The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Rusty Cundieff’s anthology Tales from the Hood is a good idea: four vignettes of black life presented as horror stories — so, a horror flick with a message, more commentary than a “scary movie.” I see why Spike Lee attached his name to it (as executive producer).
Cundieff and cowriter Darin Scott pick material topics that still resonate more than 20 years later: racism, police brutality, domestic abuse, drugs, and black-on-black violence. The messages are strong, but unfortunately the writing always isn’t.
The best segment is “Hard Core Convert,” which is also the closer. Jerome a.k.a. Crazy K (Lamont Bentley) is a drug dealer shot in a gang hit. He wakes up in a Kafkaesue prison, where a stern nurse (Lira Angel) subjects him to rehabilitation methods straight from A Clockwork Orange. This particular piece and the way it’s executed are both powerful and memorable.
The second segment, “Boys Do Get Bruised,” takes on domestic abuse. It’s not bad, but it’s not great. The other two segments, “Rogue Cop Revelation” and “KKK Comeuppance,” fall flat.
Tales from the Hood targets the right notes, but it misses many of them. For one thing, the approach here is really heavy-handed. Plus, the impact is diluted by the silly bit that frames the stories: a funeral home in South Central Los Angeles run by weirdo Mr. Simms (Clarence Williams III). He tells the four stories to three “gangstas,” Ball (De’aundre Bonds), Bulldog (Samuel Monroe Jr.), and Stack (Joe Torry), who stumble into the home looking for drugs. I could have done without this device — it served as a distraction more than anything.
With Wings Hauser, Tom Wright, Anthony Griffith, Michael Massee, Duane Whitaker, David Alan Grier, Brandon Hammond, Rusty Cundieff, Paula Jai Parker, Corbin Bernsen, Roger Guenveur Smith, Art Evans, Rosalind Cash, Chris Edwards , Troy Cartwright, Brenden Jefferson, Tim Hutchinson, John A. Cundieff, Bobby McGee, Christina Cundieff, Ricky Harris, Darin Scott, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Scotty Brulee, Ryan Williams, Kamau Holloway, Tasha Johnson
Funeral Parade of Roses [薔薇の葬列] is an intriguing film for a few reasons. Clearly influenced by the French New Wave, writer and director Toshio Matsumoto comes up with something simultaneously ordinary yet avant-garde, very much a product of its time yet years ahead. It’s extraordinarily cool.
Structured as a movie within a movie, Funeral Parade of Roses follows Tokyo “gay boy” Eddie (Pîtâ a.k.a. Peter) through his many exploits as a young transvestite immersed in the underground club scene. He might even be a hooker. Meanwhile, he’s carrying on a secret affair with Jimi (Yoshimi Jô), the boyfriend of club elder statesperson and fellow gay boy Leda (Osamu Ogasawara). Leda is onto them. Oh, the drama it creates!
While all this is going on, a camera crew records Eddie as though this were The Real World or Truth or Dare.
As Eddie ponders who he is — and looks to alcohol, group sex, drugs, and lots of attention from others for answers — Matsumoto explores “queer identity” through him. He intersperses interviews, flashbacks, episodes with Eddie’s mother (Emiko Azuma), and even a musical diversion or two to offer clues. A crazy subplot develops, and it references Oedipus in a tacky and sad but clever way.
Clumsy in its exploration of “gay life” and downright disturbing at points, Funeral Parade of Roses is nonetheless fun to watch. Shot in gorgeous black and white, it has an otherworldly feel. When it’s not nihilistic, it’s kitschy and entertaining — almost in a nascent John Waters way, just not quite as rough. The clothes are mod. The music is heavy on classical. The ending, sudden and bloody, is really messed up.
I’m not sure what exactly Matsumoto is saying here — a lot is open to interpretation — or that I agree with him. Either way, I enjoyed the journey.
“If I ever see a hat on a bed in this house, man, like you’ll never see me again. I’m gone.”
