Scream 3 - *

Scream 3

Well, what do you expect? Scream, the self-promoted “different” type of horror film is going the path of all those that came before: churning out numerous unnecessary sequels. The film promises that this will be the last (and that would be a good thing for the moviegoing audience), but we’ve seen that trick before…and we’ve seen this movie before. A tepid rehash of horror cliches, Scream 3 doesn’t even bother with the pretense of wit that saturated the earlier two films.

The stalwart heroine, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), is back. And, wouldn’t you know it, the ghost-faced killer has returned once again. Strangely, Sidney is on the sidelines for most of this episode, as the action here is centered in Hollywood. A horror sequel, Stab 3, is being made, and ghostface begins slaughtering the cast one by one. Of course, this is an attempt to find Sidney. Wait a sec, she’s not even involved with the film! Oh, I’m sorry, logic intruded there for a moment.

In any case, other familiar faces pop up here and there. Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber) is now a talk-show host, and bit player in the film. Dewey Riley (David Arquette) is a technical advisor on the set. And intrepid reporter, Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox Arquette), is once again on the trail of the masked murderer.

Of course, to feed that body count, there are plenty of new faces around. Emily Mortimer is the young ingenue who has taken the Stab 3 role of Sidney Prescott. Parker Posey is a driven actress trying to capture the spirit of Gale Weathers, and Patrick Warburton is her bodyguard. Jenny McCarthy is yet another actress on the set. Lance Henriksen is the producer who has struck it rich with the Stab franchise, and Scott Foley is his anxious director. Also making an appearance is Patrick Dempsey, as a police officer who may know more than he lets on.

The gimmick behind Scream (and Scream 2, for that matter) was that the characters were aware of all the various cliches that abound in the horror film genre. The flaw in the gimmick is that these characters foolishly simply repeat those cliches. The result is the appearance of wit without the substance. However, Scream 3 can’t even get that far. It makes a failed attempt at explaining the importance of “trilogies”, but the conclusions are baffling, irrelevant, and mostly untrue. Meanwhile, the action onscreen proceeds as a generic [Insert Horror Franchise Name Here] sequel, with few thrills and no surprises.

An obvious target for the blame is screenwriter Ehren Kruger, who takes over from the overlauded Kevin Williamson. Kruger is the new player in the pot, but making him the scapegoat is simply too easy. The truth is, there never was that much of a spark in the Scream franchise, and this third stale entry is yet more proof. Heck, director Wes Craven has even played this horror-movie-within-a-horror-movie trick once before with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (a.k.a. the 7th Nightmare on Elm Street film). It worked better there.

Scream 2 at least had a few tense sequences to relieve the tedium. No such luck here. The film’s best moments, a chase through the Stab 3 set, is coated with a “been-there, done-that” feeling that robs it of most of the excitement. The film’s “big” finale feels completely hollow. Even the film’s expected loud-noise “scare” moments are a let down.

The problem with horror movies is that even when you kill them, they don’t stay down. The true horror is having to sit through the same formula over and over again. Scream promised to change that formula. Scream 3 proves we’re back to the same old story, and it’s not all that good.

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Isn’t She Great? - 1/2*

The pulp life of outrageous writer Jacqueline Susann seems like a good idea for a comedy. As seamy and seedy as her pulp novels, her life story could have been a guiltily comic gem, particularly with a strong cast attached. However, appearances would certainly be deceiving in this case, as Isn’t She Great isn’t great, and isn’t even good.

As the film starts, Susann (Bette Midler) is a nobody…a loud, irritating nobody. And she’s the worst type of loud, irritating nobody at that: one that wants to be famous. Perplexingly, she attracts the affections of Irving Mansfield (Nathan Lane), a prospective suitor who also happens to be a publicist. What a match.

After many, many failed attempts at success, Irving comes up with a brilliant idea: Jackie can write a book! Of course, she can’t write, and all she knows are the tawdry secrets of a bunch of wannabe drug-addicted actresses. How she knows this is somewhat a mystery, as her only connection with the entertainment lifestyle seems to be her ditzy friend Florence (Stockard Channing). But, in any case, she puts her knowledge to work and drafts a sleazy epic, Valley of the Dolls.

