Slaughterhouse-Five (1972) Review

4 06 2012

Copyright 1972 Universal Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★

Kurt Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors.  I absolutely adore his style, wittiness and straightforwardness in his prose, and like many others, the novel “Slaughterhouse-Five” was my introduction to him.  With the novel being held to such high regard for me personally, I was a bit nervous going into this film.  However, though slow to begin, the movie was actually quite well done.

Directed by George Roy Hill, this film sat nicely between Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and his phenomenally huge success with The Sting the following year.  Michael Sacks stars as the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, who becomes, famously, unstuck in time.  Like the novel, the narrative of Billy’s life jumps back and forth through his timeline with heavy emphasis on his time in Germany during World War II.  Vonnegut, himself a POW during World War II in Dresden when it was bombed, tells his autobiographical tale of the feelings he encountered and the time there vicariously through the fictitious Pilgrim.  Through Pilgrim’s turmoil during the war, his average subsequent life and, ultimately bizarre encounters in the world of Tralfamadore, we see the portrait of a man who was forever changed by the moments he experienced during the brief part of his life he lived as a soldier.

Sacks, who went on to be a top executive in the financial sector with such companies as Morgan Stanley after leaving his acting career in the mid 1980s, does a reputable job in the lead role.  His nuances playing the older Pilgrim were quite well timed in contrast to the young Pilgrim, this being especially impressive considering that Sacks was only 24-years-old at the time of filming.  George Roy Hill as a director has never wooed me to any speakable degree, but he is a solid director, and for that I laud his talents more than someone who tries to thrill you with each and every shot like Terrence Malick.  A director’s job is to select the shots and direct the actors to performances that best suit the story; Roy Hill seems to pass this test with flying colors in each and every one of the films of his I have seen.  Some of the best magic is that which tricks, but doesn’t overwhelm the eye.  The cinematography by Miroslav Ondricek was very pleasant.  Tinged with the grittiness of early 1970s experiments in faster film stock, the naturalness and softness of the light were provocative of this era, one of my favorites in the evolution of the motion picture.

If you loved the book, you will like the movie.  As far as adaptations go, it’s probably one of the better ones.  If you’ve never read the book and plan on never doing so, then well, shame on you, but you’ll probably like the movie too.





LED vs. Tungsten: Not Such a Hard Choice Afterall

24 05 2012

The anatomy of an LED.

I have had this argument with colleagues countless times and it looks like I will finally get a bit of retribution on the issue.  Though LED and Tungsten are not the only two types of lighting units employed in film and video production (HMIs and Fluorescents being the other two big contenders), there has been a huge push by manufacturers of late to bring LED technology to the forefront as a major player, possibly even as an alternative to the tungsten arsenal.

The proponents of LEDs, or light emitting diodes, will generally argue one or a combination of several points heavily: temperature, weight and ease of use.  There is no argument that LEDs are a much cooler alternative to a tungsten light.  In fact, there is hardly any heat at all from these instruments, even after extended use.  Also, because the units are just a panel of light emitting diodes arranged in vertical and horizontal grids, these instruments tend to be lighter, more ergonomic and easier to transport.  The last cornerstone of the pro LED faction is the ease of use, as many of these instruments have not only built-in abilities to dim the emitted light, but also color temperature controls as well.  In theory LEDs seem like a no brainer, don’t they?  If you took these arguments at face value, then sure it would be; however, if you delve a little deeper into the makeup of light, vision and how cameras read the color spectrum, then it’s not such an easy sale.

