1) The movie A Scanner Darkly presents a bizarre, off kilter view of the future. On the surface, the focus of the film is on drugs and their effects on people, but drugs are just used as a gateway to explore the difference between illusion and reality. The animation allows the characters relation with reality to be worn on their skin, as the animation over the bodies becomes less realistic and more “sloshy” when they are out there. There is also a heavy focus on the “big brother” aspect of government so many Americans felt post 9/11.

2) The book A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick is a drug novel. The characters in the story all deal with drugs, often being later harmed by their effects. The action concerns buying drugs, people on drugs doing things, and police finding drugs. Its tough to see the novel as not an anit-drug rant, as the author says it is. But regardless of the drug message, drugs serve as an important symbol, representing the difference between reality and illusion. Any sort of distinction in Dick’s novel is blurred; be it good vs. bad, a bad trip or real life.



– Wired magazine covering the cell-shading style used in A Scanner Darkly


– A site reporting that the score of the movie would be done by Radiohead, a rumor that turned out to be false.


– A review of the music of A Scanner Darkly, and how it helped to add to the feeling of paranoia. The composer took great pains to keep the music in theme with the futuristic, drug-crazed feel, without dating it. As the composer remarks: “The film takes place seven years in the future, and I didn’t want someone seven years from now saying, ‘Oh, that sounds exactly like 2006’ ” when explaining his decision to keep the soundtrack acoustic.


A Scanner Darkly was published in 1977, but not filmed until 2005. How does the film reflect the concerns of 1977 (post-1960s)? How does it reflect the concerns of 2005 (post 9-11)? Are any of the concerns of 1977 the same as those of 2005 (or vice versa)?

The film is funny in how it reflects both the concerns of 1977 and 2005, and how little those concerns have changed. Times certainly have changed in the nearly 30 years, but only insofar as what type of drug we are afraid of, or what government program we distrust. In the 70s the rise of psychedelic drugs seemed as if it would consume the population. It appeared so to Philip Dick, who was in the middle of it, and it appeared so to the politicians at the time, who declared a war on drugs. The war on drugs persists well past 2005, and statistics seem to indicate that the war has been mostly in vain. In the 70s the younger generation questioned the increased role of government in their lives. The draft, the Vietnam War, Kent State. Today we are worried about wire tapping, water boarding and the possibility of a new draft. Though the characters and dates change, the story remains larger the same, making the movie timeless, in a sad sense.


1) The Hours follows the story of three women in three different time periods whose fates lives are intertwined. The running themes are many and they are vast. Included are gender roles, sexual orientation, life’s meaning, and the life of a writer. By showing three women in different time periods going through similar but era-specific problems, we get a glimpse at how much hasn’t changed even though the world around us constantly shifts and morphs.


2) The book The Hours by Michael Cunningham is at its most basic an investigation in to the soul of the artist. The only character that isn’t an artist, Laura Brown, reads Mrs Dalloway and often her actions mirror those of the book’s author and main character, Virginia Wolfe. The book also spends a good amount of time with the AIDs epidemic, as it was written during the height of AIDs in America. A main problem with adapting this movie is the stream of consciousness style its written in. It is actually less about that, and more about having move in and out seemlessly between three different women in largerly introspective moments in their lives. As many film and literary critics have noted, film is best suited for action, and seems to lack an introspective quality; or rather, a director and screenwriter have to work much, much harder in imbuing their work with an introspective quality than a novelist.




– A direct quote from the review: “A way-too-serious film for people who take themselves way-too-seriously, The Hours gets 2 stars from this class warrior”.



The Hours facebook page. A lot of people commending the work, but also people include artsy quotes, some from the movie, others seem to relate experiences they have that are thematically similar to the movies tone.


