Thursday, December 23, 2010

Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky does things his own way. In this day and age, while every other filmmaker has made the switch to digital cameras, the young auteur is stepping back in time and working with Super 16mm. Black Swan (2010) is a gritty film, and a film only a young and passionate filmmaker can helm.

Black Swan is cut from the same cloth as the rest of Darren Aronofsky’s films. Darren Aronofsky is no longer writing his films, but a continuous trend in thematics that prevails in the work of auteurs seems to be occurring in his films. the characters in his films seem to be overtaken by an obsession; patterns (Pi), addiction (Requiem for a Dream), eternal love (The Fountain), and perfection (The Wrestler and Black Swan). Pi (1998), Requiem for a Dream (2000), and The Fountain (2006) are dissimilar in their style, but are all concerned with the endless search for hope. This presents us with an unofficial trilogy in terms of this specific thematic.

There was a switch in technique after The Fountain for Darren Aronofsky, who stopped writing his films and focused solely on directing with The Wrestler (2008). The Wrestler was on the other end of the spectrum in comparison to The Fountain, as Darren Aronofsky went from visually beautiful to a film that was as rough as its main character. The Wrestler and Black Swan, however, are companion pieces as they both deal with characters who use their bodies to express themselves. The characters in both films deal with very physical performances (wrestling and dancing), and are also concerned with obsession and the transition into insanity in search for perfection. In both films, Darren Aronofsky steps into unfamiliar territories in terms of the look of his film, as the handheld and tracking camera allows us to become observers, much like the documentary filmmaking of cinéma vérité films.

Black Swan centers on the life of Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), a young ballerina who fights her way to the top through perseverance and determination. In this psychological thriller, the elements of horror come into play as we explore the inner thoughts of our main character. In a surprise turn of events, we discover that Nina is offered the role of Swan Queen in Swan Lake. The role requires Nina to play two parts; White Swan and Black Swan. This requires her to switch from the naïve and innocent girl that she is to a much more sensual and daring femme fatale. The only person standing in Nina’s way is Lily (Mila Kunis), who slowly becomes threatening in her personal and professional life. In the same way that Raging Bull (1980) was not a film about boxing, Black Swan is not a film about ballet. Black Swan is a film about a ballerina, and her deterioration over the course of the film. I find it quite amazing that I identified with a ballerina of all people this year.

Black Swan is a clever thriller and provides us with a haunting atmosphere, as we move into a world full obsession and hallucination. In the beginning of the film, we begin understanding Nina’s ambitions and goals, and her search for perfection. Black Swan raises the question of whether perfection is a realistic and attainable goal, and when we pass the line and lose ourselves to insanity. Darren Aronofsky manages to skillfully blur the line between reality and fantasy. The style of the film and its constant use of handheld tracking shots in the film effectively place us in the mind of the main character, as we have a hard time distinguishing between reality and fantasy.

Matthew Libatique picks up where Maryse Alberti left off with The Wrestler. In fact, the final shot of both films mimic each other. The characters take a final leap; Randy jumps from the bars of the ring as Nina jumps off the stairs. This further presents us with the idea of both films acting as companion pieces. In The Wrestler, the handheld camera and frequent tracking shots placed us in the world of wrestling, as we felt like we were in the ring with the characters. In Black Swan, the cinematography is much more sophisticated, as we spend most of our time looking at the back of our main character’s head, following her in her house, at rehearsals, and everywhere in between. There are numerous abrupt cuts, as well as match cuts, which are stylistically beautiful and thematically effective.

The elements of paranoia are also represented through the use of mirrors, which serve as unreliable determinants of whether what is taking place is actual real. The mirror in Nina’s house resembles a broken mirror, full of reflective angles, projecting a sense of her schizophrenic personality. The use of these mirrors, in her home and workplace, also hints at the possibility of a doppelganger (Lily). In fact, the first time Nina and Lily meet are in a bathroom, as we view their conversation through a mirror. In the course of their conversation, the two characters blend together through their reflection in the mirror. This emphasizes the possibility that Lily is in Nina’s mind, and that their personalities will eventually combine in the film. The cinematography of the film also allows us to experience her paranoia, because our own minds continue to race as we attempt to distinguish reality from fantasy.

Clint Mansell, who has been Darren Aronofsky's leading composer since Pi, presents us with a haunting rendition and adaptation of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. The final act of the film is frightening, as the music and cinematography work together harmoniously. Darren Aronofsky turns the film from a physiological thriller into his very own operatic ballet, as we witness the metaphorical and physical transformation of our main character into the Black Swan. In the same way that Darren Aronofsky adopted macro photography to create the visual world of The Fountain, the young filmmaker cleverly and efficiently uses CGI to create this stunning and horrific transformation.

Black Swan is a haunting experience, and will terrify those who strive for perfection. Darren Aronofsky questions the desire for perfection, and the price that we ultimately pay for striving to reach perfection. The final moments of the film are harrowing, as the young and beautiful ballerina speaks her final line as she lays in a pool of blood, after her search for perfection. The final line of the film is "I was perfect" and emphasizes that she paid the ultimate price to reach her goal. In fact, at this point of the film, her story became mine, and I was feeling my own search for perfection come to life. I felt like she was speaking for me, as I put myself into the film and heard my own thoughts on the big screen.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Fighter

I stood outside the theatre before the screening, reading a promotional poster for The Fighter (2010). There was some good word from the studio, attempting to hype up the film by comparing it to Rocky (1976) and Million Dollar Baby (2004). Their approach was that these two films were works of fiction and could naturally hype up the material, while the story in The Fighter is true and based on the life of Micky Ward. I smirked, wondering why they didn't mention Raging Bull (1980), and it's probably because Rocky and Million Dollar Baby both won the Oscar for Best Picture, and they were attempting to compare this film solely to other films which were Oscar worthy.

The Fighter tells a story that we have all heard before, whether that story is told through the character of a boxer or a family melodrama. Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) is an amateur boxer, trying to make a name for himself, in the shadows of Dicky (Christian Bale), his older half brother, who is a legend in their small town. Micky cleans streets for a living and ends up meeting Charlene (Amy Adams), a local bartender, right before a big match. Micky loses, comes back half depressed, and sulks in his failure. Micky rises to success after his brother, now a criminal and a junkie, is sent to prison. This all serves as inspiration for Micky who, with his girlfriend by his side, tries to rise up the ladder and become a champion.

The story is painfully predictable. I don't know Micky's story, but I know where he's ending up. That's not the problem with this film. I've seen everything this film throws at me before, in previous boxing films and other films in general. That's not the problem with this film. The problem with this film, plain and simple, is David O. Russell's direction. The film is very heavy-handed and doesn't find a stable ground to allow us to immerse ourselves into the story. The switch from film to video during the boxing fights doesn't do much, probably because it's not even used effectively. It's all much too aware of itself, rather than being subtle in its use. In addition, Russell's use of pop tunes is distracting, reminding us of some of the worst films I've seen. The film, from beginning to end, is filled with music that is meant to reflect the time period of the story. I don't feel like this works and instead becomes annoying as the film progresses.

