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-