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This film is a miracle!

Posted : 5 years, 5 months ago on 3 June 2013 11:58

"There are too many ideas and things and people. Too many directions to go. I was starting to believe the reason it matters to care passionately about something, is that it whittles the world down to a more manageable size."

Although 2002's Adaptation is based on Susan Orlean's nonfiction book The Orchid Thief, it's far more than that label implies. While the screenplay by Charlie Kaufman does incorporate elements of Orlean's work, this is a brilliantly meta motion picture which is actually about Kaufman (played by Nicolas Cage) struggling to adapt the aforementioned novel for the screen. Kaufman suffered writer's block during the real-life screenwriting process, and wound up writing a sensationalised account of his painstaking endeavour to adapt the book. The finished product is nothing short of a masterpiece, an absurdist black comedy as well as a postmodern satire of today's entertainment industry. Kaufman's script is extraordinary, yet it's director Spike Jonze's cinematic treatment of the material which ultimately catapults it to brilliance. In both conception and execution, this is a home run.

Orlean's novel was expanded from an article she wrote for The New Yorker, and is ultimately a free-floating rumination on flowers and her own desires. It's not a solid foundation for a feature film, leaving screenwriter Charlie Kaufman struggling to adapt the work without turning it into a Hollywood movie. Also in Charlie's life is twin brother Donald, who's the antithesis of Charlie; whereas Donald is relaxed and outgoing, Charlie is inhibited, neurotic and analytical. (Adaptation further blurs the line between reality and fantasy by crediting the screenplay to both Charlie and Donald, even though the latter is actually pure fiction, a figment of Charlie's imagination.) Donald aspires to write scripts as well, attending screenwriting seminars as he pens a thriller while Charlie works to adapt The Orchid Thief. Meanwhile, the narrative also dips back in time to watch Orlean (played by Meryl Streep) working on her book. She gets to know orchid thief John Laroche (Chris Cooper), who initially looks like a toothless hick but turns out to be intelligent and ambitious.

Adaptation is steeped in multi-textural thematic layers, with most every scene and action part of a perfectly-judged tapestry to tell this remarkable tale. Even the title of the film is hard to nail, since it's literally about Kaufman struggling with an adaptation of a book while also having trouble adapting to life, and he's writing about Orlean who's struggling to adapt as well. Fortunately, Kaufman at no point grows too enamoured with his own genius, hence Adaptation never comes across as too self-conscious; instead, it's well-judged by Kaufman and Jonze. More than that, Kaufman has achieved something remarkable by presenting one of the most candid and searing portrayals of what it's like to write and make motion pictures. What's also interesting is the way that reality and fantasy mesh and intermingle to such an extent that it's hard to distinguish between one and the other. In fact, a number of the real people of the story are turned into fictional characters. We also get a glimpse of the set of Being John Malkovich (which was being filmed at the time the story is set), and several players from that movie get cameos here, including Jonze.

Adaptation's ending has proven to be polarising with both critics and audiences, but it's a perfect way to close the door for many reasons. When Charlie speaks to screenwriting expert Robert McKee (Brian Cox) about his script at one stage, McKee tells him to make sure the final act is good, going on to say that he cannot cheat or bring in a deus ex machina. But that's precisely what Adaptation does, which subverts the rules while also working on several other levels. See, Charlie explains in the first scene that he doesn't want to turn The Orchid Thief into an action movie, but his own experiences while writing go down that route anyway, representing brilliant irony. Furthermore, it feels organic to the story against all odds, and we have to remember that the script for Adaptation is also credited to the fictional Donald Kaufman. Donald is the one who gets Charlie involved in the violence that closes the story, and the climax feels like something Donald has written. After all, Charlie is all about patient drama while Donald writes thrillers, and Charlie actually ends up recruiting Donald to help him develop an ending.

Jonze is Kaufman's cinematic soul mate, pure and simple. As shown in Being John Malkovich, the writer has a gift for cooking up peculiar scripts, and Jonze is perfectly in tune with his concepts, translating them to the screen with visual ingenuity and energy. Such qualities are present in Adaptation. Voiceovers are used a lot throughout the narrative, giving us intimate insight into Kaufman's buzzing mind as well as the contents of Orlean's book. In one scene Robert McKee actually chastises voiceover narration, which makes the use of voiceover here both a sly subversion of the rules and a chance to let us into Kaufman's mind during the creative process. What's also miraculous about Adaptation is the way it remains eminently entertaining without stooping to unnecessary visual flourishes, which is a credit to the well-judged mise-en-scène. The picture is topped off with an enjoyably offbeat score by Carter Burwell.

