It is a very precise, and a compricated pran!

An editorial in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times explained in one simple paragraph. Consider:

Hollywood’s box office has hit the skids, and the entertainment media are in overdrive trying to explain why. The most obvious explanation for box office malaise is consistently overlooked: Hollywood’s ruling liberal elites keep going out of their way to offend half their audience.

Anyone with grey matter between his ears will understand that this theory is stupid. Hollywood is full of cultural elites who believe that the Heartland of middle America, the “real” Americans, are dumber than the soil they farm. Gee, thanks, that’s original, and I’m happy that we’ve cleared it up. But that forgets the all-important truth at the heart of Hollywood’s slump. The pink elephant in the corner, the one we’re not supposed to think about, lest it divert us from the culture war being waged by Hollywood, is that story still matters.

We want to be entertained, regardless of perceived politics. Anything short of Fahrenheit 9/11 will draw the ideological ire of only the most partisan hacks. While the conservative radio hosts blather about how Star Wars: Episode III is directed at the Bush Administration, I’m watching Yoda kick ass. Most of the time, for most people, entertainment is just entertainment.

But the editorial’s author doesn’t believe that. Consider:

Did we need to hear from “War of the Worlds” screenwriter David Koepp that the aliens in his movie are stand-ins for the U.S military – and the innocent Americans they attack are stand-ins for Iraqi civilians? Or that Americans are guilty of post-9/11 anti-Muslim “paranoia”? (A question to Koepp: Were we “paranoid” after Pearl Harbor too?)

War of the Worlds is about the military and Iraqi civilians? Hmmmm, I guess I shouldn’t go see the movie if I love America. Since ignoring the screenwriter’s opinion isn’t an option. But, I don’t think I can. No doubt H. G. Wells had that in mind when he wrote The War of the Worlds in 1898. And I’ll bet you anything Orson Welles made certain to imply that in the 1938 radio broadcast that scared so many people. They knew the U.S. military was coming for them, as innocents, so the artistic people needed to get the message out.

Or the movie could represent Hollywood’s refusal to risk new ideas. The only reason I’m debating whether or not to see War of the Worlds isn’t because the writer is a nitwit who overthinks his job. I’ve heard good reviews of the movie and it might be fun to watch space aliens and war and all that in this summer popcorn-movie season, but I’m still debating. Why? Because Tom Cruise is nuts.

The author approaches the idea that Hollywood might be risk-averse but apparently the non-political answer scared her. Consider:

Hollywood could turn things around, but that might mean tolerating films with pro-conservative themes. Hollywood liberals are so consumed with hatred for George W. Bush and the right, they would rather go down with the ship than allow a conservative message. The result is a creative paralysis in which liberals are out of ideas and have to resort to endless sequels and remakes – while conservatives who have new ideas aren’t allowed into the mix.

Right. Liberals aren’t in danger of being shut out because they’re all busy writing a Silver Spoons movie, except in their new version the father will be a rich do-gooder who behaves like a child and let’s his kid play with multi-racial friends from different social classes. And I guarantee that Ricky will be tormented by the social injustice of capitalism to the point where he’ll shoot a film about homelessness in which he and his father are the stars and learn a valuable moral lesson. Those crazy liberals will not stop with the bastardized, ideology-laced remakes.

All is not lost, given that signs of hope abound.

Fortunately, a new conservative film movement is arising to give hope to those on the new Hollywood blacklist. Michael Moore’s emergence showed us we could no longer passively yield Hollywood to the left, and Gibson’s success showed us there was a market for films that lean to the right.

Right, so here’s an idea. How about an abundance of films that lean to story? If Hollywood leans to the right, the left will feel ignored and we’ll get these same boring rants from liberal columnists that we’re now getting from conservative columnists. Remember, President Bush won the last election with 51% of the vote. That’s a majority, sure, but not an overwhelming indictment that the movie-not-going public is pissed off about the screenwriter’s politics. Quality matters above all else. It always has, and it always will.

For example, I watched about an hour of Troy on Sunday. I’d never seen it before since I’d felt no incentive when it hit theaters. I had, and still have, no idea who the screenwriter(s), voted for last year, nor do I care. I skipped Troy because I couldn’t see paying for something I suspected of being poorly written drivel. So is it a surprise when I say that the dialogue was wooden, the story dull, and the special effects stunning? That wasn’t worth my $9 then, and it wasn’t worth lost sleep on Sunday night.

