Archive for December, 2009

So Now Then

Ten years ago tonight, with the clock ticking toward midnight, there was an immense anxiety in me about what would happen. The world might forever be changed. It so filled my mind that I don’t really remember anything else I talked about that night, aside from this one thing – will I get to kiss my girlfriend? Y2K be damned, I didn’t care if the world ended or not; only about what it would be like to kiss her.

I didn’t. I chickened out. But it’s okay, we made up for it and then some for the next year or so.

Boy things were different back then. Looking back on the last ten years of my life, I am in the unique position of having come of age during this time, which is a strange thing and who knows, maybe ten years from now I’ll be saying the same thing about the next decade. But for now, I want to remember when.

This was the decade I graduated high school. And college. It’s the decade I got my first car. My first job. While things were in motion, this is the decade I fell in love with the movies and with acting and with writing. I directed my first movie. Isn’t it strange to think that 10 short years ago, I hadn’t seen my favorite movie of all time? Most of my favorite movies, in fact. I started reading books. Started reading The Bible. I hadn’t heard most of my favorite music yet. Think of it. All of these things that occupy my time and my mind and my heart and direct my life on a daily basis, and I didn’t have any idea they were out there. Things I can’t imagine being without; not the physical thing-ness of them, but the experience of them. The knowledge of them, the understanding of them. If you take enough of those things away, you take me away. I’m not me without them. I couldn’t be, I wouldn’t want to be, and I don’t know who I’d be. I’ve seen well over 1,000 movies in the last 10 years. Many of them good, some of them bad, and quite a few of them life-changing. Life-changing. A movie. A song. A television show. A fiction. A podcast. People doing things who I don’t know personally but somehow know deeply. Now how in the world does that happen?

And what about the people who do populate my life? Friendships that were only a few months or a couple years old are now lifelong bonds that have carried me through so much these years. People I didn’t know, or only knew peripherally. And now, what would life be without them? Where would I be? I had the immense fortune of having incredible friends around me at every turn these last 10 years. Where I would be without them is lost, completely stupidly lost. What kings and queens of goodness they are, what multitudes they hold.

There are small big things too. I voted for the first time, had my first beer, got my first tattoo, my first apartment, got my first corporate job, quit that job and moved to another state. I took my first trip out of the country, I went on vacation by myself and found I am a good traveling companion. I wrote and wrote and wrote thousands of pages of stories and journals and movies and essays and papers. Endless experiences and events and things done and things wished for and not received and regrets and elations and disappointments and poorly-timed, well-worded remarks that got me in mountains of trouble. 10 years ago I thought I was right all the time. Now I know the percentage is slightly lower, and things are often my own fault.

10 years is enough time, it turns out, to meet someone, love them, know them for 7 years, be hurt by them long enough and badly enough that you don’t know her anymore. 10 years of my life is still a pretty high percentage of it at this point (a little over 38% of it). And there is no bleed-over. It is a thing contained within one decade, a little parenthesis of a thing that, 20 years from now will matter, won’t matter, who knows? But there is before and there is after and it doesn’t reach either of them. It is cut off. That’s a little scary when you think about it.

10 years ago, I thought of my life in terms of my parents’ rhythms. Married by a certain age, children by a certain age, career by a certain age. It took time to realize that a different pattern was waiting for me. 10 years ago, I don’t think I could ever know I’d be sitting where I am today. If I talked to myself, I wouldn’t believe me. How much I had to learn. How much I have to learn. 10 years ago, I thought I would be a film actor. I don’t think I thought very highly of the theatre. 20+ plays later, I see I was a fool. The thrill of walking onto a stage in front of an audience and inhabiting another life is one of the most beautiful things in the world. The experience of being watched is similar to playing a sport, but it’s a different kind of thrill. I love them both. Still another is to write something you’re proud of and see it performed by someone else in front of a couple thousand people. And another to write and direct something, find the time and people and equipment to capture it on film, edit it, toil over it, and then see it projected onto a screen in a dark room with people you don’t know. To hear them react to it, find it is all out of your hands now. These things are magical. I wouldn’t trade these things for anything, and I wouldn’t ruin them by explaining them away to my younger self. If I never see them again, I’m glad for what I’ve got.

