Dead Ringers (1988) Review

28 04 2011

Copyright 1988 Morgan Creek Productions

★ ★ ★

Let me start off by saying that his is one hauntingly strange film.  The mood and atmosphere of the entire piece have an almost dream-like quality.  The story follows the lives of two twin gynecologists, Elliot and Beverly Mantle (both played by Jeremy Irons), who are identical in every way outside of personality.  They share a physician’s practice, an apartment and even lovers.

Elliot is outspoken, charismatic and debonaire, whereas Beverly is soft spoken and mild mannered.  When actress Claire Niveau (Genevieve Bujold) visits their practice for an examination, Elliot sets up a date with her and eventually sleeps with her under the assumption that he is Beverly.  As is custom in the brother’s relationship, Beverly shows up in future meetings and sleeps with her as well.  They switch off many times without Claire knowing, but over time, Beverly begins to actually love her.  Claire, thinking Beverly doesn’t have a brother, finds out about Elliot and breaks the relationship off harshly; however, they eventually rekindle the romance.  Over time, Claire, a drug addict, hooks Beverly on barbiturates.  The remainder of the film is a bizarre, psychological examination of the bond between the two brothers, drug use and psychosis.

Like I said earlier, this a bizarre film.  David Cronenberg directs with a script by himself and Norman Snider, based upon the book “Twins” by Bari Wood and Jack Geasland.  The source book, in turn, is loosely based on the true life story of brothers Stewart and Cyril Marcus, gynecologists who shared an apartment in Manhattan, who were found dead together in 1975 from barbiturate withdrawal.

Jeremy Irons plays both the characters of Elliot and Beverly with the help of some meticulous camerawork and very early computer generated traveling mattes.  Let me just say this – Irons is brilliant, brilliant, brilliant in this role.  Each of the twins has their own nuances and personalities that he plays with precision.  At first, you are thrown off by knowing it is Irons playing both parts, but after about 10 minutes you start to forget this.  By the end, you don’t even realize that these brilliant performances in the same scene interacting with each other are the same guy!  Very, very impressive work on his part; many say his Oscar for Reversal of Fortune was a makeup for not being nominated for this role(s).  Bujold is really the only other primary actor in the film, of which, I was not very impressed.  She wasn’t bad, but it was nothing worth making special note of.

The film, overall, is bizarre, strange and a little tedious in parts.  Iron’s performance is the real crux of the picture here and, in my opinion, it is the sole reason to take the time to watch this film.





How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989) Review

26 04 2011

Copyright 1989 Handmade Films

★ ★ ★

Withnail and I possibly ranks in my top 10 favorite comedies of all-time and definitely in my top 20; this film is the movie writer/director Bruce Robinson made after Withnail and I.  As much as I wanted to absolutely love this movie, I just couldn’t.  It’s not bad, but it’s not nearly the caliber of film his debut effort was.

The film stars Richard E. Grant (from Withnail) as advertising executive Denis Bagley.  In working to come up with a good campaign for a pimple cream, he develops a boil on his shoulder that grows into having a mind and personality of it’s own.  The boil is presented like a devil on the shoulder, whereas Bagley himself begins to develop into the angelic counterpart who begins to have deeply rooted concerns in the wrongdoings of his career.  Eventually, the boil takes over and his head shrinks to the size of a boil, allowing the dark side to take over completely.

Obviously, this film is quite surreal and deeply rooted in dark comedy as well.  It’s also a plain out attack, quite heavy handedly at times, on the advertising industry.  I have agree with some of the points the film makes, but it definitely gets preachy at times for a movie that is supposed to be labeled as entertainment.  As for the story structure, it’s pretty loose.  There are some amazingly funny scenes within the film, but as a whole, it feels disjointed in many ways.

Richard E. Grant, as always, does a great job in the excessively neurotic role as Bagley.  I’ve not seen Grant in much other than this film and Withnail and I, but he definitely has a penchant for playing eccentric characters.  The only other primary character in the film is his wife, who is played by Rachel Ward; she does an acceptable job in the role as a concerned houeswife dealing with her husband’s bizarre eccentricities and rants.

