Citizen Ruth (1997) -- Return of the Jedi (re-release) -- Crash (1997) -- The Saint (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).
It's been a while since I've anticipated a film this greatly and been let down so much by the actual product. Filmed from Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor's extremely entertaining script, CITIZEN RUTH had a lot to live up to. Of course, in some ways, it does, and in some, it doesn't. Geez, you'd think I would be used to disappointment by now!
CITIZEN RUTH is the story of Ruth Stoops (Laura Dern), a "huffer" (paint/glue/other hazardous vapor sniffer) who finds herself the unlikely center of a modern morality play. Ruth, pregnant for the fifth time and up on drug charges once again, is given a choice by an unsympathetic judge: go to jail for criminally endangering her fetus, or have an abortion and face a lighter sentence. Immediately, ires are raised and banners are crafted from both sides of the abortion issue -- with Ruth Stoops, the lowest of the low, right in the middle.
What follows is a rather simple tale of pro-choice vs. pro-life, and there's no clear good guy in all of this. But instead of focusing on the issue, the filmmakers choose to focus on the characters -- and they're all pretty loathsome when you get down to brass tacks. Worst of all is Dern, who is so gratingly offensive that by the end of the movie you really just want her to shut up more than anything else.
Some of the supporting characters are amusing, but it gets to the point where you just can't take any more Southern small-town kitsch and an overwhelming desire to leave this no-win debate overtakes you. But something keeps you in your seat -- and it isn't just the gum on the floor. I guess it's the humor that the filmmakers have instilled into this not-too-funny situation and the earnestness with which they try to tell this story.
All in all, a nice try at a tough topic.
More info on Citizen Ruth at the Internet Movie Database
I'll skip the cute introduction. Let me cut to the chase and tell you what you want to know.
Yes, the reissue is as good as the original. Yes, it lives up to the greatness of the rest of the series. Yes, the enhancements are top-notch and they really add to the enjoyment of the film.
What's new? Basically three things: A new, surprisingly funny, song-and-dance sequence in Jabba the Hutt's palace, preceding the Jedi knight Luke Skywalker's arrival to save his friends. Enhanced footage of the creature inside the sand pit, where the heroes are forced to walk the plank at Jabba's whim. And a new, much more satisfying ending sequence -- showing the celebrations of victory over the Empire on different planets throughout the galaxy, instead of the little Ewok party on Endor.
What's the same? Well, the guts of this epic finale from this terrific trilogy. The thrill of good finally conquering evil, seeing the upright son converting his once-lost father -- the first feel-good sci-fi movie series ever produced. (Never mind the still-horrendous blue-screen footage of Luke fighting the Rancor monster in Jabba's palace.)
People ask me what they should go see in the theaters right now, and I always point them to the STAR WARS trilogy. These films absolutely deserve another viewing on the big screen, and I just can't push you in that direction hard enough.
Go see them all. And may the force be with you.
More info on Return of the Jedi at the Internet Movie Database
Kinky sex? Intentional car wrecks? Extreme underground perversion? A year and a half of fuss and controversy for this? You betcha!
CRASH is one of the more disturbing movies I've seen in my lifetime, and although I enjoyed it on an aesthetic level, I find it difficult to recommend to the masses, and I think you'll see why in a minute.
David Cronenberg's story of a cadre of fetishists who get off on car wrecks and suck in the not-so-innocent-themselves Ballard family (James Spader and Deborah Unger) is an exercise in extremism. Powerful performances by all the leads (especially Holly Hunter and Elias Koteas as big-time fetishists), excellent scoring, and masterful visuals make CRASH a tricky little picture. A little eye-popping, a little nauseating, it's easy to get sucked into Cronenberg's spell.
Then again, this is a movie about sex and car crashes, for God's sake! Where Cronenberg fails in his attempt to shock us is in his trying much too hard to make us identify with these freaks and their freakishness. When you let your disbelief creep in just a little bit, you start to ask yourself if it's even remotely reasonable to be aroused by a car crash. I just don't think so.
CRASH gets progressively more and more disturbing as it gets more and more ridiculous. The ending is predictable, yet oddly understated.
Sure, it's pretty silly when you sit down and think about it, but I have to hand it to Cronie for trying. I know I buckled my seatbelt on the way home from the theater.
More info on Crash at the Internet Movie Database
The Next Big Franchise hits theaters this Friday, with all the trappings of a sequel-destined event. Infused with a backstory to set up the past of its nameless hero (Val Kilmer) as something of a "rogue James Bond with a guilty conscience and a Volvo," THE SAINT is as improbable as it is entertaining. With a plot revolving around a successful cold fusion experiment developed by miniskirt-clad scientist Emma (Elizabeth Shue) and the Russian Mafia's enlisting of the Saint to "steal the formula," it would be easy to sit back and laugh at the film's goofiness. However, Kilmer comes off as so engrossing and delivers his wryly hilarious lines with such precision that you end up forgetting the bad techno soundtrack and the series of unlikely coincidences that drive the picture to its inevitable end. And while that obviously-altered-to-make-it-happy ending is truly annoying, it's THE SAINT's combination of action and comedy that make it a worthwhile trip.
More info on The Saint at the Internet Movie Database