ANACONDA - McHALE'S NAVY - PARADISE ROAD
MURDER AT 1600 - CHASING AMY - PINK FLAMINGOS

ANACONDA

'When you can't breathe, you can't scream' goes the tag line for "Anaconda," which has nothing to do with "Alien" but owes a lot to "Jaws." A documentary crew headed by anthropologist Steven Cale (Eric Stoltz) sales down the Amazon in search of the legendary Shirishama Indians. Along the way they come across the stranded Paul Sarone (Jon Voight) who they rescue and bring along. Sarone has a different agenda, however - he's on the trail of a 40 ft. anaconda!

Laura LAURA:
"Anaconda" is a silly, by the numbers monster movie that manages to be pretty damn entertaining largely due to the over the top performance by Jon Voight and some really fine special effects.

Director Luis Llosa seems to specialize in getting hammy performances, having directed Rod Steiger's Cuban mobster in "The Specialist." Voight's the real monster here, an evil, slimy vicious survivor who comes across as the dark side of the Robert Shaw character in "Jaws." He's so bad he's funny and gives the film the shot in the arm it needs - his big moment at the film's climax is sure to be remembered. He makes the most of his Paragyuan accent, too.

The rest of the cast is largely incidential. Eric Stoltz spends most of the film injured and below deck except for one ludicrous rescue appearance. Jennifer Lopez ("Selena") is OK as the plucky documentary director and love interest. Ice Cube is solid as the documentary cameraman and snakefighter. Jonathan Hyde is amusing as the arch British documentary narrator who gets the most awe-inspiring death scene.

The snake's appearances are always signalled by dutch camera angles and the "Jaws" convention of helpless legs kicking underwater. We're informed that the anaconda is such a relentless killing machine, wrapping tightly around its victim until bones are crushed and then swallowing it whole, that it is known to regurgitate its prey in order to feed some more! The anaconda effects are increasingly more incredible, including a gullet eye-view of a human being eaten alive (which again, recalls Robert Shaw's demise in "Jaws").

Llosa keeps things moving along at a rapid clip and the Brazilian Amazon locations are striking. "Anaconda" is a decent popcorn flick.

B-

ROBIN:
"Anaconda" is a blatant rip-off of "Jaws" and "The Creature From The Black Lagoon," but is done with such a wry sense of humor - thanks, especially, to an over-the-top, hopefully intentional, outrageous performance by Jon Voight, and some nifty snake effects - that you forgive its derivative nature and settle down for some fun.

The cast is young, attractive and tanned. Theyre easy on the eye, especially Jennifer Lopez, as they get set up, one by one, to be reptilian lunch. Lopez and Ice Cube are OK, as is Jonathan Hyde, as the documentary narrator. The rest of the cast are snack time attractions for the slithering star of the film.

One point of confusion I have: with the several snake attacks that take place over the course of the film, are we to believe they're all done by the same snake. Even if an anaconda does regurgitate its kill, the one in this movie would be positively bulimic.

Back to Jon Voight. His snake hunter Paul Serone is a cross between Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall and Rod Steiger, overacting on all fronts, chewing scenery like a hunger vegetarian from start to finish. Near the end, he gives the term "a knowing wink" new meaning.

Snake special effects are better than expected, though obviously computer generated some times, animatronic other times. Still, not bad.

Good lensing lends to the tropical feel of the film.

I enjoyed myself for the duration of the "Anaconda.". I wouldn't pay full admission to see it, but it is best viewed on the big screen.

B-


McHALE'S NAVY

In the latest vain attempt by Hollywood to bring an old TV series to the big-screen (see last year's "Sgt. Bilko" as example), director Bryan Spicer and producer Tom Arnold bring "McHale's Navy" to the big screen, starring Arnold as Quinton McHale.

Updating the story idea to the 90's, the setting is now the island of San Ysidro in the Caribbean. There's no war going on, but an evil Major Vladavok (Tim Curry), the world's #2 terrorist, is out to make himself #1 and is willing to blow up the Pentagon to prove it.

Retired Lt. Commander McHale is brought back into military service, by his mentor in the Pentagon, played by Ernest Borgnine, to join his men to battle Vladavok and save the heart of the U.S. military complex.

