Review: The Living Wake (2007)

>> Sunday, August 29, 2010

USA/C-92m./Dir: Sol Tryon/Wr: Mike O’Connell & Peter Kline/Cast: Mike O’Connell (K. Roth Binew), Jesse Eisenberg (Mills Joaquin), Jim Gaffigan (Lampert Binew), Ann Dowd (Librarian), Eddie Pepitone (Reginald), Marla (Diane Kagan)

Take one part Wes Andersonian whimsy, a couple of parts British absurdism (in the mode of Sir Henry at Rawlinson End), add a dash of Withnailesque melancholy, shake vigorously, and the resulting cocktail might end up something like The Living Wake. This bizarre indie comedy stars Mike O’Connell as K. Roth Binew, a self-proclaimed artist and dedicated drunkard, who is dying of a yet-to-be-named disease that is extremely punctual. With the help of his best friend, manservant, and biographer, Mills Joaquin (Jesse Eisenberg), Binew uses his final day to visit friends, enemies, lovers, family, and the village liquorsmith, in hopes of finding the meaning of life that has thus far eluded him. During each visit, the individuals who have played a part in the short existence of the dying dipsomaniac also receive an invitation to attend Binew’s final bow--a wake to be held during the last minutes of his life.

It is difficult to maintain a comic premise over a ninety-plus minute running time, and absurdist comedy is even more difficult to sustain. So, as one would expect, there are problems with The Living Wake. The writing is uneven, some of the characters seem miscast, and the acting styles of some of the secondary actors clash with the material. Worst of all, what should be the high points of the film--two instances in which the main character bursts into song--are instead the movie’s nadir, because the lyrics of the songs are uninspired, lacking the polish and verbal wit that is present throughout the rest of the script. However, these are trifling quibbles, because The Living Wake is insanely entertaining.

What makes the movie work so wonderfully well, despite its deficiencies, is the brilliant lead performance by Mike O’Connell. There are comedians that say funny things and others that say things funny. While the script, co-written by O’Connell and Peter Kline, is often quite clever, O’Connell falls more in the latter category. With his original, cheerily bombastic delivery, he manages to sell the best and weakest punch lines with equal aplomb. Consequently, when O’Connell is on screen, which is nearly the entirety of the running time, the movie never lags.

It should also be noted… no, that is too weak a word. It should also be shouted from the hilltops that K. Roth Binew is the most original and engaging comic creation to grace the screen since Paul Reubens created Pee Wee Herman. Binew is a bourbon-guzzling drunkard, an egotist, a failed artist, a bit of a con man, an old lady fetishist, and a dandy. However, despite his cartoonishness and moral shortcomings, the character is also relatable in his search for meaning, his remorse over his artistic failures, and his attempts to connect with friends and family. It is rare that an absurdist character can engender pathos, but Binew is an exception. One can only hope that Mike O’Connell finds a way to resurrect this captivating persona for future projects.

Of course, as good as O’Connell and his comic creation are, there are supporting players that also deserve praise. First among these is Jesse Eisenberg, in the less showy role of Binew’s companion, Mills Joaquin. His timid, understated delivery is a perfect compliment to O’Connell’s bombast. In addition, the cinematography by Scott Miller provides a beautiful, golden, autumnal setting for the story; and the score by Carter Little and O’Connell provides the perfect background. Finally, first time director, Sol Tryon, does a fantastic job of balancing numerous disparate elements and helps O’Connell and Eisenberg sell the jokes.

The Living Wake is likely to split audiences into “love it” or “hate it” categories. However, if you have a tolerance for whimsy and a taste for the absurd, I highly recommend sampling this potent, intoxicating concoction.

Drinks Consumed--Stubborn Grouse Bourbon and other whiskeys, Schnapps, wine, and beer

Intoxicating Effects--Melancholy, increased libido, soused sex, and harmonizing

Potent Quotables--K.ROTH BINEW: Mills, a quote from my father, “I drink to bring myself down to the level of the common man. But remember, the common man drinks, so I must drink twice as much. I’m a big advocate of an even playing field.”

Video Availability--DVD and Video-on-Demand (Breaking Glass Pictures)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Absurdist comedy often works better in small doses, as evidenced by the hilarious short subject, The Reeducation of Mills Joquin, which portrays the beginning of the friendship between K. Roth Binew and Mills (here portrayed by Bryan Brown). This 19-minute short is included on the DVD of The Living Wake.

Official Website of The Living Wake

The Living Wake on Facebook

Breaking Glass Pictures


Booze News: Withnail and W.C. on DVD

>> Saturday, August 21, 2010

No sooner do I proclaim Flicker Alley's Chaplin at Keystone to be the soused cinema DVD release of the year than I hear about the upcoming releases of two more essential videos for lovers of alcohol-related films. In terms of importance, these releases do not quite rise to the same level as Chaplin at Keystone, but both provide timeless liquor-laced laughs that stand up to repeated viewings. Here's what we're getting:

First on August 24th, Withnail and I (1987), one of the booziest movies of all time makes it way to Blu-Ray from Image Entertainment. The film was previously released on DVD by Criterion, but true soused cinema enthusiasts will want to experience the ravages of alcohol on the countenances of Withnail and his flatmate in glorious 1080P resolution.

