Category Archives: Film Reviews – M

Magnolia (1999)

“This was not just a matter of chance. These strange things happen all the time.”

Cast: Tom Cruise, Jason Robards and Julianne Moore

Magnolia

Magnolia is a film that often splits an audience. Some people don’t like it as it is quite pretentious in places, yet along with these negative reviews it has received much critical acclaim too.

Magnolia carefully and intricately interweaves the lives of several different people on a normal day in the San Fernando Valley. Each character is looking for happiness, forgiveness or meaning in their life and it just so happens they coincidentally find peace with themselves after a day of random events.

One of the first things I noticed about the film was the incredible use of music which is employed superbly in every scene. While it has a great soundtrack, Aimee Mann was responsible for the score which brought out real emotion and passion in most of the scenes. It just shows how powerful music can truly be, and this film is a prime example of it being used to its fullest.

The cast is brimming with talented actors, and with so many different storylines to keep a track of, they each made their own significant and memorable. This is very important as with so many strands, the audience need to stay engaged with each for when it’s left and then later revisited. The film had me gripped throughout due to the attention and levels of detail within each story, this was another of the main positives I found about the film. The script is fantastic and each story is as powerful as the next, seducing the audience and making it very magnetising to watch.

We see star performances from Jeremy Blackman, Melinda Dillon, Tom Cruise, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Jason Robards, and Melora Walters, one of the best collaborative casts I have seen in film. While they each undoubtedly give fantastic performances, Cruise showed me a character that I haven’t seen from him before, nor was I expecting. He manages to dig deep and express his character, Frank T.J. Mackey, in a light that I haven’t seen him do and it was a pleasant surprise. Reilly and Walters were involved in another story that I loved watching, they had a real chemistry and this random love link was nice to see unfold. I think they both did great, though you can say that of any of the main characters.

Blackman played a boy-genius who faced pressure from his father to win every games show contest he was entered in, so he could capitalise off his son’s success, he gave a great performance and especially so for a child. Hall was the game contestant show host, dying of cancer, he gave a very helpless yet touching performance. Macy was a grown boy genius who had his 15 minutes of fame after beating the odds of the games show in the sixties, though now he is struggling with loneliness after being cast aside as a weirdo. Moore was great as a super-bitch and confused wife, her husband is dying of a terminal illness though she can’t handle the guilt she has for cheating on him for years beforehand. Robards played said husband and although he spent the whole film in a bed, he pulled off a strong performance. Hoffman was great as his male nurse too, and even though he cried a lot, he still made it work.

I did have problems with Magnolia though, and they are not easy to overlook. Firstly with all of the biblical references – it seemed that the director, Paul Thomas Anderson, was pushing for something more than what the film was, making it a bit pretentious and in over its head. Some scenes are absurd too, yet while all of this illogicality and randomness demonstrate the willingness that Anderson had for the film to actually mean something more, it gets so obvious in places it seems desperate. It also raises confusion with the end message. The coincidence-not-coincidence type of logic leaves the message of the film open for interpretation but with no hints or coherency – does the film even know what it’s trying to say?

Regardless of this, Magnolia is a moving film that hinges on the narratives and interpersonal connections that the characters have with each other, but that’s it. It fails in being anything more and the desperate need for it to be a film with a profound and life-changing message only opens it for more criticism. The characters were great, as was the score, the editing and the interweaving stories, but the push for it to be something more doesn’t place it in the category of a modern classic, but just a wannabe.

Star rating:  7.5/10

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.

Running time 188 minutes.

Mean Girls (2004)

“I’m sorry that people are so jealous of me… but I can’t help it that I’m so popular. “

Cast: Lindsay Lohan, Jonathan Bennett and Rachel McAdams

Mean Girls

Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) is the new girl at school. After being home schooled throughout her life, high school is a brand new experience for her. Luckily she finds friends in Damien (Daniel Franzese) and Janis (Lizzy Caplan), identifying with their inability to fit in with one of the many social groups around school.

Inadvertently Cady makes friends with the most powerful and popular clique, the Plastics. Made up of Gretchen Weiners (Lacey Chabert), Karen Smith (Amanda Seyfried) and head plastic Regina George (Rachel McAdams), the 3 are known to all students around school, having a reputation that sees them rule the corridors.

Through Cady, Damien and Janis believe they can get their own back on the threesome for all of the hurtful things they’ve done, so devise a plan to break the clique from the inside. Cady starts to be drawn in by the glitzy life the Plastics lead though as well as the good-looking boys that line-up for them, including Regina’s ex-boyfriend Aaron (Jonathan Bennett) who she has her eye on.

Mean Girls is a great chic flick. Full of laughs and playful dialogue, it’s a girly film that will always be one I reach for when I want to watch something light hearted. Lohan is great as Cady, she has a fresh, new quality about her that shines on screen, even though this wasn’t her first major role, that being The Parent Trap.

As a whole the film feels as though it has been cast just right, especially with Tina Fey as Ms. Norbury and Tim Meadows as Principal Duvall, both bring some great humour to the film. Their comedic timing is flawless, though I guess that’s a given as they’re both comedians in other work they do.

While Means Girls is predicable in parts, it’s just a fun film that’s meant to be enjoyed for what it is. For a girly night in, a few laughs or just as a lazy Sunday watch, Mean Girls should be the film you reach for.

Star rating:  7.5/10

Directed by Mark Waters.

Running time 97 minutes.

Memories of Matsuko (2006)

The value of life doesn’t depend on what other people do for you, but what you do for others.”

Cast: Miki Nakatani, Eita and Yûsuke Iseya

Memories of Matsuko

After a female tramp is found dead on a park, her nephew Shou (Eita Nagayama) is called in to clean up her apartment. Not knowing anything about his Aunt, he unwittingly relives parts of her extraordinary life through photos, diary entries and old friends he meets.

He discovers all about his amazing Aunt Matsuko, who stumbled through life looking for her prince charming, only to discover that life isn’t like the fairy tales. Afraid of being lonely, Matsuko did anything to cling onto the romantic relationships she had, whether it was through prostitution or settling for a violent relationship. We see her journey from being a sweet young girl who craved attention from her father, to an old recluse who just wanted to be loved.

Miki Nakatani takes the lead as Matsuko, and does a fantastic job with it. From portraying a vulnerable teacher to a hardened woman capable of murder, she really hits the nail on the head a delivers the film’s best performance. A riveting character delivered with an enthused and emotionally connected actor, it was brilliant to watch.

Memories of Matsuko was difficult to watch in some places, it uses images of violence frequently, and can be quite upsetting with some of the more brutal scenes. However, the cinematography is stunning. From the film’s use of extreme hues to the wide shot angles, the peculiar stories that unravel have a real sense of emotion behind them. It’s flashy, bright and daring, but this over stylised Japanese film looks and feels right all the way through. The film’s ability to be so adventurous with the plot and style is what has brought in such a positive reaction, as it’s so different and fresh. The accompanying sound track is brilliant too.

Memories of Matsuko was one of 2006s most critically acclaimed Japanese films, it’s easy to see why.

Star rating:  6.5/10

Directed by Tetsuya Nakashima.

Running time 130 minutes.