The Subtle Art of Deconstruction [FB/GO/BT]
Sep 19th, 2011 by Dan

Colonel: Raiden, turn the game console off right now.
Raiden: What did you say?
Colonel: The mission is a failure. Cut the power right now.
Raiden: What’s wrong with you?
Colonel: Don’t worry, it’s a game. It’s a game just like usual.
Rosemary: You’ll ruin your eyes playing so close to the TV.
Raiden: What are you talking about?
Colonel: Raiden. Something happened to me last night when I was driving home. I had a couple of miles to go. I looked up and saw a glowing orange object in the sky. It was moving irregularly. Suddenly, there was intense light all around. And when I came to, I was home. What do you think happened to me?
Raiden: Huh?
Colonel: Fine, forget it.
-Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

Adaptation is a postmodern deconstruction of the difficulties faced by the screenwriter in adapting a work from one form to another and even the act of screenwriting in general. It’s a truly bizarre little film in which the screenwriter himself is a character tasked with writing a script which he writes to be the movie that you, the viewer are watching. It really does make sense in context and it works brilliantly…except when it doesn’t.

My problems with Adaptation, as a film, begin when Charlie Kaufman, our screenwriter and protagonist, begins to call out the very act of deconstruction. It’s entirely possible to deconstruct a genre or the act of making a movie itself (see Singin’ in the Rain for a pop culture example) without pointing out that you are doing just that. Again, I’m not against deconstruction or lampshade hanging or exposing tropes. What bugs me is when you point at it and say, “Hey, look at how clever I am here!”

Kaufman’s arc through the movie is one of insecurity and struggle as he tries to find a way to turn something that would otherwise be unfilmable without “Hollywoodizing” it and an honest portrayal of the often pointless and uneventful nature of life as it is. In fact, that is also a central theme to Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, the book which Kaufman was charged in real life (and in the movie) with adapting. At a loss with how to proceed with his screenplay, Kaufman attends a “hacky” seminar recommended by his twin brother (who exists in the film, but not real life) where real life screenwriting instructor Robert McKee systematically tears down everything that the movie has done to this point. It’s not the most subtle moment in the film, but it’s still not as bad as when Kaufman deigns to ask a question asking if a pointless, non-event driven film could be successful (never mind that Seinfeld already proved in the 90s, without a shadow of a doubt, that non-entertaining entertainment was equally viable). When Kaufman highlights what he’s trying to do in the film is precisely when I stop being interested in it. I don’t want him to usher me along, I want to cleverly figure out the parallels he’s drawing.

There’s another similar scene at the end where he is speaking in voiceover and he explicitly calls out how McKee would hate this. We already got it, Kaufman. You didn’t have to do that. Let us earn our payoff.

I will also submit for your consideration the bad joke that is pointed out as such. Sure, comparing an issue of Spider-Girl to a film by Charlie Kaufman hardly seems fair, but within its pages we have Anya crack a joke at an enemy that is marginally bad only to have the Hobgoblin mock it and call it terrible in the next panel. Pointing out how terrible it is doesn’t make it funnier and the enjoyment derived from laughing at a joke being not funny will never equal laughing at a joke that is funny. The gains end up being less than what you’d expect, plus future jokes, regardless of quality, will seem worse to the reader because the narrative states that the hero is not funny.

All I’m saying is that pointing out what you’re doing or pointing out that something is not very good undermines the effectiveness and the humor of the media. It’s cutting yourself off at the knees and it reeks of insecurity and a lack of confidence. It is assuming that you’re not talented enough to get your point across effectively and asking your audience to forgive you for it.

I don’t know Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty‘s script top to bottom, but there is a brilliant piece of art that doesn’t outright tell you what it’s doing. It is a game that actively derides the player and insults him for playing it, which is bizarre, and it withholds everything the player wants from it. After the prologue, the character is forced to control pretty boy Raiden instead of series hero Solid Snake. Raiden is generally whinier, has an annoying girlfriend, and was trained to do his job by video game simulation rather than practical experience. When faced with a task, Raiden seems to succeed, but often his efforts are a waste of time, at best, or a complete failure, at worst. At one point the game even strips Raiden of his clothing and equipment and all he can do is a melee attack.

The game widely cites meme theory and the propagation of media while simultaneously telling you that it is a video game even to the point where it addresses the player and asks the player to turn it off and do something else. It gets precariously close to approaching the outright, “Hey! This is a deconstruction!” territory that Adaptation inhabits, but the key difference is that it never does. Where Adaptation readily admits it’s a movie about writing a movie and has Kaufman and his twin brother talk about naming a serial killer “The Deconstructionist” in Donald’s screenplay, Metal Gear Solid 2 only says, “I am a video game,” but doesn’t stretch to “whose purpose it is to deconstruct the player/narrative boundary.”

