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Yang Ban Xi: The 8 Modelworks (2006), Yan Ting Yuen, A

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Thursday, March 30th, 2006

Ever since I saw the Chinese Acrobats and Magicians of Taiwan at the Minskoff Theater at the age of 5, I’ve always been a little bit fascinated with China. Frankly, who isn’t? While “Yang Ban Xi” concerns itself with Mme. Mao’s “Modelworks” and the nexus of art and propaganda, nostalgia and kitsch and the ambivalence of pride-in-one’s-work despite an awareness of its inherent dishonesty, this is also one of the more fascinating documents one is likely to see about what life is like in urban China today. What the hell are Mme. Mao’s “Modelworks?” Well if you aren’t Chinese or an avid reader of John Pareles ca. 1998, you may be unaware that virtually all new theater and film in China was halted during the Cultural Revolution to be replaced exclusively by a handful of pre-approved ardently pro-Revolutionary propaganda operettas that come across today as a wide-eyed wash of color-saturated Busby Berkley-esque odes to agrarian reform. These “Modelworks,” created with varying degrees of involvement by Chairman Mao’s wife herself (she a grumpy ex-actress) are, to phrase it eloquently, fucking amazing. Today, of course, they are high kitsch to the younger generation (just imagine if the Partridge Family was about collective farming!!) but to the now old(ish) dancers and composers, they represent the high point of their career, even if it represents deathly propaganda at its most vile. What makes this film such a treasure, though, is that this is only background. The film is actually a Chris Marker-esque tone poem on modern China, replete with power lunches, discotheques and teenage dance troupes Spice Girls-ing up Mme. Mao’s great proletarian ballets of resistance. Anyone who isn’t fascinated by every inch of this movie just can’t recognize the good things in life.

An Actual Piece of Good News

Jordan | No News Is Good News | Thursday, March 30th, 2006

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28 year old reporter Jill Caroll is free.

Now that she’s safe, how many days until she sells the TV movie rights?

Tonight’s The Night

Jordan | Cram it in Your Ear | Tuesday, March 28th, 2006

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With “Last Tango In Paris,” the greatest work of art concerning grief that I am familiar with. “Last Tango…” has Maria Schneider in tight jeans, “Tonight’s The Night” has Nils Lofgren’s solo on “Speakin’ Out.”

Well he shot four men
in a cocaine deal
And he left them
lyin’ in an open field
Full of old cars
with bullet holes
in the mirrors.
He tried to do his best
but he could not.

Please take my advice,
please take my advice
Please take my advice.
Open up the tired eyes,
Open up the tired eyes.

Well, it wasn’t
supposed to go
down that way.
But they burned his brother,
you know,
And they left him lying
in the driveway.
They let him down with nothin’.
He tried to do his best
but he could not.

Please take my advice,
please take my advice
Please take my advice.
Open up the tired eyes,
Open up the tired eyes.

Well tell me more,
tell me more,
tell me more
I mean was he a heavy doper
or was he just a loser?
He was a friend of yours.
What do you mean,
he had bullet holes
in his mirrors?
He tried to do his best
but he could not.

Please take my advice,
please take my advice
Please take my advice.
Open up the tired eyes,
Open up the tired eyes.

Please take my advice,
please take my advice
Please take my advice.
Open up the tired eyes,
Open up the tired eyes.

Things Change (1988), David Mamet, D

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Tuesday, March 28th, 2006

Mamet’s worst film. And I include “Heist” in that list.

Strange Plates VI

Jordan | Tales Of Hoffman | Saturday, March 25th, 2006

Episode Six of the Strange Plates saga was, without question, the most controversial. Overheard comments ranged everywhere from “Everything was fantastic!” to “Oh, God, get me out of this restaurant!”

The restaurant was Mombar on Steinway St. where we ate babganouj/hummus/mystery stuff; herring salad; stuffed quail; short ribs with sweet potatoes; rabbit (!); peppery fish balls; and the world’s first three dollar can (can!) of Coca-Cola.

Here I am leading the folks from the homestead through the wilds of Astoria. I used the same technique I use on my tours (keep moving and hope they don’t get lost!)

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Afterwards we hit Laziza’s pastry for some awesome, awesome, awesome (in my opinion) baklava.