I don’t want to mislead completely, this isn’t a bad film.  However, if you come to this after watching Withnail and I and expect the same level of greatness, then you will be let down.  You have to watch this as a stand alone film and not try to make any comparisons to Robinson’s previous work.  In my opinion, the film is worth watching for Grant’s performance, some of the well-written comedic scenes and, if you hate advertisers, then some of the apocalyptic rants on the evils of advertising.





Calling Final Cut on My Film

25 04 2011

So, for of those you who didn’t know, I began the process of producing/directing my first short film (well, at least first one of actual substance and production value) last summer.  The film, entitled Beyond the Door, is based on a Philip K. Dick short story of the same name.  Being a huge fan of Dick’s work, I was elated to find that this particular short story was in the public domain and that no serious effort had yet been put forth to make it into a short film.

The story plays out like an old Twilight Zone episode and is confined to one primary location and three actors: perfect for a short film.  I began adapting the story into a screenplay in April of last year, finalizing a draft in July.  I then began the process of getting locations, cast and crew secured for the production.  Being new to the whole producing/directing side of filmmaking, I got many pointers and help from longtime collaborator Dan A. R. Kelly (www.danarkelly.com), who ended up coming on board as my co-producer and first assistant director.  I’ve had the pleasure to shoot the last six shorts Dan has directed and will say there’s no one better than Dan for help in getting a short made; he’s one of the best at producing great product on tight budgets and constrained timelines.  Keep an eye out for his latest film Banks of the Vltava, which is currently in the festival route.  Next screening for it is 10 p.m., April 30, 2011, at the Cape Fear Independent Film Festival in Wilmington, N.C.

The one location needed for the film was a suburban house setting.  Luckily, my eldest brother, John Mandrano, is a landlord in Greensboro, N.C.  He owns many historic properties in the Aycock district which he rents at greensborohistoricrentalhomes.com.  One home he has on East Hendrix Street is currently not in rental because my nephew, Art, is living there while attending college.  I talked with John and explained that we were hoping to film over Labor Day weekend.  He had no problems with allowing me to film there and even helped along with my brother, Patrick, to move furniture he had in storage into the location which definitely helped the production design!

Cast and crew were the next order of business.  To me, the most important decision, was who was going to shoot my film.  With producing and directing (in addition to the writing and editing) I knew I didn’t want to try and shoot the film myself.  So, I asked Jeff Stepp (steppfilms.com), a very talented DP whom I’ve worked with on several occasions to shoot the film for me and he agreed.  I think’s Stepp’s photography on the film, which we shot in black and white and in HD (we wanted film, but budgets are always a consideration), looks amazing.  Between Jeff, Dan and myself, we rounded out the crew with some University of North Carolina School of the Arts students, graduates, UNC-Greensboro grads and some of my co-workers.  I couldn’t have asked for a better crew on my first film as a director; I hope to work with all of them again in the future.

As for cast, I needed two men and one woman; two principals and one supporting.  I held auditions and knew immediately from her first read that Lisa Sain Odom out of Greenville, S.C. would play the part of Laura.  She had an amazing audition and elicited exactly what I was looking for in the character of Laura.  However, after the auditions, which took place over a weekend at Altair Casting in Winston-Salem, I still hadn’t found the perfect fits for the characters of Larry or Bob.  I had remembered Reid Dalton’s audition from an audition several years prior for a project that never came to fruition and had been impressed with Elijah Chester’s performance in a spec piece I shot for Dan for Massify.  I contacted both of these actors; I met with Reid at Greensboro’s Cultural Arts Center and Elijah sent in an audition video.  I had Larry and Bob – the cast was in place, the crew was in place, the locations were in place – the ball was definitely rolling!

We shot the film completely over Labor Day weekend 2010.  The first day was a 13-hour day, the second a 16-hour day and third was a 15-hour day.  Everyone was working for minimal pay, funded out of my own pocket, but all gave it 110%.  Outside of badly spraining my ankle falling down some steps outside on the first day before the first shot, everything overall was very smooth and we got some great footage to take into post.

Once in post production, I decided to edit the film myself.  It took some time syncing all the video and audio because, though we shot HD, we were using double system sound with slate.  Once everything was transcoded and synced, I began the process of actually cutting the film together.  Picture was more or less locked by November.  From there, the multi-talented Jon Fredette took over for sound design and scoring.  The sound design was completed for the most part by late-December.  Being state employees, we got off for Christmas break, so we took a break from the grind of post-production over Christmas and got back to work in early January.