– http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/hours/

I know we were told to stay away from this site, but I think it’s interesting to look at the critic’s reasons for panning or loving the movie. Almost every critic tries to boil the movie down to just one theme: “David Hare’s screen adaptation reduces Woolf and her art to a set of feminist stances and a few plot points” says Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader. So its a feminist rant, huh? But wait, Christopher Smith notes: “If this movie is about how some choose not to live, it’s also just as much about why others choose to go on.” So its a story about life in general. Well at least the script is good, according to Darrin Kenne who writes “The film’s true star is its script”. Hold on, not so fast. Robert Denerstien writes “The acting, for the most part, is terrific, although the actors must struggle with the fact that they’re playing characters who sometimes feel more like literary conceits than flesh-and-blood humans”. So it’s a feminist movie about everyones life with a great script and great actors who deal with a bad script? I know with the internet one can find any critic who argues one side of an issue or the other, but with this film I’ve felt that there has been the most amount of discord regarding what the film is actually about, and its strengths and weaknesses, than any other film we’ve seen. Its a complex work with no definitive “ending”, and this shows in how critics viewed the artistic vision of the work.


4) In The Hours, directed by Stephen Daldry, Richard admonishes Clarissa that “you can’t find peace by avoiding life.” How do the characters in the film avoid life? How do they face it? And is facing death a way of facing life?

The characters avoid “life” in a number of ways. Virginia is isolated from life by her husband and doctors, locked away in a countryside manor. Life for Virginia is in the bustling streets of London, at least she think it might be there. That is where her apparent lover lives, but Virginia’s suicide makes me think she believed life for her was unattainable at this point in life; it was put off and ignored like a lunch at a hidden restaurant in the hills, and when one mustered the time to take the trek to the hidden spot, one finds it has closed and is empty. The repressed housewife Laura hides in plain sight like so many women of her day. Clarissa busies her self with caring for another’s life, giving her the illusion she was living her own. They all face life through art; either by reading it, writing it, or surrounding themselves with people who created it. The last question is a difficult one. In many of my philosophy classes the concerns and questions surrounding suicide make it nearly impossible to make headway in the subject; in fact, very often the group found itself less sure about their feelings of suicide after an hour discussion. Many people call it an escape, an “easy way out” of the problems of life. But to me, calling suicide “an easy way out” is an easy way out, philosophically.  I imagine there is nothing easy about ending one’s life; perhaps when influenced by depression and other factors the decision becomes easier in that our natural instinct to survive is reduced, but the word “easy” has no place in this conversation. The two people who commit suicide in the movie are both suffering from pain, though slightly different types. Virginia is depressed, and in an emotionally painful – suffocating, even – place, whereas Richard Brown is also depressed, but his pain is manifestly physical. In cases where cancer patients smoke illegal drugs, or even steal medicine to help relieve the suffering, we as moral beings want to say “we can understand that. this is a special case”. Well, where do we draw the line? Is it right up to suicide? Is it a step before? All these considerations are compounded by religious concerns and the whole thing becomes a convoluted mess. At the end of the day, death might be a way to face life. Only the person who did it can know, and often we question their motives because of mental health concerns. But modern humans think they have the answer to everything, that these people all could have been saved and allowed to lead a “normal life” through modern medicine. I doubt Virginia would have been happy in a modern psychiatric facility. So to answer the question, I guess I would have to say that death is not a way of facing life. Facing life requires you to shoulder on through it, get scratched by it, get your hands dirty in it, like walking through tall brush.

1) Alfonso Cuarón’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the director’s first foray into the Potter series. The movie stays close to the book it is adapted from, thematically, anyways. Good versus evil is the theme that permeates the series; but Cuarón’s installment is decidedly less sure about which side colors the world of his movie compared to his predecessor’s. The dark tones and graininess that define this installment are not without merit though, for the third installment of the series is when one feels that events have been set into motion that will ultimately lead to Harry and Voldermort’s meeting. The first two books serve to set up the story, its universe and its characters, while the third is decidedly influenced by the dark lords presence.


2) Pretty much all of what I said about the movie is true for JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. But there is so much more to Rowling’s sprawling third book. The written word is allowed to work slowly, to ferment like wine, and slowly more details are added like ingredients to the mix, slowly letting them intermingle and meld in the mind. Thus Alfonso Cuarón’s problems are in terms of creating characters that are complex and believable, even one’s that appear for the first time in the third book. Events are easy to stage, recreate. They are given meaning only through what we know about the characters involved. Yet time is money, as they say and especially for the movies. Events are what drives the story forward, get it from point A to point B, and Alfonso Cuarón must find a way to develop his characters during the succession of events, in contrast with Rowling, who could spend chapters developing the intricacies of a character.





