Shame (2011) Review

18 12 2012
Copyright 2011 Momentum Pictures

Copyright 2011 Momentum Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★

One of the few well regarded films of last year that I hadn’t yet gotten a chance to see. After literally months of two Netflix discs (yes, I still get discs because the selection on instant would piss me off if that was all I got) sitting on my kitchen counter unwatched, I finally sent in for some replacements — this film was one of the two that arrived. The other was Magic with Anthony Hopkins (a pretty scathing review forthcoming on that).

Michael Fassbender stars as Brandon, a sex addict, in this NC-17 drama. A successful New York businessman, he spends his days at the office watching porn, his nights at home watching porn, masturbates incessantly and is constantly on the prowl for his next sexual encounter, whether that be through a random hookup or a paid escort. When his somewhat estranged musician sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), moves in with him out of despair, he finds her desire for a more meaningful relationship with him a hindrance on his routine sexual escapism.

This film is a very slow, yet well-paced study of an addiction that is not nearly as touched upon in mainstream media as many others. Brandon’s character and world are very ethereal, and the artistic approach of the film help elucidate this fantasy-esque overtone in its pace and cold visual style. Fassbender is excellent in the title role, a role which required a great degree of comfortability in the character, being that many sexual scenes are shown quite explicitly and nudity is prominent throughout. Carey Mulligan is wonderful (isn’t she always?) as his depressed sister who longs for a stronger relationship between herself and her brother.

There are a lot of things about this film that seem like they shouldn’t work so well on the surface, but yet, somehow they do. It’s a terribly interesting character study and a film that engrosses, even at its very deliberate and slow pace. I highly recommend this movie for anyone in the mood for a deep, intense drama; however, I will strongly warn of high sexual content and physical nudity that may offend or upset certain audiences.





Lincoln (2012) Review

9 12 2012
Copyright 2012 20th Century Fox

Copyright 2012 20th Century Fox

★ ★ ★ ★

Catching up a bit here, so expect to see about 4-5 reviews over the next week or so. On Thanksgiving Day, right after a wonderful dinner with my family at Bermuda Run Country Club in Bermuda Run, N.C., my brothers, Maddie and I, went to see Lincoln at the theater.

Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring the always fantastic Daniel Day-Lewis in the lead role, Lincoln chronicles a very specific time in the 16th President’s tenure. The film begins in January, 1865, and continues through Lincoln’s assassination in April of that same year. The focus of the narrative heavily revolves around the passage of the 13th amendment, a revolutionary amendment to our Constitution that abolished slavery in America. Even without the presence of the southern states in Congress, the passage of this amendment was, surprisingly, still extremely difficult to pass in the House of Representatives. This was largely due to heavy opposition from the Democratic Party of the era (interesting how the Democrats of this time seemed the more conservative and the Republicans more liberal in their stance; a direct opposite of our current state in America today…) Though the passage of this amendment is the primary focus of the film, the viewing audience does get a glance into Lincoln’s private life during this time, as well as how efficient an orator and politician Lincoln could be through persuasion and motive.

The first part of this film was a bit slow for me. However, I quickly became engaged in the narrative, due largely to Day-Lewis’s magnificent portrayal of Lincoln. Without much reservation, I consider Day-Lewis one of the best and most well-rounded actors of our time. His credit list, though not large, encompasses an array of interesting and brilliant performances. I always look forward to his films, whether a brilliant opus like There Will Be Blood, or independent Irish films like Jim Sheridan’s wonderful dramas My Left Foot and  In the Name of the Father.

Spielberg, for me, sometimes gets unduly praise for his work. Yes, he is a brilliant director and has given us a wide range of amazing films; however, his praises sometimes go beyond a reasonable measure, in my opinion. This film, for me, was one of his better in recent years and, being a biographical period piece, something he seems to excel at. Likewise, Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography was quite pretty, and though not the most visually stunning of his career, it was perfect ambience for this film.

I definitely see this film taking home some awards this year, and highly recommend it from both an entertaining and historical perspective.





