Film Movement is an interesting experiment in film distribution. This company buys the rights to independent and foreign films, and then releases them theatrically and on DVD at the same time. The films have to have been entered into competition at one of the major film festivals, and most have won awards. Since these are small art house films that not everyone is able to see, it distributes them to a wider audience. Each DVD contains a short and other extras, making it an attractive package for those who like independent film.
These DVDs are only available by subscription. (Past DVDs are available through their web site at a higher cost.) This cuts out the middle man and also allows them to have a good estimate of the number of DVDs that they will sell for each title. It is a very good idea, and one that I hope fares well. The subscription rates are very reasonable.
The June 2003 DVD if Manito, an independent film by newcomer Eric Eason. This film made its debut at Sundance where it won a Special Jury Award. The film has also won awards at the Miami Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, and others. A pretty impressive list.
Manito is the story of two brothers living in New York City. Manney (Leo Minaya) is getting ready to graduate high school, the first in his family to do so. He is very smart, and has a full scholarship to go to college. Junior (Franky G.) is the older brother. He has spent a lot of time in jail, and is now a painting contactor living with his wife and son. The movie shows two days in the life of this family.
The first half of the film is a series of vignettes showing what these two brothers lives are like. Going to school, getting to work, slice of life stuff. In the second part of the film, Manny graduates high school, and Junior throws him a big party. Manny takes a girl he likes home, and Junior send his wife home and leaves with another woman. A terrible turn of events bring the brothers closer together, but also changes their lives forever.
There are a lot of good things to say about this movie. Eric Eason has a very good ear for dialog. The conversations sound natural and flow easily. More importantly, he also knows when to leave dialog out. Many beginning film makers have too much dialog so that the actors are always saying something. Eason doesn't fall into this trap. He gives his actors time to act. Much of the character's personalities are revealed through what they do, rather than what they say.
There are some excellent moments in the film too. The montage scene at Manny's party where everyone toasts him is touching, funny, and uplifting. It tells a lot about the characters and their environment in a very concise way.
The actors were new, but competent, especially the two leads. They were able to project their character's emotions and feelings very well. The best scene in the film has the family members sitting around a table. No one talks, but as the camera shows each person, you know what each one is thinking.
Unfortunately, there is also a lot to criticize in this movie. The camera work is just horrible. Everything was shot with a hand held camera. There are not many stable shots in the entire film. The picture is jerky and meandering. It's hard to see details since everything is in motion most of the time. In one scene Junior looks at a girls necklace that has her name on it. The viewer can't read it since it is moving around the frame so much. The camera was not in focus all the time either. There were more than a few shots where everything was just slightly out of focus.
The lighting was very poor also. Natural lighting was used throughout, and it just wasn't good enough in many scenes. Many shots were under lighted giving the film a dark look, but there were several outside scenes where there was too much light. One scene in particular where the grandfather walks towards the camera with the sun behind him was especially bad. All of these things gives the whole movie a very amateurish look.
The pacing of the movie was off too. Too much time was spent setting up the story at the beginning, so that by the time the major event in the plot happens, the film is 2/3 over. It would have been a superior film if the beginning was tightened up a good amount in the editing room.
The plot of the script could have used a little work too. There were two scenes that I had a hard time swallowing. Unfortunately they were the two most important scenes in the film.
In the end, this isn't a bad movie. It has a lot to recommend it. The acting is good, and the script has some very good parts. There are some significant problems, but a good first effort.
The film has an Dolby Digital 2.0 sound track. Since the movie is set in a Hispanic neighborhood, the dialog is a mixture of English and Spanish. There are optional subtitles that translate the Spanish dialog, but not all of it. There are sentences here and there that don't get translated. That is irritating, though the sentences that are dropped are not crucial to the plot. There are no subtitles for the English dialog in the film, which is a shame.
The quality of the audio is not that good. There is not a lot of dynamic range on this film. The subtle, more quiet noises seem to be missing, giving the film a flat feel. The loud sounds fare worse. They crack and distort. When Junior is yelling the sound breaks up and it is extremely jarring. There are not a lot of instances of this, there are a few. These audio problems were not due to the mastering of the DVD, rather I am sure that they were present in the master of the film.
