April 30, 2008

The Slow, Repeating Death of Indignance -Thaddeus

The world makes me so angry.

In part, it's what makes me happy with being a self-important, neuroses-ridden shut-in. I look at the world outside, or on the news, and think: "That's not where I live, I'm seperate from that," but it is and I'm not and it sucks and what the hell can I do?

There are problems -- great, glaring problems -- in America today. And through all the frustration, and screeching and doubt, I'm left with one question above and beyond all others: How do we fix it!?

Jeremiah showed me "Sicko," the documentary on the American medical system by the infamous rotund raconteur, Michael Moore, last weekend. It, or rather its subject matter, is what's put me in this awful state.

But that's not the movie's fault, I knew the system was awful just from observing my familiy and various people I know. "Sicko" just rubs your nose in it.

Kloiber describes Moore's films as audio/visual op-ed pieces rather than true documentaries, and that's as apt a description as you're likely to find. Of course he has an agenda, he's Michael-Goddamn-Moore. So if you're looking for straight-laced, even-handedness, well... you won't find it here. And that's OK, because this is not an OK situation. We need a jackass with a megaphone to tell people horrible things.

After the introduction's homeland horror stories of painful choices (such as choosing which finger to keep) and lost hope (perhaps from losing your home and moving in with your children because of medical costs), Moore leads us through countries like Canada, Britain, France and Cuba, showing us successful examples of socialized medicine from the perspectives of foreign citizens, expatriate Americans and the doctors that work in those systems.

Put simply: the doctors help people and the people don't pay.

I mean, of course they pay for it through taxes, but that's it. No co-pays, no triple-digit drug costs, no loop holes or cutbacks. It seems... nice.

Don't get me wrong, I love America and all. It's great... on paper. In theory. If you read the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, it's beautiful. Ideas hundreds of years past their youth still shine, as brilliant as ever. So why are we flailing about and suffering? Why are we running ourselves into the ground? How do you change it? How do we make our world better?

There must be a way. We're supposed to have the power. Vox populi and all that... but who do you talk to? Where do you line up? Who's going to listen?

Who even cares?

Films like "Sicko" are great for stoking a fire but, in the end, it's like flash paper. Sure, these issues and angers are flaring up in my head, all bright and loud, and knowing how bad things are in what I've always been told is the greatest country on Earth is uncomfortable, it's frustrating, but the worst part of all is that I know these feelings won't last.

Eventually, I'll roll back into apathy. I'll still know these things, somewhere in the back of my head, but what is knowledge if it isn't used? Just an insignificant flicker that no one can see or hear, a page in a book left unopened.

I could just about cry.

Watch "Sicko" if you're ready to be angry, but steel yourself because it offers no solutions; it shows us where to go but not how to get there. It's sensational and informative and that's it.

As for me, I'll vote in November and... I don't know. What else is there to do?

3.5 / 5

-Thad out.

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April 24, 2008

Weaving Hugo - Jeremiah

We here at Three Geek Review are fascinated by storytelling in general. We also love it when a story proves to be so good that it is adapted to a different media from that whence it first appeared -- books being made into movies being a prime example. Maybe one day we will explore other avenues of this fascination such as video games that are made into movies -- i.e. Super Mario Brothers -- or books turned into radio plays, turned into movies -- i.e. "War of the Worlds.” No promises, though. Until then, though lets us once again turn our focus to books-into-movies.

Victor Hugo's “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is more than a celebrated novel, it is an act of pure passion. A sort of literary opera, if you will. Emotions are felt at the most heightened levels. Quasimodo is not just infatuated with La Esmeralda, he loves her with every fiber of his hideous being. Dom Claude Frollo does not merely find Esmeralda attractive, he is consumed with an unquenchable lust. It is an operatic melodrama of the highest order.

Everyone knows the story, it's near impossible not to. It's been adapted to the screen many times, once even as a Disney cartoon. Yet it's not the story that pulses with power, it's the characters and the way Hugo weaves their lives together. Indeed one character has the foresight to even point out: “Or rather, we all ruined one another through the inexplicable workings of fate!” Even the naive Esmeralda, has the moment of clarity when she realizes, “that destiny was an irresistible force.”

