Movie Reviews

by Mark Leeper

Mark Leeper writes: I am a lifelong fan of science fiction--well, at least since age 6. By training I am a mathematician and mathematics is still a passion of mine. I joined Bell Laboratories in 1978, along with my wife Evelyn. Finding no outlet for science fiction at Bell Labs, Evelyn and I founded a science fiction club that same year and have run it ever since. We had to tell members what books we were reading for the club, so was born a notice, now a weekly publication called the MT VOID. I write a weekly editorial and film reviews for the notice, Evelyn writes book reviews and we both write other odd pieces. Having the reviews and assorted articles, we also re-post them to the Internet. From there they are reposted various and sundry places.

The Daytrippers -- Anaconda
Liar Liar -- Grosse Pointe Blank
Chasing Amy

The Daytrippers

After a woman finds a love poem among
her husbands things, she and her whole family spend
a trying day in Manhattan looking for the husband
and playing detective. The ultra-low budget
comedy- drama has a few nice moments, some
pointless-seeming sequences, and finally seems to
run out of film just when the story starts
Rating: 0 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 13 positive, 0 negative, 5 mixed

THE DAYTRIPPERS has the feel of a story written in a PC. It starts as scenario that can be described in two or three sentences. But that is too short to make a film so sequences are added one at a time like Christmas decorations on a tree to pad the scenario until there is enough there to fill out a script. Some of the added sequences interconnect, most do not. Mostly you take the scenic route through the original three sentences, learning about the people traveling with you and some of the people you pass along the way. In the end the value of the whole comprises very little more than the sum of the value of the parts. It is apparently writer/director Greg Mottola's belief that if you see the characters in enough disconnected situations you will see sufficient facets of their personality to come to understand them. Perhaps there is some truth to that, but one wants more of a story than is provided here.

Eliza (played by Hope Davis) and Louis (Stanley Tucci) are a comfortable suburban couple living not far from Eliza's parents Rita (Anne Meara) and Jim (Pat McNamara). Eliza teaches fourth grade and Louis is an executive at a Manhattan-based book publisher. Then on the day after Thanksgiving, Eliza finds an Andrew Marvell love poem that has fallen out of Louis's pocket. Asking Rita for advice, her mother suggests going into Manhattan and confronting Louis directly. And the more people for support the better. So Eliza, her parents, her sister Jo (Parker Posey) and her sister's boyfriend Carl (Liev Schreiber) all go trooping off in the family station wagon to Manhattan to find Louis and hopefully the truth. It is a trying day in the city for each of them as well as some of the people in Manhattan that they involve. Along the way they have various small adventures, but the adventures are not very interesting in themselves, do not tell us a lot about the family members, and do not advance the plot. Much of this film is picking up on the texture of the characters, which is a bit threadbare, and waiting for something to happen. We get validation of our first impressions that Rita is a meddling busybody. There is confirmation that Jim is a long-suffering father who really is a font of wisdom if people would only notice and listen to him. We see that Jo is not as ready to commit to Carl as she thinks she is. And Carl, the writer, is really just a big fish in a small intellectual pond. We get something of how he thinks as he recounts in detail the plot of his novel, a rather simplistic symbolic work about a man with the head of a dog. (Curiously the release of this film seems to coincide with the publication of a real novel that would seem to have some similarities to his fictional novel: Kirsten Bakis's LIVES OF THE MONSTER DOGS.)

Anne Meara actually does a fairly good job as the overbearing Rita. In many ways she is more believable than Debbie Reynolds was in MOTHER. The film does not make adequate use of Pat McNamara who really makes the film come alive when he is given anything to do. Parker Posey who at one time seemed to overpower her roles intentionally gives a somewhat more subdued performance in this as she did in WAITING FOR GUFFMAN. Director Mottola seems to be keeping an eye on expenses as is producer Steven Soderbergh, whose films tend to be simple actors in front of a camera. The score is apparently done on a single guitar. Perhaps it was just the quality of the print I saw, but the colors were a little washed out.

