LIFE IS TO WHISTLE - 8 1/2 WOMEN
PASSION OF MIND - M:I-2 - DINOSAUR


LIFE IS TO WHISTLE

Orphaned Cuban children are infected by otherwise non-communicative Mariana and begin a joyous whistling. Three of them are followed into adulthood and their very different reactions to life in Havana in the magical political fantasy, "Life Is to Whistle."

Laura's review of 'Life Is To Whistle':
Written by Eduardo del Llano and Humberto Jiminez and directed by Fernando Perez, "Life Is to Whistle" is a gloriously life-affirming film which recalls the work of elder Cuban filmmaker Fernando Birri ("A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings").

Julia faints when she hears the word sex and is being treated by Dr. Fernando who demonstrates to her (in a couple of hilarious scenes) that lots of Cubans faint when they hear a word they don't like. She represents those in society who dare not speak up against injustice, instead hiding from life. Mariana is a ballet dancer dreaming of the lead in Giselle who makes a deal with God to give up her passion for men for her passion for the dance. She can have a life or a career, but one negates the other. Elpidio is a long-haired, drug taking fisherman who believes he's literally and figuratively disappointed his mother, Cuba, by how he's turned out. A visitting American marine biologist, Chrissy, who arrives in a hot air ballon, helps him regain his self worth (as does his own advice to an ugly man that 'nobody's perfect') while opening new vistas to him. He represents the conflict between love of homeland and freedom.

Each character is invited to meet someone on December 4th at 4:44 p.m. in Revolution Square - if they go, they'll have thrown off the shackels of their various imprisonments.

The film is erotic (Mariana imagines all the men in city park naked, snails are intercut with closeups of lovemaking) and romantic (Elpidio gives Chrissy the sea, while she gives him the sky, Mariana cups an old man's face in her hands in the rain), funny and sad and veers in and out of fantasy and reality with sure-handed direction (although he overdoes things with Mariana and her dancing partner's mooning over each other with puppy dog eyes). The film features frequent cuts to old sepia-tinged photography of old Cuban singing greats, one of whom silently comments on Elpidio's actions with his facial expressions. The film has the style of a musical without being one. Gorgeous cinematography by Raul Perez Ureta is alternately white hot and glowing, like the light on a sunny day at the beach or the soft shimmering lavender and peach of dusk.

"Life Is to Whistle" is an engaging political allegory which shows great love of its subject even as it criticizes it.

B+

Robin's review of 'Life Is To Whistle':
Present-day life in Havana, Cuba, is not the fodder for most screenwriters'' pens or directors' cameras. One exception was the internationally acclaimed musical documentary, "The Buena Vista Social Club." That film offered a glimpse of life, today, in Havana, showing the poverty imposed by the 40-year-old US trade embargo. It also shows the lust for life, especially music, and the love the Cuban people feel for their homeland. But, until now, the film offerings from Cuba about Cuba have been slim to none.

"Life is to Whistle" is directed by long-time Cuban filmmaker, Fernando Perez, but is his first work to break out into the international film scene. Perez co-wrote the screenplay (with Eduardo del Llano and Humberto Jimenez) and tells the story of three people, all orphans, and living in Havana. Elpidio (Luis Alberto Garcia) is a musician who is dedicated to the mother who abandoned him. (She is aptly named Cuba.) His love for the woman, an earth mother of the island state, is displayed on a tattoo he had painfully etched on his back. Julia (Coralia Veloz), a social worker for the elderly, is so inhibited, she faints whenever she hears the word "sex." Mariana (Claudia Rojas) is an aspiring young dancer who vows, to God, her celibacy if she gets the plum role of Giselle in her dance company's ballet performance.

The life of each of the three is watched over by the narrator, Bebe (Bebe Perez). Bebe is mostly seen talking to the viewer while underwater and acts as our guide through the romances of Elpidio, Julia and Mariana. Elpidio, a small time thief, gets involved with a foreign woman, Chrissy, who arrives in Cuba via hot air balloon and reps the freedom denied the average Cuban under Castro. Julia's therapist, Dr. Fernando (Rolando Brito) explains her fainting spells as a cultural phenomenon of guilt inherent in Cuba. Mariana, though dedicated to her vow, is tempted be her handsome leading man, Ismael (Joan Manuel Reyes). The parallel stories are covered with varying degrees of detail, with Mariana's tale getting the most screen time by the end.

