Try a Little Kindness or the Kindness of strangers

I was not going to do a post today. I have been doing on average two a day for a while now and thought, ‘what the heck, I can take a break now and then, can’t I?’ The obvious answer being yes as I don’t have to sing for my supper to any man or woman where my blog is concerned and I was a bit busy today trying to get my financial affairs in order.

I set aside an entire day to call the folks I owe money to and explain that the old solution was no longer viable and that I was having to re-do the whole thing. I found myself giving the “Reader’s Digest” version of my last year over and over. The amazing thing was that not only did it get easier each time but I found I was still able to laugh at my “overabundance” of bad luck last year.

I think the thing that made it that little bit easier to chuckle at my current dilemma was the kindness shown by each and every one of the people I talked to on the phone today. One young man took severe umbrage at the fact that my pension was going to be so tiny.

He was so upset that he began to search the internet for help for me and find numbers of people to call. I assured him that I was doing all that already, but he still felt the need to help. Now here’s the amazing bit; this young man works for a collection agency that took over my debt problem from couple of major credit card companies. The company responsible for making sure I pay the money I owe.

I was flabbergasted and touched. This fellows show of empathy and humanity really helped me; more than I can say or even try to explain. I thanked him for his concern and his help and offers of further help. I hung up the phone at the end of our business in a much better mood. I actually felt chipper (an old-fashioned word I know, but damn-it it fits) and gave thanks once more to a young man named Stuart who cared.

But that’s not all. Everyone I spoke to today reacted the same way. Each and every company I spoke to responded to me and my situation with a wealth of empathy and understanding and well wishes. I was complemented repeatedly on my ability to laugh at my bad luck and I had one or two other folks who also wanted to help by making sure I was speaking to the right people.

I had made these same phone calls in the beginning of December with the news that everything should be sorted out by now via an agreement written by a financial company. Unfortunately, before the middle of December everything changed when I found out that I no longer worked for the Ministry of Justice and was being medically retired. Once I received my paperwork verifying the result of my meeting with my number one governor, I decided I needed to call the debt charity folks and see what I could do.

These charity people were also very helpful and assured me that bankruptcy was not an option just yet. They explained that my circumstances were way too up in the air and that it would take the court at least a year to make a decision. They gave me great guidelines on what to do and a timeline to do it in. The helpful chap also gave me his personal phone number to contact him on.

Needless to say, I’ve had an uplifting of spirits in the last 48 hours and it is thanks to the charity folks and their positive attitudes and the brilliantly helpful and kind customer service representatives I spoke to today.

I sat here waiting for tea and I realised that the kindness shown to me today did not just surprise me, it shocked me. I thought of an old Glen Campbell song called Try a Little Kindness and it began a sort of loop in my head (it’s still playing now) and I then thought of Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire and her “relying on the kindness of strangers.”

I then decided I had to post about my day and the unexpected delight of it. The kindness of these total strangers; people who did not know me and really only knew what I had told them. People that get these sort of phone calls all too often in these financially stressful times; probably so many times that they must tire of it. Yet the folks all offered help, well wishes, and most importantly a final message of intent.

The intent to provide further assistance if I need it.

I had a lot of calls to make today and I really dreaded doing it. But the positive and caring response I got from each company’s representative made the chore less difficult and a lot less embarrassing.

I’ll leave on a positive note and a thankful one. Thanks again Stuart and all you other folks who made an old man very proud to be part of the human race once again.

I’m not sure what happened here, it’s very rare that a movie review gets such a small amount of views, I can only guess that it did not post properly, so I’ll try again. 🙂

Mikes Film Talk

This 2004 South Korean horror “war” film was the first horror film I’d seen set during a war. More importantly it was the first horror film set during the  Vietnamese war. This highly unpopular war (protested vehemently in the US on university campuses across the country and more draft dodgers than all the wars ever fought) has not featured a lot in the horror department. Except for the superior 1990 film Jacob’s Ladder.

Of course filmmakers might have been a bit leery about trying to compete with the brilliant Jacob’s Ladder; which to be fair was a great film based around the backdrop of the Vietnamese war and not during it. I know it scared the ever-loving crap out of me when I saw it and I don’t think I was the only person to be totally “creeped out” by the film.

