ANGELA'S ASHES - THE HURRICANE
MAGNOLIA - GALAXY QUEST
SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS - CRADLE WILL ROCK


ANGELA'S ASHES

"Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood. Worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood." These are the opening lines of Frank McCourt's Pulitzer Prize winning, hugely bestselling "Angela's Ashes," which has been adapted for the screen by Laura Jones and director Alan Parker. Emily Watson ("Breaking the Waves") stars as Angela, long-suffering mother of the McCourt clan. Robert Carlyle ("The Full Monty") is Malachy, the proud, Northern Irish father whose love of the bottle keeps his family mired in the depths of poverty in Limerick, Ireland.

Laura's review of 'Angela's Ashes':
Before I say one word about the film, let me establish that I did not worship at the altar of "Angela's Ashes," the novel. I found it to be a pretty good read, somewhat repetitious, almost relentlessly pessimistic with a bewilderingly vague impression given of the author's feelings towards his mother, whom he titled his book for. That said, "Angela's Ashes," the movie is probably THE most faithful adaptation of a book to the screen that I have ever witnessed, flaws intact.

The story is told from the eyes of Frank McCourt, played here at three different ages by Joe Breen at 6, Ciaran Owens at 10, and Michael Legge at 15.

Ironically, the McCourts story begins in New York City, where they face the first death of a child, their only daughter, infant Mary Margaret. Angela, not the strongest of women emotionally or physically, becomes catatonic, curling up fetus-like in her bed, leaving her four surviving sons to starve in their own mess (their father has 'gone out for a pack of cigarettes'). After this event, they pack up and move back to Ireland to endure the disdain of Angela's family and the schoolchildren who consider the McCourt 'Yanks' to be cowboys and gangsters.

The McCourts continue to lose their children (twins Oliver and Eugene), and produce more sons. Malachy finds a job, only to drink his first day's wages and miss work the second day and be fired. Angela keeps the family barely scraped together by begging at the church and picking coal up off the street, things Malachy's too proud to do. The family lives in 'the lanes,' grey hovels where 12 families share the outhouse behind the McCourts' back door and the first floor constantly floods out, forcing them to live upstairs. Eventually Angela shames Malachy into finding work in England, like the other men of Limerick, but of course, he departs and sends no money (in fact, the family only ever sees him once more - when he returns for one day at Christmas bearing a half-eaten box of chocolates).

Meanwhile, Frank's growing up is showcased by a series of teachers and the Catholic rituals of confessions, Communion and Confirmation. This is where the story is most able to mine humor, and consequently, provides the brightest spots of the film. The initial two teachers amuse with their Catholic spouting, from one blubbering that Christ didn't 'sport shoes' on the cross to another stating that the sacrament of Confirmation 'makes you a soldier of Christ so that you can become a matyr if we're invaded by Protestants.' (Frank is also berated by his grandmother for having 'Prostestant hair' when she can't tame a cowlick.) The third teacher proves inspirational - we know he's going to be a great teacher when he recognizes something in Frank after hearing Frank's hilarious essay 'Jesus and the Weather.'

Frank eventually gets himself out of his miserable surroundings, saving the fare to America by writing dunning letters for the local moneylender and getting a job as a telegram boy. In one of the film's most touching scenes, Frank's Aunt Aggie, portrayed up to this point as a harsh and bitter woman, takes him to be outfitted for a new set of clothes on the first day of his job. Frank also moves out of his cousin Lacham's house, disgusted that his mother grants the grotesque Lacham sexual favors to keep a roof over their heads.

Watson perfectly embodies Angela, yet the character remains as much of an enigma as she was in her son's memoir. One moment she's being charmed by her husband, the next she's berating him as a useless feck. Carlyle is also fine as the charming Irish storyteller who's dependence on drink and general weakness of character brings ruin to all around him. The three young actors who play Frank are all marvelous, although Parker's decision to have the eldest Frank bid adieu to the 'ghosts' of his two younger selves at the film's conclusion is the film's lone misstep. Fine support by Ronnie Masterson (Grandma Sheehan) and Pauline McLynn (Aunt Aggie).

Technically the film is first rate. Cinematography by Michael Seresin uses a gray/green pallette which provides the perfect landscape for a bleak Emerald isle. Production design by Geoffrey Kirkland serves up squalor as art.

Great decision to use American pop music of the time instead of the obvious Irish folk.

"Angela's Ashes" is a finely crafted film, but at an almost two and a half hour running time, I found it to be too large a dose of Irish misery. Lovers of the novel will rejoice.

B

Robin's review of 'Angela's Ashes':
"Angela's Ashes" is the penultimate niche film. Relentlessly morbid, bordering on depressing, the autobiographical tale by Frank McCourt follows the plight of his family during the Depression and war years in Limerick Ireland. Decidedly working class and poor, we meet the little clan in an Irish ghetto in New York City. Frank's father brought them to the American land of milk and honey to find his fortune. Like all of Malachy McCourt's dreams, this one goes awry, too, ending with the death of their newborn infant daughter and the return (probably the only Irish to do so at the time) to the Old Sod.

While it is undoubted that Frank McCourt knows his native land of Ireland and the mentality of its people - the author captures the pride and prejudice of the Irish people accurately - he tells a tale of poverty and ignorance so unrelenting that it puts off the viewer. The chauvinism of Irish society toward anything different is brought forth with the Catholic hatred for the Protestants, as well as the rivalry of one town to another in the Old Sod. You laugh at the black and white nature of prejudice, but wince at the reality of the fact.