The production of "Life is to Whistle" has its highs and lows. The low budget of the film is obvious in its simple look and feel. There are, despite the small budget, many aspects of appeal for this charming little movie. Cuba, itself, is a character in the film as we are exposed to the underlying matriarchal nature of Cuban society - this, in a country that is renowned for its machismo. There is also the conflicting harmony of the country's religious embrace, with a strong Roman Catholic influence that lives hand in hand with the mysticism of voodoo. Finally, and foremost, the love of music and dance by all of Cuba is made a palpable expression of life in the isolated country.

Production values, while slight by western standards, show an incredible deftness by the technicians behind the camera, from the coordination of helmer Perez to the lush photography by Raul Perez Ureta. There is a surreal quality to the film as different images are brought in to play. There is symbolism everywhere in "Life is to Whistle." A peacock makes a couple of appearances, reminding of a Fellini film. A hot air balloon represent freedom to the island bound Cubans. People faint in droves when they hear "a word they don't like." Even snails get a symbolic place as the only creature in the world that is never homesick as it always carries its home on its back - a direct contrast to the heart and mind of the Cuban, who is forever homesick when not on their island. By the end of the film, we are given a small, but real, look into what is Cuba.

"Life is to Whistle" may be a flawed little film, but the artistic treatment, intelligence of story and competence of filmmaking make whatever flaws seem minor. Helmer Perez pays a heartfelt homage to Cuba and opens up, to the west, a glimpse into a society and its people that has been missing too long from our world. Keep an eye open for this one as it is bound to disappear from movie radar very quickly. It is well worth the effort. I give it a B.


8 1/2 WOMEN

Philip Emmenthal (John Standing), a businessman living in Geneva, has just lost his beloved wife, Amelia. His son, Storey (Matthew Delamere), lives in Kyoto, Japan, and manages a string of panchinko (gambling) parlors for his dad. When he learns of the death of his mother, Storey rushes to his grieving father's side and attempts to draw the older man out of his lonely funk. The two men, for the first time in their life, genuine and uninhibited, bond. Storey introduces dad to the films of Federico Fellini, especially the masterpiece "8 1/2" spawning the idea to create their own brothel. Together, they draw together the title ladies from the gambling parlors and around Europe, beginning a journey that will encompass love, lust and earthquakes in director Peter Greenaway's latest flick, "8 1/2 Women."

Robin's review of '8 1/2 Women':
Director Greenaway has always been the kind of filmmaker to travel to the unique beat of his own drum. He has created films that span the sublime, like "Prospero's Books" and "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover," to the ridiculous ("Drowning By Number"), over the years. He has never made it as a mainstream filmmaker, but has certainly cut out a distinctive swath for himself in the industry. With "8 1/2 Women," he continues his personal journey and pulls you into a world that is sexually charged, amusing, confusing and, sometimes, darkly fun.

Philip and Stoney are one of the oddest odd couple to grace the big screen since, well, "The Odd Couple." The mutual loss experienced by these two characters leads Storey to use Fellini films, most notably, of course, "8 1/2," to help his dad rekindle interest in the fairer sex. After 35 years of faithful marriage to the same woman, Phillip needs a change. An incident in one of their panchinko parlors proves to be a catalyst when a young Japanese women, Simato (Anna Shizuka Inoh), gets in trouble with her family after spending their life's fortune in the parlors. Storey has the brainstorm to clear the debt if the girl has sex with him. Her family readily agrees to the bargain to be rid of the girl.

Simato happily accedes to let the Emmenthals take care of her and she moves into Philip's manse in Switzerland. The uninhibited young woman inspires Philip and Storey to seek out other needy women to join her in their impromptu bordello. Mio (Kirina Mano) is a troubled young woman who collects shoes and dreams of being a female impersonator in a Noh play. Griselda (Toni Collette) is a retired nun with a penchant for high finance and sex. Chlotilde (Barbara Sarafian) is a maid with a propensity for mayhem. Beryl (Amanda Plummer) is a handicapped horse thief. Giaconda (Natacha Amal) is a baby-making machine who loves to be pregnant. Palmira (Polly Walker) is a kind hearted, manipulative, high priced whore and opera buff. Giulietta (Manna Fujiwara) is the Half Woman of the title. Interpreter/accountant Kito (Vivian Wu) rounds out the feminine crew, but lives outside the circle of the other women. Life in this distinctive home takes on a weird dynamic as the lives of its inhabitants intertwine and the inevitable conflicts grow.

