AMISTAD - SCREAM 2
MOUSE HUNT - TITANIC
TOMORROW NEVER DIES

AMISTAD

In 1839, Portuguese slave traders kidnapped hundreds of West Africans from what is now Sierra Leone. Illegally enslaved, the human cargo is shackled below deck and shipped to Spanish-owned Havana, Cuba, where the 53 survivors of the "middle voyage" are herded aboard the slave ship, La Amistad. One prisoner, Cinque (newcomer Djimon Hounsou), breaks free from his chains and leads a bloody revolt against his captors, killing all but two of the slave traders, who were kept alive to guide the ship back to Africa. Instead, the slavers pilot the ship to Montauk, Long Island, NY, where the Africans are captured and forced to stand trial for piracy and murder. Thus begins Steven Spielberg's latest historical drama on man's inhumanity to man and the triumph against it in "Amistad."

Robin ROBIN:
"Amistad," as one expects from Steven Spielberg, is one of the finest crafted films of 1997. The attention to detail throughout the production is superb, from the locations to costume to set design. My criticism of the film is that it lacks the passion of "Schindler's List." "Amistad" is the telling of an interesting event in American history, but, doesn't draw its audience in to the heart of the story.

Sir Anthony Hopkins stands out as John Quincy Adams. Initially, Hopkins plays Adams as somewhat doddering, almost absent-minded, figure. This dissipates when Adams is drawn more fully into the story, taking on the defense, before the United States Supreme Court, of the survivors of La Amistad. He delivers a convincing old New England twang in his speech that reminds me, strongly, of my dear old grandmother living in Maine. Hopkins carries his character with a strength and dignity befitting a former president of the United States. The criticisms of his performance by the film review community are not well met.

Matthew McConaughey does an adequate job as early American ambulance chaser and property attorney, Roger S. Baldwin, who volunteers to defend the Amistad slaves. McConaughey, when not the focus of a scene, is overshadowed by Hopkins and Djimon Hounsou, as slave revolt leader Sangbe Pieh, known as Cinque by his Spanish captors, when either or both are on screen with him.

Djimon Hounsou, a casting discovery, is powerful in his debut role as Cinque. He conveys the righteous dignity of a freeman forced into slavery. His limited English, Give us free," delivered empassionately, is the epitome of the plight of the Amistad victims. He gives a terrific debut performance, making him a one-to-watch for award contention come year's end.

Morgan Freeman is surprisingly flat as anti-slave advocate Theodore Joadson. Joadson, the only fictional characters of the stellar cast, is included to provide an American character who is of-color, thereby providing the link between the slaves and the white men deciding their fate. He is a symbol of dignity, but, Freeman never transcends the symbolism. This is unusual for one of America's great actors.

Supporting cast is made up by a familiar, if not by name, group of character actors who lend the appropriate, uh, character, to their roles. For example, Arliss Howard as John C. Calhoun, southerner and pro-slavery advocate, has one brief, but important, scene, where he threatens, in polite terms, President Martin Van Buren (Nigel Hawthorne)with civil war if the Amistad 53 are freed. It is a powerful, yet subtle, delivery that is typical of the secondary roles in the film. Other secondary roles, include Pete Postlethwaite, Stellan Skarsgard, David Paymer and Anna Paquin as Queen Isabella II, all lend depth to their characters.

One casting coup, unnoticed unless you watch the end credits of the movie, by Spielberg and casting director Victoria Thomas, is Associate Supreme Court Justice (Retired), The Honorable Harry A. Blackman, as Associate Justice Joseph Story. This is typical of the level of attention to detail Steven Spielberg gives this work.

Camera work by cinematographer Janusz Kaminski is brisk throughout the film. The shipboard scenes are shot tightly, giving the viewer the feeling of being in the scene. The courtroom sequences are handled in a straightforward manner, with costume and performance being the central point, not the setting.

