DVD Purge-The Adjustment Bureau

Movie #4: The Adjustment Bureau (2011), starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, directed by Geroge Nolfi. 

The premise of this film according to IMDB.com is thus:  “The affair between a politician and a contemporary dancer is affected by mysterious forces keeping the lovers apart.”

At a deeper level, the film explores the conflict between free-will and destiny.  Do we make our own choices, or is there an unseen path laid about before us and we’re just following it?

Exploring this idea within a sci-fi thriller/romance hybrid is an interesting vehicle on its surface.  But the story itself comes from a short story written by Phillip K. Dick, whose writings have also been adapted to the screen as Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and The Man in the High Castle.

Our two main protagonists (Damon’s congressman David Morris and Blunt’s dancer Elise Sellas) meet in a men’s room as David is practicing his senate bid concession speech and Elise is hiding from security after crashing a wedding.  This chance encounter results in instant chemistry between the two (and serves as the beginning of many scenes of witty/entertaining banter between them), that makes it clear to them and us watching that this is a meant to be encounter.  Kismet, serendipity, destiny, what have you.

The twist here is that they were never intended to meet by the mysterious figures wearing snappy suits and fedoras.  These creepy guys meet up and watch over things from isolated places.  They are the guys, as told to David, who make sure things happen according to plan.  Who’s plan?  They are decidedly mum on that detail.

David ends up running into Elise by chance again, (which was never supposed to happen but was allowed by Anthony Mackie’s (Falcon from our recent Marvel movies) fedora wearing Harry falling asleep when he was supposed to delay David), they share more chemistry, her phone number, and she hilariously plops his cell-phone into his coffee in what was one of my favorite scenes of them together.

In a fun but eerie chase scene that involves David arriving at his office and going about his routing without noticing that the entire place and people in it are frozen in place, David walks in on the Bureau “adjusting” the frozen head/brain of his friend/chief-of-staff/right-hand-man guy Charlie (House of Cards’ Michael Kelly), David is eventually caught by the Bureau and sat down because they have to figure out what to do with him.

Here’s where I got a little feeling of “really?”  In a split second, it’s explained to David that he’s “seen behind a curtain he was never supposed to know existed”, he’s witnessed these guys apparently teleport (the fedoras and hats allow them to supernaturally move from place to place through normal doors) and the immediate solution that is set forth is to just tell him “don’t say anything, ok?”  (With the threat of completely erasing his mind, yeah, but still, this seemed awfully quick to just let him go with the trust that he’d keep quiet about what he saw.)  It’s explained that he cannot be with Elise, now or ever.  She is not on his path.  They destroy her phone number in front of him.

Three years pass, with David riding the same bus to work where he last saw her everyday, and he chances upon her again.  This starts a cat-and-mouse game between David and Elise, desperately trying to stay together after repeatedly feeling so drawn to one-another, and the Bureau, doggedly trying to keep their ducks (and outlined future for David) in a row.

The everyday Bureau agents can’t keep up with David’s improve or determination.  So in comes Thompson, a higher-up in the Bureau played supremely creepy and seriously by Terence Stamp, who lets David and the audience know that the Bureau goes WAY back. When David asks why man can’t just have free will, Thompson explains that the Bureau brought man from hunting and gathering to the height of the Roman Empire, and when left to their own devices, mankind gave the world the Dark Ages.  When given another chance after 600 years in 1910, man responded with World War I, the Depression, Fascism, the Holocaust, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.  The Bureau was done letting mankind freestyle.

From here, the movie does ramp up towards a climactic ending.  David finds out that if he continues to pursue Elise, that not only do his dreams as a politician die, but so do hers as a dancer.  A lot must be sacrificed…is it worth it?

Overall, I remember enjoying this movie the first time in theaters seeing it with Nicolette. This time, while decently entertaining, I had a hard time remembering what I liked about it so much.  Damon and Blunt are incredibly likable and definitely play off one-another well, and there are some good performances by Mackie and Mad Men’s John Slattery, but ultimately I found myself very “meh” on it this time around.

Fun tidbits:

  • After seeing this movie, Nicolette said something along the lines that it was the “best movie she’d ever seen” or that it was the “best movie of all-time”.  I kid you not.  Screw you, Citizen Kane, Gone With the Wind, Godfather, Shawshank Redemption….I could go on…give Nicolette (at least at the time, she recognizes the that is was basically just the high of seeing the ending now) The Adjustment Bureau!
  • The trailers on this DVD shown before the film were cringe-worthy…Blue Crush 2 and Bring It On The Musical.  Wow.

