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Old 10-11-2009, 02:48 PM   #1
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Let's talk about Charlie Kaufman

Any Charlie Kaufman fans here? In a Hollywood where originality is often sorely lacking, Kaufman has delivered some of the most original, creative screenplays in recent memory. I've only seen three of them so far, but you really only need to see one - and it doesn't really matter which one - to come to that conclusion. I've seen Being John Malkovic, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, and Synecdoche, New York.

I think Eternal Sunshine may be remembered as his defining masterpiece, and rightfully so. I just watched it for the second time last night, and it was even better than I remember. The idea of erasing a person from your memory, the ethics involved in such a thing, and the effectiveness or lack thereof of the procedure in question is so profound and thought-provoking, and the idea of combing this sci-fi-ish concept with the story of a tumultuous romantic relationship is just brilliant. Also fascinating is the nonchalant nature with which the worker bees - Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Kristen Dunst - approach the job of erasing part of a person's memory, and the juxtaposition of that and the emotionally gut-wrenching experience Joel, Clementine, and probably many other of the unnamed patients who underwent the procedure were going through before and/or during the procedure. Carrey and Winslet both turn in pitch-perfect performances, some of my favorites for both of them. Winslet deserved her oscar nomination for this film, and Carrey should've been nominated.

It's been a good five years since I've seen Being John Malkovich - I want to watch it again sometime soon - and my memories of it are really not all that clear, but I do know that I liked it very much. The whole idea of inhabiting someone else's mind and the idea of people somehow trying to profit off of anything and everything are both very compelling, and this film executes them both very well. Also, as with Eternal Sunshine, I remember thinking that two of the leads - Cusack and Diaz - both turned in one of the best performances of their careers. Good shit.

While I love those two, my feelings about Synecdoche, New York are considerably less enthusiastic. The main ideas are once again fascinating and profound, but I think the execution was not as good as the previous two. I felt like there was almost too much going on, too much to digest. Like, you're still trying to make sense of one thing and all of a sudden the film's already two steps ahead of you. The whole thing was very, very surreal, even for Kaufman.
Paintings that have to be viewed through a magnifying glass, the sudden and inexplicable development of foreign accents, houses that are always on fire and people who seem to be unaffected by it, illnesses that may or may not be real
...that's just the tip of the iceberg of what occurs around the central plot of a play set in a life-size replica of New York. I read a review that, while generally positive, made a good point; (paraphrasing) oddity leaks out of every scene, some of it is important and meaningful, but some of it is just masturbation. Was all of the surrealistic elements of this film altogether necessary, did they all have a point, or were some there just be there? I read another review that asked what I think is an interesting question; this is the first film that Kaufman directed himself, so is it possible that the directors of his previous films sort of contained him a little, reigned him in a little, made his previous films a little more digestable, a little more commercially viable than they would have been if he had directed them himself? This film just seemed more incoherent, crazier, than his previous works. In the hands of a lesser actor than Philip Seymour Hoffman - one of the greatest actors working today, imo - the film could be downright unwatchable. I know this sounds awfully negative - and truth be told, I found it hard to get through the whole film - but it's not so much that I don't like it as much as it is that I don't know exactly what to make of it. It will definitely require another viewing at some point, and I am entirely open to the possibility that another view could make it crystalize better for me.

I haven't seen Adaptation yet; I think that and a re-viewing of Being John Malkovich are in my near future.

Anyone else have any thoughts about Charlie Kaufman and his films?

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Old 10-11-2009, 02:58 PM   #2
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Adaptation is my favorite of the films he's been involved in. Streep owns.

There is more than one R in Jim Carrey's name.

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Old 10-11-2009, 03:02 PM   #3
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Yeah, Adaptation is his most focused and assured script, too. Plus, Nic Cage's performance is the best in any of the Kaufman-written films.

Don't discount Human Nature either, which he did with Gondry before Eternal Sunshine. I haven't seen it or heard much about that one. Also, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is a blast.
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Old 10-11-2009, 05:53 PM   #4
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There will always be a special place in my heart for Eternal Sunshine, but as far as writing and vision goes, Synechdoche may very well be his masterpiece. Yes, there's a lot going on, and that's why with the miracle of home video one has the ability (and privilege) to go back to the film again and again and continue to explore its mysteries and pleasures. Plus, I can't imagine any subject more personal than how one faces their mortality. It is profound in a way that you are likely to get something different from it at different stages in your life.
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