Movie Reviews by Christopher Null

Feeling Minnesota (1996), The Rich Man's Wife (1996), Fly Away Home (1996)

Christopher Null is a long-established writer and media critic based in Austin, Texas. He was first published at the age of 11, completed his first novel at the age 19, and his first screenplay, Fringe, at 23. Chris has also written 2 other novels and just completed September Drift, his second full-length screenplay. In addition to writing, Null Set Productions (the film production company he began with his brother) produced its first offering, a live-action short film entitled Pressurecooker, this August. The company hopes to begin shooting Fringe in early 1997. Now 25, Chris has been covering the world of film and the cinema for almost 3 years. He is internationally syndicated as a writer (now in 5 countries and 4 different languages) and is also Contributing Editor for Film for Mike's Feedback magazine, an Austin, Texas monthly. Now, Chris's reviews and articles reach over 850,000 readers (that's four times the readership of Austin's daily newspaper).

Also in this issue of Eclectica: First Wive's Club (1996), Extreme Measures (1996), 2 Days in the Valley (1996), That Thing You Do! (1996), Big Night (1996), Bound (1996), The Associate (1996), Brother of Sleep (1996)

Feeling Minnesota

One Star - Unquestionably Awful

In case you've been wondering, Feeling Minnesota is a film "inspired by a line in a Soundgarden song." This little fun fact is about as interesting as the film ever gets, and the wary moviegoer is well-advised to limit his Minnesota experience to looking at a poster for the film in the movie theater's lobby. And even then, you shouldn't look at the poster for very long.

As near as I can tell, this is the story of Jjaks (Keanu Reeves), his brother Sam (Vincent D'Onofrio, "Gomer Pyle" from Full Metal Jacket), and Sam's slutty new wife Freddie (Cameron Diaz). Everyone's pretty miserable (ostensibly having something to do with their humdrum Minnesota existence). And Sam and Jjaks fight a lot (ostensibly over Freddie).

Feeling Minnesota is repellent in every way imaginable, from first-time writer-director Steven Baigelman's rotten script and worse direction, to bad dialogue, bad editing, bad casting, bad lighting, and even bad shot composition. And then there's the performance of Cameron Diaz, the horror of which can only be matched by the pathetic and bile-raising monotone of Keanu Reeves. Put it all together and you get a cesspool that indeed captures the depth of a movie that was inspired by a heavy metal song lyric.

Rarely has a movie been made without so much as a glimmer of having a point. And it's almost shocking to imagine how Baigelman managed to get through 95 minutes of film without a single comedic or dramatic moment!

But let me give a little credit where it is due -- to Diaz's one good line early in the movie, one of the times when she's frequently bemoaning her existence, saying, "I used to be unborn!" If only it could have stayed that way!

Avoid at all costs. View at your own peril. You have been warned.


The Rich Man's Wife

3 1/2 stars, Average to Good

There are a couple of rules inherent to the thriller that any filmmaker should be aware of. First, you have to keep the pace moving so fast that the audience doesn't have time to think about whodunit. And second, if you kill off most of the cast, whoever's left alive at the end of the movie is the one who did the killing.

The Rich Man's Wife blindly ignores both of these rules, but still manages to float, thanks to a united effort by an exceptional cast and exquisite production values. Amy Holden Jones directs her own screenplay here, a modern-day reworking of Hitchcock's masterful Strangers on a Train.

Hitch's story revolved around a man who took a joke too far -- an offer to kill the other's wife. This time, it's wife Josie (Halle Berry) kills ultra-rich husband Tony (Christopher McDonald) with the aid of friendly sociopath Cole (Peter Greene). Jones also throws in some interesting twists about Josie's forlorn lover Jake (Clive Owen) and his ex-wife Nora (Clea Lewis from TV's "Ellen") -- the latter who all but steals the show.

But the main problem is that despite a tight 100 minute running time, Jones's pacing is slower than a Yugo headed uphill, primarily because there's not a lot of story filler off the main path of the film (this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it just doesn't work right here). The other problem is that none of the characters in the film are very good at being criminals; leaving mile-wide trails for the cops. (Then again, this may or may not have been intentional. Whatever the case, they're really slow about it.) This lethargy left me restless during much of the movie, but it works to great effect when Jones finally revs into action phase...

Any time a gun comes out on screen, watch it, because sparks are about to fly. The confrontation between Tony and Cole is a powerhouse of a cat & mouse sequence which almost makes the film worth seeing on its own. Jones also uses the mixed-race marriage of Josie and Tony to explore (on a very limited scale) some of the racial dynamics of their situation and of society in general.

The bottom line is that everyone in the film could have stood a shot of adrenaline, but by the time it's over, the thriller will have captured the minds of most of its audience. After all, patience is a virtue, right?

P.S. My biggest complaint -- while you find out who did it, you never really find out how. If any of my readers figure it out, please drop me a line and let me hear your theory.

RATING: ***1/2

Fly Away Home

2 1/2 stars, Between Subpar and Average

Anna Paquin's first starring role after stealing an Oscar for The Piano is the harmless family movie Fly Away Home. Following in the footsteps of countless family movies before it, Fly Away Home tries too hard to appeal to both children and their parents and ultimately loses much of its appeal to everybody.

In case you missed the movie's trailer, which provides a nice plot synopsis, Fly Away Homeis about a teenage girl (Paquin) from New Zealand who moves in with her Canadian father (Jeff Daniels) after her mother dies. The young girl is utterly bored and lonely until she finds a family of young goose eggs (eventually geese) to take care of. After she becomes the geese's mother, she finds happiness, and the whole family bands together to figure out how to take care of the geese. This ultimately leads to the decision to have young Anna fly the geese down south for the winter.

The first problem with this film comes in trying to understand why Anna's mother packed her up and moved to New Zealand of all places. The answer is of course that the studio execs wanted Anna in this picture, and everyone knows Anna Paquin is from New Zealand. Hence, the rewrite.

The second problem comes with trying to understand how important the death of Anna's mother actually is. Presumably since the filmmakers show us the whole car crash in the first scene, the mother's death is important, but after this scene she is not really discussed again for the next hour. Because of this, Anna's moping and whining for the first half of the film seems to have little motivation and Anna's character comes off as basically obnoxious. This is just about the kiss of death for a family movie, when the child star begins to become unlikable.

The rest of the characters, however, fit very well into the stereotypes they are trying to fill (and because they do, they help Anna's character fit into hers): Jeff Daniels plays the caring father trying to get through to his depressed child, Dana Delany is the terribly nice father's girlfriend who has an even harder time trying to make friends with Anna, and supporting characters fill out the various other good guy and bad guy roles. The character arches also fit nicely into the stereotypical family movie fare. Those being that as the story goes on, the bad guys get worse, forcing Anna to turn to the good guys for help, where she finds it. Of course, the story's development is not quite this simple, but it might as well be.

As I mentioned at the outset, FLY AWAY HOME is a family movie. This being the case, the filmmakers have thrown in plenty of cute things (baby geese) and silly things (Anna making funny faces) to keep the kids occupied. What hurts it though is that they have also tried to build rounded characters and a complex plot. In trying so hard to do both however, they have accomplished neither. The film jumps continuously from cute scene to mature scene resulting in 1) an emotional film that never quite lives up to its potential and 2) a lot of distracted children. FLY AWAY HOME is an on-and-off movie founded on the philosophy that it is better to please all of the people some of the time, which doesn't really work with children.

RATING: **1/2

Read the rest of Christopher Null's Reviews

More Info


To TOCE-Mail the AuthorSerendipity Link