iSteve From Funny or Die

showposter

Anyone who’s read my blog (or conversely, watched my YouTube channel) will know that I am about as obsessed with YouTube as your average young person. And yes before you point it out, I’m not that young. But having a daughter who has a fairly successful channel on the old “Tube” introduced me to another world of entertainment.

I won’t be climbing on my YouTube soapbox here, but it was through them that I discovered Funny or Die. A channel that hails from Los Angeles; Hollywood specifically, and they are brilliantly funny.

These guys are consistent, witty masters of the tongue in cheek delivery of some very humorous short films, videos, and skits. They use “real” actors (versus folks that just want to be actors) and they have great production values on all they produce.

iSteve is their latest effort and it is 78 minute film that is a “Bio” of the late Steve Jobs and his rise, fall and rise in the world of commercial computing. It is a combination satire/parody with a good bit of imaginative “reworking” of real events to give it a comedic edge.

Although, not everyone , it seems, can get the joke.

Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 13.47.00

But this particular nay-sayer  need not feel alone. There were more than a few people who just “didn’t get it.” The same type of people who would never watch Saturday Night Live (SNL)  or say a Chevy Chase film. In the case of humour and the sense of, not everyone is created equal or as I like to say, “Did it hurt when they removed your funny bone?”

Justin Long plays Steve Jobs, resplendent in fake hair colour and beard. He also sports a very trendy pair of rimless eye-glasses and a turtle neck top that completes his Steve costume.  He is, of course, excellent as the faux Steve Jobs. I mean after all this is Justin Long we’re talking about here. How could he be anything but perfect in any role?

Actor Jorge Garcia (Lost, all seasons) plays Jobs’ best friend Steve Wozniak, a long-suffering fellow computer nerd. Garcia makes this brilliantly touching and funny. All the actors do great jobs (get it!) in this film.  Like all projects these guys do, it looks professional (hell, it is professional) and streamlined. If you’ve not seen anything they’ve done before, check out their American Psycho with Huey Lewis and Weird Al:

Error
This video doesn’t exist

I’m going to give this YouTube masterpiece of humour a 5 out of 5 stars.

Why?

Well, for one thing, it’s got Justin Long in it and I’ve been a fan since DodgeBall. In addition, these guys (Funny or Die) are damned funny.

So watch iSteve, because you can and it’s free.

Justin Long as Steve Jobs.
Justin Long as Steve Jobs.

Hollywood Hills by Joseph Wambaugh: They’re Back

8709703

Former cop turned author Joseph Wambaugh is one of my favourite writers. His books and the characters who reside in them are brilliant. They are full of black humour, pathos, tragedy, and fun. Each and every participant in one of his books breathe. You find your self becoming attached to them all, even the villains.

He writes pretty impressive non-fiction books as well. Check out his Lines and Shadows for an in-depth and amazing look at how one San Diego policeman tried to help the problems faced by immigrants crossing the border. Innocents being slaughtered and raped by the gangs that prowled the empty desert canyons for victims.

But I digress.

Hollywood Hills is the fourth in a series of books about the cops that make up the Hollywood division in LA. Most of the familiar cast are back. “Hollywood Nate” Weiss the Screen Actors Guild card carrying cop, Flotsam and Jetsam the two surfer cops, and ex-basketball player Div Taylor and her partner ex-marine “The Gypsy” all feature heavily in this tale of Hollywood homicide and hokum.

There is a crime ring that is hitting all celebrity homes and robbing them blind. They use social networking to plan their robberies. Butler Raleigh Dibble works for Julius Hampton, a miserly skinflint that keeps Raleigh on a short leash. While at lunch the two men run into gay Art Gallery owner Nigel Wickland. Wickland tells Raleigh of an employment opportunity with widowed Leona Brueger, a member of the Hollywood elite and voracious cougar who has an interest in Hollywood Nate.

Soon Raleigh has jumped the Hamilton ship and set sail with Leona looking after her ill brother. Wickland now has Raleigh where he wants him and the two men plan to steal two very expensive pieces of art from the widow.

Twenty-two year old druggie Jonas Claymore and his equally drugged out girl friend Megan Burke decide to emulate the celebrity crime ring, dubbed the Bling Ring by the local media, and improve their chances of keeping supplied with the drug of their choice OxyContin. It is their entry into the world of crime that causes a serendipitous intermingling of their crime wave with Dibble’s and Wickland’s.

Meanwhile Hollywood Nate thinks he’s going to finally get the big break he’s been waiting for and the rest of the gang at the Hollywood division carry on dealing with the “not-so-normal” dealings with the nuts that make up the local citizenry that they are pledged to protect.

Like the other three books in this series, Hollywood Hills is damned entertaining. Wambaugh continues to treat us to our favourite characters everyday dilemma’s and introduces a few new ones. The pages of his books exude a poetic irony and delicious amount of crazy.

I do have to say that the “secondary” criminals in this book do seem to shadow some characters in his other books. But dealing with criminals on a daily basis for 10 years myself, I can say with pretty firm conviction, there isn’t a whole lot of variation between the folks who populate the world of the law-breaker.

