Aisle of the Damned: 02/16/18- Jelly Lip

SURPRISE! Kent and Bryan take a look in J.J. Abrams’ Mystery Box and see the crumbs inside with the post-Super Bowl wrap-up, The Cloverfield Paradox on Netflix. But that’s not all! We skip the theaters and take in two incredibly different takes on the caped crusader: WB Animation’s Scooby Doo & Batman: The Brave and the Bold for Saturday morning escapades and Batman: Gotham by Gaslight for violent steampunk.

Meanwhile, we take a look at trailers that tried to grab your attention away from Netflix’s publicity stunt and some incredibly surprising movie news.

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Link Wray and his Ray-Men- Jack the Ripper

Aisle of the Damned: 02/02/18- If You Don’t Listen to This Podcast, We’ll Kill This Cartoon Mascot

Greetings, Damned fans! Bryan and Kent are back with a look at a couple of askew bio-pics this week, with the Netflix original A Futile and Stupid Gesture, surrounding National Lampoon founder Doug Kenney, and the Oscar-nominated Tonya Harding film, I, Tonya.

If that wasn’t enough, they’ve got news on some potentially huge sequels, including one about a man who came to save us all: Black Dynamite. (And also something about Passion of the Christ.)

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

MUSIC:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Lindsey Buckingham- Holiday Road

Kent’s Best of the Rest

Oh, you’re still here? Then take a look at some of the other things that stood out to me over 2017. They may not have made my “best of” list, but they’re definitely noteworthy.

O’Shea Jackson Jr. in INGRID GOES WEST
Ice Cube’s son may have gotten his big break playing his old man in Straight Outta Compton, but Ingrid Goes West is where he really makes his mark. The whole of the film that I called “Cable Guy for the Instagram generation” is pretty funny and fascinating, with its damning view of both social media and the L.A. community in general. But it’s Jackson as a vaping, Batman-obsessed, screenwriting landlord to Aubrey Plaza’s Ingrid, who ends up being the film’s secret weapon. He spends a good chunk of the movie charming the audience even as he’s manipulated into doing questionable things for Ingrid due to their bizarre descent into coupledom. Almost more importantly, he and Plaza are responsible for the funniest sex scene of 2017, with some laugh-out-loud, awkward, superhero roleplay.

The Fiance in ROUGH NIGHT
Rough Night didn’t make my worst of list, mostly because it has a few moments of genuine pleasure here and there. A few revolve, unsurprisingly, around Kate McKinnon as an Australian exchange student who at times feels more like she’s from another planet, but most of them come from Paul W. Downs as he completely breaks open the film as a beta-male turned diapered, caffeinated mess trying to save his engagement to Scarlett Johansson. If only the film had been about him, instead.

The Opening of KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD
Truth be told, I still don’t think LotS is a BAD movie, per se. I still think it would have been much better received if it had been presented as an original property instead of a reimagining of Arthurian legend. But it wasn’t great. Except for that opening sequence straight out of a crazy Bollywood Lord of the Rings knock off where King Eric Bana faces off against a bunch of wizards on the back of elephants the size of Mr. Stay-Puft. It’s nutty, trippy, and the kind of high-fantasy fun the whole movie seemed to be aiming for, but just didn’t hit.

Liev Schriber, Sean William Scott and Wyatt Russell in GOON: LAST OF THE ENFORCERS
The second Good film makes the series bookend the beginning and end of good-natured tough guy Doug Glatt’s hockey career. While not as good as the first (it’s too messy and the humor is too broad), these three outstanding performances anchor the film and show that Jay Baruchel should probably be directing more movies. Russell, especially, makes quite an impression as an unhinged star living in his father’s shadow, who lashes out wildly against anyone: friend, foe, or teammate. (Also, a nod to Elisha Cuthbert who makes the most of her small role and who I still have a crush on, going back to The Girl Next Door.)

Rihanna’s burlesque in VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS
Valerian mostly feels like a missed opportunity to reach the same kind of giddy pop-sci fi heights that The Fifth Element wrangled onto movie screens. Dane Dehaan is largely responsible through his lack of charisma and flat performance, but the way the screenplay picks up and drops plot threads doesn’t help either. One of the worst offenders is a character played by singer Rihanna and a lot of CGI, who serves as a plot device and ultimately goes nowhere. However, her introduction is a reminder of how Luc Besson can seemingly do things American directors couldn’t/wouldn’t as she performs a surprisingly effective PG-rated burlesque dance that features about a dozen costume changes in the span of five minutes.

Superman in JUSTICE LEAGUE
It’s not really a surprise that Superman shows up in Justice League. He’s on the poster, after all. But what is surprising is that Joss Whedon doesn’t just fix what was done to him in Batman v Superman, but puts the best version of the character ever on the big screen. While the movie itself is simply okay, it’s worth seeing for this alone, if you’re a Superman fan. I still defend Man of Steel and Henry Cavill’s performances, but it goes without saying that the writing for him in BvS was disappointing, as is the waste of the impact that a Death of Superman storyline should have. The fact that this is put right in half a movie, even despite the weird CGI smear-lip, tells me that giving Whedon a Superman film after he’s done with Batgirl would be the best move Warner Bros could make for the character.

The Spider-Man Theme in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING
Homecoming was a fun movie that made up for the awful “Amazing” films and Tom Holland does a great job as the web-slinger. There were so many moments when it was obvious that Marvel really cared about making this new series work, and wanted to let their fans know it in subtle ways. I’m hard pressed to think of a moment that put a bigger smile on my face than when an orchestral version of the theme from the ‘60s Ralph Bakshi Spider-Man cartoon series started playing over the Marvel logo. It was a small, perfect, low-key moment of fan service.

The gore effects in RAW
I described Raw as, essentially, a great werewolf movie without any werewolves. I stand by that. It wouldn’t work as well as it does though, if the handful of gore effects that mark the character’s descent into cannibalism weren’t as fantastically done as they are. They aren’t flashy, or over-the-top, but that’s what makes them work so well. The body parts and the bites look entirely realistic and matter of fact, and they’re pretty much perfect.

Armie Hammer in FREE FIRE
I was prepared for Sharlto Copley to give a crazy performance in Ben Wheatley’s one-building action experiment. What I was not expecting was for Armie Hammer to steal the whole movie for me as an independent agent who remains the epitome of cool in a crisis, even as tempers flare and bullets fly. I hate that he’s had so much bad luck with big budget films thanks to that Lone Ranger debacle of years ago, because he’s more talented than he’s often given credit for.

