It's hard to believe that it's been an entire month since I moved back to New York City - it really does seem just like yesterday when my mother, grandmother and I arrived in the city and I moved into my new room at NYU's Coral Tower. Labor Day weekend, the weekend before classes officially started, my family and I saw the Off-Broadway production of Paul Weitz's new play, Trust, starring Zach Braff, Sutton Foster, Bobby Cannavale and Ari Graynor, and the Barrow Street Theatre's revival of Thornton Wilder's Our Town. Both productions were outstanding - Weitz's play was an actor's showcase for Braff and his costars, and Wilder's play was as devastating as ever in David Cromer's brilliantly minimalist production.
Labor Day weekend was also a chance to reunite with my friends from NYU. Luckily, I have been spending just as much time this year with these great people as I did last year. My buddy Bobb Barito and I share a room together at Coral Tower - and we've already played host to screenings of Woody Allen's Annie Hall (1977) and William Friedkin's Cruising (1980), among others - and my friend Morgan Block lives just a few minutes away near Union Square. I spend an extraordinary amount of time with my pals Jonah Greenstein, Alex Fofonoff and Ben Dewey, as we operate in a rotating crew for my Sight and Sound: Film class, which meets on Mondays and Wednesdays from 9:00 A.M. to 5:50 P.M. For this production class, taught by the incredible instructor Laszlo Santha, our crew shoots a total of twenty short movies on 16MM black-and-white reversal film with an Arriflex 16S camera during the semester. Every student writes and directs five films, works as a crew member on all other projects, and edits their own films by hand in the Steenbeck lab at the Tisch School of the Arts. In other words, this course is the opportunity of a lifetime. Up until this year, my filmmaking experience has only been with digital cameras - thankfully, NYU still grants students the opportunity to work with actual film and shoot some very 'old-school-style' projects.
The process of shooting on actual film is relentlessly stressful, but it's also extremely rewarding. There is a beauty to the black-and-white reversal film that simply cannot be captured with a digital camera. My crew and I finished shooting my first project yesterday on Ninth Avenue and Ganesvoort Street, and this next week I will spend most of my time in the Steenbeck lab at Tisch, editing and splicing my film and preparing the final cut for the class screening next week. My assignment was to shoot a chase sequence, and, with the help of my friends and talented actors Bobb Barito and Mike Cheslik, shoot a chase sequence we certainly did.
Two weekends ago, I took a day trip with some friends to Port Washington, New York, a town on the North Shore of Long Island where my friend Morgan Block calls home. Morgan invited my friends and me to have lunch at her house (her mother made some delicious Challach French Toast for lunch) and celebrate the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. Interestingly enough, Port Washington is the town where Daisy Buchanan lives in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby - in fact, there is even a house in Port Washington that likely served as Fitzgerald's inspiration for Daisy's East Egg home.
In the past few weeks, there have also been a number of very exciting events I have attended on the NYU campus. On September 21st, my friend Jeremy Keller invited me to the Season Premiere of HBO's comedy series Bored to Death at NYU's Skirball Center. At the premiere, guests included series stars Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson and Oliver Platt, as well as series creator/ producer Jonathan Ames. After an introduction from Ames, Skirball screened the first two episodes of the new season - and although I had admittedly never watched the series before, I must admit that Bored to Death offers a great deal of laughs. On September 29th, Morgan and I attended the Global Poverty Project's 1.4 Billion Reasons presentation at the Skirball Center, hosted by actor Hugh Jackman. During the two-hour event, Jackman and Global Poverty Project founder Hugh Evans discussed numerous ways that extreme poverty can be eliminated from the globe. It was a fascinating presentation, and Jackman's presence drew the attention of a large crowd to this very important issue.
On September 22nd, I went on a tour of the Lower East Side Community Gardens with the Tisch Dean's Scholars group. Our tour guide, Mr. Howard Brandstein, gave us a fascinating history of the Community Gardens and joined us afterwards for some coffee and dessert. The Tisch Dean's Scholar group, led by the great Professor Chris Chan Roberson, has organized many fascinating events for the semester, and I am honored to spend time with my fellow scholars and the great professors who sponsor the activities. This Wednesday, the group is going on a tour of The Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, and I am very much looking forward to that experience.
