REVIEW: Magnolia (1999)


Magnolia has obvious flaws… it’s over three hours when it shouldn’t be, some of its most compelling characters are forgotten about in the second half, and lands on a conclusion that is both heavy handed and opaque. The flaws of Magnolia would be tough to ignore if they weren’t in the service of a work so interesting.

Paul Thomas Anderson (or PT Anderson as he’s occasionally credited or PTA for people who are in so much of a hurry to finish writing that they can’t type three names) was fresh off a huge hit, Boogie Nights, when New Line told him he can make any kind of film he wants, carte blanche. He looks them in the eye and says “It’s going to be a three hour familial drama with nine leads set in the San Fernando Valley culminating in a storm of frogs.”

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SHORT STORY: Judge Grotesque

Judge Andrew Whitehead sat in a small wooden chair. The seat was large by the standards of any common individual but underneath his mass it shrunk. Not even functioning as a place for him to sit; instead merely the space where his daunting figure happened to presently occupy. His size went beyond body type or even voice (his baritone was a honey drip). On the bench or in the street, a glance from that puffy face with eyes that were canyons could stop the most disengaged passerby. Everyone listened to Judge Whitehead. Everyone gave him the time of day. His presence was big and resonant. He once even talked down a bankrobber mid-act. The Judge assured everything would be okay if he walked away now he hadn’t committed any crimes yet- just a minor disturbance- nothing that could get you in any kind of serious trouble.

He didn’t feel bad about that lie. Regret only came from the experience ending too early. Though he did not know, Judge Whitehead feels better with his life in danger. Actually entertained. If he thought hard enough about this need it would explain why he asks his wife to do what she does when they go to bed (once a month). But he didn’t do much thinking. Even on the bench. He just goes through the motions hoping something will happen that can rise him from prolonged coasting.

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