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Directed by P.T. Anderson ("Hard Eight", "Boogie Nights").
Written by P.T. Anderson.
Starring John C. Reilly, Julianne Moore, Philip Baker Hall and Tom Cruise. 
Release Year:  1999 
Review Date:  1/7/00


Hope that the year 2000 is starting off with a bang for you; I can't complain on my end.  I've got my health and my happiness, and that is all I could ever ask for.  Also, although only five of you did so [insert bitter smirk here], I want to thank you for your comments on the state of Bellview movie reviews, they will be incorporated immediately!  And, after receiving a bitter tongue-lashing from Diana "Juicy" Glazer's sister Sue earlier this week, I have decided that I need to step up my efforts to make it in the bigtime!

Also, a brief note:  I am ashamed to say that many of you so-called UVA graduates--and therefore, fans--rooted heartily for the Virginia Tech Hokies this past week in the national championship game.  As a member of the ACC, and much more importantly, HATED RIVAL of the castrated turkeys, you should know better than to root for the bad guys.  Can you imagine what would have happened had Tech actually won that game?  You can go ahead and burn all of your sappy t-shirts that say "friends don't let friends go to Virginia Tech"--everyone would be going to a school with a national championship football team!  Needless to say, they had a great season, but I'm glad they didn't win it all, to save what little face UVA football has left after getting gang raped by an Illinois team that had players from my gin rummy club.

And now, the first review of the new millennium!  "Magnolia" is a P.T. Anderson film about...well, that may be the best place to start.  You see, "Magnolia" is interesting in that it isn't really about much of anything, a collection of varying characters that go about mostly normal, everyday experiences in their lives without any real sense of urgency or need of resolution.  They are simply living out their day.  I guess, "Seinfeld"-ian in nature.  There's a rookie cop, a game show host, a child prodigy, a dying millionaire television producer, a sex-help therapist, a cocaine addict, and many more.  Mostly, their lives intersect in only the most minute details, and it gives Anderson the excuse to somehow interlock the actions and the parallels in lifestyles of the ten-or-so main characters.  This leads to a lot of fancy editing and a LOT of cutting to another character's story every two minutes or so.

This can make for a very long film.  In fact, while it only took up three hours and five minutes of real time, it felt like it took four days.  Make no mistake:  this is the longest movie I've ever gone through.  Movies like "Dances with Wolves" and "JFK" may have had longer running times, but the last hour of "Magnolia" has no match.  Four or five couples left the theater I was in on opening night at about the 150-minute mark, because it was simply too damn long!  Very, very similar to Anderson's last film, "Boogie Nights," the last quarter of the movie could have easily been lopped off and most people would have been very happy with the results.  In fact, like "Boogie Nights," I think "Magnolia"'s Oscar chances will be severely damaged by its long running time and excessive last hour.

So, what's good about a movie this long?  Two words, friends:  Tom Cruise.  Although not the star of this movie--he shares fairly equally with the other main characters--Cruise's sex-help seminar instructor is the best role he's ever had.  Hands down, period.  I had some time to think about some of the other Cruise characters that I've loved in the past:  "Top Gun," "A Few Good Men," "Risky Business," "Jerry Maguire," and world-famous Cole Trickle in "Days of Thunder."  But, Cruise benefits here from some turbo-charged emotion and the best lines he has had since...maybe ever.  Although I can repeat none of them here, his character's mantra and almost everything he says while teaching one of his classes are absolutely classic, even if you should not be laughing at them (and you assuredly will, especially if you are a guy).  Warning:  I wouldn't sit with mom and dad on this one, capiche?  Not a family film, by any stretch of the imagination.

The other actors here have appeared in Anderson's other two films, "Boogie Nights" and "Hard Eight" (Gweneth Paltrow and Samuel L. Jackson; highly recommended by Bellview).  John C. Reilly plays the cop with the same dimwittedness that he has come to perfect; Philip Baker Hall is quite good as the game show host; William H. Macy ("Fargo") is playing a strange nut again, but it's something he does so well.  I didn't like the Julianne Moore character much, but that is because she isn't making much sense.  The soundtrack is another strong highlight, with a lot of original songs and music that fit the situations well.  And, the emotional impact of a couple of key scenes down the stretch really got to me, but they could have had more wallop had Anderson stopped cutting between the five or six different stories that were going on throughout the movie.

And, I expect to get many questions about the last few scenes of "Magnolia," especially its one real surprising sequence:  why?  I won't go into here, but it didn't work much for me.  I'd love to get your opinion on it, because Julie “Kickass” Simon and I were wrangling with the issue after the movie got out.  Probably the most spectacularly odd sequence I've ever seen in a movie.  But, overall, "Magnolia" is a really original movie experience, and despite its long running time, it has a lot of things that, to be sure, haven't been done before.  And Cruise delivers the goods this time around.

Rating:  $7.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09