The performances, especially by the three boys who play Frank McCourt as he grows up, are perfect for the subject matter. The casting of the lads playing Frank at ages 8, 13 and 18, is near seamless with each boy carrying forward the personality established by Joe Breen as the youngest Frank. 13-year-old Ciaran Owens (brother to "The Butcher Boy" star, Eamonn Owens) plays the middle Frank effectively, while Michael Legge plays the eldest version of Frank McCourt well, too.

Emily Watson, as the title Angela, perfectly embodies Frank McCourt's mother. The long-suffering Angela married husband Malachy (Robert Carlysle) for love and has paid the price for that decision ever since. Malachy is a ne'er-do-well who has the song of the rebel in his heart (which comes out, loudly, when the man has his drink) but not much ambition in his mind. Watson and Carlyle give solid, assured performances, but keep their efforts more in the background, as young Frank's tale of his trials and tribulations is played out.

The screenplay, by Laura Jones and director Alan Parker, is one of the most faithful adaptations of a book that I have ever seen. The story of Frank's life, growing up in the slums of Limerick, is drawn almost verbatim from the McCourt autobiography. It vividly depicts the poverty and squalor of the McCourt family, with Angela and brood hinging their hopes on a man incapable of taking care of himself, let alone a family. There is an element of hope by the end of the film, but the relentlessly depressing story of the poverty of the McCourt family is not a draw for me.

I have to give Alan Parker and company a lot of credit for bringing the Pulitzer Prize-winning book to the screen. Unfortunately, the unrelenting hardship suffered by the McCourt family and the sense of hopelessness that dominates much of the film's time are not going to bring out anyone except those really interested in this Irish slice of life. Technically, the film is a crafted work that strongly complements the story. Except, no on will want to see and hear this particular yarn.

"Angela's Ashes" is not the film to see if you're looking for some light-hearted holiday entertainment. And, this one opens Christmas! This is for the stalwart fans of Ireland and Frank McCourt. Erin go Bragh! I give it a B-.


THE HURRICANE

In 1966, Rubin Carter was on the verge of greatness in the pro boxing world. He had a hot fight record and worked hard to divorce himself from his delinquent past. One late night, a shooting takes place in a bar in Paterson NJ and three people lay dead. A white car carrying two black men is seen speeding away from the scene of the crime. A short while later, a white car is stopped by the police and the occupants - Rubin and a young friend, John Artis - are arrested, tried and convicted to life in prison for the brutal murders. For 19 years, Rubin declared his innocence until a young man, Lesra Martin, reads his book ("The Sixteenth Round") and vows to help the ex-boxer find freedom in Norman Jewison's "The Hurricane."

Robin's review of 'The Hurricane':
A by-the-numbers biography, Jewison seems more interested in having his "black film" after Spike Lee wrested direction of "Malcolm X" from the Canadian filmmaker a few years ago. Like the Lee film, Jewison has Denzel Washington play the title character here, too. Washington is fine in the role, but the film by the veteran helmer is a pretty routine biopic.

Rubin Carter's life of "crime" began at the age of 10, as shown in the film, when he attacks a prominent white businessman who is sexually molesting his friend. Rubin comes under the scrutiny of a racist cop, Delapasqua (Dan Hedaya), who makes it his life's mission to "get" the boy. Sent to reform school until 21, Carter escapes when he's a teenager and runs off to join the Army. The experience changes his life as he learns to box and to find himself. But, his past catches up with him and Delapasqua bags the fighter for his earlier escape from custody. Rubin does his time, but fate is against him when he is arrested, finally, for the triple murders, convicted and sentenced to three consecutive life terms in prison.

Rubin, who was given the moniker "Hurricane" during his boxing career, turned to a life of introspection while in prison to free his mind, even though his body is held captive. Hurricane resigned himself to a life of permanent incarceration when a young boy, Lesra (Vicellous Reon Shannon), learns of the man and his plight and writes to him. The letter is the beginning of a glimmer of hope for the prisoner as Lesra enlists his guardians to help right the injustice of Rubin's conviction. (Carter, the film shows, was the victim of corruption and racial hatred and was convicted of a crime he steadfastly claims he did not commit.)

The screenplay, from the novel "Lazarus and the Hurricane" by Sam Chaiton and Terry Swinton with Rubin Carter, is very life affirming if a little too black and white (not a pun) in its character depictions. Rubin is, throughout, the noble, innocent, but downtrodden, warrior. Dan Hedaya's bad cop character approaches caricature in his relentless, unfounded hate for Carter. Lesra is the symbol for Hurricane's salvation and his youthful innocence drives the older man back into the light of hope, like Lazarus rising from the dead. Liv Schreiber, John Hannah and Deborah Kara Unger are the three Canadian, hippie, tree-hugging liberals who offer Ezra a hand out of the ghetto and provide the boy with guardianship and education, proving that white folks can be good, too. The lack of shades of gray in the characters gives the film an overall flat feel.

There is a talented supporting cast, but they are not given much opportunity to break out of the two-dimensional symbolism they are cloaked with in the script by Armyan Bernstein and Dan Gordon. Dan Hedaya fairs the worst as the wicked, corrupt cop. David Paymer, as Hurricane's longtime attorney, brought into the film in the last half, gets little more than cameo treatment. The great acting ham, Rod Steiger, makes an appearance (and gets a laugh from the critics) as the Federal judge who finally frees Rubin, body and mind, in the 1985 appeal that overturned Hurricane's conviction.

