Not Recommended

Echoes of You (2018, Henry Quilici)

About halfway through, Echoes of You gets after-school special cringy, which seems like it’s too bad because at least before—despite being this Dickensian tale of classical pianist employed as a theatre custodian (Laurence Fuller) who befriends the street urchin living out back (Zakary Risinger) through the magic of music—at least it’s well-executed. I mean, basically. Multi-hyphenate director Quilici’s editing is excellent. It doesn’t matter Risinger can’t act and Jesse Aragon’s middling but competent photography lacks any character. And then there’s how Quilici doesn’t direct for the performances but paces it like he wants the performances to be the big thing. So you’ve got Fuller pensively doing everything at work as he dreams of playing professionally but it just kills time. It doesn’t build anything with Fuller’s performance. There’s no character development in Echoes. In fact, it turns out there’s inertia beyond the suspension of disbelief.

Because it turns out Echoes is not an after-school special about Fuller helping Risinger and how Risinger’s life is changed—Fuller feeds Risinger, including some soup in a peculiar “just make a Campbell’s commercial” moment, and teaches him (in four days or so based on the short’s internal calendar) to play piano—but it’s all about Fuller. Fuller monologues about how he wanted to play this original piece (the titular Echoes of You, which sounds a lot like the “Downton Abbey” theme… enough you want to watch some “Downton” frankly) for his now dead dad. Because sad Fuller is worse off than kid living on the streets with a junkie mom Risinger. There’s a last act reveal to kind of cushion it but… not in any way to make Fuller any better of a human being. If Echoes weren’t tritely aspirational in another, jaw-dropping, and predictable way in the third act, the short might get away with the lack of any development on Fuller but….

No.

Fuller’s all right. He’s got some really good moments; if it were an after-school special, he’d have been able to crossover to nighttime dramas… but it’s not an after-school special. And for a short film, where he’s the protagonist, it’d have been nice if the director had some ideas for showcasing his performance.

Risinger’s a nope. Who knows if better direction would’ve helped. Better writing certainly would have.

I wasn’t expecting a lot out of Echoes of You but I was at least expecting it not to be so stunningly trite. It seemed too competently produced to be so pointless.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written, produced, directed by Henry Quilici; director of photography, Jesse Aragon; music by Max Quilici; produced by Henry Quilici and John Lapin; released by Omeleto.

Starring Laurence Fuller (Andrew) and Zakary Risinger (Christopher).


The Frontier Experience (1975, Barbara Loden)

The strange thing about The Frontier Experience is how it’s really bad with exposition for an educational film. Watching it, you can imagine an accompanying quiz and if the filmmakers do acknowledge the potential test question instead of just ignoring it, they treat the plot point or detail like a secret. I’m sure if I’d watched Frontier Experience is third or fourth grade I’d have gotten a C on the quiz. Though I don’t think I got Cs in third or fourth grade; I wouldn’t have failed, but I wouldn’t have gotten everything. Because it’s often easy to zone out during the film. It’s blandly American exceptionalism with some period specific details and sympathetic characters.

Even if none of the performances are particularly good. Except Phyllis McNeely as the kindly neighbor woman who likes having another woman living around even though it doesn’t end up meaning anything other than the exposition dump. How many women live in a ten mile radius besides McNeely and lead (and director and producer) Loden… A, 3, B, 2, or C, none. But McNeely’s good. In her scene and a quarter.

Frontier doesn’t have any opening titles, at least not with credits, so I wasn’t sure if Loden also directed the short or also wrote the short (in addition to starring in it). I thought it was writing, which seemed to make sense as the directing often sabotages Loden’s performance. Frontier Experience has a (light) handful of artistic ambitions. For example, Loden tries to do a fun footrace thing but doesn’t shoot it well. So it seems like she wouldn’t have directed it, because nothing seems to be in sync. But no, Loden did direct; Joan Micklin Silver wrote the script, which starts a lot better than it finishes. Including with the diary entries Loden’s writing as time moves on. Frontier starts with her moving out to Kansas with her family to homestead. The husband’s Roger Hoffman. He’s a man with dreams, the expository dialogue to convey them, but not the performance to make them interesting. There are a lot of wanting performances in the film. Educational film really does mean “don’t care.”

But until the third act, I kind of assumed Frontier Experience at least wouldn’t choke on the ending. But for the jingoism, it’d be fine. The jingoism ruins it and makes Frontier Experience seem a lot less like an educational film than disinterested propaganda.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Barbara Loden; written by Joan Micklin Silver; director of photography, Nicholas T. Proferes; edited by Proferes; music by John Duffy; released by the Learning Corporation of America.

