The age-old debate over fate vs. free will has been and always will be a tough theme to crack in any medium but with the benefits of modern filmmaking technology the theory can be explored in ways that Philip K. Dick never imagined. However when one relies too heavily on spectacle to tell a story a piece of cerebral science fiction can quickly become just another action extravaganza. In this day and age there’s a fine line between the two; The Matrix walked that tightrope with style and grace while Next never found its footing in the first place. Fortunately the precious work of novelist Dick has for the most part been treated with respect by Hollywood (the aforementioned Nic Cage dud notwithstanding) but that doesn’t necessarily mean movies based on his stories are completely faithful to his vision.
Case in point: George Nolfi’s directorial debut The Adjustment Bureau an adaptation of Dick’s short story “Adjustment Team.” The film stars Matt Damon as David Norris a successful businessman and rising political candidate who after a chance encounter with the girl of his dreams (Emily Blunt) loses a crucial election. He happens to run into her on a Manhattan bus the following week before finding his office swarming with masked men who are “adjusting” everyone inside. Richardson (John Slattery) the man in charge captures Norris who unsuccessfully flees the scene after seeing behind “a curtain he wasn’t even supposed to know existed” as the enigmatic figure puts it. From that point on Norris must live with the knowledge that he (and we for that matter) is not in control of his own life. Rather the choices he makes fit perfectly into “The Plan” that’s been written by “the Chairman”.
In relation to my earlier statement I have to say that Nolfi’s picture looks stunning but his natural urban aesthetic doesn’t overpower the story. Sleek contemporary production design and elegant costumes characterize the high-concept story and the wraithlike agents who shape our destinies. Topically we’re dealing with some heavy material but Nolfi and editor Jay Rabinowitz move the action along at a brisk pace that keeps you engaged and entertained without having to try. The film is properly proportioned as a chase thriller romantic adventure and sci-fi fantasy and thankfully no component overshadows another.
Setting the film in the world of politics and big business helps make its larger-than-life revelations a bit more accessible (as do appearances from Michael Bloomberg Jon Stewart and Chuck Scarborough) while providing sub-text about the corruption involved in elections and campaigns (there are conspicuous shades of The Manchurian Candidate in the movie) but the writer-director often tries too hard for broad appeal. For a film with existential implications as severe as they are here the dialogue is at times hokey and superficial. Dick’s source material is far more abstract and Nolfi for the sake of commercial success panders to the palette of soccer moms and mallrats.
What’s worse is his unwarranted exposition of the Bureau a shadowy organization whose major allure is anonymity. Some secrets are best kept and less can be so much more when crafting a mysterious atmosphere; Nolfi reaches that level of magnetic curiosity but squanders it as he reveals the truth about the Bureau and its grand scheme. On the other hand he brushes over the technical lingo between agents Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) McCrady (Anthony Ruivivar) and others without explanation perhaps hoping that the ambiguous terminology will fool you into thinking that his script is smarter than it really is.
Even though Nolfi’s allegorical conclusions are uncomfortably ham-fisted the chemistry between Damon and Blunt alone is enough to enchant you; this is one highly watchable cinematic pairing that should be revisited as soon as possible. Their innocent relationship blossoms organically and together they make it seem as natural on screen as it is for their star-crossed characters. Even if you have a hard time believing in higher powers or manipulative Orwellian forces you’ll have faith in David and Elise’s fated relationship one of the most captivating couplings I’ve seen on the big-screen in some time.
Myers’ Guru Pitka could have used a little more back story and a little less shtick. The thin plot has Pitka uttering philosophical piddle like “an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind ” and repeating his mantra “Mariska Hargitay” over and over. But Pitka is not happy with his standing in the spiritual community--especially with the success story of his childhood friend and colleague Deepak Chopra (who cameos in the film). Chopra has been on Oprah for god’s sake! Suddenly Pitka sees the possibility of the fame when Jane (Jessica Alba) the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team summons him to help get back her star player Darren’s (Romany Malco) mojo back after his wife Prudence (Meagan Good) leaves him for the legendarily well-endowed L.A. Kings star Jacques “Le Coq” Grande (Justin Timberlake). Pitka’s spiritual mission? Get Darren and Prudence back together in time for the Leafs to win the all-important Stanley Cup. If you’re looking for one-man shows Mike Myers is your man. Clearly the actor is this generation’s Peter Sellers choosing to play characters far from his own persona such as spy Austin Powers or Wayne Campbell. Guru Pitka fits right in. In Love Guru Pitka throws all sorts of self-help mumbo jumbo around hoping some of it sticks. He is like a distant cousin to other Sellers incarnations in films such as The Magic Christian I Love You Alice B. Toklas and particularly his Indian actor Hrundi V. Bakshi in The Party. But Love Guru doesn’t match those films or even any part of the Austin Powers trilogy largely because the gags take precedence over any true character development. For every Bollywood musical takeoff that works there’s a couple of bits that fall flat. It’s hit and miss despite Myers best efforts to sell this show as something more than an SNL sketch. Surrounding the star is the spectacularly unfunny but still beautiful Alba and the surprisingly funny AND beautiful Justin Timberlake who holds his own in the comedy department especially with his broken Canadian accent. Austin Powers sidekick Verne Troyer is back as the not-so-swell coach of the Leafs and he makes a good hockey puck while Ben Kingsley does his thing as the master Guru Tugginmypudha. First-timer Marco Schnabel is credited as director but it’s a good bet star/co-writer (with Graham Gordy) Mike Myers was calling most of the shots; it appears Myers did not have someone behind the camera reigning him in. Too bad. A sharp comedy director could have shaped the film into more than just a series of sight and sound gags designed for quick laughs at the expense of a coherent story. For his first live action film in five years (he does the animated Shrek films in between) it’s a little disappointing The Love Guru isn’t better than it is particularly from the creative mind behind the Austin Powers trilogy. Myers says he came up with this idea while seeking spiritual guidance from Deepak Chopra after his father died. The opportunity for some sharper satire and a stronger storyline is traded for a hit or miss 88 minute skit that has its moments but never finds it’s true Karma.
