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.

Storytellers

The article I’ll be referencing throughout:

http://www.thewrap.com/movies/article/new-hollywood-producers-struggle-adjust-life-studio-lot-67471?page=0

I was originally going to write a review of a movie I recently got to see for free: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. But that movie was so abhorrently stupid, I don’t think I could bring myself to write anything more than that. So, here’s my review: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is an unintelligent gore fest, and if I had not been invited to a free screening, I would have kicked myself for spending money on the film.

Now that that’s out of my system, I stumbled across an article that made me laugh. In “The New Hollywood: Producers Struggle to Adjust to Life Off the Studio Lot,” I read stories about how major studios are funding fewer films these days, how the vast majority of movies are being made independently for meager budgets with returns easily ten times what was spent on the production, how studios are only interested in distribution instead of full-blown production, how producers who followed the “traditional Hollywood model” found out only a few years ago that their game-winning process had expired.

“The bottom line is, producers are on their own,” David Friendly, the producer of films like Doctor Dolittle and Little Miss Sunshine, says in this article. “There used to be someone taking care of us in good times and bad. That’s over.”

“So much of the job of a producer is convincing very established filmmakers who are used to shooting for 40 or 50 days that they can do the same thing in 25 to 30 days,” producer Celine Rattray says.

I say it’s about damn time.

As a filmmaker, I’ve long believed a good film doesn’t take half a year or a year to complete, and, depending on the film, it doesn’t—rather, it shouldn’t—take the GDP of Switzerland to finance it.

Yet I seem to attend a school where at least 90% of students in the Visual Media Arts department are of the mindset that a 20-minute stop-motion student movie about an egg who is also a detective trying to find true love in noir thriller New York (the film is called Hard Boiled. Get it? GET IT??? You think I’m making this up) requires an entire semester and a Kindergarten teacher’s annual salary to make it. Maybe I’m just cheap, maybe I was raised differently, but I balk at the idea that something like Moonrise Kingdom had a $16 million budget.

There are several things I feel are to blame for this mentality. One of which is the exorbitant fees paid to certain film stars (Shia LaBoeuf “earned” $10 million for Transformers 3. That seems…excessive). I don’t know about the rest of you, but a quarter million a year sounds like a fortune to me. Personally, I don’t understand what people do with all the money dumped upon them. I certainly wouldn’t know what to do. Were I handed $10 million today, most of that would probably go either into charity or into the college fund for the children I don’t have.

…or, y’know, back into this country. Which is still in debt and could probably use that kind of cash right now.

But the chief cause, I think, for this mentality are the producers themselves. Here, they are just now acknowledging the death of an old way of making films, a way I feel expired three years ago but was due to expire at least a decade before.

With the advent of the digital age, the reins of the silver screen have been wrested from the hands of big names and handed to independent hotshots who think they have a story to tell, and while this has, in the last generation or so, produced a fair share of unwatchable messes, occasionally the great story, the fantastic adventure, has shone through the mess. In fact, on second thought, in the last ten years alone, a good chunk of the worst films of the season have in fact come from none other than the big name studios themselves, studios which have resigned themselves to “safe bets”: high-octane action films, sequels, prequels, remakes, sappy romcoms, TV spinoffs, the whole flying lot.

The original ideas, meanwhile, have been left to the vilified population of fresh-minded students left standing in the cold, a population tainted by the flood of pretention that pours from the loudest of the group, silencing all with a story actually worth hearing, condemning them to art houses nobody attends and pleading with executives who don’t want “new.”

“Your idea won’t sell,” they will say when you bring a story worth telling. “If you can’t tell me that your story is Movie X meets Movie Y, then it won’t sell.”

These are the words straight from the mouths of those very producers who are in such desperate need for story that they would rather rehash the old, the worn out, the familiar, than take a chance at something new, something different, something that could be wonderful but will most probably never see the light of day.

Now, they are trapped, languishing under the heel of their own failed gambit, seeing now the result of boosting the talentless and hypnotizing the once talented, forcing them to rewrite their stories, feeding them myths of opportunity, promising grandeur.

All they want is your voice, you poor unfortunate soul.

We have reached an impasse: producers are scrambling for an idea that will sell, but they are unwilling to take a chance on something new, a fresh idea; the new auteurs have stories to tell, but nobody will buy them because they are new and different, because the stigma of the pretentious indie pollutes the atmosphere, leaving a bad taste in the mouth at the sheer mention of the words “up-and-coming young filmmaker.”

We have reached Deadlock.

So, where do we go from here? Where do producers go when they need new, fresh ideas, ideas worth making, ideas worth selling? Where do they go when they need writers, directors, storytellers?

