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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.

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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”:





Doctor Who is Pushing 50

12 10 2011

Copyright BBC

Article first published as Looking Forward to Doctor Who Turning 50 on Blogcritics.

Just over a week ago, the sixth series (or 32nd, depending on how you look at it) of Doctor Who wrapped up with the incredible episode The Wedding of River Song, posing the series-long question, “Doctor Who?”

For those of you not in the know, the original series began in 1963 with William Hartnell as Doctor numero uno and was on the air through six other Doctors until its cancellation in 1989.  Following a 1996 television movie with eighth Doctor Paul McGann, the series was rebooted by Russell T. Davies in 2005 and continues to this day on the BBC, currently in the eleventh “incarnation” of the Doctor, a now 900-something year old alien who travels through time and space in a machine guised as a police box.

Since the series six finale, the Doctor and companions will be off the air until the 2011 Christmas Special and then back in 2012 for a seventh series, continuing to star Matt Smith as the eleventh Doctor.  However, it will be the following season that I am interested in focusing on, as the series itself reaches its 50th Anniversary in early 2013.

All of the produced anniversary specials have centered around the Doctor crossing his own time stream, sometimes more than once, which results in a multi-Doctor episode, bringing back former actors who have played the lovable Time Lord.  The only two anniversary specials so far in the series were The Three Doctors in 1973 (with William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee) and The Five Doctors (with Richard Hurndall sitting in for the deceased Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee, Peter Davison and Tom Baker, kind of).  For what would have been the 30th and 40th anniversaries, the show was off the air unfortunately.

So, in short, odds are high that we will see another multi-Doctor episode, and that is some very exciting news for Who fans.  Everyone has their own ideas how the 50th Anniversary special should go, and I’m sure many, including myself, would love to see a return of David Tennant to the role for the special.  However, when really thinking hard on the subject, I come up with a storyline that wouldn’t include Tennant, but rather eighth and ninth Doctors Paul McGann and Christopher Eccleston.

When the series rebooted in 2005 with Eccleston, he had already regenerated from the eighth incarnation.  This is the only regeneration in the history of the series that we don’t actually see happen on screen or, at least, see the death of one and birth of the other.  Furthermore, it is alluded to constantly in the first few seasons that there was a Great Time War, in which the Time Lords and evil Daleks obliterated each other, leaving the Doctor as the “Last of the Time Lords.”

If I could sit down with Head Writer Steven Moffat, this is my pitch: have eleventh Doctor, Matt Smitth, recieve a distress signal from Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann, through the Time Locked war, similar to the bending out of universe phenomena in The Doctor’s Wife.  Realizing he will die and cut off his own time stream if he doesn’t go for help, the eleventh Doctor enters the final hours of the Great Time War.  The eighth Doctor explains what is happening on Gallifrey and the two must work together to obliterate the Dalek, and in turn, Time Lord races to save the universe.  In the end, however, the eighth Doctor doesn’t make it out alive, dying and regenerating into the ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, where he travels to the beginning of his tenure and meeting Rose.

Not only would that create a multi-Doctor episode, but it would give Paul McGann the chance to portray his wonderful interpretation of the Doctor once more on screen in a more tightly written episode (as McGann’s only appearence was the mediocore Doctor Who Movie in 1996).  What would your dream 50th Anniversary episode of Doctor Who be?  Which former Doctors would you like to see return?





Doctor Who: All Eleven Doctors Ranked Worst to Best

5 09 2011

So, I’ve finally had a chance to see at least one serial of all eleven doctors in Doctor Who.  I understand that this post will be completely subjective, but honestly, this is my blog, so isn’t it all completely subjective any way?  Well, here goes, my list of favorite actors who have portrayed the time-traveling Time Lord simply known as “The Doctor” from 1963 all the way up to last Saturday night:

11. Colin Baker – 1984-86 – Doctor #6

I’m so sorry, Colin.  He always gets a bad rap and, to be fair, there was a lot of pressure against the show during this time and some of the worst scripts as well.  Even still, however, something about (this) Baker’s portrayal of the Doctor just rubs you wrong.  Compared to many of the other Doctors, he was brash, (more) arrogant and sometimes just downright mean to his companions.  Not to mention, what the hell was he wearing!?!  Most of the Doctor’s outfits over the years, though eccentric, have still been pretty cool.  This rainbow infested disaster, however, wouldn’t even make the “cool” ranking of a four year old.  Again, Colin, I’m sorry, you seem like a great guy in real life, but as the Doctor, I just couldn’t dig your interpretation.