The book contains a cast of dozens, each unaware of how their actions are affecting others, even in so far as to how their actions are in fact sealing their own fates. A king's order to attack the mob spells the end for La Esmeralda, a self-imprisoned woman besot with pure misery realizes that her precious lost love has been the person she most hated and ridiculed.

There are passages and lines in the novel that are, to put it simply, divine. The passage where Claude Frollo pours his desires and lust out to Esmeralda in her cell is breathtaking. The exchanges between Gringoire and almost anyone are bits of genius.

In other words, I loved this book, more than I thought I would. As I flip through the book now, I realize just how much I have underlined. Such as when the narrator informs the reader, “We regret that we are obliged to add that, due to the harshness of the weather, he was using his tongue as a handkerchief.”

That being said, I had my pick of cinematic adaptations to choose from. There was the version starring Lon Chaney (1923), the previously stated Disney animated version (1996), a British version simply called Esmeralda (1922), or the one I eventually chose.

This 1939 version stars the infamous Charles Laughton, arguably one of the greatest actors of his time, if not at least the most influential. For if Spencer Tracy ushered in the era of naturalistic acting, Laughton ushered in the era of voice inflection.

Directed by William Dieterle and adapted to the screen by Sonya Levien, this particular outing is mildly faithful to the novel. There are some changes, and most of them leave you scratching your head. But the movie is good, don't get me wrong.

The screen is magnetic when Laughton appears, and Maureen O'Hara as La Esmeralda is about as gorgeous as you can get when casting for this temptress. True, in casting O'Hara they went more in the direction of a daughter of Ireland as opposed as Hugo's “..daughter of Egypt”. But that's cool. Such things are expected -- especially considering the time period this was made -- but I'm getting ahead of myself.

The movie by itself is perfectly fine, a 3 ½ easy. The acting is solid all around, O'Hara is a bit shaky at times, but give that girl a close up or a scene where she interacts with Laughton and she'll knock your socks off. Laughton enraptures you with every move, and when the movie culminates to Quasimodo rescuing Esmeralda and climbing the great Cathedral yelling “Sanctuary! Sanctuary! Sanctuary!” it's a moment to behold.

The dialogue is perfectly good, though oddly, very little of it is Hugo's -- again, getting ahead. Dieterle does a good job of weaving the characters together and leading them to their respected end...

Damn it, I can't go on.

The movie is good. Really good, in fact, if you don't think about the book. But an adaptation, it BLOWS!

First off, the prologue is meant to feel like it's from Hugo. Believe me, it is not. I've already mentioned the O'Hara thing, so let me move on to one of the severe problems. The great and respected actor, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, turns in a fine performance as the young Jehan Frollo, Claude Frollo's younger, wilder, promiscuous and much more agnostic brother. The trouble is that in the movie he's the main character. He's the keeper of of Quasimodo, he's the one who is ensconced with Esmeralda. His older brother the archdeacon Claude Frollo (Walter Hampden) is relegated to the kindly older brother role -- barely even a secondary character, more like an extra with an odd amount of lines.

Confused? So was I.

Why would you change the roles like that? So the Frollo/Esmeralda relationship would seem more plausible or more acceptable? It's not supposes to be! It's supposes to make you squirm about in your own unease.

How about Pierre Gringoire (a young Edmond O'Brien) who, in the book, is intelligent yet entirely self indulgent, with his passions switching at the speed of turning a page. He's the novel's comic relief and, in the end, thanks to his own self indulgence, puts the final nail in the coffin for all involved in the love triangle. In the movie, he is a French Thomas Jefferson or John Adams. A brilliant philosopher who writes what amounts to be a prequel to “The Rights of Man”. Huh? Why?

King Louis XI (Harry Davenport) is portrayed as a progressive and noble free thinker. A man who wishes his peasants to revolt against the crimes of their times and break the chains of the church. Yet, in the book he is a true blue tyrant. A man who inspects prison cells and pretends not to notice the prisoner while enjoying the cries for clemency and release.