Nothing special or unexpected happens through the course of the story. Jewison uses flashbacks to fill in the details of Hurricane's plight with the "system" in standard form as he builds the main story of Rubin, Lesra and salvation in real time. If you know anything about Rubin Carter, you'll know the outcome from the start. If you don't know about The Hurricane, you'll figure out how this bio is going to end pretty early on. The only question I had going into this flick was: 'Is Bob Dylan's song, "The Story of Hurricane" going to show up here?' It does. Besides being used over the end credits, it can also be heard in the video footage of Dylan's recording the song at a concert benefiting Rubin.

"The Hurricane" is a solid, if unremarkable, biography of a man who, after giving up all hope for a normal life, is saved from his despair by a young boy who believes in him. The by-the-numbers form and predictable conclusion (yes, yes, I know it's a biography) keep the film from being memorable. It is a well-crafted work and I give it a B.

Laura's review of 'The Hurricane':
Perhaps director Norman Jewison is trying to prove something after Spike Lee publicly wrested his "Malcolm X" project away, insisting it had to be told by a black man. Jewison can claim that the 'heroes' of his new film share his Canadian heritage, while its central character is a former middleweight boxer, unjustly framed for murder by racist cops.

While Jewison gets a fine performance from Denzel Washington as Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, his lengthy film suffers a bit from messy story structure, a sloppily unfocussed 'villain' and obvious lifting from "Raging Bull."

The first problem is the timeline. Jewison dances around from the present day, to Carter's childhood, young adulthood and various stages of his twenty year incarceration. Some scenes shift so abruptly, that before the audience can adjust to the change, a title saying '7 years later' will have some wondering 'later than WHAT?' The character of the detective (Dan Hedaya, "Dick") who plagues Carter from childhood (he sees a child with a knife and the fact that the child's black is all he needs to know) is the film's most serious problem. He later rounds Carter up to finish two years of his childhood sentence after Rubin's return as a decorated war veteran and then finally, enranged at the man's sports success, 'persuades' eyewitnesses to indict him for murder. When help arrives for Carter in the form three white Canadians (John Hannah, Liev Schrieber and Deborah Kara Unger) almost two decades later, they're threatened by the detective and then have a wheel fall off their car on the highway. Carter's defense attorney speaks of 'levels of corruption in New Jersey' that imply that a state government will be shaken to its foundation when the truth of Carter's conviction comes out. Yet in the film's final frames, we hear nothing of this or the detective's fate, rendering Carter's victory somewhat hollow. Jewison chooses to shoot flashbacks of the Hurricane's glory days in the ring in black and white, yet every other scene, even earlier flashbacks are in color.

Washington still makes Carter's story sting, though, enduring things that would have broken many a man. His fine writings and philosophical introspection belie his formal education. He even fights against the prospect of hope offered by young Lesra (Vicellous Reon Shannon), claiming 'my job is to do the time' and asking him and his Canadian benefactors to please find it in their hearts to not weaken him with their love. Previously, he's instructed his wife 'I'm dead. Why don't you bury me' in order to free her.

Young Shannon makes for a very believable Lesra, a young black man given every opportunity Rubin lacked while Hannah, Schreiber and Unger work to break down Carter's lack of white trust. The 'good' white man also appears in the character of Jimmy Williams, a prison guard who does everything in his power to help Rubin maintain his dignity.

"The Hurricane" could have benefitted from some fine tuning, yet as it stands it's a solid document of bravery and courage in the face of injustice.

B


MAGNOLIA

Earl Partidge lies in his living room dying of cancer while his emotionally involved home care nurse Phil tries to track down his estranged son Frank Mackey, a 'self help' guru spouting misogynistic pick up strategies, while also appeasing Earl's hysterical trophy wife Linda. Partridge is the producer of TV game show 'What Do Kids Know,' whose long term emcee, Jimmy Gator, is also dying of cancer while trying to patch up his relationship with his estranged daughter Claudia, a messed up coke addict being romanced by bumbling cop Jim. Stanley Spector is the kid genius on Jimmy's show who's trying to get love from his dad while former whiz kid Donnie Smith sinks lower and lower looking for love. These people and more are all interconnected in their search for forgiveness and salvation in writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson's "Magnolia."

Laura's review of 'Magnolia':
Auteur Anderson ("Boogie Nights") has stated that "Magnolia" started out as a small, simple story with a few characters, but that the emotions of the piece kept him spinning out one character after another. He should have quit while he was ahead. While "Magnolia" is an intriguing film, it's character threads result in as many hits as misses.

There's not one happy soul amidst this San Fernando lot. The most intriguing story line is following John C. Reilly's hapless but good hearted cop's romance with Claudia (Melora Walters, another Anderson vet). She's so desperate to cling onto his essential decency and he so needs someone to need him, that we just know they can make each other happy. On the flip side, it comes as absolutely no surprise why Claudia refuses to speak to her father, so that story line is a dead end. To Philip Baker Hall's credit, we still care about Jimmy Gator, even as his daughter and wife Rose (Melinda Dillon, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind") abandon him.

Tom Cruise is dynamic as the sleezy proponent of his 'Seduce and Destroy' theory, which is, of course, a coverup for deep childhood wounds that, once bared, leave him a little less interesting (fault of writing, not of the actor). Cruise is so compelling here that he overcomes his movie star image, letting his character obscure his persona. The great character actor Philip Seymour Hoffman does what he can with an oddly written role of a caregiver who's a little too involved and one can't understand his obsession with Jason Robard's deathbed entertainment vet. Also faring poorly is Julianne Moore, adrift in a profanity laden part as the guilt-ridden wife Linda.

