One of the reasons I suppose I got into news was simply by consuming news from a young age.
My parents never shielded me away from watching the 10 p.m. local news or the Spanish-language news that followed at 10:30 p.m. Names like Peter Jennings, Jorge Ramos, Pedro Sevcec, Ron Magers and others became heroes for me the same way Scottie Pippen or Frank Thomas did (Magers is actually retiring this month from ABC7 Chicago).
Another name I came to admire at a young age was Morley Safer. He wasn’t delivering the news every night, but on Sundays, the way he told stories from all corners of the world drew me in to listen. Last Sunday, 60 Minutes aired a tribute to Safer as the reporter retired that week and sadly died a short time later.
I work on Sundays so recently I haven’t been able to sit down and take in the stories from the program like I normally do. But I took a short break from producing the 10 p.m. news and watched part of his tribute episode.
One part in particular stuck out to me. It was the part describing how Safer got his first television job at the Canadian Broadcasting company at the age of 24. My age.
Now, I don’t pretend to think I’ll have the remarkable career that Safer did. But at that moment, after a long week of producing and not at my highest energy level, I felt comfort and a quiet inspiration. It was a good reminder that there’s not way of knowing where life or a career will take you. That with hard work, patience and a bit of good timing, things will be ok.
The same idea is shared in popular post on Tumblr that goes along the lines of how Tina Fey was a hotel receptionist at 23 and how Chris Pratt was an Alaskan crab fisherman at 22 or something like that. For some reason that post never really had an effect on me.
But seeing Safer’s career televised over an hour made me realize that (Lord willing), there’s still a lot more ball to be played and hopefully I can enjoy a career that has a fraction of the excitement, satisfaction and purpose that Safer enjoyed.
Last week, “Jane the Virgin“ star Gina Rodriguez called for a new weekly feature on Instagram. #MovementMondays is a way to support the work of Latinos in show business by highlighting their performances and achievements. Rodriguez said that the idea was partly in response to the complete absence on diversity among the 20 nominees for acting awards for the 88th Academy Awards, repeating the #OscarsSoWhite controversy from last year.
I’m joining Gina Rodriguez in helping put the spotlight on Latino talent that I appreciate. Her first actor to focus on is Oscar Isaac. He’ll be my first as well but I promise I won’t be copying her every week.
I have an especially deep admiration for Oscar Isaac. He’s Guatemalan-American, just like me. That means a lot to me because I can see that someone with a similar identity and background can achieve great things. That’s why diversity in Hollywood and at the Oscars is so important. Whether it’s a Latino, Black, Asian or Arabic actor, when we see one of our own make it to the kind of success Isaac or other of actors of color have, it fills us with a kind of pride that the average White male won’t feel when Matt Damon or Leonardo DiCaprio win an award.
Isaac appears on the font cover of the January 2016 issue of GQ Magazine and something he says in his profile resonated with me. While talking about his upbringing, Oscar mentions that his father instilled a strong sense of individualism in him. He goes on to say: “It was way more important to recognize myself as an individual than as a part of a group. I wasn’t part of the ‘Latino community’. I was just a kid in high school with friends, who was into playing music.” In other interviews, Isaac has said that while he is proud of his background, he doesn’t want to be considered a “Latino actor” but rather just an actor. I can relate because I grew up in neighborhoods and schools that were majority white and with few friends that looked like me. And while I do value my role as a Latino in what I do and as part of the community, I want to be considered as a good journalist, and not pigeon-holed as a good “Latino journalist”.
The larger issue of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy is not just that the Academy fails to recognize the great work of actors of color from the past year (although it’s on them as voters to do a better job). The blame should also be on studio executives that make the hiring calls for major films and leave out actors of color when the decision is simply made on a matter of who can bring in more money. Fortunately, Oscar has built a career that is filled with phenomenal performances and, with the help of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, he may be on his way to becoming a bankable movie star.
In “Ex Machina”, Isaac plays Nathan, the multi-billionaire CEO of a tech company similar to Google. The film was an indie hit in 2015 and worthy of Oscar contention. Writer and director Alex Garland creates a riveting story with just three characters. The plot follows Caleb, played by Domhnall Gleeson, who is an employee for Nathan’s company and is selected to visit the CEO’s secluded and massive private property in the middle of nowhere.
Nathan reveals to Caleb that he is on the verge of a major breakthrough in artificial intelligence. Caleb’s role will be to run a series of Turing tests with the humanoid robot, Ava, played by Alicia Vikander. What’s brilliant about Oscar Isaac’s performance is that the personality and depth of his character is so dynamic, that it brings the “mad scientist” role into the 21st century. He carries the arrogance of a genius that feels control over everything they touch. While that makes Nathan great at what he does, it’s also his downfall. With only three main characters, Isaac’s role is magnified and you can appreciate all the little nuances in Nathan which make the performance so damn good. This modern day “Frankenstein” keeps you thinking, doubting and trying to keep up with what’s happening next and I highly recommend it.