Production is prestigious, and horrific. One striking scene, during the "middle passage" from Africa to Cuba, has the slavers tossing a huge bag of stones overboard, with the sudden, wrenching, realization that this action is designed to drag, in chains, 50 of the captives to their watery death.

My criticism of "Amistad" is its lack of overall passion. Steven Spielberg has depicted the historical events with alacrity and deftness. The film lacks the passion exhibited in "Schindler's List," but is a depiction of a moment in American history that should (there's an in-joke about the concept of "should" that is most amusing) be seen by all.

I give "Amistad" a B+, mainly due to its historical value, but also to its craftwork.

Laura LAURA:
Steven Spielberg's "Amistad" arrives in theaters amid a swirl of publicity due to a lawsuit (by the author of "Echo of Lions," one of a few books about the Amistad) which almost succeeded in ankling its release date. What should be noted about "Amistad," however, is that finally a great filmmaker like Spielberg has brought this little known, but historically significant, story to the screen.

While not the artistic achievement of "Schindler's List," "Amistad" is a splendid production featuring a terrific performance by newcomer Djimon Hounsou as Cinque, the leader of the slave insurrection aboard the Amistad. Speaking only five words in English throughout the entire two and a half hour film, Hounsou makes an indelible impression as the proud African who doesn't understand why his actions have made him a hero with his own people, but a criminal in a strange land. Also terrific is Anthony Hopkins as former President John Quincy Adams, who's called upon to aid the Africans' defense when President Martin van Buren (Nigel Hawthorne "The Madness of King George") forces a third trial into the Supreme Court. Greatly aged (by a first rate makeup job), Hopkins is denegrated as an old fool riding on the coattails of his more worthy father by his peers, but he's got wisdom and eloquence yet to spare and gives a memorable speech in the film's final climax. Matthew McConaughey is OK as Roger Baldwin, the young lawyer who defends the Africans skillfully and befriends Cinque. Morgan Freeman, unfortunately, is just a noble symbol as abolishionist Theodore Joadson - Freeman's never given less to a role. Support in smaller roles is good all around with Nigel Hawthorne playing a cowardly Martin Van Buren, the President more concerned with his reelection than the plight of the Africans; Stellan Skarsgard ("Breaking the Waves") as abolitionish Lewis Tappen; Pete Postlethwaite ("The Usual Suspects," "The Lost World") as prosecuting attorney Holabird; David Paymer ("City Slickers") as Secretary of State Forsyth and Anna Paquin ("The Piano") as the preteen Queen Isabella of Spain.

One merit of "Amistad" is its surprising amount of humor. 19th century puritans, as seen through the eyes of the less repressed Africans, are a funny lot indeed (Cinque refers to them as 'the miserable looking people'). Cinque also perceives Baldwin's place within his own society as that of the elephant dung shoveller's in Cinque's. Queen Isabella is portrayed as little more than a pampered child who's pleased to see her name in important documents drawn up by others.

Baldwin's attempts to communicate with Cinque provide some of the most rivetting pieces of the film - just how do you get someone who doesn't speak your language and has probably never seen a map tell you where he's from? Baldwin and the abolishionists who've hired him wander the docks counting to ten in Mende, Cinque's native tongue, until they attract the attention of another African who can speak the language to act as an interpretter.

Spielberg has an amazing ability to protray human suffering and human cruelty. When Cinque retells the story of how he was abducted by slavers, the film visualizes horrors at least as gut-renching as anything seen in "Schindler's List." In that film the victims at least shared language with their abusers. "Amistad" presents us with harrowing scenes of people being treated worse than animals - when the crew realizes they're underprovisioned, 50 Africans, shackled together, are shoved off the ship to follow a sack of rocks to the bottom of the ocean.

After this sequence is interpretted during the first trial, the film becomes less about the ugliness of slavery and more about the intricacies of the law and politics. Although Baldwin wins his trial, he's forced to battle it over and over again because the verdict is perceived as a catalyst for a civil war. The film begins to seem overlong as it goes into it's third act (and trial), but it's buoyed again by the reappearance (and prominence) of Hopkin's John Quincy Adams.

