May 28, 2008

"The Orchid Thief" vs. "Adaptation" -Jeremiah

The journey from a book to the silver screen is a dicey one. Oft times it leaves fans of the book totally alienated, while other times it's a rousing success all-around. Yet, amongst the pantheon of books adapted to film, the case of Susan Orlean's “The Orchid Thief” is a curious one, as well as one of, if not the, most unique adaptation. Charlie Kauffman (whose task it was to effectively adapt the book for the multiplexes), with the help of a previous collaborator (director Spike Jonze), broke all the rules of adaptation and, in the end, made a masterpiece.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Susan Orlean's “The Orchid Thief” is a passionate, journalistic expedition through the lives of passionate people and their various passions. One could say that the theme of the book is, well... love. It's people focusing on their obsessions in order to scale down this vast and complex world into a more manageable and more personal place. In a lot of ways, Orlean's book bears a strong resemblence to Kerouac's work in the sense that there is no real story. But that doesn't mean they're not about anything or that we don't feel for the people who live on those pages.

“You know, now that I think about it, I guess we're a family of ailments and pain.” - John Laroche
It is safe to say John Laroche is the reason for Orlean's opus. His court case was what started her interest in orchids. The case alleged that “...Laroche and three Seminole assistants had illegally removed more than two hundred rare orchid and bromelaid plants from the Fakahatchee...” and, in turn, “...they were accused of criminal possession of endangered species and of illegally removing plant life from state property, both of which are punishable by jail time and fines.”

This case, while a huge deal for Laroche, is barely one fifth of the book. There are chapters about Laroche's past and his past loves of tropical fish, turtles and ice age fossils. There are many others that deal with Bob Fuchs, Martin Motts, the history of Orchid collecting and the cut-throat lives of those men brave enough, or simply carrying that crazy itch, to be orchid hunters. There are others still, about the ever-amazing, ceaseless Florida eco-system. Orlean's charm is that she introduces you to facts and trivia about things you never knew you wanted to know.
“Spooky places are usually full of death, but the Fakahatchee is crazy with living things.” - Susan Orlean
As I hinted in the previous paragraph, the other character -- and, in some ways, the more interesting character -- is the Florida eco-System. Specifically, the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve. This amazing piece of nature is a deadly, unforgiving, indomitable part of Mother Nature.
“The Fakahatchee looks utterly wild, but is in fact a corrupted wilderness. It has been meddled with and invaded. For a while, people cleared and plowed parcels of its wet prarie and tried to grow oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, tomatoes, mangoes, and winter vegetables. The swamp made for lousy farming. The farmers eventually left, but their produce lingered. Even now you can still see crop rows under the native grass and a few weather-beaten citrus trees amid palm and cypress. Melaleucas and Brazilian peppers and Australian pine trees, non-natives, have roamed into the strand and multiplied. So have walking catfish, who swam in through the sinkhole lakes and stayed.”
Amid all the facts about orchids and the people who hunt and collect them, all the interesting facts about Florida's preserve and Laroche's life, Orlean has crafted a book that is almost impossible to put down. It is the most engaging and informative book about things I never thought would be interesting but, to my delight, turned out to be absolutely absorbing.

With that being said, we now come to the movie adaptation, aptly titled “Adaptation,” penned by whiz-kid Charlie Kauffman ("Being John Malkovich," "Human Nature," "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind," "Confessions of A Dangerous Mind"). It was directed by Spike Jonze, this being their second collaboration -- the first being "Being John Malkovich".

Firstly, let us look at the movie on it's own terms.

“Adaptation” is a movie about many, many things. Starring Nicholas Cage as Charlie Kauffman and also as his twin brother Donald Kauffman (non existent). As previously stated, Charlie is been hired to adapt Susan Orlean's book (Orlean herself is portrayed by Meryl Streep).

Just as Charlie gets the job, Donald decides that he will follow in his beloved brother's footsteps and be a screenwriter too. To show his dedication to his brother he tells him that he's taking a class on screenwriting, taught by the infamous Bob McKee (Brian Cox).

