Category Archives: 2019

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).


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Battle at Big Rock (2019, Colin Trevorrow)

Battle at Big Rock is a reminder the Jurassic Park Franchise Part 2 isn’t over yet. It’s a suspenseful nine minutes where director Trevorrow puts the preserving lead characters in danger—a family, of course—culminating in an allosaurus about to eat a baby. There’s also the precocious kid Melody Hurd, who’s a caricature but it doesn’t matter because Hurd’s so good, which is kind of the whole thing with Big Rock. It’s marketing, but it’s well-executed marketing. It’s the promise of R-rated danger with at most PG-13 ratings. It lionizes parents to the point they should be empowered enough to bring the whole family to the next movie because of its positive messages. And it’s not like dinosaurs are real, they’re not going to eat a baby out of its crib. We can just pretend.

And it does a great job of it. Dad André Holland and Mom Natalie Martinez are perfectly good movie parents for a terrifying short about dinosaurs getting up higher than they’re supposed to be (two years since Holland and Martinez Brady Bunched, presumably because of dead spouses)—oh, it’s like A Quiet Place. Oh. That’s dumb.

Whatever. Both Holland and Martinez are fine. Once Trevorrow reassures they’re not going to be running scenes without dinosaurs too long.

Things get scary, they get desperate, then they get silly. And all of a sudden, you get an imagine of the next Jurassic World movie and you wonder if somehow Universal is trying to make itself pretty for Disney.

But it’s all well-executed. Larry Fong’s photography, Stephen M. Rickert Jr.’s editing, it feels like Jurassic Park enough. Like a good Jurassic Park commercial. Amie Doherty’s “just pretend I’m John Williams” music is good too. It’s like homage; soullessly corporate homage but… whatever, it’s nine minutes. If the ending didn’t cheap out it’d be actually good. As is… it’s not bad.

So it’s technically, if unenthusiastically,

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Colin Trevorrow; screenplay by Emily Carmichael and Trevorrow, based on a novel by Michael Crichton; director of photography, Larry Fong; edited by Stephen M. Rickert Jr.; music by Amie Doherty; production designer, Tom Conroy; produced by Frank Marshall and Patrick Crowley; aired by FX.

Starring André Holland (Dennis), Natalie Martinez (Mariana), Melody Hurd (Kadasha), and Pierson Salvador (Mateo).


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).


The Flying Fish (2019, Murat Sayginer)

It’s a little hard to describe The Flying Fish. At least without describing it in relation to other things. It’s what happens when Dr. Manhattan leaves, it’s a Boris Vallejo sexy robot painting turned into a movie, it’s like if early nineties POV-Ray renders looked real, it’s… It’s often breathtaking. Fish is all CG, with different “scenes” connected through music, editing, and—occasionally—a luminescent flying fish.

Director, animator, editor, contributing composer Sayginer has some recurring motifs. Third eyes, pyramids, Garden of Eden, Jesus, Venus—she gets Terminator arms, it’s awesome—skeletons, Greco-Roman stuff (gods, statues, architecture), and probably some other stuff. The film opens with these rounded stones “sculpting.” Their material is this whirl of small flying mirrors (it’s probably necessary to know how 3D modeling works, at least in the basics, to appreciate Sayginer’s abilities, but it adds a nice layer—there’s some really impressive work in Fish). Back to the stones. They sculpt this head, the head goes on to somewhere else, then turns into a constellation, then there’s something with the third eye, then Dr. Manhattan shows up. It’s a lot of imagery, impressively executed.

It’s a shame: CG artists do these amazing, wacky creations then go on to be in charge of Captain America’s belt buckle consistency and what not. “I loved in your reel when you had the space aliens looking at the Jesus statue, do you think you can make sure Iron Man’s left buttcheek armor stays consistent throughout the scene?”

These folks are not getting to go all out.

Flying Fish is solidly all out. There are the occasional “eh” moments, but it’s not like they’re not rendered well. I’m thinking of the tank, which is impressive, but doesn’t fit. Especially not when it could’ve been tied into the rather successful White male soldiers saluting a headless businessman in front of a pyramid in the Middle East; behind the businessman is a field of caskets.

Usually any “eh” is related to the people. Sayginer doesn’t render many, but they never work out. Their movement too. He’s got an amazing dancer though and you want to watch them do a whole set, so clearly he’s got the movement down… but not in the other scenes. I think it also stands out because CGing humans is the last hurdle and going for it doesn’t always seem prudent. Especially not when you’ve got so much other good stuff going on.

Flying Fish runs a fast twenty minutes and is rather cool. Especially if you haven’t seen a POV-Ray render since 1995. Though it does make you wish someone had hired Sayginer in time to make the CG in Wonder Woman look better. He does Greco-Roman sky fighting and well.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Written, produced, and directed by Murat Sayginer; music by Sayginer, Jochen Mader, and Onur Tarcin.


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