Adaptation

I’d intended to keep all the movie-related stuff out of the blog and in the “Cinematic Smackdown” section, but apparently it’s going to take more time than I’ve got to get the rest of this website up.

I was talking about Solaris last night and was reminded of Adaptation, which is one of my Favorite Movies Ever That I’ve Only Seen Once For Fear That It Wouldn’t Be As Good the Second Time (I saw it again tonight, and it was just as good). It hadn’t occurred to me before, but in some ways they deal with similar concepts.

Even though I loved Being John Malkovich, I’d avoided seeing Adaptation because a friend had told me she’d hated it. Too self-indulgent, too much reliance on a gimmick. But I was out to see Chicago one night and could only endure about 15 minutes of it before I bolted and ran, sneaking into another theater.

Just an idea of how much it connected with me: It starts off with a voice-over on a black screen, and it took me a minute to realize that the movie had started and I wasn’t still listening to my internal monologue. Over the next two hours it talks about the creation of the world, orchids, romance, music, self-doubt, fear, over-thinking relationships, alienation, identity, irony, Hollywood, writer’s block, death, the creative process, the struggle to achieve, and movie-making. And a lot of people seemed to miss the point by thinking that the last 30 minutes or so were a cheap cop-out or a too-clever gimmick, when the “joke” ending is actually the core concept of the entire project, realized.

It’s too simplistic to say that the message of the movie is “don’t over-think everything.” Susan Orlean, in The Orchid Thief, cast herself as a character in the story and talked as much about her perception of the world she’d discovered as the flowers and the people themselves. She used the orchids and her travels with LaRoche as a metaphor for self-discovery and the idea that searching for something that’s always just out of reach can be more satisfying than actually discovering it.

In his adaptation of the book, Charlie Kaufman casts himself (and his imaginary brother) as a character in the story and uses the process of writing the adpataion as a metaphor for his own self-perception and his own self-doubt, the idea that his life could be like a screenplay — figure out everyone’s motivations, follow their story, and reach the logical conclusion. The world he knew existed only in his mind, and all the people he knew were merely, like his brother, different aspects of his own personality. He had to get rid of the notion of “this is the way the story is supposed to play out” and just let it play out on its own. And then find meaning out of it.

When you hear Orlean talk about the movie (she has an overly-cute but interesting and relevant Q&A with herself in the latest editions of The Orchid Thief) it makes that side of it even more clear. Is she offended by her ridiculous, over-the-top portrayal in Adaptation? No, and not just because it’s clearly a parody, but because that’s not her. It’s not even Meryl Streep’s portrayal of her. It’s Streep’s portrayal of Kaufman’s perception of the character of her as necessary for his movie. Kaufman (the character) spends much of the later half of the movie getting over his insecurity and trying to get to know “the real Susan Orlean,” and of course the ending reveals that he can’t and likely never will.

It’s a lot more profound than I can describe here even if this weren’t already over-long, which is exactly why it was such a remarkable screenplay. I really need to see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, because I hear it’s also got a lot to say about perception vs. reality, especially in regards to relationships. But it’s also got Jim Carrey.

And on a personal note, since this is a blog after all, this has been a very weird weekend. Weird, but wonderful. I think I’ve finally started to realize that I don’t have everything figured out, and I probably will never have everything figured out. But I’m no longer horrified at the concept. Once you’ve figured it out, once you’ve reached the happy ending, the story’s over. And I’m still enjoying myself too much, seeing how everything plays out.

Solaris

I finally started to make headway in my Netflix queue, and one of the movies I watched was Solaris, which a friend had recommended. (The Steven Soderbergh/George Clooney version, not the original).

It was definitely well-made. I like Soderbergh’s movies on the whole, and I especially like that they’re a great balance between mainstream and art-film; he doesn’t pander to the audience, and he takes artistic risks and shoots things in a novel way, but he doesn’t get all pretentious, either.

Natascha McElhone as the wife was really, really impressive — she could’ve turned out either completely unsympathetic, or overly idealized. Instead, she seemed like a real, interesting person. And as much as I wish I could, I just can’t dislike George Clooney. He’s not a particularly notable actor unless he’s doing comedy, but I’ve never seen him give a bad performance (since “The Facts of Life,” anyway), and he does a good job of being generally smarmy but overall likeable in whatever he does.

Set design, music, and effects were all good too. Nothing over-done or too flashy; this is a psychological movie, not an effects showcase. The story did seem to jump around and leave a lot of stuff unexplained, feeling as if significant parts of the plot had been edited out. But better that than to bog down in unnecessary exposition and detract from the central relationship.

Still, I hated it. Just found it overwhelmingly depressing and bleak. Maybe I was going into it with the wrong frame of mind, but my take-away message: No matter what, you are going to die alone. Even if you find the love of your life, and they love you back, you will never truly know them. At best, you can only know what they choose to show you. You can only know how they make you feel; the things that you love about them. The person that you think you know, the person that exists in your mind, isn’t real; it’s nothing more than another aspect of yourself. Only in death can we truly know and understand each other.

Thanks for the pick-me-up, Steve. I really needed to hear that right now.

