Category: Excerpts

Lemon Moon Review Sample: The Adjustment Bureau


LMR Sample_Adjustment Bureau

Directed by George Nolfi

Released March 4, 2011

Reviewed by Jacob Edwards



When United States Senate aspirant David Norris pursues the woman he loves instead of following the dictates of fate, he comes into conflict with the mysterious forces that map out and adjust human destiny.

Ever since 1982’s noir classic Blade Runner, which rates 8.3 on IMDB and 8.5 on Rotten Tomatoes, Hollywood has been ransacking Philip K. Dick’s back catalogue in the hope that his name alone will be sufficient to produce another cult hit. Dick-Heads (the moniker under which fans of the author stand proud) have had to endure the adaptive barbarism of Total Recall (7.4 & 7.2), Screamers (6.1 & 4.7), Impostor (6.0 & 3.9), Minority Report (7.7 & 8.0), Paycheck (6.1 & 4.7), A Scanner Darkly (7.1 & 6.6), Next (6.1 & 4.6) and now, knocking woodenly at the gates, The Adjustment Bureau, featuring the immutable Matt Damon. Non Dick-Heads have suffered alongside them and will continue to do so here, with the predictable exception of Matt Damon aficionados (most of whom haven’t been told that — spoiler — Damon died over eight years ago and since has been acting [sic] via digital manipulation of his earlier performances). Still distraught after a false moustache obfuscated Damon’s facial rigidity and thus denied him recognition as Best Supporting Actor in True Grit, Damonites will breathe easy again as The Adjustment Bureau restores their man to original condition, sanding him back to rustic clean-shaveness, black suit and tie.

Although it’s easy to think otherwise, inscrutable acting has not necessarily been the downfall of big screen Philip K. Dick adaptations. Yes, these films seem deliberately to have cast impassive lead actors — Nicolas Cage, Keanu Reeves, Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger, even Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner — but those who have read Dick’s short story Adjustment Team (which is available in the public domain) will note that Damon’s flatness allows him actually to slot in quite nicely as an approximation of Dick’s minimally refined, almost emotionless original character. The problem lies in that the short story’s conclusion is reached thirty minutes into the movie, and that Damon’s part then is rewritten to encompass a breath of expression that lies well beyond his stock trade in minimalist and stunned.

Although there are many who will prejudge and knock down The Adjustment Bureau as just another movie in Matt Damon’s film-log’raphy (The Bourne Repetition?), it would be remiss to doze in such a fashion and not acknowledge the surrounding ecology. Stepping well beyond Philip K. Dick’s 1954 depiction of women, Emily Blunt brings pathos and believability to her character, while Anthony Mackie and John Slattery are remarkably human in portraying the forbidding agents of the unseen Chairman. Compared to other films where sinister guardians lurk in the shadows behind reality — Dark City, for instance — there is here a subtlety of acting that Damon may never even have caught whiff of (remembering that he has spent much of his career sharing a two-man horse suit with Ben Affleck). Moreover, The Adjustment Bureau is not the action spec-crapular that one might expect, where CGI is given first billing and the everyday laws of physics cease to apply. In fact, the movie places something of a moratorium on mind-numbing action and special effects. It tries instead for mood (even if the most visually evocative scene from Dick’s short story — the office adjustment upon which Damon stumbles — is passed over in seconds). It tries to be thought-provoking.

Unfortunately, whereas Dick’s original story posits a scenario and a reasonable conclusion but leaves the question of predestination open for the reader to ponder, the film treatment takes this same scenario and perverts it into a fatuous exposition on the concept of free will. That some higher power might — spoiler — be impressed by Damon’s and Blunt’s desire to fight for their choices, even though the predeterminism against which they struggle is responsible also for the unfathomable love that motivates them . . . well, this is just as shallow as it sounds in facetious voiceover just prior to the credits rolling.

