Sunday, September 4, 2011


"If I drive for you, you give me a time and a place. I give you a five-minute window, anything happens in that five minutes and I'm yours no matter what. I don't sit in while you're running it down. I don't carry a gun. I drive."

I'm often asked why I'm quick to dismiss certain films, such as otherwise fun action films. The reason for this is because action films have become far too predictable. The storylines are recycled, the action sequences drag on for minutes on end, and I can't wait until the film is over. If all action films were made in the same manner as Drive, however, I'd be seeing more of them.

Drive stars Ryan Gosling as a driver of getaway cars. The film is meticulously directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, who won the Best Director prize at the Festival de Cannes. I had been wondering how he won the prize of Terrence Malick, who constructed the beautiful and poetic film, The Tree of Life. The fact of the matter is, Drive is as beautiful and poetic as that film, in its own way and in its own genre of crime, thriller, and action.

The film is delicately crafted and uses elements and conventions of these genres, but also subverts them and makes them an artistic exploration.The film is very slow-paced and patient in its storytelling. The subtleness of its scenes are contrasted with stylized violence; after all, that's what Nicolas Winding Refn is known for. The film builds its suspense quietly, allowing us to build a relationship with its characters. The beauty of this film is what the filmmaker does with the camera. In the same manner that Martin Scorsese moved the camera into the boxing ring for Raging Bull, in an attempt to put us right into the action of the fights, Nicolas Winding Refn puts the camera inside the driver's car. This allows us to feel like we are in the car with him, in the midst of all the action and violence. There are very few shots where we see the action from high above or from other angles. If the driver is in the car, then we're in the car with him.

There are moments of immense surprise in the film, such as unpredictable scenes of violence, as well as some beautifully choreographed scenes between Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan. The film is very well-structured, the camera is patient in the hands of the director, and the film takes its time to emphasize what it really wants us to know. There is very minimal dialogue in the film, a quality rarely attributed to this sort of film. In fact, while working together, Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan decided to leave out most of the dialogue in the screenplay. The result is an odd combination of character study meets gripping action, but everything somehow works in the hands of its director.

There's a certain sense of mystery revolving around the driver, who he is and why he does what he does, but that's what makes him so interesting. Ryan Gosling reaffirms why he is one of the best actors working today. The driver's anger, sadness, vulnerability, complexity, and the rest of his emotions are all internal. Ryan Gosling has the amazing gift of restraining his emotions; he is acting with his eyes and telling the audience how he feels inside.

Drive is scheduled for release on September 16, 2011.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Washington, Oregon, and Us - Day Eight

It's all over.

The last day has come to a conclusion and our trip has come to an end.

The day started with a trip to The Old Church, where we finally had a chance to step inside. The church is beautiful and is nearly 130 years old. We also saw the Simon Benson House, which is located right across the Portland State University. Simon Benson installed running drinking fountains all around Portland because the city didn't have available water decades ago. The fountains still remain and provides people with running water every single second of the day. We recreated an old photograph of two people drinking from the fountain. We were leaving the area when we saw a fire truck for the Portland Fire Department, so we took a picture with some of the firefighters.

We went back into Vancouver afterward and had lunch at Dolce Gelato. We also walked to the Esther Short Park after lunch and had some gelato on a beautiful sunny day. We later stopped by Swoon and Not too Shabby to pick up some few things and said goodbye to its owners, who we first met when we first came to the city.

We stopped by Fort Vancouver, where we saw the Ulysses S. Grant house. The whole area was beautiful and historic, and is an entire block known as Officer's Row, where houses stand from the time period. We later went to the Vancouver Public Library because the building looked and was amazing. We decided to open up a library card as a keepsake. We did the same with the Portland Public Library, but they didn't give us a card because we're from out of town. We stopped by the Academy, which is right beside the library, but the historic chapel inside was closed. We glimpsed inside through the cracks of the door, though.

The next stop for us a small park right on the Columbia River Gorge. We sat down by the peaceful water and enjoyed the fresh air. We had dinner reservations for 9pm, so we decided to head back to the hotel to change, rest and charge our camera. We made our way back into Vancouver for one last stop at the Salmon Creek Brewery & Pub. The owner of the place (who carries a bat behind the bar) was very nice to us the first time we went in. So, we went back to have a beer before dinner and to say goodbye. We took a picture with her and her bat, and she asked us to send the picture to her when we get back into Los Angeles.

We had dinner at Salty's on the Columbia River, a beautiful restaurant with gorgeous views. Mary surprised me with a mini pre-birthday celebration. We had an amazing dinner and desert to conclude our final evening in Washington and Oregon. The evening came to an end shortly thereafter. We were both exhausted and drained, but neither one of us wanted the trip to end. We had some memorable moments, some amazing times in both states, and some very interesting adventures. We embarked on journeys neither one of us had ever thought or dreamt of doing, but like all good things, everything comes to an end.