Spielberg the master manipulator comes across a little heavy handed at some points. When Cinque, in frustration, declares "Give us free" over and over in the courtroom, it's a climatic moment, but the edge is taken off by an overly intrusive chorale. When Cinque's friend relays the story of Jesus via an illustrated New Testament, Cinque's eyes are drawn to the crosses that are the ships' masts looming over the town. Even though we get a peak at the filmmaker's gears turning a couple of times, on the whole "Amistad" is the work of a master craftsman telling an important story that's educational but never dry.

B+


SCREAM 2

Two years after the teenagers of Woodsboro were gutted and filetted, survivors Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and film geek Randy (Jamie Kennedy) are enrolled at Windsor College. All's well until "Stab," a movie based on reporter Gale Weathers' (Courtney Cox) bestselling book about the Woodsboro killings premieres and a teenage couple are slaughtered by one of the many Scream-masked patrons during the film. Director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson return with "Scream 2".

Laura LAURA:
Randy's film class debates the merits of sequels where the challenge to name a sequel better than the original yields responses of "Aliens," "T2," and "The Godfather, Part II." Wes Craven's "Scream 2," while not better than the original, is just about as good.

Craven and screenwriter Williamson (who has a cameo interviewing falsely accused and now free Cotton Weary) have created a sequel that has all the elements of a sequel while sending them up at the same time. As in the first film, everyone's a suspect. The cellular telephone is again prominent, although this time around there's a great escalation as Randy, Gale and her cameraman accost everyone in a campus courtyard with one of the devices as they have the killer - with them in his sights - on the phone. The film also opens with a spectacular sequence in the movie theater, where a spunky Jada Pinkett tells screen-Drew Barrymore (Heather Graham in "Stab" playing the opening of "Scream" identically except for the obligatory shower scene!) "b****, star 69 his a**!" "Scream 2" also nicely tips its hat yet again to "Halloween" in the opener. Thankfully there was only one audience member dressed in full "Scream" regalia at the screening I attended, or I may have spent more time looking over my shoulder!

Once it's clear that Sidney is again in danger, time to be suspicious of the boyfriend again! This time around he's Derek (Jerry O'Connell of "Joe's Apartment"), a clean cut pre-med student who's so crazy about Sidney he'll sing "I Think I Love You" to her while dancing on tabletops in the school cafeteria and risk hazing by his fraternity by pinning his letters on her. Sheriff Deputy Dewey (David Arquette) arrives in town to protect Sidney (and become a suspect, natch) and take up again with Gale Weathers, who painted him as a bit of a buffoon in her book. Their chemistry in this film is one of "Scream 2's" high points.

"Scream 2" actually has some genuinelly creepy moments. In addition to the opener, Sarah Michelle Gellar ("I Know What You Did Last Summer," TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") is left alone in her sorority house where she gets an unexpected phone call (this time it's "Nosferatu" playing on the television). There's also a great bit where the killer commandeers a police car with Sidney and her roommate in the back seat. The killings, with the exception of the first one, aren't as gory as the original film's.

The most enjoyment to be found in "Scream 2," though, are the knowing in jokes. "Stab," the movie within the movie is a delight. When Randy discovers Tori Spelling has been cast as Sidney, he laments "Sidney gets Tori Spelling and I get some unknown." Sidney, a drama student, plays Cassandra in a Greek tragedy where she's surrounded by masked dancers. Even the revelation of the killer's identity is a sly wink back to a line of dialogue of "Scream's" killer to Drew Barrymore.

The only problem I had with "Scream 2" is the same problem I had with the original film - the ending is overblown - more so in the sequel, where the killers actions and motivations are to provide fodder for jokes instead of supplying any real underlying logic.

The secret to both "Scream" and "Scream 2's" success is that neither film condescends to its audience - instead the audience is let in on the joke.