The film, however, isn't all bad and it's saved with several strong performances. Christian Bale delivers his best performance, as he literally transforms into a crackhead. It's shocking, surprising, humorous, and heartbreaking. The film begins with Christian Bale and the film ends with Christian Bale. The film is nothing without Christian Bale. The mannerisms of his character, such as his off-the-cuff remarks, including a spontaneous comment to a passerby, in which he says, "What kind of dog is that? Is that a cocker spaniel?" adds to the depth of his character. I believe Christian Bale will finally win an Academy Award with this performance. In addition, the story with Micky and Dicky is obviously powerful and emotional. The ending is quite touching and their growth throughout the film works, but it only touches our hearts because of the bond these two have established. I can't say the direction of the film ever made me grow closer with these characters. If anything, the direction of the film distracting me from sympathizing with the characters.

Amy Adams is the other star of this film, as she plays against type as a rather sleazy bartender. If Christian Bale is the one who provides us with the in-your-face type of performance, it's Amy Adams who gives us the much more subtle and emotionally warm performance. There are moments of great authenticity in cinema, which allows the audience to emotionally connect with the characters, and Amy Adams delivers more than once in this film. There is a scene when Micky has hit rock bottom after the police break his hand, and as he sits in his house, Charlene appears at his door. There is no dialogue in the scene, and it plays out quite wonderfully. This is terrific storytelling and acting, allowing us to become emotionally involved with the characters. There is another very effective scene between Dicky and Charlene, which allows the characters to breathe and perform. This is what I hoped for from David O. Russell in this film, and he only delivered sparingly.

I found myself entertained, but distanced for much of the film. It's impossible for me not to compare this film with Raging Bull, a much better story on the same subject matter; two brothers who grow up in the boxing ring. Raging Bull is much more effective in every form; writing, direction, cinematography. The use of the camera in The Fighter doesn't work. The film is often all over the place and distracts us from what is most important; its characters. I think, in the end, the problem I have is with the direction of the film. I can't help but wonder what this film would be in the hands of a much more competent and emotional filmmaker, such as Darren Aronofsky, who was originally going to direct. In the end, I don't think it matters. I've seen and heard this story before, and besides some really powerful performances and several touching moments, this film is rather forgettable.

The Fighter is scheduled for release on December 17, 2010.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Creating Poetic Cinema

I remember when Mary and I came to the University of Southern California to drop off my application. I had never been to the school before, and I felt like a child while walking around the massive campus. I couldn't believe such a school existed, and when I finally came across the building I was looking for, the Johnny Carson Sound Stage, I was mesmerized. I dropped off my application, walked out of the building, and began walking back to my car. In the meantime, we passed by the recently added buildings for the School of Cinematic Arts, in their new location. I couldn't believe my eyes. These buildings were all dedicated to the study of cinema? I knew I had to see what was inside of them and walk in their hallways. Mary finally asked me if I wanted to go in. I shook my head and said, "I'll go inside when I'm accepted to this school." I felt like that day would come, and when it eventually did, that's when Mary and I finally walked through the gates of the School of Cinematic Arts.

I didn't go back to USC until after I was officially accepted. Mary and I went to a screening of Grace, as I tried to accept the fact that I would start school there in a matter of months. I sat inside Norris Cinema watching Grace, trying to imagine having a class in such a theatre. These dreams became reality within a few months and I never for once took advantage of the journey. I still walk from the parking lot at school to these buildings, never forgetting all my hard work and dedication. I'm still mesmerized by these buildings and the numerous film posters that fill our hallways. I'm still fascinated and wide-eyed at all the films I see in my classes, and I still experience a rush when I'm required to make my own films. I was a kid with a dream and I worked as hard as I could to have those dreams realized.

I decided to enroll in a production course, open to both undergraduates and graduates, known as Creating Poetic Cinema, offered by Pablo Frasconi. In this class, we would try to understand what poetic cinema is, and try to apply it in our own films. I had the opportunity to work with some very talented students and see some terrific films in the class. I also had the opportunity to create four of my own films, including a short film that was shot entirely on 16mm. I was both excited and anxious to finally work with film, and the experience was a highlight in my life. On December 9, 2010, our professor chose several films from our class and presented them on campus. I had two of my films selected, including Carnaval, which was shot on 16mm and The Armenian and the Armenian.

I had several members of my family in attendance, as we watched the films at the Ray Stark Theatre in the George Lucas Building. I went from a young child who was fascinated by telling stories to attending USC School of Cinematic Arts and having my films play on the big screen. I love creating films and sharing them with people I know and love as well as people I have never met or seen. I enjoyed every minute of the evening and received some very positive remarks in regards to my films. I feel inspired to create more films, to share them with more people, and to continue living my dreams.

It's funny how life works, because everything and anything is possible in this world. I sat in the Ray Stark Theatre watching two of my films with my family, and this was everything I had hoped for in life. I finally made it inside USC School of Cinematic Arts, and now, I'm working hard to get back outside, in the real world.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cinema 102, Professor Karaoghlanian

It's just as I had imagined! I need to offer another course because the first course is closed! In this course, I will be teaching an introduction to cinema, in which we will be discussing the basics of cinema, as well as the foundations of the medium and the films that exemplify their respective movements. It's a closer look at the techniques, aesthetics and social implications of cinema. It's also a chance to better understand the different elements of cinema, and like all my courses, it's a chance to discover films that you have never seen!

Week One – Opening Film

Screening: Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

I believe in magic... and for the first film of this course, I would like to allow my students to experience the magic of cinema. Singin' in the Rain is one of those films that will leave an impression and become an instant favorite. It's the perfect film to lift up your lackluster life! Singin' in the Rain stars Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds. It's an unforgettable film that will leave you laughing and crying and singin', and for that reason, we will screen it as the opening film for the course.

Week Two – Literary Design

Screening: The Sweet Hereafter (1997)

It's time to jump into the course, and our first order of business is studying the literary design of films. The Sweet Hereafter was adapted from Russell Banks' novel of the same title. Atom Egoyan makes a faithful adaptation here, which received a nomination for an Academy Award. It's a devastating film, which allows us to understand the way in which a novel can be transcribed onto the screen.

Week Three – Performance

Screening: On the Waterfront (1954)

Who's your favorite actor? If Marlon Brando didn't immediately come to mind, then it's probably because you have never been properly introduced to him. Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront is a role that arguably redefined acting for generations to come. The actor is often praised for his performance but audiences don't seem to understand the true commitments of actors, and that's their star persona is one of the things we will discuss.

Week Four – Visual Design

Screening: Raging Bull (1980)

I'm having some fun here because I had to write my first paper as a film scholar on this film and on this element of film production. Raging Bull is perfect in all aspects of cinema, from its performances to sound design. It's visual design, however, is so superb, I can spend hours discussing and analyzing certain scenes. Martin Scorsese creates a jungle-like atmosphere within the boxing ring and puts the audience right in the middle of it. It's exciting, devastating, and shows the deterioration of a "raging bull."