Starring Barbara Loden (Delilah Fowler), Roger Hoffman (George Fowler), Tim Petty (Eugene), Sharon O’Donnell (Caroline), Kelly Heft (Alice), John Peirson (Ned), Cecil Friend (John Crawford), Phyllis McNeely (Mrs. Polk), and Leroy Deewall (Mr. Polk).


Alien: Harvest (2019, Benjamin Howdeshell)

Alien: Harvest operates at that all too familiar intersection of bad and stupid. It’s a stupid idea badly executed, though it’s not clear whose at fault for each. For instance, the short is about four survivors on a space ship trying to get the lifeboat before the ship blows up in seven (or eight) minutes. It’s a seven or eight minute short. You’d think it’d be real-time… but no. So who decided to do stylistically weak montage (the second time jump, the first they just cut), director Howdeshell or writer Craig Dewey?

Howdeshell’s direction is bad throughout, sure, but Dewey’s writing is stupid throughout too. For instance, how is it possible no one in the Alien universe knows how to read a motion tracker? Especially given lead (or at least character given the most reaction shots) Agnes Albright ought to know how to read one, given her character’s background. Though Albright’s background is yet another of the script’s stupidities; for an officially produced “Alien Universe” short, Harvest plays pretty fast and loose with the franchise “rules.” And always just for shock value. Dewey and Howdeshell don’t have anything good up their sleeves so they’re just going for the jumps. They don’t get any. They get some eye rolls, which is impressive because it’s usually too stupid to bother wasting the energy to roll the eyes.

There’s one good performance—Jessica Clark, as the pregnant and therefore sympathetic survivor. Adam Sinclair’s pretty bad as her dude, James C. Burns is even worse as the mansplainer. Watching Burns makes you appreciate how even some bad actors are at least not godawful at it. He’s fairly godawful.

Albright’s… not good. It’s a crap part but she’s not good.

Nothing’s good about Harvest, though the space CGI exteriors aren’t bad and Danny Cocke’s music could be worse. At least it’s not too derivative of the source material, whereas Dewey reuses lines from the real movies.

Bad editing from Jake Shaver, though it’s unclear if its his cutting or just Howdeshell’s footage. It seems more like the latter… if you forget the ineptitude of the fifteen second montage to show the characters passing forty-five seconds of present action.

It’s never any good, but the utter stupidity of the finish (and the real-time fails) make Harvest much worse than expected.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Benjamin Howdeshell; screenplay by Craig Dewey, based on characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Chris Saul; edited by Jake Shaver; music by Danny Cocke; production designer, Troy Spino; costume designer, David Tabbert; produced by Shawn Wallace; released by IGN.

Starring Agnes Albright (Mari), Jessica Clark (Hannah), Adam Sinclair (Alec), and James C. Burns (Sturgis).


Smiling Woman (2019, Alex Magaña)

Smiling Woman runs just under three minutes, which is too short. It needs at least another minute; frustratingly, the material’s already there, the film rushes through it. The establishing shots and the point of view shots from lead Ariel Fullinwider are too quick. Even though they're quick and don't invite scrutiny, they seem sped up. Smiling is in a hurry and it doesn't need to be.

Writer-director-producer-editor-cinematographer Magaña is good at almost everything the short tries. Magaña’s composition is good, the lighting is excellent, he directs Fullinwider well. The problem is entirely with the hurried pace and the abbreviated feel to the runtime.

Fullinwider is alone at a train station, waiting. All of a sudden she sees a creepy, smiling woman (Merlynda Sol) on the opposite platform. Then Sol vanishes when Fullinwider looks away. Then Fullinwider starts getting texts from an unknown source—it's so strange how, as technology advances, so do malevolent supernatural beings’ ability to manipulate it… if only boomers were as good with tech as ghosts. Eventually Fullinwider runs away, with Magaña fast forwarding a bit from the initially real-time pace.

Fullinwider’s good. She can handle the pace. Sol’s creepy but not annoyingly so. You never get too much Smiling Woman in Smiling Woman. The short needs to take its time, even if it's just for a good jump scare.

Magaña’s use of music—licensed stock stuff—is excellent but the music itself lacks personality. It's competent, generic scary music. Combined with the too short run time, the music turns Smiling into a great proof of concept for a commercial or something. Magaña’s enforced brevity tries to solve problems the short doesn't have.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written, produced, directed, edited, and photographed by Alex Magaña.