“Well, to begin with, nobody, and I mean nobody, can talk a junkie out of using. You can talk to ’em for years but sooner or later they’re gonna get ahold of something. Maybe it’s not dope. Maybe it’s booze, maybe it’s glue, maybe it’s gasoline. Maybe it’s a gunshot to the head. But something. Something to relieve the pressures of their everyday life, like having to tie their shoes.”
— Bob Hughes
“Narcotics have been systematically scapegoated and demonized. The idea that anyone can use drugs and escape a horrible fate is anathema to these idiots. I predict in the near future right-wingers will use drug hysteria as a pretext to set up an international police apparatus.”
— Fr. Murphy
I love everything about Drugstore Cowboy, the first film I ever saw by director Gus Van Sant. It’s the one that I view as his gold standard even after nearly 30 years. Funny, touching, and insightful in ways that have to be seen, it speaks to me. It probably always will. It’s a rare film that has it all: flawlessly executed from start to finish, it’s totally absorbing and entertaining yet still makes its points in a way that hits hard even after seeing it dozens of times.
Bad Bobby Hughes (Matt Dillon) — or just “Bob” — is the first one to tell you he’s a junkie. He and his wife, Dianne (Kelly Lynch), lead a small nomadic “crew” that consists of Rick (James LeGros) and his young girlfriend, Nadine (Heather Graham). The four of them spend their days getting high and devising elaborate — and amusing — schemes to rob drugs from pharmacies and hospitals. Then they go out and execute their mission.
Once they’ve made a score, they do the drugs they like, sell the ones they don’t, hang out doing little more than watching TV, and move onto another neighborhood somewhere else in Portland, Oregon, when they’ve either run out or overstayed their welcome, whichever comes first.
They’ve repeated the cycle so many times that cocky Detective Gentry (James Remar) and his men are on their trail. Bob manages to stay a step ahead, but it’s getting tougher. He sees that his luck is running out — and it’s not just because of the hex that Nadine inadvertently put on them by mentioning a dog (one thing about Bob: he’s a bit superstitious).
To outrun one such hex — and more realistically, because Bob runs out of ideas and doesn’t know what to do next — they hit the road, stuffing their drug stash in suitcases, shipping them on Greyhound buses, and following them by car. A string of bad luck and bad outcomes presents Bob with an epiphany — and a choice.
With both humor and compassion, Van Sant — and for his part, Dillon — tells a moving and curiously relatable story about people who aren’t necessarily bad, but they’ve allowed their lives to drift away from them. Here, it’s for drugs. They don’t always do the right thing, and often the members of this little family of outcasts are each other’s worst enemies. But they’re realistic. Dillon makes Bob so likable that I find myself rooting for him even when he’s making bad choices; despite his flaws, I like him enough that I can see myself having fun with him.
Drugstore Cowboy easily could’ve been a very different movie. It works because it’s not preachy or judgmental or hyperbolic. Based on a novel by real-life criminal and addict James Fogle (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Fogle), Van Sant and Daniel Yost’s screenplay eschews melodrama for a decidedly objective and almost clinical approach, showing the joys of drugs in some visually well constructed sequences as well as the cost of addiction. The film does an excellent job showing how much work it is to maintain a habit. Throughout the movie, Dillon’s narration keeps the story grounded. Van Sant never sells out his characters’ humanity.
It doesn’t hurt that this film is loaded with spectacular performances all around, including those of Grace Zabriskie as Bob’s battleworn mother and William S. Burroughs as disgraced priest and fellow addict Fr. Tom Murphy. Robert Yeoman’s cinematography gives Drugstore Cowboy a drab, threadbare look that works well with Elliot Goldenthal’s moody score. Every element comes together to make this a truly remarkable film, definitely one of my favorites.
With Max Perlich, George Catalano, Janet Baumhover, Stephen Rutledge, Beah Richards, Robert Lee Pitchlynn, Ray Monge, Woody
Production: Avenue Pictures
Distribution: Avenue Pictures Productions (USA), Astral Films (Canada), Forum Distribution (France), Sandrew Film & Teater (Sweden), GAGA Communications (Japan)
“I’ll rinse these. I have Woolite in my purse. It’s handy for the road.”