Of course, such a book is unlike anything else that has been published by the early 1960s, and no publisher is willing to touch the manuscript with a ten foot pole. That is until she runs across the hip Henry Marcus (John Cleese), who sees the glimmer of gold within those pages. But can the book survive the cuts of prim and proper editor Michael Hastings (David Hyder Pierce)?

Well, since this movie is the life story of Jacqueline Susann, the answer shouldn’t really come as a surprise. But what does is how uncompellingly bland this entire movie is. There is a lot of talent at work here, and yet you wouldn’t be able to tell it by this negligible film.

Bette Midler at least seems to be having a great time, despite the fact that no one else in the film (or the audience, for that matter) is. She gets to overact wildly, dress in umpteen bizarro sixties fashions, and even have a few awkward moments of “touching” drama (when some of the tragic facts of Susann’s life leak into this otherwise pristine, but lifeless, comedy). It’s a sad fact that from her first appearance, she inspires such utter contempt that every single moment on screen is a dismal horror.

Even the usually reliable Nathan Lane and David Hyde Pierce fail to earn any laughs. In fact, the film’s only momentary grins come from John Cleese, whose small role here is a welcome relief from the comedic desert that is Isn’t She Great.

The movie is staid, plain, flat, and, worst of all, unfunny. What more don’t you want in a film?

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Eye of the Beholder - [No Tickets]

What a disaster. Eye of the Beholder is the type of film that, if there was justice in this world, should have been ignored as a bad direct-to-video film. But, instead, capitalizing on the recent successes of its stars, the movie now plagues your local theater. Don’t be fooled.

Ewan McGregor stars as Eye, an antisocial surveillance expert in the employ of the British embassy in Washington (apparently only as an excuse for his accent). He builds his listening devices and cameras onto high powered rifles (because they’re so unnoticeable, I guess), and has established himself as one of the best of his trade (somewhere before the movie starts…there’s no evidence of it in here). Oh, and yes, he often talks to his imaginary daughter, who may actually exist.

His latest case has him following his employer’s son, who has gotten into a wee bit of trouble. But the movie takes a severe twist with the appearance of a mysterious femme fatale (Ashley Judd), with strong emphasis on the fatale. She’s actually a moody serial killer who quickly slays the above mentioned boss’ son, sobs about her Daddy, dons a new wig, and quickly hops to a new state.

Well, of course, Eye falls instantly in love. Well, who wouldn’t be? He neglects his duties (much to the consternation of his embassy contact, k.d. lang), and follows her all over the country, collecting countless snow globes as he goes (don’t ask). And then the film completely stops making sense…

Eye of the Beholder starts out potentially intriguing. However, watching the film, it suddenly dawns on you that all the main characters are completely insane. And it’s not the friendly, wacky, enjoyable-to-watch, movie kind of insane, either. No, it the gruelling, no-motives-to-absolutely-anything-they-do, kind of crazy. The movie is an exercise in pointlessness.

It’s interesting to speculate how such promising talent as Judd and McGregor could have been engulfed in this horrific swamp of celluloid. Perhaps the script, based on the novel by Marc Behm, at one time made sense. It’s difficult to imagine, however. Maybe they were lured by the quirky charms of director Stephan Elliott (of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert fame). But those charms are not at all in evidence here.

As psychotic serial killers go, I suppose Ashley Judd isn’t that bad. And, heck, she might even be sympathetic if she didn’t have the nasty habit of knifing every guy she meets! OK..that’s uncalled for, she somehow drowns one of them…but the point is still valid.

But what are we to make of Eye? You want to like him…you really do. But then he starts getting creepy. Really, really creepy. The protagonists of this movie are a serial killer and a crazed stalker, and this isn’t even a dark comedy. It tries to be a serious drama, but falls completely flat.

I suppose if there’s one good thing to say about this movie, it would be that it’s pretty unpredictable. Incomprehensible…but unpredictable.

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Play it to the Bone - 1/2*

It’s a boxing movie. It’s a road comedy. It’s a love triangle. It’s an utter disaster. It’s Play it to the Bone.

Cesar Dominguez (Antonio Banderas) and Vince Boudreau (Woody Harrelson) are best friends, two has-been boxers well past their prime. Each had a chance at greatness, but failed at the crucial moment. Those failures have haunted them to the present day.

