“Blood! Sugar! Sid! Ace!” – (Movie Review)

 

By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.

Blood! Sugar! Sid! Ace! (2012), the exuberantly experimental seventy-three minute debut feature from director Mike Messier, is a riveting example of cinema as an extension of the stage. It is also an exceptional exhibition of the power of minimalism on-screen. This tightly wrought, meticulously paced and carefully fashioned opus arranges only the four title personalities in a mesmerizingly abyss-like room. Such is an element that is an impeccable symbol for this tale. It is one which describes the creative process, in its own nature, splendidly. This is handled in a manner that tells us that the events we are witnessing are taking place within the mind of author Sid (a powerful and captivating performance by Lawrence O’ Leary) himself. The claustrophobic chamber where this entire labor love unfolds is darkened to the point that we can only see what is immediately in front of us. This refreshing sparseness is punctuated by keeping the limit of props to a few chairs and a typewriter. Such is with the exception of one eye-popping scene. This particular segment is an enactment of what occurs inside the play itself which Sid is laboring away at throughout the production. It has been given the heading of “Blasphemer”. This portion showcases a colorful opposition to the hauntingly alluring black and white cinematography, courtesy of Tim Labonte, visible throughout this spectacular opus. Furthermore, Labonte’s editing is equally crisp, seamless and impressive throughout. These mechanisms makes the spell Messier’s successful attempt puts on its observers all the more wholly immersive and remarkable.

Messier documents the self-detesting Sid. He is at a place in his career where he is established, yet not well known enough to hire folks to etch his masterpieces for him. This he states in one frank and potent mid-production moment. He communicates with three fictional characters. The aforementioned entities he has brought to existence through the process of penning his most recent composition. These individuals are: Blood! (a well-honed performance by Jamie Tennille), Sugar! (in a rounded and magnificent turn from Stacey Forbes Iwanicki) and a variation of Sid!’s younger self, Ace! (a terrific representation from Adam Buxbaum). The bulk of the endeavor gets its introspective nature from focusing in on the many arguments, agreements and contemplative discussions all of those involved have with one another. Fantasy and reality get wonderfully blurred here. This as some of the bits seem to elude to bits that could either be from the story Sid is bringing to fruition. They also victoriously operate as well as a glimpse into Sid’s own existence and delusions. Messier configures these components in a manner that also leaves the onlookers to wonder if maybe what occurs herein could be a result of all these ingredients mixed together as one solitary agent. Enigmas such as these make the sum of this enterprise all the more striking.

Adding to the literary qualities already visibly sewn into the fabric of the narrative is four titled sections that occur at differing intervals throughout the presentation. There is one reserved for each person Messier presents us. They appear like chapters in Sid’s grand chronicle of auteurship. Blood!’s bit starts the proceedings with “The Salt in My Wounds.” Sugar! has a turn entitled: “The Girl I Never Met”. Sid!’s is dubbed: “My Broken Mirror”. Ace!’s is saved for the climactic instances of the endeavor. It has the moniker of “My Second Chance”. The aforementioned personage also has a lengthy, but undeniably rousing, monologue near the finale. This is a transcendent illustration of all the attributes which make those who dominate Messier’s undertaking stand out as unique, conflicted personalities. It also signifies Messier’s own intentions.

These come across on-screen in a self-referential nature. We see this most expressly when Sid addresses the watchers, much in the manner of Shakespeare, and says, “This is my attempt at a low-budget, character-driven, psychological drama.” This is noted in quips such as, “I am not a prophet. I’m a filmmaker!” Such adds far more depth to an already profound and envy-inducing display. We also sense how the opinions, primarily that of Sid, appear to be connected to Messier’s own sentiments. This attachment is foreseeable in the fact that Messier himself, whose behind the lens approach here is stunning and natural throughout, said the piece started as an “inspired compilation of my past poems, un-produced plays and unfinished screenplays.”

