Category Archives: Movie List

21. Being John Malkovich

Smiley Rating:

Right now I’m looking at myself in the bathroom mirror, which is spotty and needs to be cleaned.  Instead of whipping out the Windex, I look past the water spots and examine my hairline, which, by the way, is receding way too quickly.  At least, in my opinion it is.  I look at my nose.  I look at my ears.  I look at my probably unhealthy skin, and at the wrinkles on my forehead and around my eyes…  Fuck…  My gaze then fixes upon my gaze.  My eyes are looking at my eyes.  And I wonder, “am I me?”  Is the voice inside my head legitimately mine?  Or does it belong to a shifty, morose puppeteer pulling at my strings somewhere from within?  If so, how did he get there?  And more importantly, how the fuck do I get him out?  Shit.  Is God a morose puppeteer?  No.  Stop it.  It can’t be.  I’m in control.  I am.

I think I am?

These uncertain philosophical questions regarding the nature of self is what Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze, 1999) is essentially about.  Take the mind/body problem, for example.  How can the mind— invisible formless matter— be confined and relegated to a single body, a physical, tangible, touchable thing?  Why doesn’t the mind simply just float away?  Does it float away?  Can it float away?  Or is it truly bound to the physical body?  … Is there a physical body?  Look, what I’m trying to ask is this— is the mind a result of the body or is the body a result of the mind?

Perhaps offering an answer to these unanswerable questions, through a sort of hypothetical, bizarre trial and error system, Being John Malkovich demonstrates that the body is indeed the result of the mind.  Or, in other words, you are who you are, despite the physical body in which you reside.  Even if you could crawl through a portal on the seventh-and-a-half floor and into John Malkovich’s body, that wouldn’t change who you quintessentially are.  The body, in time, would simply change to reflect that mind (just as John Malkovich’s body does in this movie).

Deep metaphysical questions aside, what this movie also does is it examines our “15-minutes-of-fame,” reality-TV-obsessed culture.  Why, for example, would someone, anyone, want to change bodies?  I presume it has something to do with looking into the mirror and not liking what you see reflected back at you.  This feeling of inadequacy is inflicted by a superficial, manipulative society that places too much importance on physical appearance, rather than inner appearance (the mind), which as I discussed earlier, is actually what is relevant to who you are.

Speaking of manipulation, one of the more intriguing characters in Being John Malkovich is Catherine Keener’s Maxine, the one character who seems to be in total control the entire time.  She, unlike the others, seems to always get what she wants, either through manipulation or otherwise.  Ironically enough, she is also the only character who doesn’t desire to crawl through the portal and into John Malkovich.  In this way, she is the master puppeteer.  Not in a cynical way necessarily, but because she is the most confident.  She knows who she is, and she accepts it, thusly allowing herself to be open to following through on her instincts.

Now, I’ve spoken a lot so far about metaphysics and strange ethereal ideas, but I should also say this movie is damn funny.  It’s smart as hell, for sure, but more importantly, it’s funny.  It’s funny when John Malkovich crawls into his own portal and is confronted by a world populated by only John Malkovich’s.  “Malkovich, Malkovich?”  “Malkovich.”  It’s funny how Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) takes his profession as a puppeteer so damn seriously.  It’s funny that there is a seventh-and-a-half floor.  It’s funny that one gets spat out onto the New Jersey turnpike once your 15 minutes of being John Malkovich are up.  It’s funny, it’s funny, it’s funny, and who knew philosophy was so full of hilarity?

Well, apparently Charlie Kaufman knew, who, I get the feeling, was making it all up as he went along.  As if he thought of this incredible concept and just dove head first to see where it took him.  This is an admirable, bold way to tackle a screenplay, and while the result is a somewhat uneven journey, it’s also one that is full of laughter, surprises, distinctiveness, wit, and it ultimately leaves you in an unsuspecting place you never expected to be when you first began the journey.  For that, I’m thankful.

Oh.  And disregard that thing I said at the outset about my receding hairline.  I’m actually having a FABULOUS hair-day today.

