William H Macy

Pleasantville

Year: 1998
Directed By: Gary Ross
Written By: Gary Ross

RYAN’S REVIEW

This was a recent addition to the collection and didn’t happen until after we had started this blog. I always liked and appreciated this movie but never liked it enough to add it into the collection. Though, given an opportunity to write my thoughts about it, Pleasantville suddenly had a significant reason to be part of our collection. I think the problem with this movie is that it is incomplete. It’s a movie that I think could have been so much better. I think it’s a great idea and great concept trapped between the bookends of a bad story. I think the beginning and end is where this movie fails. Had it been written differently it may have been great as opposed to being somewhere between good and just alright.

This is such an interesting movie. I like to think of it as a representation of the simplicity of innocence. In this society where everyone is completely innocent of the world we see that ignorance really is bliss. In Pleasantville everything is pleasant because the citizens are completely and hopelessly unaware of anything beyond their normal routine. They go about their days as complacent as cattle chewing grass in the pasture unknowingly waiting for their inevitable slaughter. Not that these people are heading to the slaughter, this isn’t a horror movie. However, the people in this movie are just as empty headed as those cows. Completely innocent of knowledge, curiosity, sexuality, and even the basic elements in some cases. It’s so perfect in Pleasantville they’ve never even had a fire, or rain for that matter. Everything in Pleasantville is pleasant until real life people come into the little town and put ideas in the heads of those complacent cows. It starts with something as simple as sex and moves on to the much more dangerous threats to pleasantness, knowledge and awareness.

I love the scene when the dashing young Paul Walker drops off Reese Witherspoon after she just blew his mind on their first trip to Lover’s Lane. The chain reaction that is started can be seen coming by that dopey look on his face as he drives away. Lost in the magic of first time experience he comes to a stop sign and notices a rose that is no longer black and white but suddenly brightly colored. Something new has been introduced into the world of Pleasantville and change has already started on some levels. When Tobey Maguire’s character shows up to basketball practice the next day the whole team is getting the scoop from Walker and there is a terrific scene where suddenly they can’t play basketball very well anymore. Before learning about sex the boys on the Pleasantville basketball team had not only never lost a game but they had never even missed a shot. The natural order of things in the town was immediately disrupted by carnal knowledge. In fact when the mother, played by Joan Allen, touches herself for the first time she not only turns from black and white to color but when she has an orgasm the tree outside her home bursts into flames. For the first time in the history of the town there was a fire. The firemen literally have to be called to action by “cat!” and then have to be shown how to operate the firehose to put out the blaze.

It’s not long after the people of Pleasantville become aware of themselves that they begin to ask questions about everything else. They start to wonder about the world beyond Pleasantville which until this point had never even existed (geography classes consisted of lessons on Main street). They open their minds with books and begin broadening their horizons on many different levels. As the characters change emotionally so do they physically because when they awaken new things within themselves they turn from black and white into color. As the people begin to change so does the world around them. Now, there is nothing pleasant about this change to the black and white folks of Pleasantville. The men that hold dear the never changing status of the town as a representation of innocence and values do not take kindly to seeing their young people walking around in live action colors and filling their heads with new ideas. It was bad enough when these kids were screwing around with one another on Lover’s Lane but when they start going there just to read to one another things progress to a new level. There is a scene where Tobey Maguire takes his girlfriend to Lover’s Lane and the kids there aren’t screwing around anymore but simply reading from the newly available books in the library. As they further broaden their minds the innocence they had in them dwindle more. There is an obvious allusion in this scene to Eve and the Serpeant when Maguire’s girlfriend offers him a red apple as they read together. It represents the loss of innocence and the end of paradise.

When the characters change from black and white into color they have become enlightened to something. Something inside of them has awaken for the first time and it manifests in their change to color. It can be different for all of them. For some of them it’s as simple as becoming sexually aware but that’s not the case for everyone. Reese Witherspoon’s character doesn’t change into color until she begins to learn and experience new things through reading. Tobey Maguire changes when his character finds his courage and stands up to some black and white boys harassing his “colored” mother. The Mayor of Pleasantville, played well by J.T. Walsh, is forced into change when he breaks his pleasant demeanor and exhibits actual anger in front of everyone.