Interest again soars with the debut performance by Jeremy Blackman as present day child wonder Stanley, looking for all the world like Jodie Foster's boy genius of "Little Man Tate" a few years older. It's another great turn by a child actor in an exceptional year for child performances. Unfortunately, little is done to illuminate his dad Rick's (Michael Bowen) cold perspective except for the obvious sin of greed. We take another nosedive, however, with past child genius Donnie's (William H. Macy, "Fargo") story. He's 'gotten stupid' and uses his past celebrity to shill electronics but can't even maintain that job. Donnie is desperate for money to get braces(!) in order to be noticed by the much younger, hunky bartender he pines for (who happens to have braces). Until he crosses paths with Officer Jim in the film's biblical conclusion, Donnie's tale is a head-shaker.

Anderson's script succeeds in connecting the dots among his huge ensemble cast of characters and his themes do become apparent, even as he fails to make some stories work on a basic level. His bookending device - three ghoulish urban legends of the past - do little to propel his ideas. Most unfortunate is Anderson's slavish devotion to both his score and soundtrack, both of which he raises to volumes which irritatingly obscure dialogue. Even worse is his ill-advised character singalong to Aimee Mann's 'Wise Up' - there's a music video to support this film - he didn't need to drop another one right into the film. Other tech aspects are fine, especially production and costume design by Mark Bridges.

Oddly, one of Anderson's less effective characters, Macy's Donnie, maybe best sums up "Magnolia" when he says 'I really do have love to give - I just don't know where to put it.' Anderson's intriguing sprawl of a film shows great talent at work, but like Donnie, he needs focus. While the film superficially resembles Robert Altman's assured "Short Cuts" and Kasdan's far lesser work "Grand Canyon," "Magnolia" is clearly the work of an individual voice.

B

Robin's review of 'Magnolia':
On the heals of his critically acclaimed success, "Boogie Nights," director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson takes on a tremendous personal effort with his latest film, "Magnolia." This 3-hour opus by the young helmer covers nine separate story lines and stars Jason Robards, Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore and a host of other actors in a slice of life story about a day in LA.

Earl Partridge, played by Robards, is a man dying. His trophy wife, Linda (Moore), married the old man for his money, but, as he lay dying, realizes that she truly loves him. Cruise is Frank Mackey, a snake oil salesman who peddles misogyny in an infomercial environment with the slogan "Seduce and Destroy." We come to find out that Frank is, in fact, Earl's son and the pair has been estranged for 19 years after Partridge left his wife and child for greener pastures. Frank, nee Jack Partridge, at age 14, was left to care for his dying mother, alone. Now, on his deathbed, Earl's last wish is to see his son one more time.

Meanwhile, young Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman) is a child genius who is a star on the longest running TV quiz show, "What Do Kids Know?" but can't win his father's love. Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall) is the longtime host of the show and an icon of family values, but has not lived the life his public supposes. He is dying, too, and wants to make amends with his estranged daughter, Claudia (Melora Walters). Claudia is a coke addict, lonely, and wants nothing to do with her father. Officer Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly) is a compassionate, if bumbling, cop who falls for Claudia while investigating a disturbing-the-peace report. Rounding out this vast field of characters is Donnie Smith (William H. Macy), a former child quiz show star. Donnie is looking for love in all the wrong places and loses his lowly job as a shill for an electronics store, living on his past fame. There are more players and story threads, too.

This impressively complex intertwining of stories sometimes works and sometimes does not. Director Anderson does a solid job in mustering his vast cast of characters, but is taking on proportions of effort that are akin to Robert Altman's "Short Cuts." Both films have many paths and a plentiful cast. The difference is, Altman, a master of the art, is able to weave his threads more evenly into his tapestry. Anderson, while very talented and capable, has not reached that master status, yet, and does not have the deft, experienced touch of a craftsman like Altman.

If you examine the individual tales presented in "Magnolia," some are intriguing and beg to be watched, while others fall by the wayside as just so much fodder for the screen. This is a product of trying to do too much and not having the time to fully develop each story line. While Cruise's Frank Mackey is an intriguing figure who, despite his blatant sexism, you can't help but be interested in, his confrontation with his father, Earl, does not complete the character of Frank. Note should be made, however, that Cruise gives one of his better performances and will be noticed.

The tale about Officer Jim (Reilly), while just a simple story of a nice guy who loves his job as a public servant, is one of the best in the film. Jim is conscientious in his work and tries to be a good cop. But, he is a bumbler. When he confronts Claudia in her home because of loud music, he is immediately smitten with the young woman. He turns a blind eye to her obvious drug use when he asks her on a date and, watching their interplay, you want them to get together. The capable Reilly is nicely matched with newcomer Walters as two lonely people who, we hope, will find each other by the end of the film.

Technically, "Magnolia" has its highs and lows. Most notably, and annoying, is the volume of the songs and score. The music is held at a decibel level that nearly hurts the ears while it, oftentimes, completely drowns out the dialogue. The scoring is good and the songs mostly appropriate (I'm not thrilled by the Aimee Mann tunes, but, then, I'm not a fan), but all of it is too darn loud! Camerawork and editing are too stylish for the film and visually not intriguing. And, it's 3-hours long.