The fall movie season has started off quite nicely with a series of outstanding features, both mainstream and independent, playing in theaters right now. Anton Corbijn's The American is a thriller so uniquely quiet, thoughtful and European that I am almost in disbelief that it is a mainstream Hollywood release. I have a feeling most American audiences simply don't know how to react to this picture, and it's a pity. In the 1970s, this sort of expertly crafted art thriller would have been the norm. Corbijn and star George Clooney deserve high praise for daring to even make The American - it's one of the riskier films I've seen this year, and one of the best. On the other side of the cinematic spectrum is Robert Rodriguez's explosively entertaining Machete, starring Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez and, my hero, Robert De Niro. I've been looking forward to seeing this radical, hilarious and unabashedly violent exploitation picture ever since my friend Steve White worked as the Location Manager on the film, and I'm happy to report that it's tremendous fun.
On September 18th, I caught a screening of Tim Blake Nelson's Leaves of Grass, starring Edward Norton in a dual role as identical twins, one a college philosophy professor and the other a stoner criminal. Norton is better than ever, and Nelson has more on his mind - regarding philosophy, intellectualism and marijuana - than is initially apparent. Leaves of Grass is a funny and insightful piece of cinema that deserves more publicity and a much larger audience. After the screening at the Village East Cinema, both Norton and Nelson came out into the audience for a post-film Q&A. It was fascinating to hear Norton, one of the best actors of his generation, and Nelson, a fantastic actor - Minority Report (2002), Syriana (2005), O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000) - and filmmaker - The Grey Zone (2001) - discuss this independent project that was very close to both of their hearts.
The fall movie season officially exploded with the release of Ben Affleck's superb crime drama The Town. The writing, the direction and the performances - particularly from Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall, Chris Cooper and Affleck - are simply outstanding. On September 24th, one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, Oliver Stone, released his latest film, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. I've heard various complaints about this picture (particularly regarding the ending), but perhaps I'm too biased in my favoritism for Stone to really agree with any of the criticism. There's something so unapologetically sincere, ambitious and absolutely nuts about Stone's filmmaking style that I can't help but admire each and every project he tackles, and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is his finest work in the past ten years. It's relentlessly entertaining and surprisingly sentimental, and Manhattan has never looked better - or more corrupt - than in Stone's latest vision. Frank Langella, Josh Brolin, Carey Mulligan and, of course, Michael Douglas stand out among the very talented ensemble.
The cinematic elephant in the room is David Fincher's The Social Network, which stands alongside Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island as the best film I've seen this year. Although the story of Mark Zuckerberg, the Harvard undergraduate who created the website Facebook and subsequently became the youngest billionaire in the world doesn't sound like material worthy of comparison to Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941), the comparison is more than justified. Fincher's astounding direction, Aaron Sorkin's brilliant and dense screenplay and the performances - particularly from Jesse Eisenberg as Zuckerberg - are all first-rate.
On that note, I will depart for the evening. If you haven't yet checked out The American, Machete, Leaves of Grass, The Town, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and especially The Social Network, then I recommend you do so. Until next time, I'll leave you with a list of highly recommended movies I caught in cinemas over the summer in Austin. Here they are: Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right, Todd Solondz's Life During Wartime, David Michod's Animal Kingdom, Niels Arden Oplev's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Brian Koppelman's Solitary Man, Aaron Schneider's Get Low, Lee Unkrich's Toy Story 3, Debra Granik's Winter's Bone, Jay Duplass' Cyrus, Nicole Holofcener's Please Give, Raymond De Felitta's City Island, Christian Carion's Farewell, Ricki Stern's Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, Rodrigo Garcia's Mother and Child, Luca Guadagnino's I Am Love, Michael Winterbottom's The Killer Inside Me, Banksy's Exit Through the Gift Shop, Adam McKay's The Other Guys and Daniel Barber's Harry Brown.