Saturday, August 29, 2009

Goodbye To All My Friends At Home, Goodbye To People I've Trusted

For my final day in Austin, I took in a screening of Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock, which was a thoroughly enjoyable movie experience. Like many critics, I question Lee's omission of the great music from the definitive concert of the 1960s, but nevertheless he creates a very memorable portrait of the era, with fine supporting performances from Emile Hirsch and Liev Schreiber. Taking Woodstock isn't quite up to par with Lee's masterpieces Brokeback Mountain (2005) and The Ice Storm (1997), but it is certainly worth seeing (Lee, by the way, is a graduate of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts).

Tomorrow is the big day. I'm having a hard time articulating the bittersweetness of leaving Austin, so instead I will have The Steve Miller Band articulate for me, from their song Jet Airliner, released in 1977 on their album Book of Dreams.

Leaving home, out on the road
I've been down before
Ridin' along in this big ol' jet plane
I've been thinkin' about my home
But my love light seems so far away
And I feel like it's all been done
Somebody's tryin' to make me stay
You know I've got to be movin' on

Big ol' jet airliner
Don't carry me too far away
Big ol' jet airliner
Cause it's here that I've got to stay

Goodbye to all my friends at home
Goodbye to people I've trusted
I've got to go out and make my way
I might get rich you know I might get busted
But my heart keeps calling me backwards
As I get on the 707
Ridin' high I got tears in my eyes
You know you got to go through hell
Before you get to heaven

Big ol' jet airliner
Don't carry me too far away
Big ol' jet airliner
Cause it's here that I've got to stay

Touchin' down in New England town
Feel the heat comin' down
I've got to keep on keepin' on
You know the big wheel keeps on spinnin' around
And I'm goin' with some hesitation
You know that I can surely see
That I don't want to get caught up in any of that
Funky kicks goin' down in the city

Big ol' jet airliner
Don't carry me too far away
Big ol' jet airliner
Cause it's here that I've got to stay

Big ol' jet airliner
Carry me to my home
Big ol' jet airliner
Cause it's there that I belong

Friday, August 28, 2009

Farewell, Austin High School, Farewell.

Today, I visited Austin High School for the last time before I leave on Sunday for New York University. Last night, my wonderful girlfriend Anne and I spent the evening together, having a farewell dinner and then watching Martin Scorsese's Casino (1995), a film which wasn't quite as romantic as I had remembered it. This morning, Anne caught an early flight to begin her junior year at George Washington University, and to keep from being too extraordinarily glum, I decided to pay a visit to my high school.

While there, I was lucky enough to catch up with some of my fine theatre friends, including past production costars Lily Primeaux, Angel Bottera, Brian Schwartz and even fellow 2009 graduate Kaylee Nelson, who is a freshman at St. Edwards University. She is one of the most talented musical theatre performers I have ever seen, and I have no doubt she is currently wowing the theatre department at St. Edwards. I have to admit, it was quite odd looking at the theatre call board and reading the final cast list for the first Red Dragon Players production of the year; after twenty-three career plays in four years with The Red Dragon Players, it's very hard for me to detach myself from the department.

I also said goodbye to many of the most influential teachers I've ever had - including Theatre Directors Billy Dragoo and Tommy Grubbs and English teachers Carol Knox and Brian Hudson. I visited the Performing Arts Center and the Hall of Honor, where I took the above photo of the five honored Maroon Society senior inductees from last year's Dedication Day (that's me on the lower left). I didn't have a chance to speak to many other influential teachers, including Newspaper instructor George Edwards and Chemistry teacher Leyla Cohlmia, but I suspect I'll be visiting again in the wintertime (in fact, I hope to catch a performance from The Red Dragon Players at that time).

I also spoke to Austin High Principal Lucio Calzada, a very kind man who I lovingly mocked in the video below, which aired last year on K-AHS, the student-run Austin High news station.

Since then, I have been preparing endlessly for the big move to New York City. Choosing which books and movies to bring has proved a more daunting task than I had originally imagined - how can I bring The Godfather (1972, Francis Ford Coppola) and Raging Bull (1980, Martin Scorsese) without bringing Apocalypse Now (1979, Francis Ford Coppola) and Taxi Driver (1976, Martin Scorsese)? I've ended up with a rather large collection, comprised of my twenty favorite movies, a few titles I haven't seen yet and some light-hearted fare, such as various seasons of The Simpsons, to keep my spirits high during the cold winter.

From the NYU Essential Screening list, I have most recently viewed the silent movie classic Sunrise (1927, F.W. Murnau) and the moving Tokyo Story (1953, Yasujiro Ozu), both extraordinary films. I also recently re-watched the incredible The Searchers (1956, John Ford), the great western which ultimately served as the inspiration for Taxi Driver. Ford's film is quite simply one of the finest movies ever made (aside from a sometimes meandering romantic subplot) and features John Wayne's best performance.

Tomorrow is my last day in the great city of Austin, Texas. I hope it's a good one. I intend to see director Ang Lee's latest film, Taking Woodstock, at some point during the day - but otherwise I will be preparing for Sunday.

Monday, August 24, 2009

An Ode To The Red Dragon Players

I will certainly miss being a part of The Red Dragon Players of Austin High School. True, I graduated from Austin High nearly three months ago, but I managed to keep my spirits high by playing Horton the Elephant in the Austin Independent School District's All-City Musical Seussical: The Musical last month, which was directed by Austin High Theatre Director Billy Dragoo, and starred four other Austin High students who I knew very well. So, in a sense, I extended my run as a Red Dragon Player by a few months. But it's all over now.

Here is a rumination I wrote during my junior year of high school on my wonderful years with the best theatre department in the state of Texas.

My fascination with The Red Dragon Players began when I discovered the world outside of my second period Theatre I classroom. Certainly, I was aware that the Preas Theater was more than just a classroom; our ladder-wielding student teacher, Mark Pickell, had built a tremendous set for his production of Marat/Sade right under our feet. But even after I attended productions, such as Marat/Sade and A Christmas Carol, I still didn’t really associate the Preas classroom with the intense acting arena drenched in lighted gels that provided nighttime entertainment for the Austin High masses (back then, I wasn’t even aware of the backstage area – I was shocked to find out that something existed behind that door).

