Monday, March 9, 2009

DVD Review: Adaptation.


(Dir. Spike Jonze)

What Adaptation does best is maintain humanity within it's oddity. While the film plays with narrative and tangles plots and toys with the line between real and fake, it never loses its heart. This is due to all the parts working together in a beautiful whole as is rarely witnessed.

Charlie Kaufman's screenplay features himself and his fictional brother (whom he gave real screenwriting credit to) as screenwriters. In the film Charlie is attempting to adapt Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief, a real bestseller about a real man, John Laroche. Charlie struggles, as he fails to write a screenplay about flowers (the first of it's kind, unless you count Flowers for Algernon as Donald Kaufman suggests). It also kills him to see his brother, Donald, succeed with a trite screenplay written based off of advice from Robert McKee at a writing seminar. Meanwhile, Susan falls in love with John whilst studying him, and Charlie develops a crush on Susan whilst studying her. They both attempt to keep objectivity, but the love/lust for their subject is too strong.

Spike Jonze brings Kaufman's script to the screen with a complete understanding of the creative process, which is the main emphasis of the film. Jonze mixes genres (much as the greatest film ever, Casablanca, did, McKee would claim), by bringing a lightness to the more comedic scenes, a deathly tension to the darker scenes, and a perfect blend of the two to the scenes that call for it.

The cast, which consists of real people playing themselves, real people playing other real people, and real people playing fake people, all do so by ignoring which category they fall into and absorbing their character as if they had known them all their life. Meryl Streep plays Susan, who has a longing just to long for something, and it's painful to watch her convice herself that Laroche is the thing. Chris Cooper plays Laroche as a man who may be missing his front teeth and common decency, but isn't just another hick. And Nicholas Cage plays both brothers Kaufman with such an understanding of both men that no makeup is needed to distinguish the characters when both are present on the screen. You can tell them apart by their unique personalities and little gestures and the pain beneath Charlie's eyes that Donald lacks.

Adaptation has many ideas and meanings and layers of depth that I couldn't begin to get into, mainly because I didn't understand most of them myself. But don't count this against the film. What it does so brilliantly is create such humanly flawed characters with such painful dilemmas that even if you don't get the subtext, you can still enjoy the way it's all delivered.

Grade: A

Music Break: Neko Case's MIDDLE CYCLONE

Middle Cyclone by Neko Case

This is a very great album, which has beautiful undertones and rich melodies. The songs play with simplicity, never becoming bored, but instead enriching the context of each track. Also, the album ends with 30 minutes of crickets chirping. How awesomer could you get than that?

Key Tracks:
"The Pharaohs"
"People Got a Lotta Nerve"
"I'm an Animal"
"Don't Forget Me"

Grade: A

Film Review: Watchmen

Zack Snyder had a tough job in front of him after agreeing to direct the film adaptation of Watchmen, one of the most beloved graphic novels in history. What Snyder did was just that, an adaptation. He filmed the movie with both a deep appreciation for the novel, and his completely unique style.

Snyder’s film depends heavily on the visceral experience. Luckily, there’s little wrong with this. By sticking to the story laid out for him, he gave himself the ability to spend most of his time with how the film looked and felt, rather than the ways it worked. However, this is not to say he leaves depth and character development and such things behind. He merely lets them fall in organically. This is most likely more attributable to the writers and the actors than Snyder, but whatever he did or didn’t do, he did it right.

The film’s only real problem is the lead actress, Malin Akerman. Her lack of acting ability is quite distracting, especially in the scenes which call on her to act. Luckily, the other performances range from good to outstanding. Patrick Wilson brings a vulnerability to Nite Owl, without bordering on pathetic. Billy Crudup perfectly plays Dr. Manhattan, an extremely difficult task considering how little humanity the character is given. The two standouts are Jeffery Dean Morgan as The Comedian and Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. Morgan lets you love a character that you should hate. And Haley plays a man so emotionally mutilated by past horrors that he’s lost so much of what makes him human, but with a subtle desire to not be so sick, and a less subtle desire to make everyone like him.

Snyder’s distinct visual style, coupled with a handful of fantastic performances let the themes of the novel play their course while never forgetting that originality is what made Watchmen great in the first place.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Movie Briefs: Cera Signs on Development, Andy Signs on Conan, Gondry Signs on Green Hornet

  • ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT MOVIE A GO! It is basically 100% official. It now looks like Michael Cera has signed on, and everyone else already has and awesome! There's no word on when they'll start filming or anything, because it hasn't actually been confirmed. But it basically has. Get very excited people

  • In the third piece of insanly great news today, Michael Gondry will be directing The Green Hornet. Yes, that Green Hornet, written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg of Superbad and Pineapple Express fame. And starring Seth Rogen and Stephan Chow. It's kind of cool that, first, Seth and Evan's Express is directed by arthouse-hero David Gordan Green. And now, for their next big-screen blockbuster, they bring in the opposite of a blockbuster-director. Some are worried that the story of the Green Hornet doesn't give Gondry enough room to play, but that's why he's Michael Gondry! Because he can do amazing things, remember? I loved Eternal Sunshine, and it's currently one of my favorite of the decade. I also liked Be Kind, Rewind a lot more than most people. Paint me excited.