Week Five – Composition

Screening: Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

In Entourage, Billy Walsh was starting work on a film that was set to make Lawrence of Arabia look like it was shot on a sandbox. I'm not surprised that his film never came to fruition, because such a film is not possible. In terms of space and landscape, David Lean paints a sturnning portrait with this film. There are certain shots that will stay in your mind, forever.

Week Six – Temporal Design

Screening: Memento (2000)

Who says you have to follow the rules of filmmaking? Christopher Nolan certainly didn't when he was making Memento. In fact, he chose to tell the entire story backwards. Yes, he begins by telling us the ending and moves in reverse. It's the job of an editor to be invisible, and if their work on the film is top notch, audiences will never know about their existence. That's a problem because editors are storytellers on their own, and that's our focus of discussion.

Week Seven – Sound Design

Screening: Apocalypse Now (1979)

This is a terrific topic to discuss because most audiences often ignore sound design when it comes to films. It's often overlooked because they don't understand what it really is. Walter Murch paved the way for sound design with Apocalypse Now, considering the term was born after his contribution on this film.

Week Eight – Documentary

Screening: Waltz with Bashir (2008)

I'm sure a ton of people who don't regular watch many films have seen documentaries, but the problem is they have probably seen made-for-television documentaries. Waltz with Bashir is an amazing effort by Ari Folman because it's a foreign language animated documentary. It's terrific in terms of all three, but it's an engaging and thought provoking documentary.

Week Nine – Animation

Screening: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a well-known film, but I'm certain many people didn't know it was made over seventy years ago! In fact, it was the first animated feature film - in color, in the United States - and it was produced by Walt Disney. The role of animation in films has changed over the past few decades, so we will be looking at the significance of such films.

Week Ten – Modes of Representation: Realism & Formalism

Screening: Ladri di biciclette (1948) and Sayat Nova (1968)

It's time to jump ship and look at two very different types of films. Ladri di biciclette depicts the reality of Postwar Italy. It's heartbreaking, cruel, and you could swear it's all real. In fact, it almost is, because many of the cast and crew are amateurs. In Sayat Nova, however, you will be blown away by the formalist approach. Sergei Parajanov, the filmmaker, was a poetic artist and tells a story completely through a visual approach, rather than a narrative approach. I assure you, it's nothing like you've ever seen in your life. Sofiko Chiaureli (a female!) plays an astonishing six characters in the film, including the title character of Sayat Nova.

Week Eleven – Classical Hollywood (1929-1945)

Screening: Gone with the Wind (1939)

It's time to define our times, and to be introduced to Classical Hollywood. This is the Golden Age of Hollywood, all of which seems like a dream to us now. Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, Katherine Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Vivien Leigh... the list goes on! In our first look at a time period of filmmaking, we will discuss the history of the Classical Hollywood period.

Week Twelve – Postclassical Hollywood (1946-1962)

Screening: The Apartment (1960)

Who can resist falling in love with Shirley MacLaine, or admiring the down-and-out Jack Lemmon? This film defines this period of Hollywood because it's so rich in terms of romance, comedy, and characters. It's time to see how films began changing after the war, in terms of censorship and content.

Week Thirteen – Modern Hollywood (1963-1976)

Screening: The Graduate (1967)

The Graduate defines this period of time in Hollywood where things were changing, including the circumstances in which we made our films. This is a time in which filmmaking was changing, as the studio system began falling apart. The Graduate is one of the films in which this change is present... and making films has never been the same since, for better or for worse.

Week Fourteen – Postmodern Hollywood (1977-Present)

Screening: Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

This is the time period in which we live in today, driven by franchises and technology. Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a terrific film, it's hauntingly beautiful, because of its ability to incorporate animation with live action. This is a good example of a film using technology to integrate it with its storytelling. This is the time period in which we make films in today, a time in which our fascination inspires us to work with animation, performance capture, and 3D.

Week Fifteen – Closing Film

Screening: Citizen Kane (1941)

I suppose we can save the best for last, because Citizen Kane is one of the defining films in the history of cinema. This film changed the business, not just because of it's approach in telling a story, but its performance and cinematography as well. It's time to wrap up the class, and what better way than to leave one what is arguably one of the best films of all time.

I hope you'll be back for my future courses, including an upcoming course that covers international cinema! If there are specific films that you have seen and would have something to say, please feel free to share. If there's a specific film you would just suggest as a replacement for one of the films I have chosen, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Look, Ma! I'm on television!

I'm usually behind the camera on my projects, but this is a chance for me to be in front of the camera! I'm going to be on Platforum, a program on Trojan Vision, which is a student television station at the University of Southern California. I was asked to join a panel of students who will be discussing, debating, and conversing about the films of this season, some of which will be in consideration for awards season in a couple of months.

I love talking about films, so I would never turn down such an opportunity. If you live in the Los Angeles area, you can watch it live on Channel 36 at 5:30pm. If you don't live near campus, you can stream it online. Trojan Vision broadcasts to more than 29,000 students and 18,000 university employees, and over 1.8 million homes in the Los Angeles area.

I hope everybody will be watching, as we discuss many films that are already gaining momentum for the Academy Awards. So, this is your chance to watch and see what films you should check out that are currently in theaters, and what films you should be prepared for in the coming months!

If you'd like to watch the program, click here to watch the entire episode online!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Yerek Yereko (Three Evenings)

Yerek Yereko (Three Evenings) is an independent film from Arshak Amirbekyan, and it held its World Premiere in Los Angeles on June 9, 2010. Now, it’s scheduled to screen at the Arpa International Film Festival at the Egyptian Theatre, and I wonder if my fellow brothers and sisters will show up this time, because the theater was awfully empty several months ago.

Yerek Yereko is not your typical feature film. I was surprised to find out its running time was only 64 minutes – that’s either excellent storytelling or an extremely repetitive short film. In addition, the film was produced with a consumer camera (HDV) with a budget of $2,500. If you’re still not convinced, it is also a period piece set in the 1960s.

In the film, a lonely man (Georgi Amirago) spends his days writing his doctoral thesis, and spends his days behind his typewriter in the midst of parties and celebrations that often occur in the apartment below his. On a particular evening, he sees a young woman (Kristina Zaminyan) standing outside his window, and discovers that she has been following her husband, who seems to be having an affair with a woman from his building. In their second meeting, the man finds the young woman waiting outside once again; this time, in the rain. They have a brief conversation, until she agrees to come inside for a cup of tea. It is there we discover that he is studying to become a scientist, and that she is married with three children, uncertain of where her life is headed. In her fragile position, she confides in him and tells him how she really feels, as she reveals her vulnerabilities and fears about life and marriage. Suddenly, she decides to leave, despite that it is still raining – it is only right to do so.

