A Not-So-Lasting Legacy

Surprise Review!!!
I have been trying to watch this movie for about a month now and I finally found time to get to it.  It was fun, I enjoyed it, but it was pretty much exactly what I thought it was going to be — “GORGEOUS JUNK”.  With that, I enter the Grid of Tron: Legacy.

Put very simply, I came into this movie looking for two things:  SPECTACULAR visuals and Amazing score.  The plot I knew would suffer for these elements but I hoped that it might break out of the stereotype enough for me to enjoy it.  And honestly it did…just enough.

Let’s start with the good.  The visual style and colors were INCREDIBLE!!!  Honestly that is why we all watched this movie – because Joseph Kosinski figured out what the original Tron was about.  When Tron came out in 1982, it changed the world of animation.  Characters existing in a world of three-dimensions inside a computer, circuit coming to life, programs having personality.  In the beginning of the Technology boom, this was revolutionary!  People saw it then because they wanted a glimpse into the Glitzy world of the motherboard, and that’s why modern audiences went back to it.  Kosinski gives the best possible tribute in that sense to what the original Tron was.

In the same way, the producers choice to bring in Electronica legend Daft Punk for the score was brilliant.  Who better to bring the world of charges and programs to life than a group that naturally brings them to music?  Daft Punk masterfully crafted a beautiful and energizing score which drove most of the movie.  Their pounding percussion low sweeping violins and muted keyboard notes create the perfect environment for Quorra and the Flynn’s to zip around in.

And speaking of them, let’s move on to the bad stuff…

The "Clu-de" Abides

Yup.  Honestly it felt like this whole movie came out of some mold and had actors plugged into it sporadically.  The storyline was incredibly unoriginal, had so many terrible stereotypes, and ultimately lived up perfectly to the low expectations I came into it with.  Yes it was fun, but their was absolutely no focus on any of the good stuff in the film, which is really sad because it did have a lot of potential.

First and foremost, the acting was barely decent, though I blame most of that on the writing. The way I figure it, some fanboy of The Big Lebowski decided to try to write all of Jeff Bridges dialogue and that ended up looking exactly as goofy as it sounds.  He constantly goes from super-genius programer and survivalist to saying entirely bizarre things like “Bio-digital jazz man!”  And while I like that analogy, it wasn’t done for it’s own sake – it was done to remind us of Bridges former roles which is again just sad.  As for Garrett Hedlund, I felt he did the best job he could with such a terribly predictable and stock script.  Sam Flynn somehow being entirely fine with being beamed into the game world only seconds after it happened wasn’t believable at all because the writers didn’t set up enough that he knew that’s how it worked. From there he goes into “Typical Hero Mode” – overcoming obstacles and saving the day like he’s been doing it for years.

Now Olivia Wilde is an interesting story.  When it was announced that she and Beau Garrett were cast in the film, the internet exploded with the idea that Disney was trying to introduce sex appeal into the movie.  And to be honest they weren’t far off but there was an interesting negotiation here.  Yes, indeed, Wilde did serve as the sexy chick whom Sam falls for during the film, and some would say that she actually holds her own in the film.  However, the writers (and director) do nothing more in the end than blend the two types of female characters into one person – the “Xena” warrior chick and the naive and helpless princess. She kicks butt but then goes on and on with doe eyes about Jules Verne. Wilde does do a good job in both aspects but ultimately she just ends up reinforcing dominant and hegemonic stereotypes.

The one particularly interesting aspect of her (and the other women in the film, especially Gem) is that, for a character added for sex appeal, her…”womanness” is surprisingly downplayed.  All of the women in the film were entirely covered and the outfits didn’t do much to accentuate their feminine parts at all.  Is this a Disney-esque watering down of their visual sexuality or is it a move towards a positive portrayal of women?  I don’t know but it is interesting how minimal the traditionally held stimulating elements are and how much that relationship plays out in her eyes. Then again you don’t have to scroll far in an image search for “Tron: Legacy” to find this picture:

Sex Appeal or Not: Let me know what you think below

Just a few more negatives I promise and then I will pass judgement on this film.
First, while the CGI was a major highlight of the film it also had some incredibly bad moments as well….like everything with Clu.  I think the problem is that they didn’t get the aspect ratio of Head to Body correct, giving the viewer the odd sense that the two didn’t match up.  The best moments with him were when they animated his whole body – it looked like a video game character but at least it looked cohesive and singular.  And the worst bit was that the started on that same face!  80’s Flynn had that same terrible CGI face and it really through me off.  It seems like it would have made more sense to use makeup and digital effects to de-age the real Bridges (like Harry Potter or Benjamin Button) and then shift to a clearly animated version inside the computer world (think The Santa Clause 3 only done well).

