Mon, Mar
24
2003

Reviews, Reviews, Reviews

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Cleaning house was all well and good, but one always wants a bit of downtime after that. So, Saturday Evening, Erin and I grabbed some KFC, rented some DVDs, and sat in front of the television. Our pick for the evening was Gosford Park.

Gosford Park was a recent movie filmed by Robert Altman. It's set in an English manorhouse in 1932 and is primarily about the British class system. A rich couple is hosting a weekend hunting party in a manor house for a whole host of rich families, and everybody shows up with their maid and valet. There's an American producer of Charlie Chan films added to the mix and we're off.

It's obstensibly a murder mystery comedy, but the star of the show, here, is the Upstairs/Downstairs relationships. Lots of people have plenty to hide, there's hypocracy, snobbery, quiet dignity, and serfdom. The upper class go riding and gossip about the others behind their backs, and the lower class toil away and gossip about the upper class behind their backs. This does hold the attention for the duration of the movie, which is good because the murder doesn't happen until almost an hour passes.

Stephen Fry steals the show as a completely witless inspector with a superbly competent constable. Unfortunately, he is not on screen long enough to put the movie over the top. Despite great characterizations and some very intriguing storylines, the movie peters out, with no good sense of closure. The murder mystery is interesting, and things are explained, but nothing actually happens. It may not have helped that I had difficulty telling the characters apart in my mind, but this movie played a little homage to the 30s manor house murder classics, but didn't parody it enough for comedy, and didn't make the story compelling enough for tragedy.

So, Gosford Park is an engaging movie about class structure, with some funny moments, but ultimately forgettable. I gave it three-and-a-half stars.

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On the other hand, we are going to be hard-pressed to forget Being John Malkovich, ever. This is a surreal picture about a struggling puppeteer, who finds work as a file clerk on the seven-and-a-half floor of a Manhattan office building, and accidentally discovers a portal into actor John Malkovich's brain. Inside, you can be John Malkovich for fifteen minutes. His co-worker, Maxine, being the evil person that she is, decides to sell tickets, and things blow up from there.

This movie piles on the wierd and keeps piling it on until you can't help but stare at the picture with mouth agape. The creative team of Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufmann keep on pulling progressively wacky ideas out of their hats. What if you could inhabit John Malkovich's mind for fifteen minutes? What if you were in love with somebody, but only if they were in John Malkovich's mind? What if John Malkovich went into the portal into his own mind? It just goes on and on.

However, there is a story here, and it's internally consistent, and quite compelling. There is a beginning, middle and an end, with plot points necessary for the story's resolution placed at the beginning of the film. This movie is not only funny, but creepy; it's no accident that the leading character of this film is a struggling puppeteer.

John Malkovich, the film's centrepiece, appears as himself, understandibly alarmed at having so many people enter his head. It's sometimes easy to forget that you're watching a real person; John Malkovich obviously has a great time riffing his own persona, but his character isn't. While John Malkovich the actor puts on a side-splitting performance, the quality of the storyline is such that we can't help but feel sorry for John Malkovich the character, as he is put through hell.

The movie is brilliant in almost everything. The only flaw comes in the fact that, save for John Malkovich, there seems to be few people in this film that you can readily sympathize with. When the reason for the portal is revealed, you still have no clue whether John Malkovich has any say in his final fate. There are some hints that he does have such a say, but most of the characters vying for his brain have, at best, questionable ethics.

It remains, however, a movie that I can see again and again. It is appropriately mind-blowing, and even the puppeteering is exceptional, and worth the price of admission alone. Four-and-a-half stars.


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