I feel like it’s in the climax, after the Mayor turns to color, when everything in this movie had built up to something but it just didn’t deliver, or simply missed its mark. This is a fascinating movie with awesome ideas but they don’t deliver when they need to. I like how the change resonates with society as a whole in this movie and what that says about society in general. For example, as more people become “colored” the town finds itself divided almost as if in a race war. I like watching the effects of sexuality being introduced into an innocent society and the change that awareness creates. The problem is it all goes nowhere. After the entire town fulfills the change from black and white to color the story stumbles to an ending. It’s vaguely suggested that Pleasantville is no longer an isolated town but now part of the world as a whole, which makes no sense at all. Tobey Maguire goes back to reality, without his sister, and then understands how to help his mother deal with the disappointments of life. It concludes a separate story from the beginning of the film and has no real barring on what went on through the majority of the film, which hadn’t properly been concluded already. The conclusion doesn’t make sense in so many ways, it isn’t even mentioned in reality that Reese Witherspoon’s character is practically gone forever. Not only that but what difference does it make how the story concludes in the real world? The story is about Pleasantville, it’s a waste to end a movie like this with son and irrelevant mother bonding in reality. What happens in reality seems insignificant to all of the themes presented while the movie is taking place in Pleasantville. That’s why we never owned this movie before and what makes this movie a miss when it could have been a hit.

Despite the problems I see in the beginning and end of the movie I still like the film. I grew up watching shows just like Pleasantville because that was what my dad was into. Before the days of TVLand and the streaming opportunities of the internet I remember when shows like Pleasantville were seen regularly because they were the shows played in syndication much like more current shows are now. The Andy Griffith Show, Leave it to Beaver, Happy Daysand the list goes on and on. These shows were the background noise of my life as I grew from a child into a small person. Some of them I couldn’t stand but there are a few classic shows I really do hold dear. The Andy Griffith Show and The Honeymooners are two that I specifically love. So the fact the Don Knotts has a part in this movie makes it especially endearing to me. Knotts was an incredibly funny man and I grew up laughing at his antics. He continued to act in some capacity for the entirety of his life working both in voice and stand in acting up till 2005, only a year before his death in 2006 at the age of 81.

This movie has a terrific cast. The leading duo of Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon are good enough and supported by a great group of actors. The Pleasantville parents are played by Joan Allen and William H. Macy. The late Paul Walker played the popular jock in the Pleasantville high school. Jeff Daniels gives a great performance as the soda shop owner who finds new meaning to life in making art. I have always specifically liked J.T. Walsh as the town mayor and antagonist in the film. Walsh was any many movies I grew up watching throughout the 90s and this was one of his larger roles. Unfortunately Walsh died nearly right after making this movie in 1998 of a sudden heart attack. It’s a shame because he may have just been hitting his stride as an actor but we will never know now.

There is plenty more to say about this movie but I have said enough already. I like Pleasantville despite how I feel about the beginning and end. If I were to consider this movie by listing pros and cons it would be an easy decision because no matter how it tallied up the side that counts Don Knotts is gonna win. I’m glad we own this movie if for no other reason than he makes his last appearance on screen in it. When it comes to whether or not this movie is worth your time I’m iffy. I like it but I’m excusing plenty of problems for various reasons. Despite that I think there is enough in this movie to more than make it worth your time. It’s interesting and offers plenty to think about with a few laughs thrown in the mix.

NEXT MOVIE: Poltergeist (1982)

Magnolia

Year: 1999
Directed By: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written By: Paul Thomas Anderson

RYAN’S REVIEW

I’m going to take a bit of a different approach in reviewing this film.  I think it is an incredible movie and a tribute to the talents of Paul Thomas Anderson and the actors he cast in the film.  To begin this review I am simply going to start by answering the biggest question the film poses.

Why do frogs fall out of the sky?

