Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Frankenweenie

Black and white and 3D!

I really wish I could say I enjoyed Frankenweenie more than I did. Oh sure, I enjoyed parts of it. Some of them a lot. But the film, a retelling of Frankenstein, this time with a boy that brings his dog back from the dead, felt flat in terms of design and storytelling. In preparing this review, it definitely felt jumbled and a bit hard to edit, maybe because the film itself is such a mixed bag.

Frankenweenie is the second animated feature directed by Tim Burton after Corpse Bride. (Nightmare Before Christmas was produced by Burton, but directed by the highly talented Henry Selick; a fact I was yelling at the TV during a poorly fact-checked episode of the short-lived Trivial Pursuit game show a few years back.) It is also a remake of a live-action short he directed very early in his career and as an expansion of the short it isn’t unsuccessful. The new material definitely takes advantage of the animated medium that it has transitioned to. I’m a little curious why Sparky, the dog of the title, is a sculpted recreation of Burton’s work on Brad Bird’s Family Dog from Amazing Stories instead of a dachshund, like the title would imply. But let’s chalk that up to artistic lisence. It also relies heavily in design on nostalgia for his early stop-motion efforts like Vincent that have been included on issuances of Nightmare Before Christmas DVDs as bonus features. Unfortunately I’ve never found that particular phase of his design work to be as interesting as many of his fans and because of the drawbacks of that style, the figures used in the stop motion are sometimes a bit too simplified and stiff to really be expressive. Sometimes they come across like better animated Rankin-Bass puppets.

The voice cast also reflects this longing for his early career as much of it is made up of people from those films. Martin Short (Mars Attacks) in multiple roles, Catherine O’Hara (Beetlejuice), Winona Ryder (Edward Scissorhands) and the standout of the piece, Martin Landau (Ed Wood), who puts on his best bad Eastern European accent while telling parents at a PTA meeting that his teaching method for their children involves wanting to “crack their heads open to get at their brains.”

Part of the problem of Frankenweenie is that the new material starts out with a theme, science as a positive force in the world that should be looked at with fascination instead of fear, and that theme is completely lost in a science-run-amok finale that seems to negate it. Burton seems so eager to throw together his influences that he doesn’t really come up with a clear idea what story he’s telling, except for that familiar Disney chestnut, “love is good.” There is definitely some fun stuff here; obvious homage to the James Whale Franenstein films, a rather direct reference to everyone’s favorite turtle, Gamera, and some footage of Christopher Lee as Dracula from one of his Hammer films (I guess Burton is determined to get him into every one of his films in one way or another) but as we’ve seen in a lot of today’s media, simple homage does not make classic entertainment. If all Tarantino had were his riffs on his favorite films, there wouldn’t be much to him. This film is particularly strange because it almost seems like the bulk of what constitutes original material is made up of references to his own early work; the suburbs being the focal point of a sparse hell of ignorant and stupid people in which sports equals death and wow, why didn’t all these people understand my tortured, artistic childhood psyche?

One way Frankenweenie surprised me was just how dark and gross some of the gags were. I hesitate to reveal what they are, but for a PG-rated movie, a few of them had me squirming. Whether that is a good or a bad thing, I suppose I would have to leave to the individual, but personally while some of them made me guffaw, some of them just made me kind of queasy. I suppose it’s all about the context of stop-motion’s inherent creepy factor since several of them wouldn’t have been out of place in Ren and Stimpy and wouldn’t have raised my eyebrows as much. Granted, I’m the last person that needs to comment about content given my rants about how much children’s entertainment and ‘family movies’ have been watered down.

