Berkeley is writer/director Bobby Roth's nostalgic look back at his own
college days. This is not the first time that Roth has created a film from an
autobiographical story about his youth. Way back in 1978, he wrote and
directed a movie called The Boss's Son, which is about the time he spent
working in his father's carpet store. His father reappears in this new film as
a loving, hard-working immigrant (played by The Fonz!) who succeeded in a
capitalist society (in the carpet business, natch) and just doesn't understand
why his children don't appreciate the American system as much as he does. His
son, you see, the alter ego of the author, is becoming a hippie radical at
Berkeley in the late sixties.
Roth is just another baby boomer looking back on his youth, but he happens
to have had a pretty good vantage point on the formation of my generation,
since he happened to be right in the middle of the action. He was going to
school at Berkeley in 1968. Unfortunately, his close-up view of that era is
presented in the form of a story which has no real structure to speak of. It
just drifts off at the end, and the final scenes could just as easily be the
start of a different movie. Of course that came as no surprise since it had
been drifting in the beginning and middle as well.
Even with the rambling and uninvolving structure, the film could have been
a success if it had some interesting insights, and you would expect that a man
in the center of campus radicalism in the late 60s would reflect back with
some wisdom about the way his generation thought it would change the world by
the new millennium, as opposed to what actually happened when a member of that
generation held the reins of power in the first eight years of the new
century. I'm not sure how Bobby sees today's world, but it looks about the
same to me as it did in 1965, before the student revolts, except for some
cosmetic and technological changes. As our generation has matured, some
progress has been made in pursuit of racial and gender equality, as evidenced
by the current candidates for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination,
and the attitude of American society toward sex has liberalized radically, but
except for a few tweaks here and there, the great student revolts of the 60s
created little more than great t-shirts, posters and soft drink ads. The
students of 2008 are facing more or less the same world, with the same
problems we faced in 1968.
As I see it, there has been one major change which has kept today's
campuses from being as radicalized as those of forty years ago -
self-interest. The Vietnam War was fought with conscripted soldiers, which
means any one of us could have been in the jungles after an F in Organic
Chemistry. Today's wars are fought with professionals who have volunteered for
service, so the privileged university kids feel no threat to their own
personal existence. As I look back on those years, I wonder how much different
our campuses would have been if America had instituted a volunteer army after
World War Two. Self-interest is the ultimate motivation.
Although Berkeley is narrated from the present day by a voice-over, it
offers no reflection on the merits or efficacy of student revolt. It just
tells the personal stories of several people who were caught up in it. They
hook up or break up based on commitment to and passion for The Movement. They
take some serious drugs and play some acid rock. Accurate enough. Nostalgic
enough. But empty.
The film was completed in 2005, but was dressed up with no place to go. It
appeared at one minor film festival in October of that year, received no
special awards there, and then seems to have disappeared from the earth for
two years. No major festivals. No theaters. No DVD. It finally received a
perfunctory one-theater run in October of 2007, where it grossed less than
$4000 in seven days, then disappeared again until its DVD release two days
The film does have one thing going for it. What it lacks in critical
self-assessment it makes up in personalization. It consists of a man (writer
Bobby Roth) telling his own story, using his own biological son (actor Nick
Roth) to play himself at about the same age. Any time a film gets that close
to reality, it has to offer a few genuine moments which touch the audience,
and this one does occasionally get close enough to the bone to spark my own
memories of similar incidents from that memorable epoch.
If only those moments added up to something.
There are four topless scenes from the two female stars, but only one of
them is truly any good, the first one with Laura Jordan, which shows her nice
body in good light. Her other scene is shot in approximately the same lighting
level as deep space. The two Sarah Carter scenes are either too modest or
blurred by motion, or both.
The Weekend comes from the "one spring night in senior year of high school"
genre, which must have hit a new height in popularity in 2007 with Superbad.
This film isn't as funny as Superbad or even very funny at all. It's a comedy
in the sense that the story of a booze-filled high school party, when told
accurately, will include some funny episodes, but the real heart of the movie
is developed through an ensemble character study. In that respect it is less
like Superbad than an updated version of Dazed and Confused.
It's not a high-energy film, nor a screwball comedy, nor filled with showy
set pieces nor zany stereotypes. It's a small movie which covers
well-worn territory, but I liked the characters and was interested in their
stories. Above all, I liked the basic honesty of the presentation. It takes
the basic premise (rich kid has a party at his house, invites pretty much
everyone) and follows it through with real people doing what they really would
do in that situation. Just about everything in this film could occur, and
within the same time frame. Some of the kids are good kids, but they get in
trouble and do stupid things. Some of the kids are jocks, some nerds, but they
don't really get into any conflicts or ridicule one another. They just sort of
steer clear of one another and congregate in their own groups, as they would
in real life. As in many high school comedies, there are some stoners, there's
some T&A, and there are some assholes who prank the youngest guy, but those
events and characters are completely credible and just provide the background
atmosphere within which the main characters interact. Even though there's
plenty of alcohol at the party, and emotions occasionally run high, all of the
kids act the way sensible suburban kids would, and not that way kids normally
act in high school movies. It's not just the kids who are drawn from real
life. During the evening and the next day, the parents react almost exactly as
you would expect in the circumstances. Some are cooler than others, as would
be true in reality, but all seem like genuine parents.
The story even offers some plausible and nuanced surprises. For example,
the cool rich kid, best looking guy in school, is a virgin, and his buddy is
too shy to make a move on a pretty girl who's obviously interested - but
the nerdy couple have been having sex for a year!
It is the natural tendency of a writer to create a debut with splashy,
memorable, colorful archetypes, so I have to give a tip o' the cap to the
first-time writer/director of this film for populating his maiden effort with
well developed, multi-dimensional characters instead of Stiflers and Spicolis.
I also extend that hat-tip a little longer for his ability to find unknown
actors with the right personalities and the acting chops to deliver his
characters they way he wrote them, low-key and authentic. I have to admit that
as I started watching it, I kept wanting it to be bigger, funnier, zanier, and
more outrageous. As the story unfolded, however, I accepted it for what it was
and, although I never heard of the film or anybody involved with it until I
actually watched it, ended up liking this movie very much. It's one of the
most enjoyable straight-to-vid films I've seen in the past couple of years.
Catch the deluxe
version of Other Crap in real time, with all the bells and whistles,
The Beast in Space
An expedition is sent off to a very remote planet to bring back a rare
element needed for weapons construction. The team is confident of success
because the captain found some of that element in the possession of a trader
with whom he fought over a woman. He is pleased when that very woman ends up
on his crew. What they find is a planet run by a very old computer, and a
gracious host with rams legs and hoofs, who turns their stay into an orgy of
food and women -- the women of the crew. This orgy contains lots of actual
hardcore footage and, in an outtake, the "beast" actually comes. This is, of
course, an homage to another Sirpa Lane classic, "The Beast."
Lovers of camp cinema and the laughably awful have to own this film, which
has camp classic written all over it, but failed to achieve that status
because of limited international distribution.
The film is in Italian, with English subtitles, but the subtitles are
barely necessary through most of the film. It has yet to be released on Region 1 DVD,
but is available from RLDVDs.com on an all-region NTSC. Click on the image
below for info.
A very short 1997 double feature today.
First up we have Thandie Newton showing off her
Leprechaun 4: In Space
Then Rebekah Carlton with more boobage in "Leprechaun 4: In Space"
Notes and collages
Amy Smart, larger versions
Daisy Fuentes, this time in HQ
Jessica Alba in a black top, under flashbulbs
Runway model Nicole Trunfio, bottomless
Sonya Walger in Vice