Category Archives: Short

Familiar Strangers (2020, Murat Sayginer)

Once the technology gets better, something like Familiar Strangers is going to be disturbing as all hell. Director Sayginer has created a bunch of heads, using deep-fake technology to look like various famous celebrities (Maggie Gyllenhaal and Luke Evans are the most spot on), and the top row moves one way, the bottom row moves the other way and you’re just seeing these disembodied, familiar heads look out.

Some of them look at you and gently smile—everyone’s in a great mood and seeing approximately 250 idyllic looking people smile at you is a nice feeling. Do you forget they’re computer generated? No, because the level of realism isn’t quite there yet. It’s movie stars rendered as happy video game characters. It’s not real. Yet.

Even stranger than the sensation of the “people” looking at you is the sensation of them not. Some of the heads don’t look out at the viewer, they look out at something else. So you’re waiting for the computer-generated Keanu Reeves to look at you and he doesn’t (I actually can’t remember this one for sure; Strangers has a high rewatch value if you’re trying to find you’re favorites; I forgot the second time through to see all the Chrises together). But you feel bad if you don’t get the “eye contact” and the smile.

Perfect musical accompaniment from Bach. I hope Sayginer keeps going with this kind of exploration; heck, I hope he comes back to it once artificial face generation is further along. Not being able to exactly recognize the stars would be better.

Also, a lot of them look just like Mackenzie Astin, which is very odd and seems to say more about Astin (and me for recognizing him in all these CGI faces) than anything Sayginer’s done. Like, I don’t think Mackenzie Astin made the cut for model inclusion here. He’s just apparently got the face Sayginer’s computer wanted to render.

Open the pod bay doors and so on.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Murat Sayginer.


A Terrible Night (1896, Georges Méliès)

A Terrible Night had me exclaiming, “Holy shit,” when the giant bug appeared. Or when it started moving. I’m not sure if it’s always in the shot. I’m resisting the urge to go and check.

The short is short—a minute—and one of director Méliès single shot films. He appears in the film as well, a fellow with a distinct proboscis settling in for the night. Once he’s got himself tucked in, a gigantic bug starts crawling up the bed and then onto the wall. Méliès’s sleeper is prepared with a flyswatter of sorts, but then it turns out there might be other bugs around.

Night captures the very human terror of a bug interrupting sleep, exaggerating it with the bug’s size; the special effects are limited—you’re so busy watching Méliès scramble to get the flyswatter, the bug gets from bed to wall almost instantaneously—but the simplicity of the bug’s movement makes it all the worse. It’s very hard not to ascribe intention to the bug and its movement, a certain disturbing malice.

Méliès’s instinct with the makeup—the nose is obviously fake—is good too. He’s concentrating the viewer’s attention throughout the frame, both with moving and non-moving parts. It’s very cool stuff.

The only thing wrong with Terrible Night is it isn’t long enough. Méliès does such fine work in the first minute, you’d love to see what he could come up with in a second one.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Georges Méliès; released by Star-Film.


Batman: Dead End (2003, Sandy Collora)

Batman: Dead End goes far in validating the idea of cosplay as successful costuming for film—well, not Andrew Koenig’s Joker—but definitely the Batman outfit. Costume designer Michael MacFarlane, cinematographer Vincent E. Toto, and director Collora do figure out a way to do a “comics accurate” (if you’re reading comics illustrated by Alex Ross) Batman costume.

Shame about Collora’s dialogue, Clark Bartram’s less than impressive performance as Batman, Koenig’s performance and appearance, and the bland fight choreography. Dead End ends up being a find proof-of-concept for a Batman vs. Predator vs. Aliens project once Disney buys DC Comics and Warner Bros., but the “first act” (it’s not even six minutes, with two minutes of end credits to beef up the runtime), which has lots of comic-inspired imagery with Batman, shows why it’s not a great idea to use that imagery on film.

At least, not when you’re on a low budget and your music is cribbed together from Alien³, Predator, and Danny Elfman Batman.

Also the radio news reports of Joker’s escape are way too pedestrian. Dead End looks really good with the Batman, the Predators, the Aliens (not the Koenig Jokers), but it’s just the costumes and the photography. Otherwise, it’s not a successful production. Even Toto’s cinematography has its limits. He’s able to shoot the costumes, but when Collora tries to do a showy establishing shot—there’s a particularly bad one of Batman’s cape “oozing” as Bartram stands up from a jump—Toto can’t make it work. He’s not a miracle worker.

If it were a bunch of great fight scenes, Dead End would at least be entertaining. It ends about two minutes after it starts feeling really silly and the long end credits are a relief.

But, hey, good costuming.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Sandy Collora; director of photography, Vincent E. Toto; edited by Toby Divine; production designer, Collora; costume designer, Michael MacFarlane.

Starring Clark Bartram (Batman) and Andrew Koenig (The Joker).


We’re With the Army Now (1943, Jean Negulesco)

We’re With the Army Now is somewhat inexplicably a rarity. It’s a Warner Bros. “training short” for the Army (during World War II) but in the public domain. It’s got no IMDb entry, no Google results outside a citation from Doug McClelland’s Eleanor Parker: Woman of a Thousand Faces book… yet it’s available on archive.org and YouTube. The book’s got a seemingly accurate cast list, so McClelland got his information from somewhere… but that somewhere hasn’t been digitized. Or isn’t available digitized anymore.

Anyway.

Most of Army appears to be documentary stock footage. Some of the action-packed shots might be from a Warner Bros. movie, but a lot of it is definitely real-life stuff. The short’s all about the establishing of the Woman’s Army Corps (WAC) and women from all walks of life joining the service so the Army men can do the important thing, be cannon fodder.

Now, since these training shorts were intended for Army consumption and not the general public, the jingoistic narration probably could use some thorough unpacking (the description of U.S. involvement in World War II as deciding the “nation’s destiny” is a little weird), as well as how the narration tries to appeal to women—you get new clothes to wear! Women are good drivers and mechanics too! But their real talent is at switchboards! Also this woman’s army lets ladies lie about their weight plus and minus fifteen pounds!

But the original narrative material is its own thing. The short follows four very different women through their basic training. There’s lead Nina Foch (lead because she gets the most close-ups). She’s the receptionist good girl. There’s Faye Emerson, she’s the slutty shopgirl. Ann Shoemaker is the motherly one (two sons in the war already) who has to lose weight to join. She gets a first and last name though, which is more than almost anyone else gets. Finally, there’s Eleanor Parker as the college girl.

I mean, you almost want to see a movie where Foch, Emerson, Shoemaker, and Parker are all basic training buds, even though none of the material in the film is good and it’s often cringe-y (at one point Emerson seems to be shaming Parker for being in college), but they’re all likable at least.

Negulesco’s direction is adequate, I guess. There’s nothing he’s got to do outside try to match a couple of the dramatization shots with documentary footage. It’s not heavy lifting.

I’m very curious about why We’re With the Army Now is somehow lost to history while still being extant but as the short itself is fairly superfluous. Outside seeing future stars slumming it in an Army training film.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Jean Negulesco; produced by Gordon Hollingshead; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Nina Foch (the receptionist), Faye Emerson (the shopgirl), Ann Shoemaker (the mother), Eleanor Parker (the college student), and Marjorie Hoshelle (the sergeant).