Category Archives: Not Recommended

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).


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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.


RECENTLY

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).