Also, I felt the editing was a bit slow. Perhaps it is just that I am a film major and thus study story structure, but I felt that this film was following the traditional pattern very slowly.  It was hitting all of the right beats but it was taking forever to get there.  One example of the opposite (fast-cutting) is at the very end when we get all of 30 frames showing Sam flipping the breaker switch off.  Ultimately I felt they could have tightened the whole film up immensely by cutting out the junk like that shot and getting to the action faster.  Oh, and btw:  I was screaming at my TV at the end for them to “END ON THE STUPID POSE!!!” because it was so obviously going there.  Way to go, story team.  Way to go.

One final thing:  I mentioned earlier that they neglected to delve into the really good stuff of the film, and so I should probably explain what I mean.  The ISO subplot was absolutely fascinating and I wish the writers had seen that as much as Kevin Flynn seemed to.  The idea of a “race” of programs coming into existence from nothing is fascinating and as Flynn says:

For centuries we dreamed of gods, spirits, aliens, and intelligence beyond our own. I found them in here, like flowers in a wasteland. Profoundly naive; unimaginably wise. They were spectacular. Everything I’d hope to find in the system; control, order, perfection. None of it meant a thing. Been living in a hall of mirrors. The isos, shattered it, the possibilities of their root code, their digital DNA. Disease? History! Science, philosophy, every idea man has ever had about the Universe up for grabs. Biodigital jazz, man.

That is absolutely AMAZING!!!  Why didn’t they make the movie about this?  This is the most original and interesting part of the entire film and tit gets religated to an undeveloped subplot so that, instead, we could focus on the stupid and unoriginal stock plot!  And beyond that Tron, the character on whom the title is based, is relegated to a another predictable and undeveloped subplot.  Score two more for the writing staff!

The Next New Project -- Assassin's Creed: Jeff Bridges

I realize that I have been griping a lot about a movie that in the end I really liked.  Honestly I watched Tron: Legacy for the graphics and soundtrack and that certainly paid off in full.  It was gorgeous and stirring – arguably better than Avatar in those regards (at least I would argue that).  The plot was exactly as underdeveloped and predictable as I expected, so I really wasn’t let down at all. 🙂  It is what I said before — “Gorgeous Junk”, and that is exactly what I wanted it to be.

Overall Score:  8//10

Yup!  There you go!  I am glad both that I finally got around to seeing this film and that I am finally getting back to my regular posting schedule.  I still plan to get the Ramble about Theatre out this week as well as a Review of one of my Summer Film Challenge movies, so be looking for those here soon.  Also, shameless plug for someone else, I found this review of Tron: Legacy when I was writing mine and I really like they way they summed it all up. Give them a try and see what you think.

Let me know what you thought of the movie and whether or not you see Olivia Wilde as the Sex Appeal in the movie.  I think there is an interesting negotiation in this movie about the roles of women in films, and I am very interested in your thoughts on the matter.  Might lead to a post in the future if I actually get some responses. 🙂  Anyway, thanks for sticking around and come back soon for another rambling from yours truly.

Please Comment Below and Subscribe!

Advertisements

It’s a Story about Flowers…

Alright.  Review time again.  I get to try to make sense of another bizarre and curious film as a part of my now Summer [very +] Film Challenge with Ryan Lagerstrom.  Basically I am going to call this in future the “Charlie Kaufman Challenge” because I already had Being John Malkovich, which you can read my review, and now it is my duty and my privilege to critique Charlie Kaufman’s (and I DO mean Charlie Kaufman’s) Adaptation.

This film was much more tame that Being John Malkovich by FAR.  Not that it was less deep or engaging.  It just lacked that “WTF!?”, shock-and-disturb factor that BJM enjoyed.  It was much more grounded in reality and much less fantastical.  It simply took a different approach at challenging our brains to something extraordinary, and it worked out very well for it.

Summarizing it briefly, the film revolves around Charlie Kaufman (yes him) struggling to transition from the success of Being John Malkovich to writing his next movie, an adaptation (yes that) of a novel: “The Orchid Thief”.  He can’t seem to get across what he wants to so he turns to the only logical option – make it a story about himself trying to adapt the book “The Orchid Thief”!  It is a beautifully crafted dismantling of the 4th wall that entirely foregoes that campy, ridiculous feel of most self-referencing films.