While that is going on, we see Orlean interview John Laroche (Chris Cooper) about his court case and his passion for orchids. Orlean is introduced to the amazing world of orchids and those passionate people who lust after them.

Back with the Kauffmans, Charlie is suffering writer's block while Donald is coming up with a wonderfully ridiculous plot for a serial killer thriller. Charlie can't seem to find a way to adapt Orlean storyless novel. “It's that sprawling New Yorker shit!” Meanwhile Orlean and Laroche develop a platonic relationship that hints at more.

Now we come upon the genius of “Adaptation.” Charlie Kauffman goes on numerous diatribes about suffering for his art and about art itself, constantly trashing his brother's attempt to craft something as formulaic as a serial killer flick. The movie spends so much time distracting us with criticisms on entertainment for the masses, the relationships of the brothers and of Orlean and Laroche and on the writing process that we almost fail to realize that the movie is slowly evolving into what it spent the first half railing against. In fact, the term ”adaptation” has a double meaning: the adapting of book into movie and our adaptation as human beings. It's about how we, as humans, spend our lives adapting and getting used to change, because life won't stop no matter how hard we wish it to.

To go even deeper, there is a scene that sums “Adaptation” perfectly. Donald is telling Charlie how he has come up with his thriller plot, how it was inspired by a tattoo his girlfriend has -- a snake eating its own tail. Ouroboros, as it called. This revelation comes about the time in the movie where Charlie has written himself into his screenplay adaption of the book, and is a perfect summary of what the movie becomes.

The multi-level genius of "Adaptation" is astounding when you consider that it addresses writer's block (which is what it was born of), frustration on how to adapt and stay truthful to the source material (another birthplace of the film) and that Kauffman split himself in half, one representing the childish-yet-shallow side, the other being the artistic and mature side, yet both sides complementing each other. It's really touching as you realize, towards the end, how much Donald idolizes his brother Charlie and as Charlie realizes how much he envies and loves his brother.

So does the movie stay faithful to the book? Of course not. How could it?

There's no arc of any kind to the book. Nobody really changes or learns any real life lessons and there's almost no drama. Yet the movie was true to the underlying theme of Orlean's masterpiece. There's a line in the movie when Charlie and Donald are hiding in the swamp and Charlie relates a time when they were both in high school. He tells Donald of an incident where he witnessed Donald flirt with a girl, a girl that Donald remembers to this day: “God I was in love with her,” he remembers wistfully. Charlie goes on to tell him that, after Donald left, the girl of his dreams made fun of him, and how that angered Charlie. Donald reveals that he heard her as well, but that it didn't matter. “You are what you love, not what loves you back.”

That right there is the core of Orlean's epic: people who are in love with a nearly indestructible, intelligent and unique specimen of botany. Donald loves his brother, although his brother does not often return that love until the end. There's the love of art and of movies, Laroche's love for orchids and for Susan... Everyone in the film loves something or someone that does not love them back. Even Charlie, who loves almost every girl that he meets, and fantasizes about them, though they all reject him.

“Adaptation” is the most original and bizarre adaption in the history of adaptations. Susan Orlean's book is as marvelously unique as the screen counterpart. Orlean can be proud that the movie was intrinsically faithful to her novel, while Kauffman has cemented himself as a genius with what is, quite simply, a contemporary masterpiece... one which will most assuredly adapt itself into a classic masterpiece.

Book and movie 5 Hayeks.

Yours Until Hell Freezes Over,


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May 23, 2008

"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" - Three Geek Review


Death-defying archeology has finally returned to the big screen, ladies and gentlemen. Oh sure, "National Treasure" tried to fill the hole, and made an admirable show of it from what I'm told, but it still failed to take the crown. The search for lost knowledge (plus action, adventure and derring-do) has but one name, and that name is Indiana Jones.

Those low-down, dirty commies will stop at nothing to harness a possibly alien psychic power... wait, what? Awesome. That's why I love Indiana Jones, right there. You don't often get plots like that in main-stream cinema. (sad sigh)

Spielberg and company do a stand-up job at presenting a movie that is faithful to the original trilogy while still feeling fresh and new. The Indiana Jones series is one of those instances where it's very hard not to regress into being 12 all over again.