Verdict: I don’t recall what I would’ve rated it walking out of the theater (5 stars for Nic, obviously), but today it’s 3 out of 5 for me.  It’s our first purge.  Adios!

Next: A Few Good Men

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DVDPurge-500 Days of Summer/I’m Back!

So, again, it’s been a while since I last posted.  I need to make a better effort to make time for this, since in the beginning it was supposed to function as an outlet for me to flex the very small creative muscles I have.  (When compared to say my wife’s gigantor creativity muscles).

So, we are going to start the DVDPurge yet again….though so far it hasn’t purged much at all.  It occurred to me this morning that I probably own a lot of these movies because I love a lot of these movies.  But if I don’t actually watch said movies, what purpose to they serve besides taking up space?  Perhaps the chopping will begin soon?

That said, we’re back to business.  Here’s my review/ruling on 500 Days of Summer:

Movie #3: 500 Days of Summer (2009), starring Zooey Deschanel, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, directed by Mark Webb.

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This is QUITE a shifting of gears from our previous film, 300.

Being told, up-front, that this story is not a love story, is an important thing that sets the tone for the movie right off the bat.  Given the (for me personally at least) magnetic charm of both leads (Gordon-Levitt’s performance was nominated for a Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical Golden Globe, which ended up being won by Robert Downey, Jr’s performance as Sherlock Holmes), the foreshadowing of a not-so-happy ending didn’t leave me disappointed from the start, but rather curious to see how this story played out. This is a different take on the typical romantic comedy. The back and forth nature of the film, going from Day 355 to Day 24 to Day 192, etc. was in some cases confusing, annoying, frustrating, and dizzying, but in a way, isn’t that the way that love is?

I first saw this film in theaters on a date with my then girlfriend (now wife, Nicolette).  I definitely don’t mind going to see these types of movies but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it, which garnered its own Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture Comedy or Musical.  (Lost out to The Hangover)

The music/score is wonderful.  Songs by Regina Spektor (“Us”, “Hero”), The Temper Trap (“Sweet Disposition), and Feist (“Mushaboom”) all fit perfectly within the wonderful editing and storytelling/writing that the film boasts.

But overall, I think it’s the honest and serious but also funny at the same time take on courtship and relationships that resonates.   The film expresses the awkwardness of meeting someone and beginning a courtship of that person, the high that comes with being around them, learning about them, thinking about them, and then the ecstatic celebration of the beginnings of a relationship/involvement with them.  JGL’s hilarious montage of seeing Han Solo’s rogue-ish smile reflected in a car window, and subsequent flash-mob dance-fest to Hall and Oates’ “You Make My Dreams” is both hilarious and heart-warming (complete with animated bluebird).  Relationships are AMAZING!

Which segues nicely into Day 303, where Summer is gone and there is misery in all things for Tom.  Relationships can also SUCK and your heart gets ripped out.

Balancing happiness and misery, the taking of risks, exposing and talking about vulnerabilities, learning the ins and outs of a person…all of these things are illustrated in the film in such a real and honest manner.  Love and relationships are friggin’ complicated.  They take work.  That doesn’t change whether you’re on Day 5 or Day 4997 (which is how many days I’ve been with Nicolette).  They can be incredibly uplifting and baffling at the same time.  You can absolutely love someone and simultaneously hate them (perfectly summed up by Tom’s list of things he loved about Summer juxtaposed with the same exact list being things he hated about her).

The expectation versus reality scene was so well done.  How many of us can think back to a situation where we basically experienced something like this?  How on-point is this in terms of the way we visualize a relationship and moments with someone and how much they can differ from what really ends up happening?

With an absolute bittersweet ending, (spoilers?  If you haven’t seen this movie in the 8 years it’s been out, I’m not sure what to tell you…), it’s easy to see how relationships can seem like a waste of time, that some people are doomed to be unlucky, etc.  The park bench scene where Tom states that Summer was right (about true love not existing) and Summer asserting that Tom was right (because she just woke up one day and felt like she wanted to marry the man she was with after him) is heartbreaking because the timing wasn’t right for them.  Both characters experience a change in outlook when it comes to love and relationships. Tom for a short time becomes cynical about it all until he chooses to move on and get over fears of rejection and investment and asks Autumn (a little on the nose, but a cute joke about seasons changing and transitions nonetheless) for coffee.