A classic Mole Richardson tungsten unit

I have always been a strong supporter of the other side of the coin.  Unless I have to, I rarely use anything outside of tungsten or HMI instruments, with LEDs being my last choice, even below fluorescents tube technology instruments like Kino-Flos.  Tungsten instruments have been industry standard since nearly the beginning of motion picture artificial lighting use over 80 years ago.  Tungsten lights work by heating a filament of tungsten in a halogen gas encased tube to temperatures hot enough to glow.  Being a continuous source, these instruments have an arc that creates a very consistent, clean looking stream of visible light both to the eye and through the lens of a camera.  Because these lights are heating the filament to extreme temperatures, they do get hot, and yes, the housing to contain the lamps has to be built in such a way that the lighting instrument isn’t dangerous to use, which more times than not can make these units big and bulky for the amount of output they produce.  All of these physical properties do have their disadvantages, but the one point that can’t be argued is that tungsten instruments produce a very pleasurable light for film and video production.

To illustrate the point, here is a video from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that explains some of the correlations between film emulsions and color, and the relative shortcomings of LED units in today’s productions.  Further results of their extensive studies on the subject are available on the Academy’s Web site at: http://www.oscars.org/science-technology/council/projects/ssl/index.html.

Though it didn’t take a multi-million dollar study by the Academy to convince me that I’d go with a 40-year-old Tweenie over a brand new LED, it does feel good to have some deeply scientific research on hand to help prove my point to detractors.  I will admit that LED technology is an interesting and potentially wonderful tool for filmmakers, but err on the side of caution that this technology is not quite where it needs to be yet to fully incorporate into production workflows on set, unless of course you are going for a specific look that these inferior discontinuous instruments produce.  In that case, I guess you are creating art.





The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (1989) Review

23 05 2012

Copyright 1989 Allarts Cook

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Probably the most universally known of director Peter Greenaway’s films, I happily sat through my second viewing of this picture last night.  Furthermore, I had the pleasure of introducing my girlfriend to a second helping of Greenaway’s bizarre film aesthetic following her original dose with A Zed and Two Noughts several months ago.

An ensemble cast of Richard Bohringer, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren and Alan Howard complete the title characters in order, respectively.  Richard Borst (Bohringer) is the head cook of a restaurant that is co-owned with villainous thief, Albert (Gambon).  About 95% of the story takes place in and around this restaurant over the course (no pun intended) of one week.  Albert, along with his clan of baddies and misfits (including a young Tim Roth), dines and disturbs the restaurant on an almost nightly basis.  His wife, Georgina (Mirren), is brought along reluctantly and bears the brunt of his cruel jokes and boisterous rants.  Michael (Howard) is a regular patron and a book aficionado who has a refined palette and sits at a table just several away from Albert’s raucous party.  He and Georgiana eventually spark a sexual relationship that is fostered and kept secret by Richard and the wait staff.  As their relationship blossoms outside the sexual realm, the dangers of Albert finding out grow until climatic results occur.

Greenaway’s usual motifs are in full force here: nakedness, metaphoric use of color, rotting animals, stylistic camera movements, heavy reliance on and pictorial representation of famous painters; in short, you can’t mistake for a minute that you are watching a Greenaway film.  I say this, however, not as a sign of distaste for his work but as a applause to his artistic style.  Whether you love him or hate him, you have to admit that the man understands and brings the most out of each and every shot.  The final scene of this film, which I won’t spoil for those of you who have not yet seen it, is what I consider pure cinema.  It is perfect, the acting, the direction, the cinematography by Vierny, the sublime score by the wonderful Michael Nyman, production design, everything.  Give me an auteur who can bring the elements of that scene to an entire motion picture and you have a brilliant masterpiece.

Though I have not seen every Greenaway film, this still stands as my favorite thus far.  It is, in my opinion, probably the most accessible to the general public in regards to content and script, but it still has that special element that make it a Greenaway picture.





Official Online Short Film Release: Philip K. Dick’s “Beyond the Door”

22 05 2012

It is with great pleasure that I officially announce the online release of my directorial debut, “Beyond the Door.”  The film was produced by myself and Dan A. R. Kelly, and stars Lisa Sain Odom as Laura, Reid Dalton as Larry and Eljiah Chester as Bob Chambers.