A sexual paradise initially emerges as the two men satisfy their fantasies with the willing cadre of beautiful women. But the women's individual need have to be satisfied, too, though in ways Philip and Storey sometimes can't fathom. The first victim is Mio, who cannot live with her own ambiguity. After Mio's death, one by one, the rest fall by the wayside or take matters into their own hands. Simato is exceptionally forceful in her demands as she holds Philip and Storey at gunpoint until they agree to sign over a panchinko parlor to her. And, she forces them to do so while stark naked. (The father and son don't seem to mind the humiliation, though.)

Greenaway is renowned for the visual acumen of his films. "Prospero's Books" is one of the most, if not the most, viscerally exciting and complex films ever made. With "8 1/2 Women," the visuals are striking, garish and often funny. In one scene, following his wife's death, Philip tries to attend the burial dressed completely in white, as Amelia would want. Propriety comes first and he is not allowed into the cemetery unless dressed in black. To show the absurdity of the restriction he agrees to change clothes, including his underwear, with those who are stopping him. It's all done in one, big ensemble shot and is laughingly funny while still showing the sad absurdity of "the rules" that dictate our behavior.

There is a lot more going on in "8 1/2 Women," but it's a true Peter Greenaway film, so I'm not even going to try to go into any more detail or description. If you've seen any of his films, you either love him or hate him. If you aren't familiar with him, "8 1/2 Women" is as good a place to start as any, since this is about as accessible as the helmer's quirky work gets. His movies require an investment of time and mind from the viewer, so they are definitely not for fans that want only action, action, action. Sure there is a lot of sex, nudity and hedonistic behavior but it is mixed with an offbeat yarn that challenges the mind.

Production elements are on par with the originality of Greenaway's story and its execution. Set design by Wilbert Van Dorp and Emi Wada (who also provides imaginative costuming) is bright and garish, providing a fitting look to the bizarre tale. Lensing is shared by Reiner Van Brummelen and Sacha Vierney and complements the stylistic look that is a trademark of the director's works. Peter Greenaway films are a hard sell for the mainstream viewer, but film buffs can expect something new, interesting and thought provoking. I give it a B+.

Laura's review of '8 1/2 Women':
Peter Greenaway ("The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover") is up to his old tricks with this outing inspired by Fellini's "8 1/2" crossed with several Shakespearean tales and a strong dose of the Marquis de Sade (sure to bring epitaths of misogynist raining down upon his head). Philip Emmenthal (John Standing, "Mrs. Dalloway") and his son Storey (Matthew Delamere, "Under the Skin") foreclose on the owner of a Kyoto gambling parlor owner, causing him loss of face. The elder Emmenthal returns to Geneva, then calls Storey with the shocking news that this mother, Amelia, has passed away. Storey returns home and begins a strange father and son bonding, which includes having sex with dad (offscreen) to 'comfort' him and multiple viewings of "8 1/2," after which they conclude all film directors are pimps who make films to indulge their sexual fantasies.

To get Philip out of his deep depression, Storey suggests a return to Kyoto. Storey covers for a female thief, Simato (Shizuka Ihoh) in one of their acquired gambling establishments and learns from their accountant Kito (Vivian Wu, "The Pillow Book") that he must have sex with her as payment for her crime. Simato makes the twosome a threesome and the the elder Emmenthal becomes sexually experimental after years spent in a lustless marriage (he confesses to Storey that he thinks Amelia was asleep when Storey was conceived). The Emmenthals return to their Geneva estate and begin to populate it with the concubines of the title, Mio (Kirina Mano), a true Geisha with a large collection of shoes, Griselda (Toni Collette, "The Sixth Sense"), a retired nun with a talent for finance (and shades of Ken Russell's "The Devils"), Beryl (Amanda Plummer, "Pulp Fiction") a passionate horsewoman recovering from a fall in an S&M body cast reminiscent of Holly Hunter in Cronenberg's "Crash," Giaconda (Natacha Amal), a woman who likes being pregnant, Clothilde (Barbara Sarafian) Amelia's former ladies maid who wishes to wear her hats, Giuletta (Manna Fujiwara), the amputee of the title and Palmira (Polly Walker, "Patriot Games") the mysterious woman who inspires love in both men but who will only have sex with Philip. Too many women in one household eventually causes rebellion, led by Simato and the indulgent debauchery crumbles.

