Monday, February 15, 2010

Catching Up With Netflix

Quick thoughts on recent, and not-so-recent, viewings.

The Aviator. This was better than I expected it to be, but it didn't really feel like a Martin Scorcese film. Leonardo DiCaprio was good, and watching him you could see hints that he could become the actor who was so convincing in "The Departed." Cate Blanchett was great as Katharine Hepburn, Alec Baldwin was great as Pan Am's CEO Juan Trippe, and Alan Alda was great as oily US Senator Ralph Brewster. I have to admit that I was a little surprised to be reminded that it was nominated for 11 Oscars, because I'm not sure if it was that good. What I'd really be interested in seeing would be Scorcese's take on the last 20 years of Hughes' life.

Being John Malkovich. The first of two trips through the labyrinth that is Charlie Kaufman's mind that we've taken lately. I don't know how any writing can do justice to the intricacy of Kaufman's screenplays; you just have to admire how someone can come up with something that on paper, sounds so crazy. The story must be familiar by now - in the office where he works as a filer, John Cusack discovers a hidden portal (behind a filing cabinet, of course), which leads into the mind of John Malkovich. Once you get sucked into the portal, you literally become Malkovich, for 15 minutes. The movie is filled with good performances - Cusack, Catherine Keener, Cameron Diaz (nice to be reminded that there was once a time when she played roles that required her to do something more than just be cute), and of course Malkovich himself. But my favorite was probably Orson Bean. Having grown up in the era of daytime game shows, I remember Bean being a regular presence on several of them, most notably "To Tell the Truth." It was great to see him again, long after I ever expected to.

There's a part of me that wonders whether the movie is too clever - the twists and turns were never less than brilliant, but much like a guitar solo that seems to have no place in a song, I'm not sure what they signify. The film does raise a lot of interesting questions about the nature of relationships, but to me the answers all felt pretty mean-spirited. Don't get me wrong - I liked the movie a lot and loved the unorthodox approach to everything, but in the end I'm not really sure how much all of it means.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The second trip through the Kaufman labyrinth. I thought there were a lot of similarities between this and "Malkovich," but this felt like a much more "complete" work, if that makes any sense. It's hard for me to put my finger on exactly what is different about this movie that made me like it more than Kaufman's earlier effort, but a lot of it had to do with the characters. The people played in "Sunshine" are no more perfect than those in "Malkovich," but to me they felt a lot more likable - with the exception of Elijah Wood, who I'm beginning to think is at his best when he plays a weasel. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet are great, and Tom Wilkinson, Mark Ruffalo, and Kirsten Dunst all lend a good deal of weight to the characters they play. The story? I'm going to take the coward's way out, and suggest that you check it out for yourself.

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