Month: March 2006

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

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...

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Tonight’s The Night

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....

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Strange Plates VI

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

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Big Trouble (1986), John Cassavetes, B

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...

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Jordan Hoffman is a New York-based writer and film critic working for The Guardian, Vanity Fair, Thrillist, Times of Israel, NY Daily News and elsewhere.

He is the host of ENGAGE: The Official Star Trek Podcast, a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and challenges you to a game of backgammon.

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