I realized by this point of the film that these characters had not introduced themselves to each other, or to the audience, for that matter. In a sense, this added a layer of a dreamlike quality between them and contributed to the atmosphere of the film. On the following day, the young woman decides to drop in unexpectedly. It’s a change of pace for the story because it is the first time she has taken the initiative. They drink beer, eat sandwiches, and laugh – allowing their friendship to form, as they grow closer. They even begin dancing – at first, it’s upbeat and fun to see them break free, and later, it's a slow dance. Their evening shifts into something much more intimate, as their relationship begins to evolve. This doesn't establish into a feeling of romance, but rather companionship. She's there for him, a lonely fool, and he's there for her, a lady in distress.

I don't want to go any further, but this is not a film of expectations. Instead, it's about finding a friend and establishing a compassionate relationship. It's an intimate film that deals with companionship, rather than sexual desires. In the end, there is a feeling of lost love, even though that love is never established in the conventional sense.

Yerek Yereko was adapted from a short story that the filmmaker’s father had originally written. It’s quiet, atmospheric, and gives way to the emotions of the leads, who never let their vulnerabilities steer them away. Yerek Yereko is a rare film that provides us with a sense of our culture. It is a film that could have been produced decades ago, when Italian neorealism films were presenting us with a look at life after the war. In a similar sense, Mr. Amirbekyan presents us with a film that deals with realism. It’s a beautiful film that speaks to our hearts and allows us a look at a hopeless love story.

Yerek Yereko has its share of flaws, from its sound design to its screen direction. In a sense, I was able to look past all of this - and I hope others will too – and focus on the intentions of the filmmaker, the overall story that he has presented for us. I was drawn to the screen and fell in love with the characters in the film. I felt proud, as I listened to the actors speak Armenian, and later read the credits in my mother tongue. I only wish there were more of us in attendance at the screening that evening, but perhaps, they will show up another evening.

Yerek Yereko is scheduled to screen on September 18 at the Napa Sonoma Wine Country Film Festival and on September 25 at the Arpa International Film Festival. I am currently in talks with the filmmaker to help bring the film to more screens in Los Angeles for the Armenian community.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I'll see you again... this side or the other.

In 2007, Ben Affleck made his very impressive directorial debut with Gone Baby Gone (2007), which starred his younger brother, Casey Affleck, in a riveting performance. Now, it's three years later and he is three days away from his sophomore directorial debut with The Town (2010), which stars Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Blake Lively, Rebecca Hall… and Ben Affleck, himself. I had the pleasure of seeing The Town six months ago at an advance screening.

The Town revolves around the lives of four bank robbers from Charlestown, Massachusetts. Charlestown is a one square mile neighborhood in Boston and known for having the highest number of bank and armored car robberies anywhere in the United States. Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) leads his boys and stays on top of their excessive behaviors, including his short-tempered best friend, Jem Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), who is the closest thing to a brother that Doug has. Krista (Blake Lively) is Jem’s sister and Doug’s ex-girlfriend, who has a 19-month old baby that she believes belongs to Doug.

Doug has followed in his father’s criminal footsteps, but has been contemplating leaving his lifestyle behind. In their last job, however, Jem takes Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), a bank manager, as hostage and complicates Doug’s plans. Jem, who has a temper like no other and is fresh out of prison after serving nine years for manslaughter, decides to track Claire down to ensure that she did not see anything during the robbery. Doug asks to take over the case, knowing Jem’s unstable state of mind, and finds himself falling in love with her. This begins complicating their lives because as Doug falls in love with Claire, the bank manager, she is at the same time being questioned by Special Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) of the FBI.

It’s been done countless times before, but the approach in this film is both exciting and daring. It’s an authentic and genuine look, because there is a blurred line between who is the hero and villain of the film. Sure, these kids are cut from the same cloth as some of the characters from The Departed (2006), but it’s their no-bullshit approach that grounds their action in realism. In fact, this is how I imagine banks are robbed – with force.

Jeremy Renner is the star of the film, presenting us with an impressive performance from start to finish, as he transforms into a Boston criminal with a drive for disaster. It’s an excellent departure the young actor, who becomes unrecognizable from all his previous roles. Rebecca Hall, however, gives a rather dry performance. It’s only with the help of her surrounding actors that her scenes are bearable to watch – she simply exists in the story as a romantic interest, but there’s nothing worth connecting with on emotional terms. Blake Lively is quite captivating in her performance as she plays against type in a role that we have never previously seen her in. Krista is something like a hooker, a role that demands a talented actress to begin with.

The Town takes a realistic approach to depict the grittiness of bank robbers. It's packed with action, but it's also handed effectively in the hands of Ben Affleck. It's never overwhelming or tiresome, and continuously serves to add interest and thrill to the plot of the film. It’s the believable approach of the film that has left an impression on me after six months of seeing the film.

It's hard not to mention Academy Award contenders because of its release for this Fall. In actuality, Jeremy Renner and Blake Lively deserve a nomination each for their respective performances. They both play characters we haven’t seen them take on before, and they do it quite incredibly and memorably. I personally believe this is Jeremy Renner at his finest, and possibly the best performance of the year, thus far. Ben Affleck, however, proves that he can tell stories behind the camera and I look forward to another film. This time, I know what's in store for us.

The Town is scheduled for release on September 17, 2010.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Amorosa (World Premiere)

In March 2009, I decided to volunteer for the Burbank International Film Festival at Woodbury University. I was extremely excited with this opportunity because it was their first annual film festival and it was all taking place in my hometown. I had the pleasure of working with some incredible people, including students, filmmakers and festival coordinators. I was also given a “Volunteer” badge, but was envious of those individuals who received a “Filmmaker” badge.

I was in post-production with my short film, Amorosa (2010), at this time and was in the process of applying to film school. I felt like I was on the outside, looking in, and wanted to be a part of the film festival as a filmmaker, instead of a volunteer. I told myself I would submit my film the following year and come back as a filmmaker. I suppose dreams do come true, because that is exactly what happened.

I submitted my film earlier this year and received a phone call in June from one of the film festival coordinators. I was told that my film was chosen as an Official Selection for the Burbank International Film Festival and I would be receiving my laurels soon. I was ecstatic! I couldn’t believe I would be receiving a “Filmmaker” badge this year.

I couldn’t have been more nervous as this week approached. On September 10, Mary and I were invited to the Opening Ceremony of the film festival, where filmmakers from around the world had the chance of meeting. I didn’t have a “Filmmaker” badge, because this year, they were replaced with “Official Selection” badges. I believe that’s quite remarkable and I wore it across my neck, proudly. I felt like I had finally accomplished one of my goals. I was in another world during the ceremony, as lights and cameras surrounded us both. In fact, we received over half a dozen compliments on our clothing (we were matching) and we were even crowned “Best Dressed” by a festival coordinator.

I felt like all eyes were on us, as the compliments kept pouring in from strangers around us. There was another dream of ours coming true as we walked down the red carpet and had our photographs taken, from the same group of photographers who worked at the Emmys this year. Inside, Mary and I were interviewed on camera about our short film and the festival itself. I couldn’t believe any of this was happening.

