'Adjustment Bureau' captures imaginations

Remarkably, a short story by the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, adapted to the screen as "The Adjustment Bureau," turns out to be the best romance of the year. A different love story to be sure, crafted from an unusual premise; however, because Hollywood has served up an endless string of trivial nonsense, well, this film comes as a welcome surprise.

It begins with Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt), a ballet dancer, and David Norris (Matt Damon), a hotshot politician running for the state senate, meeting cute in the men's room of the Waldorf Astoria. David is preparing to deliver a very difficult speech. Certain that he's alone, he begins rehearsing. Suddenly, Elise steps out of one of the stalls. They begin a gentle, smart badinage, and their mutual attraction is quickly evident — to them and the audience.

But here's the rub: all that has happened to them is part of a greater plan. If either deviates from the plan, well, a small adjustment will be necessary. Enter stage left, the Adjustment Bureau: men in snap-brim hats, dark suits and narrow ties, who warn David that he cannot pursue a relationship with Elise, for reasons that will not be disclosed. David, impulsive and a bit reckless, is not inclined to cooperate, sensing that in Elise he has met someone unlike anyone before.

Perhaps you have to suspend your disbelief to be fully engaged by "The Adjustment Bureau." You must be willing to give the story sufficient latitude, all in the interest of being intrigued and perhaps even surprised. It helps that the fantasy/sci-fi aspects of the film are handled so seamlessly that it never seems contrived or in any way jarring. It all fits nicely together.

Regarding the story: As David grows more intent on pursuing a relationship with Elise, the story delves into the existential question of free will. Do we design our own lives or are there forces greater than ourselves that guide us? Should David be allowed to choose? Are any of truly free to choose?

Of course, in the world of author Dick, the ability to make choices is an illusion. During those periods in history when the Bureau stepped back and let mankind truly choose, the result was the 20th century, one of the most violent in history. Hence, the Bureau concluded that it was time to reengage and guide.

So David falls down the rabbit hole (where would sci-fi/fantasy be without it?), and sets in motion a test of wills between himself and the Bureau, which insists that Elise cannot be part of his destiny. Act two and three involve an escalation of tension, some well-choreographed chase scenes, while pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place.

If your threshold for such storytelling is high, if your imagination is captured by such a premise, then you will find "The Adjustment Bureau" a solidly entertaining film, a perfect blend of romance and the improbable, nicely imagined and well acted. If storytelling must mirror life, well, this movie, not so much.


Just when you thought computer-generated imagery (CGI) had peaked, the folks at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), under the direction of Gore Verbinksi ("Pirates of the Carribean"), create "Rango," an animated feature film that is a showstopper. It's a marvel, done brilliantly in 2D, no less, with attention to detail that is unlike anything created thus far.

The essential story is classic, a familiar western trope. It begins with a thespian lizard in his terrarium (a small pool, a palm tree, and a plastic fish), riding in the back of a car. The family is driving across the Mojave Desert when they hit a bump in the road and the terrarium cum lizard is bounced out, landing in the road, while the car continues out of sight.

And so the lizard — a chameleon of sorts, blue-skinned, bug-eyed, wearing an aloha shirt — stands on the side of the road as the sizzling sun leaches moisture out of everything.

Parched, he makes his way across the desert to a town called Dirt, inhabited by an array of critters — rodents, lizards, Gila monsters — all desperate for water. Dirt, according to the mayor (Ned Beatty), is having a small drought. The remaining water, so precious, is in a bank vault. Our aloha lizard walks into a saloon where, when challenged, creates a persona and a story that is so authentic that he is quickly viewed as a savior and as the next sheriff. The stranger calls himself Rango (Johnny Depp) and soon swaps his aloha shirt for western duds.

Unbeknownst to the townsfolk, Rango is a tenderfoot, a true dude, about to go up against the meanest, gnarliest, most conniving set of desert critters imaginable, all in on something nefarious. And all the dude is packing is his faux story (he killed a mess of outlaws with one shot, he says) and a rusty six-gun with only one bullet in the chamber.

Wearing his tin star, his spurs jingling, Rango's has to ride hard (a roadrunner), shoot straight,and eventually face down hombres like Bad Bill (Ray Winstone) or Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy), while trying not to flinch.

His life is further complicated when he meets Beans (Isla Fisher), a sweet little thing, also a lizard, who is fighting with the shifty, underhanded, no'count mayor over selling her pappy's ranch. Close your eyes and you can hear a spaghetti-western soundtrack.

Keep the faith buckaroos and you will, in the end, meet the Spirit of the West, a leathery, tough-as-nails cowboy ridin' his golf cart across some pretty mean territory, a lean question mark of a man who gives Rango darned good advice. Are ya feeling lucky? Well, are ya?

This is a great movie. But the writing is so adult, the jokes and vocabulary at times so dang highfalutin, that a lot of what is said will sail right over the heads of the peanut gallery. But no worries. There's enough adventure packed into "Rango" for both audiences. Which is a good thing.

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