My opinion hasn’t changed with the current gaggle of movies at the theaters. Consider these movies currently playing in my area:

  • The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D
  • – Four-year-olds love it. I’m not four.

  • Batman Begins
  • – I’ll see it, but it’s still been done.

  • Bewitched
  • – Ditto.

  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • – Ditto.

  • Cinderella Man
  • – Based on a true story, so it only half counts as original.

  • Crash
  • – Poorly marketed, so I know nothing about it.

  • Dark Water
  • – Horror, so I don’t care.

  • Fantastic Four
  • – Another comic book movie. I don’t care.

  • George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead
  • – I enjoyed Shaun of the Dead, but don’t care for zombie movies.

  • Herbie: Fully Loaded
  • – This has been done before, and it’s from Disney. No thanks.

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • – Based on the book.

  • The Interpreter
  • – This stars Sean Penn, so I don’t care.

  • Kicking & Screaming
  • – I’ve heard horrible reviews, but at least it’s original (I think).

  • Ladies in Lavender
  • – What the hell is this?

  • The Longest Yard
  • – Oh, what’s this? Another remake? Who would’ve guessed.

  • Madagascar
  • – Animated, but without cursing 8-year-olds, so forget it.

  • March of the Penguins
  • – I want to see this more than anything else. It seems fascinating.

  • Me and You and Everyone We Know
  • – ????

  • Monster-in-Law
  • – Not even Vaughn Michael Vartan can overcome the Jennifer Lopez, so forget it.
    < li>Mr. & Mrs. Smith

    – Not even guns and explosions can overcome the Angelina Jolie, so forget it.

  • Sin City
  • – Don’t care.

  • The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
  • – Teenage chick flick, based on the novel(s).

  • Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
  • – This was good. And I didn’t even think Iraq.

  • War of the Worlds
  • – See above comments.

For those who subscribe to the vast left-wing conspiracy theory about Hollywood, answer these questions. How many truly original movies are in that list? Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Kicking & Screaming, and March of the Penguins? Maybe Madagascar? And then the art house-type films that no one’s heard about? If we aim for originality and quality, that’s not a particularly stellar list. But liberal? Please.

The author tries to paint the logical idea about quality, but swerves at the end to satisfy the conspiracy theory.

Everyone – liberal and conservative – acknowledges that a once-great film industry is out of ideas and in dire shape. Wouldn’t it be smart, then, to let some new ideas in from the right, and give everybody a real choice again at the box office?

If liberals are so partisan and possess such a tight grip on Hollywood’s purse strings, then why would they acknowledge that opening the industry to ideas from the right is the correct way to solve the lack of ideas? That doesn’t make sense. Pretending that it makes sense only to enable a push for propaganda right-wing approved films is no better than the accusations levied against supposedly liberal Hollywood. It’s so obvious that it dips into pathetic, simplistic folly. Future pushers of this nonsense should try as hard at thinking as they want Hollywood to try at making movies.

(Source: Michelle Malkin)

I only write the interesting bits

The House of Representatives is considering legislation “that would let parents and children filter the curse words, sex scenes and violence out of movie DVDs”. Senate bill S. 167 passed the Senate, so the House is its final obstacle before it lands on President Bush’s desk for his signature. I think everyone can assume that he’ll sign it. Here’s the surprising point: I don’t care.

I’ve written about free speech and our need to protect it, especially the speech that we least enjoy, but this legislation doesn’t upset me. It’s a blow against the boneheads in charge of Hollywood studios who wouldn’t know business sense if Congress stapled it to the desk of every executive. For a group so historically focused on the greenback instead of artistic merit, this doesn’t surprise me. Rather than embrace the potential for an expanded audience, the studios seek to shut down anything they don’t control. This is very much an “old media” strategy when there wasn’t money to be made in new ways or, wait for it… consumers who wouldn’t purchase the Hollywood product before technology made it possible to be family-friendly safe watered-down.

Specifically, the Family Movie Act of 2005 addresses the following issue:

The legislation was introduced because Hollywood studios and directors had sued to stop the makers and distributors of technology for DVD players that would skip movie scenes deemed offensive. The movies’ creators had argued that changing the content would violate their copyrights.

But the legislation would create an exemption in the copyright laws to make sure companies that offer the technology like ClearPlay, a Salt Lake City business, won’t get sued out of existence.

