The Gift of the World

A friend of mine, a friend I’ve only recently had the pleasure of calling a friend, asked me recently if I would ever consider living permanently in Lebanon, my father’s home country.

The honest answer is yes and no: I would love to have a home in the capital city of Beirut. I love my father’s family, and I love the city, its people, the culture, the food. I love the buzz that surges through it at all hours of the day, like a Red Bull you decided to drink at six in the evening but didn’t kick in until three in the morning, and you can’t go to sleep now because you have brunch with all nine-hundred sixty-one of your aunts and uncles and cousins at ten, and if you’re not there promptly, you’ve brought shame upon your entire house, so good luck, champ.

But I could never live there permanently, by which I mean constantly. I have never had one home. Never. By virtue of being the child of two very different people from two very different places, my lifetime has largely been spent bouncing between these different places, and for me, that time spent traveling has been the best time of my life, and this is something I hope to do forever.

I am very lucky to have been born to those I call my parents, to have spent a good chunk of my life on planes. I got to experience two very different cultures. I got to immerse myself in so many things, learn so many things. I learned to think in so many different ways, see through such varied eyes. I will always be grateful that I got to travel as much as I did, that I still get to travel as much as I do.

We rarely ever agree on anything, but I’ll always be grateful that my dad is Lebanese. I’m thankful he came to the States looking for an education and wound up finding a wife. I’m thankful my American mother fell in love with the Middle Eastern kid on the soccer team, because while that may have meant that I’d never have one homeland, to me, this meant that I’d never be forced to only call one place my home.

Home to me is airports, the constant hum of activity, the travelers stumbling through the motions, comparing those poor, frightened souls flying for the first time to those jet-setting on a daily basis. Moving through the security lines and navigating terminals, more often than not on my own, has become second nature to me.

Home to me is stepping onto the runway in a distant land, taking my first breath on foreign soil, tasting the difference in the air.

Home to me is ten thousand languages, cascading around me as I’m caught in the current of a river of emotion, flowing to the tune of ten thousand different words.

I thank my dad and my mom for being who they are. They gave me the opportunities to see a world most people never get to see, and this always fascinates people. It amazes those who hear my story that I spent my life forever abroad.

But to me, this, traveling, sightseeing, learning, diving head-first into these experiences…

This is my Normal.

When I have a family, I want my children to know the world far better than me.

I want them to learn, to grow, and to do it while seeing it all with their own eyes.

The Internet is a marvel, let’s be honest. We’ve learned so much about other cultures, other ways of life. We can speak through the Earth and touch other souls around the world with a simple

*click*

But the Internet can’t capture your stomach sinking as the jet takes off, your heart soaring when the wheels meet the runway.

The Internet can’t recreate the taste of the salt in the Mediterranean air, how different it is from the sandy mist of Cairo, the foggy chill of London, the dry crackling in Hong Kong.

It can’t take you by the hand and lead you through ruins and temples, city streets and mountain peaks.

It can’t drop you into a crowded square of ten million people, not one of them knowing your name, and force you to soak everything in as you dance on the edge of exploding from excitement and fear all at once.

Sitting at your desk and reading, taking notes, watching videos, learning, all of this is fantastic.

But it is not enough.

If you have the opportunity, if you get that chance, you must go.

You MUST Go.

Take a flying leap into the unknown, and discover things you never thought you’d see!

Taste foods you never thought you’d eat!

Learn to sing a song with words you may never understand, for you need not know their meaning to appreciate the beauty of sung words, the elegance of their melodies.

This is what I hope to give my children, because this is what was given to me.

The Gift of the World, printed in ink on a paper pass and stamped inside a little blue book.

This is the gift for which I’ll be forever grateful.

This is the gift that everyone deserves.

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Interstellar: A Review, or, The Difference Between Stanley Kubrick and Christopher Nolan

Stanley Kubrick and Christopher Nolan have one thing in common, and that is that they are very good at spectacle. The large set pieces, the big actions, the great and cataclysmic adventures at which they hurdle their characters with absolute abandon like a shuttle at a black hole. These are things they both do very, very well and should be commended for it.

The difference, though, is that Kubrick is conducting an explosive opera. His films rip and race and tear through dramatic action and weighty battles and lofty themes, and in this cacophonous symphony, he can lose his audience. He loses me, anyway.

2001: A Space Odyssey is a great example. Here, we have this massive essay on the evolution of man and our place in the solar system–nay, the universe!–crammed with many a treatise on evolution and science, but in doing so, in focusing so much on these heavy thematic elements, his story falters.