The apartment fight and ensuing car chase in ATOMIC BLONDE
Even with a strong sequel to John Wick, some great Marvel films and a new Kingsman movie, I’m hard-pressed to think of an action sequence that blew me away like the abject brutality of a scene in Atomic Blonde when Charlize Theron and a communist goon destroy each other in an abandoned apartment building. It is an all-timer in the middle of an already solid action flick. The choreography makes it look like one of the most painful altercations since The Raid 2. Then, they added a top-notch car chase on top of it.

Charlie Hunam in THE LOST CITY OF Z
I’m the first to call Charlie Hunam a block of wood. While that didn’t stop me from loving Pacific Rim, and it didn’t completely ruin Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur for me, he certainly doesn’t add much to most of the films he’s in. Imagine my surprise then when he gave a fantastic performance in the historical exploration drama, The Lost City of Z. A throwback to the kind of British pictures that actually celebrated brave men who would venture into the unknown for knowledge, he is able to be noble, obsessive and desperate in equal measure as he makes trek after trek to the jungles of South America to try to find a lost civilization that he believes may have rivaled the celebrated empires of antiquity. Let’s hope we see more of this from Charlie in the future.

Trey Parker in DESPICABLE ME 3
Animated sequels are often the victims of diminishing returns and Despicable Me 3, while still having plenty of gas in the tank, definitely finds itself succumbing to the usual clichés as an unknown twin brother for Gru is unearthed and trotted out like an Eastern European Cousin Oliver. However, the filmmakers did themselves a huge favor by casting South Park creator Trey Parker as an 80s obsessed villain, Balthazar Bratt, out for revenge over his cancelled TV show from 30 years ago. While Parker and Matt Stone certainly keep themselves busy with their South Park empire, occasional film projects and a hit Broadway musical, I can’t help but hope this will open doors for Parker to do more voicework outside his own projects, as he’s just plain great at it.

The No More Catholics Song in T2: TRAINSPOTTING
2017 was the year of the long awaited sequel, and many of them were much better than they had any right to be. But the one that decided to be as meta as possible, by simultaneously wallowing in nostalgia while pointing out how gross, false and irresponsible such an act can be, was the follow-up to Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Trainspotting. T2 catches us up on everyone’s favorite Scottish derelicts as they reach crossroads in their lives. The stand-out scene is when Renton and Sick Boy infiltrate the lair of an anti-Catholic group, still celebrating a military victory from hundreds of years prior, in order to steal their debit cards from the coat room. In a darker spin on the “sing the blues” bit from Adventures in Babysitting, they find themselves on stage and forced to perform. As they make up a tune on the spot in order to keep from being found out, and effectively whip the crowd into a frenzy, I was cackling like a maniac. (This despite being raised Catholic, myself.) It’s proof positive that Danny Boyle still has that magic touch to make something profane and crazy work like a charm.

The remote car chase in THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS
The eighth movie in the F&F cycle was the weakest one in quite some time. Who knew Paul Walker was so important to the films’ chemistry? However, it continued the series’ tradition of finding new, crazy stunts to pull. When dozens of unmanned cars begin chasing a security convoy while even more rain down from parking garages onto the street like a hailstorm, it’s hard not to admire their commitment to fresh automotive carnage.

Cake in JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
“I explode if I eat cake.”

That’s all, folks. Agree? Disagree? Think I missed something? Feel free to let us know on our Facebook Page!

<Best of 2017 (#5-1)                                                      The Worst of 2017 (Back to Start) >

Kent’s 25 Favorite Damned Movies of 2017 (#5-1)

5. STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI- I don’t care how loudly the geek chorus against this film howls; I loved it. While I am on record as being a fan of The Force Awakens, I definitely had some issues with it, finding it a bit of an exercise in gimcrack. Yes, it was well made, but any digging showed some big flaws in the plotting and there were forced edits to the story, existing only for the purpose of obscuring the last 30 years of the mythology, which were more than a little maddening. I was actually more of a fan of Rogue One’s more straightforward (and somehow more original) approach. For me, Disney’s time as caretaker for the Lucasfilm franchise has been a steady uptick as Last Jedi is my favorite of the three. While it doesn’t reveal enough that was set up based upon the previous film (though I’m ironically glad writer/director Rian Johnson wasn’t beholden to JJ Abrams’ stupid mystery box) there’s little chance to worry about it, as the story, despite admittedly being overlong, manages to book for most of its runtime. Can I understand and even appreciate the complaints? Yes. But I enjoyed myself immensely nonetheless and, in some cases, I even found the film’s flaws quaint. Luke’s arc feels like a natural extension of his warring nature we saw at the end of Return of the Jedi. Rey, Poe and Finn become much more fleshed out than the rough sketches they were in Episode VII. The humor worked for me. The way Johnson finds new angles to explore in the Star Wars universe leads me to be much more excited about his upcoming trilogy than I was when it was announced. In essence, it delivered almost everything I could have hoped for in a Star Wars movie, and does not leave JJ Abrams any impediments towards going back and answering his own questions in Episode XI. Like Empire Strikes Back, I’m hoping time will be kind to this one, allowing it to overcome some initial fan-backlash and become a classic.

4. KONG: SKULL ISLAND- Skull Island is pretty much everything I could hope for from the modern Hollywood blockbuster machine. It is pulp done right. Lean, and surprisingly mean (a Cannibal Holocaust reference?!), it gives the audience plenty of genuine thrills and a surprising amount of violence before its done. Let’s just say it’s edgy enough that kids will probably feel like they’ve gotten away with something after they’ve watched it. True, Brie Larson is completely extraneous, and Tom Hiddleston doesn’t have much to do either, but it’s the rare blockbuster that gives us a crazy exposition character who we really can enjoy (an incredible John C. Reilly) and a more complex than normal bad guy (Samuel L. Jackson). There’s great work from John Goodman and a bunch of other character actors to boot. A strange combination of giant monsters and Vietnam-war era tropes, it really makes every second count and puts every dollar of its budget on screen to its benefit, giving us everything many of us had hoped for in the pretty good, but sort-of disappointing, 2014 version of Godzilla that focused on humans who were largely uninteresting and didn’t give the Big-G a chance to be a real character. Jordan Vogt-Roberts, thankfully, gives Kong enough screentime and personality to shine, as a gruff ape that manages to beat the living tar out of some pretty crazy stuff. Even better, it gives us a more thorough look at Skull Island, the mythological locale that has fascinated movie goers since the 30s, with dinosaur skeletons, giant insects and most of the things we’ve come to expect thanks to the sequels and remakes over the years, but somehow feeling fresh thanks to the updated context. This is a world, and a film, I want to revisit again and again.