It’s been a rough year for Burton in my eyes. Dark Shadows was one of the weakest films I saw in 2012. (Though it’s true I have mostly gone to things that I knew I was predisposed to. It’s the one advantage of not being paid to do what I do; to quote James Mason in Journey to the Center of the Earth, “That’s my consolation, Madame. I don’t have to look at it.”) While Frankenweenie was not a great film in my eyes, I do hope it marks a return of Burton to the projects of a more personal nature which I have enjoyed from him. While he’s always run hot and cold, I’ve liked several of his films over the years. His output over the last decade has undoubtedly been disappointing for a lot of us. Alice in Wonderland was a bloated mess. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was uninspired. If this project helps Burton return to his roots and reexplore what brought him to prominence as a filmmaker in the first place, maybe it’s worth it.

(Two and a half Damns out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Safety Not Guaranteed

I thought you guys broke up.

Every once in a while, there is a film that I instantly connect with and love from the first five minutes. Safety Not Guaranteed is such a film for me. It is a film that maintains the veneer of a light comedy even though it is about regrets, putting the past behind us, making the most of a moment and moving on when we don’t. It certainly helps that it is very funny. I know a lot of people will dismiss the film as a “minor indie” because of that, or they’ll simply use what I’ve noticed is the new favorite adjective of anyone that wants to dismiss anything with a low budget and the slightest amount of cleverness or quirk, “hipster.” I don’t recall anyone in the film having ironic tattoos, wearing scarves in summer or asking if their food is organic, so I’m not sure what one has to do with the other. (One obvious scholar on Amazon’s website called it a “chick flick” due to a lack of action. Well reasoned, chap!)

In my case though, it struck all the right chords and entertained me throughout. I found it in some ways to have the kind of character building that one would find from a film by Wes Anderson. In fact the male lead, portrayed by Mark Duplass, struck me as very much in the same vein as Dignan from Bottle Rocket. Clearly though, Safety would never be confused with an Anderson picture. It contains a much looser feel, minus the rigid stylization and world building Anderson makes. In this case, it’s absolutely the right choice. It helps ground the film in a needed reality that helps ratchet up the tension as things go more off the rails.

The film’s beginnings come from a fake personal ad that ran in the back of a magazine in the 80’s looking for a partner to experience time travel (“Must bring own weapons. I’ve only done this once before.”) In the movie however, the ad is placed by a sincere individual. He lives in the woods of Washington and runs drills, preparing for his trip back in time.

Answering the ad are a trio from “Seattle Magazine,” a reporter and his two interns, one of whom is Darius, brought to life by Aubrey Plaza. Plaza, not just one of the big reasons I need to finally start watching Parks and Rec, but also a perfectly bitchy Julie in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, is at her best in the role. As the film’s lead, she manages to be likable, yet acerbic in a way that is very rarely seen, especially from a female comedian. This is not a dumb comment about women being unfunny, before any reactionaries fly off the handle; I’m talking about a particular personality type that is rare in men and seems to be even rarer in women. It’s kind of a Bill Murray quality, which is the biggest compliment I can think to bestow. When she says scripted oddities like, “There’s no sense in nonsense when the heat’s hot.” she manages to somehow say it in a way that is both mocking and sincere at the same time.

Thinking they can get a humor piece for their publication, the interns (Plaza and a young actor named Karan Soni) stake out the PO box in the ad. After following him from the post office, Plaza convinces Duplass that she is up for the trip and trains with him. Along the way, she begins to get the feeling that there is more to him than the nutjob people see him as. She senses a fellow outsider and she clicks with him. The reporter, meanwhile, is using the entire exercise as a way to look up an old high school girlfriend in the area, leaving them to their own devices. Jake Johnson, recognizable for many small roles in comedies like 21 Jump Street, is good and smarmy in his interactions.

The plot, initially breezy, finally gets some gravitas in the end, and the end will likely be where opinion on this film truly splits. It will be maddening for some who need absolute closure like the fifteen endings to Lord of the Rings, while others will not care and truly love it. I am of the latter category. While I would have loved to see more (heck, maybe I’m in the minority, but I’d love to see a sequel to follow up the film) the current ending is perfect in its own way. Some lessons are learned, some are ignored, but it is a moment seized.

I will be revisiting Safety Not Guaranteed many times in the future. I just wish I could go back in time and see it in the theater.