This bizarre film is at turns hilarious (Greenaway has written some truly funny dialogue), uncomfortable, perplexing (the characters names change mid-film and back again) and pointless, but never dull. What is Greenaway trying to say about his two protagonists, one of which is treated more kindly than the other? It's hard to say, even as we're given the full Greenaway treatment with numbers (on the womens' doors), text over visuals, chapter headings, books and legal documents, not to mention amputees. Maybe Greenaway's simply indulging his fantasies as his characters accuse Fellini of, leaving his audience scratching their heads while concluding that he's a kinky boy indeed.

C


PASSION OF MIND

Hired gun Alain Berliner ("Ma Vie en Rose") directs producer/screenwriter Ron Bass' ("Rain Man") story of a woman (Demi Moore) who lives two lives. On alternate days she wakes up as Marie, a widowed mother of 2 girls in rural France or Marty, a single, successful literary agent in NYC. As Marie/Marty find two very different lovers (William Fichtner in NYC, Stellan Skarsgard in France), she begins to have a mental breakdown and must discover which life is the real one and which the dream before completely losing her sanity in "Passion of Mind."

Laura's review of 'Passion Of Mind':
"Passion of Mind" plays a lot more intriguingly than it sounds and is nothing like the "Sliding Doors" genre. The filmmakers convincingly portray a woman who experiences two realities without knowing which is a dream. She even has a psychiatrist in each world (Peter Riegert is Dr. Peters in NY, Joss Acklund a Viennese shrink in France) who try to convince her that the other is but a dream. She shares her NYC experiences with Jessica (Sinead Cusack, "Stealing Beauty") in France and her French experiences with new love interest Aaron (Fichtner) in NY (and eventually William in France). She copes because both lives fill different needs, until love makes her emotional life messy.

Aaron is an accountant who approaches Marty subtly and a bit mysteriously, asking her to meet him in Central Park at 9 a.m. on a Sunday for 30 minutes of 'hanging out and refreshments.' He then proceeds to tell her he's interested in her, but not to date her, because he knows her type and he's not it. William is a writer who Marie's panned in a review who aggressively and romantically sweeps her off her feet, just the man Aaron described. While Marty grows emotionally close to Aaron, beginning to trust him, Marie feels romantic love for William, who's afraid she can't trust him. Her bedding of one makes her confide in the other and the subsequent sex with her confident evokes a confession to her intial lover. Now each demands exclusive commitment, for different reasons.

Ron Bass is a commercial Hollywood screenwriter and this hybrid of his script melded with art film production produces mixed results, although I shudder to think of what may have transpired if the production went the commercial route. While Bass provides a nice twist in his resolution, he overplays his hand with one last (and the only) surrealistic, psychological dream which calls attention to the holes in logic (although it does attain some true creepiness). Clearly, he was attempting to tie up two ends here, but he should have dropped this dream, used some sleight of hand to draw audience attention away from the twist's problems, and resolved things in another fashion. Dialogue occasionally lapses into rhetoric.

Demi Moore is making something of a comeback here and she's surprisingly good, better than any role she's had since her voice role in Disney's "Hunchback of Notre Dame." As her confusion mounts, she looks believably distraught, a tad unhinged. Fichtner is charming as her unassuming but clearly devoted best friend. Skarsgard is smooth as the romantic writer, although the extreme sensitivity the script demands of his character can be taken as either oily manipulation or just plain unbelievable, given his overall agressiveness.

Art direction is way overblown, with Marie's French home looking like a Williams Sonoma catalog spread while Marty's NYC loft overlooks all of Manhatten and features a bathtub which should be in a museum (perhaps this was intentional to temper each as a dream world, but it still doesn't work). Nice visual clues, however, are provided by the script and set decorator, particularly the many hats which represent M's two men. (Most cleverly, Marty, upon meeting Aaron for the first time, is temporarily distracted by his hat rack, which is covered in Magritte-style bowlers in six different colors.) Cinematography by Eduardo Serra ("What Dreams May Come") is lovely, although his beautifully shot landscape vistas of both romantic French countryside and erotic Manhatten skyscrapers are overused as segues between Marie/Marty.

On paper, "Passion of Mind" sounded like it could have be awful. It may have some serious flaws, but its qualities are intriguing nonetheless.