ROBIN:
The only good thing I can say about "McHale's Navy" is that it is trite, dull, unimaginative and sappily sentimental. Gee, I guess that isn't too good, is it?

All that was required of the makers of this bomb was to watch a few episodes of the original show (the first or second season), get a flavor for its wackiness, cast an actor as charismatic and boisterous as Ernie Borgnine, and back him up with a requisite wacky crew.

They have a good batch of actors portraying McHale's crew - Bruce Campbell ("The Evil Dead" series), French Stewart (TV's "Third Rock From The Sun") and Brian Haley (TVs "Wings") help make up a potentially funny madcap supporting cast. Too bad the script gives these guys nothing to do for the duration of the movie.

Unfortunately, for the viewer, the makers of "McHale's Navy," apparently, had never even seen an episode of the original series. They cast the least charismatic, if not down-right awful, actor (Tom Arnold) as the estimable Quinton McHale, and found, for him, the most idiotic, unfunny script imaginable. I think Arnold, as producer and star, should take responsibility for this dog.

The premise of the story is that Vladavok (Curry), the #2 terrorist in the world, wants to be #1, so, with former Communist backing, he establishes a missile launch site, aimed at the Pentagon, right next door to a U.S. Navy base. The Navy doesn?t know what to do, so, instead of calling the Navy Seals or the 6th Fleet, they bring Quinton McHale out of retirement to stop the evil Vladavok. Really.

The result is a chase film, with Vladavok gunning for McHale in a James Bond-style speed boat armed with a limitless supply of Stinger missiles and gatling guns, blowing things up left and right, but always missing McHale. #2 may try harder, but he needs target lessons, badly.

Dean Stockwell, playing the part of Captain Wallace B. Binghampton, gives nothing to the role, besides blustering idiocy. Of course, in the show, the original Binghamptom (Joe Flynn) represented a playful challenge for McHale, testing his ability to get away with all his shenanigans and schemes. In the film, McHale is the golden boy, with Capt. Binghampton as only a minor obstacle, if that.

In the politically correct 90's, Binghampton's aide, Lt. Penelope Carpenter (Debra Messing), is a woman. The crew is ethnically rich. Ensign Charles T. Parker is no longer white bread. He's now, uh, black-bread, with David Alan Grier stoically doing his best to reprise Tim Conway's Ensign Parker.

The bad guy, played by the usually amusing Tim Curry, is a stupid plot device and is out of touch with the good nature of the old series.

My advice? Shoot the writers, hang the director, deep six Tom Arnold (literally and figuratively - the man is a hack and doesn;t deserve such an opportunity. He takes the bread out of the mouths of real actors)...as a matter of fact, chuck the whole mess and catch a couple of episodes of "McHale's Navy" the series, the earlier ones. You'll at least have more fun than I did.

I took the bullet for you guys on this one.

D


PARADISE ROAD

is the true story of a group of women made up largely of upper class British colonialists and Australian nurses who were held in a Sumatran prisoner of war camp by sadistic Japanese during WWII. Glenn Close stars as Adrienne Pargiter, a music academy graduate who forms a vocal orchestra to keep the women's fighting spirit up. Frances McDormand is a German Jewish refugee who gains special privileges as the camp's doctor. Cate Blanchett is a young Australian nurse who becomes Dr. Verstak's protegee.

Laura LAURA:
"Paradise Road" will, unfortunately, be compared to the made for TV movie "Playing for Time," which starred Vanessa Redgrave and took place a half a world away in Auschwitz. However, the vocal orchestra formed by the Close and Collins characters is but one aspect of this societal study of women of different cultural and economic backgrounds banding together to survive cruel conditions.

The film begins by introducing us to the colonialist British at a lavish dance at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. No sooner have several of the more pompous members of the group denigrated the Japanese war ability than the bombs begin to fall. All women and children, ironically including a large contigent of Australian nurses, are ordered out of the area. Such society matrons as Close's educated Adrienne Pargiter and Elizabeth Spriggs' ("Sense and Sensibility") overstuffed and helpless Mrs. Roberts are thrown together with Pauline Collins' ("Shirley Valentine") Australian missionary Margaret Drummond, young English newlywed Rosemary Leighton-Jones (Jennifer Ehle of "Backbeat"), Julianna Margulies' (TV's "ER") lone American wife Topsy Merritt and a Chinese woman, Wing. Their boat is bombed, strafed and sunk by Japanese fighter planes in a beautifully filmed, tense and realistic scene.