Cage pulls off an astonishing double act here playing the Kaufman twins, demonstrating his terrific acting chops that are not often glimpsed. Charlie and Donald look the exact same, yet Cage's performances for each of the characters are so complete and nuanced that you'll never have trouble figuring out who's who. It helps that you occasionally see Charlie and Donald sharing the same frame, executed with effects so seamless that you may initially wonder if Cage has a real-life twin. Cage was nominated for a well-deserved Oscar for his efforts, though he lost to Adrian Brody. Outside of Cage, there are a few other seasoned veterans putting their best feet forward. Streep is wonderful, capturing the emotional core of Orlean with seemingly little effort, and ably handling the darker aspects of her role later into the story. Likewise, Cooper disappears into the role of Laroche, becoming unrecognisable with missing teeth and a seamless Southern accent. It earned Cooper an Oscar, and it's not hard to see why. Also in the cast is Tilda Swinton as the executive who hires Charlie, while Cox makes a great impression as McKee.

It's difficult to resist the boundless charms of Adaptation, which became one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2002 for good reason. This film is a miracle, a mind-blowing experience that's daring, unpredictable, original and thoroughly involving. It's amazing that it got made in the first place. Perhaps the best thing about Adaptation is that, if The Orchid Thief was adapted by anyone else, it would've become a dumb Hollywood heist movie, the type that Adaptation actually satirises.


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Posted : 5 years, 6 months ago on 20 May 2013 09:12

What a strange, wonderful little movie this is that has such big movie stars in it. Leave it to Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman to create a seemingly fully-formed and original genre: the fictional autobiography that also deals with themes of evolution and literary merits. I think that’s as good a description that I can come up with for it.

The title Adaptation is a play on words, both a self-referential nod and wink to the fact that Kaufman is detailing his struggles in finding a way to adapt Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief into a film and the basic themes of the novel which dictate how evolutionary theory can be grafted onto botany and show the strength of actual science at work to explain our world. It’s a smart, engaging film filled to bursting with grand and eloquent ideas that never feels bogged down or trite in trying to express them.

It helps tremendously that Kaufman fractured his own psyche into two different but completely realized presences in the film to give voice his internal struggles, not just in writing the damn thing but in life. One brother, Charlie, demands originality and great art to pour through him in everything he writes, while the other, Donald, prefers to crank out pulp-y entertainments which sound enormously entertaining for their sheer insanity and like empty calorie movies that Charlie abhors. Within the same household is a dialog, a very sweaty, neurotic, stuttering, socially awkward, passive-aggressive dialog, about the differences in art and commerce and what a writer should be striving for in Hollywood, and at large.

And we haven’t even begun to talk about the whole storyline with Susan Orlean and John Larouche, which begins as a fairly routine relationship between a journalist and a charming and intelligent, if crass and uncouth, subject. By the end of the film they’re chasing the brothers into the swamps of Florida and ready to murder them for discovering their affair. How we got from watching Charlie torture himself to adapt The Orchid Thief into a useable screenplay to this noir ending is baffling even after you’ve seen the film. But most of the joy is in watching the screenplay smartly and methodically lay down each of its cards one at a time.

Of course when a film is blessed with a cast as diverse and talented as this, that most certainly goes a long way in allowing for an audience to be a little lost and confused and not minds too much. Lead by Nicolas Cage, in one of his last great performances before selling his soul out to questionable choices like National Treasure and Ghost Rider, and brilliantly supported by Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper, Adaptation has got one of the all-time great ensembles. Cage’s double performance is a masterpiece, embedding each distinct brother with a fully realized personality and letting them battle each other is a great deal of fun. Streep and Cooper are, of course, great, but Cooper’s magnetism and unexpected sensitivity and poetry in his role is truly something great to watch. He deserved that Oscar. And it’s nice to see Streep letting her hair down, freak flag fly and generating laughs, most notably in the scene where she’s high and trying to get Cooper to help her recreate a particular dial tone.

Tilda Swinton, Maggie Gyllenhaal (who for me has always been a more interesting and better actor than her brother), Brian Cox and Cara Seymour help add even more color and originality to a film ready to pop with those very things. Swinton, so subtle and smart, plays a movie executive and with one blink of an eye or half-smile can totally destroy Charlie. And Cox as Robert McKee is obviously having a grand time playing someone who stopped giving a fuck a long time ago.

Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze make for a great pairing. Kaufman’s scripts are smart and delicate, they require someone who can juggle their variations in tone and styles, and Jonze seems to deeply understand his work and have mastered that particular art of juggling. Wouldn’t it be great to see them collaborate for a third time?

