Category Archives: movies

Akira and me

So last night my wife and her friends went out to dinner, and I stayed home for a quiet evening alone with my dogs, a homebrew, and ​Akira. If you haven’t seen it, and you like anime, science fiction, cyberpunk, or some combination of those things, I highly recommend it. In the US, it’s streaming on Hulu Plus, and the Blu-Ray is amazing.

This is the movie that introduced me to anime, way back in 1988 or 89. I remember buying a bootleg VHS at a comic convention, which had a photocopied paper wrapped around the outside, entirely in Japanese. One of my friends said he had heard it was a great movie, so I dropped the twenty bucks or whatever and picked it up. When we got home, we put it into the VCR (kids, ask your parents – it was like a streaming media server that only served local files to a single device, off of very inefficient, removable storage medium) and watched.

It wasn’t dubbed, it wasn’t subbed, and we had absolutely no idea what was going on, but we loved it. In 1988 or 89, there just wasn’t anything like this movie. We had Voltron and Robotech and Battle of the Planets, and they were all pretty awesome, but the breathtaking beauty of Akira was unequaled. We watched it over and over again while we played tabletop games, until we wore out the VHS. We invented some sort of story, where Kaneda and Tetsuo were fighting the espers for some reason, and were eventually defeated by them when Akira is reborn. I remember finally seeing it with subtitles in the mid-90s, and being blown away by the story that was actually being told, which was quite a bit more interesting and complex than the one we’d made up.

I loved Akira so much, it lead me to Ghost in the Shell, all of Miyazaki’s movies, and unintentional hentai (boy, it sure was a shock to us when we picked up a thing called Demon City, only to discover that it was all about tentacle dicks fucking everything in the world. I don’t recall the story, but I can clearly recall how we were all traumatized but unable to look away from it.)

I don’t keep up with the world of anime now, because I have too much other stuff to keep up with and not enough time for everything, but I will always have time to watch Akira.

My review of Star Trek Into Darkness

I don’t go to the movies very often. I think the last time I went to a theatre on purpose was to see the first of the current Star Trek movies, and then I only went because it was a private screening and I could reasonably expect the audience to shut the fuck up, turn off their damn phones, and pay attention to the film.

I planned to write a paragraph here detailing why I hate going to the movies, but I think I just covered it, so let me write a different paragraph instead, about how I finally found a movie theatre that I will go to as long as it exists: the iPic theatre in Pasadena (also called Gold Class, I understand) is the only way I will ever watch a movie again for the rest of my life if I can help it. It costs much more than a typical multiplex, but it is entirely worth it, and this theatre has replaced the Arclight (which makes me sad, but sometime in the last couple of years, Arclight stopped enforcing the shut the fuck up and turn you goddamn phone off policy that had made it such an attractive destination for me for so long).

I’ve really wanted to see Star Trek Into Darkness, but I had resigned myself to not seeing it until it was available to watch in the comfort of my own home … until Stepto, e, and my friend Jen all told me about the existence of a theatre that was actually enjoyable, instead of wall-to-wall bullshit advertising and people who have such little respect for the movies and the rest of the people in the audience, they belong at the gathering of the Juggalos instead of in a movie house. When I saw that one of these theatres was not only nearby but was also showing Star Trek Into Darkness, I looked at my schedule, gave myself an afternoon off, and took my entire family to see it.

We just got home, and the rest of this post will be about my first impressions of the movie. If you haven’t seen it, do not read past the jump, or scroll past the giant picture of Bender B. Rodriguez I’ve placed for those of you who came here directly. I will discuss specific plot points and spoilers. You have been warned.

The short version is: I loved it. I think it’s my favorite Star Trek movie ever, and I can’t wait to see what this crew does next.

-SPOILERS BEYOND BENDER-

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The Nightmare Before Doctor Who Christmas Special

This stained glass TARDIS is one of two in the world. It was made by a friend of a friend who gave it to me for my 40th birthday.

It was a long time ago, longer now than it seems, when Amelia Pond met a man in her dreams.
And the story that you are about to be told about Doctors and Daleks
is centuries old.
Now, you’ve probably wondered where the good Doctor comes from. If you haven’t, I’d say, it’s time you’ve begun!
For there was a Time War and and many were lost
and no one quite knows just exactly the cost.
But The Doctor is now the last of his kind
and when he was forced to leave Gallifrey behind
with a ride in his TARDIS across time and space
he met dear old Sandy Claws, face to bony face.

notes on the back page of a script

Years and years ago, I shot a movie called The Day Lincoln Was Shot. It was from the book of the same name, and I played Robert Todd Lincoln.