So now then. What have we learned? What conclusions can we draw? What do we do now? How can I do better? The best answer I know is to say that these aren’t questions reserved for the ends of decades, but for every day. Contentment in limbo. It sounds like an impossible thing, but I think that’s where the truth lives. If I find out, I’ll tell you in 10 years.


Top 30 Films of the Decade

And the best film of the decade is...

Check over on the CINEMA page to see the complete list of my 30 favorite films from the 2000’s. There were so many movies I had to leave off even that list, I could have easily expanded to a top 50, 60, even 100. Think of it. Many of us make top 10 lists every year, multiply that by the decade, you’ve got 100 movies. That’s not to mention how many good movies come out that don’t quite make that list, either.

What I’m saying is it’s a very good time for movies. This decade brought some amazing technological advancements, that started at the tail end of the last decade (and century, jeez!) with “The Matrix,” “The Mummy,” and the first “Star Wars” prequel. This decade exploded with droves of computer-animated family films, though the first people to the party are still the best: Pixar. They have evolved, themselves, past telling purely children’s stories. This decade has shown them to be the best story-tellers working in cinema today.

Directors like Steven Soderbergh, Christopher Nolan, and Paul Greengrass (the third of whom, come to think of it, didn’t make my list at all. For shame, me) have emerged as three new auteurs this decade, combining big ideas with great artistic sensibilities. Though they haven’t made as many pictures, three Spanish friends – Guillermo Del Toro, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and Alfonso Cuaron – have brought a new vibrance to film. Directors like Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, and Darren Aronofsky, who were all making films in the 90’s, have continued making brilliant films and have found their audiences growing into mini-movements of support.

The best new directors, for my money, are Jason Reitman, whose 3rd film (“Up in the Air”) is his best yet; and two comedians: Judd Apatow and Edgar Wright. Apatow has led the charge for crass, hilarious comedies about man-children growing up, while Wright, alongside writer/actor Simon Pegg, has cultivated some of the most stylish comic send-ups of classic genre films.

And of course, there is Peter Jackson. He gets the New Spielberg award. This decade sortof belonged to him. 5 films, all of which combine a massive scope, amazing special effects, and brilliantly crafted characters in commercial entertainments.

Many of the greats are still working: Speilberg, Zemeckis, Scorsese, Eastwood, the Coen Brothers, Spike Lee, Ridley Scott, Michael Mann, the list goes on and on forever, and I’ve barely scratched the surface. In the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about my top 10 of the decade, as well as posting my list for the best films of the year. Busy time for movie-lovers.

Merry Christmas all!

All I Want For Christmas

At what point did holiday shopping become such a selfish, bull-headed activity? Now I know all the parents want the new “Johnny Big Rocket” and “Suzie Pink Shoes” for their kids, but dammit people, I’ve just about had it with your stupidity.

And I’m trying, I really am; trying to spread some holiday cheer. I am polite to sales people, I let people into traffic lanes. In stores, if someone is trying to get through, I step aside and let them on their way. When old women are going down stairs and look like they just might fall, I walk behind them, ready to catch if their knees should fail them.

The point is I try to be aware of others while I’m out. I try to be cognizant and courteous. It takes very little effort, it turns out. Anyone can do it! And nothing makes me angrier than the blatant demonstration of complete disregard for others. Perhaps these are the very people who need my own efforts most, but what they also need is a lesson or two. It’s not the oblivious who anger me, it’s the willfully inconsiderate. To wit:

Yesterday I went to get gas at a station which has clearly marked ONE entrance and ONE exit. Everyone enters one way, gets their gas, exits on the other side. A simpler concept, there does not exist. But some people don’t want to wait in line and try to sneak in the exit lines. I was waiting for the car in front of me to leave, so I could move up and get gas. As the car in front of me was leaving, sure enough, another car tried to swoop in the Exit, effectively blocking the car in front of me from leaving and blocking me from reaching the gas-pump. But the car in front of me was half-way out, so the rule-breaker had to back up. But I knew his game, so I positioned myself as close to the man leaving as possible and once he had exited, the other man again tried to enter through the exit. I pressed on the gas and cut him off, yelling “No! Go around!” He looked at me like a 1st-grader caught picking his nose in class. He stopped and looked at me. I looked right at him, yelled again and motioned violently (though not vulgarly) for him to go around. He went around, I pumped my gas.

