Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Yes, I'm back again - Actually, I have ANOTHER post from two and a half weeks ago that I still need to finish with a previous Googolplex Gulag (whether it's procrastinating or just not having a lot of umph about the movies either way in that blog, it's... both I guess), but those will go up soon!  In the meantime, here are two more movies just seen tonight high and mighty on the big screen at the local cineplex (and on $6 Tuesday too!  Thank you, Edgwater Multiplex).


Deep down, The Adjustment Bureau is a pretty silly movie, but it's a pretty-silly-movie in the way that movies back in the 1940's were that had unlikely romances.  There is the element of danger, of course, but also a somewhat light air about it, perhaps brought on by the Powers-That-Be being powerful but never fully using it on-screen.  The characters in the film- Wannabe Senator David Norris (Matt Damon) and his would-be love dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt)- are tracked by forces who mostly hide in shadows in suits and hats (and perhaps moonlight as Ad-Execs in the 1960's), and the main goal is that they can't be together because... um, it's not apart of the "plan".  Ledger's Joker would throw a hissy fit at this!

This is silly mostly due to the romance being kind of love-at-first-sight.  I say 'Kind of' as they at least do have a couple of conversations before they really really connect (though on their first meeting they kiss, I consider that more of the 'hey, we're two quite hot people, let's make out' factor).  But the Angels Case Workers following along David Norris are quite serious that he can't be with Elise, in part due to his aspirations for political power (it's in the cards, he's actually friggin' told, that he'll be President some day), and that it will screw up Elise's unknown future career as a world famous dancer.  In the style of, again, a 1940's romance drama with some charm and supernatural/heavenly undertones (think a philosophical Frank Capra movie), it unfolds over some time that they will be together, by golly!  Somehow...

Nolfi may jerk the plot just a bit too much forward at one point - from present time to three years later, which strains some credulity in the sense of a person still obsessing about another, when a mere "something is not right here" that Elise feels in her relationship to another guy we never get to know is slightly more believable - and the ending wraps things up just a bit too neatly.  But then isn't that Hollywood for you?  In a strange old-fashioned way I enjoyed that about the film, and because I sensed Nolfi was going for that too, trying in a now throwback refreshing way to attempt romance without cynicism.  This does make the film a touch corny... no, more than a touch.  There are parts that feel just a bit TOO much when it comes to the romance and the stakes at hand from the Bureau about 'will they, won't they?'

The other thing that drew me in, somewhat unexpectedly, was the diving in to a discussion on Free Will vs Determinism.  How does one really have their life "planned"?  Of course, as helpful but sinister Terence Stamp tells Matt Damon, it's only in the big picture things like, say, people starting wars or missile crises over time.  People, it seems, *need* the Bureau to come in and make sure things go according to plan, since real Free Will can create chaos.  And, more-over it might seem, when free will breaks into the determinism problem, how much can a system really be controlling in a universe that ends up being broken up by chance and luck and things?  I would think this would be like a popcorn movie for philosophers in this field; maybe Daniel Dennet would have some fun with it, long as he didn't think too hard.  Or, to put it another way, like a less-heady (yet more cohesive) I Heart Huckabees, which is also about controlling life and what decisions we make being so crucial every step of the way.

The Adjustment Bureau does take that seriously, and it's possibly taken as well from the Philip K. Dick short story it's based upon.  And yet it is, I must stress, a bit silly in spots.  Sure, it's thrilling and dramatic and when chases happen they're done in professional, crisp and fun and never-too-frenetic style in shooting and cutting, and the sets, all on NY Locations (that one big warehouse is actually the waiting area at Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan), bring out a closed-in, wonderfully NY urban feel to everything.  But it also carries a Scooby-Doo vibe to it whenever it comes time for the Bureau to work: this means going through lots and lots of doors, one going into another place (though always still in the city?), and all involving the power of (I'm not kidding) hats.  I kept wondering how no one ever sees them.  Then I also wondered why no one else seems to be adjusted except for David Norris.  Is a Senator the only important one being adjusted?  What about the Mayor or Comptroller?  I have to wonder what nimrod is covering the plan for Kadaffi.

Oh, and the two leads have some good chemistry, supporting performances from Anthony Mackie and Terence Stamp do what they have to do quite well, and the musical score compliments Nolfi's attempt to make what Hollywood is kind of afraid of doing right now: Middle-budget 30-40 million dollar movies aimed more-so at adults (albeit PG-13 rating ironically enough) that deal with some big ideas in a blockbuster setting.

