Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Screw You, 2009!

As we prepare to send 2009 back to the wretched depths of hell from whence it came, let's take a minute to put things into perspective.

As far as years go, 2009 was one long Trail of Tears for many of us. BUT, and this is an important conjunction, if you're reading this, you got through it. Maybe you picked up a few scars or lost a few limbs, but you're alive. In a Nietschean, Darwinian way, you survived. So in another twelve-plus hours, when we're watching that giant testicle descend toward the remains of Dick Clark and whatever the heck Ryan Seacrest is, let's take a deep breath just before "2!" and exhale a giant puff of relief at "1!"

And from all of us at Random Acts of Mike Watt and Movie Outlaw--okay, basically me--here's to a much, much better 2010.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


As I may have mentioned ad nauseum, there’s a new book out on the market that I had a hand in. Europa’s Cry…An Angel’s Tale was a project brought to me by award-winning artist Michael Apice and I consider it to be one of the best things I’ve ever written.

I met Michael at the 2004 Pittsburgh Comicon. Like most of the big time artists I know, I was introduced to him by stunt-woman and model Jasi Lanier, who was working with the likes of Joe Jusko, Dave Nestler and Jeff Pittarelli at the time. Michael and his colleague, Romik Safarian, were a couple of good-natured Long Islanders with contagious accents and sick senses of humor. They were both putting on art demonstrations throughout the weekend and I got to watch, over a period of a few hours, Mike airbrush this gorgeous painting of an angel. As he and Jasi talked, he mentioned that he was looking for a writer to work on this very personal story he wanted to tell. He’d been through four or five different guys and while they were all talented, they weren’t interested in the story he wanted to tell. They kept wanting to take it into different directions, away from his concept. “One guy wanted to turn it into a cyberpunk story,” he said. “And that wasn’t what I wanted to do.”

So Jasi grabbed me and dragged me over to his booth. At this point, both Amy and I were used to this behavior from Jasi. She’s a match-maker at heart. So many of the contacts we have in the industry directly resulted from Jasi intervention. Michael and I talked and continued to talk for the rest of the weekend. The story he wanted to tell was the story of an angel sent to Earth by God to “minister to the sick”—i.e., people fallen so far from the path to Heaven that this angel, Europa, was literally their last hope. “Not the people on Touched by an Angel, who are basically good but lost their way. I mean the people Jesus searched out—lepers, murderers, thieves, the ones who are basically damned already but can still be saved.”

At first I wasn’t initially interested. If you read my stuff regularly, you already know I consider myself a “Recovering Catholic” and an agnostic teetering on the brink of atheism. Sometimes that happens when you grow up in one faith and start studying others. Mike, however, was a hard-core, to-the-soul Christian.

But the story intrigued me because it wasn’t specifically a Christian story. Yes, he had the central conceit of angels and Archangels, God and Jesus, but at the heart, the Europa story was one of redemption—not only of human beings but for Europa herself. Like all great speculative stories, Europa, being not of this world, would be the perfect mirror for humanity. When I told Michael I wasn’t interested in writing bible stories for adults, he didn’t even bat an eye but basically repeated back to me the above. The idea wasn’t to make this preachy or even religious. The stories should be about faith, in a higher being and in our fellow men. Why are we here and what are we supposed to do? The core of all fiction, really. And through these ideas I realized I had a way to explore the nature of my own tentative faith.

I’m fairly well-versed in the bible and have studied bits of kabalistic gospels, not to mention The Divine Comedy (as both a literal and satirical poem), Milton’s Paradise Lost, a smattering of Geoffrey of Monmouth and a whole lot of Gaiman’s Sandman. Other things, too, started to swirl around in my head as I turned the story around. So much could be drawn from to enrich these stories so as to speak to readers of any faith. As long as you believe in the central conceit—“God” sent “an angel” to us in modern times—but stayed away from proselytizing as much as possible, we really could have something very, very special on our hands.

Through our conversations, and a few phone calls over the next few days, I had a basic idea of what he wanted and banged out a first draft in a couple of days. We decided to go for broke with the first story—Europa’s initial mission would be to try and save a pedophile.