The owner of the Salmon Creek Brewery & Pub was sad to see us go. We were walking out of the place when she said to us, "Keep loving each other." That's exactly what we'll do, whether we're in Washington, Oregon, or any of the other 48 states.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Washington, Oregon, and Us - Day Seven

This was quite the busy day.

The morning began early with a drive down to Salem, Oregon's capitol. We met with William Michaelian, an author I have been in communication with, to discuss a short story of his which I am planning to adapt into a short film. The trip there was quite nice and much different than our previous drives. William Michaelian was kind enough to accept us into his lovely home and we had a pleasant meeting with him. I wish we could have stayed longer, but there was a long list of things to do. We left with a copy of one of his books, which he had signed for us.

The next stop of the day was the State Capitol, which was a wonder to see, considering Salem was the first state capitol we had been to in our lives. We climbed up to the Gold Man on the top of the building, which was a total of 121 steps. The view was lovely from up there. The building itself was quite interesting to see, especially the separate rooms for the House of Representatives and the Senate. We also took a brief stop at the Oregon State Hospital, which was used as a location for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

We drove back into Portland afterward to drop in on the Hat Museum. The tour of the museum was probably the most interesting part of our entire trip. The history, stories, and origins of hats and fashion was such an interesting thing to hear. We saw hats from all periods of times, including the early 1800s. The museum also had hats and memorabilia from films, including hats from Chicago and Gangs of New York and a teapot that was used in Casablanca. The entire place was rich with history and I only wish I owned some of their hats.

We had been planning on kayaking on the Columbia River Gorge today, so we looked up the address for the place we had to meet the instructor. I assumed the place would be near Vancouver and Portland, but it turned out to be in Hood River; all the way near Mount Hood, over an hour way. We were going to be late, so we drove as fast as possible all the way out there. We were less than 20 miles away when our fuel started running low and the gas light came on. We were 12 miles away from the nearest gas station and we feared the car would stop in the middle of nowhere. We fortunately made it to a gas station and the kayak school in time!

The kayak tour was the best part of our trip so far. We were each in a separate kayak and the entire experience was a little scary at first. We paddled into the river for about a mile and a half into the sunset. The views were spectacular, the fresh water river surrounding us, along with fresh air and green trees. We were hit by a rough wave that completely soaked us. We headed back in smooth water where we saw a beaver splashing its tail. I can't begin to describe how peaceful, beautiful and amazing the experience was.

We stopped by for something to eat at the Sixth Street Bistro and Loft and later headed back into Portland, where we checked into our new hotel near the airport. This is our first night sleeping in Oregon, but it's been quite the ride so far.

I hate to say this, but tomorrow is our last full day. I don't want this to end!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Washington, Oregon, and Us - Day Six

The day started early, with a trip away from the usual and a drive up to Mount Hood in Oregon.

We drove up to the Timberline Lodge, which was used for the exterior shots for Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. The drive there was beautiful; the highway took us through several small towns and farms. We were surrounded by trees throughout the entire drive, and later had incredible views from high in the sky. I have to admit, it was amazing seeing the hotel that stood in for the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. I had also heard about an ax that the front desk keeps, which is modeled after the ax used in the film. The ax has "Here's Johnny!" written over it, so we definitely had to take a picture. We also had lunch at the Blue Ox located in the hotel and later drove back down into Portland.

We passed by the Rose Garden and took several pictures, but need to go back to get some better shots. We also stopped by the Nike Factory Store, which is a popular spot for fans. We drove back to Vancouver afterward and pulled into a park by the Columbia River Gorge, which is also right beside our hotel. We sat on a park bench and enjoyed the sunset and gorgeous view of the river. This is an amazing place to have a run, picnic, or simply enjoy your time.

We're staying an extra two days, so we'll be checking out of our hotel tomorrow morning and moving into a hotel in Portland. There's a big day ahead of us tomorrow, but I won't say exactly what we're planning on doing.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Washington, Oregon, and Us - Day Five

The day was very productive, more so than any other day so far on our trip.

The first stop for us was the Lan Su Chinese Gardens in Chinatown in Portland. The place was small and intimate, with waterfalls and separate rooms across the garden. The environment was nice and peaceful and a perfect example of how to create a garden. There were some ping pong tables by the lake, and before we left, we played a few games for fun. There was a bird that flew into the lake and grabbed a fish right before us, which was really amazing to witness.

We were feeling a little hungry and found that we were near Voodoo Doughnut, a really popular stop in Portland. The line was full and took nearly two hours, but it's just one of those spots that you have to visit because it's so famous. The variety of donuts they carry is amazing and they have some really absurd choices, including their famous Voodoo doll (which squirts blood, or jelly, when bit into), maple bacon (which, as you would imagine, has bacon on top), and donuts with cereal on them, such as Fruit Loops or Cap'n Crunch. The donuts were tasty and interesting to eat, which is always a good combination when it comes to food.