Here’s a photo of me from the set, in costume:

Wil Wheaton as Robert Todd Lincoln in The Day Lincoln Was Shot

The movie was a lot of fun to work on. I got to work extensively with Lance Henriksen, who played Lincoln, Donna Murphy, who played Mary Todd Lincoln, and Greg Itzin, who played William H. Crook.

As you can see from the picture, I spent much of the film in proper Union Officer dress. It was an authentic uniform that was authentically hot as hell in the Virginia summer heat, but I was one of the few soldier-dressed cast members who didn’t get a cold during production, because I asked our historians what soldiers did in the summers of the war to keep comfortable, and did the same.*

So — spoiler alert — Abraham Lincoln is shot in the back of the head shortly after my character, Robert, comes back to Washington from the war to visit his family. One of the more memorable scenes for me is from late in the movie, when Lincoln lay dying in Petersen’s House. Robert spends some quiet time with his father, who is unconscious and slipping away. I had to remind myself, as an actor, that I was not with President Abraham Lincoln (Lance looked so much like him, it was eerie), but a young man who was watching his father, who he loved more than anyone on Earth, die.

It was a very emotional day of production. I had to call up profound anguish and despair over and over again, only to let it go to varying degrees when the scene was finished. When we wrapped that day in 1997, I was emotionally and physically exhausted, but it felt good. It was one of those rare moments where, as an actor, I was lucky enough to experience my version of leaving it all on the field.

While I was cleaning out the garage recently, I came across a page of the script upon which I’d written down some notes to keep myself focused. I scanned both sides of the page to share.

that penciled "mindy" was me showing someone on the set how this girl I liked in elementary school, Mindy P., wrote her name in 3rd grade. For a brief time, I signed my name "Willy" with the same crazy "Y". Because I wasn't already a big enough goober in 3rd grade, apparently.

And here’s the front of that page, which as it happens is the last page of the script:

The final page of the script from The Day Lincoln Was Shot

So you can see there are two main categories there: OBJECTS and PEOPLE. The Objects refer to this particular scene that we shot that day, when Robert goes through his father’s belongings. It needed to be intensely emotional, so each object — I think there were about a dozen — needed to be specific and meaningful to me in some way. (This is an example of how acting is a lot more than knowing your lines and hitting your mark). I don’t remember what each thing was, but I do recall a small pocket knife among all of them, that the director told me “was a father’s day gift you gave him when you were small.” I remember that when he said that during the take, it hit me right in the feels, and I collapsed into very real sobs, because I could just imagine what it would be like for me if I came across something I gave my father — that he carried with him — when he died. My dad was and is very much alive, but just thinking about that was too much for me to bear. I remember walking off the set when we printed that take, into a hallway, alone, where I just sat down and cried for a good long time. Sometimes the scene stays with you after you’re done. Sometimes, the scene follows you home.

The PEOPLE category is more general, and helped me make choices when I interacted with different characters in the White House. Some of them, Robert liked, and others he didn’t (the historical record is pretty vague on those matters) so I had to come up with specific reasons to define those relationships.

The final two bits are things I write in every script I ever have the privilege of performing: Keep it SIMPLE and The END is the BEGINNING. These are two things so vital to keeping performances honest and believable, you’d be surprised to learn how easy it is to forget them.

*Sit in the shade, and drink lukewarm liquids — usually tea — and let the linen underclothes wick away your sweat. It sounds gross, but it wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as a Star Trek uniform on a hot summer day. Never take off your uniform, and never get out of the car, Groove.

Neverland

Last year, I worked on my friend Damion’s film, Neverland.
I think it’s a fantastic, risky, beautiful, and ultimately engaging film. I think it’s everything independent film was supposed to be, before “Independent Film” was co-opted by Miramax and turned into a marketing buzzword.
Of course, I’m not the most objective person where this film is concerned . . . so why don’t you take a look at the Neverland website, where you can see the trailer, some pictures, and perhaps form an opinion of your own?

Hall and Oates had more number one hits than any other band in the 80s.

I stayed up way too late last night, and got up way too early this morning.
After getting the kids to school, I decided to go back to bed, and just sleep until I wasn’t tired any more.
That was two hours ago. I haven’t closed my eyes once, because I’ve been watching Free Enterprise.
Man, I know these guys. I am these guys. Every single one of them.
And William Shatner is my Hero.