I felt like a bit of an intruder when I stumbled into a small role in Bye, Bye Birdie in the spring of 2006, because I was surrounded by a passionate group of musically-gifted students who were very unfamiliar faces (in fact, it took some genuine convincing before I believed that senior Michael Harrison was, in fact, a high school student). The experience was extraordinary; some people don’t look back on Birdie as the finest of The Red Dragon Players’ musicals, but I remember being proud to be involved in what I considered to be, at the time, a ‘masterpiece.’

Fast-forward to after-school rehearsals for The Red Dragon Revue: Get Wired – I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, mimicking Johnny Cash in a rendition of Folsom Prison Blues, but I sure enjoyed watching and learning from people whose work inspired me in past productions. Who is that fascinating individual donning black sunglasses and exuding coolness? Why, that’s Daniel Howard. And how about that great actor reciting a profanity-laden Shel Silverstein poem as if he were a politician? Keenan Zarling, ladies and gentleman.

Beyond anything, I was astounded to be surrounded with such intelligent people. I can’t think of another organization on campus that has such brilliant and well-read students as this particular department. Later that year during the annual Camp Red Dragon, I would just listen to Howard, Zarling and Zach Gamble riff with each other in musings and conversations which often led nowhere and yet were clever all the same.

My initiation into the theatre department, then, was based on a need to follow in the footsteps of the ‘old-timers,’ as well as grounding myself in an organization that was redeeming and accepting of one’s character flaws.

The next year brought a startling revelation to me, though – I really loved to act. Many people claim that there is an extremely tough balance between keeping up with academics and participating in a play, but I have to admit that working with Mr. Dragoo most likely improved my grades, if anything. Dragoo is easily the most intelligent and fascinating teacher at Austin High, and spending a two-hour rehearsal taking direction from him remains just as beneficial as any two-hour SAT preparatory class (his vocabulary alone demands attention, hence the often-quoted Dragoo-isms). The first production in which he directed me was The Lovesong of J. Robert Oppenheimer; I still consider the play as one of my best performances, not only because of my strong desire to play an intense character, but also because Oppenheimer marked the first time I had worked with someone with the Dragoo's presence.

Since that production, I have been delighted to find that Dragoo is not only a master acting coach, but also a terrific friend, a patriarchal presence whose opinion is as highly regarded as that of one’s own father. During Urinetown: The Musical, I was lucky enough to find Dragoo and myself playing bumbling cohorts Officers Lockstock and Barrel, and I was privy to a sort of kinship one expects with fellow students, but not necessarily with instructors. I am not alone in saying that he and Mrs. Dragoo are among the most respected and esteemed adults at Austin High, and certainly their friendship – and direction – is valued endlessly.

Our 2007 UIL One-Act Play, Round and Round the Garden, was as gratifying a theatrical experience as I can remember. The thrill of performing something meaningful and hilarious was exhilarating, but even more exciting were the relationships formed between the six actors and three crewmembers in the process. The joy of Round and Round the Garden didn’t end with the play’s final bow at the Bass Concert Hall on May 5th, 2007; instead, it still remains amongst the veterans at Austin High and those now residing elsewhere. The same joy spilled over into this year’s UIL One-Act Play, …And the Rain Came to Mayfield, and the overlapping companies represent a new generation of Red Dragon Players.

In a sense, those freshman, such as myself, who were once intimidated by the prospect of living up to the old-timers have, essentially, picked up where the old-timers left off. Our lives are now consumed by theater in the best sense possible, and, while I may not boast membership in four different theater classes as my friend Kaylee Nelson does (count ‘em – Theatre III/IV, Musical Theatre, Theater Production, Tech Theatre), I am proud to be a member of the most versatile and brilliant organization on campus.

More than anything, The Red Dragon Players provided me with a sense of identity, ironic given that acting is defined as losing oneself inside a character. Perhaps that explains the terrific performances at Austin High – the department constructs an identity for the actor, so that the actor might spend the rest of his/her career at AHS breaking that identity onstage. What results are honest, naturalistic performances that resemble not so much an act as they do a reality – in a sense, our act is our offstage persona, and we are only truly ourselves when we are onstage.

This, of course, will lead all of us to confusing and unbalanced lifestyles for eternity, but I guess you have to be a little eccentric to be involved with The Red Dragon Players in the first place. I feel gratified to be a part of a group where the theatrical history is as important as the current productions, and where one day, we can all be the legendary old-timers.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Auteur: Martin Scorsese

In honor of my cinematic hero, auteur filmmaker Martin Scorsese, I am posting a lengthy essay I wrote about Scorsese, his magnificent films and his influence on me. The paper was written specifically for a Visual Media class I took my junior year of high school. No, today isn't his birthday, but it is the day after Paramount Pictures announced that his latest project, Shutter Island, is being pushed back from an October 2nd release date to next February. Not only does this move my most anticipated film of the year back four months, it also knocks Shutter Island out of this year's Oscar race. Alas, I am very saddened by this news.

Filmmaker Martin Scorsese is the greatest living American director. I won’t hide the fact that I absolutely worship Scorsese and his repertoire of timeless American cinema - the flurry of images, whiplash editing spiraling onscreen from the great Thelma Schoonmaker, his incessantly giddy use of popular music, the intensity with which each shot is prepared and executed - this man is filmmaking.

Above all, the man reveals truths about the human condition that both appall and fascinate me – I could not initially understand why I identified with Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver, 1976) or Jake La Motta (Raging Bull, 1980) but I was nevertheless awestruck by his wizardry in creating sympathy for so many violent and self-loathing characters. Scorsese could easily be called the savior of the antihero; indeed, his films often feature lead protagonists balancing the line between sanity and insanity.

When I think of Scorsese, I think of the great moments that make up his films: Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro) punching the prison walls and beating his head against the stone in agony near the end of Raging Bull; Travis Bickle (De Niro), soaked in blood, staring at New York police officers while pathetically placing his index finger against his head pulling an imaginary trigger in Taxi Driver; Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) staring at his tortured image in the mirror as his obsessiveness leads to his demise in The Aviator (2004); the slow-motion, drenched-red entrance of Johnny Boy (De Niro) to Jumpin’ Jack Flash by The Rolling Stones in Mean Streets (1973); and, most recently, the shocking elevator confrontation between Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) in The Departed (2006).