DVDs/Blu-Rays This Week: February 24th, 2009


Breaking Bad: The Complete First Season
Creator. Vince Gilligan

To be honest, I only saw the first episode. Then, they started deleting from the DVR faster than I could watch them. However, I loved the first episode, and will definetly rent this in order to be caught up for the new season. Bryan Cranston is unbelievable in this, as is RJ Mitte as his kid. And the rest of the cast. After this and Mad Men, I can't wait to see when genius AMC spits out next.


Dir. Katsuhiro Otomo

The animation classic about a post-WWIII Tokyo and bikers and all that. To be honest, I don't know much about this film but I do know I want/need to see it. It is a classic after all.

The French Connection
Dir. William Friedkin

Another "need-to-see" movie coming out on Blu-Ray. There are so many movies out there that I need to see that I am going to start only with the ones on Blu-Ray. It makes it much more manageable, at least for now. Then I 'll go for the classics not on Blu-Ray, and finally start to delve more into specific genres and directors and all that. I just thought I'd throw that in there.

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father
Dir. Kurt Kuenne

Supposedly one of the most emotional films of last year, if not the most tear-jerker of a documentary ever made, Dear Zachary was filmed by Kurt as he tried to memorialize his late friend. While filming, he finds out that the woman who killed him was pregnant with his friend's son, Zachary of the title. The plot just typed out is hard to read, and I can't imagine it's a fun movie to watch, but a powerful one.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Out This Week: 3rd Week in February, 2009

Fired Up!
(Dir. Will Gluck)
[Wide Release]

Plot: Two high school jocks (Nicholas D'Agosto and Eric Christian Olsen) can't stand the thought of another summer at football camp. So, they decide to go to cheerleading camp instead! They figure, more hot babes equals better summer, right? Well, it all goes according to plan until one of the guys falls in love with a cheerleader.

My Excitement Level (1-10): 3
Why?: C'mon, look at the plot. And D'Agosto sucked the big one on Heroes who stood out as uncharismatic among a sea of lameos. Plus, the commercials look really dumb (except for the "we are crashing/we we are crashing" line. That was pretty funny). Despite rave reviews from Ain't It Cool, I think I'll skip this one.
Current RT: 22%

Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail
(Dir. Tyler Perry)
[Wide Release]

Plot: A lot of black stuff happens to black people and Tyler Perry dresses up as a woman again.

My Excitement Level: 0
Why?: Not even going to bother.

Current RT: N/A

Must Read After My Death
(Dir. Morgan Dews)
[Limited Release]

Plot: A documentary about Dews' grandmother, Allis, who over her life collected a large amount of audio recordings, silent films, pictures and journals of and about her family's tough history. After her death, Dews discovered these treasures and created this film following the life of his grandmother, and her hisband and four kids. As their lives turn darker, so do the recordings, and Dews plays these tapes in contradiction with the home movies which create a much simpler and nicer facade.

My Excitement Level: 9
Why?: Maybe it's just because this film happens to come out the same weekend as the previous two movies I mentioned, but it seems very unique and quite possibly (and hopefully) heartbreaking. It reminds me of My Winnipeg, if not quite (or nearly) as weird, in the way that it strips the memories we create to show the truth of the pain we have stored in our past.

Current RT: 100%

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

DVDs/Blu-Rays This Week: February 10th, 2009


Dir. Oliver Stone

This film had some major flaws, including a disjointed story, and a lack of cohesiveness between the politics and the personal life of Bush. However, Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Banks (and Richard Dreyfuss, and James Cromwell and a lot more) are astoundingly amazing. Brolin creates a deep and moving character where he could have easily made a caricature. And the scene near the end, the conversation about Cats (and more) in the Bush bedroom, is one of the best scenes of last year. It is definetly worth seeing, but don't expect a masterpiece.

Film Grade: B-


Dir. Prachya Pinkaew

This film sounds awesome. An autistic girl can do any martial arts moves she sees in movies, and uses them to stop the evil creditors coming after her cancer-ridden mother. Seriously, how is that not one of the best plots ever? I definelty plan to rent this one.

Frozen River
Dir. Courtney Hunt

I mainly want to see this because of Melissa Leo's Oscar-nominated performance. The film itself looks good too, with illegal immigration and all that.