An unfortunately worthy goal, although perhaps the “activist judges” would interpret the law as they did the invention of the VCR. Dare we trust the system? Of course the answer is no, and I think we all know the primary reason. This issue involves “family”, so it’s a political goldmine, no legislative necessity required. That it involves “family” against Hollywood transforms it into a bottom-of-the-ninth, bases-loaded four-bagger. Consider:

“These days, I don’t think anyone would even consider buying a DVD player that doesn’t come with a remote control,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas. “Yet there are some who would deny parents the right to use an equivalent electronic device to protect their children from offensive material.”

Yes, but wouldn’t strapping a collar on your child and putting the offensive material beyond the electric fence be as effective? Even though that amazing technological device known as the remote control can be used as a MovieNanny&#153 to “protect” children via its surprisingly effective On/Off button, I’m kidding. Representative Smith is correct that devices like the ClearPlay DVD player are simply electronic devices that filter content, helping parents to avoid responsibility protect their children from objectionable material. The original version of the disc isn’t change. Take the DVD out of the player, put it into a non-ClearPlay DVD player and the movie plays as the studio and director released the film. The studios can complain, but there is no issue.

Rather than write a new ending, I’ll rehash something I wrote last April. Behold:

If people are buying a movie, then watch a filtered version, the director still wins. She can continue making the movie that she envisions, while more people see it than would have originally. Through maintaining her artistic vision, she can perhaps enlighten those viewers about her idea of creativity and free expression. Who loses?

But I still think there’s something to that whole invisible fence thing.

I spent eight bucks to see a loser?

This afternoon, I read Andrew Sullivan’s comments about today’s Oscar nominations. I was a little surprised that he mentioned a point that I didn’t even think of when I read the list. Consider:

OSCAR SANITY: Kudos to the academy for ignoring the execrable “Fahrenheit 9/11” and the pornographic “Passion.” Right-wing and left-wing ideologues will be disappointed. But what do they know about art?

I didn’t even think about Fahrenheit 9/11 or The Passion of the Christ. I reviewed the former here and I still haven’t seen the latter. In due time, I guess. Either way, I agree with the sentiment about Fahrenheit 9/11. I haven’t seen any of the movies nominated for Best Picture, but I know they’re all better than Michael Moore’s important documentary marginal film two-hour crapfest. Maybe we can all just step back and understand that Hollywood may be full of liberals (debatable), but it doesn’t value ideology over art dollars quality. We’re all appropriately underwhelmed by that revelation, right?

For what it’s worth, the real focus should be on the Adapted screenplay category. That’s where the real movie of the year is located. Yes, you know which movie I’m talking about. THE movie of the year:

Before Sunset (Warner Independent Pictures)
Screenplay by Richard Linklater & Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke
Story by Richard Linklater & Kim Krizan

Buy it today. Seriously. Go. Now.

I give it 2,146,316 stars

The football season is always a welcome arrival because I love watching the Redskins, but on the one fall weekend during the season when the Redskins have their bye week, I like to enjoy getting out of the house on that Sunday. This year, that free Sunday was this past weekend.

Normally, I’d waste the day at the mall or a bookstore, just seeing what life was like outside of my cave. Not this time. On Sunday I slept until 1:00, which is the normal starting time for the Redskins. Once I was dressed to make my quarterly appearance into the world, Danielle and I decided to experience the fine comedy stylings of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, in the form of Team America: World Police.

Special note… I include some high-level movie spoilers in this review. Do not read forward until after you’ve seen the movie if you don’t wish to know anything about the movie. I will not give away any jokes, though. That’s my warning.

Going into the theater, I expected to laugh because South Park is hilarious, so anything from Trey Parker and Matt Stone will inevitably possess the same comedic bent. Think comedy as societal skewering. I enjoy that and, having read a few reviews, I was prepared for comedy and political commentary. I was not prepared for such crude, violent, sexual puppets and jokes so offensive and wrong that they’re so right. Bottom line: I haven’t laughed so hard and so often at a movie in years.

From the opening scene in Puppet Paris to the closing scene in THIS SPOILER BLOCKED, Team America: World Police carries its mission forward with focused reckless abandon. It mocks the brainless brawn of “shoot first, maybe ask questions later, if there are any survivors” with the multi-talented Team America police officers and its flawless I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E. It chastises the vapid condescension of “never shoot, because capital ‘L’ Love is all we need” with the assembled mass of actors, who are only representative of liberal dumbass idealists who comprehend complexity as poorly as anyone. No politician or candidate is mentioned by name or inference, and that is a valid omission. The theme of Team America: World Police is larger than the immediate presidential election.

