Archive for the ‘Artist’s Career’ Category

The King Of Masks

04 Feb

The King Of Masks – Directed by Tian-Ming=Wu– Comedy Drama. An old street performer and master of quick-change masks, wants to pass on his skill, but can only do so with a male heir. 101 minutes Color 1999.

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Many many folks praise this piece, and it is understandable. It has everything except an unhappy ending. It has an interesting master actor Zhu Xuas who plays the old man and a charming child actor who plays a hand opposite him. It gives us a simple and important tale about calling. It hands us brilliant renditions of China of the 30s with  buildings and people wonderful to look at. It imparts a story that grips one through every turn; a piece indeed of Dickensan richness and complexity and coincidence. And it reveals the ancient and inexplicable art of  quick change masks. Amazing. One wants these characters to win through and who knows whether they will? An Idyll. A tale for all time. And also a serious movie that can be watched by all, including children, with great attention and recognition, six and over, I would say. Don’t miss it.



The Overture

04 Jan

The Overture – directed by Itthi-sunthorn Wichailak – a drama recounting the career of a fable Thai musician, through the conflicts caused by him radical style and his fears of public competition — 103 minutes color 2005.

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Rocky with xylophones!  The film is set in Thailand, where the playing of the rand-ek rises to national bouts, along the lines of the Rose Bowl. In this case, the Rose bowl is the imperial court, where the most accomplished players come to fence. They are the pets and patronees of the princes of the realm, much as our football games are the patronees of brewers. I only realized at the end that the old man was the same person as the child, the boy, and the young man, and that there were two parallel stories afoot. But this was probably due to me, rather than to the director who tells the story carefully and honorably and entertainingly. Apart from the tension of the competitions, the picture shows a world of Thai life, the homes, canals, slums, farms, palaces, and people. I loved seeing all this. It also does depict, loosely it admits, the story of the Babe Ruth of rand-ek xylophone players, the Lionel Hampton of his day, Luang Prodit Pairoh who was a daring innovator on the rand-ek, and whose daring we see still in place when the Japanese interlope Thailand in the 30s. Be careful watching this: you may come to love the rand-ek. This is a film the family will enjoy together –– at least those old enough to read the subtitles, which are as excellent as the film itself.




29 Nov

Burlesque – directed by Steve Antin – a musical about farm girl with hidden talent who comes to L.A and tries to break into Show Business – 118 minutes color 2010.

* * * * *

Cher is perfectly cast as a Burlesque Queen which is what she is and always has been. She is a National Treasure, so we must seize any opportunity that comes along to be in her presence. She is especially good in the first half of the picture in her relations with the extraordinary Stanley Tucci who has won so many Academy Awards it would not be fair to bestow another on him for this delicious performance, and the excellent Peter Gallagher, her former husband and present business partner. Cher declines in interest as the plot not just thickens but curdles around her, for she is in peril of losing her nightclub, oh dear, and Will Not Sell Out. The director should have told her that Tigresses do not weep. Otherwise the piece is very well directed and beautifully filmed, and one feels that a major musical is in hand. The duties of the plot eventually forbid this, of course, but at least we have Cher, in very good voice, singing two songs, the second of which is indecipherable because her enunciation is, as usual, blurred by her vocal production. However the principal player here is one Christine Aguilera, whose vocal quality is similar to Cher’s. She has one Big Number after another, and she is impressive, and these are set on a stage which it is conceivable could hold them. However they are show-off-edited, such that the cuts prevent any single number from registering, so you never can tell what the performer is actually accomplishing. One good part of that is that the off-stage stories are spliced into these numbers at times, which works for the stories if not always for the numbers. For by praising the feat, the editing distances us from experiencing the feat of such performances, and , by giving us canned admiration, forcing us out of  admiring it for ourselves. The dancers and singers are full of beans and beyond-talent, and that does satisfy. Burlesque, in the old days when there was Burlesque, was live-theater in which dirty-joke comics alternated with ladies who disrobed or almost avoided disrobing. In this version the numbers combine the dirty jokes with the witty songs and parodic dances, all of which is dandy. The only striptease is performed by Cam Gigandel who is our heroine’s beau, and who takes it off all the way at one point with great comic effect. He has a mighty fine figure and is a deft and imaginative actor and a good looking young man, perfect in his scenes, and perfectly cast. I hope he has a future. We need a great big smashing musical every year, and this year, this is it!



Georgia O’Keeffe

19 Nov

Georgia O’Keeffe–– directed by Bob Balaban–– the tortuous relations between a painter and her artist/promoter husband –– 89 minutes color 2009.

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Joan Allen –– is she not the premier actress in America film today? So you wonder why she would subject her gifts to the script presented here. She and Jeremy Irons can each carry a film to the moon and back, and yet there must be something to carry. Allen has the thin-lipped pinched, pioneer, poverty face (although O’Keeffe’s is a man’s face), so she can look the part. But that’s as much as she can do. The problem lies in the screenplay, drawn between documentary accuracy and the underlying taffy-pull of the love relations. So the script falls a-clunk between those two stools, and the actors are given no foundation. On one side, the documentation is inconsequential to anyone but O’Keeffe (the film does not get New Mexico light right), and, on the other, the love-relations do not develop, but decline into a stasis. Drama cannot breathe in what does not change. The film also falls flat because it falls in love with O’Keeffe in her every aspect. O’Keeffe has become a statue of liberty for the feminism of the 20th Century, but it is not possible to estimate the artistic merit of A Statue Of Liberty. She herself knew she was not a first class painter. Indeed she is barely a third class painter. This would have been an interesting premise for a film. We know O’Keeffe was cold, ruthless, and that she never thoroughly learned her craft is the first thing obvious about her work. Steiglitz was, on the other hand, a photographer of the first rank. He was also a lover of painting, and, as such, he promoted her. The film makers think of him as an impresario, like Diaghilev or P.T. Barnum, but he was closer to Sol Hurok, simply a presenter of art works in the right place. He was essentially a promoter – not because he was a flimflam man but because he loved other people’s work. Irons’ character is written to be always wrong, and Irons’ performance keeps falling to pieces trying to honor the mallet of this unactable opinion. O’Keeffe is made out to be right all the time, and Allen has the devil’s own job of negotiating this horror. Yet it is an exercise of our admiration to watch her do it. The collision of their characters would have been far more interesting minimilizing its data and maximizing the way she used him. A woman without conscience, who falls in with a man who is all about love, not knowing whether he loves her or the her in her work or her work as a work of her. A film can only tell one story. The story of the relations of Holmes to Moriarity and Watson is one story, not two. There are never two stories. Because, if you think there are, you can only create two hackney coaches which you cannot set off in the same direction at the same time.


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