In Barrow Alaska there comes a time each winter when sunlight fades out and darkness rolls in like an unwelcome visitor—for a month. Many people abandon the small town without hesitation while those who stay brace themselves for a storm of inhumane relentless frigidity and a test of sanity. But this year one group keeps the town warm—with blood—for its 30 days of night. The town’s two remaining law enforcers Eben (Josh Hartnett) and Stella (Melissa George) are forewarned by a strange drifter (Ben Foster) that “something’s comin’ ” but before they can even finish scoffing the sun has set and the vampires have descended or ascended upon Barrow for blood and recruitment. With only himself and Stella to keep the few living well alive Eben is forced to go on the defensive for the full 30 days. But as he soon learns these vamps are a smart breed with a perpetual case of the munchies. Just when you think Josh Hartnett has finally chosen the right role to suit his dark features and limited range—he decides not to play a vampire. Still 30 Days' constant darkness and overall chaos would seem to accentuate his positives by drowning out his negatives much the way Sin City spun and sold his small role but that’s not quite so. It turns out he’s capable of the quickie action or momentary drama but the scenes in which he is to save the er night—well it’s a good thing the Hartnett-as-Superman rumor was just that. As Hartnett’s partner in non-crime/estranged lover George (Turistas) manages to create some tension without resorting to shrieking or the drama-school histrionics we’ve come to expect from supporting actresses in horrors. Also successful is the ever-versatile Ray Winstone (The Departed) playing a grizzly outsider-turned-insider who joins the anti-vampire crusade. In a role surprisingly tiny considering his current rate of ascension in the industry Foster (3:10 to Yuma) is the best and creepiest this movie has to offer. And in the vampire corner is Danny Huston (The Number 23) who is horrifying as hell on first look only to de-emphasize that appearance by crowing and chatting instead of simply chugging blood. On the first day of night the vampires will seem scary; by the 30th day they’ll seem more like zombies—unless that’s just you projecting onto them. Director David Slade whose previous feature (the indie Hard Candy) could not have been more different from this one will initially win over horror-philes with 30 Days. After all it starts off on a high note with an almost apocalyptic aura to the impending darkness and its consequences. The story is set up adequately and the scares to come are alluded to without getting too greedy. And Slade doesn’t let us down immediately following sundown with jolting flashes of the beasts readying to overtake the small town. But once he gives them faces and personalities it doesn’t take long for the suspense to die—and die some more. That’s almost midway in after which point it becomes clear that the movie will consist only of a heavily abridged countdown to that 30th night and predictable bloodshed. As Slade nears the film’s climax 30 Days nears videogame-like music and machismo before its slightly more compelling conclusion is reached. On a brighter note the lightless Alaskan town—although obviously not totally pitch black for the movie’s sake—does look positively bleak especially when the cinematography takes to the skies.
As the under-18 female world continues to mourn the loss of bachelorhood for Backstreet Boys (and cousins) Kevin Richardson and Brian Littrell, we've hunted down who we think are their blond, lucky fiancées, or as Backstreet fans know them, The Witches Who Stole Our Future Husbands.
Richardson and Willits Richardson, 28, is engaged to Kristin Willits, a dancer for Cher, says USA Today. The two met in a Disney World cafeteria when Richardson was working as a Ninja Turtle and have been dating off and on for seven years.
As for 24-year-old Littrell, we say his betrothed is longtime girlfriend Leighanne Wallace, a budding actress whose credits include "Wild America," "My Fellow Americans" and two Backstreet videos. She has a few Web sites of her own out there (whether they're hateful or supportive sites is another story). She's 30, which already puts her two decades ahead of most Backstreet fans and as far as they're concerned, dangerously close to Michael Douglas cradle-robbing territory.
