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Woody Allen: A Documentary (2012) Review

4 08 2012

Copyright 2012 Whyaduck Productions

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2 (for Allen fans)

Most of you that know me personally, know that Woody Allen ranks as one of my all-time favorite filmmakers.  The first Allen film I ever saw was Purple Rose of Cairo soon after it came out on cable in the late 1980s, and from then on I was a fan.  I think the neurotic behavior that is evident in my own personality is infinitely relatable to his humor and films.  As I got older, I began watching more of his backlog and loyally viewing his new films each year at the theatre; yes, both the good ones and the bad ones.  I would estimate that I’ve seen 90% of his repertoire, including some of the early films that he just acted in and movies like Scenes from a Mall that he didn’t write or direct, but appeared in.  Over a long vacation to the northwest in 2000, I read the Eric Lax biography, and I have skimmed through several others from time to time since.  So, when this expansive documentary on his life and career came out last year by director Robert Weide, it immediately fell on my radar.

The film covers literally every facet of Allen’s life and has interviews with actors, friends, family, collaborators, parents, almost any willing participant they could find to comment on Allen’s work and life.  Furthermore, there are many segments of interviews that were shot with Allen himself, including his taking the crew on a tour of the neighborhood he grew up in in Brooklyn.  At well over 3 hours, we see Allen’s life from a boy in Brooklyn to comedy writer to acclaimed filmmaker evolve.  Outside of the amazing interviews, there is a plethora of behind-the-scenes footage from his films, rare photos and other interesting audio and video segments that help tell his story.  Nearly all of his films are featured, and though this film doesn’t tarnish Allen in any way, they didn’t omit a section regarding the scandal between he and Mia Farrow in the 1990s.

If you are a Woody Allen fan, this is a must see.  If not, it may not be your cup of tea.  Whether you love him or hate him though, it’s undeniable that his posterity and longevity as a filmmaker are quite an achievement, and along the way, he has given us more than a fair share of brilliant films in the canon of American Cinema.  Furthermore, few auteurs from any era can claim an ability to make us laugh, as well as engage in deep dramatic content.  Just think, Allen gave us Banannas as well as Match Point and Crimes and Misdemeanors.

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The Five Coolest Time Machines in Movies and Television

16 07 2012

Since I’ve gotten my first light weekend in nearly two months, I figured I would post a bit more extensive an entry than the norm.  One of my favorite plot motivators is the concept of time travel.  I think almost anyone can garner some form of fascination with the idea of either moving forward on your personal timeline, or backwards; whether it is to see what happens to yourself, to change a regret from the past, or witness an historic event of some sort, time travel is just plain cool.  Over the years, there have been literally hundreds of movies, television series and television episodes that have dealt with the idea or process of time travel, and alternatively, there have been dozens of different ways, machines and methods in which to perpetuate this quantum phenomena.  So, because of such, I’ve decided to post an entry of my personal top 5 favorite methods of time travel in the movies and television:

5. THE NECRONOMICON (Army of Darkness – 1992)

What’s not to love about an ancient book that is steeped in Lovecraftian pseudo-horror culture?  An essential part of the entire Evil Dead series, this ancient book unleashes loads of troubles for the primary character, Ash, over three films.  In the third, however, it not only gives him a ridiculously fun to watch run-for-his-money, but also transports him back to medieval England where he gets to fight skeleton soldiers, demon knights and other creepy/silly abomonations.

Out of the entirety of this list, I have to say that this is probably the one most of us would be happy to not come across.  Though, as kids, many dream of finding some old book or relic in our grandparent’s attic that might have some kind of mystical power, this is most definitely not the book we would want to come across.  Traveling to medieval England sounds pretty cool, but fighting skeleton armies and demon knights does not….well, unless I get the chainsaw arm, then maybe…as long as I can still play guitar.

4. A TIME TURNER (from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – 2004

For a movie, and novel before that, that revolves around a magical school of witchcraft and wizardry, it was only fitting to have a device that could manipulate time at some point in the series.  The Time Turner, a relic that resembled an hourglass on a necklace, could travel back in time a short distance corresponding to the number of times it was turned.  Though only for going back in time a mere few hours, this device played a major role in the ending plot of the third Harry Potter movie/novel.  Given to Hermione Granger by Professor McGonagall, Harry and Hermione use the device to rescue a magical beast, Buckbeak, before his untimely demise which had already happened by the time the device is used.  This device also signifies a realization of Harry’s that awakens a power from deep within, a scene which is one of my all-time favorites in the entire Harry Potter series (of which, of course, I am a megafan and not afraid to admit it).

Though the device can only go back a few hours in time, on a lot of occasions, that would be all you need!  Imagine how many things you could change if you could just buy an hour or two back to slightly change your actions, decisions or direction.  How easy all those careless mistakes would be to change in the blink of an eye! (or turn of a weird looking necklace…)

3. THE TIME MACHINE (from The Time Machine – 1960)

Did you really expect me not to include this one on the list?  Based on the H.G. Wells classic, this is the standard for which all other time machines were founded.  Over the years, there have been many adaptations of Wells’s classic science-fiction novel; however, it is generally accepted that this one by director George Pal stands a head above the rest.  Rod Taylor plays the eponymous Time Traveller and the device itself is everything you would imagine a time machine to be, a strange looking car-like chair with a whirly gong-thing on the back.  Well, anyway, it looks like a vehicle and it has those strange additions which have come commonplace in time travel narratives attached.  A classic example, and the basis of nearly all those to come; however, not the coolest one!

2. DOC BROWN’S DELOREAN (from Back to the Future – 1985)

A DeLorean could very well be called one of the ugliest cars in existence, but there was just something so damned cool about them!  I don’t know whether it was the stainless steel exterior, the space age like black leather interior with funny looking knobs all over the place, or the iconic gullwing doors, but anytime I’ve ever crossed one, I couldn’t help but stop and stare.

When Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale were considering what the time traveling device in their new script should be way back in 1984, they decided to find something that would appear futuristic to people of 1955, where the back-in-time narrative takes place.  They decided on the DeLorean DMC-12, and I couldn’t agree more, people in 1955 would have surely thought it from another planet.  Powered by a central processing device known as the flux capacitor, this baby ate plutonium for fuel and whizzed through time at precisely 88 miles per hour.  If I could figure out the conversion kit on an old DMC-12 to install a flux capacitor and time controls, you better believe there would be one in my garage.  As Doc Brown said in the first installment, “If you are going to travel through time, you might as well do it in style!”

1. TARDIS (from Doctor Who – 1963-1989, 2005-present)

Ah, the TARDIS, the constant companion to the Doctor.  Standing for Time And Relative Dimension In Space, the TARDIS is a Galifreyan (the Doctor’s home planet) time traveling device that could cloak itself to be literally anything for cover; unfortunately, it got stuck as a 1960s London police box.

Over time, the Doctor learned to love it’s constant shielding, and the TARDIS has remained stuck on that exterior setting ever since.  I don’t think anything could be more quirky, fun or insanely silly to travel through time and space in, but when you get right down to it, it is very, very cool.  Bigger on the inside than the outside, the TARDIS has seemingly endless rooms and compartments that contain seemingly endless items and relics within.  It’s built like a tank, has a killer coat of blue on the outside and can translate any language in the galaxy for you just by being close by!  If any of you have known what it is like to love a car or boat, it could only pale in comparison to the Doctor’s love of the TARDIS.  And, after enough episodes, you start to love it to, which makes it the list topper of my all-time coolest time machines in the movies and television!

*I didn’t forget Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but they paid homage to the TARDIS, so the TARDIS wins out.





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”:





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.








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