Tag Archives: Film

Staring At My Ice Reflection

There’s a little spot outside of my grandparent’s house in Chicago, IL, a white little gazebo that rests quietly by the lake in the park. I walk to it every year when I visit, usually in December. As I traverse through my personal winter wonderland, where snow cakes over the fields like frosting and the snowflakes brush against my face, I always stop at that spot and look at the frozen layer of ice staring back at me below.

I always feel a temptation to jump over the ledge and onto the ice, but I never act on this impulse. I imagine, of course, that the ice would collapse under my weight and I would fall into the frozen lake below, the cold water stabbing the nerves in my body, paralyzing me, and sinking me into the deep abyss where I would surely meet my end. But there’s a part of me that wonders, maybe even hopes, that the ice would be strong enough to hold me. That I could skate and slide all over the ice as happily as could be, enjoying and exploring a little more of my own winter wonderland.

That feeling I get when I look over that lake is the same feeling I’ve been having for the past few weeks now, ever since my college graduation. I feel like there’s a large sheet of ice that I’m looming over right now, and I don’t know if it’ll be strong enough to hold me. I have no choice whether or not to jump, of course, but after I jump… what is next? Will I be able to stand on it confidently, or will I collapse, fall in the frozen lake, and drown to death?

I would be lying to you if I said that it hasn’t be a strange five years for me. At this same time in 2011, I went through my high school graduation and faced the worst panic attack of my life so far. I remember my eyes darting from left to right frantically, looking for danger that wasn’t there. Tears kept streaming down my face, even though I didn’t know where they were coming from. And my right hand wouldn’t stop shaking, even hours after the attack had ended. The nerves in my body were so shot that I don’t think they knew how to process the things that were going on with my body.

Whenever I go through a panic attack nowadays, I’m usually able to get control of it either through deep breathing or distracting myself with other priorities. But back then, I had no control over it. As a result, I faced the full onslaught of my emotions, not knowing how to respond, react to, or process any of it. I’ve went through a lot of traumatic memories in the past few years, from heartbreak to getting fired from my job. My high school graduation remains to be my worst memory by far, hands down.

From there, I went through my first few years of my undergraduate, which was a very difficult transition for me to say the least. I started off my college career majoring in film, and the art department quickly proved how useless they were in my academic development. For one thing, the film professors that I had built curriculum mostly around film theory, which wasn’t very helpful when it came to my personal training. I needed technical help, instruction on how to operate a camera, white balance, frame, focus a shot, operate a boom mic, construct a lighting kit, etc. The help they were offering was in explaining the rule of thirds, the 180 rule, linear editing, and many other techniques which would take too long to explain here.

Note that I am not criticizing film theory as a whole. I am criticizing their teaching of film theory. Theory has an important place in film education, and that is in forming a general basis where filmmakers can start from to build and form their own ideas. Film theory is vitally important to the film industry, but at the end of the day, film theory is just theory. Artists have twisted, adjusted, and even straight-up broken numerous rules of film as the industry further developed, and in most cases, those breaking of the rules worked because it was for the narrative of those particular films.

The problem that I, and many other students, were facing in that department was that my professors were focused too much on theory and not enough on application. When I finally left the department, I still didn’t know how to operate a camera, I didn’t know how to use most of the editing software, and I developed no technical skills beyond what I already learned in high school. It was a wasteful education for a wasteful degree, so I left the department looking for help in other areas that I could find.

I soon transferred over to the communication department to major in broadcast journalism, which soon proved to be an immeasurably better education choice for me. I became the film critic for my newspaper, The Shorthorn, and soon moved to manage my own staff as a section editor. I worked as a radio personality for UTA Radio and hosted my own radio show, “The Talkie Tuesdays with David Dunn.” And this past year, I worked as a reporter, producer, and anchor for our broadcast station, UTA News. That last job in particular was special to me because it combined two of my passions: filming and writing.

The most unusual choice I made while I was in college was to join a fraternity. I never thought much of Greek life: I always imagined that it was filled with a bunch of egotistical, facetious hooligans that were more interesting in drinking and hazing than they were in academics and career-building. But the young man that I met in my advertising class back in 2013 demonstrated otherwise. He showed me pictures of his brothers working with the Boys and Girls Club down the street, talking about how Kappa Sigma was the leading philanthropy-based fraternity in the nation, and that they were on their way to coming back onto campus. He encouraged that I speak with the chapter’s rush chair and president, which I begrudgingly agreed to.