3. DUNKIRK- Dunkirk is where Christopher Nolan puts together most of his best attributes, while managing to drop many questionable habits, and because of that, it soars. In a lot of ways, it is almost the exact opposite of everything you’ve come to expect from both Nolan and war movies in general. Clocking in at under two hours long, it doesn’t overstay its welcome or lean on an inflated running time to seem epic. It has a mixed-up time structure, and it may be a bit extraneous, but it’s worth it, because it’s one of his rare recent films that manages to hold together in its final act. Its action is present in short, controlled bursts and it carries a PG-13 rating, but it doesn’t take away the trauma and the tension of the situation. Nor does the violence, which excites but is never glorified, even necessarily feel muted because of it. The sound design is also fantastic and feeds just as much into the effectiveness of the film as the visuals. The impressive sights on display are worth every extra cent you may have paid for the IMAX screenings which took advantage of the 70MM format it was filmed in. Is it stoic? Yes. Is it matter of fact? Yes. Is it even cold? Maybe some people feel that way. But to me, it feels like Nolan is capturing the feeling that pervades of how Britain, to steal from the ridiculously overused slogan that has permeated culture again 70 years later, faced forward with a stiff upper lip and carried on during a time when history could have easily gone another way.

2. WIND RIVER- In the middle of summer, I had chills going up my spine from Wind River. Dare I say that, between the plot and the way it is shot, Wind River may be the most effective film at making you wish you were wearing a coat since John Carpenter’s The Thing. However, it’s not just the landscape that’s cold. A tale of murder in the sparsely populated Wyoming Rockies, Jeremy Renner gives one of the best performances of his career as a Fish and Game officer teaming with a young FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) and a tribal police chief (Graham Greene) to bring a girl’s killer to justice. In a refreshing change of pace, there are no pissing matches over jurisdiction here; and while none of them are perfect, our principles don’t waste time trying to tear each other down. They are professionals doing a job and, as the land get colder, the tale grows darker. The story is almost secondary to the rich characters, but that doesn’t mean it’s given short shrift. It is masterfully plotted and the ending is so visceral that I felt like it grabbed me by the shirt and shook me in my seat. In some ways, this feels like the greatest episode of Longmire never made, weaving between the survivalist nature of living in the mountains, the pride and desperation of an Indian reservation, and the isolation that invades when someone is so far removed from “society” at large (while avoiding the pitfalls of getting overdramatic and silly.) I feel no hesitation in calling this a great rural neo-noir, a fantastic modern Western, and one of the best crime films in recent memory.

1. BABY DRIVER- I have enjoyed a lot of trips to the theater in the last 12 months, but few can compare with the experience I had while Edgar Wright’s latest wonder unspooled. Complaining about Baby Driver’s plot is almost antithetical to the concept of Baby Driver, itself. Slick, musical and soulful, Baby Driver is a masterpiece of moving pictures. And while I’ve heard people complain about the thin plot, you may as well complain about the story mechanics of Singin’ in the Rain or Drunken Master 2. It’s about the rhythms of the filmmaking coming together with music and physicality to create something new. If George Lucas made American Graffiti to be a “musical without singing,” then Baby Driver would have to be the next step in that evolution, and if nothing else, it moves me because when I close my eyes and listen to music, this is the kind of experience that goes through me. Back in the 80s and 90s, the old guard shook their fists at the new generation of directors that were emerging, shouting that some films were turning into “feature length music videos.” Perhaps they wouldn’t have complained so loudly if they knew the kind of care and artistry could be brought to them that exists in Baby Driver. While many of the auteurs I follow started out with “Jukebox Musical” soundtracks, many of them have stepped back from the practice. Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson, for example, may still season their films with a peppering of obscure oldies, but they’ve largely phased out of wallpapering their films with them. Wright has filled the void in their absence and charged full-bore in the other direction, almost throwing more deep cuts at the audience than they can handle, but always in service of the film at large. As important as they are, however, the film wouldn’t work if the rest of it wasn’t just as on board: the stunts, the cinematography, the actors… each of them firing on all cylinders. The only thing that doesn’t work here is the name. I recommend taking the Bard’s advice and remembering that it smells the same, regardless. Don’t let the “Baby” of the title fool you: Baby Driver is superlatively wonderful and my pick for film of the year.

Best of 2017 (#10-6)                                                                          The Best of the Rest >

Kent’s 25 Favorite Damned Movies of 2017 (#10-6)

10. THE VOID- Homage is kind of a dirty word these days. Back in the old days, everyone stole from everyone and it often didn’t matter because film wasn’t really a readily available commodity. Even in the days of VHS, it was sometimes hard to find the “lineage” of a film and where it found its inspiration. That’s a thing of the past as Wikipedia and IMDB give you more movie information than you could possibly know what to do with. Amazon, streaming, and a growing number of specialty labels will help you find entire filmographies and almost any cult title you want, with more and more obscure releases finding an audience. As such, it’s easier than ever to find inspiration, but harder than ever to hide it well enough to pass muster with the gatekeepers of genre, who have become ever more dismissive of anything that resembles something they love. One of the most difficult groups to impress is the horror crowd and I’ve surprisingly seen this chilling little film dismissed and hated, in part because the filmmakers obviously watched John Carpenter films growing up. But that doesn’t make what they’ve done, producing an incredibly effective, very Lovecraftian horror film on a tiny budget, any less impressive. This was a movie I was very glad I saw on the big screen as, much like Shin Godzilla last year, I think it made a huge difference and it made me sad that so many people were stuck seeing it for the first time on their home theater, regardless of how impressive their set-up may be. The effects are almost all practical and the vast majority of them look positively haunting. There is a strong feeling of dread that permeates the whole of the proceedings and the imagination on display makes up for any budget shortcomings. In short, it does everything you should want from a horror film, and does it extremely well. Well enough that it stuck with me, crowding out other thoughts for days after seeing it.

9. BRIGSBY BEAR- Is Brigsby Bear a feature-length advertisement for art therapy? If so, it’s the best one I’ve ever seen. I know that there are certainly some people out there who will probably hate this movie because they’ll find it skirts that “art movie” line where everything is kind of twee and the main character is a misfit. I feel sorry for those people. To share the basics of the plot would largely do the audience a disservice, as it is built in such a way that they find out what’s going on as the main character does, but I absolutely fell for its potent DIY aesthetic. In practice, the featured “Brigsby Bear” show, itself, is right there in some magic sweet spot where old-school Doctor Who, Land of the Lost, and Square One Television meet; making me a mark by feeling like a love letter to the PBS of my pre-school days. And before things are done, the film manages to make a statement about the nature of fandom, the shepherding of intellectual properties to/by the next generation, the aforementioned art therapy and the state of modern psychology. Frankly, as the challenges mount and things seem to spiral out of control, this film feels like a fantastic counterpoint/partner for The Disaster Artist. Like Tommy Wiseau, our hero, James, desperately needs to say something so he can connect with the world. Unlike Tommy, he isn’t doing it for fame or fortune or any mysterious motives, but so he can simply move on with his life. No other movie this year left me more inspired to get out and create. Add in Mark Hammill’s best performance of the year (and that’s saying something) and you’ve got something pretty special.

