Saturday, July 10, 2010
THE CRAZY BOMB
Mel Gibson's shenanigans the past few years make me feel like Emilio Estevez in Repo Man, in the scene where the Circle Jerks are fuckin' around as the lounge act and Emilio Estevez says “I can't believe I used to like these guys.” So it is with Mel. Starting roughly with the Jesus picture and continuing at a breakneck pace through “the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world,” and now the soon-to-be-immortal “if you get raped by a pack of niggers, it will be your fault,” (listen at RadarOnline) Mel Gibson is doing his best to piss on his once-mighty legacy as a movie star.
But let's look at that legacy again. I'm not talking about some lame-ass revisionist history shit, pretending that we never liked Mel, because that's bullshit, we all liked Mel. Mel was Mad Max, for shit's stake. Martin Riggs. William “they cannae teck aer FREEEEEEDOM!” Wallace (to differentiate from the historical William Wallace, whose accent I hope wasn't as fake). And, because this wouldn't be Movies by Bowes™ without my passionate advocacy of something weird, Mel was Payback (“Would Payback back down?” --Homer Simpson) and Payback is one of the most underrated THIS IS HOW THINGS ARE DONE IN THE WORLD OF MEN pictures like ever. No, we're not going to pretend we never liked Mel. What we are going to do is figure out whether we should have seen this bullshit coming.
Much like I once determined with the latest cutting-edge metrics which movies in the James Bond canon existed and which ones didn't, today's task is going picture by picture through Mel's career and figuring out how much real crazy made its way into the performance/direction. Then, we will determine whether that performance/direction was a true harbinger of Mel going apeshit. And then we're going to go audition for a web series and go see an awesome play about vampires. Oh, wait, that's just me. Well, you'll figure something out.
Mad Max (1979)
Real Crazy quotient: It's right there in the title. A bunch of leather queens who drive really fast kill Mel's wife and kid and Mel goes so fucking crazy chasing them down with his amazing muscle car that they had to retitle the movie after how crazy he was. This was largely acting—and Mel always was a pretty good actor, if a bit idiosyncratic—but some real crazy seeps through, like in a lot of those climactic bits, you see this brief glint in Mel's eyes as he's running them down with his car where you're like, “Wow, Mel was young back then, but he was still crazy, fo sho.”
Harbinger of apeshit: Kind of; it's more like once you already knew he was going to go apeshit, you go back and watch the first Mad Max and it's like “yeah, makes sense.”
Real Crazy quotient: Not that high. Gallipoli is a fucking amazing movie, an early notch in director Peter Weir's “I make pictures you never even thought about making until I made them and then you were like 'oh yeah . . .'” belt. Mel is a down-on-his-luck dude in Western Australia who joins the British army with his buddy in World War I, gets cynical and then dead (one assumes, even though the final freeze frame is of the other guy). What's crazy about this movie is how much it makes you cry. Holy shit.
Harbinger of apeshit: No.
Mad Max 2, aka The Road Warrior (1981)
Real Crazy quotient: Through the motherfucking roof. Though he doesn't get as much chance to emote as he does in the first one, Mel bleeds crazy out his pores in this fucking movie. One perspective would be to say he's a good actor, so fully embodying a wild-eyed loner in the post-Peak Oil desert, but another would be, when my dad took me to see this in the theater (I'm relying on his account, I was three), I took one look at Mel and said “Dad, that man is crazy.” My dad said, “Well, he's acting. His character is named Mad Max.” And I said, “That's not acting. That man is crazy.” So yeah.
Harbinger of apeshit: No, of course not, Mel running around the desert getting tortured by leather queens isn't a sign of his bizarre Catholic masochism and homophobia. No way. Fuck outta here.
The Year of Living Dangerously (1984)
Real Crazy quotient: Nil. Here's Peter Weir fucking up my whole thesis again by making another good movie where Mel is a normal guy. At least he managed to make Master & Commander before my dad (a huge Aubrey/Maturin fan) died so we could have an urgent conversation about how awesome it was.
Harbinger of apeshit: Subtle, but Mel's acting style is twitchy enough that you're like, “homeboy's either on a whole lotta fuckin coke or he's intrinsically a little nuts.”