B


MOUSE HUNT

"The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry" describes the tone of "Mouse Hunt," a "Home Alone" with a rodent film by newcomer director Gore Verbinski and starring Nathan Lane and Lee Evans as Ernie and Lars Smuntz. The Smuntz brothers learn, following the death of their father (in the final performance by veteran actor William Hickey), they have inherited a failing string business and a crumbling old mansion of dubious worth.

The brothers are in total despair and near bankruptcy until they discover that their mansion is the missing 43rd masterwork by world renowned architect Charles Lyle LaRue. Suddenly, the Smuntz boys are looking at a long ride on Easy Street as the LaRue manse attracts offers of millions.

All is well except for one thing, there is a teeny weenie mouse living in the house who has no plans of leaving his home. This begins a battle of wits between the Smuntzs and the mouse, with the outcome of the fight between the brothers and the rodent a certainty. Or, is it?

Robin ROBIN:
The theatrical trailer we've been seeing in advance of "Mouse Hunt" tells it all. Nearly every gag in the film is presented in the trailer, making it a very amusing and intriguing teaser to the film. This is too bad, because the film expands the gags into a well-crafted, sometimes funny, effort with fair performances by Lane and Evans and excellent visual, animal and animatronic effects but lacks the fantasy elements that we saw in the marvelous 1995 film, "Babe." Where "Babe" is magical, "Mouse Hunt" is practical.

The special F/X used to create Mouse involved a 60 trained live mice, an animatronic mouse scaled at 4 to 1 over the real ones, and computer generated (CGI) mouse effects. The animatronic mouse is used for facial expressions, but the live mice did the bulk of the "stunts," including Mouse scurrying into his sardine can bed after a long day of foraging. Mouse is a cute, smart little feller who we root for to the end. The other non-human character, an evil and vicious feline mouser named Catzilla, also combines live animal/animatronic effects to some funny ends. Even Catzilla is no match for Mouse.

Tech credits are all first rate, from the destructive set design to the innovative photography. The miniature photography from Mouse's point of view is fast and frantic as he marshals his diminutive resources against the Smuntz boys and their efforts to get rid of him. Great effort is spent following Mouse through the maze of the old mansion's walls and floors, running over pipes and under wiring, as he thwarts his foes at every turn. This photography and effects are the best aspects of the film.

First-time feature director Gore Verbinski shows his TV commercial background, making the Mouse-eye-view sequences smooth and seamless. He leaves his human cast to fend for themselves. People skills, Gore, people skills.

The physical comedy by Lane and Evans works well in those scenes requiring slapstick timing. The way the characters are drawn causes the problem. Lane, as Ernie, has a lot of penned up resentment toward his late father, who never encouraged him in anything as a boy. Brother Lars (Evans) is a not too bright but really nice guy and optimist. As such, their vicious assault on the mouse and his humble abode is out of character for the characters. To make the battle of wits and wills work, the Smuntz brothers need to be more bad to the bone. Their characters are more Laurel and Hard than Harry and Marv from "Home Alone." What made the latter film such a success was the comeuppance of the bad guys. They deserved everything the got and we laughed as they got it. Ernie and Lars are actually sympathetic so their debacle is less than gleeful for the viewer.

The makers "Mouse Hunt" tried to leaven too much nuance into the story and characters, losing the chance for a straightforward good mouse versus bad guy story battle. The F/X are cunning, but "Babe" it ain't. I give "Mouse Hunt" a disappointed B-.

Laura LAURA:
"Mouse Hunt" is being marketted as "Home Alone" meets "Babe." I had high hopes that it would be more like the latter and although it features the same visual effects director as the pig movie, "Mouse Hunt" isn't nearly as satisfying.

Nathan Lane ("The Birdcage") and British comedian Lee Evans ("Funnybones") star as Ernie and Lars Smuntz. Ernie's practical and a pessimist while Lars is the optimistic romantic. When their father (who's motto is "without string, life is chaos."), played by William Hickey ("Prizzi's Honor") in his last screen role, dies, he leaves them his piece of lucky string, a hilariously outdated string factory staffed by senior citizens and a decrepit old mansion. Their luck turns even worse when Ernie loses his beloved restaurant and Lars is thrown out by his gold-digging wife (Vickie Lewis of TV's "Newsradio). They're forced to move into the mansion and soon find themselves up against a most formidable (and too cute for words) mouse!