My Name is Bond Series: Diamonds are Forever (1971)

13 11 2012

Copyright 1971 Eon Productions

★ ★ ★

After a one picture hiatus in which Australian model/actor George Lazeby briefly picked up 007’s licence to kill, Sean Connery returned for his final portrayal as Bond, at least, his final portrayal that falls into the official canon of Eon Productions films. He did pick up his Walther PPK one more time in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, an interesting re-take on Thunderball that only came to fruition because of some sticky copyright dealings.

One of Bond’s arch enemies, Ernst Blofeld, this time portrayed by Charles Gray, is supposedly murdered early on in the pre-title sequence. However, with experimentations in facial reconstruction surgery, it soon becomes apparent that Blofeld was not as easily killed off as originally thought. In the meantime, Bond is assigned to a case involving a supposed smuggling ring in the South African diamond industry. To intercept the targeted diamonds, Bond travels to Amsterdam disguised as smuggler Peter Franks. It is here that he meets the primary “Bond girl” of this film, Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), a liaison in the smuggling circle. When the real Franks shows up, Bond kills him, and switches identities in Case’s eyes by saying the dead man is British agent James Bond. The diamonds are then smuggled to Los Angeles via the real Franks coffin, and later, through to Las Vegas. As he becomes involved deeper in the disappearance of the diamonds, he realizes that the true cause is much deeper than just depressing the diamond industry as originally thought. The diamonds are being used in a contraption within a top secret base that belongs to billionaire recluse Walter Whyte (Jimmy Dean, taking cue from real life billionaire Howard Hughes). As Bond digs deeper, he realizes his supposedly deceased foe, Blofeld, may in fact be behind the whole operation. Furthermore, he has a pair of sadistically witty, homosexual assassins, Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover) and Mr. Kidd (bassist Putter Smith) on his tail.

Whew, gotta love writing a synopsis for a Bond film. This one might be more convoluted than most, however, with a story that kind of weaves in and out of direction as the movie progresses. Of all of Connery’s performances as Bond, this might be one of the weakest, if not the weakest. The villains aren’t particularly novel, Jill St. John is not a very well-rounded Bond girl as neither really an adversary, nor a solid ally, and the suspense that Bond gets himself into is not particularly exciting. It’s not a terrible film, but it doesn’t capture the magic of early Connery movies like Dr. No, From Russia with Love or Goldfinger. Directed by Bond alumnus Guy Hamilton, this is a novel effort to recapture the magic of Connery’s early era as Bond, but somehow misses the mark and falls short of full potential.





My Name is Bond Series: Skyfall (2012)

11 11 2012

Copyright 2012 Eon Productions

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Even though it’s only been released in the US for a couple of days now, it feels like I finally got to see the new Bond film.  Coincidentally, I saw it on the heels of The Living Daylights last night, a selection from the Bond 50th Blu-Ray series which was my birthday present from my sweet girlfriend, Maddie.

OK, so the 23rd Bond film, and Daniel Craig’s third go round in the part. Upon hearing of the production of this film I was wildly excited, first because one of my favorite DPs, Roger Deakins, was going to be shooting the film, but even more so, that it was being helmed by Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes. Granted, an acclaimed artistic director doesn’t always make a great Bond film (Michael Apted and Marc Forster…ahem), but I have consistently been amazed with Mendes’s work over the years (outside of Away We Go, which was terrible.)

This paragraph of my reviews is usually reserved for a synopsis of the film; however, for this film, I feel I would be cheating you, my reader, by divulging much of the story. This film carries nearly all of the staples of a classic Bond film, yet if I gave you too much of an overview, it would spoil the brilliance of its execution. So, I opt out of this usual section of my review format (you’ll thank me later).

What I can say, is that this is one of the best Bond films in many years. I will have to let it all sink in a bit more, but it might actually be one of the best Bond films of the entire canon. Daniel Craig seems quite comfortable in the role now, even more so than his previous two installments. The script is sharp, the action sequences are breathtaking, the direction apt, cinematography exquisite, the villain is evil, really there is nothing I can say bad about this film. It fits the Bond formula to a tee, but also manages to add something new and invigorating to the mix. Its achievement in doing this, make it a very fitting film for the 50th anniversary of this iconic franchise, and I think, proof that Bond will continue for many generations to come.





