cinema comedy

The best heckle ever?

Via The Times:

Kirk Dou­glas had a son, the lit­tle-remem­bered Eric Dou­glas, who was an actor and stand-up come­di­an. He once came over to the UK to do some gigs and inad­ver­tent­ly cre­at­ed one of British comedy's finest leg­ends. Eric wasn't hav­ing a great gig at a Lon­don club; he was going down the pan. His open­ing line, I seem to remem­ber, focused on the fact that he lacked the cleft in his chin pos­sessed by both his father and broth­er. The audi­ence was not in the least inter­est­ed. Their indif­fer­ence even­tu­al­ly over­whelmed him and he final­ly shout­ed: "Do you know who I am? I'm Kirk Douglas's son!" The room looked on in silence, then some­one in the audi­ence stood up and said: "No, I'm Kirk Douglas's son." He was swift­ly fol­lowed by sev­er­al more. With­in sec­onds, the entire audi­ence was on their feet, all claim­ing to be Kirk Douglas's son, in a pitch-per­fect par­o­dy of the scene in Spar­ta­cus. That, by anyone's stan­dards, is a tough gig.

Read on: A nice dis­cus­sion of the dark side of heck­ling going on at The Guardian.

cinema new york reviews

El Super

El Super - Blizzard of 1977

New York's bliz­zard of 1977 makes a riv­et­ing cameo appear­ance in "El Super," an indie (before the term was for­mal­ized) film about the hard adjust­ments that immi­grants make in com­ing to New York. The movie is great for many rea­sons, but the bliz­zard steals a few scenes as the main char­ac­ter — a Cuban super — walks around town. Snow is massed on cars, piled high in the streets, and pedes­tri­ans stum­ble through snow-walled side­walk canyons. Quite a scene, espe­cial­ly in the 70s, when New York looked crumbly and decrepit.Amidst the bliz­zard, the film is a melan­choly doc­u­ment of the lives of Cuban and Puer­to Rican immi­grants as they reck­on with the immen­si­ty of New York City and their dis­mal prospects for work in the bad old days of New York. The dia­logue is great, often fun­ny, just as often poignant. Good stuff. I had to resort to extreme mea­sures to find it, but you can buy it on VHS from Ama­zon. Or you can let me know, and I'll hook you up.Speaking of the bliz­zard, you may have won­dered whether Bar­ney Miller ever dealt with the bliz­zard. Of course he did. Worth watch­ing just to hear the theme song again.

cinema visual

Extremely bloody, extremely funny

Ever since I heard about Bat­tle Royale, I've want­ed to see the film … Quentin Taran­ti­no has called it "the best movie since 1992," so it's prob­a­bly not sur­pris­ing that it's both extreme­ly bloody and very dark­ly fun­ny. The premise: Adults fear the rise of youth, and each year they put the most bad­ly behaved kids on an island and force them to bat­tle each oth­er to the death. 

Battle Royale - Batoru RowaiaruLike Tarantino's movies, the set­up is quick and effective.
Battle Royale - Batoru RowaiaruThe humor dark­ens: A baby-voiced Japan­ese teen explains the rules of the game, includ­ing the fact that the col­lar worn by con­tes­tants goes "boom" under cer­tain circumstances.
Battle Royale - Batoru RowaiaruEach "play­er" gets their own weapon. As the plot unfolds, the "play­ers" learn who has what, and fig­ure out how to work with what they have.
Battle Royale - Batoru RowaiaruFinal­ly, there are lib­er­al amounts of blood, and much killing. Mixed with the sar­don­ic dia­logue, it's easy to see why Taran­ti­no loves it so much.

Despite the nihilis­tic milieu, the sto­ry focused on tra­di­tion­al stuff — loy­al­ty, trust and friend­ship; and in the end, it was actu­al­ly sort of sweet, much sweet­er than bleak 60's and 70's films like McCabe & Mrs. Miller or The Wild Bunch. Worth see­ing, just for that weird juxtaposition.

cinema the ancient past travel

How cool was Hong Kong in the early 60's?

Walk­ing around the Maxwell Food Mar­ket near Singapore's Chi­na­town remind­ed of Wong Kar Wai's excel­lent movie about Hong Kong in the ear­ly 60's In the Mood for Love. After I watched it last night, I couldn't decide whether I want­ed to actu­al­ly trav­el back in time, or just walk inside an imag­ined ver­sion of the past. Wong Kar-Wai - In the Mood for Love - MahjongWong Kar-Wai - In the Mood for Love - CafeWong Kar-Wai - In the Mood for Love - Alley

cinema street art urban

Dirty Hands / Arty documentaries

David Choe - Dirty HandsDavid Choe: Set­ting a good example.