Then they discover that the mansion is an architectural treasure worth millions and the plot's set into motion.

It should be noted that "Mouse Hunt" is a dark comedy featuring humor that is too strong for young children. Among its laughs are a body flying out of a casket into a sewer, a hideous cockroach being eaten by the mayor in Ernie's restaurant causing his death by heart failure in front of his two young girls, a maniacal exterminator (the ever weird Christopher Walken) eating mouse dung, a sinister scene in an animal pound featuring a looming gas chamber, and strong sexual innuendos.

These scenes are funny, as are every scene featuring the resourceful mouse. This mouse is just an ordinary mouse - he doesn't talk or behave in an unmouselike fashion. His feats are punched up by use of animatronics and computer (usually seamlessly), but not to fantastical levels. One amazing stunt features the mouse outwitting the two by setting off hundreds of mousetraps with a well aimed cherry!

When the story veers away from the mouse, however, it loses much of its playfulness and imagination. There's nothing very funny about the brothers' efforts to auction off the mansion to a group of oddballs or Belgian hair models or Ernie trying to sell the string business as Lars tries to hold on to it. Nathan Lane and Lee Evans, both superb comic actors, get too few chances to really shine. The rest of the cast is largely wasted (with the exception of Hickey) - Walken's just weird, rather than funny, Maury Chaykin and Michael Jetter have been used far more effectively in other films and Lewis is just shrill.

Technically and artistically, the film is top rate. The art direction is superb creating a strangely dark world in an indeterminable time period. First time director Gore Verbinski, known for directing the first Budweiser frog commerical, has a talent for staging animal shennigans but needs to focus more on the human part of his story.

B-


TITANIC

With the long-awaited "Titanic," writer-director James Cameron weaves together a modern story of treasure-hunter Brock Lovett, diving over 2 miles below the ocean's surface in search of the "Heart of the Ocean" diamond and the 1912 flashback love story between the woman who wore that diamond, Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslett, "Sense and Sensibility") and third class American passenger Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio, "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet") who won his ticket in a poker game 5 minutes before the ship's departure.

Before we journey back to April of 1912, we're treated to spectacular footage of the actual Titanic at the bottom of the ocean and a computer reenactment of how it was dragged down by water in 5 of its 16 watertight compartments before splitting in two and sinking. Then the ship comes back to life and we meet Rose, miserably engaged to the wealthy Cal Hockley in order to ensure her and her mother's financial survival. She's saved from jumping off the ship's stern by Jack and their spirits bond in an eternal love story.

Laura LAURA:
"Titanic" is a spectacular achievement in filmmaking that succeeds on a myriad of levels. The unprecedented special effects, which include a recreation of the ship that's only 10% smaller in scale than the real thing was, never overpower the fictional love story and historical human tragedy which are presented. It's not only awe-inspiring, it's surprisingly moving.

Cameron, a director known more for his ability to spend incredible amounts of cash while crashing through technology boundaries, has written a love story that sounds corny but works beautifully. His bookending modern tale, where we meet the feisty 101 year old Rose (Gloria Stuart) and learn the technicalities of the sinking, was a very smart choice. It's eerie to see the ghostly wreck of the Titanic morph into the extraordinary luxury liner restored to its glories. Equally engrossing are the mix of fictional and historical characters Cameron peoples his film with.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack Dawson hasn't had a better performance since his Oscar-nominated debut in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?." He's a modern spirit, artist and adventurer with a devil may care attitude combined with a charm that almost allows him to cross over into the first class society that is Rose's gilded cage. Kate Winslet as Rose is ethereally beautiful in period costume (she looks born to the past time, like Helena Bonham Carter often does, only light to Helena's dark) and plausible as a woman repressed by her standing in society at a crossroads of despair or rebellion.