The Book of Days

In October of last year, I worked on a movie which was code-named Boise. This movie carries a very important distinction in my career history: it’s the first lead I’ve had in ages, and it’s the first movie I’ve done since deciding to focus more on writing and my family than acting and the hollow pursuit of fame. It was very strange, but not unwelcome, when I dug my actor pants out from under the bed and put them back on. Initially, they weren’t very comfortable, but they did feel familiar, and when I got used to them again, I decided that I’d never be able to fully take them off — I feel incredibly naked without them.
Wow. That was an extended metaphor from hell.
Anyway, I was really happy with the work I did. My satisfaction on the set, was matched by the joy and satisfaction I took in writing about my experiences on the set each day. Everyone who reads this lame website has been so supportive, and ridden the violent ups and downs with me for so long . . . I felt like something good had finally happened, and I really enjoyed sharing those experiences with you. (If you want to relive it, follow that link, and click the >> to get to the next day’s entry.)
Tomorrow night, the movie will air on the PAX network, and we get to see if the work I did on the set translates to the screen.
Before one of my projects is released, I’m always apprehensive — I feel unsure about how the music is going to play, how the director cut the scenes together, things like that. I also feel apprehensive about my performance. Will the audience see what I intended? Will I get caught “acting?” I don’t feel all that apprehensive about this project, which is surprising and rewarding. I feel very confident in the work I did on the day. I’m sure I’ll find things in my performance that I don’t like, and I bet many of the things I find will be found only by me. Some people say that I’m ripping myself off when I do that, but if I don’t look for those flaws, I never improve.
My gut feeling on this film is that it’s going to be pretty good. It’s not going to be spectacular –there’s some badly written courtroom drama in the middle, where I think it really slows down — but I think audiences will enjoy it.
They’re calling it The Book of Days. Check your local listings for details.

That’s a Wrap!

First of all, I got it. I screwed up my courage, and told Isaac that Anne and I were introduced to our wedding reception to the Theme From Shaft, and asked him if he’d mind signing my CD.
“Are you kidding me?! I’d love to!”
I had to hold in a girlish squeal of delight, but somehow I managed.
We walked to my dressing room, and on the way, he told me how much he loved Star Trek, and how excited he was to be working with me.
I really couldn’t believe it. I mean, people tell me that they love Star Trek all the time, and these days they usually aren’t following up that admission with, “but I really hated you, jack ass. Now get off my lawn, and take your umbrella with you.” But still…hearing from someone who I really admire that he admires me back…well, it was great.
Now I know that I’ve really beaten this horse to death, buried it, dug it up and beaten it again, so I’ll stop.
Today was the last day on the movie, and I approached it the way I always do when a project is over: with a mixture of relief and sadness. Relief because I know that I’ll be returning to a normal life again. Relief because I know that the movie is completly out of my hands, now, and I can let go of the character.
Sadness, because I’ve formed very great friendships with my fellow cast members, and with the crew, and we’ve all created this little world which we’ve lived in for the duration of the production. We all know that we’ll be leaving this world, and it’s a one-way road out.
I had a wonderful time on this picture. The hours were long, the work was demanding as hell, and it feels like it was over as quickly as it started. But the crew was wonderful. They were the hardest-working bunch of dedicated artisans I’ve worked with in years, and I will forever cherish this experience.
The cast was amazing. They assembled a fantastic group of performers, who all worked their asses off to bring this script to life. Their character choices were clear, and their commitment to bringing them to life never wavered.
As the days go on and on, it’s easy to get tired, and fall into a “let’s just get the shot” trap, and compromise on performances. I hate it when that happens, but it does, from time to time.
I’m happy to report that I never felt that way on this picture. We had this amazingly dedicated cast and crew, and we were all lead by a wonderful director.
I am incredibly excited to see this finished product, and I haven’t felt that way in years.
Lots of people have asked about my back. I spent the whole morning Monday flat on same, watching
Dogtown and Z-Boys
on my iBook at the set (holy shit–what a great movie!) and I think it really helped. Lots of water to keep my muscles hydrated, focus on correct posture, lots of stretching, and Tiger Balm made the difference. I’m back to about 90% tonight.
Finally, today is my 3rd wedding anniversary (w00T!). Thank you to everyone who wished us well today. Tommorrow, I will be leaving for a weekend with my kick-ass wife, so there won’t be any updates until Monday.
Have a great weekend, everyone.