Continued Twilight Zoning

26 05 2011

Season 1, Episode 9 – “Perchance to Dream”

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Released on November 27, 1959, this episode was directed by industry veteran Robert Florey, written by Charles Beaumont, with basis on his short story of the same name, and starred Richard Conte.  Conte plays Edward Hall, a man who is afraid to go to sleep for fear of dying.  He enters Dr. Rathmann’s (John Larch), a psychiatrist’s, office for an appointment.  In questioning him, Dr. Rathmann finds out that Hall has been awake for 87 hours.  Hall explains that he has always had a vivid imagination, as well as a heart condition since he was 15 years old.  His imagination is so vivid that it causes him to see and believe things to be there that are truly not.  Recently, he began having recurring serial-like dreams in which a strange woman named Maya is forcing him to do things that might endanger his life because of his weak heart.  Will the doctor be able to save him?

I love the cinematography in these early episodes.  The bulk of the series was shot by George T. Clemens and the style he put forth in giving such an eery quality to the crisp black-and-white through lighting and in camera tricks is truly breathtaking.  Director Florey was said to strive for perfection on set and was deeply influenced by expressionistic filmmakers of the past like Robert Wiene, Fritz Lang and F. W. Murnau.  This episode certainly evokes an expressionistic quality that works beautifully for the story.  Beaumont’s script, and short story for that matter, are very cleverly put together.  Unfortunately, Beaumont suffered from believed Alzheimer’s and Pick’s disease and passed at the young age of 38.  Conte’s performance is also very believable and exudes interesting subtleties in the character.  So far, this has been my favorite episode since beginning the series for review.

As an interesting six degrees of separation side note, Richard Conte’s son, Mark, is a film editor.  The film I worked on a few years ago that was shot here in the Piedmont, The 5th Quarter, was edited by Mark.

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Entering the Twilight Zone…

24 05 2011

Copyright Cayuga Productions and CBS Corporation

Maddie and I have gotten a little lax on finishing Twin Peaks.  We only have four or five more episodes to go before finishing the series completely, but we have taken a decent amount of time ever since the Laura Palmer episodes ended in watching new episodes.  A full series recap will be forthcoming once we finish.  In the interim, outside of watching movies, we started to spark up some of the old Twilight Zone episodes (original series era 1959-64).

It’s been awhile since I’d seen any Twilight Zone episodes, so I was excited to see that Netflix has nearly 140 Rod Serling-era episodes on instant watch.  Whatever is not up on the instant watch, I’m sure I will be able to find in my brother Patrick’s collection.  He literally has every episode of the entire original series and, if I am not mistaken, has seen all of them at some point or another, possibly twice.  Anyway, since Maddie had never seen an episode of the show, I felt it only right to introduce her.  Last night we saw three episodes.  I was immediately entranced with the series just as I had been years ago when watching them late night on the Sci-Fi Channel, and Maddie really enjoyed the episodes as well.  As an ongoing feature here at the blog, I will rate the episodes as I see them.  Hopefully, as time goes by, you’ll be able to check back here and get a nice overall guide to the entire series.  Once all episodes are watched and rated, I will make a main page with chronological listing from season one through season five.

Of course, a large part of the fun in watching Twilight Zone episodes are the twist endings and surprises.  To not spoil the story and thematic representations of the individual episodes, I will only give brief overviews of the plot.  Hope you guys enjoy, and now for the first three:

Season 1, Episode 5 – “Walking Distance” 

★ ★ ★ ★

Released on October 30, 1959, this episode was directed by Robert Stevens, written by series creator Rod Serling and starred actor Gig Young (eventual Academy Award-winner for Best Supporting Actor in 1969 for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, whose career later ended in tragedy).  Young plays a middle-age advertising executive from New York, Martin Sloan, who is traveling back to his hometown on a whim for nostalgia’s sake.  When he arrives, however, he finds that the town is just the same as he remembers it and, eventually, realizes it actually is the same.  He has traveled 25 years into the past, where he runs into his mother, father and former self.

The direction of this episode and cinematography by series DP regular George T. Clemens is amazing.  The final scenes, with their dutch angles and atmospheric lighting, create an intriguing dream-like effect.  Time Magazine later rated this episode as the eighth best of the series.

Season 1, Episode 8 – “Time Enough at Last”

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Released on November 20, 1959, this episode was directed by John Brahm, adapted by Rod Serling and starred actor Burgess Meredith (probably best known as the coach in the Rocky series or Jack Lemmon’s father in the Grumpy Old Men series).  Meredith portrays bookworm bank teller, Harold Bemis, who is constantly in trouble at both work and at home for his insatiable reading habits.  While retiring to the bank safe to satisfy his desires, a Hydrogen bomb wipes out everything above ground.  Bemis exits the safe and realizes that he is the only person left in the world.

This episode is based off the short story of the same name by Lyn Venable and won director John Brahm a DGA award for excellence in television directing.  Meredith would go on to appear in several other episodes in the series and this episode is consistently rated as one of the best of the series.