Like everything Trey Parker and Matt Stone do, there is song. I won’t mention the song titles here because that would give away too much, but I will say how thrilled I was at the brilliance and timing of every song. As the story moved into one song, Danielle made me laugh out loud as she predicted “And now, he sings.” You’ll have to see the movie to know the moment and the song. As for my favorite musical moment (and political statement), I’ll just say that I think Toby Keith and Aaron Tippin will be pissed if they ever understand the joke.

Despite what some reviews and news stories are implying, this isn’t a politically biased film. Team America: World Police isn’t Fahrenheit 9/11 with puppets. This is political commentary with a brain, not a party affiliation. It uses a coherent story to explain its point. As political commentary, Team America: World Police succeeds because it skewers the inflexible Culture of Fear sold by the Right and the blind Culture of Kumbaya sold by the Left with equal viciousness and insight. Team America: World Police promotes sanity above political ideology. There are serious issues facing the world today; we can’t hide from them, but we also mustn’t make pretend that America is perfect and that our ideas and ideals are all that is valid. The world is infinite shades of grey, while our current political agendas see only black and white. Ultimately, intelligence matters. That is the essence of Team America: World Police. Throw in a few fornicating puppets and the result is genius.

Two thumbs up for conflicting opinions

With one week until the election, this is where my thought process still is…

I’ve never seen Waking Life, but I might have to see it now after reading this quote from Roger Ebert:

I have seen “Waking Life” three times now. I want to see it again–not to master it, or even to remember it better (I would not want to read the screenplay), but simply to experience all of these ideas, all of this passion, the very act of trying to figure things out.

That’s enticing to me, since it’s essentially the same aspect of Before Sunset that I loved. But really, Mr. Ebert ends his review with the inherent philosophical curiousity that justifies his opinion, but also relates to the larger issues of life that movies can inspire:

It must be depressing to believe that you have been supplied with all the answers, that you must believe them and to question them is disloyal, or a sin. Were we given minds in order to fear their questions?

Mr. Ebert wrote that line three years ago, but it’s still relevant. It clarifies the differences in our current political climate. I know on which side of that question I fall. Does that mean I’m unpatriotic?

It’s a Zen thing, like how many babies fit in a tire.

Last night, Danielle and I watched the first episode of season 1 of Curb Your Enthusiasm. I rented it from Netflix around the same time I rented Purple Rain, so I definitely needed to watch it. Wasting money renting movies I don’t watch is stupid. So we watched it last night.

Our goal was to enjoy it. If it was good, we’d stick it out and rent more episodes. That was the plan, but the first episode didn’t live up to its hype. Fifteen minutes in, neither of us cared enough to continue. It made us laugh a couple of times, but only random laughs. The show seems to be more about presenting a joke, then presenting another, without the comedic hilarity of situational buildup. Take away the bluster and it’s simple. The show didn’t grab us and refuse to let go. If the creators can’t hook me with the first episode, I’m not going to bother with more.

Throughout the first episode, I thought the show failed because it didn’t make me care about it. That’s true, but too shallow. It didn’t make me care because the show wasn’t honest with me. Improv is good comedy, but it has to be honest. The actors must play it straight or the gimmick fails. Curb Your Enthusiasm felt as if the actors’ egos couldn’t wait to get confirmation that they were funny and brilliant and hilarious and brilliant. They were too needy.

For an example of how the improv process should be done, they should’ve rented Waiting for Guffman. As Corky St. Clair, Christopher Guest is honest with the audience. He is Corky. He embraces Corky’s exuberance over community theater. He makes Corky’s story about his wife Bonnie believable. As the viewer, I trust that the residents of Blaine are sincere in their acceptance of Bonnie’s existence. I care whether or not Mr. Guffman will appear at “Red, White, and Blaine“, even though I know he will not. Literally and figuratively, Corky dances as if no one was watching.

Corky St. Clair is Corky, not Christopher Guest as Corky. That’s what every actor must strive for in his performance. Where Waiting for Guffman succeeds in treating its pact with the audience with proper respect, Curb Your Enthusiasm fails to honor its pact. Perhaps it tried to write a different pact, but I don’t think so. When the actors ooze superiority, that creepy expectation that the audience should be honored to be in the vicinity of their genius, involvement in the farce isn’t possible. Fiction is illusion, not lies. Where Waiting for Guffman is magic, Curb Your Enthusiasm is a con.

