Tag Archives: spike jonze

Being John Malkovich – Review

16 Oct

There are some movies where I think to myself, “How did this even get made?” 9 times out of 10 that means that I’m watching a piece of shit movie that seems like little to no talent or effort went into it at all. Now, it’s true that I had the “how did this get made” though while I was watching Being John Malkovich, but it was the rare 1 out of 10 chance where I had this thought even as I was watching an incredible movie that was full of talent, effort, and one of the most original screenplays I have ever seen. Still, with a story as surreal and other worldly as this, the movie has a lot to say and it really is some of the most fun I ever had watching a film.

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Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) is a struggling puppeteer who has recently gotten a job on the 7 1/2 floor of an office building as a file clerk. The office has incredibly low ceilings and the only was to get there is by prying the elevator doors open when it is in between the seventh and eighth floors, but that isn’t the strangest part about it. Hidden behind a filing cabinet is a portal that leads Schwartz, and anyone who enters into the mind of John Malkovich (who plays himself). Craig and his coworker Maxine (Catherine Keener), who refuses to return the love that Craig is pouring on her, decide to open the portal to the public for two hundred dollars. Everything seems to be going fine for everyone (except John Malkovich) until Maxine and Craig’s wife, Lotte (Cameron Diaz), become attracted to each other, but Maxine will only love her if she is inside John Malkovich. This odd love quadrangle soon results an existential crisis for everyone involved.

While this movie was released in 1999, I saw that an early draft of the script was actually being circulated by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman as early as 1989. This just adds to the miracle that this movie was made in the first place. Screenplays are very often around for years before being made, but this one is just so odd. John Malkovich was attached as producer for a while, but never actually planned on playing himself when the movie was made. Many people were suggesting other actors to play the part, including Tom Cruise, but Kaufman was only going to allow the movie to be made if John Malkovich was the celebrity whose mind would be entered. After much convincing, Malkovich decided to act in the movie, and the rest is history at its most surreal.

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From the get go, this movie plays by its own rules, and I need to give so  much credit to Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze, who before this movie only worked on music videos and commercials and is now an Academy Award winning film maker/writer. The fact that these two took a story about a portal that leads to the mind of John Malkovich and then spits you out on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike and made it work well is really incredible. Beneath all of the surrealism and strangeness is a wonderful look at how people obsess over the idea of celebrity to the point where they want to stop being themselves in exchange for a life that is much more exciting. If you want to dig deeper, it actually is a powerful movie about self worth and respect that is hidden beneath a dreamscape of portals and advocates of ever lasting life.

Another thing that’s wonderful about Being John Malkovich is that it made me laugh, and laugh very hard. The now famous “Malkovich, Malkovich” scene is one of the funniest scenes I’ve seen in a movie ever. I feel like I’m very harsh on comedies in the sense that it has to be original, somewhat smart or witty, and not rely on gross out or sexual humor. A movie that doesn’t apply to these personal rules are not funny to me. This film almost exists on a different dimensional plane of comedy where people like the members of Monty Python thrive. It’s smart and original on so many levels, but also just unbelievably funny. This is comedy, ladies and gentlemen.

Being John Malkovich is one of the most interesting, original, and insightful comedies that I’ve seen in a long time, not to mention that it provided me with enough surrealism to last a year. This was to be expected from the writer of films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation, and the director of Her and some of the most wild music videos you’ll see. This is an excellent film that I would normally say isn’t for everyone, but it really sorta is for everyone. I feel like there’s joy in this movie for everyone and even some things that everyone can relate to. Being John Malkovich is one of the best comedies of all time.

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Her – Review

3 Feb

What do you think people would say 50 or 60 years ago if you were to tell them that in the future we would be talking and dating people we met on a crazy invention called the internet? Wouldn’t be even stranger to try to explain that sometimes people don’t even each other before they begin a relationship? We have entered a crazy time in social networking and relationships, where our connectivity is almost crucial to our friends and significant others. Her not only explores this in a way that doesn’t seem like it’s been said a hundred and ten times, and it also provided a more than worthy love story that may arguably be the best since Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.

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Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a sad and lonely man who works for a company that writes personal letters for other people. Theodore has been avoiding signing the divorce papers from his wife and childhood friend Catherine (Rooney Mara), and as a result has become introverted and uninterested in any kinds of relationships, including rarely seeing his good friend Amy (Amy Adams). One day, Theodore purchases an OS (Scarlett Johansson), or Operating System, that he customizes to have a female voice, and when he learns that this computer is able to think for itself and have an identity the two become friends. The OS names herself Samantha, and her and Theodore begin a romantic relationship. Life seems to finally be going well for him until it becomes apparent that Samantha is learning and evolving in a much faster rate than can ever have been expected.

