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by Jim Wunderle

"Jackie Brown"

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert DeNiro, Michael Keaton, Bridget Fonda

Rated: R

Writer/director Quentin Tarantino's directorial debut, "Reservoir Dogs," was a stylish crime drama that I'm sure will make it to my "Top Ten Movies of the 1990s" list. With his second effort as a director, "Pulp Fiction," Tarantino stretched the envelope of the narrative form and won commercial, as well as critical, acclaim.

Besides directing his own stories, Tarantino has written a lot of screenplays for other directors. There was "True Romance," "Killing Zoe," "From Dusk Until Dawn" and, although he said Oliver Stone changed his work so much that it was unrecognizable, he is responsible for the original screenplay of "Natural Born Killers."

He has also acted in a few films, but let's not get into that here. Tarantino's third film as a director, "Jackie Brown," is in many ways his most conventional work to date. It doesn't have the shock-value violence of "Reservoir Dogs" or the ambitious narrative of "Pulp Fiction," but it's an entertaining movie, and one that truly comes from the director's heart.

Long a fan of the "blaxploitation" film and an unabashed admirer of Pam Grier, Tarantino took the Elmore Leonard novel "Rum Punch," changed the lead character to a middle-aged black woman, and tailor-made the film for Ms. Grier. For her part, Grier is nothing less than perfect for this role, which proves to be one of the most memorable and strong female characters to come along in quite some time.

There are none of the judo chops or gunplay from her old days in films like "Foxy Brown" or "The Big Doll House," but her Jackie Brown is a strong woman with a keen survival instinct. The plot revolves around a "sting" operation by the feds, who have caught Jackie Brown, who's a flight attendant, smuggling cash for a gun salesman.

Giving away any more of the plot will only spoil the fun, but consider this: Besides Ms. Grier's and co-star Samuel L. Jackson's stellar performances, stars no less than Michael Keaton, Bridget Fonda and Robert DeNiro all accepted small roles just to be a part of this film. Go see it, it's lots of fun and it is hoped it will do for Pam Grier what "Pulp Fiction" did for John Travolta.

"Amistad"

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Morgan Freeman, Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey

Rated: R

Decidedly less "fun" than the above film, but one that's beautifully made and quite powerful, is Steven Spielberg's "Amistad."

I frankly am really tired of the techno pap that Spielberg relentlessly inflicts upon us, but I do realize that directors like him are the reason that special effects (the way we've come to know and love 'em) are as good as they are.

Of late, too, for every couple of "Jurassic Park" or "The Lost World" movies, Spielberg will turn his formidable talents to more important subjects and give us a "Schindler's List" or an "Amistad."

Anytime I hear folks of a particular moral or political persuasion moaning about "getting back to the values this country was founded on," one thought usually comes to mind: Oh, you mean values like slavery?

It's always bothered me that the Declaration of Independence holds the truth to be self evident that "all men are created equal," while at the same time many of our founding fathers were owners of slaves. I guess politics have always been as such say one thing, do another.

Something else that troubles me is the fact that, when I was in school, stories such as the one presented in "Amistad" were nowhere to be found in our history books.

You've no doubt heard or read about this film, but in case you haven't: it's the true story of a group of slaves who managed to free themselves on a slave ship, kill their captors and later, though not in their plans, land in America.

Their case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where it was argued by no less than former president John Quincy Adams.

While not as powerful as "Schindler's List," "Amistad" is a film that should be seen, and discussed, by everyone.

And with Spielberg at the helm, you can rest assured it's also a technically well-crafted film.

(Jim Wunderle works at Associated Video Producers and is a Springfield free-lance writer and musician.)

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