Acting, across the board, is good. Some, like Cruise, Reilly and Walters, make a striking display on the screen. Cruise is suitably slimy as a man selling sexism to the male masses. Reilly gives a sensitive performance as a lonely cop and is complemented well by Walters, who gives an outstanding debut performance. Others, like Robards and Moore, do not fare as well and their characters do not embrace the audience. Phil Baker Hall and Jeremy Blackman, as the two sides of the quiz show sequence are solid, with Hall showing his veteran acting chops and Blackman quite convincing as the boy genius. Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is proving to be a brilliant character actor, is given little to do as Earl Partridge's male nurse and caretaker. William H. Macy, one of my favorite actors, is wasted as the tormented former child whiz kid who wants love but doesn't know how to get it.

The screenplay, by Anderson, is almost out of control in his endeavor to weave all his different stories together. I applaud the attempt but can only praise it in parts. A less ambitious effort with fewer characters and stories would have made for a better, and hopefully shorter, film. As it stands, this project reps a bigger bite taken by the writer/director than he - and most others - can handle. There is little doubt of P.T. Anderson's talent, but he took on something monumental with "Magnolia," as his screenplay evolved, and falls short of complete success.

I had anticipated the arrival of "Magnolia" with interest, even while knowing of its extended run time. It opens with several urban legends - the body of a SCUBA diver found in the midst of a forest fire miles away from the nearest water and the story of an oddball suicide/murder are two - that lend an absurdist air to things. While interesting and amusing, they have little to do with the rest of the film and require a shift of mental gears for the viewer when the "real" story begins. The finale, believe it or not, involves frogs raining upon the city.

Even with his limited body of work, Anderson is proving himself to be a potential powerhouse of a filmmaker. "Magnolia" is far from perfect, but has enough elements of style and substance for a film fan to invest the 3-hours to sit through it. Please note that the language is often rude and crude with four-letter words and graphic descriptions of sex throughout. We saw it at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts with a decidedly older audience and there were quite a few walkouts, so be warned.

My high hopes for the film, especially after "Boogie Nights," were less than met and I give "Magnolia" a slightly disappointed B.


GALAXY QUEST

Trekkies rejoice! There is now a movie out there that caters to your obsession for your favorite science fiction TV show! "Galaxy Quest" is a faux 70's sci-fi program that went into syndication long ago and has carried forth a devoted following of fans. Sound familiar? The stars of the program, led by Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), are tired of their "careers" as washed up TV cult figures. They go through the motions with their fans until, during yet another convention, they meet a group of devoted followers who carry things a step farther and invite the actors to join them in saving their planet of Thermia. They all think it's a joke until they find themselves in the thick of alien battle in "Galaxy Quest," the movie.

Robin's review of 'Galaxy Quest':
Helmer Dean Parisot seems an unlikely candidate to direct a big budget, big star cast movie. In his earlier effort, "Home Fries." a romantic comedy starring Drew Barrymore as a pregnant unwed mother, is a sweet, understated little film that charms and mildly amuses the viewer. With "Galaxy Quest," Parisot lays it on the line as he switches into a higher gear. The result is a confidently directed actioner with a talented cast in a fast-moving, fast-paced, high (and low) comedy that mounts one laugh upon the next and parody upon parody.

Fans (and I mean that in the truly fanatical sense of the word) will be kept busy watching for all of the "Star Trek" and other sci-fi references - and there are many. Great attention is given to re-enacting scenes from many of your favorite Trek episodes. Commander Taggart (Allen) gives gladiatorial battle on video and is called upon to "invent" a weapon to fight a giant rock man in two of the many parodies of the old show. There is just a whole lot of downright good humor in the original screenplay by scripters Robert Gordon and David Howard.

The story begins at the latest in a long series of "Galaxy Quest" fan conventions. The celebrity crew of the spaceship, NSEA Protector, is less than enthusiastic about the appearance, especially since Jason Nesmith, the erstwhile leader of the little band, is late, again. Unbeknownst to the rest, Nesmith has also been making solo appearances as Commander Peter Quincy Taggart, wallowing in his "fame." Things change when, during the autograph signing, Jason is approached by an odder-than-usual group of fans. The alien Thermians, as they call themselves, invite the Protector's captain to come help them defeat the marauding invaders led by the reptilian Sarris (Robin Sachs). You see, the Thermians, intercepting old broadcasts of "Galaxy Quest" thing the shows are "historical documents," not light entertainment. Nesmith treats it all as good-natured fan flooey until he realizes that the Thermians aren't fakes after he starts a war with the lizardmen that will likely lead to the annihilation of the peaceful aliens. Jason enlists his former "crew" to help him in his quest to save the Thermians and the adventure begins.

Even though the cast is led by feminist icon Sigourney Weaver and everyman comedian Tim Allen, it is a true ensemble effort. Weaver, as the busty Lt. Tawny Madison, the TV name for Gwen DeMarco, is the sole woman from the show. She bears the brunt of the sexual innuendo and Weaver plays it with a terrific sense of humor. Tim Allen's Commander Taggart/Nesmith is dead on in his play of the swaggering, cocky James T. Kirk-type of captain. Joining the pair is a wonderfully cast group of comic actors who really flesh out the story in ways that nicely combine the goofiness of the plot while riffing, good-naturedly, on "Star Trek."

Alan Rickman ("Die Hard") is Alexander Dane, a Shakespearean-trained actor who gets stuck with the persona of the half-human/half-alien Dr. Lazarus and has, cynically, lived with his plight evr since. Tony Shalhoub ("Men in Black") is my favorite as Fred Kwan (Tech Sergeant Chen in the TV show). He is laid back, always hungry and will follow his commander anywhere as the Scottie-type ship's engineer. Daryl Mitchell ("Home Fries") is Tommy Webber/Lt. Laredo, the stolid navigator cum Sulu character, and the child-star from the show, who may not get the flashy lines, but is the anchor for the crew. Sam Rockwell ("The Green Mile") has great fun as Guy Fleegman, an anonymous crewmember who had the dubious role in a later episode of "Galaxy Quest" of being a Red Shirt - fans of Star Trek will know exactly what that means. Enrico Colantoni is a riot as the naove leader of the Thermians, Mathesar.