A real 5 star addition to Wambaugh’s series about the Hollywood precinct.

Author Joseph Wambaugh. (courtesy of nndb)
Author Joseph Wambaugh. (courtesy of nndb)

Brother (2000): LA Yakuza

Cover of "Brother"

Written, directed and edited by Takeshi Kitano, Brother opened to mixed reviews. Filmed in Los Angeles it was Takeshi’s first and last  attempt at breaking into the American film market. Kitano also stars in the film (as Beat Takeshi).

The film has a fine array of actors in it. Omar Epps (perhaps better known to audiences for his work on the TV program House), Ryo Ishibashi (Audition, Suicide ClubThe Grudge 2), and the usual array of Kitano regulars – Ren Ohsugi  and Susumu Terajima just to name two.

Brother is another variation of Kitano’s many films that deal with the Yakuza. This theme is prevalent in almost all his films. Most of the character’s he portrays in his films are violent, individualistic and yet still childlike. Almost all the Yakuza characters he portrays die by the end of the film.

In Brother Kitano plays Aniki Yamamoto an enforcement officer of a Yakuza gang. When his boss is killed by a rival gang, Yamamoto must merge with the new gang or die. He chooses to exile himself rather than join the gang who killed his boss. As a going away present his old gang sets him up with a forged identity and a gym bag full of money.

He travels to Los Angeles to live with his half-brother Ken (Claude Maki). On the way he bumps into Denny (Omar Epps) one of Ken’s gang members causing Denny to drop a bottle of wine. While Denny is winding himself up to attack Aniki, he picks up the broken bottle and stabs Denny in the face with it. He then punches Denny in the stomach and leaves him lying on the side walk.

When Yamamoto findly finds Ken he also finds out that Denny is his brother’s best friend. In a very short time, Denny becomes friends with Aniki and the two are practically inseparable. Throughout the film Denny and Aniki gamble against each other, with Aniki cheating where ever he can to win. They begin to bond even more.

Ken is pretty small potatoes in LA and after he has an altercation with a rival gang.  Aniki sets out to help him broaden the gang’s horizons. After Aniki single handedly kills every member of the rival gang,  they all hole up at Ken’s place expecting a reprisal from the other gang’s partners.

While they are waiting for retribution one of Aniki’s old Yakuza gang members and friend Kato (Susumu Terajima) shows up at Ken’s door  and gets a gun butt to the head from Aniki who was  expecting someone else.  Aniki tells the now prostrate Kato, “I’m at war in America too.” With Kato’s help Aniki sets in motion  plans for their little gang to grow.

Ken and his fellow gang members learn that Aniki and Kato are extremely ruthless and violent men who treat death like a joke. With Yamamoto staking out new turf for the gang to take over, and merging with other Asian gangs, Ken, Kato and Aniki become too powerful for the Mafia to ignore.

The gang become so powerful that they have an entire building for their headquarters with the top floor as the main office complete with an indoor basketball hoop. They have their own accountant and solicitor and are trying to branch out even further.

When the Mafia decide the gang has gotten too big, they start killing gang members off one at a time.

Brother is violent, the body count by the end of the film is seventy-eight. But for all it’s bloodshed, it is filled with the typical  Takeshi Kitano trademark  humour and his character’s childlike delight at the pathos he causes. Although this is not considered by many, including Takeshi himself, to be one of his better films, it is still worth watching.

Venice Film Festival-winning film director Tak...

And if you’ve never seen any of his films before, Brother is a good introduction to ‘Beat Takeshi’ and his films.

Starting Out Part One or Babe’s In Hollywood-Land

Years ago when I was a whole world younger and (I thought anyway) a lot smarter about what I was meant to do with my life, my first wife and I moved to Arcadia in southern California. We moved there because I wanted to be a professional actor. The way we chose Arcadia was unique. We got out a map of southern California and closing our eyes we stuck our index fingers on the map.

Hollywood Sign
Hollywood Sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The area midway between where our fingers hit the map was where we were going to live. That turned out to be Arcadia. You might be wondering why we did not just live in Los Angeles. Good question. The reason was simple, we felt the cost of living would be too high for a young couple just starting out.

We flew out to the Los Angeles International Airport via a “champagne” flight. When we landed we then had to figure out how to get to Arcadia. We wound up booking a limo; it was, somewhat amazingly, the cheapest way to get there. That limo ride was our first experience of what living in southern California would be like. The chauffeur was very chatty. He explained that he was self-employed and that this was only one of his three jobs. He was divorced and his ultimate goal was to be an actor.

Everybody, it seemed, in southern California wanted to be in the entertainment business. I mean everybody. Right up to the guy who owned a paint store that I was trying to get a builder’s discount from. When I rang him and asked about the discount, he started chatting while he was working out my discount. He asked if my business was going to grow. I said I didn’t really expect it to get too big as I was only doing it while I was trying to get work as an actor. “Great,” he said, a lot more excited than he had been working out my possible discount. “Have you got a Publicist yet?” I answered that I had not as I hadn’t really gotten any work yet. He thought about it for a second or two and said, “Give me your address. I’ll send you my business card. Keep me in mind when you start working.”

