Saturday, November 04, 2006

MY NEW PAL R.J.


“Hello, Mr. Oliver?” the warm, well-trained voice on the other end of the line queried. I immediately became suspicious; the only people who call me “Mr. Oliver” are bill collectors and people trying to convince me to refinance my house.

“Yeah?” I answered, barely able to hear over the din of the bar at the W Hotel here in Montreal where I was taking a “meeting” (and if by “meeting” you read “martinis” you’d be right) with my production designer, the brilliant Paola Ridolfi.

“This is Robert Wagner,” the voice said. “Sorry to bother you but-“

Sorry to bother ME? Robert Wagner?? “RJ” to his friends? OMIGOD!

I immediately straightened up and signaled for the surrounding riff raff to quiet down, I was talking on the phone to an honest-to-god member of Hollywood Royalty!

Robert has agreed to play “Mr. Wilson” for us in “A Dennis the Menace Christmas”, the movie we start shooting in less than a month, and frankly I couldn’t be more excited. In this line of work, one meets many, many celebrities, but rarely does one meet a Legend.

We chatted only briefly, discussing some wardrobe and styling issues – imagine, ME talking style with RJ Wagner?? – before the noise in the lounge became too loud to hear. I guess I gushed a little bit about how I’d loved his work over the years, and couldn’t wait to meet him in person. He was utterly gracious and every bit the gentleman I’ve always imagined him to be, and when we finished the call he actually APOLOGIZED to me for calling so late in the evening, having thought I was still back in LA on west coast time. I assured him he could’ve called me at four in the morning and I wouldn’t have minded one bit.

For those of you who only know Robert from his hilarious turns as Austin Powers’ boss in “The Spy Who Shagged Me” and “Goldmember” et al, let me give you a quick refresher in Pop Culture History 101.

RJ – now that we’ve talked on the phone, I feel I can call him that! -- was Brad Pitt, Cary Grant and Tom Cruise wrapped into one elegant package. One of the last of the studio-groomed stars, he moved effortlessly from light comedic roles into darker, braver material – who can forget watching him charm an heiress to her death in “A Kiss Before Dying” (needlessly remade some years back with Matt Dillon in the lead – who WOULDN’T suspect Matt Dillon of murder, at least of the English language?).

At the time he was a tabloid target for his off and on marriage to the beautiful Natalie Wood – they were the Brad/Jen/Angelina/Ben/Jen hyphenates of the day -- and even though the headlines became crueler and more intrusive as the years passed, and the unavoidable dramas of a life lived added up, Robert Wagner always seemed above them all.

When the big studios began to dry up, Mr. Wagner made the (at the time) practically unheard of move into television roles and became an icon of polished wit on shows like “Switch” (delirious fun with Eddie Albert) and of course “Hart to Hart” which redefined the Nick and Nora “Thin Man” aesthetic for the 80’s.

In fact, many of the reviews of my own movies “Third Man Out” and “Shock to the System” refer to them as a “gay Hart to Hart” ; I’m not sure the reviewers meant that as a compliment or an insult, but I frankly couldn’t be prouder to be mentioned in the same breath as RJ and Stephanie Powers.

I have to admit I've always felt a kinship for Mr. Wagner -- oops, I meant "RJ". When I bought my house in Palm Springs some years back, I was delighted to discover the historic Racquet Club - the hangout for all the coolest Hollywood folks back in the day - was just at the end of my street. I even had the chance to toss back a few cocktails at the legendary Bamboo Lounge before they shuttered the place. And there, hanging on the walls, were gorgeous black and white photos of all the stars who frequented Charlie Farrell's "clubhouse", including of course Robert, looking tanned and movie star perfect in the desert sun.

But my connection with Robert Wagner goes back even further than that.

In one of his earlier tv outings, he played a reformed cat burglar on a series called “It Takes A Thief”, where he worked for a shadowy government agency using his nefarious skills for “good”, all the while dressed to the nines in the most exquisite wardrobe this side of Edith Head. As a nine year old kid who dreamed of a life beyond my bleak little Canadian village, I was immediately hooked on the show, and the outfits; I spent fourth grade getting the crap beat outta me because I insisted on wearing an ascot to school. But it was worth it – every black eye, every bruised lip, felt like a badge of honor as I defended not just my sartorial choices but also my hero – RJ.

