Posts from December 2002.

Obligatory End-of-2002 Best Of List

Best Movies I Saw On Screen

  • The Two Towers
  • How’s Your News
  • Das Experiment
  • The Good Girl
  • The Endurance
  • Best Movie Seen On DVD

  • City of Lost Children
  • Best Fiction Book Read

  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
  • Best Non-fiction Book Read

  • Drake’s Fortune: The Fabulous True Story of the World’s Greatest Confidence Artist
  • Best New-To-Me CD

  • All Hands on the Bad One
  • Best New Game

  • Puerto Rico
  • * * *

    Movies: The Two Towers

    Boromir dies at the beginning of The Two Towers. Not the beginning of the movie, but the beginning of Tolkien’s The Two Towers novel. So when director Peter Jackson snuck Boromir’s frantic-grab-for-the-ring-cum-noble-death into the last act of Fellowship, Ring purists howled. “Why, ” they lamented, ” is he messin’ with the source material?!”.

    Those who got all worked up over this bit of cinematic slight-of-hand probably had seizures when they saw Jackson’s The Two Towers, where he takes even more liberties with the original storyline. But for the rest of us, the decision to shuffle things around, emphasize some aspects of the tale while omitting others, and, in general, encapsulating each film so that it stands on its own, is cause for jubilation.

    I had gone into Towers expecting to be disappointed. Well, perhaps not disappointed, per se, but I had no hope to reaching the the apogee of wonder I felt while watching the first film unfold. Towers is, after all, a “middle chapter,” and such installment tend to feel vaguely useless, like they only serve to get you from the Part I (exposition) to Part III (finale). So was was surprised to find that The Two Towers is a complete film unto itself, and a spectacular one at that. Granted, it starts with a scene lifted (and extended) from the prior movie, but uses that as springboard for the events to follow. Now imagine if Boromir had entered stage left at the beginning, given a big speech, and keeled over — suddenly you’d have to mentally reconstruct the entire Fellowship narrative to make sense of things. Furthermore, Towers occasionally stops to unobtrusively explain bits of backstory, so there’s no need for the casual viewer to keep Ye Olde Entire History Of Middle Earth in his head at all times. In short, Jackson has done a wonderful job of making Towers more than just a bridge between The Start and The End. I suspect that someone who had neither seen nor read Fellowship could watch Towers and enjoy it as much as the next person.

    There’s little point in recapping the plot — you either know it, you don’t want me spoiling it, or you don’t give a rat’s ass. Suffice to say that The Two Towers is every bit as good as Fellowship, though the two movies are quite distinct. Towers is, at its heart, a war movie in the best possible sense — not simply an endless stream of fight scenes a la Windtalkers, but a film that delves into the philosophy, morality and strategy of warfare. It also largely avoids romanticizing war, which is surprising for a film set in the fantasy milieu. Yes, there are plenty of heroics and, yes, each protagonist dispatches 107 foes before taking so much as a flesh wound, but the conflict in Middle Earth is shown to be as horrific as it is unavoidable. By emphasizing entirely different aspects of the saga (Frodo and Sam’s journey is relegated to the back-burner for most of the story), Jackson has not given us a second helping of the first meal, but an entirely new buffet.

    Also, as far as computer animation goes, Gollum makes Jar-Jar Binks look like Pac-man.

    The Two Towers is three hours long, but it doesn’t feel like a moment is wasted; I, for one, was enthralled throughout. I had some minor qualms — I did not care for Gimli-as-comic-relief and got a little bored with Smeagol-as-Two-Face — but overall the film exceeded my expectations, which were high to begin with. Peter Jackson is the King of the cinema, and I can’t wait for his return in December of 2003.

    * * *

    Dismal Retail Sales Indicate Best Holiday Season in 30 Years

    With December retail sales at a 30-year low, economists and politicians are hailing 2002's holiday season as the best in three decades. "This year, people were focused on friends and family, rather than the usual orgy of unchecked consumerism," said Martin Fi, professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina. "It was truly a magical year." Oregon Governor Andrea Stephens agreed, adding "It's nice to see people saving their hard-earned money, instead of frittering it away on the Toys R Us fad-of-the-year." Candice Torrel, CFO of Wal*Mart, expressed cautious optimism that the spirit of the season may have been rediscovered. "Who knows," she speculated, "maybe all those Charlie Brown Christmas Specials are starting to pay off."

    * * *

    Putting the Eh into Xmas

    What’s bald and falls on the 25th on December?

    Yule Brynner.

    I just made that up! Yeah: incredible, I know.

    * * *

    Movies: Adaptation

    There’s an old piece floating around the Internet that purports to describe the Lifecycle of Mailing Lists. A list begins when a bunch of people get together to discuss a topic: beekeeping, say, or perl programming. And that works fine for a while. But some people soon get bored or cranky or both, and they begin commenting not on the subject, but on the quality of other posts. “Read the FAQ before you post!” they might write in response to a newbie, or “No one on this list appreciates your use of vulgarity.” And sooner or later, some other folks start talking about the people talking about the posts: “I don’t see why you get so freaked out at a few swear words. We’re all adults here!” And then some folks start commenting on the people commenting on the people commenting on, on … uh, hmm, I got lost, there. At any rate, after the list has reached its nth-level of meta, the whole things starts to come unraveled.