Besides playing Poe Dameron in “Force Awakens” and Nathan in “Ex Machina”, Oscar Isaac’s other noteworthy performance from last year was for his role as Nick Wasicsko in HBO’s “Show Me a Hero”. The true story takes place in late eighties and early nineties Yonkers, New York and centers around the issue of affordable housing. Isaac’s character makes a run for mayor with the promise that he will fight against putting the housing on the White side of town which the Supreme Court has ordered the city to do. But as the young politician comes into power, he soon realizes that he has dug himself into a mess with no way out besides going against his word, following the Supreme Court ruling and making enemies along the way.
Isaac does an amazing job at capturing all of Wasicsko’s emotions through his rise and demise. The character is no white knight in shining armor, but rather someone who is fighting for what he believes is right to save the town and, more importantly, his career. The six-part series is written by the creator of “The Wire”, David Simon and is a story that is still relevant today. While Oscar Isaac is the standout character, the ensemble cast help capture all sides of the story.
Besides having a similar background as me, I love Isaac’s performances. As a Julliard-trained actor, he puts serious work into developing his characters. So no matter how small the role, he makes the most out of it. Go watch him as Standard in “Drive” or as a wandering folk singer in “Inside Llewn Davis”. I have no doubt in my mind that it’s only a matter of when, not if, Oscar Isaac will win Oscars.
[This article originally appeared on TouchVision.com on November 13, 2015. However, since the company has since folded, the link may not work and the complete work appears here]
On the surface, there is nothing extraordinary about the live stream of Shia LaBeouf’s #AllMyMovies performance art project. There’s no sound and a single camera is aimed at LaBeouf who sports a thick beard and wears a dark t-shirt, a white hoodie and a green parka that he takes on and off. The entire time, his focus is on what’s on the screen in front of him. An actor watching all 27 of the films he’s appeared in and inviting others to join sounds like a narcissistic stunt and an exercise in feeding his ego. But a closer look reveals a method to Shia’s madness.
I’ll admit I thought I would check out the stream, laugh at the absurdity of the situation, get bored and move on. But the more I watched, the more I saw others’ reactions on Twitter and the more I read about how LaBeouf got to where he is, the more I became fascinated with a camera pointed at a single person in a dark theater hundreds of miles away.
LaBeouf’s #AllMyMovies takes place at the Angelika Film Center in New York. It’s a small theater and the event is free and open to the public. The 29-year-old actor’s face flickers with the reflection of what’s on the screen and in the background visitors who have waited in line for hours come and go.
What I immediately noticed was the authenticity (or apparent authenticity) of LaBeouf’s reactions to his films. He’s engaged, he laughs and even towards the end of the Even Stevens Movie, he shows the kind of embarrassment that one does when they watch a home video with friends that know the inside jokes that appear on screen. He’s a person who seems to be sincerely enjoying himself. Shia dozes off and takes naps here and there but for the most part I admire his will to push forward and watch movies for nearly 72 hours. Through the live stream and among the audience members who joined him, LaBeouf is presenting himself without the filters of tabloid magazines creating a narrative or a film depicting him as a character. He’s just another guy in a theater watching movies. For three days straight. And he’s in all the movies.
LaBeouf relives his career in reverse chronological order starting with Man Down and works his way to Breakfast with Einstein and I can’t help but imagine that this is the epitome of someone’s life flashing before their eyes. Triumphs, failures, laughter, tears, romance and heartbreak are all presented to reveal how Shia has transformed over the years. That’s why the order is so important to what LaBeouf is trying to get at. You go from the troubled actor who works in indie films like Nymphomaniac, move on to the bankable movie star from the Transformers franchise and eventually reach the child actor in Holes that so many of us came to know and love. Through that journey of LaBeouf’s career, the celebrity has been deconstructed from the corrupt, weathered man in front of the camera to the most innocent form of Shia that we first came to know.
Shia LaBeouf’s other performance art stunts haven’t been so well received. You might recall the time he showed up to the Berlin Film Festival with a paper bag over his head that read “I’M NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE”. There was also another event in Los Angeles where the actor sat silently in a room while visitors could interact with him however they wished. Many people thought he had gone off the deep end. I did, too. It’s hard to empathize with another human being when that human is presented to you on a 50-foot screen or through stories on TMZ. But #AllMyMovies, which finds LaBeouf collaborating with his partners Luke Turner and Nastja Säde Rönkkö, is a different story. Through populist media-movies in this case-LaBeouf is sharing an experience we all have had and are familiar with.
His goal is to share the idea to challenge what “celebrity” is and that at the end of the day he, and other high profile people, are human. They have emotions, past experiences and they make mistakes just like everyone else. LaBeouf has made plenty of mistakes and has had numerous run-ins with the law. Through watching 27 of his own films, he’s someone looking at a corrupted, filtered reflection in the characters he plays. With all he’s been through, he just wants to be himself and wants you and me to look at him that way too.
