Saturday, January 23, 2010

#30 Magnolia: but it did happen

1999. dir. P.T. Anderson. starring Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Melora Walters, Jason Robards, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Jeremy Blackman.
And he's runnin from the devil, but the debt is always gaining
And if he's worth being hurt, he's worth bringin' pain in
When the sunshine don't work, the Good Lord bring the rain in
Unforgiven got me thinking about the films of Clint Eastwood. He has a great reputation and two Best Director Oscars because his films are always of high quality… but that’s it. He never really does anything that makes you say “Wow!” or “Huh?” He never confuses you, or angers you, or really challenges you in any way. And I think that’s what separates the truly great ones like David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, etc. from people like Clint Eastwood or Ron Howard.

Magnolia is clearly the work of an insane genius. That is not to say that it is perfect – pretty far from it actually. It is a sprawling, ungainly mess; it is full of characters, scenes, and plot devices that don’t quite work. But it is also fascinating and endlessly rewatchable, and you have to admire the sheer bravado and artistry of it.

OK, for example, here's the second most-famous scene: About two hours and fifteen minutes in, the nine main characters are all at the end of their ropes, having suffered various humiliations and tragedies. (Yes, nine main characters. And, yes, two hours and fifteen minutes. Did I mention this thing is over 3 hours long?) One of them starts singing along to the radio. Or maybe it’s a CD? If so, that makes what happens next even stranger: The other eight sing along with her.

Keep in mind that they’re all in different places, and many of them haven’t met each other. No explanation given, and nobody talks about it again. The first time I saw it, I was like “What the hell was that? Dream sequence? Music video?” Clearly the director was trying to Say Something with this scene - damned if I can figure out what; something about connectedness, or coincidence, or the hand of God? - but kudos to him for not watering it down. If this was the movie Crash, they would have had Don Cheadle give a little speech explaining what the filmmaker meant.

Anyway, I prattle on, so here's what I liked about this movie:
  • Tom Cruise. Pretty much dominates any scene he's in. Also gives you some great relationship advice.
  • Favorite Tom Cruise scene: "Men are Shit," after the interview lady totally destroys him. He can almost keep it together but not quite.
  • Melora Walters. She never really became a big star which is unfortunate. Her character in this movie is about fourteen different kinds of screwed up, and she plays all of them perfectly. Why was she crying when she watched the game show?
  • Favorite scene of hers: When she's on the date, and she totally bares her soul, and wants to get past all the "piss and shit and lies", and what does idiot John C. Reilly do? Get all judgmental because she was cursing. Check out her facial expression right after he says that.
  • The weird old guy in the bar played by Henry Gibson. He speaks in rhymes and riddles and rub-a-dub.
  • The phone service where you can order groceries and porn. Why don't we have that in Chicago?
  • Earl's last monologue. This was Jason Robards' last movie.
  • The aforementioned sing-along scene. There are a thousand ways this could have gone wrong but I think it worked.
  • The ending. Exodus 8:2. Shocking and improbable, but it makes sense in context.
  • Probably a lot of other stuff...

    And here is what I didn't like...
  • I like the idea of John C. Reilly's character, but they just let him keep talking. His non-stop stream of COPS cliches really gets tiresome. It was sort of funny (unintentionally?) at the end when he's lecturing William H. Macy and there's a voiceover at the same time of him talking.
  • The whole game show plot line. Too obvious and melodramatic.
  • You know, what kind of insane-ass game show is that anyway? A live show with kids? Seriously? And what ten year old knows Moliere's full name?
  • Jon Brion's score. They overused it. The best parts of the movie are when it's just quiet, or you just hear the pounding rain in the background, and they let the actors work.
  • The Quiz Kid Donnie Smith storyline. A lot of the dialouge when he's drunk makes no sense. "It's a dangerous thing to confuse children with angels", what the fuck is that supposed to mean?
  • The whole bit with Marcie, and the kid rapping about the "Worm". The movie abandons this plot halfway through, so you don't get any closure. It's annoying.

    damn this is long. goodnight.

    Position on the list: 209
    Highly recommended: The "video diary" on the Blu-Ray version. It's like a movie unto itself. P.T. Anderson is totally on drugs, and his co-producer is trying to retain his sanity, and Julianne Moore is trying to say nice things, and it's just hilarious.
    EDIT: Holy shit. The Seduce And Destroy Seminar featurette. LMAO.
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