Christopher Nolan, meanwhile, knows how to tell a story. Carefully, with the practiced and precise cuts of a surgeon, he carves and stitches, operates and weaves, freeing his films to drift through his grand set pieces without ever, not even once, losing the importance of his characters and of their stories.

Interstellar is a fantastic example: no matter how big the adventure gets, no matter how over-your-head the science or how grand the stretches of the galaxy, the movie never stops being about the humanity of all those involved, namely the tumultuous-at-best relationship between our intrepid space hero, Coop (Matthew McConaughey), and his daughter back on Earth, Murphy (Mackenzie Foy, later Jessica Chastain).

If Stanley Kubrick is a conductor, his singers belting out to the world while the opera rages on behind them, Christopher Nolan is sitting with you across the campfire, the embers crackling, the crickets chirping, and this gentleman with the giddiness of an excitable little boy is telling you–not the audience, not the world, but you–this incredible tale in barely more than a whisper, and he watches your eyes, watches the excitement glow behind the campfire crackling in your pupils, and in that moment, he knows that you are just as excited to hear his story as he is to tell it.

In that moment, you are not being treated to a show, but are instead invited into another universe, a universe that, no matter how grand, you feel was made just for you.

As a film student, I feel like I’m constantly at odds with professors in that I did not care for the vast majority of films that were deemed “classics” by the powers that be. In my mind, a lot of these classics, these films we’re all expected to appreciate–to worship, even–may be technically good, but they fail at what I feel is the most important thing a film should do, and that is tell a story.

I couldn’t care less how technically good a film is if the film cannot tell a story, and the ability to tell a magnificent story is, by and large, far more important to me than the ability to make a technically good “film.”

My favorite movie directors can tell magnificent stories, and they can all be described as different kinds of storytellers. Hell, they can be compared to students at school. Martin Scorsese is the shy kid in the back of the creative writing classroom who, every time he quietly submits his papers to the university publication, suddenly finds himself bombarded with accolades from students and faculty alike. David Fincher runs around the public park, taking pictures of anything and everything and scrutinizing it all under magnifying glasses, and then he smashes together intricate tales about these things and their relationships with each other, and you believe him. Quentin Tarantino is bouncing off the walls of a classroom he broke into at 4am, playfully yet violently bickering with his friends and scribbling magnificent maps all over white boards until campus security shows up and throws him out.

Christopher Nolan sits with you on a dock by the bay in the middle of the night, telling you this impossible story that you can barely hear over the gentle lapping of the waters against the shore, encouraging you to listen to every last detail, and when the sun comes up and he’s finally done, he turns to you and smiles, quietly thrilled that he managed to make you stay.

Stanley Kubrick may be a good filmmaker. But he is nowhere near the kind of storyteller that we find in Christopher Nolan.

For Sale

Just days before Christmas, a soldier returns home to Boston to find the unexpected, and he must now decide what to do with what remains of his past life.

With Christmas rolling around, it’s that time of year again! I present to you my final project for the Fall of 2012’s Directing the Feature Film at Emerson College:
The most depressing Christmas movie ever.

Remember to Forget: An Open Letter to Guy Fawkes and His Minions

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November,
The gunpowder, treason, and plot.
I can name several reasons this mar on the seasons
Needs soon to be forgot.

The intent original behind this day most jovial
Was to celebrate a plot gone wrong.
Four hundred years by, and I oft wonder why
We’ve repurposed the use of this song.

For those not in the know, four centuries ago,
A group of Catholic Englishmen
Came up with a scheme to accomplish their dream
Of making Old England their den.

They gathered in secrecy, led by Robert Catesby,
To plan the demise of King James.
With gunpowder spent, up in flames Parliament
Would go ‘fore crashing into the Thames.

The only reason this gunpowder treason
Was not so successfully wrought
Is because of their spy, surname Fawkes, known as Guy:
He was the one who got caught.

Hanging out underground is where he was found,
Sitting pretty ‘neath the House of Lords.
He was tried right away. Ruined was his day,
For he’d been guarding the powder hordes.

While Guy met the knife, James escaped with his life,
His townspeople relieved, thrilled, and bright.
They lit flames in the street to celebrate the heat
Of the joy that would be Bonfire Night.

Why then, these years later, do we remember the traitor
Who brought England near to its knees?
Why, it has to do with a work or two:
A book and a film full of V’s.

V for Vendetta, a graphic bookletta
Written by one Alan Moore
Tells of a man in a mask with an ultimate task:
To attempt Guy Fawkes’s scheme once more.

