Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

“Once” Wins the Tony for Best Musical

June 11, 2012



The great indie film “Once,” starring Irish singer-songwriter Glen Hansard and his collaborator Czech singer-songwriter Marketa Irglova, was apparently turned into a Broadway musical. I missed the whole thing. Fall asleep for one damn minute in this world and by the time you wake up, there’s some new Facetweet Tumblepress shit munching up the airwaves, Live Journal is owned by the Russians, Friendster is huge in the Philippines and your phone cashes checks.

Anyway, “Once” won the Best Musical Tony this year. Above, the cast performs at the awards ceremony. Keep an eye out for some major cello-fu; seriously, I didn’t even know you could pull shit like that with a cello strapped to your pievault. Way to go, cello dude.

Hansard and Irglova are great and “Once” is well worth checking out if you like melancholy, beautiful, highly atmospheric and melodic folk-pop.

Here are Hansard and Irglova performing what is to me the most beautiful song from the film, “Falling Slowly,” live at Amoeba Records (I think it’s the one on Haight Street, but it could be Berkeley) in 2007:



once broadway poster



Taste the Blood of Christopher

May 27, 2012

Christopher Lee as Dracula in Horror of Dracula-Resize

The incomparable Sir Christopher Lee is 90 years old today.

Yes, he was Saruman in Peter Jackson’s brilliant Lord of the Rings films — and perfect for the role, maybe partially because he was surely the one member of the acting cast who was most in love with those books, reportedly re-reading them each year. He was also the only one to have ever met J.R.R. Tolkien in the flesh.

And yes, he was a genuine piss-and-vinegar type in World War II, volunteering first for the Finns in the Winter War against the Soviet Union, and thereafter in the RAF and as an intelligence officer for the Long Range Desert Group in North Africa.

But between those two events, Lee was in literally hundreds of film roles. (IMDB lists 276 acting credits in total, from the Kaleidoscope TV series in 1946 to 2013’s The Hobbit: There and Back Again, where he will reprise his role as Saruman.

Most importantly to me, Lee played Dracula in a series from Hammer Studios — among my very favorite horror films of all time. I love them for their spot-on Gothic atmosphere and shameless melodrama; these are not films that apologize for being what they are. They chew the scenery like it was made of peanut brittle.

It was the quality of the acting — Lee and Peter Cushing chief among them — that always sold those movies to me. They might have needed such creative salesmanship because of relatively low budgets and familiar plots — but true professionals like Lee never seemed to work at bringing it home. They made it look not only effortless, but genuinely scary no matter how crazed the maniacal laughter he was called upon to issue in concert with umpteen-twenty violin stabs. Cheesy movies have never scared the ever living hell out of me the way Hammer flicks did — and still do, if I’m drunk enough, despite repeated (and I mean REPEATED) viewing of several of the best of them. If Lee ever phoned it in, then he did so the way Freddy Kruger did, if you know what I mean.

Or maybe Lee didn’t have to phone it in because the familiar — at times, even hackneyed — plots didn’t need any apology. Were they created with love, or as shameless profiteering? Fuck if I know — I suspect a little of both. The Hammer Dracula films unapologetically rehashed the Universal Horror of the ’30s with the gusto of a fanatical Rocky Horror Picture Show cast marooned in the suburbs, but with a moviemaking mojo that, on second or third or fifth viewing, remains to my eyes remarkably credible given their available resources.

If just one studio could turn out the kind of credulously reverent retellings of classic stories that Hammer did in the late ’50s through the early ’70s, I would never say one nasty word about dumbass Hollywood remakes again.

And if just one leading man could scare the living shit out of me the way Lee’s Dracula did when I first saw these flicks on Saturday afternoons, we wouldn’t need found-footage gimmicks to conjure pure terror and bona-fide storytelling.

I stand in awe, and occasionally sheer terror. Bravo, Mr. Lee; bra-MFing-vissimo.

