Tag Archives: Spike Jonze

I Don’t Want to Make Any Premature Pronouncements, but…

(You can watch “The Suburbs” video embedded above, or head over to Arcade Fire’s website to watch a better quality version.)

…I think that the music video for Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” will become a classic.

I know that it’s hard for music videos to achieve the ubiquity that they used to. MTV doesn’t play music anymore, and I recently discovered that Much Music is now playing videos in ADD-friendly one minute snippets (seriously!). But this thing is just too good.

It’s directed by my boy Spike Jonze, and it’s a fantastic addition to his catalogue. Throughout the 90’s Jonze was a prominent music video director, most famous for clips such as the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” and Weezers “Buddy Holly“. He broke into feature films with 1999’s Being John Malkovich (which earned him a Best Director Oscar nomination) and has since directed 2002’s Adaptation. and 2009’s Where the Wild Things Are.

Although he’s still been directing music videos, his output decreased in the past decade. Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice“, Phantom Planet’s “Big Brat“, and Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights” all serve as highlights of his post-Malkovich career. However, I think he’s outdone himself here.

It’s crazy to me that such a cryptic video can make me feel so many things. There are so many unanswered questions. There were rumours earlier this year that Jonze was working with the band on a sci-fi short film, which could potentially expand on this video (or could BE this video). But in a way, I think I’d prefer to let it stand on its own.

It starts off with your standard directionless youth getting into hijinks. It’s a music video staple, but it works so much more effectively when Jonze is behind the camera. He always imbues his films with an airy tinge of nostalgia. The images of faceless suburbs and bored kids immediately took me back to my own childhood.

But then things start to get strange. The military is in town, one of the kids gets a haircut, and the whole friendship crumbles. Even though it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, I felt the urgency, and I held my breath for much of the video’s second half. I think it says a lot about our current society, and everything that it means to grow up. I’ve heard others make the comparison, but “The Suburbs” feels like this fucked up generation’s version of the “1979” music video from fourteen years ago.

Combined with Where the Wild Things Are and Jonze’s excellent short film from earlier this year, I’m Here, Jonze seems to be taking a more melancholic approach to his filmmaking recently. All three pieces explore the loss of innocence and the desire to connect, and he does it with a fine balance of optimism and restlessness. I’d even go as far to say that Jonze is putting out his best work yet.

For Your Consideration…

Each year, movie studios campaign for their films to be considered for Oscar nominations. “For Your Consideration” posters are often made to accompany the campaigns (you can find official examples for this awards season here). Anyways, there are some films that I think should get Academy recognition, but likely will not, so I’ve decided to create some “FYC” ads of my own. It’s my first stab at it, and I’m basically just using Paint, but I thought I’d share what I’ve created (be sure to click on the image to see the full-size version). Let me know what you think!

Spike Jonze: A Closer Look

It’s time to get excited, because the release of the highly anticipated Where the Wild Things Are is just around the corner. As if the captivating trailer and heart-warming childhood nostalgia weren’t enough to get me there, it’s directed by one of my absolute favourite directors, Spike Jonze. For someone who’s only previously directed two full-length films, Jonze has quite an impressive body of work. One could not make a proper list of groundbreaking music videos without multiple Jonze entries, if you ask me. He’s also behind some of the few truly inventive TV commercials out there, and he gave the amazing Charlie Kaufman a forum to share his writing skills with the world.

In anticipation of Where the Wild Things Are, I’ve decided to take a look at Spike Jonze’s already impressive career. This isn’t a comprehensive guide – it’s just some of my favourite work he’s done. And hopefully I’ll be able to give a little insight into why his work has inspired me so much.

 

The Movies

Being John Malkovich

1999

Written by: Charlie Kaufman

Starring: John Cusak, Catherine Keener, Cameron Diaz, and John Malkovich

After directing many seminal 90’s music videos (his sheer output alone in 1994 is impressive), Jonze got his first chance to try his hand at a full-length feature with Being John Malkovich. The movie has a bizarre premise about a portal that allows civilians to crawl into the mind of actor John Malkovich (playing himself in a brilliantly twisted performance). Of course, everything goes haywire. John Cusak plays a struggling puppeteer married to a considerably less glamorous Cameron Diaz. Everything about this film is inventive and a marvel to watch. Kaufman’s script is brilliant, and unexpectedly accessible (a trait that he would later dismiss with 2008’s Synecdoche, New York, his directorial debut. But that’s a different discussion.) Jonze’s vision is so clear, and he executes the concept flawlessly. Even though the movie is kooky and unconventional, it’s told in a disarmingly honest way. Both Jonze and Kaufman earned Academy Award nominations for their work here (as did Catherine Keener, for a supporting role), and what better way to start your film career than with a Best Director nomination?