But South Korean writer/director Su-chang…

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R-Point (2004): Ghosts & Ghoulies Vietnamese style

This 2004 South Korean horror “war” film was the first horror film I’d seen set during a war. More importantly it was the first horror film set during the  Vietnamese war. This highly unpopular war (protested vehemently in the US on university campuses across the country and more draft dodgers than all the wars ever fought) has not featured a lot in the horror department. Except for the superior 1990 film Jacob’s Ladder.

Of course filmmakers might have been a bit leery about trying to compete with the brilliant Jacob’s Ladder; which to be fair was a great film based around the backdrop of the Vietnamese war and not during it. I know it scared the ever-loving crap out of me when I saw it and I don’t think I was the only person to be totally “creeped out” by the film.

But South Korean writer/director Su-chang Kong rose to the challenge and came up with a film that had all the creep factor of Jacob’s Ladder combined with the chills and uneasiness of the unknown and dead people who don’t look or act dead at all.

Set in 1972, R-Point is about a radio message from a patrol that went missing six months ago on a Vietnamese island and the men are all assumed to be dead. The commander of the base decides to send out another patrol to find the missing men.  Lieutenant Choi Tae-in (Woo-seong Kam) is a highly decorated war hero who is also in a lot of trouble for going to an off-limits part of town to visit a prostitute and while he’s there, the soldier who accompanied him is murdered by a VC insurgent. Choi kills the woman responsible, but the soldier is still dead.

After being told that this mission is his chance to redeem himself, he and eight other soldiers are to find the missing soldiers and bring their dog-tags home. The men who have “volunteered” are from the local base’s “Clap clinic” and men who are near their rotation date. They have all been told that if they are successful that they’ll take the jet back home to a heroes welcome.

Posing on the beach.

When the squad reach the island they take a picture of themselves on the beach and begin heading towards the location of the radio signals. While going through a forest, they get ambushed by an old man and a woman. When the ambushers are taken care of, the old man dead and the woman dying, the men come up to a Chinese message on a stone.

One of the men, who can read Chinese, reads the message that says years ago, Chinese troops killed Vietnamese villagers and put their body in a lake; later the Vietnamese filled the lake in and built a shrine over the mass grave. It is now a sacred place. As the men leave one of the men urinates on the stone revealing the rest of the message; it says that anyone who has blood on their hands will never leave the place.

The men find what they think is the  “temple” and use that as their base of operations. While they are there, they meet a squad of American soldiers who aren’t what they seem and they find out about a French garrison that was wiped out years ago. As the men begin searching the island, the radio operator starts getting messages from a French radio operator who tells him that he and his brother will come over to visit. When he tells the Lieutenant, the first thing the lieutenant asks is how the operator knows what the Frenchman is saying as he does not speak French.

So when did you learn to speak French?

This film is atmospheric, scary, uneasy, and will have you jumping at any loud noise. It is a “look behind you” movie. It will seriously “creep” you out and the many plot twists will have you second-guessing throughout the entire film. The film actually starts entering the land of “creepy happenings” from the moment the squad reaches the island. When the film ended, Meg and I went back to the beginning and found a lot of things that we had missed the first time, this not only showed the film makers cleverness but it  seriously added to the effect  of the film

All the actors are top-notch and really sell their characters and you can connect with them quickly. The film looks great considering it was shot on a shoe-string budget. All the scenes were filmed in Cambodia around Bokor Hill Station which is an actual French ghost town.

I have watched this film repeatedly and it never fails to give me goose bumps. I will leave you with one bit of advice: if you watch this film, do not watch it in the dark or watch it alone. It’s that scary. From the first scene where the radio picks up the static ridden signal of the “missing men” to the last frame, it is war horror gold.

The “missing” patrol.

Ernest Borgnine: Keeping his Nuts Warm

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The full title of this autobiography by Ernest Borgnine is: Ernest Borgnine: I Don’t Want To Set the World on Fire, I Just Want to Keep My Nuts Warm. The title came from a sign that Mr Borgnine had seen in his younger days that was advertising hot chestnuts, the sign stuck with him and became the title of his autobiography.

