Movie Reviews by Christopher Null

The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996) -- Evita (1996) -- The High Road (1997)
Fierce Creatures (1997) -- Albino Alligator (1997)

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).

The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)
Four Stars: Good, Memorable film

What a huge gamble, to make a movie about Hustler magazine founder and die-hard porn king Larry Flynt and his turbulent life.

Whether or not it's successful, the filmmakers deserve every bit of praise for having the guts to make a movie like this, especially in an age where Washington constantly cries foul over Hollywood's depictions of sex and violence. And believe me, The People vs. Larry Flynt has plenty of both.

Following Flynt's (Woody Harrelson) life from juvenile Kentucky moonshiner to Ohio strip joint owner to the multi-millionaire ruler of a publishing empire, the film lays out the facts and doesn't make any judgments. Instead, we are invited to decide for ourselves, as the movie turns around Flynt's almost perpetual run-ins with the law, with anti-porn crusaders like Jerry Falwell and Charles Keating, and folds in Flynt's loving (and kinda sick) relationship with his wife Althea (Courtney Love).

The biggest surprise in Flynt is a five-star performance by Harrelson. After a series of idiotic movies like Indecent Proposal and Money Train, who knew there was an actual actor under there? Edward Norton also redeems himself from the boneheaded Primal Fear, playing Flynt's long-suffering attorney Isaacman. Again, another pleasant surprise.

But what truly baffles me is how Harrelson's finest hour is being overshadowed in the press by the performance of Courtney Love, who is undoubtedly one of the worst actresses I've ever seen, even in a role that was custom-made for her meager talents. That Love is perfectly credible as a stripper/drug addict is no surprise; it's her credibility as an actress (i.e. when she opens her mouth) that is more difficult to swallow, and it is her laughable performance that almost manages to topple Flynt from greatness. I can only assume that people are confusing acting ability with a good makeup job.

Flynt is not particularly well-written, glossing over a ton of details, often favoring shock value to storytelling. Considering this is the life of Larry Flynt, you can't really fault the writers for this, but the linear plot progression often feels incidental to the rest of the picture. Still, Flynt's story is compelling enough to provide its own momentum, and with Milos Forman (Amadeus) behind the camera, it does.

As to whether Flynt is a crusader for freedom or the Anti-Christ, you'll have to draw your own conclusion. In the meantime, here's something to think about: Why is the movie called The People vs. Larry Flynt when the big case in the film is Flynt vs. Falwell? Discuss amongst yourselves.

Evita (1996)
Two Stars - Subpar on many levels

Now I understand why Argentineans wanted Madonna to go home during the filming of Evita!

What the fuss is all about, I have no idea, because Evita is just another bad movie starring one of our worst actresses, Madonna. The catch is, this time she gets to sing sing sing for 2 1/2 hours -- sing until she can sing no more -- sing until your ears bleed.

Evita has had a long and sordid past as a motion picture project, and it's easy to see why. The fact that Evita makes a mockery of Argentina's most beloved personage *and* the filmmakers wanted to shoot there is almost beside the point. There's the problem that movie musicals have tended to be huge flops over the last 40 years; the problem of Madonna's inability to act; the problem that Eva Peron was basically an egomaniac that died 40 years ago and that no one in America really cares about anymore. And when co-screenwriter Oliver Stone gets involved... yikes! They might as well have made a musical called Oswald!

But they didn't. Instead, Evita rumbles through the plot points in Eva Peron's life like a freight train. From stargazing child to slutty gold-digger to talentless actress to the wife of the President, it's no wonder why Madonna fought so hard for this part -- it's straight out of her life (except for the President part... so far)! No acting required! And she gets to sing the whole time!

And what's with all this singing, anyway? Yes, I know it's from Andrew Lloyd Webber (who, after seeing "Cats," I believe is seriously disturbed), and as a traditional musical, Evita might have had a prayer. But electric guitars and synthesizers? Discordant, headache-inducing chants? A capella, sing-song dialogue between characters? Sheesh, Evita is more like The Who's Tommy than Singin' In the Rain. (It's no surprise that director Alan Parker also created Pink Floyd's The Wall) I half-expected Madonna to start rolling around in baked beans a la Ann-Margret!

No such luck. Instead we have to listen to the likes of Antonio Banderas's singing narrator, which sounds a lot like he has his cajones in a vise. Or the very British Jonathan Pryce as Juan Peron (!), singing about how he ran the British out of Argentina. The hilarity of these two performing is almost as much fun as the real treat of Evita: trying to see how many ways Madonna can cover up her blossoming pregnancy. How many arms, hats, and flower bouquets can she hold across her waist? A lot.

In all fairness, Banderas is a diamond in the rough here, in a part of comic relief that is desperately needed among the Very Serious performances. Also, a few of the songs are tolerable, even memorable, even if they rarely make sense. But, in the end, I have to pan Evita, if for no other reason than it's just plain goofy. And some parting words for Madonna, in a lyrical fashion she may be able to finally understand:

I saw your movie
Now keep your distance.

The High Road (1997)
3 1/2 stars - Average, Hits and Misses, Almost Good

The issue of whether Thomas Pallotta and Jack Meredith are twisted sons of bitches is not up for debate. A better point of contention is, are they geniuses, and what happens to them next?

After seeing their ultra-low budget production of The High Road, a drug- and booze-infused trip around the state of Texas, I'm almost unable to comment. What might be described as Easy Rider meets Drugstore Cowboy, the movie is certainly a success in terms of experimental filmmaking, and it definitely has the potential of becoming a cult classic on the midnight circuit.

While following go-nowhere (and I mean it) twentysomethings on an inspired-by-nothing journey is nothing new, Pallotta's camera direction and eye for locations is more reminiscent of David Lynch than Dennis Hopper. Making the most of almost no money (how they got such a fantastic score is beyond me), Pallotta proves that his directorial style is a force to be reckoned with, should the Money Men come knocking.

Although the road movie has seen a resurgence of late, what sets The High Road apart from recent klunkers like The Doom Generation is the deadpan goofiness with which Pallotta and company have infused the film. Full of sex, drug, and alcohol clichés, all delivered in monotone by the cast of amateurs, the movie is one long running joke about being high, yet in some bizarre way manages to be as anti-drug as anything I've ever seen.

With production values at the low end of low-budget, much of the film's sound is drowned out by room/car tone and tape hiss. It's unfortunate, even if it is expected. The performances from the four leads are all, oddly, exactly the same, due to what Pallotta refers to as "the hyperrealism of the Huston/Bunuel approach." I'm not sure if I know what that means, and I'm not even sure if I spelled "hyperrealism" right, either... but, as with most experiments, sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't.

Thankfully, The High Road works more often than not, and any fan of the genre will definitely be entertained.

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