Elsewhere in the world it may be different, but in Brisbane, Australia, there is a strong tradition of plastering bus stop shelters with large posters of real estate agents (as if they’re somehow more pleasant this way than in real life); and if it’s not real estate agents then it’s cinema advertising, the quality of the films depicted suggesting a clear (if somewhat grasping) intent to contrast them favourably against the experience of waiting for yet another bus not to arrive. Brisbane public transport routes currently are resplendent with Adjustment Bureau posters, Emily Blunt’s dress flowering red alongside a tautologically wooden Matt Damon in what seems a picturesque attempt to create a buzz and make some honey [sic] before the film wilts and dies.

So, as we join the Dick-Heads and the Damonites in turning the box office doorknob clockwise, one question remains to us: do we really have free will, or is there some equivalent of the Adjustment Bureau guiding us through life and warding off disaster? Anyone who has gone to see a rather pudgy Matt Damon trotting desperately though the rain in a pork pie hat — what higher power would allow such a sight; yet, what else could impel us to watch it? — surely will appreciate the poignancy of this dilemma.

Lemon Moon Review Sample: Tron Legacy


LMR Sample_Tron Legacy

Directed by Joseph Kosinski

Released December 16, 2010 (Australia)

Reviewed by Jacob Edwards



For any Hollywood mogul casting about for an old movie to revamp for the burgeoning 3D market, Tron must have loomed as a godsend. Cutting edge at the time of its release in 1982, when arcade games were all the rage and Commodore 64s were emerging from the primordial technological soup and waving their 64 kilobytes of RAM at the first generation of PC users, Tron lit up in blue neon and hit the big screen with sufficient cult appeal to launch a franchise: video games; comic books; animated TV series; and inevitably, the no-brainer sequel.

Tron: Legacy commences with a prelude set seven years after the original film, when Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) vanishes into the night and leaves his seven year old son Sam as chief shareholder in ENCOM International. Jump twenty years forward and the orphaned Sam (Garrett Hedlund), now a restless dilettante, returns to the disused 80s arcade of his youth and is drawn into the virtual world that claimed his father. As a digitalised User, Sam is forced into gladiatorial combat against a host of baleful Programmes marshalled by the dictatorial Clu (Jeff Bridges again, digitally youthened). Sam acclimatises to the dystopian setting with Disney-inspired nonchalance, and so begins his quest to— to—

To what, exactly? Well, indeed. (One easily can imagine the writers at this point, languishing somewhere off-grid and scratching their heads under cover of darkness and digital overlay.) What happens next, though not difficult to follow, is far too piecemeal for the audience to engage with. Sam’s search for Zuse, as an example, appears from nowhere and is shovelled quickly behind. The ISOs subplot materialises with biblical pretension that, to the big-screen atheist, appears nothing more than barefaced effrontery aimed at covering up the film’s palpable lack of substance. In fact, the entire plot of Tron: Legacy is reminiscent somehow of that scene from The Great Escape where Steve McQueen outlines his ad hoc breakout plan to the British officers: ‘Ives here is a tunnel man, so he digs in front, pushes the dirt behind him. I stash it behind me, then we burrow through the dirt like a couple of moles.’ Richard Attenborough questions him: ‘Hilts, um . . . how do you breathe?’ —— ‘We got a steel rod with hinges on it. We shove it up and make air holes as we go along.’ McQueen departs and Gordon Jackson exclaims: ‘It’s so stupid, it’s positively brilliant.’ Scriptwriters Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis appear to have taken this idea to heart, presenting in Tron: Legacy a plot that, although not entirely nonsensical, is thoroughly slapdash in composition and should by rights see them return to television writing: the Hollywood equivalent of a stint in the cooler.