Amazingly, many of these women are able to swim to the shores of Sumatra where they're rounded up by the Japanese and interned at crude POW camp along with a group of Dutch women including Joanna Ter Steege's ("The Vanishing") Sister Wilhelminia. The 'English' contingent soon meet Frances McDormand's ("Fargo") hard-edged Dr. Verstak, a German Jewish refugee, who's resented by some for her seemingly 'special' treatment, acting as she is as the camp's doctor.

Acts of heroism, such as Wing's nighttime foray outside of the camp lines to bargain for black market quinine to treat the snobbish Mrs. Roberts' malaraia, and the truly horrific execution she receives from the Japanese in return, are counterbalanced by acts of pettiness, such as a shower fight between the English and Dutch over a bar of soap. Joanna Ter Steege, in a memorable performance as the Dutch nun, acts as a bridge between the two groups of women until they eventually begin to mingle.

The touching friendship that develops between Close's Pargiter and Collins' Drummond (with Close going so far as admitting to the fact that in the life she came from she would have looked down on a missionary) begins when the two discover a mututal love of music and begin to form the vocal orchestra, which not only provides another means for the women to bond, but also keep their spirits strong. The orchestra even works its magic on their Japanese captors, who include a rather gentlemanly camp commander, a psychotic secret police chief, a brutish guard and a compassionate translator.

Director Bruce Beresford spend two years of research on this project which included interviewing survivors. The film's music segments were directed from the original, handwritten arrangements which survived the camp.

"Paradise Road" may be a bit overlong and find it's best acting in the supporting cast rather than it's stars (Close's acting is a bit too evident and McDormand gives an interestingly mannish, no nonsence perf but stumbles with the German accent), but it's a worthwhile document of a female WWII story.

B


MURDER AT 1600

Wesley Snipes is back in the action saddle again with the latest White House political thriller, "Murder at 1600." Co-starring Diane Lane, Snipes plays homicide detective Harlan Regis, the cop assigned to investigate the murder of a female staff member at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, a murder that may reach to the highest levels within the White House.

Regis and his assigned Secret Service watchdog, Nina Chance, played by Lane, are led, at first, to believe that the president's son committed the murder, with the president, himself, implicated.

As the country faces an international hostage crisis AND a potential war with China, Regis and Chance learn that the murder is part of a greater conspiracy to overthrow the legally elected government of the United States.

ROBIN:
What starts out as a credible political crime thriller - although, so close on the heals of "Absolute Power", corruption in the White House is fast becoming overused as story backdrop, for me, anyway - degenerates into a routine chaser, with the heroes trying to beat the clock to exonerate the President from any wrong-doing in the crime, as well as avert a Constitutional AND an international political crisis that is pushing the United States to the brink of nuclear holocaust and global war! Whew!

After the first half, things start to get confused as the Presidential head of security, Nick Striking (Daniel Benzali), is set up as an obvious McGuffin (one of several), distracting the audience from the identity of the real villain. When he gets blown away, the suspense built up around his character instantly dissolves, leaving us with 30 minutes of film to go. At this point, the list of suspects is very short and very obvious as the film goes through the motions to its inevitable conclusion.

Wesley Snipes is proving himself to be a reliable action star and leading man, with the good looks, physical ability and sense of humor that makes him a Hollywood mainstay. His Harlan Regis isnt much of a stretch, for Snipes, but is still a likable character.

Diane Lane, as veteran Secret Service Agent Chance, does a credible job as the female equal to Snipes Harlan Regis. She looks attractive even under adversity and plays well off of Snipes. Note that there is no romantic relation between the two leads - this is, apparently, politically (no pun intended) incorrect.

The rest of the cast - particularly, Alan Alda, Ronny Cox, and Daniel Benzali - are not committed to the project and are in it for little more than the paycheck.

Dennis Miller, who provides snappy comedy relief in the first third of the film, is out of the picture, literally, for 45+ minutes. His sardonic wit is missed as the film gets serious.

"Murder at 1600" isn't a bad movie. Certainly, it has less pretension than "Absolute Power," but it's still a pretty pedestrian effort.

