Tag Archives: Catherine Keener

CAPSULE: JOHNNY SUEDE (1991)

DIRECTED BY: Tom DiCillo

FEATURING: , Catherine Keener

PLOT: Johnny Suede, a young man with a freakishly large pompadour, tries to pay the rent,

Still from Johnny Suede (1991)

keep a girlfriend, and make it as a musician in the big city.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Johnny Suede flirts with weirdness, but can’t commit to it.

COMMENTS: By far, the weirdest thing about Johnny Suede is Brad Pitt’s Fabian-on-steroids pompadour. That said, one early scene promises a high level of creepy surrealism that the body of the movie fails to deliver. Walking home from another night at the club where his stuck-in-the-fifties style fails to impress the nifty chicks, Johnny passes an alley where a woman who appears to be heavily drugged is either being raped or prostituted. Like a good citizen, Suede finds a public telephone and calls the cops, but he is interrupted when a falling projectile shatters the phone booth’s glass ceiling. The box from the heavens contains Johnny’s dream footwear: black suede shoes with rhinestone accents. Johny forgets the alleyway assault, and the movie forgets the atmosphere of urban dread and decay and forges ahead instead with the slightly offbeat story of a delusional young man struggling to find his way to manhood, romantic happiness and self-sufficiency. A few fantasy moments—a wooden hand poking out of a deserted street, bad fried chicken shared with equally-pompadoured but more successful jerkwad singer Freak Storm in an alley, and lightly Lynchian dreams of nude men in diners and being stabbed by a dwarfs with a TV antenna—intrude on what is basically a series of scenes of apartment-painting jobs, band rehearsals, and awkward dates. Johnny is mildly delusional about both his musical talent and his skills as a ladykiller, and generally not as cool as he thinks he is; he’s a braggart, a bit slow, and a bad liar. His out-of-touch, out-of-time greaser perception of what it means to be a man—indicated by his peacock ‘do as well as recurring symbolism involving miniature cowboys and bulletless guns—keep him impoverished financially, morally, and romantically. Suede’s an interesting, complex character, but the script doesn’t give him much of interest to do. He is well-realized by pretty young Pitt, and the supporting cast is appealing and talented, supplying enough interest to make the minimal story watchable. As a schoolteacher with shoe-throwing tendencies, Keener is sexy, in an average-gal-with-needs sort of way. Watch out for small roles by a young but already cool Samuel L. Jackson as the bass playing Bebop, a still-elegant Tina Louise as a romantic interest’s record industry-connected mom, and a platinum blonde Nick Cave as a drunk and coked-out scam artist singer who represents Johnny’s probable future if he doesn’t wise up and let Keener’s good lovin’ into his heart. As a weird movie lover,  you might find yourself wishing the movie had the courage to pull the trigger on that surreal gun it gave us a peek at early on. Like it’s main character, Johnny Suede is indecisive—it’s quirky and can even be a bit weird when it lets its guard down, but it secretly craves acceptance from normal society.

Writer/director DeCillo was Jim Jarmusch‘s go-to cinematographer before striking out on his own with this debut.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Offbeat, stylish and packed with some wonderfully bizarro moments…”–Jeff Dawson, Empire Magazine

(This movie was nominated for review by Eric Gabbard, who argued that it “has a low key, offbeat charm to it that I love” and “would make an excellent triple feature along with Barton Fink and Eraserhead [only due to the humongous hair theme].” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

64. BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999)

“I don’t think my characters are a joke. I take them seriously. And no matter how outlandish or weird their situation, their situation is real and a little tragic. I think that’s what gives people something to hang onto as they watch the film. We had to find a way to make everything play on a very naturalistic level, so it didn’t just turn into wackiness.”–Charlie Kaufman on Being John Malkovich (Salon interview)

“I’m sure Being John Malkovich would be regarded as a work of genius on whatever planet it was written.”–possibly apocryphal comment from a movie studio rejection letter

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Spike Jonze

FEATURING: , Catherine Keener, Cameron Diaz, John Malkovich

PLOT: Craig Schwartz is an unemployed puppeteer who performs a marionette version of “Abelard and Heloise” on street corners for passersby.  His wife Lotte convinces him to get a job, and he winds up working as a file clerk on floor seven and a half of a Manhattan office building, where he falls for sultry and scheming coworker Maxine.  When he discovers a portal hidden behind a file cabinet that leads into the mind of John Malkovich, Maxine devises a plan to sell tickets to “be” the title actor, but things become extremely complicated when a confused love quadrangle develops between Craig, his wife, Maxine, and Malkovich…

