Archive for November, 2006


November 9, 2006

Last week I rented Castle in the Sky by famed Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. And it’s one of the best animated films I’ve seen, right up there with The Iron Giant, Aladdin, and Miyazaki‘s own Spirited Away. About a boy and girl being chased across the earth by pirates and worse, all trying to get their hands on a mysterious pendant, and all in search of a legendary floating castle, the film features a fascinating, lived-in world of monstrous airships and starry caves and lopsided robots. As with Miyazaki’s other films, you get a sense you’re seeing just a glimpse of a world that’s already there, something that was found rather than invented. (I’ve heard this said about Tolkein too, and perhaps it’s the hallmark of great fantasy). It isn’t as weird as his more popular recent films, but that makes it no less satisfying.

Today I saw Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, which is Miyazaki’s first major work, from 1984. It is as weird as his more recent films, but is not more satisfying for it. With its heavy-handed environmentalist message, its personality-less young female protagonist, its big creeping bugs and goo monsters, and its rambling plotline, Nausicaa feels like an earlier draft of Princess Mononoke, the main difference being the aforementioned hallmark: this does not feel like a stumbled upon, lived-in world. Complex, yes, but something feels off. Maybe it’s the aggressive kingdom that seems to act without reason. Maybe it’s the people of the Valley, who don’t seem to have interior lives outside the story. Maybe it’s the blunt exposition or confusing geography.

Still, see it. Even with the Pixar-driven CGI renaissance, most American animated films are disappointing: stubbornly small, reliably anti-epic, as if kids will revolt at the sight of real conflict, as if animation was invented solely to give voice to cuddly animals and inanimate objects. There’s no limit to the storytelling possibilities and the best we can come up with is a sassy zebra! Even a muddled Miyazaki is a refreshing reminder of what animation can do.



November 6, 2006

At a Super 8 outside Dayton, Ohio, I once received a vicious insult from a woman too stupid to realize she was being cruel. It was around 11 PM, and I’d just finished the first leg of my four day journey from New Jersey to California, tired, all the blood drained from my face making me look even whiter than usual. The desk clerk gave me a puzzled look when I walked into the motel, a look that deepened when I requested a room. She asked to see my driver’s license – standard procedure – and immediately scanned for the date of birth, muttering some subtraction before coming to the correct figure.

“22? I would have guessed 14 or 15.”

Thanks, lady. That’s exactly what I need to hear one day after striking out on my own for the first time, three days before arriving in a state where I don’t have a job lined up and don’t know a single person.

“How old are you?” I asked.


“Really? You look to be 65 at least.”

Instead, in reality, I shrugged at her, didn’t say a word while the credit card machine waited for approval, and hurried off as soon as I had the room key in my hand.

I felt better after I’d been in Los Angeles for two days, because I hit it off with a nice, young Canadian woman at one of the nightly small parties at my hostel. She was 26, but looked younger. When she asked for my age, I side-stepped the question. We were drinking, and there was no need to risk turning her off with the possibility of sex imminent.

Later, she asked again, and I decided it might seem weird to keep evading. I told her the truth, which was probably a stupid idea, but she didn’t seem to mind. She told me I seemed more like 25 or 26. So in four days I went from 14 to 26. This might have excited me, but I was too busy being distracted by an even drunker girl from Oregon who was making eyes at me from across the room. Her name, I soon found out, was Rachel. After learning my name, Rachel from Oregon decided we’d exchanged more than enough information, and she led me back to her room, where she promptly passed out. After briefly trying to revive her, all the while getting images in my head of Lifetime movies about date rape, I got creeped out with myself and headed back to the party to find the Canadian girl. In retrospect, I found her more appealing anyway in all aspects other than that she wasn’t quite so inebriated. When I got back she was in the arms of an Australian, who had a leg up on me in the looks department, and in the “I already have my damn Aussie arms around her” department.

I almost ran up to her to explain I had a rare aging disease and that, at the rate of 12 years every two days, I’d be dead in a week or two, and didn’t she want to grant the wish of a dying man? Instead I chatted with the funny looking Frenchman who’d taken it upon himself to act as DJ.

Within weeks I’d started my background acting career. A few times I played characters who were under 18, which is a common practice for actors in their 20s. A few times I was told by casting directors that I looked too old. The first few times, this thrilled me. Finally, after 20 years of looking a few years younger than I ought, I finally appeared a real adult. But soon it became an annoyance that kept me from getting work, and I cursed myself for not appearing more childish in my headshot.

None of this age wrangling prepared me for what I was told when I called to land the spot of high school student on the show “24.” I’d managed to get just one day of work in the last week and I had the fingers of my non-phone hand crossed hoping the casting director thought I looked young. This is what he said to me:

“Sorry, I can’t use any more Asians.”


November 1, 2006

I saw The Devil Wears Prada last week, and couldn’t figure out if they intentionally made Anne Hathaway less attractive as the movie went on, or if people in the fashion industry really are that clueless, or if I have unusual taste.  Anyone?  She did look better in the beginning, right?

Miss Guided

November 1, 2006

I just finished 8 days of background work on a pilot called Miss Guided, which is a lousy title, but should be a good show.  8 days for a half-hour program is quite a long-time, but it’s a pilot which means that a) they don’t have all the kinks worked out yet, b) they don’t have a set, so they filmed everything on location at 2 different schools, which caused all sorts of problems, c) they want everything to be perfect so the thing will get picked up, and d) Brooke Burns is a total bitch.

Kidding.  She’s a dear.  And looks even better in person.  But I did wonder how she continued to weigh only 50 pounds when every time I saw her she had a Coke (not diet) in her hand or was eating a Snickers bar.

It was a very pro-Flaming Lips crew.  Those in charge were very adament about having different types of kids running around, so I was assigned the part of a stoner.  For two days on set I wore a hideous Flaming Lips shirt I bought four years ago at a show with Modest Mouse and Cake (underneath a green flannel that the wardrobe department made me wear; apparently stoners are stuck in 1993).  I’ve never seen a Flaming Lips shirt on someone outside a Flaming Lips concert, but on the first day I wore mine, one of the grips wore the same exact shirt (also bought 4 years ago).  The second time I put it  on (we were matching shots from the first day), a different crew member wore a different Lips shirt from the same tour.  To top it off, Judy Greer told me, “I like your shirt,” though I think she didn’t actually look close enough to see what band it was for, and simply has bad taste.

Ashton Kutcher is co-producing the show, and was on set most days, displaying his large collection of corduroy blazers and trucker’s hats and generally being a nice guy.  Background actors and crew members are around stars all the time, so must of us don’t get starstruck.  We managed not to get tongue-tied or awkward around A.K., as we called him (note: we didn’t actually call him this), but this changed when his wife showed up.  You may know her as Demi Moore.  I didn’t get a chance to see her, but the way everyone on set was talking, it’s apparently a very exciting experience, like meeting the messiah or a drunken jackass who’s not wearing any pants.  If she weren’t wearing any pants, then I might be interested.  But even then, it’s not like we’re talking about Sabrina Lloyd here.