Scorsese has crafted a superb cinematic niche involving conflicted, alienated lead characters who often resort to shocking violence as a means of being ‘accepted’ into a certain society. The morality of these characters is another recurring Scorsese thematic idea; originally interested in joining the Catholic priesthood, Scorsese uses religious undertones and motifs throughout his works, often unintentionally. Note the Christ-like poses that Frank Costello in The Departed and La Motta in Raging Bull emulate upon their ultimate defeat, not to mention the obvious symbolism in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).

Scorsese’s first masterpiece, Mean Streets (1973), is the story of conflicted New York hoodlum Charlie (Harvey Keitel) and his Catholic guilt as a sinner doomed for Hell. His penance comes in the symbolic representation of Johnny Boy, his dimwitted cousin who owes money all over town. Ultimately, Charlie’s attempts to escape this immoral world are undermined by the chaos caused by Johnny Boy.

Especially interesting in the film is Charlie’s repeated use of flames to burn his finger – as if he were testing the fires of Hell to assure himself that he will be ready for his judgment day. The opening lines of Mean Streets – "You don’t pay for your sins in church. You do it on the streets. You do it at home. The rest is bullshit and you know it." – allude to the eventual penance that Charlie must face in the form of Johnny Boy. Scorsese also prominently features one of his most infamous camera angles – the so-called Priests-Eye View, which is not quite a Birds-Eye View shot but, rather, the angle at which a priest would look down upon his sinners.

The visual aura of 1970s New York City – the filth, the scum, the crime – serves as a microcosm for the hell in which many of Scorsese’s antiheroes find themselves spiritually. Certainly used as a visual imprisonment for the hustlers and hoods of Mean Streets, New York City is even more central in the narrative of Taxi Driver (1976), where disillusioned Vietnam veteran Travis Bickle becomes obsessed with the idea of saving angelic women from the evil scum of New York. The whores, junkies, pimps and hustlers all serve as symbols of filth to Travis, and as his nights become lonelier and lonelier, his obsession grows deeper with rescuing women who don’t necessarily want to be rescued - a thematic ode by Scorsese to John Ford’s The Searchers (1956).

Taxi Driver is astounding because the film disturbingly depicts the alienation and social ineptitude of the post-Vietnam generation. When Travis goes too far – shooting down a whorehouse in an attempt to save prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster) from her pimp Sport (Harvey Keitel) – we are shocked not only because he went there, but most importantly because we went there with him. His delusions of heroism become our delusions.

The film was only the beginning of Scorsese’s obsession with social misfits. After the release of Raging Bull, audiences complained that the antiheroes of Scorsese films were often too violent and brutal for audiences to sympathize with them. His response? The brilliant, under-seen The King of Comedy (1983), where pathetically fame-hungry Rupert Pupkin (De Niro) kidnaps late-night comedy show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). The picture is one of the darkest comedies ever made, as Pupkin's disastrous behavior is eerily similar to the anti-social quirks of Travis Bickle. The King of Comedy doesn't have any explicit violence, but it retains Scorsese's mark - the story of an outsider desperate to be a part of a particular society.

Raging Bull may be Scorsese’s greatest achievement. His idea of placing the camera inside the boxing ring – a technique thought absurd by generic boxing pictures such as Rocky (1976, John G. Avildsen) – added an intensity and personal brutality that locks the audience within the blood, sweat and tears of Jake La Motta. From the astounding editing by Schoonmaker to the 1940s soundtrack of Italian favorites, this picture is widely considered one of the ten best films ever made. The ending sequence – as La Motta recites Marlon Brando’s lines from On the Waterfront (1954, Elia Kazan) in a pathetic attempt to bring Shakespearean tragedy to his misery – is as powerful an ending as any motion picture in history.

Scorsese, however, was still generalized as a ‘male-picture’ director who could only work within the confines of an extremely violent piece of material. The antithesis to this argument was presented very early in Scorsese’s career, with his masterful Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1975), which won a Best Actress Academy Award for star Ellen Burstyn. The film opens with a beautifully tinted color stock intended as an homage to the opening scenes of The Wizard of Oz (1939), and features fine supporting performances from the male costars, including Kris Kristofferson and the brilliant Harvey Keitel.

The personal life of Martin Scorsese sheds a great deal of light onto his cinematic career. Diagnosed with severe asthma as a child, Scorsese was unable to participate in any athletic activities, leaving him with two sanctuaries: the Catholic Church and the local movie theater. Growing up in Little Italy, Scorsese was inspired predominantly by the Neo-Realist Italian filmmakers of the 1960s, endlessly influential in his early works as a film major at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. His first feature film after countless short movies, Who’s That Knocking at my Door? (1969), was a semi-autobiographical feature on growing up in Little Italy. The film also marked Scorsese’s first collaboration with Harvey Keitel, who would later serve as Scorsese’s cinematic alter ego in Mean Streets.

After the fall of the Hollywood studio giants in the 1960s, independent-spirited renegade filmmakers like Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Altman and Sidney Lumet revolutionized cinema in an unprecedented fashion. Because of the emergence of the American auteur, 1970s cinema remains unparalleled in the complexity and brilliance of it's films. Scorsese especially astounded audiences with his deeply personal sagas of alienated New Yorkers.

But his experimental work in the 1980s was equally compelling, dabbling in the mainstream with The Color of Money (1986), infuriating right-wing Christians with the highly controversial The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and further exploring the mean streets of New York with After Hours (1985).

Based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ presents Jesus Christ (Willem Dafoe) as conflicted and subject to temptation. Despite being a clear work of fiction by a devout Catholic, the film was banned in many regions for presenting Christ as human and flawed. I’d personally like to think of the film as a companion piece to Scorsese’s earlier efforts. There is an undeniable connection between characters as varied as Travis Bickle, Jake La Motta and Jesus Christ – they all fit into the imperfect antihero mold.

In The Last Temptation of Christ, Scorsese does some of his best work. The film earned him a second Best Director Academy Award nomination (his first being in 1981 for Raging Bull) and is as epically scoped as any Scorsese picture. Every gorgeous frame begging for attention and packed with imagery and symbolism (take special notice of the birds), this picture may very well be Scorsese’s best-looking film. The parallels between Judas (Harvey Keitel) and Joey La Motta (Joe Pesci) in Raging Bull are unmissable. Keitel, by the way, is riveting as Judas.

But the journey of the tortured New York soul is best defined in After Hours, where Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) has a rather existential late night in New York City. Never before had Scorsese portrayed New York in a such a bizarre fashion – Paul’s entire experience seems a bit exaggerated and hallucinatory, but that is exactly the intention. Whether viewed as a black comedy or a visually stunning nightmare, After Hours represented a slight departure from the gritty realism of other Scorsese films.

