The new Bond movie, which goes head to head with Titanic this weekend, should prove something of a relief, if only because it's under two hours long. Elsewhere, the epic epidemic rages out of control. Steven Spielberg's slave-revolt saga Amistad is, as we know, Serious Spielberg, ie, righteously manipulative, as opposed to mindlessly manipulative.
Good intentions notwithstanding, the film gives short shrift to its black characters (including a criminally underused Morgan Freeman) and focuses on a couple of white lawyer heroes: Matthew McConaughey, in what could be the year's most abysmal performance, and Anthony Hopkins, grunting his way through an impersonation of John Quincy Adams.
Some of the best jokes of the season (all unintentional) can be found in the three-minute trailer for Kevin Costner's three-hour The Postman (plot: the ills of a feudal, post-apocalyptic America are cured when Mad Max-ish Kevin starts delivering the mail). As it happens, the movie itself is hubristic hokum, and not very funny.
And Quentin Tarantino's sluggish and intermittently offensive Jackie Brown is another film in need of editing, not to mention a rewrite, and a more imaginative director. QT devotees, this is your wake-up call. Equally unpleasant: Deconstructing Harry, Woody Allen's most proudly rancid work yet, an unprecedentedly shrill conflation of its director's self-congratulatory and self-loathing tendencies.
With so many film-makers mistaking spectacle for substance and length for import, it's gratifying to report that there's at least one movie to get excited about in this dismal bunch: Scorsese's Dalai Lama biopic Kundun, whose final half-hour is more invigorating than all the aforementioned films put together. It's proof that Scorsese, in his element, remains the greatest image-maker in American movies.