Wednesday, March 30, 2011

One Minute Review - Eat Pray Love

Eat Pray Love is about as simple and unassuming as it's title suggests. Of course it is. It's another example of putting stars into big movies and sending them out into the world to find no real dranger or drama. It happened with Brad Pitt in Seven Years in Tibet, Patrick Swayze in City of Joy and now it happens to Julia Roberts here. So what we are left with is a half hearted story in which a white woman travels to three places around the world to do exactly what's in the title after having a mid-life crisis of sorts. Conviently for her she always manages to bump into another American along the way or, when she runs across a foerigner, luckily enough, it is Javier Bardem.

Eat Pray Love was adapted from a best seller by Elizabeth Gilbert who is either the most boring of travelers or the victim of a poor, predictable adaptation. If, along the way, Gilbert achieved something profound in her personal journey, the remnants of it are not to be found here.

Maybe it's the fault of writer/director Ryan Murphy (of Glee fame) who overshoots and understuffs. Murphy has a way of confusing movement with artistry and bigness for something profound. Along with his cinamatographer, Murphy has the camera swoop and swirl and push in and push out and spin around from above, trying to make a lack of material seem big enough to inhabit its own running time. Take a scene in which Roberts, having come from a meeting with her laywer and husband over their divorce, comes upon her husband in the elevator. Instead of allowing a quite moment to pass between them Muphy lets the camera rapidly push in on her and then cuts immediatly to it doing the same thing on him. A small moment is forced to become a big moment and the impact is lost by being underlined. Stretch that to 2 and a half hours and you have about the effect of Eat Pray Love. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

Rumor has it that when the original Young Turks of the Cashiers du Cinema gathered years after the fact for a round table discussion one of the topics was with regards to how they had argued so hard towards the director as the artist of his own work that when he was finally given artistic freedom, he didn’t know what to do with it.

That is, in one way or another, the logic behind the Adjustment Bureau as explained by Terrence Stamp’s Thompson in one of those film stealing monologue scenes. It’s that free will is just an illusion. Sure we can chose what tie to wear and what tooth paste to use, but give a person real power over themselves and we get the Dark Ages or World Wars. Thus there is a Chairman who has a plan devised for everyone and when we step off course, he sends his men to give us all a nudge back into fulfilling the destiny that was set out for us.

That’s the story told anyway in the new film of the same name which places Matt Damon and Emily Blunt into, what is essentially an old fashioned melodrama with the ideas surrounding them loosely based on a Phillip K. Dick short story that, just possibly, Alex Proyas also had in mind when he dreamed up his masterpiece Dark City. It’s the foregrounding of this romance that essentially holds the movie together, giving it human momentum within a story that hasn’t been given half as much though by its writer/director George Nolfi as say was given to the aforementioned Dark City or even Inception for that matter. But then again, the old adage still stands: love conquers all.

Damon plays David Norris, a former bad boy turned senate hopeful in New York who looks poised to win until a picture of some former college hijinks is put into print and Norris loses. In the bathroom, before his speech on election night he meets Elise (Blunt) and immediately establishes a connection until she is chased away, no name or number having been given, by a pair of guards looking for her for crashing a wedding upstairs.

Norris, smitten and frustrated, manages a speech that night that is honest and compelling and looks like it will set him on course for a win come next term. Meanwhile, on a bus to his new job, he meets up with Elise and they manage to exchange numbers. However, this wasn’t the plan for Norris who, upon arrival to the office, finds men in suits erasing memories from his co-workers. They give chase but are inescapable. Their hats, we are later told, allow them the power to go through doors and be teleported around the city like magic. It’s a neat trick that doesn’t get much more logical an explanation than this.

Norris is told of this mysterious Chairman and this divine plan that has been written for everyone and is mapped out in convenient animated books which, despite their power, look less impressive and versatile than Ipads. Apparently God hasn’t caught up with the times. But now, reeling myself back in, I’ve gone and made an important assumption that the film wisely doesn’t. These men don’t stand in for angels nor the Chairman for God, although the parallels are there. We know this Chairman, we are told, by many different names and have met him but never know as he appears in a different form to everyone.