So, when Joe Domino (Tom Sizemore) calls, the pair quickly agree to a match. You see, both boxers in the undercard to Mike Tyson’s Vegas fight have suddenly become unavailable the day of their bout, and Domino is desperate. Cesar and Vince agree to fight each other that evening in Vegas, on the condition that the winner gets a shot at the title.

But the two friends, now rivals, have a problem. They don’t have the money for a plane ticket to Las Vegas, and are too stupid to request one from Joe. Enter Grace (Lolita Davidovich), ex-girlfriend to both Vince and Cesar. She is available to help, and, more importantly, owns a car (and a convertible to boot). So, quicker than you can say “road trip”, the trio are away on a journey that seems to last a lifetime.

It’s too bad that no one in the car is even a slight bit interesting, whatsoever. Vince and Cesar are each given a quick token personality quirk: Vince has “found Jesus”, and sees him now and then. Cesar was gay for a year…but only a year. Beyond that, there’s little we know about these two, and less that we want to. Even Grace, a potentially sympathetic character, is rendered worthless by the mere fact that she chooses to hang around with these utter losers.

The boxing scenes are the best things in the movie, but they are also rather problematic. First of all, the tone of the fights, which are rather stark and violent, clashes mightily with that of the rest of the film, which has been trying to be a lighthearted (and lightwitted) comedy. If the film worked, it would be difficult to watch these two characters we theoretically have come to know and love beat each other to a pulp. Nor do they inspire enough hate to make watching a gruelling boxing duel a fountain of joy. As the audience, we simply hope for a quick knockout.

And then, for some odd reason, Cesar and Vince both start having visions in the ring. Vince sees Jesus and several naked women…Cesar sees naked men. Whether this is intended as comic relief, or some sort of insight into their characters, it doesn’t work. The scenes are distracting and pointless.

Director Ron Shelton (of Bull Durham and Tin Cup fame) has delivered several good sports movies in his career. This is not one of them.

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Supernova - [No Tickets]

Supernova

The first few wide releases in early January are notorious for their dubious quality However, one of this year’s early debuts, Supernova, has two other early warning signs. There were no advance screenings (usually a sign the studio doesn’t want word leaking out). And, more tellingly, the director voluntarily removed his name from the film. And yet, even with it’s low expectations firmly esconced, Supernova plummets wildly beneath the lowest of all expectations.

Similar to 1998’s Event Horizon, Supernova tells the tale of a spaceship crew who happen to encounter an alien artifact, and much mayhem ensues. In this case, the spaceship is the Nightengale, a medical vessel in deep space for emergency rescue operations.

Headed by Captain Marley (Robert Forster), the crew is about as ragtag as you can get. There’s a computer tech, Benj (Wilson Cruz), who is involved in a love affair with his computer, and two medical techs on board, Yerzy and Danika (Lou Diamond Philips and Robin Tunney), more interested in sex than actual medical work. The ship’s doctor, Kaela Evers (Angela Basset), struggles with a painful past, and the ship’s newest member, Nick Vanzant (James Spader), is an ex-military man (and recovering drug addict)

Responding to an emergency distress call, the Nightengale discovers one survivor from an abandoned mining colony. The man, Troy Larson (Peter Facinelli), is taken aboard by the Nightengale. Unbeknownst to the crew, however, he has smuggled a mysterious alien artifact on board the ship. Will it bring danger to the crew (and maybe the rest of humanity)? Is there really any question?

The cast of Supernova is composed primarily of recognizable faces…which makes it all the more unusual that the film is so utterly horrid. Certainly all of these actors couldn’t make a bad decision like this one? Don’t be so sure. There is little to nothing redeeming about this movie.

The film is composed of some potentially interesting ideas, but not a single one develops into anything worth a look. Anything which could prove potentially entertaining either veers off in an inconsequential direction, or else is dropped entirely. The whole film looks like it was edited by a rusty blender. Although the result is perplexingly truncated, at least it is mercifully short (clocking in at under 90 minutes).

In a film like this one, you know that the crew will be slowly killed off one by one. However, rather than being an interesting or an unexpected demise, each death is staged as its own anticlimactic event. Some of this is obviously due to some severe editing to allow the film to squeak by as PG-13, but most of the time it is just ridiculous plotting.