B-

Robin's review of 'Passion Of Mind':
What if you lived two lives at the same time? Every day, you wake up to a completely different life, but you don't know which is real or a dream. This is what life is like for Martha Marie Talbridge (Demi Moore). One day, as Marie, she is living a tranquil existence as a widowed literary critic in the south of France with her two young daughters. The next, as Marty, she is a high powered literary agent living the single life in New York City. Marty/Marie doesn't know which life is her real one and the pressure builds when she finds love in both worlds in "Passion of Mind."

In her dual worlds, Marty/Marie seeks help in understanding what is happening to her, why she has another life that seems as real as reality. In the French world, Marie relies on her closest friend, Jessica (Sinead Cusack), for advice, who seeks the help of a famous Viennese psychiatrist, Dr. Langer (Joss Ackland). Also, with a little help from her youngest, Marie meets William Leeds, an expatriated writer whose latest tome was critically reviewed by Marie. After the couple falls in love, Marie sheds her fears and tells him about her double life, causing William much consternation when he learns of his romantic competition in the other world.

In the NYC life, Marty tells her shrink, Dr. Peters (Peter Riegert in an under-utilized role), of her other "life" as she slowly falls for the nice-guy charms of accountant Aaron Reilly (William Fichtner). As the young woman sheds her inner fears of commitment, mainly due to what she believes is her madness, she opens up to Aaron and tells him about Marie, her daughters and their life in France. Aaron accepts Marty's soul bearing, but with concern. He is willing to help her in any way he can, even if he doesn't understand the why of her dilemma. He even accepts that she has a lover in her other life, an understanding not exhibited by William toward Marie.

At the start of the film, the lives of Mary and Marty are delineated by the course of a day. When we meet Marie, we spend the day with her and her kids - a nice, normal time for the widowed Marie and the girls. She falls asleep in France, but wakes, the next morning, in her posh flat in New York. Marie is now Marty, single and dynamic, but is still the same person. The day with Marty goes by, then back to Marie, then to Marty, and so on as the lines between her two lives begin to blur. Events in one life start to impact the other as Marty and Marie open up about their dream to those close to her. In both cases, though, she doesn't really know which life is the real one, causing Marty/Marie to seriously question her sanity in both lives.

I've been trying to think of another film that even remotely parallels the original story told in "Passion of Mind." The closest ones are Krzysztof Kieslowski's "The Double Life of Veronique" and the Gwyneth Paltrow starrer "Sliding Doors," but even these films do not venture into the territory that screenwriter Ron Bass (with David Field) and helmer Alain Berliner explore. "Passion" is a unique story that, at first, seems contrived, but draws you in as it unfolds. As you get into the complexity of the tale, you begin to wonder, like Marty/Marie, which life is real and which the dream. I found myself weighing the evidence presented until I could decides which life is real or fantasy. That the filmmakers had me guessing shows intelligence and originality to the writing and direction.

Surprisingly, Demi Moore actually acts in "Passion of Mind." The superstar foregoes her normal big bucks pay check in favor of the small budget film and gives character intensity to her dual role as Marty/Marie. She does a fair job in making Marty and Marie individual characters. Moore is especially convincing as the motherly Marie, playing her well with the young kids. I never thought of Moore as much of an actor - Demi is a star, not a thespian - but she does give a solid perf in a tough role.

Supporting cast is small, but effective. Best is William Fichtner as Aaron. Usually, Fichtner plays less savory types, so I was surprised at the kind sensitivity he exhibits in "Passion." Aaron is a genuinely nice guy who wants to love Marty and just be loved in return. As Marty starts to succumb to her perceived madness, Aaron is there for her. I like Fichtner best in the film. The versatile Stellan Skarsgard gives an expected solid performance as the literary William. Sinead Cusack, as Jessica, is both a good friend to Marie and, in the end, an incredibly strong symbol to the story.

Helmer Alain Berliner made a critical splash with his award winning debut film, "Ma Vie En Rose," about a little boy who wants to be a girl. That film was a colorful, imaginative little concept piece with striking visuals and a sweet story - a nice first feature that should be considered for video rental, if you're interested. His sophomore effort, "Passion of Mind," is a good exercise for the newcomer to these shores. He shows deftness in his direction and works well with his actors. Berliner is a talent to watch.