Special F/X and makeup are top shelf. Considering the cheesy premise and story, this could have been made to look TV-quality and have it work. Instead, the producers take the high road and give the sets and F/X, while not "The Phantom Menace" caliber, a quality that shows the total commitment for fun. Albert Wolsky creates his own characters in the film with costuming that captures the distinct flavor of the old ST show while giving it's own unique look. Set design, especially the alien ships, are beautifully rendered by Linda DeScenna. Cinematographer Jerzy Zielinski crisply lenses the whole effort. The coordination of these elements - set, costume and photography - works in tight unison to give the film a uniformly cool and muted texture. As usual, make-up master Stan Winston does an expected fine job with his alien creations.

In a season dominated by drama and kids' movies, "Galaxy Quest" is a refreshing alternative. It's hip, it's funny and it is one of the better ensemble efforts - both in front and behind the camera. I had a fun time and give it an enthusiatic B+

Laura's review of 'Galaxy Quest':
"Galaxy Quest" is a refreshing goofball of a film in a season toploaded with serious fare. This film is sure to appeal to both those who love 'Trek' and those who abhor it, maybe only missing with the apathetic middle. Sophomore director Dean Parisot ("Home Fries") shows a deft hand applying big budget effects to a satire of a show that specialized in cheesy ones. Everything's done as a loving homage to all things Trekian, including the piece's villain Sarris (Robin Sachs), a compendium of everything from Predator to The Creature from the Black Lagoon to past Trek aliens. The script, by Robert Gordon and David Howard, could be enjoyed by those who've never seen its impetus, although the tongue in cheek references comprise a lot of the fun.

Parisot also succeeds at getting warmly endearing performances from his ensemble cast. Tim Allen, in the 'Shatner' role, is given an Achilles heal when he overhears 'Questians' dissing his persona in the men's room - somewhat akin to Buzz Lightyear discovering he really is only a toy. Alan Rickman nails the 'Nimoy' role, constantly bemoaning the fact that he's a serious Shakespearean actor saddled with a ridiculous tagline and alien makeup ('I am not Spock'). In one of the film's best turns of event, Rickman gets to play the hero and use his 'line' seriously, only to have the Thermians credit the Commander. Signourney Weaver is joyously good-natured in her sex object role - her cleavage becomes more and more, erm, extended, as the flick plays out - AND she enjoys some of the story's best lines. Tony Shalhoub is wonderfully droll in the 'James Doohan/Walter Koenig/George Takei' composite and gets to engage in alien sex of a most un-"Species"-like kind. Most amazing of all is Enrico Colantoni (TV's 'Just Shoot Me') as Mathesar, the naive and adoring leader of the Thermians - Colantoni is so unrecognizable I'm still having a hard time believing it was him under that makeup.

"Galaxy Quest" is a quality comedy that should inspire fits of giggles in audiences of most ages.

B+


SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS

Adapted from David Guterson's best-selling novel by screenwriter Ron Bass ("Rain Man") and director Scott Hicks ("Shine"), "Snow Falling on Cedars" is a courtroom drama/murder mystery whose roots lie in the prejudice shown by Pacific Northwest islanders towards the Japanese immigrants who fish and farm alongside them in the WWII era. Ishmael Chambers (Ethan Hawke, "Great Expectations") is the son of legendary newspaper man Arthur Chambers (Sam Shepherd) whose spurned love for the defendents's wife Hatsue (Youki Kudoh, "Mystery Train") taints his sense of justice while he may be the only man able to provide evidence of the truth.

Laura's review of 'Snow Falling On Cedars':
Four years after "Shine," Hicks returns with another tale of a man reflecting on and facing the consequences of the events of his childhood. His film opens in the courtroom, where we learn that Kazuo Miyamoto (Rick Yune) is on trial for the murder of Carl Heine (Eric Thal, "A Stranger Among Us") who was found drowned in his fishing nets with a bash to his head. The two were boyhood friends who were forced apart when Carl's mother reneged on a land sale made by her husband with Kazuo's father. As Ishmael watches the proceedings from a balcony seat, we're brought back in time to witness his passionate and forbidden love affair with Hatsue which was born in childhood friendship.

"Snow Falling on Cedars" is a tone poem of a movie, all gorgeously photographed greenery shrouded by mists and snowfalls. Instead of telling the story in a linear, or even standard flashback method, Hicks is constantly overlapping sound and images, so that we're often presented with glimpses of scenes that have yet to play out. The end result is like an ode to memory and works beautifully in the assured hands of Hicks, cinematographer Robert Richardson and edittor Hank Corwin (both alumni of "The Horse Whisperer").

Characterization is somewhat lost to imagery, however, although there are still some standouts in the cast. One wouldn't be Ethan Hawke, the ostensible lead who's really little more than an observer - his counterpoint as a young boy (Reeve Carney) sees more action in the film. The same can be said of Youki Kudoh, who mostly projects worry lines as Hatsue (although again, Ann Suzuki, who portrays the young Hatsue is radiant). Max von Sydow gives a strong performance as Nels Gudmundsson, Miyamoto's defense attorney and a decent man. Max Wright (of TV's "Alf") gives an amusingly contrary performance in a small role as the town's coroner. Celia Weston ("Dead Man Walking") embodies small mindedness and greed as Etta Heine. Sam Shepard comes forth as the embodiment of decency in the face of adversity in flashback scenes with little dialogue. Arija Bareikis is memorable as new widow Susan Marie Heine (when she's asked to remember a week before her husband's death, we're taken into her mind and view her making love to her husband behind textured glass - very moving). Rick Yune has the unfortunate task of playing a plot point.