— Doris Mann
Postcards from the Edge is, of course, Carrie Fisher’s semi-autobiographical novel about a floundering actress, Suzanne Vale (Meryl Streep), teetering on has-been status as she puts her life back together after a near fatal overdose. For her film adaptation, Fisher shifts the focus from the rehabilitation process to the relationship between Suzanne and her mother, legendary Hollywood superstar Doris Mann (Shirley MacLaine). It’s a good call: as last year’s documentary Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (https://moviebloke.com/tag/bright-lights-starring-carrie-fisher-and-debbie-reynolds/ ) demonstrated, Fisher and Reynolds were a solid and supportive albeit wacky team. Their relationship clearly offers ample fodder for this film.
Ably directed by Mike Nichols, Postcards from the Edge takes on addiction, family relationships, and show biz. In order to continue a film she’s working on, Vale must place herself under the care of a “responsible” adult — strictly for insurance purposes, a producer (Rob Reiner) assures her. That leaves her mother, who’s more than willing to help. In fact, it makes her beam all the more. So, Vale does what she must: she moves into her mother’s mansion in Beverly Hills.
Fisher might embellish a few things or flat out make shit up, like the sleeping pill story and her mother’s closet alcoholism. Maybe not. It doesn’t matter: Streep is excellent here, as is the entire cast. The real fun, though, is watching MacLaine emulate Reynolds. She has every tick and foible down perfectly. The homecoming party Doris throws for Suzanne and the is snarky, hilarious, and illuminating — I have the distinct impression that it really happened exactly the way it plays out here. Genius!
With Dennis Quaid, Gene Hackman, Richard Dreyfuss, Mary Wickes, Conrad Bain, Annette Bening, Simon Callow, Gary Morton, C. C. H. Pounder, Robin Bartlett, Barbara Garrick, Anthony Heald
Production: Columbia Pictures Corporation
Distribution: Columbia Pictures, Columbia TriStar Films
Dear God the Father! Some movies are so terrible, you love them for everything wrong with them—what’s bad is exactly what endears them. Other movies…well, they’re just terrible. It’s a thin line. Sadly, Disco Godfather falls into the latter category.
J. Robert Wagoner and Cliff Roquemore’s screenplay stars Rudy Ray Moore as Tucker Williams, an L.A. cop-turned-DJ at the trashy-ass Blueberry Hill Disco, which looks like a repurposed Denny’s. The plot involves Williams’s nephew, Bucky (Julius J. Carry III), who’s gotten hooked on “angel dust.”
One word: YAWN! What were they thinking? Disco Godfather is so boring, I’d rather watch reruns of 2 Broke Girls. The only thing that saves it from total failure is the wardrobe—Felice Hurtes, Jimmy Lynch, and Kimberly Sizemore deserve major kudos for finding the cool Goodwill stores. Fuck this bullshit: watch Dolemite and call it a day. They could have tried a little harder here.
With Carol Speed, Jimmy Lynch, Jerry Jones, Lady Reed, Hawthorne James, Frank Finn, Julius J. Carry III, Bishop Pat Patterson, Pucci Jhones, Howard Jackson, Yetta Collier, Pat Washington, Doc Watson, Leroy Daniels, Melvin Smith, Ronny Harris, Dolorise Parr, John Casino, Keith David
Dolemite (Rudy Ray Moore) is his name, and fuckin’ up mutha fuckas is his game!
He’s the baddest pimp around—well, around Los Angeles, anyway—and he looks every bit the part. Dolemite owns a nightclub and whorehouse but he’s doing time on a drug beef. Maybe it’s bogus, maybe not. Maybe some bad cops set him up, maybe it was archenemy Willie Green (D’Urville Martin), who took over the club and is running shit now. Either way, mother pimp Queen Bee (Lady Reed) and Dolemite’s army of ass-kickin’ kung fu hookers are none too happy about it.