Ah, the hell with it... why not?

Ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod -- it was soooo coool, there were these guards and they were all really serious, you know, like nazis... but not nazis (they were communists, but they looked like nazis) and there was this one chick who had this really wicked accent, and then Indy led them to this magnet thingma-bobber, and there was this chase, followed by a big bang, followed by a big chase, followed by another chase, and there were more car chases than were people sometimes, and then there was this one scene with monkeys and ants, and this really cool sword fight, and these huge crystal skulls, and there was all this really cool, fun stuff but I never felt like they were talking down to me, like I was 12, they just understood the inner-child's unquenchable thirst for adventure.

And, oh yeah, Karen Allen is really pretty.

And there was no Sean Connery, that was sad, but then there was this other really cool chase...

See the movie, damn it!

/ 5

Yours Until Hell Freezes Over,


I'm sitting at my chair here at Deaf Kid Studios, Shudder is playing downstairs and I am forced to remember "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," which I saw last night. I am forced to because it was a great movie... and because Thad and Jeremiah have started to make jokes about this being Two Geek Review.

The latest Indiana Jones flick takes place some years after "The Last Crusade" and brings back Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood (from "Raiders of the Lost Ark," remember?), Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones (obviously) and introduces Cate Blanchett as Irina Spalko, an over-the-top commie with a penchant for psychic powers and Shia LaBeouf as Mutt Williams, a young, college dropout greaser whose hobbies include riding his Harley, twirling his knife and getting whacked in the balls by plants (Trust me on this!).

The plot is a typical Indy plot. Naz-- Commies steal something powerful, mythical, McGuffinacal and Indy must track it down so that Hitl-- Stalin doesn't get his hands on it or the world is in grave danger. This is proven by a diatribe from Blanchett about half-way through the movie. Love interests and sidekicks help Indy to track it down and ultimately save the day. Other devices include greedy guy getting killed by greed and power-hungry guy getting killed by getting power. Yet we love the movie for it.

In this world of Fast-Paced Action/Hard-Turning Dramatic cinema world we live in, Indiana Jones is one of the last bastions of familiarity. We know he wins, we know he lives, we know he scores. We overlook predictability and over-used plot devices because it is a great story. And anyone over the age of 20 grew up on it.

Still, the movie has its flaws. Spieldberg and Lucas were so infatuated with the camp, action and nostalgia they forgot what make "The Last Crusade" a perfect movie, rounding it out with seriousness. Don't get me wrong, I am all for suspending your disbelief and accepting that a heart can still beat after a warlock rips it from your chest, or that drinking water from a faux-gold cup will age you to death. I mean the serious moments between characters. One of the most memorable and greatest scenes from my childhood is Henry Jones Sr. guiding Indy through the trials to get the grail. He lays there dying, but still whispers the right choices and paths. Indy can't hear him, but it doesn't matter. Finally he makes it to the Grail room, chooses wisely, dips the cup into the water and takes it back to his dad.

That scene was brilliant, I can't do it justice. If you have not seen "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" do yourself a favor and buy it, right now! And if you hated the scene, I hate you as a person.

This movie didn't have that. Marion and Mutt are great characters and Allen and LaBeouf were great in portraying them, but the script just didn't have the emotion behind it to attach me to them like it did with Henry Jones Sr.

Beyond that, the only other things were superfluous. Sean Connery retired so there was no Henry Jones Sr. and Denholm Elliot died so no Marcus Brody either. I still would have liked John Rhys-Davies to return as Sallah, but what can you do? Maybe he was too busy playing all the dwarves in "The Hobbit."

Overall, it was a great movie. It was not the best of the four, but not the worst by any means. Besides, a bad Indiana Jones movie is like bad sex, it still feels good.

4.5 out of 5.


The other guys have covered quite a bit of ground and, though I could launch into a protracted rebuttal to Kloiber's crowning of "Last Crusade" as the top entry in the series, that would really just be me being contentious.