First of all the blending in of his previous work (i.e. – Being John Malkovich) was incredible! The film begins with a sort of “found behind-the-scenes footage” from the making of BJM, with John Malkovich himself in costume for the scene is his own mind and instructing the crew on being efficient for the sakes of the extras.  It gives the film an instant and incomprehensible realness that other films can only dream of.  We feel that this is less a narrative story and more a simple documentary on how Charlie Kaufman’s life went in that period of time.  Kaufman crafts something truly magical here.

And speaking of Mr. Kaufman (or both of them), the acting in the film is rather excellent, though I would expect no less from such a magnificent cast list.  Yes I know I just said that Nicholas Cage is a magnificent actor, and while that may not be exactly the case in his most recent additions to his repertoire, in this film he shines as a beautifully tragic Charlie AND as the excitingly energetic and naive Donald.  He performs both roles wonderfully, bringing to life two very real and marvelously rich characters.  I am certain Kaufman was pleased with Cage’s version of himself; I know I was.  Beyond him, Meryl Streep performs beautifully as usual, taking over the reigns of deeply disturbed bleep from Cameron Diaz.  Her Orlean was tragic and proudly displayed everything Kaufman was trying to say with the film.  And on top of that, Chris Cooper yet again proves that he will always be the down-home, in-the-muck guy that we all love to think is weird.

What is most excellent about this film is it’s subtle (yet obvious) lambasting of the Hollywood system, itself being a sort of Docu-drama on how a movie gets made.  In one of the opening monologues Charlie Kaufman rants about how he doesn’t want to “Hollywood” his screenplay for “The Orchid Thief” – he doesn’t want to add car chases and sex and all that to a simple story.  He just wants to tell it how it is.  Yet as the film goes on, we watch as more and more Hollywood cliches and motifs enter in and blend into the story.  We do get a car chase and gratuitous sex (apparently you have to bare all to win an Oscar these days, right Chris?) and it makes the film so fun and interesting.  The entire time you are aware that you are seeing this merging occurring and yet that is what drives the story along.  Only the real Charlie Kaufman could pull off such a feat.

One final note that I took away from this brilliant movie involves the relative context in which I saw it.  Azusa Pacific University’s Theatre Department had just recently started their production of the play Amadeus and I watched it the day before I saw this movie.  I think the two have interesting parallels, particularly in the realm of character change.

I will be speaking more about  this in an upcoming Ramble but I realized while watching Amadeus that the Theatre is the only place for story’s about people who lose.  If a film were to tell a fully defeatist story (Chinatown) it would be considered trash and a waste of our time because we had invested so much time in a character to watch them fall.  On the other hand the Theatre champions such heartwarming stories as Hamlet, Macbeth, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and Amadeus – all involving protagonists who start at least moderately composed and happy and who drive themselves to madness and depression via their competing desires.  Really happy stuff 🙂

So then: what has Athens to do with Jerusalem (in this case Amadeus to do with Adaptation)? For me the connection comes in the scene where Charlie goes to McKee’s lecture on story. Kaufman stands up and asks about what to do in the case that NOTHING happens – “just as it does in life”.  McKee thinks for a second and responds thusly:

Every bleeping day somebody somewhere takes a conscious decision to DESTROY someone else. … If you can’t find that stuff in life then you, my friend, don’t know crap about life!  And WHY THE [BLEEP] ARE YOU WASTING MY TWO PRECIOUS HOURS WITH YOUR MOVIE!?  I DON’T HAVE ANY USE FOR IT!

In essence here is what I got:  Life is about change.  Both Salieri and Kaufman struggle with the fact that things in life change – the former not accepting the supposed change in divine favor and the later not really seeing any change at all in himself.  However both point to the fact that things must change – a story isn’t complete until the protagonist changes.  The difference in the films comes when they make their choices as to how to deal with change. Kaufman takes the ironically traditional route ending with him discovering that he can and has changed, while Salieri make the much more interesting (and less self-aware) choice to not change.  We watch as he falls more and more into himself and continually refuses the call, and that is fantastic!  It proves that the narrative structure of the hero NOT succeeding or growing actually works, though not particularly in the realm of film.  Just an interesting parallel I drew.