To get out of the big house, Dolemite makes a deal with the po-po, Agent Blakeley (Jerry Jones), to, I think, help clean up his old hood. Dolemite uses this as an opportunity to exact revenge on Green and reclaim his, um, stature in the community. Along the way, he kicks a lot of ass, takes on two crooked cokehead cops—Mitchell (John Kerry) and White—and gets laid. A lot. He even cuss raps at the end.
Dolemite is not a movie to see because it’s a work of art. On the contrary, it’s terrible. But that’s what makes it so much fun to watch—that’s why it’s a cult classic. Like a lot of things before the late ’80s, it’s not P.C. (i.e., politically correct)—as if that isn’t obvious from the movie poster. The directing by Martin, which probably explains why he has so little screen time, is sloppy. You can count the number of times boom mics pop in. The fight scenes are laughable—Dolemite knocks people out barely lifting a finger (or here, leg) and sometimes without even touching them. Don’t even get me going on the martial arts stuff!
The plot is confusing and watered down. Jones wrote the screenplay with Moore, and the writing is just bad. I admit, I watched it drunk this time, but I’ve seen Dolemite before while sober. No difference. The events are scattered and at points seem random. The characters are colorful—shady Reverend Gibbs (West Gale), a possible parody of former Chicago leader Mayor Daley (Monte “Hy” Pike), the clearly trippin’ Hamburger Pimp (Vainus Rackstraw), and the many fox females—wander in and out, often without any reason.
Despite all that, Dolemite unquestionably has a charm of its own. Moore likes to rhyme, and he punctuates pretty much every sentence with “mutha FUCKA!” His crib is rent-to-own fabulous—check it out:
The wardrobe looks like it was borrowed from the Salvation Army. The climax at the nightclub goes on longer than it should but is still a showstopper. The soundtrack is a trip. If nothing else—and there is nothing else—Dolemite is a good time.
With Brenda DeLong, Terri Mosley, Marilyn Shaw, Lynell Smith, Vera Howard, Joy Martin, Jana Bisbing, Brenda Banks, Pat Haywood, René Van Clief, Pat Jones, Lola Mayo, Charlene Soulter, Liz Sample, Karolynn Hill, Dino Washington, Johnny J. Brown, Cardella Di Milo
Production: Comedian International Enterprise Productions (C.I.E.)
“Face your past. Choose your future.” That’s what the poster for T2 Trainspotting says. Perhaps it should say, “Paybacks are a bitch,” something Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) finds out pretty quickly when he returns home to Edinburgh after 20 years in Amsterdam following his little fuckover at the end of Trainspotting. Ostensibly back to make amends and settle his debt, Renton knows that forgiving and forgetting isn’t so easy—or smooth. Truth be told, he probably didn’t expect it to be.
Renton finds Spud (Ewen Bremner) unemployed, still struggling with heroin, and literally killing himself—like, alone with a plastic bag over his head in his dingy apartment. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) is a full-fledged douche, complete with a failing bar—the Port Sunshine—that he inherited from his aunt, a blackmail sex scam he runs on the side with a Bulgarian partner—Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), whom he fancies as his girlfriend—and a seriously unflattering coke habit. Oh yeah, he’s still bleaching what he’s got left of his hair. Neither is stoked about Renton showing up, but Sick Boy is clearly more bitter than Spud. He has a plan to get even.
Soon, however, Renton and Sick Boy are up to their old tricks, nightclubbing, tripping, and yes, thieving. In one of T2‘s best scenes, they head somewhere outside Edinburgh and hit a pub that looks more like an American VFW hall. It’s some weird open mic night for a crowd of Protestant Unionists who are rabidly anti-Catholic because of history. Explaining it all to Veronika in the car before the heist—the plan is to pickpocket as many ATM cards as they can get their hands on—Renton calls them “relics.” After a successful mission, the bouncer won’t let them leave until they perform a number. What they come up with is brilliant.
The fun and games come to a grinding halt when Begbie (Robert Carlyle), who’s serving a 25-year prison sentence and is denied parole because of his anger management problem, breaks out of jail and runs into Renton. He loses his shit in yet another great scene. Renton gets away for the moment but Begbie is on his trail, which leads him to a sketchy business partnership. Will history repeat itself?
