More Movie Reviews by Christopher Null

The Evening Star (1996) -- The Portrait of a Lady (1996) -- I'm Not Rappaport (1996)

Also in this issue of Eclectica
Mother -- The English Patient -- 101 Dalmations
Beavis and Butthead Do America -- Mars Attacks! -- Scream -- Shine

The Evening Star (1996)

Two Stars - Subpar on many levels

What could be more foul than having your ashes spread over the beach of the horribly polluted Gulf of Mexico? Well, maybe having to sit through THE EVENING STAR, the long-awaited tearjerky sequel to TERMS OF ENDEARMENT.

THE EVENING STAR picks up in 1988, and follows 8 more years of the further adventures of Aurora Greenwood's (Shirley MacLaine) über-dysfunctional extended family. Now, Emma's (Debra Winger in TERMS) kids have grown up under Aurora's eye, and the jury's still out on how well she did. Their Aunt Patsy (Miranda Richardson) is now a wealthy divorcee who is constantly one-upping Aurora. The caustic Aurora finds brief happiness in the arms of a younger man (Bill Paxton). Rosie (Marion Ross) is still in Aurora's kitchen, and a whole horde of minor players weave in and out of the action, mainly serving to dredge up the past and to breathe some new life into the ENDEARMENT franchise.

THE EVENING STAR is so chock full of mystery illnesses & deaths, Oedipal complexes, prison terms, illegitimate children, and other staples of daytime TV that you'd think it would make a much better movie than it does. Instead, the film comes off as a pointless rehashing of old story lines, part soap opera (see above illnesses, etc.) and part sitcom (sample wacky dialogue: "How are we gonna get Aurora Greenwood to see a shrink!?").

...and *all* cheese. By killing off the entire senior citizen population of Houston (where the film is set and was shot in), the filmmakers go straight for the tear ducts, in the hopes that you'll be crying too much to notice that this movie has no plot whatsoever. When someone's not gasping last words, the film is just a series of movie clichés, one after another. Why bother?

While there are a few bright sparks in the film, notably the fantastically over-the-top Richardson and the curmudgeony Ross, plus some decent jokes here and there, overall the movie is a meandering tale that, in the end, just reminds me even more of why I hate Houston so much.

The Portrait of a Lady (1996)

3 1/2 stars - Average, Hits and Misses, Almost Good

Jesus, I didn't realize when I went to the movies this morning I was going to have tothink!

ut seriously, that's what you're going to be doing if you see THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY -- Jane Campion's follow-up to THE PIANO, based on Henry James's "classic" novel that you've probably never read. Now, I'm wishing that I had, though, because PORTRAIT is a fantastic movie to watch, exquisitely crafted and painstakingly detailed, gorgeously photographed and full of style -- but it is just plain impossible to follow.

I mean *impossible* to follow -- I'm guessing that's why I get copies of the production notes and why you get to read reviews like this: to explain the plot. So here goes: Isabel (Nicole Kidman) is a woman in 1872 Europe who eschews the traditional life of the time (i.e. marry a rich guy) and has the world's first afro (check out the publicity stills). She's a rare free spirit in an age of repression. Turning down suitors played by Viggo Mortensen, Richard E. Grant, and AMATEUR's Martin Donovan, Isabel turns out to be pretty gullible, too, and gets suckered into marrying the manipulative Osmond (John Malkovich), thanks to the duplicity of Osmond's evil friend Madame Merle (a nearly unrecognizable Barbara Hershey). (Yes, it does sound very DANGEROUS LIAISONS-ish.) Isabel soon finds her life pretty miserable, and then 124 years later they make a movie about it. That's *way* simplified.

You're probably saying that PORTRAIT is probably not the best movie material out there, and I agree, but if anyone was going to have the ability to pull this off, it was Campion, and I've got to give her credit for trying. Unfortunately, unlike THE PIANO, PORTRAIT is incredibly hard to get at, a dense and mostly inaccessible try at making something into art.

There's so much good about the film, though, that it's hard not to recommend -- the performances are top-notch, especially Donovan as Isabel's cousin, who really deserves notice for this production. Kidman is really coming into her own as a true talent, as well, and the remaining cast are all great. Again, beautiful art direction, cinematography, direction by Campion, and interesting editing all work to the film's advantage. The only problem I had: what's with the black & white inserts, slow-motion, askew angles, and singing beans(!?) that show up now and then? We do not need another ERASERHEAD.

Oh well... you should still see it, if for no other reason than it will give you plenty of conversation material for a long time. And you'll get some interesting hairstyling ideas.

[Be sure to listen for the best inside-joke line: "I would have given my little finger..."]

I'm Not Rappaport (1996)

3 stars - Average, Hits and Misses

Turning a play into a movie is always a hit-or-miss process, and I still don't know quite what to make of the latest film to take that journey, I'M NOT RAPPAPORT.

Based on the critically-acclaimed play of the same name, I'M NOT RAPPAPORT as the story of two elderly men, Nat, a Jewish/socialist radical and compulsive liar (Walter Matthau), and Midge, a black, nearly blind apartment superintendent (Ossie Davis). The pair has an uneasy friendship based on the fact that they sit on the same bench in Central Park, where Nat fills Midge's head with fabrications. Nat's flair for creating new personae for himself draws the pair into one minor adventure after another, involving a young artist-in-training (Martha Plimpton), a drug dealer (Craig T. Nelson), a mugger (Guillermo Diaz), and threats from Nat's daughter (Amy Irving) regarding the ever-looming old folks' home.

The stuff of Broadway? For sure. The stuff of Hollywood? I don't think so. The problems of compressing a heartwarming story about two old guys who hang around Central Park into a feature film have obviously taken their toll on I'M NOT RAPPAPORT, and what we've got is a 2-hour, 15-minute opus that features a very rocky start, some unneeded subplots, and an overly repetitious plotline that is compelling despite its heavy talkiness.

Matthau and Davis are truly inspired as the leads (they worked together before in GRUMPY OLD MEN), and it's great to see Plimpton again, but whoever was in charge of putting Irving and Nelson in this movie should be put in the old folks' home themselves. Herb Gardner's direction of his own script is as good as you can expect for a piece like this (he changes camera angles enough to keep it interesting, and that's about it), but nothing much else is overly inspired.

The film is semi-entertaining and semi-interesting, but unless you're really into this kind of tale, "semi" probably isn't going to cut it.

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