Other than that, the dialog is clear and easy to understand.
This film is presented in it's original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Unfortunately, it is not anamorphically enhanced. I was really astonished by this. People who are likely to subscribe to Film Movement's series are most likely serious film buffs who would expect an anamorphic DVD.
The video on this movie was not very good at all. Shot on digital film, the movie is filled with digital artifacts. They are so bad that it distracts from the film. Most straight lines in the film have a stair step effect to them. Many details, especially in the background disappear when the camera moves, and the camera has a hard time tracking subjects that are moving quickly, making them look jerky. The picture is very grainy even in scenes with a good deal of light. There are a couple of flecks on the print (it was transferred from digital to film) but only a couple.
In defense of the DVD, I believe that most of these defects, as with the audio defects, were present on the master print of this movie. It is hard to tell what was originally present and what was adding during the DVD creation process. In any case, the video is hard on the eyes.
Film Movement put out a well rounded DVD. There are some excellent extras included.
Commentary: The commentary track is by director/writer Eric Eason and producer Jesse Scolaro, and they do a very good job. You can tell that this was a labor of love for both film makers. They talk about all aspects of the film: how they shot it, how they found the actors, improvising, how they managed the location shots, and many anecdotes about the process of making this film. It was highly informative and fairly entertaining. I was astonished to find out that the amateurish camera work was a look that they were going for. (Or at least that is what they claim.) They wanted to emulate a documentary. There are very few silent areas. I was very please with it.
Interview with Franky G.: a 10 minute interview with the star of the movie. He mainly talks about his career. What he did before he started acting, how he entered show business, how he got the part, and what his future plans are. The camera work, as with the film, left a lot to be desired. During the whole interview the camera is zoomed in on Franky's head. It is so close up, that when he moves, half of his head goes out of the frame, and the camera operator slowly centers him. The editing is very heavy handed also. They basically cut out the dialog they did not want and spliced the whole thing together. The result is that every few sentences there is a jump cut, where Franky's head goes from one position in the frame to another one instantly. It looks very amateurish.
Short: Brin Hill's Morning Breath: This is a very, very good short. It is the recitation of a long poem written and read by muMs da Schemer (who played 'Poet' Jackson on Oz.) If you have heard his poetry on Oz, you'll know how powerful it can be. He writes from the heart about things he knows and has experienced; Urban life.
This short, set in the inner city, is about a man who is in love with his girl friend, and that is causing him inner tension. He knows his street hustling lifestyle will probably lead him to prison, but the alternate, living on the straight and narrow, is equally distasteful. He doesn't want to be seen as weak in the eyes of his friends, but does not want to lose the woman he loves.
The camera work and editing are top notch. The movie flows with the recited poem, adding great images to the words being spoken. They mesh wonderfully, and with the language adding to the images and the pictures enhancing the words. The images show beauty and ugliness of the urban landscape while the poem does the same thing, in an entirely different way.
The audio presentation is very good also. There are a lot of sound effects and use of stereo that enhance the movie. Several times the director recorded muMs reading the same line twice, and then laid the two tracks on top of each other, to show the two sides struggling within this man.
The video is also really nice. Much better than the feature film.
There was a few digital artifacts and slight edge enhancement, but they
were not distracting. The director also made very good use
of mixing motion and still photography.
Other extras: In addition to the trailer for Manito, there is a trailer for Inch'Allah Dimanche, a text bio piece for the director and two lead actors, and a one minute commercial for Bombay Sapphire liquor.
This is a mixed bag. Manito tries hard and almost succeeds. It has some excellent scenes that are worth watching the movie for. It also has some problems, the biggest being the format that it was shot in. The digital artifacts are distracting after a while, but will be less noticeable on a small screen. The extras are very nice, with a good commentary and an first-rate short. Anyone who is interested in independent film should definitely check this movie, and Film Movement, out. Casual film buffs might want to check it out as a rental. Overall, I'd have to recommended this disc for the great short, good commentary, and interesting, if flawed, film.