I'm psy­ched to check out Dirty Hands, a new doc­u­men­tary about artist David Choe. I'm usu­al­ly skep­ti­cal about "street art" films, but the trail­er looks pret­ty great, and I've heard that Choe is kind of a mad­man. I com­pare every­thing in this street/art vein to Video Days — which, by the way, did you know that can watch all of Video Days on Google Video? — and I'm always hop­ing that new stuff will some­how advance the form that Spike Jonze laid out all those years ago. Maybe this will? Maybe oth­er stuff has? David Choe - Black Dynamite - watercolorChoe worked some water­col­or mag­ic for a movie called Black Dyna­mite that just made some waves at Sundance.

cinema visual

Groundbreaking / William Klein's Ali

David Remnick's excel­lent biog­ra­phy of Muham­mad Ali, King of the World con­tains a tru­ly stun­ning scene that sprung to mind dur­ing last week's inau­gu­ra­tion. Before Ali's first big bout, a meet­ing with Son­ny Lis­ton, the press didn't know what to make of Ali's con­fi­dence and bom­bast. A reporter asked: "Cas­sius, all these things you're say­ing about Lis­ton, do you real­ly mean them? Do you real­ly think you're going to beat this guy?"

Ali: I'm Christo­pher Colum­bus … I believe I'll win. I've nev­er been in there with him, but I believe the world is round and they all believe the world is flat. Maybe I'll fall off the world at the hori­zon but I believe the world is round.1

I feel like there's a thread that runs direct­ly from this state­ment to last Tuesday's inau­gu­ra­tion, and it made me want to dig deep­er into Ali, the myth-mak­er. So last night I watched a 1964 doc­u­men­tary, made by pho­tog­ra­ph­er William Klein, called Muham­mad Ali: The Great­est; it's includ­ed in a recent Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion release called The Deliri­ous Fic­tions of William Klein, which is cheap‑o on Ama­zon right now, actually. 

Muhammad Ali - William Klein - TitleTypog­ra­phy suits the sub­ject. ALI. Yeah.

Muhammad Ali - William Klein - AliKlein is known for his still pho­tog­ra­phy, and he brings a photographer's eye, and a cav­a­lier atti­tude toward edit­ing. The movie is a mon­tage of spon­tane­ity and action, trac­ing Ali's path from the build-up to his first fight with Son­ny Lis­ton to the Rum­ble in the Jun­gle with George Foreman.

Muhammad Ali - William Klein - Joe LouisKlein catch­es a nice glimpse of anoth­er ground­break­ing fig­ure.

William Klein - Muhammad Ali - Mysterious punchAli's sec­ond fight with Lis­ton became infa­mous for the "phan­tom" punch that end­ed it. Rumors abound that Lis­ton took a dive, either because he bet against him­self or because he was afraid that the Nation of Islam would seek revenge if Ali lost. See it for your­self on the YouTubez.

Muhammad Ali - William Klein - Kids in ZaireKlein cap­tures some amaz­ing moments around the Rum­ble, which took place in Zaire, 1974.

Muhammad Ali - William Klein - Foreman fanThe whole nation appears to be in and around the sta­di­um. When We Were Kings tells the whole sto­ry. It will blow your mind, and make you love Nor­man Mail­er at the same time.

Muhammad Ali - William Klein - Mobutu Sese SekoMobu­tu Sese Seko, Zaire's strong­man pres­i­dent, is omnipresent in Klein's footage from the fight. I love this image of his head slow­ly com­ing into focus from the clouds.

cinema lit visual

Andrei Tarkovsky's family polaroids

Back when the Berke­ley Pub­lic Library was the hub of my social uni­verse, I spent a lot of time in its video room — in the mid-90's, it occu­pied a lit­tle cor­ner of the base­ment — work­ing my way through its exten­sive col­lec­tion of for­eign VHS movies. I had plen­ty of time on my hands, (also, no mon­ey), and I quick­ly exhaust­ed the canon — Metrop­o­lis, The Sev­en Sumarai, Jules & Jim, Breath­less and a lot of Godard. At some des­per­ate point, I explored what were to me, at the time, the mar­gins — Fass­binder, Jacques Tati, Andrei Tarkovsky, all of which were astound­ing, like gold, but Tarkovsky was the most rev­e­la­to­ry. The library had Solaris, Nos­tal­ghia and Stalk­er, all of which twist­ed my noo­dle with their biz­zare, dream-like, sur­re­al sequences. I just dis­cov­ered that Thames & Hud­son has pub­lished a stun­ning col­lec­tion of Tarkovsky's polaroids, tak­en of his fam­i­ly and trav­els. The Guardian dis­plays of num­ber of them here.

