Matters of Fact

Are you having enough chances to see documentaries? I myself in the past couple of weeks missed my chances at Fuel and The Way We Get By, the latest environmental and Iraq War documentaries respectively. I expect I won’t miss my chance this week at This Is It, more than just the latest pop music documentary, Michael Jackson “like you’ve never seen him before,” presumably meaning skeletal. In between, I haven’t been wanting.

Good Hair features bad camerawork, no worse than the documentary norm these days, rough, shaky, often out of position, but the film is nevertheless an engrossing and entertaining investigation of the “problem” of African-American hair, the size of which problem may hitherto have eluded you. Our on-screen investigator is a bemused, amused, nonjudgmental, and generally dialled-down Chris Rock, father himself of two young girls, one of whom posed the instigating question, “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?” Two main solutions to the problem are gone into in depth or anyhow at length. The first is the relaxer, a/k/a a “nap antidote,” a/k/a the “creamy crack,” whose key ingredient, sodium hydroxide, is demonstrated in a laboratory to eat through a soda can in a matter of hours. This substance is put with full consent on people’s heads: “Nappy is not bad, it’s just nappy.” The second solution is the weave, the latest innovation evidently in what used to be called a fall (the solution of the whole-hog wig gets ignored altogether), which produces the stunning statistic that twelve percent of the American population, the black percent, buys up eighty percent of the hair, most of it the harvest of tonsure ceremonies in temples in India.

In one insufficiently funny episode, Rock makes like Michael Moore and attempts tongue-in-cheek to peddle a bagful of African-American hair on the open market; and director Jeff Stilson allots too much time to the Bronner Brothers semi-annual hair show in Atlanta, tying the climax of the film to the tawdry competitive climax of the hair show, a marching band, gyrating models, gymnastic and aquatic haircutting. With a little time saved from that, or a little extra time in addition to that, the film might have accommodated a couple of silently beckoning topics, a retrospective, for one, on the Black Is Beautiful movement of the Sixties (whatever became of that?), and for another, just for contrast, a fashion show of au courant “natural” hairstyles. Among the talking heads on parade (Al Sharpton, Ice-T, Maya Angelou, Nia Long, Meagan Good, Raven-Symoné, many more) is noteworthily the author A’Lelia Bundles, who could well serve as poster girl for a natural solution. There must be others like her.

More Than a Game is less than a movie, a rah-rah sports story of ordinary but not extraordinary interest, just about adequate to fill up two hours of Sunday-afternoon television while waiting for the NBA season to tip off. Through home video, TV broadcasts, and reminiscing talking heads, it traces the amateur career of LeBron James and his membership since the fifth grade in a basketball brotherhood dubbed the Fab Four, expanded to the Fab Five in his senior year at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in his native Akron, Ohio. The chronicle has its share of up-close-and-personal poignance to go along with its share of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, with matching music in each instance. (The hand-me-down terminology in that sentence is solely to suggest the hand-me-down template copied by the film.) Director Kristopher Belman’s slick manipulation of the material can sometimes fall under suspicion. Was James’s disappointing junior year, after his coronation as “The Chosen One” on the cover of Sports Illustrated, really the only time he could be caught posing, posturing, and playing to the crowd? Doubtful, since he can still be caught doing it today for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Some of the footage is so out of focus as to be all but unwatchable, and the switching back and forth between that sort of footage and crisper, more watchable footage can knock you woozy.

The Beaches of Agnes makes its appeal to a smaller audience, film aficionados with an affection for the one-time New Waver, Agnes Varda, now a gnomish octogenarian: “I’m playing the role of a little old lady, pleasantly plump and talkative.” She travels the entire length of Memory Lane (a block or two of which she has travelled in her previous documentaries, the Rue Daguerre in Daguerreotypes, for instance), revisiting the locales of her childhood, digging up black-and-white photos of her little self in a swimsuit, in addition to the locales of her films, digging up abundant clips from them, including a rarity of the very young and skinny Gerard Depardieu as a bearded beatnik. Self-indulgent, self-affectionate, informal, playful, sometimes silly, sometimes painful (the death by AIDS of her husband and fellow New Waver, Jacques Demy), the film constitutes a true test of your affection. Cleo from 5 to 7, for anyone who has seen it, ought to be enough to pull you through, even to leave you hungry for more. In the nature of things, no one who will be interested in this subject matter is liable to be traumatized by the gratuitous sight of an anonymous erect penis. No further warning required.

Pre-Halloween treat: the Reading Gaslamp and Town Square theaters are bringing back to the big screen for one showing only, Friday at eight, Hitchcock’s The Birds. Cause to crow.

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The Birds is one of the few Hitchcock films that I don't think will do well on the big screen, being re-released. The background in so many of the scenes, just looks awful and makes the film feel so dated. Even many of the bird attack scenes look campy.

