Review: Adaptation. (dir. Spike Jonze, 2002)

adaptationAdaptation is about a screenwriter named Charlie Kaufman who is struggling to adapt a book on orchids by a writer for the New Yorker named Susan Orlean. As it happens, the film itself is written by a screenwriter named Charlie Kaufman — whose previous forays into the bizarre and self-referential include the little-seen Human Nature and the inspired, if over-rated, Being John Malkovich — and parts of this new film are based on a book on orchids by a real-life writer for the New Yorker named Susan Orlean. As the character Kaufman himself admits, after he has written himself into the screenplay, his script is self-indulgent, narcissistic, and solipsistic. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun.

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Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (dir. Chris Columbus, 2002)

harrypotter2aHarry Potter and his friends may soar through the air on broomsticks and dangle from flying cars in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the latest chapter in J.K. Rowling’s ongoing saga about a young orphan at a boarding school for witches and wizards, but the film never takes flight the way it ought to. Despite the abundance of special effects that flood nearly every frame, director Chris Columbus and screenwriter Steve Kloves have their feet planted firmly on the ground, and they bring the same pedestrian sensibility to this story that they brought to the first installment. Instead of making great cinema or great drama out of Rowling’s book, they faithfully cram as many of the book’s plot twists as possible into their two-and-a-half-hour running time. In doing so, they unintentionally sacrifice much of the story’s personality and charm.

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Review: Minority Report (dir. Steven Spielberg, 2002)

Steven Spielberg hasn’t got Stanley Kubrick out of his system yet. In some respects, Minority Report is the sort of futuristic sci-fi chase movie that makes popcorn vendors smile. It’s also the sort of spectacular summer flick you expect a crowd-pleaser like Spielberg to excel at. But it also reflects the bleak, dystopic vision of things to come that made A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Spielberg’s realization of a project Kubrick spent years developing, so chilling and unfamiliar. Minority Report also stars Tom Cruise, who earned a place in the Kubrick canon with Eyes Wide Shut, and it puts him in a situation that calls to mind one of the more freakish and uncomfortable moments in A Clockwork Orange.

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Review: Windtalkers (dir. John Woo, 2002)

John Woo movies may be famous for their over-the-top action sequences, but what really makes them work is the way he focuses on the intense personal rivalry between his main characters. In films as varied as the Hong Kong classic The Killer and the Hollywood hit Face/Off, it’s the battle of wills between cop and criminal, and the spiritual struggle within the protagonists, that drives the gun battles and the slow-motion pyrotechnics. Like those other films, Windtalkers — a World War II movie about Navajo code talkers and their uneasy relationship with their fellow marines — is also about a conflicted friendship and a man who wrestles with his conscience. But this time, the violence takes place on such a grand scale that it dwarfs the characters, who are, after all, just cogs in a larger military machine.

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Review: Insomnia (dir. Christopher Nolan, 2002)

Memento, a smart, stylish neo-noir about a vengeful widower with memory problems that told its story backwards, proved director Christopher Nolan could work wonders with an original idea and a decent gimmick. Now Insomnia, a fairly straightforward and much more linear remake of a recent Norwegian thriller, shows Nolan can be just as compelling when he’s reworking more conventional material. This film marks one of those rare moments when a European story works fairly well in the hands of an American cast; perhaps the fact that Nolan is British helped.

The main character in both films is a cop who travels north of the Arctic Circle during the summer, when the sun never sets, to investigate a murder. There, he does something, quite by accident, that he is desperate to cover up; and thanks to the harsh, unforgiving light that never stops pouring in through his hotel room window, despite his best efforts to block it out, he is sleepless with guilt. The hallucinations he begins to have, in his sleep-deprived state, don’t help either.

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Review: About a Boy (dir. Chris & Paul Weitz, 2002)

aboutaboyEvery story worth telling is ultimately about a girl, says Peter Parker in Spider-Man, but the makers of Hugh Grant’s latest star vehicle, About a Boy, might disagree. Yes, the film, which is already a hit in England, stars Grant (in his best role since Four Weddings and a Funeral) as yet another promiscuous, commitment-phobic cad who, in this case, poses as a single father in order to pick up single mothers. And yes, some writers, looking for a way to pigeonhole this movie, have called it a “romantic comedy.” But although About a Boy is very much a story worth telling, it is, like the title says, ultimately about a boy — about two boys, in fact, and the effect they have on each other’s lives.

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