On September 11, Amorosa held its World Premiere at AMC 6 in Burbank at 2pm. This is a theater we commonly watch films, and to have my first film play on the big screen there is nothing short of amazing. I feel like everything happened in the blink of an eye. I simply remember a bunch of my family and friends there, supporting me and cheering me on. In the end, it was a unique and memorable experience to share my film with my family and friends, as well as strangers. It’s funny because it helps remind me why I make films to begin with – to share them with the people I love.

If nothing else matters in this world, family does. It’s only them I want to see when I look around a theater, because it’s only them who matter. I love every person who was able to share this memorable event with us. I accomplished a dream of mine this year, to have my short film accepted at the Burbank International Film Festival, the same festival where I volunteered a year ago. I have new dreams now, different dreams, and I’ll keep fighting until I have them realized as well.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Cinema 101, Professor Karaoghlanian

If I was teaching a course on the history of motion pictures, what would the class be like? I'm betting it would be lots of fun, with discussions that go back and forth, as well all contribute to the learning environment of the class. In fact, I might even let the kids call me by my first name, just because my last name is too hard to pronounce. If I was up there teaching, however, this is an idea of what the class would look like...

Week One Introduction, Early Cinema

In the first class, there would be an introduction and overview of the beginning stages of cinema, as well as an emphasis on Thomas Edison, the Lumière brothers, Georges Méliès, Edwin S. Porter, and D.W. Griffith.

Week Two Silent Cinema

I believe Silent Cinema was a magical time when audiences allowed stories to grab them and take them on a ride! In fact, film lovers had a hard time letting go of silent films after sound was introduced.

Screening: The General (1926), Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927), and City Lights (1931)

Week Three Soviet Montage

If there's something audiences take for granted, it's the editing of a film. In Russian Cinema, several notable filmmakers revolutionized editing techniques, and their discoveries are both a surprise and an adventure.

Screenings: Battleship Potemkin (1925) and Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

Week Four The Coming of Sound, German Expressionism

What are the first words that were ever said on the big screen? In this week's class, it's the coming of sound and students will be able to hear these words for themselves. In addition, we will also take a dark look inside the films of German Expressionism.

Screening: The Jazz Singer (1927) and M (1931)

Week Five Studio Era, The Big 5, The Little 3

What does MGM stand for? Who were the Warner Bros.? In this week's class, we will learn about the studios and their function in this time period.

Screening: Citizen Kane (1941) and Casablanca (1942)

Week Six Italian neorealism

World War II was a tough time for the entire world, but it also shaped some of the films from this timer period. In fact, come see my favorite film and learn a little bit of the history behind this time period.

Screening: Ladri di biciclette (1948)

Week Seven Golden Age of Hollywood

In the seventh class, we will take a close look at Hollywood and its function in the films from this time period. It's an exciting time, as we begin exploring Classical Hollywood.

What is Classical Hollywood? In this week's class, we will understand what this city is made of, as we learn about the ins and outs of a town we all love.

Screening: Sunset Blvd. (1950)

Week Eight Cinemascope, Technicolor

It's a fantastic world of color, as we sing and dance and laugh. It's without a doubt the most fun a film can provide!

Screening: Singin' in the Rain (1952)

Week Nine Hollywood Ending

It's the end of the studio era, as well as the introduction of television, which posed a threat to the film industry.

Screening: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Week Ten French New Wave

It's time to see how the French changed all the rules. It's a complete different approach to what we have seen thus far, and will allow the class to fall in love and witness how cinema was revolutionized.

Screening: Breathless (1960)

Week Eleven New Hollywood

In New Hollywood, the camera left the studio and was on the road, filmmaking out of the studio and on location. It was an exciting time period, which was our first step in changing cinema.

Screening: Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Week Twelve Postmodernism, Blockbusters

Steven Spielberg and George Lucas introduced us to the "blockbuster" and cinema was forever changed. It's an introduction to special effects and high concept films, as well as sequels and franchises.

Screening: Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977)

Week Thirteen New Technologies, Entertainment Conglomerates

In an ever-changing medium, see how new technologies and media began affecting our films, for better or for worse.

Screening: Annie Hall (1977)

Week Fourteen Auteur Filmmakers

Ingmar Bergman, Alfred Hitchcock, and Martin Scorsese are all considered auteur filmmakers. In this week's class, we begin understanding this concept, as well as the role of the director.

Screening: Raging Bull (1980)

Week Fifteen Conclusion, Independent Filmmaking, Digital Cinema

In the last class, we are presented with a look at independent filmmaking, an exciting opportunity for filmmakers to create films on their own, without the need of a studio. In addition, we begin asking questions about where the film industry is going next, as we understand the function of digital cinema and its threat to cinema.

Screening: Pulp Fiction (1994)

If this fits the bill, please register on time because classes fill up! This does not include the required papers and exams, which will be both comprehensive and difficult. Remember, all films screened will be film prints to ensure the best theatrical experience. Oh, and check back soon for details on other classes I plan on teaching!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Kicks, and Totems, and Dreams! Oh My!

I've been asked a handful of questions for the past few weeks, all of which sound quite familiar. In the end of Inception (2010), does the top keep spinning or does it fall down? Is Cobb still in a dream? Is Cobb back in reality? Is all of Inception a dream?

Christopher Nolan has presented his audience with a puzzle, and he's asking us to think outside the box for this one. Inception is a maze, in and of itself, and it seems it's too complex for some viewers. Inception is making us think and perhaps that's a bad thing for some people. If Inception was too confusing at first glance, perhaps a better-suited film would be Avatar (2009)... or The Blind Side (2009).

First of all, I can't understand the comparison between Inception and Shutter Island (2010). I suppose it's because both films star Leonardo DiCaprio, but that's a horrible reason. I suppose, for the same reason, we could compare Inception to The Departed (2006). Perhaps, it's because both films leave us with an open ending and asks the audience to draw their own conclusions... but then again, for the same reason, we could compare Inception to Memento (2000).

Leonardo DiCaprio believes that both films deal with the "dreamworld and... some sort of cathartic journey..." but declares "that’s about where the similarities ended." Inception should never be compared with Shutter Island, and those who do compare them, seem to be interested with what's on the surface, because these films have nothing else in common, in themes or otherwise.

In fact – and this is where I'll step into some analysis – while several critics have compared the film to science fiction thrillers and action adventures like The Matrix (1999) and James Bond, Leonardo DiCaprio claims he based his performance on Christopher Nolan, and believes Inception is more in line with Federico Fellini's (1963). I think that's an immense clue, because Inception could simply be a film about the making of a film.

Devin Faraci explains it all better than I can, but it’s not too farfetched. Cobb is Christopher Nolan, or the filmmaker, who is at the helm of this film/job. Arthur is the Point Man, or the producer, who assists with the research. Ariadne is the Architect, or the screenwriter, who designs/writes their dream/film. Eames is the Forger, or the actor, who manipulates himself to take the physical form of another person. Yusuf is the Chemist, or the technical crew member behind the scenes responsible for their safety. Saito is the Tourist, or the financier, who employs Cobb and runs the show. Robert Fischer is the Mark, or the audience, who is being incepted/inspired by an idea. Mal is the Shade, or the impulse of an auteur, who brings herself into the dreams/films.

