Wednesday, April 16, 2014



The last few weeks have been a series of disasters so I hope all my fans out there in the dark will forgive me for not checking in with them sooner. I know how much all of you hang on to every word of my fabulous Hollywood life style and how much you need to know all the tres intime little details of a true living legend. To begin, my attempts at a white hot publicity romance are not going as well as I would like. I have met Mr. Stryker, the film star, at several venues, including the Golden Globe awards, but we always seem to be given inferior tables in the back and we're not generating the buzz Madame Rose, my publicist, promised. Jeff also keeps making somewhat impertinent and somewhat lascivious comments to me, at least I think they are but I must confess that I don't honestly always understand the vocabulary he uses. While I am unfamiliar with his filmography, he must have a fan base. Both Mr. Pepper, my stylist, and Mr. Brad, my decorator, were beside themselves when I mentioned my new squire to them.

If this wasn't trouble enough, I have received a rather hefty bill for clean up services from the Kingdom of Spain. Apparently the tanker that went down off their coast was carrying unrefined ingredients for Lesterene brand Shrimp and Avocado body lotion and there is talk that I may be held personally liable for the accident. Frankly, I think Doreen, last seen in Barcelona, is behind all that. Fajer and Hellmann, my attorneys, say there is no chance that I will have to actually pay anything besides a token fine, but the red tape seems to have reduced the output of the Lesterene factory in Jakarta so the income is reduced. Joseph, my manager, suggests I take the next project that comes through my mailbox.

Feeling in need of spiritual uplift, I looked up one of my faith based advisors, Father Kurt, and asked him out to a film. Our choice was Adaptation, the new film from the writing/director team of Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze, who brought us the quirky and original Being John Malkovich several years ago. The new film, inspired by Susan Orlean's New Yorker writings and non-fiction novel, The Orchid Thief, is every bit as idiosyncratic as that earlier film and displays some of the same weaknesses.

Nicolas Cage, without hairpiece and with an extra thirty pounds around his midsection, plays screenwriter Kaufman, who is having trouble adapting The Orchid Thief, a book with much atmosphere, but little plot, in the literal medium of film. As the film opens, we're on the set of Being John Malkovich (with John Cusack, Catherine Keener, and Malkovich as themselves) - the film is progressing fine, but Cage's Kaufman is alienated, depressed, and practically invisible to the Hollywood types around him. He meets Valerie (Tilda Swinton), a movie executive, for lunch where she hires him for the new orchid project and he laments being able to create an exciting film about flowers. To make things worse, he's sharing his house with his somewhat moronic twin, Donald (also Cage - and a fictional creation). Who decides to take up screenwriting for a lark and who is banging away at a truly absurd serial killer film.

The film interlocks Charlie's story with the actual tale of the creation of The Orchid Thief. Meryl Streep plays writer Orlean, who goes off to Florida where she meets and studies John Laroche (Chris Cooper), a horticulturalist with egomania and character to spare and whose story becomes the basis for her profile and later her book. Laroche is a man who is more a force of nature than a personality and Orlean is soon swept up by his passion for the ephemeral beauty of the orchids of the Florida swamps. Charlie, meanwhile, remains creatively blocked, even going so far as to attend one of screenwriting guru Robert McKee's (Brian Cox) seminars in an attempt to find what his story needs. Eventually, he and Donald decide the key lies with truly understanding Orlean and Laroche which leads into a wild third act which plays as a parody of a bad Miami Vice episode.

Adaptation, like Being John Malkovich before it, is full of strange and wonderful ideas, unusual images, and is like nothing else being produced in Hollywood. It also suffers from the same problem that all of Kaufman's produced scripts have had. He's capable of creating quirky and interesting characters, developing deep themes, and doing things in a new and unusual way with structure that borders on genius. Then, he needs to wrap up his story and provide the audience with their catharsis. He seems unable to grasp this essential part of the screenwriting trade and in all of his films, the third act shifts tone and becomes more and more idiotic and irrelevant to the previous direction of the film. The events of the last half hour of this film are so ludicrous, that one expects someone to pop into frame and go 'Ha ha! Fooled you!' at any moment.

Spike Jonze has made his career out of being a bit of an artistic anarchist. (He can afford to be - his real name is Adam Spiegel and he's heir to the catalog fortune and he's married to Sofia Coppola). This film fits right in with his previous efforts. It's competently directed and he gets great performances out of his supporting cast. Streep looks like she's having fun, but it's obviously not much of a stretch for her and it looks like she's unsure if she's supposed to be in a comedy or a drama. Chris Cooper is weirdly wonderful as Laroche, maybe not a career best (which was his sheriff in John Sayles' Lone Star) but finally getting the recognition he has long deserved. Brian Cox gets in some great moments as McKee as well (McKee, like Orlean, Laroche and Kaufman, is a real person).

The weak link is Nicolas Cage. Actors love to play twins as it gives them a chance to show off for the audience. Mr. Cage is determined to pull everything out of his bag of acting tricks and, in the process, tries too hard, and looks like he's always auditioning for rather than inhabiting the characters. He ends up eventually being more successful as the dim witted, but straight forward Donald, rather than the tortured, neurotic Charlie. Charlie, as he embodies him, becomes such a whiny bore that we almost hope someone will gun him down and put him out of his misery - alas, that would be a different movie.

A completely unsympathetic hero who grates on our nerves combined with the lame last act mar what might otherwise have been a truly great film. I do recommend it as you're unlikely to see much else like it and because the film has important points to make about the process of adaptation in all beings, but feel free to wander out of the theater early.

Ghost orchid search. Inopportune alligators. Ephemeral waitress seduction. Gratuitous masturbatory activity. Meryl Streep porn. Seminole nursery. Faux sophisticate dinner party. Naked Chris Cooper. Sudden plot changing car crashes.

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