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.
While best buds Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire have been seen gallivanting about New York, workshopping scenes for Baz Luhrmann's upcoming adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, the Australian director has been hard at work, sorting through a veritable who's who of Hollywood talent for the role of 'Daisy.'
Although early rumors had Amanda Seyfried as the love interest for Gatsby (DiCaprio), Luhrmann's been screen-testing an extensive wish list of top-tier talent including Keira Knightley, Amanda Seyfried, Blake Lively, Abbie Cornish, Carey Mulligan, Michelle Williams, and Scarlett Johansson.
But now sources are saying that British actress Carey Mulligan, Oscar-nominated for her role in An Education, has risen to the top of that list, though nothing is yet in ink.
However, we hear Scarlett Johansson also tested very well in New York last week, and she's still being considered for the part by Luhrmann and DiCaprio. But Johansson also recently committed to starring in Cameron Crowe's We Bought a Zoo, which 20th Century Fox wants to begin shooting late this spring, and Luhrmann has been planning on a summer shoot for Gatsby. All of which means that Mulligan is the likely candidate.
Mulligan is an incredibly talented actress, so we'd certainly love to see her in the part, opposite DiCaprio and Maguire (as narrator Nick Carraway), but everything depends on how Luhrmann decides he wants to develop her role. In Fitzgerald's 1925 classic, Daisy is a beautiful but shallow character; a lesser actress could potentially work better if Luhrmann wanted to make Daisy a blank slate. A challenging directorial choice of that sort could make Gatsby's infatuation with her all the more tragic. Still, Luhrmann might be on safer ground casting a more skilled actress, like Mulligan, who could more than hold her own opposite DiCaprio.
No matter who gets picked - just so long as it's not Blake Lively - I'm thrilled to see that Gatsby is moving confidently towards production. If ever there were a time for another remake of Fitzgerald's critique of the American dream (the most recent version starred Robert Redford, Sam Waterston, and Mia Farrow in 1974), it's in our current post-recession culture of Wall Street villainy.
Baz Luhrmann workshopped his Great Gatsby project in New York last weekend with Leonardo DiCaprio reading the part of Jay Gatsby, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway and Rebecca Hall in for Daisy Buchanan. Both Deadline and The Wrap reported the news on Monday.
Luhrmann, who has not yet decided whether Gatsby will be his next film, is writing the project with his frequent collaborator, Craig Pearce, and is producing with Catherine Martin and Lucy Fisher and Douglas Wick. The project is set up at Sony. According to Deadline, the reading went well.
Also per Deadline, Luhrmann workshops every script he's considering and there's no guarantee those actors will wind up starring in the film. Reports have also mentioned Amanda Seyfried as a possible Daisy while Deadline's Mike Fleming says he's heard Luhrmann is sweet on Natalie Portman.
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Well, here's a casting rumor you don't hear every day: how about Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, and Amanda Seyfried for Baz Luhrmann's (Moulin Rouge) adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 masterwork, The Great Gatsby?
Granted, the source of this particular bit of hearsay comes courtesy of Production Weekly's Twitter feed - not exactly the most trustworthy font of information - but I'd like to believe it's true because, honestly, who better to play Jay Gatsby than Leonardo DiCaprio, mixing equal parts Catch Me If You Can and The Aviator? Plus, DiCaprio has a prior history with Luhrmann, having worked with the director on his powerful 1996 adaptation Romeo + Juliet.
Maguire, for his part, has proved himself more than capable in period pieces of this type with The Cider House Rules and Seabiscuit; narrator Nick Carraway won't be a stretch. And Seyfried seems born to play the lovely blonde Daisy Buchanan, the blank slate that Gatsby projects his desires onto, whose voice he famously describes as "full of money."
Unfortunately, Luhrmann has been equivocating on the state of Gatsby ever since the director bought the rights to Fitzgerald's oft-heralded "Great American Novel" back in 2008. His latest interview - with MTV News just yesterday - did little to change that. "The rumors are out!" Luhrmann admitted. "I've got [two films] going. One is a musical and one is a period work [Gatsby], both based in New York City, and I'm about to make that decision. I've got the script for both of them and I'm making that decision in four to six weeks."
Asked if Gatsby could be getting a Moulin Rouge-style musical treatment, Luhrmann exclaimed "Singing 'Gatsby'? No! 'Gatsby,' it is the Fitzgerald book and I've been working on that quite a lot. The other one is also New York based and music-driven and it's just a question of... what is the next right step for me." And casting? "You know I think of casting all the time, but I put that to the side and I complete the text," he said. "Obviously there are natural choices and there is a natural top of the list, but I really refuse to say anything until we have text right." Natural choices like... Leonardo DiCaprio?
Hopefully Luhrmann will decide to move forward with Gatsby, and with this stellar (rumored) cast in place. What musical could the director possibly have up his sleeve that could top this? And really, what better time to make a movie critiquing the American dream, greed, and decadence than during our current post-economic-collapse climate? You couldn't ask for a more appropriate recession-era catharsis - and with such pretty people!