I suppose attention must be paid towards Scorsese’s brilliant, career-defining use of music in his films; no director before him had ever so brilliantly infused popular music as a sort of omnipresent narrator. Mean Streets offers many songs by The Rolling Stones (who, upon viewing Mean Streets, told Scorsese he could use their music free-of-charge for any of his future work) and The Ronettes, whose bubbly Be My Baby is the haunting opening anthem for the street epic. Raging Bull has a classically nuanced soundtrack overseen by Robbie Robertson of The Band (the subject of Scorsese’s incredible 1978 documentary The Last Waltz).

But the crowning champion of Scorsese’s musical madness is Goodfellas (1990); using over forty-two songs throughout the movie (some more than once), Scorsese keeps the tunes coming fast and furiously, most noticeably in the cocaine-fueled final day of freedom for gangster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), where we feel the high with echoes of Jump into the Fire by Harry Nilsson, Mannish Boy by Muddy Waters, Memo from Turner and Monkey Man by the Stones and What is Life? by George Harrison. The charged camerawork led by the rapidly-changing discography serves as a unique contrast to an earlier scene in the film, perhaps the most powerful, when Scorsese pulls off an infamous tracking shot of Henry leading Karen Hill (Lorraine Bracco) through the backdoors of the Copacabana, set to the tune of Then He Kissed Me by The Crystals. As the world of the underworld nightlife unfolds right before Henry’s eyes, Scorsese pumps up the volume of the music, and what results is perhaps the best scene in any Scorsese film.

I am often asked what my personal favorite Scorsese film is, and I cannot help but heap the most praise upon Goodfellas. Some claim the film is not as deeply personal as Raging Bull and Taxi Driver; in a sense, they are correct, because Goodfellas is about the gangster lifestyle more than the human psyche. But the need to be accepted into a particular society – a theme circulating throughout all of Scorsese’s work – is the dominant subject of Goodfellas; the Italian mafia takes young Henry Hill under their wing and thirty years later spits him out as an aging Mafioso. There is something very shocking about Henry’s betrayal in Goodfellas when he sells out all of his wiseguy buddies to the Witness Protection Program, but also present is a lamentation on having to leave the very circle that raised him. Scorsese comes back to this idea in The Departed, where young Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) is fathered by notorious gangster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) and yet, in a Shakespearean act of irony, assumes his identity as a moral police officer and kills Costello by the film's end.

Casino (1995) is a brilliant film, as well. Betrayal comes in the form of wife Ginger (Sharon Stone) and best friend Nicky (Pesci) for casino manager Sam Rothstein (De Niro) in another piece oddly reminiscent of Shakespeare and the Bible. Even in Scorsese’s most ambitious epics (like Casino or Goodfellas), the focus is on the personal tragedy. Take, for instance, The Aviator, which can be interpreted as either a big-budget, glamorous Hollywood homage or as a personal odyssey of self-destruction and insanity. Knowing Scorsese, I think it’s easy to finger point which one is the correct interpretation.

Critics cite the off-putting violence in Goodfellas and Casino as the detracting factor of the respective films, and yet nobody seems to acknowledge that Scorsese is merely presenting things as he sees them. In the interview Scorsese on Taxi Driver and Herrmann by Carmie Amata, Scorsese says the following: “I hate violence, I’ve never ever been in a fight, although I grew up in a very volatile area. That, by the way, is what I tried to get into Mean Streets. But as much as I hate violence, I know that it’s in me, in you, in everyone and I want to explore it. That means the small violences, too. There are a lot of small violences, too. In Taxi Driver they come through in a lot of the dialogue, like when Bobby [De Niro] and Harvey [Keitel] are talking in the doorway for the first time. They’re playing with each other when Bobby asks him about the young prostitute [Jodie Foster], but there’s a very violent undertone when they talk about doing it with girls. There’s such a degrading violence about the way those two human beings are talking about each other and about other human beings.”

Further on in the Amata interview, Scorsese states the following: “No matter what you’ve learned in terms of dramatic structure and all, you ultimately make a film on your own. No school can teach you how to make a film. In other words, you have to know who you are, or you can’t really have your film mean anything to you, or to anyone else. Knowing who you are is a major necessity, and once you’ve fulfilled that requirement, you’ve got to make a picture the best way you know how and you can’t really think in terms of how to make it palatable for everyone.”

Such a quote is an attribution to the level of personal filmmaking that Scorsese exemplifies. In an age of impersonal direction controlled by money-hungry studios, this interview harkens back to the age in which Scorsese, Coppola and Altman were in charge of the system and created profoundly moving works that worked on meaningful levels. The above quote is in specific reference to Taxi Driver, but Scorsese might
as well have been talking about his 1999 feature Bringing Out The Dead, scripted by Paul Schrader and starring Nicolas Cage in a performance that echoes De Niro’s work as Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin. Appropriately, the picture is about a wanderer in the nighttime streets of New York City, EMS ambulance driver Frank (Cage) who is haunted by the ghosts of the souls he couldn’t save. Frank, a failed savior of the night, struggles to stay awake and make connections with living people. He is more successful socially than, say, Travis Bickle, but just barely. Loneliness is never better depicted than in a Scorsese-Schrader collaboration, and the triumvirate of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Bringing Out The Dead are direct proof.

Scorsese never fails to bring an added dimension to his films. Even when remaking a seemingly conventional horror film like Cape Fear (1991), he drifts into a flawed character-study analysis that is nothing short of fascinating. In Cape Fear particularly, notice the dimensions he adds to the Nick Nolte character. Who is truly the bad guy in the film? Maybe Max Cady (Robert De Niro), maybe Nolte.

I fear perhaps his most misunderstood film is his 2006 triumph The Departed, which deservedly earned Scorsese his first Best Director Academy Award after countless nominations. Yes, the picture is startling and thrilling within the terms of an engrossing thriller, but more than anything The Departed is a film about two men literally hiding themselves within false personas. It is a film about identity and the very thin line between cops and criminals, and therapists, for that matter. On a side note, the movie is second only to Goodfellas as the fastest 150 minutes ever captured on film.