(Four damns out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Katy Perry: Part of Me

Through the looking glass, Alice!

What do you call a concert movie where you don’t really get to see the concert? Apparently you call it Katy Perry: Part of Me.

*rimshot*

One of the later entries in what seems to be a 3D pop superstar concert series, it wasn’t that big at the box office and I think there are a few reasons why. I will start out by saying that after the third time I heard “I Kissed a Girl,” I was ready to jam an ice pick into my ears rather than listen to it again. After that, I’ve been able to take her music in moderate doses, but I certainly haven’t bought any of it. Needless to say I’m not the biggest Katy Perry fan in the world. That would probably be my friend Jared. At least as long as she’s showing cleavage. (Not just when they’re shooting whipped cream, either.) And that is why, not to indict myself, while we were waiting a very long time to see The Amazing Spider-Man this summer, we sat through a good chunk of the film. After being subjected to a sing-along number from “Grease” that is probably used in Guantanamo to make terrorists talk, we were certainly impressed by the 3D that was some of the best I’ve seen in a movie.

But the problem is that, as everyone is talking about the crazy costumes and the extravagant choreography and the huge production values, and yes, they are quite elaborate and impressive, they can only seem to show about a minute of it at a time before they cut away to hear someone jabber: her sister, her manager, her costume designer, her former roommate, fans that look like they get beat up a LOT. Rather than just show you her performance, it throws up a bevy of sycophantic opinion. Plus, most of the songs seem to be cut down to the bare bones and edited down.

Know going in to this movie that you are not seeing Perry’s show; you are getting her A&E biography. You learn about her incredibly Christian upbringing, her time as an Alanis Morissette clone, the attempts to make her an Avril Lavigne clone… actually one of the best parts of the whole thing is old footage of her getting tired of it and yelling “I’m Avril Lavigne!” while awkwardly throwing things… and a blow by blow of her marriage to creepy guy Russell Brand melting down like Chernobyl. For the people that read People and the folks that read about celebrity gossip, it will undoubtedly be fascinating. Watch Katy use a stairmaster! Watch Katy get a short hello from Lady Gaga! Watch Katy go up a lift twenty times wearing a dress that has spinning peppermint boobs! Gimme Shelter, it is not.

I’ll grant you that you’re not going to see a new marriage go kablooey and the aftermath on someone in the middle of a high-stress environment in a Justin Bieber movie. It’s raw and emotional and completely unexpected from such a film, but it still isn’t enough to get me to recommend it.

I’m gonna have to say this one is just for the fans.

(Two out of five stars)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Warm Bodies

In you head, in your head, zo-hom-bie, zom-hom-bie, zom-hom-bie bie bie!

The marketers behind Warm Bodies certainly aren’t doing their film any favors. Since I saw it and began mentioning it to folks, a lot of people have flat out asked if it was what it looked like they saw in the commercials: zombie Twilight. Fortunately, aside from the use of a terrible font for the titles, Warm Bodies is absolutely not like Twilight in the slightest. It is a witty romantic comedy that happens to include zombies, not an overwrought teen drama with supernatural overtones grafted onto it. (In other words, Warm Bodies is actually funny on purpose.)

It took some time to accept the premise, but once I did, I found myself laughing a lot. “R” (Nicholas Hoult of X-Men: First Class, looking very much like a little Benedict Cumberbatch) is not a normal zombie. While he has trouble expressing himself to be sure, he has an internal monologue that races like a greyhound. Typically, narration can be a huge mistake in a film, but in this case it absolutely works. Because he can’t remember his former life, he avoids being ‘Flower for Algernon-ed’ (though that would be a fascinating avenue to explore). He’s bored and frustrated, though. “What am I doing with my life?” he muses as he endlessly rides the moving sidewalks at the airport. He doesn’t know what he’s missing, but he knows he’s missing it. In the meantime, he’s the only zombie that you’ve ever seen listen to records. Despite keeping more of his humanity than the average corpse, he doesn’t really get to do much socializing, aside from hunting in packs and grunting at his ‘best friend’ (Rob Corddry.) That changes when he meets Julie.

