Charlie Kaufman  



Unique American screenwriter, and sometimes director, of highly idiosyncratic movies with an auteur's touch. His characters typically feature several very deep flaws that often make their life and attitudes miserable. Except that Kaufman likes to explore these characters using a wide variety of intelligent, creative and challenging meta-fiction techniques, some of which employ fantasy, surrealism and sci-fi. For example, superficial characters may literally become other characters, sci-fi gadgets are used to bring up the question of character versus memory, a character may literally build his own world, or view other people as one person. These meta-explorations are often fascinating, but frequently difficult to enjoy thanks to his miserable, despicably base, or clinically-depressed characters.

Recommended

Being John Malkovich  
A flawed movie that deserves a recommendation just for its delightful creativity. Except that it uses its creativity for some off-putting and banal storytelling and despicable characters. Which is exactly what the characters in this movie do with a fascinating and bizarre discovery of a portal into a celebrity's mind. A grimy puppeteer, his frumpy wife (Diaz), and his despicable co-worker/love interest become entangled in an ugly triangle when they discover this amazing and very weird portal that allows you to experience being John Malkovich for 15 minutes before being dumped in the New Jersey turnpike. The movie starts to explore themes of identity and the psychology of lost people that either desperately want to be someone else, or want the power to control someone else like a puppet, except that its adult characters behave like three-year-olds with the lusts of an 18 year old, thus undermining the goals of the movie. Even satire has to target something realistic. The wife suddenly realizes she wants to become a man, and cheats on her husband with an over-confident bitch whom he was trying to have an affair with, except that she does it while being Malkovich because the bitch gets turned on by kinks created in her own mind. All three behave like self-obsessed children with emotional tantrums and damaged psyches, while Malkovich, in a superbly subtle, hilarious and valiant acting role, gets abused and used by all three. But if you put all that emotional disgust aside, there is much to like in this movie in an endless stream of delightful twists, including a visual equivalent of solipsism, identity-stealing exploited commercially, the seventh-and-a-half floor of an office building, the metaphysics of using people as immortality vessels, and more.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind  
An insightful, quirky and sensitive masterpiece about memory, ingrained behaviour and emotional attachment. Although this was written by Charlie Kaufman, I feel that Gondry made it his with his many visual quirks and love for his characters, as opposed to Kaufman's loathing. This movie explores the above themes by taking a loving relationship that has gone bad, and adding a memory erasure procedure into the story. Lovers that live in pain naturally search for a way to remove their suffering, but what is left after memories are erased? Perhaps the love would remain, as well as habits, inclinations and even emotions that would cause us to make the same mistakes over again? What if, during a memory erasure procedure, we suddenly realized that we don't want to lose the good with the bad and that the good was a lot more important than we imagined? Gondry has both visual as well as intellectual fun with all this, adding slight surreal touches as we see the world through a man's emotionally torn mind that is being systematically scrubbed. Memories are consciously hidden or moved elsewhere, change before our very eyes, and even become surreally warped. Superbly touching, fun and fascinating for thinking, sensitive audiences.

Of Some Interest

I'm Thinking of Ending Things  
Charlie Kaufman directs this highly surreal meditative movie, which doesn't stray far from the clinically depressed and bleak themes of Synecdoche and Anomalisa. It's actually amongst the simplest of his movies, except that it's completely internal and doesn't delight in the metaphysical visual games of Synecdoche and Being John Malkovich. Unfortunately this also means we get to spend over two hours inside the mind of a typical Kaufman character, which means doom and gloom and seeing anything good in life as constantly deteriorating or hopeless in a self-destructive self-feeding loop of misery. This movie explores memories, nostalgia and especially lost love or avoided love, and the decrepit wormy cloak of grey and freezing cold with which growing older paints these memories and fantasies. There are many conversations in this movie that provide strong clues regarding what is going on in our protagonist's mind. One of them is about his attempt at painting mood with only scenery and color. And the movie does exactly this. One character is a projection of self, another is an amalgam of all the girls and loves he ever thought about or fancied. But even his own fantasies want to break up with him, which is no surprise since he wants to break up with himself, hence the title. Parents, a childhood home on the farm, and small town delights are all visited, except as memories do, they wander surrealistically between different periods in his life. Other themes include the cruelty of vapid beauty, modernity that often puts a black politically-correct spin on nostalgic songs or fantasies, and an obsession with cleanliness in line with his job that keeps him company during the long cold nights. There's a nostalgic but pathetic love for musicals, and an interpretive dance that demonstrates the bloom, decline and wrecking of young love. I didn't find it as challenging as his other movies, and this bleakness and ubiquitous depression, as always with his movies, is a banal turn-off. The intellectual conversations that serve as character-study, and the surreal exploration of memories, were somewhat interesting though.

