Movie Reviews by Christopher Null

The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), The Ghost and the Darkness (1996), Surviving Picasso (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: Sleepers (1996), Michael Collins (1996), Trees Lounge (1996), The Lovemaster (1996), Swingers (1996)

The Long Kiss Goodnight

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

The much-publicized ballyhoo over The Long Kiss Goodnight relates largely to the $4 million paid for Shane Black's script. The question everyone is asking is, was it worth it?

Well, yes and no. Opening weekend is sure to bring in moviegoers in droves enthralled by the sight of Geena Davis with a blonde dye-job, but more discriminating viewers will probably be put-off by the plot holes, inconsistencies, and downright silliness of the film. I mean, how many times *can* you outrun an explosion in one film, anyway?

The Long Kiss Goodnight starts with one hell of an idea -- suburban schoolteacher Samantha (Davis) has had amnesia for eight years, and when an escaped convict tries to kill her after he sees her on television, the truth of her past is slowly revealed. Along with private eye Mitch (Samuel L. Jackson), Samantha discovers the reality of her life -- she is a cold-blooded assassin in the employ of the CIA under deep cover, by the name of Charly.

Things go from bad to worse when everyone apparently wants the resurfaced and now out-of-date Charly out of the picture, and it becomes a game of cat and mouse with Charly's new goal becoming... well, we never really figure that out, but it involves killing a lot of people, and blowing up a lot of stuff.

Jackson is hilarious here in another Pulp-y Jules-esque comic relief role, and Davis has the action-star makings of another Sigourney Weaver. And while the film on the whole is one exciting slam-bang actioner (directed by slam-bang director and Mr. Geena Davis, Renny Harlin), it's the glaring bits of incongruity that constantly bother the viewer. The conveniently placed props -- thin ice where it's needed, always a gun handy, kerosene in a child's doll (I still haven't figured that one out) -- and Harlin's insistence in pointing these out well in advance so we won't be scratching our heads when they inevitably enter the picture -- all of this gives the movie the feeling of a methodically-planned operation, executed with the skill of... well, a killer like Charly.

The Long Kiss Goodnight has other problems, most notably a poor editing job, needed explanatory sequences obviously excised from the film, and a disconcerting similarity of Charly at the end of the film to MacGyver, but what's the point of worrying? In the end, you're likely to remember little but a lot of guns, explosions, and Geena's lovely hair.

RATING: ***1/2

The Ghost and the Darkness

Two and 1/2 stars: Sub-par to Average

Or, as Meryl Streep might say, "I had a bridge in Africa..." Only a couple of wicked lions ate half my workers and the rest ran away.

That's The Ghost and the Darkness in a nutshell. And while it may be, as the press materials say, "one of the most thrilling true stories ever told," it has somehow turned into one of the most boring movies of the year, owing to a downright dull directorial job by Stephen Hopkins and a surprisingly flat script by double Oscar-winner William Goldman.

Set during the rush to colonialize Africa in 1898, Val Kilmer stars as John Patterson, a bridge-builder working for the British railroad. Down in the belly of the country on assignment, two lions suddenly show up and begin decimating the crew, and no one is able to stop them. Even renowned hunter Charles Remington (Michael Douglas) is brought in, but the lions seem unstoppable. Hundreds are killed by these "man-eaters," and the natives eventually give them the monikers, the Ghost and the Darkness -- devils.

I'll admit, I think there's a story there, it's just not a movie, mainly because of the simplistic direction the film takes (no lions - lions - no lions). Everything is earnest in trying to convince the viewer that this is a True Story, I guess so you'll have a little more sympathy for the limp plotline. But like I said, THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS keeps you waiting, and waiting, and waiting... and it just never revs up.

Combine this arrow-straight plot with a whole lot of gore (more than many people in the audience at my screening wanted -- as some of them left and never returned) and you get a picture that resembles a slasher movie much more than it does an action/drama.

That's not an altogether bad thing, but it's certainly not what I was expecting. (Points only for cinematography, fine acting, and cool supporting characters.)

RATING: **1/2

Surviving Picasso

Two Stars - Subpar on many levels

If you learn only one thing while watching Surviving Picasso, it will probably be this: Pablo Picasso was a big fat jerk.

Unfortunately, that's about all you'll learn, as Merchant-Ivory's latest exercise in excess sheds little light on the great artiste and leaves the viewer with even less of an understanding as to why Picasso was the man he was.

Anthony Hopkins is the obvious choice for Picasso, and the film takes the track of vaguely following Picasso's life along with his many, many love interests, including the psychotic Dora Maar (Julianne Moore in a fantastic performance), his wife Olga (Jeanne Lapotaire), a couple of other relationships, plus the mysterious Francoise Gilot (Natascha McElhone), who suffered with Pablo for some ten years. (All of the women perform their roles admirably.)

What the film doesn't do is show you any insight into Picasso's life, except for the fact that he was stingy, paranoid, stubborn, and basically a lech. The movie's liberal use of voice-over and thick accents doesn't help matters, and this already cryptic tale becomes even more inaccessible -- not only is it hard to understand what this movie is really about, it's hard to understand what anyone is saying.

As played by Hopkins, Picasso is transformed into a childish goon with no redeeming qualities, and given Surviving Picasso's 123 minute running time, this gets extremely tiresome, extremely quickly. For the last 1-1/2 hours, I was really just waiting for the credits. So I guess we'll never really understand what Picasso was all about.

The sad result is that, in the end, Surviving Picasso is really just one long exercise in survival itself.


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