That meeting proved to be fruitful in more ways than one. The young men that I spoke to seemed a lot like me: young, ambitious, always looking ahead, eager to make a connection and have an impact on their campus. When I started the meeting, I told the them that regardless of how the meeting went, I would have to go home and discuss it with my parents. Yet by the end of that meeting, I decided to pay the registration fee and sign up right there on the spot.

1233123_10152454079539068_980037595_o

That spur-of-the-moment decision proved to be the best one I made. Not only did I get the opportunity to work on my chapter’s executive board as secretary: I also got to travel to Virginia, work in headquarters as an intern, and even won a national award for my term in office during 2015. My college years were a very strange mix of good and bad things. Kappa Sigma was easily the best.

I’ve gained a lot, yet lost a lot in the short five years that I’ve had. I’ve had four amazing internships in my last year of college, yet I was fired from a job I really cared about at the end of 2015. I feel deeply in love with someone in 2014, only to have my heart broken by this same woman later in 2015. I’ve built friendships with people I thought I’d never connect with, only to have some of them eventually abandon me altogether. I neither judge nor feel harshly towards these people. I’ve come to learn that friends make life worth living, and yet, they come and go as frequently as the wind. I hope a few of them stick around, but I won’t be surprised if most of them don’t.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that this has been a trying time for me, but it has also been a worthwhile one as well. I’ve been asked this important question before: “If you died tonight in your sleep, did you feel like you lived a happy life?” Five years ago, my answer would have been no, because really I didn’t have much of a life to live. But after going through the highs and lows of employment, heartbreak, academics, friendship, and the pursuit of happiness, I can confidently say that my answer has changed. Yes. Yes I have lived a happy life, although I highly doubt that it ends here.

So to the people who have entered and left my life, I want to say thank you. Thank you to my dear friends Connor and Warren, who have impossibly been by my side since my traumatic high school experience. Thank you to Jayme, who has both healed and broken my heart. Thank you to Laurie, Andrew, and Julian, who has given me leadership and guidance in areas where others have ignored. Thank you to Nick, Magnus, Steven, Erick, Izzak, Davis, Dylan, Mitch, Sir, Micky, and many, many others that have given me a second family in Kappa Sigma. Thank you to my loyal readers who have kept up with this website since its creation in 2012. There really are no other words major enough or appropriate enough to say. Thank you.

 

I don’t know what’s next for me. Who would know? But as I plunge into the ice lake beneath me, I hope that it will be strong enough to support my next step. And if it isn’t, I’ll learn to swim to the next one. I’ve drowned once before. I’m not so afraid to be drowning again.

Merry Christmas.

– David Dunn

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , ,

Living On The Autism Spectrum

I think it’s time I made a confession, although I consider it less of a confession and more of a confirmation. I have Asperger’s syndrome.

“What’s that?” you might ask. Asperger’s is a mental disorder that has extreme irregularities with social development and nonverbal communication. Think of Mark Zuckerberg from The Social Network, Steve Jobs or Michael Burry from The Big Short, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what the disease is like. It’s a condition that exists on the Autism spectrum, and many doctors consider it a high-functioning form of Autism.

In a way, I guess you could say I’m half Autistic.

I’ve known this for a long time. In many ways, I’ve always known. Ever since I was a child, I struggled to understand my peers and to talk and communicate with them. I couldn’t read facial expressions. I couldn’t interpret sarcasm. I couldn’t tell whether someone liked me or if they were afraid of me. I said things in the wrong way, or used the wrong tone of voice. I hurt people’s feelings and I didn’t even know I was doing it. I’ve always felt like an alien inside of my own body, and I sometimes wondered if everyone else was clued in on some big secret that they were all intentionally hiding from me. It was a very lonely, confusing experience, and most of the time, I didn’t know what was happening with myself or the people around me.

When I was 12 years old, my dad pulled me aside and told me that I had Asperger’s syndrome. Like you, I didn’t know what it was at first. Then my dad read to me all of the symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome. That kids displaying traits of Asperger’s were socially inept. They couldn’t read nonverbal cues. They were hypersensitive. They could spend hours over subjects or tasks they found interesting. They could hyper-analyze on anything they wanted to focus on, even to the point where it hurt them to keep thinking about it.

I had listened to all of these symptoms, and wondered if they were writing about Asperger’s or if they were writing about me.

Over time, I’ve learned to live with the both the good and bad of Asperger’s. On one hand, thanks to my intense interest in certain subjects (like movies), I’ve become very knowledgable on the ins and outs of certain fields. I don’t know many people that can recall most best picture, director, screenplay, and acting winners at most awards ceremonies. I can, and that’s a small thing about myself that I’m proud of.