The sound from set was, for the most part, useable.  There were a couple lines, however, as with any film that needed to be ADRed (automatic dialogue replacement).  So, Jon went through the process of scoring the film and we brought in each actor for an ADR session when available.  All parts were complete by late February.  Since then, it has been tightening up, working with sync, lowering levels, raising levels, adding bits of sound, cutting some picture, etc.  I can’t thank Jon enough for the many hours of time he has put into this project.  If you live in North Carolina, you should definitely check Jon out if you need a sound guy at jonfredette.com.

Finally, last weekend, I had a DVD burn that worked for me with no glitches, problems, sync issues or needed changes.  I called a final cut and began the process of submitting the 17-minute film to festivals.  The first batch of submissions went out last weekend and, though there are still some credits to add, we have our IMDB page up at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1907623/.

I have, admittedly, left out information about the plot itself because I hope you will get a chance to watch the film when available.  Hopefully, more posts on the film will follow.  Also, please, please check out some of the Web sites I’ve listed in this posting.  If it weren’t for these wonderful, talented people, my film would not have been able to be made.





Deathtrap (1982) Review

23 04 2011

Copyright 1982 Warner Brothers Pictures

★ ★ ★ 1/2

Much apologies on the long amount of time between posts.  I have to admit that Twin Peaks has taken over my life (for the second time) since its coming onto Netflix Instant Watch.  I am happy to report that Maddie and I are currently on episode 18 or 30, so it will free its hold over me quite soon.  Yesterday, however, I took an evening break from the series with this film.

Last night’s viewing was my second time seeing the movie in addition to having once before seen the stage play many years ago at The Little Theatre in Winston Salem.  Directed by the late Sidney Lumet, this film is based on Ira Levin’s stageplay of the same name.  Washed up playwright, Sidney Bruhl (Michael Caine), hasn’t had a hit in years.  He has had to live off his wealthy wife (Dyan Cannon), who has a heart condition, to survive.  When a spec play entitled Deathtrap comes to his house from a seminar student, Clifford Anderson (Christopher Reeve), Bruhl realizes an amazing opportunity to make a comeback.  However, is a comeback worth murder?

If you have seen Sleuth (1972), which as a side note is an amazingly good film, then you will like this film.  They share many similarities in, not only character, but also plot twists, reversals, etc.  Being a stage play to begin with, the majority of the plot takes place in one location – Bruhl’s East Hampton estate.  An almost two hour movie being limited to one location can be daunting, but Lumet does a great job at keeping the location interesting with a series of dolly, crane and other camera movements.

All of the actors do a fine job, particularly Caine and Reeve; Cannon can be a bit melodramatic, but it works for the part.  I really can’t say much more without giving certain plot points away and, in honesty, that is why you would want to watch this film.  Everything here is plot centric because of the nature of the work; it is a murder mystery in two acts.

It’s not as good to me as the original (there was a remake with Caine and Jude Law which is average) Sleuth with Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier, but it is a fun watch and keeps you interested.  My only complaint is that it grows a bit long in the second act, but this again I think is due to the complications of adapting from the stage to film.





Who Killed Laura Palmer?

14 04 2011

Copyright 1990 Lynch/Frost Productions

That question was burning through the television world  in 1990 when the original episodes of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks aired.  When the first season came out on DVD in the early 2000s, I jumped at the opportunity to watch the show.  David Lynch has long been a favorite filmmaker of mine; of course, not all his films are for all tastes, but you can’t say they aren’t interesting at least.

I watched through the first season of the show and absolutely loved it.  Unfortunately, the second DVD installment wasn’t released until much later, so by the time it came out I would have had to re-watch all the first season.  By that time I was deep in the throes of college and didn’t have the time to devote to a television program.  Even without fully finishing the series, I long carried this as my favorite television show of all time (until The Sopranos and Lost).  The quirky characters and weird happenings in the town made the show very unique.  It’s a soap opera mystery via David Lynch, and it’s the Lynchian touch that makes it so brilliant.