Maybe I’m the one missing the point here. Maybe there is a sublime art to deconstruction where everything is fair game. If breaking the rules of cinema is the point of your movie, shouldn’t it be ok to break every rule, including “show, don’t tell”? Am I just angry that I can’t pat myself on the back for figuring all this out because Charlie Kaufman already told me it was all true? In any case, here I am some 900 words later writing about this movie and maybe propagating the desire to see it to someone else.

What I’ve Been Doing 19 Sept 2011 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
Sep 19th, 2011 by Dan

Gears of War 3 - "Ashes to Ashes" trailer screenshots


It may look like I’m insulting Gears, but I’m really not. That’s legitimately the closest those guys come to eloquence most games. They’re fantastic games, but their stories are fundamentally idiotic.


Thor – I’m pretty sure that complaining about blatant product placement in a movie was last interesting five years ago, but I found the Southwest Airlines advertising in Thor to be too much. Did not like. The movie itself was cool, although Natalie Portman’s character had nothing to do but be a pretty damsel. Don’t get me wrong, she’s good at that, but I wouldn’t have minded her being more active (like Peggy in Captain America). Her portrayal of Jane was true to Thor: The Mighty Avenger, aside from her career, so at least there’s that. I hope she comes back for The Avengers (and that The Avengers is good).

Adaptation – Charlie Kaufman (of Being John Malkovich fame) really kind of cheats here in a movie screenplay that we’ve all just thought about handing in, but that is ultimately kind of lazy on a spectacular level. On the other hand, it’s not too much unlike the New Yorker articles it’s quasi-about where the writer is as much a part of the story as the story (in that Gonzo/New Journalism kind of way). Adaptation is postmodern and deconstructionalist and it works best when it’s not pointing out how obvious it is that Kaufman’s doing this (see the obnoxious callback to McKee and voiceover in its final voiceover), but it’s a clever movie that’s more interesting that it ever should be. If you’re really bored this can entertain you, but this movie about writing a movie strains interest. Perhaps if it was written a little better?


Weeds – About two weeks too late I called that this season is all about Silas and Nancy and it became truly obvious now. It’s funny how the Botwin lines have been drawn since the Lars revelation last season. I can see trouble starting in a lot of directions for Nancy, so I wonder if the payoff this year will be worth it, because I’m not seeing it yet.

Top Gear – Didn’t finish the episode!

Archer – So funny this week! This three-episode mini got off to a great start. Can’t wait for the rest of it next week. The jokes about Rip Riley being a 1930s relic were absolutely hilarious.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – Yep, these guys are still the worst people in existence. Loved the closing scene with abandoning the prostitute in the hallway, even if it was shockingly terrible. I don’t think the “Mac gains 50 pounds” gag is working yet.

Parks and Recreation – Finished rewatching S3 with Min this week. So great! “Calzones are useless. No one likes them.”


Even more Wild Flag – I think I’ve hit my threshold with obsessively listening to this new release. I’ve got tickets to see them in October, so I can’t wait.


Collected Stories – Still no stories not obsessing with death. Still interesting in a surreal, well-written way. Still tough to read.


Batwoman – Not sure if this was the best book of the week or Daredevil was, but it was certainly the prettiest. J. H. Williams III’s art was astounding. I’m so in for this new book.

Amazing Spider-Man – Still enjoying Spider-Island, even if this book was relatively mediocre. Stage 2 mutations begin!

Ultimate Comics Spider-ManThe new Spider-Man is Miles Morales. I really enjoyed this book and I can’t wait to see where this goes. It was surprisingly well done and unique from Peter Parker’s story.

Spider-Island: Herc – This book was terrible. What a waste of time. If you want a good Silver Age-style story, read Thor: The Mighty Avenger instead.

Spider-Island: Spider-Girl – Middling. When you’ve only got three issues, you can’t waste the first one because then your second and third will feel rushed. This felt kind of rushed.

Daredevil – Still the best book, all-around, that Marvel is putting out. Loved it and I loved the way that the sound villain was integrated with Daredevil’s sound “vision” for ludonarrative resonance. Great stuff.

Nedroid Read the first printed collection that Anthony Clark signed and sketched in. Super funny stuff. I love Nedroid.