There are lots more, including the murder scene that all of the sudden takes place outdoors, instead of in an inn, and in such a manner that left my friend and I wondering what the hell just happened.

I seem to have written my longest piece yet. Like I said, the changes weren't bad per se, just confusing as hell. Even down to the gentrified ending and odd absence of Hugo dialogue, which is insane considering who you have to deliver it.

All in all, read the book. For Hayek's sake read the book! The movie, while perfectly good, does one of the more bizarre hatchet jobs I've ever witnessed. So much so that, after the movie was over, I kept screaming in my head Quasimodo's mournful last line of the book, “Oh! Everything I loved!

Book 5/5
Movie 3.5/5

Yours Until Hell Freezes Over,


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April 21, 2008

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" Head-to-Head Review -Thaddeus

Spending a Thursday struggling to re-read one of your very favorite books as you sit in the waiting room of a Ford dealership for hours on end, accompanied by all manner of frumpy, rasping strangers, with "The Tyra Banks Show" and "The View" blared unrestrained from the nearby TV set is a bang-up way of simulating a severe migrane or a low-level stroke, if you ever happen to need one.

But, as Arthur Dent once said, "I never could get the hang of Thursdays."


Of all the people I wish weren't dead, Douglas Adams is likely the cleverest.

Him or Mark Twain.

And if you don't know who he is -- Adams obviously, as not knowing who Mark Twain is means you're basically done with -- then you ought to go to your nearest supplier of fine literature and snatch up a copy of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." Honestly, the collected editions of the complete series are so cheap that walking past them without already owning a copy is roughly equal to swallowing and fully digesting a crisp, ten-dollar bill.

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" tells the story of Arthur Dent, an unassuming Englishman who is whisked away from Earth mere moments before its destruction and into a Universe that hardly knew it was ever there in the first place. Or at least that's where it starts. And while I'm sure that sound very serious to you overly terrestrial types, it happens to be funnier than anything else you've read.

Douglas Adams used to write sketches for Monty Python. If this means nothing to you... go away.

Five books and some change, all told, "The Hitchhiker's Guide" series is absurdly funny through and through -- excepting the bits where it isn't -- as well as a remarkably quick read. Plus, a cursory familiarity with "The Guide" lets you in on a large percentage of inside jokes between nerds around the world.

Fun stuff.

So, now that we're through with the glowing, unabashed praise portion of the review, let's talk about the movie.

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" hit the silver screen in 2005. It's frightfully uneven in pacing and pales in comparison to the original book (which itself was based on a radio series that I've not yet been exposed to). I'd seen it once already, back when it was in theaters, but viewing it immediately after reading the book only served to underscore the glaring differences.

Priceless jokes are watered down or altogether missing, Hollywood turns the romance dial up to 11 and the ending is far fluffier than it ought to be.

At the same time, there's still that quirky sense of humor and plenty of background details for obsessive fans to latch onto. Plus, Alan Rickman's portrayal of Marvin the Paranoid Android is fantastic. So not all is lost.

I could try to complain about glaring differences in plot structure, but the "Hitchhiker's Guide" story has jumped from radio to print to TV to video games to comics to whatever other media you can think of throughout it's life cycle, and each time Douglas Adams has turned continuity on it's ear... so it's rather moot.

At the end of the day, the film version is good for some laughs. But if you want sustained, brilliant hilarity, you're going to have to crack a book.

-Thad out.

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April 14, 2008

Dear America: Letters From Vietnam DVD Review (5/5) - Jeremiah

Well, it was inevitable, and here it is: Three Geeks' first documentary review. A documentary that will move even the most heartless of men to tears... several times. I say this because I broke down in to a mumbling tear-machine at several instances throughout this masterful slice of sheer, chaotic humanity.

Bill Couturie sifted through 2 million feet, which averages out to about roughly about 926 hours, of news-reel tape. He was able to persuade the Pentagon to declassify previously classified battle footage. In some cases, he was even able to match-up letters to footage or photographs of the actual soliders who wrote them.