The Portland Japanese Garden was next for us, which is located near the International Rose Test Garden. The garden was much larger in comparison to the Lan Su Chinese Garden. There were some amazing spots with bridges, waterfalls, sand spots, and trees, of course. The Old Church, which is Portland's oldest church, was our next stop. The church is closed on Sundays (how ironic) so we'll be going back to step inside.

I had heard The Bite of Oregon was taking place this weekend, which is a festival offering music, food and drinks. We decided to stop by there to grab something to eat, which turned out to be real fun. We had some gyros followed by some authentic cannolis. The Bite of Oregon was taking place right beside the Columbia River Gorge, which is on the exact opposite side of our hotel in Vancouver. We made a quick stop to Mill Ends Park, which is the smallest park in the world. This was fun to see, because it's literally two feet in size. It's officially recognized as a park though, which makes it the world's smallest park.

We ended up visiting the Pioneer Courthouse Square afterward, which is known as Portland's living room. This is an amazing place with such beautiful space, where people come in and hang. It's a terrific place to hang out and have coffee and just relax in the city of Portland. We also took a trip down to their mall and went to Made in Oregon, a store dedicated to Oregon memorabilia. We came to our hotel afterward and only went back outside to get some quick food from Burgerville, a chain of burger joints only available in Washington and Oregon.

It's official. We're extending our trip by two more days!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Washington, Oregon, and Us - Day Four

The day began like all good days do... with ice cream and pie.

Who needs breakfast or lunch when you can stop by Ice Cream Renaissance for some ice cream and pie? We planned a trip over to Portland to visit the International Rose Test Garden, but along the way, we missed our turn and ended up seeing signs for Pittock Mansion. We were already planning on visiting Pittock Mansion, so we followed the signs and went up a beautiful path.

This was a true Oregon experience. We were surrounded by trees on narrow bend of road. The drive up was enchanting. We were in pure silence with fresh air all around us. We finally reached Pittock Mansion and took a quick stroll through their hiking trail in the forest. The trail is for people to hike through, walk through, and simply enjoy the wonderful view of Portland.

Pittock Mansion was breathtaking. The garden in front of the mansion has a beautiful view, where students had set themselves up and were painting. There were people having a picnic on the lawn as well as families enjoying their time together. The mansion belonged to Henry Pittock and has 22 rooms. The mansion was built so that each room had a beautiful view of the city of Portland. The place was filled with history with artifacts and pieces dating back to the late 1800s.

We drove back down into Portland and visited the International Rose Test Garden. Portland is the city of roses, so there's no way we could miss this garden. The place was beautiful with roses in all shapes, sizes and colors, including red, yellow, orange, white, grey, purple, and some colorful ones. The place was filled with a variety of people, but the garden was so peaceful. We decided to have lunch/dinner afterward and settled on Urban Fondue, a nice little spot that serves cheese and chocolate fondue, as well as a variety of food. The environment was warm and inviting, the food was excellent, and the cheese, in particular, was amazing.

We drove back into Vancouver in time for the Closing Ceremony of the Columbia Gorge International Film Festival. There was a special evening planned with awards and the ceremony was fun and entertaining. Jay Douplass' documentary, Kevin, went home with an award, as did the short documentary, Challenging Impossibility, which screened before his film. We stopped by Niche afterward, a cozy little spot right beside Kiggins Theatre, for cheese and wine.

The days are coming to an end, but we're considering staying a few extra days. I'm afraid we don't want to head back home anytime soon.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Washington, Oregon, and Us - Day Three

The big day is finally here.

I came across several reviews for Tasty n Sons, a popular eatery in Portland. So, the day began with a trip down into Portland. The city is beautiful. It's much more like Los Angeles in the sense that it's a major city and a diverse population. The bridges and highways are amazing. There is an unbelievable two-story highway that connects over the city. In our drive, we felt like we were floating over some of these buildings, including the Rose Garden.

Tasty n Sons was a great little spot with fabulous food. I ordered the Monk's Carolina Cheesesteak and Mary ordered the Glazed Yams. I can't even begin to describe the taste, but the cheesesteak was full of grease, which is how you know you're eating a real cheesesteak sandwich. We also ordered the Chocolate Potato Doughnuts, which were so, so good. The best part of lunch was seeing the check; no sales tax! This was our first time seeing a receipt with no sales tax, so that was quite exciting. There were several shops on the street, including the official store for Lark Press. We bought several cards and gifts that are unique to Oregon from there. The city feels so artistic, inspired, and rich with inspiration.