Which meant I would have to get into the head of a type of person I found abhorrent on a personal level and try to understand him psychologically and emotionally. I couldn’t make him an abject villain, a hand-rubbing Fagin lurking in the shadows of an elementary school. How the hell would a reader relate to him then? Who would care if he were doomed to hell or not. The people I’ve met through the years who were pedophiles, you’d never know it by talking to them. That’s the primary terror as pedophiles don’t go around with flashing signs over their heads indicating that’s what they are. They carry this secret, horrible shame under a veil of intense rationalization and cognitive dissonance. If I could get the audience to sympathize with this character, even a little, then we might have a chance with this proposed series.

Even though the story and writing came easily, I worked harder on Europa’s Cry than I had on anything previous. Because it was something that I felt could be very important. If not to readers than at least to Michael and me. Thankfully, Michael provided me with a character through which I could express my own opinions (as Europa operates very much in his voice) in the form of the devil in female form: Patience. Using Patience as her own personal advocate, I could introduce moral dilemmas without having to worry about the prose turning evangelical. And though we have the angels referring to God as “the Father”, we’re going to address the nature of God as well in subsequent stories. And what’s so amazing is that Michael Apice is allowing me the license to do this, to work out my own issues at the same time as following his storyline and utilizing his faith as the backbone.

What we both hope to achieve with this series, should it catch on (and even if it doesn’t), is help people understand that it’s okay to question. It’s okay to feel doubts, and it’s okay to find solace, in your faith, whatever it may be. Especially if, like me, you’re not 100% sure what you believe in. Because ultimately, the Europa stories, as we have them tentatively mapped out, really asks what we, as individuals and as a culture, believe to be right and wrong. Was God wrong to give mankind souls and Free Will, as Patience believes, because we aren’t worthy? Are we worthy of this gift? That was the foundation of the first war in Heaven—it was fought over our existence. Did the winning side really win?
It took a long time to get Europa’s Cry from concept to page. Because that it’s neither fish nor foul—not strictly Christian but not strictly anything else—we opted to put it out ourselves and it took a while before technology caught up to our desires. It wasn’t until recently that print-on-demand was affordable, manageable or even reputable. Now it’s no different than self-distributing your own movies. All the hard work is on our shoulders but, of course, it always was.

I’m looking forward to doing more of these and I hope everyone who reads the first story finds something of value in it. We’ve already had one person tell us that it’s “offensive” to Christians, even though a Christian was the motivating force behind it. To which we replied, “If your faith can be shaken by one piece of fiction, maybe it wasn’t that strong to begin with.”

I still haven’t figured out what I ‘believe’ to any concrete degree, and I wished I saw things more through Europa’s eyes, with her unyielding devotion to “the Father”. Unfortunately, I tend to see the world more from Patience’s point of view. Hopefully, that can change the more I write.

If nothing else, Europa’s Cry  is worth picking up solely for the six pieces of Michael’s artwork. If you do decide to pick it up, it’s a quick read at 40 pages. Right now it’s available through Amazon and through our personal sites, and If you order through us, we’ll likely even sign it for you (I know I will). But feedback is what I’m most interested in. I want to know what you think.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Seasons Greetings to One and All!

And here's to a much, much better 2010!
Mike Watt and Amy Lynn Best

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Conversations for Parties

What’s the opposite of “going green”? I want to do that. I want to stuff polar bears into Hummers and leave the air conditioning on for them. And the radio. If I had a crop duster, I would sky-write this blog every day with the biggest words I knew. And I would sign each entry “Agamemnon Zithertopolis, Master of Pro-Antidisestablishmentarianism”. Then I would add, “A Go-Go.”

Alas, I’ve already lowered my carbon footprint by not mowing my lawn all summer. I did this not because of political conscience but because of broken tractor. To counterbalance this act of eco-friendly emission-elimination, I haven’t turned off a light since mid-July.

“But don’t you believe in climate change??”

Of course I do. I also understand how the Earth works. It’s been warming and cooling since, well, the dawn of atmosphere. I think it’s a little egotistical to think that we’ve had that much of an impact.

“But…but…we’re killing the Earth!”

No, actually, we’re not. We could create cities out of landfills but all we’ll be doing is ruining the Earth for us. The Earth will be fine. In fact, I’m starting to wonder if all this climate changing is the Earth’s equivalent of trying to rid a virus by inducing a fever, in other words: us. We’re the sickness and the Earth may be trying to sweat us out.

Don’t believe me? Haven’t seen WALL*E? Go visit a vacant lot. Now look down. See the cracks in the asphalt? What’s growing up through them?

Yep, the Earth is going to be fine.

“You’re evil!”

Probably. Like all right-thinking people, being a cynic is a hobby of mine. Sometimes I’m cynical out of sheer frustration with the general population and sometimes I adopt this stance just to amuse myself.