It all boils down to the idea that sometimes relationships and love doesn’t work out or last.  That doesn’t mean in the slightest that it wasn’t real, didn’t mean something, and didn’t teach those involved any valuable lessons or skills to go forward with.  Love is great and love sucks.

Sometimes they do work out, though.  I  married my Summer.

Random tidbits:

  • relationship advice from a young Chloe Grace Moretz!
  • Vance, aka Clark Gregg, aka AGENT COULSON!?
  • Oh hi, Minka Kelly!
  • Who knew how cool chalkboard paint walls could be back in 2009?  They are all the rage now, but man, a chalk headboard looked awesome.

Verdict: Gonna go 4.5 stars for this one.  Love the honesty and original take on everything.  Keep.

Next up: One of Nicolette’s all-time (not a typo) favorites…The Adjustment Bureau

 

DVDPurge-300 (Yes! Two blog posts in one day!)

Movie #2: 300, (2007), starring Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, David Wenham, directed by Zack Snyder

Boy oh boy, where do you start with this spectacle of violence?

The movie comes from the source material of Frank Miller’s graphic novel, and I think that stylizing provides ample punch to the amazing visuals put forth by director Zack Snyder (Batman vs. Superman, Man of Steel, Sucker Punch, The Watchmen, Dawn of the Dead) and company.

I’ve always been drawn to movies, books, and stories that dealt with heroes, underdogs, honor, duty, valor, etc.  There’s something about those ideals that have always spoken to me.  When I found this tidbit about Miller, I totally understood:

When he was a child, Frank Miller saw the Rudolph Maté film The 300 Spartans (1962), with Richard Egan as King Leonidas, and was deeply affected by it. He has explained that the film altered his perception of the ‘Hero’ concept insofar as he came to realize that the hero didn’t always win and that sometimes, to be a hero, one must sacrifice oneself. Ever since he saw the movie, he has been fascinated with Thermopylae.

Thermopylae is where most of our tale is set, in a battle against the Persians, their King Xerxes, and their Immortals.  I mentioned in my 80 Days post that I had always had an interest in history and the Civilization games, so when I first watched 300 in 2007, Xerxes and the Persians were well known to me.  I had been playing Civ since the 3rd version of the game came out in 2001, and was well-aware of this guy…(he looks a tad different in the movie, obviously.  The Persians were lead by Darius I or Cyrus in the next version of the game and then again by Darius I in the latest iteration).

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But yes, even in the Civ games, the Greeks and Persians can participate in a little brouhaha.

However, the level of violence and insanely complex fight choreography is downright incredible.  The sheer amount of technical work, not to mention that countless hours of rehearsal and weapon’s training, is amazing by itself, and the time put in definitely shows on screen.  This movie is a text book when it comes to the fight scenes.

For all the terrific action sequences though, there are slower moments where the narration of actor David Wenham (Faramir from Lord of the Rings) truly carries the storytelling.  In the very beginning, one of my first notes was to find out who the narrator was, because the voiceover work seemed top notch.  Then all of a sudden, we’re hearing that same voice coming from Wenham’s character Dilios.  (While the movie wasn’t recognized by the big award shows, Wenham’s performance was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Film awards, so at least some people enjoyed it as much as I did).

I felt Lena Headey’s turn as Queen Gorgo completely set the tone for her big future role.  (Also nominated in the ASFFHF **I totally made that up**awards for Best Supporting Actress).  It’s plain to me, that this role 100% influenced her casting as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones.  Her best scene is where she delivers her speech to the council, and then comeuppance to Dominic West’s Theron.

One of my favorite images from the movie:

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Couple cool notes:

  • Young Leonidas (not teenage Leonidas that fights the wolf in the above image) is Eli Snyder, son of director Zack.
  • 300 served as feature film debut of one Michael Fassbender as Stelios.  He had only acted in television prior.
  • The quote, “Then we will fight in the shade,” is an actual one from history, spoken by the Spartan warrior Dienekes when warned about the enemies’ arrows. It is also used by Greeks today as emblems on soldier uniforms.