Andrei Tarkovsky - polaroid - Procession
Lots more at this blog. In Russ­ian, too. Nice.

basketball cinema

Classic NBA / Red hot and rollin

If you're 35-ish and you've fol­lowed bas­ket­ball, you prob­a­bly recall the virtues of the pre-David Stern NBA, the sim­pler times when cor­po­rate logos were inci­den­tal, local heroes more acces­si­ble, and the entire sport more tru­ly fan-friend­ly. Stern always talks about fan-friend­li­ness, but his NBA is a Prod­uct and the "friend­li­ness" seems as pro­duced as two-for-one chalu­pa night. Back in the day, a young Kansas City Kings fan could attend Kings prac­tices at a local high school (for free), and after­ward min­gle with play­ers like Ernie Grun­feld, Phil Ford, and Otis Bird­song. It goes with­out say­ing that most fans would take that over a free chalu­pa any night. Red Hot and Rollin recap­tures the sim­plic­i­ty and beau­ty of those times. Edit­ed by Matt Love, it com­piles a vari­ety of rec­ol­lec­tions of the Rip-City-era Port­land Trail­blaz­ers, and includes a DVD of a tru­ly amaz­ing doc­u­ment of the time — Don Zavin's Fast Break. Zavin's film is astound­ing in many regards. Pri­mar­i­ly, it's a bit­ter­sweet med­i­ta­tion on a lost NBA — the League before each play­er became a cor­po­ra­tion unto him­self, and before the entire visu­al expe­ri­ence of watch­ing an NBA became NASCAR-ized with lay­er upon lay­er of cor­po­rate logos. More­over, it's pos­si­ble that there is no team in the his­to­ry of the NBA that is as anti­thet­i­cal to Stern's NBA than the Blaz­ers of 1976–77: a small mar­ket team with­out a mar­ketable super­star, led by a veg­e­tar­i­an, Marx­ist, long-haired, Abe-Lin­coln-beard-wear­ing cen­ter who stut­tered when he was ner­vous. The form of the film could be called "ston­er verite." With a sound­track that is basi­cal­ly an extend­ed tabla jam, it's a doc­u­men­tary in the tra­di­tion of, say, End­less Sum­mer with the cru­cial dif­fer­ence is that it's unbur­dened by End­less Sum­mer's lin­ear nar­ra­tive and omni­scient nar­ra­tion. I won't give it all away, but it wan­ders through some amaz­ing­ly inti­mate glimpses into the Blaz­ers' ecsta­t­ic run to the NBA title, for instance … 

Walton rides up the coastThis is for­mer Blaz­ers star Bill Wal­ton on a clas­sic Fal­con rac­er. After the Blaz­ers won the NBA cham­pi­onship, Wal­ton took a bike trip up the Ore­gon coast, and scenes from this trip are inter­spersed through­out the movie. Again, could any­one imag­ine ANY cur­rent NBA star going on a bike trip alone dur­ing the off-sea­son? Where are the entourages and Escalades and hot­ties? It's also sort of amaz­ing to see an NBA super­star engag­ing in an activ­i­ty that non-super­stars find enjoy­able. Where are the strip clubs and casi­nos, the hand­guns and hot tubs? (You can't real­ly see in this pho­to, but the bike's col­or is Falcon's tell-tale pow­der blue. Awe­some.)

Doctor Jack pantsYes, this is Dr. Jack Ram­say, and yes, his pants appear to be some kind of psy­che­del­ic red-white-and-blue crazy quilt. Look out, Lar­ry Brown.

Walton is mobbedThis is actu­al­ly the third time in the movie that Bill Wal­ton end­ed up in a mosh-pit of fans. The fact that this would nev­er, EVER hap­pen today is part of what's so bit­ter­sweet about Fast Break.

