Category Archives: Recommended

The Farm (1938, Humphrey Jennings)

For some reason, The Farm completely ditches what had been a very good sense of humor for the last minute or two. It runs twelve minutes. Losing the humor’s kind of rough, especially since there’s nothing to replace it, just the end of the short. It’s like Farm starts winding down too soon, never really getting around to the point.

The short’s this lovely color look at life on the farm. But the first half is the animals’ lives on the farm, not really the people. They get to the people, but they’re nowhere near as interesting as adorable sheep and piglets and cows and whatever. Director Jennings has a wonderful sense of timing. He knows exactly how long to hold the shot, which he’s also composed rather well. Jennings’s profile shots of the animals are awesome. They’re expository but never pragmatic. They’re patient. Jennings gives the audience time to digest what they see, even if the narration always moves too fast to catch the actual day’s lesson of “What’s Life Like on a British Farm.” And, oh, let’s be proud of our farmers as they feed us—there’s no sense of the farmer in the rugged American individualist sense, which is interesting—and also lets not think about the war. Don’t mention the war.

The weirdest thing about the war comment, which is a real thing in The Farm, look at this tranquility; it’s all forgotten now, let's hear no more about the war—the weirdest thing about it is how the comment comes in the first part, the cute animals we’re going to kill and eat part. The second part, the wheat harvest, is six months later. And there’s no mention of the war in it, even though presumably some time has passed. So the war comment is just this narration flourish. It’s very weird.

The Farm’s pretty—the color is gorgeous—and short enough it’s never boring; so a fairly interesting look into 1938 British farming. The direction’s better in the first half than the second half, in terms of composition. Jennings does better with the piglets playing than the afternoon tea break, even though it’s a trip to see the women come out with a picnic—every work day, according to the film—and serve their men tea and crackers. You’d think the narration would be funny about it—given how the jokes in the first half are Groucho Marx-y—but no. Not funny. Still a good short, beautifully photographed, just… not as funny as it clearly could’ve been.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Humphrey Jennings; produced by Adrian Klein; released by Dufay-Chromex Limited.


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Peter’s To-Do List (2019, Jon Watts)

Peter's To-Do List is some next level lazy. It’s an “all-new” short film included on the Spider-Man: Far From Home home video releases. It’s actually just a montage mostly cut from the movie; better yet, the footage also appears in the deleted scenes section of the disc. There are no opening titles, no end credits, nothing new.

But it’s a good montage. It’s not like it’s at all bad, it’s well-made, It’s funny, it moves well. It’s just not “all-new.”

And it’s not particularly essential. Or even inessential. The important stuff from List do appear in the movie proper, so it’s just like… why. Well, I get why—Sony has a long history of aggrandizing deleted scenes to create special features (including extended versions of the movie made without filmmaker involvement, just reinserting deleted scenes).

Where To-Do List is… potentially interesting is in its positioning and promotion. “All-New Short Film” is a claim and a promise. To-Do List fails the claim but maybe not the promise. It’s Tom Holland being adorable as he goes around trying to get ready for the Far From Home part of the movie. He’s got a list of errands to run, culminating in taking down a bunch of gangsters. That sequence is rather good—and it’s impressive to see how, even in under four minutes, Holland and the filmmakers are able to maintain this consistent tone between Holland’s mundane tasks and his technologically accelerated fisticuffs with bad guys.

Tack on some titles, some credits (which would be difficult, I imagine, because then they might owe residuals), To-Do List would almost be “all-new.” With the right titles and credits anyway.

It’s even lazier than the old “Marvel One-Shots,” which was a series of short home video exclusives mostly made out of cut scenes and Clark Gregg shooting inserts. That series eventually got better. But I don’t think even the laziest one was as lazy as To-Do List.

I mean, technically it’s Recommended but only because it’s an incomplete. Hell, throw on a teaser for the rest of the movie and it’s basically a concept trailer. Instead, it’s a short mid-quel (defined by Petrana Radulovic as “side adventures taking place during the events of the original film”), just made out of cut footage….

So lazy.

But an amusing three and a half minutes.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Jon Watts; screenplay by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, based on the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, Matthew J. Lloyd; edited by Dan Lebental and Leigh Folsom Boyd; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Claude Paré; produced by Amy Pascal and Kevin Feige; released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Starring Tom Holland (Peter Parker), Jacob Batalon (Ned), and Hemky Madera (Delmar).


The Bells of Cockaigne (1953, James Sheldon)

The Bells at Cockaigne plays it very safe. It’s an inspirational “play for television” about lovable old Irishman in the U.S. Gene Lockhart daydreaming about winning an apparently still legal in 1953 numbers racket the newspapers run. Lockhart’s going to use the money to go home to Ireland and his little village one last time.

Lockhart sounds like he’s doing an ad read for a leprechaun. He really goes crazy with the accent. It’s not good, but it’s also not offensively bad. It’s a tolerable bad accent.

Now, Lockhart’s top-billed but the Bells is actually all about young kid (kid meaning late teens, maybe early twenties) James Dean who’s got a sick baby daughter and no money. He and wife Donalee Marans need a miracle but they’re not getting any so Dean’s going to play poker with his coworkers after they get paid. Oh, right, it’s payday. Vaughn Taylor’s the paymaster. He talks to Lockhart a lot.

It’s all very predictable and very positive. There’s nothing to it. Except Dean. Dean’s performance has these transcendent moments, where for a minute it’s not obviously a nonsense bit of positivity to play to a Christian nation in 1953. Where it’s actually Dean playing this part. Young, naive, out of his depth. Bells finds some honesty, thanks to Dean, when it’s not even looking for it.

Lockhart’s fine. Taylor’s not as good as Lockhart but only bad a couple times. Marans isn’t good. You really don’t watch this one and think the director did very much to help his actors with their performances. For Marans, it matters. Probably for Taylor too. Not Lockhart. Definitely not Dean. Watching Dean at the poker game, where he’s got the nervous active style going opposite all the comparatively motionless stiffs… it’s something.

The Bells of Cockaigne succeeds, despite having no ambitions at such a thing, and it’s all thanks to Dean. And it not being particularly bad in any way.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by James Sheldon; written by George Lowther; “Armstrong Circle Theatre” sponsored by Armstrong World Industries; music by Harold Levey; produced by Hudson Faucett; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Gene Lockhart (Pat), Vaughn Taylor (Jonesy), James Dean (Joey Frasier), Donalee Marans (Margie Frasier), John Dennis (Rivnock), and Karl Lukas (Kreuger).


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).