For a long time I thought this was just an ironic scene and gave it no more thought than that.  I found the movie to be so compelling that when this scene came up out of left field I just went with it.  It’s an interesting scene in which I have never seen any like it before and thought it was incredible even without understanding.  When watching the movie again for this review I was able to find a definite answer after minimal research.  The movie makes well over 100 references to Exodus 8:2 all throughout the film.  In the Bible, Exodus 8:2 states “If you refuse to let them go, I will send a plague of frogs on your whole country.” I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the deeper meaning of this verse and how it plays into the movie.  Who exactly is refusing to let go to the point that frogs fall from the sky? It’s clearly not Julianne Moore’s character because she goes the extra mile letting go.  The molesting game show host Dad practically let’s go of his secret that he actually did it.  Is it Tom Cruise refusing to let go of his hate for his father? Is Claudia refusing to let go of her drug habit? The hate she has for her father? I turned all these questions over in my head before going to the internet for outside answers.  After a quick and easy search I found this quote from Anderson on the matter.  The page has great info on the biblical verse and how it plays into the film.  However, after reading what Anderson said I am convinced that the verse doesn’t actually have anything to do with what the characters are going through.  I skimmed the quote but if I got it right he simply wanted the bizarre element of frogs raining from the sky and kind of worked backwards with the 8 and 2 references. As far as I am concerned none of this really matters.  I thought it was awesome when it started raining frogs and could really care less what the meaning behind it was.  This is a movie on a platform all by itself and I felt like something this out there fit in nicely.

With that big topic safely taken care of it’s time to cover the rest of the film.  I am a big fan of Paul Thomas Anderson and this is far and away my favorite film of his.  I loved his choice in music and how effectively he synced it into scenes and kept the flow of the movie going.  I thought he wrote an interesting story rich with compelling characters that all tie together in interesting ways.  This movie is incredibly powerful from beginning to end and the strength is from the writing.  Anderson poured a lot of heart and soul into this script and he handpicked the actors that would bring that script to life.  This is an excellent movie and that is usually what happens when a filmmaker is given the kind of free reign Anderson was allowed when making it.

I think one of the greatest performances in this film has to go to Julianne Moore.  I have not always been her biggest fan but in a role like this you simply can’t argue with her talent.  She plays character so torn over the circumstances her life has reached.  She married a rich man for his money but fell in love with him as he was dying.  She has fallen so deeply in love with him that she can’t forgive herself for her motives in the past, and the actions that came in conjunction with those motives.  She doesn’t want his money she just wants him but she can’t get what she wants.  Her guilt drives her desperation and ultimately leads her to the decision she makes in the end.  Powerful performance by Julianne Moore, I don’t know how she got snubbed for an Oscar nomination.

Tom Cruise wasn’t snubbed and I have always considered his role of Frank TJ Mackey to be what made me turn my tune on the guy.  I had liked a few of his movies over the years but I had never considered him a serious actor despite that.  In this movie I felt he played a drastically different part as well as showing an emotional range I didn’t know he was capable of.  He plays the kind of man that I think we are all programmed to hate but as the movie progresses you see sides of him that make it difficult to hate him.  He is a douche bag trying to teach other douche bags how to manipulate women but underneath all of that he is a man running from who he is.  At a young age he was thrust into a situation that not many young people would be ready for and he grew up with hate in his heart.  The pain of watching his mother slowly die of cancer coupled with the hate he had for his father when he ran out on them turned him into the person we saw on stage in the beginning. When he finally reaches his father as he is dying the emotions that pour from him are nothing short of powerful.  In the end he mans up too to do what needs to be done, and I specifically like that about the character. Going to the hospital where his father’s wife has been taken shows he has let go of some of his hatred and suggests his life will probably be different going forward. It may not have been enough for everybody.  I’m sure plenty of people left the theater hating the man whose slogan was “respect the cock, tame the cunt,” but it got me to come around.  I hate that slogan though; cunt is an awfully ugly word.  Cruise did get nominated for best supporting actor for this part but lost that year to Michael Caine for his role in Cider House Rules.  I specifically remember watching the Oscars that year and Caine calling out Cruise. Telling him not to be upset because winning the award for supporting actor would probably mean a pay cut for him as a leading man.

