Monday, March 7, 2011

Blame It On A Simple Twist Of Fate

Note: In between the posts below, I have posted a link to each of my five Sight and Sound film projects from last semester - the films have just been transferred digitally at the Post-Production Center at Tisch.

It's hard to believe that the second semester of sophomore year is already half-way over. In early February, I worked on a short film titled "The Hanged Man" for The Tisch 48-Hour Film Festival. For this competition, Tisch students have to write, direct, produce and edit an original film in forty-eight hours. Teams were given a prop, a character and a line of dialogue at the start of the competition that had to be included in the movie - in this case, the prop was cards, the character was a drop-out, and the line of dialogue was "I'm still learning." I was lucky enough to work with a fantastic group of people, including Benjamin Dewey, Nicole Cobb, Bobb Barito, Zeshawn Ali and Celine Comolet, on this particular project.

This semester, I have an incredible variety of classes. My major production class is Sight and Sound: Studio, a television-production class that consists of shooting short scenes in a television studio environment. Shooting the scenes live with your actors and operating with a three-camera set-up is extremely exciting, and the class provides invaluable directing experience, as heavy emphasis is placed on the rehearsal process between the director and the actors (there is a separate class that accompanies Studio, called Rehearsal Techniques, that serves as an acting class for directors).

I am also taking Writing the Short Screenplay with the great professor Nick Tanis; an Italian Cinema course with writer, director, film critic, professor and cultural icon Antonio Monda (who appears in Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou as the Festival Director who asks Bill Murray about the scientific purpose of killing the shark); Pre-Production Colloquium with filmmaker Pete Chatmon, preparing screenplays for next semester's intermediate production classes; and The Holocaust: The Third Reich and the Jews, a fascinating history course taught by the brilliant professor David Engel. For Monda's course Hollywood Auteurs, he brought in screenwriter and filmmaker Paul Schrader as a guest to speak about his film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985). I had the pleasure of sitting in on the class and meeting Mr. Schrader, who is my all-time favorite screenwriter (among many other works, he wrote Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ and Bringing Out The Dead). In short, it was the highlight of my week.

I am currently co-producing Tisch New Theatre's Spring Mainstage Show, Last Exit No Toll, written by sophomore Rachel Lewis, with my good friend and fellow TNT Officer Alex Fofonoff. The show is scheduled to open in late April at the Kraine Theater in the East Village, and I am incredibly excited to be a part of the production team for this great student work.

The 83rd annual Academy Awards were something of a disappointment, if only because the year's best film, David Fincher's The Social Network, did not walk away with the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars it so richly deserved. Perhaps I have been spoiled by the Oscars during the last four years, when daring and brilliant movies such as Martin Scorsese's The Departed (2006), Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country for Old Men (2007) and Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker (2009) all won the Best Picture Oscar - I figured the Academy would continue its relatively new tradition of actually awarding the best film. At any rate, The Social Network joins the list of Raging Bull (1980), Goodfellas (1990), Pulp Fiction (1994), Brokeback Mountain (2005), Taxi Driver (1976), Citizen Kane (1941), L.A. Confidential (1997), Fargo (1996) and The Aviator (2004) as one of the many masterpieces to have lost Best Picture to a lesser movie.

But there were some very deserving winners at the Oscars, including Christian Bale, who won Best Supporting Actor for his tour-de-force performance in David O. Russell's The Fighter, and Natalie Portman, who won Best Actress for her great work in Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan. The winner for Best Live Action Short, God of Love, was a particularly exciting win, as writer/director/star Luke Matheny was a graduate student at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts last year, and God of Love was his graduate thesis film at NYU. I was also very happy to see Melissa Leo, Aaron Sorkin, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Wally Pfister, Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs walk away with Academy Awards.

Admittedly, I haven't had the time to see an overabundance of films theatrically this semester, but there are a few titles I can recommend. Miguel Arteta's Cedar Rapids is a disarmingly sweet and funny comedy, with great performances from John C. Reilly, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Ed Helms. Patrick Lussier's Drive Angry: Shot in 3D is every bit as ridiculous and joyously entertaining as it sounds, starring Nicolas Cage at the height of his campy powers. And although I seem to be in the minority, I enjoyed Michel Gondry's The Green Hornet. To be completely honest, most of the movies worth seeing in theaters are late award-season contenders from 2010 (including Mike Leigh's Another Year, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Biuitful, Sofia Coppola's Somewhere, George Hickenlooper's Casino Jack, Richard J. Lewis' Barney's Version and John Wells' The Company Men).

There is one new release, however, that stands above the rest. Rango is one of the funniest, most original and extraordinarily strange animated films I’ve seen in years. Gore Verbinski, the director of the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies, is responsible for the first great movie of 2011. After all, it’s not every animated film that features a villain largely inspired by John Huston’s corrupt character from Chinatown (1974), a trippy dream sequence with Clint Eastwood’s character from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966), an action sequence paying homage to the helicopter attack scene in Apocalypse Now (1979) and a tribute to Hunter S. Thompson. As Roger Ebert notes in his review of the film, “The more movies you’ve seen, the more you may like it."

But more than sending up and paying homage to the western genre (which it does brilliantly), Rango is simply more fun than any children's movie in recently memory. The energy is fueled by Johnny Depp's hilarious performance as Rango, a chameleon who dabbles in performance and playwriting. Rango is unexpectedly forced to protect an Old West town from a water shortage, and through his methods of improvisation, he convinces the town that he's a gunslinger from the West. The performance represents Depp's best work in years - he's genuinely lovable and wonderfully aloof. The supporting characters are incredibly detailed (not to mention very funny), and the animation rivals the aesthetic beauty of the best-looking animated films of all time. Rango is a family film that takes chances and isn't afraid to embrace the bizarre, and the result is incredibly rewarding.

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