Overall this is a masterful critique of Hollywood cinema, the narrative story structure, and Charlie Kaufman himself.  It is a wonderfully ironic, self-referencing, bizarre and beautiful film that I would absolutely recommend to any fan of cinema.  It does get a bit slow at times, and it does have a bit of the oddness and some of the vulgarity that are obligatory in any Charlie Kaufman movie, but honestly it is worth sitting through it to receive the ingenious commentaries which Adaptation provides.

Overall Rating:  9//10

Yup!  There you go!  I officially have 6 more movies and the finale season of Battlestar Galactica to watch to finish out the 2011 Summer Film challenge, and I think I am on track to get it all done before the year is out.  I already have Hannah and her Sisters in my possession and I plan to view that soon.

Thanks!  Let me know what you thought of Charlie Kaufman’s movie in the comments below and I will see you next week!

Please Comment Below and Subscribe!

“Crossroads” of the Show: Battlestar Galactica Season 3

YUP!!!  Back again already with another review!  No it isn’t Christmas!!  I’m just…way behind…
So now is my time to catch up.  I just finished the third and penultimate season of a show which is quickly becoming one of my favorites of all time.  Battlestar Galactica really stepped up it’s game for Season number 3 and I look forward to sharing some of it’s numerous high points.

JUST A WARNING:  This review will contain spoilers.  Please do not read this if you have not finished at least the first 3 seasons of BSG.

I ended my review of Season 2 by saying that the time lapse on New Caprica was ridiculous and, quote, ” A terrible ending to a moderately terrible Season.”  While I still hold that the majority of Season two is rather awful, I must concede that the way they handled it throughout Season 3 was rather good.  It got a bit clunky sometimes with the flashbacks but ultimately I liked how they explained the missing time on New Caprica as it pertained to the events post-“Exodus”.  Particularly the detailing of the resistance movement and the “Collaborators” with the Cylons were great choices that led to very interesting character arcs.

And on that note, the real strength of the Season were good character arcs. (On the other hand the character arcs did lead to several problems but more later.)  I loved how the important characters actually were given some history (Will Adama, Starbuck, Chief) and the periphery characters were brought forward and fleshed out.  By the end of the Season, I finally had what I wanted from the beginning:  A cast of complex characters that I care about and who had justification in their choices.

In particular, the episodes “Torn” and “Unfinished Business” very absolutely fantastic.  In the former, the filmmakers joined together Tigh and Starbuck – who had been enemies – and let them go to town together.  It was so fun to watch them play off each other and then get the radical twist of how Adama deals with them.  And then “Business” was exactly what you want for any show: a chance to bring out all of the character drama in a very visual and powerful manner.

However, this does lead me to the fact that they didn’t quite fix some of the problems from the previous seasons.  Particularly in “Unfinished Business” they revived the Lee/Starbuck relationship….yeah.  None of us really wanted that needless drama back and it really doesn’t help that it really doesn’t come up much after this.  The only good it does is to settle them into a tense, semi-resolved state that then dissolves into the background and lets the good stuff progress.

GAH!!!

The other unresolved issue from previous seasons is the vignette filler episode that come in the middle lull.  This season did a better job of both minimizing the number of them and by making them serve a purpose.  Like the “Hero” – yeah it was an hour of needless bit part story but it brings us a bit of the backstory on Adama and Tigh.  “A Day in the Life” doesn’t really serve much of a purpose either in the overall narrative, yet it brings out the relationship of Chief and Cally, as well as remind us of the dangers of their journey (more on that first note later).

And then “Maelstrom” happened…
Holy Mackeral!!!  I was screaming “WHAT THE FRAK!?!?!?” by the end of it.  How on earth (or kobol) do you kill off one of the show leads like that in the middle of a season!?  Trick question actually:  YOU DONT.  And with that I submit that the 10,000th nail was driven into the coffin of shows being able to kill off leads.  The CSI’s never could do it, primetime dramas don’t, and even Soap Opera characters would magically survive being murdered four seasons ago to surprisingly reappear to take their revenge.  Why should a Syfy show be any different? Because of it’s placement in the season, a half-brained monkey could see that she was coming back in someway or another.

Earlier I said that the Lee/Starbuck relationship development in “Unfinished Business” went nowhere.  Most people would say that it helped build up the tension to this point, and while I have to admit that it does have bearing on it, I don’t think it had that much.  They were already in a confused and tense state before the boxing match.  All that did was call it out into the open and show us a bit of the why.  Really in the end I feel that the reaction would have been exactly the same had they not made their relationship ambiguity so obvious.  We all know they have a love/hate relationship going on and we also know about their connected past.  Thus we all honestly expected Lee to react so strongly when his lover/foil “dies”. Common sense.

