Plot: What’s it about?
Things fall down.
People look up.
And when it rains, it pours…
Paul Thomas Anderson’s (usually billed as P.T. Anderson) latest film is really so much more than that, it’s more of a statement on life in general. Life, living and the people we know and meet are usually thought to be determined by chance, but this movie suggests otherwise. There is no such thing as coincidence. From it’s unusual opening sequence to the closing credits, Magnolia had me guessing, laughing and (yes) even crying as to what would happen and who would be affected in this multi-layered, multi-faceted take on the lives of nine individuals. But I digress…it’s important to know that P.T. Anderson has directed two other movies, his previous one being much more mainstream and much more talked about, the ever-popular “Boogie Nights”. Boogie Nights was loosely based on the life of adult film star, John Holmes. Aside from it’s rather vulgar subject matter, it was one of the year’s most highly acclaimed films that even garnered Burt Reynolds an Oscar nomination. Before that Anderson directed a very lesser-known movie entitled “Hard Eight” which had a few familar faces of Gweyneth Paltrow and Samuel L. Jackson. Though noteably a more somber tone than “Boogie Nights”, the movie took place in Reno, NV and concentrated on the lives of two men who had somehow come together as friends, but ended up on different circumstances. Each of these, in their own way, made a dramatic impact and statement in how it was shown, and each is sheer poetry in it’s own right… Mr. Anderson…keep making movies!
Magnolia opens like no movie I have ever seen before, with three scenes indicating sheer coincidence, though it indicates that the amount of coincidence is so high, that it really can’t be coincidence. What does this have to do with the movie? Absolutely nothing. It’s more of a prologue of what to expect and it sets the tone for the rest of the three hours. Magnolia takes place over the period of one day, and does a good job of introducing the characters and getting us involved in their lives. We’re immediately greeted by a long-haired Tom Cruise whose character of Frank “T.J.” Mackey is selling his program on the TV. We see Mackey as a powerful man, who literally has hordes of women (and men) at his feet. He has figured out the key to dominating women and has packacked it up, bottled it and sold it to the public. Yet underneath his rough exterior we can see that he is literally disgusted with himself and is probably the most disturbed character in the entire movie. It’s Cruise’s performance that garnered him his third Oscar nomination (the other two being for “Born on the Fourth of July” and “Jerry MacGuire”). Something about his role, though, left me feeling uneasy. Tom Cruise is a leading man, and his stint as Mackey was a supporting role. An odd choice for arguably the biggest star in the world, but then again…he’s Tom Cruise and can do whatever he wants.
What ties the group of individuals together is the fact that they are all loosely related to one another. By family, friendship or simple acquaintances…they are all pedals of a magnolia (hence the name). It’s not long that we meet Earl Partridge (Jason Robards). Earl is dying of Cancer, he’s dying fast. We see that Earl is coming to terms with his life and what he’s done and hasn’t done. Among his most major concerns is the fact that he is estranged from his son, who just happens to be Frank “T.J.” Mackey. His death impending, he wants to make amends with his son so he can have eternal peace. Earl’s nurse, Phil Parma (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) has grown attached to the dying man and now feels it’s his responsibility to find Frank wherever he may be. Hoffman plays a great character, but I could see others in his part. Though of the cast, only a few members have been in all of Anderson’s films and Phillip Seymour Hoffman is one of them. Within this triangle, we need a third person to complete it. Linda Partridge (Julianne Moore) does this as Earl’s wife. Linda is obviously much younger than Earl and has married only for his money. Seeing him sink deeper and deeper into the reaches of death, Linda has started to come to terms with the unfaithful wife that she has become. Playing somewhat of a neurotic, paranoid and semi-delusional character, it’s annoying. Yet then again, people are annoying…and that’s what this is, the story of real people. Moore curses repeatedly, searches for her next score of drugs, seeks advice from her lawyer and manages to get mugged all in the course of a day.
Not even half of the cast has been introduced…we then meet Jim (John C. Reily) as the somewhat loveable, girlfriend seeking policeman. Reily plays about the most down to earth characters that I’ve seen in movies, from his debut in “Casualties of War” to his more recent turns in “The Perfect Storm” and “For Love of the Game”, Reily is one actor that can usually be counted on to deliver a near perfect performance. Reily also has quite a record with Anderson as this is their third pairing as well. Jim is involved in a disturbance call, this leads him to meet Claudia Gator (Melora Walers). Claudia has problems of her own in the sense that her father is a popular game show host. Claudia has a terrible relationship with her family and has moved out. Between one night stands, cocaine and listening to the radio at it’s peak volume…there is a chemistry between Jim and Claudia. In what is one of my favorite scenes, Jim (as a policeman) knocks at the door on a disturbance call. As Aimee Mann’s “Momentum” blares in the background, it’s a great metaphor for the entire movie. The whole movie seems to play like it’s gathering moementum. The movie plays like a soap opera, if you will. We are intertwined with the characters in somewhat of real-time. When movie play like this, the audience gets involved. Take a movie like “Titanic”, it played in somewht the same way. We become invovled with the characters and in that sense, become part of the movie as well.
