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The Undervalued: “The King of Masks”

ABEB34BB-C348-4105-90D8-5D51F0D31283In the West, the lives of most little girls are hardly devoid of privileges and delights.  In China of the 1930s, however, little girls were rigidly undervalued and sold by their impoverished parents (or keepers) to ensure all-around survival.

“Doggie” (Zhou Ron-Ying), the child in the Chinese picture The King of Masks (1996), has keepers, not parents.  An elderly street performer, Wang (Zhu Xu), is fooled into thinking she is a young boy and buys her, only to be shocked and dismayed when it transpires she is a girl.  It is only a boy who can inherit Wang’s silk mask entertainment trade after he dies.  Not without pity, the old man allows “Doggie” to work for him, but a string of awful misfortunes makes it, for a while, impossible for him to support her.

Many a theme receives attention in Wu Tianming‘s rich film:  childhood destitution, the ubiquity of injustice, the seeming need (when it is a need) for accepting fate, pariahism.  For all its dramatics, King is no masterpiece of drama—it needs a sturdier plot—but it is interesting and beautifully chaste.  It ends on a sentimental note but it is also an affecting film.

(In Mandarin with English subtitles)

Another Tale Of Peter And M.J.: “Spider-Man 2”

Cover of "Spider-Man - The Motion Picture...

Cover via Amazon

The 2004 Spider-Man 2 is another Sam Raimi success.  Again Tobey Maguire plays the titular superhero: not a very interesting actor here, he is nonetheless passable.  Kirsten Dunst was cast in these flicks before she got good.

The film asks:  What does it take to create in Peter Parker the desire to be a superhero (a desire he is losing)?  The answer is when Mary Jane (Dunst) urgently needs a savior.  Above all—or just about—Spider-Man 2 is a love story.

Raimi’s scenes and footage are pleasantly resonant, if often familiar.  It was smart of him, after showing Spidey merrily swinging amid the tall buildings, to end his movie with a closeup of Mary Jane watching at a window.  A touch of class.

Walls And Castles: The Movie, “The Glass Castle”

I could not care less about the perverse, monstrously irresponsible father (played by Woody Harrelson) of a New York magazine writer named Jeanette Walls.  Admittedly, The Glass Castle (2017), based on Walls’s memoir, is incessantly interesting—and vivid—but that’s all.  I mostly agree with Stephen Whitty:  “This is grim material, but well worth a movie.  The problem is that this film seems reluctant to really confront it.”  MAYBE it’s well worth a movie; I don’t know.  The stuff about its reluctance, though, is incontestably true.

What is not reluctant, or unknowing, is the honest acting.  It nearly makes this an valuable film.

A Few Kind Words for the 2012 “Les Miserables”

Directed by Tom Hooper, Les Miserables (2012) may be the most naturalistic movie musical I’ve seen, though its theatrical character never disappears.

Most if not all the filming of this well-known stage work is smoothly successful, despite a few grating singing voices.  Hooper eventually has Anne Hathaway, the movie’s Fantine, looking ugly but, worse, she makes a spectacle of herself when she emotes.  The good news is that Hathaway sings well enough and is moving, insufficient as this is.

The song lyrics in Les Miz are not very literate or sophisticated—they’re just okay—but the sober and warm music is appealing.  The presence of political revolutionaries makes the Christian vision in the film’s finale rather odd, but, well, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) and Fantine are there too, and it is uplifting.


At the Movies ~ Les Misérables, 2012

At the Movies ~ Les Misérables, 2012 (Photo credit: erjkprunczýk)

An Empty Room In Italy: ‘The Son’s Room”

Cover of "The Son's Room"

Cover of The Son’s Room

Nanni Moretti is a fine artist whose Italian film, The Son’s Room (2001), is a largely well done, sometimes brilliant, work about intense grief over the death of a couple’s adolescent son.  The parents—Giovanni (a psychiatrist) and Paola—and their surviving daughter are in a tailspin, with Giovanni finally deciding he cannot be both disconsolate and guilt-feeling and a psychiatrist.  Although the chronicle is a little thin, constantly shifting to Giovanni’s work with his patients, the film is sobering and smart (and not without humor).  Plus it’s persuasively acted by Laura Morante, Moretti, et al.

Moretti is unsympathetic to clergymen, though.  Or is Bert Cardullo right that the director-writer looks askance at the thinking of people in “a post-religious age”?  The conclusion of The Son’s Room does seem ambiguous, not about life’s continuum which causes Giovanni and Paola to laugh, but about a salutary acceptance of death by the secular-minded.

(In Italian with English subtitles)

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