Also noteworthy in the cast are Billy Zane as Rose's controlling fiance. He's utterly despicable but all of his acting choices are based on believable human motivations. Kathy Bates ("Misery") as Molly Brown, the brash American 'new money' socialite, can pointedly reveal the underlying meanings of a conversation with a few barbed words. She becomes Jack's mentor in his pursuit of Kate. Frances Fisher ("Unforgiven") is great, if unlikeable, as Rose's selfish, society driven mother. Victor Garber (he was Goldie Hawn's husband in "The First Wives' Club") is extraordinarily sympathetic as Thomas Andrews, the master shipbuilder and architect of the Titanic devastated by the urgings of White Star Line owner J. Bruce Ismay (Jonathon Hyde, "Anaconda") to the ship's captain to go full speed (it was the greed and desire for publicity of this decision that more than anything made the Titanic's collision with an iceberg unavoidable).

The story is told with dialogue that is at times witty and humorous as well as imagery that lingers in the memory - Jack teaching Rose how to spit off the side of the ship, Rose going en pointe in stockinged feet to impress the rough men partying in steerage, Rose, nude but for her necklace, entreating the flustered Jack to draw her portrait, the body of a nightgowned young girl eerily floating in the flooded, majestic interior, the back end of the ship suspended vertically in the water, Rose telling Jack that she'll never let him go. There's also wit in Cameron's editting - he makes a strong point when he cuts from Jack and Rose enjoying a boisterous party in third class to Rose's fiance and his cronies making restrained conversation in the men's smoking parlor.

"Titanic" makes painfully clear how class and gender defined survival on a ship outfitted with only enough lifeboats to carry half of its capacity. To illustrate the extremes represented on the Titanic, it's noteworthy that first class passage cost, in today's dollars, $134,000, while third class was $1,300. Rose, as a first class female passenger, would have stood about a 100% chance of surviving the ship's sinking, while Jack, as a third class male passenger, had odds of only one in ten. It's believed that the third class passengers were locked behind gates as the ship was sinking.

"Titanic" is a technological and artistic wonder. It's the film event of the year.

A+

Robin ROBIN:
James Cameron has pulled it off. The most expensive, most controversial film ever made also happens to be the best film of the year. "Titanic" melds an astonishing array of physical and computer-generated special F/X with one of the best love stories I've seen in years.

Cameron, who proves himself to be a truly visionary filmmaker, had taken on a monumental task in recreating the gigantic ship and the event that ended the lives of over 1500 people. The 775 foot replica of the Titanic - 90% scale of the original - was built to recreate a very different time and place. At the time of the mammoth ship's launch, the world was in transition from the traditional stiffness of the Victorian era to the modern thinking of the 20th Century. The Titanic was a symbol of man's new-found power and arrogance. This new attitude of the time led man to believe that his technological advancements would allow him to conquer Mother Nature. This conceit led to the building of such behemoths as Titanic and her sister ships, engineering marvels that pitted man and his machines against nature's elements. Titanic lost its battle with nature, ending in utter tragedy. Cameron brings forth the look and feel of this period with a masters hand..

Cameron and production designer Peter Lamont went to amazing lengths to duplicate the opulence of the ship and the period. The makers paid such attention to detail as commissioning the company who produced the carpeting for the real Titanic to do the same for the replica. They even went so far as to hire The Wellan Davit Company, the company that produced the original davits for lowering the lifeboats on the original ship, to make the same design davits for the film. It's amazing what you can do with 200 million bucks.

Lamont and his team's extensive research uncovered some rare photos of the Titanic (a new ship, so there weren't many pictures, yet) and her sister ship, the Olympic, enabling the production crew to accurately recreate the majestic settings of the First-Class Dining Salon, Reception Room, Promenade and Empire suite of Rose and fian, Cal, with equalc attention paid to the Third-Class Berths and General Rooms, Marconi Room and the enormous Boiler and Engine Rooms. In a word, the production is stunning.

