In Revue: Adjusting Your Movie-Going for the Greater Good
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In Revue: Adjusting Your Movie-Going for the Greater Good

Because Toronto’s more movie obsessed than a Quentin Tarantino screenplay (yuk yuk), Torontoist brings you In Revue, a weekly roundup of new releases.

Matt Damon finds a magic hat that teaches him how to love again in The Adjustment Bureau. Illustration by Chloe Cushman/Torontoist.

Happy Friday, moviegoers. It’s a better-than-average week at the cinema, as Matt Damon fights fate, some machete-wielding maidens get unleashed, and Obi-Wan Kenobi and the guy from The Mask fall in love. Also, if you’re looking to discover one of the newest auteurs on the block, this weekend sees the Lightbox kicking off its spotlight on Denis Côté. His latest film, Curling, which we reviewed during TIFF 2010, also begins its limited engagement at TIFF HQ on Friday, and you should probably make a point to see it. So, as the French say, bon cinéma!

The Adjustment Bureau

Directed by George Nolfi

There’s plenty to like about The Adjustment Bureau. Let’s start with its star, Matt Damon. While it’s apparently impossible for Damon to look anything but boyish, he seems older here. Stouter. Like he’s settled into movie stardom with equal parts poise and resignation; looking fresh-faced and put-upon at the same time. And as senatorial candidate David Norris, Damon is superb, not least of all because the character (a Brooklyn-born bad boy statesman) seems cut from the same cloth as Damon himself—half blue-collar brawler, half Ivy Leaguer.
Based (very, very loosely) on one of Phillip K. Dick’s stories—which now serve more as lite sci-fi premise generators than anything else—The Adjustment Bureau unfolds in a world (or at least a New York City) where sharply dressed men in fedoras ensure that the entire ebb and flow of human development unfolds according to a larger, predetermined plan. When one of these Adjusters (The Hurt Locker’s Anthony Mackie) falls asleep on the job, it sets Damon’s go-getting politician on a wayward path that deviates from the larger predetermined order of things. Norris bumps into the beautiful ballerina Elise (Emily Blunt) and their love, of all things, becomes the spanner in the Adjustment Bureau’s well-oiled works.
There are scads of wonderful performances here—by Damon, Blunt, Mackie, and especially Mad Men’s John Slattery and the terminally scowling Terence Stamp as two of the Bureau’s most meticulous agents. The film also scores for not looping its protagonist into the recursive coil of reality-questioning problems that typify many of Dick’s adaptations (Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly). No matter how far-fetched it all may seem (and indeed, the suggestion is made more than once that the Adjusters are, in fact, angels), we’re made to believe that it’s reality, not just some schizoid episode, Norris is experiencing.
The problem is all the goofy, gooey romance stuff. It’s not altogether bad, especially given the chemistry between Damon and Blunt, but it sours what is otherwise an excellent concept. Especially given the way the film foregrounds the machinations of American politics, it would have been more interesting (and timely) to see the film initially suggested by the first reel of The Adjustment Bureau—in which Norris’s political ambitions run at odds with the larger plot for all of humanity. Instead, we’re left with some tired star-cross’d lovers pap, with Norris struggling against his fate to be with the woman he knows he was meant to be with (which backhandedly gives credence to the idea that you can’t escape destiny, anyhow). It may be misguided to fault Nolfi for not making another movie. But come on. The secret ingredient is love? Really?
The Adjustment Bureau opens Friday, March 4, in wide release. Click here for showtimes.

Machete Maidens Unleashed!

Directed by Mark Hartley

In an attempt to capitalize on the success of his 2008 doc, Not Quite Hollywood, which exposed Australia’s shady history of “Ozploitation” flicks, Mark Hartley is back with Machete Maidens Unleashed!, profiling the warts-and-all of Filipino genre films. The formula more or less follows that of Hartley’s earlier film, with oodles of talking head interviews interspersed with clips from the crappy B-movies in question.
It may seem like Hartley is merely making a round-the-world tour of genre filmmaking, but the focus of Machete Maidens Unleashed! is a bit different from that of Not Quite Hollywood. Instead of concentrating on the particularities of domestic Filipino filmmaking (though there’s a bit of that), Machete Maidens looks largely at the work of American indie studios like Roger Corman’s New World Pictures that set up shop in the Philippines so they can exploit all the lush jungle foliage and cheap labour to churn out cheapie “caged women” flicks and silly kiddie pictures. Many halfway familiar faces (Corman, Sid Haig, Joe Dante, and an exceptionally charismatic John Landis) offer their enlightening takes on working in the Filipino bush and how producing on a shoestring budget basically served as a fast-track film school program for them.
It’s kind of interesting, but it feels more like a DVD supplement to the more fully realized Not Quite Hollywood. A good chunk of the film is even given over to the blighted production of Apocalypse Now, a topic which has been flogged to death (most notably in Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper’s 1991 documentary, Hearts of Darkness). Hartley’s most egregious offence is flattening all the cheap pleasures of these films into a cinema-genre crash course, allowing any viewer to get a budget-priced, Corman-grade education without actually having to go out and find these movies themselves. Granted, it may be hard to get your mitts on a bootleg DVD-R of For Y’Ur Height Only, a Bond spoof starring pint-sized Filipino action star Weng Weng, but trying to track one down is at least half the fun.
Machete Maidens Unleashed! opens Friday, March 4, for a limited engagement at the Bloor (506 Bloor Street West). Click here for showtimes.

I Love You Phillip Morris

Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa

Morris is based on the unlikely true story of recidivist con man Steven Jay Russell (Jim Carrey). After building a nifty American Dream–style life for himself and his God-fearing wife (Leslie Mann), a gruesome car crash throws Steven into a realization that he’s been gay his whole life. (“I’m going to be a fag! A big fag!” he barks triumphantly through a mouthful of blood while being hoisted into an ambulance.) On a dime, he amicably ditches his family, moves to Miami, and begins running credit-card and identity-theft scams to subsidize a luxurious gay lifestyle. His swindling eventually lands him in a Texas prison, where he meets the bashful Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor). The two quickly strike up a romance, passing letters between cell blocks.
True love or not, prison’s no place for a social butterfly like Steven. So he busts out and starts a new career pretending to be a lawyer, as a pretense for running an embezzlement scam that gets him tossed back in the clink. Only to bust out again. And so on. Striking an impressively even balance between comedy (much of which, like seeing Steven fake the symptoms of AIDS, is pitch black) and romance, prison picture and con man caper, co-directors Ficarra and Requa preserve the film’s quirky tone throughout. What’s more, Steven and Phillip’s relationship proves refreshingly nuanced. It’s not their being gay that strains them. It’s that Steven is a self-interested, conniving asshole, who tends to take advantage of his lover’s good nature, intentionally or not.
Maybe this post-Brokeback look at gay relationships is what made the film such a hot potato and the reason why I Love You Phillip Morris has been all-but-suppressed from release since it premiered at Sundance in 2009. That audiences can finally see this hilarious and frequently touching film after two-plus years of its languishing in distribution purgatory is fantastic news, even if it’s still not getting the wide release it deserves.
I Love You Phillip Morris opens Friday, March 4, for a limited engagement at the Royal (608 College Street). Click here for showtimes.