THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU: The Film Babble Blog Review

THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU (Dir. George Nolfi, 2011)

As the youngest Congressman ever elected to the House of Representatives, Matt Damon can win over crowds just by flashing his blinding grin as this film’s opening montage of his senate campaign attests. But his bid for office is derailed when photos of an old college prank surface, and he ends up losing even in his home county.

Nevertheless Damon while preparing to deliver his concession still has reason to flash that grin as he has a “meet cute” with Emily Blunt funnily enough in a restroom at the Waldorf Astoria.

Blunt just happened to hiding from security in the men’s room stall because she crashed a wedding in case you are wondering.

They flirt then kiss, but don’t exchange names or phone numbers so when Damon is whisked away by his campaign manager (Michael Kelly), and Blunt is spotted by hotel security, fate seems to separate them.

Or that’s what “they” want Damon to think. Who are “they”, you ask? Why they’re the ones behind the scenes manipulating circumstances to influence human history.

They are men who wear classic suits and sport fedoras who will make you think of Mad Men especially since John Slattery is one of them.

When another member of the “intervention team” (as Slattery calls it), played by Anthony Mackie fails to divert Damon off his course to a meeting, things go askew.

Damon runs into Blunt on a bus and this time gets her digits, but then walks into an office of his frozen-in-time co-workers being scanned (or something) by, yep, the Adjustment Bureau.

In a huge shiny warehouse setting, Damon is told by Slattery and Mackie that he will be reset – that is, his mind will be erased if he tells anybody about them, and more importantly he can never be with Blunt.

Slattery burns the card with her phone number on it right in front of Damon to hammer home the point.

3 years pass and Damon is back on the campaign trail and lo and behold he sees Blunt on the street on the same bus route. The spark is still there as they chitchat while Slattery and crew surround them.

The film then becomes a series of elaborate chase scenes with brief exposition breaks. The men of the Bureau can use any door as a portal to a different place – but, only if they are wearing their fedoras. That and other nonsensical rules of the team tracking Damon are never satisfyingly explained, and the supposed plan they follow appears to be ultimately flexible.

Yet there is some fun to be had here. Damon and Blunt’s performances are top notch and at times it’s a treat to watch them run around through a well shot New York City.

Slattery and second half stealing Terrence Stamp bring gravitas to the convoluted material which is loosely based on a Phillip K. Dick short story from 1954.

The directorial debut of screenwriter George Nolfi (BOURNE ULTIMATUM, OCEAN’S 12, THE SENTINEL), THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU simply isn’t inventive enough to be a memorable mind bender a la INCEPTION. In other words you’re not left with anything really to discuss or think about afterwards.

It strives to be a modern surreal take on a classic Hitchcockian thriller, but it’s more on the VANILLA SKY-side.

Stamp tells Damon that he never actually had free will – he only had the illusion of free will. Well, in this film, the illusion of intelligent entertainment is all we get.

More later…

TRUE GRIT: Another Instant Classic From The Coen Brothers

TRUE GRIT (Dirs. Joel & Ethan Coen, 2010)

Since they stumbled in the early Aughts with a couple of sub par offerings (INTOLERABLE CRUELTY, THE LADYKILLERS), Joel and Ethan Coen have been on a grand roll. The Oscar winning NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, the comedy hit BURN AFTER READING, and last year’s critically acclaimed A SERIOUS MAN were all excellent additions to their canon, but their newest film – TRUE GRIT – may be the best of the batch.

An adaptation of the 1968 novel by Charles Portis rather than a remake of the 1969 John Wayne film, TRUE GRIT is in many ways a traditional example of the Western genre. What makes it so much more is its handling of the manner of characters that appear naturalistic yet still exuberantly exaggerated – in a way that long-time followers of the Coens will appreciate royally.

The “Dude” himself, Jeff Bridges, plays U.S. Marshall Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn – an iconic role that is considered one of the most definitive of the Duke’s. Bridges owns it here however with a drunken swagger and a grizzled gusto.

The real protagonist of the story is the 14 year old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) who recruits Bridges to help her hunt down her father’s murderer (Josh Brolin). For such a young whippersnapper, Steinfeld has a stern delivery confirming her determination and her sometimes harsh words to Bridges have a sting to them that is more than equal to Kim Darby’s readings in the 1969 version.

See? It’s hard not to compare this film to the original adaptation.

They follow the same plot progressions and the spirit of Western homage is certainly present, but the Coens saw the piece as funnier with less Hollywood sentiment and they deliver a film that lives up to their vision gloriously.

Matt Damon, who was long overdue for a part in a Coens production, has a juicy gruff character of his own in Texas Ranger Le Bouef. Damon is at first just along for the ride with Bridges and Steinfeld, but his jaded face-offs with the Marshall and the foes they encounter along the way have a hilarious bite to them as the tension builds.

As a Western in the classic mold with a body count, I didn’t expect TRUE GRIT to be as funny as it is – it’s for sure one of the Coen’s most laugh-filled films since THE BIG LEBOWSKI – just about every utterance of Bridge’s is comic gold and his fellow cast mates (including crusty turns by a deranged Brolin and Barry Pepper as Lucky Ned Pepper funnily enough) hold their own humor-wise as well.