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Big Trouble (1986), John Cassavetes, B

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Saturday, March 25th, 2006

You know, when you hear about how awful a movie is and it doesn’t 100% suck, you tend to be very forgiving. This mocking “Double Indemnity” re-take is a botched attempt to recapture the magic of “The In-Laws” with the same actors (Alan Arkin and Peter Falk) and the same screenwriter (Andrew Bregman.) And it isn’t anything resembling a good movie. But — apart from being very dopey/funny in spots — it is quite a fascinating experiment. It was the last film John Cassavetes directed, the first in decades that wasn’t “his” project. The first director was fired and Cassavetes, near death from his drinking problem, was thrown this bone from (I’m guessing) his longtime friend Falk. Cassavetes, who has a style as distinctive as Altman or, I dunno, Tarkovsky, plays it straight most of the time. This is a broad comedy with two great leads who know how to get the laughs, plus a sweet collection of character actors in small roles (Charles Durning, Robert Stack, the guru dude from “All of Me” who was also in “The In-Laws” and more.) But, slipped in here and there (probably the days John was cogent enough to be awake on the set) there are some moments of unexpected sparkle. The finished product is uneven and disquieting — but it is goofy enough to enjoy as an idiotic comedy, so you Cassavetes completists don’t have to complain too much. Also: some of the most bizarre non sequitur jokes this side of Albert Brooks. My guess is Arkin and Falk were just trying to one-up each other. Also also: Arkin gives the second funniest spit take I’ve ever seen in a film. (Number one still goes to, of all people, Arsenio Hall in “Coming To America.”)

The Sopranos: Season Five (2004), Multiple Directors, A-

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Friday, March 24th, 2006

After season four I said I was through with the Sopranos. But seeing the ads everywhere for season six revised my interest. Season five may be the best, all told. And, by the way, you really *don’t* have to watch the Sopranos from the beginning. Ann came in here and, with the occasional use of the pause button while I filled in some background, she was able to get right into it. But I had something of an obvious revelation. This is a really nasty show. It is depressing, black, vile, horrific. You go into the Virgin Megastore and they sell cutesy items like “The Sopranos’ Italian Cookbook,” but there is nothing cutesy about this show. There are no likable characters — none, not one (maybe Meadow’s boyfriend, but, if you met that yamhead in a bar, you’d want to hang out with him?) — and spending so much time with horrible people doing horrible things eventually effects your mood. It is pretty fascinating how popular the show is considerng just how miserable the show makes me. After a few episodes, I almost feel like I have a hangover. But I’m me — I look for unique experiences in art — what do the rubes out there get out of it? (Yes, you read that right — I basically just said that I understand and appreciate this show, and, by extension, life in general, more than most other people, you got a problem with that?) I’d be curious to have a serious conversation with, say, a regular Fox News or Wheel of Fortune viewer who also watches (and buys the cookbooks of) The Sopranos. Is it really just that much fun to see people beat each other up?

Hoffman (1970), Alvin Rakoff, B+

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Friday, March 24th, 2006

Yes, I did rent this because of the name. What, you wouldn’t rent a movie named after you? In it, Peter Sellars gives the most deadpan performance I’ve seen since Bill Murray in “Broken Flowers.” He is the sadsack at the office using blackmail to get the love of his life — the hot Irish secretary — to “stay at his house for a week.” What follows is a very funny, but very un-PC male fantasy of the Stockholm Syndrome variety. Recommended for its time capsule value, Sellars and Sinead Cusak’s performances and Sellars’ ridiculous (and probably ad libbed) non sequiturs.

Possession (1981), Andrzej Zulawski, A-

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Thursday, March 23rd, 2006

An impossible movie. And yet it is true! 19 year old Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill scream, wail and bleed their way around West Berlin. The camera flies at them as though fired from a slingshot, making unmotivated 360 degree turns. (Unless “Woah!” is a motivation. Which it very well may be.) The story is a satanic love child of “Kramer Vs. Kramer” and “The Tenant” with a visual subtlety meter clocking in at Dario Argento level and a love of the actor’s craft similar to one found in “The Bad Seed.” Truly a piece of work. Highly recommended for those that think they’ve seen everything. And deserving of the same award Cronenberg’s “Crash” got at Cannes for daring, originality and audacity.