Some relat­ed stuff: A clas­sic Time fea­ture of Wal­ton as a UCLA senior from 1974 called "Basketball's Veg­e­tar­i­an Tiger," a nice review by TrueHoop's Hen­ry Abbott (a Blaz­er fan) that includes a quick inter­view with some­one who worked on Fast Break, and of course, you've got to see this one: Walton's epic dunk over Kareem in the West­ern Con­fer­ence Finals. [YouTube]

cinema web

Dream come true / My Simpsons character

Simpson LeMoine

Thanks to a tip from fel­low Simp­sons fanat­ic and Coop­er col­league Chris Noes­sel, I dis­cov­ered that I could gen­er­ate a Simp­sons char­ac­ter with my like­ness on the Simp­sons Movie site. Holy crap. Tru­ly, a dream come true. Now the only thing left is to have my like­ness drawn in the Wall Street Jour­nal "hed­cut" style [a PDF on the Dow Jones site about how pic­tures become WSJ-ready].And it's me, right? Except there were no options for beards, which is strange con­sid­er­ing that there are quite a few beard­ed Simp­sons char­ac­ters. Homer's got a per­pet­u­al five o'clock shad­ow; God has a flow­ing white beard; Hyman Krustof­s­ki has the impres­sive ZZ Top-style beard befit­ting a car­toon rab­bi; Dr. Mar­vin Mon­roe has a beard that is more like mine. So there's got to be lots of exist­ing styles to choose from.When I did a Google search for "simp­sons beard," I dis­cov­ered that Simp­sons cre­ator Matt Groen­ing is a self-described bear­do, as revealed in this email chat from 1993: "I've been mis­tak­en more than once for Stephen King, Leonard Maltin has been mis­tak­en for me, but I think I look more like a beard­ed hip­pie ver­son of Homer Simp­son." (This chat took place on Prodi­gy, of course. Wow. Sim­pler times.)

cinema inside art tip visual

Must-see movies / Killer of Sheep

Leaping boy from Killer of SheepA moment from a beau­ti­ful, riv­et­ing scene in Killer of Sheep. Pho­to: Mile­stone Films.

Killer of Sheep is direc­tor Charles Bur­nett's account of life in the LA neigh­bor­hood of Watts in the ear­ly 1970's. It began life as his senior the­sis at UCLA film school and until recent­ly it was nev­er seen out­side art hous­es and muse­ums. Despite all of that, it was among the first 50 films to declared nation­al trea­sures by the Library of Con­gress. I saw it ear­li­er this week at the Cas­tro, and it lived up the hype. Burnett's account of his moti­va­tions in mak­ing the film seems like a good place to start unpack­ing the stuff that makes it so unique:

I want­ed to tell a sto­ry about a man who was try­ing to hold on to some val­ues that were con­stant­ly being erod­ed by oth­er forces, by his plight in the com­mu­ni­ty, and the qual­i­ty of the job that he had. At the same time he want­ed to do right by his fam­i­ly. I didn't want to impose my val­ues on his sit­u­a­tion. I just want­ed to show his life. And I didn't want to resolve his sit­u­a­tion by impos­ing arti­fi­cial solu­tions like him becom­ing a doc­tor or a diplo­mat, when the real­i­ty is that most peo­ple don't get out. I want­ed to show that there is a pos­i­tive ele­ment to his life, and that is that he endures, he's accept­ed it. [From an excel­lent inter­view on Sens­es of Cin­e­ma]

To bring this sto­ry to life, he employs a style that seems impro­vi­sa­tion­al, as much doc­u­men­tary as Ital­ian neo­re­al­ism. But there's also some­thing very new and gen­uine and par­tic­u­lar­ly Amer­i­can about it — iso­la­tion, crum­bling build­ings, explo­sions of cru­el­ty and anger, and the con­stant, chaot­ic motion of kids leap­ing across rooftops and crawl­ing under build­ings — com­bined, these things seem to evoke a very Amer­i­can way of poor, urban life.More than any­thing, the movie makes you won­der at its very improb­a­bil­i­ty: How in the world did he make that? Did he actu­al­ly plan those moments that seem gen­uine­ly serendip­i­tous? Maybe it's that the actors are untrained. The dia­logue seems fresh, sur­pris­ing and authen­tic even when it's forced. Maybe it's the pac­ing of the edit­ing. Scenes start abrupt­ly — chil­dren emerge from a hole, an entire neigh­bor­hood has assem­bled in a stair­well, kids hide behind a scrap of ply­wood. Most scenes also tend to end a cou­ple of sec­onds ear­ly, or linger a few sec­onds longer. Maybe it's the dia­logue — it's all mum­bles or hollers or growls, with jazz and blues tracks adding rhyth­mic, some­times hope­ful coun­ter­points to the imagery. Who knows? What's clear is that it speaks in a true, clear and unique voice. Go see it.

Dog face in Killer of SheepNo dia­logue. Dog mask. Chain link fence. Killer of Sheep. Pho­to: Mile­stone Films.