8. LOGAN- When X-Men arguably kicked off the whole modern Superhero movie era, this was the best possible end-game scenario. The culmination of 17 years, Logan completes Hugh Jackman’s run as Wolverine and does it in the style of a post-modern Western, complete with many of the trappings, albeit changed to suit a not-so-distant-future sci-fi setting. (I wonder if some critics who complained about a particular plot point are familiar with the trope of the aging gunslinger facing a rival that amounts to a younger version of themselves.) This isn’t some post-apocalyptic world. It is a world in slow decay, much like the future Logan, himself. It is a bloody, unblinking look at a man who has trafficked in violence his whole, long life having to come to terms with the things he’s done and doing it with a scowl. A fantastic performance by Patrick Stewart as a dementia-riddled Professor X helps a lot with that. Even more important, X-23, aka “Laura”, is played by a child actor who can, you know, act. It’s no wonder 20 Century Fox had been circling a spin-off about her, which may turn into one of many promising ‘never-was’ films that will undoubtedly follow Disney’s purchase of the studio. Not only is it by far the best of the Wolverine movies, and the best film of James Mangold’s career, but it’s in the upper echelon of X-Men films and superhero films as a whole. And among the best films of 2017.

7. THE DISASTER ARTIST- It’s hard to discuss any retelling about making a “bad movie” without talking about the shadow of Tim Burton’s masterpiece, Ed Wood. Thankfully for James Franco, The Disaster Artist, a somewhat-fictional account of the making of the trash “classic,” The Room, is able to proudly stand (and show off its backside) as a wonderfully entertaining movie with more than enough differences to avoid feeling like some retread. Franco’s portrayal of infamous director/weirdo Tommy Wiseau miraculously skirts parody or imitation and manages to actually be a fully functional, idiosyncratic character. What he makes look relatively easy on screen is actually worthy of a Best Actor Oscar nomination. Beyond that though, the story itself is more thought-provoking, more “educational,” and more outright fun to watch than the story of making great art could probably ever be. While Dave Franco probably would never be able to channel the kind of bizarre outsider his brother can, he provides a great point of view as the original book’s author, Greg Sestero, and he is able to play on his strengths (probably giving his brother the same quizzical looks in the movie he’s given him in their private lives.) Tommy may still be a mystery when the credits role, but we do get a pretty accurate account of what it feels like to want to move someone with what amounts to a piece of your soul, and to fail spectacularly. Who among us, as an artist or simply as a human being, can’t sympathize with that?

6. THOR: RAGNAROK- 2017 was an embarrassment of riches when it comes to comic book-based films, as they proved once and for all that even the “superhero” films that are disparaged by some snobs can’t be so easy pigeonholed. For every disappointment there seemed to be three great examples of what can be done when talent and artistry is behind these adaptations, from period films to post-modern Westerns to teen comedy to space opera. But the craziest, most fun, and outright batshit film (in a year that included an animated Adam West Batman movie and another chapter of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy series) was Thor: Ragnarok. Delivering on a blistering trailer that promised high adventure and comedy, Taika Waititi managed to completely blow away expectations, creating a film which is unlike anything he’s made before, but still a wonderful encapsulation of his unique voice. (And, in doing so, he makes my top 10 for the second year in a row.) It builds on the first two Thor films, while completely decimating them and commenting on the Asgardian’s mythology as a stand-in for post-Imperialism. (But never does it stop to wallow in these, letting the viewer pick them up on the fly.) As the film wrapped up, I leaned over to one of the friends I’d gone with and I said, “It’s like someone made a good version of Flash Gordon.” It’s a harsh thing to say, considering I enjoy that movie, but the thing Ragnarok does that so many pulpy space yarns do not, is not allow the zaniness and oddities (which are plentiful) to undercut the narrative. The story, while episodic and probably more flawed than it feels while swept up in its freight train of a good time, has so many welcome twists that it could have been birthed in a pretzel factory. When you attach splendid visuals, a marvelous Mark Mothersbaugh score (with an assist from Led Zepplin), and the strongest showing yet of the wonderful brotherly chemistry between Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth, Marvel has another winner. This is not the film that ends Thor’s story, but it certainly is the end of this chapter, and boy is it a good one.

<The Best of 2017 (#15-11)                                                       The Best of 2017 (#5-1)>

Kent’s 25 Favorite Damned Movies of 2017 (#15-11)

15. I, TONYA- A movie that chronicles the first 25 years or so in the life of Tonya Harding could have really gone one of two ways: either the self-serious Lifetime Movie route, or embracing the story’s inherent ridiculousness. Having Margot Robbie, who is “Hollywood pretty” by any standard, portray Tonya Harding at age 15 by giving her a short haircut and some braces pretty much shows right off the bat that the film intends to go the second way. But in addition to the requisite goofiness one can expect for a figure skating film full of rednecks, assholes, half-wits, and dim-wits, the movie itself plays things pretty smart. It’s been simultaneously praised and derided for taking inspiration from the work of Martin Scorcese. Goodfellas in particular is name-dropped in the advertising. But in order to put together a tale in which not one, but multiple unreliable narrators regularly refute each other, sometimes even turning to the audience and breaking the fourth wall to dispute the action occurring onscreen, it likely couldn’t have worked as well any other way. Ultimately, the film’s view of Harding is a sympathetic one (her POV is understandably the most prevalent), but it never lets her off the hook, as she is represented as throwing regular tantrums, making constant excuses, and usually only taking minimal responsibility for her actions. The storytelling has pop sensibilities through and through; in fact, I would go so far as to say it’s technically brilliant. However, there’s always some sadness around the edges to remind you that, no matter how absurd the plot gets, these are real people. The end credits even show excerpts from archival footage to try to drill home how surprisingly unexaggerated this whole circus is.