10. William Hartnell – 1963-66 – Doctor #1

I know, some of you are going to berate me for putting the original Doctor this low on the list.  It’s true, he provided the groundwork that all the other Doctors elaborated upon, not to mention he made the show famous from the beginning episodes.  This crotchety grandfather-like figure as the Doctor just doesn’t have enough fun though!  I like Doctors that know how to be serious, but also have that ridiculously zany element we’ve all come to know and love.  Hartnell’s first Doctor also seemed too absent-minded and feeble for me to completely enjoy.  In fact, unfortunately due to his poor health near his final episodes as the character, Hartnell would flub lines, so some of the idiosyncrasies of the character can’t wholly be deduced to acting.  It’s a shame he was so ill near the end and God bless the man for continuing to do what he loved for as long as he could.  A salute to you, sir, for your original portrayal and I dug the Victorian costume, but my favorite Doctors lie ahead.

9. Tom Baker – 1974-81 – Doctor #4

O.K., so I’m sure most of you expected to see the second Baker a bit higher on the list.  I’ve given him a fair shake by watching several serials, but just can’t put him any higher than this lowly position of number 9.  During his run, which was the longest of any Doctor to date, he epitomized the character with his off-the-wall elusive behavior, wild hair and elongated scarf.  In my opinion, however, I just couldn’t buy into it.  His delivery at times seems stilted and his inability to take charge of the situation was just too distracting for me to fully ingest his portrayal of the Doctor.  So, for you upset over this choice, would you like a Jelly Baby?

8. Peter Davison – 1981-84 – Doctor #5

From this point in our list on are Doctors that I really liked.  Not until our 5th entry do we get to the Doctors that I loved, but the next few entries at least get my one thumb up approval.  Davison, when cast, was the youngest Doctor to date.  In fact, he is still the second youngest even 30 years later.  With an outfit that looked like a mix of tennis court yuppie and panama jack, not to mention the curious piece of celery, this Doctor ushered us into the 1980s.  He was young, spirited and actually took great care in listening to his companions.  I really enjoyed Davison as the Doctor and think he did a wonderful job, even despite the fact that some of his episodes weren’t the best written.  His final episode, The Caves of Androzani (a bit overrated in my opinion, but still great), continues to top lists of the best episodes ever for the series.

7. Christopher Eccleston – 2005 – Doctor #9

I began the series with the 2005 reboot, so this was essentially my first Doctor (though not MY Doctor as many people state).  I have to give him some credit for engaging me in the program and helping bring me into the world of Whovians.  Though, in reality, he has been my least favorite of the rebooted Doctors.  He switched back and forth between quirky and crazy to intensely serious on the drop of a hat.  This element alone is enough to make you ask exactly what type of emotions is going through this war-born Time Lord.  I wish he would have picked a side, one way or the other, but other than that  – nice run Eccleston!

6. – Sylvester McCoy – 1987-89, 1996 – Doctor #7

I know a lot of people hate McCoy.  I know, it was with his Doctor that the series sank to all-time lows and initiated a nearly 16 year hiatus (of course, outside of the Doctor Who Movie in 1996).  To further clarify my placement of McCoy, I have only seen serials from his latter tenure which included companion Ace.  From what I have seen from these later episodes, which have consistently been rated much higher than his earlier episodes, I have really enjoyed him.  He has a dark demeanor and is very much a Sherlock Holmes-like Doctor.  Not to mention, his interactions with Ace are some of the best Doctor/Companion interactions I think I’ve seen on the show outside of Rose and the 10th Doctor.  And, trust me, that’s saying a lot!

5. Paul McGann – 1996 – Doctor #8

Outside of audio stories, McGann only had one chance on television to grace us with his portrayal of the Doctor.  Though the movie wasn’t amazing, I liked it.  What I loved, however, was Paul McGann’s awesome performance.  He was witty, eccentric, yet very much in control and concerned with saving the world.  His outfit was completely bad-ass as well!  A Victorian Buffalo Bill mixture that is elegant, yet weird.  I wish we could have seen Paul McGann grow the character onscreen a bit more.  I immediately enjoyed his portrayal, and everyone knows it usually takes several episodes before you start to warm up to a new Doctor.  If he’d had the chance, I think he could have been one of the best yet.