Shot over Labor Day weekend in 2010, the film went through a lengthy post-production phase, largely in part to my hectic schedule at the time.  The film was shot by the very talented Jeff Stepp, had production design by UNCSA alum Antonia DiNardo and the score and sound design was completed by Down Fenix Media, LLC member Jon Fredette.  Without the generous contribution of all these people, the rest of the crew, my brother John Mandrano and many others, I could have never completed this pet project.

The budget was completely out of pocket; if memory serves me, somewhere in the $3,500 range.  For some that’s not much, but for me at the time that was quite an undertaking in congruence with my regular bills.  Though it was a lot out of my pocket, all the wonderful people who helped me complete this film took huge cuts on their usual rates, some helping for no pay at all, and for that I am eternally grateful.  Over the three days of shooting, no day was less than a 12 hour day and our middle day was close to 17 hours, so it definitely wasn’t a cake shoot.

Anyway, I’ve got several posts on here that dig a little deeper into the production of this film if you are interested in checking them out, namely here and here.  So, without any further adieu, rambling or behind-the-scenes dialog, I present you with my directorial debut and the adaptation of the Philip K. Dick public domain short story “Beyond the Door”:





The Time is Close at Hand: Goodbye Final Cut Pro

21 05 2012

Logos for Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere. Copyright Apple and Adobe.

Well, I think the time has finally come that I will be weening off Final Cut Pro for good, as much as it pains me to say.  I began using Final Cut, Apple’s professional non-linear editing software, in 2002 during my freshman year in the then Broadcasting and Cinema Department of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  Our editing lab at the time had Mac G4s with FCP 3.0 loaded on them, and we ingested the primary form of media, mini-DV tapes, through mini-DV/VHS combo decks that sat on top of 4:3 color broadcast monitors.  It was humble beginnings with the software, but was fostered through my tenure at UNCG and, subsequent, upgrade of our systems to FCP HD (4.5) by my senior year.

Following graduation in 2006, I embarked on a semester long journey into law school at Elon University’s School of Law.  Still to this day, I will speak high praises of their program; law school just wasn’t right for me personally.  In November of the first semester, I made the hard and long thought out decision to drop out, doing so just before the deadline of making the difference between my professional transcript reading “Withdrawl” rather than “Failed” (since I wouldn’t have taken the exams and completed the mini-semester following).  I used what monies I had set aside for my next semester of law school and bought about $11,000 worth of HD video gear including an HVX-200, FS-100 Firestore device, Lowel lighting kit, Azden shotgun mic and my first ever personally owned Mac: an iMac 17″ Intel Core 2 Duo (which has since been bequeathed to my girlfriend) .  I upgraded the stock RAM and processor to as high as I could on Apple.com and then purchased Final Cut 5.1.  About a year and half later I made the jump to 6.0 and then to 7, the last true version release of the software as far as I am concerned, in 2009.

Just last year, the latest official release, Final Cut Pro X, was released.  The new release, a complete redesign of the program, has all but neglected the professional clientele who use the software and caters to high grade consumer-based editing.  Essentially, it’s iMovie Pro.  I tried the free trial version of the software for about three weeks and hated it; it was one of the worst editing environments I had ever used.  Even with some of the firmware updates that were released to clear up some of the original issues, it still wasn’t the FCP I know and love.

Yet, still I persevered and continue using FCP 7 and the rest of the associated programs with FCP Studio 3 as my primary NLE.  I dabbled in Adobe Premiere during this disheartening time, but still found myself coming back to FCP 7.  However, the time has come where I must make the cut for good.  FCP 7, now a three year old software, will only run as a 32-bit program, limits the amount of RAM you are able to utilize and has several other antiquated features that are pushing it further and further into being obsolete.  Meanwhile, competitors like Adobe just keep sweetening the deal.  With their recent release of Adobe CS6, I think they have finally won me over; that, and the fact that my new job will require me to edit in a PC environment.  But, since I am switching for work, I think it is a good time to go ahead and make the switch at home as well.