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10. The American

Smiley Rating:

The American (Anton Corbijn, 2010) is one of the few movies in my collection that I have never seen before (it was a gift from my bro-in-law.  Thanks!)  And while the cover art and advertisements suggest a suspenseful thriller, after viewing I’d actually describe the movie as more of a minimalist drama than an intricate thriller.  Let’s just say it was sexier than it was exciting, and more restrained than it was wild.  Mirroring these characteristics is the icy melancholic mood of the film, which creates a persistent feeling of isolation, paranoia, and loneliness.  Basically, “a place without love.”

All of which is personified by the closed-off protagonist, played here by George Clooney, who is an aging, covert arms dealer looking to retire after one more dangerous assignment.  With a leering camera perspective that creates the aura of being followed, Clooney’s character goes about his job in a methodical, deft manner.  Along the way, he starts seeing a prostitute (are they this gorgeous in real life?), whom he predictably grows warmer with throughout, despite his distrust and paranoia.  He finishes the assignment practically without a hitch, until the final sequences, where all hell breaks loose and an ironic twist of fate is climatically revealed.

One of the inherent problems with this movie, although it’s not a problem so much as it is a characteristic, is the movie’s closed-off nature and prickly tone.  The result is a movie that is hard to embrace fully, and a protagonist that is difficult to gather a fair impression of.  For example, I’m not sure what Clooney’s character actually does or why he chose to do it.  Is he an arm’s dealer?  Is he a private contract killer?  Is he an undercover government operative?  I don’t know.  All’s I do know is that it’s a dangerous job and he’s really good at it.  Which leads me to wonder if The American is at all a statement regarding the United States’ own foreign policy.  If so, it seems to be suggesting that we, the American citizens, are a detached, paranoid, uninterested group of folks when it comes to what we do around the world.

Political quandaries aside, one of the more interesting thematic elements in The American is that Clooney’s character is referred to as “Mr. Butterfly” at least three times.  The first utterance reminded me instantly of the movie M. Butterfly (David Cronenberg, 1993), which contains similar themes of betrayal and secrecy.  Whether there’s supposed to be or is a direct correlation between the two, I’m not sure.  Either way, “Mr. Butterfly” works as a fitting metaphor for Clooney’s character, one that wades in a cocoon-like, closed-off nature, until finally he has the desire to shed that shell and break free.  This echoes the sequence during the opening credits, where Clooney’s existence is portrayed as a long dark tunnel with only a shred of light at the end of it.  The question is, will he get to the light or will it be too late?


Inventory

Here is the full list of movies I aim to commentate on (alphabetical order):

