Magnolia

In the San Fernando Valley, a selection seemingly disconnected group of people are going through some fairly heavy moments in their live. Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) is dying in bed, being cared for by his nurse Phil (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who is tasked with finding Earl’s estranged son. Earl’s much-younger trophy wife, Linda (Julianne Moore), is struggling to deal with the imminent death of her husband. Officer Jim (John C. Reilly) is called to investigate a disturbance, which leads to a potential murder case. Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman) is a genius child contestant on the TV Game Show What Do Kids Know?, and is just a few days away from breaking that show’s record of most consecutive wins. Jimmy Gator hosts the show, and has done for decades, but has just been diagnosed with cancer, with just months to live. Jimmy’s daughter, Claudia (Melora Walters), has a difficult relationship with her father, as well as a cocaine habit and various other issues in her life, whilst Donnie Smith (William H. Macy), a former child star contestant on the aforementioned TV show, has seen his fame squandered and life thrown in turmoil when he loses his job at an electronics store. Finally, Frank T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise) runs a self-help seminar on men who wish to be more successful with ladies. Mid-show, he gives an interview to a reporter (April Grace) that doesn’t necessarily go as he plans. All these stories, and more besides, will become interwoven over the course of the film’s next 24 hours.
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Hard Eight

Sydney (Philip Baker Hall) is a seasoned, respected gambler and occasional con artist. He knows all the tricks, but is getting a little long in the tooth in an increasingly modern world. John (John C. Reilly) is a fool who lost all his money in Vegas trying to win enough to pay for his mother’s funeral. Sydney takes John under his wing to show him where he went wrong.screen-shot-2013-02-08-at-2-44-43-am1 Continue reading

Boogie Nights

At the tail end of the 70s, times were a-changin’ for many folks, including those involved in the production of adult films. Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) is bussing tables in a nightclub, regularly frequented by porn director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), his cast and crew. Adams, who later will become known as Dirk Diggler, is somewhat gifted in a manner that would be beneficial in adult cinema, so he soon finds himself working in Jack’s pictures. This film chronicles the highs and lows of working in such an industry, not just for Dirk, but Jack, his leading lady Amber Waves (Julianne Moore), other cast members Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), Buck Swope (Don Cheadle), Becky Barnett (Nicole Ari Parker) and Rollergirl (Heather Graham) and their crew, including Little Bill (William H. Macy) and Scotty J. (Philip Seymour Hoffman).Boogie 04 Continue reading

Carnage

After their sons have an altercation in the park, their parents get together to settle the matter over coffee and cobbler. Just as the Cowans (Kate Wisnlet and Christoph Waltz), the parents of the fight’s assailant, are leaving the Longstreet’s (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly) apartment, they end up being drawn together for the rest of the evening under various circumstances, be it phone calls, not wishing to upset the neighbours by arguing outside or one of the party throwing up everywhere. Tempers fray, bonds are formed and broken, alcohol is drunk and all politeness and civility is thrown out the window.
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Gangs of New York

New York, 1846. Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson), the leader of a group of Irishmen going by the name of the Dead Rabbits, has roused other rival gangs to join together and fight Bill ‘The Butcher’ Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis), the leader of the tyrannical New York Natives, over ownership of the Five Points. When Neeson is slain, his son escapes and leaves the city, returning sixteen years later as Leonardo DiCaprio, who understandably has a score to settle with Bill over his father’s murder.

I can see what Martin Scorsese was trying to do here, basically a mid-19th century Goodfellas, but if Henry Hill had a vendetta against Paulie, but unfortunately he was quite a way off the mark. Whilst Gangs of New York isn’t a bad film, it’s no match for Goodfellas in terms of story and generally being awesome. What Gangs does have, though, is a lot more violence, and of course Daniel Day-Lewis in full on mental mode. His Bill Cutting is easily the best and most memorable aspect of the film, with his hair plastered immobile to his scalp, with his fringe greased down and intimidating moustache twisted up. As always, Day-Lewis gives an intense, extreme yet believable performance as the film’s most rounded character, and the fact that he lost to Adrien Brody for The Pianist (one of ten Oscar nominations the film failed to pick up trophies for) is beyond me, though Brody should definitely have been nominated. Bill is, at times, downright terrifying, most notably during the knife-throwing scene, where his “Whoopsy-daisy!” sends a shiver down my spine, and waking up to see Daniel Day-Lewis, draped in the American flag, may well soon be a recurring nightmare of mine.