14. COCO- It’s possible that Coco may seem better than it is by virtue of having a truly bad Frozen special programmed before it. However, even if we assume that’s the case, it still comes across as a total winner for Pixar. The story, which follows a music loving Mexican boy through the mythological underworld on Dia de los Muertos, may have some plot holes, but it’s hard to worry about them when it’s so much fun and has a lot of great touches that remind us how Pixar really cares about the details. So in a lot of ways it’s more or less par for the course for the Lamp, but even then, Coco manages to elbow its way into the higher tiers of their films thanks to the humor on display and the main character being pretty endearing. Beyond that though, there’s some really mystifying stuff for anyone who wants to really dig, like how it takes place in an afterlife where fame is an even more valuable commodity than in our own world. The music is catchy (and, since at least one tune is repeated ad naseum, that is very, very important. See also: That Thing You Do.) The visuals are full of a Halloween splendor, with a walking tour of the most unique setting they’ve put on the screen since Monstropolis. But even in a movie this visually striking, Mama Coco herself stands out, at once creepy, heartbreaking and… even almost cute on occasion; truly great character design. While I’m glad animation has slowly been evolving and there are seemingly more voices in the features game than ever before, there’s a reason Pixar continues to stand out in their field.

13. BLADE RUNNER 2049- It’s hard to believe that Denis Villenueve pulled off a sequel that not only managed to keep from sullying the lustre of its now-regarded-as-a-classic progenitor, but may even improve upon it, leaving its moral relativism and complex plotting while forgoing a lot of the overcooked dialogue and adding something that the original only flirted with: genuine pathos. Ryan Gosling makes a surprisingly good lead, channeling his leading man status to serve as part of his replicant nature. Harrison Ford keeps up his “greatest hits” tour, following up his fun turn as Han Solo with another return to form, this time as Rick Deckard, the runner that took off with Sean Young’s experimental Rachel model of the original. But the real MVP is Ana de Armas, who is heartbreakingly good as various forms of an artificial intelligence named, appropriately enough, Joi. The plot twists here are not small, and the risk they undertook is definitely rewarded. While the visuals overall may not be as idiosyncratic and downright awesome (in the truest sense of the word) as the original, there are some bits here and there that certainly come close, especially a visit to an abandoned city that looks like it was rezoned to Mars. Plus, I can’t think of a recent film with a scene which has sucker-punched me in the gut like this one has, outside of Pixar. As time goes by, I predict 2049 will find itself having a very long shelf-life, just as the first film did.

12. COLOSSAL- I’ve heard a lot about the controversy surrounding Colossal. Personally, I think it’s one of those movies where the biggest messages one interprets are ones you’re bringing into the screening with you. Which, if we’re being honest, is often a hallmark of interesting sci-fi and art in general. I didn’t see it as some huge statement of empowerment, or a screed for misandry, despite advertisers and critics telling me what to expect. I saw a movie about a terrible, manipulative person having to make better decisions, because she’s surrounded by other people who are also varying degrees of manipulative and/or terrible (or at the very least, allow that sort of behavior to continue.) So rather than focus on the controversy, or the politics, how about I point out that it’s an incredibly clever, and original movie. That it is genuinely funny and engaging. That Jason Sudeikis puts in the best performance of his career so far, at times seething under the surface with genuine menace that belies his usual charming demeanor. That Anne Hathaway continues to impress me and puts in a wonderful effort as the main character of this stealth genre film. (I’ll never understand the relatively small, but intense, cult of public disdain that follows her like a dark cloud.) That, even with a doofy explanation for why what’s happening is happening, I found it to be a wholly satisfying experience. Colossal is small, but mighty. It is thoughtful, provocative, and absolutely worthy of your time.

11. THE BIG SICK- Telling people something is “a _____ for people who don’t like _____” is not one of my preferred descriptors. It feels reductive in most respects, to both the film being recommended, and the genre which contains it. But I would definitely recommend The Big Sick to people, even if they typically don’t enjoy Hollywood romantic comedies, because it doesn’t feel like a typical, ridiculous romantic comedy. Not only that but, perhaps because it’s based on a true story, it avoids the common clichés of them while keeping the basic tenants. Yes, there’s a big secret that keeps them apart. No, that secret isn’t something ridiculous or something that makes the main character seem like a complete sociopath for piling lie upon lie. Star Kumail Nanjiani manages to come across as natural and charming, while Zoe Kazan manages to take what would usually be a thankless role, pumping the brakes when we’re rooting for them, and is actually allowed to be sympathetic. Most importantly, director (and The State alum) Michael Showalter make it feel like a character piece first, and it never loses sight of that second word in its descriptor. It’s a movie that is genuinely funny throughout, despite tackling some heavy topics. These heavy topics, like family friction created by breaking with tradition and a large dose of medical drama, even result in fully-formed character arcs. It never even feels exploitive the way a tear-jerker would, milking the hospital scenes for all their emotional worth, despite the title. See it with someone you care about (who doesn’t like to be bored.) You’ll be glad you did.

<The Best of 2017 (#20-16)                                                       The Best of 2017 (#10-5)>

Kent’s 25 Favorite Damned Movies of 2017 (#20-16)

20. MINDHORN- The “Three Amigos” formula has been kicked around for about thirty years now, with variations like A Bug’s Life and Galaxy Quest being particularly memorable. Now another joins their ranks. Mindhorn, a cyberneticly-enhanced detective who is equal parts Steve Austin and Michael Knight, is a relic of the 80s. Richard Thorncroft, the actor who portrayed him, is as well, after leaving his hit show at the height of his fame for a film career that never came to pass. When a murder suspect has trouble separating fact from fictional cheese, he sees a chance to help (while getting some good publicity along the way) by bringing back Mindhorn to help with the police investigation. From that premise, The Mighty Boosh’s Julian Barratt manages to create a singular character that is somehow still likable despite being the greater part of a narcissistic knucklehead who has managed to alienate everyone in his life, his professional community, and most of the Isle of Man. Considering how despicable he can be, and what the film is willing to do for an uncomfortable laugh, it’s actually a pretty major accomplishment that he can still wring sympathy from the audience. While I’m usually not much for cringe-inducing comedy, I can stomach it when it’s well done, and this one struck me pretty much head on.

19. HAPPY DEATH DAY- There’s an understandable knee-jerk reaction to automatically assume the worst from PG-13 rated horror films. After all, the field is littered with bad examples of genre fare that have been watered down to meet that “magic” rating, due to the strange fact that it’s seen as a sure-fire formula for higher revenue. A formula that is wrong so often, it is more than a little surprising so many executives still try to make it work. (Does anyone else think there’s an odd trend going around where it’s easier than ever for teenagers to see R-rated and adult material at home, but harder than it’s been since the 70s to see it in the theater? But I digress.) When it comes to such a specific horror subgenre as the stab-happy slasher film, being dubious seems doubly logical. However, Happy Death Day, a crackling mix of Student Bodies and Groundhog Day, is one of a handful of recent entries that manages to overcome whatever shortcomings it may be hobbled with by the studio. It turned out to be good, old-fashioned fun, even as some gore fiends confuse it’s lack of viscera and sense of humor for “childishness.” A case of having your birthday cake and eating it too, the film is relentlessly inventive as our heroine, inexplicably named Tree, manages to have a fully-fledged character arc, complete with understandable, frustrated backslides, while still getting the everloving crap killed out of her in a hundred different ways. Rather than focus on what could have been, what IS turns out to be a blast, having a ball with slasher conventions and actually turning in a mystery that’s better than the vast majority of the 80s Halloween knock-offs that make up the crudities of its DNA.