– A site dedicated to finding anomalies in movies that have time travel. The site creator apparently thought the time travel in Azkaban was simply ludicrous but has recently taken back his pronouncement. A quote from the preface of the article: “I might owe J. K. Rowling something of an apology.  I had read the book and seen the movie, and was caught on the fact that Harry Potter cannot survive unless he survives.  If we learned one thing from Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, it is that only those who win get to come back in time to change the details.  These are wonderful stories well told, but this is a temporal disaster–and I said as much.  I had, however, missed a possibility, and if one essential detail can be accepted, the film just might work.” Needless to say, anyone who takes the time travel of Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey as a matter of strict inquiry – and learns from it – is awesome and worth reading.



– An odd, creepy account of Azkaban through the lens of the bible (the resultant picture is not a positive one). The author basically says the Dudleys are the only non-satanists in the book.



– A site of fan drawings of the book. Interesting to see the more cartoonish look the artist chose, in contrast to the darkening tone of the books and movies.


4) To many critics, Alfonso Cuarón did a good job in the film in steering the Harry Potter series in a darker direction. How is Prisoner of Azkaban “dark”? And how does this relate to the growing maturity of both the main characters and the actors?

Cuarón’s Azkaban is decidedly darker, and it matches a noticeable turn in the seriousness of the series. The film is grainier, and darker in almost every conceivable way. Its as if he took all the lights from the previous movies and dimmed them. Furthermore, the evils Harry encounters are more adult, in their physical appearances and their consequences. This darkness relates to the growth of the characters and actors maturity in an interesting way. The Potter series came out one year at a time, and so as the characters grew, so did the audience. With the audience being young children, the change in maturity over a year is greater than say between twenty year olds, or teenagers even. The darkness motif works for a couple of reasons. First, maturing as a child is a scary thing. Not only are you unsure of what is happening to you, you are also given more responsibility, and are expected to face your fears, be they the dark of a room without a nightlight or a stranger next door. Secondly, the actors themselves are able to play more risque roles as they grow before our eyes on screen, mirroring the path of the children who admire them so much.


1) No Country For Old Men is a dystopian look at modern man. The villain is driven by greed and has loyalty to no one. He kills at will to achieve his goal, and any of his victims’ morality or logic seem pathetically weak as they offer it up as reasons why he shouldn’t kill them, which he nearly always does. This killer driven by money seems to hint at a nihilism that is consuming humanity in the modern world: money – this empty, cold, sterile symbol – is the only thing worth anything in this world anymore. That, or a strict determinism that is also just as hopeless and terrifying. All we see the whole movie is people dying, all we hear are stories of people committing crimes, and all the characters are self motivated. Even the landscapes are bleak and forlorn.


2) No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy is well within the authors wheelhouse. It is a bleak, sprawling meditation about American society, and its reflection of our humanity. McCarthy questions if all our modernity is good for us, and seems to present the case that it produces monsters out of people, such as Anton or the couple that tortured and killed old folks. McCarthy also ruminates on freedom versus determinism. The book is fairly easy to adapt, save for how to give the Sheriff the same sized role in the movie as he got in the book. In the book his time on the page is mostly monologues, which can be difficult to fit into movies, especially when they are long.




A review of the movie as well as some thoughts about how directors and movies are critiqued. This thought provoking, difficult movie clearly had some reviewers getting existential.



An interview with the Cohen Brothers, as well as user comments and reactions



A review of the film from the New Yorker. Anthony Lane was one of only a very small number of top critics that gave the film a bad review. His reasons seem to be somewhere between that he didn’t like the book as much as McCarthy’s “The Road” and that the Coen’s didn’t invest themselves emotionally in the movie: “The Coens are not so much investing their emotions in a cinematic genre—in this case, the Western revenge drama—as picking it up, inspecting it, and then setting themselves the task of constructing a perfect copy”. The result he calls “passionless” but it seems as if he missed the whole point of the book: that these times are passionless times.


4) No Country for Old Men is undeniably violent and yet it is somewhat reticent about two killings, that of Llewelyn Moss and later his wife Carla Jean. Why would the film-makers decline to film their killings when so many other killings in the film are graphically shown?