On the other hand, the negative effects of Asperger’s has been obviously detrimental to say the least. In terms of building relationships, it is a never-ending battle of interpretation and understanding, and usually, I’m always on the losing end.

I’ve recently had the motivation to publish an opinion column on The Dallas Morning News about my struggles with Asperger’s. There was no particular reason behind this. I’ve just felt that the disease has been something that I’ve been unintentionally hiding for some time, and it wasn’t something that needed to be hidden. Like most kids with Autism, they don’t have a choice in hiding what they have to the people around them, and it subjects them to insults and cruelty. Since they don’t have a choice in being Autistic, why should I have a choice in having Asperger’s?

Yet, I’ve learned to cope with my illness not in negativity, but in practicality. In one of my favorite stories I’ve ever reported on, I profiled a college student that had dyslexia, dysgraphia, auditory processing disorder, and attention deficit disorder. I don’t know how he does it. Asperger’s has been enough of a struggle for me. How does he deal with struggling to read, hear, write, and keep up with daily tasks?

The thing that had the most profound effect on me while interviewing him was how casually he saw his illness. He often laughed about it and smiled about the funny things he did, not drowning himself in sadness over what he could or couldn’t do.

He didn’t see his dyslexia. He saw himself.

“Someone with dyslexia is no better or worse than someone without it,” I remember him saying. “They’re just different.”

I listened to this statement, and pretended “dyslexia” was replaced with “Asperger’s.” I have since chosen to see myself in this same light, and I encourage other people to do the same. We all have struggles in one way, shape, or form. Mine just comes with a diagnosis. In realizing that disability does not define, I give power to the fact that I am David Dunn and I am not Asperger’s syndrome. I hope others choose to pursue their identities over their illness as well.

To read my piece in The Dallas Morning News, click here

 David Dunn 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

An Afternoon With Alejandro Inarritu

“And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.”

– Raymond Carver

These were the words that director Alejandro Inarritu (Babel, Biutiful) chose to quote at the beginning of his meticulous film Birdman, or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance. It was also the first words that came back into my head minutes before I was to interview him.

This weekend, I had two great experiences happen to me. Firstly, getting to see Birdman, a viciously unique film that tackles it’s characters and themes with pinpoint precision: a masterwork by a master director. The second you already know. If you don’t, you didn’t read my first paragraph.

Alejandro gave myself, along with about ten other college journalists, the privilege to talk to him about his upcoming limited release. After seeing the movie, this surprised me, because there was a moment in the film where a journalist accuses the main character of injecting semen into his pores to maintain his young features. I suspect Mr. Inarritu hosts a very guarded spirit while being interviewed by the press, and I certainly don’t blame him for that if that is the case. Now that I think about it, maybe that’s why Inarritu wanted to host the interview over the phone in the first place.

Anyhow, I had 20 minutes to listen to the director’s innermost thoughts, and while I only got to ask him one question, I enjoyed the experience as much as any other college journalist who participated in the call. While all of these aren’t my questions, these are the ones I found the most relevant to the film, and the ones I believed Inarritu would have preferred to be answered in the first place. So without further adieu, here is Alejandro Inarritu on the unexpected virtue of ignorance.

Question: Your film is unique, hyperactive and full of energy. How do you communicate to your cast the complex tone you’re wanting to portray?

Answer: I always try to be very specific, help them to clarify and simplify things by having a very clear objective. I think every scene has an objective, and every character has something they want to achieve in each scene. When you have cleared your objective, and to try one or two possible ways to get that done through an action verb, I think that would simplify the work not only for me, but for everybody.

Q: What were some of the challenges you faced while making the film? 

A: It was a very short shooting — 29 days. We rehearsed a lot before arriving to the set, so basically it was a very intense and meticulous work of precision with actors, camera and crew. Everything was designed and matched the needs of the film that was basically predecided in rehearsal.

Q: You have a big role behind your scenes in producing, writing and directing all of your films. What is it like taking on all of those jobs at once? 

A: I have been lucky to have been the producer and be involved in all of my films in a very personal way. I think there is no other way to make it. I think if you have a film that is personal, if you are doing your own film, there is no other way to not produce it, because I think it’s a part of the film. Producing means a lot of decisions that will impact your film one way or another.

Q: In the movie, Riggan Thompson is overshadowed by a superhero role he played earlier in his career. In real life, Keaton is overshadowed by his role in Tim Burton’s Batman. Is that an intentional casting decision that you made?

