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3 items from 1997

Film review: 'Titanic'

3 November 1997 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Paramount should replace that white mountain in its logo with an iceberg for the next several months. The studio will navigate spectacularly with its latest launch, "Titanic", the most expensive movie ever created about what was once the largest moving object ever built.

Not only will James Cameron's formidable cinematic vessel sail sensationally on domestic waters, but 20th Century Fox, which has international rights, will find that "Titanic" will propel blockbuster results around the world.

A daunting blend of state-of-the-art special effects melded around a sterling central story, "Titanic" plumbs personal and philosophical story depths not usually found in "event-scale" movies that, beneath their girth and pyrotechnics, often have nothing at their core.

"Titanic", however, is no soulless junket into techno-glop wizardry but rather a complex and radiant tale that essays both mankind's destructive arrogance and its noble endurance.

Ultimately, we all know the horrible outcome of the Titanic sinking. We can recite the numbers lost and the awesome dimensions of the ship, and we can construct some sort of comparative scope for the catastrophe. But all these are mere quantifications and chit-chat regurgitation.

James Cameron, who wrote and directed the film, has put a face on that horrific happening; he has taken us beyond the forensics of the sinking and put us inside the skin and psyches of those who perished and those who survived. In both, we see facets of ourselves: in philosophical microcosm, Cameron shows that in the end -- both the good and the bad endings -- we're all in the same boat.

On its highest level, "Titanic" is no meager disaster movie, greased by generic formula and goosed by big-bucks technology, but it is rather a probing scope of what great feats mankind can accomplish and, in turn, what terrible results these feats can spawn. Fortunately, Cameron lets the film's philosophical seams and girdings show. "Titanic" -- and no one will ever forget -- is one big, bruising movie that will appeal on different levels to different audiences.

Told in flashback as a single-minded fortune hunter (Bill Paxton) combs the Titanic's wreckage with his state-of-the-art search ship in hopes of finding undiscovered treasure, the story is recalled by a 103-year-old woman (Gloria Stuart) who was a passenger on the ship's ill-fated maiden voyage. Drifting back to that time in April 1912, we see the trip through Rose's (Kate Winslet) 17-year-old eyes.

High-spirited and betrothed to a monied mill heir (Billy Zane), Rose is, nevertheless, despondent. Like a Henry James heroine, she finds she is not suited for life in the gilded cage that society is shaping for her as the baubled wife of a leisured industrialist. She foresees her life as being measured out by serving spoons, and she wants no part of such a stuffy existence. Her ennui turns to deep depression, and she nearly ends it by diving into icy waters, where she is saved only by the wise grace of a third-class passenger, Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), whose joy for life and eagerness for living it to the fullest soon revitalize the young Rose.

In general, roughly the first half of this three hours-plus movie is akin to having an engraved invitation to attend the first-class functions of that glittery voyage. Navigator Cameron introduces us to a wide lot of characters, from the prigs of the paneled staterooms to the dregs of the raging furnace room. Since most of them are either rich or British, they're an entertaining array of swellheads and loons. All of this is pinioned around Rose's personal blossoming as Jack reawakens the artistic and personal juices in her, those nearly suffocated by the rigid and judgmental confines of Edwardian society.

All the while, Cameron plants calamitous forebodings -- the inadequacies of the life rafts, equipment shortages and the vanity of the ship's creators and captain. Narratively, "Titanic" is a masterwork of big-canvas storytelling, broad enough to entrance and entertain yet precise and delicate enough to educate and illuminate. Undeniably, one could nitpick -- critic-types may snicker at some '60s-era lines and easy-pop '90s-vantage hindsights -- but that's like dismissing a Mercedes on the grounds that its glove compartment interior is drab.

Unlike in most monstrosities of this film's size and girth, the characters are not assembled from a standard stock pot. Within the dimensions of such an undertaking, Cameron, along with his well-chosen cast, has created memorable, idiosyncratic and believable characters. Our sympathies are warmed by the two leads: Winslet is effervescently rambunctious as the trapped Rose, while DiCaprio's willowy steadfastness is wonderfully heroic. On the stuffy side of the deck, Zane is aptly snide as Rose's cowardly fiance, while Frances Fisher is perfect as a social snob, both shrill and frightened. Kathy Bates is a hoot as the big-hatted, big-mouthed Molly Brown -- she is, indeed, indestructible. On the seamier side, David Warner is positively chilling as a ruthless valet. As the deep-sea treasure hunter, Paxton bring a Cameron-type obsessiveness to his quest.

