Tag Archives: Paul Thomas Anderson

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.

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INHERENT VICE (2014): “emotionally involved with the boat”

I’d like to preface this ramble with a spoiler warning for Inherent Vice’s narrative, because I will probably talk about a lot of it. I’d also like to apologise for the content of this review. Brace yourselves, it’s gonna get high-fallutin’.

Inherent Vice, I’ve been told by a wise woman, is a maritime term. Eggs shatter, glass breaks and time marches on. Sometimes, things just happen and you have to roll with it. Sometimes, your ex girlfriend shows up completely changed and tells you of a plot to haul a real estate mogul off to a nut house. Sometimes, dentists die on trampolines. Weird shit can and will happen. Where I’m going with this is that Inherent Vice‘s narrative, hewn from the deepest nostalgia of Thomas Pynchon and thrown unto the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson, is dense. Dense, weird, touching, many more adjectives and labels. I’m trying to say it’s a thing of tragic beauty, wrapped in a frequently hilarious, mostly confusing package.

This package is created by the labyrinthine mystery at the core, a dense haze of sea mist and a further coating of marijuana smoke. A stoner’s detective paradise. This is then represented as a film which takes the core elements of classic noirs in an aesthetic viewpoint – central framing, deep contrasts between light and dark, shot reverse shot and extended takes. But it does not modernise these, leading to a film some may call ugly or boring to look at. I find it beautiful, with gentle colouring and sumptuous lighting in every scene complementing the actors and the tone. It’s an extremely visual film, with many smaller details shown in the decoration of a room over the deliberately meandering and confused dialogue. It’s a quiet miracle of cinematography to this reviewer.

Furthermore, I cannot fault the music in this film. Jonny Greenwood’s score is both classical in it’s emotional strings, and modern in it’s complex, layered arrangement. Music from artists is employed with PT Anderson’s usual precision, and I will be forever grateful for this film for introducing me to Can. Great band, leading to a great title smash.

I could write pages upon pages of nonsense about the history of the film, the death of free spirited America with the election of Nixon, the shadow of the Manson family on parties bigger than three. I could equal this talking about the performances – Katherine Waterston as Shasta and Joaquin Phoenix as Doc are both revelatory, especially as this reviewer has had no prior experience with Waterston.

Ultimately, I view Inherent Vice as one of those films you just don’t want to end. Such is the density of the narrative it paints a beautiful picture of it’s breezy setting and characters. Corny as hell, but it feels like going home every time I watch it. One of my personal favourite films.