 

Adaptation.

2002

Written by: Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman

Starring: Nicholas Cage, Meryl Streep, and Chris Cooper

Jonze and Kaufman’s second project together was 2002’s Adaptation. Once again showing his love of blurring fiction and reality, Jonze’s film is about a writer named Charlie Kaufman, and his struggle to adapt a non-fiction book about orchids into a dynamic screenplay. Susan Orlean and her book exist in real life. Charlie Kaufman exists. His twin brother, Donald, does not. Nicholas Cage plays dual roles as Charlie and Donald, and I love how the film takes that concept of the twins all the way (I believe Donald Kaufman was the first fictional person to be nominated for an Academy Award.) Being John Malkovich is a cinematic feat, because of its inventive concept, and the world that Jonze created. But I think that I actually enjoyed Adaptation. more. It’s incredibly funny. Kaufman’s script is so sharp, and Jonze’s direction matches the tone perfectly. It’s a much more understated film (well, until it hits its wonderfully ironic third act), but it still has so much of Jonze’s signature off-kilter charm. In a film dominated by fantastic performances (all three leads were nominated for an Oscar, with Cooper winning Best Supporting Actor), it could be easy to coast on their charisma alone. But Jonze is just as much a part of this film as they are. Every scene is infused with his voice, without it dominating. His films are stylish, but the direction doesn’t take over. It’s sarcastic and biting, just like much of Jonze’s work, but still so much fun.

 

Where the Wild Things Are

2009

Written by: Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers

Starring: Max Records, Catherine Keener, and voices of James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara, Paul Dano, Forrest Whitaker, and Paul Dano

To be honest, I don’t actually know a whole lot about this film. I’ve watched the trailer a few times, and I know basically what it’s about. But I’m trying not to build my expectations too ridiculously high. The fact that it’s co-written by Dave Eggers is reason enough to be excited. His beloved 2000 memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, was inventive, and much more enjoyable than one might expect, given the potentially grim subject matter (Eggers parents both died within months of each other, and as a young adult, he was left to essentially raise his considerably younger brother). I hope that this movie won’t suffer from the hype surrounding it, and hopefully audiences and their very high expectations won’t be let down.

 

The Music Videos

I am by no means an expert on Jonze’s music video career. There are still plenty that I haven’t seen, but these are just a few of his works that have really caught my attention. I tried to give an overview of the span of his career, somewhat chronologically.

Weezer – “Buddy Holly” (1994)

This is perhaps one of Spike Jonze’s best known and most beloved works. The members of Weezer perform at choice Happy Days hangout, Arnold’s, and they’ve been seamlessly inserted into old footage from the show. They interact with Joanie and Fonzie, and flirt with the girls – pissing Ritchie Cunningham off in the process. The concept is foolproof, and Jonze executes the video perfectly to give it the right look and feel. The Weezer guys have a lot of fun hamming it up. But in a song about Buddy Holly, why isn’t Rivers wearing his own famous, Holly-esque specs?

 

Beastie Boys – “Sabotage” (1994)

Another one of Jonze’s classic videos came from 1994. This time, it’s an ode to old cop TV shows. The results are hilarious, and pretty epic, too. If any band knows how to not take themselves too seriously, it’s the Beastie Boys. They look like they’re having so much fun here. The editing is really quite amazing, and Jonze’s direction keeps the video fast-paced and fun. Some might say that Jonze’s work is respected in spite of its goofiness, but I think his light-hearted touch is exactly why he succeeds.

 

Wax – “California” (1995)

This is definitely more conceptual than Jonze’s more popular works (it’s also the image on the cover of the DVD boxed set of his work…it’s on my Christmas list.) Not a lot happens, but the whole video is weirdly captivating. The visual is so simple, but beautiful, in a stark kind of way.

