Category Archives: Not Recommended

The Frontier Experience (1975, Barbara Loden)

The strange thing about The Frontier Experience is how it’s really bad with exposition for an educational film. Watching it, you can imagine an accompanying quiz and if the filmmakers do acknowledge the potential test question instead of just ignoring it, they treat the plot point or detail like a secret. I’m sure if I’d watched Frontier Experience is third or fourth grade I’d have gotten a C on the quiz. Though I don’t think I got Cs in third or fourth grade; I wouldn’t have failed, but I wouldn’t have gotten everything. Because it’s often easy to zone out during the film. It’s blandly American exceptionalism with some period specific details and sympathetic characters.

Even if none of the performances are particularly good. Except Phyllis McNeely as the kindly neighbor woman who likes having another woman living around even though it doesn’t end up meaning anything other than the exposition dump. How many women live in a ten mile radius besides McNeely and lead (and director and producer) Loden… A, 3, B, 2, or C, none. But McNeely’s good. In her scene and a quarter.

Frontier doesn’t have any opening titles, at least not with credits, so I wasn’t sure if Loden also directed the short or also wrote the short (in addition to starring in it). I thought it was writing, which seemed to make sense as the directing often sabotages Loden’s performance. Frontier Experience has a (light) handful of artistic ambitions. For example, Loden tries to do a fun footrace thing but doesn’t shoot it well. So it seems like she wouldn’t have directed it, because nothing seems to be in sync. But no, Loden did direct; Joan Micklin Silver wrote the script, which starts a lot better than it finishes. Including with the diary entries Loden’s writing as time moves on. Frontier starts with her moving out to Kansas with her family to homestead. The husband’s Roger Hoffman. He’s a man with dreams, the expository dialogue to convey them, but not the performance to make them interesting. There are a lot of wanting performances in the film. Educational film really does mean “don’t care.”

But until the third act, I kind of assumed Frontier Experience at least wouldn’t choke on the ending. But for the jingoism, it’d be fine. The jingoism ruins it and makes Frontier Experience seem a lot less like an educational film than disinterested propaganda.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Barbara Loden; written by Joan Micklin Silver; director of photography, Nicholas T. Proferes; edited by Proferes; music by John Duffy; released by the Learning Corporation of America.

Starring Barbara Loden (Delilah Fowler), Roger Hoffman (George Fowler), Tim Petty (Eugene), Sharon O’Donnell (Caroline), Kelly Heft (Alice), John Peirson (Ned), Cecil Friend (John Crawford), Phyllis McNeely (Mrs. Polk), and Leroy Deewall (Mr. Polk).


Alien: Harvest (2019, Benjamin Howdeshell)

Alien: Harvest operates at that all too familiar intersection of bad and stupid. It’s a stupid idea badly executed, though it’s not clear whose at fault for each. For instance, the short is about four survivors on a space ship trying to get the lifeboat before the ship blows up in seven (or eight) minutes. It’s a seven or eight minute short. You’d think it’d be real-time… but no. So who decided to do stylistically weak montage (the second time jump, the first they just cut), director Howdeshell or writer Craig Dewey?

Howdeshell’s direction is bad throughout, sure, but Dewey’s writing is stupid throughout too. For instance, how is it possible no one in the Alien universe knows how to read a motion tracker? Especially given lead (or at least character given the most reaction shots) Agnes Albright ought to know how to read one, given her character’s background. Though Albright’s background is yet another of the script’s stupidities; for an officially produced “Alien Universe” short, Harvest plays pretty fast and loose with the franchise “rules.” And always just for shock value. Dewey and Howdeshell don’t have anything good up their sleeves so they’re just going for the jumps. They don’t get any. They get some eye rolls, which is impressive because it’s usually too stupid to bother wasting the energy to roll the eyes.

There’s one good performance—Jessica Clark, as the pregnant and therefore sympathetic survivor. Adam Sinclair’s pretty bad as her dude, James C. Burns is even worse as the mansplainer. Watching Burns makes you appreciate how even some bad actors are at least not godawful at it. He’s fairly godawful.

Albright’s… not good. It’s a crap part but she’s not good.

Nothing’s good about Harvest, though the space CGI exteriors aren’t bad and Danny Cocke’s music could be worse. At least it’s not too derivative of the source material, whereas Dewey reuses lines from the real movies.

Bad editing from Jake Shaver, though it’s unclear if its his cutting or just Howdeshell’s footage. It seems more like the latter… if you forget the ineptitude of the fifteen second montage to show the characters passing forty-five seconds of present action.

It’s never any good, but the utter stupidity of the finish (and the real-time fails) make Harvest much worse than expected.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Benjamin Howdeshell; screenplay by Craig Dewey, based on characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Chris Saul; edited by Jake Shaver; music by Danny Cocke; production designer, Troy Spino; costume designer, David Tabbert; produced by Shawn Wallace; released by IGN.

Starring Agnes Albright (Mari), Jessica Clark (Hannah), Adam Sinclair (Alec), and James C. Burns (Sturgis).


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).


RECENTLY

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.


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