'Rockets Redglare!' *** 090105

The Work = ***
'Rockets Redglare!' is a documentary about a friend, by a friend. The film is about Michael Morra who was one of the first children diagnosed as being born with heroine addiction. His mother used while pregnant and pretty much from that point on, I suspect he battled addiction in one form or another. As if he didn’t have enough worries Morra was also born into a life of crime. As a child he saw murders and his mother prostitute herself. He was molested at a young age and would begin using drugs before he reached adulthood.

'Rockets Redglare!' drops hints that Morra dabbled in petty crimes. At one point he was even associated with Sid Vicious of the 'Sex Pistols'. Actually, he was with Sid and his girlfriend the night she was found dead. He doesn’t offer answers, only his memories.

Here’s were it became interesting. Somewhere along the way Morra took on the name Rockets Redglare. He became a regular face in Greenwich Village. He was a large man, always drinking, always entertaining and frequently putting on standup. He was such a presence that he grew a bit of a following and took a couple of young stand up comics under his wing.

The two most recognizable and successful ones were Mark Boone Junior and Steve Buscemi. Rocket lets Buscemi open for him without having ever seen his act. He would eventually write and put on sketches with Boone and Buscemi in his theater show TaxiCabaret. All three would get screen roles and early on Rockets had the most success. (Now, of course, Buscemi is the most recognizable of the three.)

I was only aware of Rocket as an actor before I saw this documentary. I had seen him in Buscemi’s solid directorial efforts 'Trees Lounge' and 'The Animal Factory'. What I didn’t realize before I saw 'Rockets Redglare!' was I had actually seen him small roles in several films. ('Big', 'Talk Radio', and 'Down by Law' to name a few.) He does make an impression and seeing some of his moments on film it is easy to understand why directors with a particular eye for character might be keen to cast him in small roles.

The movie follows Rocket as he travels and talks about his life. His travels to Puerto Rico are interspersed with his stays at hospitals. It is clear, even as an older man, getting, he still has addictions in one form or another. This is a man slowly marching towards the end of his life and despite all of the hardships and awful things he has seen, he is doing it with humor.

An assortment of familiar faces pop up to talk about Rocket and their experiences knowing him. Matt Dillon, Willem Dafoe, and Jim Jarmusch are a few of the names that show up. Jarmusch in particular (who is often a great interview,) shares some anecdotes about Rocket. I enjoyed this film but wish it had more money behind so it could have been a bit more accurate. Rocket was a sometimes con man and I was curious to know how truthful some of his childhood stories were (such as his family shooting someone.) Still, this is recommended as a personal and sometimes darkly funny film.

DVD = ***

The Look
'Rockets Redglare!' is presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen. While not the worst transfer, this one surely won’t win any awards. I suspect that the transfer was held back by the source material. This was also a very low budget movie and I doubt the studio was going to spend to much on it.

The Sound
The DVD has 2.0 stereo track mix and that is about it. The sound track actually fairs worse than the video with levels going up and down a bit from scene to scene. The track sounds like it could have used a new mix and a better transfer.

The Bonus
Director Luis Fernandez de la Reguera contributes a commentary with Buscemi. It is a so-so track. A bit spotty and heavy with narration of what is onscreen the two do manage to get into some interesting details but the track isn’t as good as it could have been. What this track really needed was a third person to lead the discussion. I think it would have made the track more of a winner because when the two do get going, they do get into some interesting bits of information.

(Not, that it has anything to do with the commentary track but I would love to see tape of Buscemi’s stand up.) Next up on the disk is a Q & A session with Reguera and Buscemi from a screening of the film at Sundance in 2003. The session doesn’t last too long and there is some repeated information from the commentary track but it is still pretty good. Lastly the DVD offers the film’s trailer.

All Together = ***
I wish there had been more money behind this flic’. It has an interesting subject and has a lot of heart. Director Reguera really cared for Rocket and this is his tribute. I wanted to know a bit more about the man and I wish the DVD had been of higher quality. Recommended and fans of Rocket will probably especially dig this one.


'Rockets Redglare!' Links:


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