 

Bjork – “It’s Oh So Quiet” (1995)

Here, Spike Jonze takes a rather inaccessible artist, and creates a video that’s lovely and fun, but still very artistic. I think the video captures the general whimsy that seems so come along with Bjork’s persona. And I’ve recently realized that no one does a seemingly impromptu dance number quite like Spike Jonze (“Praise You” music video features a similar theme). That seems a little odd, but considering that he got his start with skateboarding videos, I guess it makes sense that he is so naturally drawn to movement. Perhaps Feist’s famous “1234” video took a cue from Jonze’s work here?

 

Fatboy Slim – “Weapon of Choice” (2000)

It’s three minutes of Christopher Walken dancing and flying around. If this doesn’t make you smile, you don’t deserve to be watching a Spike Jonze video. I especially like the scene with the mirrors. And the part where he gets in the elevator, and waits until it opens to resume dancing, is classic. It’s all so well done.

 

Weezer – “Island in the Sun” (Version 2) (2002)

Alright, maybe I can forgive you for not smiling at the Christopher Walken video. Maybe. But if this doesn’t make you feel all warm insdie, then I hate to break it to you, but you have no soul. Just in case Bjork and Christopher Walken weren’t cuddly enough for you, why not take a moment to admire puppies chasing a baby chimpanzee? Even Rivers Cuomo’s occasionally curmudgeonly heart has been warmed, clearly. Oh, and I feel like an idiot saying this, considering the plethora of baby animals running around, but how adorable is Weezer’s guitar player?

 

Phantom Planet – Big Brat (2003)

Spike Jonze’s music video output has dropped off since 2000 (for obvious reasons), but clearly he hasn’t lost his touch. Phantom Planet is probably best known for their song “California” (aka the theme song to The O.C., just in case you’re over the age of 25), but this is actually a pretty cool song, and an even cooler video. It starts out as a laid-back hangout video, and then turns into a make-shift zombie production. Zombies always go over well, and it’s a blast watching them come up with creative, low-budget ways to make blood and organs.

 

 

Kanye West – “Flashing Lights” (2007)

I first saw this video just a few days ago. My first reaction was something along the lines of “…”, but as I thought about it more over the course of a few hours and days, I realised that it had a weird kind of impact on me. It’s deceptively simple, and the ending is really jarring (I know everyone hates Kanye now, because he – once again – confirmed that he was a dick during this year’s annual VMA water cooler moment, but I doubt Taylor Swift would wish that upon him). I think that this will probably hold up well over time, and be yet another entry in Jonze’s cannon of groundbreaking videos.

 

The Commercials

These are just a couple of ads that helped Jonze to receive a nomination for the “Outstanding Achievement in Commercials in 2005” award from the Directors Guild of America. They’ve definately got his signature style and humour.

Ikea Ad – Lamp

 

Gap Ad – “Pardon Our Dust”

 

Miscellaneous

The multi-talented Jonze has also worked as an actor in films like Three Kings. He was a creator and executive producer of the MTV hit show, Jackass, and helped to produce both of the movies. He was an executive producer for the documentary Heavy Metal in Baghdad, and helped to produce Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York. He also has several short films to his name, and multiple alter egos (including “Spike Jonze”. Believe it or not, that was not, in fact, his birth name. Try Adam Spiegel).

With the upcoming release of Where The Whild Things Are, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City is hosting a 10-day event to honour his work. In a fascinating piece in the New York Times published last month, they note that the costume department for Wild Things was larger than the entire crew of Being John Malkovich. It’s obviously his biggest piece yet. At the age of 39, Jonze’s accomplishments are quite impressive, and it looks like Where The Wild Things Are is only going to bring him more recognition.

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My Most Anticipated Movies of 2009

Sherlock Holmes

I have a few half-finished blog entries floating around on my hard drive, but after seeing a few rather interesting movie trailers at Julie & Julia the other night, I figured that instead of actually finishing anything, I’d share some of the movies that I’m looking forward to most this year.

 

Nine

I’d vaguely heard of Daniel Day-Lewis’ next film a while ago, but I saw the trailer for the first time at Julie & Julia. All I can say is WOW. I’m not exactly sure why I am so excited for this movie. I wasn’t all that crazy about Chicago (which was done by the same director), and while I appreciated the inventiveness of Moulin Rouge!, it didn’t quite do it for me, either. I’m not even entirely sure what this movie is about. Maybe it’s Daniel Day-Lewis, or the incredibly flashy trailer, but something about Nine has just totally captured my curiosity. It looks provocative, over-the-top and just plain exciting, which is refreshing. It’s got an all-star cast (which can sometimes spell disaster, but in this case looks promising), and with Kidman, Cotillard, Cruz, and Day-Lewis, I think it’s going to be good.