The Rum Diary: Handy Checklist for Reviewers

October 28, 2011

I’ll cut Regina Weinreich a huge amount of slack for producing and directing a documentary on one of my favorite writers of all times: Paul Bowles. (This is a documentary that I have not seen, incidentally…at least not that I can recall — Paul Bowles: The Complete Outsider.) But I have no idea what she is trying to say here in her Huffington Post piece about the premiere of The Rum Diary:

The fans outlying MoMA for the New York premiere of The Rum Diary were quadruple deep, awaiting the arrival of the star, Johnny Depp. Too bad the Titus I screening room was three-quarters filled. Apparently the star did not want a full house. Why? Let’s call it the vagaries of stardom. I had met Depp before, before his turn as Jack Sparrow turned him quirky. At the premiere of an earlier film we talked about his double roles in Julian Schnabel’s Before Night Falls (brilliant), and his passion for beat literature. With Hunter S. Thompson, it’s guilt by association.

As a scholar on the subject with a Ph.D. in Kerouacology, I spoke on panels with Hunter S. Thompson. At one academic panel in the mid-’90’s Hunter lit up a pipe and the auditorium’s first five rows inhaled in a grateful wave. Ah, that’s what we expected from Hunter, and that is what his reputation thus far is based upon: his irreverence.

Huh? I’m unclear on whether she loved it, hated it, loved or hated Thompson (who certainly has his share of detractors).

The closest thing to qualitative or committal statements I can find here are “It’s time to reassess Thompson’s contribution to American letters” and the following:

For me, the best part of this meandering cartoon movie is a sight gag with Depp’s Paul Kemp riding atop his sidekick photographer Bob Sala (Michael Rispoli) in an open vehicle, up and down, up and down over cracked cobblestones on bumpy streets. That’s as close to titillation you get despite eye-candy provided by Amber Heard as Chenault, and Aaron Eckhardt as her rich boyfriend Hal.


I suppose I could Google her, but I’d honestly rather just track down her Paul Bowles movie and write her movie reviews off as too precious, erudite and non-committal for her own good.

The fact of the matter is, any review of a film based on a Hunter S. Thompson book is automatically inadequate. No matter how wretched the movie is, the reviews must stand up to the inevitable comparisons to Doc G himself.

If I could teach a film review class, believe me, you’d get an earful. Here’s what you need to properly review a Hunter S. Thompson film.

Handy-Dandy Checklist for Reviewing Hunter S. Thompson Films

1) When reviewing a film, don’t mention the film until the last paragraph, unless your editor actually draws a loaded firearm. (Note: LOADED.)

2) Make sure nobody has the faintest idea what you’re talking about. (Ms. Weinreich seems to have gotten that one right).

3) Since nobody’s going to know what you think about the film, it’s best if you don’t waste your time seeing it.

4) If pressed by your editor to actually discuss the film (please note above: LOADED), please compare the film to a 13th-century Italian poem or some ancient Greek thing, or something, in the same paragraph that you compare it to something exceedingly rude (porn film, snuff film, a specific category of steaming turd. It has to be specific.) Also, discuss wringing the neck of some obscure ’70s political figure at some point during the review, if at all possible.

5) Where appropriate, suggest that the author and/or director should be made President and/or boiled in oil on live television.

6) The word “scumsucking bastards” should be used at least ten times. It doesn’t have to be written into the review, but you should mutter it while you write.

7) Include details on your drug use while “watching it,” or don’t even bother.


Donor Unknown (2010, dir: Jerry Rothwell)

October 20, 2011

Docfest: Donor Unknown

Reviewed by Thomas Roche for SF Appeal

Director Jerry Rothwell’s 2010 film Donor Unknown has its final Docfest screening tonight at 5pm at the Shattuck. It tells the story of 20-year-old JoEllen Marsh, a Pennsylvania girl with two mommies who’s always wanted to learn about her biological father, an anonymous sperm bank donor, whom she knows as “Donor 150.”

Through a website for the biological children of sperm donors, JoEllen finds her New York half-sister Danielle, and their story getting covered in the New York Times. It comes to the attention of Jeffrey Harrison, who lives alone in an RV with four dogs and a pigeon in California…. and once upon a time, was the hard-up-for-cash Donor 150.