And speaking of Forces-We-Can't-See in suits...


(hey, gotta have the whole title there)

Ah, welcome back to the Grindhouse.  And especially for Nicolas Cage this brings him back around after one of the great cameos of all time in the Grindhouse feature as Fu Manchu (THIS IS MY MECCA! remember).  Except here he is more back into his Ghost Rider mode... from a certain point of view.  That being that he's a character that's right outta hell who comes to do some dirty business with Satanic forces.  Only this time it's not meant as a Blockbuster-entertainment based on a comic book.  No, this is the Nicolas Cage of Ghost Rider with a tinge of that crazy Nicolas Cage from Vampire's Kiss.  This is Nicolas Cage fucking a hooker in a Motel Room with his clothes on ("I never disrobe during gunplay," he says deadpan), big cigar in his mouth, his non-gun hand swigging a Jack Daniels bottle, and killing every motherfucker that comes into the room.  Clive Owen in Shoot em Up, you've met your match.

Nic Cage is John Milton (chuckle) as he comes back from hell (somehow he escaped, kinda like that one character in Garth Ennis' Preacher, which, I'll quickly add, this movie has quite a feel like it) to get revenge on a Satanic-Cult-Asshole played with brilliant relish by Billy Burke who killed Milton's daughter and now has his baby grandaughter hostage for a sacrifice.  There's also the factor of the "Accountant" done by William Fichtner who may be after Milton as well, though maybe he is also helping out(?)  And of course why go around in a fast-fuck-the-world car without a young-hottie who can (at least in lieu of a stunt double) kick ass played by Amber Heard?  All the ingredients are put together for a hot-rod-chase movie that has LOTS of blood, LOTS of violence, SOME big-holy-shit-sex, and some of the crappiest CGI one's seen since, well, Lussier's last 3D film My Bloody Valentine.

That movie was fun, but not to the extent that Lussier takes it with Drive Angry.  It's just so... well, as with Vampire's Kiss, it may not exactly be a 'good' movie, but it is an AWESOME movie - by that it should be stated that the director throws everything he can to make it a raucous event, like at a drive-in or, again, a cheap B-movie at a Grindhouse or late at night on Cinemax.  It's that movie that you and your friends would watch when you were twelve at a sleepover when you were supposed to be in bed, oogling at breasts from Crista Campbell and watching William Fichtner be a fucking bad-ass.  And I should reiterate, holy (pun intended) hell is Fichtner good here, being subtle with his evil-doing but having such a cool time doing it.  He plays his part with so much 'I-LOVE-this-job' pathos that he elevates a dopey Disco song from the 70's, "That's the Way I Like it" as he drives a giant truck at a Cop-blockade on a highway that plays on his radio.

It is so good that it threatens (no, it does) upstage Cage, who is putting on his WTF face as a guy from hell who may have Terminator tendencies - he gets shot in the eye, puts on sunglasses, back to work - and is only "good" inasmuch that he will stop at nothing to do what he has to do to get his daughter back.  You root for Cage's Milton, and also I suppose Amber Heard's hot Texas 'chick', since they're the bad-asses of the piece. It's hard to get too critical since the whole thing is made with such fun and care, despite it being, if one has to look carefully enough, not exactly "good" as a movie.  Some of its dialog is shit, some of the performances are awful, the CGI is so goofy that you have to think it's intentional otherwise it's a drop-the-ball of epic proportions, and its completely tasteless and excessive with its violence.

And yet it doesn't pretend anything as it goes along.  It's somewhat a shame that it bombed at the box-office, but then with a slightly low profile (I saw some ads but not to the level of other big Hollywood movies of the relatively quiet February season), and an actor who is so eccentric in his roles, it was expected.  I hope it has a long shelf life on video and for (maybe pun intended) cult screenings.  And as for the 3D, it's a take it or leave it affair; 75% of it could have been 2D and not lost much, save perhaps for a scene where Cage's luscious wig-hair is lost a sliver by an ax-thrown at it, yet this too is an improvement on My Bloody Valentine for Lussier.  When body parts and shit-blowing-up-good happens, it happens BIG and SPLATER-ific.  If I get 3D like this, I want it to be completely gimmicky, and on this front it didn't disappoint.