Like I said everybody seemed to want to be part of the Hollywood dream machine.

For a few weeks we stayed in a Dollar Inn. It was the cheapest hotel we could find. I still remember cracking up when the desk clerk informed us that for seventy-five cents extra we could get a key that would unlock the television in the room. I had never heard of locked televisions before and said so. The clerk then solemnly explained that as they were part of a cheap hotel chain, they had trouble with people walking off with the television sets. I think the inference was that because they catered to a “lower class” clientèle everything in the rooms was locked down tight.

While we were there we discovered the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. This was where they filmed part of the Fantasy Island television show. The early Tarzan films were also shot there. In fact it was used a lot for television filming. We also discovered the Santa Anita Race Trackwhere the high rollers of Hollywood came to lose their money.

Screenshot of Walter Matthau from the film Charade

We had a lovely chat with the desk clerk at the Arcadia Holiday Inn. This was conveniently located near the race track. The desk clerk informed us that when racing season hit they were always fully booked. He even showed us the exclusive bungalows behind the hotel where the rich and famous liked to stay “in the season.” We also found out that the hotels favourite customers were the actors Jack Klugman and Walter Matthau,  who were very heavy betters. They both booked bungalows for the entire season.

Unfortunately we soon realised that Arcadia would not be a place where we could live. The rent for this little suburban paradise was way more than we could afford. Of course the other thing we found out was that rental properties were nigh on impossible to find. We finally had to join an agency that would “find” properties for you. We then discovered that southern California actively practised what can only be called reverse ageism. Every place we looked at turned us down.

Finally after a lot of frustration, we had a “heart to heart” with our property agent. “You’re too young,” was the information he imparted. When we started to protest (we were after all twenty and nineteen years old and married for crying out loud), he held his hands up and said there was nothing he could do about that. He did eventually take pity on our situation and told about a property that he had to rent.

So that was how we wound up living in one of the most historical buildings in Pasadena, California and how I almost got killed twice in the same night.

English: Former campus of Ambassador College i...
English: Former campus of Ambassador College in Pasadena, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rushing

RUSHING IS DANGEROUS ANY TIME - ANY PLACE^ - N...

I’ve been in a hurry my whole life. When I was a youngster (that’s teenager, really) I was convinced that if I didn’t hurry up and “grow-up” I’d somehow miss the boat. I also wanted to do as many different things as possible. I had the usual suspects in my itinerary, travel, fame (or a monetary equivalent), freedom, and of course the all important career.

I changed my career goals as often as most folks change their underwear. My career choices ranged from: Lawyer – school took too long, Doctor – see Lawyer, Police – poor pay, Military – very poor pay (of course I did wind up in the Air Force, but that wasn’t a planned career move), Archaeology – pay non-existent. The list was endless.  Then one day I had an epiphany – on the career front anyway –  I could be an actor! Rather than try to pursue all those careers, I could act like all those folks.

So, I enrolled in the High School Drama Department. I became a card carrying Thespian and I was proud to be one. Then that “being in a hurry” thing got in the way again. I started working for who ever wanted me. I made the lady who gave me my first chance vie for my time. We had, quite understandably, a huge falling out. I quit the Drama Department in a fit of rage. This had a house of cards effect. I lost the chance at my almost guaranteed scholarship to university, and my impetus. In my hurry to get where I wanted, by rushing ahead impervious to those around me, I screwed up.

I did try (several times) to get back on the “acting train” – moving to LA in the late 70’s, and then nothing for almost 12 years. I did a little stage work when I moved to England, some extra work here and in Holland. I did the odd commercial, a lot of adverts for the Armed Forces Radio & Television Network in Holland. More extra work in the 90’s along with some voice-over work, and then…nothing.

I was still in a hurry with everything else though. While my “career” stalled out, I was rushing to do other things. Getting married – twice, divorced – twice, fatherhood – twice, changing jobs – again more often, than most folks change their underwear, moving – like a grasshopper. My life didn’t slow down until about ten years into my second marriage. Then it ground to a shuddering halt.

Now I’m single again, I’ve found that old habit of being in a hurry has resurfaced, albeit for a different reason now, I’m rushing to try get some old business taken care of. It is not often we get second chances in life. I’ve had more than my fair share of  ”second chances,” and this time I’m planning on getting it right.

I think I’ve cracked it finally. I think I’ve figured out how I can fulfil my natural proclivity for rushing while still taking my time. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do and I’ve started already – still in a hurry – but this time, I’m paying attention. I’m going to look at the sign posts as I speed up the last roads of my life. I’ll try to avoid the detours when I can, and enjoy the scenery when I can’t.

I guess that’s the only advantage of rushing, if you get sidetracked, you can still get back on your path. A little older, hopefully wiser and still able to enjoy the trip.