Then there’s the magnificent cinematography by Coen Bros. collaborator Roger Deakins that fills the frame with striking shots of the blinding terrain in New Mexico and Texas as well as the extreme jolting actor close-ups that flicker with raw emotion.

Another Coen Bros. co-hort Carter Burwell, who has been with them since BLOOD SIMPLE (1984), provides a score composed of gospel hymns and effectively spare piano accompaniment.

TRUE GRIT is an instant classic. From the Coen Brothers’ ace direction to the cast’s top notch acting spouting out hilarious dialog line after line and then on to the wondrous look, feel, and heart of the film, I honestly can not think of a negative criticism of it. I can’t wait to see it again. If I find anything to dislike about it then – I’ll get back to you.

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INSIDE JOB: The Film Babble Blog Review

(Dir. Charles Ferguson, 2010)

“I don’t know what credit default swaps are. I’m old fashioned that way.” – George Soros

That makes 2 of us. There are many things like that in this documentary that I was completely in the dark about going in, yet in a sober (and sobering) manner INSIDE JOB explains the financial meltdown of 2008 in a fairly graspable way.

Matt Damon calmly narrates the film, taking us through segments entitled “How We Got Here”, “The Bubble”, “The Crisis”, “Accountability”, and “Where We Are Now”.

It’s a lot of complicated information to take in, but through interviews with key players such as the before mentioned financier George Soros, U.S. House Representative Barney Frank, former NY State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, Economics professor Nouriel Roubini, economist Paul Volcker, and many others, the film does an impressive, if at times impenetrable, job of breaking it down.

Ferguson, whose previous film the Iraq war doc NO END IN SIGHT was just as exhaustive, has a real knack for assembling a powerful narrative out of a tangled web of sometimes extremely confusing criteria.

We learn about corporate fat cats pocketing millions sometimes billions of dollars from corrupt loans. We see power point presentation style graphics that help define CDOs (collateralized debt obligations), subprime lending, and all kind of mortage mayhem. We even get an interview with a former Wall Street “Madam” (Kristin Davis) who supplied investment bankers with prostitutes.

It’s an excellent eye-opening documentary that thankfully uses a minimum of Michael Moore-ish methods like pop song punctuation. Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time” plays during the opening credit swoop through the Manhattan skyline, and Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove” provides a backing beat to footage of excessive lifestyles, but such touches don’t intrude at all on the thesis at hand.

INSIDE JOB is more informative than it is entertaining and its conclusion that criticizes President Obama for doing little to change the situation is depressing, but it’s an incredibly well crafted and sharply focused work that got my mind reeling.

That is, even if I still can’t tell you exactly what a credit default swap is.

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Matt Damon

Matt Damon’s first film role came in 1988 when he was eighteen, with a single line of dialogue in the romantic comedy Mystic Pizza. As a student at Harvard University, he continued to pursue acting and performed small roles in projects such as the TNT original film Rising Son and the ensemble prep-school drama School Ties.

GREEN ZONE: The Film Babble Blog Review

GREEN ZONE (Dir. Paul Greengrass, 2010)

Going in to this movie I knew precious little about it. I hadn’t seen a trailer or even given the movie poster more than a passing glance. I only knew it was a Matt Damon/Paul Greengrass/war movie. But in the first five minutes I knew exactly where it was going to go.

In those five minutes, Damon, as a US Chief Warrant Officer in 2003 war torn Iraq, pulls up with his crew to a location that Intel tells them houses Weapons of Mass Destruction. They find the rotting remains of a toilet factory instead. He goes back to his superiors and tells them that the WMDs weren’t there (or any of the other locations they’ve been to) and the Intel is bad. They sternly tell him to stand down.

From that description, do you see where this is going? Do you see shoot-outs, shady informers, sleazy politicians, and compromised journalists? Do you see a climax involving Damon, aggressively and a tad bit violently, confronting the sleazy politician (played by Greg Kinnear) over the government conspiracy spreading lies in a public place/photo op? That’s what I call that “THE FUGITIVE ending” and it, like everything else in this less than thrilling thriller, you’ve seen before. Many many times before.

This is a standard issue liberal-minded political action drama that made me wish Damon and Greengrass had just made another BOURNE movie. In last year’s THE INFORMANT! (one of last year’s best films and a role he should’ve been nominated for IMHO) Damon really pulled off something different; a fully realized character that was almost unrecognizable. In this and play it safe parts like INVICTUS, he’s just plain old Matt Damon going through the motions.

We never get any sense of who the character Damon is beyond his military conviction. There is no phone call from back home or any line that tells us who he is outside of this plot.

The lack of such insights makes one really appreciate the newly Oscar Best Picture approved THE HURT LOCKER so much more. The compelling drive of that vital Iraq war film really reduces such a lackluster work as GREEN ZONE to the soulless shaky cam rubble it is.