Let’s be honest. Tron: Legacy is not a movie at all. It’s an extemporised excuse for dazzling the world with state of the art visual and audio effects. Now, there are some of us who don’t really see the point of 3D, and who believe that two dimensions are perfectly sufficient for conveying depth of picture and movement from foreground to background — just as the Renaissance masters managed to paint without recourse to hologram technology; just as the early PCs ran perfectly engrossing games on operating systems that packed fewer kilobytes than a low resolution Facebook picture of Bill Gates — but even those who happily forsake plot for sound and vision will find little satisfaction in Tron: Legacy. The film is overly dark (even without the 3D glasses) and causes constant strain to the eyes. Charitably, this could be seen as a misguided attempt to provide contrast with the glowing light-strips that characterise The Grid, yet there is also a dissident whisper to the effect that darkly shot film is faster (ergo, cheaper) to render and that 3D connoisseurs, having paid more to see the film in this manner, have been thoroughly dudded. As for the iconic Tron light cycles . . . in Tron: Legacy they are raced not with any sense of tension, or engagement with the audience, but rather upon a sprawling, bewildering 3D matrix that clearly has been employed just because it was possible to do so, rather like playing Twister in four dimensions with arms and legs appearing out of nowhere: utterly pointless.

The music, meanwhile, is unremittingly loud and without doubt will inspire more headaches than appreciation. When director Joseph Kosinski was asked why he employed French electronic duo Daft Punk for the score, he is said to have replied, ‘How could you not at least go to those guys?’ — rather as if he’d pulled off a coup in the magnitude of having Prince compose for Batman. Perhaps it is impossible for a film’s score to rise any higher than its plot, but Daft Punk’s relentless barrage, though capturing and echoing back the pulsating moodiness and disjointed energy of the script, nevertheless does little to redeem the movie’s shortcomings. Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo’s assertion that Tron: Legacy was cut to the music, rather than vice versa, is a line of inquiry that Kosinski’s prosecutors might wish to follow, but suffice for now to say that the musical highpoint — the only instance of shivers being sent down the spine — comes not from Daft Punk but courtesy of an arcade flashback to the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). In fact, given its overt connection to Tron and the early 80s, Tron: Legacy may have been better served by British duo the Pet Shop Boys, whose musical partnership began in 1981 and is still going strong. An 85-piece orchestra in 7.1 surround sound is all well and good, but if that’s the path Kosinski wanted to take then why not ask viewers to treat the film as incidental material, take away the seats and turn the movie theatre into a nightclub?

Tron: Legacy’s one saving grace comes by way of its cast. Miraculously, and very much to their credit, the actors are able to play their roles straight and so allow for a certain, rickety bridge style suspension of disbelief over the voided chasm of plot and purpose. Garrett Hedlund is suitably eighties in the lead role; likewise Bruce Boxleitner as Alan Bradley and Tron. Olivia Wilde plays her part effectively (albeit one that is little removed from the foil she provided to Hugh Laurie in House). Michael Sheen fully immerses himself as Castor (a compelling if somewhat caricatured digital echo of Mr Humphries from Are You Being Served?) while Jeff Bridges strides through it all with the assurance and crooked authority of an age-wizened shepherd (although also, it should be admitted, with the faint, lingering whiff of marijuana-inspired laissez-faire that he has carried ever since The Big Lebowski). Tron: Legacy could so easily have been a career-killer, but the main players emerge unscathed; nay, with reputations enhanced, not unlike Johnny Depp’s through dint of having packed a decade-long rafter of turkeys from Nick of Time to Secret Window.

So what is the legacy of Tron: Legacy? When asked about the title, Jeff Bridges is quoted as having said, ‘It’s basically a story about a son’s search for his father.’ — not a bad response if he was put on the spot, but hardly an answer to satisfy the critics. (Where’s Dad? Oh, found him. Physically. Emotionally. Game over.) Those involved with making the film might like to believe that the word legacy refers to passing the mantle of ground-breaking ideas and effects from the original movie to the sequel, but the truth is far less glamorous: the legacy in question is nothing more or less than the generation of nostalgic, arcade-loving fans who, having seen Tron in 1982, now find themselves drawn back to the cinema with a mixture of gullibility and docile curiosity sufficient to line the pockets of Hollywood fast food film-makers.

‘I fight . . . for . . . the User!’ Tron snarls at one point, gritting his teeth in defiance; but Tron is little more than a fading afterthought and Tron: Legacy succeeds only in casting the audience as a new element in the franchise: the Used.