18. BATMAN VS. TWO-FACE- The Lego Batman Movie was a fine tribute to the Dark Knight in all his various forms, but an even better one slipped under the noses of many as the “Bright Knight,” Adam West, gave his last performance as Batman in this stellar animated feature that also brought back Burt Ward, Julie Newmar, and introduced William Shatner as the title’s Two-Face. Even better than last year’s similarly Direct to Video “Return of the Caped Crusaders,” it makes West’s passing this year even sadder, as this is obviously a film series that could have lasted much, much longer. Taking advantage of the animated medium, it captures the technicolor shenanigans of the ‘60s animated series and its characters perfectly, while forgetting about budgetary limitations and throwing in forty years’ worth of references from the depths of Batmanalia. (In this regard it is a kissing cousin of the also-excellent “Batman ‘66” comic book that DC published for a while once the TV series rights were ironed out at last.) Eschewing the grim foundations for one of Bats’ most iconic bad guys is a risk, but Two-Face’s new, and frankly bizarre, origin is more befitting of the show and the way they would lean heavily on a villain’s gimmick, so it works. And while there are a few too many eye-rolling jokes about the dynamic duo’s relationship that feel like a 20-year-old SNL bit that shall not be named, they aren’t nearly enough to impede the fun in any way. It’s hard to think of a better send-off for the man that embodied the concept of Batman for so many.

 

17. THE SHAPE OF WATER- A meditation on The Creature from the Black Lagoon in which the question is asked, “but what if the girl actually loved the Gillman?”, I’ll admit, I have some misgivings about the plot of The Shape of Water. Thankfully, any issues with the presentation of the late 50s/early 60’s, or problems with the characters’ behavior can largely be dismissed due to its nature as a modernized fairy tale. As beautiful a film as has been released all year, Guillermo del Toro continues to show he is a master of mixing fantasy and horror in varying amounts to varying results. It is charming, yet grotesque. Depressing, yet optimistic. Funny and unsettling in equal amounts. Wonderfully cast and gorgeously shot, it is a film that inspires big feelings, even as I wasn’t always sure what they should be. See it and weep over the fact that he turned down Universal’s offer to let him oversee the revamp of their horror universe.

16. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2- It would be purely within James Gunn’s rights to rest on his laurels after taking a rag-tag team of Marvel’s former C-listers and turning them into box office gold. He could have simply repeated the formula of the first film and most audiences would probably have been satisfied. Thankfully, he doesn’t know how to do anything conventionally. Heck, he won’t even let you get bored during the closing credits. In Guardians 2, we find Peter Quill’s father, the living planet Ego, and see that his daddy issues are there for a reason. Between Kurt Russell’s predictably strong turn as Ego, and Michael Rooker tearing into his breakout role of Yondu, Quill has more than enough to cause him anxiety. Strangest of all, with Russell, Rooker, Chris Pratt, Karen Gillan and more of the cast putting forward some very strong work, Dave Bautista practically runs away with the film thanks to his comedic timing being sharper than Gamora’s swords. Shockingly, he’s supported by a much bigger portion of dramatic chops to boot. What a long way he’s come from his days in Riddick. While the first one may be stronger overall with its simple space opera pleasures, the second film is a richer, more complex experience (mirrored by the increasingly obscure, and all-important soundtrack) that delves into the nature of family and what we expect from those in our lives who’ve been thrown together with us, by blood or fate.

<The Best of 2017 (#25-21)                                                       The Best of 2017 (#15-11)>

Kent’s 25 Favorite Damned Movies of 2017 (#25-21)

Now that the other stuff is out of the way, let’s look at my favorite films of 2017. The ones that, for various reasons, I connected to or appreciated in a pretty major way. Was I able to see everything? Of course not. I have a full time job and a reasonable social life for someone that spends a ton of time absorbing media, you weirdos. (And sometimes have to drive an hour to see obscure releases in the theater.) So take this for what it is: a heavily biased, personal opinion meant to sway you.

LET’S GET STARTED!

25. JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2-  I started out as an admirer of the film  John Wick, but it was repeat viewings that really drove home just how good it is.  If there’s a flaw in the sequel, it’s that it’s so effective in trying to provide a breathless follow-up to the original sleeper hit, that it ends up being exhausting. Beginning a short, but undefined, time after the end of the first film, it finds his recent revenge coming at a high cost as he is drawn back into the belly of the death trade he left behind. There are few pleasures in action films equal to seeing the faces of men who underestimate Mr. Wick, and there are many such pleasures to be had in this slam bang sequel. The world building is well done, drawing out details of the underworld he inhabits, but never overexplaining things. It also does a good job introducing us to new characters played by genre favorites like Franco Nero and Laurence Fishburne. As what is obviously supposed to be the middle installment of a trilogy, it certainly delivers on putting the titular character through the wringer and leaving him on the other side, broken, battered and in a worse place than he started; the viewer may just end up a wreck as well.

24. WONDER WOMAN- How good was the majority of Wonder Woman? So good that even a CGI clusterfuck of an ending couldn’t ruin it. And so good that it alone will almost single-handedly keep the current iteration of the DCU afloat, despite Justice League having to be a massive financial disappointment for Warner Bros. Gal Gadot is absolutely transcendent in the role, giving me the kind of “my Wonder Woman” feelings that others describe Michael Keaton and Christopher Reeves with, for their respective roles. Chris Pine takes to Steve Trevor with aplomb, showing us a character who exists in shades of grey, but is never an antihero. In the end, we can see why a literal goddess would catch feelings. Even the switch to a World War I setting manages to work, thanks to some deft wrangling of the film’s themes. The bold use of color alone, with her iconic outfit blazing in a sea of monochrome, puts this a step ahead of its brethren. (Or is it sistern?) Patty Jenkins deserves a lot of credit here, for making a movie that just plain works in an era where origin stories are often dismissed out of hand as old hat. It’s even grown on me through repeated viewings, elevating itself onto my list.