Babies are Cool

I was just looking through my friends Drella and Grandpa’s baby pictures and feeling envious. Ruby is the most photogenic baby ever, and I get to go and play with the dogs and the baby while avoiding all the diaper-changings and tantrums. Score one for the single guy.

And she’s just crazy nuts. Already grabbing life with both hands. And able to have long, passionate conversations about dog hair and cotton balls. Can’t understand a word she’s saying, but you’ve got to respect her conviction.

They need to keep a better eye on her, though. There’s far too many hairy, creepy-looking guys sneaking in and frightening the dogs and the children.

I Am Roast Beef

Best thing ever on teh intarweb: Achewood. It’s a comic strip by Chris Onstad, and it’s just about genius. He’s got a perfect sense of timing, and he knows how to go from dark humor to potty humor to just nonsensical stuff.

You’ve got to check out the archives and follow it for a while to really appreciate it. To start with, my favorites:

Phillippe’s Mouth
Neatest Person in Heaven
Phillippe’s New Shoes
How Else Can Jared Die?
Cathy
Japanese Interests
Baba O’Riley

Be sure to check out the tool-tip text too.

I ate a big red candle

I just realized that my blog entries, although sporadic, have been consistent in their Eeyore-ness. I’ll counteract that by being upbeat tonight.

I saw Anchorman over the weekend. It was no Dodgeball, that’s for sure. But it still had its moments, including remarkably well-done Planet of the Apes references. Steve Corell, as functionally retarded weatherman Brick, stole the movie. I would’ve thought that Will Ferrell would’ve insisted that this be completely his star vehicle, so it was a nice surprise to see everybody else on the cast get a chance to do their bit.

I’m realizing that moving to San Francisco was an all around good choice. I’ve been out with friends twice this week and am planning to go out again tomorrow; that would’ve been a month’s worth of socializing back in the soul-crushing suburbs of Walnut Creek. (No offense to residents of The Creek, but your city sucks and people only go there to die.)

Corporate Rollout Strategy

This is the part of the year where I write stuff not because it’s interesting, but just because it’s something else. I left work at 5:30 AM on Monday after being there all day Sunday, then got back in at about 2 this afternoon. Or yesterday afternoon. I’m not really sure.

At some point during the day was our big two-hour all-hands corporate roadmap meeting. All highly classified, so I can’t divulge details. Except that the question came up of why we worked so much, including the teams that have mandatory 6-day workweeks (my team’s aren’t mandatory, they’re just required). The answer was, basically, “Because it’s the videogame business.” Of course, worded with a lot more double-talk. The dreaded phrase work/life balance was again used.

I’m honestly trying to get back my motivation for the whole games business, to remember the excitement and whole “creative impulse” I felt when I wanted to get into it in the first place. But then I realize that it’s 3 AM and I’ve only been home for an hour and I’m still alone and I don’t have any towels to use for my shower tomorrow because I haven’t been able to do laundry for three weeks now.

Thirty-Three

Yesterday was my 33rd birthday. Took the day off (says something, when I consider not working on Sunday as “taking the day off”) and did a bunch of nothing. I invited a bunch of friends over to The Crow Bar for some good old-fashioned binge drinking. It was supposed to be a joint birthday for me and a co-worker who I found out was born on the exact same day (eerie). He never showed, so it ended up just being me and most of the people I’ve managed to collect over my eight years of living out here.

I don’t think I’ll ever do that again. For the most part, it was just great, being reminded of my friends, and having that many people who’d take time out of their day just for my sake. But it also reminded me that I’ve got a bunch of circles of friends with not a whole lot of overlap. It was weird having so many people in the same place who had nothing in common except me. I guess I really don’t like being the center of attention.

So I ended up not being able to talk to everyone I wanted, or for as long as I wanted. But I kind of think that was expected. And I did get way too drunk, but I think that was expected, too. On the whole it was a great reminder; not that I was getting older, but that I must be doing something right to be able to know such cool people.

And it didn’t even occur to me to do my usual birthday ritual, of plucking gray hairs out of my beard and chest. So that’s a step forward.

E3

This week is the Electronic Entertainment Expo down in Los Angeles, a trade show for the videogame industry. Every year it’s the same thing: we work like crazy for months leading up to the show date, trying desperately to get a game demo ready for the show. After that, there’s an explosive decompression as we go from working 12-or-more hour days back to having not much to do to fill up 8 hours worth of time.

It all really sucks.

First, because it’s a completely artificial deadline that is driven solely by marketing.

Second, because the crunch to get read for E3 is independent of the overall life cycle of the game — you go through two peaks of horrible crunch time (pre-E3 and pre-Christmas) instead of having a steady, manageable rate of development throughout the year.

And third, because it’s a loud, flashy marketing show, the emphasis is always on flash instead of substance. So all your shallow, glittering particle effects and button-mashing gameplay elements get all the attention first, while the overall core game design gets put off until the end.

I haven’t been to the show in the past three years, partly because it’s inconvenient (companies never pay for employees to go to the show unless they’re working at it, and EA makes employees take personal time off to see it). But mostly because it’s depressing to see the state of the videogames industry. Lots of stupid, flashy stuff with no substance.

I’d wanted to go this year, just for the novelty of it, but couldn’t book a hotel room. It’s just as well; it sounds like I need at least another year to get back in the mood to see another loud, flashy trade show.