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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 -- Romy and Michele's High School Reunion
Dante's Peak -- Volcano

Chasing Amy

A pair of 20-something buddies who co-author a comic book
are split over one's interest in a gay woman. Kevin Smith takes
what could have been rather trivial and self-important material handles
it with a light touch, making a film that is both engagingly serious
and genuinely funny. Fans of Kevin Smith will not be surprised
that the film is also at times fairly raunchy. The frank and often
sexual dialog is realistic, but will be a turnoff to some.
Rating: +2 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 9 positive, 3 negative, 3 mixed

CHASING AMY is the third film form writer/director Kevin Smith and is set in his native central New Jersey. While his first two were nearly purely comedies, this time around he mixes in some serious themes with his raunchy brand of comedy. It is about how fallible is the procedure of finding the right relationship and how delicate that relationship can be once it is found. Holden McNeil (played by Ben Affleck) and Banky Edwards (Jason Lee) are two Red Bank, New Jersey comic artists who create the popular comic book BLUNTMAN AND CHRONIC. At a comic convention in New York a friend introduces them to Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams). Alyssa is cute, bright, and funny and Holden immediately feels they have a mutual attraction and are perfect for each other. It even turns out she comes from Middletown, a neighboring town to his. He tells the incredulous Banky that he and Alyssa "shared a moment." Anxious to share more than just a moment he goes to a club where his friend tells him he can find Alyssa only to discover in an embarrassing moment that Alyssa is a lesbian. In spite of knowing that his relationship cannot become mutually romantic, he continues his friendship with Alyssa, hoping to somehow convince her somehow to be interested in him. He hopes to win her in spite of her orientation. The story becomes an odd sort of a love triangle with Banky afraid of losing the friendship, now also a professional relationship, he has had since childhood with Holden. Banky finds Holden's love is even starting to affect their professional relationship. The other vertex of the triangle is the free-thinking Alyssa with her own history. In the end, Kevin's story has returned to a theme he covered, albeit more lightly, in CLERKS.

All three of the main characters are veterans of other roles in MALLRATS and of course writer/director Kevin Smith has played the wise Silent Bob in all three of his films. Ben Affleck as Holden is a bit confused by it all and at the same time nicely witty. There may be a bit of Albert Brooks in his role and of Jason Lee's Banky. But the actor who shines the most is Joey Lauren Adams who does a terrific job going through a wide gamut of emotions and always comes up genuine. Smith has a good ear for dialogue and the words seem to come out very naturally from the actors' mouths. The one problem that perhaps could have been better handled in a higher budget production is that they do not enunciate so that their dialogue is distinct.

Kevin Smith has a sense of humor to match better-known comic filmmakers like Woody Allen and Albert Brooks. He fills his script with some hilarious send-ups of popular films. Early on the film he give us a militant African-American appraisal of STAR WARS that is as funny as anything I have seen in a film in the last twelve months. Later he has a terrific send-up of a familiar scene from JAWS. And at the same time Smith treads the boundary near political incorrectness by implying that sexual orientation is really a matter of choice. Alyssa's has logical reasons for being lesbian rather than having her orientation come from an internal compulsion. It seems like a small thing, but it is a fairly radical departure from what we have seen before in films.

CHASING AMY is well-acted and directed and proves to be a very moving and personal film. After the critical misfire of MALLRATS, it looks like Kevin Smith is back on target. I give it a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale.

More info about Chasing Amy at the Internet Movie Database

Romy and Michele's High School Reunion

Don't be fooled by this film's light
and breezy exterior. This is not just a pile of
blond jokes, this is a film with an intelligent
script with some real insight into human
relationships and behavior. Romy and Michele find
out that their high school is having its 10-year
reunion, but do not want to admit to their class
that they are really doing nothing with their lives
but having fun and marking time. The reunion will
be a chance to reassess the people they knew in
high school and to get closure on some unfinished
business. But yes, the film is still fun.
Rating: +2 (-4 to +4)

It would be easy to be deceived by the trailers for ROMY AND MICHELE'S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION. The film looks like a not very sympathetic look at two ditzy blondes who make fools of themselves at their high school reunion. It could have been a very superficial and even hurtful movie. In fact, it is the screen adaptation of a late 1980s play "The Ladies' Room," a characterization of two very shallow women that writer Robin Schiff overheard in the ladies room of a singles club. Romy and Michele have been friends since childhood and have lived together--fraternally as the script makes clear--in Los Angeles since their painful last days of high school. Romy is a cashier at a parking garage and Michele is unemployed. The film, partially based on the play takes Romy and Michele (played by Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow) through some trying moments. They realize that they are going to be facing the people who made up the texture of their lives in high school.

Their invitation to their reunion starts them thinking about how little they have accomplished that would impress their classmates. Together they decide that since nobody from their hometown of Tucson knows what they have been doing they can pass themselves off as successful business women. It is not a good idea, but worse ideas are coming. When Romy jokes about what she had to do to borrow a nice car and Michele is not quick enough to recognize it is a joke, a wedge starts to grow between the two women. The reunion could have been played purely for humor. It is funny but there is a lot more to it than that. Virtually everybody coming to the reunion has some unfinished business from ten years earlier. Seemingly each had his or her place in the high school pecking order and now each is hoping to show up somebody. The reunion is used far more intelligently than the similar occasion in the current GROSSE POINTE BLANK. Rather than just being a backdrop, it is really an incisive look into high school behaviors. There are a few predictable and one or two unpredictable surprises building to a climax that is a little too much a deus ex machina to match the quality of the rest of the writing.

The two main characters could easily have been irritating, but instead they have a definite charm. Mira Sorvino's Romy is the brighter of the two, but not so bright that she does not get the two of them into trouble. Lisa Kudrow, veteran of the stage version of "The Ladies' Room," is the more sensitive and easily hurt. But the two actresses play with a real chemistry between them. They care for each other and for each other in a way not often shown on the screen. Janeane Garofalo, who has been playing amiable people in other films plays very much against type as a cynical and perennially bitter schoolmate who still has a chip on her shoulder when she thinks of Romy and Michele. Alan Cumming plays the high school's leading nerd and will no doubt leave audiences wondering why he looks so familiar. In fact, he played a similar computer nerd in the last James Bond film, GOLDENEYE. As a trivia point he also did the voice of the title horse in 1994's BLACK BEAUTY--an excellent film, by the way. Here his role is off-beat even for him and includes a strange ballet-like dance with the two leads. The film is directed by first-timer David Mirkin.

ROMY AND MICHELE'S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION is a film that works on a superficial comedy level but also resonates from characters and plot situation that are more substantial than they at first appear. That makes this film a treat all around and one I rate a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale.

More info about Romy and Michele's High School Reunion at the Internet Movie Database

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