The greater themes of the story No Country are alienation, determinism, and the stage of the moder man. Llewelyn and his wife are the closest we get to main characters, with most of the story following their fleeing from Anton. The reason their deaths, compared to most of the other deaths, are not shown in graphic detail is a statement of how meaningless the everyman is. Llewelyn and wife are the everyday folk, just trying to get by, and their deaths are barely worth mentioning in the grand scheme of things. Just another body, another victim of fate, and the same sad story goes on.

1) Sherlock Holmes by Guy Richie is a typical hollywood big budget affair. Holmes is played by the recently popular Robert Downey jr. and he is surrounded by other hollywood stars. The theme’s of the movie surround good versus evil, but also concentrates on showing Holmes’ famous brainy abilities, such as in a fight scene in which Holmes’ defeats a much bigger man by using his mind.


2) The Mazarin Stone is one of Sherlock Holmes’ many adventures. With Stone as sample, the themes of Holmes are revealed. He is a witty individual, clearly the smartest man in the room, and a bit of an eccentric. Furthermore, he seems to be a wordly fellow, just the all around renaissance man. A problem, though, with a brainy character is that his mind can be seen working on the page. His mental activities are half of the fun, and it is tough to translate that to a purely visual medium. Furthermore, most of his stories, like Stone deal with a small, local problem, hardly the stuff of hollywood blockbuster material.




– The official website of the sherlock holmes museum, located where sherlock holmes lived in the fictional stories. There is no mention of the movie anywhere on the site.



– an analysis of the occult symbols in the movie Sherlock Holmes, as well as an analysis of occult mentions in the written stories of Holmes.



– Some recent buzz and pictures over the shooting of Sherlock Holmes 2. Critics argue whether or not the movie was a worthy screen adaptation of the Holmes franchise, but its difficult to argue with the box office numbers that green light a sequel to begin filming. It speaks to not only how recognizable the name Sherlock Holmes is, but also that people delight in his way of fighting crime.


4) Does Guy Ritchie’s film desecrate the Sherlock Holmes tradition with its hyper-violent action sequences? Or is this a refreshing and even faithful aspect of Ritchie’s adaptation?

I do believe that this recent Sherlock Holmes does desecrate the tradition, but I blame hollywood economics and logistics instead of Guy Richie. Not to say that Ritchie’s films aren’t hyper-violent (they probably are the reason that hyphenation exists), but his films also include a style that seemed suppressed in this flashy hollywood movie. Furthermore, its not as if Holmes didn’t have his share of violent encounters in his stories,but to focus on the one aspect so heavily, and to attempt to fit  Holmes’ other traits into the violence, simply ignores the things that made Sherlock Holmes so great.

1) The movie Watchmen follows the last remaining members of an outlawed group of superheroes, who called themselves the Watchmen. Set in the dystopian 1980s following Americas victory in Vietnam, the film analyzes the threat of nuclear holocaust through the lens of a hyper-intensified cold war. Questions about civic duty, utilitarianism, and humanities seeming desire to kill itself are all raised through the different superheroes. The comedian, for example, believes humans are just animals, and are on the brink of killing each other – in the vein of the philosopher Hobbes. The character Rorschach believes in strict virtues in the vein of Kant’s categorical imperatives.


2) The graphic novel Watchmen, written by Daniel Snyder, is considered one of the greatest novels – not just graphic novels – of all time (at least according to Time magazine). It receives this designation because of its sprawling and complex story, interweaving philosophy, politics, and personal existence with historical events. Snyder’s super heroes serve as metaphors of the different views of humanity, and the conclusion of the story is hardly a happy ending – the conclusion is a worst case scenario for many, while others believe it was a necessary evil.




– The movie was hailed for its closeness to the visual style of the graphic novel. Here is the website dealing with the photographic style of the movie.


– The films visual style is extremely striking, and Snyder is a master of creating iconographic scenes. This website ran a series where people photoshopped various shots from the movie to make them look ridiculous, in stark contrast of the movie’s dark themes.


–  A story that ran before Watchmen opened. The story refers to how many fans of the novel are angry at the choice of Snyder to direct the film, who at the time had just released 300. The site argues that it could be worse, and imagined what Watchmen might look like if other famous directors got their hands on it. Again, the visual style of the movie is continually referenced, showing just how polarizing the visual style of a movie can be.