Christopher Nolan knows this quite well, and it's a clever device for this theory. It's an auteur who brings his personality and interests to a film, which allows audiences to recognize their work. It's seen in the films of all auteur filmmakers, from Ingmar Bergman to Christopher Nolan, himself. In this film, however, we are told through Mal's character (and rightfully so) that this auteurist impulse is not always a positive characteristic. In this theory, we look to ourselves for the meaning of the film. Perhaps, Christopher Nolan is performing inception on us, by either inspiring us with an idea (of creativity) or by driving us all insane about whether the top keeps spinning or if it falls down.

Is all of Inception a dream? Is Cobb asleep, riddled with remorse, as inception is being performed on him by somebody else? It’s quite clear what happens by the end of the film. Cobb is able to move on and is finally reunited with his children – and regardless of whether the ending is a dream or reality – his character experiences this transformation. So, it is logical then, to question if Cobb was the subject of inception. Perhaps Miles, his father-in-law, is responsible for performing inception on Cobb with the hopes that he finally forgives himself. Cobb is clearly filled with paranoia – it has become impossible for him to distinguish reality from the dream world – as he sits with a loaded gun pointed at his head, ready to kill himself to wake up from what might be a dream. Miles tells Cobb to “come back to reality” and perhaps this hints at his motive. Is Cobb the subject of inception, to allow him to forgive himself and finally live his life?

If all of Inception is a dream, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no meaning and emotional satisfaction for the audience. If Cobb’s team is simply a projection of himself, the entire film, as a result, is make-believe. So, why do we care, and why invest ourselves in a film that is all a dream? Well, this theory, I believe, connects to the previous one. Inception is a film about dream sharing, because these characters are able to fall asleep and enter each other’s dreams. Christopher Nolan, however, could be referencing films once again, because cinema is the power of sharing dreams. It’s what we do every time we watch a film – we’re in a dark theater, with strangers, and we all share dreams and become invested in the lives of characters that we know are fictional. If Inception is all a dream and everything is make-believe, and there’s no reason to emotionally attach ourselves to characters whose lives are not at stake, then why do we sympathize with other characters in other films, when we know, for a fact, that everything on screen is fabricated? It’s the same thing, isn’t it?

I do realize, however, that some people are wishful for a happy ending. Cobb appears to be reunited with his children and that’s what they want to believe. In fact, there are several facts that support this belief. I know for a fact that many people were focused on the clothing of the children. Cobb was forced to leave his children and flee the country, and this is the scene that he replays in his head when he sees his children. In this memory, they are playing with their backs to their father and they are always wearing the same clothing that he last saw them in. So, this brings up a key question. If there clothing doesn’t change throughout the film, are their clothes different in the final scene? If it’s the same clothing, does this mean that Cobb is still in a dream? I would assume so, and there are conflicting thoughts about the clothing of the children. I can, however, put your mind at ease because the children’s clothing in the final scene is different. In fact, the costume designer for the film, Jeffrey Kurland, says so himself when he states that "the children's clothing is different in the final scene... look again." If the clothing is different, which it is, this could mean that Cobb is, in fact, back in reality.

In addition, there is another aspect of the costume design that might suggest that Cobb is back in reality. I believe Cobb's wedding ring holds some significance, because it’s missing in quite a few scenes. I believe that this was a purposeful act from the filmmakers and it serves as a clue for the ending of the film. In all scenes that are from the dream world, Cobb is wearing his wedding ring. In all scenes that are from the real world, Cobb is not wearing his wedding ring. In the final scene, when Cobb is reunited with his children, Cobb is not wearing his wedding ring, which further suggests that he is, in fact, back in reality.

If this holds true, this could mean that Cobb drowns in the van after not receiving is kicks, and Saito dies in Level 3 from his gunshot wound. Saito enters Limbo and Cobb follows him, several minutes later, which is why several decades have passed. It’s impossible for you to keep track of reality in Limbo because your brain scrambles – years pass by in minutes and so on. Saito can only leave Limbo if he can realize he is in a dream and kill himself, but this is impossible to happen on its own. Cobb enters Limbo and is taken to Saito, which cause Saito to realize that he has been trapped in Limbo. Saito recognizes Cobb and his totem, which serve as his wake-up call. If Saito kills Cobb then himself, he should wake up on the airplane in time to return to Los Angeles. I suppose the question here is if Saito kills Cobb then himself, will they return back to reality? Is it possible to kill yourself in Limbo and wake up despite the heavy sedation? I believe this is impossible to answer because that’s the ambiguity in the film.

Christopher Nolan has constructed a film that can deal with all these theories, but it’s also possible that the main focus of the film is, in fact, in its climax. It’s all a question about the spinning top, but Cobb’s totem might not even hold a true purpose. It’s made clear that a totem is unique to its owner, because only they know it’s true weight and function. Cobb’s totem, however, used to belong to his wife, which should mean that it wouldn’t work for him. I believe this could very well be misdirection from Christopher Nolan, in an effort to shift the audience’s attention to such a small, inanimate object, that wouldn’t be deciding factor if Cobb were still in a dream or back in reality.

So, please, stop asking me whether the top keeps spinning or if it falls down. It’s impossible to answer because the only person who knows that answer is Christopher Nolan. In addition, it doesn’t matter whether the top wobbles or not because the film cuts to black before we can see what happens. In fact, it doesn’t even matter, because that’s not the point of the film.

Cobb is finally reunited with his children and has freed himself of the guilt over his wife, and is no longer in fear about distinguishing between reality and the dream world. For this reason, he no longer waits to see if the top will keep spinning or if it will fall down. Cobb lets himself see the faces of his children, and whether this is a dream or reality, this is where he wants to be.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Inception (2010) is a mind-blowing experience – a delicate and beautiful film that is both complex and touching, and will soon become known as Christopher Nolan’s best film.

Christopher Nolan presents us with his first original screenplay in ten years – overwhelming in its narrative and originality – and is being released at a time when the film industry is desperate for sequels, remakes, and endless reboots of franchises, which makes us ask ourselves – are we ready for a cerebral blockbuster?

Inception is set within the world of our dreams and deals with corporate espionage. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a skilled thief in the art of extraction, whose job is to enter people’s dreams and steal valuable secrets. Cobb soon employs Ariadne (Ellen Page), a graduate student studying architecture, to join his team of experts. This team also consists of Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who researches their potential targets, and Eames (Tom Hardy), whose responsibility is impersonating and forging targets within the dream world.

In the film, Cobb is offered a chance at redemption, which will allow him to earn his life back and give him the chance to return home to reunite with his family. In return, Cobb is asked to deliver the perfect crime – instead of stealing, his team must do the opposite – they must plant an idea within the mind of their victim, which is known as “inception.”