23. DAVE MADE A MAZE- This may at least partly be the result of a Kickstarter project, but don’t let that fool you; it’s a real movie and you may even recognize some of the people in it, if you watch the same TV that I do. It would be easy to call this the Michael Gondriest movie that Michael Gondry never Gondried, but that’s not giving it enough credit. This is the story of a man who wants to make something great, and gets swallowed up by his project as it spirals out of control and takes on a life of its own. Most of us try-hard artists can certainly relate. In this case, he creates a cardboard labyrinth in his living room, which takes on magical (and dangerous) properties. It’s one of a few movies this year (see my top 10) that do a great job examining the various reasons a person feels a need to create. In this case, it’s a warped frustration, lashing out against feelings of mediocrity and not having accomplished anything major. (This is possibly why one of my favorite bits is when some of the characters roll their eyes over the idea that the maze is “powered by imagination.”) It’s a wonderful pairing of subject matter and filmmaking, as the low budget feel adds to the home-made quality that permeates the entirety of its being. And there are definitely some fun things on display, with a production design that really manages to wow, using nothing more than acres and acres of cardboard, string and paint. Again, that doesn’t give it enough credit, however, because it also manages to incorporate stop-motion, animation and any and every type of practical effect you can think of to create this extraordinarily ordinary world of deadly whimsy. (How often do you get to use that descriptor?) Ultimately, even though I identify with it, I acknowledge there are plot threads left dangling and it can be a bit messy, character-wise. But if you’re the kind of person that loves inventiveness, you’ll find it worth watching just due to the visuals and wackiness on display. Hopefully, you’ll find that you’re like me though, and you’ll appreciate it in a broader way.

22. BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99- A strange movie that breathes the same air as 70s prison exploitation films, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is every bit an update of that kind of skewed message movie. The underlying current seems to be a pretty big statement against the prison system and the still continuing war on drugs. The harshness of the visuals matches the tone as a noble “loser” seems to be smacked down every time he tries to do the right thing, and finally goes crooked. Even then though, he can’t keep from being punished for having a conscience and the licking the universe seems intent on inflicting upon him begins to take on more and more vicious physical representations as he ends up on the bad side of a drug lord. The thing that makes the character surprisingly endearing though, is that he’s developed quite the tolerance to the utter heaping of pain that is constantly being dropped on him, and he can rage back against it with a righteous fury. Vince Vaughn has shown to have more range than people expect of him, going from broad comedies like Dodgeball to more dramatic fare like True Detective, but Brawl uses him in a way few people probably ever expected. Taking advantage of his size, something that is often overlooked thanks to his relaxed demeanor, the film reimagines Vaughn as a physical powerhouse. The kind of character Jack Reacher probably should have been on film, should he have been captured as he exists on the page: a quiet, thoughtful, imposing hulk who can overcome nearly any physical trauma due to the single-mindedness of his purpose. It’s his performance that helps keep the movie on track from its start as a fairly grounded drama, through it’s methodical morphing into something more pulpy, ending with a sudden burst of unreal ultraviolence.

21. THE HERO– Sam Elliott needs to be the star of more movies. That one sentence honestly should be all I need to say about this film, wherein he plays an aging actor, renowned for his Western roles. Typecasting, right? He spends his days getting high and ambling towards obscurity and the grave with an ex-wife, an estranged daughter and a legacy of one film that he is truly proud of in his wake. There is a great supporting cast here, with Nick Offerman, Krysten Ritter and Laura Prepon, but it all comes back to Elliott and you can see that, like his character, when given a choice to rise above commercial voice overs and crappy Netflix sitcoms, he is doing the best he can to really sink his teeth into a role that had to have been written just for him.

< THE WORST OF 2017                                                       THE BEST OF 2017 (#20-16) >

Kent’s Worst (and Most Disappointing) Films of 2017

If you subscribe to our podcast, you undoubtedly know we did our year-end wrap up for 2017 last week, but for those that want a little more (or don’t want to have to sit through it all), I’ve done a write-up that expands on the best, the worst, and the rest of 2017. Why not start with the ones that did less than impress.

I’M NOT MAD, JUST DISAPPOINTED

Before we get to the dregs, however, let’s start with the most disappointing movies of the year for me. The ones I had high hopes for, but did not deliver.

3. A GHOST STORY- There are some truly interesting ideas in A Ghost Story. It’s too bad that director David Lowery is more interested in filming every second of Rooney Mara grief-eating a pie. An exercise in self-indulgence, it would have probably made a great short film. Instead, it feels overlong to the breaking point, punctuated by inspired moments. To mangle an old quote, “I may not know art, but I know what puts me to sleep.”

2. THE GREAT WALL- A big-budget adventure movie with monsters set in a mythical version of Chinese history? Sign me up! Except that one of the biggest issues with modern filmmaking is the cold calculation involved in attempting to appeal to the Chinese market. Sometimes it results in appealing to neither culture with movies which are just plain bad, with studios hoping their visuals will appeal through some lowest-common denominator filmmaking. The Great Wall seems like it should side-step the issue by doing a couple of things that are actually pretty bright: they actually set the film in China (along the Great Wall, at that) and they got an American to be in the film as a European that is trying to bring gunpowder back to the West. (Similar things were done back in the 60s, where you’ll notice a white guy/girl running around in Japanese kaiju films.) So far, so good, I suppose. Unfortunately, the film came out half-baked anyway thanks to a limp script. The entire film is pretty much condescending towards Matt Damon’s character (maybe because he’s Matt Damon, maybe because they wanted to avoid a “white savior” situation that the movie was being criticized for before anyone had even seen it), and a sizable portion of the themes feel like they were pulled out of Mao’s Little Red Cook Book. This would be forgivable if the action were special, but it is simply CGI-serviceable. The whole thing ends up being the cinematic equivalent of plain oatmeal.

1. BATMAN AND HARLEY QUINN- The idea of artist/director/animator/producer Bruce Timm returning to the DC Animated Universe that birthed Harley Quinn for a story about her partnering with Batman seems like an automatic slam dunk. Unfortunately, this thinly stretched remake of the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Harlequinade” is anything but. Even at 74 minutes, it’s full of more filler than a grade-school cafeteria hamburger. The animation is pretty dodgy in many places, especially on Harley herself, as she looks off-model a good portion of the time. (One wonders why it was released in the 4K format when some of the more consistent films they have made recently were not.) After being spoiled by the layered performances of Arleen Sorkin and Tara Strong, the new voice of Harley, Melissa Rauch of The Big Bang Theory, is so one-note and terrible that it somehow feels less like the “real” Harley than the be-hotpantsed Margot Robbie in Suicide Squad. The tone is just odd, featuring a lot of awful “adult” gags and a thinly-veiled sex scene designed to push the feature to an unneeded PG-13 rating. DC Animation made some enjoyable films this year (you’ll even find one of them in my top 20), but this one should have been the best. Instead, it was the worst kind of middling.

OH, THE PAIN! THE PAIN!

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to the stuff that I just did not enjoy at all. (With exceptions that are singled out along the way.)