And how LaBeouf conducted himself throughout the three days reflects that. While #AllMyMovies is performance art, Shia isn’t acting or performing beyond not speaking. Visitors brought him food and he shared some of his own. LaBeouf quietly and quickly acknowledged those that wanted autographs or selfies. If anyone wanted to have a word with him he kindly gestured towards the screen to let them know that he was occupied. But most importantly, he enjoyed himself. Despite getting little to no sleep, he would laugh along with the audience and be engaged with the film. Those small details and random moments are what lured me and thousands of others to stay and watch the live stream or wait hours to get into the theater. I thought I knew Shia LaBeouf through what’s been told to me about him through media. But in #AllMyMovies, he’s presenting his most authentic self to the most number of people at once.
Those watching the live stream or in the theater expecting a troubled artist to act erratically or like a statue instead witnessed another moviegoer like themselves. LaBeouf isn’t a zoo animal for us to poke at. He’s just a guy who likes movies. And through his smiles you see someone who’s tired and made mistakes in life. But at the same time there’s the creative person who can reflect on the good times and try to make the best of moving forward. That’s something we can all relate to.
January 14, 2016 was my last day working for TouchVision.
40+ incredible people and I are on moving on to the next stage in our careers. I’m disappointed, sad and heartbroken. Not only because I and a great group of media professionals are out of a job, but because after hard work and determination I truly believe that we were hitting our stride as an organization.
Startup culture is fun, innovative and intense. It’s an environment that helps you grow but only as much as you put into it. We all busted our asses to create engaging content day in and day out. Ultimately, things that were out of our control led to the end of TouchVision.
I’m grateful for my time there. It was my first full-time job out of college and I worked with extremely talented people that helped me become a better journalist and person.
But now it’s time to move forward. TouchVision was a playground to experiment with new ideas and the skills and lessons I learned there are going to stay with me wherever I go next. I plan on finding something where my work has meaning and impact. A place where I can continue to grow and build upon my education and the experience I have. Whatever I do, I’ll keep moving forward.
With theater attendancedown, studios are doing their best to create “must-see-in-theaters” experiences nowadays (I often prefer staying in and watching a movie in sweatpants instead of driving to the mall and deal with hoards of people). It can be flashy 3D flicks like the Avengers franchise or a more highbrow engagement like Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight which was shot in 70mm film.
But one of the things that drew me to see Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant was when I read that it was shot nearly all in natural light. With the exception of one campfire scene, director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki used what was given to him by the skies in Canada and Argentina where the movie was filmed to tell the 19th Century American frontier story.
I’m glad I saw Revenant on the big screen. Visually, it’s one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time. Iñárritu and Lubezki immerse the audience in stunning snowy, mountainous and forested landscapes. There are moments throughout Revenant when there are breaks from the (very) intense action and the camera focuses only on natural elements like rivers, trees or the sky. It’s a breath of fresh air amid a story filled with fierce scenes.
Hugh Glass, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is part of a group of men on America’s frontier looking to make money in the extremely risky business of the fur trade. The first scene is a violent and bloody clash between Glass’s group and a tribe of Native Americans. But later in the film when DiCaprio’s character is left for dead (this is in the trailer so no spoilers), the biggest force working against him isn’t a human enemy, but nature itself. Freezing weather, scarce resources and dangerous terrain all combine to make Glass’s campaign for revenge a living nightmare. Nature in The Revenant is a beautiful but unforgiving stage on which the movie takes place.
There were several times sitting in the theater where I thought to myself, “wow, this film is absolutely gorgeous”. But there’s plenty of times throughout Revenant that you forget you’re walking through heaven on Earth and instead realize that it’s more like hell. Guns, knives and claws all come out to draw blood in a lawless part of the country (Hateful Eight has a similar feeling to it but with more humor). I wasn’t expecting the amount of gory violence that occurs frequently throughout the movie and there were several audible gasps from the audience. I even shuddered during some scenes.
With awards season here, I have no doubt that The Revenant is a favorite to take home some hardware. I haven’t seen all of the frontrunners, but I can say that Revenant, Hateful Eight and Netflix’s Beasts of No Nation are all wonderfully shot. If you go see Revenant–and I strongly suggest that you do–I think you’ll agree with me that there’s a strong case for Iñárritu to win best director. If he accomplishes that at the Oscars, that will be back-to-back wins for him, making him just the third director to do so (by my count) and also making it three years in a row a Mexican director has won the award (Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity in 2014 and Iñárritu last year for Birdman).
As for Leo, I applaud his performance in Revenant. Will he finally end his Oscar drought? I’m not sure since the nominees aren’t out and I haven’t seen all the frontrunners yet. But his role as Hugh Glass is layered with two aspects of him becoming the drive of the film: Glass the father and Glass the survivalist.
Overall, The Revenant is aesthetically beautiful and the story brutal. And DiCaprio fights a bear. If that’s not reason enough to go see a movie (or to give the man his Oscar already), I’m not sure what is.