This man is not a saint: London he does paint
In violence, blood coloring streets like rust.
Yet all the while, he carries his plastic smile,
Assuring us his intentions are just.

I’m writing this letter because I know better
Than to think this character is good.
But that he’s now a idol, this maniac homicidal,
Is a sham, is a farce, makes me brood.

His mask now synonymous with groups like Anonymous,
People who fight for free speech.
Sit down, girls and boys, and put away your toys:
A lesson I must now teach.

In 1605, when this man was still alive,
Followed Mr. Robert Catesby,
And I’ll tell you right quick: his intentions were sick.
The last thing they wanted was speech free.

Why, friends, do you think, he wanted the King to sink
Deep into the Earth for all time?
Because Catholics, you see, were persecuted freely,
And Catesby wanted justice sublime.

He didn’t want equals where once were unequals.
He wanted revenge, good and free.
When his crew took reign, he’d treat Protestants the same:
Like the dogs he believed they could be.

Guy and Catesby wouldn’t hear a single plea
To spare any Protestant lives.
They’d torture the men while kids cried in the den,
And when done, they would strangle the wives.

So, Bonfire Night is a good thing, right?
It celebrates an evil plot foiled.
Well, you’d think so; the aftermath, though
May leave your reasoning spoiled.

The foiling of this plan opened another can
Of worms for those of Londontown.
They became even worse in their already perverse
Treatment of Catholics around.

They were all thought schemers, Bogeymen to these dreamers,
The Pope their villainous king.
The Puritans preached the Holy See be impeached.
Through the streets violence did ring.

Let me be frank: the whole goddamn thing stank.
It reeked of intolerance and hate.
Does that sound right to you? So, then, what should we do?
To both sides, I posit this fate:

To those who would praise Guy Fawkes these days,
I beseech thee, pick up a book.
Do your research on this, and when you finish,
I’ll await your horrified look.

The man is a terrorist who sought through a fist
Of explosives the right to rule.
Do we celebrate terror, or have we been in error
For awarding such praise to this fool?

He deserves no reward. He should be abhorred,
His name discarded, left to besmirch.
A symbol of free speech he is not. Please, impeach
This icon from his lofty perch.

As for you, Bonfirees, your fireworks above the trees:
Your festival is founded on hate.
If any atrocity were to occur this century,
Would we build a monument at our gates?

Should any holiday carry such weight of dismay?
Should tradition carry out of bigotry?
I ask you all, please, leave this day in past centuries.
This is my humble plea.

Remember, remember: the Fifth of November
Is not the occasion you may have thought.
I bid you on your way with the hopes that this day
Will soon be forgot.

Review – Gravity: Why I Love IMAX and Don’t Like Stanley Kubrick

When I was younger, about seven or eight, I remember when the Richmond Science Museum started showing movies in its IMAX dome. At the time, it was the only IMAX theater in Virginia. I remember my mom and dad taking me and my little sister underground to enter the giant sphere, passing the massive room encased in glass that housed the largest projector I had ever seen. When we took our seats, when the pink haze that covered the walls finally faded away, I remember being struck numb by the journey I was suddenly taking. I flew high with the eagles over impossible mountains and bottomless canyons, cascading through wind and rain and snow. I dove with sharks to the very depths of the ocean floor, and I careened through the ruins of old. In all honesty, I felt like I could fly.

But my favorite IMAX movies were the ones that took me into space. When my feet were picked up off the ground and I was launched freely into the stars, I was in awe, overwhelmed by the vastness of the cosmos laid out before me. I tumbled around comets, danced across galaxies, soared over planets I may never see, and looked back on the Earth, our beautiful blue marble, and was mesmerized. Watching these films as a child was one of the only times I ever felt truly immersed in a location.

No IMAX film since then has managed to capture me in the same way. No film, that is, until Gravity.

In an era where IMAX and 3D are no longer special, where every film is subject to warped editing and blown up to massive proportions for no other reason than to double the ticket price, director and cowriter Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá TambiénChildren of Men) uses these tools for their intended purpose: to engulf the audience in a universe they may otherwise never know. He makes a case that magic can still be made with these resources, and with the help of brilliant camerawork, a dedicated special effects team, and a truly submerging score, Gravity is a sight to behold.

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star as two astronauts on a space walk when their satellite is destroyed by deadly space debris. Left floating in the void just outside of Earth’s atmosphere, they must make their way to a neighboring space station armed only with their wits and what little oxygen they have left.

