Category Archives: John Mulcahey

THE WITCH (2015): “which witch is which”

So… The Witch. Hm. Hm hm hmm. Hmmmmmmmmmmmm… Huh. Well, I was told it was good. Do I agree?

Yes. I was expecting a solid 9/10 film. What I got was a creeping, twisting, tense family drama cast against the fear and paranoia of the witch scares of Puritan New England. So things I love: psychological horror, 1600s America, witch trials. Things I got: a beautifully weaved psychological study of a puritanical family coming apart at the seams, exasperated by accusations of witchcraft and genuinely bizarre occurrences, written in the genuine tongue of a puritan. The way the character arcs converge is brilliant, speaking as a writer I was immediately depressed after watching it – the narrative is constructed in the perfect way. It is paced to perfection, every element is necessary and it is constantly moving. Seriously, seriously brilliant stuff.

Eggers has pulled off the impossible too, working with both animals AND children, and getting terrific performances from both. Caleb is a standout, his performer delivers a brilliantly real and measured performance, shocking for someone who must be no older than 15… And Black Phillip. Fuck me, that is the creepiest thing. The way it rears upon its hind legs is just uncomfortable, and it has this weird look in its eyes… eeesh.

Anyway, yes, this is a bad review, very aimless and meandering. The ultimate compliment I can give to The Witch is that why I adore it so much completely escapes me. I just can’t put it into words.

Just watch it.

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MAGNOLIA (1999): “scent of magnolias sweet and fresh”

Why haven’t I reviewed this before? Huh. Maybe it’s difficult to do things like this, to sorta transcribe into a messy sea of words that ultimate thing that you watch one time in a bit of a weird place and I’m not really sure.

Thing with some films is that you give yourself over for like an hour and a half, two hours and you forget everything and switch off for a bit. Then certain others, they sorta make you incapable of switching off. They tap into something you want to forget, but aren’t able to forget. Paul Thomas Anderson, my favourite filmmaker, tapped into that sort of magic for me. Magnolia sprawls, and twists and dances throughout the San Fernando valley across twelve characters, all human and dramatic and magical.

I guess you can levy a complaint at the script – it swears a lot, and I suppose some people would feel as if it is over the top. Three hours of some of the foulest fucking language in cinema. People who say this can get out, the script is emotionally honest in a way that doesn’t seem to come about frequently, every line of dialogue in this maximalist masterpiece is shot through with the heart and soul of a man writing it with the very blood and tears from his body.

And then the direction. PTA directs the living shit out of all of his films, but Magnolia is another league. It’s an ultimate culmination of his early influences, the motion of Scorcese and the humanism of Altman, and supercharges them. This is Short Cuts on a hideous amount of speed, charging through its three hour run time in a perfectly paced work of “holy shit”. A lot of three hour epics can feel like thirty, Magnolia feels like a ninety minute film in the best way possible. Lose those three hours, and it feels like you were there for half of it. It moves, and moves and moves.

And that cast. Everyone is on fire. Whether it’s John C Reilly’s down on his luck sweetheart cop, Julianne Moore’s fiery woman on the brink of something awful, Jason Robard’s spectacularly heartfelt dying moments or… well, I never thought I’d say it but Tom Cruise actually does work here. He’s a horrifyingly charismatic career douchebag, and in the emotional climax of his character’s arc delivers the single greatest piece of acting I’ve yet seen. It cuts right to the core, and in a cast of actors who have gone beyond playing roles to becoming them, that moment is the highlight in a sea of gold. Damn, tears were shed then.

And then there’s the ending. Frogs rain from the fucking sky. Shit gets biblical, man. Everything goes to hell, and then everything stops making sense. The cosmic joke against the cast is revealed in full force in a moment that makes minimal logical sense, but in the narrative is the only way it could really go – the crux is that more or less, weird shit happens. You have to roll with it.

I’m rambling, so I’ll wrap this up. Magnolia is not Inherent Vice. That is to say it isn’t this hipster prick’s Harry Potter. If I remove my biases from the equation, Magnolia is the best film I’ve ever seen, and probably will ever see…

Till I finally watch The Witch.

CRIMSON PEAK (2015): “not many blue troughs”

Love a bit of gothic, me. I think I reviewed Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre at some point and sang the praises, and if I haven’t well I’d wax lyrical about it here too. But I’m writing about Del Toro’s most recent masterpiece in atmospherics, Crimson Peak. So yeah, gothic. Red, blood, bigass victorian houses, fanciful linguistics and all that tosh is out in full force, nearing the cliché and closer to being a run of the mill box ticking exercise.