As much as I find myself saying “am I going to watch this again?”, the answer is undoubtedly a resounding “probably”.  🙂  Does that fly in the face of the purpose of purging a DVD collection?  Absolutely.  But, for the visuals and fight scenes, not to mention the fantastic music (especially the early choral chanting), make it a DVD I cannot part with.

Verdict: With four out of five stars, it’s a keep.

Next: 500 Days of Summer (will have to wait for Nicolette on that one!  Quite the genre change there, too.)

DVDPurge-50/50

Movie #1: 50/50, (2011), starring Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, directed by Jonathan Leavine

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Cancer is one of those universal things that has invaded the lives of so many people both within our own little personal part of the world, but also permeates just about everyone else’s too.  In that way, no one ever goes through this awful, awful disease alone.  Setting out to make what amounts to be a comedic drama, if there is such a thing, is a monumental task when it comes to being done right.

This film does a great job of not skirting over the ugly parts of cancer, in that it put’s front and center the pain not only that people with the disease suffer through, but also so many other people within that person’s social circle.  My Dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer years ago, had his prostate removed and has been cancer-free ever since thankfully, but absolutely fresh in my mind to this day is the unknown that seeps into your brain when it comes to this disease.  Could this happen?  How bad is it?  Is he going to die?  How do they know?  It’s TERRIBLE.

Trying to visualize being 27-years old and finding out you have cancer is mind-blowing to me, and is something that I can’t really fathom dealing with.  So first and foremost, if you’re reading this, and have dealt with it yourself, I’m in awe of you.

No matter the type, stage, whatever, you are a fucking hero.

I have no clue how I would land on my feet, tell my family, or wrap my brain around basically losing my compass that takes me through life.  It’s an impossible situation.  The only thing I could think of to even remotely come close to what it must feel like would be to be flying a plane alone, at night, and you lose all lights and instruments.  Your engines are still running, you’re still flying, but it’s complete and utter darkness, and you have nothing at that moment to guide you.

Joseph Gordon-Leavitt does a wonderful job showing both the range of ups and downs that go with a diagnosis of this sort, as well as the incredible amount of awkward situations that arise within social interactions with others.  (His performance was nominated for a Best Actor Golden Globe in 2012)  Whether it’s calling out Anna Kendrick’s Katherine on her “sea otter tap” attempts at establishing a physical connection between therapist and patient, or the fantastic give and take he has throughout the movie with Seth Rogen’s Kevin.

GL and Rogen’s chemistry really does shine for the duration.  Moments like Adam’s breakdown after driving Kevin’s Jeep one-way and kicking him out, or him finally bringing Kevin home and finding the “Dealing with Cancer Together” book in his apartment, but also him chiming in from the kitchen after confronting Bryce Dallas Howard’s Rachael after she cheats on Adam are all fantastically grounding, and humorously real, respectively.  (Her passing on going to chemo with him because of the “energy”?  Fuck that noise!)

Speaking of Rogen though, and this is not quite a knock, but is he the same character in every movie he acts in?  (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad (though I guess he’s a cop in this one, but still, a very similar feeling cop), Pineapple Express, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Green Hornet, This Is the End, Neighbors, and The Interview are all films I’ve seen with him starring).  I feel like the only variation of Seth Rogen is his weight at the time.  Thankfully, I find him entertaining regardless.  I’ve yet to see him in Steve Jobs (as Steve Wozniak) and the James Franco directed The Sound and the Fury.  Those would probably be the two more serious turns on his filmography and I’ll have to check them out.

 

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They don’t come much cuter than Anna Kendrick, do they?  (That’s for you Lianna, if you’re reading).

She plays awkward superbly well, and I liked her just as much in this film as I liked her in 2009’s Up in the Air.  (I totally had this movie and that movie swapped in my head chronologically, would’ve bet my house 50/50 came out first).

Overall, I think this movie does a fantastic job of showing a hopeful and lighter-side of cancer while not ignoring the grit and the pain it causes everyone around it.  I think the soundtrack does a great job of matching both the tone and emotion throughout the movie, with a couple personal favorite’s of mine being “To Love Somebody” by the Bee Gees, and “Yellow Ledbetter” by Pearl Jam.

Couple random tidbits:

  • Adam brings a girl home from a night out…oh hi Jessica Parker Kennedy, aka Max from Black Sails!
  • Will Reiser, writer and executive producer, wrote 50/50 using his experiences both dealing with and seeing others deal with his own cancer diagnosis.