This 2009 book helped his fans learn so much about him. It was a brilliant look at a man who seemingly did not have a bad word to say about anyone. I stumbled across this hardcover copy of his book last year. Sadly, I had barely finished reading it when the news of his death was broadcast; a truly sad day for fans over the world and a loss to his friends and family.

Like most folks my age, I grew up watching episodes of McHale’s Navy (which also had the brilliant Tim Conway among the cast) and chuckled along with everyone else at his and his men’s antics. I saw his award-winning performance as the lovelorn and lonely butcher Marty and watched him die a slow motion death in The Wild Bunch.

Borgnine was one of the few actors who worked constantly. He bounced from television to film and back again. He played every type roll imaginable and towards the end of his career he even voiced a popular character on the SpongeBob SquarePants cartoon enabling him to reach an entire new generation of fans.

If you are looking for a “kiss and tell” type of book that dredges up all the old skeleton’s from the closet, don’t bother picking this book up. If you want to read a book that leaves you with a warm glow and an overall feeling of Bonhomme then this is the book for you.

Borgnine recounts his early years from when he joined the Navy right out of high school, his time as a “mature” student of 28 and his start in the theatre world doing repertory theatre. All of his memories of working in the entertainment business have an aura of excitement and joy in doing something he was good at and loved doing.

He writes about his experience in Marty and From Here to Eternity; He also tells about his experiences with some of the most powerful actors in the business.

He also talks about his marriages and he recounts his horrible lapse in judgement that caused him to marry Ethel Merman only to have the marriage dissolved 32 days later.

Mr Borgnine was among the few actors formally recognised as being the oldest in their profession who had not retired. He was proud of that and he was just as excited doing the voice of Mermaid Man and working with his old pal Tim Conway (who voiced Mermaid Man’s sidekick Barnacle Boy) and being heard by a new young generation of fans.

Ernest Borgnine was an actor who filled his roles. He did the same with his life. Nothing was too hard or too difficult to attempt and he was game for everything. There are not too many left like Mr Borgnine. Luckily for us he told us a lot about himself before he exited from the wings of life.

A great sentimental and feel good book about a great actor in his words; what could be wrong with that.

And just for fun: did you know that Ernest Borgnine was the only actor to be in all the Dirty Dozen films?

If you haven’t read this, do so immediately; it’s worth the time and effort and it is not too long at 245 pages with a bunch of great pictures to divert yourself with.

5 stars.

Uzumaki (2000): The Spirals in the town go round, round, round

Uzumaki original poster.

Uzumaki originally began life as a three-volume horror manga by Junji Ito. The theme (according to Wikipedia) is as follows: The story concerns the inhabitants of the small Japanese town of Kurôzu-cho that seems to be cursed by supernatural events surrounding spirals. Many people become obsessed or paranoid about spiral shapes, which starts resulting in several gruesome deaths. Eventually people start transforming into something other than human, such as snails and twisted forms. In the end the town is cut off from the rest of the world, which leads to apocalyptic events and a revelation about the secret hidden under the lake in the middle of the town. [sic]

The film follows the manga to a great degree focusing on some aspects and leaving others out. The ending is different as the manga had not finished when the film was made.

Directed by Higuchinsky Uzumaki was his second foray into the world of film the first being a TV movie (Long Dream which also dealt with supernatural theme and was based on a comic) before doing films Higuchinsky directed music videos. Being a fan of manga he decided to make the feature film based on Junji Ito’s story.

Ito is well-known for doing “horror” comics. He also did Tomie. Tomie is another manga that has been made into feature films as well. Takashi Shimzu even made a version of it. Including Uzumaki and Tomie, 21 of Ito’s manga’s have been made into films.

Uzumaki tells of a small village that is “cursed” by spirals and it centres on schoolgirl Kirie Goshima, her boyfriend Shuichi Saito and his family; and some of Kirie’s classmates. A reporter comes to the town to investigate the odd events and he winds up being afflicted by the curse as well.

The deaths of those touched by the “curse of the spiral” all centre around spirals. One girl’s hair starts turning into intricate spiral shapes and traps her, starving her to death. Another lad gets wound around the tyre of a car that runs him down. Spirals have taken the village over and separated them from the world outside (except for the reporter).