Today. Adam and I were out doing some last minute gift-shopping. At both the mall and Target, people were parked in such a way that they took up multiple spaces. Ordinarily, this would merely annoy me, but today, because of aforementioned reasons, it also provoked me. In both cases, I got out a pen and paper, wrote the offender a note expressing my distaste at their actions and imploring them to show some consideration for other people, and put it on their car. I do confess, at Target, the offense was so egregious that I resorted to some choice words. I believe I wrote, “Ahem… Way to be a complete asshole. You need to grow a brain, learn to park, and show a little consideration for other people, you piece of shit. Happy Holidays.”

Strong words, I know. I felt a little bad about that. We went a bit too far, I admit. On the other hand, how rude is it to park in multiple spaces when you know that hundred of people are out shopping, trying to get things done?

Adam and I envisioned scouring the city and leaving notes on all-such people. Perhaps we would come up with a form-letter-style note, print copies and start a revolution. In a few weeks we might happen upon a local news story reporting on the recent flood of vigilante angry-mother-ish notes littering cars all over Los Angeles. Interviews would be held with offenders asking how they felt receiving what essentially amounts to an grown-up spanking. Grown men with their heads down, apologizing meekly for their behavior. An angry older woman who scoffs at the note but comes off looking really bad in the story for persisting in her bad behavior. Although, you know, some people just refuse to learn. For repeat offenders, there is a hierarchy of punishment. 2nd offense: we break your wind shield. 3rd offense: expect a gas-tank full of sugar.

But that’s just parking. For those who try to cut in line at gas stations, the driver will be pulled from the car and given a wedgie. Cut across four lanes of traffic in rush hour with no signal? We take your keys and thrown them all the way to the other side of the highway. Good luck getting to them and back before someone jacks your stereo. And finally, if you’re one of those people who sees that a road lane is closed and refuse to merge until you’ve passed 20 other people, we tip your car over right then and there with you in it and you become the reason the lane is closed.

Such are my wildest dreams this Christmas. Because of course, to dream of people thinking of others during the most wonderful time of the year, that’s just unrealistic.

Deep Breath…

Sometimes you eat the bar and sometimes, well, he eats you.” – The Big Lebowski

The Coen Brothers know what’s up. I’ve been in a cranky mood today. It’s been a long week. I haven’t gotten much sleep. I’ve been an Amish Man over and over and while the reading time has been appreciated, the hours have been long. But I like being on set, so it’s not that. Christmas can be stressful. There’s a lot to do. Presents to buy. Cards to send. Parties and events and this and that, and oops, forgot that other thing.

I’m tired, is the thing. And when you’re tired, you can unknowingly regress to the state of a 9 year old. I’d planned to see a big budget action movie and munch popcorn and get taken away by blue people and their special effects. What happened instead was a hassle to get there and an extra 20 minutes parking and the movie being sold out. We should have planned better. So, we scrambled, were going to see it at a different theater, but after getting on the wrong freeway going the wrong way, I was just angry and pissed off, and anyway the other screening wasn’t going to be in IMAX, so why pay that much extra? I’ll skip the debacle of getting food that followed and just say if you want Thai food in L.A. on a Sunday, don’t call me or I may scream at you.

Now this isn’t in the Holiday spirit, is it? No, no, I know. Did I mention I’m tired? Also, I’ve had a headache for the last 5 hours, undoubtedly a physical reflection of my internal condition.

So what’s to be done? It’s Christmas, I can’t go around being a Scrooge for the next week. That does nobody any good. Well, I pray. And I complain at God for a while and then I complain in my journal for a while and then I complain in a blog for a while. But I apologize, too. And I take a deep breath. And I ask God for help, and I know that He will, and I breathe and try to remember that through my headache. And then I put on Sufjan Stevens’ Songs For Christmas, the 5 disc compilation that’s just great.