Inception begins by making us scratch our heads, and requires several minutes for us to wrap our minds around the subject matter. Like The Matrix (1999), such a film requires some information about this newfound world before we can explore its possibilities. Cobb begins by discussing the basics to Ariadne, such as the notion of “kicks” – a technique used to wake up a subject from the dream world. Cobb also briefs us on the construction of a dream, and teaches us the rules and ins and outs of this world. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone so wonderfully said, “We’re so used to being treated like idiots.” Christopher Nolan takes his audience seriously and demands their attention, and a major blockbuster is no exception. In Inception, Nolan expects his audience to keep asking questions, instead of providing them with all the answers.

Inception consists of an effective balance between science fiction thriller and a romance drama. Leonardo DiCaprio carries us through the complexities of the film, and becomes the center for the emotional resonance of the story. It’s a film full of action, thrills, and mystery, but is successfully grounded in realism through the heart of the story – and it’s because of this balance that makes this Christopher Nolan’s best film. Hans Zimmer also once again delivers with music that is as haunting as all his previous scores, as he adds his own dimension to the darkness of Inception.

It’s Christopher Nolan’s imagination that is most impressive, as he creates dreams within dreams, and worlds within worlds. In fact, he only relies on CGI when absolutely necessary – so, if it feels real, that’s because it is real. Nolan demands a sense of reality, and when dealing with such a massive film, it’s key to keep your audience within the world you have created. Who else would go to such great lengths?

Leonardo DiCaprio is certainly worthy of any and all praise he receives for this role. Cobb is definitely the emotional driving force of the film, and allows us to invest our emotions into his character. Cobb’s objective is clear from the very beginning, and we are able to sympathize with him.

Inception's final moments are what solidify this as Christopher Nolan's best film, as well emphasizing his growth as a filmmaker. Inception moves a step further from his other films, as Nolan explores the emotional lives of his characters and what fuels their suffering. It’s the spinning top, however, that serves as the recurring visual motif in the film. Its purpose is simple – it’s Cobb’s totem, and his means of testing reality. If the spinning is continuous, the dream is still in effect, but if it stops, he is no longer dreaming.

If nothing else, Christopher Nolan provides us with a glimmer of hope in this ever-changing film industry.

Inception is scheduled for release on July 16, 2010.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

It's Not What You Say, It's How You Say It!

If there's something we can all agree on, it's that sometimes a certain line from a film can be just as memorable as the film itself. For years, film lovers have been quoting their favorite lines from their favorite films. There's been a handful of famous quotes over the past few decades, including some from Gone with the Wind (1939), The Wizard of Oz (1939), and The Godfather (1972). It's never-ending and the list goes on, so here's a collection of some of my favorites.

I hope I have included several favorites of your own, and if not, I hope that some of them inspire you enough to want to watch the films. In fact, that's the magic of cinema – when a specific scene or sentence from a film can inspire! As always, feel free to share favorites of your own in the "Comments" section.

"Here's looking at you, kid." – Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine in Casablanca (1942)

"Well, I guess some like it hot." – Tony Curtis as Junior in Some Like It Hot (1959)

"As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster." – Ray Liotta as Henry Hill in Goodfellas (1990)

"Shut up and deal!" – Shirley MacLaine as Fran Kubelik in The Apartment (1960)

"I did not have to go as far as I was prepared to go, but I was prepared to go all the way." – Ian Holm as Mitchell Stephens in The Sweet Hereafter (1997)

"A strange man... defecated on my sister." – Woody Allen as Clifford Stern in Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

"It's a reason to get up in the morning. It's a reason to lose weight, to fit in the red dress. It's a reason to smile. It makes tomorrow all right. What have I got, Harry? Hm? Why should I even make the bed or wash the dishes? I do them, but why should I? I'm alone." – Ellen Burstyn as Sara Goldfarb in Requiem for a Dream (2000)

"Shut up and deal!" – Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment (1960)

"I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people." – Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood (2007)

"You know what I expected? Applause. I was surprised by what happened. They didn't applaud." – Casey Affleck as Robert Ford in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

"If I could find a real-life place that'd make me feel like Tiffany's, then–then, I'd buy some furniture and give the cat a name!" – Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

"Our teacher says that God loves the blind more because they can't see... but I told him if it was so, He would not make us blind so that we can't see Him. He answered, "God is not visible. He is everywhere. You can feel Him. You see Him through your fingertips." Now, I reach out everywhere for God until the day my hands touch HIm and tell Him everything, even all the secrets in my heart." – Mohsen Ramezani as Mohammad in The Color of Paradise (1999)

"If you win, you win. If you lose, you still win." – Joe Pesci as Joey LaMotta in Raging Bull (1980)

"I thought of that old joke, you know, the... this–this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, "Doc, uh, my brother's crazy... he thinks he's a chicken." And, uh, the doctor says, "Well, why don't you turn him in?" The guy says, "I would, but I need the eggs." Well, I guess that's pretty much now how I feel about relationships, you know. They're totally irrational and crazy and absurd, and... but, uh, I guess we keep going through it because, uh, most of us... need the eggs." – Woody Allen as Alvy Singer in Annie Hall (1977)

"I'm pregnant." – Dianne Wiest as Holly in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

"I could have gotten one more person, and I didn't... and I–I didn't." – Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler in Schindler's List (1993)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Chloe, it's still an Atom Egoyan film

Atom Egoyan is known for his non-linear narratives and an unconventional method of telling a story. In each of his films, he presents a series of characters that, at first, seem unrelated but as the story progresses, we are given some information regarding their lives, as we begin to piece together the overall story. This results in parallel stories between characters, as we begin to discover that they are all related in some way. Egoyan, in a sense, tells his story backwards. He wants his audience to interpret the ending, piece together the lives of the characters, and ask questions about the film. His latest film, Chloe, stars an ensemble cast of talented actors, including Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore and Amanda Seyfried.

Chloe revolves around a wife who suspects her husband is cheating. When she hires an escort to test his limits, things begin to get out of hand as the story delves into the personal lives and passions of the characters. There's something different about this film, though. Chloe tells a straightforward story and is very much linear, with no congruences between space and time. That's because it is the first screenplay Atom Egoyan has directed that he has not himself written. His films have always been considered a work of art by many, simply because of the writing. Exotica is a beautiful story between a series of characters and is set partly in a strip club. The Sweet Hereafter is Egoyan's adaptation of Russell Banks' novel of the same title, but features Egoyan's touch in its narrative. Chloe comes from a new world, it is written by Erin Cressida Wilson, and it allows for Egoyan to supply us with his vision through his visuals and images.

Film Independent presented an advance screening of Chloe at The Landmark in Los Angeles. Atom Egoyan and Erin Cressida Wilson joined us for a Q&A following the screening. It's tough to talk about the film because what I want to say and what everybody expects me to say will result in two completely different discussions. I'm sure anybody who is interested in this film would like to know the film was, its group of actors, and how this story played out in the hands of Atom Egoyan, as a director and not a writer. I would much rather go into depth about what made this an Atom Egoyan film, and whether or not it is still the work of an auteur, rather than a director for hire. I'm going to steer away from speaking on its genre or how the film compares to other films of its kind, because truth be told, I haven't seen many of them. Chloe exists within these genre films (we will hear a lot about Fatal Attraction and such), but Egoyan explores the complexities and layers of a marriage.