Starring Ariel Fullinwider (commuter) and Merlynda Sol (smiling woman).


The Most Insane Amusement Park Ever (2013, Mark Robertson)

The Most Insane Amusement Park Ever is about a New Jersey amusement park called Action Park, which opened in the late seventies and ran for twenty dangerous years—there were apparently six deaths and countless injuries (enabled by the owner running some kind of insurance scheme). The video has a mix of original commercials, interviews, and some recreations. Not sure where the recreations were shot (the park reopened under a different name, with most of the original rides gone, and an emphasis on not maiming customers).

Is it interesting? Not really, no. The filmmakers seemingly picked most of their interviewees for availability, not having any actual salient information about the park. For instance, not a single person interviewed seems to have ever been injured in the park, which is great for them and all, but they've got a particular kind of bias. They braved the park and survived.

Unlike the people who died.

It's unclear if they count the drownings in the six deaths, because when they're interviewing the current owner (and son of original owner), he makes it sound like there were a lot of drownings.

Concerning since he was a lifeguard at the time at the park.

Though apparently the park was just a good place for teenagers to get drunk and bully each other without any adults caring. Because teenagers ran all the rides, even though they weren't old enough.

Because cool. It made men out of all of them. Men who don't think there's anything wrong with rules and laws in place to prevent people from dying at amusement parks. Even skipping all the toxic masculinity stuff and even the fact it turns out to be a bad promotional video for the reopened park… there's also the incurious nature of the filmmakers. They got a former park manager on the phone; he and a law professor provide the more negative side of the park, but everyone else is a cheerleader for it. Yet, again, none of these people had any tragedies. So why not find someone who actually had a negative experience. Since those involved broken limbs and, you know, death.

Instead, there's the owner saying people need to get over themselves and embrace the nostalgia for getting drunk and spitting on people at the park.

It's a weird, limited, and draggy short.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Edited and directed by Mark Robertson; written by Seth Porges; produced by Robertson and Porges; released by Dailymotion.


Alien: Containment (2019, Chris Reading)

For the first few minutes—say, three of the short’s nine minute runtime—it seems like Alien: Containment is going to work out. The acting is good. Gaia Weiss is a fine lead, Theo Barklem-Biggs is an okay freaking out guy (he’s in an Alien movie, someone’s got to freak out), but Sharon Duncan-Brewster is fantastic as the Company scientist who knows more than she’s letting on. Even though the official plot description–Containment being an official “fan movie”—says there are four people, Adam Loxley is a red herring. He’s just there to throw everyone off the obvious plot twist.

That plot twist comes just after Barklem-Biggs has turned on the women in an unfortunate “might makes right” plot development. I had already been thinking about how all the dated technology in the Alien future looked kind of silly given the short is done with professional CGI and whatnot. But director Reading’s script is pre-1979 Alien dated; Barklem-Biggs gets to be in control, once he wants to be, because he can be more violent to the women than they can be to him. And then when Weiss gets made at Duncan-Brewster about something and calls her a “bitch,” well… there are appropriate ways to homage the original films and then there are cheap ways. Reading goes with cheap and inconsequential.

By the last third, the short’s used up all of its goodwill. The beginning, before Barklem-Biggs gets violent, has a lot of potential; for a few precious minutes, Containment seems like a great setup for its cast and characters. Then Reading’s writing ruins everything. His composition is fine (though the last shot is way too much, especially given the nine minute runtime) and his crew is solid—Howard Mills’s photography and Simon Porter’s music in particular—but Containment goes nowhere. It’s a big “why bother” by the end, a sentiment even the short seems to have.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Chris Reading; screenplay by Reading, based on characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Howard Mills; music by Simon Porter; production designer, Arthur de Borman; produced by Patch Ward; released by IGN.

Starring Gaia Weiss (Ward), Theo Barklem-Biggs (Nass), and Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Albrecht).


Alien: Alone (2019, Noah Miller)

Alien: Alone is one in a series of six “fan-made” but presumably Fox-funded Alien short films for the fortieth anniversary. Based on Alone, it doesn’t seem like Fox had a very high bar when it came to project proposals. Or at least they didn’t care how the shorts turned out, so long as the hook was good enough.

Alone feels very Alien. Joel Santos’s music uses (and almost uses) the old Jerry Goldsmith themes, Tom Wyman’s production design is very close to the original spaceship, Colin Jacobs’s cinematography makes it look like Alien. And writer-director Miller knows how to hit some of the franchise expectations.