The Bounty (1984)
Real Crazy quotient: Hard to say. Fletcher Christian wasn't crazy, he was just kind of a shithead. His descendants on Pitcairn Island sure turned out crazy, though: after devolving into an inbred culture of rapist pedophiles, the whole male population of the island got thrown in jail a couple years ago. I say we blame Mel Gibson. Why not? Kick 'em when they're down.
Harbinger of apeshit: In reality? No. For the sake of an unmotivated, vituperative attack? Sure.
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
Real Crazy quotient: Just because Tina Turner and everybody else in the movie was crazier than he was in this doesn't mean Mel still wasn't heretofore theoretical levels of crazy. The movie itself will drive the audience insane; anyone who's seen Thunderdome too many times has found him/herself abruptly blurting out “Two men enter . . . one man leave” every time a head-to-head competition of any sort is underway. But just because he's in good company doesn't mean Mel's not fuckin cuckoo for cocoa puffs.
Harbinger of apeshit: Again, his character is named Mad Max, and Mel was so good that if it wasn't for the next movie on this list, he would have been Mark Hamill-welded to this character.
Lethal Weapon (1987)
Real Crazy quotient: Hooooooooo boy. A full-length post on the Lethal Weapon series is forthcoming at some point, so I'll let one scene suffice. Early on, Mel, an undercover narc, is negotiating the purchase of a fair amount of cocaine. The dudes tell him it's a hundred. Mel, with childlike innocence, gets out his wallet and starts counting out twenties, tens, and fives, before the main dude says “Forget it, you dumb shit! One hundred thousand. One hundred thousand dollars.” Mel giggles and reveals that he's a cop, leading the one guy to say “That badge ain't real. You ain't real.” One of the other guys chimes in, “You sure are one crazy son of a bitch.” And Mel goes: “Crazy? You wanna see crazy?” and he goes into this out-of-fuckin-nowhere Three Stooges thing, slapping the guys in the face as he pulls his heat, saying, “That's a real badge, I'm a real cop, and this is a real fuckin' gun.” Badass? Unquestionably. Does Martin Riggs' dick drag the ground? Absolutely. Is he crazier than a shithouse rat? Dude, the shithouse rat looks sane next to Mel.
Harbinger of apeshit: This is where Mel really ran the freak flag up the pole for the first time. In the Mad Max series, the movies themselves were so weird (they were, after all, made on Australia, and yes, I said on Australia, because Australia is another planet) that Mel could plausibly have been a product of his environment. Not here. They specifically contrast him with Danny Glover's upwardly mobile middle class family so that he looks even crazier, but when you're in a movie with Gary Busey and you're still the craziest motherfucker in the movie . . .
Tequila Sunrise (1988)
Real Crazy quotient: Extremely low, making this a very good performance by Mel. The movie is kinda meh—a product of Robert Towne's Hiroshima-esque ego detonation that convinced him he could direct—but Mel, Kurt Russell, and Michelle Pfeiffer are all good in it.
Harbinger of apeshit: Nope.
Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)
Real Crazy quotient: Mel at first seems to have chilled out a little bit (he's still charging into danger with guns blazing, but more rationally) but when the South African “we heff deeplomateec immyooooneteh, you gutdem keffirs” consulate/drug smuggling operation decides to dispose of the angelic Patsy Kensit, with whom Mel has had universe-shattering sex and fallen in love, Mel gets fucking scary. He pulls down the fucking stilt house with his fucking pickup truck, all the while shouting all kinds of incoherent grunting and shit.
Harbinger of apeshit: Mel pulling down the stilt house with his pickup truck is the perfect metaphor for what he did to his career by publicly discussing the Jewish question.
(Ed. note: 3 and 4 will not be discussed; as Riggs got cuddly and caricatured, no real crazy was on display)
Air America (1990)
Real Crazy quotient: Mel Gibson. Robert Downey Jr. No holds barred duel to the death. Weapons? Sheer insanity in the Gibson corner. Drug-fueled insanity in the Downey corner. Only one will make it out victorious. It's the Crazy Cup! The movie sucks, but it's fun watching Mel and Downey interact, because they're both so clearly out of their fucking minds.