Easy A a teen sex comedy with no actual sex aims rather conspicuously to plumb the best bits of Diablo Cody and Alexander Payne in its upside-down self-consciously campy take on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. In the role of its high-school Hester Prynne is Emma Stone the sly husky heroine of last year’s surprise hit Zombieland. Tested by a film that is far less clever than its director Will Gluck or screenwriter Bert Royal would have us believe (and they desperately want us to believe) she passes with flying colors delivering a performance that should elevate her into the upper echelon of actresses possessing brains and beauty in equal measure.
Stone plays Olive the kind of quick-witted hyper-literate teen that our educational system produces in ever-diminishing numbers. (If it ever produced them to begin with.) More knowing and sophisticated than others her age she is nonetheless not immune to the pressure of peers and the dread of being labeled a loser. Under duress by a prying friend (Aly Michalka) to dish the details of her birthday weekend a rather mundane affair mainly spent jumping on her bed to the tune of Natasha Bedingfield’s pop monstrosity “Pocket Full of Sunshine ” she feels compelled to embellish a bit and concocts an entirely fictional account of losing her virginity (dubbed the “V-Card” by Royal trying too hard) to a boy from a junior college across town.
Word of Olive’s deflowering spreads with startling speed aided by the incessant rumor-mongering of a catty Evangelical eavesdropper (Amanda Bynes). Suddenly branded a tramp on account of a seemingly harmless little lie Olive opts to embrace her newly tarnished reputation and put it to good use. In a viciously stratified social environment where even the most awkward acne-plagued pariah can earn respect and even admiration from members of the upper castes for having gone All the Way Olive anoints herself the Mother Theresa of (fake) sluts bestowing her blessing upon downtrodden gents in need of a reputation boost. And she resolves to look the part too traipsing around in scandalous bustiers and affixing the letter “A” to her chest.
There are limits to Easy A’s Scarlet Letter conceit overly Glee-ful tone forced repartee and pop-culture references (John Hughes is invoked so many times he should get a producer credit). Which is why director Gluck must be grateful to have found Stone who handles the verbal calisthenics of Royal’s script with charm and verve and a certain effortless appeal that keeps us engaged even as the film wallows in contrived irony and heavy-handedness. Keep your eye on her.
Green Zone is a story we’ve already heard shot in a manner we’ve already seen and starring Matt Damon in a role he’s already played. Remember those WMDs that were never found in Iraq and later exposed to be the invention of a dubious and poorly-vetted informant? Remember the misguided and hideously botched attempt at establishing democracy after the fall of Saddam and the violent prolonged insurgency that ensued? If you’ve been away from the television for the past hour and somehow managed to forget any of these details Green Zone is here to remind you.
Damon plays Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller an Army weapons inspector whose frustration over repeatedly coming up empty in his search for Iraqi WMDs leads him on a quest to track down and expose the people responsible for leading him (and us) down that infamously bogus path. Though his hand-to-hand skills are a notch below Jason Bourne’s Miller’s single-mindedness moral certainty and permanent expression of square-jawed defiance — always threatening another “How do you like them apples?” rebuke — in the face of an insidious multi-level government conspiracy are essentially equivalent to those of Damon’s Bourne trilogy soulmate.
And like Bourne his most dangerous adversary isn’t found on the battlefront but rather within the government he once served so proudly. As Miller delves ever deeper into the Case of the Faulty WMD Intelligence Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) the duplicitous arrogant Defense Department bureaucrat in charge of U.S. operations in Iraq summarily relieves him of his post. (Hint: the better dressed a Green Zone character is the more sinister his ambitions.) But Miller remains undeterred and he goes rogue to locate the CIA informant “Magellan ” a formerly high-ranking Iraqi official whose supposed confirmation of Saddam’s nuclear ambitions served as the basis for U.S. invasion.
We know how the story ends. Green Zone’s pervasive overarching sense of deja vu is accentuated by director — and veteran Bourne helmer — Paul Greengrass who employs the trademark hand-held super-shakycam style which was so fresh and inventive in 2004 but now feels stale and predictable. (Admittedly my aversion to Greengrass’ approach was no doubt heightened by a previous night’s viewing of Roman Polanski’s excellent The Ghost Writer a political thriller as subtle and precise and finely tuned as Green Zone is ham-fisted and haphazard — and which also uses the phantom WMD controversy to far greater narrative effect.)
Green Zone culminates in essentially a violent footrace between Miller and the Army Special Forces as they scour a heavily-armed insurgent stronghold to find Magellan with Miller hoping to secure his potentially damning testimony before the Army can silence him for good. The climactic sequence for all I could tell was either shot in Damon’s backyard culled from Bourne trilogy deleted scenes or assembled from scattered YouTube clips. This punishingly chaotic often incoherent and ultimately exhausting approach to storytelling isn’t cinema verite; it’s dementia pugilistica.