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

Argo

In the last days of the 70s, Iranian militants take over the US Embassy in Tehran taking everyone inside hostage. Unbeknownst to them, six Americans managed to escape, and were able to covertly make their way to the Canadian ambassador’s house (after being turned away by the New Zealanders and those pesky Brits). After hiding out their for weeks, never going outside for fear of being seen and executed on sight, it soon becomes clear that the CIA must make a move to ‘exfiltrate’ these citizens. Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), their top exfiltration specialist, comes up with a plan to pull them out, by pretending to be a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a new sci-fi B-movie called Argo, and to make the story more convincing, Hollywood needs to get involved.
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Zodiac

Amidst the 4th of July celebrations in California in 1969, two young romantics drive out to a secluded spot the locals refer to as Lover’s Lane. The mood is of anticipation; anything could happen as the other kids drive away, our lovestruck pair left alone. There’s a spark of romance, playful glances, touches, the gentle ribbing of one another as they become closer. And then they’re shot in cold blood and left for dead with no word of explanation by an unseen killer. This murder, along with the many that follow it, dramatically changes the lives of many people, but our focus here is a select three; Mark Ruffalo’s cop, Robert Downey Jr’s journalist and Jake Gyllenhall’s cartoonist, as they each set out to catch the killer. Their motives are different – Ruffalo’s David Toschi wants justice, RDJ’s Paul Avery is out to further his career and Gyllenhall’s Robert Graysmith is obsessed with the puzzles the killer sends to the local papers, but all three will suffer in terms of careers, personal lives and sanity at the hands of this killer.
Based on the real life Zodiac killer (the influence of the Scorpio killer in Dirty Harry, here namechecked when Toschi can’t sit through a showing), the case remained unsolved when the lead suspect died some years ago, and it’s this sense of inconclusiveness that runs throughout the film – you know there will not be a satisfactory ending. Plaudits should be laden for the realism of the film – not since All the President’s Men has so much paperwork been completed – but unfortunately the dreary, depressing side of catching a killer rubs begins to rub off onto the film during its overlong running time. Director David Fincher (Benjamin Button, Seven) is usually so adept at keeping interest, even when Morgan Freeman went to a library, but here not even a cast including Elias Koteas, Philip Baker Hall, Brian Cox, Anthony Edwards, John Carroll Lynch, Adam Goldberg and Clea Duvall can raise this above tedium. There’s a good film in here somewhere, and a good edit could bring it out. More Downey Jr. and Brian Cox couldn’t hurt though, they’re the best parts of the film and are criminally underused.

Choose life 7/10

Midnight Run

From its cheesy logo, synth-heavy score and buddy-movie premise, Midnight Run could have easily been lost amid the flotilla of similar films released in the 80s, but its multi-faceted plot, quick-fire dialogue and outstanding performances from leads Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin set this apart from the rest. De Niro plays Jack Walsh, an ex-cop turned bounty hunter on the hunt for Grodin’s Charles ‘the Duke’ Mardukas. Initially this looks like it’ll be a cat and mouse chase film, with Walsh spending the majority of the screen time hunting his prey, but after tracking him down fairly early on, the film becomes more of a road movie, as Walsh has five days to get the Duke from New York to Los Angeles, with the FBI, the mob and a rival bounty hunter all after the Duke for themselves.
De Niro is at his light-hearted comic best, just watch him practicing flashing a stolen FBI badge, and Grodin is a delight as Walsh’s polar opposite talkative Robin Hood figure, stealing from criminals and giving to charity. Other comic touches and performances and well played, from the beleaguered FBI officer Alonso Mosely, the mobster who seems to think the whole job is a bit of a holiday, and the inept bounty hunter Marvin and Joe Pantoliano’s increasingly irate bail bondsman. No-one does screaming anger quite as well as Pantoliano. This is a little known gem, those I watched it with had never heard of it, let alone seen it, but every one of them loved the film, and it’s worth a watch for the litmus configuration scene alone, Grodin seriously needs to be in more films.
Choose film 8/10