Read the rest on SF Appeal.


How to Start a Revolution

October 20, 2011

The truly great documentary How to Start a Revolution screens again this weekend at SFIndie’s Docfest. This isn’t some abstract exploration of modern life; it’s an example of revolutions get made in places like Egypt. Give a damn about American politics, economic justice, Occupy Wall Street? I suggest you track this film down, or see it at Docfest if you can, and/or read Sharp’s classic text on non-violent revolution, From Dictatorship to Democracy.

(The film screens at the Roxie in San Francisco next Saturday, October 22 and Wednesday, October 26, both at 7:15pm.)

Here’s my review, from SFAppeal:

How to Start a Revolution

at SFIndie‘s San Francisco 10th Annual Documentary Film Festival (Docfest)

reviewed by Thomas S. Roche for SFAppeal:

How to Start a Revolution (Dir: Ruaridh Arrow, 2011) explores the world of Gene Sharp, an American Nobel Peace Prize nominee and author of the influential book From Dictatorship to Democracy, which helped guide the leaders of revolutions in spots as far-flung as Egypt, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Burma, Thailand, Bosnia, Indonesia, Zimbabwe and Venezuela. Sharp’s seminal book is considered contraband anywhere that violent dictators quake in terror at the power of nonviolent protestors. Sharp has been called the “godfather” of nonviolent revolution, and many leaders of nonviolent movements have traveled to visit him.

Read the rest at


Patagonia Rising (Chile, 2010, dir: Brian Lilla)

October 19, 2011

Docfest: Patagonia Rising (Chile, 2010, dir: Brian Lilla)

Reviewed by Thomas Roche for SFAppeal

SFIndie’s 10th Annual San Francisco Documentary Film Festival continues this week, unleashing a wave of provocative documentaries at the Roxie and the Shattuck Cinema. In keeping with its revolutionary mandate, Docfest never fails to seek out documentary work that showcases the dangerous ground where human endeavor meets politics and commerce.

To that end, one of Docfest 10’s most exciting films in its second week takes on global issues of resource management and the power industry. The 2010 film Patagonia Rising, by Bay Area director and Docfest favorite Brian Lilla (Tale of Two Bondage Models, Ghetto Fabulous), looks at a project to build five hydroelectric dams in Chile, where the Northern Patagonia Ice Field may be at risk of giving up the icy ghost. In the eyes of power companies and many of Chile’s citizens, the dams are absolutely required in order to provide “green” energy to power Chile’s future.

Read the rest of my article at SF Appeal.


Patagonia Rising still from ConservacionPatagonica.

Rip Torn vs. Norman Mailer

May 27, 2008

Rip Torn vs. Norman Mailer

Originally uploaded by Thomas Roche

Enjoying a DVD of ‘The Larry Sanders Show,’ I was inspired to look up Rip
Torn in Wikipedia. How did I miss this weird piece of counterculture lore?

‘While filming Maidstone, Torn, apparently unhappy with the film, struck director and star of the film Norman Mailer three times in the head with a hammer. With the camera rolling, Mailer bit Torn’s ear and they wrestled to the ground. The fight continued until it was broken up by cast and crew members as Mailer’s children screamed in the background. The fight is featured in the film.’

Feast your eyes — complete with subtitles. — ‘Pardon, Papa.’

Image by Alan Light, from Wikipedia.

Tina Sinatra: Scorsese to Direct Bio on Her Dad

May 11, 2008
The Winnipeg Sun is reporting that Martin Scorsese will be directing a biographical picture about Frank Sinatra. According to Frank’s youngest daughter, Tina Sinatra, “That means dismissing scurrilous rumours that Sinatra was a stooge for the Mafia.”

“Sinatra admitted it is premature to officially announce Scorsese for the biopic. Initially, she referred to the director as ‘the most prominent Italian-American filmmaker’ working today in Hollywood.

