“Nono: A Dockumentary” (or “How to Pitch a Major League No-Hitter on Acid”)

If you have any interest in baseball, African-American history, counterculture history, or civil rights history, this “dockumentary” on major league pitcher Dock Ellis is an absolute must-see. (It’s available on Netflix streaming.)

In case you missed the memo, Dock is legendary at least partly for having allegedly pitched a no-hitter while on LSD. He pitched for the Pirates, the A’s, the Yankees, the Texas Rangers, and the NY Mets, doing mass quantites of intoxicants much of the time. He later worked counseling drug users.

The film is beautifully made. It’s uses archival footage and photos creatively, mixing it up with wonderful sound editing highlighting period songs and incredible interviews with players of the time. The film has a highly kinetic sense of the times. This is a truly exceptional documentary… possibly one of the best-produced documentaries I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s got some epic visual and auditory sequences, especially if you’re on cold medicine.

2015 Oscar Noms: “The Judge”

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“The Judge” is a mixed bag. The tense drama parts are effective, and as a courtroom drama it has brilliantly original moments (so agonizingly rare in a genre prone to silliness).

But then it lapses briefly (but repeated) into sad-and-poignant memories-of-childhood crap that’s excruciatingly cliched. The soundtrack for those sections felt like my soul was being raked by the fingernails of Hell’s most sadistic demon. It is complete crap. Overall, the “poignant songs” are just the most godawful execrable vapid nightmare ever to be crowbarred into a pretty good film. Seriously. That part’s just BAD.

Like all courtroom dramas, “The Judge” brutalizes courtroom procedure. For most of the film, less egregiously so than most other courtroom dramas — which are, let’s face it, totally laughable. “The Judge” is pretty laughable at points, but it also uses a few tellingly appropriate aspects of legal procedure appropriately, so… hey, thank heaven for small mercies, yo?

Most importantly, the facts of the case show, believe it or not, what I thought was a GENUINELY NEW IDEA (believe it or not) in courtroom drama.

And then, just when things are going great, in terms of not brutalizing court procedure as badly as other films, the film completely jumps the rails at the end.

But honestly, it’s sorta worth it for the drama… because while it’s fairly ridiculous, it’s also damned effective. I guess I cut it the same kind of that-wouldn’t-happen slack I am willing to cut (though it embarrasses me to say it) “A Few Good Men.”

I have always liked Duvall as an actor (his personal off-screen politics aside), and he is VERY good here. I love Robert Downey Jr beyond all reason, and he is GREAT here. Unexpectedly (to me) brilliant in a small part is Vincent D’Onofrio (who I admire greatly) and Billy Bob Thornton (who usually bugs me, but I thought he was great here). Also, Thomas Jefferson/The White Shadow is in this flick, which adds a whole level of win.

If it could lose the ridiculously cliched slow-piano-music sequences, this might even be a five-star movie.

There’s LOTS of pro-big-city, anti-small-town prejudice, but from the viewpoint of the main character, who’s a hell of a bastard, which is why that character works.

Actually, the asshole quotient in this movie is pretty high, so don’t see it if that kind of thing bugs you. I mean, seriously, we are talking an asshole quotient of about eleventy-seven here. You want “sympathetic characters”? In this case, you have to do the work right along with them, starting at a point where you want to break every bone in their body. I love that in my dramas, though, just like I love the nice-person-pushed-to-the-breaking-point (“Miller’s Crossing,” “In the Bedroom,” “Aliens,” “Terminator” and “Terminator 2″).

I think RDJr. is at his best when playing sons-of-bitches. Duvall both is and is not, because he’s been so great as Tom Hagen and Mac Sledge. But in this case, I think that Oscar nom is well-deserved, and not just because he’s Robert Duvall.

I think it’s fair to say that it’s a total guy movie, though. Lots of boys screaming at each other. A dead woman to start off the action and another dead woman to provide the procession of action (head in the refrigerator, much?) A (mostly offscreen) cheating woman to drive character conflict between men. Lots of dad and brother issues — and, it’s worth mentioning, the brother stuff is where D’Onofrio is his usual low-key genius, almost unnoticeable because he is so unassuming, but completely and totally amazing to watch if you pay attention.

But what can I say? Guy here. Got lotsa guy stuff. That works for me.

Overall, I found this a very good movie that requires the suspension of only about six bazillion and four eye-rolls and maybe thirty guffaws, which is kind of a low quantity for me, especially when it comes to shameless Oscar bait, which this, admittedly, is.

Dying is Easy. Comedy’s Hard

Three StoogesJust in case you were wondering who first said “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard,” the short answer is “Everyone, and no one.” There is no one clear attribution to this specific phrase, though the sentiment has an interesting and complex lineage.

So the next time someone attributes it to Gregory Peck, Jack Lemmon or W.C. Fields, stomp on their foot, poke ‘em in the eyes, and then hit ‘em on the head with a bowling ball.

Also, who says you have to choose? Certainly not Bruce Villanch and his annual victims at the podium. Aw, yeah. I went there.