  1. 8 ½
  2. 40 Year Old Virgin
  3. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  4. A Clockwork Orange
  5. Across the Universe
  6. Adaptation
  7. A History of Violence
  8. Almost Famous
  9. Amelie
  10. The American
  11. American Beauty
  12. American Pie
  13. A Mighty Wind
  14. Annie Hall
  15. Any Given Sunday
  16. Art School Confidential
  17. Away We Go
  18. Barton Fink
  19. Batman Begins
  20. Beginners
  21. Being John Malkovich
  22. Best in Show
  23. Big Fish
  24. The Big Lebowksi
  25. The Birds
  26. Blood Simple
  27. Boogie Nights
  28. Boondock Saints
  29. Born on the Fourth of July
  30. Bottle Rocket
  31. The Bourne Ultimatum
  32. Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  33. Breathless
  34. Brokeback Mountain
  35. Burn After Reading
  36. Capote
  37. Chasing Amy
  38. Citizen Kane
  39. Clerks
  40. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  41. Coffee and Cigarettes
  42. The Darjeeling Limited
  43. Dazed and Confused
  44. Deconstructing Harry
  45. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
  46. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
  47. Donnie Darko
  48. The Doors
  49. The Double Life of Veronique
  50. Down by Law
  51. Drugstore Cowboy
  52. Dumb and Dumber
  53. Easy Rider
  54. Eat Pray Love
  55. Eraserhead
  56. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  57. Exit Through the Gift Shop
  58. Eyes Wide Shut
  59. Family Plot
  60. Fanny and Alexander
  61. Fantastic Mr. Fox
  62. Fargo
  63. Fast Times at RIgdgemont High
  64. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
  65. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
  66. Fight Club
  67. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
  68. Frenzy
  69. Full Metal Jacket
  70. Funny Face
  71. Funny People
  72. Garden State
  73. Get Him to the Greek
  74. Ghostbusters 1
  75. Ghostbusters 2
  76. Good Will Hunting
  77. Half Nelson
  78. Hard Eight
  79. Harold and Maude
  80. Heaven and Earth
  81. High Fidelity
  82. I’m Not There
  83. Inglourious Basterds
  84. I Heart Huckabees
  85. Inland Empire
  86. Into the Wild
  87. Jackie Brown
  88. Jeff, Who Lives at Home
  89. JFK
  90. Juno
  91. Kicking and Screaming
  92. Knocked Up
  93. Lars and the Real Girl
  94. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
  95. Little Miss Sunshine
  96. Lost in Translation
  97. Love Actually
  98. Magnolia
  99. Mallrats
  100. Manhattan
  101. The Man Who Knew Too Much
  102. Marnie
  103. Match Point
  104. The Meaning of Life
  105. Melvin Goes to Dinner
  106. Memento
  107. Midnight Cowboy
  108. Milk
  109. Miller’s Crossing
  110. Moulin Rouge
  111. Mulholland Drive
  112. My Own Private Idaho
  113. Mystery Train
  114. Naked Lunch
  115. Natural Born Killers
  116. Nixon
  117. The Notebook
  118. Office Space
  119. Once
  120. Paris Je Taime
  121. Paris, Texas
  122. Paris When it Sizzles
  123. The Phantom of Liberty
  124. Pi
  125. Pineapple Express
  126. Platoon
  127. The Player
  128. Pretty in Pink
  129. The Princess Bride
  130. Prizzi’s Honor
  131. Psycho
  132. The Puffy Chair
  133. Pulp Fiction
  134. Punch-Drunk Love
  135. Raising Arizona
  136. Rear Window
  137. Requiem for a Dream
  138. Reservoir Dogs
  139. River’s Edge
  140. Rocky
  141. Roman Holiday
  142. Rope
  143. The Royal Tenenbaums
  144. The Rules of Attraction
  145. Rushmore
  146. Saboteur
  147. Sabrina
  148. Salvador
  149. Say Anything
  150. Scenes From a Marriage
  151. Seven
  152. Sex and the City
  153. Sex and the City 2
  154. Shadow of a Doubt
  155. The Shining
  156. Short Cuts
  157. Sideways
  158. Slacker
  159. Sleeper
  160. Slumdog Millionaire
  161. The Social Network
  162. Some Kind of Wonderful
  163. Some Like It Hot
  164. The Squid and the Whale
  165. Stand By Me
  166. St. Elmo’s Fire
  167. Stranger Than Paradise
  168. Superbad
  169. Swingers
  170. Swordfish
  171. Synecdoche, New York
  172. Talk Radio
  173. Taxi Driver
  174. Thank You For Smoking
  175. There’s Something About Mary
  176. There Will Be Blood
  177. This is Spinal Tap
  178. Three Colors Blue
  179. Three Colors White
  180. Three Colors Red
  181. Thumbsucker
  182. Topaz
  183. Torn Curtain
  184. Traffic
  185. Tropic Thunder
  186. The Trouble With Harry
  187. True Romance
  188. U-Turn
  189. Vertigo
  190. Vicky Christina Barcelona
  191. The Virgin Suicides
  192. The Visitor
  193. Waiting for Guffman
  194. Waking Life
  195. Waking Ned Devine
  196. Walk Hard
  197. Wall Street
  198. The Way We Were
  199. The Weather Man
  200. When Harry Met Sally
  201. Zelig