BTW - Great moment when he shaved that horrible mustache off 🙂

The Final two episodes were absolutely phenomenal!  “The Son Also Rises” did a great job of setting everything up for the Season Finale, “Crossroads”.  So much happens, which is both good and bad.

First thinks first:  Lets get the big pink elephant in the room out of the way.  4 of the Final 5 Cylons are revealed.  No joke, I honestly have been waiting for them to come out and say two of them were, but the other two surprised me.  I think it was in Season 1 that I realized Tigh had to be a Cylon.  His position in the inner circle and generally mixed-up state of mind just sold it to me that he had to be one.  It was just a matter of when they would announce it. The other one I knew was Chief.  When I saw that it was him my thoughts were, “Oh. So they decided to do that after all.”  I knew that he was a very viable choice for one of the Super-Sleepers so when he was one of them I wasn’t all that surprised.  However, Tory and Anders were complete shocks to me, so serious props to the writing team for great selections there. It will be cool to see them brought out of the periphery cast into the foreground as big important characters. I am excited to see how all four of them will play out in the final season.

And on the calling of those four, the style of this episode was incredible!!!  I loved how the filmmakers gave us enough of a ramp for the trial to be interesting and engaging as well as allowing for the other stuff happening around it to get ample time.  The musical element was absolutely fantastic!  On iTunes, reviewers beautifully describe the rendition of “All Along the Watchtower” as “a trans-civilization siren song…” and as “a beautiful blend of post-rock and Indian tonalities“.  I honestly feel that the last 7 minutes of the season finale are some of the best written and best executed minutes of kick-A television I have ever seen!
So say we all!

I do have just a few nit-picky issues with the ending though.  Overall I loved it but a few things just rub me the wrong way, chiefly that they have set so much stuff up in the finale and I know they only have one season to resolve it all.  I am just a little worried that this could turn into Lost in which very little actually gets explained or dealt with because there is so much to explore.  However if the trend of putting out good Seasons continues then I know that the final one will be great.

I don’t particularly like how the filmmakers are using Lee Adama.  He acts as a Queen on a chessboard: moving around and forcing other people to “check” themselves while constantly being unstable himself.  The writers just position him near the most volitile characters and they push each other into their respective psychological shells.  I wish they would let him work out some of his issues alone.  As out of place as it was back then, I miss the days when he didn’t want to fight because he nearly died alone in space, as opposed to the current “I won’t serve under a man who questions my integrity” Lee.  😐  Get it together dude!

One final thing (and I did hit on it earlier):  It really bothers me that Kara is back.  I thought is was pretty cut and dry that she exploded but they made it WAY too obvious that she was coming back (episode placement, lack of later mention, “sad panda” Lee).  Can we honestly not just kill people anymore?  I am glad they are so close to Earth now but honestly couldn’t they have revealed that through more creative means than taking the Horatio Cane way out – fake your death and then show up with a steamy pot of Deus Ex for you.  Oh, well.

Sorry, one more quick thing.  This whole Cult of Baltar thing seems really stupid to me.  I can’t expect that it is going to be getting much better in the near future.

Overall this was by light-years the best Season thus far.  The plot and character development flowed nearly flawlessly and the cast gave absolutely fantastic performances across the board. Twists and turns from every side, I can honestly say I am so excited for series finale.  I don’t really want it to be over but from the performance of this penultimate Season, I have high hopes for a fabulous ending to a truly magnificent show.

Overall Rating: 9//10

Just to say it, Chief is still my favorite character – particularly now because of this new character avenue he gets to travel down. However, I am coming to like Colonel Tigh more and more every episode – he has an amazingly splintered mind and I look forward to getting to know his backstory even more now.

Speaking of which, I am doubly curious to see how they handle the spinoff/revival show BSG: Blood & Chrome now, considering the fact that one of the leads is a CYLON!!!  Will they reference it?  I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out!

Welp!  Thanks for sticking around.  I hope you liked my review of Battlestar Galactica Season 3 and I would love to hear your thoughts about it [please no spoilers].  Did you think the reveal at the end was as big a surprise as I did or did you stop watching because you were still dealing with the shock of Starbuck “dying”?  Let me know in the comments below and please subscribe to stay up to date on every post I make.

