Category Archives: Not Recommended

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).


Card Party (1896, Georges Méliès)

Card Party runs a minute. Three guys sitting outside at a table, drinking wine, playing cards. It’s a family affair for director Méliès (who’s one of the card players), with his brother playing another of them. There aren’t any credits and apparently the third player’s identity is lost to time.

At the open, Méliès daughter walks up and is cute, then a server comes over with wine. There’s a dog in the shot—it’s a single shot—for a bit. The server and one of the card players break the fourth wall and look at the camera, so it doesn’t appear Méliès made sure everyone didn’t look at the camera. For a second it seems almost inviting, like the viewer is the fourth player at the table but… no, they’re just looking at the camera, which was probably gigantic and noisy because 1896.

The short ends with one of the players reading something in the newspaper, belly-laughing about it, and showing it to everyone else so they could belly-laugh in turn. So exaggerating reactions was a thing at least.

It’s a minute, so it’d be hard for it not to be fine. But just because it’s fine doesn’t mean it’s particularly interesting or worthwhile, outside a historical context.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Georges Méliès.

Save Me (2011, Lena Waithe)

Save Me is the story of a kid (Jaheem Toombs) whose house burned down and the rest of his family died and he goes to ask the man who saved him (Sam Bologna) why he saved him and the man doesn’t tell him so the kid lies about it to his new best friend. There are some ostensible layers to it—Toombs’s Black, Bologna’s an old White man—they’re artificial. Waithe’s giving the impression of raising questions, ones she can’t bother even imagining the answers for.

The photography—by Matthew H. Sanders—is about the only solid part of the short. Waithe’s direction is hyper-focused on the actors, who—at best—aren’t very good and are often worse. Save Me occasionally feels like Waithe’s out to embarrass Toombs, who’s been living in foster care since his family burned to death and he’s got a kindly social worker (Stacy Lutz). They have this game where he gives her a quote and she tells him who said it. The gimmick becomes important later on.

Shame Toombs doesn’t seem to have any idea why he’s saying the quote or who and why he’s quoting the person, other than Waithe thinks it’ll be a good detail.

When people use “workshop” as a pejorative, they’re talking about the script to Save Me. Cultural references are more important than the flow of the dialogue, which is fine because the musical accompaniment is more important than the scenes. Despite being in every scene, Toombs’s the film’s least defined character. Waithe’s doing a character study where she’s avoiding character as much as possible. So what should be a great showcase for Toombs is instead a series of opportunities for him to fail.

Then there’s the cloying finale, which has Toombs forgetting how to skateboard; though I suppose that plot hole is a great metaphor for the short itself.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Lena Waithe; director of photography, Matthew H. Sanders; edited by Justin Simien; music by Darnell Levine; produced by Nikki Love.

Starring Jaheem Toombs (Kenya), Stacy Lutz (social worker), Malcolm Williams (shop owner), and Sam Bologna (Mr. Wilkey).