7.  BRIGHT- What would Zootopia be like if it was made by less talented people? Probably about like Bright, which is just as messy, but lacking all of the charm the animated film managed to scrape together. David Ayer shows he wasn’t made for big-budget crowd pleasers (especially with questionable scripts), as this urban fantasy exhibits a lot of the same problems that Suicide Squad did. Half the blame can certainly rest on the oddly busy Max Landis, who wrote the script and is apparently still coasting on his name and the moderate success of Chronicle. But then Will Smith also feels like he’s on cruise control here, with his “Training Day Lite” performance. Joel Edgerton and Noomi Rapace, a couple of dependable actors, simply don’t have anything worthwhile to do. The best thing I can say about it is, at least it didn’t cost me $10 to see it in a theater.

6. THE MUMMY- We’ve seen how good Tom Cruise’s movies can be when they succeed in spite of him. People like Brad Bird, JJ Abrams and Doug Liman have done a great job of making wonderful entertainment with him. Unfortunately, when he is not reigned in and is allowed to take over a movie, we get films like Mission: Impossible 2 and The Mummy, Universal’s single entry into their suddenly defunct Dark Universe. The most entertaining part of the film is when Russell Crowe refers to Cruise as a “young man,” allowing the audience to laugh at the complete lack of self-awareness involved. Perhaps if there had been a little bit more attention paid to the title character, it would have been better. Maybe if they’d paid more attention to any of the characters besides Tom Cruise’s. Or if they’d worried about making Cruise’s character something other than a completely unlikable ass, who we’re just supposed to like anyway, because he’s Tom Cruise. Maybe if they’d seemed a bit more concerned with the story at hand instead of setting up Dr. Jekyll and his monster hunters for franchise glory. But sadly, none of those things came to pass. The Mummy is, at best, an important parable that chickens should not be counted before they hatch.

5. BAYWATCH- Baywatch is a movie that simply can’t decide what it wants to be. Sometimes it’s a raunchy R-rated comedy. Sometimes it’s supposed to be a loving and accurate tribute to the original TV show, a family drama about lifeguards that peddled T&A. There are even a handful of times it’s trying to be a Farrelly Bros. film. Sadly, it misses on all counts. It’s not funny. It’s not a particularly good tribute. It’s, frankly, a waste of the talents of nearly everyone involved. Dwayne Johnson and Alexandra Daddario definitely deserve better than the poor characterization and whiplash tone that it foists upon them.

BEST OF THE WORST-

CJ in BAYWATCH

We must be in the Upside Down. How else can you explain how someone as charismatic as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson laid such an egg in Baywatch, while a relative newcomer, model-turned-actress Kelly Rohrbach, stole the film right out from under him, providing one of the few bright spots in the whole exercise simply by managing to be likable and charming.

4. GHOST IN THE SHELL- What a waste. In a year where we actually got an outstanding Blade Runner sequel, it becomes even harder to justify this remake, whose most-noted positive attribute was its aping of Blade Runner’s visual style. While the Scarlett Johansson whitewashing controversy was overblown, the idea that the film couldn’t address it by capitalizing on its own themes about identity in a plot involving a Japanese woman’s brain being put into a cybernetic Caucasian-looking body is just unforgivable. The biggest issue, however, is the fact that it’s in the same general vicinity as Tommy Wiseau’s The Room at depicting realistic human behavior (and, in a wonderful irony, much, much worse than its animated source material, which was built around the philosophical question of what it was to be human.) It’s a shame they were more focused on recreating key iconic visuals from the anime than the context in which they appeared.

BEST OF THE WORST-

Beat Takeshi in GHOST IN THE SHELL-
He almost makes this awful mess worth seeing. Because as bad as the stinker is, it can’t hide just how cool the man from Battle Royale is.

3. MONSTER TRUCKS- Sadly more Mac and Me than ET, Monster Trucks seems like it has good intentions to be a throwback, Amblin-style family adventure. Unfortunately, it fails on literally every single level. The story, in which oil companies are vilified as environmental fable villains while the truck culture that relies on them is advertised for an hour and a half, makes absolutely no sense. The “teenage” hero looks less like a high schooler than about anyone this side of Steve McQueen in The Blob, leading one to wonder just how many times this dope has had to repeat a grade. One also wonders how talented people like Rob Lowe, Frank Whaley, Barry Pepper, and Amy Ryan managed to get wrangled into this mess for thankless, and oftentimes pointless, roles. I feel sorry for any parent whose kids latch onto this one for repeated viewings.

2. TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT- It’s better than the last one because it hurt a little less and was easier to laugh at. That’s the nicest thing that can be said about Bay’s fifth trip to the dry well on this franchise. The story… who am I kidding? There’s no story. There’s a mélange of other movies cobbled together into something resembling a screenplay written in crayon. As angry and confused as ever, Mark Wahlberg stars again as Texas inventor Cade Yeager, who starts the movie hanging out in a junkyard in one of the Dakotas, that looks suspiciously like his home in Texas from the last movie. Before things are done, we have been introduced to the British Megan Fox, Sir Anthony Hopkins has had a blast giving the worst performance of his career, and the entire continuity of this enterprise has begun to make the X-Men’s look sensical in comparison. I’m still trying to figure out how Stanley Tucci’s drunken Merlin ties into this, seeing as how he played the minor antagonist of the fourth one, but that seems to be putting far more thought into this movie than anyone did when they filmed it.

BEST OF THE WORST-

The Shia LaBeouf cameo in TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT-

The only purposeful laugh this movie managed to cajole from me.

1. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST-  It’s been a long time since I have hated a movie as much as this one. I basically sat in the theater getting more angry with every single bad choice made on the screen that took an animated masterpiece and turned it into a bloated, ugly abomination. The updates to the plot make no sense. The new songs show why they weren’t included the first time around. I hated to even look at the garish production design that feels like a whole movie put together by the person who puked up the Mad Hatter from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Great actors are wasted. Josh Gad is also in it, and that certainly doesn’t help. It is the worst-case scenario for the unnecessary remake factory that Disney has become, despite now owning half the intellectual properties on the planet. The fact that it made over a billion dollars at the box office is just as big of an indictment of popular tastes as the success of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies.

KEEP READING FOR THE BEST OF 2017 >

 

Aisle of the Damned: 01/19/18- The Perfunctory 2017 Wrap-Up

Hello, fellow movie geeks! Bryan and Kent are up to their old tricks again with their mandatory look at the year that was! Yes, there’s a look a the best, the worst, and the most disappointing releases of the year. Which movies will top their lists? Will Bryan have room for anything besides the plethora of grand superhero films this year? Find out!

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

MUSIC:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Velocity Girl- My Forgotten Favorite