Film Review – Being John Malkovich, Man on the Moon, Magnolia, Ordinary Decent Criminal, Joan of Arc, The Hurricane, Whatever Happened to Harold Smith?, Lake Placid

Outta Left Field

(Originally published in TVS Magazine, March 2000)

Is it just me or are films great at the moment? It isn’t just me? Good. It seems that the major studios have sharpened up their acts recently – maybe they’ve flushed all their coke down the toilet – and are actually concentrating on making films any bloody good, rather than relying on lazy demographics to get their hits. Even when you get a big budget mega film, it has the quality of something like Toy Story 2 or Three Kings.

Not that budget seems to be where it’s at right now. Being John Malkovich took a lot of people by surprise although it’s hard to see why. Every bit as good as you’ve heard, this directorial debut from music video director par excellence Spike Jonze features a concept so outrageously out of kilter that it couldn’t help but succeed. Originality in Hollywood is as rare as a funny ITV sitcom, so the idea of a man who discovers a doorway into the mind of John Malkovich and subsequently charges admission, wins every time with this reviewer. The chief delights, however, are reserved for Jonzes’s idiosyncratic direction and the performance of Malkovich, who sends himself up so convincingly you’re left wondering how much of this onscreen personality is real. The scene where Malkovich himself enters the doorway is worth the entire filmic output of 1994.

Meanwhile Hollywood’s biggest, and most expensive, stars are playing at silly buggers. Jim Carrey may have made a career out of this, but recently the surprise is how much he’s trying to be an actor, darling. In Man In The Moon, Carrey pieces together a wonderful impersonation of comedian Andy Kaufman that, aside from the off-kilter beginning (the credits run and Carrey/Kaufman urges everyone to go home), is let down by being a boring biography of a man who was far from boring.

Another $20 million plus star is also messing around. Tom Cruise says “cunt” a lot in his latest movie Magnolia. Even Stanley Kurbrick didn’t make him do that. Paul Thomas Anderson’s last film Boogie Nights was severely over-rated but fun nonetheless. Magnolia even manages to outweird Being John Malkovich – for 190 minutes. You heard, three and a bit hours.

Now, no film should make you sit on your arse for that long but Anderson almost pulls it off (the achievement that is, not the arse). Taking the plotlessness of Boogie Nights one step further the film revolves around a series of disparate characters who are revealed to be connected by more than their loneliness. There are some extraordinarily bizarre sequences, such as the moment when all the characters stop and sing a song to camera (very Dennis Potter) or the final surreal sequence involving more frogs than the mind can comfortably conceive. It ain’t enough to justify the running time but it will make a great ‘spread over a few nights’ video.

Ordinary Decent Criminal is yet another re-telling of the ‘legend’ of Martin Cahill. Whatever Mr. Cahill did to deserve three films and a TV drama is hard to credit, although he does have a nice line in amoral violence. This time he’s played by Kevin Spacey who, it has to be said, is somewhat less Irish than Brendan Gleeson and not as guttural as Scot Ken Stott. Still, Spacey’s got a fair amount of charisma and Cahill, a Dublin gangster who somehow managed to win out over both the police and the IRA, seemed to have that by the bucketload. Ordinary Decent Criminal is probably the worst of the Cahill biopics, but that’s more because the others were so good – particularly John Boorman’s The General.

Joan of Arc is weird in a very Gallic way, summed up by the unbelievably sexy Russian-American Milla Jovovich playing the Maid of Orleans, a woman whose looks are reported to have resembled Mollie Sugden eating pies. In The Hurricane nothing weird happens. This boxing drama starring a bulked-up Denzel Washington seems so old-fashioned that it’s barely worth talking about in such a time. As is Whatever Happened to Harold Smith?, which does try the occasional shot at startling weirdness, not least its thoroughly British take on seventies fashions.

Save the pennies for Lake Placid, a horror film that actually tries to be funny – and succeeds. Now that’s weird.

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About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at)gmail.com or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

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