    So too with Adaptation, a film both by and about Charlie Kaufman. The ostensible topic of the movie is John Laroche, a roustabout from Southern Florida who routinely swiped endangered orchids from state preserves. Laroche was profiled in a New Yorker article entitled The Orchid Thief, and the author, Susan Orlean, was soon asked to expand the piece into a full-length novel. In doing so, Orlean — perhaps sensing that the orchid thief alone couldn’t fill a 284-page book — inserted herself into the narrative, serving as a foil to Laroche’s roguish ways. This is the work that screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is asked to adapt for Hollywood. He, like Orlean, can’t seem to find enough material to fill an entire screenplay, so he too inserts himself into the story, making Adaptation a movie about a guy writing a movie about a book about a woman writing a book about a guy who steals plants. And to make things even more ethereal, Kaufman (or, rather, Nicholas Cage, in the role of Kaufman) spends much of the film fretting about the fact that he’s so bereft of ideas that he’s resorted to writing about himself, adding even more layers of meta to the mix.

    Like mailing lists, all this abstraction eventually causes the whole thing to come unglued. Unlike mailing lists, however, Adaptation is finite in length (114 minutes, to be exact), at the end of which Kaufman tries to extract the audience from the whole mess before they get fed up. Sadly, he’s not entirely successful at this — I was ready for the closing credits a good 20 minutes before it finally arrived.

    Adaptation has been getting crazy-good reviews (it’s at 90% on Metacritic), but at least one critic has declared this to be an emperor without clothing. “Adaptation is the most overrated movie of the year by people who should know better,” says Robert Wilonsky of the Dallas Observer. He’s kinda right. But, on the other hand, there’s no denying that it has cleverness up the ying-yang. For example, one of the central conceits is that John Laroche only provides One-New-Yorker-length article’s worth of material to work with. And as it describes Kaufman’s difficulties, Adaptation actually devotes half an hour to telling the full Orchid Thief story. That half an hour is time well spent, but if the whole movie had been about this subject it would have involved about 80 minutes of padding and filler (which Kaufman realizes right from the get-go). So you get to see your Orchid Thief movie and, as a bonus, you get another hour of mostly interesting meta-story.

    Where this meta-story really works is when it’s taking quick jabs at itself, such as when Kaufman, in voiceover, ruminates about how hackneyed voiceovers have become. There’s a lot of that going on: whenever a tenet of screenwriting is mentioned in the movie, you can be sure that it’s going to be followed or flouted soon thereafter. Sadly, one of the tenets Adaptation opts to ignore is: don’t belabor the joke. The last 20 minutes of the film are essentially one long “voiceover dissing voiceovers” gag, which continues well past the point where you want to shout “Right! I got it!”

    Oh well, it was almost great. Charlie Kaufman is clearly a genius, and director Spike Jonze is clearly a genius, and the majority of Adaptation is clearly genius — it’s just too bad that the three spend so much of the movie cheerfully pointing out these self-evident truths.

    * * *

    Non Scents

    Apparently Jennifer Lopez is coming out with a new “fragrance” (which is what they call perfume these days, I guess) called Glow by J-Lo. Here’s some others that will follow on its heels.

    • Mince by Prince
    • This Is How You Should Smell by Martha Stewart
    • Texas Tea by G.W.B.
    • Free For The Taking by Winona
    • Affair by Cher
    • I Am Led To Understand That This Has An Agreeable Odor But, Lacking A Nose, I Cannot Vouch For It Myself by Michael Jackson
    • Stink by N*Sync
    • Attack of the Colognes by Lucas
    • Drool by Jewel
    • I Hereby Command You To Purchase This by Oprah
    • Republic of Sudan by Alan Greenspan
    • Stench by Judi Dench
    * * *

    Drought

    Some idiot was walking down the crowded, Christmas-Eve sidewalks of Seattle with an enormous umbrella, forcing everyone else to get out of his way or risk bodily harm. It made me think of this. Anonymous asshole, this entry is for you.

    * * *

    Sadly, I was Unable To Evade “Christmas Wrapping” By The Waitresses

    I have somehow made it to December 23rd without once hearing “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer”. I have no idea how I have pulled this off, but my good luck cannot possibly last. I am therefore going to spend the next three days in a hermetically-sealed underground bunker to ensure that 2002 is a 100%-Elmo-And-Patsy-free year. yeti-ations will resume on Boxing Day. Happy Holidays.

    * * *

    I, Clone

    Yesterday Rob Cockerham bought a corn dog and I ate it. Thanks Rob Cockerham!

    * * *

    The Bad Review Revue

  • [Eight Crazy Nights] “A holiday film for the whole family, provided the whole family is obsessed with human waste.” — J.R. Jones, THE CHICAGO READER
  • [Analyze That] “That this witless, formulaic sequel even dares to spoof ‘The Sopranos’ is embarrassing, like Freddie Prinze Jr. slamming Gene Hackman as a bad actor.” — Ty Burr, BOSTON GLOBE
  • [Extreme Ops] “‘Jackass’ with a budget and no midgets.” — Steve Davis, AUSTIN CHRONICLE
  • [Empire] “Doesn’t deserve the energy it takes to describe how bad it is.” — Desson Howe, WASHINGTON POST
  • [Wes Craven Presents: They] “Wes Craven Presents: Not a Hell of a Lot.” — Owen Gleiberman, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY
  • * * *