So it all seems preordained I suppose, that now, many years later, and several Belvederes into the evening, I would receive that phone call – “Hello, Mr Oliver? This is Robert Wagner…”

This movie gets better and better every day…

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

HAPPY HALLOWE'EN!


Happy Halloween! We've had our first official PRODUCTION MEETING, gathering together all the relevant department heads -- production design, wardrobe, production manager, computer effects team, my first assistant director etc -- at the ungodly hour of 8 30 am. I don't know WHO chose this ridiculous time for a meeting, but they are going to get the sharp edge of my tongue when I find out.

It's not that i don't simply ADORE waking in complete darkness and hauling myself off to the YMCA at 5 00 am for my daily workout - heaven knows there's nothing more effective than doing aerobics before your eyes have completely opened.

Speaking of which, the Montreal Downtown Y is a beautiful structure and well worth a visit, even if you are not, as the French say, "sportif". But take my advice and just get a Regular Membership. What they don't tell you at the front desk is that the ONLY people who can afford the Plus Membership with its separate carpeted locker room and daily newspapers are old, hairy and vulgar men who sit saggy and naked in the TV lounge and give themselves amateur pedicures while they watch the hockey game. Not a terribly inviting idea, even if it costs only twenty bucks more per month.

No, my advice would be to save your money and hang out in the locker room with the financially disadvantaged -- yet extraordinarily well endowed -- younger French men ALL of whom, I have been told, are genetically pre-dispositioned to bisexuality. And even if nothing "untoward" happens to you in the sauna or steam room, at least you're not in danger of being blinded by flying toenail clippings.



Needless to say, I was not in a particularly good mood as I was driven to one of Montreal's more windswept corners, where several large and abandoned airplane hangers have been strung together and turned into a rough approximation of Hollywood soundstages. While they are utterly garish on the outside, calling far too much attention to themselves and their owner in a rather Freudian display of Size Compensation, they seem perfectly functional within. I wish the same could've been said of breakfast.

Several rather euphemistically labelled "sandwiches" made the rounds of the table, literally dripping with animal fats and lard, and they were in turn washed down with "coffee" which would make Juan Valdez put a bullet in his brain. The meeting proceeded along the usual lines of film production, with all hands voicing their various concerns - nothing we haven't heard before of course, as this is - to quote Ms. Faye Dunaway in her sadly-overlooked-at-Oscar-time role in "Mommie Dearest" - not my first time at the rodeo. My first AD however is another story; for the uninitiated, he is my "right hand man", as it were, charged with keeping the production rolling along smoothly on the set. Usually a cool head is required in this position, someone who can temper the creative madness of filmmaking with the clinical efficiency of a Columbian Hit Man.

However, far from coming up with solutions to problems, our Chicken Little continually whined about how he didn't see anyway to make the movie in 22 days, as his schedule clearly required 30. I kindly, but firmly, reminded him we only HAD 22 days and while his opinion was valued it was not, in the end, the one that mattered. I know we can make a very good film in 22 days - perhaps not the one he sees in his head, but then it's not his name over the title now is it?

He seemed mollified, but I have a sneaking suspicion I may be finding a new glove to wear on my right hand.



And speaking of "not my first time at the rodeo", one of the Canadian pay movie channels is running a week of horror movies to celebrate All Hallow's Eve, and to my considerable mortification they devoted an entire night to the PROM NIGHT series of films, two of which bear my name as either writer, director or both. While I managed to see several of the erstwhile "highlights" shown in commercials for the event, I couldn't bring myself to watch either HELLO MARY LOU (2) nor THE LAST KISS (3) in their entirety.

Having your earliest cinematic efforts dredged up and splattered across television screens 20 years later is humbling, to say the least. It's rather akin to having your very first sexual experience recorded for posterity and then once a year, just after Christmas dinner say, somebody shows the videotape to your entire family. You try to protest, but of course EVERYBODY wants to see.

So you sit there, transfixed at the macabre spectacle of your own earnest past, watching your awkward fumblings, your inadequacies and all your horrible mistakes play themselves out again and again...and the worst part of it is THERE'S NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT NOW. No matter how much better you think you are today, no matter how many skills you feel you've picked up over the years, you will always be judged by your very first lay...