Julie, the daughter of the leader of the human survivalists, is a kick-ass chick to be sure.

She is portrayed by Teresa Palmer, who looks very much like a blonde Kristen Stewart. Enough so that my co-host has referred to her as ‘bootleg Kristen Stewart.’ But since Palmer shows that she is capable of more than one facial expression, wouldn’t that make Kristen Stewart the bootleg Theresa Palmer?

Then again, as my friend Jared said when I discussed this with him, “Kristen Stewart is the bootleg Kristen Stewart.”

Regardless, R eats Julie’s boyfriend (Dave Franco, thankfully taken out quickly) and gains his memories, it adds to an already present attraction and sparks a change in him. He saves Julie and keeps her safe from his own kind. Slowly he begins evolving into something approaching human again. Fortunately for him, he’s more attractive than the average undead and she learns to trust him.

Turns out R is the anti-Outbreak monkey that will spur a cure in the zombie population, if only he can avoid being killed by Julie’s dad, portrayed by John Malkovich.

The film is frequently funny in unexpected ways, which is part of the reason it took me a while to warm up to it. Most of the zombies of Warm Bodies may look like your typical Romero ghouls, but they don’t always act like them. There seems to be a big variation in the zombie population, with some of them being decidedly faster and more animalistic and some of them shuffling around. Call it ‘New Zombie’ and ‘Zombie Classic’ in the same film.

At times the film’s writing and soundtrack choices threaten to become too twee for their own good. However, even with the indie comedy vibe it exudes, Julie is not what I would consider a manic pixie girl. Thankfully, while it skirted the line, it never crossed it for me. Also appreciated is that while it certainly references Romeo and Juliet (the names R and Julie, a balcony scene, etc.), it’s not a lazy retread of the star-crossed lovers theme.

I had trepidations going into this movie. While I have certainly enjoyed a lot of zombie films, I have gotten sick of the premise. Thankfully through heart and humor, Warm Bodies injects some much needed life into the over-packed genre of the undead.

(Three and a half out of five stars)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Argo


Ben, the two of us need look no more...
Ben Affleck has made one of the best films of the year.

And no, I never thought I’d say those words. Especially considering fifteen years ago the only things he seemed to be any good in were Kevin Smith movies (and the great commentaries on the accompanying DVDs, largely consisting of making fun of Affleck to his face.)

In Argo, Affleck has managed to capture a specific place and time in the history of 20th Century American outrage and done so in a way that is not so much in the tradition of the melodramatic Oscar-bait that usually accompanies the kinds of films that receive the type of praise it has, but that is highly entertaining and, dare I say it, fun to watch.

A lot of the credit no doubt comes from the cast he’s assembled. While Affleck would be considered the main character of the piece, he wisely underplays his portrayal of CIA extraction expert Tony Mendez, following up his humorous and sad introduction with a subtle performance that lets others get the glory. John Goodman and Alan Arkin practically steal the film out from under him and deserve all the praise that can be ladled upon them during this awards season. They are not just engaging, but just on the right side of softly cynical, knowing the system that needs to be worked, even as they acknowledge how ridiculous Hollywood is.

In a vastly streamlined account of a true story, the film recounts a classified incident from the days of the Iran hostage crisis. While the furious revolutionaries under the new Ayatollah laid into the American Embassy and took the US citizens inside hostage for over a year, a half-dozen low-level employees managed to escape the besieged compound and took refuge in the Canadian ambassador’s residence, hiding from the government. As a part of what Mendez’s boss (portrayed by the always great Bryan Cranston) calls, “by far the best bad idea we’ve got,” the CIA fabricated a film production, inserting the agent and then extracting him and the fugitive Americans under the guise of being a Canadian film crew, scouting locations in the Middle East. Goodman is John Chambers, a Oscar-winning make-up man for Planet of the Apes who has worked with the CIA before, while Arkin is a producer he brings into the plot in order to facilitate the business aspects of the operation.

