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Parent Issue
Month
October
Year
1993
Copyright
Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
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Agenda Publications
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[1992. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Cast: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves.Columbia Pictures, 127 mins.] A ter last year's critical lynching of "Bram Stoker's Dracula," one wonders what the film reviewers would have said about the movie if they hadn't known the director had already gone through the mili with "The Godfather," The Conversation," and "Apocalypse Now." Instead of slamming his "expressionist" tendencies and fantastic exaggerations, one imagines the pundits would have raved about this wild man who had the audacity to effectively translate this old boot of a horror story for a post-modern audience. Alas, no luck. Francis Ford Coppola's going to drag the Corleone family around with him until the end of his career and his "Dracula" - like everything else he's done since - is ultimately going to be weighed against his "golden era." Such is the unfortunatelegacyofinvitingthehighexpectations of a whole generation. Which is quite a shame, be cause this "Dracula" not only holds up well against the 1922 F.W. Mumau "Nosferatu" and Tod Browning's Bela Lugosi 1931 version... it's light-years beyond anything done since. Credit Gary Oldman with a critical save. His chameleon-like Count Vlad is the centerpiece of a film which occasionally lurches from campy gore to erotic excess, but with this vastly gifted young talent securely at the core of the film, "Dracula" never strays too far from the old bucket of blood we've come to know and love. Still, Oldman is no more than a handsomely draped, stalkinghorseforhisdirector. Forfromthe arrival of Jonathan Harker to the Counf s castle in Transylvania, to the final vein-squirting blow-out saving the lovely Mina's (im)mortal soul, this eager-to-please atmospheric tale of the dark side belongs solely to Coppola. Considering he's only a director for hire on this project, it's quite amazing how much he's bent this furrowed tale to his taste. With some amazingly operatic flourishes, his "Dracula" borrows furiously from virtually every vampire film in the canon. And what he doesn't borrow, he steals outright. Always the mark of an inspired professional. Perhaps outside of the chilis Coppola provides us, however, maybe the best thing one can say about this unheralded modern horror classic is that although we've seen it all before, ifs so fresh and vivid, we want to see it again and again. RAISE THE RED LANTERN [1992. Directed by Zhang Yimou. Cast: Gong Li, He Caifei, Cao Cuifeng, Kong Lin. Mandarin with English subtitles. Orion Classics. 125 mins.] &A& One of most scathing indictments of totalitarianismtobefilmedthisdecade.Zhang's "Raise the Red Lantem" is clearly the equal of his previous prize-winning work. In this instance, the scope of Zhang's "Red Sorghum" has been combined with the intimacy of his "Ju Dou." If that isn't enough, the socio-political implications of the story lend themselves to a specific criticism of modemday China. Gong Li, Zhang's favorite leading actress, plays Songlian, a young i920s-era college student who is forced by the death of her father (with an additional assist from her stepmother) into a marriage forcash. Uponaccepting heríate, the young woman finds herself ensnared in an anachronistic, feudal court where her husband sumptuously houses three older concubines amidst his extensive retinue. Each of these three "eider sisters" is extremely jealous of her personal prerogatives, and despite the elaborately subtle ceremonies which mask their intents, it soon becomes obvious that each woman will do what is necessary to "raise the red lantem" outside herlivingquarters. The red lantem is the master's symbol that identifies which wife has been favored with his attentions through the night, but t is also the sign of the favored wife's control over the other mistresses of his domain. Songlian is the only wife to question the morality underlying this outdated arrangement. With this simple framework in place, Zhang paints a memorable parable of rampant egoism which ultimately leads to death, madness, and repression. Yet whatismost remarkable about "Raise the Red Lantem" is not merely the human tragedy which unfolds in the film; more impressive is Zhang's pin-point criticism of 20th century Chinese conservatism, liberalism, and Marxism. In one feil swoop, Zhang's tale recounts the numbing adherence to tradition which doomed Chinese society in the first half of this century. But he also critiques modern China's subsequent inability to reconcile the integrity of the individual with social progress. Given that his points hit target on virtually every level, Fs no wonder that "Raise the Red Lantern" is banned in Mainland China. A FEW GOOD MEN [1992. Directed by Rob Reiner. Cast: Torn Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon. Columbia Pictures. 140 mins.] omebody's fragged a Marine near the "red zone" perimeter outside of Cuba's Guantanamo Bay, and callowlaw school gradúate, Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee has been assigned to defend the culprits. His chief problem is that the victim was a major league sad sack of supposedly no consequence and his clients, a Lance Col. and Pfc. charged with his accidental death, are obviously falling on the sword to protect the chain of command that ordered his termination with prejudice. Shades of a Watergate-style cover-up, Kaffee knows in his gut that Colonel Nathan "Buil" Jessup, commander of the base, is somehow implicated in the death. . .but how is he going to prove it? Anyone who's heard of Edward Dymytryk's famed 1954 "The Caine Mutiny" can read this flick a mile a way. But to Rob Reinetas good fortune, the screenplay is so fast-paced and pitched to such perfection - in keeping with the smash Broadway play - "A Few Good Men" hurtles along with the speed of a Navy jet fighter. Unfortunately, Bogey isn't around for this retread, but in a pinch, Jack Nicholson's Queeg-like performance does just fine. Nicholson's Jessup is a cold war ogre who's all twitches and shifry eyes. The sort of authoritarian villain who effortlessly dominatesa film. The revelation in this film, however, isn't the ever dependable Nicholson. Rather, it's the onand-off Torn Cruise. For laugh as many might, Cruise is definitely the class act of our post-babyboomer leading men. He's got that American eagle sharpness which can play high or low on the social scale and nobody's doing it better at this time. Yet Cruise can also be so erratic, it's difficult to get a clear fix on the guy. "Risky Business" and "Bom on the Fourtn of July" stand out in his career, and one can make a passable case for "Rain Man" and "The Color of Money." But it's best that we forget about "Days of Thunder" and "Cocktail." In "A Few Gcod Men," it's Cruise-control all the way. Demi Moore's around to serve as the military's social conscience and Kevin Bacon's rock-solid in a supporting military prosecutor performance, but it's Cruise's affectingly ambivalent hero that holds our attention while he tries to simultaneously grow up, unravel the caper, and figure out a way to bag the right man. Admittedly, Reiner'spenchant for playing down to his material doesn't inspire a lot of confidence. Still, he's got a clean winner on his hands this time out and there's no way he's going to muff the decisión. Reiner just lucked out that Torn terrific showed up this time, instead of Torn terrible, and signed on for the duration. RATING KEY ft Acting H Cinematography Direction lE Editing L2 Screenplay Sound Special Effects This rating system s designed to nform the reader, at a glance, about the strengths of a gi ven ( lm or video. Thus, when a symbol appears foflowiny a title, it impiies that the corresponding category s a strength of the movie.

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