Limelight (2011)


To some, New York club culture was more of a religion.

To some, New York club culture was more of a religion.

(2009) Documentary (Magnolia) Peter Gatien, Michael Alig, 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Moby, Ed Koch, Howard Safir, Sean Kirkham, Michael Caruso, Edgar Oliver, Frank Owen, Steve Lewis, Benjamin Brafman. Directed by Billy Corben

Once upon in New York City there was a club scene like no other. It was in the late 80s, early 90s and it just about put Studio 54-era discos to shame. Four of them – The Limelight, Tunnel, Club USA and the Palladium – were run by the same guy.

His name was Peter Gatien and he was notorious in his day. He was a Canadian, Ontario-born (although it was said he rooted for the Montreal Canadiens which was not unlike a native of the Bronx being a lifelong Red Sox fan) and wore a buccaneer-like eyepatch which was, contrary to popular rumor, not an affectation. He’d lost an eye playing hockey as a youth.

His clubs were like nothing else seen before or since; full of pulsating music and lights, sweaty bodies and essentially a place where new music was created. Moby has been quoted as saying that without these clubs there would have been no techno. These places were like stationary raves and in a sense were incubators for youth culture which has affected popular culture to this day.

It wasn’t always easy. Gatien started out selling jeans and after his hockey accident used the money to open his own nightclub in Ontario, which he parlayed into a club in Atlanta and then four in New York. In his heyday he was the toast of New York, name-checked by the Fun Loving Cannibals and THE man to know if you wanted to be somebody in that town.

But with notoriety like that comes attention, some of it of the negative sort. Drugs were rampant in Gatien’s clubs and they were sold to the point where some referred to the Palladium as a “drug supermarket.” Mayor Rudy Giuliani used Gatien’s clubs as a focal point for his anti-crime campaign and eventually after failing to pin any drug-related arrests on Gatien, nailed him for failing to pay his taxes (well after the clubs began to shut down) and had him deported back to Canada with only $500 in his pocket.

This after making millions from his cash cows. It was a precipitous fall after a remarkable climb. Gatien remains an engaging character and he’s surprisingly forthcoming in his interviews here. Many of those who were around Gatien – managers, bartenders, DJs and such – all have something to say. Most have never attained the pinnacle of hip that they achieved during those years and they still carry that borderline arrogance that comes from being Somebody.

One of those interviewed here is the notorious Michael Alig, who in a drug-induced haze murdered and dismembered fellow Limelight scenester Angel Melendez. Alig ran several parties at Gatien’s clubs and in fact Gatien was an early suspect in Melendez’s murder.

Corben peppers the documentary with animations and psychedelic images which I imagine gives you more of a feeling of being in an altered state as you watch. The movie is really a rise and fall affair with the beginning on Gatien’s meteoric rise much more interesting than the details of his ignoble fall. And yes while I get that “the higher the rise the further the fall” lesson, that’s essentially a story we’ve seen literally thousands of times, some in more compelling ways.

What I missed here was more of a look at how Gatien’s clubs affected pop culture and their lasting impact on modern society. Really what this turns out to be is a movie made more for the people who were there in that time and place. While I wasn’t a part of the New York club scene, I was part of a club scene in a different city at roughly the same time so some of it is recognizable to me. Fortunately I didn’t see the same kind of drug use and trade to the extent that it was here in my part of the world, although that could partly be ascribed to my own personal naiveté as well as that most people don’t want to transact drugs in front of a journalist.

Be that as it may, this is probably more of interest to those who clubbed in the late 80s and early 90s in general and in New York City in particular. It was an era that has come and gone, and will never return. So in that sense the movie has nostalgia value and on that level works like a charm. Gatien is an interesting enough subject that at least for the first part of the movie his engaging character is worthwhile. It’s only when the story of his downfall starts that your attention will start to wander. Gatien (and by extension the filmmaker) blames many of his troubles on a vindictive government but he’s only partly right – Gatien allowed that rampant drug use and sales to take place in his clubs. They were HIS clubs as he is quick to tell you and thus his responsibility. He has to shoulder at least some blame for his fall – and you get the sense he doesn’t see it that way. That might be the most tragic element of this story.