The next step of the day was Powell's City of Books, which is the largest new and used bookstore in the world. It's a place to get lost in and there's no way that a day was enough. We immediately took a trip to the Film section, where we browsed around and explored. In front of the bookstore, as we were leaving, there were three street performers known as The Homeless People. They're trying to raise enough money to get back to California. Their music was unbelievable. I really wish they were selling CDs. I recorded one of their songs and we ended up taking a picture with them. We explored Portland from there on, stopping by random stores, including the Monticello Antique Marketplace, which felt like was in some obscure neighborhood away from the city.

We came back to our hotel afterward because Amorosa was screening at 7:30pm at the Space. The screening was great with a small and intimate crowd. There were two other filmmakers present with their films. The host of the evening moderated a small Q&A afterward and we had a chance to speak to her when the evening was over. The woman is formerly from California and she is now a real estate agent in Vancouver. We told her we would love to live here and she joked that she would find us a place.

We left the Space around 9:30pm to meet up with Jessica, one of the volunteers for the film festival who had invited us for drinks yesterday. Jessica and her cousin, Rachel, planned a pub crawl for this film festival, which takes people from pub to pub for drinks throughout the evening. We met up with them at Top Shelf, but they were on their way out to Dublin Down. So, we headed to Dublin Down and had a few drinks. We ended up chatting with Jessica, Rachel and another filmmaker who was in town from Boston. The evening went extremely well and it was really fun to be out in an unfamiliar town with such nice people. Jessica and Rachel were convincing us to move to Vancouver and said we would fit in perfectly.

That's something we are seriously considering.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Washington, Oregon, and Us - Day Two

The morning for us began around 9am.

The hotel we are staying in has a restaurant right beside the Columbia River Gorge, which is where we decided to have breakfast. The view of the wide river and calm water was absolutely amazing. The today consisted mostly of finding vintage and antique stores in Vancouver. There are several in town and I'm pretty sure we ended up finding them all.

I couldn't believe my eyes when we walked into some of these stores. The Old Town Antique Market is three floors and it's filled with original, vintage, unique, antique items. I love browsing through such items because I feel like I'm connecting with stories and a certain part of history. The items ranged from Mickey Mouse telephones to World War II memorabilia. I felt like buying the entire store and shipping everything back home. There were several stores we visited, including Not Too Shabby, The Cat's Pajamas and Swoon.

There were several stops along the way, including Ice Cream Renaissance. I had come across a review of this local ice cream shop while reading about Dolce Gelato, and after discovering we were shopping right beside the ice cream shop, we decided to pop in. I can't emphasize this enough, so you'll to believe me, but this was the best tasting strawberry ice cream, boysenberry pie and ice cream float we have ever had in our lives. The pie was so good and warm, I can already feel myself craving a slice when I'm back home.

There was one screening we were really looking forward to seeing tonight, which was Moving a Mountain, a film from an Armenian filmmaker. There were some technical difficulties with the film, however, and the film will be running on Sunday. We ended up seeing two other short films, Voices of Sculpture, a mediative film about the significance of art in our lives, as well as A Turn of the Blinds, a sweet and touching film about finding love. The hosts of the film festival invited us for drinks after the screening of our film tomorrow evening. The plan is to catch up with them at Brickhouse or Top Shelf, so we're looking forward to meeting and drinking with some new people from the town.

The next stop for us was Salmon Creek Brewery & Pub, where we had some beers at the bar along with tots and nachos. The owner of the place was such a kind and welcoming woman. The woman keeps a bat in back of the bar for customers who are stupid enough to ask for Bud. The evening wrapped up for us with a screening of Crazy, Stupid, Love. in Regal Cinemas 99. This was our first real film in an out-of-state theater, which was quite a fun experience.

The screening of Amorosa is tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Washington, Oregon, and Us - Day One

I have been looking forward to our trip to Washington and Oregon for months. I was extremely excited to discover that my short film, Amorosa, was an Official Selection at the Columbia Gorge International Film Festival.

The funny thing about this entire experience and trip was where the film festival is being held. The film festival is in Vancouver, Washington and that's confusing for two reasons. The first is that Vancouver is often associated with Canada, and the second is that Washington is often confused for Washington, D.C. There's also something else. Oregon is one of those states that you don't really think exists. I don't even know why. It's one of those states that you think is a myth. Oregon? Who lives in Oregon? It's all so strange and obscure when you think about life outside of the city you live in. I can confirm, however, that Oregon is a real place with real people. In fact, both states are beautiful in their own ways.

In the first day of our trip, we didn't spend much time in Portland. The runway for the airport lands right beside the beautiful Columbia River Gorge. The few minutes we enjoyed outside the airport was when we drove through some fields to hop onto the highway. The drive took us from Portland to Vancouver over the river and the views were spectacular.