I can’t stress enough how much all of the actors played such great parts but after the top two already named my third favorite role has to be that of John C Reilly.  I think Reilly is an incredible actor although he is prone to lowering himself to stupid roles such as the ones we saw in Step Brothers or Talladega Nights.  When he plays a part like this I think I am always blown away by what he is actually capable of.  I love his cop monologue in the beginning because the whole time you assume he is speaking to someone but when the camera zooms out he is just there alone, being weird.  He’s a weird guy in this movie but that is what I like about him.  A good cop but not one good enough to be taken seriously by his peers.  He is a man looked over by nearly everyone despite his efforts.  He is lonely, and as lonely people get he is desperate for companionship to the point that he will ignore a woman’s blatant drug problem to spend some time with her. So many of the characters in this movie are desperate and Reilly is right up there.  I really happen to like his relationship with Claudia and thought it was a nice part of the story.  They are both people ashamed of themselves and looking for someone in one another that they need so badly.

Both Phillip Seymour Hoffman and William H Macy should not go unmentioned here.  I think both brought a lot to the table in this movie but their parts are overshadowed by others to an extent.  Hoffman more so than Macy because I didn’t find anything particularly compelling about his performance.  Hoffman is a great actor and always great to have on hand.  Even without doing much his presence alone brings weight to the film.  Macy had a much more interesting character and in truth I really like the part.  I am not a big fan of Macy but can’t deny his talent.  My favorite part of his in this movie is when he talks about being struck by lightning and how much it hurt.  Also the random moment in the beginning of the film when he so casually drives his car through the window of a store, hilarious. Melora Walters played the part of Claudia and although I have never seen her in anything else I really thought she played a terrific part.

Rounding out this terrific cast were Philip Baker Hall and Jason Robards playing the hated and dying father’s. As all people want near the end they are looking to make things right in their lives before it’s finally over.  The sins of these two were unforgivable and both men went to their graves without being exonerated. Even in small roles this film found great talent to the cast.  Alfred Molina is in a small role as Donnie the Whiz Kid’s boss Solomon Solomon.  Luis Guzman, who has appeared in a few Anderson films now, played one of the adult contestants on the game show. Patton Oswalt played the scuba diver seen earlier in the film who is accidentally picked up and dropped onto a forest fire by a fire fighter. Robert Downey Sr. can even be seen in the background of this movie as well as many others that would take forever to name individually.

This is a beautiful film that has a voice of its own and it can speak directly into your soul. It’s about irony, fate, desperation, longing, regret, and death.  It’s a glowing example that life is different for all of us and all of our story lines pose problems that are more important to us than any other.  Life is challenging for all of us and though our problems are all very different they are no less real and overwhelming for us in our darkest moments.  This movie captured life in a very accurate way for me and then capped it off with something crazy, because that’s life, it’s crazy.  Sometimes we all hit the boiling point at the same time and when that happens it’s raining frogs, whether it’s only metaphorically or not.  This is an incredible film and although it is very long it is worth every minute of your time to see.

AMBER’S REVIEW

This movie truly is an interesting and intriguing movie. This is the film that made me literally hate Tom Cruise. Is it just me or does anyone else think that he was just a little too believable in this role? Like enough to not be a role at all, but more like real-life? It is a sort of compliment. I mean, the dude is amazing at what he does; I just hate that damn character so effin much.

magnoliaI just couldn’t bring myself to write another review of yet another cast montage poster, so I decided not to show the infamous one with the big magnolia flower with the cast in the leaves. Instead, I found this gem. I really, really like it so much better. This is a teaser poster and it really does its job. It just shows a bunch of falling frogs and has the title, which has no apparent relevance to the falling frogs. I’m intrigued, anyone else?

I am a HUGE fan of design not following grammar rules. YES titles are “supposed” to be capitalized, but when it’s designed on a poster, NO it doesn’t HAVE to be. I think it makes the design softer and prettier. I wouldn’t like to hang this one up or anything, but I like it so much better than the magnolia leaf design.

