The Adjustment Bureau and Rango

Have you ever questioned everything about your life and world?  Have you ever faced a situation that was completely beyond your lifetime of experiences?  Most of us haven’t.  I know I haven’t.  The closest I have gotten to that situation was when my wife and I moved 500 miles from home to a small town in the Florida Panhandle less than a year after we married.  To say the community we moved to was a different world from what we knew is just about right; however, we quickly found our way, made friends, joined a church and settled into a normal life.  The heroes in this week’s movies face far more profound changes to their world view.  While “The Adjustment Bureau” questions whether we have any control over our lives, “Rango” argues that we are ultimately the masters of our own fates.

The Adjustment Bureau

David Norris (Matt Damon) is wrapping up an unsuccessful bid for the US Senate from New York.  Embarrassing photos printed in a newspaper in the weeks before the election erased a lead in the polls.  Rehearsing his concession speech in the bathroom of a hotel where his supporters have gathered, David realizes he’s not alone.  A young woman named Elise (Emily Blunt) is hiding from hotel security in one of the stalls after she crashed a wedding.  She recognizes him and suggests he and other politicians be more honest with the public.  There’s an immediate spark between David and Elise and they end their brief encounter with a kiss and she walks out of his life.  David takes her advice and speaks to the assembled crowd from the heart, creating an instant wave of support for the next senatorial election.  Nearly a year later, David and Elise bump into each other again, this time on a city bus; but it wasn’t supposed to happen.  Harry (Anthony Mackie), who fell asleep on a park bench, was supposed to cause David to spill his cup of coffee on himself, so he would go back to his apartment to change his shirt, so he would miss the bus, so he would arrive at work 10 minutes later than he did, so he wouldn’t see members of the Adjustment Bureau working on his co-worker and former campaign manager Charlie Traynor (Michael Kelly) to change his way of thinking about a new project.  David has seen something he was never supposed to be aware ever existed:  An organization that keeps the plans of every human being’s life on track, making small adjustments from time to time when necessary.  David is taken to a large, empty room and held there by men in suits and fedoras and other men dressed like riot police.  One of them, Richardson (Michael Slattery), explains he was only supposed to see Elise one time and this chance encounter on the bus, where David got her phone number, has seriously thrown off the plan of his and her life.  He can never see Elise again and if he tries, the Adjustment Bureau will stop him.

“The Adjustment Bureau” has a great deal going for it.  First, it is based on a short story written by science fiction author Phillip K. Dick, whose other works have given us films like “Blade Runner” and “Total Recall.”  Dick’s work tends to take a dim view of humanity and its tendency to spin wildly out of control when those with questionable motives are in charge.  Second, it stars Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, two very good actors who have a great deal of chemistry in their roles.  The pairing makes their wildly unusual circumstances all the more affecting.  You want to see David and Elise together because they fit like a hand and glove.  Their playful interactions feel natural and perfect which gives the efforts of the Adjustment Bureau to keep them apart a heightened sense of drama and tension.  Finally, that tension is built up at a steady pace, increasing by small increments for most of the film’s length.  As the finale approaches, it is nearly unbearable as the final question of whether these lovers will be ripped apart by those who quietly control our lives.

The movie is very good until the end when it feels like the script writer just gives up.  All the running around, the drama, the sadness and the metaphysical ponderings of free will versus predestination are thrown out the window by an ending that is far too neat and easy.  I don’t want to give away anything, but not all movies have to end happily to be enjoyable.  And not all happy endings need to be without questions and doubts.  The makers of “The Adjustment Bureau” decide we can’t handle a more realistic ending and haul out the bunny rabbits and rainbows to make sure the majority of the audience leaves the theatre satisfied; however, I was not.  After all the threats and examples of their power, the Adjustment Bureau rolls over like a big dog looking for a tummy rub, going against everything we’ve witnessed up to that point and making the mythology we’ve learned seem meaningless and contrived.

“The Adjustment Bureau” is rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexuality and a violent image.  The sexuality is brief and very subtle.  The violent image is a punch thrown by Damon’s character at one of the Adjustment Bureau men.  There are also other scary images of car wrecks and a man hit by a car.  The foul language is widely scattered.

I was all ready to give this film a perfect score until the weak, cowardly ending.  While it greatly diminishes the overall feeling of the movie, it is still a pretty good flick that is very entertaining.

“The Adjustment Bureau” gets four guitars out of five.