But, as they say, there's no sense crying over spilt...uh...fluids. The best I've been able to do in these situations is just put on a brave face and remind myself that the money I made from my first time has long been spent...

The same goes for the movies.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

WHY DO THE WRONG PEOPLE TRAVEL?



So here I am, thousands of miles from my glamorous Palm Springs desert oasis, enduring the delightfully gale force winds and thrillingly subzero temperatures of Montreal, Canada to prepare for the shooting of my newest cinematic joyride A DENNIS THE MENACE CHRISTMAS.

The good people at Warner Brothers and my dear friend Steven Wolfe have engaged me to direct said epic here in the frosty north for the next two months. While I've been a horrible diarist as of late - I believe my last "blog", as the kids say, was just as we were finishing up on SHOCK TO THE SYSTEM - I have decided to record the day to day adventures of the making of a low budget movie in the hopes that those of you wonderful people out there in the dark who imagine my life to be nothing but non-stop cocktail parties and bed-hopping to rival Ancient Rome will understand the sacrifices and hardships I endure just to give you all a couple hours respite from the daily indignities of life in the 21st century.

And SPEAKING of indignities, can I tell you about the flight up here?

It's not bad enough that there is no separate line at the Security Check Point for those of us traveling First Class....not that I feel that I'm better than anybody else goodness knows, but puhleeze!

Just because a bunch of disgruntled Islamic kooks have taken the free world psychologically hostag, does this mean everytime I fly I deserve a half an hour wait, standing behind Marge and Ed from Dubuque who are on their first trip anywhere outside the state line? Needless to say they haven't checked their baggage - "oh you know they're just gonna lose it on us, i've heard they always do!" - insisting instead on jamming six days and seven nights worth of ratty acrylic sweaters and acid washed jeans into the Gift With Purchase matching nylon shoulder bags Marge got when she bought her beloved husband his annual gallon bottle of Aramis For Men Sport. But of course they didn't know about the new "No Liquids or Gels" rule, so all of this discount WalMart fashion must be disgorged onto the stainless steel xray table in order to facilitate Marge finding her obviously ineffectual Avon Beauty Travel Set which must then be dismantled and shoved into see through plastic bags to be taken onboard the plane.

A thought about those plastic baggies: exactly what purpose do they serve?? How does airport security know if your bottle of Bonne Belle skin clarifier or your pathetically hopeful new tube of KY "Warming" Gel is the real thing just by looking at it? Unless they're actually tasting the Lip Gloss, it could be C-4 explosive! It seems to me it's just another way to intimidate people into behaving like sheep on a plane...

It all started with the Shoe Bomber. Did you happen to see any of the pictures of this Terror-wasn't? Not exactly one of Allah's shiniest pennies. The dull eyes, the vapid smile, the fetal alcohol syndrome cranium; this is a man whose turban clearly could've used a couple more wraps. Even Osama Bin Laden tried to distance himself from this dolt, saying "no, no, the Shoe Bomber, not one of ours..." This is a guy who can't even get a simple lighter to work and he's suddenly given the power to ruin the line of my slacks everytime I'm at the airport by making me take off my Pradas? Granted it's the only time my silk and cashmere blend Brooks Brothers socks get to really show themselves off, but it's still a pain in the ass!



Of course the riff raff who pass for travellers these days couldn't care less; they're just happy to be doing something. Having moved on from the bus routes of America to clogging up the airways with their discount seat sales and last minute specials to Aruba, they continue to take a hacksaw to the elegance which was once World Travel by wearing hideous track suits and brand new "tennies" bought "special" for the trip on board the plane, as if they were attending some sort of flying Flea Market.

And those shoes apparently take FOREVER to unlace, not to mention the extra frisson one gets by watching these nomadic behemoths -- the new tourist class are ALWAYS overweight -- bend over directly in front of you to retie their Payless Specials and demonstrate why they are single-assedly responsible for the increase in airline fuel costs.

But it doesn't stop at security, oh no....

Then you have the actual flight itself to endure.

