The Aristocrats is a film shot by Paul Provenza on a crappy camera, the film tells the origins and evolution of the comedian’s all-time in-joke. Because the joke is possibly the dirtiest joke ever told it isn’t printed in its entirety in any review ever written (so far) about this funny and engaging film. The premise of the documentary is that the joke reveals more about the person relaying the joke, than the punchline itself. With the same beginning and the same punchline, comedians are given a free pass to elaborate the intricacies of the "act" which is central to the comedy of the joke.
And elaborate they do - the all-star project has versions from Bob Sagat, Gilbert Gottfried, Howie Mandel, George Carlin, Carrie Fisher, Lewis Black, Penn & Teller, Robin Williams, Paul Reiser, Tim Conway, Sarah Silverman, Don Rickles, Harry Shearer, Eric Idle, Eddie Izzard, Drew Carey, Whoopie Goldberg, Fred Willard and many more known and unknown comedians. Ruckus and uncomfortable, the chances that you don’t laugh or squirm just a little bit are slim – no taboo is too big to be included in the joke. The film's jokes contains everything from the inaneness of a ventriloquist telling the joke to inclusion of the victims of 9/11 in the telling.
My favorite tellings included Billy the Mime's version (the only work-safe telling, but only if your colleagues close their eyes), Kevin Pollak's attempt to tell the joke as Christopher Walken and Sarah Silverman’s non-sequitteur relay. Go see it already and practice your own version.
Howl's Moving Castle
Those who are familiar with the subtitled version of the Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli movies, such as My Friend Totoro, Princess Mononoke, or Spirited Away will be disappointed by this dubbed, Disney-presented version of Howl's Moving Castle. The story taken from one written by Diana Wynne Jones, focuses on Sophie - a milliner who chances upon Howl while walking to a bakery to meet her sister.
Because of this chance meeting she is visited by a witch who casts a spell on her, making her an elderly woman. Not knowing what to do, she heads out to the land of the wastes in search of her sister (which they mention, but don't elaborate on in the film). On her way out there she meets a friendly scarecrow who helps her and leads her to Howl's Moving Castle.
She is cold and not knowing what else to do, sits by the fire. The fire (Calicifer, voiced by Billy Crystal) asks her to help release him from the spell he is under (as virtual slave of Howl), and in return he will help release her from the spell she is under. They make the pact and she falls asleep.
In the morning she meets the castle's inhabitants, Howl and Morkel (his apprentice), and suddenly she becomes the cleaning lady and an indispensable part of the household.
The problems with the story are immense, I couldn't help thinking that there was perhaps a director's cut, that is just waiting for release on dvd. There were a few storylines that weren't pursued, that seemed like they should have. The biggest being the lack of a situational transformation for Sophie. Her character doesn't really experience an arc in the story, so how can she have changed? And how about Sophie's family, what were the dynamics there? They seemed to introduce the relationships, but didn't explain motivations. Also, why was the scarecrow so attached to Sophie, we aren't given much poignant moments and how did the Prince's disappearance lead to the War?
The visuals by Studio Ghibli are wonderful, the contrast of the castle with the 2-D of the inhabitants was beautifully illustrated. The cartoon, aesthetically, is spot-on in typical Ghibli-style. I'm not sure they are worth sitting through the holey story, the bad voicing by Christian Bale, or the trite lines.
I think that Disney wanted a way to release a cartoon that was solely for the 3-9 year-old set, because that is the only demographic that I can think of that would be able to ignore those factors in a film. Especially if the film is visually stunning.
Howl's Moving Castle is playing in theatres everywhere.
Shape of the Moon
In Shape of the Moon, Leonard Retel Helmrich brings us a very slow paced documentary about the travails of a Christian family in predominantly Muslim Indonesia. Due to the ease that the family allowed, Retel Helmrich was able to film key moments in the family's life. And Retel Helmrich was able to film some absurdist moments, such as when a neighbor comes to look for an apple that has disappeared.
A refreshing documentary, it's been awhile since I've questioned if what I was watching was staged or not. The feature is at times frustrating and funny at turns and the last scene is heartbreaking in its inevitability.
Look for this Sundance award winner at art house theatres and maybe on the Sundance Channel on Doc Day.
MurderballMurderball is a documentary that I'm gonna call "a raucous good time"... (for the soundbyte). The filmmakers (Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro) focus mostly on the rivalry between the quad rugby teams of the USA and Canada.
The doc is an unexpectedly uplifting and insightful look into a sport that at the time of the movie's making in 2004 - doesn't have sponsors in the way of sports such as basketball, which it shares a court with and is visually tied to. I found myself being excited to learn about a sport that doesn't receive much exposure.
The filmmakers chose to focus on a few key members of the USA team and a former USA team member, Joe, now a Canadian team coach. The coach has a huge bone to pick with the US team and the story focuses heavily on the rivalry between the two.
Besides the inevitable heartwarming stories inherent in a doc of this nature, there are quick shots and a lot of humor on the screen. I felt myself laughing at the profiled players and their bigger than life personalities, it was easy to see past the wheelchairs into the heart of their competitiveness.
I'm not a sports fan, but enjoyed Murderball immensely. I hope the doc will blow the sport out of obscurity into big corporate sponsorship territory.
Murderball plays on April 28 at the wheelchair accessible Kanbar Hall (JCCSF) and April 29 at the AMC Kabuki 8 Theatres as part of the SF International Film Festival.