I was at dinner once with some friends and a new acquaintance that insisted that she was a member of PETa, despite wearing leather. She also swore she was something called an “ova-vegetarian”. She liked a good egg every now and then. Whatever. All animals should be protected. I turned to a buddy and said, “You know what’s fun? Taking baby seals and banging them together like chalkboard erasers.”

She demanded that everyone at the table not smoke because this area was “officially” the non-smoking table. Even though we were in the smoking section of the bar (back when such sections existed). We all responded by lighting up. And only three of the dozen of us actually smoked.

Then she got her teeth into other topics. “There wouldn’t be as much violence in the world if we had stricter gun control! We’re such a violent society. Shooting each other, having abortions! Abortions! No one should be allowed to have an abortion. Or a gun!”

“I own a gun,” I said.

“What do you need a gun for?” she demanded.

“Drive-by abortions.”

I recommend that the hard-core cynical of you in desperate need of amusement try to work the above phrase into casual dinner conversation as often as possible. However, please be sure you know CPR.

“You’re going to Hell!”

Yes, but if climate change is indeed happening as drastically as they claim, Hell will probably be more than a few degrees cooler by the time I get there. Besides, I know for a fact that Satan thinks I’m amusing. Maybe he’ll cut me some slack.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My place in the food chain

Friends and family have long marveled at what they call my “picky eating habits”. I don’t look at my habits as picky any more than I consider their eating habits to be “haphazard”. We all like different things, right? That’s why “Baconaise” was invented.

For instance, I don’t care much for salad. Or, really, vegetables of any kind. I consider eating plants to be unnatural. Animals eat plants and I eat animals. Basically, I’m cutting out the middleman.

But really it’s a moral issue with me. I really can’t condone the way salad is killed. Ripped apart with the bare hands? Barbaric.

I’m really not hip to anything that isn’t an animal by-product. There are some vegetables I’ll eat—corn, peas, cooked carrots—but only because they go perfectly with roast. There are other vegetables I avoid because of the texture. I’m not a fan of the “surprise crunch” that you get while shoveling, say, an omelet into your mouth and getting the unpleasant grit of a green pepper bit or an onion. I order my cheeseburgers without salad toppings like lettuce or tomato for that very reason: cheeseburgers are not crunchy and should not be. I get a crunchy cheeseburger I prefer to think that it’s either burnt or still contains an amount of hoof. The lettuce and tomato just add ambiguity.

Salads, to me, look like large bowls of lawn clippings. I don’t eat those either.

Now, admitting this to people, an odd question usually asked of me is “do you hunt?” Maybe that’s a reasonable question—people who dig salads often do their own gardening. But no, I don’t hunt. In fact, during hunting season, our land is notorious for harboring deer. There have been some seasons where the higher grass of my land undulates like a storm-tossed ocean from all the deer lurking within.

And when interrogated about my not hunting, I offer this simple explanation: I am a modern man. I take advantage of supermarket technology. I like that I can buy a lump of meat, wrapped in cellophane attached to Styrofoam, take it home and eat said meat lump without having to go through the bother of gutting, deboning and de-cute-ing.

If you are a hunter, and you eat what you hunt, bravo. But if you’re simply hunting for sport, wouldn’t you be better off going after something that can fight back? Like a transient or a Mormon? Unless the deer wear armor, I don’t see much sport in it. Of course, judging from some of the people in my area, staring wistfully at my deer-choked property, perhaps the allure of hunting boils down to freezing your ass off in a tree in the hopes that something soft and fuzzy wanders by with a target on its head.

Which brings me to my final reason of not hunting, directly relating to supermarket technology. Years before I was born, man also invented indoor technology, complete with forced heat, blankets and satellite TV. When I’m hungry, I can go into my kitchen, open the box where cold is stored, take out a de-cuted lump of meat, fry it up on my heat-generating box, and eat it without worrying about a kamikaze crunch or a pair of big brown eyes staring up at me begging me not to kill it.

No, it’s not the sort of philosophy that religions are based on, but it’s a fair summation of why I’m not invited to dinner too often.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Someone is spying on me...

It’s nice to know that people read me every once in a while. A few years ago, I wrote in this very blog that there are only two constants of the human race: 1.) All women are crazy; 2.) All men are stupid.

These two tenets are fun conversation starters at parties. But no one I know has every disagreed with me.