3 Women (1977) Review

31 08 2012

Copyright 1977 Lion’s Gate Films

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

I go onto Netflix and add weird things to my queue fairly regularly.  Usually, by the time these films actually arrive at my doorstep, I have forgotten when or why I put them on there to begin with.  Such was the case with this movie, but luckily, it turned out to be one of those oddball picks I mysteriously chose that actually turned out pretty interesting.  Within the first few minutes of the film, I saw the title card for director Robert Altman fade up, which allayed a multitude of my concerns.  For the next two hours, I was strangely intrigued.

The movie stars Shelly Duvall (good subject for a Whatever Became of… book – I’m looking at you Mr. Lamparski!) as Mildred “Millie” Lammoreaux, and Sissy Spacek as Mildred “Pinkie” Rose.  Pinkie comes from Texas to work at a convalescence home in California where Millie, also originally from Texas, has been working for some time.  The strange, almost child-like waif, Pinkie, is immediately drawn to the outspoken and vivacious Millie, who seems more a legend in her on mind than reality would prove true.  As the film progresses, the two move in together as roommates; their landlords are a married couple, Willie (Janice Rule) and Edgar Hart (Robert Fortier).  Willie is a quiet, gypsy-esque mural painter, and Edgar is a former stunt double for country/western film stars.  The couple also own a bar/shooting ranger/dirtbike track that the two heroines regularly frequent.  The strange relationship between the three women becomes more intertwined as a series of bizarre events take place towards the latter half of the film.  That about sums it up, and no I didn’t really leave anything out.

This is a very stream of conscious film; in fact, it was conceived through a series of dreams that Robert Altman had over the course of several weeks.  Supposedly, the film was also shot largely without a script, and with Altman making many last minute scene and story changes on the fly.  Yet, somehow, this antithesis of what a mainstream movie should be and look like, holds your attention the entire two hour running time.  It’s almost more of a visual essay, a plotless saga, than a normal movie; however, all the same, it’s not quite that either, as there is a story there beneath the layers.  Coupled with wonderful performances all around, and hauntingly atmospheric cinematography, this movie is actually really worth any self-professed cinephile’s time.  It’s very unique, and something that you almost certainly wouldn’t have a chance to see on the screen today with the “safe bets” modern Hollywood likes to take.

Bottom line: If you aren’t afraid to take a chance on a film that will challenge commonly held story and viewing moors, then I highly recommend this interesting and thought provoking movie by maverick filmmaker Robert Altman.





The Great Buck Howard (2008) Review

20 08 2012

Copyright 2008 Playtone Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★

So, I was turned on to this movie by a post Roger Ebert made on his Facebook wall recommending it, and giving it a very admirable 3 1/2 star (out of four) review.  Being that it was nearing the end of its run on Netflix (it goes off Instant Watch tomorrow!), and considering that mine and Ebert’s taste in cinema actually coincide quite a bit, I planned on watching the movie last night.  However, before we pressed play, Maddie and I noticed that it was not rated very well on Netflix, and considered a second option for the evening.  Exhausting our choices, we came full circle back to this film and decided that, if we didn’t like it, we could always turn it off.  Now, I give you all this back story, as it will all come around eerily full circle by the end of this post.

The movie itself is an independent comedy that stars John Malkovich as washed up mentalist, Buck Howard (a character based on real life Amazing Kreskin).  Troy Grable (Colin Hanks), a recent law school drop out (that hits close to home!), is at a crossroads in life and decides he wants to become a writer.  Being that writing doesn’t produce much in terms of actual cash asset, he takes a job as the road manager for the “Great Buck Howard.”  Howard, once a television personality who was in high demand and appeared on Johnny Carson over 60 times in the 1970s, is now reduced primarily to touring the country with his act, a mixture of song, comedy and mostly mental illusions, in small town theaters across the United States.  As Howard plans his return to glory, Grable scrambles to keep up with the demands of the  still diva-esque celebrity.  Along the way, he strikes a romance with PR rep Valerie Brennan (Emily Blunt) who is trying to help boost media attention for Howard’s new illusion that will bring him back to the limelight.

The direction and writing by Sean McGinly are solid, but what shines the most is the subject matter and the performances by Malkovich and Colin Hanks.  Their chemistry and Malkovich’s perfect display of the Amazing Kreskin’s mannerisms really helps keep this movie interesting and unique.