NEXT MOVIE: The Majestic (2001)

Jurassic Park III

Year: 2001
Directed By: Joe Johnston
Written By: Michael Crichton (characters) Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne, and Jim Taylor

RYAN’S REVIEW

This isn’t a bad movie.  Of course it isn’t up to the same caliber as its predecessor, just as its predecessor wasn’t the same caliber as the original.  Though it may not be a great film, it isn’t for any lack of trying.  They seemed to really pull out all the stops with this one but still failed to live up to expectations both critically and financially.  I think this movie is decent enough but I think it would have been much better had Steven Spielberg stay behind camera instead of simply serving as an Executive Producer. While I do think the movie could have been much better I think it was good enough and I’ve enjoyed revisiting it.

I like a few things about this movie despite everything else.  I really like Sam Neill’s return to the franchise.  I have always thought it was a bad idea to continue the franchise with Ian Malcolm’s character and not with Alan Grant. Neill has never had much of a career as a leading man but I think he was great in the first film and I thought he was good enough in this one.  He doesn’t pull off his Indiana Jones persona as much this time but he gives it his best shot.  I can’t really explain why because he is a great actor but for whatever reason I just can’t stand William H. Macy.  He is just so whiny and weird looking that he gets on my nerves.  However I will admit he is a terrific actor, and actually well cast for this role as a lying man who knows nothing about what he has gotten himself into.  I loathe Tea Leoni and don’t know that I have ever seen her in a role I enjoyed.  She is best suited to play a mega bitch as we saw her in Spanglish but I suppose it’s fitting that she was cast as the screaming and panicky mother in this one.  I think the better roles went to the men who simply played the parts of fodder to be eaten by dinosaurs.  I have always liked Michael Jeter and miss what else he may have done in his career had he not died at the age of 50.  I grew up watching him on Evening Shade and like many of his movie roles.  He lived for over 20 years as HIV positive before dying in 2003 of an epileptic seizure.  I also like John Diehl who died really quickly in this movie but played a significant role in my favorite TV show of all time, The Shield

This movie had plenty of stupid parts to it and really if you step back and look at it the whole concept of the film is a bit ridiculous.  However it does sport a ton of dinosaur action and that has to count for something right? I think it was really awesome that Pteranodons finally made it into one of these movies.  The flying “dinosaurs” were part of the first book and actually intended to be included in the second movie but got cut.  I put dinosaurs in parenthesis because based on very limited research it seems these creatures weren’t actually dinosaurs despite what we all think.  I think the addition of the Spinosaurus was cool but it was used a bit too much in the film.  Though the battle between it and the T-Rex was really cool. I think this might have been the first time all the dinosaurs were digitally done instead of using animatronics and I think you can really tell a big difference.  I might be wrong about that but for whatever reason they just didn’t look as real or as good as they did in the first film.  

The stupid parts of this movie would include the child surviving on the island for eight weeks. Literally every “professional” through three films gets killed in these places yet this little boy just sets up shop and lives there for two months? That isn’t as farfetched and ridiculous as them being saved by Laura Dern’s character from the first movie.  I thought it was weird they had her in this movie at all and I felt her coming in as the hero in the end was simply poor writing.  Not only would she probably not be able to get anything done, she doesn’t even really know what’s going on and seems to simply figure it out from her child making dinosaur noises.  I also think they went too far with the velociraptors.  Yeah these are the most popular and deadliest of the dinosaurs we see in these movies but they were going too far by making them so intelligent and organized.

This isn’t a great movie but it is a second sequel and more often than not those are only going to be so good. I always maintain hope for the potential of third films but can’t think of many that amounted to anything. Obviously this one isn’t a movie I would say qualified as one that amounted to anything but if you are a fan of the franchise then it’s still worth your time. If you haven’t seen the first two then this is not worth your time and it would be a waste to watch it.

AMBER’S REVIEW

JP3

This is the poster for the third movie. The same thing, just updated to a more modern look and the 3 is slashed into three thrashes. I still like it. I think it is smart to use the iconic logo. It’s very marketable and helps the fans and viewers get really psyched about the new installment.