Now, I just read that ABC has a new sitcom in the works called Women Are Crazy, Men Are Stupid. Reeling from the unfairness of this—no check at all, ABC?—I read further to learn that there’s a book with this title by Howard Morris and Jenny Lee (Full title: “Women Are Crazy, Men Are Stupid: The Simple Truth to a Complicated Relationship”), published this past September.

Which led to further outrage! My God—a conspiracy to keep this white man down! I feel like Billy Blaze in Night Shift—“Wash ‘n drys. I had the idea for those. I ever tell you that? I invented them! Except they already had ‘em.”

Needless to say, I’ll be boycotting this show until Morris, Lee or someone from ABC formally apologizes to me and offers at least a loaf of fresh baked bread as means of making amends.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Review: I SELL THE DEAD (2009)

[Note: until Blogger gets around to restoring HEY, DID YOU EVER SEE THE MOVIE...?, deleted by their robots for "spamming" after I fulfilled their desire that I "monetize" my blog, this review will reside here.]

Irish director Glenn McQuaid’s feature film wants you to know that, despite evidence put forth in movies like The Body Snatcher and The Doctor and the Devils, grave robbing is actually a merry way to make a living. Sure, it’s unpleasant and distasteful to the law, the church and to public opinion in general, but you can make great friends and have smashing adventures!

McQuaid’s tongue-in-cheek horror comedy drops us into the middle of a prison where professional ghoul Willie Grimes (the outstanding Larry Fessenden) has just had his head separated from his body by the guillotine’s blade. His partner, Arthur (Dominic Monaghan, holding his own amidst very colorful character actors), makes his last confession to the hulking but pleasant Father Duffy (Ron Perlman). He reveals how he apprenticed to Grimes under the employ of the blackmailing anatomist Dr. Quint (Angus Scrimm!), and the life he and Willie led as two of the best body snatchers of their time. When things don’t go as planned—such as when a corpse turns out to be a vampire, or the body of a circus freak is revealed to be a dead alien—they somehow manage to turn things to their advantage, whether it’s to get out from under the bad Doctor or to get one over on the vicious Murphy Gang. Occasionally, grave-robbing leads to love (or, at least, opportunity), but more often than not seems to be way more trouble than its worth. Which is how the poor rapscallions found themselves in the gaol awaiting the big chop.

There are no words to adequately describe just how much fun I Sell the Dead is. The script is solid, the performances are all perfect and the direction is right on with camerawork and editing just this side of Evil Dead lunacy without ever feeling forced or derivative. While Monaghan is the hero, Fessenden is the star. However you feel about his own movies (like the deliberate Wendigo or simply slow Habit), Fessenden’s performance will likely go down as a favorite of the horror lover once I Sell the Dead receives its deserved wide-release. Like a genre Cassevettes, Fessenden throws himself into everything he undertakes and his own love of the material shines through to the very end. 

Which isn’t to give a short shrift to the supporting actors. Scrimm and Perlman are, it almost goes without saying, tip top and having the time of their lives. As the Murphy gang, John Speredakos is a gleefully murderous Cornelius (so rotten his drug of choice is the powdered bones of the dead!), Alisdair Stewart is a cartoonishly menacing dog-toothed Bulger, and Heather Bullock memorable in her small role as the disfigured Valentine—whose visage is so horrifying that, once revealed, even a zombie screams. The mixing of genres never feels forced, either. In fact, with all of this taking place in Arthur’s narration, the story takes sharp left turns not into parodic comedy but in classic tall tales and Munchausean epics. Zombies and aliens are not out of place in this graveyard yarn, but merely the odd spice in the familiar but still intriguing stew.

Though I Sell the Dead was produced on a limited budget through Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix, it never looks cheap. Attention was paid to period detail, both in costume and dialogue, but not at the expense of the mischief. 

I Sell the Dead saw a very limited theatrical release in late 2009 but has been picked up by IFC and Anchor Bay for DVD and On Demand. There’s even a comic book tie-in available through Image, but it falls short of the magic of the movie. Once it’s more widely available, you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not seeking it out. 

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I Officially Welcome Me Back

A few weeks ago, I received an email from someone I’d never heard of, asking specific questions about me. Normally, this would be in the form of a survey or a message from a deposed Nigerian, but this time around, it was from a reader I didn’t know I had.

