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Austin Chronicle Scanlines

DECEMBER 21, 1998: 

("Scanlines" wishes to thank Encore Movies & Music, I Love Video, Vulcan Video, and Waterloo Video for their help in providing videos, laser discs, and DVDs.)

Risky Business

D: Paul Brickman (1983)
with Tom Cruise, Rebecca De Mornay, Curtis Armstrong, Bronson Pinchot, Joe Pantoliano

Besides the unforgettable image of a young Tom Cruise dancing in a living room to Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock and Roll" in briefs, Risky Business is a portrait of American youth, struggling to follow the paths that their parents have laid out for them, while at the same time wanting to experiment with the forbidden fruits of our society. First-time writer and director Paul Brickman made only one other film after Risky Business (1989's Men Don't Leave) before disappearing into the murky Hollywood underground, following in the forgotten footsteps of so many other writer/directors of the Eighties. But this film stands alone as his best. Joel Goodsen (played by a young, unknown Tom Cruise) is an upper-middle class high school senior living in the suburbs of Chicago. He is a model son and straight-A student: responsible, trustworthy, definitely college-bound. Behind the good-boy image, however, Joel is just like every other teenage male, fantasizing about money, success, and, most of all, sex. As Joel's parents are scheduled to leave for Europe on a week-long vacation, they have made the classic parental faux pas they plan to leave Joel alone, in charge of the house. Once his parents are gone, Joel's life spins wildly out of control, including meeting a strikingly beautiful call girl named Lana (Rebecca De Mornay), driving his father's brand-new Porsche into Lake Michigan, and a high-speed chase with Guido, Lana's "killer" pimp (played with tough guy style by Joe Pantoliano). Cruise is perfect in his preppy role, performing like an actor, for once, in his pre-sex symbol days. It is fascinating to watch his transition throughout the film, from innocent little rich kid to classy wheeler dealer. He tears up each scene he is in; it's not surprising that he became a mega-star. De Mornay looks like an adolescent goddess in this film and she carries off a solid, believable characterization of the call girl with a "big heart." And other than squeezing career performances out of a group of very talented actors, Brickman's direction is beyond excellent. The story mixes comedy and drama in a smooth blend. Brickman creates powerfully erotic scenes between Lana and Joel, not filled with nudity and flesh (a style later developed fully in the one-track mind of Joe Eszterhas), but sensual by what is implied rather than seen. And if, for some reason, you don't like this film, you soulless and analytical film viewer, at least respect Cruise for the fully developed role that he evolves from the famous dance scene. -- Eli Kooris

Prince of Darkness

D: John Carpenter (1987)
with Donald Pleasence, Alice Cooper, Victor Wong

Outside of Halloween and Escape From New York, most film buffs tend to overlook much of John Carpenter's work. While the recent hit Vampires proves that the longtime director's creative vision is well intact, there are an assortment of other Carpenter nuggets that deserve a second look. One of these is Prince of Darkness. Shot on a shoestring budget with no stars (except for Carpenter regular Donald Pleasence and rocker Alice Cooper), the film explores an innovative take on the old Satan theme. The premise here is that the devil was actually an extraterrestrial who has been locked away in an alternate world that mirrors our own. His son, however, has been preserved as a mass of liquid in an ancient container. When a priest (Pleasence) discovers that the deadly broth intends to free his father, he recruits an old physicist professor (Victor Wong) and an assortment of his students to combat this chemical phenomenon. Soon, our heroes find themselves trapped as the sinister fluid has infected a gaggle of homeless people who kill anything that leaves the church. Zombies, Satan, Alice Cooper. This film has some essential elements for a fright fest, but in the end, Carpenter's moody synth-score and taut direction steal the show. The storyline is certainly unlike that of any other devil flick and the Night of the Living Dead-like setting enhances the suspense level. Creepy to say the least (but not without some cheesy schlock value), Prince of Darkness remains one of Carpenter's forgotten works that is worth a closer look. -- Mike Emery

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