My next review should be up by the end of this coming week and it will be on another of Charlie Kaufman’s masterfully disturbing works…..so be ready for that.  I know I’m not 🙂

Please Comment Below and Subscribe!

MindBleep: Being Really Confused

So…..I am going to try to unpack one of the most trippy, the most twisted, the darkest and most confusing films I have ever seen.  It deals with deep and disturbingly real issues in a very Greek fashion.  Hopefully I will be able to make some sense out of it, so please enjoy my review of Being John Malkovich.

Basically here’s how this is going to work.  I am going to break it down in the following fashion and hopefully that will allow me to fully examine this movie:

  • Plot Structure and Narrative Elements
  • Philosophical Questions and Morals
  • Last Thoughts and Commentary

So with that understanding, lets dig into this ridiculously trippy film 🙂

1.  Plot Structure and Narrative Elements

What is the plot?  You could say that it is about an apathetic and creepy puppeteer who discovers a door into John Malkovich’s mind, but honestly what does that mean?  It comes down to the film being made up of the many stories of an Ensemble cast.  Everyone gets a character arc (sort of) and we (the audience) get one heaping mess of confusion.

[SPOILERS] In case you are unaware, the film revolves around the failing relationship of Craig and Lotte, an out of work puppeteer and his wife.  Craig gets a job in a very odd building and there meets Maxine, whom I can best describe as a vivacious, foxy little bleep, who leads him (and later Lotte) around on a sexual “Odd-yssey”.  Oh, and Craig finds a door into actor John Malkovich’s mind.  No big.

From there it gets really weird.  Sexual identity questions mingle with philosophical inquiries and time traveling old people?  Yeah…it just gets weird.  Suffice to say, Craig takes over John Malkovich for a while and has a relationship with Maxine, then gives it up so that he can reunite with Lotte who has been in love with Maxine the whole time.  I can’t state it enough, this film is absolutely bizarre.  Craig ends up alone with no one to love or to love him and entirely broken mentally.  Yes, it is Defeatest but it does so in a classy manner.  It just warps your mind.

Let me break it down a bit more and take it back to one of the first dichotomies of how story works. In Greek theatre there were three basic structure for narrative:  Comedy, Drama, and the most important for us, Tragedy.  I was looking for a good way of expressing what the Tragic structure of story is, and in doing so I found a great quote from the Grand Valley State University in Michigan.  Their definition is quoted below:

Tragedy depicts the downfall of a noble hero or heroine, usually through some combination of hubris, fate, and the will of the gods. The tragic hero’s powerful wish to achieve some goal inevitably encounters limits, usually those of human frailty (flaws in reason, hubris, society), the gods (through oracles, prophets, fate), or nature. Aristotle says that the tragic hero should have a flaw and/or make some mistake (hamartia). The hero need not die at the end, but he / she must undergo a change in fortune. In addition, the tragic hero may achieve some revelation or recognition (anagnorisis–“knowing again” or “knowing back” or “knowing throughout” ) about human fate, destiny, and the will of the gods. Aristotle quite nicely terms this sort of recognition “a change from ignorance to awareness of a bond of love or hate.”

This is what came to my mind when I finished watching Being John Malkovich – a film involving the fall of the protagonist from imagined height to actual depth.  One can clearly see Craig (John Cussack) as a tragic protagonist:  he feels unhappy with his perception of his life, so he strikes out on a ridiculous plan to change everything and actually gets what he wants, until it all comes crashing down.  His pride and confusion about what he wants leaves him more destitute and alone than ever before.  There will be more on this in the next section.

As I mentioned before, this movie is really a collection of characters in an ensemble.  They spend their time dealing with each other – in the context of an insane, backwards situation nonetheless – but ultimately it is about their interactions, desires and damnation.  One could point to Craig being the protagonist because he is the character we start and end with. However, good arguments could be made for any and all main cast in the film being the lead because they are so intimately connected.

