More Movie Reviews by Christopher Null

Beavis and Butthead Do America (1996) -- Mars Attacks! (1996) -- Scream (1996) -- Shine (1996)

Also in this issue of Eclectica
Mother -- The English Patient -- 101 Dalmations
The Evening Star -- The Portrait of a Lady -- I'm Not Rappaport

Beavis and Butthead Do America (1996)

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

I realize, right from the start, that absolutely *nothing* I say about BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD DO AMERICA is going to sway you at all, one way or another, about whether or not to see the film.

Nevertheless, I'm going to comment, mainly out of habit.

If you've read this far, I just have to wonder -- what are you expecting from this film? A work of genius? A breakthrough performance for the two delinquent boys made famous by MTV? What kind of a bunghole reads a review of a Beavis and Butt-head movie without knowing from the start exactly what's coming???

BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD DO AMERICA is exactly what it claims to be -- no more, no less. It's about 78 minutes of spare animation, butt jokes, rock & roll music, and enough Technicolor slapstick to... um, well, um... hu-huh... I said "stick."

Okay, now I've got Mike Judge's grating characters on the brain, so I've got to give him credit. Who would have thought that in the time it takes to eat lunch, two kids who do nothing but watch TV all day could get involved with a tale of a stolen biological warfare device, hitmen, ATF agents, and the collapse of Hoover Dam, and live to watch TV again? Far-fetched, you say? It's a cartoon, people.

Well, the film is already destined to be a cult classic, I'm sure, so I guess you'd better see it too. For the record, the jokes are above average for typical B&B material, there are a number of celebrity voice cameos that I won't spoil for you, plus enough movie spoofs to entertain even a non-fan of the show. And, it's only 78 minutes long -- it's like, you can either catch the movie, or you can watch an episode of "Baywatch." Take your pick.

In the end, I was relatively amused and entertained. Beavis and Butt-head "do" America -- in every sense of the title -- and the movie is simply a fine homage to a movie whose parts add up to less than its whole.

Hu-huh, hu-huh. I said "hole."

Mars Attacks! (1996)

Two Stars - Subpar on many levels

We've already had three movies based on TV shows this year, plus a film based on a TV commercial, but I think it's a really bad omen when a film is based on a series of trading cards.

The film is MARS ATTACKS!, and with it Tim Burton serves up the worst production of his once-blossoming career, a movie wherein he indulges every excess of his demented psyche, pays no attention to entertaining the audience, and recycles every joke he can get his hands on.

The joke recycling would be okay, even appropriate, given Burton's predilection for shtick, if only the jokes were funny! But they're not. Nothing much is funny in MARS ATTACKS!, whose mildly amusing "War of the Worlds" story can best be described as... Mars attacks.

Burton obviously started this production in the casting -- Jack Nicholson as the president, Glenn Close as his uppity wife, Annette Bening as a New Age freak, Pierce Brosnan as a sophisticated science advisor. You get the idea. I guess Burton figured that throwing Tom Jones (as himself) into the mix would make it all better.

And maybe it would have, except the performances look like they're cobbled together from the days off that the cast of some 15 "name" actors happened to have. Bits and pieces of what should be on the editing room floor have somehow made their way into the final print instead, and in no particular order, either. Only one running joke stands out as worthy -- a flirtation between two disembodied heads (I won't say who).

I realize that MARS ATTACKS! was supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek homage to the cheesy, old sci-fi flicks (but Tim, you *already* made ED WOOD), but MARS ATTACKS! isn't even any good as a farce. The movie just plain looks bad -- too bad to be taken seriously, but not bad enough to look bad on purpose. And Burton's use of ultra-campy stars like Lisa Marie and Pam Grier? Puh-leeze. Where's Richard Roundtree, Tim?

Got the point yet? Because I'm tired of writing about this dead film. I wonder if we'll ever know what Burton had in mind when he put together this giant waste of time, but then again, who cares?

Scream (1996)

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

My review notes for SCREAM consist of three whole words:


What has been billed as the first "really scary" movie in a long time surprisingly lives up to its promise (due, in part, to the fact that there hasn't been a really scary movie since THE EXORCIST III in 1990), with plenty of screaming on the screen and in the audience. Wes Craven's SCREAM is a true exercise in the horror film -- an in-depth study of the genre that terrifies at the same time as it good-naturedly pokes a little fun at itself.

Anyway, Miramax is practically begging critics not to reveal the plot, so I'll just give you the starting point: an all-alone Drew Barrymore answers a phone call from a deranged killer, and it goes downhill from there. Be aware that the "star" of the show is not Barrymore, but is actually Neve Campbell (THE CRAFT). And the real stars are a couple of her character's friends, played by a now-blonde Rose McGowan (THE DOOM GENERATION) and Matthew Lillard (HACKERS), who totally steal the show.

Of course, these are only two of the dozens of characters who serve as Fresh Meat for our killer, the most notable of which is probably Courtney Cox as a trashy tabloid TV reporter covering the story.

Thank God Craven has imbued SCREAM with witty dialogue, fine plot development, and an ending that actually seems remotely plausible. While he does let up with the terror in the final act (I won't be having any nightmares tonight), I left pleasantly surprised and a bit shaken up from so much jumping in my seat. I'm sure you'll agree. It's a... well... a scream.

Shine (1996)

Four Stars: Good, Memorable film

In Hollywood, you just can't make a movie like SHINE. Put simply, it is just not allowed.

This is our loss and Australia's gain, because SHINE comes off as one of the upper-echelon films of the year, an ambitious and unflinching look at that country's David Helfgott, a prodigy of a pianist driven insane by his father, only to emerge again after 20 years of institutionalization.

The film tracks David's tumultuous life from young boy (Alex Rafalowicz) to young man (FLIRTING's Noah Taylor) to adulthood (Australian stage actor Geoffrey Rush). David's father Peter (Armin Mueller-Stahl) pushes young David so hard (his motto: "Win! Win! Win!") that his mind slowly crumbles before our very eyes. And while Peter wants David to be The Best, he doesn't want him away from home, and his overprotectionism, combined with Peter's insistence that David master Rachmaninoff's 3rd Piano Concerto (the "Rach 3," considered one of the most difficult piano pieces ever written), eventually drives David over the edge.

Extremely compelling for a film that is essentially a character study of one man, SHINE succeeds by leaving out no detail and by masterfully using the camera to capture an inner turmoil that would be impossible for us to feel otherwise. Exquisite is the string of five-star performances by Rush, Taylor (a favorite of mine), Mueller-Stahl, and supporting players John Gielgud and Lynn Redgrave. Rush's frantic jabbering as the insane adult Helfgott so perfectly captures the mood that he deserves (and is receiving) serious notice. And let me not forget the music, which is awe-inspiring (especially the unbelievable Rach 3), and which makes you want to applaud after each piece is performed.

SHINE isn't flawless, though -- the biggest problem is a *serious* defect in the sound quality, normally no big deal, but inexcusable in a film about music. The roundabout plot structure will not appeal to every filmgoer, and when the movie was over, I felt a bit cheated by the lack of a real ending. (Helfgott has returned to sanity and is allegedly going to play at the Oscars if SHINE is nominated -- an event that the film, as it stands, would never portend.)

I guess you can't have everything. But maybe leaving the audience hungry for more was the whole idea.


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