“When Sun Media guessed Francis Ford Coppola, she said: ‘We adore him but he didn’t step up to it.’

“When Scorsese’s name followed, Sinatra offered this: ‘I can’t tell you yet but you’re warmer.’

“Laughing, Sinatra later confirmed it was Scorsese. ‘You’ll be reading about it very soon … oh, go ahead and print it, I don’t care!'”


Image: Frank Sinatra in 1960, from Wikipedia.

Lady Chatterley Review

May 8, 2008


French filmmaker Pascale Ferran’s Lady Chatterley is a magnificent film. It strips the celebrated D.H. Lawrence novel, which I’ve always found interesting but impenetrable, to its critical core, while creating a portrait of Lawrence’s class politics as well as his longing for passion over obligation. The film is now available on DVD.

Constance, Lady Chatterley, is the wife of Sir Clifford Chatterley, a soldier crippled from World War I. The couple moves to Wragby, the estate near the mine that presumably provides much of the family’s wealthy. With Clifford’s immobility, Constance takes to wandering the grounds of the estate, and meets up with the gamekeeper, Oliver Parkin, a rough-hewn, taciturn chap with whom she quickly forms a crush and begins an affair.ladyChatterly1a.jpg

As the secret affair progresses, other social expectations of Parkin and, more immediately, Constance, come into play. Since Sir Clifford’s injuries leave him unable to father children, he agrees to let Constance seek — secretly — another father for the child, but with stipulations that the child have a heritiage that is “at least decent,” in class terms — a that rules Parkin out, making the clandestine affair even more dangerous since, of course, Constance wants to have and raise Parkin’s child.

As Constance and Parkin become more intimate, Parkin turns out to have as rich an inner life as Constance — in his youth, his mother told him his daydreams made him just like a girl. This revelation occurs late in the film, and it’s only then, close to the film’s denoument, that you really start to understand what Constance sees in Parkin.

Lady Chatterley is marked by stirring performances. Marina Hands turns in what I read as a bright-eyed, dreamy Constance troubled with the frustrations of the too-rigid world — not just her own social and cultural obligations, but the injustice of class overall, a fact underlined by her encounters with Sir Clifford’s mine workers. Jean-Louis Coulloch’h’s Parkin is a rough, practical and in many ways emotionless man within whom dwells a delirious passion, so often weighed down with depression. Constance and Oliver open up new worlds, each for the other. It’s all the cliches you want it to be — every hackneyed romance novel stereotype, rendered with the kind of principled subtlety that both suits the era and makes the subject matter feel fresh despite it’s having been beaten into submission by judges and English teachers alike for eighty-plus years.


The D.H. Lawrence novel known as Lady Chatterley’s Lover is actually the third version of the story that Lawrence wrote. The versions are sometimes described as “drafts,” but when Lawrence finished a version he set it aside and later started from scratch, so the three versions are remarkably different in a variety of details — for example, no dialogue is the same between version two, John Thomas and Lady Jane (from which this film is adapted), and the third version usually regarded as definintive.

French filmmaker Pascale Ferran says of the third version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover: “Certain aspects of the book excited me, but in my view, it was an impossible book to adapt, unless it were an adaptation so free that I wouldn’t have dared to think of it. It must be said that [the third version] is pretty verbose, and in that respect, the book has aged badly. It’s as though Lawrence, in veiw of his subject’s eminently subversive nature and the censorship that he was anticipating, felt obliged to theorize the novel’s thesis through his characters’ voices: love is stronger than all class barriers.”


Even so, it seems like Lawrence’s message was diluted by his fear of crossing those boundaries. In the third version, Constance’s lover was a former army officer, putting him almost in the same class as Constance. Here, Parkin should have been a miner.

When Ferran discovered John Thomas and Lady Jane, with its simpler and more direct take on the story and themes, she decided it would serve better for a film adaptation than the third version.

Thank God she did; as impenetrable as I found the third version, there’s a gorgeous story here to be told, and Pascale’s interpretation is a rich version as overgrown with visual symbolism as the Wragby estate is with Lawrence’s fecund and highly symbolic vegetation.