Perhaps through referencing so many of his films, I can provide an answer as to why I am obsessed with Scorsese and how emotionally attached I feel to his work as an auteur. Certainly, his physical limitations and obsession with expressing oneself through film appeal to my similar case, but even more so, here is a man who talks endlessly about his ideas and seems as unconfident about his work and lifestyle today as he was in 1983.

In the appropriately titled interview Martin Scorsese: Who the Hell Wants to Make Other Pictures If You Can’t Have a Relationship with a Woman? by Roger Ebert, I find myself smiling but also nodding. “The amount of rejection in this film [The King of Comedy] is horrifying,” Scorsese says in the article. “There are scenes I almost can’t look at. There’s a scene where De Niro is told, I hate you! and he nods and responds, Oh, I see, right, you don’t want to see me again! I made the movie during a very painful period in my life. I was going through the Poor Me routine. And I’m still very lonely. Another relationship has broken up. I’m spending a lot of time by myself now. I go home and watch movies on video and stay up all night and sleep all day. If I didn’t have to work I’d sleep all the time. I’ve never had such a long period when I’ve been alone.”

Ebert asserts that Scorsese’s remark “gives an additional dimension to The King of Comedy, a movie about a man so desperately isolated that even his goals do not include a relationship with another human being.” Ebert does, however, come to the consolation that “out of his pain, however, [Scorsese] has directed some of the best films ever made about loneliness and frustration.”

Since that 1983 interview, of course, Scorsese has found further pain and further rejection, but also success and love and children. I admire the man, though, because throughout even his lowest periods he has created artwork out of his tragedy. And his tragedy has been our cinematic reward. As an aspiring artist and active social misfit, I can only hope to accomplish something beautiful out of my personal failures. Because when you combine Howard Hughes minus the aviation, Jake La Motta minus the boxing and Travis Bickle minus the homicidal vengeance, you get something like Martin Scorsese. You also get me.

Friday, August 21, 2009

I Think This Just Might Be My Masterpiece

Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds is quite possibly the best film Tarantino has ever directed, even when considering his masterpiece Pulp Fiction (1994), which is one of my favorite films of all time, and the absolutely brilliant Reservoir Dogs (1992), Jackie Brown (1997) and Kill Bill Volume One and Two (2003, 2004). After catching the 11:30 AM screening with my girlfriend Anne and her brother Jamie, I tried to pinpoint the last time I felt such unadulterated joy and cinematic delight while watching a movie.

The excitement of watching The Dark Knight (2008, Christopher Nolan) for the first time comes to mind, but I don't think I've really seen something with the same raw energy and gleeful excitement found in Inglorious Basterds since Martin Scorsese's The Departed (2006). I saw The Departed five times in theaters alone; something tells me I'll be going back to see Inglorious Basterds again.

Christoph Waltz, who plays the despicable yet oddly fascinating Nazi Colonel Hans Landa, has his name written on this year's Best Supporting Actor Academy Award (after winning Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year for his incredible performance). Tarantino's labyrinth screenplay, which introduces and employs dozens of memorable characters, is only partially devoted to the tale of the Basterds, the Jewish-American rogue soldiers on a mission to kill and scalp every Nazi they can find in France. Instead of filming a traditional revenge movie, Tarantino has made a distinctly European picture full of fascinating, three-dimensional characters who are the unsuspecting stars of a spaghetti-western-turned-war picture.

Tarantino holds back on the relentless violence his younger audiences will certainly crave, in favor of a terrificly-written series of events in which characters meet each other, discuss film and play games, and are eventually subject to very brief outbreaks of violence. It's not that different from the structure of Pulp Fiction (although Inglorious Basterds is told in chronological order).

Brad Pitt has impressed me once again as Lieutenant Aldo Raine, the head of the Jewish Basterds, with a thick Southern accent and a serious problem with the Nazi Party. Pitt's performance is both wildly comical and seriously frightening; it's worth noting that Pitt has given brilliant performances in uniformly superb movies for the past few years, including Babel (2006, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007, Andrew Dominik), Burn After Reading (2008, Joel and Ethan Coen) and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008, David Fincher). Bravo to actors like Pitt and George Clooney who use their star power to make bold and daring films.

Costars Melanie Laurent, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Til Schweiger and even Mike Myers deliver excellent performances in the scenes which ultimately lead to the inevitably blood-soaked finale, in which the Jewish people get their revenge against the Nazi Party at the film premiere of a German propaganda movie.

Aside from writing and directing one of the most entertaining and joyous odes to cinema ever put onscreen, Tarantino has also crafted a film that is a rumination on the wonderful power of cinema to destroy evil forces and change the course of history. If there's a better message to be found in a motion picture this year, I'd like to hear about it.

With apologies to Public Enemies (Michael Mann) and The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow), Inglorious Basterds is the best film I've seen this year. To hell with the fact that Tarantino has rewritten history - I think this just might be his masterpiece.

Tomorrow I will write about my extreme disgust regarding Paramount Pictures' decision to move the release date of Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island from October 2nd to next February. Martin Scorsese is my man, and I don't appreciate this release date change (unless, of course, Scorsese himself requested the change). The absence of Shutter Island in this year's fall movie calendar leaves me without much investment in any of the other new releases this fall (other than Steven Soderbergh's The Informant!, Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are, and Joel and Ethan Coen's A Serious Man). Perhaps Inglorious Basterds will remain as my #1 film of the year, after all.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

DVD Review - Revolutionary Road

This review of Revolutionary Road originally appeared in the February Issue of the Austin High School Maroon. The film ranked #4 on Jack Kyser's Top Ten Films of 2008.

Revolutionary Road is one of the most brutally honest motion pictures to come around in a long time. The film, based on Richard Yates’ 1961 novel, isn’t simply an incendiary indictment on suburbia – it’s a film that aims to make you feel downright uncomfortable.

I have no doubt that most audiences will be turned off by the film, mainly because director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) brings the subject matter home. The film addresses doubts not necessarily about the institution of marriage, but mostly about a society that demands beautiful lies in the place of cold truths.

Frank and April Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, both robbed of Oscar nominations) are a young married couple with two children in 1955 Connecticut, living in a two-story house on Revolutionary Road. Bored and disconnected from suburban lifestyle, Frank and April consider moving to Paris, escaping the traps of suburbia, but their plan fails as their marriage begins to disintegrate.