I was skeptical when I heard director Danny Boyle was making a sequel; I guess I thought Trainspotting didn’t need a follow up. T2, which is loosely based on Irvine Welsh’s 2002 novel Porno, lacks the youthful vigor of the original and frankly isn’t as cool. How could it be? It wouldn’t exist without Trainspotting; it’s got flashbacks and obligatory references, some more clever than others, throughout. Kelly Macdonald has a fun cameo, Renton’s “Choose Life” monologue is updated, that toilet makes a brief appearance, and there’s a nice remix of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” at the end (and yes, we know it’s coming).
Still, T2 stands on its own. It’s fueled by nostalgia and revenge, which in this case turns out to be a rather interesting combination. T2 has more of a conventional plot, and it’s oddly fascinating. The dialogue is every bit as wickedly sharp as before. These boys have grown up—they’ve turned into sad men because they’ve chosen unfulfilled promise and disappointment (to use Renton’s words). Now they have to deal with it, which isn’t what I imagined them doing in 20 years—if they even lived, which they most definitely have. Surprise! We all know someone like this, right? I would see T2 again.
At a post screening discussion, Boyle said he really made an effort to connect to the original. He succeeded, in a good way. As for the title, he said it’s an homage of sorts to Terminator director James Cameron, whom the characters would simultaneously want to honor and piss off.
With Shirley Henderson, Scot Greenan, Pauline Lynch, James Cosmo, Eileen Nicholas, Irvine Welsh
Production: Film4, Creative Scotland, Cloud Eight Films, DNA Films, Decibel Films
Distribution: TriStar Pictures
Screening followed by a live Q and A with Danny Boyle and Irvine Welsh moderated by Richard Roeper
It doesn’t get more P.R. (“punk rock”) than the final days of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, the notorious and dysfunctional so-called “Romeo and Juliet of punk”—frankly, I’ve always viewed them as not too far off from John and Yoko, but I digress. Two messy heroin junkies, they bounced around for most of 1978 after the Sex Pistols disbanded. In September, they landed in Manhattan, where they rented a room at the Chelsea Hotel and Nancy appointed herself Sid’s manager. A month later, she ended up slumped next to the toilet in their room, dead from a stab wound to the abdomen (though she had multiple shallow stabs all over). Sid was arrested and allegedly confessed to her murder. While out of prison on bail, he died of a heroin overdose—some claim accidentally administered by his mother, others claim suicide—just four months later.
Danny Garcia’s Sad Vacation, a straight-to-video release coming out almost exactly 30 years after Alex Cox’s biopic Sid and Nancy, revisits these legendary rock and roll deaths. Interviewing many a soul who was there—Steve “Roadent” Conolly, Kenny “Stinker” Gordon, Hellin Killer, Walter Lure, Howie Pyro, Cynthia Ross, Gaye Black, Phyllis Stein, and Sylvain Sylvain to name a few—Garcia presents the facts, which are conflicting and not at all clear. Although Sad Vacation covers a little history of the punk movement, Malcolm McLaren, and the Sex Pistols, the focus is assiduously on what happened at the Chelsea. Narrated by Fun Lovin’ Criminals front man Huey Morgan, Sad Vacation takes on the tone of a crime documentary, laying out evidence and showing the holes in it. Not surprisingly, Garcia reveals some of the “eight thousand or so” conspiracy theories surrounding the murder, with those who knew the couple speculating on who really killed Nancy. Many point to Rockets Redglare, a drug dealer and bodyguard who worked for them. Redglare, who went on to appear in a number of films you’ve actually seen, died in 2001 (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rockets_Redglare).
Sad Vacation is not essential viewing; it doesn’t uncover anything new, raise any points that haven’t been raised before, or even pick a theory to endorse. It concludes that no one will ever know what happened. Big wow. That said, Garcia succeeds in showing that Sid and Nancy were kids—flawed ones, but still. After hearing words like “mess,” “dysfunctional,” and “destructive” to describe their relationship, it’s sweet to learn that his ashes were spread on her grave because they couldn’t be buried together. Now that’s P.R.