In Vancouver, we enjoyed a nice lunch at Dolce Gelato. The city is so peaceful and quiet, beautiful and scenic. There are trees everywhere, green gardens and parks, and fresh air. In fact, we took a stroll through Esther Park afterward, surrounding ourselves in nature. This is a city I could see myself living in. The hotel we're staying in is on the Columbia River Gorge. It's walking distance from all the film festival theaters and screenings in Downtown Vancouver. There's really nothing more fun and intimate than that. The Opening Night of the Columbia Gorge International Film Festival was today. The red carpets were rolled out, and after we picked up our festival badges, we were on our way to the historic Kiggins Theatre.

The evening began with Challenging Impossibility, a short documentary on Sri Chinmoy, an Indian spirtuial teacher who took on weightlifting to inspire people. The film was entertaining, shedding light on an unfamiliar world of weightlifting. It's a documentary unlike any other I've really seen before. The film was quite heavy-handed in its structure, but it's fascinating subject matter almost made me overlook its imperfections. The film was followed by a shorter piece, Walking Through Mist. In this two-part film, which feels more like an installation in a museum, the filmmaker takes us on a journey through the Columbia River Gorge, in a beautiful and poetic manner. The film plays with our senses, as images transform every few seconds, changing and shaping our perceptions.

The centerpiece film of the evening was Jay Duplass' documentary, Kevin. The documentary focuses on Kevin Gant, a musician from Austin, Texas, who has been on quite a roller coaster of a life. The film was made on pretty much no budget, with the entire documentary being concerned with Kevin's fascinating character. Kevin is fast-talking, extremely interesting and smart person with more than musical talents. The film cleverly explores his life and shortcomings in an engaging approach. The opening night wrapped up with a short performance from Kevin Gant, as well as a Q&A with the filmmakers of all three films, including Jay Duplass. I also had the opportunity to speak with Jay Duplass after the screening, who is as cool as an independent filmmaker comes.

This is film festival is off to a great start. It's quite exciting to be so way from home, in a different town with different artists. I also discovered that there are two Armenian filmmakers participating in the festival. I'll be checking out their films over the next few days and will hopefully meet them as well.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


There are some things in life that you don't forget. I will never forget my first hands-on production experience.

I was on my way to Shervin Youssefian's house at 8:30am on a Sunday to work on a music video. I walked into his house and was greeted by his mother. I sat and waited in the kitchen with her as Shervin prepared his things.

I remember watching Shervin work during the production of the music video and thinking how easy he made everything look. Shervin handled the music video and a team of a dozen or so crew members with ease. The camera in his hands was smooth, every move calculated, and I remember feeling like I was where I belonged.

I knew Shervin through his short film, Color Blind (2002), which he had produced with his partner, Danny Simonzad. Color Blind is a film that made me realize the full potential of poetic cinema, and I was intimated to meet the masterminds behind the work. I told Shervin how eager I was to apply to film school, and he encouraged me to keep my passion for film alive, and offered me a position on his future projects and commercials.

I was working on applications for school and was extremely nervous. Shervin couldn't be bothered less, and when I finally asked him why he was so confident that I had nothing to worry about, he smiled and said, "You're exactly what the school is looking for."

I was accepted into the USC School of Cinematic Arts soon thereafter. I wasn’t able to work on a handful of projects Shervin needed me for because I was now busy with my own work. Shervin understood and supported me along my own journey when I produced my own short film, Amorosa (2010).

Shervin Youssefian has recently finished production of his first feature-length film, Crossroad (2012). The film centers on twelve strangers in a diner, who all come to realize that God plays a significant role in each of their lives. The film focuses on Michael, who sets up a meeting with the man responsible for murdering his wife and child. Michael’s plans are disrupted when the diner is robbed. The film explores the importance of faith, grace, and the role of God in our lives.

If nothing else, Shervin provides us all with hope. I’m sure he started this film with nothing more than a vision, and it's that vision of his that pushed the project into completion regardless of all the obstacles along his path.

I wanted nothing more than to work on this film. I know that one day, our paths will cross again. Crossroad is a film about fates colliding, bringing people together and uniting them for a greater good. In a sense, it’s a perfect metaphor for my own relationship with Shervin.

Shervin knows people, he understands our emotions, and he has a powerful way of exploring them. Color Blind proved that he could move an audience in extraordinary ways in a matter of minutes. Now, and with Crossroad, he has more than an hour to touch our hearts, enlighten us, and help us learn something along the way.

I’m looking forward to the journey.

Crossroad is currently in post-production and will be released in 2012.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Midnight in Paris

I remember setting my eyes on the Eiffel Tower for the first time. I was walking the streets of Paris with my family, and I could see the tip of the tower from a distance, peeking from behind a building. I was both overwhelmed and fascinated, and a few steps later, I was standing in front of the Eiffel Tower.