The special effects, often the only thing worth watching in a low-quality sci-fi flick, are nothing impressive. One of the film’s “money” shots, a “dimensional jump” is stale, bland and well overlong. Fight sequences consist exclusively of one person throwing another against a wall. And when the film introduces it’s robots (who are ridiculously cheap looking), you recognize just how desperately bad things have become.

The only thing surprising about Supernova is how it continually manages to underwhelm. This one is already a strong front-runner for worst of the year, and hopefully doesn’t bode ill for the rest of 2000’s crop of movies.

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The Best of 1999

Overall this has been a disappointing year for movies. Entertainment Weekly recently called 1999, “The Year That Changed Movies”, and yet I don’t think that is nearly the case. Yes, there were quite a number of good films (as are the ones listed below), but relatively few great ones. In any case, here are my picks for the best movies and performances of the past year:

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Runner Up – James Woods – True Crime and The General’s Daughter
Winner – Chris Cooper – American Beauty and October Sky
This was a tough category, with such prospects as Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Malkovich, Max von Sydow and Clark Gregg running close behind. However James Woods did an outstanding job in two rather pathetic films. He enlivened them, and made the experience much better than it would have otherwise been. In fact, he’d be my top choice were it not a truly superb year for Chris Cooper. For his work in October Sky alone, he would have been my choice, but his excellent role in American Beauty adds the icing to the cake.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Runner Up – Chloe Sevigny – Boys Don’t Cry
Winner – Julianne Moore – Magnolia, An Ideal Husband, and Cookie’s Fortune
Things aren’t as rich in the Supporting Actress category, yet there were two superb supporting actresses in the year. First of all, Chloe Sevigny turned out some outstanding work in Boys Don’t Cry, holding even with Hilary Swank’s spectacular performance, and making the film one of the best of the year. However, Julianne Moore turned in not one, but three great supporting performances this year. Her best was the scheming Mrs. Cheveley in An Ideal Husband, but Magnolia, and Cookie’s Fortune wouldn’t have been the same without her.

BEST ACTOR
Runner-Up – Rupert Everett – An Ideal Husband
Winner – Denzel Washington – The Hurricane
This one was another tough race, with Richard Farnsworth of The Straight Story barely missing the cut. However, he was up against two superb actors. Rupert Everett positively shined in An Ideal Husband, obviously relishing his role as Lord Goring, and making the audience relish it as well. However, he was outdone by Denzel Washington in The Hurricane, who took a familiar role and made it absolutely fascinating.

BEST ACTRESS
Runner Up – Cecilia Roth – All About My Mother
Winner – Hilary Swank – Boys Don’t Cry
Two strong choices easily top this category. First of all, Cecilia Roth’s wonderful performance in Pedro Almodovar’s All About My Mother seals that wonderful film together. Moving from grief to joy, she enlivens the unusual tale, and makes it all look simple. However even she is blown away by not only the year’s best actress, but the year’s best performance from Hilary Swank. She makes the tragic, real-life role of Brandon in Boys Don’t Cry come alive with electrifying energy. It’s a fascinating, real portrait and a credit to Swank that she pulls it off so well.

TOP TEN FILMS (in reverse order)

