All posts by Andrew Wickliffe

Atom Man vs. Superman (1950, Spencer Gordon Bennet), Chapter 9: Superman Crashes Through

There’s a lot going on in Superman Crashes Through, starting with some power company guys beating up on the Atom Man’s thugs. The power company guys are out on a call about an explosion in the cave base. But when the cops get there (again), it’s empty (again).

It seems like another of the serial’s logic oversights, but then later on Pierre Watkin is talking with Kirk Alyn about it. Lex Luthor (Lyle Talbot) really is teleporting his equipment out of the cave and then back again. Why no one stakes out the cave–not just the police (who are always off screen in Atom Man vs. Superman) but maybe Superman? Only no. Alyn’s got more important things to do.

Like get Noel Neill fired. She’s happy with it–happy enough it seems like a plot twist waiting to be revealed–and goes to get a job at Talbot’s television station.

But before Neill can get fired, Watkin has to be wrong about something else (he’s majorly wrong twice in Crashes) and Alyn has to trick Talbot into reopening the dimensional portal. It’s not a particularly exciting escape for Superman, but it does get the serial moving again.

It’s nice to see Neill do something different. Though Alyn gets something different too; he gloats about Neill losing her job and teases her at her new one. After it was his fault she got fired.

Alyn’s a bit of a jackass here, which probably explains why he and Tommy Bond get on so well in this chapter.

Bond gets the cliffhanger, foolishly chasing down thugs by himself. So he deserves getting it. He doesn’t deserve the cliffhanger’s silliness however. Atom Man vs. Superman’s cliffhangers all seem to have been left laying in the Kryptonite too long.

CREDITS

Directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet; screenplay by George H. Plympton, Joseph F. Poland, and David Matthews, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Ira H. Morgan; edited by Earl Turner; produced by Sam Katzman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Kirk Alyn (Superman / Clark Kent), Noel Neill (Lois Lane), Lyle Talbot (Luthor), Tommy Bond (Jimmy Olsen), Pierre Watkin (Perry White), Jack Ingram (Foster), Don C. Harvey (Albor), Paul Stader (Lawson), George Robotham (Earl), and Fred Kelsey (Police Chief Forman).


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Ident (1990, Richard Starzak)

Ident is an unpleasant five minutes. Intentionally unpleasant. Even the dog is unpleasant, but mostly because the protagonist finds the dog unpleasant. The protagonist is unpleasant himself; the dog seems mostly innocent.

The short is claymation and takes place in a labyrinthine city. It’s not clear it’s a city for a while, it just seems like a labyrinth where the protagonist–a tall rounded cylinder (the design of the people gives them all Picasso eyes, like they’re looking straight from the side of their “heads”)–wandering around. But then it’s clear he’s got a job, acquaintances, a life. Of course, life mostly consists of wearing masks around some people and not around others. And changing the masks.

Maybe the best thing director and animator Starzak does is imply some depth and symbolism the short doesn’t actually have. So the narrative isn’t as important the mood. And the mood is very, very dark. The protagonist some spends his time terrified, in search of a way to cover his face; he spends some his time drunk, in search of a way to change his face;Ident no doubt is short for “identity”–or otherwise disguise himself.

Then at the end he finds his way out into a new, open world. But not really open because it’s still a set.

Starzak makes a disquieting short, no doubt, with some distinctive stop motion animation. There’s just nothing to it. And distinctive claymation isn’t necessarily good claymation. There are a few neat visuals but nothing worth sitting through the rest.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Animated and directed by Richard Starzak; written by Starzak, Arthur Smith, and Phil Nice; director of photography, Dave Alex Riddett; edited by David McCormick; music by Stuart Gordon; produced by Sara Mullock.

Starring Arthur Smith and Phil Nice.


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Atom Man vs. Superman (1950, Spencer Gordon Bennet), Chapter 8: Into the Empty Doom!

Maybe I was wrong about the desk swapping in the earlier chapters. Into the Empty Doom! is mostly a Daily Planet chapter–mostly Noel Neill’s chapter too–and she looks very comfortable at the desk I was sure used to be Kirk Alyn’s.