Like a fine wine, wait 20 years, then enjoy

On June 16th, I requested Purple Rain from Netflix. Danielle and I watched it last night, more than two months after it arrived in my mailbox and it was worth the wait.

Who knew that Apollonia could demonstrate the multitude of subtle variations on the standard smile, that simple exercise of facial muscle that burdens mere mortals? Who knew that an earring could have so much symbolism? Who knew that Prince falls asleep in the exact spot where anything dramatical has just happened to him? I’ll tell you. You knew, because you’ve probably seen it. Me? I’m 20 years late to the party, but what a glorious party it is.

I’m delirious that I saw Purple Rain at 31 instead of 11. Last night, I was nostalgic enough for 1984 to enjoy the movie but smart enough to know how bad it is. Terrible acting, a ridiculous plot made worse by sloppy editing, and an oiled-up Prince aren’t a good mix. Throw in nasty fish-kissing between Prince and Apollonia and the result is cinematic disaster.

I know that a lifetime of looking at Apollonia’s many smiles is worth any obstacle, but winning her would mean listening to Apollonia 6 and having to say “That’s fantastic” without breaking into wailing sobs. That isn’t possible. Granted, without that struggle, Purple Rain wouldn’t be nearly the movie that it became, but since the writer did nothing to make a strong movie, other than letting Prince create the soundtrack, I say “so what”?

At 11 years old, I wouldn’t have known that. At 31, I can appreciate the relation it has to its era. (When did the 80’s become an era?) Knowing that the movie would be horrible made it fun to watch. As a corollary from On Becoming A Novelist, John Gardner writes about bad fiction and the writer’s response:

The kind of fiction that makes good writers cross is not really bad fiction. Most writers will occasionally glance through a comic book or a western, even a nurse novel if they find it at the doctor’s office, and finish the thing with no hard feelings. … What makes them angry is bad “good” fiction…

As bad as it is, Purple Rain is good “bad” fiction. I can revel in that when I watch in that context. Enjoying it doesn’t mean I long to imitate its dialogue or editing or that I will accept that in every movie I watch. Low-brow is better than uni-brow.

One despair remains, though. I fear I may never be able to listen to the Purple Rain soundtrack again without imagining the fictitious cinematic stories behind the songs. But I still love the 80’s in an excessive, criminal manner.

I met the savior

On November 24, 1980, I was 7-years-old. To a 7-year-old, the universe is microscopic, but unbeknownst to me, that universe was under attack.

Planet Mongo Emperor Ming the Merciless thought nothing of obliterating Earth if we Earthlings didn’t subjugate ourselves to his power. Lesser mortals would certainly cave to fear, but, to the benefit of all Earthlings, Flash Gordon was no mere mortal. Dr. Hans Zarkov blasted himself, Flash and Dale Arden into outer space to escape the unnatural disasters pounding Earth. Dr. Zarkov knew these were a sign of Earth’s impending doom. Once in space, they sped their way into the path of Mongo and the influence of Emperor Ming.

With the help of Dr. Zarkov, Dale Arden, Ming’s daughter Aura, Prince Barin, and Prince Voltan, Flash Gordon defeated Emperor Ming in a decisive final confrontation. He saved every one of us.

Even though I’ve given you the ending, I won’t ruin the details for you. It’s all told in glorious detail in dramatized film of Flash Gordon’s exploits, appropriately titled Flash Gordon. I recommend it, since the history books have forgotten what every Gen-X adult knows to be reality. I watched Flash Gordon every time it was on HBO when I was a kid. It was awesome every time.

At the Star Trek convention, Danielle and I walked around the dealer auditorium to discover the commercialism behind the adventure. During our lap around the room, we saw the celebrities signing autographs. One of these celebrities, certainly bigger than all the rest, was Sam J. Jones. I had one thought: “Sweet Jesus, it’s Flash Gordon!”

Danielle asked me if I wanted to meet him then. No, no I didn’t. I would be a tad too fan-girlie, so I needed time to compose myself. We would come back after Wil Wheaton’s book reading.

After meeting Wil Wheaton, it was time to meet Flash Gordon, or I’d never have the courage to do it. We walked to his table. Step. And step. And step. The anticipation was sweet agony.