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Adaptation review

Posted : 5 years, 10 months ago on 6 January 2013 09:36

Late 80's to the mid-2000's. That's when Nicolas Cage was at his best. Not to say he has dwindled, but he now appears in unlikable mainstream movies and not the likable arthouse films like he used to. Adaptation is his third-to-last best contribution. To date it is his most likable, straight from the soul performance yet. He felt right at home and everything he did was right on the money. Regarding the film, I absolutely love narrative-driven movies with a-lot of focus on the character and his/her day-to-day routine. It gives off a nice touch, a nice reeling feeling. The film memorably opens up with Nic Cage narrating about himself. The film has barely progressed past the credits stage and you already have jumped into the mind of Charlie Kaufman - the character's name AND the screenwriter's name (Adaptation is a semi-biographical meta-film). This is different from other films as in you get to see the whole creation of the story. You actually get to see the legos being stacked up, and in my opinion, was better executed than Shadow of the Vampire, an almost similar film in the same vein but of a different genre.

Charlie Kaufman - the real one - has some really sharp writing skills and once again gave a film that is witty, humorous, intelligent and brilliantly, but not ostentatiously, presented. It is a quirky, sometimes sad, film with likable personalities and amazing pairings. Who could've thunk that Nic Cage could perform better alongside himself? Although not polar opposites, one was optimistic, soft, and the other was aggressive, insecure. Nic Cage and, er, Nice Cage pt. 2 ruled all the present tense moments, whereas Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper were the show-stealers in the past tense.

Story-wise, it was the tops. Every little twitch is perfectly detailed and every last wilting flower in the bogs felt right at home. Performance-wise, it was even better. Nic Cage attracts criticism just like a flower attracts a bee. This is one of the performances that even the most ardent of the haters softens down a little just enough to write a breezing compliment. Since I'm one of the few people who actually likes Nic Cage, I'm in total awe of his superb tackling. Meryl Streep not at all felt like a 50+ out in search for a "ghost". She reminded me of a 17 yr. old finding the true meaning behind love and/or experiencing it for the first time, because of her smooth gliding in her character. I believe her script was written on roller-skates. Chris Cooper was impressive in role as Laroche. His Award-winning performance kept you transfixed. At-least me if not you. Tilda Swinton, on the other hand, was absolute dynamite! Boy, she was so delicious in her short screen-time. Brian Cox is a prime example of an on/off relationship: Impressive in some, weak in some. Over here he is the former. I especially like characters who act as mentors, teachers, or otherwise disciplinary or academic personas. Brian Cox's portrayal of Robert McKee has now become one of my favourite on-screen "shouters."

In all, Adaptation is a fun, if slightly long, film that speaks more than it really should. Script-wise, this is Kaufman's second-best - first is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind!


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Adaptation review

Posted : 6 years, 5 months ago on 7 June 2012 05:06

My third Charlie Kaufman-penned film on my favorites list, but probably his best written one. Nicholas Cage stars as Charlie Kaufman who has been assigned to write an adaptation for the book The Orchid Thief. He is having great difficulty doing so, and, as a solution, decides to write himself into the script. But his neurosis gets in the way, and on multiple occasions he hits roadblocks and completely rewrites it. It is endlessly entertaining to see how the screenplay plays tricks on the audience and even becomes a character itself. At one point, Kaufman goes to a writing seminar by McKee (at the insistence of his twin brother, Donald--also played by Cage) where Kaufman is talking to himself through voice over when suddenly McKee thunders, "and god help you if you ever use voice-overs in your script. God help you." From that point on, there are no more voice-overs. That is just one sample from it. I haven't even talked about the twin brother's interactions. Cage somehow manages to distinguish the two from each other without changing hair styles and wardrobes, but through character. You know which brother is which just by what they say and how they act. One oozes an ignorant confidence, the other is crippled by anxiety. Oh yeah, and Chris Cooper won an Oscar for his role. He deserved it. Keep in mind McKee's advice to Charlie: "Wow them in the third act and you've got a hit." Wow, indeed. You won't see it coming.

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Adaptation review

Posted : 7 years, 3 months ago on 16 August 2011 09:01

Kaufman's meta script is just so clever it takes your breath away. Profound and moving meditations on passion and the creative process. The acting is great, it's really funny and the whole postmodern layered tangle fits together in a coherent, enjoyable whole. Just wonderful.