Bottom line, this is Nic Cage for the die-hard Cage fans, such as, I suppose now, is myself.  This isn't the bland Cage who can generate some profits like Sorcerer's Apprentice and Knowing.  You wanna kick back with this Cage and his 'Accountant', get in the car, maybe fuck a hooker and swig a bottle of whiskey, and blast some rock and roll.  It's that kind of chestnut.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


My wife has a term for certain films which carry the weight of importance, and are worth being important, about, but are so heavy as to nearly break ones consciousness.  Diary of a Country Priest is that kind of film.  It comes out of the gut and heart from director Robert Bresson, and he means it to be a personal cry from its main character, the Priest who becomes a Parish in the French countryside.  A film like this one, which takes religion so seriously as to give Ingmar Bergman a run for his spiritual-philosophical money, is loaded with language and thought, though mostly in voice-over.  We hear and oftentimes see what this Priest (never given a name, in the credits he's "The Priest of Ambricourt) is thinking and feeling, and more often than not he's in agony.  Oh, such pain and agony.  He wants to be close to God, and be able to let others feel His Love.  Not so easy when it's the countryside and they have more pressing concerns, like doing the menial works they have and trying to live day by day.

There is an unusual amount of scorn for the Priest.  Maybe it's because he's so serious about it all, or doesn't look strong enough to really lead people on in any divine way.  I think it's more to do with a combination of his disposition, being a sickly, naturally lonely fellow by choice (he is a Priest after all, though even if that profession never existed he'd be celibate anyway), and a Post-WW2 malaise where people become jaded and untrustworthy.  And somehow as the film goes along people trust him less and less, or feel close to him.  He tires to connect with a middle aged mother who is having such doubts, and their conversation is the centerpiece of the film (at least to me).  It's a tense, soulful discussion about faith and what God's Love really means.  I'm sure for any person who has questioned faith at one time or another, whatever side you're on, it's a powerful scene that explores how feeling is so much more of a problem in living than thinking when it comes to God and faith, and what hope that may have for a person.

Yes, the film is "Cinematic Oat-Bran" - good for you, and so much to take in (even at two hours) that it makes one weary.  Perhaps that's the idea, much like with Bresson's also very depressing Au hasard Balthazar, it is meditative and precise in how it presents characters, realistic but also stylized in how it draws back its human characters from the usual drama.  In this film I could tell when a character was angry or emotional not by the loudness of voice but by a certain intensity that is hard to describe except to see it.  One big advantage to the film is that while Bresson is using a first-time actor, Claude Laydu, to play the Priest (something Bresson would do his entire career, non-professionals, countless takes, withdrawn, hollow acting), that he is intense and soulful just in the eyes, and how he speaks.  The character is weak but hardly inhuman, though everyone else seems not to think so.  He only has a few people on his side at all, and those are his superiors; one younger girl could have befriended him, perhaps in an upbringing that wasn't so dismissive and hateful of what someone like the Priest could bring to the Countryside.

I sometimes wasn't clear on why there was so much disdain, but maybe it's not necessary.  The strength of the film, and it's a strong one, is how relentless Bresson goes to achieve this sense of spiritual inquiry in the guise of a character study.  Yes, there is, at times, a little too much narration in a scene (some of it is interesting in how ordinary it is juxtaposed to an image, other times as a narrative device it falls flat).  And its last fifteen minutes are so bleak you'll be careful not to have a razor close-by to do a slicing of the wrists.  But the cinematography is simple but demanding in how it moves towards characters or follows them, or how the night is punctuated by the Priest as a lonely figure in the moonlight.  And the music is a nice dramatic touch as well, when it comes up it means to amp up the drama where it may be hard to grasp on screen.

Maybe as a "non-believer" I didn't get as much as others might.  Frankly it didn't affect me the way a Bergman religious-philosophical film would, though it may be comparing apples from different farms.  Diary of a Country Priest, shot in black and white and seemingly done in a timeless frame of existence (though that of a 20th century medium) is essential viewing for serious film "cineastes", though I imagine calling it a "masterpiece" makes it sound like there's work to be done watching it.  There is.  You do have to meet it halfway.  Once you do it gives its stark and haunting rewards, but it's draining too; like the 2006 Paul Greengrass film United 93 I was sucked in to the direction, impressive and groundbreaking as it was in creating its own kind of cinematic language... and then wasn't sure I ever wanted to watch it again.