Tag Archives: American

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.

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.

A writer with a renewed sense of purpose.

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (2008): “heroically honest”


As I’m sat here I’m listening to Little Person, from the soundtrack to Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut Synecdoche, New York. The song, like the film, resonates a great deal and resonates with me as a viewer on a deeply personal level, but I shan’t go in to detail on that. Instead, I’d like to examine this film on a level which is perhaps more philosophical than I’d normally talk about, and maybe this will get a bit personal. Not sure, but please bear with me.

I have not seen the film in a fair few months, but it grows more in stature to me as time goes on. As a bit of a newbie Kaufman fan (I’m beginning to see him as the finest writer modern film currently has) I’m incredible impressed by the way it constantly works its way into my mind, allowing me to find a retrospective reason to pick over the film varying on my situation. As a fresher in university, the song Little Person written by Jon Brion for the film describes that stereotypical search for new people to enjoy this chapter in my life, but the compelling argument versus being a solipsistic, self-centred person shown by Caden Cotard’s arc in the film is clearer. It is a film that says we are all unimportant, really. But, we are representative of a collective humanity, each person being a synecdoche of us as the human race. That, to me, is spot on: the film has unconsciously opened my eyes to the individuals in my life… we are all the main characters in our own narratives, and that is brilliant.

It has also shown me that cinema can deeply reflect the viewer’s thoughts. I remarked to a friend that due to a certain scene, wherein Caden inspects his stool and finds blood, I was unlikely to watch it again. I am a serious hypochondriac. That scene will stick with me for many years, as it showed me that what I was going through was not unique to me, and that many people share these fears and neuroses. The film, in that sense, improved me as a person. I took resolve to not be that person who was always finding the worst possible outcome. Funny how one of the most profoundly saddening films I have ever seen gave me a more positive outlook on life, isn’t it?

So that’s a short few words on Synecdoche, New York, perhaps the greatest film I have ever seen… It is a true rarity in its grandiose scale, yet still manages to create these personal connections.


Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York is a five-star hard sell. Its subjects are loneliness and failure. It’s a funny comedy surrounded by death. I was confused, affected, haunted and still wanting to see it again. That’s the power of this postmodern masterpiece (though, to debate postmodernism now would be a feat that takes this whole blog to truly answer, so… I’ll leave that be).

Kaufman’s work will always explore the human condition through dancing the wit and portraying everything with abandon. Synecdoche is more subtle, in my view, but it’s still hella off the wall! Here exists an improvisational theatre in a Manhattan warehouse with a twist: it intends to recreate everything lived, and that’s as exhausting as you’d imagine.

This is Kaufman’s intentionally making a joke at his own expense, no? What if a wizard of drama could possibly conjure theatre so implausible and damning to its spectators that it’s ultimately unwatchable? Furthermore, what if Caden’s life was a wreck, not of the destroyed kind but just a lump in the throat you cannot shake? The resulting examination is unflinchingly honest and representative of the hell people live through, and it never misses a beat.

I’ll praise Hoffman here. He gives his all to making us as broken and old-feeling as his character is by the denouement.

Kaufman’s film soars sky-high with such a performance turn, organically expressed and testy to its other cast members (Samantha Morton, Emily Watson and Dianne Wiest, all superb).

It dazzles but not in the wonderland-like-way that my five-star films often do. The tools for gritty grimness are all there waiting to be picked up in Synecdoche New York. I’d say Kaufman saw them, took them and used them in the most subversive way possible.

And it left me reeling.

NASHVILLE (1975): “it don’t worry me”


Reviewers can indulge in this one, because it’s rhapsodic and a rave all at once. 24 characters. Country music. Nashville is the rare achievement, the American epic much like Pulp Fiction or Magnolia. 40 years of filmography this piece captures. It’s a candle in the wind, a pillar of light in the cinematic universe of cinema itself.

Spacious, eccentrically detailed and conceived with compassion, Nashville takes time to analyse the urban landscape of the States, all choices courtesy of Robert Altman.

I’m intentionally avoiding talk of the cast to discuss the visual character that is so crucial to the story’s success. The land is distinct, authentic and convincing. The planes feel strange just as the music isolates and alienates. What am I watching? Conservatism, or subversion at its cleanest?

To think about Altman for any period of time is to down a long drink at your local, to want to watch everything again. You want Nashville projected in front of a hungry crowd, I’d say, though they must know that there are no equivalents to this once you show them it. There’s certainly nothing that lives up now.


Robert Altman, you fantastic son of a bitch. Before I watched Nashville, I didn’t “get” character based films. I didn’t get Lost In Translation, I didn’t get Linklater’s films. I still don’t. But Nashville? I get that. Nashville is one of the few films which physically affected me – upon the film’s final moments, I was gripping my laptop’s screen, shaking and crying. I’m not ashamed to admit that I cared deeply for these characters, and that I wanted nothing but the best for them, even if most of them are shitty people.

I mean, I want to talk about this film in more depth, to reflect on its satire of America, to point out its clairvoyance in its final moments, to wax lyrical about the performances, about the dialogue, about how human it all is. But, I’m very self-conscious that I will just deliver another Princess Kaguya for you fine folks, and no one wants to read that again. So I’m just going to give you an apology. I’m sorry I can’t offer anything on this film for you to read and think over.

All I can offer you, the reader, is this: Nashville is, to me, the perfect film. The key thing for me, is the dialogue. Classic Altman. It’s totally improvised, and every single actor was mic’d up for the film. Multiple scenes unravel within shots, many different stories ebbing and flowing and colliding in the same shot. That is genius. You will get something new form this film every time you watch it. Isn’t that the ultimate? A legitimate reason to watch and rewatch a film, to see almost a new storyline every time you watch it, purely because there is so much to pick over and focus on, based purely on what you want to hear in that scene.