The sole inhabitant of a derelict vessel is female, played by Taylor Lyons. She’s got some character reveals in the twelve minute runtime, with Miller doing a bunch of foreshadowing. He handles the reveal fine—and the few minutes after the reveal and before the pseudo-twist are easily the best of the short; Lyons goes from mediocre to okay to quite bad by the end. In those two minutes of post-reveal salad days, Lyons all of a sudden seems like she’s going to be able to pull off the part. She can’t, but mostly because the writing gets so bad at the end. It’s never great, but Miller’s got an interesting idea and can’t make it into twelve minutes. He can’t logic the story, he can’t make it fit with Alien “rules” either. So he just goes for the nonsense finish.

There’s some good CG space stuff with the ships. It’s amazing how easy it is, forty years after the original, to mimic its visuals with PCs.

I suppose Miller’s composition is good. Or at least fine. His direction, based on how he directs Lyons and James Paxton, is bad. At some point you just feel bad for Lyons, because there’s no reason her part should end up so stupidly thin. It’s a disappointment. Right after Alone seems like it might be worth it, it fails and then keeps failing; Miller forcibly dragging it down.

Makes you wonder what Fox gave the thumbs down.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Edited and directed by Noah Miller; screenplay by Miller, based on characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Colin Jacobs; music by Joel Santos; production designer, Tom Wyman; produced by Valerie Thueson; released by IGN.

Starring Taylor Lyons (Hope) and James Paxton (MacWhirr).


Sgt. Rock (2019, Bruce Timm)

Sgt. Rock is a bait and switch. But what’s got to be a pointless one. The bait is a fifteen minute “violent” Sgt. Rock cartoon with Karl Urban doing the voice. Only the character doesn’t get many lines and when he does, they’re usually barking orders lines. So basically it’s like Karl Urban doing the voice of an action figure. Could be a Sgt. Rock figure, could be a Judge Dredd figure, doesn’t matter. As far as delivering on Karl (“Make Dredd 2”) Urban as famous DC Comics WWII war comic Sgt. Rock? Fail.

Only it’s not some cartoon about Urban doing war things. It’s about the Creature Commandos. It’s a Creature Commandos cartoon. It should be called Sgt. Rock and the Creature Commandos. Maybe His Creature Commandos if you want to kick dirt at the competition but Rock doesn’t really have the gumption to kick dirt. And shouldn’t. The best thing about it is how writers Louise Simonson, Walter Simonson, and Tim Sheridan plot the big fight scene. Rock’s a really simple fifteen minutes—war battle scene, hospital and assignment, Creature Commandos reveal, Creature Commandos vs. Zombie Wehrmacht. There’s no character development, the Frankenstein Monster doesn’t get a line (or a direct name), the werewolf gets even less (though he’s scared of shadows), and vampire guy gets a name and a hiss. Oh, and Urban runs into his German nemesis, “The Iron Major” (William Salyers), because it’s a comic book.

As amusement, Sgt. Rock flops. Timm’s direction is lousy. The animation’s cheap and whatnot, but the direction’s lousy. Whenever Timm runs out of ideas, he does slow motion. There’s a lot of slow motion. As a pitch for a “feature” sequel, Rock flops. As a violent cartoon, Rock flops—there’s some creative violence, but the animation’s so cheap the impact’s all lost. As an encouragement to read Sgt. Rock comics, fail. As an encouragement to read Creature Commandos comics… incomplete. It’s feasible Rock could get one interested in the comics. I’m curious (though more because of the Commandos creative team).

As a reminder it’s sad there’s no Dredd 2? Well, on that level, Sgt. Rock might just be a success. But only if you lose interest enough to daydream.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Bruce Timm; screenplay by Louise Simonson, Walter Simonson, and Tim Sheridan, based on the DC Comics characters created by Robert Kanigher, Joe Kubert, J.M. DeMatteis, and Pat Broderick; edited by Christopher D. Lozinski; music by Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion, and Kristopher Carter; producer, Amy McKenna; released by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

Starring Karl Urban (Sgt. Rock), Keith Ferguson (Lt. Shreive), and William Salyers (The Iron Major).