I Just Hope I Am There When His Face Melts Off

Jordan | E-motions | Thursday, March 23rd, 2006

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Mid-March Wrap-Up

Jordan | Tales Of Hoffman | Tuesday, March 21st, 2006

Good things:

The M60 bus. From my house to 125th St. in five minutes. From Hal’s place on the Upper West Side to my house in ten minutes. I heart the M60 bus.

The Lenox Lounge. And I don’t just love it because it gives me an excuse to use the M60 bus.

Top of the Rock. Wipes the floor of the Empire State Building. No line, and if there were a line at least there is stuff to read, watch, do while you are on line. I took no photos — go for yourself!

The art of CD buying may be nearly dead (MP3 killed the CD-star?) and, indeed, the Disc-O-Rama annex has closed. But the main Disc-O-Rama on West 4th and Jones is still open. I was able to pick up three of the Nonesuch Explorer CDs for a pittance.

Bad things:

Ben Ash Deli — you suck! In a city where there is Sarge’s, is Bloom’s, is Artie’s, is Ben’s, is the Cafe Edison, is even, Lord help us, Katz’s, there is no reason to ever go into any of the midtown ripoffs. No one, NO ONE, should be charging you twenty dollars for a sandwich. Especially this piece of shit place.

It Begins!

Jordan | Tales Of Hoffman | Tuesday, March 21st, 2006

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The tourist season has begun!

Administrivia

Jordan | Tales Of Hoffman | Tuesday, March 21st, 2006

No one — not even I — reads The SS Fun by “category.” But maybe some day future historians will. To that end, I am retiring the “Out and About” category and replacing it with this one, “Tales of Hoffman.” For a few reasons. One) The “Out and About” page is now getting to large. It takes forever to load. Two) It is a lame name. It always was a lame name. In fact, I called it “out and about” as a placeholder and never got around to changing it.

Anyway, the last link to it is here. Click on it to see photos of me at odd restaurants, on vacation, playing with the cat, wearing funny hats.

Beautiful City (2006), Asghar Farhadi, C

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Tuesday, March 21st, 2006

On paper, this sounds like it would be fascinating. On the one hand a Kafkaesque journey through the vagaries of the Iranian legal system, and on the other a tone poem on revenge, forgiveness and justice. But what winds up on the screen is just. . . Zzzzzzzzz. Not only do the scenes lack oomph, but, and I say this with a little embarrassment, it is *very* difficult to follow. I think the film assumes the viewer is familiar with the Iranian legal code and Shariah law. I’m all for a film immersing me in another culture, but a little guidance, please.

The Tempest (1979), Derek Jarman, D

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Monday, March 20th, 2006

Call me middlebrow but I think I’d much prefer a Ken Branagh version. Maybe in 1979 (or if I were 18) we’d be more likely to cut a film slack because it was low-budget or an “art film,” but the rough edges on display here are just sorry. By the time Ariel sings “Stormy Weather” at the end I was already asleep.

Doctor Zhivago (1965), David Lean, B+

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Friday, March 17th, 2006

This movie was a lot better in my memory, but it is still pretty good — especially when seen at the Ziegfeld theater. Julie Christie is sure as hell not unnatractive and no amount of Bolshevik factions (or wives, for that matter) ought to keep glassy-eyed (and icicle-moustached) Omar Sharif from her. I like a big fat soap opera set against geo-political conflicts in ideology, don’t you? And that song! Dah-dah-dah-daaaaaah! Dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-daaaaaaaah!

Good Night, And Good Luck. (2005), George Clooney, A

Jordan | Jordan Hoffman's Movie Journal | Thursday, March 16th, 2006

I liked this even more than I did the first time. Clooney’s witty and cineastic commetary track has elevated me from the level to fan to that of outright groupie. I’m basically ready to shave my head, move to a farm and wait for the Hale-Bopp comet if so ordered.

Riff Hard

Jordan | E-motions | Thursday, March 16th, 2006

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What is it about Keith that makes him always look cool? I mean — let’s look at this objectively. This is an old man in rags with a shmatte on his head topped by a goofy hat. He should be looking for change on a downtown 4 train. And yet. . .

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