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Wow, what an incredible movie. MAGNOLIA ($30) is writer/director Paul Thomas Andersonís character driven follow-up to BOOGIE NIGHTS. Running slightly more than three hours, MAGNOLIA immediately grabs the viewerís attention and never lets go. Heck, I was stunned when the three hours were over and I still wanted more. MAGNOLIA is not an easy film to describe; it tells a story that runs the course of a single day in the San Fernando Valley, yet it interweaves a core group of characters that live on the fringes of each otherís existence.

The movie is intricately constructed and beautifully edited, smoothly moving back and forth between people and places. In this way, MAGNOLIA is like an actual flower; with each petal being an individual, yet they are all part of a whole. Paul Thomas Anderson has assembled the perfect ensemble cast to bring his mesmerizing portrait of a diverse group of people to life. Tom Cruise has never been better than in the role of Frank T.J. Mackey, the ultimate male self-help guru. Cruise makes a lot of dialogue, which must have looked preposterous on paper, actually work. To say any more about Cruiseís character would spoil the fun of watching him in action. MAGNOLIA also features wonderful leading performances from Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Melora Walters and Jeremy Blackman. The filmís first rate cast also includes Jason Robards, Melinda Dillon, April Grace, Luis GuzmŠn, Philip Baker Hall, Ricky Jay, Orlando Jones, Alfred Molina, Michael Murphy, John C. Reilly, Michael Bowen and Henry Gibson.

New Line Home Video has issued MAGNOLIA on DVD as part of their illustrious Platinum Series. It should be noted that MAGNOLIA marks the Platinum Series first two-disc set. Disc one offers a 16:9 enhanced presentation of the film and nothing else (not even an audio commentary), while all of the setís supplements are contained on disc two. As I have come to expect from New Line, the transfer of MAGNOLIA is marvelous. MAGNOLIA is framed very exactingly at 2.40:1; making sure than none of the wide screen canvas is compromised. Image quality is very impressive, perfectly rendering the filmís complex, high contrast cinematography. Everything appears crisp and finely detailed throughout. Colors are very richly saturated, and at times they threaten to become over-saturated. However, even the most intense hues remain rock solid, without the slightest bit of distortion or bleeding, thanks to a meticulous transfer. Flesh tones retain their appealing quality, despite lighting extremes, which occur during the course of the movie. Blacks are intensely black, and within the film there are a number of very dark sequences that do take advantage of the blackness. Despite the darkness, the image maintains a good level of shadow detail. As I stated above, the high contrast cinematography is intense, however the picture never loses stability or appears blown out. Digital compression artifacts are virtually absent from this beautifully authored DVD.

Since MAGNOLIA is a character and dialogue driven film, the Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack maintains a somewhat simple mix for most of the presentation. Most activity is localized in the forward soundstage, although there are moments where the surround channels spring ferociously to life. Dialogue is crisp and precise, although there were a couple of instances where the music threatened to overshadow the actorís voices. Jon Brionís musical score and Aimee Mannís songs have a very strong presence in the mix, taking full advantage of the discrete nature of the Dolby Digital format. There is little call for the bass channel to make its presence known, yet the soundtrack never sounds anemic. An English Dolby Surround soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English subtitles.

On disc one, the basic interactive menus give one access to nothing more than the standard scene selection and set up features. Disc two also utilizes very basic interactive menus, but offers a nice array of supplemental features. The supplements start off simple, but become meatier as one gets to the bottom of the list. The "color bars" are just that, but if one watches them long enough they will find a hidden treasure of bloopers. Look for an extended version of the Frank T.J. Mackey seminar, which appeared as part of the film.

Some may benefit from the "how to" ideas presented in this extra footage. The complete Frank T.J. Mackey infomercial is provided on the DVD, which just keeps getting better every time I watch it. If only it were a real productÖ A teaser trailer for MAGNOLIA is included on the DVD, as is the longer theatrical trailer and nine TV spots. Paul Thomas Anderson directed Aimee Mannís "Save Me" music video, which is featured amongst the discís supplements. "Save Me" was shot on the MAGNOLIA sets, with Mann singing the song while she appears in frame with many of the stars of the movie. Disc twoís biggest and best supplement is the MAGNOLIA video diary, which runs 72 minutes and documents the making of the film. The video diary is not to be confused with the glossy kind of production featurette that usually accompanies movies released on DVD. This is a true documentary that takes a very gritty and very real look at the creative process at work during the production of MAGNOLIA.

Combining an excellent movie with an excellent DVD presentation, New Line Home Video has produced another winner. MAGNOLIA made a lot of critic top ten lists for best movies of 1999; I would certainly have to concur. There are very few movies in 1999 that were better written, acted and directed than MAGNOLIA. Highly recommended.




DVD reviews are Copyright © 2000 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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