As with "Angela's Ashes," this is a filmic adaptation of a novel that hadn't bowled me over. Unlike "Ashes," Hicks has made such interesting choices bringing this novel to the screen, that I found "Snow Falling on Cedars" the film to be a more interesting experience than reading the book and was actually moved by the film's conclusion. However, Hicks' filmic magic can't quite make up for the loss of some good old-fashioned central characters to invest your emotions in. "Snow Falling on Cedars" is ultimately a case of style over substance.

B-

Robin's review of 'Snow Falling On Cedars':
The film, like the title, is a lyrical, almost poetic, look at a slice of shameful American history through the eyes of ordinary people caught in the turbulent tides of World War II. The film also deals with murder, friendship, love, racism, hatred and more. It is a complex film that has a lot to say, but gets so wrapped up in its own introspection that it fails to involve the viewer.

Director Scott Hicks, on the heels of his Oscar-winning film, "Shine," broadens his filmic horizon from the personal, tragic/hopeful story of musician David Helfgott. In "Snow Falling On Cedars," he is tackling social issues left and right. There's the underlying inter-racial relationship between Ishmael (Ethan Hawke) and Hatsue (Youki Koudo) that is only chastely explored. The murder of a white man, with a young Japanese man as the alleged killer and the ensuing courtroom drama, form the story's core. This all takes place following the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, so the added angst of the internment of Japanese-Americans puts additional emotional spin on the story.

There is a bundle of symbolism on the impact on the local society with the implementation of Executive Order 9066, the internment of indigenous Japanese in concentration camps as "enemy aliens," even the American-born US citizens. In one nice, if heavy handed touch, the mixed races of kids are shown on the bus heading to school. A little later, the same bus travels half empty after the Japanese students are sent away.

Performances fit the ensemble nature of the story. Ethan Hawke services well as the troubled, lovesick Ismael. Youki Koudo as the love interest and center of attention of the young men is OK, but really only serves as an object of desire. The great Max Von Sydow appears as Nels Gudmundsson, the curmudgeony old lawyer who defends the accused, Kazuo (Rick Yune). Von Sydow gives the strongest performance of the talented cast, which includes Sam Shephard, James Cromwell and James Rebhorn.

Photography, by Robert Richardson, is equal to the poetry of the film's story. There is a lushness to the film that belies the bleak nature of the story and its setting. Richardson gives the film a period feel that complements the tale.

I never felt anything more than an arm's length closeness to the story of "Snow Falling On Cedars." It's an interesting telling of the unforgivable treatment that the US government inflicted on its own people. For all the camps like Manzanar, where the Japanese-Americans were interned, there were none for the Germans or Italians in the US at the time - a point the film makes, strongly.

I give "Snow Falling On Cedars" a B-.


CRADLE WILL ROCK

It's 1936 Depression-era New York City and President Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration (WPA) is trying to help the country find jobs for its unemployed masses. The Federal Theater group, part of the WPA, was set in motion a couple of years earlier to address the jobless problem in America's theater industry. Project 891, under the administrative leadership of Hallie Flanagan (Cherry Jones), was implemented with wunderkind Orson Welles (Angus Macfadyen) and John Houseman (Cary Elwes) providing the artistic guidance for the program. Playwright Marc Blitzstein (Hank Azaria) was commissioned to create a work that reflects the time and tide of the 30's in Tim Robbins's "Cradle Will Rock."

Robin's review of 'Cradle Will Rock':
Blitzstein's play, titled "The Cradle Will Rock," tells a contemporary of America's steel industry, strikers and strikebreakers, and the will of the working class to overthrow its oppressors. The incidents in the play closely reflect the real life labor disputes rocking the country at the time and attract the attention of Congressman Martin Dies, the chairman of the House Un-American Activity Committee (HUAC) investigating the Red Menace believed to be engulfing the US. The "premature anti-fascist" tone of the Project 891, at a time when US relations were still good with Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy, sets the government in motion to stop the first performance of the controversial play. The enthusiasm of the play's members, their fervent desire to fight back against censorship, and popular support leads to a very special impromptu presentation that circumvents the government ban and thrills its audience.

This is not the only story told by Robbins in his energetic, exuberant original screenplay. There are actually many stories, large and small, going on at the same time as the making of "The Cradle Will Rock." One has Nelson Rockefeller (John Cusack) hiring leftist artist Diego Rivera (Reuben Blades) to create a giant mural for display in Rockefeller Center, not realizing that the painter marches to a very different political tune than he. The huge painting celebrates the masses shaking off the yoke of capitalist oppression as well as showing a giant syphilis cells that are infecting the rich. It's a serio-comic battle of wills between the dedicated Rivera and the wealthy, but naive, Rockefeller.

Ancillary stories abound. Fascist sympathizer and propagandist Margherita Sarfatti (Susan Sarandon) charms the rich and powerful of America's elite, peddling Da Vincis to millionaires to help fund Mussolini's war effort in Ethiopia. An alcoholic ventriloquist (Bill Murray) tries to drive Reds out of his vaudeville troupe while wooing a devout anticommunist (Joan Cusack). Millionaire industrialist Grey Mathers (Philip Baker Hall) can influence the highest seats of power but can't control his flamboyant wife and patron of the arts, Countess La Grange (Vanessa Redgrave). John Turturro and Emily Watson well represent the plight and pain of the out-of-work actor during the Depression.