Having never heard of the Amazing Kreskin before, we of course watched several videos on Youtube of the real man following the movie.  Needless to say, he is an interesting character and his act does have a distinct element of wonder to it.  For the the fun of it, we decided to look up and see Kreskin’s tour schedule.  Oddly enough, the only two dates he is playing in North Carolin are this Friday and Saturday.  With the coincidence so high, that we almost didn’t watch this movie, finally watched it and liked it, happened to look on his tour schedule, and just so happen to see the real Amazing Kreskin is in NC two dates out of the year, and those being this week, we booked tickets.  We’ll be seeing him on Saturday evening in Shelby, N.C.; however, I got to admit, he’s kind of already impressed me if coincidence has any connection.





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 Rum Diary (2011)

5 03 2012

Copyright 2011 GK Films

★ ★ ★ 1/2

This film had an interesting spin for me.  When I first heard about it, it became one of my most anticipated movies of the year because of the source material (the book of the same name by legendary Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson) and the writer/director Bruce Robinson (director of Withnail and I and his first feature film in nearly 20 years).  However, once the film was released, the critics didn’t necessarily pan it out right, but the reviews were admittedly lackluster.  So, because of this, I put off seeing this movie and, rather than having too high expectations as originally was the case, I lowered my expectations greatly and went into the film planning on being completely let down.  After viewing, I can see how some people wouldn’t enjoy the movie, but for me, it still hit a chord in much the same way Withnail and I did for me.  Honestly, I had a hard time deciding whether this should be rated a three and a half star or four star film, I guess for me it’s somewhere in the middle.

Johnny Depp plays aspiring novelist and American freelance journalist Paul Kemp, a character who himself is an alter ego of author Hunter S. Thompson.  On assignment, he starts a job at the San Juan Star in Puerto Rico in the early 1960s writing horoscopes and other pointless articles for tourists under the discretion of editor Lotterman (Richard Jenkins), during a turbulent time in the country’s history, where island natives and the touristy expatriates from America are at bitter ends.  Kemp takes up eventual residence with the paper photographer, Sala (Michael Rispoli), and the two carry out many nights of drunken amusement, along with complete alcoholic Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi),  while in the day concerned with the changing culture on the island.  In addition, during his time on the island, Kemp becomes reluctantly involved with a plan to foster a military bombing island into a hotel/resort attraction with the insistence of self-proclaimed PR guru Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), whose girlfriend Chenault (Amber Heard), becomes an infatuation during his tenure.

What struck me about this film was two things: 1) the camaraderie of being in constant limbo in a Catch-22 situation where alcohol and drugs seems your only escape to “normalcy” and 2) the analysis of Puerto Rico during this turbulent time in the country’s history.  I related and found interest in the first bullet point in much the same way I did in watching Withnail and I, in that, I have had a period of my life that felt very much like that.  A period of constant intoxication in need of normalcy, while striving to find a creative voice in the chaos that is our world.  To me, I think every young artist has this period and, I won’t hesitate to say, I would likely still be in this period had I been able to continue to pursue the dreams of my youth.  Not that I have given up on my goals, but I have had to suck it up and get a “real” job and become a bit more of a cog in society, as opposed to the meandering drink laden writer/filmmaker/musician that is more in character with my genetic makeup.  The second point is what really encompasses the story of this film; without it, the whole movie would just be one long binge, and that doesn’t work as a story.  However, I can see how some would find the essence of Puerto Rico at this time to not really be of interest; yet, for me, it kept my attention throughout.

I’ve not read the novel, so I can’t compare the book to the movie.  Speaking on the film’s merits alone, however, I think this presents an accurate vision of what life for a personality such as Kemp’s was and would react in this particular setting and time period.  Though it’s not for everyone, it worked for me.





The Help (2011) Review

30 12 2011

Copyright 2011 Dreamworks SKG

★ ★ ★ ★

I have to be honest, this was not a film I was expecting to enjoy.  Usually, when the girlfriend and mother are excited about a movie, that means that it will definitely not be my cup of tea.  However, I am pleasantly surprised to report that I enjoyed this movie; I wouldn’t say it is a masterpiece as lauded by some critics, but it’s definitely an enjoyable and solid film.