A: Keaton adds a lot of mental reality to the film, being an authority and one of the few persons of his work that pioneered the superhero thing. But at the same time, he has the craft and the range to play in drama and comedy, and very few actors can do that. He plays a prick in this film, and I need someone who was adorable, somebody who you can really like. He has that likeness, that likeness that was required. All of these things made him the perfect choice for it. I think he was very bold in trusting me with this role.

Q: One of the things that is particularly interesting with the film is the long take. Can you talk about why you made that visual choice?

A: I wanted the long take to make the people really feel the experience of this guy. I think it’s important for every director in every film to pick the point of view, and in this case I wanted radical point of view, and the people were in the shoes of the character to experience his emotions. I felt that was the most effective way to do that.

Q: Why did you choose to portray mental illness in a film that is at least extensively a comedy?

A: I think ego is a part of our decease as a society. I think the ego is a necessity, but I think when the ego takes over and we attach our personalities to the ego, and he domains a person absolutely without being discovered or controlled. That’s mental deceit, and I see in a way Riggan Thompson suffering from that illusion of ego that’s distorting him. He thinks he does things that he does not do, he’s in like a manic state of mind. He’s an extreme case of ego.

Q: Is that part of the commentary?

A: Everything is part of the tone of the film. That’s why it opens with a guy meditating in tidy whites.

– David Dunn

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Now I Have A Radio Show. Ho-Ho-Ho.

Perhaps I am a little untimely by posting this in late March, when in reality this has been going on since February. Nevertheless, a starkly different turn has been taken for me involving my recent broadcasting career. So here goes.

I am officially now a radio talk show host for the University of Texas at Arlington’s official internet radio station. I run my own one-hour show live every Tuesday at 10 a.m. where I discuss everything about movies, from news headlines, to upcoming releases, and a review of a new release coming out that week.

It’s called “The Talkie Tuesdays with David Dunn”, and it is everything that I have ever dreamed of it being.

My foray into radio started a long time ago, back when I was a new broadcasting student in Fall of 2013. After experiencing the penultimate failure and disarray of the film department here at the university, I explored other possible venues into the communications department, ones that would help improve my skills technically and help market myself professionally.

That opportunity started in UTA Radio. Having introduced myself as the film critic of the UTA Shorthorn, I pitched a segment idea to the station’s executive producer and manager, Lance Liguez. It was called “The Movie Minute With David Dunn” and it was literally a 60-second review of a movie that came out that week, either in theaters or on DVD.

I know, I know, 60 seconds sounds like a very short time. In radio, however, I can’t tell you how much time that is, and how inconvenient it is for the entire program if you run even a second over. Regardless, Lance was very helpful to me in introducing me to the profession of radio. He gave me pointers on how to have a better announcing voice, introduced me to the station and granted me access to the recording studios as well. He introduced me with my production team (my bosses), and the people I’d be working for as long as I would be contributing to the station. He paired me up with broadcaster Tracie Hill, who ran the news program at the time, and also introduced me to the station manager Charlie Vann, of whom I would send my recordings to so he can edit them into Tracie’s segments.

Fast forward to present day. As a part of Lance’s radio production class, I am getting even more experience than I did before. As I already stated, I was scheduled for a 10 a.m. Tuesday shift for UTA Radio. Originally, my shifted consisted of little more than playing music and coming on saying “You’re listening to UTA Radio.com”. When we were reformatting our shows, however, I couldn’t have been more excited to reformat mine into a talk show and do what I love most: talk about movies.

This new format started two weeks ago. I didn’t post anything on this yet because I was both nervous and I was afraid I would be ready for live announcing. After getting a better feel of it, however, I must say that I think this is working out for me and I’m ready to advertise it in the best way I know how: shamelessly plug it on my personal blog. Horray for bloated egos!!!

Long and short of this post, I would like to invite you to check out my show. If you didn’t read the previous seven paragraphs, my show is on 10 a.m. every Tuesdays on UTA Radio. It won’t be on any regular F.M. or A.M. band. It’s an online radio broadcast channeled through iHeart radio and can be accessed through http://www.utaradio.com

Thank you to everyone for your support and for your interest not only in my reviews, but in my constantly progressing career. The communication department here has been more than helpful with all of my skills that I’ve been developing, and I cannot wait to continue to develop it here at the University of Texas at Arlington.

I’ll see you, fellow moviegoers, at the movies.