Because of its content, Gravity has been compared to another famous galactic film: 2001: A Space Odyssey. Let me say this: Gravity is a far superior film to Stanley Kubrick’s “masterpiece,” mostly because 2001 is boringIt is a drag of a film that feels much longer than it should, and no matter how many times people have tried to sit me down and watch it, I always disconnect within the first half hour. I’m not engaged, I’m not interested in any of the characters or their individual plights, and the thing is stuffed so full of unnecessary symbolism that I end up laughing during those rare moments the movie hasn’t put me to sleep.

Gravity, on the other hand, never stops being interesting, mainly thanks to the brilliant work of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men, The Tree of Life) and composer Steven Price (The World’s End). We’re introduced to the universe of…the universe in one unbroken shot, watching our brave astronauts simply having fun being astronauts. It’s quiet, peaceful: the glow of the Earth reflects off our heroes’ helmets. Then, the debris hits, and we’re launched face-first into space, spinning with the spacemen and hurled through the stars as a cacophony of brass throws us into just as much chaos. Then, it’s quiet again, almost melancholic, as the two sole survivors gather their wits and press on, their only motivation being to stay alive.
This is the dichotomy that plays back and forth throughout the film: death and life, hopelessness and hope, waiting for the world to end and pressing on, and its delivery is nothing short of breathtaking. It’s a great argument for the most simple stories being the most effective: there are no ulterior motives and no shoehorned philosophies to speak of. There is one shot in the entire film that is at all symbolic, and it alone accomplishes more than 2001 ever could.
In short, Gravity makes the case that cinemagic is still very much alive, that IMAX and 3D can be so much more than gimmicks when done well. It may not be the movie of the year for some people, but it certainly made me feel like a kid again.
9/10

Pacific Rim – Review

The latest from remarkable director Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s LabyrinthHellboy), this film sees Earth under siege from Kaiju, great beasts that have risen from a dimensional rift at the bottom of the ocean to wreak havoc upon our unsuspecting populace. In response, the governments of the world pooled their resources to create the Jaegers, robots so massive that they require two people to pilot them through a process known as the Drift, a mental bridge that links the conscious and subconscious minds of the pilots.

Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam, Sons of Anarchy), a young man who—having retired from being a Jaeger pilot after the loss of his copilot and brother, Yancy, to a Kaiju—is contacted by his former commander, Marshall Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), who has sought the former pilot for one last mission, a secret plan to bring an end to the Kaiju siege once and for all using the last of the long-discontinued Jaeger mechs in existence, all stationed in Hong Kong. Raleigh is paired with Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), a young and inexperienced pilot with fire in her heart and demons plaguing her memory.

So begins one of the most entertaining and awe-inspiring stories of the summer.

If Jaeger pilots are rock stars, then Pacific Rim is the biggest and best concert film of this or any other century. Concert films aside, Pacific Rim, written by del Toro and Travis Beacham and also featuring Charlie Day and Ron Pearlman, is an explosion of so many different things at once that it all comes together to form one passionate powerhouse of a film.

The best way to sum up everything good about Pacific Rim is this: it has heart. This isn’t like most other explosion-heavy blockbusters, devoid of any meaning beyond smashing and crashing. Beneath the shell of this beautiful behemoth beats a loud, powerful, genuine heart. You can feel the soul of this project in every aspect of the movie; the passion poured into this piece is palpable across the board.

Guillermo del Toro approaches the idea of giant robots fighting giant monsters with the wonder and mysticism of a child turning on the television and discovering Godzilla or one of the countless Super Robot anime in existence. Del Toro has stated in interviews that one of his goals with this film was to introduce the kaiju and mecha genres to a new generation of filmgoers, and as an introduction to those kinds of genres, he succeeds in capturing all the spectacle and grandeur of both without sacrificing the humans in this picture.

Does the story leave something to be desired? This, so far, has been the biggest complaint from many critics (for those who were complaining about image quality and darkness/murkiness of image, I have to say that my screen looked bright and vibrant, and I could see everything. You may want to speak to your projectionist or try a different screen at a different theater). The story, admittedly, is pretty basic: washed-up Insert-Profession-Here is recruited by Old-Friend for One-Last-Mission, and he’s teamed up with Nervous-Rookie to go save the world. Yes, yes, it’s a story we’ve all heard before.