The producers have been ripped from their decadent nests and cast out into the cold world that we know and endure. We feel you, producers.

Which is why I submit to you this offer:

Look to us.

Sit down with us.

Consider us.

And we shall deliver ye from your frigid Hell.

A friend of mine found himself descending into the darkness of cynicism and disillusionment, the same ghost that haunts all bright-eyed students whose first step into Hollywood drives them smack into a brick wall. He told me what he was told when he pitched his ideas: nobody will buy them because “they don’t sound like ideas that will sell.” His ideas aren’t generic enough, aren’t familiar enough, and if he wants to get by in Hollywood, he needs to accept that reality and write for the audience, not for himself.

He returned from California recently happier than I’d ever seen him. His idealism did not falter, did not wither, did not perish, for he knows, as I know, that true story is of far more worth to the audience than the same damn thing screened for the millionth time.

True story is worth far more to this world than the same story told the same way a thousand times.

“The most original authors are not so,” Goethe wrote, “because they advance what is new, but because they put what they have to say as if it had never been said before.”

The keys to the kingdom do not belong to the studio: they never have. They lie in the hands of the writer, the director, the filmmaker. Storytellers: unlock the door. Open your heart. Release your stories unto the world as only you know how.

Something I try to remember, but sometimes forget:

We chose one of the most difficult paths to turn into a career, but the challenge along the way will make the end all the more rewarding when we look back and say, “We did it. We beat that.”

And when the chances are a million to one, which they will always be, we fight to be that one in a million. And if they choose to try to shoot us down, they won’t watch us go down in flames.

We’ll take them down with us and give them front row seats to watch us rise back up.

We are the dreamers of the day, as T.E. Lawrence would say. We are dangerous people, for we act our dreams with open eyes to make them possible.

He would call us dangerous. I call us wonderful.

For what better goal is there but to make a dream reality?

We are storytellers.

We will never die.

A Beautiful Ugly World

It’s five in the morning.

Streets lie quiet in unconscious abandon, the residents of this city napping soundly, ignorant of the struggle of the jet-lagged storyteller to bring himself to rest while his mind refuses to lie dormant, not now, not when it’s ten at night the day before in the land he just left, not when his body has not yet adjusted to the cycle of those who rest around him.

A motor scooter, a moped, a red Vespa, zips down the otherwise empty street. A chicken crows at a sun as yet unseen. The sky remains an inky black, and I sit on a third story balcony—second-story, for anyone who isn’t American—as the city below me begins to rise.

It’s five-fifteen. The call begins.

I am in the Middle East for the first time in six months. I am in Lebanon for the first time in a year. I have been in Beirut for thirty-two hours, and already, I am, as I often am whenever I visit, touched.

The call begins. The disembodied voice of a devout man echoes between the side streets and back corners of this capital, the government seat of my father’s land. It is a voice I had grown all-too accustomed to hearing during my time spent here. Nevertheless, after its absence, I find it chilling to be speaking to me again.

A prayer, a prayer children in this part of the world know without yet understanding its power, a prayer that is a verse that is a chapter that is a book that is a word that is a vow to a power they will never see but into which they will put all of their faith, awakens this part of the city.

Perhaps this is why it is called Faith.

It’s five-thirty. The call falls silent, its final words resting on the ears of a slowly rising country, the ears of an ever-listening world, a world full of impossible odds, full of miracles.

Perhaps this is the Faith we should have in the world.

It’s six in the morning. The power has gone out. The city is awake now. The smell of gasoline chokes the fresh Mediterranean breeze. I cannot stop it.

We live in an ugly world. This is an ugly, unfair world where nobody lives forever, where hearts flooded with darkness exude only hatred, spilling it onto the cracked foundations of societies in which its people have long stopped believing, a world where if a nation is not at war with someone else, it is at war with itself.

It’s seven in the morning.

The first rays of sun soak Beirut in their golden glow. Engines, horns, shouts of shopkeepers and old friends fill the atmosphere. Something cooking below smells incredible.

I live amongst gods. I associate with creators, world builders, forces of nature.

We live in a beautiful world. We were not born into a beautiful world. We were born into a sandbox and left to our own devices, and we populated the world with art, where a man lives until his name is forgotten, where immortality is granted not by any supernatural means, but by the magic of legend, by being remembered.

We live in a world that is always itself and its opposite. This is a state of nature we have created.

It’s seven-thirty. Good morning, Lebanon. Did you sleep well?

Left to our own devices, we created duality.

We live in a beautiful, ugly world.