End Games

Movie as boxed CD set, Man on the Moon offers an anthology of Kaufman's greatest hits: the hilariously unfunny Foreign Man, uncanny Elvis, minimalist rendition of the Mighty Mouse song on Saturday Night Live, chaotic scuffle on the set of the live show Fridays and Carnegie Hall milk-and-cookies concert. The acts hold up but, for Milos Forman, it's the same thing over and over. Repeatedly, as if by some contractual agreement, he cuts to the reaction of Kaufman's baffled parents: "That kid is totally meshugge."

Man on the Moon is as hyperreal in its way as Ed Wood (also written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski). The movie is stocked with celebrities, from David Letterman to the cast of Taxi, who are pleased to appear as themselves. Carrey nails his character's distinctively avid, wide-eyed stare—at once frozen-faced and shifty—even as he gives Kaufman an additionally wired and paranoid edge. The effect is not unlike one of Richard Estes's insanely detailed representations of storefronts on upper Broadway. It's an obvious performance, but wasn't that always the point? (Indeed, Carrey's imitation of Kaufman's sometime alter ego—the supremely obnoxious lounge singer, Tony Clifton—might be even better than Kaufman's.)

Carrey seems to have conceived Kaufman as a sort of Truman Burbank turned inside out—a man who knowingly treated the world as his TV show. But, television aside, there's no social context. The movie is considerably less expansive than Foreman's last essay in American craziness, The People vs. Larry Flynt. The filmmakers don't even attempt to give Kaufman an inner life. (The big revelation: Andy remains a '50s kid at heart. He still gets choked up at Lassie.) The dragged-out ending avoids bathos thanks only to Kaufman's particular genius. There's a sense of that genius in Man on the Moon but even more to be found in Andy's Fun House.

A nonstop carnival of murder, rape, and mutilation that begins with a human sacrifice and culminates in a cannibal feast, Titus Andronicus is William Shakespeare's contribution to the gross-out horror-comedy. The filmmaker best suited to bring it to the screen would've been Herschell Gordon Lewis or the Brian De Palma of Carrie. (The most nightmarish prospect: Oliver Stone.) The much lionized Julie Taymor staged the play in 1994, and while her film version isn't exactly a solemn spectacle, neither is it much fun.

Taymor repeats her stage prologue—a kid making an increasingly combustible mess with a bunch of toy soldiers—before making with the Sturm und Drang herself as victorious General Titus Andronicus (Anthony Hopkins) parades his captive Goths through the Colosseum. Taymor's "Look, Ma, I'm filming!" use of creative geography and jazzy camera angles precludes even the most minimal emotional involvement. As the body count mounts, the Romans party—a sub-Rocky Horror fashion parade of leather trenchcoats and black lipstick.

Competing with this sodden mise-en-scène, the relatively laid-back Americans come off better than the raging Brits. Where Alan Cumming's fascist fop would have been laughed out of Cabaret, Jessica Lange makes a splendid Goth queen. (The nipples on her golden breastplate are a nice touch.) Given the stupidity of the tragedy's nominal hero, Taymor zeroes in on Aaron, the supervillainous Moor, as its most articulate figure: "Aaron will have his soul black like his face," Harry Lennix hisses in his big scene. Hopkins meanwhile cavorts like a herky-jerky puppet. Evidently he didn't need to see the finished movie before informing the press of his decision to give up acting.

Any Given Sunday A Warner Bros. release. Directed by Oliver Stone. Now playing. Man On The Moon A Universal release. Directed by Milos Foreman. Now playing. Titus A Fox Searchlight Pictures release. Directed by Julie Taymor. Now playing.

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