Rango

A pet chameleon (voiced by Johnny Depp) is accidentally left behind in the desert as his family moves cross country.  Unaccustomed to having to fend for himself, the lizard, who passed the time by creating and starring in plays in his terrarium, is facing certain death when he meets Beans (voiced by Isla Fisher), another lizard driving a wagon filled with glass jars.  She distrusts the newcomer, but gives him a ride into the town of Dirt, populated by a wide assortment of critters from weasels and rabbits to toads and turtles.  Dirt is facing a crisis as the water supply is drying up, leaving the town with less than a week’s worth of water.  Beans suspects the town’s water is being stolen or diverted somehow, but the Mayor (voiced by Ned Beatty) encourages everyone to have faith.  While creating stories of his adventures to build up his reputation in the town’s saloon, the chameleon decides to modify the name on the back of a bottle of cactus juice and calls himself Rango.  Rango’s story of killing seven outlaws with a single bullet attracts the attention of local tough guy Bad Bill (voiced by Ray Winstone) and his buddies and they challenge Rango to a duel.  As they face each other in the street, a hawk attacks from overhead and, completely by accident, Rango kills the bird, further building up his undeserved reputation.  Given the job of sheriff by the Mayor, Rango is prodded by Beans to investigate the water shortage.  He’s also warned that the hawk was the only thing keeping the gunslinger Rattlesnake Jake (voiced by Bill Nighy) away from town.  When the last of the town’s water is stolen, Rango leads a posse out to bring it back and discovers there’s more going on than anyone understands.

While sold as a kid’s movie, “Rango” is far too grown up for children.  That’s not to say the film is inappropriate for the little ones.  If your 10 or 12 year old wants to see the movie, by all means, take them.  The younger ones might enjoy the funny animals and bright colors, but I’m afraid they would be bored rather quickly.  “Rango” is that rare animated movie that seems to have been made more for the parents than the kids.

“Rango” has a fairly complicated story of greed and power at its core.  The film’s story is very similar to many Westerns from that genre’s golden age.  It assumes the audience can follow a relatively complex plot that goes beyond what many animated films attempt.  While the movie violates my rule that requires animated films have a heightened level of insanity (like a town of talking rodents, lizards, birds and amphibians isn’t insane enough), its complex story makes up for any missing loony-ness.

The film also doesn’t shy away from serious threats to the safety of its main characters.  Unlike most animated films (except “Toy Story 3”), “Rango” seems to enjoy putting all the characters in serious harms way on a regular basis.  Of course, the title hero faces most of this danger in a slapstick kind of way; but, Beans and others are imperiled in a more realistic fashion.  One of the characters is actually shown dead on screen.  You won’t see that in a Shrek movie.

None of this should be taken as a charge that the movie isn’t funny, because it is.  There’s broad slapstick, deft wordplay, character cameos both vague and easily recognizable and general silliness that will bring out the giggles and guffaws.

The film also looks amazing.  Industrial Light and Magic, the special effects company started by George Lucas, did the animation for the film.  Many times, you’ll assume the landscapes are actual photos of the desert southwest but they are in fact computer generated images.  The texture of the characters, the expressiveness of their faces, the individually identifiable hairs, the blood vessels in the whites of their eyes, the scales on Rango’s skin, the wobble of the Mayor’s neck, it all looks spectacular.  The film has a depth that is often missing in 3D movies but is fully on display in this 2D film.  It sets a standard for animated visuals that even Pixar will have to work hard to match.

The voice talent is “Rango” is equally amazing.  Depp, Fisher, Beatty and Nighy along with Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina and Harry Dean Stanton all give their characters voices that are as lively as their on screen image.  Stephen Root, who voices three characters in the film, is stellar as always.  Root, who has lots of experience with animation voices, provided a main character and countless minor ones on the TV show “King of the Hill.”  He may be the hardest working actor that most people don’t know.

“Rango” is rated PG for rude humor, language, action and smoking.  There are numerous threats of violence, fights, gun play and even some bombs dropped.  One character is shown walking around with an arrow running through one eye and out the other side of his head.  Several characters are shown smoking at various times in the film.  One character is a giant rattlesnake that younger children might find very frightening.  The words “hell” and “damn” get tossed around a fair amount.

“Rango” was a great deal of fun and something of a surprise.  It was more willing to take chances and be daring than was “The Adjustment Bureau.”  While many parents may have issues with the language and the nearly constant talk of death, “Rango” should make most adults happy with its willingness to stretch beyond the conventions of most animated films.  You don’t need to be embarrassed to see this animated movie without a child.  It may even make the experience more enjoyable.

“Rango” gets five guitars.

Better living through chemistry, defending the indefensible and making a friend from wayyyyyy out of town is the subjects of this week’s movies.  Vote for the film you’d like me to see and review next.

Limitless—Bradley Cooper is an ordinary guy whose life transforms when he takes an experimental brain-altering "smart drug."

The Lincoln Lawyer—Matthew McConaughey is a criminal defense attorney who takes on a seemingly routine case that becomes a deadly game of survival.

Paul—Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are a pair of sci-fi geeks who encounter an alien on an insane road trip through America's UFO heartland.

Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film currently in theatres.

Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.

Questions?  Send them to stanthemovieman@att.net.  Follow Stan on Twitter @moviemanstan.