I. Raise the Red Lantern (1991)
Chinese director Zhang Yimou tells in his film, which is based on the novel Wives and Concubines by Su Tong, the story of a beautiful nineteen-year-old ex-university student Songlian (Gong Li) who decides to become a concubine in the 1920s China. After her decision, Songlian finds herself in the palace of “red lanterns” which has “four houses” for her husband’s four mistresses. She soon gets acquainted with the elderly and indifferent first Mistress, with the friendly and seemingly happy second Mistress and with the still young and beautiful, but jealous third Mistress. All is well, or is it? The palace’s strange, centuries-old traditions and customs first bewilder Songlian and then force her most shameful qualities out, as her husband randomly shifts the power between the four houses. Songlian soon finds herself in a miniature society and under the patriarchal dominance which she has never imagined to exist, with her husband employing arbitrary and complex policies of rewards and punishments to keep the mistresses in line. In this dangerous game, Songlian realises that she must learn to handle not only the three previous jealous Mistresses, but also her hostile maid Yan’er and the realisation of a lifetime imprisonment. Raise the Red Lantern is a psychologically-intriguing film about one oppressive world where the competition for power, hopelessness, despair and the weight of guilt all mingle as the palace changes people and makes them into forms it desires and the master has planned in advance. With the exquisitely beautiful cinematography (by Zgao Fei), Raise the Red Lantern is one of the most important films of the 1990s. 10/10
Continue reading “Recently Watched: Films: Raise the Red Lantern (1991), Quiz Show (1994) & Close-Up (1990)”
Ralph Fiennes is 55 years old today, and “to celebrate” the birthday of my favourite actor, I am doing this subjective list of his 5 best performances. Ralph is not only a great actor, he is super versatile. Whether it is a romantic hero in a sweeping drama; a disturbed individual in a psychological thriller; a true villain in a historic or adventure film; or simply a caricature of a man in a comedy; Ralph can nail any role with ease and grace. In no particular order:
1. Count Almásy – “The English Patient” (1996)
Anthony Minghella’s “The English Patient” was both a critical and box-office success, and will remain one of the most beautifully-rendered dramas ever. Part of the credit for this should go to its stars, and Ralph Fiennes here played Count László de Almásy (a role which landed him an Oscar nomination). This was a tricky role, because the hero was so imperfect. He is a multi-lingual cartographer, but, because of his origin, he is almost a man shrouded in mystery. We learn that, as a person, he can be selfish and very withdrawn, and, as a lover, very devoted, but also impulsive. He learns his lessons as circumstances in his life take a turn for the worse. Fiennes gives a very memorable performance as that man, and his romance with Katharine (Kristin Scott Thomas) is probably one of the screen’s most heart-breaking.
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Oscar and Lucinda (1996)
‘Oscar and Lucinda’ is based on the novel by Peter Carey and tells the story of a young Australian heiress, Lucinda Leplastrier (Cate Blanchett) with the passion for glass and gambling who meets an Anglican priest, Oscar Hopkins (Ralph Fiennes), who has the same obsessions. The two soon strike up a close friendship, because they share the same trait of being quite unfit to live in the society as they know it due to their oddities and gambling compulsions. However, their increasing closeness soon puts to the test their obsession limits. This film directed by Gillian Armstrong (‘Little Women’ (1994)) is almost as odd and unique as its main characters. Rapidly going from comic to romantic, and ending up being tragic, the film covers almost every genre without losing its eccentricity. However, the film’s ‘strangeness’ and unusual style may be attributed to Carey book’s content and style. The book’s narrative is more factual than descriptive, and has many ambiguous paragraphs and references.
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For those who are unfamiliar with Sam Mendes’ work and its quality, ‘Skyfall’ may appear just like another action flick of some average quality, just another James Bond film full of the same old tricks recycled once again. However, this is the film of Sam Mendes, which means that this first impression is false. ‘Skyfall’ is a delightful surprise, which has the potential to exceed everyone’s expectations. The film is intelligent, stylish, funny and very well-acted. It is certainly better than the previous two films in the James Bond series. In this film, James Bond (Daniel Craig), badly wounded on the mission to Turkey and unfit for service, embarks on yet another mission to stop a former ‘00…’ MI6 agent from completing his evil plan.
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It could be argued that the first two Harry Potter movies directed by Chris Columbus (“Home Alone” (1990)) were the best ones in the series in many ways: they were the most faithful to J.K. Rowling’s original stories; the casting choices could not have been any better there; and the movies had very logical and structured narratives. All these things were barely touched upon in the later Harry Potter films.
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