-David Dunn

Post-script: I’ll give you one more chance: 10 a.m. Tuesdays at http://www.utaradio.com

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“THIS MEANS WAR” Review (✫1/2)

Spy vs Spy in the most imbecilic way possible.

I hate formula movies.  I hate em, I hate em, I hate em.  They are predictable, repetitive, and annoying in nature, deafening and forgettable by default.  It doesn’t matter what genre its from: if it follows the formula, premise, or plot-line of another film, it is automatically doomed for failure.  You’ve never heard of Mac and Me because it isn’t E.T., and you don’t remember The Mummy because it isn’t Indiana Jones.  Why on earth, then, would we remember this when we already have movies like Rush Hour, Lethal Weapon, and Men In Black?

This Means War is one of those movies that follows its formula so strictly, it treats its premise like its their only chance of survival.  Imagine the movie like the sinking Titanic, and the small plank of wood (the formula) is the actor’s only hope of survival.  Director McG should have actually seen Titanic though: the plank of wood didn’t have the strength to support its two leads.  What makes McG think that here it would support three?

This Means War follows the story of two CIA agents: partners, allies, goody-goody beer buddies.  FDR (Chris Pine) is an active womanizer who is always on the lookout for new jailbait.  Tuck (Tom Hardy) is his less-lucky friend who is divorced, has a son, and struggles to even find a date.  Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) is a bold, intelligent, and beautiful product-testing agent who struggles to find love.  Oh boy.

These are our characters: one of them a pleasure-seeking playboy and the other two romantically hopeless until they discover online dating.  And when Tuck arranges for a date online with the beautiful, yet oblivious, Lauren, their date leads to another coincidence encounter that could only happen in a movie: FDR, who just happened to be looking for a video in the rental store when he ran into Lauren.  From there, you can predict what the movie is: a spy-romantic-action-“comedy” about two expert CIA agents fighting over the same girl.

Har har har, hee hee hee.  How original.  Hasn’t this been done before?  How many times have we seen movies, television shows, novels, and even comic books about competing love interests?  I’m all for the buddy-cop-turns-rivalrous-romance gag, but the material in the story must be funny and/or clever in order for it to back up its lack of originality.

Expect none of that humor, wit, or emotion in this movie.  This Means War is mind-numbing, a sterile, unfunny, and idiotic film that tries to win us over with confidence and charisma, but instead rubs us off with immaturity and annoyance.  There’s no reason to care for these characters.  The emotion is artificial.  All of the jokes are unfunny, and they dilute to topics as silly and insignificant as alcohol in a baby’s bottle, or sex jokes involving Cheetos.  No, that was not a typo.  Think of how many jokes you can make about a small, orange, stubby-shaped object.  I’ll bet Chester was happy to hear about the product placement, though.

The greatest hinderance of this movie is its writing, where every single line of dialogue carries over its insincerity and its dependency on its paper-thin premise.  The dialogue is so shockingly dumbfounded that I wanted to rub my fingernails on the chalkboard owned to whoever taught these screenwriters how to write.  The smartest lines of dialogue in the film include something like “What do you do when you don’t know what to do?” or “You have the intelligence of a fifteen year old boy!”.  Well, at least we’re on the same page here.

The only redeeming factor of this movie is the cast, who at times deliver their lines with whimsicality and good humor.  Even then though, their roles are wasted.  Their characters are so stupid, half-witted, and immature that they could only be artificial.  Take, for instance, Reese Witherspoon’s character.  How is it that a woman like her gets all of these advances and radical emotional changes from both of these guys, yet she continues to remain so clueless and oblivious like she’s out on a first date?  Explosions go off and these guys go kung-fu on each other and you still think they’re just travel agents?  Sorry, I’m not buying that.

Do I really need to elaborate any more here?  I’ve already said why This Means War is terrible, and I hope my point is made.  The chemistry is flat, plastic, and unbelievable, the dialogue, even more so.  The plot is stock, unoriginal, and lifeless.  The visual effects are so bad, you can see the CG on a car when it goes flying from an explosion.  The villains, especially, are extremely lackluster and uninspired.  What is more stock, for instance, than a Russian baddie trying to get revenge at two secret agents who killed his brother?

This, from the same guy who gave us We Are Marshall.  What happened to McG?  He was so great with that film, filling it with so much life and emotion.  Terminator Salvation, preposterous as it may be, was also darkly atmospheric and marginally entertaining.  Now, he’s here scraping the bottom of the barrel with This Means War, giving us no sanctuary from conventionalism, but instead, wooden planks to float on it.  Let it sink, McG.  Please.  Let it sink.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Advertisements