More Than a Game isn't getting the best reviews, and they certainly sugar coat a lot, but for any basketball lover, it's worth seeing. It may not be a Hoop Dreams, but is a fun film nonetheless (who can't love a 4'11" kid being laughed at by the crowd, before drilling six 3-pointers in five minutes, to shut them up quickly, as he pumps his chest in triumph).

Good Hair was an amazingly well done documentary. Sure, I would've liked to have seen Patti LaBelle comment. Or 60s musician Arthur Lee mentioned (he went bald by using these relaxers in his hair). And the Black Barbie, which is controversial for this very reason -- they gave her long, straight black hair.

But Rock is so much more interesting in this role than Michael Moore. He is respectful of the guests, funny, and seems interested. All things Moore seems to lack.

Go see GOOD HAIR, so Hollywood can continue to give us GOOD documentaries.

The Beaches Of Agnes is certainly the pick of the week. On the Film Club Of The Air this morning (a show KPBS runs on the last Tuesday or Wednesday of the month at 10AM), the team of Accomando & Marks gave such short shrift to it, I couldn't understand what they were talking about. They spent much more time talking about Antichrist and Bronson, which they gave approving remarks to, whereas all that I got out of their Agnes comments were: Beth apparently doesn't know of any Agnes Varda films made prior to 1983, didn't know anything about this one, and Scott saw maybe one Varda film more than Beth, and is a WHOLE HELL of alot more opinionated about the film clips of movies he never saw than he is of The Beaches Of Agnes as a whole. He must have said "pretentious" about 7 or 8 times, without ever explaining WHAT was pretentious, let alone why it supposedly was... then he goes on to praise Bronson, again professing his love for things like Fight Club and Irreversable (which Marks never thinks of as pretentious, because -?- like Die Hard or Misson Impossible 2, they get him all lathered up??). None of his equal-parts arrogant/ignorant comments would bother me if he didn't drag Duncan Shepherd into it as well. He claimed that after the screening, Duncan agreed that Varda was a highly uneven director, and that Duncan supposed the only good ones she did were the ones released here. Please tell me this is only yet another instance where Duncan Shepherd is misrepresented by a fellow film reviewer?

So many disparaging things Mr. Shepherd's "colleagues" have said about him!..as if the lamebrains from the letter-to-the-editor weren't enough! It's been quite a record I've heard over the years -live and in print & on air- from the UT's departed David Elliot, all the way down to some meathead woman writing for a nothing No. County rag. The worst continual remarks I hear and read, from someone who should know better, are the mischaracterizations and misrepresentations from our local "Movie Mavin", Scott Marks. Some of it is very mean-spirited, bullying. Most times, like this morning, irritatingly vague. Like he wants to associate himself with S.D.'s only legitimate movie critic, but can't bring himself to be accurate about the man. Was Marks also implying that Duncan Shepherd agreed with him about the clips from Agnes Varda's rarer films looking so startling bad!? Hard to believe. Am I the only man in the city who cares? Easy to believe.

Alright, so Gaslamps the place for me this Friday. They pickup some refried-Landmark offerings: Oliver Hirschbiegel's Five Minutes of Heaven, Uli Edel's The Baader Meinhof Complex, and Scott (Shine) Hicks's The Boys Are Back. I hope Duncan Shepherd gets a chance to review one or two of these. Of course, none of these could be anywhere near as grand as the main feast of the day: The Birds, the grandest of all Hollywood-Hitchcock. There's such a wide disparity of opinion on this masterpiece, it reminds me of the current A Serious Man talk. Personally, the Albert Whitlock special effects are as effective as anything I've seen on that scale, to this day. They look now not a drop-in-the-bucket as hokey and offputting as the ones in the latest King Kong (as fake and ugly as the Hitchcock's are true and lovely). And since when is hoke or camp a detriment to art!? If this is Camp, it's on the loftiest outreaches of the style. As surrealist comedy, it stands alone in Hollywood for it's beautiful Technicolor and locations. Nothing like it since the glory days of James Whale. The great American fantasy movie. If it gets remade (as has been reported lately), I'll be the first to throw up.

Hey, Goethe, why not remove the crap from your ears and get your quotes straight? The only clip of Varda's that I disparaged was the one from "101 Nights." I had never heard of the film and from what I saw it looked terrible. After the screening I mentioned to Duncan that I had not seen a lot of her movies (or as you put it "alot"). He was the one that called her career uneven and I was the one that questioned whether or not certain Varda films didn't get released in the States due to a lack of commercial appeal. While I like the film, Beth was the one that mentioned "Irreversible" (or as you call it, "Irreversable"), not I. And where does "M:I2" come into play? Not particularly a fan, nor was it mentioned on today's show. For a guy who is writing to complain about misrepresentation you sure are a master of it.

Thanks for listening. Now go home and get your effing shinebox!

Signed, You Local Movie Maven (or as you put it "Mavin")

BTW, "The Birds" will be screened on DVD, not 35mm. Buyer beware!

I mentioned to Duncan that I had not seen a lot of her movies (or as you put it "alot").

