This must be how Puff-Daddy lives

I had an inordinately cool weekend, which is especially remarkable when you consider that I didn’t even realize it was Labor Day weekend until Monday. I had to work for a while on Saturday, but left “early” to go to a dinner party with some people from the Straight Dope Message Board. I hadn’t met any of the people before outside of posts on the board, but they were all extremely open, friendly, intelligent, and cool. I learned quite a bit about San Francisco history and was forced to re-think my previous assessment of San Francisco natives, that they’re all basically cold and unfriendly.

I ended up hanging out at The Phoenix hotel (which just rocks; I’d never heard of it before — it’s a 50’s style motel, palm trees and a pool and everything, right in the middle of the Tenderloin) with a few new friends until 4 in the morning, just shooting the shit. Cool people, every one of them. I’m looking forward to getting to hang out again.

In other news: Bjork’s new album sucks.

Happy Birthday, Skip!

Today’s my brother’s birthday. I’m realizing that my gift(s) aren’t going to get there in time. I’m also realizing that I wouldn’t be out here if not for him. He was the one who got me into Star Wars when I was six years old; I was happy just watching Pete’s Dragon. He always liked the coolest stuff. I can remember sneaking into his room and looking through all his old Starlog and OMNI magazines. Anything he liked was just the neatest thing. I can remember taking trips down to Florida and fighting in the back seat of the car, then we’d stop at a road-side store over the state line and get fireworks. I’d just get a box of sparklers while he loaded up on the M-80’s and cherry bombs and roman candles and I’d be jealous because I was always too scared of the neat fireworks. The folks would always try to even everything out between us, but they were fighting a losing battle — anything Skip got would always be cooler than whatever I had. Even if it were the exact same thing.

I remember a few years ago Lucasfilm was doing a promotion with one of the fast food restaurants, where they had a whole set of Star Wars toys you could get with the happy meals or some such. Skip went around to the places and got one of each one and mailed them all to me in one big set. At the time, I just said, “thanks, but I’m so tired of Star Wars at this point.” I was a jerk, and I just didn’t get it. I get it now.

I looked up to him and thought he was just as cool as hell when I was six years old, and nothing’s changed since then.

Black Adaptation

I’m going to make a concerted effort tonight to actually get new content on this damn website. If I’m successful, it’ll be up in the “Smackdown” section, because I gots lots more to say about Adaptation vs. Solaris.

And in unrelated news: I’ve been renting “Black Adder II” from Netflix and catching up on a couple episodes a night. It’s been years since I saw it last. I had forgotten just how brilliant Miranda Richardson as Queen Elizabeth I is. She steals the whole series.

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.)