C+

Laura LAURA:
"Murder at 1600" is the 2nd film in as many months to implicate the President of the United States in a sex killing - should this be viewed as a 'new cynicism'?

While this effort begins well, with the central characters of Wesley Snipe's homicide detective Harlan Regis and Diane Lane's secret service agent Nina Chance being lead along with the audience from one twisty curve to the next, it ends up all a bit stale by the end.

One downfall of all those plot twists is that the fingers pointed at so many of the characters that they're all besmirched in some way or other by the end of the film, seriously undermining any good feelings the final revelation and heroics should have reinstated. Clint Eastwood's "Absolute Power" may have been more ludicrous, but it was more fun.

Snipe's is merely serviceable here - his once consession to character development is a running gag about the tenants of his apartment building in a black neighborhood being evicted by government decree - he hits up on every high ranking official he meets to try and reverse this decision. He doesn't want to move because he'd have to dismantle the elaborate Civil War era tableaus of Washington D.C. he's created.

Diane Lane is believable as a former Olympic gold medalist sharp shooter who was drafted by the secret service, although her buttoned down character owes a bit to Jodie Foster's much denser character of Clarice Starling in "The Silence of the Lambs." Lane could potentially become an female action star (who woulda' thunk it?) after this and her role as a futuristic cop in "Judge Dredd."

Dennis Miller adds some humor as Snipes' partner, who unfortunately, has far too little screen time. Daniel Benzali (of TV's first year of "Murder One") has been typecast to ill effect as the White House head of security. Alan Alda is his usual wheedling good guy type and Ron Cox plays a weak president with some degree of befuddled believability.

C+


CHASING AMY

is the third in independent writer/director Kevin Smith's New Jersey trilogy. Canterbridgian Ben Affleck is Holden McNeil, who, together with buddy Banky (Jason Lee) is the successful creator of the 'Bluntman and Chronic' comic book. The twosome's cosy existence is thrown into a topspin when Holden meets Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams) through mutual friend Hooper at a comic book convention. Holden's smitten, but there's a stumbling block - Alyssa's a lesbian.

Laura LAURA:
"Chasing Amy" arrived on a wave of publicity as the movie that asks 'What happens when a guy falls in love with a lesbian?' but that's not really what it's all about. It's about a man who's very much in love suddenly having to face his partner's sexual past, a past that's much more prolific and varied than his own. In a lesser sense, it's also about what happens to a buddy guy relationship when one of them falls in love.

Kevin Smith, along with his producing buddy Scott Mosier, has truly become an adult filmmaker with the third in his trilogy (the hilarious, albeit extremely low-budget looking "Clerks" and the out and out flop "Mallrats" were the first two installments). He has a keen ear for fresh and funny dialogue accented with pop culture references ("Clerks'" great death star monologue has a refrain in "Chasing Amy" when Hooper gives a lecture on how "Star Wars" is really about the repression of the black man). Smith also gives a tip of the hat to Tarantino by having characters weave from one film to the next - "Clerks'" Jay and Silent Bob make a reappearance here and Alyssa Jones is the sister of Dante's girlfriend in "Clerks."

Maybe going back to his low budget roots helped Smith get out of his $6 million "Mallrats" rut, as "Chasing Amy" was economically shot for $250,000 in and around the suburb of Red Bank, New Jersey.

The cast is terrific, beginning with the powerhouse performance of Joey Lauren Adams who was the best thing in "Michael" as the pie serving waitress who got to have sex with John Travolta in wings. She overcomes a slyly pixish look and a kewpie doll voice to project a mature, intelligent, sexually adventurous young woman who's found what she was searching for and has the guts to go for it. Ben Affleck is a handsome, charming everyguy. His misguided efforts to try and overcome his appalled reaction to Alyssa's past exploits are truly touching, as is his gutspilling scene when he tells Alyssa he loves her. Jason Lee is highly entertaining as the real guy's guy who resents Alyssa's breaking up of his buddy lifestyle. He has a great scene with Adams when the two compare injuries sustained during oral sex which recalls the scene in "Jaws" when Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss go scar to scar. Dwight Ewell is great as the gay Hooper who puts on a public show of militant black macho for his comic book audience. Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith seem like an alien vaudeville Greek chorus as Jay and Silent Bob. It's Silent Bob who gives the film its title when he advises Holden based on his own story of lost love.