Midnight in Paris (2011) is Woody Allen's love letter to the city of lights. The film follows Gil (Owen Wilson) and Inez (Rachel McAdams), an engaged couple, into the romantic city. Gil is a screenwriter, taken with the city's beauty and history, whereas Inez is concerned with shopping for her wedding. Gil is nostalgic for everything that came before him, including the wonderful writers and painters who lived and worked in Paris in the 1920s. Gil and Inez meet with Paul (Michael Sheen), a friend of her family, as he presents them with a rather pompous tour of the town.

In their conversation with Paul outside the gardens of Versailles, Paul remarks that nostalgia is the "denial of the painful present." Their entire conversation describes exactly how I feel about life, but this line, in particular, jumped off the screen for me. Gil is unable to appreciate what is happening in the now, and instead wants to be a part of something that has already taken place, without him.

Gil and Inez are polar opposites. Gil wants to walk the streets of Paris, discover its hidden beauty, and even walk in the afternoon rain, because that's the beauty of Paris! Inez wants to spend time with Paul and her family, have exquisite lunches and dinners, and refuses to walk in the rain because she doesn't want to get wet. So, Gil is encouraged to spend his evenings alone, doing what it is that writers do, while Inez is out dancing wand spending her time with her family.

The feeling of nostalgia within Gil is explored when he is picked up in a classic car, every midnight, which serves as a time machine back into the 1920s. Gil meets his idols, including Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. There is nothing stopping him from returning back to the present, and every chance he finds, he is back rubbing elbows with the legends. This is where the genius of the film lies, the ability to take us back into time, and see history from the present. Midnight in Paris is similar in tone to The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), a nostalgic and romantic look at a time that is long gone.

In his adventures in time, Gil stumbles across Pablo Picasso's lover, Adriana (Marion Cotillard). There is a spark that comes alive between them, and they are taken further back into time to the Belle Époque in the 1890s. The glamour of the time period fascinates Adriana, who refuses to go back to her "present day." Gil, however, quickly learns that a different time period other than the one we live in is not necessarily better. There will always be a desire and a longing for the past. Gil has desired to live in Paris in the 1920s, whereas Adriana, who lives exactly in that time period, wishes to live in Paris in the 1890s.

The theme of nostalgia is explored in a conversation towards the end of the film, as Gil (and the audience) realizes that the purpose of life is to live, and appreciate the imperfection of our own time. I hear a lot of people complaining about where they live, and they often wish they were living in a different time period -- and I'm among these people -- but this film lets us realize that it doesn't matter where and when we live.

Woody Allen makes a bold statement with this film. I'm constantly remarking that I wish I was born in 1930s, ironically the exact time period in which Woody Allen himself was born. This film speaks to those who are nostalgic and romantic at heart, who want to stay connected with the past and experience the inability to let go. The ending reminds us of Manhattan (1979), in which Isaac runs to Tracy and they confront their true feelings about each other. In Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen (played as Gil by Owen Wilson) is no longer running. Gil is no hurry. Gil simply begins a new chapter in his life and takes an evening stroll in Paris., where he bumps into a French girl named Gabrielle (Léa Seydoux). Gil wants to walk home but tells Gabrielle that perhaps it's best if they don't walk in the rain, to which she replies that she doesn't mind. This ignites a heartfelt smile on Gil's face.

Midnight in Paris is Woody Allen's most hopeful and positive ending ever. This film speaks to our deep fears and complex desires and tells us that the most important thing in life is to live. I smiled immediately at the first drop of rain, because that was the perfect conclusion for such a touching film. The simple reason we live is for that exact moment in our own lives, to find someone to walk in the rain with us, someone who doesn't mind getting a little wet.

Midnight in Paris opened the Festival de Cannes on May 11, 2011 and is scheduled for release on May 20, 2011.

Friday, March 4, 2011

24 Frames

I prefer film over digital, and always will, for emotional reasons.

I have no problem with filmmakers switching from film to digital, because such a switch is inevitable. I have heard from many filmmakers and cinematographers, including David Fincher, Roger Deakins and Gordon Willis, all of whom have said that there won't be any films being shot on film anymore in two years. I believe them, because they are the leaders in our film industry, and because it's time to think realistically; film, celluloid, and the magic behind the creation of photographs on emulsion no longer exists.

The switch over to digital is beneficial to us all, including independent filmmakers like myself who now have no excuses why they can't make a film. The cost of digital cameras is so low that we can all be filmmakers, which is both a positive and a negative, but mainly a positive because true artists can emerge without the dependance of film studios. Francis Ford Coppola said twenty years ago that "one day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart, you know, and make a beautiful film with her little father's camera recorder... and for once, the so-called professionalism about movies will be destroyed, forever and it will really become an art form." Francis Ford Coppola, in my opinion, has embraced the switch to digital unlike any other filmmakers and is producing independent films that he believes in which is he able to finance on his own.