Next on November 2nd, Universal will release Mississippi (1935), the best of the W.C. Fields features previously unavailable in the U.S., as part of the Universal Backlot DVD boxset, The Bing Crosby Collection. Also included in this set will be College Humor (1933), We’re Not Dressing (1934), Here Is My Heart (1934), Sing You Sinners (1938), and Welcome Stranger (1947); but the 1935 pairing of Der Bingle and the Great Man is the real standout of the collection.

By the way, U.K. readers or those with region-free DVD players may be aware that Mississippi was previously released in the Region 2 DVD box set, W.C. Fields: The Movie Collection, along with 16 other classics from the Great Man. Most of those movies are available in the U.S. within the highly recommended W.C. Fields Comedy Collection Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. At this point, only If I Had a Million (1932), Million Dollar Legs (1932), Tillie and Gus (1933), and Follow the Boys (1944) remain unavailable as Region 1 DVDs.

I'm still keeping my fingers crossed in hopes that Universal will put out a W.C. Fields Comedy Collection Vol. 3 to complete the U.S. releases. Come on, Universal! Do ya know how hard it is to hold a drink with your fingers crossed?



Review: Animals, Whores, and Dialogue: Breakfast with Hunter Vol. 2 (2010)

>> Saturday, August 14, 2010

USA/C-91m./Dir: Wayne Ewing/Cast: Hunter S. Thompson (Himself), Anita Thompson (Herself), Warren Zevon (Himself), Sheriff Bob Braudis (Himself), Jennifer Erskine (Herself), Ed Bradley (Himself)

With the 2003 documentary, Breakfast with Hunter, Wayne Ewing shared a small portion of the hundreds of hours of video that he shot of his friend Hunter S. Thompson during the last two decades of the great writer’s life. The film was a patchwork quilt, that allowed fans of the journalist’s prose to eavesdrop on the writer as he relaxed in his Woody Creek home, reminisced with friends and collaborators about some his best writing assignments, and consulted (at times reluctantly) on the movie version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Ewing’s documentary provided a rare glimpse of the real Hunter S. Thompson (warts and all), rather than the self-created caricature and icon of overindulgence, Raoul Duke.

Since Wayne Ewing followed up on Breakfast with Hunter with two documentaries that touched upon Thompson’s world without focusing on the writer himself--When I Die (2005) and Free Lisl: Fear & Loathing in Denver (2006)--it was only natural to assume that the documentarian had used up the best footage of Hunter in his first film. However, Ewing has proven us wrong with the release of a sequel, Animals, Whores, and Dialogue: Breakfast with Hunter Vol. 2, which is just as delightful and illuminating as the 2003 original.

The title of the new film comes from the words of inspiration that Hunter taped to the top of his electric typewriter--ANIMALS * WHORES * DIALOGUE * ELECTRICITY--and the doc is framed around a November 16, 2003 writing session in Hunter’s home, in which he consumes copious quantities of Chivas Regal Scotch, while bouncing ideas off his wife and others in the room. The opportunity to witness one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century hunting and pecking on his typewriter is enough to recommend the movie. However, the sequel is just as loosely constructed as the original; and we quickly leave Owl Farm to enjoy precious footage of Hunter attending parties honoring him and his work, sharing behind-the-scenes stories with interviewers, comparing the relative evils of Richard M. Nixon and George W. Bush, and lighting up visibly when hearing someone read a particularly well-turned phrase from one of his articles.

Like Breakfast With Hunter, Animals, Whores, and Dialogue makes no attempt to provide a biographical background for the clips that it presents, so it is not recommended for viewers who are unfamiliar with Thompson’s life and work. However, for fans of the late, great Dr. Gonzo, Vol. 2 is just as essential viewing as the 2003 original. Let’s hope Wayne Ewing has even more treasures in reserve to give us a Vol. 3.

Drinks Consumed--Chivas Regal Scotch, wine, beer, and champagne

Intoxicating Effects--Pure orneriness

Potent Quotables--ED BRADLEY (a toast): Hunter, after all that fucking Chivas, man, there’s three-quarters of a bottle over there, ya know. And I really wish you were here to drink it. I understand why you did what you did. I miss you.

Video Availability--
The DVD of Animals, Whores, and Dialogue: Breakfast With Hunter Vol. 2 and Wayne Ewing’s other HST documentaries can only be purchased directly from the director’s Website, Hunter Thompson Films (

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Wayne Ewing has further explored the gonzo world of Hunter S. Thompson in Breakfast With Hunter (2003), When I Die (2005), and Free Lisle: Fear and Loathing in Denver (2006).

The Gonzo Tapes:The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson


Booze News: The Soused Cinema DVD Release of the Year!