It used to be that the worse thing you had to deal with on aircraft were the BABIES, new parents proudly carting their squawling issue off to visit "Gammy and Gamps" who invariably lived somewhere on the other side of the country. I've often wondered why these grimly determined mothers and fathers didn't take the hint in the first place -- if your inlaws have moved to the other side of the continent, that means THEY DON'T WANT TO SEE YOU. And frankly, I've always been of the opinion that the cabin of an airliner was no place for a baby - they should be sedated, tucked neatly into a Cat Box and stored in the hold. I do, of course, realize I may be in the minority on this.

At least the little ones are usually stuck back in coach class someplace, the wife usually already pregnant again, the husband generally still glazed over from the shocking realization that he is probably never going to have sex again unless it involves forty dollars and a hotel room. But on a few occasions, Daddy will have saved up enough frequent flyer points from business trips to bump himself, Mommy and Rosemary's Baby into First Class where they sit smugly, smiling at the other families passing by as if to say "well, I guess your father doesn't love you enough..."

I was once on a transcontinental flight where this very thing occurred, and the woman ended up sitting next to me while her husband and one of their other Broken Condoms were in the twin seats across the aisle. The baby in the woman's arms was, for the most part, well behaved -- from time to time it distracted me from rereading "The Letters of Sylvia Plath" by making an absurd mewling noise and staring at me with its cow-like gaze, but at least it wasn't rude.

The mother however was another thing. Just as I was tucking into my third Bloody Mary, and with nary a hesitation, she popped one of her naked breasts out of her blouse, smiled at me and said: "You don't mind, do you?" She then proceeded to stick it into the gaping maw of the infant on her knee and the sucking noises began.

Needless to say, I was aghast: the last time I had seen a nude female body that close was at the Louvre. But being a gentleman requires one occasionally to simply absorb and forgive the appalling manners of others, so I smiled as if I thought having this little Parasite clamped to your bare tit inches from a complete stranger was the most natural thing in the world.

On another flight, this one direct out of Palm Springs to Chicago, my seat mate was a paraplegic woman who neatly folded her withered legs up into the seat back pocket in front of her, nestling them between the in-flight magazine and a vomit bag, as she told me about her no-good ex-husband and how he had sexually abused their daughter for years until she caught him and had him arrested. All of this, of course, while the afore-fondled daughter was sitting beside us, desperately pretending not to have heard a thing as she read Teen People. Given half the chance, I think she would've gladly folded the rest of her mother up and chucked her out the window over Utah.



But just as it seemed like things in the air couldn't get worse....they did.

When the airlines had their financial woes a few years back, many of them decided to cut corners by pissing off their frequent fliers and stopping food service onboard. Granted, for a few of my fellow passengers, skipping one of their nine meals a day might actually be a GOOD idea, but never underestimate the will power of the morbidly obese. They simply started bringing their OWN food on board! And to make matters worse, the airlines encouraged it!

Which was how I, dressed in a suit and tie which probably cost as much as one of the engines, found myself seated next to a heavy set gentleman in a "GO PIRATES" sweatshirt, sandal clad talons sticking out of the bottoms of his ill fitting jeans, as he devoured -- with sound effects -- a tin foil container of chicken parmagiana, spaghetti on the side. The stench of the cheap takeout notwithstanding, I was almost able to ignore this stomach churning spectacle by focussing on my gin and tonic, and when Gorgo finally finished his repast I felt quite sure the worst was over.

I was wrong.

He then opened a small bag in front of him and pulled out a roll of -- prepare yourself, dear reader -- Dental Floss. Waxed. Even through my garlic singed olfactory senses, I could tell it was mint flavored.

And with the same aplomb as the Breast Feeder of several flights earlier, Frankenswine FLOSSED HIS TEETH. On the plane. In the seat beside me. Flicking the bits of tartar - and dead poultry carcass - out onto the seat in front of him.

I could take no more. Summoning every ounce of reserve that my well deserved reputation for graciousness would allow, I turned to the Cannibal next to me and said -- "I don't mean to be rude, but certainly the washroom would be an easier place to do that?"

Without a glance to me, he pulled the floss from between his fangs and said - "mind your own fucking business" - and returned to the job at hand.

I couldn't -- and still can't -- believe what I'd heard. In shock, I simply sank back into my seat, took another swig off my Bombay Sapphire and wondered how hard it would be to set fire to my shoe....