We then meet Jimmy Gator (Phillip Baker Hall). Jimmy is a burnt out game show host of the popular show “What do Kids Know”. For the last 30+ years, Jimmy has been hamming it up for the audience and in the process, lost his wife and daughter’s love and respect. In one of the many montages of the movie, we see Jimmy (as voiced by the narrator) as “a family man” while we subsequentially see him having sex with someone who appears to be his secretary. This leads us directly to Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackmon) who is nothing but a contestant on the the show in which Jimmy hosts. Stanley is a prodigy, he knows everything and is given special permission at school to do nothing but study, which he loves. Fueled by an overbearing father, Stanley is clearly headed for the same path as a former Quiz Kid, Donnie Smith. Donnie Smith in the present day is played by William H. Macy, a burnout pseudo-yuppie whose wardrobe seems to be trapped in the 80’s. Donnie is fighting feelings of homosexuality and lives through the eyes of a local Bartender named Brad. Not knowing what to do aftet he gets fired, it’s the course of events during the day that shape the rest of Donnie’s life.
Through the interactions of all these characters, we see a vast tapestry start to emerge. The life of one affects the other, and the other and the other…it’s a downward spiral. We are introduced, follow and become so emotionally involved with the characters that it’s hard to image a mere three hours accounting for all the time that this movie takes up. We often wonder how our lives are interrelated and involved with one another, and if this movie is any indication, it’s a lot more than we think. We are constantly reminded how the actions of one affect the other, and just because you don’t know a person’s name, doesn’t mean they can’t affect you. It’s then that we’re remided of the sequences as voiced by the narrator…”strange things happen all the time and so it goes and so it goes…we may be through with the past, but it ain’t through with us”.
Video: How does it look?
“Magnolia” is presented in its original 2.40:1 aspect ratio and the VC-1 HD transfer is a step up in terms of picture quality from that of the standard DVD that came out a decade ago. If “Boogie Nights” had the glitz and glam and the colorful scenes, “Magnolia” is the polar opposite with the color palette consisting of many subdued colors, browns, blacks and greys. Fleshtones look very natural and the detail is amazing, just look at the lines on Jason Robards’ face for an example of how good a picture can look. Black levels are right on target and despite a few blips in the transfer here and there, it’s a top notch effort from New Line.?
Audio: How does it sound?
The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack isn’t one of the more robust ones you’ll find and come to think of it, it’s almost deliberately subdued. The vocals are very strong and this movie has tons of dialogue, so your center channel will get a workout for sure. There aren’t a whole lot of surround effects to entertain you, but I do have to say that when it starts raining frogs (if you haven’t seen the film, you won’t quite get the reference), it’s one of the more memorable moments in regards to sound. The soundtrack consists of several songs by Aimee Mann including the Oscar-nominated “Save Me” and a couple others as well. It’s a nice-sounding disc and I’m hard pressed to find much, if anything, wrong with it. Viewers won’t be disappointed.
Supplements: What are the extras?
“Magnolia” came out as a two disc special edition nearly a decade ago and it looks as if all of the supplements are intact on this Blu-ray. It’s a shame as I’d have liked to see a retrospective or a commentary by P.T. Anderson. But alas, having the disc in a HD format might just be prize enough. Among the more amusing extras is Frank “T.J.” Mackey’s seminar. We are greeted witha scene from the movie that has Frank going over his seminar, but then see footage that was deleted from the movie (as Frank explains more on how to “Form a Tragedy”), but just when it was getting interesting, the featurette ends. We are also greeted to Mackey’s infomercial that plays ever so briefly on the TV during the movie. Also included are some trailers, teaser and theatrical and some TV spots. These are interesting in the sense that the characters introduce themselves and the images convey who they really are. I’d advise watching this before the movie, as it will familiarize you with the casting, even the very minor players. Also included is a music video for the Oscar nominate song ‘Save Me’ by up and coming talent Aimee Mann. What’s interesting about this video is that is appears to take place withing the cotext of the movie. I’m amazed that all the actors decided to cooperate and partake in the video (even Tom Cruise), not that he’s uncooperative, but he’s…Tom Cruise. Lastly we are treated to a Magnolia Diary. This basically outlines what happens in the production of the movie from October 1998 on. We see P.T. Anderson and how nervous he is to direct this, now that the pressure’s on, and even his screening of “Network” to his production crew; which he calls one of the 5 best screenplays ever.