Everyone is both Hero and Antagonist.  Let me explain (No. Is too long. Let me sum up):

  • Craig starts off unhappy, gets the chance to have a new life and get what he wants which is recognition and respect. He takes his opportunity, gets conflicted about what he wants, gives up what he has, and finds himself alone.
  • Lotte at first is a pushover who is tragically neglected.  Once she enters John Malkovich, she has an awakening to what she wants (Maxine) but has to push Craig away to get her.  Later she is locked up and kept away from her “love” and watches that relationship fall apart.  Ultimately she ends up getting what she wanted but only because she crushes the dreams of her husband.
  • Maxine just wants to have fun, and thats what she gets.  That is, until she has to choose between her two playthings and hurt one of them.  She makes the “wrong decision” and then has to crush Craig to get what she wants.  In the end she has her desired life, but remember how long it took her to become unhappy with Craig’s Malkovich and want something else.  Just saying.
  • Lotte comes between Maxine and Craig
  • Craig comes between Maxine and Lotte
  • Maxine won’t love Craig or Lotte unless they are in Malkovich
  • Malkovich just wants to be left alone.

Being John Malkovich borders on the Shakespearian in its ensemble-nature and character interactions.  Just make Craig “Hamlet” and then watch as the “something rotten in the state of Denmark” romps around until everyone connected is dead in some form or fashion.

Just a few final points about the technical side of the film before I move on to the more serious philosophical and moral questions of BJM.  I must give credit to the filmmakers because it is a stunning bit of cinema.  The cinematography is phenomoninal, particularly in showing what it would be like to be inside the mind of another person.  The POV’s were incredible and the use of high and low angles solidly builds our understanding of how the characters relate to one another.

The music is…meh. It is musically complex and engaging, but it does become a little leading.  The songs informed me of which emotion I am to feel at a given moment, which I always dislike.  I would rather find how I feel on my own, thanks.

A few other quick thoughts:  The puppetry was masterful and (quite purposefully) took on a character of it’s own.  Another thing, for me, was that the film seemed to lose focus after Malkovich himself enters his own mind.  Everything involving him becomes subplot, as did the romances, and most prominently the random old people trying to continue their pattern of living forever.  It just seemed to get jumbled after that moment and it never fully recovered.

Finally, the film displayed the incredible ranges of all the actors involved and had a few great cameo roles (Charlie Sheen, Brad Pitt, Sean Penn).  On a side note to that,  I want to point out that the only resolved character in the whole thing is the monkey.  Just thought you aught to know.

[Insert Coraline joke here] and that is about it for the plot of Being John Malkovich.  I found the plot as confusing and as depressing as it is supposed to be.  I can’t fully say that I enjoyed the storyline(s) of the film but in the next section you will see what I do find in it to be quite fantastic.

2. Philosophical Questions and Morals

As I hinted at earlier, Being John Malkovich takes a particularly Greek fashion of looking at things.  I have already spoken of how it adopts the Greek Tragedy formula but now I want to turn to some of the philosophical implications and messages of the film.  Watching this film felt more like taking in a visual dissertation – it of itself was not particularly appealing to me but the truths to which it was speaking were.

First and foremost I want to list what I think are the three main questions the film is addressing:

  1. What are the ethics of controlling another person’s life?
  2. Would being someone else solve all of my problems?
  3. Is it possible to comprehend one’s mind and soul to the depth at which these characters do?

Each of these is complex and difficult to briefly discuss, so instead I will try to share what I think connects each of them.  In a Humanities class I took last year we discussed the main tenants of Greek philosophy and one of the most prominent ones to me was the concept of “xenia”.  Xenia is the mindset and acquirable trait of possessing good hospitality towards your fellow man.  In the Greek Epics, Homer demonstrates the necessity of having good Xenia by showing those who share it being blessed and those who withhold it punished.

What then does Homer have to do with Spike Jonze?  Each of his characters participate in varying levels of Xenia towards the others.  For example, Craig starts off with just passable xenia towards his wife and when he discovers his dreams within reach, he pushes all others aside and practices very bad Xenia.  Thus in the end he is brought to utter ruin.  On the other hand, Lotte at the beginning has nothing but xenia towards her husband.  Her years of selfless giving and service are rewarded in the end by her getting what she wants.

However, we do get a sort of “negotiated read” on the concept of xenia with Maxine.  She very blatantly practices appalling xenia towards Craig, Lotte, Malkovich, and everyone else she encounters.  However, in the end she gets what she wants?  I think the point the filmmakers are trying to make here is that sometimes life simply doesn’t work according to the so-called laws of karma – sometimes the bad guys win.  Again, however, I postulate that the Lotte-Maxine relationship is doomed to failure once the latter recovers her wandering spirit and her desire for the new toy.