So. Do atmospherics at the expense of plot make a movie? Well, yes if you want a tone poem but Malick, Innaritu and the Arthouse scene is over that way. Crimson Peak has actual characters with motivations and histories as intriguing as the titular manor – cast as a veritable victorian Amityville – and a trite, melodramatic narrative to accompany it all. Yeah, I’m not calling that a negative but it might be. Simple story executed with a lot of soul and heart, with beautiful visuals. Who cares if you can see everything coming if the ride is this sumptuous?

It’s elegantly played by Jessica Chastain, a classic deranged murderer, Tom Hiddleston, the regal man caught in moral strain, and my favourite actress – Mia Wasikowska. She can do no wrong in my eyes. They all treat the script with a delicacy and intent, leaving some passages of dialogue brilliantly played precisely when they need to escalate. Mia’s reaction to her father’s corpse and Tom’s false dressing down are the particular highlights – the former is one of the most startlingly realistic realisations of death that I’ve seen, encroaching on TJ Mackey territory.

So we call it a film of greatness, with a grand setback – the ghosts in the narrative. I love me a decent game, but in contrast to the beautifully realised sets, the CGI ghosts smack of an older Resident Evil quality wise, but have amazing art design that they still fit within the twisted tale, but I can’t help but feel disappointed by their realisation.

Final note: Crimson Peak > Pan’s Labyrinth. Come at me.

THE REVENANT (2015): “Hardy > DiCaprio”

Fuck Alejandro Gonzales Innaritu. The most annoying, pretentious director in Hollywood, aside from Captain Theatre Fetish Tarantino. Birdman, one of the most intriguing concepts in ages, was an overwritten and poorly directed holier than thou o marvel audience pile of crap, got him his stripes back. He rightfully lost them for Babel.

And yet… The Revenant happens. This is the best video game film I’ve ever seen. It’s camera swirls majestically throughout gorgeously recreated Frontier America, saving a frankly flat performance from Leonardo DiCaprio by sheer measure of brutal, unrelenting scenery porn. Does it really tell the story? No – it immerses you in the world being built, allowing the film to create a very intense, extraordinarily dense atmosphere around it. It’s very, very interesting stuff.

And then there’s Tom Hardy. What a man. What a legend. He gives a fantastic performance as the stir crazy Fitzpatrick, carrying a dogged malevolence and more acting talent in his gaze than DiCaprio has in his entire career, and provides an excellent antagonist for Hugh Glass to seek revenge against. I can’t understand a word of what he’s saying, but every other aspect of the performance negates that. I wish he had more screentime, honestly.

Ah yeah, that reminds me. Biggest fault going is bloat. This is a very simple revenge story, told in two and a half hours. It has pointlessly symbolic dream sequences which kill the flow and take you away from the fantastic, oppressive brutality of the frontier Jack Fisk has so intricately recreated, and it could much more easily be a slimmer film in general.

Good film, great even. Innaritu’s earned a little bit of faith from me. And I goddamn despised Birdman.

HER (2013): “an upgrade to your computer worth a damn”

So this is a film which made me cry like a goddamn child. Dude brings up video games on the first date, I mean shit. Is this me? Am I watching my love life on screen right now? No of course not, Jonze’s sensitive modern man actually goes on dates. Anyway. This film is one of those rare confluences for me, happened with Inherent Vice, happened with Synecdoche, New York and I’m sure it’ll happen again.

Her tackles the themes of love, loss, loneliness and the happiness and sadness you get from “the one”. It has a cool Tumblr-esque hipster chic in the wardrobe, and an even cooler ultra-modern plausible futurism in the production (serious props to the fusion of Shanghai and LA here). It has Joaquin Fucking Phoenix, the best living actor for my money (check out The Master if you disagree, then fight me). It has a soundtrack by Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett. It’s written (for the first time he did an original script) and directed by Spike Jonze.

Murphy’s Law shoulda kicked in with a vengeance here, but it all comes together in a perfect snowball of tear jerking beauty. Theodore Twombly is one of the most sympathetic, lifelike characters I’ve seen in a romance film, with his relationship with Samantha being one of the most human I’ve ever experienced. It’s just one of the most touching love stories on screen. And it’s a man and an OS. Christ.