Yet, the effort, released through A man and His Camera and Stand Still Pictures, never feels constrained by the sparse materials Messier utilizes. In fact, it makes the sum of this tour de force all the more daring, liberating and hypnotic. This is as much a product of the honest, yet respectable to the theatrical roots of the piece as it is Messier’s brilliantly constructed and endlessly layered script. Assisting matters is the rhythmic, eloquent, often cryptic and introspective dialogue Messier delivers to his cast. This trait rings with an undeniable poetry. It heightens this same stirring sensibility which reverberates from all of the picture’s various technical and thematic angles. Moreover, it never gives into repeating itself in conversation or situation, as an affair which uses so little to state so much may be apt to do. Instead, every sequence is staggeringly, breathtakingly new. This is true in both the subject matter. It is just as noticeable in the personal revelations, which seem to arrive quickly and unexpectedly, it hands out to its awe-struck spectators.

What also joins stalwartly to the exertion’s credit is that Messier is unafraid to paint all of the intriguing entities he builds here as flawed. Moreover, it opens with a piece that draws us immediately into the private world of Sid and his creations. Such is executed through a pitch perfect collection of expository monologues from all involved. It ends on an equally meditative note. The commencing and concluding credits arrangements, which involve Sid’s typewriter, are imaginatively woven and appropriately low-key. They also fit the atmosphere of this reflective spectacle, with slight splashes of effective humor to pepper the proceedings, tremendously well.

Lawrence O’ Leary and Nathanael Tronerud’s music is spectacular and similarly form fitting. Stephanie Carey, Bonnie Griffin, Candice Laviree and Payal Patel provide superb make-up. Graphic designer AJ Paglia contributes solidly to the art department. William Boroteck and Labonte, who is also credited as a camera operator, orchestrate wonderful demonstrations of sound. The production design from Horacio Lertora and Melissa Mastrangelo is wonderful. It all equates a grand example of craftsmanship that makes the product all the more admirable. These essentials mix together with glorious results.

Blood! Sugar! Sid! Ace! is meant to challenge and confront its audience. It also has passages of astounding vulnerability. Messier has given us an artistic triumph. Yet, we are consistently blown-away by the dimension, scope despite its limitations and variety at hand. This will also prove undeniably relatable to those of us who find ourselves taking up the same torch Sid does here endlessly. Such occurs as we sit down at our own personal instruments of writing. From here, we push ourselves through the often beautiful and equally painful struggle to produce quality material. Besides being a work for those who make stanzas and prose their life’s calling, this is a silver screen journey for fans of art house wonders, authors and fellow motion-picture creators. It is also intended for those of us who appreciate the performance form brought to a fresh medium. Yet, one would be hard pressed not to find something about any of these personalities Messier has erected that do not ring true to a wide-ranging group with interests of unimaginable range. Of all the things Blood! Sugar! Sid! Ace! brilliantly accomplishes, this may be one of its most massive victories. There’s imagination, experience, as well as genuine heart here. In a narrative landscape where antagonists leave the forefront and genuine ground-breaking too often gets tossed aside for cartoonish effects. In these cases we receive the equivalent of two hours of multi-million dollar explosions. The frequency with which this transpires makes an exertion like this is all the more welcome. Messier has evoked a tour de force; a reminder of why we find ourselves returning to the movies. There is a catharsis connecting Messier to the viewer which, sadly, is often given the cold shoulder nowadays. Such makes this all the more immediate, necessary and mandatory for the serious-minded photoplay patron.

You can be informed about the character of Blood! here.

You can learn about the character of Sugar! here.

You can find out about Sid! here.

Information regarding Ace! is here.

Blood! Sugar! Sid! Ace! will be screening at The Arctic Playhouse in Rhode Island on July 16th, 2016 at 8 p.m. You can buy tickets for the screening here.

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“Disregard the Vampire- A Mike Messier Documentary” – (Documentary Preview Review)

By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.

Set for release in late 2016- early 2017, director Mike Messier’s Disregard the Vampire, currently in post- production, is an utterly absorbing glimpse into the creative process. Entailing the production of an independent feature that transformed and was re-imagined as Distance from Avalon (penned by Messier), the account chronicles the various delays and pressures of getting a feature from script to screen. For the cast of this particular composition this is an initial two day delay. Such is due to reports of a hammering blizzard in the area where imaging was to take place. As the piece goes on, we witness various re-writes and additions to a screenplay that the cast admits to being a bit perplexed about. It also incorporates the trials of an actor being released from the affair and another thespian, Scorpio, taking over with less than twenty-four hours’ notice. This only heightens the chaos and general stresses of putting the attempt together. Of all these foundations: one of the most interesting attributes is its underlying focus on the burden of shooting a sixty-five (now reportedly seventy-eight) page, feature-length script. This is in the amount of time one crew member states would be perfect for a short film.