What’s more, it’s somewhat depressing to view this film both in the consideration of history and in the context of Hollywood’s recently puerile output; there’s full frontal nudity of both Hands and Coulloc’h, in an almost textbook example of how sex and nudity can be used with sensibility as an integral part of a larger story. I’m not sure the MPAA would agree.

The Cesar awards are France’s equivalent of the Oscars, and Lady Chatterley walked away with five of them: Best French Film, Best Actress for Marina Hands as Constance, Best Literary Adaptation, Best Costume Design, and Best Cinematography. Since I haven’t mentioned those last two aspects of this flick, let me tell you that the costumes/sets and the cinematography are nothing short of amazing: in every way, the visuals of Lady Chatterley are a feast, sexy and inspiring from every angle.

If you’ve an interest in eroticism in literature, then Lady Chatterley’s Lover, love it or hate it, is a piece so critical to history that it can’t be ignored. More importantly, it’s a beautiful story that suffered in its best-known version from Lawrence’s reticence in telling it. Ferran’s told it in a new way, and it’s lovely.

Photos courtesy of Kino International. Used with permission.

Cloverfield Sucks (Spoilers Alert)

January 26, 2008


cloverfield.jpgOnce again giving credence to the ravings of lunatics as well as the occasional heart-warming personal essay, I went to see Cloverfield tonight. Wow, it’s been some months since I felt that jacked by a movie. The buzz all over the net is that this thing is a harrowing, brilliant thrill ride; in fact, as far as I’m concerned it’s an embarrassing, amateurish piece of crap.

By “amateurish” I don’t mean “lo-fi.” The alternative format is the only thing the flick had going for it. I was excited to see Cloverfield because I thought this handheld camera thing was a great idea, maximizing the storytelling possibilities of democratized media and just generally shaking things up. That’s how I felt about Blair Witch, right until I hurled my cookies around the beginning of Act 2.

With Cloverfield I never even got that far; the flick had me hooked before I ever walked in the door, and managed to completely alienate me in the first 3 minutes. The flat characters of Blair Witch are magnificently sublime and amazingly complex compared to the annoying yuppie fuckbags of Cloverfield. These useless ciphers are right out of central casting, which has led some reviewers to claim that they’re Everyman characters of the sort in H.G. Wells’s original The War of the Worlds. In fact, these characters are just craptastic stick figures drawn by a small child with a crayon. If this was what “Everyman” was like, I would have killed myself years ago. But they’re infinitely more interesting than the even less complex stereotypes that blunder in and out of the movie’s point-of-view — primarily soldiers, who speak in an embarassingly flat military pidgin that makes 24’s worst clunkers seem authentic, and recite Einsteinian news flashes in a staccato parade of “As You Know, Bob”s that seem right out of a GI Joe cartoon or a Mack Bolan novel.

All of that is essentially unforgivable, but the movie still could have been a rockin’ good time if the thrillride had provided any actual thrills. Instead, we get a 90-minute parade of nausea-inducing camera swirls from a chowderheaded cameraman who, whenever anything interesting happens — like, oh, say a giant monster eating Manhattan, for instance — points the camera everywhere the monster isn’t. In story terms, we’re supposed to believe that it’s because he’s scared and confused, but I’m sorry, no one sees a giant monster eating Manhattan and doesn’t stare at it for a second. It’s probably for the better, though, because when we finally get a good look it’s a weird looking lizard thing that doesn’t make physical sense; the creature design is right out of the Mos Eisley Spaceport’s list of fourth-string discards.

Last but far from least, the most eggregious cliches in this movie are lifted wholesale from other movies — from the nuke attack to the baby Godzillas to the devoured-from-the-inside parasitic alien bite; there’s even a moment when the female main character, the camera close to her face, hysterically sobs “I — am — so — scared,” in either homage or theft, but who cares? It’s weak, empty, pathetic, and crazymaking.

If this is the derivative crap America’s movie critics rave about, next time I’ll stay home.