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BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999) ****
Starring: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Orson Bean, Catherine Keener, John Malkovich, and Charlie Sheen Director: Spike Jonze Running Time: 113 minutes Rated R (for sexuality and language)
By Blake French:
It is not every day that I use words in my movie reviews such as unique, creative, inventive, imaginative, original, fresh, mesmerizing, and unmatched. Under the circumstances of "Being John Malkovich," a wonderfully hilarious presentation of an incomprehensible idea, I find myself using every one of those phrases and then some more being deserved. Everything about it is labyrinthine, intriguing, and very funny. It is one of the years best films, and should be well presented come Academy Award time.
"Being John Malkovich" details the relationship between Craig and Lotte Schwartz. They basically live an old fashioned life in a small apartment with a miniature zoo of pets and a puppet factory inside. Lotte is a typical, unattractive homemaker while Craig holds that unusual occupation of being a professional puppeteer. Desperately searching for employment, Craig soon visits a business for an interview as a filer when he discovers for some odd reason the construction of the office floor is all but several feet tall, forcing all employees to bend over backwards just to walk around.
One of those employees is named Maxine, a highly seductive co-worker of Craig's. When he asks her out for a beer one night, Craig experiences lustful thoughts about her, and nearly begins an affair as his seemingly loving wife wonders around her happy little apartment all by herself.
As you can see, the household isn't exactly a joyful situation. All things change, from blossoming sexual confusion to inner self-esteem, when Craig uncovers a small door behind a filing cabinet in his office. It is tucked away, hidden acutely well in a dark corner, which is found mysteriously by accident when Craig droops a paper behind the cabinet. After Craig explores this deep miniature, seemingly endless hallway, he discovers this secret door leads to the brain of actor John Malkovich for fifteen minutes, then spits you out along the roadside afterwards.
Wow, sounds like "Alice in Wonderland," doesn't it...well, sort of. Craig first tells his co-worker about his discovery, who continues to think he's nuts. Then, after explaining and showing this portal to his wife, who is hysterical, Maxine begins to believe Craig, and concoct a devilish idea. To sell tickets allowing a pedestrian to enter the mind of a famous celebrity. The tagline: Ever wanted to be someone else? Now you can.
It is very intriguing how the narrative point of view is juggled between Craig and then Lotte after the problem is introduced and then solved: the couples dead-end lives are lifted in glory. This creates a second conflict moving us smoothly into the second act. Perfect internal problems are created with the two female leads; Lotte and Maxine find themselves physically attracted to each other in unbelievable character twists. The two end up having a femininity sexual relationship while one is entrapped in the mind of Malkovich, and the other experiences the actual Malkovich. It is a beautifully crafted structure, with act breaks so clear and complications so faultless it is no wonder while this is such an effective picture.
Also first rate here are the performances. Although the film offers strange types of roles for these actors to indulge themselves in, they do a wonderfully energetic job. Cameron Diaz is flawlessly cast as Craig's sexually and mentally uncoordinated wife, and delivers us a comically riotous character. John Cusack as Craig himself is superior and believable as a down on his luck puppeteer, and possesses a perfect blend of humor and unpredictable qualities with his character. Also quite good here, John Malkovich, who has much more of a difficult role than one would think. He has some hard scenes where Craig controls him while inside his mind, which requires great skill to perform.
However, better than any performance, and more amazing then any flawless characters or plot, is the concept of a human being thinking up such an absurd idea as the imagination behind the beauty of "Being John Malkovich." With such a penetrating, magical atmosphere to it, it is kind of a shame that the filmmakers created this film in the form of a black comedy instead of something more harrowing. Although comedy is simply the most logical choice to categorize this type of film, wouldn't it have been interesting to see this movie as a drama, or perhaps as a spiritual awakening picture.
Regardless, the film still has an oddly powerful message to it, which I will not, nor do I ever directly reveal in any of my reviews. You see, since different individuals come from different backgrounds, and thus see things differently. It is because of this that I do not allow my personal take on a message persuade another filmgoer whose idea of a moral may be much different than my own. But I will say that "Being John Malkovich" might not overtake the box office, but for appreciative movie patrons, this one is sure to be treasured for a long time to come.
Brought to you by Gramercy Pictures.
This film was absolutely incredible. Attempting to explain the plot in any
way that would do it justice would be an excercise in futility, but let it
be said that I see many, many movies, and in my lifetime, I have never seen
a movie such as Being John Malkovitch.