I suppose in Asaph Polonsky’s first full-length feature, One Week and a Day, nothing can be said to be certain except death and intoxication, the former of course bringing about the latter. With a dry and tentative sense of humor, he demonstrates how different people come to terms with grief as they struggle to move forward.
After sitting shiva for their son and sole offspring, Ronnie, a cancer victim, the Spivaks—Eyal (Shai Avivi) and Vicky (Evgenia Dodina)—gingerly go about getting back into their normal routine over the course of a day. As might be expected, it’s not easy: there’s a lot to do. Eyal, clad in shorts and sandals, isn’t up for the task—any task, it turns out. He decides to try a different approach when on a mission to retreive a blanket of many colors at the hospice where Ronnie died he instead finds his son’s medical marijuana—a humungous unopened foil bag of it.
There’s a lot of pot humor here: hiding the doobage in Eyal’s fly, toking up, hazy discussions, keeping the buzz on the D.L., playing ping pong and games that involve kittens, even an air guitar session with Zooler (Tomer Kapon), the next door neighbor’s son, a big stoner who works in food service and dutifully shows Eyal how to roll a joint (not with a gummy worm). Vicky, a sober school teacher with a lot on her plate, goes about her business jogging, going for a checkup with her dentist, and tutoring a young student in her home while Eyal and Zooler get baked. She gets an idea of her own. While all this is going on, Eyal has until 4:00 p.m. to confirm a reservation for two plots next to Ronnie at an already overcrowded cemetery, or he and Vicky forfeit them forever.
I enjoyed the offbeat humor of One Week and a Day, which has a few downright beautiful scenes—like Zooler’s pretend surgery to remove a hospice patient’s cancer for the benefit of her young daughter. However, the characters suffer from a certain flatness. When the smoke clears, though, this is a touching and often poignant story. The film neatly demonstrates that petty annoyances, drudgery, and boredom are all a part of life and persist even in the face of grief.
Screening followed by a live Q and A with director Asaph Polonsky.
“Clubbing” in the late ’80s and early ’90s was about having fun, being seen, getting some attention when you could, and simply being fabulous. I was already past my clubbing days (or nights) and into raves when I read something about the horrific murder and dismemberment of a club kid in New York City in 1996. It hit home, albeit in a small way: not a club kid myself, some of my friends had been—or at least they were club kid lite—and I was familiar with the scene, which wasn’t violent. I followed the story for a little while but didn’t keep up to see what eventually happened—I was busy doing other stuff, like getting my shit together to go to law school and move somewhere else. The incident wasn’t front page news. A few years later, a friend gave me a copy of Disco Bloodbath by James St. James. I was floored to discover that it chronicled the story I started to follow. I absolutely loved the book—even with a drug fueled murder at its climax, it’s an irresistible mix of club queen adventures, flip observations, dish, dirt, and even a dash of nostalgia. Plus, it’s well written. I devoured it over a few days on the beach in Puerto Vallarta.
Party Monster is Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s film adaptation of St. James’s memoir. They take some liberties—they aren’t totally by the book and some of the music isn’t quite right—but they still manage to brilliantly capture the look and feel of those days and that scene. The cast members, known and unknown, are excellent: Seth Green, Macaulay Culkin, Dylan McDermott, Wilmer Valderrama, Wilson Cruz, Justin Hagan, Chloë Sevigny, even Marilyn Manson. John Stamos makes a cameo as a talk show host with actual club kids, including Amanda Lepore, Richie Rich, and Walt Paper (who oddly enough I knew briefly in undergrad). Green and Culkin have a natural chemistry as friends and foes—one of my favorite scenes is James (Green) showing Michael (Culkin) how to work a room at a Dunkin Donuts knockoff. The thing I love about the movie is how fun this world is—parties, costumes, Disco 2000, ordering burgers for 300 clubgoers at a fast food chain, piling into the back of a semi with a guy in a chicken suit, even doing drugs. The genius of the film is that, like the book, it makes me want to be a part of this world despite its flaws and the tragic ending.