Movie Reviews by Christopher Null

Mother (1996) -- The English Patient (1996) -- 101 Dalmations (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
The Evening Star -- The Portrait of a Lady -- I'm Not Rappaport
Beavis and Butthead Do America -- Mars Attacks! -- Scream -- Shine

Mother (1996)

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

As Norman Bates said it: "A boy's best friend is his mother." And just as Norman's family had its own brand of extreme dysfunctionality, Albert Brooks dredges up more of his neuroses in MOTHER, a new comedy about making peace with your past -- particularly with Mom.

At least I think that's what it's about. MOTHER starts off with a definitive whimper, and it takes a long time to get to the real story. (Lisa Kudrow makes a short appearance at the film's opening -- which bodes ill for the film, as it violates the "Never put a 'Friend' in a movie" rule which was established early last year.)

So, in the first 15 minutes, here's what we do get. Brooks plays John Henderson, a frustrated science fiction writer who is just finishing all the paperwork on his second divorce. His life is a shambles, and John flails about for some kind of answer to the questions of life. His ingrate brother (Rob Morrow) is no help, so John turns to the one person who understands him *least* -- his mother.

John drives the 400 miles from L.A. to Sausalito and finds Mom (played by the wonderful Debbie Reynolds) a reluctant host, plying him with 3-year-old sherbet and frozen cheese. John is moving back home with one thing on his mind: "The Experiment," a kind of soul searching that isn't easy to explain in the context of a film review (the one time John tries to explain it in the film, Mom turns and replies, "I'm sorry John, I wasn't listening...").

And while you may not really understand this Experiment thing, the give and take between the two leads makes for some excellent comedic moments: Mom talks about John's divorce to the pet store clerk, John takes Mom into Victoria's Secret to buy her some crotchless panties. You get the idea.

The gist of the rest of the film revolves around John trying to figure out why animosity exists between he and his mother, and when he does, everything ties up a little too nice-and-neatly, and everyone's happy again. But cut him some slack; relationships are by definition a tricky subject, and Brooks is to be praised for exploring one like this. I don't know if he's right about the whole thing, but I had a good time watching him try to figure it all out. If you have a mother, you should too.

The English Patient (1996)

Four Stars: Good, Memorable film

Just so you know, "patient" refers to a man with a medical condition, not the ability to sit through a film that flirts with a three hour running time.

You think I'm kidding, but I'm serious -- THE ENGLISH PATIENT has got to be the longest romance movie I've ever seen. Well, OUT OF AFRICA was awfully long, too, but that doesn't make it okay! (Like your mother might say, "If Meryl Streep jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?")

Okay, I'm being melodramatic, but my three hours in the front row (not by choice) didn't do my neck a bit of good, and if this review seems a bit grumpy, I refuse to be held responsible.

THE ENGLISH PATIENT is a grand tale of love and loss set during the backdrop of the African theatre of WWII. Told using a structure that busts Hollywood's Three Acts wide open, we follow a man we eventually come to know as The Count (Ralph Fiennes), whose plane has been shot down near the start of the war. Horribly disfigured in the resulting fire and an apparent amnesiac, the Count finds himself in the hands of Hana (Juliette Binoche), a Canadian nurse. While the war plays out, with Hana and the Count holed up in an abandoned monastery, so does the truth about the Count's past -- an intrigue-filled tale of adventure, love, and tragedy.

Fiennes is spectacular is the mystery man, and Kristin Scott Thomas (who plays the Count's flashback love interest) shows that, when she dyes her hair blonde, she can seriously burn up the screen. Also look for Willem Dafoe in one of his most earnest and accessible roles to date. Serious praises are deserved by the film's art director and editor, and I'll be absolutely shocked if THE ENGLISH PATIENT doesn't take home a Best Makeup Design Oscar.

The only problem with the film, besides severe butt-ache, is a number of holes in writer/director Anthony Minghella's (TRULY MADLY DEEPLY) screenplay. You'd think that with that extra hour, he could fill these holes up, but I guess not.

No matter. THE ENGLISH PATIENT is still a solid story and an exquisitely-produced film. There's always enough going on to hold the viewer's eye, or even get you to shed a tear or two. Just be forewarned that the best films always have sad endings.

101 Dalmations (1996)

One Star - Lowest Possible Rating!

Well, another new Disney movie is coming out and with it comes the theaters packed with screaming babies, very restless kids kicking your seat, and throngs of grownups providing running commentary of everything on the screen (to themselves, not the kids).

This is not a good thing. This time, the Disney movie is 101 DALMATIANS, the live-action version, and if any movie could make me long for a quick and painless death, this is it.

In an era when we get smart "children's" movies like BABE, why does dreck like this have to continue to be made? The new 101 DALMATIANS goes like this: Roger (Jeff Daniels) is a video game designer in London (where all the best video game designers live, I'm sure), and Anita (Joely Richardson) is a fashion designer in the employ of one Cruella DeVil (Glenn Close). Roger and Anita both have Dalmatians, and the super-smart dogs conspire to get Roger and Anita together. He proposes marriage an hour after he meets her, they get hitched, the Dalmatians have puppies, and Cruella decides she wants them for a coat. Cruella steals the happy couple's puppies plus a bunch more from other people. Dogs outwit baddies and escape, bringing down Cruella and her evil henchmen.

Well, la-dee-dah. This plot couldn't be less interesting if it was written by HOME ALONE's John Hughes. Oh, wait a minute! It *was* written by John Hughes! Silly me!!! In fact, 101 DALMATIANS is almost *exactly* the same movie as HOME ALONE. Point in fact: Kid/dogs in trouble; bad guys chase him/them; kid/dogs end(s) up being much more resourceful; bad guys fall down a lot. Oh, funny!

Maybe you're saying, "Hey, this is a kid's movie! Lighten up!" Well, I don't think it's anywhere near being suitable for children, despite it's G rating -- there are blatant sex jokes, dead/dying animals, reactionary Puritanical attitudes (women should stay in the home), and downright destructive messages.

And this movie isn't for adults, either, because this next brick in the wall of the Disney empire is so dumbed-down it ends up just rotting the audience's brains. There's never any sense of "thrill" to this adventure, the acting is mundane, and I laughed at *one* single joke ("Who gets the gold?") But hey, this is Disney, and maybe brain rot is what they're aiming for! (Because then you'll pay to see next year's animated HERCULES, which, from the trailer, looks even worse.)

So what do we learn from 101 DALMATIANS? That your dog is smarter than you? That if your dog saves someone else's dog, you get to keep it? Who can say?

Hell, I'm a cat person, after all. So what do I know?

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