Higuchinsky has taken great care to set the film up in the style of the manga. He uses green shading throughout, just like the manga does. He also sets the death scenes up “manga style;” copying  set pieces from the book itself. Of course like the manga, spirals appear everywhere, often in places where you would not think to look.

The ultimate bad hair day.

There is quite a lot that did not make it into the film. The episode with the pregnant ladies from the village and their new babies is just one example. Other scenes; like the school boy turning into a snail-like creature is in the film and it’s done brilliantly, looking again just like a “live” manga.

The film also changed some of the character’s interaction. The girl with the spiral hair is originally competing with Kirie in a sort of spiral hair contest. In the manga Shuichi saves Kirie by cutting her curly locks off. In the film Kirie does not have a single curl on her head.

Most of the cast are first time actors with the exception of Beat Takeshi regular Ren Ohsugi and Keiko Takahashi. But this wealth of “new” talent does not hurt the film. This is a brilliant little film and it is fun to watch. Oddly enough, despite the excellent job that Higuchinsky does on this film, he has not worked on any further projects since 2003. Google his name and nothing comes up past that point.

If anyone out there knows what Higuchinsky is doing now, please let me know. I hate to think of all that talent going to waste. As I’ve said before he got his start doing music videos; and  this was his first foray into feature films (his first being a TV film and not a proper feature length film) and he actually filmed Uzumaki in less than 2 weeks with a budget of under a million dollars. This type of ingenuity is hard to find.

Some critics have said that the film is hard to follow and confusing. As Higuchinsky himself said, “What’s so confusing? It’s a film about spirals.” I could not have put it any better myself.

Uzumaki is a definite 5 star film. It is also a film that should top any list of “films to see” before you shuffle off this mortal coil.

Twisted love.

The Chief, British Rail, and My End

the chief

I had mentioned doing an episode of The Chief in a previous post Name Dropping Pt 6 Stanley Kubrick, that was the last of my “extra” jobs for my duo of agents in Norwich. It was actually a great morning out.

It paid over ÂŁ125 for just a half days work and I was “upgraded” from background artiste to getting a bit of business to do in front of the camera. The episode was going to be the opener for season 3 and the plot centred round a bomber. I played an Inspector from the CID who showed a picture of the suspect to an informer and then passed him a few pounds for his trouble.

The Chief was actor Martin Shaw‘s next long running TV series. Shaw, who had made a name for himself in the long running 1970’s television show The Professionals, played the second fiddle in the show until season 3 where he was promoted to the Chief position of the title.

Typically, I did not get a chance to meet him or any of the other “names” in the show. I did get to work with a Shakespearean actor who was appearing in Norwich at the time. He was a lovely chap and we rehearsed our “bit of business” over and over until we could do it without dropping either the photograph that he was meant to look at or the money which I was meant to give him. The director was very pleased that we’d rehearsed on our own and the shot was done in two takes, the second in case the angle was wrong.

I then shook hands with my co-worker and they moved a bit further down and did the second scene without yours truly. I was done. I’d had a glut of bacon sarnies, met A.J. Quinn the director and both of the assistant directors and spent a very pleasant summer morning in a riverside pub in Norwich. Most importantly my ranking as an extra had gone up the scale.

I don’t know where the paperwork is, in a file somewhere I’m sure as I always saved these types of things, but you got a sheet with your pay packet that explained what you did for the production. There were three different “ranks” of extra. It numbered from one to three. A one had nothing to do but be there, either standing about or sitting, you were used to “fill” the scene. A two had something to actually do and you got props to play with, in my case a 50 pound note and a photograph. A three had a line or two. Each rank paid a bit more than the others with the “one” paying best.

*I may have the “rank” backward (it was a long time ago) but the breakdown is correct regardless of the order*

After the job, I’d managed to acquire a London agent and I wrote both agents to let them know I did not require their services any longer. There was no wailing and rending of clothes at my departure, they had a long line of folks who were eager to work as a supporting artiste. The only thing my absence from their books really meant was that I was out of work for a very long time.

My new agent helped to get my mush into Spotlight which was (and still is as far as I know) the UK casting director’s bible. We splashed for a ½ page ad and I waited for the offers to come flooding in.

