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Daily Film Beauty: The Empire Strikes Back

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Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back: Peter Suschitzky (cinematographer) & Irvin Kershner (director).

Darth Vader (David Prowse) dueling with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), The Empire Strikes Back © 1980 Lucasfilm.

Darth Vader (David Prowse) dueling with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), The Empire Strikes Back © 1980 Lucasfilm.

Daily Film Beauty: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: William H. Clothier (cinematographer) & John Ford (director).

Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) and Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin), © 1950 Paramount Pics.

Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) and Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin), © 1950 Paramount Pics.

 

Daily Film Beauty: The Sweet Hereafter

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The Sweet Hereafter: Paul Sarossy (cinematographer) & Atom Egoyan (director).

The Sweet Hereafter, © 1997 Téléfilm Canada.

The Sweet Hereafter, © 1997 Téléfilm Canada.

30 for 30: Bad Boys

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***

It was definitely one of the worst days of my life, I lost a game, was accused of being a racist and I’m a bad guy now.

This documentary did a very good job of introducing me to a Pistons team that peaked before I really cared about basketball. I knew the names, but did not appreciate who they were in their primes. For those of you who do not recognize the name “The Bad Boys”, they were the Detroit Pistons of 1987-1991, more or less. Their story starts in the early 1980’s with a new Pistons general manager, Jack McCloskey, and the drafting of Isiah Thomas. I had heard the nickname “Trader Jack”, but did not realize just how much wheeling and dealing he did. I knew that, at one time, Thomas was a hero in Chicago and considered to be on his way to becoming one of the all-time greats. The film only touches it in passing, but Thomas was left off of the 1992 US Men’s Basketball Team, The Dream Team. Thus if he was not good enough for the Dream Team, then he should not have been on it. Of course through that prism Larry Bird was still a top 3 player, which is preposterous. Rumors have persisted that Michael Jordan kept Isiah Thomas off the Dream Team.  That fascinates me, but to Detroit, and the focus of this movie, it was just a footnote.

The context for the animosity between Jordan and Thomas came from three consecutive NBA playoff series between the Chicago Bulls and the Detroit Pistons. In 1989, the Pistons debuted “The Jordan Rules”, where they focused on just funneling him towards more defenders and more contact. Physically they wore Jordan down, exposing a weakness. That year the Pistons won the championship against the Lakers. In 1990 Jordan had bulked up and prepared for the physicality of a best of seven series with the Bad Boys, so they focused on stopping Scottie Pippen instead. Pippen had his first migraine during game 7 and played terribly. Then Pistons won championship number two from the Portland Trailblazers. In 1991, the Pistons had failed to protect one of their two enforcers, Rick Mahorn, from the expansion draft, which meant that Bill Laimbeer had a lot of people coming at him. When they faced the Bulls they got swept. Famously they walked off the floor before the end of the game, similar to what the Boston Celtics did in 1988 when the Pistons beat them. This offended Jordan, who is a petty, sad basketball god.¹

The public perception of the Celtics, Pistons, and Bulls varied a great deal and affected how we look at their actions. When Pat Riley told the Knicks he would fine them for helping up an opposing player, that is championship experience and leadership. When a cerebral, obnoxious player like Laimbeer does it, then he is a jerk. Jordan talking shit about the Pistons (the league will be better without their dirty style of play) while up 3-0 gets chalked up to his ascendancy to basketball supremacy and fit into what most NBA fans thought about the Pistons. I do not know if this changed many people’s minds about this team, but it definitely made me appreciate the talent and skill thereon. Should Isiah have been on the Dream Team? If you say yes, whom do you remove? Does he deserve the second point guard spot over Stockton? Over Johnson? Laettner was on the team to represent the past by representing the future,² so replacing him would confront issues other than basketball skill and merit. A 12 man team meant 5 positions, each with a backup, and two floaters. Ignoring Laettner, again, the only position three deep was small forward: Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, and Chris Mullin. From a basketball standpoint, this made sense since Bird was a physical liability. But in 1992 Isiah had been the best player on a back-to-back champion team, had the record for most point in a quarter in NBA Finals (25). Not only was Isiah better than those three players, but he was probably better than Stockton and certainly superior to the HIV-positive Johnson.

If the documentary had focused more on what I wanted, it probably would have been a less accessible and nerdier movie. Zak Levitt gets credit, as director, for putting together this nice movie, and his biggest prior directing credit was on the 2012 documentary for NBA TV, The Dream Team. That can explain why he no longer felt compelled to address that team. Oh, and Kid Rock narrated this. He was neither as terrible as I expected, nor as good as I had hoped. He was the perfect choice to represent the Detroit of the Bad Boys—mostly Black with one white guy whom most of the country hated.

 

¹ I do not like Michael Jordan and the mystique around him. I know that he is one of the five greatest basketball players of all-time, but he had the guy who took his spot on the
² Until 1992 no NBA players could play in the Olympics, so in the past the US team only used college athletes, thus having a college player tied the team to its traditions. Also, having the best college player was designed to have someone who would return, thus creating a cycle of greatness.

Daily Film Beauty: Revenge of the Sith

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Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith: David Tattersall (cinematographer) & George Lucas (director).

The Battle of Coruscant in Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith, © 2005 Lucasfilm.

The Battle of Coruscant in Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith, © 2005 Lucasfilm.

Daily Film Beauty: Sucker Punch

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Sucker Punch: Larry Fong (cinematographer) & Zack Snyder (director)

Babydoll (Emily Browning) jumping over a mystical, giant, machine gun toting samurai in one dance sequence, © 2011 WB.

Babydoll (Emily Browning) jumping over a mystical, giant, machine gun toting samurai in one dance sequence, © 2011 WB.

Daily Film Beauty: Blade Runner

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bladeRunner_045cBlade Runner: Jordan Cronenweth (cinematographer) & Ridley Scott (director)

 

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