Scott, both versions of "a lot" "alot" are an incorrect use of grammar, because "a lot" is an technically open space of land.

You can call me "The Grammar Police"!

(but don't call me out on my spelling)

Don't want to get in another fight, as I'm involved in too many others on the board. I do think "a lot" was used properly, surf.

And, I saw the mention of Bronson. I saw it the other night at the Ken (I believe that's the only theatre in town showing it). I was rather disappointed. It was fascinating to watch. But at the end of the day, there really isn't much there.

From Webster's Dictionary: "Often, lots. A great many or a great deal: a lot of books; lots of money."

Go arrest yourself, Grammar Cop.

It's factually true, Mr. Marks, that the only title you named as looking bad was 101 Nights. It was not possible for me to hear more of what you had to say about the quality of any of Varda's other work because there was no broadcast time allotted to it. The comments about "bad" and "pretentious" in relation to the clip/s of Varda's movies were not only directed towards 101 Nights, at least they were not verbally delineated clearly as such. The comments were brief, vague, and didn't sound possitive about Beaches of Agnes or any other works by Varda besides Cleo from 5 to 7 and Vagabond (but then, that was when you were Quoting, right?...so the only thing we can be clear on is that the clip of 101 Nights looked bad to you?).

So sorry I came off as the Master of Misrepresentation to you, and I'm so grateful to you for putting me straight on the three words I missed a letter on. I'll type slower next time, or use Spell Check. But then again, no I won't. Because I only waste one day -Wednesday- per week on this kind of user comments silliness, and to let someone pounce on me to quibble about nothing more than a slightly misspelled word in every 200 or so words: this is quite an hilariously pathetic event, and I wouldn't want to deny myself the human comedy of that spectacle. And, let the record show, it's true what Scott Marks said about The Birds being shown on digital, but they only charged $5, unlike Horton Plaza or Garden Cabaret (note: I almost put two e's in Caba[e instad of a!]ret intentionally to give the anal out there something to chew on) who charge full admission prices for their videos.

As for the quotes about Varda's career being "uneven", I'm very taken aback that Mr. Shepherd would say that. But your claim about quizzing over the movies by Varda that go unreleased due possibly to "lack of commercial appeal", is perhaps what you meant, or said off air, but I remember you stateing it differently on KPBS. You said something more like 'because they weren't as good as Vagabond or Cleo from 5 to 7'. I wish I had a transcript to throw in your face, since you're taking this so passionately.

Ending your diatribe with that immature, dominating "shinebox" quote, from that most poorly written of Scorsese movie, was not suprise to me. These are the flailings of a bully.

A friend of mine was the one that got the DVD of Birds for the theatre that showed it. They worried they couldn't find a copy soon enough, and he found one at Best Buy for six bucks or something.

Funny stuff.

I am ashamed of what I wrote on this page - almost immediately after I wrote it. It's too bad they won't let you delete your own posts on here. What I've been ashamed of, in this off-the-cuff shooting off of my big mouth, was not so much in the content of my criticisms of Duncan Shepherd's naysayers, but in focusing my rage at one man in particular: Scott Marks. He may have been the most frequently irritating commenter; he was far from the worst (look no further than the fascistic Josh Board for the worst).

For the record, Marks originally said (Re: 'The Beaches of Agnes'): "You know, I’ll be honest with you, after watching this film, I was shocked by how many Agnes Varda films I haven’t seen and how many of them look terrible." I'd appreciate it if Marks had simply said - 'Hey, Jabez, you're full of wind: I misspoke..we only have a limited amount of time on the radio to devote to movies like this, so...I misspoke, nu? So shoot me.'...instead, he went on to claim that he was only talking about '101 Nights''s clip. The rest of his comments: "Man, does that look bad. That looks – And what caught me is Robert De Niro’s in a film and I haven’t seen it? This thing looks so pretentious and so silly and I was talking to Duncan Shepherd when it was over and he said her career is really uneven. Maybe just the great ones like “Vagabond” and “Cleo From 5 to 7”."

What set me off (my 'final straw' after listening to such prattle for years), what to my ears sounded like a misrepresentation of what Duncan Shepherd said, I can see may not be too 'off the mark'. What ever, that's his style - vague, scatter-shot, take-it-or-leave-it. I'm not advocating the critic be hanged for not being precise as can be. I could, of course chosen the mature response: turn of the radio and ignore it. Maybe focused on exposing a real evil lurking under our noses (e.g., Josh Board).

Oh well, that's past, and no one is going to read this, so why am I wasting more time?

One last picking at the scab: Mr. Marks's cavils at the Coen brothers' 'True Grit' as a "remake" of a John Wayne movie (a common misconception in the illiterate media), and as nothing more than a "trace" over what he regards as a mediocre original, will stand as some of the most silly comments made about this movie. And the fact he gives it the same low, low rating as 'Jonah Hex' shows how prejudiced his reactionary criticism is. But at least it's criticism, unlike the kind of junk that Board or Jay Sanford pump out.

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