Les surmenés (1958, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze)

Les surmenés answers the burning question: What if the French New Wave directors made a sitcom? In this sitcom, country girl Yane Barry comes to Paris. She’s won a typing contest, so she’s able to be a… typist, but she’s also engaged to her sister’s boss (Jean-Pierre Cassel), which is funny since they have no chemistry. Of course, she also doesn’t have any chemistry with Jean-Claude Brialy, who plays the other guy. She meets Brialy in the first scene, on the train ride in. Now, it’s not clear if Barry doesn’t have any chemistry with Cassel or Brialy because of some acting deficit because the short is committed to not letting her have any actual scenes. Either there’s narration explaining everything or Barry’s getting chastised for not being serious enough. Any scenes where she seems to have agency quickly turn into montage sequences.

See, Barry doesn’t want to live in Paris and not have any fun. She wants to live it up, all night, every night. Just like her brother-in-law (Jean Juillard) does. Excerpt Juillard is just working (he works nights and he’s addicted to that work). Barry’s addicted to partying. Cassel doesn’t want to party because he works. Will horny guy Brialy want to party with her?

Throw in a lot about Juillard working and his wife—Barry’s sister—Chantal de Rieux not liking him working all night and there’s the short. There’s not a lot to it. Certainly nothing dramatic and not much filmic either. The most creative thing in the film is the animated opening titles. I guess Jacques Letellier’s photography is fine, but director Doniol-Valcroze’s composition is (apparently intentionally) boring. Got to have the boring shots to make the montages work with the narration. But none of it actually works so… Les surmenés is just tedious. It doesn’t help the script—by François Truffaut, Michel Fermaud, and Doniol-Valcroze—is really hostile to Barry for some reason. Well, not some reason. It’s because Barry’s a young woman who wants to have fun in the big city. They could tell the exact same story, hit the same beats, same “emotional resonances” (quotations because no), and not be jerks about it.

I suppose the attitude does give the short some personality. Unpleasant personality, but personality; nothing else in it has any.

Wait—except Georges Delerue’s music, which starts fun and ends up being a sitcom score.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Doniol-Valcroze; written by François Truffaut, Michel Fermaud, and Doniol-Valcroze; director of photography, Jacques Letellier; edited by Marinette Cadix, Albert Jurgenson, and Francine Vainer; music by Georges Delerue; produced by Pierre Braunberger for Films de la Pléiade.

Starring Yane Barry (Catherine), Jean-Pierre Cassel (Bernard), Chantal de Rieux (Solange), Jean Juillard (Étienne), and Jean-Claude Brialy (Jimmy); narrated by Monique Chaumette.


Une histoire d’eau (1961, François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard)

Une histoire d’eau has a sense of humor, which ought to do it some favors, but none of the humor connects. The short, which co-director Truffaut apparently intended to be a romance, is instead this rushed, peculiar… blathering would be the best word for it, I think. D’Eau is about college student Caroline Dim trying to get to Paris for class. Only it’s the seasonal mountain thaw and there’s massive flooding so she can’t take the bus in. After a series of mildly amusing traveling on the flood waters to get to school—there’s a boat, there’s a bicyclist—Dim hitches a ride with Jean-Claude Brialy. Now, Brialy shows up in the narration—opposite Dim—only it’s co-director and editor Godard doing the voice. It doesn’t make much difference, Brialy’s character doesn’t get enough narration it’d be good if someone better than Godard were doing it. Given Godard edited the short and co-wrote it, the narration seems his contribution. So when he doesn’t even give any enthusiasm to his performance of said narration… well, it’s not a good sign.

Of course, worse is how Godard edits d’eau. He cuts in other footage of the flood from a helicopter, which would be fine but then accompanies it with some silly, jazzy music. There’s no rhythm to the cuts and especially none to the sped up film he eventually goes with. At one point Dim and Brialy are walking across a flooded marshy area and Godard sets it to a dance number. Only they’re not dancing. And even if they were doing physical activities reminding of dancing, he cuts it together all wrong. It’s kind of amazing how little Godard seems to care about the short.

Later on they do stop and do an official dance, which is utterly charmless.

The last bit, when Dim reads off the credits in her narration, is all right. Not enough to make d’eau worthwhile, but it’s all right. And the short’s only twelve minutes and the flood footage is compelling. Nothing else about the short is compelling and no doubt a natural documentarian would do a better job, but the flood’s something at least.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard; director of photography, Michel Latouche; edited by Godard; produced by Pierre Braunberger; released by Unidex.

Starring Caroline Dim (The Young Woman) and Jean-Claude Brialy (The Young Man); narrated by Jean-Luc Godard.


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