The Films of George Nolfi
The Adjustment Bureau (March 15/11)
Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, The Adjustment Bureau casts Matt Damon as David Norris - an up-and-coming politician whose efforts at wooing a spunky ballerina (Emily Blunt's Elise) are consistently thwarted by a group of mysterious, fedora-wearing men. It's clear right from the outset that The Adjustment Bureau benefits substantially from Damon's almost remarkably charismatic performance, as the actor's striking and thoroughly engaging turn proves instrumental in initially capturing the viewer's interest - with the palpable chemistry between his and Blunt's character quickly confirming the film's place as a pervasively watchable romantic drama. (It certainly doesn't hurt that the pair's first encounter is unquestionably one of the most engrossing and flat-out adorable meet cutes to come around in quite some time.) The compelling atmosphere is heightened by the inclusion of several absolutely electrifying sequences - David attempts to meet Elise despite ongoing interference from the title figures - and there's little doubt that first-time filmmaker George Nolfi does a superb job of sustaining the movie's off-kilter atmosphere virtually from start to finish. And although the narrative does falter somewhat as it enters its inevitable fake break-up phase, The Adjustment Bureau bounces back with an exciting, surprisingly moving climax - which ultimately does ensure that the film lingers in one's mind long after the credits have rolled.
Birth of the Dragon
Set in the late 1960s, Birth of the Dragon follows martial arts student Steve McKee (Billy Magnussen) as he attempts to set up a fight between his instructor Bruce Lee (Philip Ng) and legendary kung-fu master Wong Jack Man (Xia Yu). It's clear right away that the decision to focus on Magnussen's one-dimensional and almost stunningly bland figure proves disastrous, as the movie, which is seriously lacking in forward momentum, suffers from an unfocused vibe that's compounded by an ongoing emphasis on dull, tedious elements (including a completely misguided romantic subplot between McKee and an indentured Asian waitress). There is, as such, exceedingly little here to get excited about or interested in, and it's apparent, too, that even the sporadic detours into Lee's exploits somehow manage to fall flat - with Ng's hammy, scenery-chewing performance transforming the iconic martial-arts movie star into a curiously unlikable figure (ie Lee, for the most part, comes off as a cocky jerk). The inclusion of a small handful of compelling fight sequences - eg a climactic battle in a Chinese restaurant - provides a temporary respite from the otherwise plodding proceedings, and it is, in the end, impossible to conceive of a more misbegotten portrayal of a dynamic figure's early days. (Rob Cohen's 1993 biopic Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story is so, so much better.)