 

Three Stooges image from “Healthy, Wealthy and Dumb” (1938)

2015 Oscar Noms: “Birdman”

“Birdman” is perplexing, confusing, and amazing. I was vaguely conflicted on it while watching, and I’m a little stunned afterwards. I wasn’t entirely sure what to think, but I think I’m gonna come down on the side of “this is effing brilliant.”

It certainly is hilarious, bizarre, dark, disturbing and inspired. The thing that sticks with me the most is how different it is from Iñárritu’s other work. I loved “21 Grams” and hated the similarly structured “Babel” with all my heart.

“Birdman” is almost the polar opposite of Iñárritu’s “Death Trilogy” (“Amores Perros,” “21 Grams” and “Babel”structure), and I’m pretty sure it’s flat-out goddamn brilliant. Whatever it is, it’s bloody provocative. This is one of those Best Pic noms that leaves me damned glad I pay attention to what the Academy thinks, despite all its sins.

My brain is a little damaged by “Birdman,” but I think when the dust clears I’m going to call it sui generis and all that pompous shit, and say it’s one of the most important films ever made. I dunno. For now, I’m just gonna stare wide-eyed at an empty screen for a while.

2015 Oscar Noms: “Selma”

“Selma” is as amazing as I was hoping it would be, but didn’t believe it could be. It could and it is. I can’t believe Lee Daniels almost directed this movie. It would have been vapid. Ava DuVernay’s treatment is not perfect, but it is damned good. It felt like a tour of how to make a good script into a great film. It’s credulous at times, but there’s no way to do this without getting credulous. Its predictable sequences are overshadowed by moments of rare beauty and power.

As for the subject matter, maybe no film can ever do it justice, but I’ll settle for this one. It’s pretty amazing.

Every US Citizen should be expected to see this film. Civil rights aren’t magic. People fought for them… and pig douchebags fought against them.

2015 Oscar Noms: “Whiplash”

The message of “Whiplash”: 1) Geniuses get to abuse you. 2) Self-appointed geniuses get to abuse you. 3) Self-appointed geniuses at finding geniuses ESPECIALLY get to abuse you if they suspect you of being a genius but haven’t decided yet. (Oh, also, they can abuse everyone else, did I mention that part?) 4) You should thank them for abusing you because you might be a genius and if you are, they’re doing the world a favor by abusing you bcz BIRD!!!!!!! 5) Don’t take care of yourself; commit felonies and incur severe physical injury because some unbalanced yahoo thinks you’re a genius. 6) Vern Schillinger got paroled; now he’s a bandleader.

Two thumbs up! Oh, wait… those aren’t my thumbs!!

Frank Zappa on the Steve Allen Show

Wanna know something? When you search “Frank Zappa on Miami Vice,” You Tube starts showing you some weird-ass shit.  Here is a young Mr. Zappa on the Steve Allen Show in 1963, playing music on a bicycle. No, not “playing music while riding a bicycle,” but actually playing music on a bicycle. The way Einstürzende Neubauten would later play music on the side of a bridge, etc. Or the way John Cage played music on prepared piano. Zappa’s is weirder.

I should probably warn you that it’s also excruciatingly boring, as the Steve Allen Show tended to be. Watching variety TV from those days is a little like spending time with an assortment of your dullest friends and some interesting ones who have been drugged into a stupor.

Interestingly, both the announcer and Steve pronounce Frank Zappa’s name “Zoppa,” rhymes with “Papa.”

I guess that in 1963, being of Sicilian descent probably meant you got your name mispronounced all the time. (I’m looking at you, Michael Corleone.)

Perhaps this contributed to the title of Zappa’s legendary unreleased four-disc set for Warner Bros, “Läther” (pronounced “leather”). Yeah… or not.

Frank Zappa Deals “Weasel Dust” on Miami Vice

Here is Frank Zappa dealing “weasel dust” on Miami Vice. He looks roughly as high as Henry Hill toward the end of “Goodfellas,” but way less stressed-out. And why should he be stressed out? He’s Frank Zappa.

Herein, Mr. Zappa attempts to settle accounts with “Burnett, a two-bit player trying to get into the weasel dust industry.” Hilarity ensues, and naturally, things end as all Miami Vice scenes should. No, that’s not a spoiler… they ALL end that way, as I recall.

Zappa, by the way, did not do drugs, and did not really approve of them, but strenuously opposed the War on Drugs on political grounds.

From this clip, however, I’d say he must have been a method actor. This guy has definitely been snorting “weasel dust.”

Thanks to Dangerous Minds for conjuring this strange echo from my misspent youth.

Blog Tour: Stories of O from Cleis Press, Edited by Alex Algren

Stories of O

Please note: Some links in this post are not safe for work.

Hello! I’m Thomas Roche, and you probably know me as a fiction writer. I’m posting here as part of the “blog tour” for Stories of O: Orgasmic Erotica edited by Alex Algren. It came out this month in ebook format from Cleis Press, long one of my favorite publishers to work with — and one of my favorite publishers to read, too. They’ve published more books I’ve loved than I can count. The Cleis catalog is not limited to their stellar erotica and sex guide offerings, but includes many works I have loved in such genres as history, human rights, sex work, memoir, impossibly clever teen detectives, homicidal lesbian terrorism, and more.

