Friday, September 3, 2010

Heading Out For The East Coast, Lord Knows I've Paid Some Dues Gettin' Through

After many months of remaining inactive on this blog, I feel obliged to start writing and updating this online journal once more. Today - September 3rd, 2010 - seems like a fairly appropriate day, as I am currently flying from Austin to New York City for my second year at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. I've had a terrific summer, but before I start reliving my summer activities, I need to revisit my spring semester at NYU. The spring semester, in short, was just as exciting and engaging as my first semester. I completed five courses - Digital Frame and Sequence, Writing the Essay: The World Through Art, Freshman Colloquium, The Language of Film and Introduction to Psychology - and I was extremely lucky to have absolutely terrific professors for these courses. For my Writing the Essay: The World Through Art course, I wrote two extensive essays - one on filmmaker Martin Scorsese and one on Ground Zero, both of which I posted on this blog.

For my Digital Frame and Sequence class - taught by professor Jennifer Rodewald - I wrote and directed several film projects, all of which were shot using still frames on a digital camera. Of the many short movies I made, my favorite of them all remains Homesick, an experimental film I photographed and edited featuring many of my friends. You can watch Homesick below - although I will warn you upfront that it contains some disturbing images.

My other favorite film project from the spring semester was my final narrative movie, Vincent, a fifteen-minute drama starring my friends Bobb Barito, Alex Casper and Alexander Fofonoff, and the great composer and lyricist James Merillat (his original musical Radio Eyes premiered at Austin High School two years ago - I played the eccentric detective Inspector Riley). The film - which I wrote, directed and edited - follows a disturbed young man named Vincent (Barito) who is forced to commit violent crimes for his surrogate father (Merillat) in return for a kidney operation. You can watch Vincent below - although I should warn you that the film contains violent images and disturbing content.

In April, my good friend Morgan Block and I volunteered at the Tribeca Film Festival, and it was quite a rewarding experience. I worked my volunteer shifts at the Village East Theatre - just around the corner from my residence hall, Third Avenue North - and I enjoyed the volunteering immensely (although I never saw my hero - Festival Founder Robert De Niro - I did encounter Hope Davis, Aaron Eckhart and other celebrities at the Village East screenings). The festival screened many extraordinary films, including Michael Winterbottom's The Killer Inside Me and Nicole Holofcener's Please Give. Volunteers were offered many chances to attend particular screenings - during my time as a volunteer, I saw Neil Jordan's Ondine, John Carney's Zonad, J.B. Ghuman Jr.'s Spork and James Franco's documentary Saturday Night, the very last screening of the festival. Mr. Franco answered questions after the screening of his documentary, a fascinating backstage look at the week-long preparation for Saturday Night Live. The film, interestingly enough, started out as a student project for one of Franco's film classes at NYU, and then expanded into a feature-length documentary.

I was extremely fortunate to catch two plays on Broadway during my last few weeks in New York City - the revival of Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge, starring Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johannson, and Martin McDonagh's new play A Behanding in Spokane, starring Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Anthony Mackie and Zoe Kazan. The former is my favorite play of all time - a brilliant tragedy with Shakespearean power and allusions to Miller's relationship with director Elia Kazan. The Gregory Mosher-directed production at the Cort Theatre was simply outstanding. As Brooklyn longshoreman Eddie Carbone, the tragic hero of A View from the Bridge, Liev Schreiber was astonishing - all quiet rage and brooding inner turmoil, a stage performance underacted to perfection (in a role that usually calls for grandiose, over-the-top theatrics). Scarlett Johannson was equally impressive as Catherine, Eddie's niece and object of desire. The latter play, A Behanding in Spokane, was written by one of my favorite playwrights, Martin McDonagh, who wrote the powerful The Pillowman and wrote and directed the great film In Bruges (2008). A dark comedy acted to perfection by its incredible cast, A Behanding in Spokane is a perfect entry in the McDonagh canon.

In April, I also performed in the Tisch New Theatre staged reading of Rachel Lewis' play Consciousness, directed by my friend Alexander Fofonoff. There were many superlative movies released during the spring, as well - my favorites remain Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island, Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer, Jacques Audiard's A Prophet and Noah Baumbach's Greenberg. The celebrity sightings in New York City are incredible, too - from seeing Mickey Rourke in a West Village frozen yogurt shop to running into Ben Stiller two nights in a row at Broadway shows to shaking Bill Clinton's hand outside a Broadway theater (see picture above), New York City is the place where the stars are everywhere.

This summer, I received a paid internship as a Teaching Assistant at a three-week filmmaking camp at The University of Texas at Austin from the Digital Media Academy, a great organization formed several years ago at Stanford University. I also wrote, directed, edited and starred in Thank You For Sending Me An Angel, a forty-minute film starring my friends (and fellow Red Dragon Players) Haleigh Holt, David Walter, Cora Walters and Mitchell Stephens. Although the film was shot on a mini-DV camera and is noticeably low-budget, I'm still very proud of the work accomplished by my friends and me. There is a link to the first part of the movie below.

To conclude my first blog post in several months, I'd like to leave you with my thoughts on what I consider the best movie of the summer, Christopher Nolan's Inception. This breathtakingly original and fascinating film is not a sequel, a remake, a superhero movie or the latest installment in a film franchise. Nolan, who brought gravitas to superhero films with 2005’s Batman Begins and especially 2008’s The Dark Knight, is one of very few commercial American filmmakers taking risks and exploring new territory with his films, and Inception may represent his finest accomplishment yet. The film is a complex and thrilling heist movie, a tragic romance, an exploration of the human psyche and Nolan’s own, seemingly personal commentary on what separates our dreams from our reality. As far as science-fiction thrillers are concerned, Inception is the best of its kind since Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report (2002).

Leonardo DiCaprio, further cementing his status as the best actor of his generation, inches even closer to this year’s Best Actor Oscar (following his heartbreaking performance in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island earlier this year) as Cobb, a ‘dream thief’ who specializes in extracting ideas from people’s minds while they are asleep. What distinguishes
Inception from nearly every other big-budgeted action picture in recent memory (particularly James Cameron’s Avatar, which seems less impressive with each passing day) is the film’s sheer originality in concept and execution, and, most importantly, Nolan’s use of a dynamic ensemble of actors, including Marion Cotillard’s deeply felt and powerful performance as Mal, Joseph-Gordon Levitt’s sly and ingeniously underplayed point man Arthur, and Cillian Murphy’s troubled tycoon Fischer, a character so compelling that he deserves his own film. When was the last time a science-fiction action picture broke your heart and engaged your brain simultaneously? With Inception, Nolan has set the bar extremely high for summer entertainment.

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