By structuring his story so that the most interesting events fall in the very latest part of the film Mottola makes his film at once too long and one that the viewer is hoping will not end when it does. This is a film for the patient. I rate it a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale.

More info about The Daytrippers at the Internet Movie Database


A documentary expedition to the
Amazon picks up a mystery man, little knowing that
he intends to turn the proceedings into a hunting
party for a huge man-eating snake. The plot is
weak, with only one decent character, but it is
tough to make too bad a film with so good a monster.
Rating: 0 (-4 to +4)

When I reviewed RUMBLE IN THE BRONX and said that I did not particularly like the movie, one person wrote me to say that not every film has to be so serious and that Americans make very few "fun" films. That came to me as something of a shocker since I had thought that the majority of feature films made in this country in the 90s were "fun" films, or at least intended that way. I grew up when the 50s science fiction films were hitting television and for me a fun film is something not unlike Jack Arnold's THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. Arnold's Amazon opus is not a good film by any objective standard but is a sort of a dark pleasure. The new ANACONDA is not even enough unlike THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, borrowing a good deal of its plot. For me more pleasure than watching Jackie Chan kick somebody or gliding over them in a hovercraft is seeing a snake the size of a small traffic jam making mincemeat of an expedition to the Amazon. Not that ANACONDA is even a well-made rip-off of CREATURE and it would be more enjoyable with a better script, but it passes as a decent film. It is the sort of film that I peg in the back of my mind as a "drive-in" film, though in my part of the country the last drive-in died several years ago. The script of ANACONDA borrows much of its plot from THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, with a nod or two to MOBY DICK and JAWS. But let us face it, it is fun to see a recreation of a primordial battle between humans and some giant force of nature.

The film opens with some young filmmakers on the Amazon planning to make a documentary about a legendary tribe of people, the People of the Mist. Immediately we know there is trouble brewing since these people would not be safe on the Amazon even if there were no giant snakes around. We have Terri Flores (played by Jennifer Lopez of BLOOD AND WINE and in the title role of SELENA). She is leading the expedition, believe it or not. Her cameraman is Danny (played by Ice Cube). Why do I have the feeling that Ice Cube would last on the Amazon just about as long as an ice cube would last in the Amazon? What passes for adult supervision is Dr. Steven Cale (Eric Stoltz) who seems to know a little of lore of the river, but mostly from books. There are several others, just as hopeless. And as someone who has actually been stranded on the Amazon in an outboard canoe ... without gasoline ... and with an Amazon storm blowing up, I could tell at the beginning that snake or no snake these people are not all coming back. In a nick of time they pick up somebody real who knows the Amazon. Paul Sarone (Jon Voight) is a Paraguayan snake hunter who has some idea about how to handle the river without getting killed. Unfortunately he has a plan of his own. He wants to capture alive a forty-foot anaconda he has reason to believe is living in a little traveled tributary. (Actually for those interested, a forty-foot anaconda is not that much of a stretch. These aquatic boas have been reported to actually reach to lengths of thirty feet and the largest may never have been seen and reported.)

Eric Stoltz is a good actor, but the script does not give him nearly enough to do. He is the logical descendent of the Whit Bissell character in THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. Actually is surprising that with three names credited to the screenplay and at least two more people who worded on the script, there should have been more to the story than a patchwork of other films. But the characters are flat and uninteresting, with one exception. Jon Voight is a terrific actor and his Sarone is what keeps the film watchable between snake attacks. The role is something of a departure for him and the hardened Amazon Paraguayan with the down-turned mouth and the understated manner of talking really is the best thing about ANACONDA. The snake isn't too bad either. The snake is done as a combination of animatronics and digital animation. Somehow the animatronics work better. The film was directed by Luis Llosa who must have been an obvious choice for the producers as his last four films were two action films (SNIPER and THE SPECIALIST) and two documentaries about the Amazon. But Voight was the most solid choice.

I cannot give the film a high rating, but it was watchable and between the snake and Voight's performance I did not feel cheated. I rate it a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale.

More info about Anaconda at the Internet Movie Database

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