Stories of O includes one of my favorite stories I’ve ever written, “Butterfly’s Kiss.” The tale originally appeared in another Cleis Press anthology, Rubber Sex, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel (also known as 2013′s Lust in Latex) and was a finalist for the John Preston Award in Short Fiction from the National Leather Association. I’m extremely proud of it.

There’s kind of a complicated story about this story and how I came to write it. Writing fiction is often about linguistic texture for me. For the opening of “Butterfly’s Kiss,” I indulged in one of those techniques that often gets writers like me called “difficult.” The opening paragraphs are written in second person narration as the reader is led through entry to an underground fetish club:

 

Over the open doorway, red curtain shrouding the inside, there’s a sign but no words, just a stylized spider… Under that there’s a cat in a derby, always a derby, impeccable, his mug impassive underneath, eyes watching as you approach. His name is Regentine, or more commonly Reg, but don’t call him that unless he introduces himself, which he’s not going to…

Walk up to Reg and say your name, either first and last or scene name. He’ll give you a look like he just scraped you off his shoe. He’ll fish in the pocket of his waistcoat, pull out a reporter’s notebook.

He’ll find your name, because you won’t be there if you’re not on the list.

He’ll check your ID, maybe pat you down, take your double saw, jerk his thumb at the red curtain. At that point you’ll either come to your senses and go home, watch made-for-Skinemax softcore and relax with your thoughts, or you’ll hit the darkness like a lush hitting bottom. If you’ve gotten this far, like I did, you’re going to hit bottom anyway, and the only question is if you’re going to get up again. So walk, my friend, and let me tell you what happens, if you’re me and this is last night, Walpurgisnacht, the day the music died.

Why did I do that? No reason at all. And every reason. It felt right, probably because I was describing an intensely personal experience.

No, it didn’t happen like it does in the story. How could it? Real life is not anywhere near as tidy as fiction, and you never get to write it in second person. But the story grew from a very real experience and very intense experience I once had.

The encounter was indeed with more than one person, and for the record it was considerably more than two. It was also with a piece of bondage equipment I’d never seen before. Known as a vacuum bed, it essentially consisted of a person-sized latex envelope and an airtight frame attached to a vacuum cleaner. A naked person gets in the envelope and all the air is sucked out of it. In the model I used, I breathed through a gag with a tube in it and found myself completely enclosed in latex in a way that feels completely bizarre and thoroughly unforgettable (to me, at least). The gag permitted me to breathe regularly, but it felt a little like breathing with a diving mask, so it took some getting used to. The device in the picture below (from www.Stockroom.com) and at the link (which is NSFW, by the way) does not have the same gag/breathing tube attachment as the model that I used, but it’s functionally very similar.

This thing was seriously amazing. It looked like some device set up to produce a cool photo-op for Marquis magazine or Secret. And, yes, if you’re into latex, naked humans do look pretty cool when turned into, visually speaking, rubber dolls. But this isn’t just a latex-fetishist’s dream. I did originally write the story for Rachel’s Rubber Sex, but the experience from within is far more intense than indulging the obsession with latex or rubber. It’s total encasement, total immobilization. It feels like you’re being crushed from every direction, with a virtually uniform pressure. I would not recommend it for someone prone to claustrophobia.

Stockroom Vac Bed
Photo from Stockroom.com.

While one is thus immobilized, other people in your immediate vicinity have pretty much unlimited access to one’s latex-sheathed body. Fingers feel somewhat different than they would on naked flesh, but not as different as you might think. Sensation generated by physical motion — vibration for instance — seem largely unaltered. Except that you can’t really move. As with many forms of bondage, the lack of the usual somatic feedback (perspective, balance, unimpeded movement) seems to accentuate all other sensations. It was seriously cool, and remains one of the most interesting and intense experiences of my life.

You can purchase a piece of equipment like the one I experienced at JT’s Stockroom and Extreme Restraints (those links are NSFW). Alternately, read my story in Stories of O: Orgasmic Erotica. Or both. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Here’s a bit more about Stories of O:

Think back to the first time you came so hard you cried out. The first time you surrendered fully and spiraled into euphoria, every inch of your body consumed by pleasure. You didn’t care who heard your gasping, open-mouthed cries of passion—all you could focus on was the ecstasy. That’s what you’ll find in this collection—tale after tale of characters lost in the bliss of orgasmic perfection your mind (and especially your body) won’t soon forget.

The other writers in the book are some of those I’ve read for years… Saskia Walker, Kristina Wright, Donna George Storey, Sinclair Sexsmith, and A.D.R. Forte (whom I have not yet read, but I look forward to it).

Also, the book’s only $3.99. Even if you hate my stylistic tics, that’s a serious bargain price for what promises to be some seriously hot power-exchange and fetish erotica.

Related posts in the Story of O Blog tour: Ella Dawson