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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 11, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 10
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
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Playful Adjustment Bureau a thrilling romance
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

The Adjustment Bureau
Now Playing


On election night, New York senatorial candidate David Norris (Matt Damon), even in the midst of a somewhat shocking loss, finds himself feeling OK about things thanks to his meeting the beautiful and mysterious Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt). They have an instant connection, a fireball of chemistry that gets him to think about his life from an entirely different perspective and leads him to give a concession speech that energizes his supporters and makes him the instant frontrunner for the next campaign.

David and Elise realize instantly they want to be together, but odd circumstances seemingly beyond their control keep pulling them apart. Neither thinks anything of it until David comes to the startling realization that free will isn't everything it's been sold to be, and a group of mysterious figures in meticulously tailored hats has been plotting humanity's path.

But David is in love, and he doesn't want his fate to be decided by some nameless group of figures beholden to a higher power even they've never met. He is going to take charge of his life, mess up their designs, and if free will isn't within his and Elise's grasp, he's going to climb the ladder of power and find out why.

Based on the short story Adjustment Team by legendary sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, the man whose books led to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall, and Steven Spielberg's Minority Report, screenwriter and director George Nolfi's The Adjustment Bureau is the year's most refreshing and invigorating surprise. A romantic thriller with supernatural theological overtones, this witty and joyous adventure had me beaming ear to ear in happiness for all 105 minutes of its brisk running time.

Damon and Blunt are perfectly cast as the star-struck lovers kept apart by forces they cannot comprehend, the pair exuding a movie star aura of excellence comparable to Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint's in North by Northwest or James Stewart and Grace Kelly's in Rear Window. Their banter feels natural, lived-in, and fresh, and the screen comes alive every time they're together. They are the engine that keeps things running in exquisite smoothness, and everything about them is so confident and wonderful they become the type of Hollywood pairing (think Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, or Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan) that I'd be girlishly giddy with enthusiasm to see more of.

The rest of the supporting cast is just as excellent, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, and the great Terrence Stamp are just superb as the ethereal Adjustment Team assigned to keep the pair apart, while Michael Kelly makes the most of his scenes with Damon, portraying the wannabe senator's best friend and trusted advisor. Nolfi handles all of his disparate pieces with a driving simplicity that's refreshing, keeping the movie delicate in tone and light on its feet even when tension ratchets up on the two lovebirds tenfold.

I did not make those earlier comparisons to Hitchcock classics in passing. The truth of the matter is that Nolfi has made a suspense-filled romance the old master would have been proud of, and comparisons to both the aforementioned North by Northwest and especially To Catch a Thief are almost unavoidable. Those films were intense, as the danger circling their characters was practically inescapable. But those movies had zip and zing, and manufactured a romantic milieu that was unavoidably infectious. Hitchcock kept things bright even if the end result was potentially catastrophic and tragic.

I won't say that The Adjustment Bureau measures up to Hitchcock's timeless wonders, but I will say that Nolfi proves to be one of the few filmmakers out there that has shot for just that sort of playful Hitchcockian esthetic and come staggeringly close to hitting the bull's eye. While there are hiccups, and while the script sometimes comes close to collapsing under the weight of its own somewhat disconnected aspirations, overall there is a beguiling romantic joviality the likes of which I can't recall seeing in a major Hollywood release in quite some time. This is the kind of film I can't wait to watch and enjoy again and again, and the chances I'll head to the theatre to do just that - probably more than once - are much greater than you'd probably think.


Battle: Los Angeles a surprisingly entertaining, if familiar, ride
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Battle: Los Angeles Opening March 11
First things first: director Jonathan Liebesman's (Darkness Falls, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) extra-terrestrial war epic Battle: Los Angeles is nothing more than a stripped-down, interstellar remake of Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down. From the way cinematographer Lukas Ettlin (Middle Men) shoots the action to the how editor Christian Wagner (Fast & Furious) chops things together to the gritty realism of Peter Wenham's (The Bourne Ultimatum) production design, everything here looks, feels and sounds a lot like that 2001 Oscar-winning military opus.

Writer Chris Bertolini (The General's Daughter) obviously studied the film, as well. He keeps things focused entirely upon a single Marine unit lost amidst the chaos of an alien invasion on the streets of Los Angeles. Cut off from their command, working on their own, doing their best to protect a group of civilians, everything that happens to this ragtag bunch is a lot like what Josh Hartnett's character and his team went through in Scott's picture - just substitute faceless alien soldiers for Somali gunmen and you've more or less got the exact same scenario.

Battle: Los Angeles is hugely entertaining all on its own, plagiarism or no. The movie is immersive, transporting the viewer right into the heart of the action from the word go, and the group of soldiers - led by a commanding Aaron Eckhart as Marine Sgt. Michael Nantz - becomes a fully-formed unit I came to care about. Their journey through the increasingly devastated streets is like a trip down some bullet-riddled rabbit hole, and the tension ratchets up and builds to a satisfying climax that had me on the edge of my seat.

