Meeting Me: The Kid From Texas

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The above photograph you’re looking at is a picture of the first time I’ve ever visited a beach.  I remember that moment as if it were a picture in a postcard.  I took off my shirt, my shoes, and my socks as I leapt from my mom’s car.  I ran out onto the beach and felt the warmth and the coarseness of the sand in between my toes.  And I just ran.  I ran and ran and ran and ran.  I ran so much, it looked like the world was running with me.  I ran so much, my Aunt couldn’t keep up with me.  I ran so much, Forest Gump would have been impressed.

I share you this memory not to flaunt about my lifestyle, but just to give you an idea of who I am.  My name is David Dunn.  I am many things in this life, but boring isn’t one of them.  I’m a writer.  I’m an enthusiast.  I’m a spiritualist.  I’m an introvert.  I’m an adventurer.

Of course, none of those things pays the bills (well, maybe the “writer” part.  But many would offer an opposing argument).  Profession-wise, I am pursuing many endeavors.  I am a filmmaker.  I am a producer.  I am a screenwriter.  I am a composer.  I am a photographer.  I am an aspiring actor.  But my most significant profession is my current job at my school newspaper, the University of Texas at Arlington Shorthorn: I am a film critic and journalist.

All of these jobs have one thing in common: they are all deeply invested with the respect and power of film.

I’ve been studying film history and appreciation ever since I was in high school, and I haven’t been done studying since.  I’ve been watching and loving films far beyond that, as my mom would always show me childhood videos of me copying Tigger’s movements from Winnie The Pooh back when I was just a kid.  I’ve been watching and respecting stories my whole life.  In a way, I guess you could say I’ve been studying film appreciation forever.

It didn’t come upon chance that I wound up in this profession.  I decided on a profession in film early in 2005, although I didn’t quite know what it would be.  I made this decision after reading an early draft of the newly-produced Halo screenplay by Alex Garland.  The script, much like many other screenplays written in that year, was a wonderful and energetic science-fiction story about a emotionally reserved hero who was trying to find recompense after failing a mission that resulted in the loss of countless lives and an entire planet.  I loved that script and would have loved seeing a film adaptation of it.  Sadly, it never came to be made, but that hardly deterred my enthusiasm.  I found love in many other films that would continue to inspire me in my studies, including Friday Night Lights, There Will Be Blood, Gran Torino, Slumdog Millionaire, and my personal favorite, The Social Network. 

Post-Script: The original Halo video game released by Microsoft and developed by Bungie is just as much a cinematic experience as it is a well-crafted arcade game.  I’d strongly recommend anyone to play through the campaign at least once in your lifetime.  

But again, I had no idea what my new profession would be.  I wanted to do something I could I was good at, anything in the film world that I could grab my hands on (Many of my peers tell me I’m a decent actor, although my film professor verbally disagrees with many of them).

Since I was pursuing a career in film, the first thing I decided was that I needed to understand my own opinion of it.  Not just about movies, but about filmmakers, about actors, screenwriters, production companies, projects in production, creative decisions, moral boundaries, etc etc.  I also knew that while doing that, I also had to develop my own theories and ideas that I could relate to other people’s opinions and experiences in film (Ex. A movie that relies on relentless violence and explosions instead of story and character cannot be categorized as a movie, but instead, should be labeled as a 150-minute trailer).

See, the important thing about film criticism is not agreeing with everybody else’s opinion about film: you’re not a critic if you do that.  You’re just a normal run-of-the-mill schmuck who nods his head and smiles while everybody else around him is also nodding and smiling.

You do, however, need to word your opinion in a way where everybody agrees with your review, even if they don’t necessarily agree with your opinion.

For example, if I look up the definition of a PREQUEL in a dictionary, the definition will read “a story or movie containing events that precede those of an existing work”.

Now, let’s bring two prequels to the table: X-men: First Class and the Star Wars prequel trilogy.  I’m one of the relative few that didn’t like X-men: First Class because A) Magneto’s conflict is with another mutant, not with the human race, B) Mystique’s relationship with Professor Xavier is different from how it is portrayed in the original trilogy, and C) Xavier was confined to a wheelchair at the end of First Class even though his older self is seen walking through flashback sequences of X-men 2, 3, and Wolverine.  

Now, as an action blockbuster intended to revive energy into the franchise, the movie worked.  But as a prequel to a superhero trilogy of epic proportions, it ended with more holes and questions than it did with answers.  Therefore, I did not like the movie because it did not serve its function as a prequel.

Oppositely, the prequel trilogy of Star Wars was fun, entertaining, visually spectacular, highly stylized, and ended with no holes at the end of its conclusion.  Despite its tonal inconsistencies and its moments of failed comedy (*Cough, cough* JAR-JAR BINKS *Cough, cough*), it served its purpose as a prequel.  Therefore, I enjoyed the movie.

This is my goal as a film critic: to cite why I liked a movie, the reasons why I liked it, and mention the reasons why you too might like it.  Of course, there will be times where you and I will come to disagreement, but that is the joy of film criticism: finding out the differences between viewers and learning our similarities to each other.

Yes, I know I’m not the first critic to enter into the criticism field.  Yes, I know my competition is just as ridiculous as the film industry is.  And yes, I realize I may not be the best film critic out there on the world wide web.

Which no doubt leaves you with one question: what makes me different from all the other movie critics out there right now?

To answer that, I’ll quote a moment from Joe Johnston’s superhero film, Captain America: The First Avenger.  At one point in the movie, the heinous villain Red Skull (brilliantly portrayed by Hugo Weaving) captures our hero Captain America (Chris Evans) and has his men hold him down.  With a tone as sinister and slithering as can be, he asks our hero:

Red Skull: “Tell me… what makes you so special?”

Captain America: “Nothing.  I’m just a normal kid from Brooklyn”.

Well, it’s Texas, but you get my point.

-David Dunn

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