Now, nearly 10 years later, I noticed that Netflix has added the entire series to their instant queue.  I was ecstatic; finally an opportunity to finish this wonderful show properly.  However, my girlfriend, Maddie, had never seen the show and I wanted to watch it with her.  So, we started the pilot episode last night and are looking forward to watching through the entire series.  It’s amazing how much you forget from a television program after 10 years; I definitely remembered the major points of the pilot, but so much of the ancillary stories had evaporated from memory.  I hope 10 years from now the same will be able to be done with Lost; to watch it again and feel like first viewing – that would be a treat!

Though I never finished the series, I do know who killed Laura Palmer.  There was no disclosure statement in the prequel movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me and I watched it before I started the actual show.  At the end of the film, it shows who killed her.  So, for anyone interested in Twin Peaks, don’t watch Fire Walk with Me until after the series!  Also, for the sake of future viewers, please no comments revealing the culprit.





Apple Announces Final Cut Pro X for $299

13 04 2011

I’ve been cutting with Final Cut Pro as my primary editing software of choice since my early days in college.  When I started using the program, we were using Final Cut Pro version 3 on Apple G4 towers.  Needless to say, the workflow was painfully slow (and we were only using DV and VHS footage!).  The latest release of the program before last night was Final Cut Pro 7 in 2009 as part of the Final Cut Studio 3 package; it came bundled with other applications such as Soundtrack, Color, Compressor and DVD Studio Pro.  The combined price for the entire Studio package was $999.

Last night in Las Vegas, as part of the annual NAB festivities, Apple announced the new version of Final Cut, entitled Final Cut Pro X.  It is a complete, from the ground-up redesign of the program that has largely been formatted the same since its inception over 10 years ago.  Many were concerned that the new release would be a dumbed down version of the program, similar to the less professional-based software, iMovie, which comes standard on macs.

It looks, however, that those concerns have been allayed.  Final Cut Pro X looks to be a pretty interesting program re-design and still sharply aimed at the professional user.  Updates to the program include: support for 64-bit processors, the ability to utilize more than 4GB of RAM with the program, new smart collections for grouping similar types of media, clip connection for keeping audio and video in sync, a magnetic timeline and the ability to begin edits on the video before the ingest is complete.  Furthermore, transcoding issues have been addressed, easy color balancing options have been added in the timeline, background rendering will run with available CPU and the ability to import and handle 4k files is now an option.

The screenshots from the program itself looks quite sleek and the aforementioned updates sound very enticing.  Perhaps more enticing than anything though is the price tag that accompanies the program – $299.  Having before only been available for purchase as part of the Studio package at $999, this price drop and ability to download from the Apple App Store make it a lot more affordable for everyone, especially students and small production companies.  No news, however, on if the rest of the Studio suite programs are going to get a redesign like Final Cut, but Apple said in the unveiling last night for everyone to “stay tuned.”  Final Cut Pro X will go on sale in June; I can’t wait to get my copy and see what the hype is truly about.





The Devil’s Backbone (2001) Review

12 04 2011

Copyright 2001 El Deseo S.A.

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Pan’s Labyrinth was one of my favorite films of the year when it came out in 2006 and, since then, I have also enjoyed both installments of the Hellboy franchise.  These films, along with the one in review, were all directed by Mexican director Guillermo del Toro.  I put this film in my queue on Netflix a while back because it was a del Toro film, but at that time, didn’t realize that this film is supposedly considered the “brother” film to his later release Pan’s Labyrinth. The two films do share many similarities.  The story centers around a young protagonist during a time of civil unrest, both contain elements of fantasy/horror and both have cinematography that uses a rich contrasting color palette of deep blues and blazing oranges.

A young boy dies at the beginning of the film and is drowned in a reservoir in the kitchen basement of an orphanage, though we don’t see how he died.  After the head credits, another boy, Carlos (Fernando Tielve), is brought to the orphanage by several rebels who are currently fighting in the Spanish Civil War because his father died in the war.  Being a new kid, Carlos is picked on and has to prove himself amongst the other children.  However, the ghost of the young boy who died at the beginning, also makes appearances to him and tries to warn him of impending danger to all at the orphanage.  Without giving too much away, the remainder of the film unravels what happened to the young ghost boy and what dangers Carlos and the others must avert to stay alive.