I love the way Bertonlini and Liebesman waste no time in getting right to it. Their setting up of Nantz's new crew of soldiers is fluid and quick, but doesn't skimp on making each Marine their own person. No one here is nondescript, all feel real, and when they ultimately enter into the fight, their eventual sacrifices have weight and impact.

Even better, unlike recent alien invasion misfires like Skyline, this one never offers up moments of silly incredulity bordering on the unintentionally hilarious. The filmmakers treat the material seriously, as do the actors themselves (Bridget Moynahan, Michelle Rodriguez, and Michael Peña pop up in key supporting roles), giving the resulting film a gravitas pictures similar to it (i.e. Independence Day) usually lack.

There's not a ton more to add. Based on his previous efforts I'd never in a million years believe Liebesman was capable of bringing something like this off. The director shows a restraint and a character-driven dramatic fortitude none of his previous features came close to hinting at. This is the kind of movie that remembers that all the visual whiz-bang in the world doesn't mean a thing if the story is an uninteresting snore, and as such it's hard not to come out of it feeling like you actually got your money's worth.

Make no mistake, Battle: Los Angeles is nothing more than your typical men-at-war melodrama gussied up with the threat of invaders from another planet. But just because that's so doesn't make it any less enjoyable, and for the two hours I spent in the theater, I was happily content. This movie is fun, nothing more and certainly nothing less, making it a spectacle-laden treat I'd be tempted to see again.


Carmen stuns in 3D
by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Do we really need opera in 3D? The very idea seemed pretty silly to me. My technical requirements are good picture and, above all, excellent sound. Beyond those, only musical and dramatic excellence matter.

Then, along comes Carmen in 3D from no less than The Royal Opera, Covent Garden. With a pedigree like that, I had to check it out.

Before I write about the performance itself, let's deal with the 3D question. First of all, the quality of the 3D could not have been better. Having seen Avatar in 3D (both on standard and IMAX screens), I can say that this operatic 3D was state-of-the-art. While the film director here avoided gimmicky used of the medium, there were nonetheless a few moments when a sword or singer's gesture did reach out to the space a couple rows ahead of our seats - enough to be fun, but not so much as to become annoying or distracting. So, I give the 3D, as projected at the Thornton Place cinema, an A+.

But, the same caveats apply here as to any well-done 3D movie. Some people experience eye fatigue, headaches, and even motion sickness when watching a 3D movie. I assume an opera might be somewhat less likely to cause such side-effects, given the lack of high-speed chases, gigantic explosions, and the teenage attention span camera action of today's action movies.

I had absolutely no discomfort from the 3D medium or the required glasses. And, yes, the 3D did add to my enjoyment of the opera. Aside from the slightly darker picture (a side-effect of this technology), it gave us a simply more natural-looking experience. In fact, because these digital projections were taken off a disc, rather than being sent live via a satellite, the picture was also much sharper than the Met Live in HD presentations in regular 2D.

Perhaps the most surprising fact was the ticket price: $13 on the Fandango website! That's far below the $22 price for the Met Live in HD showings. The Carmen, of course, is not live, and is showing no less than six times.

As for the performance, I have seen only one other Carmen that I liked better in my 50 years of attending opera. This Carmen, sung by Christine Rice, was vocally gorgeous and visually stunning. The whole production was super-sensual, and she was no exception. One cannot tell from a video just how big the voices were, but she used her considerable dynamic range with exceptional intelligence.

Bryan Hymel as Don Jose wowed me with a voice that reminded me of Joseph Calleja and Jussi Bjoerling. Utterly beautiful. Handsome and smart in his acting, he appeared natural throughout. The Escamillo of Aris Argiris was adequate and marginally convincing.

The production, under the direction of Francesca Zambello, is the same as on the superb DVD that I reviewed in these pages a few months ago. That DVD, with Jonas Kaufmann as Don Jose, is indeed my favorite Carmen of all.

There will be more 3D operas to come from The Royal Opera and from English National Opera as well, although the ENO's Lucretia Borgia will be 'the world's first live 3D opera' in the U.K. and as such may not be intended for U.S. time zones. Although the Met is going to use 3D projections in the opera house in next season's Siegfried, I have not heard of any plans to change its Live in HD series to 3D in the cinemas.

Bottom line: I highly recommend this Carmen in 3D. There is nary a boring moment in the whole 170 minutes (includes a 20-minute intermission). Whether the 3D is a plus or minus is a highly personal matter. Remaining screenings at Thornton Place are March 12 and 20 at 3pm, March 15 at 7pm, and March 21 and 26 at 1 p.m. Check www.carmen3d.com for other venues.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.




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Playful Adjustment Bureau a thrilling romance
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Battle: Los Angeles a surprisingly entertaining, if familiar, ride
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Carmen stuns in 3D
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