Both Clark Kent and Superman have disappeared–though Superman pops up occasionally as an immaterial ghost who can’t figure out why he’s unable to fight crime. Again, Superman being a doofus is really a hindrance to the serial. He doesn’t have some plan to stop Lyle Talbot’s scheme–the cliffhanger resolution leads directly into Talbot sending the Kryptonite groggy Alyn Into the Empty Doom. I thought Talbot’s plan was to teleport Alyn into outer space and atomize him, but apparently turning him into a ghost was intentional. At least based on Talbot’s later super-villain bragging (while in his Atom Man outfit).

Much of Neill’s time at the Planet is spent arguing with boss Pierre Watkin about writing a “Clark Kent is Superman”–the staff has figured, since Kent has disappeared too, he must be Superman. She eventually acquiesces, hoping Tommy Bond can convince Watkin otherwise.

Bond’s real annoying this chapter. He’s just hanging around and whining a bit, plus there’s a throwaway condescending moment about Neill’s electric typewriter being unplugged. It seems like it’s going to go somewhere, but no, it’s just Bond showing Neill she’s not so smart.

Also: the story confirms Talbot is in the same hidden cave base as before. He didn’t move anything. The filmmakers forgot the cops supposedly raided the place.

Still, it’s a decent chapter for Neill and she hasn’t had many. Besides the Planet stuff, facing off with Watkin, she also gets a great moment at the cliffhanger. It’s not a good cliffhanger–though there are at least explosions. Alyn’s occasional ghost appearances aren’t dramatic so much as frustrating. He’s such a doofus.

CREDITS

Directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet; screenplay by George H. Plympton, Joseph F. Poland, and David Matthews, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Ira H. Morgan; edited by Earl Turner; produced by Sam Katzman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Kirk Alyn (Superman / Clark Kent), Noel Neill (Lois Lane), Lyle Talbot (Luthor), Tommy Bond (Jimmy Olsen), Pierre Watkin (Perry White), Jack Ingram (Foster), Don C. Harvey (Albor), Paul Stader (Lawson), George Robotham (Earl), and Fred Kelsey (Police Chief Forman).


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The Good Time Girls (2017, Courtney Hoffman)

The most disconcerting thing about The Good Time Girls is the dialogue. The short opens with this solid, distinct narration from Laura Dern. Director (and writer) Hoffman goes for lyrical shots but not visuals; Autumn Durald’s photography isn’t dull so much as shallow… to the point you wonder if the filters were just set wrong in post-production. But Dern’s narration carries it. Right up until the action moves into the remote brothel.

Hoffman’s shots outside, even with contrary photography, are all precisely composed. Inside, not so much. Especially not since it opens with all the women sitting around listening to one sing a song on a banjo. And then Hoffman’s lack of performance direction starts to become clear. No one really looks like they’ve ever sat and listened to her play her banjo before. Pretty soon Q’orianka Kilcher takes a drag off a cigarette and it doesn’t seem like she’s ever smoked a cigarette before. All that attention to visual outside, it doesn’t come inside.

Turns out Dern and some of the girls are actually in the brothel to exact vengeance on some brothel regulars. The madam, Dana Gourrier (who gets terrible dialogue, but the performance is painful), is an accomplice but not invested in it.

Dern’s okay. Mostly. More when she’s acting opposite Garret Dillahunt, as the lead bad guy. Everyone else needs more direction. Even Alia Shawkat, who at first seems like she doesn’t, but then has this banter thing going on and it’s a fail. Extreme long shot banter.

Hoffman’s timing is off in just about every scene. Good Time Girls drags and is only about thirteen minutes of actual movie. There are long credits. Also the various visual homages to Westerns play incongruous. They distract, which is both good and bad. The film initially implies it’s going to be really dark, but then there are various relief valves throughout and it avoids verisimilitude for anachronistic comic relief.

Maybe if it all added up, the thin script, the exceptionally problematic interior direction, and the shaky performances wouldn’t matter. But it doesn’t. It just wastes Dern’s narration.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Courtney Hoffman; screenplay by Hoffman and Lucy Teitler, based on a story by Hoffman; director of photography, Autumn Durald; edited by Julie Garces; music by Will Patterson; production designer, Florencia Martin; produced by Jordana Mollick; released by Refinery29.

Starring Laura Dern (Clementine), Annalise Basso (Ellie), Alia Shawkat (Ruth), Q’orianka Kilcher (Myra), Dana Gourrier (Ada), and Garret Dillahunt (Rufus Black).


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