In two extraordinary scenes, Frank and April are visited by John Givings (Michael Shannon), the institutionalized son of their neighbors Helen (Kathy Bates) and Howard Givings (Richard Easton). Ironically, John Givings is the sanest character in the movie – a victim of electroshock therapy, he bluntly tells Frank and April harsh bits of suburban wisdom that cut deep.

Revolutionary Road shares a similar fascination with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966, Mike Nichols), in that both films are concerned with illusion versus reality, and, more specifically, the hiding of the truth. The truth, as George and Martha (and now, Frank and April) discover, is something that people will spend years avoiding, walling themselves inside hopeless jobs, meaningless relationships and various institutions of society in an attempt to escape facing it.

Perhaps most unsettling is the way Mendes presents two idealistic young lovers who feel an extraordinary amount of “special-ness” about them. They joke about the ridiculousness of a society that demands that one must settle down and resign from life, even as they buy into that same society.

Frank often talks about his father, who he watched work tirelessly for years for the same company, and vows to never follow in those same footsteps. April, meanwhile, desires to go to France for the sake of Frank’s dreams, but what about her? Where does her “special-ness” come into play? The fact of the matter is, Frank and April don’t really love each other, and not even Paris can save their marriage.

But even so, Frank and April know, feel, that they are destined for greater things than living on Revolutionary Road for the rest of their lives. So what is their life there? A brief pit stop before they leave for France and become the extraordinary human beings they were destined to be?

And the ending to Revolutionary Road? Without giving away any major plot details, the final scene of the film is disturbing in that it truly reveals the sickness of a society that refuses to acknowledge the problem.

Despite the 1950s setting, there is nothing dated about the themes of Revolutionary Road. Modern societies follow the same unhealthy pattern – in the wake of a disturbing and tragic event in the community (whether that be a suicide, divorce, or the institutionalization of a young man), society chooses to ignore the self-inadequacy, creative stifling, and genuine depression that led to the tragedy. By ignoring the problem, the tragedy can be tossed and filed away as an oddity, a rare hiccup in an otherwise perfect world – after all, there can’t be anything wrong in suburbia, can there?

Revolutionary Road is a story about who we might have been, if conventions and conformity hadn’t held us in a straightjacket. More specifically, it’s about two young people who haven’t given up hope that their greatness is still achievable. We all feel that same sense of self-importance – that somehow, our existence, our purpose, is far greater than that of the people surrounding us. The tragedy of Revolutionary Road is that by the time both Frank and April discover that they aren’t meant to be extraordinary, that Paris is a fluke – they aren’t content enough with each other to keep feigning happiness on Revolutionary Road.

Suburbanites could certainly take a cue from Revolutionary Road. Why do husbands and wives kill each other, and, more often, themselves? Why are truth-tellers deemed insane and unfit for society? Why do people, believing they are destined for extraordinary things, watch themselves disappear into nothing as they shut down and take part in a lifestyle built on false happiness?

Those are truths we don’t want to face.

In the words of John Givings, “Hopeless emptiness. Now you've said it. Plenty of people are onto the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Happy Birthday to Gretchen Kyser

I want to wish a very happy birthday to my loving mother, Gretchen Kyser. She is celebrating her fifty-sixth birthday today, only nine days after my late father would have been celebrating his fifty-sixth birthday. To the right, she and I stand near a telephone booth in London, England in the late 1990s. After working a long day at work, she and I had a very pleasant dinner, and then my girlfriend Anne and I treated her to a birthday movie. We decided to see In the Loop (2009, Armando Iannucci), a very funny British political satire starring the brilliantly foul-mouthed Peter Capaldi and a quick-witted James Gandolfini. The film, which owes a lot to Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), is very deserving of all of the critical accolades the film has received.

Before watching In the Loop at Austin's Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar, I came across a brilliantly designed poster for Quentin Tarantino's upcoming Inglorious Basterds, which had just screened at the Alamo Drafthouse a few evenings prior with Tarantino and Eli Roth in attendance.

I asked the manager of Mondo Tees, a terrific t-shirt store that operates inside the Alamo Drafthouse, how much one of these superbly-crafted posters cost. As it turns out, the poster is the work of Tyler Stout, who regularly produces original artwork for Tarantino's films. This 24" by 36" 6 color screenprint poster was hand numbered with an edition size of 450.

According to their website, "Tyler Stout is to posters what Quentin Tarantino is to directing. Translation: These guys are the best at what they do and when they team up, you get works of art like this!"

Every one of the super limited posters have now been sold online for extremely high prices, as I understand. However, the Drafthouse gift-wrapped special copies of the poster for each of the celebrities attending the Inglorious Basterds screening. Fortunately, star Eli Roth never came to pick up his poster after the screening - and so the manager offered me the poster for $35.00. I would've been a fool not to accept his offer, as the other two remaining posters for celebrity attendees were soon to be put on Ebay to be sold for a few hundred dollars each.

Therefore, not only did I buy one of 450 circulating original prints of this incredibly awesome poster for about a fifth of the selling price, but I now also have a pre-packaged poster in my room with Eli Roth's name on it. How about that?

The celebration of my mother's birthday marks the conclusion of the family birthdays in August. The proud Leos in my immediate and extended family are listed below.

August 3rd: Anne Goode
August 5th: Jack Kyser
August 10th: John Michael Kyser and Kate Goode
August 14th: Lucille Kyser and Carol Knox
August 17th: Robert De Niro and Sean Penn
August 19th: Gretchen Kyser

My journey through the NYU Essential Screening List continues, as I recently viewed Night and Fog (1955, Alain Resnais), a harrowing Holocaust documentary film which I briefly wrote about yesterday. Resnais' film explores the remains of a concentration camp some ten years after the Holocaust ended, while also providing truly disturbing images and actual footage of what occurred inside the concentration camps. Even after having seen Steven Spielberg's devastating Schindler's List (1993) many times, I was still horrified and disturbed by the images in the film. I can't imagine how audiences reacted to this film upon it's initial release in the 1950s - Resnais certainly does not shy away from the darkness.

I most recently watched The Battleship Potemkin (1925, Sergei M. Eisenstein), an extremely influential silent film from the USSR, and Dog Star Man (1962-1964, Stan Brakhage), an experimental and poetic film that would serve as an excellent albeit disturbing screensaver on a computer. But as a film? Yes, I am certain the movie has significant artistic merit, but I won't pretend to understand Brakhage's style of filmmaking. I don't mean to speak poorly of a film with such ambition, but Dog Star Man is an endurance test. I look forward to learning about the film's meaning and importance at NYU.