 

Taking Woodstock

Officially released this Friday (and probably never coming to a theatre near me), Ang Lee’s take on the true story of a young man whose property became the site of the legendary Woodstock festival looks like it’ll be right up my alley. The reviews are mixed so far, but I looove Demetri Martin’s stand-up (and I’ve heard that he’s quite good in the movie). The whole 60’s/Woodstock thing has fascinated me for a while (though I do believe that it has all been majorly romanticized), and the movie looks like a wonderful, vibrant coming-of-age story.

 

Where The Wild Things Are

Excitement levels have been through the roof since the trailer for Where the Wild Things Are hit the internet months ago, and I hopped on the bandwagon right along with everyone else. I love all of Spike Jonze’s work (Being John Malkovich! Adaptation! So many seminal 90’s music videos!), and it looks like he might have topped himself with this fanciful take on the classic children’s book (I’m sure it was read to me at some point in my life…) Whimsical and warm, if the trailer is any indication of what’s to come, count me in.

 

Sherlock Holmes

Well, come on! Robert Downey Jr. is proving himself to be one of the most bankable stars of the late 00’s thanks to his massive comeback in Iron Man, and Sherlock Holmes (set for a holiday release) looks like it could be another huge hit for the guy. I was initially slightly confused by the casting, but after seeing the trailer, I get it. It looks fun, charming, and exciting, and I’m definitely excited for Downey’s performance as Holmes himself. It’s directed by Guy Ritchie and co-stars Jude Law and Rachel McAdams.

 

Whip It

Ellen Page is awesome, so of course I’m looking forward to this one. It’s Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, but after being in movie’s all of her life and producing Donnie Darko, she clearly knows how a movie is made. This roller-derby story looks fun and surprisingly heart warming, and I’m glad to see Kristen Wiig getting more film work (even if it is still a supporting role). And whoever that guy is who’s with Ellen Page in the trailer, I’m keeping my eye on him!

 

 

Fame

Okay, so this one might turn out to be terrible. But for now, I will at least say that I’m “optimistic” about this remake of the 1980 classic dance film. The trailer looked good, and it feels like this is a good time for the Fame remake to be released. With the success of the High School Musical franchise and shows like So You Think You Can Dance, they’re smart to strike while the iron is hot. Fame looks a grittier and more authentic than High School Musical, and seems to feature genuinely talented teens. (Although I just found out that Fame’s only going to be rated PG? Maybe it will be lame after all…)

 

Brothers

Jake Gyllenhall and Natalie Portman are two of the most talented young actors around. And even though the plot kind of sounds like a ridiculous soap opera, I’m still hopeful about this project. Somebody finally thought to cast Gyllenhall and Tobey Maguire as brothers, and judging by the trailer, everyone’s chemistry seems good. To me, Brothers looks like it will be tense and brooding, in a good way.

 

The Road

I don’t know much about it, but this adaptation of the acclaimed Cormac McCarthy (author of No Country For Old Men) novel looks exciting and horrifying. Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron are great, and this post-apocalyptic world looks legitimately interesting, unlike some of the big-budget action movies that try to portray a similar world.

 

The Lovely Bones

I liked the book, so I’m curious to see what they do with the movie. To start with, it’s got a great cast. Saoirse Ronan, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon and Mark Wahlberg are all top-notch actors. While My Sister’s Keeper and The Time Traveller’s Wife apparently fell flat when put to the big screen (though I haven’t read either book or seen the movies), I think that this one could succeed. I’m a bit iffy on the trailer (I think they’re trying to make it look exciting by focussing more on the killing than the Salmon family dealing with the death, which is more what the book was about), but I’ll still definitely be checking out The Lovely Bones.

 

Love Happens

Okay, so it looks a little sappy/conventional, but I don’t think that there are two better actors out there to pull off a this kind of big, Hollywood romance. I love Aaron Eckhart, and I think that Jennifer Aniston deserves more credit than she usually gets. And any movie that has Judy Greer as the sassy, tells-it-like-it-is friend clearly has some redeeming qualities. Love Happens looks like the kind of movie that I would typically avoid, but I guess I’m just drawn to this one.