Synecdoche, New York  
Like Being John Malkovich, I really wanted to like this movie and was impressed by the uniqueness and brilliant mind-altering meta-writing by Charlie Kaufman, but was let down by the self-loathing, and depressing, despicable characters. It's like watching a brilliant but depressed writer contemplating suicide while writing a screenplay. I.e. talent wasted on melancholy and obsessive self-exploration rather than on living. Except that this is exactly the theme and meta-theme of this movie. It would take at least ten pages to adequately describe this movie and my thoughts on it, a lot of it would make the movie sound great, but the experience itself of watching this movie was so relentlessly bleak, and the miseries piled on this character were so absurd that they may make you burst out in laughter. Which may have been the intention, except that this sad-sack, pretentious, lifeless man sucks all the laughter out of you for two long hours. Caden Cotard is a director of theatre, whose creativity consists of casting a young man in the miserable role of an old man in Death of the Salesman. Girls offer themselves to him but all he can do is weep and complain about his latest physical ailment or depressing thought. He suffers from two dozen physical symptoms and diseases, most of which he probably brought upon himself psychosomatically, his wife left him with his daughter to Germany to live with a lesbian who has an unhealthy thing for his daughter, and while he witnesses his daughter turned into a tattooed stripper, he can only enjoy the role of a maid cleaning the toilet of his ex-wife. And then there are his relatives and friends that all die one by one, and when his father dies, he learns that he gave the longest deathbed speech ever and there was so little left of him they had to pad his tiny coffin with cotton. All of which is so over-the-top it should be funny except that it's like Kaufman is releasing his sadistic side on his protagonists rather than loving them. So all he does is brood and uses award money to set up a ridiculously ambitious 'play' that is supposed to reflect life, using thousands of actors in a massive set that slowly reproduces the city of New York over a 30 year production project. He relives every detail of his life through actors, casts replacements for actors in his life that were acting as replacements, and finds that his replacement who has been following him for 20 years is stealing his real girlfriend while he falls for the replacement, then casts someone to direct his own life which has been replaced by a play that has become his real life. Thus, deep themes are explored of people living projections and self-made drama rather than real lives, and how our own neuroses and self-obsessions take over our lives until they become actors with a voice in our ears telling us what to do. A woman moves into a burning house thus symbolically choosing and resigning herself to her own death, in a blatant, and once again, miserable, surreal touch, but the surrealism in the rest of the movie is more subtle. Like I said, it would take pages, but next time please take some medication before writing, Charlie. Misery this over-the-top is neither real, insightful, nor funny, and it overwhelms this brilliant movie like the black plague.

Worthless

Anomalisa  
I'm getting really tired of Charlie Kaufman's sad-sack clinically-depressed movie characters. They start depressed, get worse, the end. Mostly I hated this banal movie. A surreal dream sequence and a fascinatingly bizarre Japanese sex toy are the only points of interest, which only points how sad and empty this movie this. Like Synecdoche, so much work was put into the visual aspect of this movie, which happens to be an extremely detailed stop-motion animation complete with banal facial expressions and sagging genitals. A customer-service expert and celebrity speaker checks into a hotel. This takes up half the movie. Except that everyone literally has the same face and voice. When he meets Lisa, she has a different voice and he falls in love. If you know Kaufman, you'll know how this ends.




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