Category Archives: Not Recommended

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.


RELATED

Advertisements

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).


RELATED

Harvest (1953, James Sheldon)

Dorothy Gish isn’t just top-billed in Harvest, host (and narrator) Robert Montgomery introduces the episode hyping her presence. So it’s a tad disappointing when it turns out Gish gets less and less to do throughout the hour-long television play. When she does get things to do, they happen off-screen. Instead of giving her an arc, writer Sandra Michael actually takes away from Gish in the third act, giving time to a newly introduced character.

It might be okay if there were something more interesting going on, but there’s really not. Most of Harvest has to do with nonagenarian Vaughn Taylor preparing for his one hundredth birthday. Mentally preparing, not party-planning. Taylor’s in a bunch of makeup and sort of dodders around, talking too loud about how grandson James Dean isn’t going to take over the family farm.

Dean gets a lot to do. He’s in love with city girl Rebecca Welles, who just can’t understand why he’d want to stay on that smelly old farm anyway. Dad Ed Begley doesn’t know Dean doesn’t want to be a farmer–writer Michael knows Begley and Dean ought to have some scenes together because the characters have things to talk about, but Harvest skips every single one of those conversations. Instead, Begley either tells Gish or Taylor he’s talked to Dean.

The action takes place around the house, specifically the kitchen, occasionally the front porch. Harvest takes some side trips–into the city, out into the field, 1,000 miles away to check in on Gish and Begley’s other sons–but it’s mostly just the kitchen. Where Gish prepares coffee, Begley sits silently, Dean sits jittery, and Taylor dodders.

Harvest doesn’t take any of its characters seriously enough. If it’s going to be about homesteader turned farmer Taylor turning one hundred and watching his family farm collapse, the writing needs to be better and a better actor needs to be playing the part. Director Sheldon doesn’t do much with his actors, but no one’s anywhere near as problematic as Taylor. While Begley is mostly scenery (which is almost better than when he gets lines because Michael writes them so poorly), he’s better than Taylor’s “best” scenes.

Dean’s okay. Harvest cuts away from his character development just as it gets interesting. Gish is okay. She really doesn’t have anything to do but make coffee in a percolator but she does it with a level of engagement far beyond anyone else. Begley looks lost.

Welles is pretty bad.

Montgomery’s narration is obnoxious, but no worse than the frequent choir singing reminding the viewer how blessed are the starving farmers and aren’t they quaint. Keep hope alive for tomorrow is Harvest’s motto (or some such thing). Instead, it seems like the television play just wants to avoid responsibility for its content.

Sheldon’s direction–outside his lack of interest in the performances–is fine. Harvest never feels cramped, one primary set or not.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by James Sheldon; written by Sandra Michael; produced by Robert Montgomery; aired by the National Broadcast Company.

Starring Dorothy Gish (Ellen Zalinka), Ed Begley (Karl Zalinka), Vaughn Taylor (Gramps), James Dean (Paul Zalinka), Rebecca Welles (Arlene), John Connell (Chuck), John Dennis (Joe), Joseph Foley (Herb), Nancy Sheridan (Louise), Mary Lou Taylor (Fran), and Frank Tweddell (Mr. Franklin); narrated by Robert Montgomery.


RELATED

A Long Time Till Dawn (1953, Richard Dunlap)

A Long Time Till Dawn is usually able to keep disbelief completely suspended. It’s a television play and Rod Serling’s teleplay is more ambitious than the budget or the constraints of the medium. Most of the sets are interiors and fine–a diner, a living room, a bedroom. They can even get away with a front porch, though it is where Dawn stretches its visible credulity the most.

The porch scenes are also a stretch due to Ted Osborne’s performance. Osborne is just a small town man. His daughter-in-law (Naomi Riordan) has suddenly come to live with him, running away from New York City, back to small town New Jersey. It just happens she leaves New York the day before her husband (James Dean) gets out of a six-month stint in prison.

Riordan’s timing never gets discussed. It’s apparently just narrative efficency, not her trying to hide from Dean. Though when Rudolf Weiss, playing Dean and Riordan’s kindly New York neighbor (a delicatessan owner), tells Dean about Riordan leaving it’s like a) she doesn’t want Dean to know where she went and b) she’s been gone a while.

Weiss tells Dean about Riordan’s departure just after copper Robert F. Simon has stopped by the diner to warn Dean not to become a repeat offender.

So of course Dean has to beat up Weiss to find out where Riordan has gone. Then he heads home to Osborne and Riordan’s dread and hope. Simon follows soon after to investigate Weiss’s assault. Because even though everyone can just drop everything and go to small town New Jersey, Dean and Riordan never did it before Dean’s small time crook phase.

From the dialogue, it seems like that phase was about a sixth of the three years Dean and Riordan spent in New York. Serling’s teleplay has very, very little logic going for it. Ditto Dunlap’s direction (the finale has Osborne talking about some character who was just onscreen but Dawn forgot to take notice).

At its best, Dunlap’s direction is utterly mediocre. More often it’s a problem. Dean’s excellent, Simon’s excellent, Weiss is excellent. Riordan is okay. Osborne is not. He gets these lengthy monologues and he clutches the melodrama heartstrings so tightly their effectiveness withers.

Up until the third act, though, it really seems like Dawn is going to make it. But it doesn’t. The third act set pieces are poorly executed–thanks to Dunlap and the budget–and Serling’s denouement, largely thanks to Osborne, is a fail.

It’s a shame. Dean’s phenomenal, even when the writing is a little weak. When it’s more than a little weak, not even he can do anything with it (not with Dunlap’s direction “aiding” him), but his performance is mostly great. Simon also makes a lot out of his part. Serling gives the characters a lot of texture–except Osborne, which is bad–and Simon takes advantage.

A Long Time Till Dawn needs a better director, a better performance in the Osborne part, and a few rewrites.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Dunlap; written by Rod Serling; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring James Dean (Joe Harris), Ted Osborne (Fred Harris), Naomi Riordan (Barbie), Robert F. Simon (Lt. Case), and Rudolf Weiss (Poppa Golden).


RELATED