Hoyte Van Hoytema, who y’all may know from Spectre or Interstellar these days, continues to be one of the greatest cinematographers in the business, with production design and blocking which allows his central framing shot design and vibrant colour palettes to truly shine, and really sell the isolation of Theodore and the glam of future LA, it’s genuinely gorgeous and I am baffled this aspect went unrewarded. Unless it went against Gravity, in which case… nah, still better shot.

So if I was to be told in 2013 a film about a man who falls in love with his computer would become one of my all-time favourites, I’d have laughed heartily. But, well, here we are.

SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS (1927): “before sunset”

Well, honestly, for a film student I haven’t exactly seen many films recently. I’ve come to find that the ones I actively want to watch disappear from cinemas near me before I even get the chance. That means you, The Witch. But, I do occasionally attend my lectures, and that brings me to FW Murnau’s Sunrise.

Post Nosferatu but pre… well, lets not delve into that. Released in 1927, Sunrise is a simplistic, corny and melodramatic love story with a shade of “that’s not okay.” But you know what, it excels perfectly in humanism and emotional honesty, something which appears to be increasingly lacking in more recent love stories. Maybe it’s the expressionism talking, but the relationship between The Man and The Wife (yes those are their actual credits, played expertly and expressively by George O’Brien and Janet Gaynor) is perhaps one of the most endearing ones I’ve seen. Every moment they are together as The Man desperately tries to patch up their relationship is pitch perfect, and often extremely tender.

After a misguided attempt to murder her, The Man chases her and takes her on the whirlwind romance so often dreamed of in film, but scarcely ever represented so beautifully. Yes, it is initially creepy. But, honesty who cares! The way the two interact is heart-warming and truly believable, with the chemistry between the two leads being constantly magnetising. Without saying a word, the pair go through something special and truly hook you in, making you believe in this relationship and utterly rooting for it to work. I was definitely swept up in the moment as the narrative took it’s final dark turns, and I was there with the man as he frantically searched for his lost love in the darkness of the sea.

The title too, is brilliant. Sunrise follows a temporal flair so rarely employed in today’s cinema, allowing the time of day to reflect the mood, with a beautiful sunrise accompanying the tender moments and a suffocating darkness punctuated with a sinister full moon, the worst. This is even shown in the basic narrative – they have a grand night on the town to rekindle the lost love, with the city perfectly contrasted in it’s lustrous glow as the night is in full swing. It’s just wonderful, truly.

I’d say the film is a shining example of German expressionism, using the environments and some incredible filmic techniques to demonstrate the emotion of the narrative, far beyond other films in this style. It really reflects the strength of the movement’s artistic capabilities as it draws you in and refuses to let you go. Definitely a song of two humans.

ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004): “eternal sunshine of the spotless film”

Dear Mr Kaufman,

I wonder how many people tell you how much your films mean to them. You always go for those big, universal questions, and wrap them around a narrative very easy to relate to… it’s like you just understand how to tap into that big collective unconscious we all have as a society, and tell us something big about love or life, or how to move on and come to terms with anything, really. I’m a gigantic fan of Synecdoche, New York. It fucking moves me, every time, but I’ve written about it before.

So, Eternal Sunshine. You wrote this magical film, with such a depressing tone and one of this deep longing for the perfect moment, with the perfect person, and the fragility of love and memory. You make Jim Carrey’s best character. You make one of the most scarily predictive pieces of science fiction of recent times, especially with the recent announcement that we can now replace and edit memories. I wonder if it happens just like in your film, with Mark Ruffallo getting stoned and fucking around inside your head to find that specific memory, allowing it to dissolve and go away.

I’m going to keep this brief, but I think this film is perfect, or as close as cinema can come to it, and that’s basically because of your beautifully constructed and executed narrative. Your characters are compelling, flawed and thoroughly human, with their interactions so nuanced and raw it becomes difficult to not root for them, even in spite of their issues and general misanthropy. I even remember the morning after watching this film, I lent the copy to my friend and they watched it in the kitchen, and I wondered in at the ending. Everything clicked a second time, and the film got an entirely new meaning to me.

So little films can capture that excitement of “clicking” like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and for that reason I adore it. I had this feeling with Synecdoche, New York as well, where everything just slotted into place in a devastating and brilliant moment of clarity. You gave me a film which has infinite value and an extremely special place in my heart and mind, so all I can offer you this: my sincere and extreme thanks.

Yours,
A writer with a renewed sense of purpose.