Harbinger of apeshit: Mel plays a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam war who's buying black-market guns to sell at a profit. When that seems comparatively sane, you are fucking not.
Real Crazy quotient: High. The Mel-ancholy Dane is one caffeinated prince. This is actually one of the best roles to determine how batzo Mel is, because contrast him with Olivier and you see how barely-in-control Mel is in this. He's still pretty fucking good, and this is one of the better movie Hamlets (beats the hell out of Kenneth Branagh's unexpurgated fapfest)
Harbinger of apeshit: This isn't a harbinger, this is apeshit.
Forever Young (1992)
Real Crazy quotient: Mel did this movie. The prosecution rests.
Harbinger of apeshit: Could have been his agent's fault.
The Man Without a Face (1993)
Real Crazy quotient: Mel directed and played a disfigured man who shuns the world at large. The first glaring sign that Mel was struggling with being famous, because come the fuck on, that's barely even a fucking metaphor.
Harbinger of apeshit: Uh huh. It makes perfect sense in retrospect thinking about this movie, itself notable for not being violent at all, that in ten years, its director/star would direct a movie about Jesus Christ that was so violent it made Quentin Tarantino cry for his mommy.
Real Crazy quotient: Mel must have been on his meds.
Harbinger of apeshit: Nope.
Real Crazy quotient: Kinda hard to tell, because Mel's playing a guy in 13th century Scotland, and that's kind of a double helix of crazy. The High Middle Ages are so named because everybody acted so goofy, historians were forced to conclude that they were on drugs, and Scottish people are famously fookin' daft. The movie is, however, three hours long, brutally violent, and features Mel and retinue mooning the English, risking anal penetration by a flaming arrow. That's either crazy or stupid, hard to say which.
Harbinger of apeshit: Kind of. Mel was still capable of seeming mainstream crazy at this point, as evidenced by the Oscars.
Real Crazy quotient: Somewhere, Ayn Rand is fingering herself—Mel plays a billionaire who, when his kid is kidnapped, issues an ultimatum to the kidnappers. Anytime Ayn Rand is invoked, we are in the presence of The Crazy (and the fact that Mel proved that he'd be great as Hank Rearden in a movie of Atlas Shrugged just digs his hole even further).
Harbinger of apeshit: Well . . . apeshit is perhaps the wrong term. Mel is very controlled in this, but that just makes him seem all the crazier, with the bizarre way he behaves.
Conspiracy Theory (1997)
Real Crazy quotient: This movie has Dubai skyscraper-sized levels of irony. Here Mel (as Mel) pretends to be sane to play a “crazy” character (lines his apartment in tinfoil and compulsively buys copies of The Catcher in the Rye) who actually is sane but was driven crazy by evil white guys in suits, which is really weird because in real life Mel politically supports evil white guys in suits, but could be a metaphor for Mel blaming the movie business for driving him nuts by forcing him to accept large sums of money to appear in movies that lots of people like. Or he could have just been paying the grocery bill for his ninety million kids.
Harbinger of apeshit: It would take years and cost millions of lives to untangle the knot of irony to come to any definitive conclusion, and it's really not a good enough movie to be worth studying to that degree.
Real Crazy quotient: High, but in the service of awesome. Mel plays Richard “Donald E. Westlake” Stark's antihero Parker (here renamed Porter), who is shot in the back, ripped off, and left for dead by his girl and his best friend, who are fucking. Mel gets himself patched up and goes about getting his money back. Everyone thinks he wants all the money, but he just wants his share. Then everybody's like “why are you brutally killing the entire underworld of this city to get that tiny an amount of money back.” And Mel is like BECAUSE THAT IS THE WAY OF MEN, YOU SWINE, HONOR MEANS SOMETHING. Mel gets the living shit beaten out of him, as per custom, but here it's even worse than usual. Still, this movie fucking rules, and although Mel is crazy, it's not a scary crazy, it's a HEED MY ROAR FOR I AM MAN crazy.