This was a serious and incredibly noble undertaking.

The letters are read by actors, some famous, others slightly less so. It is to their credit that they are only mentioned once, in the beginning, and never again. Some of them, like Michael J. Fox, are easily sussed out, but they are not out to out-perform each other or to solidify an ensemble cast. They are simply giving as truthful a reading as one could give to a letter a solider had written to their parents, siblings or friends.

The letters start out positive, with solders excited to help fight for their country and its cause. But, by the end, the letters grow angry -- with the war, the military, the soldiers themselves and with life. There are moments where we see soldiers taking what looks to be their last breath. We never see anyone die, but we see them when they are mere seconds from it, and it's heart-wrenching.

Yet, I do not wish to give the impression that all the tears are sad ones. There are moments of shenanigans and all-around, pure joy. For instance when you get to Nixon pulling troops out of Vietnam we see footage of one battalion listening to their radio for their name to be called amongst the list. Let me tell you, dear reader, that it is one of the most truthful, honest and joyous moments on film when their battalion is announced.

"Dear America" is a glaring look, not at the politics of the day, for there are still some today who support the war even to the end, but rather at the hell of war itself. About how even the people who supported it, wish it to end, simply so the nightmare would be over. This is one of the best documentaries, hell, best movies I have ever seen. It's hard to accurately review this movie in my usual 600 word way. It left an indelible impression upon not only my conscious, but my sub-conscious as well. It is not a movie, it is what few films rarely are, what a precious few actual movies accidentally become: a lasting visceral experience.

5 out of 5

Yours Until Hell Freezes Over,

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April 07, 2008

"Chinese Coffee" DVD Review (4/5) - Jeremiah

I've watched this play-turned-film at least three times since I received it through Netflix. I say this so you realize how much it affected me. Kloiber asked if I was planning on doing the play myself.

This play/screenplay by Ira Lewis takes place in a single night, taking a glaring look at the lives of two friends -- down-and-out, starving artist types in Greenwich Village at the beginning of the Eighties. They don't seem ready to deal with the eighties, but are incapable of doing anything about it.

Harry Levine (Al Pacino) is a twice published author who is falling towards middle age. His first two books weren't exactly huge successes but, at the same time, to a writer being published is an unmeasured success. Harry is coming to a point in his life where he desperately wishes not to be poor. His friend, Jake Manheim (Jerry Orbach), is an insanely literate, highly critical person who happens to be a good photographer. Jake also fancies himself a writer, but hasn't written anything since he was 19. Even then, his two published stories were six pages each.

During this one night these two men examine each other's lives, motivations, loves and losses to the molecular level. The way they talk is a joy to listen to. “I am as dry as a Steinbeck dust bowl.” It 's a little unnerving for me to watch this adaptation by Pacino himself, if only because I used to be, at least in my mind, the Levine role. Now I find myself, I fear, in the Manheim role. That is, I used to stay up nights scribbling out stories, plots, and bits of dialogue. Now I'm well read, well versed in the print and visual media and I tend to cite and relate trivial facts rather than do anything of any actual artistic means.

Bizarre attacks of self-analyzation aside, this movie was a divine surprise: an exploration of friendship and how the reasons two people become friends may not always be what we think. As the night goes on, we discover that Jake may have underestimated Harry's ability as a writer, and now fears he will be more successful than him. The way they rail against the romantic, bohemian dream of being poor for the sake of artistic genius -- these two men who are literally arguing over pennies -- is beautiful.

Pacino and Orbach are a treasure to watch. To see such an established talent such as Pacino alongside one of the most beloved character actors of our times is just... fun! The two performances are some of the greatest these two giants have given us over the years. Pacino does his best to keep the pacing up, and succeeds, while also making the flashbacks actually work -- a rarity in the play-turned-film genre. Usually, such flashbacks are a torture to endure while we await permission to return to the meat of the story; they attempt to “open up” the play, to make the enterprise less claustrophobic. It's something I've never understood: if it's good enough for the stage, why shouldn't it be good enough for the screen? But I digress. Here they do “open up the play” but, as the screenplay and the original play are penned by the same writer, it also adds some subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle background.