I could be wrong but I swear Matt Damon did not smile once in the entirity of that movie. That might sound like a minor quibble but when he flashes that sharp glaring grin it can be quite stinging. Since I didn’t smile once either I can’t really blame him.

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INVICTUS: The Film Babble Blog Review

INVICTUS (Dir. Clint Eastwood, 2009)

Like a huge signpost that announces: “It’s now officially Oscar season”, a new Clint Eastwood directed movie has opened at this time almost every year this last decade. Eastwood makes the kind of film that Academy voters love – event films with A-list actors about important issues; movies that make movie goers feel guilty if they try not to pay attention to them. For they’re noble works with an old school sentimentality, but ultimately they’re to be admired more than enjoyed.

Such is the case with INVICTUS, a historical sports drama centering on Nelson Mandela’s rugby obsessed first term as President of South Africa. Oddly, Morgan Freeman as Mandela is an almost too obvious piece of casting. It never quite works, it’s like Dustin Hoffman playing Lenny Bruce – the images of both are too well known separately for them to blend into a natural personification. We’re always aware that it’s Freeman doing his wizened Freeman thing; except for a tint of an accent, it’s the same basic performance as a President that he did in DEEP IMPACT.

Mandela faces an intimidating workload upon taking office in 1994, with long brewing racial tensions, poverty, and crime filling the streets. He comes to believes that a World Cup win by the Springboks, the country’s rugby team, will unite the nation and lead them into a new era. He meets with the team Captain (a reserved and in a “respect your elders” mode Matt Damon) to fan the flames of inspiration. He shares a poem with Damon that helped him through years of inprisonment – “Invictus” written by William Earnest Henley. This, of course, is the film’s title so I was a bit taken aback to find out that in reality Mandela actually gave the Captain a copy of a Theodore Roosevelt speech.

That’s just one of many details many fact checkers will have problems with here. Eastwood undoubtedly subscribes to John Ford’s infamous stance: “Print the legend” and that’s an honorable tact to take but this strained un-involving film does little but to pile on the platitudes.

By the time we get to the big climatic game filled with all the sports movie clichés you can think of (slow motion, strained close-ups, crowd elation manipulation, etc.) it didn’t matter to me whether or not the outcome will bring the country together or have any spiritual impact at all – my eyes were too glazed over to care. Whatever the historical relevance, INVICTUS is an admirable exercise with pure intentions, fine performances, and seasoned craftmanship, but sadly a very dull film.

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THE INFORMANT!: The Film Babble Blog Review

THE INFORMANT! (Dir. Steven Soderbergh, 2009)

In a piece of inspired casting, Matt Damon plays Mark Whitacre – the pudgy mustached toupee-wearing former President of Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) who was an FBI informant in the early to mid 90’s. However his heroic whistle-blowing stance was fairly jeopardized by the fact that he was defrauding his company of 9 million dollars during the same period.

At first, he seems a decent plain spoken sort, a straight-laced family man with a loving wife (Melanie Lynskey) comes through in an opening voice-over extolling the virtues of corn in his chosen industry. As he goes on shifting from corn to the German name for pen (“kugelscheiber”) and back again, it becomes apparent that this is less an inner monologue than an unstoppable stream of consciousness that runs throughout the film sometimes obscuring important info that folks around him are trying to parlay.

Damon’s Whitacre sees himself as a character in a Crichton novel; a good guy going up against a corrupt corporation. Initially we do too as his company is indeed guilty of price fixing and the film comes from the director of ERIN BROCKOVICH, but its take on the character zippy comic style places it more accurately somewhere between the OCEAN’S movies and OUT OF SIGHT Soderbergh-wise.

A couple of FBI agents (Scott Bakula and Joel McHale) are stupefied by Damon’s stories yet still wire him up to get the evidence against ADM. He makes hundreds of tapes, narrating them as he goes, and the case gets stronger but after a raid of his company the operation rapidly unravels with facts fudged and forged documents piling up to expose Damon’s dementia.

While the film at times over-estimates the wackiness of its plotting, the tone is pleasingly punchy with a groovy score provided by the master of groovy scores: Marvin Hamlisch. Matched with colorful AUSTIN POWERS-ish titles, Hamlisch’s brassy 60’s pastiche, including a parody of John Barry’s “James Bond Theme”, suits the material marvelously as if it’s as much the product of Damon’s psyche as the voices in his head.

The supporting cast is curiously made of a roster of comic actors (the before mentioned McHale, Patton Oswalt, Paul F. Tompkins, Tony Hale, and Allen Havey) who you’d more likely expect to be present at a roast on Comedy Central than as button down “suits” with almost no funny lines in a slick Soderbergh satire. That they provide a sober stone-walling counterpoint to the delightfully off kilter Damon gives the THE INFORMANT! a cunning comic gravity.

And now for no other reason than that the film featured in this post has an exclamation point in its title, here’s:

10 More Movies With Exclamation Points In Their Titles:






6. OH, GOD!

7. 18 AGAIN! (Another George Burns movie! How about that?)



10. TOYKO!

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