Spurned fans, meanwhile, are pouring their hearts out on chat boards across the world, some slamming the Backstreet fiancées as "Yoko Onos" (how do prepubescents even know that reference?) and warning that the group "probably won't be number one or number two on [MTV's 'Total Request Live'] I'll tell you that." Others, who say they have met Wallace, call her everything from "really sweet" to "trash." On MTV Online, another fan wrote: "Now they're just throwing us away like a piece of trash."
Leighanne Wallace But others, bless their hearts, take comfort in knowing the other three Boys -- young blond heartthrob Nick Carter, tattooed, follicularly challenged A.J. McLean and bearded, ponytailed Howie Dorough -- are still single, and their Meaty Cheesy-inspiring music lives on. But one fan dared to speculate, "With all this negativity looming around with those who are obviously fair-weather fans, I wonder what will happen when ANY of the guys from 'N Sync become engaged."
Okay, now that's not funny.
THE BIRTH ACCORDING TO TRAVOLTA: John Travolta's about to become a father again, and reveals that he and wife Kelly Preston plan to introduce the unborn child to Scientology right out of the womb. According to "Entertainment Tonight" and the New York Daily News, Travolta, 45, says Preston, who is eight months along, will have a "quiet birth."
"We do the traditional French Lamaze, but in Dianetics [the teachings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard], you try and keep the delivery room quiet so there's nothing recorded in the child's mind that shouldn't be there while there's pain going on," Travolta explains.
It's not completely quiet, though. Preston, 37, is allowed to moan in pain -- thank goodness -- but "any people saying any kind of negative verbiage may adversely affect the baby later on," says Travolta. Does this mean no discussing around the kid why Travolta agreed to star in "Michael"?
AGE MADE HIM DO IT: Film critic Rex Reed has been working to lift the negative reviews he's gotten since his shoplifting arrest last week. In a column for the Feb. 21 edition of the New York Observer, Reed, 61, claims a "senior moment" caused him to take three CDs from a Manhattan Tower Records store. When he was caught with the compact discs (by Mel Torme, Peggy Lee and Carmen McRae) in his pocket, he offered to pay by credit card, "or the $500 in cash I had in my wallet," but was rejected. "I don't consider myself guilty of anything but careless stupidity," Reed says.
But all is not lost. Reed got a call from Lee's press agent, who said the pop-jazz legend "was so thrilled I wanted one of her CDs enough to put myself through so much hell that she was sending me an entire collection. I hope none of the songs is 'My Funny Valentine.' "
MUSIC BEAT: Carlos Santana, closing in on his likely Grammy sweep on Wednesday, retook the top spot on Billboard's album chart this week. "Supernatural" was followed by: Dr. Dre's "Dr. Dre 2001" and Celine Dion's "All the Way: A Decade of Song," which each moved up one spot. D'Angelo's "Voodoo," which held at No. 1 for two weeks, slipped to No. 4, and Christina Aguilera's self-titled debut stuck to No. 5.
The Top Five singles in the country are as follows: "I Knew I Loved You," Savage Garden; "Thank God I Found You," Mariah Carey featuring Joe and 98 Degrees; "Amazed," Lonestar; "What a Girl Wants," Christina Aguilera; and "Breathe," Faith Hill.
QUICK TAKES: A court has dismissed a bid by the undercover Los Angeles policeman who arrested George Michael in a public restroom in 1998 to sue the British pop star for $10 million on the grounds of emotional distress. Marcelo Rodriguez claimed emotional and mental distress and slander after Michael released the music video for "Outside" shortly after his arrest. The video was shot partly in a lavatory and features two policemen kissing. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge dismissed the case on Monday, saying Rodriguez was a public official and could not under law recover damages for alleged emotional distress ...
... "As the World Turns" star Michael Park, who plays Jack Snyder, and wife Laurie welcomed 7-pound daughter Kathleen Rose into the world Monday in New York ...
... Universal Studios president Ron Meyer threw an engagement/baby party for Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones last weekend, according to the New York Daily News. Sean Connery and Danny DeVito were among those in attendance ....
... So Leo and Brad won't be there, but you can always count on Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Terminator himself has been tapped as a presenter for the 72nd Annual Academy Awards. Same goes for "Austin Powers" groovester Mike Myers. Look for both dudes at the big show, happening March 26 at the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium.
... After playing God (literally) in "Dogma," rocker Alanis Morissette will make her Broadway debut in "The Vagina Monologues" March 21-April 2 at Los Angeles' Westside Theater, says Variety. Morissette filled in for Calista Flockhart Wednesday night in Los Angeles for a V-Day 2000 benefit performance.