Harbinger of apeshit: And yet, the brutal masochism on display as Mel is shot and beaten practically beyond recognition is a glaring sign that our hero has problems.
The Million Dollar Hotel (2000)
Real Crazy quotient: Another one where signing the contract is proof of insanity.
Harbinger of apeshit: As a domino in a sequence, yes. Payback led to this, and this led to . . .
The Patriot (2000)
Real Crazy quotient: Toned down from reality, believe it or not. The guy Mel's character is based on would ambush British soldiers and torture them to death. The part where Mel goes crazy is kind of rote at this point. It doesn't feel organic at all, leaving students of Mel Gibson Apeshit Syndrome to conclude that Mel was going through a sane period and had to force it for the movie. Or Robert Rodat's script really could have been that bad (Robert Rodat was trying to win a bet that he couldn't write a script even worse than Saving Private Ryan; he won).
Harbinger of apeshit: Still, as phoned-in as Mel's performance was, he oozes crazy. They should have made a movie about the real guy, Mel would have fit perfectly in that part.
Real Crazy quotient: Not applicable. M. Night's script is so fucking terrible, and he is so hideously awful at directing actors (his setups are pretty cool, and his editing would be too if he had anything that wasn't fucking stupid to cut to in his shitshow screenplays) that it is impossible to gauge anything about Mel as an actor or a person from this role, where he keeps the same grimly constipated expression on his face for the whole eight hours. (Checks imdb) HOLY FUCK THIS MOVIE WAS ONLY AN HOUR FORTY FIVE? Jesus Christ.
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Oh, hey! That segue wrote itself. Ha ha ha . . . oh, I amuse myself.
Real Crazy quotient: Oh, where to begin? Making a movie about Jesus isn't that bad an idea, actually. He's pretty famous. And a lot of what He actually did and said has been garbled over the years, so even though I say irreverent things about Him a fair bit, I'm still being polite and capitalizing the H and I totally went to see this in the theater. Writing all the dialogue in Aramaic and Latin? Ballsy . . . nuts, but ballsy. But making a two-and-a-quarter hour movie where you torture the living shit out of the guy who you (literally) worship? A little crazy. And Mel making a point of playing the hand that hammered the nails through JC's hands and feet? That's really fucking weird. Yes, I'm willing to concede that I don't understand Catholics, but the Catholics I know drink a lot and get guilty about having sex with girls, which though neurotic still makes sense. Mel's kinda Catholic is a different brand of Communion wafer. Oh, yeah, and the Jews don't really look too good in this picture. Seriously, their prosthetic noses make them look like fucking Snuffleupagus, and they practically pop boners when Jeez gets tortured. Still, that shot where God sheds one tear and we follow the raindrop down to earth and that smash cut to the storm beginning is pretty fucking sweet.
Harbinger of apeshit: This is the dawn of Mel's Public Apeshit epoch. You can go on about all the weird religious shit and the Jew-bashing all you want, the craziest thing about this movie was that Mel spent something like thirty million of his own bucks to make it. Sure, he made half a billion back, so that's in the crazy like a fox column but holy shit. Spending thirty million bucks on a movie in Aramaic where the most popular religious guy in the world gets his fucking ass kicked for over two hours? Fuck, Mel.
Real Crazy quotient: Uhh . . . a movie about the Maya (in Maya) where the hero is being chased by a bunch of half-naked people who want to cut his heart out? And it's a metaphor for how Western society is eating itself from within? Sure, let's be understated and call it crazy. Jaguar Paw is fucking badass though.
Harbinger of apeshit: Oh, that bird's still singin', and it's still in key, my friends.
After this research, I think it's safe to conclude that Mel's always been a little nuts. And he probably always was this nuts; remember, at the height of his fame, he was known as being one of the more private movie stars in the biz. A lot of times, what seems like a movie star going nuts is a case of a movie star who was already nuts changing management or something. Look at Tom Cruise. He didn't start jumping on couches until his PR rep said fuck it because she didn't want to be pressured into being a Scientologist anymore. So who knows what the deal with Mel is. It's just a shame that the crazy is all he'll be remembered for in the future. (EDIT 7/12/10: And it just keeps getting better/worse . . .)