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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A Christmas Story

I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts recently. A friend of mine turned me onto the Adam Carolla Show, essentially a man complaining about rich white guy problems on a daily basis, but with great guests and an excellent sense of humour. From this, I’ve branched out to several others, some film related, of which I can recommend Doug Loves Movies, the Film Vault and How Did This Get Made. A regular guest on the Adam Carolla Show is Larry Miller, whose distinctly bald head you may recall from Pretty Woman, 10 Things I Hate About You, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and about a million other films you’ve seen and gone “Hey, it’s that guy. He’s funny” and then promptly forgotten all about. He has his own podcast, This Week with Larry Miller, in which he, in a very good natured, old fashioned and entertaining way, tells tales of his life in LA, diverting constantly on such subjects as Kim Kardashian, hotdogs and anything else he may have thought of that week. Since I’ve started listening, he has mentioned rather frequently a little film called A Christmas Story. If, like myself, you live on the more cultured side of the Atlantic, chances are you’ve never heard of this film, yet across the pond in the States it seems to be something of a festive phenomenon, its viewing a mandatory tradition for all families involving children or anyone who’s been one, so had it not been on the List I’m sure I would still have sought it out, if only to see what all the fuss is about.
It turns out that this is another of those cases where the event in question has been so over-inflated in my mind before taking place that it just couldn’t live up to expectations. Miller’s near constant praise for the film set my sights at the sky, expecting to file it alongside It’s A Wonderful Life, Die Hard and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation as my Yuletide movie go-to, but alas I remain thoroughly disappointed.
A Christmas Story follows 9 year old Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) on his quest to receive a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, but is confounded at every turn by his parents, his teacher and a shopping mall Santa with the repeated warning that he’ll shoot his eye out. There are kid-friendly fantasy scenes where Ralphie saves his family with the aid of the gun – vanquished foes have ‘X’s drawn on their eyelids – and Ralphie and his family deal with the usual child issues – run-ins with bullies, the first swear in front of a parent, the disappointment of a toy arriving in the mail, as well as some genuinely original moments – the frozen tongue on a flagpole –  but it’s all just a bit too twee. There’s no sense of drama, no tension. Only children would understand the sense of urgency Ralphie feels at having to have that gun. Anyone older knows he wouldn’t remember it 2 months down the line, so there’s no real problem if he doesn’t get it. The ending is trite, but the narration, by an adult Ralphie, is well used and executed, but there is definitely a reason this hasn’t caught on over here in the UK.
Choose life 6/10