Here, have a little hope

I don’t tend to like Christmas music at all. But I really like this. It’s got some original songs and some really good versions of traditional songs. An appropriate one I just listened to again, “It’s Christmas! Let’s Be Glad,” which has some bits of wisdom in it:

Since it’s Christmas, let’s be glad/ Even if your life’s been bad/ There are presents to be had…La la la la la la ah / Since the year is almost out/ Lift your hands and give a shout / There’s a lot to shout about today

The set also includes Sufjan sharing some Christmas thoughts and then, out of nowhere, a little essay/song by one of my favorite writers, Rick Moody? Is this a Christmas miracle? And so I read it while I listen, in the middle of typing this, and I read it looking for something funny to quote from Mr. Moody and instead I end up in tears and feeling so much the relieved and the better and without headache, not just because he’s a great, fine writer, but because he describes my day today and week this week:

What is this thing about Christmas, the paradoxical tendency of Christmas, that the more heartbreaking it is the closer it seems to get to the point? Why is failure and awkwardness so human and so natural at Christmas? Why is it that really unacceptable gifts are somehow perfect, no matter how horrible or insulting or inexplicable? Why is it that having no gift to offer, just completely failing in the gift-giving department, admitting as much, seems closer to the No Room at the Inn concept, as described above? Why is it that anxiety and panic on Christmas seem more human than good-natured fun and loving Christmas? Why is it that Christmas seems like such an appropriate day to hyperventilate, to palpitate, to sweat profusely, to be certain that you are having a nervous breakdown? Why is it that desperation is closer to God?

And now, at least, I can breathe again, and continue on with the season, hopeful and… well, that’s enough isn’t it?

Los Angeles in December

It’s a good and bad time to be in Los Angeles in December. It’s good because I have no fewer than 10 movies to see between now and the end of the year and most of them are already playing here. I been able to see “Up in the Air” and “The Road”, even though they won’t get to most places for a few weeks. I got to see “Antichrist” and review it as it was finishing its run here and it won’t ever play in much of the rest of the country. The major downside is that movies are expensive out here. Gone are the days of $5 shows during the middle of the week at AMC. $9 is about as cheap as it gets. $18 or so if I’m seeing IMAX movies in 3D (For “Avatar, I may just be willing to pay that, too).

So here’s my list to see from now til year’s end:

An Education

The Last Station


The Princess and the Frog

The Lovely Bones




Sherlock Holmes

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnasus

Crazy Horse

The White Ribbon

As well, there are loads of classic movies playing all over the place. Seeing “Lawrence of Arabia” on the big screen was a truly amazing experience. 2000 people watching one of the most gorgeously photographed movies of all time. The theater honored the intermission in the middle of the film. Even though the movie and its character keep us at arm’s length, I felt like I was seeing the movie for the first time. I know lots of people who would rather wait for movies on DVD, but even with as big a screen as that allows these days, there is no substitute for the big screen, for the atmosphere, for the communal, enriching experience of seeing something breathtaking with strangers who, for a few hours don’t seem like strangers anymore.

E-P-I-C ! ! !

There are shitty things about Los Angeles, too.

Most people who live here are like me, which means they aren’t from here, which means since it’s Christmas, they’re all leaving. This would be fine any other time. Driving, parking, and getting around will be a breeze. Yes, but all of my friends are going home for Christmas, so where am I trying to get in such a rush? I suppose I’ll be able to get all my Christmas shopping done easily. I still need to think of gifts for my sister and parents.

Literally, every one of my friends is leaving for Christmas. I’m not. As I’ve said, this will be my first Christmas away from home, though I’ll be with family. But that’s one day. For about two weeks, I’ll be left to my own devices. There won’t be much background work (if any) because all the shows are on break for Christmas and New Year’s. And so what oh what will I do with myself? I’ve got writing to do, sure. I’ll read. I’ll venture out to some movies by myself, and I plan to catch up on the rest of season 5 of “LOST.”

I should be used to the solitude, I should welcome it. In Kansas City, it was my norm. And in many ways, I am looking forward to it. As Woody Allen might say, I’ll be spending the holidays with someone I love.

The one other thing I might change is snow. For all its hassle and annoyance, I miss playing in the snow.


Got up at 4:15. Went to bed at 1:00 (Combo of  couldn’t sleep and Carcassonne. You do the math). Leaving in a few to go to set to play Amish man all day. There is no more comforting feeling in the early winter morning than putting on a good sock to stave off the chill. When you know you can’t go back to bed. Been a busy week. 5 days of background work. Finished Bird By Bird, by Anne Lamott. Many good quotations to share, some of which are just details of life she captures perfectly like this one:

Now there is only a little time left in the class, and it feels like that last half hour at camp when you’ve all gathered in the parking lot, waiting for your duffel bag to be loaded on the bus.

Nothing more right now. I have to drive 45 minutes to pretend to not believe in driving at all for hours on end. Ah, but I am bringing a book.

It Has Come to This

December 2009
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