Sad Vacation: the Last Days of Sid and Nancy

(USA 2016)

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 (

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.

94 minutes
Not rated

(Home via iTunes) C

William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet

(USA 1996)

“My only love sprung from my only hate.”

—Juliet Capulet

I don’t usually read reviews when I write my entries here, but sometimes I can’t resist checking what critics had to say about older movies when they first hit theaters back in the day. Roger Ebert did not like this one, which he called “a mess” and “a very bad idea” ( I respectfully disagree; Baz Luhrmann’s overblown and over the top take on Shakespeare’s (probably) best known play is, in a word, awesome—even with 20 years’ wear.

William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet definitely is not your lit teacher’s Shakespeare: set in hyper-paced, decaying fictitious Verona Beach on the verge of the Millennium, Luhrmann reimagines the feuding Montagues and Capulets as two family corporate empires embrolied in a turf war. They act like cartels: Romeo’s cousin Benvolio (Dash Mihok) and Juliet’s cousin Tybalt (John Leguizamo) brawl at a gas station, wrecking havok in the city. Instead of knives, their weapons are guns with brand names “Dagger” and “Sword” embossed on them. Chief of Police Captain Prince (Vondie Curtis-Hall) warns family heads Ted Montague (Brian Dennehy) and Fulgencio Capulet (Paul Sorvino) to get their boys under control, or there will be hell to pay.

That evening, Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio), Benvolio, and Mercutio (Harold Perrineau) take ecstasy and crash a costume party at the Capulet mansion, where prima donna Mrs. Capulet (Diane Venora) has arranged an introduction between Juliet (Claire Danes, who you oughta know emulates Alanis Morissette) and governor’s son Dave Paris (Paul Rudd dressed as an astronaut). Drawn to a blacklit aquarium in the bathroom, rolling Romeo, literally a knight in shining armor, sees Juliet in angel wings on the other side. Thus begins the fateful downfall of the star-crossed lovers, aided by Fr. Laurence (Pete Postlewaite).

William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet injects new life into a classic. Laying the groundwork for 2000’s Moulin Rouge!, everything about it is bold and flamboyant—especially the choice to stick mostly with the play’s original prose. Luhrmann mixes a headspinning cocktail of English literature, Alexander McQueen, Quentin Tarantino, and MTV to create an apocalyptic assault on the senses. He combines outrageous sets (including a crumbling movie theater on the beach that provides the perfect stage for some of the action), religious imagery, sexy thugs, car chases, a drag performance, newscasts, and hip tunage into a whirl of color, noise, and poetry. Donald M. McAlpine’s cinematography is downright decadent. The soundtrack is strong: it boasts, among other acts, Radiohead, Everclear, Garbage, Butthole Surfers, and of course the Cardigans with their only U.S. chart hit, “Lovefool.”

I can see why purists and old fogies will pass on this adaptation. I, however, love it. William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet isn’t perfect, but it’s wickedly clever, fun, and never dull.

120 minutes
Rated PG-13

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B+

West Side Story

(USA 1961)


I’m generally not into musicals, but West Side Story is an exception. I saw it in high school, and I liked its retro cheese factor. Now that I’ve seen it as an adult, I love it—for quite a few reasons I didn’t appreciate back in high school.

Jet Song

The cast here is flawless. Russ Tamblyn as gang leader Riff—well, he’s a Jet all the way ‘til his last dying day. Richard Beymer brings a sweet and likable innocence to Tony. George Chakiris as Bernardo oozes mystery, menace, and machismo. Susan Oakes plays Anybodys with just the right amount of sexual ambiguity. Somehow, Natalie Wood as Maria, a Puerto Rican, works. And who doesn’t love Rita Moreno as Anita?


The story is clever: a modern, urban American adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Manhattan street gangs the Jets and the Sharks instead of Verona houses the Montagues and the Capulets—an S.E. Hinton novel with dancing. Very cool!

Dance at the Gym

Speaking of dancing, yes—gang members snapping their fingers and pulling ballet moves as if they’re in a Michael Jackson video is corny. But it works. Jerome Robbins does breathtaking choreography here. The shots are big, colorful, energetic, and visually stunning. My favorites are the exteriors at the beginning: I feel dizzy, I feel sunny, I feel fizzy and funny and fine. West Side Story is definitely a film for the big screen.


Needless to say, the songs are classic. I’ve known them forever—some before I knew West Side Story. Written with Leonard Bernstein, this was Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway debut ( His trademark wit shines through the lyrics and the rhythms. I’ll always think of my friend Frank, who sang songs from West Side Story as he did dishes when we were roommates in college.

The Rumble

Despite its silly corniness—a large part of its charm—West Side Story is dark. It raises a lot of issues still prevalent today: race, delinquency (though we call it “thuggery” today), hate toward “immigrants.” Despite the many light moments here, the dramatic scenes are dramatic; they make you forget, albeit momentarily, the light stuff. The gym dance, the rumble, and the scene where Anita goes to Doc’s store to give a message to Tony are all suspenseful and intense. The final scene in the basketball court is a real tearjerker.


A large part of West Side Story was filmed on a soundstage, but it still nails the look and feel a New York City that doesn’t exist anymore.

Did I miss anything here?


In 1997, the United States Library of Congress deemed West Side Story “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (

(Music Box) A

Music Box Theatre 70mm Festival