But the way that story is told here is not only different from what most Western audiences have seen, but it’s executed in a terrific fashion. It’s big and campy and overcharged and, most importantly, fun. You care about the Jaeger pilots, you want them to succeed, you stare in horror when things look their worst, and you cheer when they look their best. The heart of del Toro beats loud and proud in the core of each Jaeger, and while the story may not have been the best, the way it was told was accomplished better than any other Western giant robot film I’ve ever seen.

Pacific Rim has earned its place in the mecha and kaiju genres.

9/10

You Are No Coincidence

Miles and miles above the Earth and all its good people below, I’m overcome with a tremendous sense of hope.

In the country I left behind, people are just now headed to bed or headed out to celebrate some such occasion they feel worth celebration, and why shouldn’t they? For some, the day has wound down, and for others, the night has just begun.

But outside my window, the first light of day is starting to show. When my feet touch the ground, it will be dawn. People will rise from their beds to watch the mist broken by the warmth of the morning sun, or to join their neighbors in celebration of the deity they believe brought them this light. Or, perhaps, they’ll work in the kitchens, preparing what, for some, s a great feast for family and friends, enjoyed in the company of those they love. Or, maybe still, like some people I could mention, they’ll continue to rest on their day of rest, and maybe by the time they wake up, their first rays of sun will be the last light of day.

And where am I? Floating above them, drifting among clouds like the pages of a notebook a careless artist threw like caution to the wind, though, in this day and age, perhaps this is how she’ll be discovered. Perhaps a page will hit a plane, not on my side, but at a window of the first-class cabin, catching the eye of some investor, an investor who happens to know someone at the Guggenheim. Perhaps he’ll give her a call, request a piece specifically for that gallery, and from there, her life begins.

Chance, it’s often called. Coincidence, happenstance. Things that occur rarely with reason but just seem to happen.

But I don’t believe in that.

I believe things happen for a reason. Now, I’m not one to call myself a believer in fate or destiny. I believe people shape their own destiny, that fate is only fate after the fact, that the actions of one person can indeed be acts of gods.

But when people meet, and when events happen far beyond our control, and when the universe happens to, seemingly out of nowhere, bring people together, tear people apart, flood valleys, move mountains, turn the world as we know it upside-down, it always seems to happen for a reason.

And that is why I find myself filled with this tremendous sense of hope: the people I’ve met in my travels have granted this to me simply by existing, simply by tumbling head-first into my life, inadvertently, uncontrollably, and without remorse. They have crashed into me, thron my life into cataclysm, ruined what could have been the well-versed plans of some higher power, and I will never be able to thank them enough.

But I will most certainly try.

I have come to believe that the single most powerful thing any human being can do is change another person’s life.

I’ve spent a good long time trying to figure out who I am, but I’ve long since realized that my life is not my own. It is the amalgamation of not only my life, but also of the experiences of all the people who have ever walked with me through a park, sat with me at a table, danced with me both in front of and behind a camera, and dumped their lives on me, whether they realized it or not. I’ve learned so much, so much more than I could ever have anticipated as a six-year-old child, sitting alone in his room with his pet cockatiel, designing roller coasters that defied the very foundations of physics, or as a thirteen-year-old boy trying to figure out this other side of the world, still trying to understand this realm of gods and men, still lost as ever in his imagination. My mind has been opened far beyond physical comprehension, galaxies and lifetimes dancing in my mind like the stars above, coloring my world like the tangerine light far in front of me colors my horizon.

My future is bright, and had I not met the people I have had the thrill of meeting. I would never think that way. I would still be a boy, locked in his room with his pencils and paper and toys and dreams, dreams I had always been shy of sharing.

Yes, I was shy once. Anyone who has met me only in the past few years would never have guessed such a thing possible, but it’s true. I was a frightfully frightened little boy, kept to myself, tried so hard to toe the line that, for some reason, I could never see. But inside bubbled stories, stories I never knew I could tell, stories threatening to burst if I did not find some means of sharing them with the world.

This world, and all its good people, have filled me with a tremendous sense of hope, and hope springs eternal. And while I may never be able to thank you enough, I feel I should at least try.

So, to everyone who has ever stumbled into my life and bridged it with theirs, however personally or casually, however briefly or however long, to everyone who reads this and knows that they have granted me hope, faith, and friendship, to everyone who showed me that the sun will always rise just like it does now, thank you.

Thank you for having me in your company, thank you for coming into my life, but more than that, thank you for being my friend.

And if I haven’t met you yet, I do hope I will soon. So far, there hasn’t been anybody I’ve met that wasn’t important, and I have a feeling that you and I will get along just fine.

At least, that’s what I hope.