Verdict:  At 4 stars out of 5 for me, it’s a keep.

Next: Zack Snyder’s 300.

You know what they say about best laid plans….

(in case you don’t, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” and holy god, that Neil Leifer photo above is freaking amazing isn’t it?  One of my favorite athletic images ever.)

So my best laid plan was to go through my DVD collection alphabetically, but, sometimes things change when one of your heroes dies.

I remember reading that Muhammad Ali was hospitalized and of course thought, “is this it?”

Turns out it was.

The Greatest is gone.

So, in honor of the monumental life that Ali lived, I’m starting my DVD purge quest with Michael Mann’s Ali (2001).  I’ll revert back to the alphabetical course after that.

In many ways, I think I was drawn to Ali for the same reasons everyone else was.  He was boisterous, funny, charming, talented.  It wasn’t until I was older that I learned more about his life and doings outside of the boxing ring.  The man lived life-like we all should…with kindness, grace, bravery, and perspective.  He fought for what he believed in.

“A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.”

Ali was one of those people I’d pick if you asked me the question, “if you could only pick 4 people to have dinner with…”.  (Robin Williams and Johnny Cash would’ve been on that list too)  Not only because he could tell amazing stories, teach life lessons, etc., but because I guarantee you that anyone who came in contact with him was made a better person just by breathing the same air that he did.

His trainer, Angelo Dundee, was quoted saying Ali, despite losing the very prime of his boxing career after having his boxing license revoked for being a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War and refusing the draft, never heard him complain about losing those years.  The world never got to see Ali at his finest.

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“Ali had been passing a high-rise building in 1981 when he noticed a commotion; a man was threatening to commit suicide by jumping from the ninth floor.  Ali asked the police officers if he could help and duly coaxed the troubled man down from the ledge.” -Photo: Bettman/Corbis

With that in mind, let’s get to the movie…

If you had to boil down this movie to its simplest idea, I’d say it’s about a man who fights to gain the heavyweight boxing crown, has it taken from him unjustly, and then fights to get it back.

But it’s not that simple, of course.

Michael Mann does a fantastic job in picking a period of time that shows us Ali’s most turbulent years.  (Some of my favorite films are Mann-helmed: Last of the Mohicans, Heat, The Insider, Collateral, Public Enemies)  The deaths of the Kennedy’s, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X basically had most of the country in a state of perpetual despair.  Ali was the light in the midst of that darkness.

Will Smith does an excellent job of portraying Ali, complete with mannerisms, verbal genius, and charm.  His performance lead to a Best Actor Oscar nomination. (The award went to Denzel Washington, for Training Day)  Equally as adept and entertaining is Jon Voight’s turn as Howard Cosell.  The give and take between these two whether demonstrative (Ali grabbing Cosell’s toupee during an interview), to the quiet, (when Cosell calls Ali to tell him he TKO’d the U.S. Government), are masterfully done.  The scene when Cosell is screaming “It is over! It is over!  It is over!” after (spoiler alert) Ali knocks out Foreman is just pure emotion.  Voight’s Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor was well-deserved.  (Jim Broadbent won the award for Iris)

I definitely identify with historical figures and characters that have flaws.  There’s something about the imperfection.  There are times during this film where I found myself feeling stagnant…bored even…mostly, these scenes were the ones where Ali was interacting/courting women.  He was a womanizer, but I felt like those parts of the movie were just awfully slow.

Some of my favorite scenes though are just when Smith is riffing as Ali.  When he’s in his hotel room watching television and learning about termites…”these itsy-bitsy things eatin’ people’s houses down” and “ah man…” when the house actually falls.  When he asks his trainer Angelo Dundee if he think’s that Ali still has the tools to beat Foreman.  “You still have the tools, but they’re different.”

The score is amazing, perfectly capturing the essence for the time-period, the discourse, and the triumph of Ali’s greatness.

Overall, I’d give this movie 4 stars out of 5.  I think it could have done a bit more to show how much of a Titan Ali was to people of all ages, races, ethnicities, financial backgrounds, etc.

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Verdict:  KEEP

For a few more minutes of an excellently narrated and produced goodbye to Ali, check out this HBO Sports tribute:  https://youtu.be/ThJbZR8M9a0