Both men are messed up, yet both have kind hearts, as most people do. The more devious one is Orbach's Manheim: a man whose jealousy and frustration of artistic impotency practically demolishes a true and good friendship in one night. Pacino, on the other hand, while playing a raging hypochondriac who happens to be quite self-indulgent, ultimately feels love for his tortured friend. Toward the end, when Levine finally understands why his friend has such a problem with his new book, he tells him, “You don't think I would share with you?”

I queued this movie because I saw a clip of it when Pacino was on “Inside The Actor's Studio.” I saw him and Orbach, and wanted to see it. I figured it would be a nice little romp. I did not expect to see my past, and what I hope is NOT my future, immersed in great writing. Then again, that's why I love movies. You never know when one's going to come along, knock you on your proverbial ass and shake you out of whatever rut your life has settled into.

I loved this movie, and hopefully some of you will too.

4 out of 5

Yours Until Hell Freezes Over,

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April 04, 2008

"The Maltese Falcon" - Head-to-Head Review -Thaddeus

The great thing about pulp fiction is how sweepingly broad it is. It goes from proto-superheroes like Doc Savage and The Shadow to the shadows and madness of H.P. Lovecraft to the hard-boiled tales of the Continental Op and Sam Spade.

And, though Dashiell Hammett only penned four Spade stories in all, he still stands as one of the great archetypes of the American Private Detective, inspiring legions of other sharp-eyed, fictional investigators.

So, for the benefit of you readers, I've gone through Spade's initial appearance in the novel "The Maltese Falcon" as well as John Huston's 1941 film adaptation, staring Humphrey Bogart.

I have to say, I heartily recommend both. A film that is so true to the original text, especially considering the caliber of the source, is a rare and delicious treat. Lines flow directly from the author's pen through the mouths of top-notch actors.

Seriously, the amount of unforgettable characters in this film is nothing short of unfair: Bogart's self-assured Sam Spade, Mary Astor's dubious-yet-charming Brigid O'Shaughnessy, Sydney Greenstreet's oddly jovial-yet-scheming Kasper Gutman and, of course, Peter Lorre's irrepressibly wormy Joel Cairo. They're making the other movies look bad.

The major difference between the book and the film is, for the most part, in which scenes the story could live without. Film adaptation is always about streamlining and, for once, you won't find me complaining about what isn't there. The end product is so thoroughly satisfying that, frankly... who cares?

On the other hand, the one addition to the film that sticks out in my mind is far from unwelcome. Spade's final line, one of the greats in cinema history, is so perfect that I was shocked the first time I realized it wasn't born of the original text.

The censorship of the day sliced off any overt sexuality as well as references to homosexuality found in the original text, but I'm told the 1931 film version has more of the racy stuff, if that's more to your taste. I hope to give it a glance in the near-future, but I'm afraid I'll be prejudiced against the lack of Bogart.

Bottom line: herein we have a single story that stands atop its genre in two separate media. If you haven't watched and/or read "The Maltese Falcon," do so.

If you've only done one, do the other.

Some things are called "Classic" for a reason.

-Thad out.

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April 02, 2008

"21" Theatrical Review (2.5/5) -Three Geek Review

We at Three Geek recently sat through the "Based on a true story" gambling movie "21."

What did we think? Read on to find out.

Starting with Jeremiah:

“21” rises to such a level of mediocrity that it will leave you astounded by how little you care about any of the characters, their actions or their thoughts. A movie that inspired so little interest that the only character name I could remember was Mickey (Kevin Spacey) -- but that hardly counts, as it's also my boss' name. So from here on in, I will be referring to the characters as follows:

Main Character Dude – MCD (Jim Sturgess)

Hot Main Actress - HMA (Kate Bosworth)

Professor Dude – PD (Kevin Spacey)

Hot Token Asian Girl - HTAG(Liza Lapira)

Other White Guy Who Happens to be a raging prick – OWG {for short} (Jacob Pitts)

Hawaiian/Asian Dude? - HAD? (Aaorn Yoo)

Alright everybody got that? Good. MCD gets into MIT with the hopes of going on to Harvard Medical. He's a real math whiz and catches they eye of PD, who is impressed with his mad linear equations skills. PD talks MCD into joining a group he's cobbled together. They are all math whizzes and they count cards at Blackjack tables in Vegas on weekends.