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A great movie

Posted : 7 years, 9 months ago on 31 January 2011 03:00

I already saw this movie, in fact, I even saw it in the movie theater when it was released, but since it was such a long time ago, I was really eager to check it out again. In fact, I do remember quite well when it came out. Indeed, back then, ‘Being John Malkovich’ had become a big cult-classic but, to be honest, even though I did like how wild and original it was, it didn’t completely convince me. However, with this follow-up, Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman really managed to blow me away. Indeed, it was once again a really wild and surrealist tale but, in contrary to ‘Being John Malkovich’, it managed to keep my attention until the very end. Seriously, I don’t think I haver seen a movie managing so well to mix fiction and reality. You could say that the makers already tried something similar with ‘Being John Malkovich’ but it worked much better here and the end-result was just spellbinding. For example, I just loved how Charlie Kaufman created a fictitious twin brother who also got credited for writing this movie. I know a lot of people trash Nicolas Cage and it is true that most of his recent movies were completely worthless but, back in those days, he gave a hell of a double performance for this movie. Anyway, to conclude, I really loved the damned thing and it is definitely worth a look, especially if you like the genre.

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Posted : 8 years, 8 months ago on 10 March 2010 01:57

Adaptation is another unusual and deep story that is hilarious and dramatic when it comes to twists and effective consequences. Adaptation is a film that is rather bright and funny regarding flowers and other plants but is very weird because of the way this film is filmed and produced. The story attracted my attention the most as well as the unbelievable ensemble cast. I loved this film a lot because of its original story and it's really beautiful sets of characters. Adaptation is a film that some people might not appreciate because of its very unusual story but some people may love because it is beautiful, creative and clever just like Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich. Adaptation is a film that is absolutely brilliant for comedy, drama and romance. This film does have an unexpected twist that I was rather gobsmacked at so to speak. The cast is really good that features some extremely talented actors.

Nicolas Cage delivers the best performance of the decade at the moment and in my opinion the best performance of his career as both Donald and Charlie Kaufman. Charlie Kaufman is a screenwriter going through melancholic depression and writer's block who is hired to write a script for The Orchid Thief. He is afraid to kiss his girlfriend Amelia. Charlie has failed romances with Susan, Valerie and Alice the Waitress. Donald Kaufman is Charlie's obnoxious yet optimistic brother. Donald has failed at various get-rich-quick-schemes in the past and decides to become a screenwriter like Charlie, whom he looks up to and helps when asked. Donald visits the seminars of Robert McKee and writes a cliché psychological thriller spec script titled The 3. Marty sells the script to a studio and Donald is set to be a millionaire before he's killed in the climax. Both of their characters are based on the director of this film and his brother. Nicolas Cage portrayed both men perfectly because we obviously knew Nicolas Cage was both but it was rather clever how he created two different personalities. It is like Nicolas Cage has now got a split personality in this film like Norman Bates but not in a psychological way. Cage actually surprised me because be made both twin brothers very realistic characters even though they were both him. Chris Cooper was awesome which surprised me even more because Cooper is an actor who isn't really one of the best actors of all time. He's more like one of those actors who just fills a space in the cast of a film. His performance as John Laroche was absolutely incredible. Laroche is an eccentric orchid poacher working for the local Seminole Indian tribe. Laroche considers himself "the smartest man I know" and has a unique knowledge of Charles Darwin, fossils and flowers. He lost his front teeth after a car accident wherein his mother and uncle were killed. His ex-wife divorced him after waking up from a coma. Laroche also ran a successful porn website before being killed by an alligator. Meryl Streep's performance was incredible as well as Susan Orlean. Personally I believe Adaptation to be one of Meryl Streep's best films. Susan is a journalist and author from The New Yorker. She is fascinated by Laroche's trial in Florida and intends to write a piece about it. She becomes romantically involved with Laroche. Other actors such as Cara Seymour, Brian Cox, Tilda Swinton, Ron Livingston, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Judy Greer add more quality to this masterpiece.

Spike Jonze has created another masterpiece after Being John Malkovich. It is another film that people wouldn't appreciate because of its weirdness but would love because of its originality and beautiful design and creativity of the film. Jonze and Kaufman are my favourite director-screenwriter collaborators.

Charlie Kaufman is my favourite screenwriter and the way he writes his films are the main reason why I love his work a lot. Adaptation is an absolutely outstanding masterpiece that I absolutely love. It is the best performance from Chris Cooper and Nicolas Cage. It isn't my favourite Meryl Streep film nor Spike Jonze. My favourite Spike Jonze film is still Being John Malkovich. Adaptation is definitely a close favourite on one of the best films of 2002 and one of my favourite films of all time too. Overall, Adaptation is a really bizarre story but it flows in a clever, exciting, shocking and creative way.

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