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JANUARY 2000 | VOL. 4, NO. 1



CURRENT

FEATURE
Magnolia

ALSO THIS MONTH
The Talented Mr. Ripley: Quality acting wasted in predictable situations.
Man on the Moon: Depiction of Andy Kaufman fails to shed much light on a mysterious man.
Any Given Sunday

LAST MONTH
Sleepy Hollow
Anywhere But Here
The Green Mile
Toy Story 2

ARCHIVES



Short Takes
Grading from A-F

Any Given Sunday (R) When Oliver Stone does something, he does it big. Conspiracies, back room deals, human emotions--all blown terrifically into an unfathomable proportion. "Any Given Sunday" is his sweeping perspective on all that is both right and wrong with the game of professional football. Name a recent football news headline and that problem is sure to strike the fictitious Miami Sharks franchise--from an owner threatening to sell to a Dan Marino-like aging quarterback. The results, thanks to several excellent performances and camera work stolen from "Saving Private Ryan", are good: a succinct detailing (if 2 and a half hours can be succinct) of sports as business.

Sure Stone overuses the athlete as gladiator metaphor (down to casting Charlton Heston as the league's commissioner) and stretches believability a bit by casting a youthful Cameron Diaz as the team owner, but the film is both fun and thoughtful. To her credit, Diaz manages to play a no-nonsense, icy owner despite her previous roles as a sex object. Al Pacino as the head coach is a role he could play in his sleep--lots of wild emotion and passionate speeches.

Die-hard football fans will enjoy the on-field action and numerous cameos (Johnny Unitas, Lawrence Taylor, Jim Brown) while the casual movie-goer can appreciate the performances of James Wood, Diaz and Pacino. With all the sports-as-life metaphors flying around today, you could do much worse than "Any Given Sunday." A-

- Kevin Ridolfi






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Magnolia
Jeremy Blackman, Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore



 
MAGNOLIA
Rating: B-

Starring Jeremy Blackman, Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Melora Walters, Jason Robards, Julianne Moore. Written by Paul Thomas Anderson. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Rated R. Running Time: 179 minutes.


VICTORINO MATUS

At last the backlash against arduously long films has begun. Whether it be the New York Post's John Podhoretz lamenting the "VLM"--very long movie--or Variety's Peter Bart yearning for the days when filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock made ample use of in-house film editors, critics across the board are complaining that too many movies have evaded the cutting room floor. Movies like The Green Mile, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Any Given Sunday and The Insider. Add to this the latest effort by Boogie Nights director Paul Thomas Anderson, Magnolia.

As one of the most highly anticipated films of the year, Magnolia has already garnered the acclaim of critics like Roger Ebert ("Two Thumbs Up!"), Rolling Stones' Peter Travers ("One of the best movies of the year!"), and the Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern (The Wall Street Journal reviews movies?). And certainly there is reason to praise the endeavors of a 28-year-old director and what might be the greatest assembly of thespians on one screen (at least not since The Towering Inferno brought together Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, and O.J. Simpson). But at three hours and eight minutes, Magnolia is not without its faults.

Nobody said it would be easy interweaving and cultivating six seemingly distinct stories of life in modern-day San Fernando Valley. Indeed, the camera doesn't have time to hear just one tale of lonesomeness and after no more than five minutes will jump to the next scene taking place across town--and probably across Magnolia Boulevard. The audience will try to settle into the deathbed of Earl Partridge (Jason Robards), a television producer riddled with cancer, and suddenly they are jolted onto the stage of the gameshow, What Do Kids Know?, klieg lights glaring, audience anticipating, a child's answer to the question of "Please sing in the opera's original language a verse to be read in English." (The child, played wonderfully by Jeremy Blackman, proceeds to sing a verse from "Carmen" in French.)

But there's not a second to linger and instantly you are in the company of Officer Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly) who is literally looking for love in all the wrong places when he confronts coke-addled Claudia Gator (Melora Walters). But somewhere along the way, the director needs to fit in "quiz kid" Donnie Smith (an underutilized William H. Macy), gameshow host Jimmy Gator, whose body and soul are tormented by terminal ills, and of course, Tom Cruise, who has already earned a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor in the role of chauvinist motivational speaker Frank T.J. Mackey.

Anderson's writing is certainly a work of genius, especially the climax of biblical proportions that brings most of the movie's actors together--or at least fusing six stories into three. But translating his written work into celluloid is an almost insurmountable task. The quick cuts from scene to scene leave the audience more dizzy and less spellbound by the movie's end.

Still, there is an unusual amount of good acting going on here. The ever-ubiquitous Philip Seymour Hoffman shows off his versatility as Phil Parma, caretaker to the dying Jason Robards. It would have been easy playing up an effeminate stereotype (Hoffman did play a man with a gay crush on Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights and a drag queen opposite Robert DeNiro in Flawless) but instead he opts for the daring role of a soft, sensitive, heterosexual male nurse. Young Jeremy Blackman plays the endearing Stanley Spector, a wunderkind exploited by his money-grubbing father--if you think Mr. Spector looks familiar, it's because he played Kirsten's ex-husband Paul on "Party of Five" (not that I watch the show). But it is Tom Cruise who stands out, looking like he actually enjoyed playing the part of an ultra-sexist Tony Robbins, invoking the mantra of "Seduce and Destroy" among other more unmentionable (though guaranteed to be memorable) phrases.

Paul Thomas Anderson is regarded these days as an actor's director. By avoiding an adversarial relationship (as Alfred Hitchcock maintained), he believes he can induce the most evocative performances from his cast. As he explained to Charlie Rose, many of these actors are his friends, fellow partygoers, fellow drinkers, and sometimes more. But this rather intimate style is what often leads to self-indulgence and ultimately, a very long movie with Anderson allowing someone like Melora Walters to linger in front of a camera in silence for a few minutes, breathing, blinking, and still more breathing, all without a cut. And the audience is writhing in pain.

Having director's cut was once considered a win for the good guys. People like Francis Ford Coppola who made The Godfather beneath the watchful eye of studio executive boobs treated a director's cut as something emancipatory. And for a time, he and George Lucas (who made American Graffiti under similar circumstances) were in the right. These days, however, with directors having more power than ever and no longer viewed as Hollywood underdogs, final cut has come to reflect a filmmaker's excesses. One need to look no further than Quentin Tarentino's Jackie Brown, Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line, or any number of Oliver Stone movies.

Magnolia could have benefited from some ruthless film editing. Then again, having it run even longer than three hours could have made for a more fulfilling experience. Anderson could have further explored the religious aspects of the film (of which there are legion) and made more inherent (without a voice-over) the running theme that in life, there are no coincidences and that as uncanny as it may seem, "these things happen." But then again, it would mean running a film even longer than three hours. The story is both a blessing and a curse and it would be an Olympian feat to achieve the right balance.

Anderson is described as talented but undisciplined and this is clearly demonstrated by Magnolia. He is, on the one hand, a genius storyteller with an eye for breathtaking cinematography. On the other hand, he needs to exercise self-restraint. Or at the very least, he needs to hire a good film editor (I recommend Thelma Schoonmaker). But considering this is only his third film at the ripe old age of 28, he should have plenty of time to work on this.



VICTORINO MATUS, the associate editor of The Weekly Standard, is a contributing writer for Renaissance Magazine.

PICTURES copyright © 1999 New Line Cinema.



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