While Spike Jonze doesn’t have a particularly long filmography, you can’t argue that it isn’t impressive. Films like Adaptation and Being John Malkovich have proven that he is an exceptional film maker, and his background in music videos also shows that he has a good visual style. Now with Her, he shows that he has major talent in the writing department. Jonze deftly mixes his absurdist humor with some real, down to earth human drama. That might sound kind of odd considering what this movie is about and how crazy the storyline is, but I feel like a lot of people could connect with the characters in this movie.

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It really says a lot about the actors in this movie how they are able to build such a great relationship, even when they don’t see each other face to face and don’t even touch in any sort of way. Joaquin Phoenix handles the arc of his character very well and Scarlett Johansson, who only provides her voice for the film, does a great job at making a computer as lovable as the HAL 9000 was feared. Amy Adams also does a good job as Theodore’s documentary film making, hipster friend who plays on the cliches of that demographic in a very funny way. As good as the actors all are, if it wasn’t for Spike Jonze’s incredibly strange screenplay, complete with believable and human dialogue, Her wouldn’t be as great a film as it is.

Most of all, I think, is that I really like what Jonze is trying to say with this movie. It’s a pretty obvious statement on the case of relationships and friendships that have become very impersonal thanks to online social networking, where you don’t even have to be near the person to have a full blown conversation. It’s also a clever look at the future, and the kind of things that may or may not be acceptable if we keep going on the same path that we’re on. Not only is its messages something to listen to, but it was refreshing to see a love story that is different from the ones that come out all the time that pretty much seem to be following the same formula and have the same characters.

Her is a real one of a kind movie that made me so happy once it was over. This isn’t because the movie is especially hilarious and uplifting, because it’s actually a really sad experience. I was happy because it was just so well written, filmed, and acted and that it provided me with a different trip than I’m used to. It is a very absurd movie with an outlandish plot, but if you can get past that you will really appreciate everything about Her.

Three Kings – Review

18 Sep

War movies about World War II, the Vietnam War, and most recently the War in Iraq and the entire crisis of the Middle East get pumped out year after year with excellent box office returns. Let’s face it, war is a topic that interests a great many people. Think about this though, how often do you see a war film about the Gulf War? It was a quick conflict that doesn’t get all that much attention. Three Kings examines the tactical and human side of this conflict that is both comedic and difficult.

 

The Gulf War is coming to a close and the soldiers couldn’t be more thrilled. Parties are thrown on bases with alcohol, sex, and music. Determined not to go home empty handed a group of soldiers decide to go on a quest to recover for themselves a portion of the stolen gold bullion of Kuwait. This team is made up of Maj. Archie Gates (George Clooney), Sgt. 1 Class Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg), SSgt. Chief Elgin (Ice Cube), and Pfc. Conrad Vig (Spike Jonze). The personal mission for the golden fortune soon turns into a violent crusade against the Iraq military in an attempt to escort a group of Iraqi citizens over the Iran border, all of this against strict military protocol.

The opening of the film plays out wonderfully as a madcap/screwball kind of comedy. The entire cast has thickly layered characters who have their own personalities that are intentionally or unintentionally funny. All of the actors play very well off each other making the bond that they all have feel strong and the growth of said bond over the film play out truthfully.

 

At a certain point in the movie, however, this shit hits the fan with a harrowing sequence that knocks the viewer back to the real world. I can’t say this happens to me a lot, but I actually began to tear up. I’ve seen lots of violence before in film, but something about this scene and the rest to come made me think of how this isn’t really fictional. Sure, the story may be, but the rest of it is clearly based off of the people’s lives in the Middle East. We only get one life to live, as far as I know, and to spend it in the desert being murdered by your own leader is not a way to spend it.

Along with the exceptional story structure and characters there is a phenomenal display of artistic talent at work. David O. Russell isn’t your average director, he’s well above it. A few of his other films are I Heart Huckabees and the wonderful movie The FighterThree Kings is on a totally different artistic playing field. There was actually a message in the beginning of the film explaining that this movie is loaded with symbols and otherwise unconventional  film making. This shouldn’t have to be there. I understand symbolism and artistic freedom. There is one beautiful low shot of George Clooney with the clouds speeding by above him. It was remarkable.

 

I’ve seen plenty of war movies in my day, and Three Kings is one of my new favorites. It blends drama, action, and comedy just as well as Stanley Kubrick did with his Vietnam epic Full Metal Jacket. It’s a side of humanity that I feel people try to ignore in order to get along with their lives just a little more comfortably. If anything, this movie will certainly entertain, but it should hopefully enlighten as well.