>> Saturday, August 7, 2010

Good evening, fellow inebriates,

Tonight I bear glad tidings. Flicker Alley, one of the few DVD producers actively releasing restored silent films, has announced the October 26th release of Chaplin at Keystone, a 4-DVD set featuring new restorations of the surviving 34 films (33 shorts and the feature Tillie's Punctured Romance) which Charlie Chaplin made during his first year in the movie business. These films are of immeasurable historical value, as they show the movies' first (and perhaps most-talented) megastar developing his beloved comedy character, while he simultaneously learns to act, write, and direct for the camera.

For lovers of soused cinema, this collection is also a treasure trove of sloshed slapstick. Throughout his career, Chaplin employed drunken shtick to generate laughs, but booze was most prominent in his earliest films, being that he entered the medium flush from the stage success of his "Mumming Birds" drunk act.

While many of the Keystone shorts have been released previously on budget DVDs, they have been shoddy affairs, with ragged prints, missing footage, and scenes assembled out-of-order. The Flicker Alley set promises to be a revelation for Chaplin fans. As their press release states, "With the support of Association Chaplin (Paris), 35mm full aperture, early-generation materials were gathered over an eight year search on almost all the films from archives and collectors around the world, and were painstakingly pieced together and restored by the British Film Institute National Archive, the Cineteca Bologna and its laboratory L’Immagine Ritrovata in Italy, and Lobster Films in Paris."

I, for one, can't wait to see these improved videos, despite the fact that it will mean that I will likely have to go back and revise my prior reviews of several Keystone shorts. That should prove to be a very pleasurable labor.

While five months still remain in 2010, I can say without doubt that this will be the most important soused cinema video release of the year. I strongly encourage lovers of booze movies (and film in general) to visit Flicker Alley's Website and pre-order this glorious release.

If you need more convincing, here's a link to the press release-->Chaplin At Keystone, an international collaboration of 34 original films


Charlie Chaplin at Keystone and Essanay: Dawn of the Tramp
The Comedy of Charlie Chaplin: Artistry in Motion
Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema


Booze News: Tales of the Cocktail 2010 Recap

>> Sunday, August 1, 2010

I've been back from Tales of the Cocktail 2010 for a week now, and I truly know what it means to miss New Orleans. It was my first trip to both the Tales event and the city. I would recommend both without reservation.

My panel, "Hollywood Cocktails: Louisiana Style" was sold out; and any trepidation I had about presenting melted away as the 200 in attendance greeted me and my soused cinema film clips with laughter and applause. Thanks, everyone, for making a Tales rookie feel welcome (and especially for laughing at my jokes)!

Another big "thank you" goes out to my fellow panelists, Cheryl Charming, Ted Haigh, and Alan Leonhard, for your onstage support. Finally, a huge note of gratitude to Adrian Marin, the apprentice team, and the serving staff for keeping things running smoothly behind the scenes and for keeping the audience sated with popcorn, Sazeracs (the official New Orleans cocktail), Absinthe Suissesses, and Hurricanes. We couldn't have done it without you!

There will be lots to remember from my first trip to Tales...

  • Complimentary cocktails at every turn
  • Buying a new Stetson fedora at Meyer the Hatter
  • Bacon and jalapeno-infused vodka
  • The "drink me" girls at the Beefeater Alice in Wonderland-themed opening reception
  • Moonshine with breakfast
  • Being beguiled by Doc Eason's slight of hand
  • The revolving Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone (alcohol and spinning may not be an ideal pairing)
  • X-rated dinner conversation at the Red Fish Grill
  • Coffee with Dutch Carmel flavored Van Gogh Vodka
  • Discovering that housekeeping left a bottle of lotion on my bedspread when making up the room (I wonder what they were trying to tell me)
  • Fried oysters on the half shell
  • Being fitted with a bib at Mr. B's Bistro (I'm a messy drinker). Another big "thank you" to Bruce Tomlinson of for pickin' up the tab.
  • Swingin' at Fritzel's European Jazz Club
  • Sharing barrel-aged tequila shots with Jim Beam's master mixologist Phil Raimondo
  • Sampling the green fairy at the Old Absinthe House
  • Feelin' a bit fuzzy Saturday and fixing myself up with Glaceau Vitamin Water (my new hangover cure)
  • Visiting Faulkner House Books
  • Being handed a new stainless steel hip flask pre-filled with Templeton Rye (my favorite) as I stepped out of an elevator
  • Closing out the event with the Jim Beam World Cocktail Excursion party
  • Winding down with a moonlit, rooftop swim
  • Trying to fit all the free booze bottles in my suitcase
  • Waiting to board my plane, as the ground crew filled the holes made by a lightning strike the craft encountered on the way into the NOLA airport
Most of all, I'll remember the people I met and the friendships that were forged--Cheryl, Doc, Phil, Bruce, Ted, Dan "" Hutchinson, Beer Commissioner, Lisa "Applejack" Laird, and many more. See you all next year!


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About Me

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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