Thus by the selfish or self-less nature of the character is determined their fate, and the beginnings of the answers for the three big questions.  On the ethics of controlling another the film clearly speaks about self-control and care not only for the puppeteer but also for the puppet.  The second question is obviously addressed, but not obviously concluded.  Craig did get everything he wanted when he took over Malkovich but I simply ask whether his problems were solved or not?  He still has a failing relationship, a conflicted soul about what he wants, and just unhappiness in general.  The other characters (other than the weird old people) ultimately make the decision that being themselves is the best option, so I think the best conclusion to draw is that in the end being someone else, John Malkovich or not, is not the best way for us to be.

Now the final question of the three is of course the most difficult to reconcile with the concept of xenia and the most complex ethically.  While I think it obvious that none of us will actually ever enter the mind of another person as…physically as John Cussack and Cameron Diaz do, the question of emotionally and mentally doing so still remains.  On that I think the movie shows that the proper way of understanding others is to respect them as someone totally separate from yourself and to show them proper Xenia.  Again to point out how weird this movie is the only solidly obvious example of this I can come up with is how the Monkey, remembering things of his own past, is able to connect emotionally with Lotte when they are locked up together and is thus able to help her.

Obviously a lot is said by Being John Malkovich towards the psychological and philosophical nature of humankind….and I haven’t EVEN gotten to the SEX yet!!!!  One of the more disturbingly prominent parts of the film is the sexual atmosphere in which the whole thing happens.  Not trying to be crude, but it is inescapable that one consider John Malkovich as the largest Condom in the history of the planet.  Also not to mention the odd LGBT relationships that sporadically pop up throughout the film.

I think ultimately Being John Malkovich makes great commentary on the life that is lived for and about sexuality, and this is the main issue I have with the world today.  We focus so much on “defining our sexuality” and pigeon-holing it into the most minute category possible.  The film shows the lives of three people who allow themselves to be define foremost and almost only by their sexual desires and it clearly shows how that for the most part ends up in ruin. “Money, Stuff, and Sex is the Goal” right?  Well not at ALL according to Mr. Malkovich 🙂

I will conclude this segment about the philosophy and ethics of this bizarre film with two of my favorite quotes from the movie.  I think they perfectly capture the questions asked by the movie and the attitudes it takes in answering them:

“You don’t know how lucky you are to be a monkey…because consciousness is a terrible curse.  I think, I feel, I suffer and all I ask in return is the opportunity to do my work. And they won’t allow it because I raise issues.”

And lastly,

“I took my fill of my wretched pleasures in you and this was the sum total of my love.”

"Check Please!"

3. Last Thoughts and Commentary

Ultimately I found this film to be deeply disturbing, emotionally taxing, and mentally stimulating. There is obvious brilliance in this project; it is just hard to get past the muck of the depressing ideology and the incredibly dislikable characters.  The plot is convoluted and ultimately suffers at the hands of what the film really is about:  providing intellectually engaging and morally unsure questions about the nature of Humankind in general.  And while I love a good “thinker” upon occasion, I found myself seriously bogged down trying to keep all of the elements in check in my head (let alone in Malkovich’s).  Between the ridiculously complex and overly dramatized sexualities competing within the lead characters, the metaphysical conundrums of the possibilities of a door into someone’s soul, and the ethical quandaries put forth by doing so, I found myself spinning so much that even 4 weeks after viewing it I still am ambiguous in my feelings toward it.

I think the best way I can sum up my opinion of Being John Malkovich is to say that I feel towards it as I feel towards The Departed or Donnie Darko:  I don’t particularly love it for itself but I recognize that it is a good movie.  In other words, I love the questions it raises and the truths it speaks to the human condition, but I just don’t really like how it does it.  Just like a textbook or dissertation, I recommend that you force yourself through it so that you can receive what it has to give you.  Technically it is fantastic, the acting is really excellent from all parties, and again I cannot deny that a serious amount of brilliance exist here.  If you are feeling up to it some night to have your brain and soul rocked a little, give Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich a try.

Overall Rating:  8//10

My friend Ryan's face when he sees what I rated BJM 🙂

Well there you have it!!!!  Took my 4 long weeks to complete this review and thus far it was the hardest to complete yet.  BUT don’t go away!  I will be putting up another review VERY soon and I am really excited about it.  Not to spoil anything but suffice to say that I don’t know man from toaster anymore 🙂  Thanks for sticking around and please feel free to leave your thoughts below.  I would love to hear what you think of this movie (maybe you actually GET it).  And tune back in for another review coming up real soon.  Bye, Y’all!

Please Comment Below and Subscribe!