The story takes place in Jackson, Miss. in 1963, a place where racial intolerance was at an all-time high.  Many African-American women were employed as maids to white families, a job that offered little appreciation and even less pay/benefits.  Aibeleen Clark (Viola Davis) and Minnie Jackson (Octavia Spencer) have been maids, raising and feeding white children, for as long as they can remember.  Free spirited Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) is one of the white children that was raised by an African-American maid.  Unlike her blatantly racist “friends”, Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Elizabeth Leefolt (Ahna O’Reilly), she doesn’t agree with Jim Crow laws and the under appreciation and maltreatment of African-Americans as a lower class.  Wanting to become a novelist, Skeeter takes a job at the local paper, but has higher aspirations of working for Harper and Row in New York.  She gets the idea about interviewing African-American maids in Jackson as a way to tell their story, while also helping her writing career.  Harper and Row are interested in the idea and Skeeter enlists the help of Aibeleen and Minny.  Through the process of writing, Skeeter learns a lot about the life these maids lead and, likewise, within the town, becomes more aware of the racial intolerance and two-sided ways of her peers.

The story has many more plot points than the brief synopsis above, and elicits a well-woven tale of history, friendship, civil action and triumph of the human spirit.  From what I hear from my girlfriend, the book is even more in depth and interesting.  Directed aptly by relative newcomer Tate Taylor and beautifully shot by seasoned veteran Stephen Goldblatt, this is a very solid film; however, the top accolades go to the cast, primarily Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, who give some real knock out performances.

As stated at the beginning of this review, this is not the typical type of film I usually enjoy.  So, if I enjoyed it as much as I did, I’m sure it will fit the bill for anyone looking for a well-written, tightly put together drama.





Page One: Inside the New York Times (2011) Review

8 12 2011

Copyright 2011 Participant Media

★ ★ ★ ★

Having worked in the newspaper industry for just under one year in 2008, I am fully aware of the hardships the industry is going through.  The paper where I worked, which was a small tri-weekly 6,000 circulation local paper, had once printed its own papers on site, had a devoted staff and large work area.  During my tenure, the paper was hit with another round of lay-offs, the printing on site was long gone and outsourced to a sister company and we were moved from the town we covered to the sister company’s offices in a larger close-by market.  In the end, our paper was reduced to an editor, sports editor, myself (as News Assistant and later Features Editor) and one full-time devoted reporter.  

This film studies essentially the same problems my little rural North Carolina paper was going through, but at one of the most prominent newspapers in the country, The New York Times.  The Times has long be heralded as one of, if not the, most important newspapers in the world.  Many times, stories that first appear in The Times will appear in other papers two to three days later.  Their reporters have long been the gold standard in the industry and have garnered a slew of Pulitzer Prizes.  In this film, which covers from about 2008-2010, we see the effects of the digital world on this behemoth of a paper.  Lay-offs, uncertainty, astronomical financial loss, all of these are analyzed and touched on by, not only Times reporters, but also people from the digital media industry.  With a focus on The Times’ new media unit, we see the stresses of everyday life in the print industry and how they are trying to cope with what is happening to their industry.  The most important point throughout, however, is that we need good, solid reporting of the news, no matter how it is digested.

When I saw recently that CNN laid off a large number of dedicated photojournalists in favor of free, individual uploaded content on iReport, I almost got sick to my stomach.  A Lamen with a camera phone in their backyard is not reporting.  In these days and times when our country is in dark peril, we need reporters who are going to go out and report our news content with the highest of integrity.  Though it may seem easy to some, good reporting is a skill like any other that takes education, practice and years of trial and error.  To reduce this profession to any 12-year-0ld with a video camera is a disgrace and not the kind of society I want to live in.

I have had two positions since my time at the newspaper and, even though they are more in line with what my degree and core interests are, I think I enjoyed the day to day work of the paper more than either of the other two.  Yet, making a living in the newspaper industry is extremely difficult.  These are trained professionals making less than $30,000 a year much of the time.  I hope a bridge between quality content and the digital spectrum can be reached soon, not only for the sake of my friends in journalism, but for the sake of the content we will receive as the end user.  I realize I have gotten up on a pedestal about this topic, but it is one that is close to the heart.  In regards to the film itself, it is a well done and engaging documentary that I think anyone interested in the state of our newspaper industry should watch.








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