Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Life's A Happy Accident

Life has plunged me into a strange abyss of late. I'm getting a new film ('Circus of Dread') prepped with some amazing people (Bill Oberst Jnr, Domiziano Acrangeli), finishing post- on a making-of ('John Doe'), nudging two other features to the post-production finish line ('Fertisle' and 'Pond Scum'), and rewriting two long works of fiction. Busy, yes, but wandering in a bizarre landscape of creative confluences, the ever-expanding commitment to originality, sundry life needs, optimism, negativity, inspiration, and pants-on-seat labor.

The great Bill Oberst Jr, who has deservedly been called 'The New Lon Chaney", 
has joined the cast of my new movie Circus of Dread.

The incredibly versatile and brilliant Italian veteran of  over 137 movies and TV shows, Domiziano Arcangeli, also joins the cast of Circus of Dread.

As always, good health is a primary concern. I pop more vitamins and minerals than my late granddad popped antibiotics, but considering the fact that I haven't been sick or seen a doctor for several years now, my morning cocktails must be doing something right. I take a multi-vitamin from youngagain.org and a mineral supplement; I take a combo of Glutamine,  Fructooligosaccharides, and Acidophilus for intestinal health; the CoQ10 (real Japanese Ubiquinone) is for heart health, and the Beta Glucan strengthens immunity; Vitamin D3, though called a vitamin, is, in fact, a vital natural hormone. Blood sugar levels are kept in check by the avoidance of sugar and heavy carbs and assisted by Taurine, an essential amino acid, and Green Tea Extract. Cholesterol levels are normalized by my magical Citrus Pectin tablets, and a product called GermanZyme (enteric coated for proper digestion) smoothes digestion. Not bad for a bloke who doesn't "do drugs".

Mental health is an ongoing adventure for us all, it seems, and we gravitate to the arts so we can better digest the slings and arrows of life itself. I've stuck with Mad Men from the beginning and are often rewarded with brilliant writing, creeping revelations, and top notch performances. This week's episode delivered a hard punch to the gut with the death of a key character. His measured fall from grace made for great TV and even greater food for thought.

AMC, the network behind Mad Men, unleashed The Pitch this year, a reality series portraying the culture of  ad agencies who compete for common business. As I've worked on and off in advertising, having directed close to two hundred commercials (mostly at the budget end), I find the series both fascinating and depressing; since working amongst ad men was both for me, the series accurately depicts the business as the ego-driven, idea-hungry, dog-eat-dog beast it is. What makes the ad world difficult to navigate for creative types is its many layers, layers you're not always privy to. As a director of a commercial, your job is to please both the client and the agency while putting something of your own personal stamp on the brief. The "personal" part is usually defrocked of its pointy bits, and you're usually happy to deliver something that is at least energetic and original (but not too original).  The Pitch does a knock-up job of conveying the complexities of the process, while not ignoring the fact that ad work is mostly hard slog for dubious reward. Recent episodes have focused more heavily on the personal lives of those involved, and the sacrifices necessary to make a dent and build a reputation. Recommended.

Not recommended is Pete Berg's ghastly Battleship, surely the worst film I'll see this year. I can't imagine anything worse. The generic trailers dropped my expectations to toilet level, so I drove in (more on that in a moment) anticipating little more than light on a silver screen. Well, the light sucked the proverbial elephant dick. Moronic and cliched in the extreme, this pro-military exercise in big bangs and dialog Ed Wood would have barfed at suffered a well-deserved death at the box office. Next time, Pete, try shadowing Michael Bay so you can see how a crap expert does crap well (sometimes).

I caught Battleshit at the Santee Drive-in in good old El Cajon, California. One of the state's last ozoners, it caught my eye as I sped past it at three o'clock in the afternoon. I zipped back along the I-8 freeway to check it out close-up. A flea market was coming to an end on its hallowed grounds, admission was free, and I was at liberty to snap a few pictures. Although I'd already seen and slightly enjoyed The Avengers, I thought I'd give Battleshit a shot. See, it didn't really matter what the movie was, I was going in, anyway. How often did I get to attend a drive-in movie these days? The last American drive-in I'd attended was the Bel Air drive-in in Detroit, Michigan, and that was almost thirty years ago. Then there were the needs of my female companion. Hell, she was itching for her first time; her first time at a drive-in, that is (!)

Shame it had to be Battleshit. Still, the experience was a good one, and it lifted my spirits to see a long driveway filled with cars almost an hour prior to the opening of the gates. Yes, sir, the drive-in has not lost its luster in El Cajon, California, and I wish it well, even if it has abandoned the exploitation fare that made it great in the first place. Perhaps that's unfair (slightly). Much of that exploitation fare is still being made, but it's being made by the studios. It now lacks the edge, of course, and you don't see jiggling breasts much these days. I did see a pair in a car parked close by, though. Put a smile on my face knowing some drive-in tropes don't die so hard.

No matter what anybody says, Mel Gibson's career is not dead. His Get The Gringo is a damn good time on the telly (Direct TV Exclusive), and it serves up plenty of action, some salty non-PC dialog, and a colorful menu of stunts and grunts. Mel didn't direct this one, but his stamp of cinematic brutality is all over this film's rugged hide. I'm a big Mel fan, and certainly didn't turn my back on him when that gold-digging wife of his posted a bunch of private phone calls. On the contrary, Mad Max's anger at someone he'd poured love and finance into was totally understandable. No doubt the man has some anger issues, but his heart's a sound one. I know a fella fairly close to Mel's world, and the skinny is he's a good bloke who doesn't suffer fools (fools like Joe E, for example) and is, in the Mitchum and McQueen tradition, the last Hard Man of Hollywood. Anyway, do Get The Gringo when it hits BluRay, or plays at a non-US cinema near you. You won't have any regrets.

On the BluRay front, there's been movement aplenty on my TV. I so enjoyed the BFI's BluRay restoration of Andy Milligan's wonderful Nightbirds and The Body Beneath. Turns out Nicolas Winding Refn was holding the best print of the movie, so he petitioned the BFI to restore it and release it, and gathered a murder of cinema crows such as Tim Lucas, Jimmy McDonough, and Stephen Thrower to write liner notes and deep biographical material. The result is one of the best cult releases of the year. Although I'd seen The Body Beneath before, although not looking this good, Nightbirds was a first for me. It portrays a relationship between two drifters, a man and a woman. The man's a fairly easygoing type, if a little moody, but the woman becomes increasingly aggressive and plain witchy. I couldn't help comparing Nightbirds to some of Koji Wakamatsu's work, in particular Go Go Second Time Virgin and Running In Madness, Dying in Love.  As with the early work of directors like John Waters, the appeal of Milligan's work is its raw intensity. You get the feeling that each film is Milligan's psyche vomited onto the screen. The Body Beneath, which explores vampirism, is an experience requiring patience, but its central premise of a vampire prolonging his influence via blood transfusions is a good one.

Again, duty beckons, and I must apologize for the recent dearth of new posts.

Life's a mostly happy accident.

1 comment:

  1. Give your genes credit too! I'm endlessly irritated by people who laugh at me for taking vitamins. They say things like, "What, is your diet so bad that you need help?" Had our ancestors not developed tools and ideas for hunting, preserving food and developing agriculture we wouldn't even have the diets available to us today. Humans evolve. Well, some of them do.