The titanic effort (pun intended) by Cameron and company in recreating a world-class tragedy is truly impressive and a visually stunning effort. The telling of this tragic event, wrapped in a sweet and believable love story that captivates the viewer up to the sinking and beyond, is what makes this a great film.

Leads Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are perfect in the roles of Jack and Rose, two star crossed lovers whose chance meeting is, for them, both the best of times and the worst of times. The intense love story, spanning only days, creates an everlasting link between these two beautiful people. Theirs is not just a physical beauty, but an inner one that is nicely conveyed by these two talented young actors.

DiCaprio gives his best performance to date. He may be young, but he has the charisma to carry a lead role and proves it in "Titanic." Jack is a happy-go-lucky young man who takes his pleasures when and where he can. A talented, though penniless, young artist, he wins his passage in a poker game, a game that changes his life forever. Jack is such an optimist, the events he finally faces take a back seat to his new-found love for Rose.

Kate Winslet, while not quite as pretty as her co-star, is stunning in her period costuming of the rich and famous. Winslet is perfect opposite DiCaprio. As Rose, she carries herself with the elegance of her breeding. Her heart, though, traverses class barriers with ease, making the romance that delicately unfolds between her and Jack a strong, credible story in the midst of one of the world's great disasters. Through the use of old photos, we see that Rose embraced Jack's joie de vie and practiced it for the rest of her long life. This is a nice touch that pays homage to Jack.

The rest of the cast is first-rate on all levels. No one over shadows the leads, but they all contribute to the depth of the stories told. Billy Zane plays the rich, snobbish, selfish prig to the letter. He is suave and sniveling at the same time. When he sneaks into a lifeboat to save his own pampered skin, you want to boo him. Victor Garber as Titanic designer, Thomas Andrews, cuts a tragic figure as he discovers the truth of his unsinkable ship. Academy Award winner Kathy Bates ("Misery"), as Molly Brown, is the most familiar of the supporting cast. Many of the cast are recognizable, if not necessarily familiar, character actors - Francis Fisher as Rose's mother, David Warner as the evil valet, Jonathan Hyde as J. Bruce Ismay, managing director of the shipping line (and, the man who supposedly ordered the ship to full speed, making the disaster irreversible) and Bernard Hill as Titanic's Captain E.J. Smith. All are well cast and well acted.

The story, which starts with the modern day exploration of the wreck. 12,000 feet deep under the North Atlantic. Led by entrepreneur Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton), the mission is to recover a fabulous blue diamond, called "The Heart of the Ocean," that out-values the famous Hope diamond. What Lovett and his team find on board the sunken hulk is the past effects of one of the survivors, the now 101 year old Rose. Using beautiful morphing shots to jump back and forth in time, the elder Rose narrates bits of the story in reminiscence, giving modern perspective to the event.

For the film's introduction and closing coda, Cameron commissioned all the deep sea submersibles he could, world wide, to actually film the lifeless Titanic in its watery grave. To begin and end his saga with this level of technological effort tells much about the entire film production.

"Titanic" is an enormous technical achievement with a wonderfully big heart, and I give it an A+.


TOMORROW NEVER DIES

In the 18th installment of the longest running, most successful film franchise in motion picture history, "Tomorrow Never Dies" has James Bond facing his most ruthless and evil foe to date - the media. Pierce Brosnan reprises his role as British super secret agent 007 for his second time, facing off against amoral billionaire media mogul Elliot Carver, played by Jonathan Pryce ("Evita").

Carver's newspaper, Tomorrow, has over 100 million subscribers and his newest satellite system will beam to virtually every TV in the world. He knows the power of the media and will use it for his own nefarious gain. Joining James in his fight to stop the media baron is the mysterious Wai Lin, played by Hong Kong action star Michelle Yeoh ("Supercop"), an agent of the Peoples' External Security Force in Beijing, the Chinese equivalent to Bond's own M16.