"Passion of Mind" is a psychological drama that tells an original tale in an intelligent way. It's not great filmmaking, but has enough sincere quality to make me recommend it. The appeal is definitely to a more feminine persuasion, but the patient guy on a date will have some intellectual challenge, at least. I give it a B-.


M:I-2

Superstar Tom Cruise returns to the screen, once again, as special agent Ethan Hunt, the premier member of the secret Impossible Mission Force, led by the enigmatic Swanbeck (Anthony Hopkins in an uncredited cameo performance). Ethan's mission, should he take it, is to lead his IMF team to capture and destroy a deadly new virus, called Chimera, before the evil, ruthless Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott) can release the killer virus on the unsuspecting world. Joining Ethan are his trusty partner, computer expert Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), ace pilot and driver Billy Baird (John Polson), and one unsuspecting civilian, master thief Nyah Hall (Thandie Newton). This tough little team must go toe-to-toe with Ambrose and his henchmen before the bad guys can spread death and destruction in Mission: Impossible 2.

Robin's review of 'M:I-2':
"My name is Cruise. Tom Cruise" would have been a more appropriate way to open this latest adrenaline buster. For this entry into the Impossible Mission franchise, director John Woo and screenwriter Robert Towne (adapting a story by Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga) take the sturdy frameworks of the James Bond and "Die Hard" flicks and mold them into a routine, but action packed thriller. Aside from the occasional melody of Lalo Shifrin's memorable MI theme and the patented opening as Hunt receives his mission info, there is little in "M:I-2" to remind of the original series.

One of the problems I had with the first M:I flick, actually the problem, was the filmmakers' decision to turn Jim Phelps into a bad guy. This character, the leader of the IMF in the original TV show, was a cultural icon to millions of impressionable kids in the 60's. Jim Phelps was the ultimate good guy, a guy a kid could idolize. I did, way back when. Then, with "Mission: Impossible," the movie, that all changed. That film turned my icon of the good Jim Phelps into a sorry, greedy being. It didn't work and tainted the film for me and others. Fortunately, two things happen with "M:I-2" to counter the bad taste the first one left me: John Woo and a conventional thriller tale that pulls out all action stops.

Yes, there are many nods to the first film, but, for the most part, the sequel travels its own path. Utilizing a story line that is suspiciously like the first "Die Hard" movie, one man, brave and true, fights against enormous odds and innumerable, heavily armed baddies "M:I-2" is by the numbers. Hack writer Towne pulls out all the stops as one action scene after another flows by with a style commensurate of what you'd expect from the likes of John Woo. Woo is a true master of martial arts and other action and uses it copiously here. From the intro of Ethan as he climbs the vertical face of a tall mountain to get the mission message to a high speed motorcycle duel near the end of the film, the action junkie will be pleased with the high-tech high quality action bits that are packed together.

Tom Cruise comes across as a stoic Bruce Willis-type action figure with his earnest demeanor, fearless behavior and unabashed heroism. Ethan Hunt is an adrenaline junkie and first class IMF agent a combination that makes him the perfect choice to take on the mantle of hero who saves the world. There is a humorlessness about Ethan that is oddly suitable for the character. The businesslike manner in which he handles every crisis including using his new amour, Nyah, to seduce Sean Ambrose and defeat his nefarious plans shows a coldness that epitomizes Ethan's ruthlessness in getting the job done. Cruise's penchant for daredevil stunts may have caused John Woo and the insurance carriers a lot of consternation, but it sure helps the film when you see the star, not the stuntmen, doing the tough stuff.

Dougray Scott is a good match for Ethan as Ambrose. He is the other side of the same coin, exhibiting the same ruthless manner, in Sean's case, for evil purposes. There have been better bad guys in action flicks, but Scott comes across with a suitable air of cruelty that would prompt him to release a plague upon the world. Thandie Newton is a cut above the usual Bond girl. As Nyah, she combines both vulnerability and strength to the character, as she falls for Hunt and selflessly puts her life on the line several times for the good of the IMF and, at the film climax, for the world. Supporting cast is a little on the light side, but the ever lovable Ving Rhames and newest IMF member Billy Baird (John Polson) do yeoman's work with their meager roles. Richard Roxburgh fills the bill as Sean's right hand henchman, Hugh Stamp.