Instead, I'll try to be succinct.

Aside from it being fully packed with action and fun, there is a very practical reason for everyone to go out and see "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." Let us turn, for a moment, to the BBC:

Asked at a press conference if he wanted to make another film, [Spielberg] said: "Only if you want more.

"That's why we made this Indiana Jones. We'll certainly have our ear to the ground to hear what happens."

Spielberg added: "That'll decide were we go from here."

So, if you like Indiana Jones, see "Crystal Skull." And if (when) you discover you like "Crystal Skull," see it AGAIN! I already plan to see it another two times in theaters.

In terms of quality assessment, which I'm told reviews ought to contain, I'll say this: "Crystal Skull" is a fitting continuation of the series in the exact way that the "Star Wars" prequels were not.

What can I say? The definition of adventure is Indiana Jones. This movie quenches a thirst I didn't even know I was carrying.

It's nearly impossible to draw an accurate representation of how this movie made me feel, as I did with "Speed Racer," so I guess I'll give you a number.



And... a half.

It's hard to rate something so close to your heart. Numbers fall short.

-Thad out

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May 20, 2008

"Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal" - Book Review -Jeremiah

When I first saw Christopher Moore's book and read the title, I grinned inwardly. “This has to be good”, I thought. The book, it turns out was, a special printing, an edition that looked like a leather-bound Bible, complete with a red ribbon bookmark and golden-edged pages. Yet even with the title and the tongue-in-cheek packaging, I still had no idea what to expect.

Is it going to be a comedy? An adventure? A buddy/road story? The journey from childhood to adulthood? Would there be magic, miracles and love? Turns out, all of the above. If Moore's “Lamb” is the missing Gospel, then apparently the church left out the best one -- the one with the most humanity.

In the beginning, an angel is ordered by The Son to resurrect Biff and have him recount his version of the life of Christ, as all the Gospels differ both in content and chronological order of events. “Lamb” is a light-hearted shot at unifying the Gospels, as well as a sly attempt to remove some of the anger from one of most supposedly loving beings to walk the Earth.

So basically, Biff sits in an airport motel writing the memoirs of his life with Christ. He and the angel marvel at humanity's achievements and bemoan their setbacks since he last walked the earth, all of which they learn of from the television. At one point Biff writes:

The angel has confided in me that he is going to ask the Lord if he can become Spider–Man. He watches the television constantly, even when I sleep, and he has become obsessed with the story of the hero who fights demons from the rooftops. The angel says that evil looms larger now than it did in my time, and that calls for greater heroes. The children need heroes, he says, I think he just wants to swing from buildings in tight red jammies.

Unlike the other Gospels, Biff chronicles his first meeting with the savior, as well as their friendship, and focuses on the missing years of Christ's life: the years where Christ becomes a man and learns how to be a savior. How do do they do this? Road Trip! Christ (or Joshua, as was his real name) decides to seek out each of the three wise men, or magi, and ask them for guidance.

On their travels they learn magic, kung fu and Kama Sutra, they fight bandits and demons and meet the Abominable Snow Man.

I loved typing that last sentence.

It's the like a Hardy Boys adventure at times, yet there is a sincerity and a deep undercurrent of faith that creeps out in the most miraculous places.

If you think you know the story of Christ, then you definitely need to pick up this wonderfully bizarre re-telling of it. I found myself maniacally laughing out in public places as I was reading it. Then there were times where I was caught up in the drama of the love triangle between Biff, Joshua and Mary Magdelene.

Bottom Line: I loved this book. I have to agree with Moore himself when he commented on the possible offensiveness of this book, “...if one's faith can be shaken by stories in a humorous novel, one may have a bit more praying to do.”

So read it. You'll thank me.

I leave you with this passage, after a roman guard has witnessed one of many resurrections performed by Joshua:

Justus let his sword fall to his side with a sigh. "Go home. All of you. By order of Gaius Justus Gallicus, under-commander of the Sixth Legion, commander of the Third and Fourth Centuries, under authority of Emperor Tiberius and the Roman Empire, you are all commanded to go home and perpetrate no weird shit until I have gotten well drunk and had several days to sleep it off."