Robin ROBIN:
What can you expect from number 18 in the Bond files? Babes, action, babes, explosions, babes, intrigue. Oh, yeah. And, babes. You get it all in "Tomorrow Never Dies," in spades.

Pierce Brosnan is more relaxed in his role as the legendary super agent, giving Bond a less stiff feel than in "GoldenEye." He looks darn with a machine gun, striking an heroic pose as he reigns mayhem on the bad guys. (While not exceptionally bloody, the body count is pretty high.) Brosnan also takes well to the task of romancing beautiful, scantily clad women. He should be able to carry this role past the year 2000 with ease.

Speaking of Bond's babes, "Tomorrow Never Dies" has two of the best. Terry Hatcher, as 007's past amour and the only woman who ever got close to the man, plays Paris Carver, wife of James' current nemesis. Hatcher and Brosnan mesh nicely together, with an emotional current between them that makes one believe they have a past. Her character doesn't have a lot of screen time, but she makes an impact on Bond and the film.

The real prize of "Tomorrow Never Dies" is Hong Kong action star Michelle Yeoh as Chinese secret agent Wai Lin. She showed her actioner credentials in last year's "Supercop" with Jackie Chan. In "Tomorrow," she is the first Bond woman to go toe-to-toe, action-wise, with the star of the series, and, she's his equal! (Some people might argue, what about Bond ladies like Pussy Galore in "Goldfinger" or Bambi and Thumper in "Diamonds Are Forever?" My advice? Go see "Tomorrow...") Yeoh is incredible to watch in the fight scenes, moving more like a dancer than a fighter. She's self assured opposite Brosnan and gives as good as she gets, maybe better. This, I think, is going to propel her to stardom in the US.

Jonathan Pryce is merely OK as the head bad guy, Elliot Carver. He is more bland than classic Bond baddies like Goldfinger or Blofeld. His character is mainly used to carry the story forward in between the action bits, so you get - action, Carver setting the scenario, action, Carver gloating, action, Carver threatening, and so on. This is all part of the Bond formula and it works quite well, thank you.

Others in the supporting cast are OK, with Judi Dench reprising her role as the latest "M." Desmond Llewelyn makes his 16th appearance a the venerable weapons/gadget master, "Q." Samantha Bond plays Moneypenny once again (reprising her role from "GoldenEye" and getting the best line in the film when she quips. "Oh, James, you are such a cunning linguist!" You have to be there.) Gotz Otto, as Carver's head henchman, Stamper, is a Dolph Lundgren clone and little more. Joe Don Baker makes a cameo appearance as longtime Bond buddy, CIA operative Jack Wade.

The story, by Bruce Fierstein, has little to do with the original Ian Fleming material, aside from the characters. There is energy galore throughout the film with each action scene being topped by the next. The motorcycle/helicopter chase through the streets of Saigon is one of the best, extended chases I ve seen in this or other films. Story-wise, the Bond franchise is operating under its own momentum. The backdrop of media manipulation by the rich and powerful is little more than a framework in which the action lives. The script is a solid execution of the Bond formula.

The film has a high powered collection of technicians behind the camera, led by by veteran director Roger Spottiswoode ("Shoot to Kill," "Air America"), that keeps all production aspects moving briskly.

One side note about the marketing of "Tomorrow Never Dies." I have never seen such a pre-release merchandising blitz on the scale achieved with "Tomorrow...." From Master Card to Heineken Beer to BMW (both car and motorcycle) to cell phones, the advertising airways and print have been inundated with the face of 007 for weeks and weeks leading up to and through the film's release. The public has been pummeled, ad nauseum, for weeks with all the money-making advertising. I fear that this is just the beginning of product sell-off for films. It's not just Happy Meals, anymore.

"Tomorrow Never Dies" is a crowd pleaser that does the series justice. Brosnan has established himself as the second best Bond (guess who is first) and should be able to keep busy for some time to come. The best reason to see "Tomorrow" is to catch Michelle Yeoh. She gets an A. "Tomorrow Never Dies" gets a solid B.


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