“I know you’ve put out a couple of books this year and are working on a couple of film projects,” my reader asked (and asked me to withhold his name should I choose to discuss this—more on that later), “but I honestly miss your blog. I used to look forward to it, even though, by your own admission, it was ‘infrequntly updated’ [sic—but I believe an honest typo]. Do you have plans to return to it because I really did enjoy reading it.”

To which I responded, predictably, “So you’re the one.”

Glancing over the entries this past year, I was astonished at how little I had written for Random Acts. As my reader pointed out, I was focusing on other things, including a collection of articles, including many of these very blog entries, called The Incomplete Works of Mike Watt Vol. 1 (with an introduction by legendary bassist Mike Watt—now available for order through Amazon or…ahem…), so I could easily make the excuse that I was avoiding blogging until the collection was out in order to avoid feeling compelled to jam more recent entries into the lovingly-sloppy mix. But the truth is, like so many of us, 2009 kicked my ass.

I won’t go into a blow-by-blow recount of the tragedy stack—I’m in the mood for neither sympathy or a pissing contest as I know for a fact everyone had their own garbage shower this year—but in a nutshell, emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually, 2009 was the biggest metaphysical crotch-kick I’ve ever gone through. Both Amy and I and many, many family members and friends experienced soul-crushing hardships and set backs through this, the cruelest of years in recent memory. None of us, praise be to whomever, wound up dead or ill or homeless, but that’s because I think 2009 wasn’t trying to kill us, just leave us metaphorically maimed and close to death. All in all, 2009 was a loyal adherent to Nietzschean philosophy, though dammit, I don’t feel much stronger after this year-long staring contest with the abyss. I certainly don’t feel like an Uber-anything, that’s for sure.

But, as my father succinctly put it at Thanksgiving, he and my mother having gone through the wringer themselves this year, while it’s no comfort to say ‘it could have been a lot worse’, we all came out the other side alive and intact.

We may have lost friends, but there are many others who stayed. Life got hard, but we still had blessings to count. The Big White ‘X’ stalked us throughout the year, but it didn’t always find us. The falling piano didn’t always crush us.

Which isn’t to say that I didn’t find myself so desperate for better karma that I turned to witchcraft and shamanistic advice. I sent missives out to multiple deities during numerous moon phases just to make sure I covered all bases. If you think it’s silly to ask both Jesus and Jupiter for help, then you had a better year than I.

So while I sit here, as usual, trying to keep my head down and just survive the remaining two or so weeks left in 2009, I understand, too, that a “better” year has as much to do with attitude as it does luck or karma or curses. I know all too well that 2010 won’t be better if I don’t believe it will. My mindset is directly linked to my destiny. If I allow the events of 2009 to keep me flattened, then I’ll simply slip under 2010’s door like an unwanted Chinese Restaurant menu, rather than stride boldly—or, better yet, kick it in—and announce, “Hey, 2010, you fucker! I’m here!” Though, on second thought, maybe it would be best to knock politely, preferably with a year-warming gift, and greet it cordially, rather than call it out as soon as the Times Square ball drops.

Still and all, rather than wait and see how 2010 is going to treat us, I’m already planning to make the best of things. 2010 marks the 13th Anniversary of Happy Cloud Pictures and we already have several things in the works to celebrate that including the 10th Anniversary Special Edition DVD of The Resurrection Game, complete with never-before-seen behind-the-scenes footage and testimonials from all sorts of lovely people who feel that it’s well worth your time. Res Game will have a number of neat tie-ins as well, including updated editions of The Dead Life comic book and a long-awaited updated novelization which will also include the sequel story, After Strange Flesh.

This is not to mention official releases of Demon Divas and other super-cool things. New merchandise to part you from your money, that sort of thing. So whether or not 2010 co-operates or not, you’ll see more than enough of us in the future.

In closing this first-in-a-long-time blog, we’d like to thank everyone who has stood by us this past horrific year and especially those of you who supported us and our work these past 13 years.

Which brings me back to my unknown reader. When I told him how much his message meant to me, and asked if I could publish it in whole or in part, he agreed but, again, asked that his name be kept private. And I understand his reasoning behind it, but I still have a cynical grin on my face as I think about it. He was so passionate and encouraging, but doesn’t want anyone to know who he is.

I like to think that he’s less concerned with privacy and more worried anyone finds out he’s a fan of mine. I like a good sense of shame in a devoted reader. It creates the impression that I’m somehow a guilty and forbidden pleasure, like masturbating in a staff meeting. You shouldn’t do it, but dammit, it feels too good not to!