The film's most captivating performance, however, belongs to Stuart, whose luminous portrayal of the 103-year-old Rose is an inspirational joy. Pencil Stuart in for a likely best supporting actress nomination this winter.

Also on the Oscar front, clear the deck for multiple technical nominations. Front and center is, of course, Cameron. A decided cut above other superstar directors in that he can also write, Cameron deserves a director's nomination for his masterful creation -- it's both a logistical and aesthetic marvel. The film's fluid, masterfully punctuated editing, including some elegantly economical match cuts, is outstanding: editors Conrad Buff and Richard A. Harris deserve nominations, as does cinematographer Russell Carpenter for his brilliantly lit scopings; his range of blues seems to hit every human emotion.

"Titanic"'s visual and special effects transcend state-of-the-art workmanship, invoking feelings within us not usually called up by razzle-dazzlery. Highest honors to visual effects supervisor Rob Legato and special effects coordinator Thomas L. Fisher for the powerful, knockdown imagery. It's often awesome, most prominently in showing the ship's unfathomable rupture. The splitting of the iron monster is a heart stopper, in no small measure compounded by the sound team's creaking thunders. Through it all, James Horner's resonant and lilting musical score, at times uplifted by a mournful Irish reed, is a deep treasure by itself.


Paramount Pictures

Paramount and 20th Century Fox Present

A Lightstorm Entertainment

A James Cameron Film

Producers: James Cameron, Jon Landau

Screenwriter-director: James Cameron

Executive producer: Rae Sanchini

Director of photography: Russell Carpenter

Production designer: Peter Lamont

Editors: Conrad Buff, Richard A. Harris

Costume designer: Deborah Scott

Music: James Horner

Visual effects supervisor: Rob Legato

Special effects coordinator: Thomas L. Fisher

Stunt coordinator: Simon Crane

Marine coordinator: Lance Julian

Key makeup artist: Tina Earnshaw



Jack Dawson: Leonardo DiCaprio

Rose De Witt Bukater: Kate Winslet

Cal Hockley: Billy Zane

Molly Brown: Kathy Bates

Ruth De Witt Bukater: Frances Fisher

Brock Lovett: Bill Paxton

Rose Calvert: Gloria Stuart

Captain E.J. Smith: Bernard Hill

Spicer Lovejoy: David Warner

Thomas Andrews: Victor Garber

Bruce Ismay: Jonathan Hyde

Lizzy Calvert: Suzy Amis

Fabrizio De Rossi: Danny Nucci

Running time -- 193 minutes

MPAA rating: PG-13


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Film review: 'Trojan Eddie'

28 August 1997 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

It's a daunting challenge for an actor to play a character who is considered to be a consummate salesman, the kind of guy who can sell you the shirt on your back and make you smile while he's doing it.

Stephen Rea, playing the title role of a small-time huckster, has that assignment in the new film by Irish director Gillies Mackinnon ("The Playboys", "Small Faces"), and he lives up to it beautifully. As his employer and ultimate nemesis, Richard Harris uses his distinctive voice and authority to equally good effect. Would that the film itself were so compelling.

Trojan Eddie (Rea) makes his living working for John Power (Harris), the leader of local travelers -- con men -- (their American cousins were recently depicted in the Bill Paxton starrer "Traveller"), and in his spare time he sells assorted goods, whatever he can get his hands on, from the back of his van. A lifelong loser, Eddie has been in jail for a botched robbery attempt, and his marriage is on the rocks -- although his ex-wife does show up periodically to crash on his couch. Struggling to raise his two young daughters alone, he takes his relationship with the loving Betty (Brid Brennan) for granted.

Eddie's real troubles begin when Power becomes obsessed with Kathleen (Aislin McGuckin), a much younger traveler, and asks her to marry him. She accepts, even though she is also secretly seeing Power's young nephew, Dermot (Stuart Townsend). Immediately after the wedding, the duplicitous pair skip out with the large cash dowry, and Power dispatches his thugs to track them down. Eddie becomes caught in the middle, torn between his fear of Power and his desire to partake in some of that dowry money.

