March 14th, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

We caught this latest (loose)film adaptation of a story by Phillip K. Dick on the 11th at our local movie house, and were very pleased with it.

Matt Damon ("The Bourne FITB") stars as David Norris, an up-and-coming young politician whose life seemingly goes off the rails when he loses an election but meets the charming Elise (Emily Blunt, "Young Victoria"). The plot deals with the conflict between Norris, who tries to keep his life on the new, better (for him), track, and the cryptic forces of "The Adjustment Bureau," who are intent on having him follow "The Plan." As with a lot of Dick-derived movies, going into too much plot detail would spoil it.

The movie, from the screenplay by George Nolfi is intriguingly philosophical, includes a good love story, and, as Georgie noted, almost qualifies as a good dance movie, too. The contest between free will and the powers of the Adjusters is carried out cleverly, with enough action to be interesting, yet not so much as to be ridiculous. Damon and Blunt carry the movie very ably, and have a good cast of antagonists in Anthony Mackie as Norris' personal Adjuster; John Slattery as "Richardson," his frustrated boss; and Terence Stamp as the frightening "Thompson." The movie is further enlivened by the cameos from real-life political figures like James Carville, Mary Matlin, Jon Stewart, and New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.

I have to say that I thought the ending was a bit weak, but reasonably satisfying, and didn't detract too much from an otherwise very good movie. I would guess that if you liked "Minority Report" (we did), you might like "The Adjustment Bureau," noting that most of the peril in "The Adjustment Bureau" is of a spiritual nature, and the film is much lighter on violence than "Minority Report."

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Shen Yun Performing Arts

Sunday evening the 13th, we went to the Marcus Center to see "Shen Yun Performing Arts," which bills itelf as having "a mission to reclaim and renew the true, divinely inspired cultural heritage of China." If you detect in that the slightest criticism of the current Chinese regime, you wouldn't be alone. Performances here were sponsored by the Wisconsin Falun Dafa Association (a.k.a. "Falun Gong,") and the performance was heavily influenced by that group's philosophy.

The name "Shen Yun" could be translated as "Divine Dance." The group purports to present classical Chinese dance which is more or less the case, depending on the piece. A number of the pieces in the extensive program were described as regional or folk dances, and pieces such as "My Beloved Yi Village," "Northeastern Drummers," "Herding on The Grasslands," and "Harvest Joy," definitely had that flavor. There were two pieces based on Chinese classics, "The Monkey King Outwits Pigsy," from Journey to the West, and "The Heroic Lu Zhishen," from Outlaws of the Marsh, which were in styles similar to Chinese "opera" that I have seen. Other modern pieces, such as "Recalling the Great Qin" clearly had both Chinese and Western balletic influences. A third group, "Our Story," "No Regrets," and "The Opening of Heaven's Gates," which depict the martyrdom of Falun Dafa followers at the hands of hammer-and-sickle wearing thugs, were clearly of modern origin, as were the vocal interludes drawn from Falun Dafa writings. 

The performances were beautifully danced and gorgeously costumed, and well supported by a full orchestra incorporating both Western and Chinese instruments. The show also used attractive projected backgrounds, sometimes animated, that the performers interacted with. (One was unsure how much of the humor of this was intentional. One expects they didn't get "Monty Python" in China--.) The vocalists were uniformly very good, with contralto Jiansheng Yang having the deepest singing voice I have ever heard in a woman. The pieces were introduced by two smiling hosts who explained what was to follow in more or less detail, in both English and Chinese. I felt this slowed the show down a bit, especially since detailed descriptions were given in the program book, but the obvious effort at friendliness and sincerity added  an element that was both kind of charming and vaguely surreal, reminding me as it did of both 60's era Christian youth outreach, and early contacts with the Unification Church (although I hasten to add that, as far as I can tell, Falun Dafa is otherwise entirely unlike the "Moonies").

All in all, we were glad to have seen the show. In this gray season, we badly needed a dose of music, motion, and color, and Shen Yun Performing Arts delivered that very well. There was also an interesting and pleasant infusion of Chinese culture, although I think it is fair to alert the potential viewer that much of that which is not actually classical is overt propaganda. 

Shen Yun has three touring companies and does new shows annually. I don't recall them being in Milwaukee before, but, although we enjoyed the show, i don't think we would bother to seek them out if they came back next year.  

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