Season 1, Episode 18 – “The Last Flight”

★ ★ ★ ★

Released on February 5, 1960, this episode was directed by William Claxton, written by Richard Matheson (of I am Legend, Stir of Echoes, Incredible Shrinking Man, etc. fame) and starred British actor Kenneth Haigh.  When Flight Lt. Decker (Haigh) gets lost over France during World War I in 1917, he lands his plane at an air force base.  Unbeknownst to him, he has landed at Lafayette Air Force base in 1959.  The Major General of the base at first thinks his outfit, plane and story are some kind of joke.  In the end, however, they realize he is not joking and this chance landing in another time is important in helping Flight Lt. Decker do the right decision in his own time.

Though not necessarily as flashy or well-revered as the other two episodes I reviewed today, I really liked the plot of this one.  It kept you interested from beginning to end and Haigh’s performance was perfectly on par.





“Beyond the Door” Cast/Crew Screening Last Night

23 05 2011

"Beyond the Door" Official Poster Copyright 2011 Shining Rock Productions

Last night was the first semi-public screening of the short I directed last fall, Beyond the Door.  Invites were sent to all the cast and crew of the film, as well as to select supporters, local filmmakers and other industry personnel for a premiere screening of the film.  Being that the film itself is still in the process of festival submissions, many of which have strict guidelines for screenings, this event was not wholly open to the public and was a free screening for only those closely involved with the project.

The event was held at Aperture Cinema in downtown Winston-Salem which is a small, independent movie theatre that shows arthouse films, foreign movies and other selections that the area multiplexes usually don’t screen.  It was a perfect atmosphere for the screening and I strongly urge anyone who is thinking of a Piedmont, North Carolina screening to consider this quaint two-screen theatre.

Needless to say, my nerves were at an all time high.  For projects that I shoot I usually get anxious, but nothing compares with being a producer/director in the hot seat during a first screening.  The screening was to start at 8:30 p.m. and I think I started feeling butterflies in my stomach about noon yesterday.  Relaxation didn’t fully set in until the opening title credit appeared on the screen.

Before the screening, I took some time and thanked the many people involved with helping get this film made.  I feel the silliest and most pretentious thing a film can promote is the “A film by ____” credit, because filmmaking is most definitely a collaborative effort from many technical and creative personnel.  As a director, it is my job for a singular vision to be achieved; however, this film is not “my” film, it is “ours”.

I was elated to sense an overall warm reception of the film last night and am greatly looking forward to its continued life.  The film, which is based on Philip K. Dick’s public domain short story of the same name, has already been submitted to a handful of festivals and more submissions are going out with each passing week.  After a festival run, a limited DVD edition will be available for sale to the general public and, eventually, marketing through various outlets on the internet.

A sincere “thank you” to all of those who were able to make it out last night for your kind words and support!  I look forward to continued life in this project for the next year to year and a half and am already bouncing around ideas for future films.  Don’t be mislead, however, as I am still a DP at heart and am continuing to shoot projects.  I will be shooting with a team for this year’s 48-Hour Film Project in Greensboro in June and in talks with several other directors about upcoming short and feature length projects as a Director of Photography.





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.





Timecrimes (2007) Review

24 03 2011

Copyright 2007 Magnolia Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★

I will be the first to admit that I am a sucker for movies that deal with time travel.  Ever since I was a child the concept has interested me and I am always immediately drawn to watch any movie, read any book or play any video game that revolves around the idea.  When I was cued in to this movie from a co-worker, I immediately put it on my instant queue on Netflix and am very glad I did.

The film is the debut feature from Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo, who had previously received an Oscar nomination for his short musical film 7:35 a.m. (which is conveniently located in the Special Features section of this film in its entirety).  The story focuses on the character of Hector who has just bought a new home in the Spanish countryside with his wife Clara.  When Clara goes to get groceries from the local store, Hector is left sitting in the back yard with his binoculars looking over the lush, mountainous landscape.  Something he spots through his binoculars leads him to further investigation which, in turn, spawns a series of events that lead him to a research facility containing a time machine.  Without giving too much away, the film contains many intricacies dealing with the problems of time travel, primarily the causation paradox.

Being a primarily plot-based film, character building is minimal.  However, for the type of film that it is, I didn’t feel like it detracted much from my viewing experience.  Films that deal with dreams, time travel or other complex happenings have to spend a certain amount of running time explaining the theory behind the plot motivation and, to me, this almost becomes a character in itself.  And, let’s face it, when we go to see or rent a film that deals with one of these complex topics, we are specifically watching for the mind bending phenomena of the plot, so it’s hard pressed for me to get too excited about two dimensional characters.

Timecrimes is a low budget feature.  There is nothing really flashy about the photography, set design or locations.  It’s a breath of fresh air in this era of filmmaking to see something that is organic like this though.  Everything you need for the story to be conveyed is in place and works smoothly without extra millions being thrown into digital effects.  Granted, I strongly oppose most digital effects in movies unless it is absolutely pertinent to the telling of the story.  I feel too many films over the past 10 years have worried more about their effects value then about how well the story structure evolves.

In conclusion, if you get a chance to catch this one, I would definitely recommend it.  If you are a time travel junkie like myself, then it is a must see and you need to sign on to Netflix or go by the local video store and get it right now.  Vigalondo’s sophomore effort will be coming out soon entitled Extraterrestre. I hope this budding director continues to make films as good as this one, because if so, then he’ll definitely be someone to keep an eye on over the next few years.








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