The acting is completely brilliant .. Cameron Diaz is nearly unrecognizable, both in behavior and appearance, as is John Cusack. John Malkovich was presented with an interesting opportunity in playing himself, and he seems to have seized the opportunity with relish. He is most definitely not being himself in front of the camera, but instead creates this wonderful character of John Malkovich the vessel.
I've admired Spike Jonez's work for a good long time, and I'm pleased to say that in his first full length feature as a director, he succeeds with flying colors in creating an original, beautiful, humorous, and good natured picture.
See Being John Malkovich, because come Oscar time, you're going to want to know why its winning!
All hail Spike Jonze for he is a genius. Not content with being the
undisputed king of music videos, he's set his sights on
full-length-feature-films. One might imagine that the often surreal, always
innovative humour of his short music promos might not transfer across to a
much longer production like hell. Being John Malkovich' is a fresh
exciting stroke of genius.
John Cusack is Craig Schwartz, an unemployed puppeteer looser guy. In order to earn a living he is forced to find himself a regular job, only it soon becomes apparent that regular it is not. Working as a filing clerk on floor seven and a half, Craig stumbles across a portal into John Malkovich's head. No, really, that's what happens. Anyway, he turns this into a business venture with help from the beautiful Maxine (Catherine Keener), whom he lusts after. Maxine is more interested, however, in his wife, Lotte (Diaz, like you've never seen her before) but only when she's being John Malkovich.
Don't worry if this all sounds a little strange to you, it should do, it's probably the most surreal film ever made. I obviously can't give all the credit for this to director Spike Jonze; Charlie Kaufman is the genius that wrote this insanity. He's the most acutely imaginative and ingenious man of our time.
With such a fantastic cast the acting is of course superb; everyone's brilliant, especially Malkovich himself. Well obviously, you say, he's playing himself yes, but he's also playing himself being played by an increasingly psychotic puppeteer.
Monkey flash backs and a restaurant full of Malkoviches are highlights of the insanely brilliant and brilliantly insane movie. If you thought that Spike Jonez could never top the Daft Punk talking dog video, you have never been so wrong in your life.
Being John Malkovich leaves you astounded. What happened in that dark
theater? Twist and turn, one thing more fantastical than the next, this
movie is 100 % UNIQUE. Even the introduction and the setting of the film are
outlandish to say the least. The movie develops quickly, plummetting viewers
into the warped world it creates; while the surroundings are strange, they
are presented without leaving the audience convinced and I found that my
questions about Malkovich's mysterious portal, such as "What happens if John
Malkovich goes into his own portal?", were
The directoral work in John Malkovich is quite interested at times as well. Seeing the world through John Malkovich's eyes is not an easy feat to accomplish, but is done tactfully.
However, it is the interactions between the characters that fortifies this film. Cuscack, completely smitten by Catherine Keener's character, finds that his love is unrequited. There are more twists in this story, but that's for you to find out, now isn't it? So be John Malkovich!
What does it feel like to be inside someone else's skin? Some people find
out in the highly imaginative `Being John Malkovich,' directed with style by
Spike Jonze, and starring John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener and
John Malkovich. When out of work puppeteer Craig Schwartz (Cusack) gets a
job as a file clerk on the `7 1/2' floor of an office building, it's the
beginning of a bizarre interlude that will ultimately take him, and a few
others as well, into a realm beyond the known. One day he discovers a small
doorway hidden behind a filing cabinet; curious, he ventures into the dark
beyond and is suddenly sucked into the mind of actor John Malkovich. After
fifteen minutes of seeing through Malkovich's eyes, and experiencing what
the actor is experiencing, Craig is just as suddenly and inexplicably
dropped into a ditch beside the New Jersey Turnpike. Unable to contain
himself, he confides what has happened to him to Maxine (Catherine Keener),
a woman who also works on 7 1/2. Immediately, she sees money in the
prospect of having a portal into the mind of John Malkovich, and she
convinces Craig that they should start a business: `J.M. Inc.' For two
hundred dollars a pop, people can have the experience of a lifetime.