4. Matt Smith – 2010-present – Doctor #11

Our current Doctor, Matt Smith.  At first, I was not sure what to think of him, but he has proven himself quite well.  He is definitely eccentric and on the weird side of Doctor characterizations, but he also knows how to take control and fight back when the situation calls for it.  Furthermore, with Stephen Moffatt behind him as the creative force, his stories are becoming some of the best yet.  Smith has also single-handedly made bow ties quite cool once again!  Who knows, in time, I may move Smith up even higher on my list, but for now, he will stand at the still admirable number 4 position. Geronimo!

3. Jon Pertwee – 1970-74 – Doctor #3

Dare I say, our most adventurous Doctor?  With cape and dashing personality to match, Pertwee was the James Bond of Doctors.  He was cool, conservative and sometimes overly confident.  Forced for most of his tenure to assist U.N.I.T. on Earth, Pertwee had a great relationship with his companion, fellow researcher Jo.  Out of all the serious incarnations of the Doctor, who had little time for zaniness, Pertwee is my favorite.  Don’t get me wrong though, his witty and cynical remarks born from his ego are some of the funniest lines from this era of the series.  I can’t wait to continue working my way through Pertwee’s tenure as the Doctor, and remember, to always reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.

2. Patrick Troughton – 1966-69 – Doctor #2

Unfortunately, many of Troughton’s episodes no longer exist due to the BBC’s clearing policy in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  However, what is left is testament to his amazing portrayal of the character.  He was the first Doctor to not be so serious all the time, a “Cosmic Hobo” if you will.  Despite his goofy antics and somewhat aloof personality, this Doctor could be extremely effective and usually knew what was going on well before his stumped companions.  One of the subtlest actors in the role, this flute playing, Chaplinesque Doctor is one of my absolute favorite.  Now, if I can just scour the Earth for the rest of his lost episodes…

1. David Tennant – 2005-2010 – Doctor #10

This is it, the end of our list.  Here we come to MY doctor, David Tennant.  When he first arrived on the scene, I had no idea what to think of him.  As time progressed, however, Tennant’s portrayal of the Doctor as a goofy, caffeine-induced super hero, complete with maroon chucks and brown duster, became my favorite.  I don’t know whether I’ll ever like an actor in the role as much as I enjoyed Tennant.  He will definitely be a hard act to follow and whenever I think of the Doctor, this is who comes to my mind first. Well, there you have it, my countdown of the actors who have portrayed the Doctor.  Until next time, Allons Y!!!

**ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT BBC WORLDWIDE**





The Adjustment Bureau (2011) Review

16 08 2011

Copyright 2011 Universal Pictures

★ ★ 1/2

I had high expectations for this film when it came out earlier this year.  Honestly, it had been one of the few movies I was actually really excited to see once it came out on DVD.  Using a free credit through Vudu on my Playstation 3, Maddie and I rented this and watched it over the weekend.  My expectations were definitely not met, not in the least.

Matt Damon portrays junior congressman David Norris, who looses out on his bid for Senate.  On the night of his lose, he runs into free spirited dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt).  A connection is immediately felt between both Norris and Sellas, but their time is cut short by his losing speech and her being chased by guards for wedding crashing.  However, the next day, they coincidentally run into each other on the bus.  Following this second occurrence, and a slip up one of the “bureau’s” agent’s part, Norris sees some happenings at his office that he wasn’t supposed to see.  He finds out about an organization that works for a God-like entity known as the “Chairman,” who controls almost every facet of freewill on Earth.  They warn him to never let anyone know what he has seen; if he does, he will be reset.  Furthermore, they tell him it is not in the plan for him to be with Sellas and that he will never see her again.  They even go so far as to burn the paper she had given him that had her phone number on it.  As you can imagine, Norris becomes determined to get back with Sellas and there are repercussions with the “bureau” for such meddling and actions of free will.

That was kind of a quick written synopsis, wasn’t it?  Well, you know why?  Because the movie was abysmal.  That is a perfect word for this film and I wish I could alter my rating on this to just reflect that word.  It’s not a terrible film, it just isn’t anything we haven’t seen before.  In fact, we’ve probably even seen it before with Matt Damon!  In addition, the character of Sellas to me was just annoying, childish and two-dimensional.  I didn’t like the written character one bit, nor did I like the performance from Emily Blunt.

This is standard fare filmmaking; not one thing makes this movie unique or interesting.  I know I am being harsh, and probably wrongly so, but this is a movie I was excited to see and was utterly disappointed in the execution.  Don’t waste your time on this one, unless you have a low standard for films and don’t mind cliched science fiction rubbish.  I’m done ranting now.





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.





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.








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