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4:16 pm
Tue May 15, 2012

Home Video Picks: 'Being John Malkovich'

Originally published on Tue May 15, 2012 5:46 pm

Time now for a home viewing recommendation from our film critic Bob Mondello. This time Bob urges taking the plunge from the seven-and-a-half-th floor into the Criterion Collection's Blu-ray release of Being John Malkovich.

1999 Weirdness run amok: Struggling puppeteer John Cusack gets a filing job in an office building where one floor — seven-and-a-half — isn't quite tall enough for him to stand, but does have a portal into the mind of actor John Malkovich. As he tells co-worker Catherine Keener, "you see the world through John Malkovich's eyes, and then after about 15 minutes, you're spit out into a ditch on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike."

When the two decide to charge cash for entry to Malkovich's mind, things get complicated, first for the puppeteer's marriage when his wife (Cameron Diaz) takes the trip, and even more-so when Malkovich enters his own mind — the ultimate exercise in narcissism — and finds a world of Malkoviches.

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufmann and director Spike Jonze have decently strange sensibilities, so it makes sense that the commentary track by Michel Gondry, who made Kaufman's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, is a little strange too.

There's also a documentary about puppetry, a Malkovich interview conducted by comedian John Hodgman of all people (who elicits the info that Kevin Bacon was the first choice to play the part ultimately played by Charlie Sheen). And Spike Jonze even finds a way to make an extra about photos he took on the set feel odd, imagining himself looking back from 2028 at the pictures in a new format that allows viewers to see the film and all its extras in half a second.

Mostly though, Being John Malkovich is worth watching for itself — an enduringly quirky comedy with grand metaphysical implications, that you can just watch because it's a real trip-and-a-half.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

We go now to the gold standard of weird. It's a movie from 1999 that's being re-released on DVD by the Criterion Collection. For our latest home video recommendation, film critic Bob Mondello is here to remind us what it's like "Being John Malkovich."

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: It's weirdness run amok. Puppeteer John Cusack gets a filing job in an office building where the floor he works on - seven-and-a-half - isn't quite tall enough for him to stand, but does have a perk, as he tells co-worker Catherine Keener.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "BEING JOHN MALKOVICH")

JOHN CUSACK: (as Craig Schwartz) There's a tiny door in my office, Maxine. It's a portal and it takes you inside John Malkovich. You see the world through John Malkovich's eyes. And then after about 15 minutes, you're spit out into a ditch on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike.

CATHERINE KEENER: (as Maxine) Sounds great. Who's John Malkovich?

MONDELLO: When the two decide to charge cash for entry to Malkovich's mind, things get complicated, especially when John Malkovich finds out and takes the trip himself - the ultimate exercise in narcissism.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "BEING JOHN MALKOVICH")

JOHN MALKOVICH: (as himself) Malkovich, Malkovich. Malkovich, Malkovich. Malkovich. Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich...

MONDELLO: Screenwriter Charlie Kaufmann and director Spike Jonze have strange sensibilities, and the DVD's the commentary track by Michel Gondry, who made Kaufman's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind..."

MICHEL GONDRY: I'm sure Spike had a crush on Catherina.

MONDELLO: ...is a little strange too.

GONDRY: (unintelligible) commentary track that mine is going to be the only one.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GONDRY: It's a disaster.

MONDELLO: There's also a documentary about puppetry, a Malkovich interview conducted by, of all people, comedian John Hodgman. And Spike Jonze even finds a way to make an extra about photos he took on the set feel odd.

SPIKE JONZE: It is 2028 and we're looking back at a 30-year anniversary of "Being John Malkovich" for a new format, a chip that gets put into the back of your head. And you just watch the movie in one half of a second. And so I look at all these photos from 30 years ago, when we made the film. This is Vince Landay...

MONDELLO: Mostly, though, "Being John Malkovich" is worth watching for itself; an enduringly quirky comedy with grand metaphysical implications, that you can just watch because it's a real trip.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "BEING JOHN MALKOVICH")

CUSACK: (as Craig Schwartz) I did it. I made him move his arms and made him talk sort of. It's just a matter of practice before Malkovich is nothing more than puppet hanging next to my worktable. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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