Jonze has taken a unique screenplay that is clever, witty, humorous and totally engrossing, and turned it into one of the most ingenious films to come our way in a long, long time. In fact, there's never been anything quite like it. It is distinct and filled with nuance and subtle shades of humor, sometimes dark, sometimes hilarious, but riveting throughout. And the performances are absolutely first rate all around. Keener deservedly got the Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actress, but Cusack, Diaz and Bean are also exemplary here. Cusack comes through with one of the best characters he's ever done; there's an edgy, quiet intelligence to Craig, a Bohemian at heart, with a wife, Lotte (Diaz), and an apartment full of pets (snakes, birds and a chimp). He's reserved, generally takes things as they come, and exudes a certain boyish charm when he becomes smitten with Maxine. Diaz, taking on a decidedly unglamorous role, is terrific as Lotte, the somewhat unremarkable pet shop clerk who comes alive after experiencing the `portal.' It's a great character part, and Diaz plays it for all it's worth, connecting with the audience while ably conveying Lotte's sense of confusion and repressed yearnings. And Orson Bean nearly steals the show as Dr. Lester, Craig's boss, the hundred-and-five year old man with a secret that holds the key to the portal. It's a memorable performance filled with nuance and subtle humor; the scene in which he interviews job-applicant Craig is classic. Malkovich (as himself) is the icing on the cake; he plays it straight, with a finesse and distinction that makes the unbelievable somehow credible, while lending an easy, natural flow to the innate humor of the story. The `Malkovich, Malkovich,' sequence, and his rendition of the puppet's dance are unforgettable scenes.
The supporting cast includes Mary Kay Place (Floris), Charlie Sheen (Charlie), Carlos Jacott (Larry), Willie Garson (Guy in restaurant) and Byrne Piven (Captain Mertin). Written by Charlie kaufman, `Being John Malkovich' is a movie that is an experience in itself. And Jonze and his entire cast should be given a standing ovation for bringing this one to life, for making it breathe. It's the kind of film you wait for to come along, but rarely does, and it demands to be seen more than once. Like Lotte, once you've been through the portal, you have to do it again; once you've tasted the nectar, there's no turning back. 10/10.
Though I had liked the few Spike Jonze music videos I've seen(Weezer's "Buddy Holly" and the Beastie Boys one), I was hesitant about whether he could make the jump to movies, for, as we know, for every good MTV raised director(David Fincher), there are several bad ones(Michael Bay). And this is truly a concept which could have gone either way. But this is one of the most original, funny, and enjoyable movie experiences I've had this year. Every idea pays off in ways you don't expect, all four main actors do well cast against type, and it's awfully hard to pick who's the best(though I suspect John Malkovich will be remembered at Oscar time), the dialogue is great("Don't stand in the way of my actualization as a man!" may be the best line of the year), and I can't think of another way to describe this except go see it now.
The most original film to come out in ages! A film that has "one-joke premise" written all over it, but this film has about four dozen good jokes, each one brilliantly conceived and executed. Acted to perfection, beautifully written, directed by the insanely original and wild Spike Jonze, this is a great great film.
Being John Malkovich (1999), the Spike Jonze's directorial debut, is an amazing film - hip, inventive, delightfully weird, incredibly funny and disturbingly serious with the gleefully absurd plot twists. Let's face it, that was a stroke of genius - to throw together the tragic medieval lovers, Abelard and Heloise in the street show created by a talented puppeteer Craig Scwartzh (John Cusack) with the nimble fingers but out of work in "today's wintry economic climate", Elijah the Chimp with the mental problems that go back to his childhood, the surreal office that is located on the 7 1/2 store of a New York City office building and a floor is four feet high. Add Cameron Diaz (Craig's animals loving wife Lotte), completely unrecognizable, aging and balding Charlie Sheen, cynical and practical Maxine (Catherine Keener), who had an unique experience of having two people looked at her "with complete lust and devotion, through the same pair of eyes", and send them all to the wild ride inside the famous and respectable actor John Malkovich's brain to see what he sees and to feel what he feels, to the trip that would last 15 minutes and end up in a ditch on the side of New Jersey Turnpike. This is just the beginning...Oh, and what John Horatio Malkovich feels with all the travelers in his head and what he sees when he enters the portal to his own brain, you have to find out for yourself! What drug were Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze on?! Not even two hours long, the movie never ceases to surprise and entertain. "Being John Malkovich" is a fascinating and truly original film which I love and always enjoy watching even if there were never a connection with any of its characters (with the exception of Abelard and Heloise and Elijah the Chimp).
Originality is one thing that I very much admire in cinema, and it's
also the reason I rate Being John Malkovich so highly. Charlie Kaufman
has taken an amazingly weird premise and twisted round a suitably
offbeat story to create a movie that is as bizarre as it is as it is
compelling, and it's definitely a major highlight of American cinema in
the 1990's. Charlie Kaufman may have scripted his most acclaimed film
in 2004 with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but if you want to
see his best work - you need look no further than his first feature.