The reason, however, why I will always prefer film over digital is because I'm old fashioned. The creation of a photograph on emulsion is purely chemical, entirely enchanting, and spellbinding. There was a time when taking photographs required a lot of skill and an understanding of how to actually use a camera. In today's world, anybody can pick up a digital camera and take hundreds of photographs with a simple click. The wonderment is lost, because we're no longer taking a second glance at what we're shooting. The reason is because a digital photograph is convenient, it's pure space, whereas film required that you only take several shots on your roll of film, so you had to use your shots wisely. I feel like the same holds true with cinema. If you're shooting on digital, you can afford to let the camera run - all you're doing is wasting space on your hard drive - but with film, you're wasting a ton of money by running the camera, so you need to use your shots wisely and that's the beauty behind film, capturing what is completely necessary.

I have always said that Woody Allen, who is my favorite filmmaker and essentially my idol in terms of cinema, would never switch over to digital filmmaking. I say this not because he's better than anybody else, but because I know his method of working well. In a world driven by technology and convenience, he still writes his screenplays (one per year) on a typewriter. I don't see him switching over to digital and I always felt like he would keep shooting on film and retire with the format, especially considering that he is so late in his career. I have discovered, however, that he is considering the switch to some degree. In a recent interview, Woody Allen said the following...

“I can only say that I’m slow to change, and I’ve just now made a digital intermediate on my last picture [Midnight in Paris, a 2011 release] for the first time—a film I shot with Darius Khondji [ASC]. I know how to work the old way, and you can make some pretty lovely looking pictures that way, so I’m waiting to see now if working this new way adds anything, subtracts, or is a wash. Don’t forget, my films rarely have any special effects in them, or other kinds of stories that profit from the magic that digital work can do, and I personally have never seen the need to move forward. But it may turn out that the positives of going digital will prove beneficial, even to me.”

So, what do I think and how do I feel?

I don't want Woody Allen to switch from film to digital. I know, more than anybody else, that digital cinema is essentially as aesthetically pleasing as film is. I can't even tell the difference anymore, on certain occasions. In fact, almost all theaters around us now have switched completely over to digital screenings. I know the switch is inevitable, but I wish Woody Allen would continue until he was finally done with his career. I suppose, in a sense, having him still shoot on film keeps film that much more alive, because when he makes the switch, then film is completely dead. The birth of cinema, over a hundred of years ago, supplied us with celluloid, actual film where exposed light spilled onto the negative and chemically created an image. In today's world, and in the world I have to live in, the switch has been made. The switch has been made to digital, with a process that uses sensors to create images. The magic has been replaced.

I do think, however, that if Woody Allen makes the switch it will be purely beneficial to his career. It's tough to finance any kind of film now, especially a film of his kind, so digital filmmaking will allow him more freedom in his budget. This doesn't mean Woody Allen will be making films in any different of a way, but rather that it will be less expensive for him to make his films. This, in and of itself, translates to potentially better films and more freedom.

I can't change my mind when I think about film and digital. I know that digital is on par with film now, and I know this doesn't mean our films will look any less than they already do. I simply wish I lived and made films in a time when we were actually participating in the foundations of cinema. I saw The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) for the first time tonight, a film by Woody Allen, in which the relationship between the audience and the cinema is explored. It's a beautiful film, which is the reason why I began thinking of this topic to begin with. There are a handful of theaters around town that I frequent where I can hear the projector in the dark. I can hear the images being projected and sometimes I see them break, or jump, or burn off the screen. I love the way film looks on the screen and I love seeing the age of a film with its print. There's nothing I can do or say, but still believe in the magic, because believing in something is essentially all that's required for it to stay alive. In the hands of a talented director and cinematographer, the switch will never be made noticeable.

The magic of cinema is still lost, friends, because the illusion that the images on the screen are actually moving no longer exists. The audience is no longer sitting in the dark and watching 24 frames flicker onto the screen per second. I will, however, always feel like Cecilia (Mia Farrow) when sitting in a theater, film or digital, because the reason why I'm there is to fall in love.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Darren Aronofsky

Darren Aronofsky is the reason why I have a beard. I was first introduced to his work in high school, when I stumbled across Requiem for a Dream (2000). I was blown away by the no-nonsense approach to telling a story and quickly began investigating the bonus features on the disc. I was fascinated by the young director who, in the commentary, remarked that he would refrain from shaving until finishing production on his film. I have come to realize, since then, that some of my favorite directors have or have had beards. It's something that I have associated with all great directors, which is the simple reason why I have a beard.

I had a chance to catch an advance screening of Black Swan (2010) several months ago. I wasn't able to get in, but I did catch a peak of Darren Aronofsky just as he was about to enter. I was disappointed, until several weeks ago, when I had another opportunity to see the filmmaker in person. I had the pleasure of attending another screening of Black Swan, which was followed by a discussion with, Darren Aronofsky, the cinematographer, Matthew Libatique and the editor, Andrew Weisblum. Their discussion was followed by a screening of Pi (1998), from a brand new print of the film which looked spectacular.