I fell in love with Egoyan's work because of his writing and formal strategies when it came into exploring the narrative of a film. I didn't know quite how to feel about Chloe, because it is an unwelcoming change, especially if the screenplay isn't well written, to begin with. Chloe, however, is exceptionally directed and I believe that's what makes the film work. Its actors fit perfectly together as part of an ensemble and the most important thing is that Egoyan doesn't treat them as stars. He doesn't make you feel like Liam Neeson is Liam Neeson or that Julianne Moore is Julianne Moore. Egoyan doesn't even photograph Julianne Moore as we think of her, and instead photographs her within any filters. In the film, we don't feel her sense of glamour or beauty. We see her as her character is represented, a woman going through difficulties, torn between the possibility of a failed marriage. In this film, they are all performers, with great performances being handled by a great director.

I went into the film with the intentions of discovering what was Egoyan about it, considering the screenplay wasn't written by him. Is it the opening sequence? No, Egoyan usually gives us a long tracking shot and allows his credits to spill over. Is it the unconventional narrative? No, Chloe is a linear story, in a rather conventional structure. Somehow, however, Egoyan finds a way to make us aware of his directing hand. Their are recurring visual motifs, such as hands, a comb, mirrors and glass, that all highlight certain characteristics about the characters. Egoyan introduces Chloe through a monologue, then emphasizes her entrance into Catherine's life. He does this all through visuals, and expresses their characteristics and behaviors through imagery. Catherine spends much of her life looking into the lives of other people and understanding them, and at times, controlling them. Egoyan makes us aware of her personality through the use of production design, visuals and cinematography.

In the third act of the film, there is a shift in the tone as we move into a thriller. If I reveal anything here, it will be nothing but spoilers, so I can speak on how it is handled rather than what happens. Egoyan doesn't rely on gimmicks and instead brings his own style into the film. He relies on technology throughout the entire film and allows it to develop the plot; live discussions on webcams and text messaging. He allows us to break apart the characters and put them back together during the ending of the film, when a significant twist is revealed. He does this, once again, through visual motifs. I would have to kill the film to explain the ending of the film. I would like to say, however, that the ending consists of one of the most beautiful shots Egoyan has pulled off. It's breathtaking and is a true testament to Paul Sarossy, the cinematographer of the film.

Chloe allows you to feel the directing hand at work, and we can feel Egoyan constructing the film and telling a story visually. Mychael Danna, who has been Egoyan's composer throughout all of his films, gives us a beautiful, surreal score that highlights the scenes. In a sense, the music is haunting as it comes back to revisit us throughout the film. It seems Egoyan makes everything work here, from the cinematography and music to the production design and art direction. Chloe's costumes emphasize her personality, Catherine's controlling behavior is suggested through the production design of the house she lives in, and David is often revealed through different formats of technology.

During the Q&A, Egoyan and Wilson discussed adapting the film and their approach to the material. Wilson said she viewed Exotica numerous times for inspiration, prior to learning that Egoyan would attach as a director. They both also mentioned that the film is not so much a remake of Nathalie... because it touches on a slightly altered premise. Its characters intentions are somewhat different and the story unfolds in a different manner. Egoyan mentioned that some of the inspirations for the film came from Persona (which I immediately felt during scenes between Catherine/Chloe), Rear Window (Catherine's need to control her family), and Let the Right One In (surprisingly, for the atmosphere and tone of the film). Chloe holds a special place in my heart as well as Egoyan's filmography. Throughout the film, we make assumptions about characters and learn otherwise by the end of the film. Because of this, it is difficult not to be reminded of Egoyan's earlier works. It is essentially cut from the same cloth of Exotica and is set within that world, not because of its sexuality, but because of the way Egoyan explores the personalities of his characters. Chloe ends just as mysteriously as it begins, and as the credits begin, a final title card reminds us that this was "An Atom Egoyan Film."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Conversation with Martin Scorsese

In August 2009, Martin Scorsese wrote an open letter to Michael Govan after the Los Angeles County Museum of Art announced that it would be shutting its doors for its film program, after serving the community for 40 years, as a result of declining audiences and considerable losses. In his letter, Scorsese discusses the importance of seeing films in their original forms, and points to holds such museums as responsible. Scorsese also claims that it was at LACMA that he"first became aware of the issues of color film fading and the urgent need for film preservation."

Through his dedication, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and Time Warner Cable, in partnership with Ovation TV, came together to provide $150,000 to keep the film program running. In addition, Time Warner Cable and Ovation TV have promised to spend more than $1.5 million to market the film program across local and national media platforms. Because of this, the film program will run until the end of June 2010, but the museum is still searching for additional donors and patrons for help.

In January 2010, LACMA announced that Martin Scorsese would join Michael Govan in an intimate conversation at the museum to speak about film preservation and its future. Their discussion was open to the public and sold out within minutes, and became a big buzz around town as locals began anticipating hearing the Academy Award-winning director speak, in person. Michael Govan began speaking to a room full of fans and movie lovers, who sat in anticipation of hearing Scorsese's name. Later, the audience sparked to life and welcomed him with a standing ovation, before the conversation between them began.

I'm not surprised that Scorsese brought up Raging Bull, and said that the brutal montage of Jake La Motta being beat in the ring was based on the shower sequence in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. I'm not surprised because that scene has been used as a guide for several filmmakers, because of its incredible shot selection. Scorsese also mentioned that Francesca , his young daughter, is working on a short film. He began laughing at the fact that a scene in the film requires for a handful of children to throw pies in the house, but commented that Thelma Schoonmaker can always help them edit the film. I guess it pays to be Scorsese's daughter, it comes with a handful of benefits.

In their discussion, Scorsese stressed the importance of film preservation. Through a series of clips, we were introduced to this dilemma. These film prints are in danger of being permanently damaged, because there is a lack of awareness in the protection and preservation of these motion pictures. There is also a lack of understanding of these films, and we are now facing a decline in an audience who appreciates them as well, which is why LACMA suspended their program to begin with.

The Film Foundation was founded in 1990 by Martin Scorsese, along with Woody Allen, Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, Stanley Kubrick, George Lucas, Sydney Pollack, Robert Redford, and Steven Spielberg. Since 2006, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Curtis Hanson, Peter Jackson, Ang Lee, and Alexander Payne have joined the board of directors. The Film Foundation seeks to preserve these pieces of history, such as their newly restored The Red Shoes, which premiered at the Cannes International Film Festival.

Before Govan signed off, he turned to Scorsese and asked if he would come back to LACMA. Scorsese accepted the offer, and "promised" to do so. I remember when I first got interested in Scorsese, and began searching each of his interviews. I admired his passion when he spoke about film, because he was so absorbed in the world o f cinema. I was among the couple of hundred who saw this magic come to life, and become apart of his world for a matter of minutes. I have a painting in my room, which would help him understand how we felt that evening.