MCD has a crush on HMA and it grows with every passing scene. To be fair, I had one too and I at least sympathize with MCD in this area. Anyhow, MCD is a freaking natural at counting cards. OWG gets really jealous that PD and HMA are showering MCD with accolades and friendship, leaving him behind in the cold.

Meanwhile HTAG says some lines in between all that and HAD? randomly steals/shoplifts. Soon they arouse the suspicion of Laurence Fishburne, a leftover from the mob days who makes sure nothing but honest gambling goes on. Oh, and eventually OWG becomes such a huge dick that they out him from the group. Thus causing MCD to get overly cocky and loosing 200 grand. PD and him have a huge fight and PD kicks him out and steals all the money MCD has been saving up for Harvard. So MCD and HMA plot a little scheme to get even with PD. Also HMA continue to look hot. HTAG and HAD? say some other things, HAD? steals more stuff and I could care less.

2.5 out of 5

Yours Until Hell Freezes Over,

The Thad says:

There's a strange, sinusoidal way of graphing my interest in "21." As we follow its hour and three minute course, I would oscillate between back and forth between interest and disinterest.

Being a massive dork, I found the sections on counting cards far more engaging than the bickering and infighting and with TV as unavoidable in American society as it happens to be, I've long been overfull of puffed-up, unnecessary drama.

What do I mean? Well, being the industrious, modern human that I am, I asked Wikipedia about the MIT Blackjack Team and, according to that grand repository of knowledge, all the shadowed secrecy presented on screen is nothing but a fat load of Hollywood flavored BS. There were classes; there were fliers on campus!

Inspired by a true story, indeed.

I mean, seriously: you don't have to link yourself to a true story just because some small grain of truth connected early in the writing process. That's how writing works. Ditch the crutch.

You want a rigged game? Watch "21" and bet on which obvious plot devices will come to oh-so-predictable predictable fruition... because, apparently, a band of geniuses trying to beat the Vegas System just isn't good enough on its own.

It could have been awesome. What it should have boiled down to is simple: Less boo-hoo, more math-math.

2.5 out of 5

-Thad out.

And Richard speaks:

I agree with Thad on this one; there was not enough math. Sure Vegas is exciting, but I have seen plenty of Vegas heist movies in my day and there are tons better than this.

What should have set it apart was how the MIT crew pulled it off. You get that in the beginning. The best part is when MCD, as Sherman put it, is learning the ropes and going through the training. There are code words, cards flying everywhere and a fast-paced “What is the count?” type attitude. If only the movie would have carried this over to the middle and end.

Once they get to Vegas it is no longer a card counting movie; it becomes the standard “beat the house and don’t get punched by the pit boss” movie. “Ocean” without the witty dialogue or gadgets. “Casino” without a cattle prod and Joe Pesci blowjob. “Fear and Loathing” without the drugs, violence and rock and roll. OK it was nothing like “Fear and Loathing.” Still, I would have accepted that.

The other problem, besides the characters, how they pulled it off, writing and acting, was how predictable the plot was.

There is a scene where MCD is playing a mule with the money to sneak into Vegas. (You can tell because they call him mule and neigh in front of a TSA agent.) His pants are stuffed full of cash, he is sweating bullets and he walks through the metal detector.

Slow motion. He slowly walks past the agent not saying a word, just looking straight ahead. She turns and yells, “Hold it, Sir!” or something to that effect. He ignores her and continues walking. She yells again, he puts his head down. She catches up to him and says, “You forgot your bag.”

It’s that predictable crap that ruins the movie more than anything. I can take a generic story, I can take a generic cast, just don’t give me a generic cast and story. That is what high school musical’s are for.

2.5 out of 5

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