The thing is, Norris was never meant to meet Elise and her presence, if a relationship is allowed to develop, will throw both of their destinies off course and will ultimately, if Thompson is to be believed, ruin both of them. Therefore, the agents follow Norris, “nudging” him every once in a while in order to keep him on the fast track to greatness and away from Elise. The logic here though is a bit murky: if the agents need to keep nudging Norris back on track, aren’t they changing also, by doing so, the destinies of those around them, in a Butterfly Effect-like manner? Are there other agents who need to come in and nudge everyone else back on course after an initial nudge? That must require a lot of man power. Maybe in the sequel we can go backstage at the Bureau and see the Chairman going through the recruitment process.

The film is wise in that it doesn’t explicitly draw a religious parallel, which would ultimately ground it in some sort of reality and make it into something it isn’t.

And then the story ultimately becomes a romantic thriller in which Norris, with the help of one optimistic agent played by Anthony Mackie, tries to avert the agents, tries to get back to Elise, even if it means changing the course of his entire life. It’s a nice premise for which Damon and Blunt can cast a likable couple that we generally hope find each other and features a world in which chases are handled by foot and not computers and are filmed in long takes and edited with logic not a blender.

And that’s what you get for your money. Here’s a film that is well acted and made and spreads a little bit of logic in with a little bit of illogic. It doesn’t have the sweep of say Inception, but unlike that film it does have an emotional drive towards some sort of foreseeable end point, which makes it not nearly as compelling but engaging for its own simple, earnest reasons. It won’t provide any food for thought that will justifiably leave anyone discussing it several weeks from now but then again, neither did Inception.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The King Spoke and He Said: The Oscars Kind of Sucked This Year

  • 2010 will be remembered as the year that nothing worth remembering happened at the Oscars.
  • Anne Hathaway could very well be a great Oscar host with lots of life and energy (if she'd give up the oh my gosh I'm hosting the Oscars references), but what was with James Franco? He looked like that if he didn't go backstage and start cooking up a shot he was going to go into withdrawl.
  • I think the Academy found their host next year in Kirk Douglas.
  • It's sad that the most talked about thing this year was Melissa Leo dropping the F-bomb.
  • There was a moment when Wally Pfister was accepting his award when he thanked Christopher Nolan for being his master and Nolan half smiled as if to say, "Yeah thanks, even though it should be me up there."
  • Apparently Ophrah talking about the human condition did nothing for Joel Cohen who decided he'd rather pick his ear than listen.
  • Randy Newman has been nominated for Best Song 20 times and won twice which is kind of ironic because he essentially made a career out of writing the same song over and over again (to be fair, his songs were one of the things that kept the Princess and the Frog from being great). Out of four nominees, only the 127 Hours song had any personality at all. However, in his attempt to be "good TV" Newman did give one of the funniest and lightest speeches.
  • Tom Hooper managed to make thanking his mom actually sound sweet and meaningful.
  • I have no idea who this kid who won best short feature is, but he's certainly going places.
  • Susanne Bier won an Oscar. This makes me happy. She doesn't get enough credit for what she does.
  • You can tell Aaron Sorkin is a great writer. He gave the most literate and confident speech. He reminds me a bit of David Mamet.
  • I desperately wanted the Social Network to win more awards just so that there could be more hilarious cutaway shots of David Fincher looking completely unimpressed as people thanked him.
  • Was it just me or were Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis really awkward to watch?
  • The opening montage was so uninspired that I thought for a second I was watching Saturday Night Live
  • The opening monologue wasn't much better. Where is Carrie Fischer when you need her?
  • Billy Crystal managed to revive the show a little and a video was played of Bob Hope doing one of my favourite Oscar lines "Or as it's called at my house: passover," but this was awkwardly melded into a way to introduce Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law
  • Speaking of: if there has to be 2 hosts, these 2 get my vote for next year.
  • Since when have the honorary Oscar recipients ever been brought on stage and not allowed to make a speech?
  • How did David O. Russell and Christian Bale work together without anyone getting hurt?
  • I got 2 wrong this year and 3 wrong last year. I'm getting better