As the August birthdays come to an end, and I have only ten days remaining in Austin, I shall leave with one simple message from my dearly departed father: Go Red Sox!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Only The Right Bear Arms

By today, this is probably old news, but it's disheartening nonetheless. From Yahoo News on Monday: About a dozen people carrying guns, including one with a military-style rifle, milled among protesters outside the convention center where President Barack Obama was giving a speech Monday — the latest incident in which protesters have openly displayed firearms near the president.

I shouldn't really have to comment on this subject; the irresponsibility and idiocy speaks for itself. However, after having watched Alain Resnais' harrowing documentary Night and Fog (1955), which presents the horrors of the Holocaust more effectively in thirty-two minutes than any feature-length film I can recall, I am reminded by the film's ultimate message - we are all responsible.

Society feels most comfortable when a truly horrific event such as the Holocaust can be attributed to a certain people and a certain place and, more importantly, be remembered as a one-time mistake of the past. It's not very easy, however, to recognize present crimes of the same nature, especially if they're still in their infancy. Ordinary American citizens aren't ready to take some sort of social responsibility for the slowly-mounting violent climate created by Republicans. Today, it's gun-toting protesters within very close proximity of the United States President. But what will tomorrow bring?

Below is an editorial I wrote for the Austin High School Maroon one week before the historic election last year, expressing a related frustration.

Earlier this week, I found it a little disheartening to open up Yahoo News and click on an Associated Press story that matter-of-factly stated the following: “Law enforcement agents have broken up a plot by two neo-Nazi skinheads to assassinate Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and shoot or decapitate 88 black people, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives said Monday.”

I know, I know – these individuals are hotheaded extremists with strong prejudices who, thankfully, don’t represent the opinions of mainstream Americans.

But to be completely honest, the extreme views of these two skinheads aren’t that far away from the verbal violence of many Austin High School students. I’m not talking about well-informed, well-spoken conservatives who genuinely have doubts about the specifics of Senator Obama’s politics; rather, I’m speaking about a certain league of morons who have deemed Obama and his cronies as Muslim terrorists with a socialist agenda to overtake the nation, and who have made it their damned bloody mission to eliminate him completely.

These are the people who have the audacity to wave the Confederate flag proudly from their car windows; the people who rip off the Obama ’08 bumper sticker from the back window of my 1988 Ford Bronco II, and tear the sticker to shreds. Six months ago, they were condemning the very idea of a female candidate for President; now, they’re rallying behind a female Vice Presidential candidate who somehow appeals to the “Pro-America” parts of the country.

Who exactly are these conservatives, and what is so conservative about their nature? Since when did drunk driving, reckless endangerment with drugs and alcohol, skipping school to smoke marijuana, and excessive littering become part of the conservative agenda? From what I can see, the majority of the so-called conservatives aren’t conserving anything, although they’d like to pretend otherwise come Sunday morning at church.

Not that liberals don’t have moral or religious codes – I certainly do – but I don’t see a great many Obama supporters who follow such a twisted logic as the aforementioned league of morons. Nor do I understand the following scenario – an impassioned John McCain supporter shouts in one of my senior classes, “Socialists are taking over the country! All of these liberals are lazy, useless people who don’t know how to do their work! They just sit around, and do absolutely nothing, and then they want to take away the hard-earned money from conservatives who have worked their entire lives!”

The person who said this has an estimated 2.0 Grade Point Average, and while normally I wouldn’t even respond to such absurd comments, this particular statement was a personal attack on me. Although I am sure there are plenty of “lazy” liberals in America, this person might as well have been talking about herself and the majority of the conservatives in the class, who regularly fail their courses, participate in zero activities outside of school (drinking-binges not included), and panic when college applications are on the horizon, begging mommy and daddy to shell out the big bucks for a university that favors the dollar over the brain. I am not one to brag, but I am not lazy. I have worked rigorously in and outside of school my entire life, committing years and hours to dozens of activities, and still remaining firmly planted in the Top Ten Percentile of my graduating class. I find it insulting that somebody who is repeatedly bailed out for his or her own mistakes by mommy and daddy dares to condemn me for supporting Barack Obama.

But then again, I’m sort of a radical myself. I have the weird and crazy notion that equal attention should be given to the Austin High theatre department as to the football team.

Despite the fact that none of the people I’m referring to are reading this article (or coming near any newspaper, for that matter), my larger fear is that the violent threats made by my fellow students, while hopefully no more than an exaggeration of their conservative beliefs, could one day culminate in the sickening extremism described in the Yahoo article above. It's very frightening, honestly, to look around a classroom and attempt to guess who in your senior high school class is capable of committing a political hate crime. The number of candidates is truly alarming.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Better To Be King For A Night, Than Schmuck For A Lifetime: Happy Birthday Robert De Niro

Today is the sixty-sixth birthday of the world's greatest living actor, Robert De Niro. I have actively celebrated his birthday since I was thirteen years old because he truly is, for lack of a better word, my hero. Everything I know about acting I learned from watching Robert De Niro and Al Pacino onscreen. In many respects, De Niro eclipses even Marlon Brando as the finest actor in film history, offering searing and complex performances in every movie in which he appears.

From his explosive performance as Johnny Boy in Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets (1973) to his Oscar-winning tour-de-force as Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather Part II (1974), De Niro quickly emerged as the best actor of his generation in the early 1970s. I have made a list below ranking what I believe to be De Niro's ten finest performances.

1. Jake La Motta, Raging Bull (1980, Martin Scorsese)
2. Michael Vronsky, The Deer Hunter (1978, Michael Cimino)
3. Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver (1976, Martin Scorsese)
4. Vito Corleone, The Godfather Part II (1974, Francis Ford Coppola)
5. Rupert Pupkin, The King of Comedy (1983, Martin Scorsese)
6. Jimmy "The Gent" Conway, Goodfellas (1990, Martin Scorsese)
7. Johnny Boy, Mean Streets (1973, Martin Scorsese)
8. Neil McCauley, Heat (1995, Michael Mann)
9. Max Cady, Cape Fear (1991, Martin Scorsese)
10. Sam "Ace" Rothstein, Casino (1995, Martin Scorsese)

This list excludes, of course, his extraordinary work in films as diverse as Awakenings (1990, Penny Marshall) and Once Upon A Time in America (1984, Sergio Leone). It is hard to believe that De Niro's last Oscar nomination came in 1992, for his incredible work in Cape Fear. Granted, De Niro hasn't taken as many dramatic turns this decade, aside from directing and acting in the fascinating The Good Shepherd (2006), but there is hope - later this year, he is starring in Everybody's Fine, a comedy-drama from director Kirk Jones about a widower (De Niro) who takes a road trip to visit his estranged children. Early word has hinted that De Niro gives his best performance in years.