In reading over the upgrades to the CS6 Master Collection suite, I found my mouth watering.  With updates to Photoshop, Premiere, After Effects and Audition, as well as the addition of Speedgrade, a color correction software, and the ease of use with Prelude and Encore, all programs working seamlessly together, I just can’t continue using an outdated program.  Heck, Adobe even makes the switch easy for you by allowing you to choose Final Cut Pro Keyboard Shortcuts in the Preferences menu!

I’m excited about the opportunity to grow as an Adobe user, but will be saddened to leave behind Final Cut Pro.  It will be like the loss of an old friend, one that I have had a now ten year relationship with.   This is not to say that I will never consider Apple’s wonderful NLE again, but they will have to do some major overhauls to convert me back.  Until then, Adobe here I come!





Exciting Things Ahead!

20 05 2012

Hi All!  Many apologies for the lack of content as of late and I appreciate all the consistent viewership from all you wonderful people.  To update you all on why I have been lazy on content, I want to share a bit of the exciting news that has been going on in my life and promise you that many new reviews and updates lie ahead here on the blog as things begin to settle down a bit.

Firstly, I’m happy to announce that I will be beginning a new job tomorrow morning as the Video/Web Specialist for Inmar in Winston-Salem, N.C.  A reverse logistics and online rebates technology company, this will be their first time integrating a video producer into their team, and I’m happy and humbled that I was selected to fill the position and get to be a part of this very exciting upstart within the company.  Friday marked my last day at Novant Health after nearly a year of service there and I wish to express my gratitude to the position they provided me, as well as express my appreciation in getting to meet and work with all the wonderful people I encountered during my time producing content for their organization.

Secondly, I’m happy to announce the many progressions with Down Fenix Media, LLC in the past few months.  DFM, LLC is a combination of many talented individuals and former colleagues that have come together under one roof so to speak and build a brand that will be a solid outlet in multimedia production.  Our new and vastly improved Web site is nearly complete and will be launched within the coming weeks, as well as our first big project as a company going into production.  Furthermore, our arsenal of gear grew this past weekend as I participated in the auction of the late Viewpoint Studios of Greensboro.  I heard about the auction via the Web by hap circumstance, and immediately took a paddle number and bid via proxibid.  The final tally of gear, all at a great auction price, includes: three 600w Tweenies with stands and barndoors, a 2k molette with stand, five Bogen Manfrotto light stands, a 22ov to 24 outlet 120v distribution box on cart, a tenaba air bag for stands and stingers, a full pallet of stingers, nearly 50 lamps of varying size, two medium bank chimeras with speedrings that I will modify for two Ianebeam 650w redheads I recently acquired for free, some snoots and a few other odds and ends.  Not a bad a haul and a nice way to bring my tungsten lighting package up to a nice solid 10 unit set.

Not necessarily a career related entry into my business schedule, but surely a very important and time consuming project for me has been working towards the completion of my first novel.  After many false starts over the years, this bucket list item will finally be checked off quite soon.  The novel, which carries what I would consider a “science fiction lite” element, began in July, 2011, and I have been consistently working on it and developing the story as time has allowed since.  I do have a title for the book, but want to keep all that under wraps until I have the chance to complete, revise and submit to several literary agents.  However, I will say that I am currently at 60,000 words and am working on the final stretch of the novel; my guess is final word count length will be somewhere in the 72,000-80,000 range.  It’s been a great experience and I hope I get the opportunity to share it with as many people as possible once it’s fully completed, perfected and marketing avenues lined up.

As for the Notesonafilm.com, I’m happy to report that my site was deemed worthy of being included in the new WordAds feature of WordPress which is currently in a Beta testing state.  So, the new ads you see here on the site are because of my recent inclusion in that program.  Hope you all will check out some of the sponsors as WordPress begins the launch of this wonderful and innovative way to allow their faithful WordPress.com members to get some paid hits.