WHY RENT THIS: Fascinating look at maybe the nadir of all club scenes. Gatien is a fascinating character.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The second half spends far too much time on the legal battles that went on, less time on the lasting impact of the scene.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some bad language and alcohol and drug use depicted.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: One of the producers is Gatien’s own daughter, Jen.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $60,335 on an unreported production budget; might have made money but more likely just broken even or lost money.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Party Monster

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Eastern Promises

Ladron Que Roba a Ladron


Ladron Que Roba a Ladron

Danny Ocean ain't got nothin' on us.

(Lionsgate) Fernando Colunga, Miguel Varoni, Julio Gonzalo, Oscar Torre, Gabriel Soto, Ivonne Montero, Saul Lisazo, Ruben Garifias, Sonya Smith. Directed by Joe Menendez

The best way to get away with something is to escape notice. The least likely suspects are the perfect cover for the perfect heist.

Alejandro Toledo (Colunga) and Emilio Lopez (Varoni) are con artists, and they’re pretty damn good. They’ve snuck into the United States to take on a target that has some particular meaning to them – Moctesuma Valdez (Lisazo), a Latino infomercial king who preys on his own community, advertising ludicrous products that purport to reverse hair loss, relieve arthritis and even cure cancer. None of them work, of course. He’s made millions but because he distrusts banks, has it all stored in a vault deep in his Los Angeles mansion. Toledo and Lopez want it all.

Part of their zeal is personal – Valdez used to be a member of their crew. However, the current members of their crew don’t want anything to do with this caper; it’s far too risky and their ploy of having the crew pose as day laborers doesn’t appeal to the professional villains. So, rather than throwing in the towel, they recruit actual day laborers with a particular set of skills; an unemployed actor and master of disguise (Torre), a sexy mechanic (Montero) and her valet father (Garifias), and a ditch digger and tunneling expert (Soto).

The two masterminds come up with a brilliant plan, but they need people who have never before committed a criminal act in their lives to be cool as cucumbers under pressure. The stakes are high, but the payoff is worth the risk.

Menendez is mostly known for his television work, both in the young adult and Latin genres but he shows a surprisingly deft touch here. The movie balances the heist elements with a light comedic touch and even a bit of social commentary, as the status of illegals and day workers as non-people in this country are aired.

This is a bit of Oceans 11 lite, albeit on a less ambitious scale – which I guess is what lite implies anyway. While Danny Ocean robbed casinos to open his ex-wife’s eyes about the man she was with (which I suppose is a cause), there is a kind of Robin Hood feel to this one as the crew are fighting to protect the exploitation of desperate Latinos.

The cast are mostly veterans of Latin American television, both here in the States and south of the border as well. Some of them are extremely well-known in the Latin community but are for the most part largely unknown to mainstream audiences. However, they acquit themselves well and several of them – particularly Montero and Colunga – could cross over to more mainstream movies very easily without missing a beat and find a lot of success in doing it.

I knew very little about the movie other than the translation of the title which is loosely “It takes a thief to steal from a thief” so I was pleasantly surprised by this one. It’s not a game-changer mind you – it’s a little bit too much of a niche film for that, but still in all it’s entertaining, packs a great deal of charm, is smartly written and well-acted. That’s the recipe for a good movie whatever the language.

WHY RENT THIS: Surprisingly charming and well-written, you find yourself drawn into the story and the characters.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie suffers a little bit from Oceans 11 envy.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a little bit of sexuality here and some course language but otherwise pretty well acceptable for almost every audience.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While the crew was largely English-speaking, the movie is shot entirely in Spanish and no translated scripts were provided to the crew, so they were unaware what the plot and story points were; they were also unaware of how popular the cast, largely stars from Mexican telenovelas were and they would be dumbfounded when the shoot would have large crowds of Mexican housewives trying to get glimpses of the cast.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $6.9M on an unreported production budget; judging on the way the movie looked, I’d guess it made some money.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Mister Foe