4) In the film, the Comedian says repeatedly: “It’s a joke!” How is this an expression of the Comedian’s personality? How is this an expression of nihilism?

– When you take nothing seriously, you can’t be hurt, and that seems to be how the Comedian operates. Anytime something should be emotionally traumatic, the comedian is able to laugh it off with his excuse that everything is a joke. We see that the comedian took this view seriously for a while, when he confesses to his former arch nemesis that he was wrong in the end. It’s an expression of nihlism in that nihlism believes in nothing, and to call life a joke is to say that life and humanity stands for nothing other than punchline, at the expense of people who care, who think it isn’t a joke.





1) Adaptation is the story of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s search for meaning, not only within the book he’s attempting to adapt to screen, but also within his own life. He feels neurotic and alienated from society. Furthering his neurosis is his dedication to artistic integrity, which, in an industry (don’t tell him I called it that) that increasingly is about dollars, is nearly impossible. Kaufman’s neurosis is achieved through a stream ov conciousness voice over that literally drowns out whatever is happening in the scene. Furthermore, his twin brother, whom is played by the same actor, serves as a weird sort of “foil” mirror, showing kaufman, and the audience, everything he isn’t.


2) The book The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean is a character study, both of John LaRoche – an orchid thief – and of the state of Florida, which Orlean finds a fascinating place. LaRoche comes across as a crook at first, but always manages to make the labels one is apt to put on him fall by the wayside. The whole story is an examination of LaRoche and his home state, and though the story has no real arc, it reveals the real depth hidden behind quick glances and first impressions. The problem for a screenwriter is that character studies such as this one are just long, explanatory descriptions in which not much action actually happens. There’s a story to it, but not the traditional narrative that film seems to really depend on.




A review of Adaptation by Killer Movies, an independent blog site. Like most other reviews of the movie, K M praises Adaptation as visionary.



A review of Adaptation in which the author sees the movie solely about the creative process, and less so about an individuals search for meaning.



On the comedy website Cracked, they have a section of “cheat sheets” where users give quick and dirty accounts of movies or books. The users vote on the best description, thus ranking each short description and building a consensus of sorts of the site’s users. Being a comedy site, most of the user descriptions try to be clever or funny, but ultimately they do a good job of building a stripped down collective picture of the film. The top pick reads as such:

“Nicolas Cage valiantly attempts to play two different characters in Adaptation, despite the fact that he hasn’t managed to do this at all, in his career, yet. He’s well-suited to the film’s narcissistic theme, however, and easily pulls off the role of a man who can’t get over himself long enough to do the job he was paid to do. Meanwhile, a gap-toothed Chris Cooper steals an orchid and the show.”


4) In Adaptation, the twins Charlie and Donald are opposites in many ways. How do they respectively represent film as art and film as (Hollywood) entertainment? And is this a crude dichotomy that the film subtly undercuts?

– Charlie and Donald as twins writing two very different screenplays allows the movie to dissect the dual nature of film in modern society. Charlie, the struggling, tortured artist represents film as art. More specifically for Charlie, film is artistic expression. He sees his work as a personal statement. By putting down his words on a paper, he is putting himself out there, something he finds exceedingly difficult to do in all matters of his affairs. Charlie is constantly talking about writing something “real” or something that “means something”. He holds this opinion so strongly that it sometime handicaps him from just enjoying life. In terms of movies, this is similar when the artistry of the film becomes a burden to its enjoyment. Donald on the other hand is lighthearted and more simple than his complicated twin brother. His script is cliche after cliche, but the whole time it does sound sort of, dare i say it, cool. Donald is easy to relate to (as evidenced by his ways with the ladies), and just all around more fun. He doesn’t come with emotional baggage, there isn’t too much below the surface – the same reason his script is quickly picked up. Adaptation seems to be poking fun at itself by presenting this dichotomy. The film is definitely artsy – Kaufman as a leading man is not the sunny-spirited, good looking lead man of hollywood. Yet he is played by an extremely markatable, big name actor who constantly plays those sort of roles. Furthermore, the movie ends in a dramatic chase sequence – a tool Charlie despises. In this way the film is admitting to its own “simpleness” but by doing so it shows that a film doesn’t need to exist solely as art or hollywood entertainement; a film can be both and, possibly should be a bit of both.