We made it to the table, but he wasn’t there! Oh, shit. I’d missed my chance. But his stuff was still here, he couldn’t be gone. We looked around.

Whew, there he was. We waited. He saw us standing at his table, so he walked over.

“Hi, I’m Sam Jones, nice to meet you.” He stuck out his hand. I grabbed it.

Holy fucking shit, I’m shaking Flash Gordon’s hand!

I introduced myself. When I’m star-struck, I’m a little stupid, so I introduced myself with a full-name introduction.

After a few pleasantries, I asked how much for an autograph. Nothing is free at a convention, but I knew that, which made it not tacky. There were two levels to the pricing structure: picture or poster. The picture was half the price of the poster, but I had to have the Super-Fine-Deluxe poster. It was Flash Gordon.

I handed over my money. He signed the poster, adding a nice touch to his autograph by signing his “real” name above his name. See for yourself.

Then he made me a deal. Since I bought the poster, he would buy the giant sleeve for the poster. In any other situation, this would be bizarre and shameless, but at a Star Trek convention, it was appropriate. He pointed Danielle and me in the direction of the dealer selling the giant sleeves. The dealer tables were placed close together, making it hard to decipher which table he meant. He realized this, so he walked us over there.

Holy fucking shit, Flash Gordon is our tour guide through the auditorium!

He bought me the sleeve and thanked me again. Then he was gone. Too soon, our Flash Gordon adventure was over, but we learned something along the way: Flash Gordon can still motor. What else should I have expected, though? He saved the universe.

Get Your Geek On

From the moment Danielle and I landed at McCarran Airport, getting to the Las Vegas Hilton was our sole focus.

&#60begin tedious details here&#62

– We picked up the rental car.
– We navigated through Las Vegas lunch hour traffic.
– We avoided random traffic cones in the street that served no apparent purpose.
– We parked in the free garage at the Hilton.
– We meandered through the Hilton casino looking for the Star Trek convention.
We Danielle asked for guidance from a quaint security guard who pointed us to the convention area.

&#60end tedious details here&#62

At 12:15pm we arrived at the Will Call window table in front of the dealer auditorium. After some brief information gathering, we figured out that we hadn’t missed the Wil Wheaton autograph session. We didn’t yet know when it would be, but we hadn’t missed it. One step at a time.

Looking through the program, we discovered that the schedule included Wil Wheaton’s book reading at 1pm. His improv group, Earnest Borg 9, would perform at 6:40pm, forty minutes after the scheduled end of festivities.

Since we had more than forty minutes before the reading, we circled the dealer auditorium to learn what kind of crap memorabilia was for sale. We saw little of interest, with the limited array of oddball items available. It was just Star Trek figures, t-shirts, videos, and pictures. Our senses were overloaded, so we weren’t scanning closely enough to find the hidden gems.

The multitude of autograph tables with unrecognizable celebrities did catch our attention. Most of these people seemed to be no-name, B-list stars, but in the Star Trek universe, they were Big&#153. Even if Big&#153 is defined as Alien #3 in any random episode, Star Trek actor is never a small role. Strange.

(I was excited to see one particular star, one not named Wil Wheaton. More in my next post…)

Realizing that we wished to get good seats, we left the dealer auditorium to seek out the room for Wil Wheaton’s book reading. We found this quickly, but it was occupied by an appraiser who determines the value of Star Trek memorabilia. Think Star Trek Antiques Roadshow. With thirty minutes to go until 1:00, we picked seats near the front and waited. I don’t wish to give the impression that the appraiser was boring, because he wasn’t, but we were restless. We had no Star Trek memorabilia to sell, so we just wanted some Wheaton.

We got the brilliant idea to seek out the Photo-Op with Wil Wheaton in the dealer auditorium. We had some time to kill and pictures would be cool. We journeyed back. After some head-scratching, misguided navigation, we found the booth and got in line. Within a couple of minutes, a volunteer let us know that only one actor was taking photos at the time. It wasn’t Wil Wheaton.

Twenty minutes to go, so we had to hustle. When we got back to the correct auditorium, more people had filled the seats. Worst of all, the front row was packed. We were bummed that our plan had backfired on both fronts, but we gambled and lost. Vegas, baby, Vegas.

At one o’clock, the moderator thanked the appraiser and led into his Wil Wheaton introduction. He then pointed and asked Wil to come up front. He’d been sitting in the audience all along. Doh!