NEXT MOVIE: Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)

Fargo

Year: 1996
Directed By: Joel and Ethan Coen
Written By: Joel and Ethan Coen

RYAN’S REVIEW

I want to start off by letting you know this, Fargo is not based on a true story. I have to say so because for almost 20 years now my dad and I have argued over it relentlessly.  There have been stories in Fargo, North Dakota that parallel the events in this movie but that does not mean the film was based on them.  You can find stories that parallel the story in this film in nearly every city in the US. There are always men trying to kill their wives and coming up with wild scenarios in order to avoid the blame. The Coen brothers labeled this a true story in an effort to get the viewer more emotionally invested in the story.  It worked too because plenty of people believed it to be a true story. For years there were idiot people searching the back roads of the region in an effort to find the money buried by Steve Buscemi‘s character. Of course it hardly matters whether the events in this film ever happened or not, it takes nothing away from the film that it is fictional.  There are many films that claim to be based off a true story though in an effort to get people more interested in it.  The most immediate example that comes to mind is 2008’s The Strangers which claims to be based on a true story.  It most definitely is not to the relief of us all and was actually loosely based off the Manson Family killings of the 60s, which of course happened very differently.  There are several films that use this technique to sucker viewers though, and I urge all of you to know that going into any film.

The thing about that disclaimer at the beginning is that it does set the tone for the film. It tells you that the film portrays events exactly as they happened and everything feels so real after that.  It’s part of the genius of the Coen brothers, they are such good filmmakers. Their use of accents and locations is specifically interesting and part of what makes them so great.  They are also great when it comes to casting. I have always been a big fan of Steve Buscemi and think that he was great as “the funny lookin guy.”  He is a regular in Coen brother movies but this was his biggest and best role of all their movies he has been in. Peter Stormare, as Buscemi’s partner in crime, is specifically good as well in this film.  He is so stone cold and suddenly violent that he really catches you off guard.  He is a bad guy that might do anything at any moment. I have never been a big fan of Willaim H Macy, it’s something about the way he looks. He is great in this movie though and gives one of his best performances. He may get on my nerves but he is a good actor that has played a key role in many good movies.  Frances McDormand won the Academy Award for best actress for her role in this film and it was well deserved.  She plays such a down to Earth and honest character that nearly everyone fell in love with her.  Her accent is so good too. She is the wife of Joel Coen and can be seen in many of his films.

This film is so intense and dramatic.  You can feel the pressure that these characters are under and that is another part of what makes it feel so real. There are so many layers to the story that give it that feeling too.  Such as the vagueness in which Macy’s character is in such dire need of money.  It appears to be him just needing money desperately for the investment he wants to make but at times it is obvious there is much more to it than that.  McDormand’s Marge and her awesome personality. She has a very interesting relationship with her husband and you can see there is more to the story there too. Who is Steve Buscemi’s character and why is he involved? Shep Proudfoot recommended Peter Stomare’s Grimsrud character to Macy, yet is was Buscemi who does all the talking and work. We never learn anything about the true relationship between those two.

This movie in many ways is the Coen brother’s big serious movie of the decade, as much as No Country For Old Men was their big serious movie of the 2000s.  It was a great movie made by great filmmakers as so many of their films are.  We will discuss the Coen brothers quite a bit during this journey through the DVD collection because we own many of their films.  This is one that I always enjoy, it is a great movie. If you haven’t seen it I would strongly recommend it to anyone, it is worth your time.

AMBER’S REVIEW

I can still remember the first time I ever watched this movie. We were in college and Ryan had just introduced me to the Coen Brothers. I was completely blown away by this movie. In true Coen Brothers fashion the movie was extremely slow but captivating. The scenery is dead on, the accents are dead on, and the clothes and hair are immaculate. It is in these small details that really make the Brothers what they are.

My favorite part of this movie is when the cop goes to question the two girls that slept with the bad guys earlier in the film. I just completely love the dialogue that goes on during the whole exchange.

If you haven’t seen this movie, it’s a damn shame. You should definitely make this one a priority.

NEXT MOVIE: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)