Video Games

Team Fortress 2 – I’m up to 210 achievements in this. I think I’ve got 169 to go! Can’t believe how much I play this game nowadays, it’s so good! Loving the way that the new trading systems are integrated with Steam. It might even get me playing Spiral Knights at Min’s behest.

Gears of War 2 – Min and I beat it this weekend. As I said before, the story is idiotic while the gameplay is mostly solid. Hey game devs: the parts where you make us drive tanks or ride Reavers and stuff are stupid. Torque bow enemies are also assholes. Min and I spent an hour clearing this one room because we kept getting shot with arrows. Ian was also over on Saturday for a marathon session that was lots of fun. Can’t wait for Gears of War 3. I’ve always felt that I’d missed the boat with the releases so now I’ll get the chance to be “in it” for the co-op campaigns and maybe a little Horde/Beast multiplayer. Can’t wait for tomorrow!

What I’ve Been Doing 22 Aug 2011 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
Aug 22nd, 2011 by Dan

Music guitar

Music joins WIBD!

Well, “music” of a sort. I have a thing that is linked to my tumblr that you can use to see what I’ve been listening to, artist-wise. No, unless a new awesome album comes out, the point of this is to talk about audio programming I’ve been listening to.


Morning Glory – This one came off the girlfriend’s Netflix queue. I had some interest in seeing it myself, but I didn’t realize just how much of a chicklit movie it was. It’s not actually based on a chicklit book, but I still got that vibe. Really didn’t do it for me. Also: full bangs are terrible.


Weeds – My favorite part about this show is how it gets Nancy into these ridiculously complicated and difficult situations so I can watch her try to extricate herself from them. Hard to imagine something worse than what she just got involved in!

The Hour – I haven’t finished the first episode, but a few thoughts. 1. The BBC tends to have a house style that makes everything look kind of same-y. I don’t really appreciate that. All the comedies have the same “look” and all the dramas have a different, but similar “look”. 2. Idris Elba and Dominic West are so entwined with The Wire in my head that it blows my mind every time I hear their native English accents. 3. America has its share of class-based struggles with rich and poor, but I feel like England still has it a lot worse with where you went to school and nobility.

Retro Game Master – This week’s game was a golf RPG, Battle Golfer Yui. The best part of the show was how the computer kept losing by making bad shots and giving up. Definitely one of the funnier episodes to date.


All Songs Considered – As a response to the “Songs That Make You Cry” episode from not long ago, All Songs came back with “Songs That Make You Feel Good“. I’m not done yet, but the episode has had a great Stones song along with that catchy whistle tune by Peter Bjorn and John and Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over”. They should rename the episode “Songs That Make You Speed” because all of these are so fun and happy that it made me worry about tickets.


One Hundred Years of Solitude – Read the beginning while waiting for my replacement car window. Seems cool. I like Melquiades and I can vaguely see some of the connections between this and Mother 3.

Collected Stories – Finished that other short story. It was an interesting look at an identical twin whose brother died. He felt like he was choking on the smell of formaldehyde and mused as to whether his dead brother was dragging him toward death too or he was dragging him toward life. Kind of interesting. We’ll see if the rest of Márquez’ stories are as obsessed with death.

Ultimate Fallout – (the rest of these are comics) The mini-series ended with this issue. Set up some neat plot points to go from in the future. I like how much Fallout is differentiating itself from the 616 continuity. Can’t wait for the new stuff to start this week.

Spider-Girl – Very action-y with not a lot of substance, but that’s cool with me. It was fun. Good to see female characters around.

Venom – Supposed to be really good, but it was just kind of meh to me.

Daredevil – My favorite book of the week. Good art, fantastic writing, and great attention to detail. You should check this book out.

Video Games

Dragon Age 2 – I think I’m somewhere in the 50-60 hour range with this game now. I was not expecting it to be this good. The decision to scale it down and focus it on a single family and city was pretty brilliant. It allows for a more character driven story. There’s also a nice benefit to making it about a different character in that I get to meet old guys from the past games and talk about my old char. Mass Effect is slightly different in that you play the same guy and they’re reacting to you. If they continue the series past 3 and Shepard isn’t the hero I hope they still keep some of the ME chars around.

Team Fortress 2 – I had one of my favorite rounds of TF2 yesterday when both my brothers and Lee were in a game with me. This game is just fantastic. Really great stuff.

Left 4 Dead 2 – Played a half hour with Dave until his net connection crapped out. Maybe we’ll finish the Dark Carnival tonight.

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