He bantered, then read from Just A Geek and Dancing Barefoot. We laughed. Even though I’d read all the stories, he entertained me. Hearing him read his stories is the same as hearing David Sedaris read his work. The words are great written on the page, but reading them aloud infuses them with their full spectrum of life. I can’t wait for the unabridged audiobook. (Here’s a picture from the reading.)

Brent Spiner’s speech was scheduled to begin at 2:00 in another room and that was fast approaching. A steady stream of people had begun to leave the book reading for that already. I like Brent Spiner’s work, but even if I wasn’t at the convention specifically for Wil Wheaton, the reading was too good to think of leaving. Since many other people were enthralled enough not to leave, we had a surprise guest. From WWdN:

My performance from Just A Geek and Dancing Barefoot was awesome! The room was almost full, and I felt like the audience was “with me” the entire time. Near the end of my time, Brent Spiner walked into the room, and told me, in front of everyone, that he’d read Dancing Barefoot “cover to cover,” and that he liked it! Then he told me to wrap it up, so “these people can come over and listen to me talk.” It was really funny, and really cool.

Two pictures I took are here and here.

At the end of the reading, he announced that he’d be in the dealer auditorium to sign autographs, which was our cue to run, don’t walk to his booth.

Ok, so we walked. We were semi-self-respecting adults conforming ourselves to public standards. Besides, we had to look cool since Wil was behind us. He probably didn’t notice us, but he certainly would’ve noticed if we ran to the auditorium like a couple of dumbasses. So we walked.

While he settled into his booth, greeting people he knew along the way and chatting with his wife, we waited. When I meet celebrities, I hate to be anything other than last in line. I get self-conscious and would rather not have the added pressure of people behind me, waiting for my brain to snap back on its hinges. If we didn’t have a tight time window with just enough time to check in at New York, New York and munch at Gonzalez Y Gonzalez, I would’ve snuck my way to the back of the line. Instead, we waited in the middle, in the order that we arrived. This was ideal, I realized, because I had time to “prepare” my comments without over-rehearsing. Who knew?

The moment arrived. We focused on Wil and stepped to the table with autograph tickets in hand. “Do we give these to you,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “What would you like me to sign?”

He had pictures available, which were included in the price of the autograph (I think). He also had books available for sale, so Danielle bought a copy. Having already purchased mine, I handed it to him.

“Did you buy this in a bookstore?”


He looked at me, stood up, and stuck out his hand. “I want to shake you
r hand. Thank you so much for buying my book in a real bookstore. That’s so cool.”

Not being a published author, it struck me as quaint that a person buying your book in a store would be so shocking. When I imagine myself in his situation, as someone “washed up” in his first profession, who has found his next passion, it made sense. I liked him more than I did when we arrived in Vegas.

I began to tell him how I’ve never seen Star Trek and the rest of the story about my original impression of him. I got through my being from Virginia and that I knew an extra on Toy Soldiers. When I mentioned the title of the movie, a pained look comes over his face.

“I was an asshole to your friend, wasn’t I?”

“I believe the word he used was ‘dick’,” I said.

“Tell your friend I’m so sorry.”

Danielle speaks. “How old were you when you made that film?” I know the answer to this, only because Wil is 11&#189 months older than I am. That’s simple math for me.

“I was 18. I was a bit of an asshole to everyone at that age.”

“You were a teenager, that’s what teenagers do,” she said.

“I know, but tell your friend that I’m so sorry.”

“We were really just high school friends,” I said. I followed with the shortened version of the remaining details about how I became a Wil Wheaton reader. Anne Wheaton walked to the table and sat down next to Wil.

“Anne, this is Danielle and Tony. They came all the way from Virginia.”

She looked at us and smiled. She seemed a little timid about his enthusiasm, which we suspect is due to the crazy Star Trek stalker factor. A logical and valid concern.

She wrote a few posts for WWdN that I thought were excellent, so I compliment her on her writing ability.

“Oh, but it takes me 50 times longer to write than Wil,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter how long it takes. You write well and that’s the key.”

“Thank you.”

Our time was up (which is why I like being in the back of the line… more time to stare at the celebrity), so we thanked Wil one more time and walked away.

As I’d learned from his writing and acting, Wil Wheaton is funny. He’s a great writer and performer. When I meet celebrities with sketchy reputations, I’m always apprehensive because I don’t want to be disappointed. Wil Wheaton did not disappoint. He exceeded my expectations. I’m happy to report that Wil Wheaton is cool.

