Wednesday, 19 November 2008


I read a fair bit - at least by most people's standards. And I watch quite a few films. And the vast majority of what I read/watch leaves me feeling just so-so. Take it or leave it. Though now and then I'll think something is good. Maybe very good. Five-stars-out-of-five good.

And then - very, very occasionally - you come across something which is another-order-of-magnitude good. Something which just takes your breath away and doesn't give it back until you turn the last page or watch the closing credits roll up in front of you. And you realise that what it's all been for. That's why you've ploughed through all those novels or sat through all those movies. To get to here.

Last year I got there with Victor Pelevin's The Clay Machine Gun. Last night I found myself there again when I watched a film I knew nothing about - I had simply popped it onto my Lovefilm list after seeing an interesting review. Magnolia. Where was I in 1999 when this was released? What was I doing? How could it possibly have come to a point where, nine years later, I'd never even heard of this film?

I won't even try to describe it to you - beyond saying that it follows the interlocking lives of a series of characters in Los Angeles - but it was absolutely captivating. Several minutes into the opening montage I had that feeling of absolute 'rightness'. That sense that there was absolutely nothing in the world I'd rather be doing at this moment than sitting here, laptop propped up on my knees, watching what was unfolding in front of me. And three hours later (yes, it's long, but then, hell, so is War and Peace) I was still captivated. And open-mouthed. Literally. Towards the end my jaw actually dropped, I was so astounded and moved and transfixed by what was happening on the screen.

This is a work of consummate genius, at once puzzling and heart-rending and wise and funny and tragic and uplifting. The acting is astonishing. I've never been a particular fan of Tom Cruise but in Magnolia he proves he's more than than just a pretty face with one of the most powerful performances I have ever seen. The musical score is hypnotic, and the frog scene is probably the most dramatic use of special effects in cinema history.

If only everything in life were this good.

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