10. The Matrix
A film that probably wouldn’t have made the top ten in a less lenient year. The Matrix does get credit for weaving some deep issues in what could have been a mindless shoot-’em-up. Who’d of thought that a Keanu Reeves film would end up in the top ten, much less being so fun?
9. The Iron Giant
The best animated film of the year, with plenty of material for kids and adults. When was the last time a children’s movie really made you think? The Iron Giant‘s rich storyline provides ample room for philosophical ruminations, as well as some all-out entertainment.
8. Snow Falling on Cedars
Beautiful and haunting, Snow Falling on Cedars boasts the best cinematography of any film on this top ten. But the film is more than just a collection of pretty pictures, and its intelligent and moving storyline is underscored by an ensemble of great performances.
7. Magnolia
Ambitious and slightly chaotic, Magnolia is never quite what you expect from an ensemble drama…but in a good way, a very good way. You’re never quite sure where the story will take you, but that is a large part of the film’s charm.
6. October Sky
A good solid story makes for the best family film this year. October Sky is about dreams, hopes and ambitions, and the struggle to make them come true. There need to be more films like this one.
5. An Ideal Husband
A great deal of the credit behind An Ideal Husband‘s brilliance must go to Oscar Wilde. But this film is more than just a simple reproduction of his witty stage play. A series of wonderful performances (including Rupert Everett and Julianne Moore, who are credited above) add the perfect amount of zest to this great comedy.
4. Being John Malkovich
The best comedy (albeit a dark one) in a year painfully short on good ones. Also, the strangest film of the year, and perhaps the decade. Intelligent and offbeat, Being John Malkovich is one of those rare films that gets better each time you reflect back upon it…and that is quite often.
3. The Straight Story
David Lynch delivers his most straightforward tale, and, amazingly it turns out to be not only one of the best of the year, but his personal best as well.
2. Boys Don’t Cry
This was a close runner-up for number 1, and a spectacular and moving film. Take it as a beautiful love story, an engaging character study, a portrait of the American heartland, or an examination of the brutal power of hate. Any way you view it, Boys Don’t Cry is a powerful work of art.and….

1. American Beauty
The best film of the year is never quite what it seems. Is it a dark comedy about a dysfunctional family? A portrait of a nervous breakdown (or a few)? A statement on what it means to be normal? There are many ways to examine this layered, well-structured film, and each seems more brilliant than the last. Top it off with some terrific performances, and you have the best film of 1999.
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The Hurricane - * * *

Wrongful impisonment movies are a dime a dozen. In fact, in most prison movies, the protagonist is innocent of all wrongdoing. At first, The Hurricane follows meekly along with the trend. However, a spectacular lead performance, and an invigorating second half, redeem this faltering drama.

Rubin “Hurricane” Carter (Denzel Washington) was a middleweight boxing champion in the early 1960s. On June 17th, 1966, he is apprehended by a racist cop (Dan Hedaya), and charged with the murder of three whites in a New Jersey bar. Although he is obviously an innocent man, Rubin is found guilty and sent to prison for life.

He cause is picked up by some famous people, including Martin Luther King and Bob Dylan, and yet none of his appeals are ever successful. Carter writes a book about his imprisonment, The Sixteenth Round, and yet that doesn’t help him. As the years tick by, the Hurricane begins to die down.

Flash forward nearly twenty years. A young teen named Lesra (Vicellous Reon Shannon) is learning to read under the tuteledge of three do-gooder Canadians (Deborah Kara Unger, Liev Schreiber, and John Hannah). He chooses his first book, Rubin’s The Sixteenth Round, and is captivated by the story. He, and his Canadian friends, decide to do whatever they can to help free the Hurricane.

The first half of The Hurricane is old hat. While the “wrongfully imprisoned man” storlyine isn’t necessarily a bad one, it is overly familiar. It is not until the second half of the movie, when Lesra gets involved in the story, that things begin to pick up. The relationship between Rubin and Lesra is what kickstarts the whole film.

Denzel Washington turns in one of the best performances of his career, and that’s quite an accomplishment. Ranging from angry and determined, to bitter and depressed, to hopeful, his portrait of Hurricane Carter is nothing short of spectacular. Even in the sluggish opening hour, his presence is simply mesmerizing, and only gets better with time.

As Lesra, Vicellous Reon Shannon holds his own against Washington. He aptly conveys his character’s path from street-smart to book-smart, and develops a touching surrogate father-son bond with Hurricane Carter.

Things aren’t quite as positive with the remainder of the cast. The murky relationship of the Canadians is never made quite clear, but Unger, Schreiber and Hannah rarely do much of interest anyway. Dan Hedaya’s antagonistic cop is so virulently evil that it borders on the comic.

Director Norman Jewison needed to trim some of the first hour of the film, but he deftly brings the movie to an appropriate emotional climax. Even with all the film’s conventional scenes, The Hurricane regains its fury from the powerful performance from Denzel Washington.