The secret is this

Wil Wheaton was a dick. For many years, that’s what I thought, even though I’d never met him. I’d seen Stand By Me when it showed up cable. I’d even seen him on Star Trek: The Next Generation, even though that was only while flipping past whichever channel was airing it. But I knew. I knew it because it mattered that some guy, some actor, on the other side of the country was a dick. Gossip is the coinage of teenage youth. Besides, no tabloid magazine was necessary. I had a first-person account.

A few months ago, I wrote about my high school friend, John Aboud, and how he was part of the group of friends with whom I ate lunch every day. Also among that group was Grady Weatherford. Grady was a Junior that year, my Senior Year. I don’t remember how we added him to our group, but we did. And he was an actor. And during that year, he landed a role in Toy Soldiers, playing the all-important role of student. I had an “in”.

Never having worked on a movie, we quizzed Grady any day he was in school during filming of Toy Soldiers. I don’t remember who first brought up Wil Wheaton’s name. I didn’t even care about Wil Wheaton. I just wanted to learn the truth about Gordie Lachance, a.k.a. “TV’s Wil Wheaton”.

In what was inevitably a throw-away comment, we learned that Wil Wheaton was a dick. Who needs to question that? That knowledge was good enough for me. And my life continued happily for years.

While in graduate school, I spent the summer between my first and second year staying up late, playing on the new-fangled Internet, and watching random movies on cable. One night, I saw a movie called Pie in the Sky. I’d never heard of the movie, but it starred Josh Charles. Since I’d enjoyed his performances in Threesome and Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, I stuck around when it came on.

So I’m watching and enjoying the movie when “that guy who I heard was a dick” showed up on screen as Jack, Charlie Dunlap’s (Josh Charles) best friend. I’m not going to describe what happened in the scene because you should watch the movie, but this is important: I laughed. So I thought “That guy’s funny. I wonder if he’s still a dick…”. Over the next few years, I watched Pie in the Sky enough to memorize most of the dialogue. Every time I watched, I always laughed at “that guy who I heard was a dick but seems to be funny”.

On November 25, 2002, I read Whitney Matheson’s Hip Clicks in USA Today. This is what she wrote:

The Onion A.V. Club interviews Wil Wheaton this week. The star of Stand By Me and Star Trek: The Next Generation also has a great Web site; if you haven’t checked it out, you should.

“Hey! It’s that guy,” I thought. I wanted to know what he might have to say. There was no investment in clicking, just satisfying a curiousity. I clicked my way to WIL WHEATON dot NET.

I first recognized that his site was set up like this new internet phenomenon I’d heard about called a weblog, or “blog” to the kids in the know. I started reading. The first post I read included this paragraph:

A few months ago, I made this major decision in my life: I would stop applying a singular focus to getting work as an actor. I would continue to accept auditions as they came along, but I wasn’t going to break my back, or sacrifice time with my friends and family to play Hollywood’s game.

“Dicks” don’t sacrifice their career for their family. Do they? I read more. And more, until I noticed a theme. He’d lived his life, faced struggles, and transformed himself into a family man/writer/actor who was not a dick. Having never met him, I couldn’t be sure that he wasn’t a dick, but I could sense enough from his writing to assume the best about him. My old uninformed opinion fell away.

I bookmarked his site and checked in multiple times a day, waiting for each post. Last summer, he self-published a book, Dancing Barefoot, which I bought and read and enjoyed. When I bought Just A Geek, I jumped into the pages immediately and found a writer with a skill few writers possess: he made me laugh, out loud, while riding the subway. (I recommend Just A Geek. For a little more depth in a review, consider reviews here and here.) When a writer can do that, allow me to paraphrase a quote from Richard Bach: I hope Wil Wheaton makes a million dollars from Just A Geek.

As I said, I’ve never watched Star Trek, yet Danielle and I added an extra day to our vacation in Las Vegas when we learned that Wil Wheaton is signing autographs and performing at this weekend’s Star Trek Convention. We’ve already purchased our admission and autograph tickets, so after this
weekend, besides striking Star Trek Convention from my Crazy Things I Never Thought I’d Do&#153 list, as I did with the Miss America Pageant, I’m anxious to confirm that Wil Wheaton is not a dick, that he’s just a geek.

(Was that too much Hallmark to be David Sedaris?)