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Tribeca 2011: “Limelight,” Reviewed

Tribeca 2011: “Limelight,” Reviewed (photo)

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Billy Corben is the drug documentary kingpin of indie film. He’s made two docs about cocaine, one about marijuana, and now “Limelight,” about New York City’s ecstasy soaked club scene in the 1990s. His particular specialty are films that ape their subject’s pharmacological effects: “Cocaine Cowboys” is twitchy and paranoid; “Square Grouper” is mellow and easygoing to a fault. “Limelight” sends us tripping on a relentless 100-minute roll.

The man who leads us on this journey is Peter Gatien, a one-eyed club empresario from Canada who moved to the US and started opening upscale discos all along the Eastern seaboard. New York, Miami, Atlanta, and then back to New York where he created his crown jewel: Limelight, a massive dance complex housed in a former Episcopal church. The AIDS epidemic of the mid-1980s nearly killed his business, but when a tough guy from Staten Island with the temerity to call him “Lord Michael” brought London’s rave and ecstasy culture to Manhattan in the early 1990s, he made Limelight his headquarters and transformed Gatien’s business into a full-blown empire.

“Limelight”‘s first half is all about the party: the good times, thumping music, and groovy celebrities that made Gatien’s clubs — Limelight, Palladium, Club USA and Tunnel — the places to be in ’90s New York City. But any user will tell you, no high lasts forever. Though Gatien never took money from Lord Michael or any of the other dealers who worked his clubs, he never stopped them either, and he definitely profited from all the customers they brought through his doors. Their behavior was so flagrant — even serving “ecstasy punch” right out of the DJ booth to encourage early arrivals at the club — that police intervention was inevitable. After Rudy Giuliani became mayor of New York City in 1994, he put an intense crime prevention program into place. It was only a matter of time before the clubs came into his crosshairs. Gatien’s iconic eyepatch and decadent reputation made him great tabloid fodder and an even better target for the Giuliani administration.

Corben’s last film, “Square Grouper,” suffered from a lack of scope. He had to combine three different stories of the South Florida dope trade that weren’t strong enough to support a movie on their own into one anthology film. “Limelight” is the exact opposite: this is a sprawling, epic tale of vice and sin, with enough fascinating supporting characters and subplots for three movies. In fact, one of the supporting characters here already has had two movies of his own: Michael Alig, the subject of the documentary “Party Monster” and, later, the biopic of the same name. Plus there’s Sean Kirkham, the career informant and gay prostitute who claimed to have slept with the lead prosecutor of Gatien’s case and later tried to sell information about the London subway bombings. And Alessandra, an apparent con artist with multiple identities who Gatien married over the objections and warnings of basically every former Limelight employee who appears in the documentary. The film is a barrage of one unbelievable plot twist after another, strung together by great, candid interviews. In a nice touch, all the talking heads are shot under stark, club-ready neon lighting, even the squares who investigated and prosecuted Gatien for drug distribution.

“Limelight” maintains its momentum from its opening moments — a frenzied montage of news footage narrating Gatien’s early years — to its final ones. With all of the clubs and drugs and subplots, the whole thing could spin out of control very easily. But Corben does an impressive job of streamlining a sprawling crime saga into a digestible piece of pop entertainment. Best to take it with some water though. You know how ecstasy is. You don’t want to get dehydrated.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.