Oddly enough, today is also the birthday of actor Sean Penn, who is turning forty-nine years old. Penn is often considered the De Niro of his generation, and deservedly so. He is a truly remarkable actor who has consistently given brave and intense performances for twenty-five years. I have made a list below ranking what I believe to be Penn's ten finest performances.

1. Jimmy Markum, Mystic River (2003, Clint Eastwood)
2. Matthew Poncelet, Dead Man Walking (1995, Tim Robbins)
3. Harvey Milk, Milk (2008, Gus Van Sant)
4. Paul Rivers, 21 Grams (2003, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)
5. Daulton Lee, The Falcon and the Snowman (1985, John Schlesinger)
6. Samuel Bicke, The Assassination of Richard Nixon (2004, Niels Mueller)
7. Emmet Ray, Sweet and Lowdown (1999, Woody Allen)
8. Terry Noonan, State of Grace (1990, Phil Joanou)
9. David Kleinfeld, Carlito's Way (1993, Brian De Palma)
10. Sam Dawson, I Am Sam (2001, Jessie Nelson)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I Line Up The Dishes And Smash Them - Slowly - With The Steak Tenderizer

"When I die, don't tell nobody. Just bury me in the backyard and tell everybody I left you."

There are only two weeks remaining before I leave Austin and depart for New York University. My seemingly mundane journeys around town are starting to carry unusual weight and deathly significance; if I have dinner at a particular restaurant, it feels like The Last Supper, as if I must pay my gratitude to the restaurant owner for having served such magnificent food to me for nineteen years.

The first major casualty of college came last Friday, when my longtime friend Bolton Eckert headed north to Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. The second major casualty will be this Tuesday, when the effervescent and jovial Cora Walters will be departing for Reed College in Portland, Oregon (to be specific, Cora is first going to Santa Fe, where she lived for some time before coming to Austin, and then going camping with friends, before arriving in Portland just in time for orientation).

In my August 12th post, I wrote the following of Cora: "She is an incredibly smart and well-read young woman who has no problem with being completely pretentious in taste, which is probably why we get along so well." Indeed, she is one of the smartest and most savvy people to ever walk the halls of Austin High School - who else would write their Visual Media class final on director Lars Von Trier, or dress up as one of the Heathers from Heathers (1988, Michael Lehmann) for Halloween?

Along with being one of my best friends in high school, Cora and I also starred in countless productions together as Red Dragon Players at Austin High. I can recall first meeting her during our 2006 production of High School Musical, where she served as Stage Manager while I played the school disc jockey, Jack Scott - a character who, sadly, never made it to the High School Musical movies. One day, I will write Jack Scott his own spin-off musical, and he will have his revenge.

Cora and I really bonded, though, during Austin High's 2007 UIL One-Act Play, Round and Round the Garden, written by Alan Ayckbourn. Round and Round the Garden is the third play in The Norman Conquests series, which recently won Best Revival of a Play at the 2009 Tony Awards. I played Norman, the man-child assistant librarian whose one aim is to make the women in his life happy, including his wife, Ruth (Anne Goode), her sister Annie (Charlotte Mann) and her sister-in-law, Sarah (Cora Walters).

Round and Round the Garden became the first Austin High UIL One-Act Play to advance to the State finals since 1989.

The next year, Cora and I starred in Dearly Departed, written by David Bottrell and Jessie Jones. In this Southern comedy revolving around the funeral of a family's patriarch, she played Raynelle Turpin, the recent widow, and I played her firstborn son, Ray-Bud, a hard-drinking tightwad with a grudge against his dopey brother, Junior (Lucas Loredo).

In 2008, our UIL One-Act Play, Jason Milligan's father-son drama ...And the Rain Came to Mayfield, advanced to the State finals for the second year in a row, a back-to-back feat not accomplished since 1957 and 1958, respectively.

Last year, Cora and I starred in George Bernard Shaw's masterfully intelligent British comedy, Major Barbara. I played Andrew Undershaft, the brilliant weapons and artillery manufacturer, and she played my estranged wife, Lady Britomart. Our fiery scenes together resembled something akin to a verbal tirade between Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood (2007, Paul Thomas Anderson) and any Judi Dench character.

Our final stage appearance together was as man and wife, again, in the 2009 UIL One-Act Play Over the River and Through the Woods, written by Joe DiPietro, which took Austin High to the State finals for the third year in a row, and ultimately won the State Championship last May. Cora and I both received State All-Star Cast awards for our performances as Aida and Frank Gianelli, the loving grandparents of the protagonist.

I firmly believe that the best friends I will ever have are those with whom I have shared the stage - there is no greater bond than the one between two people who rely on each other in front of a large audience. Most importantly, she and I were part of something very thrilling together in high school, and the memories will not fade. She will be departing on Tuesday, but make no mistake - when I see her again in a few months, it will be the same as it ever was.

Tonight, Cora and I went to South Austin Trailer Park & Eatery, which serves delicious Torchy's Tacos, a wide variety of shaved ice, and the rare opportunity to have your own personal fire and make delicious smores. Most notably, though, the outside venue offered a free screening of Grosse Point Blank (1997, George Armitage), a very funny movie starring John Cusack and Minnie Driver, as part of their week-long John Cusack Festival - which, oddly enough, does not include Say Anything... (1989, Cameron Crowe), the quintessential Cusack film. It was an excellent venue altogether and a great way to spend a final night with Cora before she leaves. Reed College is very lucky to have her intelligence, brilliant wit and exuberance for the next four years.

On the subject of film, I most recently saw Hayao Miyazaki's latest animated adventure, Ponyo, which, while not nearly as good as his Oscar-winning Spirited Away (2002), was very impressive. Until tomorrow, to the left is the latest image from Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island, which opens on October 2nd and, unsurprisingly, is the film I have been waiting for all year. I suspect the great director and his very talented star, Leonardo DiCaprio, are making yet another masterpiece.