Lastly, either this week or the next, I will be releasing my directorial debut on the Web for all to see and enjoy.  Based on the Philip K. Dick short story of the same name, Beyond the Door was filmed over Labor Day weekend 2010 and completed post production in April of last year.  After a festival run and several other screenings abroad, I’m happy to share it with everyone and look forward to comments and criticisms.  So, stay tuned for the release of this very dear film to me; you’ll see it here first!

Thanks for taking the time to read these updates and I look forward to returning to this site with some new and interesting content in full force very soon!





Dear Zachary: A Letter to His Son About His Father (2008)

11 04 2012

Copyright 2008 MSNBC Films

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Maddie wanted to watch this one on Netflix Instant Watch.  I read the description, and was not at all interested; however, once she started playing it, I found myself straying from the iPad to the television screen within a couple minutes.

Without giving too much of the story away, this film chronicles the journey of documentary filmmaker Kurt Kuenne in compiling video footage of his childhood friend, Dr. Andrew Bagby, who was the victim of a suspicious murder.  Bagby’s assailant was thought to be his estranged girlfriend at the time, Dr. Shirley Turner, 12 years his senior.  After the murder, it was found that she was pregnant with Bagby’s child, Zachary, whose name is where the title derives.  Through interviews with family, friends, colleagues, extended family and others, this film tries to piece together the pieces of Bagby’s life for his young son, as well as analyze the crimes of Shirley Turner.

Kuenne borrows heavily from the style of Errol Morris in his presentation of the facts in this film, and it works wonderfully.  I have always felt the Morris style exudes a sort of narrative progression to real life events that keeps the viewer not only informed, but also entertained and engaged in the subject matter.  There are surprises along the way, and the case becomes more and more involved as the film progresses.  Furthermore, being that the filmmaker was a childhood friend of the victim, this movie carries a very personal and heartfelt vision throughout.  Rather than being just a wallflower to the events, as many documentaries are, Kuenne uncovers elements about a man that was like a brother to him, which makes the filmmaker himself an engaged participant in the story.

This is a beautifully done work that advocates a powerful message.  I will warn that it is almost impossible to watch this film without eliciting a strong emotional reaction.  Even the least emotional of people will likely have a hard time keeping dry eyes through this movie.





A Dangerous Method (2011) Review

2 04 2012

Copyright 2011 Recorded Pictures Company

★ ★ ★

David Cronenberg’s films are, for most people at least, a love it or hate it situation.  Surprisingly, my girlfriend really enjoyed this film despite the fact that she generally abhors anything by Cronenberg; I, on the other hand, am either genuinely engaged or somewhat intrigued by his work.  This film, for me, I found somewhat interesting, and in a first, Maddie enjoyed a Cronenberg film more than I.

Based on a true story, this film analyzes the relationship that develops between famed psychiatrist Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and his patient-turned-mistress Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley).  Furthermore, the film depicts the initial respect and collaboration between Jung and other famed early 20th century psychiatrist Sigmund Freud (an almost unrecognizable Viggo Mortensen), as well as their eventual falling out.  Throughout the film, many elements of psycho analysis and sexual psychology are interpreted and pondered through the dialog between the primary characters.

This is a smart film, and has a smart script.  The psychological analysis throughout the narrative is interesting, but on the whole, leaves something to be desired in regards to entertainment value.  Fassbender and Mortensen give good performances playing their respective iconic figures, and Knightley, who I am rarely impressed with, let history take precedent and didn’t impress me.  She did well throughout the film holding her Russian accent, but overall, I found her performance wooden and lifeless.  As for being a Cronenberg film, this felt possibly one of the more “normal” of the lot.  The narrative was relatively straight forward and the direction was fairly standard, a sharp contrast to the usual bizarreness of a large body of his work.

If you like psychology and like a “based on a true story” movie, then I could see one finding this film quite enjoyable.  For me, though I am interested in psychology to a degree, the entertainment value was only slightly better than average, which outweighed the intriguing subject matter.





Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) Review

29 03 2012

Copyright 2011 Studio Canal

★ ★ ★

With the script based on a famous John le Carre novel, the director of Let the Right One In and a cast of some of the most phenomenal British actors working today, I was really looking forward to this film.  Unfortunately, though the overall feel of the film and the performances are spot on, the movie suffers from an intensely complicated and ultimately boring script.

Even after seeing this film, I’m not sure I could give a proper full synopsis.  There are flashbacks that don’t do anything to denote they are flashbacks, characters that are mentioned early on that you don’t find out who they are until way later, other characters that only appear briefly and for no real reason and long soliloquies that help show a strong performance but have no real bearing on the story.  So, for this paragraph, which I usually reserve for a synopsis of the film, I will give a very brief overview of the part of the story that I can soundly report.  George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is a retired agent for the MI5.  The head of the division during his time, Control (John Hurt), before his departure (or death, not quite sure, maybe both) let it be known that there was a mole in the division.  In hopes of preserving the legacy of his era, Smiley is reinstated to investigate this lead with the help of agent Peter Guilliam (Benedict Cumberbatch) and others.  In his investigation, he unravels secrets and further information to finding the culprit within the division.  Other noted actors in the film include Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong and Toby Jones.

First off, Oldman does give a tremendous performance as Smiley, but when hasn’t Oldman given a tremendous performance?  A chameleon-like actor who has played roles ranging from Sid Vicious to Lee Harvey Oswald to Sirius Black, Oldman is truly one of the best working actors in the industry today, and for me, it is always a pleasure to see him on screen.  Criminally, this was only the first Oscar nomination he has received in all his years as a film actor.  Though he didn’t win, it was long overdue for him to receive a nomination.  The supporting cast mentioned above also do great jobs in their roles, and I really think Tomas Alfredson did a good job with the shot selection and overall direction.  The mood, tone and look of the film in 1960s England was spot on.  Honestly, you ask yourself, how can a movie get this much right and still not be better than just a decent film?  Well, the script and story is the most important part of any film.  In the words of the late great Akira Kurosawa, “With a good script, a good director can produce a masterpiece. With the same script, a mediocre director can produce a passable film. But with a bad script even a good director can’t possibly make a good film. For truly cinematic expression, the camera and the microphone must be able to cross both fire and water. The script must be something that has the power to do this”.





50/50 (2011) Review

28 03 2012

Copyright 2011 Summit Entertainment

★ ★ ★

So, I’ve got this film and two others on the backlog for reviews.  Apologies, for the delays, had a lot going on over the past few days.  Possibly very good things though!  Anyway, 50/50, seems like the jury is split on this film; some reviewers call it one of the best movies of the year, others are more or less underwhelmed.  What was I, you ask?  Definitely on the side of underwhelmed.  This is by no means a bad film, but also by the same token, nowhere near one of the best films of last year.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a very normal 27 year old working professional, who gets some terrible news at what should be the height of his life.  He has cancer, and only a 50/50 chance of making it through the next year alive.  Seth Rogen plays himself; wait, no his character’s name is Kyle, but in reality it’s just Seth Rogen being himself like he is in every film he appears in.  I think he’s funny, but he has about as much depth as an actor as a jar of peanut butter.  Pretty much the entirety of the film plays out largely how you could imagine being a comedy/drama about a young man getting cancer.  He has his ups, his downs and a lot of emotional tension dealing with the news and the personal troubles it creates, and for the comedy element there are funny and amusing lines exchanged between him and best friend Kyle.

This is just a decent film.  It doesn’t break any huge barriers down; it only works decently as a comedy, and it only works decently as a drama.  I wasn’t impressed with the direction, the story was only average, the acting was OK and as with most of these types of films, there was nothing of note with the production value or cinematography.  I’m glad I saw this film, it was an enjoyable way to spend the evening, but don’t expect a life changing viewing experience with this one.








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