As you'd expect in a modern day, big budget actioner, suspension of disbelief is a must. False, but real looking, faces are used frequently to allow the characters to pose as another, only to be ripped off to reveal the wearer's true identity. This gets tedious after a while. Stunt work is of the highest caliber, as befits Woo and Cruise. Production values are very high and very expensive looking.

I hoped against hope that the sequel would be better than the original. It is. The makers don't go out of their way to make this original in any way, but the quality comes through. With the summer season now upon us, "Mission: Impossible 2" is going to be the big draw for the next couple of weeks and is going to make a barrel full of money. I give it a B.

Laura's review of 'M:I-2':
Tom Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt (and Ving Rhames returns as Luther), but almost everything else has changed in M:I-2 (even the title).

This time Ethan's out to stop former colleague Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott, "Ever After") from making a fortune by unleashing the deadly Chimera virus. Ethan's instructed to seek out thief Nyah Nordoff-Hall (Thandie Newton, "Besieged") for his mission and promptly falls in lust. He's not happy when he's told she's to be used as bait because she was Ambrose's former lover, yet allows her to walk into the ultimate jeopardy.

M:I-2 has gotten a lot of press due to producer/star Tom Cruise's tinkering with his baby, even after procuring the great Hong Kong action director John Woo ("Face/Off"). Unfortunately, while this effort is superior to the confused and blasphemous original outing (helmed by Brian de Palma), too many styles have been jumbled together resulting in a psychotic film.

First off, let's consider Woo's influence. The film's opening credits displays Woo's propensity to show small children in danger with a pan of small children singing 'ring around the rosie,' a nursery rhyme based on the bubonic plague that foreshadows what's to come. There's plenty of Woo's violent/balletic style, so much so that combined with the operatic music he chooses, the action becomes overwrought, even while being cut to a PG-13 rating. Cruise looks aces scaling mountains, kick boxing and motorcycling jousting in Woo's hands, admittedly, yet by the end of this film, frankly I was tired of Woo approaching every character with a 180 degree shot. Even worse, "M:I-2" features more faces off than "Face/Off," with characters routinely ripping off their face to reveal another character. A climatic battle within the labs of Biocyte is editted so that while Ethan and Nyah converse behind an obstruction (they're the only two 'good guys'), we cut to the bad guys continuing to shoot and fly through debris.

On to Tom, whose great appeal includes his seeming lack of vanity. In "M:I-2," he comes across as vain for the first time, fashioning himself as James Bond with his very own franchise. (Amusingly, at the preview screening I attended, when Cruise is cut across the cheek, not one, but several women all proclaimed 'Not his face!' at the same time.) Ethan Hunt is a good posturer and unbeatable, with very occasional flashes of a wry sense of humor, but that's it. Cruise does come across as more self-effacing with a great editting visual pun - after Nyah enters the villain's clutches, we're cut to a long shot of Ethan in Australia with only a bunch of sheep.

Scott is a fairly decent villain, particularly when he's torturing his henchman (Richard Roxburgh, "Children of the Revolution"). Newton looks great but is given nothing to work with. An uncreditted Anthony Hopkins sparkles while delivering Hunt's orders. Rade Serbedzija ("Eyes Wide Shut") does his 'someone from Eastern Europe' standard and poor Brendan Gleeson ("The General") is woefully wasted as the head of Biocyte. Besides the stoic Luther, Hunt acquires an Aussie crew member in John Polson ("Sirens"), who injects some silly humor.

The script, creditted to Robert Towne ("Chinatown") is pretty paint by the numbers stuff, with some button-pushing lines for feminists such as 'You know women. They're like monkeys. They don't let go of one branch until they have a firm grip on the next.' and 'What? Go to bed with a man and lie to him? She's got all the training she needs.' The screenplay's biggest drawback is in failing to create a credible romance between its two leads before having us believe they'd risk their lives for each other.

"M:I-2" is more entertaining than the more recent Bond films and its own predecessor and certainly doesn't lag, but it's all too apparent that even two good cooks may be too many.

C+


DINOSAUR

Walt Disney Pictures, always the leader in quality animation features, has spent over $160 million in developing the Computer Graphic Imaging (CGI) technology for the production of "Dinosaurs." Combining computer-generated creatures with real-life landscape and terrain in a dazzling display of fantastical visuals, this years-in-the-making film tells the story of Aladar, a 5-ton Iguanodon adopted by a family of Lemurs in that prehistoric time when the giant dinosaurs were disappearing and mammals were making their first appearance on earth. It's an idyllic time for the young dino, who is perfectly content with his simian family, until disaster strikes. The beginning of the end looms as planet Earth is bombarded by a massive and destructive meteor shower - a collision that will change the world and the lives of all its creatures.