Still from Being John Malkovich (1999)

BACKGROUND:

  • The feature film debut for both director Spike Jonze and sreenwriter Charlie Kaufman (who would work together again on Adaptation).
  • In Being John Malkovich John Cusak re-enacts the story of Abelard and Heloise with puppets; the title Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is taken from Alexander Pope’s poem on the same subject, “Eloisa to Abelard.”
  • John Malkovich reportedly liked the script, but didn’t want to star in it and requested the filmmakers cast another actor as the celebrity who has a portal into his head; eventually he relented and agreed to appear in the film.
  • The film was nominated for three Oscars: Keener for Best Supporting Actress, Jonze for Best Director and Kaufman for Best Original Screenplay.  As is usually the case with uncomfortably weird films, it won nothing.
  • The film was originally produced by PolyGram, who were unhappy with the dailies they were getting from Jonze and threatened to shut production down; however, before they could make good on the threat the company was bought out by Universal, and Jonze was able to complete the movie in the ensuing confusion.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The recursive (and hilariously illogical) result of John Malkovich daring to enter the portal that leads inside John Malkovich’s head.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to make a movie about a secret portal that allows anyone who crawls through it to see the world through actor John Malkovich’s eyes for fifteen minutes before being spat out on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike and not end up with a weird result.  The inhabitants of Being John Malkovich, like the denizens of a dream, don’t recognize the secret portals leading into others minds, the half-floor work spaces designed for little people, and the chimps with elaborate back stories as being at all unusual. Their matter-of-fact attitudes only throw the absurdity into stark relief.


Original trailer for Being John Malkovich

COMMENTS: Synecdoche, New York may be Charlie Kaufman‘s weirdest script, Eternal Continue reading 64. BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999)

27. SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (2008)

“I think the movie is fun.  It has a lot of serious emotional stuff in it, but it’s funny in a weird way. You don’t have to worry, ‘What does the burning house mean?’  Who cares.  It’s a burning house that someone lives in—it’s funny.”–Director/writer Charlie Kaufman

RecommendedWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Catherine Keener

PLOT: Caden is a community theater director in Schenectady, New York, whose marriage and health are crumbling.  When things seem their lowest—his wife abandons him, and he believes that he’s dying—he inexplicably receives a MacArthur Genius grant.  He uses the money to create a meticulous recreation of New York City inside a warehouse, filled with actors playing characters from his own life, including one playing Caden the director himself.

Still from Synecdoche, New York

BACKGROUND:

  • Synecdoche is the directorial debut of Charlie Kaufman, who has been the screenwriter behind most of Hollywood’s big-budget weird films in the past decade.  His scripting credits include Being John Malkovich (1999), Adaptation (2002), and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004).
  • Kaufman began the script for Synecdoche as a horror film to be directed by frequent collaborator Spike Jonze.  Over two years the script evolved into its current tragicomedy form, and, as Jonze was busy with other projects, it was agreed that Kaufman would direct, with Jonze co-producing.
  • Synecdoche, New York won the 2008 Independent Spirit Award for best first feature.

INDELIBLE IMAGESynecdoche is a movie that weirds us out more through the concepts and dramatic situations than through the visuals, but there is a lovely image of a tattooed rose that physically sheds a real dead petal as its owner expires.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Charlie Kaufman.  More to the point, Charlie Kaufman unleashed; unlike Being John Malkovich or Adaptation, where weird and puzzling events are given a rational (if obscure) answer by the end, the weirdness of Synecdoche deliberately frustrates all attempts at a logical solution.  Hazel’s house, which burns and smokes for decades without being consumed, is shamelessly absurd.  The movie is an exploration of dream logic, a life journey that fractures time, space and coherence, where individual events do not add up piece by piece on a plot level, but resolve themselves on an emotional level.

Original trailer for Synecdoche, New York

COMMENTS: “There is a secret something at play under the surface, growing like an Continue reading 27. SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (2008)