There are inevitably violent and tragic results, but Eddie manages to have one last laugh at his former employer.

The very Irish-flavored screenplay by Billy Roche contains two memorable lead characters, but it is also diffuse and meandering, and the scenes never quite carry either the comic or dramatic intensity they should. The film seems to shift uncomfortably between violent melodrama and gentle humor, and the exceedingly mild results don't bode well for U.S. boxoffice, despite the presence of the two stars. Rea is at his charming, hangdog best here, though, and Harris, who has been on a cinematic roll in recent years, is equally fine.


Castle Hill Prods.

Director Gillies Mackinnon

Producer Emma Burge

Co-producer Seamus Byrne

Screenplay Billy Roche

Executive producers Rod Stoneman,

Alan J. Wands, Kevin Menton, Nigel Warren Green

Director of photography John deBorman

Editor Scott Thomas

Music John Keane



Trojan Eddie Stephen Rea

John Power Richard Harris

Dermot Stuart Townsend

Kathleen Aislin McGuckin

Ginger Brendan Gleeson

Betty Brid Brennan

Raymie Sean McGinley

Running time -- 105 minutes

No MPAA rating


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Film reviews: 'Traveller'

18 April 1997 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

The world of nomadic con men has always proved irresistible to moviemakers, and "Traveller" is but the latest example of this cinematic fascination.

A tale of Irish gypsies who roam the Deep South perpetrating frauds large and small, Jack Green's directorial debut is an entertaining if not particularly weighty comedy-thriller that benefits from the presence of the ingratiating Bill Paxton in the central role.

Like the character he plays, the actor -- who also co-produced -- works his way into your good graces and compels you to forgo any logical objections.

Paxton is Bokky, a typical member of the Travellers, as gypsies are called in England. His specialty is a scam involving fake home repairs. One day, while Bokky is hanging out with the group's leader Boss Jack (Luke Askew), a young man approaches them. Pat Mark Wahlberg) is the son of a recently deceased former Traveller who was cast out of the group for marrying an outsider. He has come to bury his father and wants to learn the ways of the tribe. Boss Jack is resistant, but Bokky agrees to take him under his wing and teach him the ways of the con.

One of their first adventures involves the swindling of an attractive young bartender, Jean (Julianna Margulies), but Bokky finds himself smitten with her and returns her money. The pair develop a relationship, and Bokky thinks about going straight.

Naturally, he must pull one last big heist, the targets of which are a gangster and his vicious henchmen. For this scam, Bokky and Pat are joined by the hard-boiled veteran, Double D (James Gammon).

"Traveller" is entertaining enough on its own terms, but it fails to achieve any real depth or consistency in its tone and quality. Jim McGlynn's screenplay seems seriously underdeveloped, especially in terms of the various subplots, and turns particularly sloppy and unconvincing in its depiction of the final sting and the bloody aftermath. Dramatic motivations are at a minimum, and the romantic relationships that develop between Bokky and Jean, as well as with Pat and Boss Jack's young daughter, are unconvincingly rendered.

Still, there are some amusing anecdotes, and Paxton is so inherently likable as Bokky that you somehow don't mind the fact that the character spends his time cheating hard-working people out of their money. Margulies combines sexiness and sensitivity as his romantic foil, and Wahlberg transmits his usual brand of youthful cockiness. Gammon, the veteran actor with the voice of a muffled foghorn, is a delight and garners most of the film's laughs.

Green, who has had a distinguished career as a cinematographer (eight Clint Eastwood films including "Unforgiven"), makes a fine directorial debut, beautifully capturing the ambiance of the Travellers' distinctive subculture. The film's atmosphere is greatly enhanced by the musical soundtrack, which includes Randy Travis' terrific cover version of "King of the Road" during the opening credits.


October Films

Director Jack Green

Screenplay Jim McGlynn

Producers Bill Paxton, Brian Swardstrom,

Mickey Liddell, David Blocker

Executive producer Robert Mickelson,

Rick King

Editor Michael Ruscio

Music Andy Paley



Bokky Bill Paxton

Pat Mark Wahlberg

Jean Julianna Margulies

Double D James Gammon

Boss Jack Luke Askew

Kate Nikki Deloach

Running time -- 100 minutes

MPAA rating: R


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