As for the rating, I have decided to throw off the confining yoke of our previous system and instate the one I've been talking about since I saw “Across the Universe”:

/ 5

(Long story, but ask and I'll tell.)

Yours Until Hell freezes Over,

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May 19, 2008

Go, "Speed Racer," Go! -Thaddeus

I've pretty much given up on anime.

It was once a fairly prolific interest of mine, and I still have my favorites, but the fan culture -- heavily populated by yapping loons who tout any ol' thing made on the islands of Japan a "must see" -- has pushed me out beyond the edge and into impossibly deep caverns of disinterest.

And even before that, I never cared much for "Speed Racer."

With all that understood, I'm going to tell you right now that, if you have any joy in your heart (or a combination of ADD and adrenaline addiction), it would be criminal to miss out on what turns out to be a fun-filled, and possible seizure-inducing, ride.

Somehow, the Wachowski Bros. -- the (in)famous minds behind "The Matrix" trilogy -- took what I mark as the seminal nonsensical anime and forged it into an engaging and vibrant visual entertainment explosion.

The world is unabashedly animated, brightly colored and smooth-edged. And, in keeping with the anime atmosphere, the character interactions are largely melodramatic -- especially when the blatantly cartoony villains are anywhere near the scene. Yet somehow, the Racer family dynamic manages to feel quite genuine, thanks in no small part to the casting of Susan Sarandon and John Goodman as Mom and Pops Racer.

This movie is packed with fun characters. There's definite chemistry between Emile Hirsch (as the eponymous hero, Speed Racer) and Christina Ricci (Speed's girlfriend, Trixie). Paulie Litt runs amok through much of the movie as Speed's younger brother, Spritle, with his pet chimp, Chim Chim, in tow. And finally there's Matthew Fox as Racer X, who has all the badassitude of a racecar-driving Batman.

"Speed Racer" is downright daring in its cinematography. Motion line backdrops with spinning or sliding closeups in the foreground and all sorts of flashy cuts and transitions pay homage to the anime roots in a surprisingly successful way. I found the whole enterprise much easier to swallow than the similarly referential comic book paneling of Ang Lee's "Hulk," which is the only thing I could come up with as a comparison.

The races themselves are unbelievable in the best possible way. Even from the earliest trailers, I was reminded of the crazy-fast, futuristic rallies of "F-Zero GX" for the Gamecube, with the twisting tracks over neon backdrops. The cars are constantly jumping and flipping over one another, yet I never found myself bored with the effect -- high-speed car jumps are, apparently, always cool.

There were also ninjas and gangsters.

And since I tend to balk at using simple numbers to represent something as complex as my interpretation of a piece of quality entertainment, I will now do whatever the hell I want until somebody manages to stop me.

So, yeah... I found myself making this face a lot:

Lunatic Grin

Bottom Line: if you're looking for an lovingly-crafted, live-action cartoon adventure... look no further than "Speed Racer."

-Thad out.

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May 13, 2008

Force the Sherman

Every once and a while we here at Three Geek Review like to pick a theme, director or actor to focus on for a month.

Or at least I do.

So I was thinking: what if you, the readers, chose what I watched for the month of June?

Send your suggestions to and let me know what you think should be my theme for next month. On the last week of May, I will see who or what has the most requests. If by some statistical anomaly no one seems to suggest the same thing as someone else, then we'll cross that bridge when we come to it... roll a die or something.

Hell, if e-mailing is too much for you, you can even leave a comment on my Facebook or MySpace. Make sure that you entitle the e-mail or comment "Force the Sherman" so as to separate it from the scores of regular fan mail recieved on an hourly basis.

I'll be posting an actual review shortly, but for the moment I'm leaving this announcement. Hope you all had a chance to Geek Up this weekend, and I look forward to reading your suggestions.

If you've ever wanted the power to command the future of movie reviews, now is your chance. Seize it before it slips away behind us, with the rest of history!

Yours Until Hell Freezes Over,

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