Archive for January, 2009


Stuck in the Middle with Tim Roth

tim_rothThis past Wednesday night, Tim Roth’s new series “Lie to Me” premiered on FOX at 9:00 p.m. I was over the moon when I found out that he was getting his own series but a little surprised. Aside from his early years in British television movies, Tim Roth and TV don’t really go hand-in-hand. Yes, we was in that tsunami movie on HBO. How refreshing though that in “Lie to Me,” he gets to keep his British accent and, although surly, isn’t being pigeon-holed as the villain this time.

In the early 80’s, Tim Roth was on the forefront of a new crop of young British actors, including Gary Oldman and Daniel Day-Lewis. Although he would often play Americans, Roth made an impression in very working-class, very British movies, such as in “Made in Britain” (1981) and “Meantime” (1984). Despite playing troubled youth in these films and oftentimes gangsters and villains in later films, he came from a middle-class background and was a nerd in school. Roth’s bullies in school would later inform his portrayal of and zest for playing villains in the movies. His father changed the family’s name to Roth in solidarity with Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Known for his rebellious and snarky persona, stiff gait, and rodenty good looks, Roth deftly walks the line between indie and mainstream film, working with a wide range of acclaimed directors, such as Woody Allen, Mike Leigh, Robert Altman, Quentin Tarantino, Francis Ford Coppola, John Sayles, and Tim Burton.

Although nominated as Best Supporting Actor as the effete villain in 1995’s “Rob Roy” (he’s the best thing in an otherwise mediocre film, which happens a lot with him), Tim Roth shines in other films as well:

1.    Made in Britain (1981) – Roth’s debut performance at 19 as the skinhead Trevor in this indictment of the British educational and penal systems. He got the part when he accidentally stumbled into the audition looking for a bike pump.

2.    Meantime (1984) – As the developmentally slow Colin, Roth is all eyes and innocence, which leaves the ending even more shocking. Watch for Gary Oldman and Alfred Molina in supporting parts.

3.    Vincent & Theo (1990) – Robert Altman’s study of Van Gogh (Roth) and his brother Theo was supposed to be a much-longer TV movie but ended up clocking in at 2 hours and 30 minutes. The first scene contrasting Vincent’s poverty with the sounds of a contemporary auction at which his paintings are now fetching millions is memorable, expounding on Altman’s struggles with art and commerce.

4.    Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990) – Based on Tom Stoppard’s play about the two bit players who send Hamlet to his death in that other play, this is my favorite Tim Roth movie because of the fast and clever dialogue, the absurdist humor, the literary references, and the endearing chemistry between Roth and Gary Oldman.

5.    Reservoir Dogs (1992) – Tim Roth’s breakthrough American performance as Mr. Orange, the undercover cop who slowly bleeds to death throughout the movie. Look out for his scene in the restroom. He and Harvey Keitel play so well off each other, even though Keitel’s character is unaware of Mr. Orange’s true identity.

6.    Gridlock’d (1997) – Underappreciated movie with Tupac Shakur, who died before it was released. Roth and Tupac are an unlikely pair for a buddy pic, but they pull it off.

7.    The Legend of 1900 (1999) – I like this movie because Roth totally breaks away from his repertoire of villains to play the innocent, a piano virtuoso who has never left the cruise liner on which he was born. This role departure reminds me of innocent-on-the-road Malcolm McDowell in “O Lucky Man!” (1973).

8.    The War Zone (1999) – Roth’s one and only directorial effort. He unflinchingly tackles the subject of incest. You can see the influence of the directors of his early British films, such as Alan Clarke and Mike Leigh, in its themes, starkness, and simplicity.






Lake of Fire

blog-lake-of-fireLake of Fire (2006), a documentary by mainstream Hollywood director Tony Kaye (“American History X”, 1998), examines the war on abortion as fought on the battlefield of religion. In most instances, abortion is the major defining issue of the religious right. Made over the span of 13 years, beginning with Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, “Lake of Fire” includes interviews with activists, scholars, and attorneys on both sides of the issue, including Noam Chomsky, Alan Dershowitz, and most interestingly, Norma McCorvary (“Jane Roe” of the groundbreaking U.S. Supreme Court case Roe v.Wade, which made abortion legal). McCorvey, who is now pro-life, works at a pro-life counseling center and sees her service there as a sort of redemption for being the spring board to legal abortions.


Lake of Fire,” through its own stylistic choices and through the subjectivity of the interviewees, shows how much of the debate on abortion, as well as on many other moral issues, is constructed through the use of certain words and images. The pro-life activists at time litter their protests and propaganda with graphic images, both still and video, of aborted fetuses; the pro-choice activists likewise use pictures of women who were the victims of botched abortions (including the famous picture explored in the documentary “Leona’s Sister Gerri”, 2007) and displays of “equipment” and chemicals used to induce miscarriage (I was reminded of the film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”, 2007). Kaye himself also shows crime scene photos of abortion doctors killed by extreme pro-lifers. Did Kaye think it better to shoot the film in black and white because of all of these startling images? Language carefully chosen by certain groups also delineates which side you’re on and what position you’ve staked out: “pro-choice” vs. “pro-abortion,” “abortion doctor” vs. “abortionist.” What is the definition of “murder,” “life,” a “human being”? The language and definitions chosen delineate the moral parameters that will precipitate action, some of which is violent. A few of the interviewees note the similarities between these extreme members of the pro-life movement and Islamic fundamentalists, both of whom see themselves as martyrs, willing to die for their cause, a cause oftentimes tied to moral behavior and/or gender. Both of these groups wish for a religious theocracy that would blur any distinctions between church and state, and would carry out the most extreme punishments, such as death for blasphemy (running in opposition to freedom of speech).


Kaye hits a right note when he points out that not only is the abortion debate defined by religion but also by gender, often as seen through a religious filter. Some of the extreme pro-lifers depicted in the film take on an angry, condescending view of women in general and more specifically the women choosing to have abortions. They seem obsessed by what women overall should and shouldn’t do on a moral level, especially with their bodies. I noticed that mostly men were the spokespeople in the film for the pro-life/religious communities and organizations. Men were also the ones usually committing crimes against abortion clinics and personnel. Other moral issues they cited (some involving women, most involving some level of choice and/or privacy rights, and all presenting the opportunity to show mercy rather than intolerance) included birth control, sex education, homosexuality, stem cell research, and euthanasia.


I questioned Kaye’s choice of music: meant to evoke religious classical music, it came across melodramatic and unnecessary. The words spoken and images presented can spoke for themselves. Also, 2 ½ hours is a little too long for a documentary, although with an issue like abortion, one can probably go on for double that time.


The film’s end follows a 28 year-old woman going through the abortion process, from check-in to medical history and psychiatric evaluation to the procedure itself. Her reaction in the aftermath is unforgettable and an answer to those who say women who have made this choice are disengaged from their decision and the subsequent emotional fall-out.