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"Snow Falling on Cedars," "Magnolia" and "Tumbleweeds"

Quick Flicks

!B! "Snow Falling on Cedars"
!B! "Magnolia"
!B! "Tumbleweeds"

"Snow Falling on Cedars" - This is a rich, many-layered tale of young love and prejudice set before and after World War II. While it appears to be a murder mystery and courtroom drama, we soon discover that more is at stake. Through flashbacks, we see the burgeoning love between Ishmael and his Japanese-American playmate Hatsue. Ethan Hawke is the adult Ishmael, who is covering the murder trial for his family's newspaper. On trail is the husband of his first love, Hatsue (Youki Kudoh). When she asks for his help as a journalist, to show how unfair and prejudiced the trial is, all the raw pain her betrayal brought him comes back to the surface. Just as the townsfolk must come to terms with the insidious nature of their silent prejudice against their Japanese-American neighbors, he struggles with his own need to inflict pain and revenge. Director Scott Hicks captures the sense of time and place with amazing skill. But for all of his lovingly shot and beautifully composed scenes, "Snow Falling On Cedars" left me chilled to the bone. Instead of falling in love with his characters, Hicks fell in love with his story's setting. Were he shooting a travelogue, that would have been great. Unfortunately, "Snow Falling On Cedars" wants and needs to be much, much more. "Magnolia" — Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson follows up his controversial look at the porno industry in "Boogie Nights" with yet another audacious undertaking. But the risky nature of "Magnolia" isn't content-driven, it's thematic. Here Anderson introduces us to a baker's dozen characters and then shows us how chance interconnects them. Playing out these interconnected human dramas are Jason Robards, John C. Reilly, Tom Cruise, Melora Walters, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour Hoffman, to name just a few. As you can imagine, weaving the threads of so many lives together is not easily accomplished within the usual constraints of filmmaking. Yes, "Magnolia" is three hours long. A long three hours long, I might add. Daring and unblinking, Anderson's "Magnolia" is one of those movies viewers will either love or loathe. If you get what Anderson is saying about the prominent role chance plays in everything in life, you will embrace his movie. "Tumbleweeds" — Whenever Mary Jo Walker (Janet McTeer) breaks up with the latest living example of her rotten taste in men, she and her teen-age daughter pack up and move to another state. When we meet this groundless twosome they are about to hit the road one more time. It doesn't take more than a second to realize how disappointing this lifestyle is to Ava (Kimberly J. Brown). Also apparent is the loving but painful bond between mother and daughter. If you think this sounds a lot like the Susan Sarandon-Natalie Portman flick "Anywhere But Here," you're right. Except for two things: the amazing performance by British actress Janet McTeer and sadly, lower production values. While the latter is just inherent in the movie's independent status, the former is an unexpected treat. McTeer is nothing short of breathtaking. Whether her Mary Jo is full of the first rush of love when she thinks — yet again — that she's met Mr. Right, or is bracing for the imminent breakup, McTeer makes us believe. Full of moxie and yet somehow achingly vulnerable, Mary Jo is a character to cherish, thanks to McTeer.

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