I love listening to Darren Aronofsky talk and have arguably listened to every interview he has given. There was a comment from someone in the audience praising his work on The Fountain (2006), which is my favorite film of his. The discussion, however, mainly centered around Black Swan, including the performance of Natalie Portman. There was a question towards Matthew Libatique, asking if he has a "love affair" with Super 16mm, to which he replied that he loves shooting on film, period. I can't tell you how happy that makes me, as someone who prefers the look of film over digital, not to mention when a filmmaker and cinematographer take risks and shoot on a lower film stock. The evening concluded with the moderator asking Darren Aronofsky if he was in fact working on The Wolverine (2012), to which he laughed and joked, refusing to answer, as expected.

The entire audience rushed to Darren Aronofsky afterwards, demanding autographs and squeezing in on him. I don't really care for bothering such filmmakers, but I did want a simple acknowledgement. I went outside and stumbled upon Matthew Libatique, who left with the rest of us. I thanked him for coming, and he continued on and stood outside with everybody else, chatting about film. I did notice, however, that Darren Aronofsky was sitting in his car. I stood there, hoping to see him once more, and then, his chauffeur drove off right beside us. I immediately waved at him, hoping for a polite gesture back, and that's exactly what I received. Darren Aronofsky smiled and waved back. That's really everything for me, an aspiring filmmaker, who loves and appreciates his style.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Christopher Nolan discusses his best film, Memento

I remember watching Memento (2000) for the first time and having a unique experience. The entire film was backwards; however, I had to no trouble following its narrative. I felt like I was piecing together a puzzle, and felt like I was a part of the film and its structure. This had never happened before, and after watching the film, the name of its director was imprinted into my memory... Christopher Nolan.

Christopher Nolan is one of the most talented filmmakers working today, in terms of a visionary director who is a master at crafting a film. In honor of the tenth anniversary Blu-ray release of Memento, Christopher Nolan visited the Egyptian Theatre for a discussion with Guillermo del Toro.

Guillermo del Toro mentioned that he "kind of hates" him because Memento was only Christopher Nolan's second feature film. The film is a remarkable achievement for a beginning filmmaker, considering Following is a much smaller film in terms of... everything. Christopher Nolan mentioned that Ridley Scott was a significant influence on his career, most notably Inception (2010). The screenplay for Inception was written a year or two after Memento was finished, and the unconventional narrative structure was still fresh in his mind.

Christopher Nolan discussed the importance of editing process, and mentioned that they filmed a whole bunch of shots not knowing what to do with them, primarily shots of Leonardo's wife. The editor went in and put in some shots of her in the last sequence, which match cuts serves as match cuts with Leonard. This helped up the emotional impact of the story, and created an layer within the film that would later be explored in depth in Inception. In addition, the screenplay didn't have an emotional center and was written as a very "cold" story. In his opinion, Guy Pierce (who he was reluctant to cast because he was much younger than he had imagined) was the one who brought the emotional center of the story to the character.

There were some difficulties in finding a distributor, as many studios did not feel like there was an audience for this film. Christopher Nolan also said that Quentin Tarantino was an influence on him because he inspired him to read crime novels and stories, which became the basis for his film. In his opinion, the film holds up ten years later because he was inspired by novels and stories rather than films, which is why he feels films like Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994) are more "retro."

There was also some discussion about "Memento Mori," the original short story his brother, Jonathan Nolan, was writing prior to the making of the film. The film, however, was filmed and edited before the story was finished. Christopher Nolan discussed the reason why, claiming that he was able to make the story of the film subjective before his brother.

I have always wanted to see Christopher Nolan in person, especially after seeing Memento for the first time. There's something humble and honest about him, even though he has the entire Batman franchise sitting on his shoulders. There's no question that he has come a long way in the past ten years, and become one of the most in demand filmmakers working today. I was blown away by Memento years ago, and his name has stuck ever since. Christopher Nolan is one of the few filmmakers whose name we can mention today and audiences will immediately trust his work... and that's admirable.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Daily Trojan

I am officially a published writer!

It's been my dream, for as long as I can remember, to have my writing published. I am officially a published writer, because I have signed on to write articles and reviews for the Daily Trojan. I never could have imagined writing for the Daily Trojan, which is one of the oldest traditions at the University of Southern California. The school newspaper dates back to its first issue on September 12, 1912, when it was first known as the Daily Southern Californian.

I am officially a contributing writer for the Lifestyle section of the Daily Trojan. I am in charge of writing articles and reviews for film, theatre, and music. I have been hard at work, but my first article for the newspaper has been published. The article is a review of Roger Ebert's program, Ebert Presents at the Movies. This specific article will only appear online, whereas my future writings may be in both print and online. The article is also on the front page of the Daily Trojan!

I would really love for all of you to read the article, Roger Ebert relaunches film review show, and leave a comment on the page.