Ok, Fine, I Watched It: “The Fall” and “Magnolia”

Despite my better efforts, there are some huge gaps in my film-watching repertoire. Gaps which, since 90% of my friends are just as film-nerdy as I, I am constantly given sh*t for. Which I super deserve. So now, to shut all of them up, I’ve decided to get to work on catching up on these gaps.

This week, I take a look at the 2006 visual spectacle “The Fall” and the 1999 emotional masterwork “Magnolia”.

THE FALL

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“The Fall” is goddamn beautiful. I needed to get that out of the way first. I had never actually heard of this movie before it was requested for this column, but movies like this are why I do this feature. It’s something I probably never would have watched on my own if I wasn’t trying frantically to fill a hole in my reviewing schedule, but I’m immensely happy to have watched it and yes, I know I’m totally tipping my hand as to what I thought in the first paragraph of my review.

The film, based loosely on the screenplay for the Bulgarian film “Yo Ho Ho”, was directed by Tarsem Singh. The script was written by numerous people, but the one who stood out to me (aside from Singh himself) was “Nightcrawler” scribe Dan Gilroy. The film follows Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), a young girl confined to a hospital for a broken arm who befriends potentially paralyzed stuntman Roy Walker (Lee Pace). Walker, despondent and suicidal, decides to tell Alexandria a story with the intention of convincing her to unwittingly help him to commit suicide. But of course, that’s only half the plot of the movie.

The other half is Walker’s story as envisioned by Alexandria’s imagination. The story is the tale of five lost souls brought together in a quest for revenge. The five are as follows: 1. “The Indian”, a silent warrior shaped by the loss of his wife. 2. Otta Benga (Marcus Wesley), a powerful former slave driven by a desire for vengeance. 3. Luigi (Robin Smith), an explosives expert shunned as an outcast in his home. 4. Charles Darwin (Leo Bill) and his monkey companion, motivated by his anger over a dead rare butterfly. And finally, 5. The Black Bandit (Lee Pace), a bandit pissed that his brother was killed. All five men want revenge on the same guy: Governor Odious (Daniel Caltagirone) the man who wronged each one of them.

I fully expect no one is still reading this, because all of you should have bolted out the door to watch this movie the second I mentioned that Charles Darwin was in it. If “classic adventure story wrapped up in a moving drama” doesn’t peak your interest, I don’t know who you are or why you trust my opinion on things. The movie reminded me a lot of “Pan’s Labyrinth”, actually. It isn’t really magical realism, but the tone and time period are similar enough that they feel like good matches. Although “The Fall” shouldn’t give you horrible nightmares. Actually, it might. The nightmare sequence that stands in for Alexandria undergoing major surgery is pretty spooky.

The film as a whole is so so so so so pretty. The locations are mind-blowing, the costuming is spectacular, and the shot framing and direction is without compare. There are shots in this movie that were so good, I stood up and applauded. Because I am a gigantic nerd. I feel like we’ve established that pretty well by now. Seriously, go watch this damn movie. IT HAS CHARLES DARWIN AND HIS MONKEY COMPANION FOR GODSAKES, WHAT MORE COULD YOU POSSIBLY WANT?????!!!!!

FIVE out of five stars.

MAGNOLIA

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Watching “Magnolia” does not feel like watching a film. Not just due to length but also due to structure and pacing, it feels more like you’ve just finished marathoning a really really good tv miniseries. Or like you’ve just read a wonderful novel. It’s so dense and beautiful, it demands careful thought and consideration. This is a dense movie so talking about it is gonna be tough, but I’ll try my best.

The film, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, tells the story of several different people and their complicated lives in the San Fernando Valley (woo! hometown pride!). Again, like “Fast Times” or “Wet Hot American Summer” this film follows multiple storylines and is therefore really hard to give a one line summary of. I’d rather go in depth plot by plot.

First, let’s talk about Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman). Stanley is an up-and-coming whiz kid contestant on “What Do Kids Know?” a long running tv game show. Feeling pressured by his over-managing father (Michael Bowen) and his fellow contestants and nearing the all-time winning record for the show, Stanley starts to crack. First off, Blackman does a fantastic job in this role, and is one of the most sympathetic characters in the movie. Also, his speech midway through the film sent chills down my spine. I just wish he’d been in it a little more towards the ending, it felt like he disappeared a little bit.

Hosting “What Do Kids Know?” is Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall), an aging game show host coming to terms with his rapidly approaching end. (Oh, and before we get any farther, I feel I should introduce the “Magnolia” drinking game: take a shot every time I mention someone who was also in PTA’s previous film “Boogie Nights” (please don’t actually do this, you will be dead before this review is over)). Gator is a fascinatingly complex character who the film refuses to come to a clear decision on. The film seems to sit back and let us make up our own minds about him, making his storyline all the better.

Also of note is former all-star winner of “What Do Kids Know?”, Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) whose life has fallen apart after his childhood success.  Smith wants money for elective oral surgery (braces) and struggles with why and how he wants to achieve this goal. Macy is always great. He never isn’t. Why do I need to say more?

Lightning round time! Frank T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise) is a slimy as f*ck “self-help” guru whose techniques largely involve treating women extremely poorly. His outward exterior, however, is just a cover for a broken interior, scarred by his own personal traumas. Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) is a man nearing the end of his life and trying to reach out to the people he didn’t for most of his life. His trophy wife Linda (Julianne Moore) is also struggling, but in her case it’s with her inability to deal with the upcoming death of her husband. These three come together to form one of the film’s best plotlines. Cruise’s first scenes are funny in a purposefully offensive kind of way, Moore is immensely talented as always, and Robards’s monologue almost destroyed me.

The other combined character plotline is the storyline between Officer Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly) and Jimmy Gator’s daughter Claudia Wilson (Melora Walters). Walters is spellbinding and her performance in the last shot of the film is worthy of the highest of praise. As for Reilly, just copy-paste everything I said about William H. Macy. To be honest, Reilly was probably my favorite character in the film, although in this film it’s hard to make that distinction.

Overall stuff: first off, Patton Oswalt is in the opening ten-fifteen minutes so that’s an instant +10 right there. Also, this film has some mindblowingly beautiful sequences. Obviously, I’m at least in part talking about the scene in which… let’s just say the scene in which the weather “changes” (trying to avoid major spoilers). And yes, that scene is goddamn amazing. But to me, the scene that hit me harder is the one in which the cast sings Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up”. In a lesser film, a surprise magical realism musical number could rip the audience out of the story, but here it works so so well. I was shellshocked by how beautiful and artful this scene, as well as the previously mentioned one was. Both will haunt me for days if not weeks. And that should be the goal of any movie.

FIVE out of five stars.

Well, that’s it for this week, I gotta go decompress. Next week, I dunno, I’ll find something to watch. I gotta list.

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