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The Talented Mr. Ripley - * * * 1/2*

It has been three years since director Anthony Minghella’s Best Picture winner, The English Patient, hit the screens. He has taken his time to carefully make his next picture, The Talented Mr. Ripley. Serendipity has struck for Minghella, as three of his cast members, Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett, happen to be hot names of the moment. Yet the movie, an intriguing, if chilling, character study and thriller, is sure to get a divided response from the audience.

Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) is a awkward con-man who slinks along in life with a series of lies and deceptions. One day, he is contacted by Herbert Greenleaf (James Rebhorn), who mistakenly believes Tom was a Princeton classmate of his son, Dickie. Mr. Greenleaf hires Tom to travel to Italy, where his son is malingering in the life of a playboy, in the hopes that Tom can convince Dickie to return home.

Tom takes the job with gusto, and soon meets Dickie (Jude Law), and his sometime girlfriend Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow). After an initially chilly reception, Tom is soon welcomed into the fold, and becomes fast friends with Dickie. But the closer Tom gets, the more envious he becomes of Dickie’s riches, Dickie’s friends, Dickie’s life, and even Dickie himself.

However, Dickie soon grows uncomfortable with Tom hanging around, and tries to detach this newfound leech. But Tom is unwilling to let go, and will go to any lengths to retain his new life, Dickie’s life.

The film doesn’t quite know from what angle to view its enigmatic protagonist. By all intents and purposes, Tom Ripley is a sociopath, and at times the movie seems to be condemning him as such. However, an equally presented viewpoint seems to justify his evil deed. The film seems to be saying, “Yes, he may be evil…but, given the circumstances, wouldn’t anyone be?”

The homoerotic undertones of Patricia Highsmith’s novel (and the previous adaptation, Purple Noon) are much more overt in this version. The film flirts dangerously with the perception that Ripley’s sociopathic thoughts are equivalent to his homosexual ones. However, Ripley proves to be a much more layered character than that simple analysis would indicate.

Matt Damon does a fair job in the title role, but seems overwhelmed at times, and slightly unfit for the task. In fact, Jude Law, as Dickie, makes a much stronger impression on the screen than Damon, with fewer scenes. One is left with the thought that The Talented Mr. Ripley might have been a stronger movie if the two actors would have switched roles.

In addition to Law, the remainder of the supporting cast is uniformly excellent. The always reliable Philip Seymour Hoffman manages to surprise once again with his portrayal of one of Dickie’s spoiled rich friends. Philip Baker Hall is also impressive in his few scenes as a perceptive private eye.

Following up The English Patient, Anthony Minghella has created yet another tantalizingly beautiful film. The lush vistas of Italy are used to good effect. However, Minhella tends to linger a bit too long in these lavish surroundings, as the film runs about 30 minutes too long.

Not everyone will enjoy The Talented Mr. Ripley. In fact, the film seems to be designed specifically to polarize opinion. The film dares you to side with a character who does some pretty unlikeable things. However, Ripley’s questionable behavior aside, good acting, a captivating story, and some beautiful scenery make The Talented Mr. Ripley well worth watching.

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Galaxy Quest - * * *

Galaxy Quest

Robert Gordon scripted this action comedy in which the cast of a popular science fiction TV show (including Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, and Tony Shalhoub) must save a planet, after being abducted by aliens who think the cast are actual intergalactic fighters. Enrico Colantoni and Daryl Mitchell will also star. Dean Parisot directs.

Capsule Review: A surprisingly funny comedy. Fans of the original Star Trek will be the ones who enjoy most of the film’s in-jokes. But, there’s something humorous in here for everyone. It’s not the year’s most high-brow concept (and is at times a bit predictable), but the laughs make it worthwhile.

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Snow Falling on Cedars - * * * 1/2*

Scott Hicks directs this tale of a Japanese-American man (Rick Yune) on trial for murder. Ethan Hawke stars as a journalist covering the trial, whose childhood sweetheart married the accused. James Cromwell will play the judge. Max von Sydow, Youki Koudoh, James Rebhorn, Sam Shepard, Richard Jenkins, and Max Wright also star. Based on the David Guterson novel.

Capsule Review: Gorgeous photography abounds in this haunting tale that is much more than a conventional courtroom drama. Max von Sydow delivers a wonderful supporting performance as a wise old lawyer. The timeline gets a little complex, but this is a film worth a little extra thought.

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