This film, like Pan’s Labyrinth, has an epic feel to it, though it is not overtly long.  It is visually stunning and has a very high production value.  Also, del Toro seems to be very adept at handling child actors, as the majority adolescent cast in this film are all superb, as was the young girl in Pan’s Labyrinth.  In addition, since he came from a visual effects background, the visual effects in the film are also very well done.  More importantly, however, is that the story itself is very intriguing and the high production values just help further illicit the beauty and horror of the story itself.

If you really enjoyed Pan’s Labyrinth, then I highly reccomend this film.  If you haven’t seen either of these films, then I highly suggest that you try one or the other to see if it is a style fitting you.  Unfortunately, del Toro hasn’t directed a film since 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army. After seeing another effort like this from him, I hope he won’t stay away from behind the camera much longer, though we do have Peter Jackon’s The Hobbit that was co-penned by del Toro to look forward to soon.





A Man for All Seasons (1966) Review

11 04 2011

* I saw three films over the weekend, so as not to get backlogged, I am going to post two of my reviews today.  Also, I wanted to take a moment to address my review factors as I’m sure some of you might be wondering why I don’t have any one and two star reviews as of yet.  I try to avoid films that I think could or will be disasters.  With as many movies as I have seen and the many more that I want to see, I find that there is no reason to waste time on watching what I consider a bad film.  Of course, every so often, I do run into one and there will be a bad review for it.  However, for the most part, I try to avoid such films at all costs.

Copyright 1966 Columbia Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Anyway, let’s get on with the actual review for this film.  My girlfriend is going to kill me for what I rate this movie, as we had very differing opinions.  To be fair, however, I will say that this is definitely the type of movie that you have to be in the mood for to enjoy.  Not every day is a day for a strict drama set in the 1500s, just as not every day is right for a romantic comedy or intense thriller, etc.

A Man for All Seasons swept the 1966 Academy Awards.  In addition to its Best Picture win, it won awards for Best Director, Best Actor in a Leading Role for Paul Scofield, Best Cinematography (Color), Best Costume Design (Color) and Best Adapted Screenplay, among receiving nominations for Best Supporting Actor for Robert Shaw and Best Supporting Actress for Wendy Hiller.  The film was directed by Fred Zinnemann (High Noon, From Here to Eternity, Day of the Jackal, Sophie’s Choice) and was adapted from his stage play of the same name by Robert Bolt.

The story revolves around Sir Thomas More, played by Scofield, who stands up to King Henry VIII (Shaw) on moral grounds regarding the king’s decision to renounce the Royal Catholic Church.  Henry VIII was originally married to Catherine of Aragon; however, she was barren and unable to have children.  So, the King began an affair with Anne Boleyn.  Yet, at this time it was unlawful to get a divorce in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church.  Despite many efforts to lobby against the church, the king finally decides to renounce the church and start the Church of England, so as to be granted his divorce from Catherine of Aragon.  In doing so, he makes it parliamentary law to take an oath recognizing his decisions that he is head of the Church of England and that his marriage to Catherine was annulled.

More, a lawyer, is a man of devout judicial and religious beliefs.  In his heart he cannot accept that what the king has done to be right.  For this betrayal of state, he is locked away in prison and eventually beheaded.  This is a story of a man standing up for what he beliefs to be right, no matter the consequence.  The epic stature of the film with England during the 1500s as a backdrop, creates an interesting contrast to the deeply personal story of More.

Everything about this film works.  The story is excellent, the direction is perfect, the cinematography is beautiful and, first and foremost, the acting is exemplary.  Scofield, as More, is amazing.  Every scene he is in, he is able to command a presence; it is a very deserving win for Best Actor.  The supporting cast which includes Wendy Hiller, Orson Welles, Robert Shaw and a very young John Hurt, are also a joy to watch.

Like I said, this is a movie you have to be in the mood for.  If, however, you feel like an amazingly moving story of one man’s beliefs and convictions against the heads of state set against an epic, sprawling backdrop – then they don’t get much better than this.