Part of my half-page ad in Spotlight…a million years ago.

I did get a few offers, but the business was going through a slump. I got a call out for one of those “cinema” adverts with no luck. I’ve already written about my close call with Stanley Kubrick; and I won’t even mention the “vocal coaching tape” I did for what I later found out was to be a porn film.

I did get to meet a few folks and my agent was doing his best. I got a call out of the blue from him. He has a client that had shortlisted me for a role in a Japanese company’s training film. I would go to a hotel conference room in South Kensington and walk around the room carrying a briefcase and delivering my lines in my “native” tongue. According to my agent, it was dead certain that they would pick me.

I was over the moon. I grabbed my one suit and got it cleaned. I checked on the train times to London. I could either go the night before and crash at my agent’s house or I could take a train in the morning. Morning was more convenient and it was decided that night that my daughter would accompany me.

I am pretty sure that I have written about this day before, but I’ll be damned if I can find it. So I’ll trot the abysmal mess out one more time.

By the time I’d argued with my then wife, gotten my daughter ready and took the bus down to the train, we had only one train we could get to London and still meet the audition time. We broke all speed records purchasing the tickets and we were the first people on the train. As we settled ourselves the train started powering up to draw away; then it stopped. It powered up again and it stopped. This went on for ten minutes.

Finally the train stopped making any noise at all and a member of British Rail’s staff came down the aisles and told everyone that as the dining car was broken, this particular train would not be going to London; everyone would have to take the next train. Sorry for the inconvenience, blah blah, blah didi blah.

I was horrified. The next train was not due for another twenty minutes. Add that to the train journey and the time spent crossing London through the underground to Kensington and there was no way that I was going to make the audition in time. Panic stricken, I grabbed my daughter Meg up and ran with her to the nearest pay phone.

I rang my agent and explained the situation. The other end of the phone was silent. I could feel his anger (well rage really) and disappoint me all the way through the phone. “There’s nothing for it,” he said, “I can’t ring them as they’ve started the auditions already. If you show up late they won’t see you. We’ll have to give this one a miss.” He then rang off without saying goodbye.

I then got my ticket refunded and Meg and I slunk home. I was more depressed than words could describe and I was in the blackest of moods. A shot time later, my agent’s wife died and I went to see him and express my deepest sympathy, she’d been a lovely lady and had been in the original cast of the radio show The Archers.

My agent treated me to tea and we had a long chat. He was amazed that my then wife did not support my forays into the business and I believe that the wheels started turning in his head even then. Not long after he sent me a short note to ask about new pictures for Spotlight. My missus insisted that we could not afford any new photos and that was that.

I spun some yarn about it being too pricey my end and said that the next time I was in London I’d find a cheaper photographer. My agent wasn’t having any of it. He sent me a letter two weeks to the day after my porky pie (lie) about the photos. He dropped me. I was not surprised. The lovely man had paid for my advert to run for another two years after I’d place the initial advert. With me earning absolute bugger all, he’d gambled that I would find work and give him a return on his investment.

To say that I was suicidal is not an understatement nor is it an exaggeration. After I received his letter, I sat down and put all my back pain medication out in front of me. I opened every packet and put them in little piles; one for the diazepam; one for the codeine; one for the Tramadol; and two more for the muscle relaxants and the anti depressants.

Before I could take too many, my then wife asked me what she was supposed to tell our daughter. That stopped me. I knew that what I was doing was wrong and unfair, not to mention pretty damned stupid. So I stopped and we rang the hospital to get my stomach pumped.

I had not taken many so the pump was unnecessary. The shrink who talked to me asked was it a cry for help and I said yes and left it at that. It was more than a cry for help though; it was a wail of anguish at a dream ended; a scream of anger and disappointment so deep that I never really recovered from it. I did not die that day, be it was the end of me. I was never the same nor could I even try to be.

When I hear the phrase “the living dead” I smile. I know exactly what they mean, I lived it. But time heals all wounds and eventually I rediscovered my need to be creative and my first love, writing. I am no longer a living dead person and the journey of rediscovery is long and slow but, hopefully, worth the trip.

Me.
Down but not out…yet.