By comparison, DiCaprio’s Amsterdam is something of a disappointing hero, dithering about with Cameron Diaz’s petty thief Jenny, who also happens to have a connection with Bill, as he quickly rises through the ranks of New York’s gang culture. He’s a bit bland to be honest, although really who wouldn’t be when compared to Bill the Butcher? and the dance scene he and Diaz share is insipid and awkward, far more than I feel it should be. The supporting cast fares better, comprised of the likes of Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly and Brendan Gleeson, as well as Henry Thomas (Elliot from E.T.!), Stephen Graham and Eddie Marsan making up the lower ranks, but all making their marks. 

The script is largely good and often quotable, with such gems as “You see this knife? I’m going to teach you to speak English with this f**king knife!”, “She’s a prim-looking star-gazer,” and my personal favourite, “I don’t give a tuppenny f**k about your moral conundrum you meat-headed sh*t sack!” The occasional black comedy was nice – the town has 37 individually run fire departments, who spend more time brawling over who gets to fight the fires than they do actually putting the fires out, and Broadbent’s politician’s solution to people hassling him is to hang some people – but no-one important of course. And there’s so much floor-spitting it’s a wonder everyone doesn’t have to walk around in wellington boots.

I feel I must mention the violence in this film, as there’s an awful lot more than I was expecting. At times it’s fairly comical – Neeson’s priest setting bludgeoning people about the heads with his cross – but elsewhere it’s less appreciated, for example a woman who rips off ears (she then uses them as a form of payment at the local bar), and there are far more animal carcasses than I really wanted to see. This is only to be expected – Bill is a butcher, after all, but we see more here than during a Rocky training montage. Along with the violence and dead pigs, there’s also enough racism to make even Prince Philip blush. No racial slur goes uncussed.

My main problem with this film is the lack of subtlety. There’s a pretty blatant metaphor spelled out in the opening scene, as Neeson recounts to his son the tale of St. Michael, who cast Satan out of paradise. It becomes pretty clear than in this parable, DiCaprio is to play the part of the saint, Cutting is Satan (his main office is referred to as Satan’s Circus) and paradise is New York, more specifically Paradise Square, the centre of the Five Points. This metaphor is handled pretty heavily, and flashing back to this opening scene every time Amsterdam encounters someone from his childhood really doesn’t help. I approved of the parallels between the two warring sides – they both pray to the same God, as do the law enforcement out to stop them, all believing they are on the side of justice and their Lord. The politics wasn’t bad either, though again it was less subtle than it could have been, with conscripts to the civil war boarding onto a boat as coffins are simultaneously unloaded from it directly in front of them.

The scale of the scenes is very impressive, with hundreds of extras across multiple storeys of buildings and far into the distance, occasionally pyrotechnics and a hell of a lot going on. This, along with Daniel Day-Lewis, is the only part of the film really worth watching for, so I can’t recommend it all that much.

Choose life 6/10

Chicago

Last Monday I was not having a good day. I don’t remember having a particularly good day at work, and when I came home the LoveFilm disc of The Class (review coming soon) infected my PlayStation 3, my primary film-watching paraphernalia, with an incurable bout of Yellow Light of Death. Fortunately, after a quick 20-minutes of mucking around with SCART leads and speakers, the back-up DVD player was up and running, but alas The Class had no intentions of playing, and to be honest I was in no mood to read subtitles after that debacle, so instead we settled down for a much more easy to watch and far more enjoyable evening of Chicago.
I’ve seen the story twice before, once on film and once on stage, and I think I preferred the small screen to the grand spectacle, though I think on second viewing it isn’t as good as I remembered. Renee Zellweger is as annoying as ever as the naive, waif-like Roxie Hart, incarcerated after killing the man she was sleeping around with (The Wire’s Dominic West). Whilst inside, she meets Catherine Zeta-Jones’ performer Velma Kelly, herself accused of murdering her sister and husband. The two compete for the favours of Matron Mama (Queen Latifah) and super smooth, silver-tongued lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere).
Gere and Latifah seem to be the only ones enjoying themselves, and why Latifah was nominated for Best Supporting Actress I’ll never know, as her performance doesn’t compare to the award winning Zeta-Jones. There’s far too much of Zellweger simpering around the stage, and she seems to have forgotten to tell her face that she’s acting for much of her performance. Her singing is fine, but she is a thoroughly over-rated actress, who in this film is also far too skinny (but then so are all the girls in this film, Latifah aside). More of Gere’s incredibly entertaining Flynn would have gone a long way, as would more screen time for John C. Reilly as Roxie’s cuckolded husband Amos, who’s solo performance of Mr. Cellophane is my personal favourite, along with the wonderfully choreographed Cell Block Tango and Flynn’s marionette manipulation of a gaggle of reporters.
So, whilst it’s not perfect and a recasting of the lead would have been greatly appreciated (though to be honest, I’m not sure who I’d cast in her place) many of the musical numbers are still great fun. Six Oscars and thirteen nominations though? Seems a little excessive.
Choose film 7/10