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The twenty-nine minute ‘rough cut’ of this effort I was lucky enough to see is mesmerizing because of these incidents. It showcases the passion and focus which goes into a project such as this to great effect. This will also assuredly prove a terrific teaching tool for up and coming moviemakers. It will also appeal to those of us who are interested in the craft itself. Artists of any ilk will assuredly be able to relate to the beauty, and simultaneously unforeseeable destructive forces that often take flight, when engaged in the act of creation. I know this characteristic struck a tremendous cord with the writer within me. The James K. Van fleet quote in the concluding seconds also provides a perfect punctuation point for this sentiment.

The personal stories from those involved, ranging from set designer Shevon “Muffin” Young and Court Fisk, itself are just as endlessly watchable and informative. Likewise, a sequence involving the emotional impact a bout of credible weeping from Anna Rizzo’s performance as Ginger has on one of the squad is especially stirring. Such sights make the undertaking all the more well-rounded and fulfilling. In turn, we are not only amended guidance from Messier himself, whose introspective narration and climactic bits of self-interviewing humor add all the more depth and heart to the exertion, but from all involved. This decision will prove all the more intriguing for those who dream of being in front of the camera as well as behind it. Such is one of the smartest moves this warm, uplifting and courageous ‘insider’s look’ offers its patrons.

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All the while Messier’s guidance of this transcendent labor of love is just as striking and intimate as the previously stated elements. His stylistic approach here, which calls to mind documentarian Michael Moore, is incredibly entertaining. Eileen Slavin’s skillful excisions to the material are exceptional. Of this particular detail Messier states: “Further VO (voice- over) and final editing will be mastered by Tim Labonte.” He is a fellow collaborator with Messier. Furthermore, Labonte is an award-winning silver screen master as well. Scorpio’s music fits the atmosphere presented herein exceptionally well. Chris Hunter’s cinematography is crisp and impressive. It all comes together to evoke a product that is elegant, sophisticated and illuminating at every turn.

Messier describes the $50,000 budgeted Distance from Avalon itself in the following manner: “An intellectual, highly sensitive school teacher and profound philosopher named Joe experiences a failing marriage, past life digressions and suicidal regret en route to initial comfort then mind control from La Croix Distance (Distance from the Cross) a wild haired mojo man who lives in a world of pain and manipulation. Their battles are enhanced by stolen soul, Heartbreak, La Croix’s rebellious muse, and Ginger, Joe’s insightful co-worker who is tempted by the Distance from Avalon.” The plot sounds wonderfully enigmatic and alluring. I look forward to the final product.

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The chain of events in Disregard the Vampire are also breathtaking. It reminded me a lot of German director Warner Herzog’s similarly exhilarating Burden of Dreams (1982). They both illustrate the feverish dedication it takes to make a dream of telling a tale through the cinematic medium resonate into fruition. This is often when the impossible odds of doing so constantly pile up. Yet, Burden of Dreams, which concerned Herzog’s shooting of Fitzcarraldo (1982), saw completion of an undertaking from start to finish. Disregard the Vampire lets us peek into a development which is still in production. In many ways this is even more captivating and awe-inspiring. This is because its promise and potential is still in an infinite state.

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Throughout the duration, Messier frantically fights to keep Distance from Avalon afloat. Not only does this make the sum simmer with an underlying intensity, as the clock ticks and fate appears to be shaking his head at the enterprise, but it also heightens the hunger inside Messier. This desire is to prove these forces wrong. All of this transpires is as he continues to evolve with these circumstances and move forward. Such adds a cryptic yet, ultimately, inspiring pulse. It is one which throbs with increased immediacy and interest throughout the endeavor. Messier offers brilliant work here. Disregard the Vampire is a mandatory experience. It will especially appeal to the struggling combatant as well as the motion picture admirer within us all.

Note: Besides this exclusive early review, I am also honored to present the world premiere of the official 2 minute preview of Disregard the Vampire (above) and the Distance from Avalon teaser (below)!