Robin's review of 'Dinosaur':
"Dinosaurs" is, first and foremost, a technological breakthrough as its makers, led by co-helmers Ralph Zondag and Eric Leighton, combine reality and fantasy to bring us to a world we have never seen before. Using thousands of feet of lush, international landscape footage and an estimated 3.2 million hours of computer processing time, the makers bind reality with the fantastic seamlessly. The animation giant had two choices in how they could present this new and imaginative look into the land of the massive, prehistoric creatures. They might have taken a reality-driven tack, a la the Discovery Channel's recent presentation of pre-history. Instead, the decision was made to anthropomorphize the dinosaur world and to play a little trick with the timing of evolutionary events. But, heck, it's Disney, so lots can be forgiven for the sake of quality kids' films.

In the tradition of "The Lion King," the story revolves around a hero, the 30-foot long Iguanodon, Aladar (voiced by D.B. Sweeney), who has grown up quite well adjusted with his adopted family of diminutive Lemurs, led by elder Yar (Ossie Davis). Aladar is a real dinosaurtarian, always caring and helping those around him. When disaster strikes from the sky, all the remaining creatures are forced to seek "The Nesting Ground," that legendary land of salvation that will allow the many species to carry on. Aladar, and his remaining family, join a herd of Iguanodons (and other dinos) led by the bullying Kron (Samuel E. Wright). Kron is concerned with his place as leader of the herd, while Aladar is committed to helping the weak and old to keep up with the herd and not become fodder for scavengers. Aladar is a challenge to the authority Kron so jealously controls. This conflict, the quest for salvation, overcoming adversity and the need to look out for each other are the themes put forth in "Dinosaur."

As expected in a Disney family animation, there are lots of amusing characters, superbly combining realistic looking creatures that have expressive faces and human-like personalities. Aladar is a good kid destined to be a good adult and compassionate leader. Zini, voiced by Max Casella, is the comic relief as an over-sexed, scruffy little Lemur befriended and protected by his large friend. Julianna Margulies gives character to the voice of Neera, a pretty (well, to another Iguanodon) 'saur who is attracted to the aw-shucks charm, integrity and bravery of Aladar. Neeva is also a strong feminist character as she shows her own resolve and strength in doing what's right for all of the herd, not just the strong. Kron is a good meanie, but the real bad guys here are the vicious Carnotaurs, T-Rex like creatures that hunt and feed on the herd. Be warned that there is some graphic violence that may be too strong for younger children.

The original screenplay by Walon Green, adapted by John Harrington and Robert Nelson Jacobs is a traditional tale - they say there are only three true stories and this is one of them. Like "The Lion King" and other flicks of this ilk, this is an oft-told tale about a hero overcoming enormous obstacles for the sake of the tribe/herd/family and bring them to the shelter of Utopia. The writers take a liberal dose of artistic license by having the appearance of the Lemurs in the midst of the final days of the dinosaurs. In fact, the only mammal that existed at the time of the dinos was a small shrew-like creature - not something that lends itself to being a leading Disney character. This liberality can be forgiven when coupled with the astounding visual technology that creates a seamless image of a lost world.

Once again, Disney has captured the hearts and minds of the family audience. There is such intelligence in the visual world created here, with astonishing attention to detail and creature movement, that parents (and non-parents) will enjoy the 90+ minutes they invest. (There was one guy, though, at the Saturday matinee I attended, using his cell phone during the movie - but what does he know about quality entertainment.) The kids will have a ball with the non-stop action and nice array of characters. Embedded "messages" abound, with things like respect for the old and for each other, compassion, love, understanding, fighting for your rights and more, generating positive vibes that will impact the youngsters and, maybe even, those less tolerant oldsters, too.

"Dinosaur" is not the total tour-de-force accomplished by the "Toy Story" films. Those animated masterpieces had state of the art technology, ace writing and the hand of John Lassiter conducting the mix, making them landmark films and some of the best CGI to its time. "Dinosaur" doesn't get the high marks for story or characters - they are good, not great - but it is the next generation of high technology that further blurs the lines between reality and fantasy. I give it a B+.


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