"Chasing Amy" is the first really intelligent romantic comedy for the 90s.

B+

ROBIN:
I don't know Kevin Smith's films too well, as yet. "Clerks," I saw in a less than ideal manner, so it's hard for me to judge it. And, I didn't see "Mallrats," either. I walked into "Chasing Amy," a film touted by some as being about a straight guy who falls for a lesbian (a thorough misrepresentation, by the way - it's about a guy who falls for a woman with a sexual past. A much harder story to tell), with middling expectations.

I'm happy to say that "Chasing Amy" is an intelligent, funny, dramatic film that attempts to hit on many levels and succeeds on most of them. First and foremost, the single terrific thing to come out of this film is the debut starring performance by Joey Lauren Adams. Her Alyssa is, at first, sketchily introduced as a lesbian, and, therefore, out of the romantic reach of the handsome Holden McNeil (Ben Afflek). As Adams fleshes out Alyssa, the character grows more dimensional in the viewer's eye. Her sexual past and experimental nature are too much for a guy like Holden. He's uptight with sex and relationships, in general, so falling for a woman who is his sexual, emotional and intellectual superior is too much for his little male mind and ego to grasp. He strikes out at Alyssa, instead, in the film's dramatic climax, losing everything for nothing.

What I like best about the Kevin Smith's story is that it rings true. The average guy WOULD be uptight and defensive about such a woman. Her broader experience could crush a male libido. Ben Affleck does a good job in portraying this guy. He's so self-righteous in his indignation of Alyssa's past, he can't see that he is ruining his chance at the best thing in his life. Ever. Holden is a guy that you might know.

In case you think that "Chasing Amy" is a totally serious relational drama, bolstering Adams and Affleck's characters are a bevy of entertaining supporting characters, led, wonderfully, by Jason Lee as Banky Edwards, Holden's partner in their cult comic book hit, "Bluntman and Chronic." Holden is the sketch artist, while Banky is the "inker," or, as the running gag goes: "Oh, you only trace," much to Banky's artistic chagrin.

One of the funniest, if derivative, bits in the film is when Banky and Alyssa compare wounds sustained during oral sex with women, a la Mel Gibson and Renee Russo in "Lethal Weapon 3," or Richard Dreyfus and Robert Shaw in "Jaws." Jason Lee's Banky provides a level of comic relief, sometimes rather raunchy, that is sustained for the length of the film.

As if one comic relief isn't enough (and, if done correctly, more is better), Smith also introduces Hooper (Dwight Ewell), a militant, black power, comic artist and lecturer who vocally ostracizes the industry for its white dominance. When off the lecture circuit, Hooper is flamboyantly gay and fag-baits Banky without mercy. His jumps between the two persona are fast and funny.

Reprising roles from "Mallrats" are Jason Mews as sexist homeboy Jay, and his sidekick, Silent Bob (Kevin Smith), who provides some of the film's most insightful bon mots and the reason for the films title.

All in all, "Chasing Amy" is an intelligent and provocative low-budget film with big-budget talent and look, making it an exceptional independent effort.

I strongly recommend "Chasing Amy" and give it...

B+


PINK FLAMINGOS (25TH ANNIVERSARY RERELEASE)

John Waters gathered a cast of Baltimore friends and oddities and wrote, directed and filmed "Pink Flamingos" 25 years ago with funding from his parents, largely as a lark for his friends. It has become one of the most enduring cult films of all time.

It stars Divine as Babs Johnson, the 'filthiest person alive' who lives in a trashy trailor with her son Cracker, her 'travelling companion' and her demented mom played by Edith Massey (forever after known as the 'egg lady'). The Marbles, a perverse couple who specialize in kidnapping and impregnating women to provide product for their business of black market baby adoption for lesbian couples, resent Babs' title and attempt to corner it for themselves.

Laura LAURA:
I had never seen this film until it's special anniversary release. Briefly, it's noteworthy how much star quality Divine actually had and how far he (she?) was willing to go for the sake of art(?)! This is a true camp classic although certainly not for all tastes. It deserves it's NC-17 rating for many different reasons. But hey - it made me laugh and I have to admire its sheer chutzpah and no-holds barred, in your face, anti-establishment stance.

A-



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