Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Being John Malkovich

"Being John Malkovich" is the first collaboration between wildly eccentric screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and music video director Spike Jonze, and the results are brilliant at times. There is such an abundance of imagination at the film's beginning and a lack of it when the film ends that it's hard to believe. The idea is quite hilarious and thoughtful, but it goes down the tubes when Kaufman can't think of a good finale to end a somewhat astounding first half. John Cusack is Craig Schwartz, a puppeteer who comes up with strange dances and oddly intimate moments to show his faithful (which is very few). He's married to Lotte (Cameron Diaz), who loads the small apartment that the two share with many, many animals. Since puppeteer work hasn't been so great lately, Craig decides to become a file clerk, where he excels. He then meets Maxine (Catherine Keener), who deems him essentially "gay" for "playing with dolls."

But then, things get very interesting. Craig by accident finds a portal into John Malkovich's mind inside of his office and decides to sell visits into the actor's being for $200 each. Other dilemmas erupt from this: Lotte falls madly in love with Maxine and uses Mr. Malkovich to take part in intercourse. Problem: Craig is also in love and resorts to very desperate measures to do the same. Maxine becomes entranced in Craig since he can actually do such things, and thus a love affair comes alive. Craig attempts to take hold of Malkovich longer than the usual 15 minutes in order to love her and also extend his first career of puppeteering to a bigger audience. Problem: the sexually alive old man Dr. Lester (Orson Bean) likes to live forever and does so by transporting from body to body, essentially reincarnation but not exactly. He also wants to transport many other old people into Malkovich. This is where the film goes off the rails and into less perfectly pitched territory.

Before, the film acts as a critique of how society has a somewhat sexual, idol-like relationship with actors through a somewhat odd metaphor. Now, the film tries to explain why this is and therefore appeal to an all-questioning mainstream audience. Plus, the way the film disturbingly ties up is disgusting and made me cringe. Yes, it's theoretical, but why does it have to be here? There are so many ways this could have worked without totally going linear like the near self-destructive end of Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho." Oddly, the two films are very similar, and not so oddly, the Hitchcock film is easily much better. This didn't need to be the case. The first hour is perfectly Kaufman, and how the characters fall into ballistic desperation is disturbing, but in the name of intelligence. The last 20-30 minutes cave in, and although they're not linear, that doesn't put them off the hook. B+


aspergiansarah said...

Aaw- don't you think you're being a little hard on this movie? I mean, I liked how Bertram could play simultaneously droll, obnoxious, funny, sympathetic and cruel. I think Ricky Gervais pulled that off really well.

That said, it was funny but not as much as I'd hoped and the 'jerk transformation' thing has been done before ("As Good as it Gets," "How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog." So, great film? Nah. Entertaining and not likely to kill too many brain cells? Totally.

aspergiansarah said...

Oops. Sorry. I tried to post on "Ghost Town," but made a mistake. Haven't seen "Being John Malkovich," but planning to!

Nick Duval said...

"Ghost Town" I would have appreciated more if it had been more original and if Ricky Gervais had been more of himself. He plays roughly the same character in "Night at the Museum" and on his show, but here his not funny at all whereas other places he can be very much so. "The Invention of Lying" looks almost exactly the same film, just with a concept switched out for another one. Whatever. Don't you think, though, that a Charlie Kaufman "Ghost Town" would be incredible? If you haven't seen them already, see "Synecdoche, New York" as well as "Truly Madly Deeply." Both are better films, ones that you might really enjoy but also might hate. They're polarizing, yes, in the same way that "Ghost Town" is safe. I'd rather go for broke than stay safe, but there's a place for that ("Duplicity," "I Love You, Man,"). They're just not the films I tend to like. "Julia" is another example of this type of film, yet it will be thrown down because it's inflicting, winding, and long. Tilda Swinton is spectacular, too. See any of those films, and you'll be given a truly valuable film experience.

-- Nick

aspergiansarah said...

Well, there's a universal sstruggle out there art movies Vs. Entertainment movies.

I actually haven't seen Ricky Gervais' Tv show, and I fail to remember seeing him in "Night of the Museum."

I doubt that "Ghost Town" is great art, but I found it fun, and I guess I haven't seen Ricky Gervais enough to find the movie as 'used' as you did.

That being said, give me some credit. I've been told again and again that only art-house fogies don't like "Revenge of the Fallen,"
which is the ' most awesome action movie ever,' apparently.

The movies I like are clalled 'dorky,' 'absurd,' 'sick and bad,' 'disgusting' and *Shutter* CHICK FLICKS.

if you ever visit my blog, please tell my dad that just because some movies have emotion and don't play violence for laughs ("The Butcher Boy," "The Living and the Dead,")does not make them CHICK flicks. Calling them that is a disservice.

"Transformers" is basically my brother's favorite movie, and he even didn't like 2 very much. I guess he's intellectually past it (Sorry "Revenge" lovers. Still venting.)

Sorry. Kind of rambled. Bye. P.S. "Julia" and "Truly Madly Deeply" are on my to-see lise. When seen, shall I post what I thought? And I still kind want to see "The Invention of Lying."

Nick Duval said...

Yes, please. Do post about them. I haven't reviewed "TMD" or seen it in a long time, but as I remember it's a slight cut above "Ghost Town." I dunno. I can be entertained, but there was something about it that threw me off the trail. Every Gervais film locks him into such a part. I haven't actually seen an episode of his shows, but I have seen clips. Whatever. This argument could go on forever and ever. Let me just say this: I clamor most days for the chance to see art house circuit films that never, ever will see the light of day in America. Cannes, Toronto, and New York are great things for cinema. So are independent cinemas, etc. My bottom line is that I crave films that make me think. If "Ghost Town" had, and had better humor (IMO it was pretty standard), I would have liked it better. The film has its defenders, who cite the same things as you: they had a good time, had a good laugh, etc. But then again, I am more interested in the films you will remember and see again in 20 years as opposed to never again. Of course, I did like entertainments such as "State of Play," but I found qualities in that film that were not possessed by "Ghost Town." I also strongly disliked "District 9" (which is considered to be the most arthousy of recent action pictures). I can really enjoy chase scenes, and even shootout action, if employed correctly, but I just doubt I will ever really relish them more than the five minutes where I am seeing them for the first time. To me, I think if foreign films and art house films were more widespread, people might find something they couldn't in "Revenge of the Fallen." I agree with you, I am into feeling emotion at the cinema, and being toyed with at the cinema, and feeling lack of emotion at the cinema and knowing it. And if anything is filmed well, you have me there already. Film "Ghost Town" with the artistic camera angles of Gaspar Noe and I've already bought my tickets two months in advance. I'm with Emir Kusturica: "Cannes kills uniformity." I'm for individuality in almost every way.


aspergiansarah said...

It makes me sad when I think about all the indies I'll never get to see. I put one several-year-old movie on Saved Netflix, and it's been there for monthes.

Blockbuster doesn't even know it exists. Too many interesting films left on VHS, or not released at all.

And what will we do if they come up with a new cinematic format and the obscure films now cease to become available?

Well... my family owns a VHS/DVD player which is going up to my room when we get renivated.

Maybe I'll buy some VHS's off the internet. Do you think they'll be cheap, or will they have copies at all?