This lovingly rendered effort by Robbins has its flaws. The director/actor/writer/producer wears his political, liberal heart proudly on his sleeve, giving the production an overall idealistic view of the politics and people of the time. This makes the story almost simple with the message of good and bad, liberal and conservative, communist and fascist, always leaning toward the left. It's a little too black and white, but Robbins's honest belief in his work is refreshing, nonetheless. The cast of "Cradle Will Rock" is vast. Of all, the best, most convincing performance came from Cherry Jones as Hallie Flanagan. This newcomer comes across as a real character in this hyper mix of reality and fantasy, evoking a true warmth in the woman as she tries to do the right thing for the thousands she employs in the Federal Theater as well as the American people. (Flanagan's plays, at the time, reached a purported 25 million citizens - one fourth of the county's population). The rest of the cast, mainly due to the script and time considerations, is mainly relegated to caricatures of the people they represent. Orson Welles, for example, is portrayed only as a boisterous, arrogant drunkard. The broad swipe Robbins takes with his story doesn't allow for much in the way of character development, but this large, experienced group of actors give their roles flair in keeping with the energy imbued by their director/writer.

Tech credits are superior and match the frenetic pace of the story. Director of photography Jean Yves Escoffier provides fast and fluid camera work, following one then another of the players is intricate tracking shots, capturing the excitement of the times. Production design (Richard Hoover) and costume (Ruth Myers) help provide the substantial period feel to the film, giving an exciting look to the city and the people.

The energy generated in "Cradle Will Rock" culminates in the one and only performance of Blitzstein's play and it is the high point of the film. Getting there is visual rollercoaster that keeps you entertained, if a bit on the light side. Tim Robbins's enthusiasm for his oeuvre is palpable, however, and brings the entertainment level up a notch. And, you learn something about an interesting, if little known ('til now), slice of American history. I give it a B+.

Laura's review of 'Cradle Will Rock':
Gee - is it possible Tim Robbins is a political liberal? His "Cradle Will Rock" is as subtle as a sledgehammer in depicting the moment in history when a play was censorred in the 1930s due to Red-baiting. It is entertaining, though, playing out somewhat like a filmed Broadway production (sometimes - the film's tone is a bit uneven too).

The movie begins with a showy tracking shot which show's Emily Watson's ("Hillary and Jackie") impoverished Olive Stanton being thrown out of the back of a movie theater, where she's passed the night - she exits and crosses paths with Joan Cusack's Federal Theater employee Hazel Huffman (NO communist sympathizer) pinning up notices, but back to Stanton washing up on the sidewalk at a fire hydrant (which also seems capable of dispensing lip gloss and creating stylishly dishevelled hairdos). The camera then floats into the window of one Marc Blitzstein (Hank Azaria, "Godzilla") as he feverishly composes his pro-union, anti-big-business musical, "The Cradle Will Rock" while being advised by the ghostly apparitions of his dead wife, who advises him to get some sleep, and Bertolt Brecht, who criticizes his political convictions.

The Fascists are also thrown into the mix in the form of Margherita Sarfatti (Susan Sarandon), Mussolini's former mistress and emissary to American businesses capable of supplying his war machine (she plies the rich with artworks). Philip Baker Hall is a steel magnate anxious to do business while his wife (Vanessa Redgrave, having a ball in this role) is a true art patron and naive Bohemian who falls in love with the wrong crowd. She meets Orson Welles (Angus Macfadyen) and John Houseman (Cary Elwes), who will guide Blitzstein's play towards an opening night no one could have possibly anticipated. In a subplot that mirrors the main theme, Nelson Rockefeller (John Cusack) is funding a mural by Diego Rivera (Ruben Blades) which will end up being destroyed for its pro-communist stance (the actual mural was just restored in the lobby of NYC's Radio City Music Hall). Fictional character, ventriloquist Tommy Crickshaw (Bill Murray), betrays his friends for his unrequitied love of testifying Hazel. Bit player Aldo Silvano (John Turturro) faces the play's subject matter within his own extended immigrant family and Olive gets a job as a stagehand before becoming the star (and, eventually and ironically, heroine) of the show.

Robbins mixes musical bits with scenes of broad humor and fast-paced earnestness as well as mixing up historical fact. His heavy hand is never more apparent than in the film's (admittedly dynamic) conclusion, where the surreptitious performance of "The Cradle Will Rock" is intercut with a costume party where the steel magnate, Randolph Hearst and Nelson Rockefeller dress as the court of Louis XVI ('Let them eat cake,' indeed). The only piece of Rivera's mural left intact is a syphilis cell.

Acting is solid across the board with Cherry Jones's Hallie Flannagan the stellar standout as the director of the Federal Theater whose only mistake was championing Russian theater. Unfortunate is Angus Macfadyen's portray of Welles as an arrogant drunk (there's a little Teddy Kennedy living with Orson Welles), although I lay the responsibility for this at Robbins' door. I know little about the real Olive Stanton (heroic for potentially forever losing her position in the actor's guild for performing her role against government orders), but it's quite clear that singing is not one of Emily Watson's talents, although she's called upon to do a lot of it here.

"Cradle Will Rock" is a bumpy, ambitious ride that tells a little known tale. Credit to Robbins for recreating the excitement that must have been the rebellious performance of this play - the last twenty minutes of his film truly rocks!

B


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