(Non-format specific portions of this review are culled from my review of said film, so enjoy or read elsewhere.)
In watching Being John Malkovich again recently, for the first time in awhile, the thing I was struck by is how unique it is (duh!). It doesnâ€™t try too hard at being different, to the point that itâ€™s going to suck, everything is matter of fact, and itâ€™s hilarious. Its characters are flawed, but we feel for some of them a great deal. Itâ€™s funny, itâ€™s touching, itâ€™s dramatic, it works on many levels.
Iâ€™d expected this to be a 112 minute MTV video from Spiegel heir Spike Jonze, but itâ€™s clear that his work, combined with Charlie Kaufmanâ€™s script results in a story about the 3 main characters experiencing deep, life-altering experiences, and from those experiences, finding (or wanting to find) love. How they get there though, thatâ€™s another story.
Craig Schwartz (John Cusack, High Fidelity) is a street puppeteer dreaming of success. Sometimes his puppet shows are a little on the PG-13 tip for some G audiences, leading to a young girlâ€™s father punching Craig. He then returns home to his wife Lotte (youâ€™d barely notice, but it is Cameron Diaz of Thereâ€™s Something About Mary) who convinces him to try and find a job. Lotte runs a pet store, and their apartment is crowded with pets, among them a chimp suffering from an ulcer. With Craigâ€™s expert hands, he manages to find a job working as a file clerk at LesterCorp, located in the Merton Flemmer building on the 7Â½ floor. He meets and falls for Maxine, who is not afraid to speak her mind, especially when it comes to Craigâ€™s passion. She tolerates Craig, knowing that heâ€™s pretty harmless. One day at work, Craig accidentally drops a file behind a cabinet, and behind the cabinet, finds a door and a small crawlspace. Going through the door whisks him through a portal which places him inside of John Malkovichâ€™s head for 15 minutes, before depositing him along the side of the New Jersey Turnpike. Craig returns to work and tells Maxine (and subsequently Lotte) about the portal, and things go from there.
A lot of people have probably seen the film and can decide whether or not to put spoilers in it. And since itâ€™s my review, Iâ€™m going to leave it to those who havenâ€™t seen it to go see it. There are so many twists and turns to this story, that even after seeing it several times, seeing it again recently made me realize just how different this movie is. Cusack is in his usual outstanding form, and Keener received an Oscar nomination for her performance as well, and Diaz, under a huge head of curly brown hair, is a pleasant surprise as the mousy Lotte. Jonzeâ€™s first feature length attempt was a winner, and heâ€™s since continued the success with Kaufman (Adaptation). Most of all, Malkovich (In the Line of Fire) himself has to be commended, not only for the sense of humor to play himself, but to play other various roles in and out of his head with such energy. Imagine this movie if Malkovich refused the part, it certainly wouldnâ€™t have come off as well without his effort. This is as unique a film can get. Every little twist is such a surprise, and is done with such humor, that Kaufman has to be recognized as one of the most creative minds in Hollywood. Malkovichâ€™s discovery of his own portal, and his words to Schwartz afterwards, are so funny, and so uniquely Kaufman, itâ€™s hard to see them done any other way. Films like this donâ€™t come around much; they should be treasured, and Being John Malkovich is one of the best cinematic treasures of recent years.
Ahoy ahoy, thereâ€™s a Dolby Digital track for all to enjoy. Itâ€™s quite active from a surround perspective and is a very environmental experience. It might not give you quite the workout, but itâ€™s worth investing some time.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that uses the VC-1 codec is not too shabby. There are scenes where detail is sharper than on its original standard definition release that are nice to see. Blacks are solid, and film grain is both present and consistent.
To go along with the eccentric feel of the movie, some eccentric special features are included. The orientation video for the 7Â½ floor and the special called American Arts and Culture Presents John Horatio Malkovich, Dance of Despair and Disillusionment, both in their entirety. Either piece runs 2-4 minutes, and the majority of both were shown in the film. Theyâ€™re still pretty funny, and their inclusion was nice. Thereâ€™s also a 6 minute piece called An Intimate Portrait of the Art of Puppeteering, which showcases Phil Huber, the puppeteer (or marionette artist) whose services were used in the film. Huber provides his thoughts on the story and the art of puppetry in general, and the piece wraps with contact information for a Puppetry Association. Itâ€™s a short, harmless piece that helps you get inside the mind of a puppeteer, if you will. An Intimate Portrait of the Art of Background Driving is about 4 or 5 minutes, and features the bizarre musings of a twentysomething extra who happens to own a car, and her car is used for background on the Jersey Turnpike. Sheâ€™s a strange one as the talk ranges from being Mary Kay Placeâ€™s stand-in to the type of vegetables that were good at the lunch break. Worth your time in avoiding. Spike Jonze also includes an interview on the disc. The piece is 2 or 3 minutes, and is apparently rushed, as heâ€™s in his car. It concludes with him getting out and throwing up, and then getting back in the car and driving. When I first saw this, I was as confused as everyone else is, but after seeing Spikeâ€™s (and Lester Bangs, who filmed the interview) affiliations with Johnny Knoxville and the Jackass crew, this seems more like a goof than just a strange interview. Jonze also includes a photo album, which is nothing more than 31 unremarkable on-set pictures snapped by Spike. Biographies and filmographies from IMDB are included for the major cast players, plus Kaufman and Jonze. The trailer and TV spots are OK, the 4 spots are also unique, including one which is almost exclusively a promotional ad for JM Incorporated, the business Craig and Maxine run after the portal is discovered. Thereâ€™s also the screen that warns you thereâ€™s nothing there if you select it, and sure enough, thereâ€™s nothing there. Howâ€™d I find out? Cause I donâ€™t read too well, thatâ€™s why!
This disc doesnâ€™t reveal a whole lot, and the technical qualities are good, but might not necessarily warrant an upgrade. Having said that, if youâ€™ve got a HD DVD player and havenâ€™t seen this yet, itâ€™s required that you do so.