced ‘Le Beef’), but his comic timing is impeccable and provides an excellent foil for Bridges and Steinfeld.

All three main actors cope well with the affected dialogue, which the Coens have gleefully taken straight from the novel, and this is mirrored by quirky ‘Coenesque’ behaviour, which involves characters shooting at cornbread and arguing about Confederate guerrillas.

With less screen time, actors such as Brolin and Barry Pepper (as ‘Lucky’ Ned Pepper) make a strong impression and there are the usual array of distinctive, odd-looking minor characters that often crop up in the work of the Coens.

Carter Burwell’s plaintive score is moving without ever being sentimental and provides a highly satisfying mix of hymns, strings and piano to augment the action.

Despite featuring the ironic tone so beloved of the Coen Brothers, there is a pleasing sincerity to Mattie’s quest, as her scripture-fuelled journey captures her determination and spirit, which rubs off on the men around her.

This is something that is movingly depicted as the film reaches its latter stages.

Certain memorable sequences, such as a group hanging or the climax, skilfully weave humour in with genuine tension, showing the light and shade of the West as originally imagined by Charles Portis.

Since the book and previous film came out in the cultural tumult of the late 1960s, the image of John Wayne cast a long shadow over the source material, obscuring the way in which Portis slyly undercut the very traditions of the Western that ‘Duke’ embodied.

The Coens have translated this humour and pathos for a time of similar cultural transition, making a Western that both celebrates and wryly debunks the genre.

A reminder of their prodigious filmmaking talent, it is also an evocation of a distant time and place that feels strangely radical in the current era of Hollywood.

True Grit is out in the US and opens in the UK on Friday 11th February

> Official site
> Reviews of True Grit at Metacritic
> More on the Charles Portis novel at Wikipedia
> The Coen Brothers at the IMDb
> NY Times profile of Charles Portis

Categories
In Production News

Clint Eastwood filming Hereafter in London

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Clint Eastwood and Matt Damon have recently been filming their latest movie Hereafter at the Charles Dickens Museum in London.

Scripted by Peter Morgan, the IMDb plot summary says it is:

A supernatural thriller centered on three people – a blue-collar American, a French journalist and a London school boy – who are touched by death in different ways.

Check out more photos here and some production info at Wikipedia.

 

Categories
Posters

Invictus one sheet poster

Invictus poster

Above is the first official one sheet poster for Invictus, the upcoming film based on Nelson Mandela‘s life during the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, it stars Morgan Freeman as the then South African President and Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar, the South African team captain.

Warner Bros will be be pushing it for an Oscar campaign and it is due for release in the US on December 11th and in the UK on Friday 5th February.

Images taken on the set surfaced on a South African website and can be seen here.

Categories
Amusing

Matt Damon on George Clooney’s ‘Boyfriend’

Matt Damon was recently on Letterman, where he discussed the back story of that bizarre press conference at the Venice film festival where a journalist stripped for George Clooney.

Categories
Images In Production Interesting News

Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood on the set of Invictus

Invictus is the title of the film based on Nelson Mandela‘s life during the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, the film stars Morgan Freeman as the then South African President Mandela and Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar, the South African team captain.

Based on the John Carlin book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation, it is due for release in the US in December.

However images taken on the set have surfaced on a South African website.

Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar
Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar

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Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela
Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela
Clint Eastwood on the set of Invictus
Clint Eastwood on the set of Invictus

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> Invictus at the IMDb
> Find out more about Francois PienaarNelson Mandela and the 1995 Rugby World Cup at Wikipedia

Categories
The Daily Video

The Daily Video: Matt Damon on Sarah Palin

Matt Damon discusses Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

Categories
Amusing The Daily Video Viral Video

The Daily Video: Matt Damon’s impression of Matthew McConaughey

Matt Damon does a great impression of his old friend Matthew McConaughy, as this Letterman appearance from last year demonstrates.