Earlier this spring Criterion released their version of the groundbreaking debut of two impressive modern film making pioneers, Being John Malkovich (1999), directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman. When I first saw it I thought it was very meta and intellectual, but also quite silly and entertaining at the same time. It manages to entertain and make one think about the nature of identity and the joy of finding experiences that allow to you get outside of your own head. There are some impressive set designs, interesting cinematography with Lance Accord, not to mention some great performances from the likes of Katherine Keener, who does a sort of modern version of His Girl Friday-cynical, tough, and absolutely ruthless. John Malkovic playing a fictionalized version of himself is great fun. John Cusak is the anchor and Cameron Diaz is almost unidentifiable as the frizzy-haired animal loving wife of the Cusak's puppeteer. The Criterion version includes a behind-the scenes documentary by Lester Bangs, an illuminating conversation between John Malkovic and humorist John Hodgman, two films within the film "American Arts & Culture" Presents John Horatio Malkovich: "Dance of Despair and Disillusionment" and "An Intimate Portrait of the Art of Puppeteering a documentary by Lester Bangs, and the booklet features a conversation Jonze and pop-culture critic Perkus Tooth, however I didn't get much from the select-scene commentary by director Michael Gondry.
After re-watching this Jonze/Kaufman classic, it made want to re-watch their second masterful collaboration, Adaptation (2002). This is another wild intellectual romp that is absolutely entertaining and meta a s well, since Charlie Kaufman inserts two versions of himself into the film as twin screenwriters Charlie and Donald Kaufman, both played with a rare precision by Nicholas Cage. Charlie is the typical suffering artist who is brilliant, but is insecure and can rarely leave his head, which often leads him to despair. While Donald is a goofball who lives in the moment and is not hamstrung by intellectual insecurities or excessive knowledge of the world, who enjoys life and can be successful with women. The story within the story is about adapting Susan Orleans book The Orchid Thief. She and her the main subject of her book, John Larouche, come alive as characters of Kaufman's imagination and this sprawling New Yorker story morphs into a conventional thriller plot with drugs, murder, and car chases. It is a mediation on being true to oneself, the creative process, and an entertaining film with several knock-out cinematic sequences (with the impress Lance Accord again) that represent the imagination of Kaufman as he tries to adapt Orealns' difficult book into a coherent story. Meryl Streep (Orleans) and Chris Cooper (Larouche) are having a hoot with their characters. Both of these films are among my favorite movies of the last 20 years, and it was great to revisit them again.