Quite how anyone could have thought of this premise remains a mystery,
but I'm certainly glad that Kaufman did. The story revolves around a
portal that leads directly into the head of the actor, John Malkovich.
After discovering this portal, puppeteer Craig Schwartz shares it with
his colleague and crush, the beautiful Maxine Lund. Things start to get
complicated when Craig's wife, Lottie, becomes involved and it turns
out that Craig's not the only one with a crush on Maxine.
The usually presentable John Cusack and Cameron Diaz are completely unrecognisable as this film's leading couple and both give career highlight performances. Catherine Keener fleshes out a threesome of leads. She is seductively sexy, and delivers a performance that reflects the quality of this film on the whole. And, of course, John Malkovich stars also. The fact that it's John Malkovich who is the title actor is what really makes this film. Had the film have been, say, 'Being Tom Cruise'; it wouldn't have had nearly the same impact. Malkovich is a big actor, but he's not THAT big and the fact that it's him takes the film away from the mainstream and allows it's offbeat indie roots to stay intact. Kaufman ensures that the story works by constantly adding new and weird events into the plot, and this in turn ensures that we never know what's coming next. Of course, this is exactly what you want from any film. The elements of the story aren't bound tightly enough to really make a lasting impression where substance is concerned; but it hardly matters, as there's enough offbeat invention in this film to more than adequately mask that fact It's easy to call this movie pretentious or silly; but it's also pointless. Being John Malkovich is a modern classic.
This is one film that has me completely torn. On the one hand there is so
much to admire about Being John Malkovich. The film is rich with great
performances, it is directed very well by a new comer, it is a wonderfully
original idea and seeing John Malcovich have the guts to portray himself, or
to parody himself is quite amazing. But on the other hand there is much to
critisize about this movie. It is slow, it doesn't really have a point and
the only metaphors that I can get from the film are not clear or really that
mind blowing, and the last half an hour of the film is plain and
simply-----bad. I really think that this is the type of film that cannot
fail critically, critics are too afraid to tell it like it is when it comes
to an "arty" film like this one. It is safe and obvious to critisize a film
like Armageddon or Bone Collector but admitting that you didn't really enjoy
a film such as this is tricky as a critic because you may look foolish to
your cronies so naturally all of them come out and tell you how wonderful
and amazing and great and ya da ya da ya da this film is. But the one thing
that I noticed when I read all of the reviews before I saw the film is that
not one review really told me why this film is all that they say it is, and
that is because it isn't. As I said, there is much to "admire" about Being
John Malkovich, just not a lot to like. But I will tell you what is good
before I tell you what isn't.
The performances are incredible. John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Katherine Keener and John Malkovich turn in stellar portrayals of who they are. Cusack is the eccentric puppeteer that can't seem to get a break in life, Diaz is his repressed wife that perhaps only a few years ago would have been not just smart but down right gorgeous. Now she doesn't care about herself, only her animals that she cares for which includes a repressed monkey. She goes through one of the biggest awakenings. Keener plays Maxine, a sexy bitch that Cusack falls in lust for and then love. She is a bit of an enigma yet she is very self assured. And of course Malkovich plays a version of himself, perhaps a version that we, the public think he is. All four of these performances are rich and deeply layered. The story is also good in the sense that it is different than anything I have seen. It is fresh and nice at times to see a movie that is different than anything you have seen before. This is one of those movies, and I enjoyed it for that reason. But that is where my praise ends. That is all that I can really say is good about the film. While the film has it's moments of comedy and of interesting observations about life ( the big one being not to live vicariously through someone else or you may lose your identity ) it just didn't keep me interested or entertained for the majority of the film and especially for the last half hour. And for me to really enjoy a film and to think it is worth recommending to others, there has to be something to keep my interest. This film just moves along and seems to go nowhere. It doesn't have anything really great to say and it doesn't really take you anywhere. As I said, sure it is different, but that does not make it good. I do have a feeling that this film is going to get a rediculous amount of mention at Oscar time, but that is not fair. There are at least five films that I think are worthy of Oscar mention before this one, and other bound to be great films haven't even come out yet ( The Green Mile just to name one ).
I think perhaps this is a film that should be seen once because maybe what I get or didn't get out of it is completely different than what someone else will. After all there are many positive reviews in this very forum and perhaps that is saying something, but I personally don't like the film all that much and I think there are many films at the theater that are worth your time more than this one is. If you see it, don't say you haven't been warned. This is one film that I think the general public is wrong about and the longer it stays out, the more people will have a chance to see it and then people will realize that weird and original does make it great. It deserves kudos for being like that but not praise. There is a difference.
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