Source Code (2011) Review

11 04 2011

Copyright 2011 Summit Entertainment

★ ★ ★ ★

I went to the movie theatre over the weekend for the first time in a couple of months (outside of the 5th Quarter premiere a few weeks ago, but I didn’t pay for a ticket for that).  My girlfriend, Maddie, had mentioned wanting to go see this movie Source Code. Being that this time of year is usually when all the worst movies come out and that 2011 has been off to a riveting start (note sarcasm) with movie selection, I wasn’t too interested in spending money on the venture.  However, I looked into the reviews online and imdb.com, and it looked like this might be a good film to see.  In the end, I’m happy I went.

This is the second film from director Duncan Jones; his first was 2009’s Moon. The film starts with Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) waking up on a train.  He is disoriented and doesn’t seem to know where or who the woman (Michelle Monaghan) across from is.  He moves through a series of events and interactions on the train trying to figure out what is going on and why all this strange phenomena is happening to him.  After 8 minutes, the train explodes and he warps into a capsule.  In the capsule, he is being monitored and spoken to by a Captain Goodwin (Vera Farmiga).  Stevens learns that he is part of a top secret experiment involving “time reassignment,” in which he is working towards finding the culprit who planted the bomb on the train.  Without giving too much away, the film gets more and more complexing as it moves forward and takes advantage of its interesting play on “time travel” and parallel universes.

Gyllenhaal, Monaghan and Farmiga, all perform quite well and convincingly in their roles.  Jeffrey Wright also plays an intricate role as the head of the Source Code Program.  The story is a fine mixture of action in the train sequences and dialogue heavy character building in the capsule scenes between Stevens and Goodwin.

The science behind some of the events in the film definitely warrants suspension of disbelief.  This is, however, good science fiction through and through.  The pacing, direction and interesting story all come together to make a really entertaining movie and, in the end, what more can you ask for?  Not all films have to be amazing works of art to be truly good films; this film is definitely one of those.  Would I call it a masterpiece? No.  A work of art?  No.  A very entertaining, well made motion picture?  Yes.





Saying Goodbye to One of the Best: Sidney Lumet

9 04 2011

Sidney Lumet

Sidney Lumet, one of my favorite film directors, passed away today at the age of 86 from Lymphoma.  Looking through his repertoire of films is like looking through a must-see list of movies over the past 50 years.

Lumet, who was born in Philadelphia, Penn. on June 25, 1924, began his career as an actor in the theatre.  He quickly moved to directing and eventually settled into directing early television productions.  One of his most famous films as a television director is his amazing adaptation of Reginald Rose’s 12 Angry Men.  Centered around a dissenting jury in a murder trail, the film has amazing performances by all the cast, headed by Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb.  It easily ranks as one of the best films of the 1950s and is ranked number 87 on the AFI’s Top 100 movies list.

Moving out of television work and into feature films in the 1960s, Lumet had successes with the stark drama The Pawnbroker and the cold war thriller Fail-Safe with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.  In the 1970s, Lumet produced what I consider some of his best films, including: Serpico with Al Pacino, Murder on the Orient Express based on the Agatha Christie novel, Dog Day Afternoon, Network and Equus. All of these films rank high among the best pictures of the decade and Network makes an appearance on the AFI Top 100 list as well at number 66.  Other films from Lumet’s extraordinary career include Prince of the City, Deathtrap, The Verdict, Running on Empty and his latest film at age 82, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.

In 1996, Lumet released his memoir entitled Making Movies. In addition to being a memoir of his life experiences, it also chronicles his ideas and techniques in making motion pictures, making it one of the best sources for aspiring filmmakers to understand the art of the director.  My friend and fellow filmmaker, Dan A. R. Kelly, loaned me his copy of this book a few years ago and I was engrossed in it from beginning to end.  If you ever plan to go into filmmaking, especially as a director, then this is a great book to start with to understand the process and scope of what goes into making a good motion picture.

Lumet was nominated for five Academy Awards in competitive categories, but never won; he was awarded an honorary Oscar in 2005.  Lumet’s ability to command performances and take on vastly different subject matters in each of his pictures are evident in his body of work.  Few director’s have such an impressive career that spans nearly 50 years.  It saddens me greatly to know that I will never have the opportunity to see a new Lumet film come out, but the films he has left us with are testament to his legacy as a filmmaker.








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