Broken into three distinct acts, all of which are entertaining in their own way, Argo shows not just the escape of the Americans from the compound and their subsequent escape from Iran, but features a brilliantly funny portrait of Hollywood as the Agency puts together a piss-poor Star Wars rip-off over the course of four days in order to give their cover identities credibility. A screenplay is chosen, a table-read is performed and even the legendary comic artist Jack Kirby (Michael Parks) is recruited to produce production art. The humor and surreality of the Hollywood segment helps alleviate the tension just long enough before it is ratcheted up in a finale that is most likely not an accurate timeline of events, but is certainly fantastic filmmaking.

Argo is not a traditional spy film, political thriller or caper film. However, it manages to wrap up the best parts of all three into a shiny, new package while maintaining a high-wire act one could almost call “old-fashioned” in its style and entertainment value. (I will admit a certain amount of nerd-glee over the use of the 70’s era Warner Bros. logo at the beginning of the film, which immediately set me in the mood for what followed.) Despite knowing how the story ends, the film manages to keep the audience highly engaged in the fate of these countrymen in the face of overwhelming odds. That it is done with style, humor and top-notch acting makes it one of the most successful movies I have seen from 2012.

(Five out of five stars)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Hotel Transylvania

hotel-transylvania-uk-quad-poster

Mayhap it comes from the wellspring of low expectations I had for it, but I was flabbergasted to find that Hotel Transylvania is actually a pretty darn fun movie.

I had some hopes for it due to the fact that Genndy Tartakovsky, the Cartoon Network mastermind behind such favorites as Samurai Jack and Dexter’s Lab, was the director. But then I looked at the cast list.

Adam Sandler as Count Dracula? Kevin James? David Spade? Andy Samberg? Vibrations of such fare as “Grown-Ups” came to mind and caused shudders. Even going back farther, let’s not forget that Adam Sandler’s prior animated fare was the abysmal Eight Crazy Nights. I happen to like Cee-Lo Green as a singer (Gnarls Barkley, anyone?) but he hasn’t exactly done a ton of acting that I can think of off hand. And Selena Gomez is only known by name to me, being far outside her target demographic. I think you can understand my trepidations. Except for Steve Buscemi as a harried Wolfman, because, c’mon. It’s Steve Buscemi. You know he’s knocking that out of the park.

While the film certainly isn’t perfect and contains some stuff that feels like it was included upon insistence by executive committee (a tacked-on ending musical sequence involving a rapping Dracula, for example, is pretty much a nadir) the majority of its running time is a cartoony romp through Famous Monsters magazine. Visually, most of the designs are well done, though for some reason Frankenstein left me cold. No wonder the folks I know in animation were singing their praises for the film. It looks like it was a hundred times more fun to animate than your typical CGI feature. Character models are stretched to their limits, doing what can at times be classified as wild takes. Extremely rare for a CG cartoon, that. Certainly to the extent that they’re displayed here. It’s kinetic and manages to alternate well between high energy sequences and a few more emotional scenes.

Our story begins with a strangely benevolent Dracula building the eponymous hotel for his monster ilk, looking to keep them (and his newborn daughter) safe from the terror of humans. Like most children that are not allowed to grow and explore, said daughter, Mavis Dracula, wants nothing more than to escape to the bigger world and see what’s really out there. With her permanent eye-shadow and Chuck Jones-ian sneakers, she’s as cute a ball of goth sunshine as you could ever wish to see. Dracula’s attempts to keep her within the smothering confines of the hotel work until the arrival of a human. Johnny is… well, he’s somewhat annoying. And kind of an idiot. Let’s just get that out there. If this were not a PG feature, he would most likely be having drug-fueled conversations about how there’s a universe within a universe in the fingernail of his pinky. But since this does happen to be a family movie, instead we get stories of his backpacking around the world. No word on how much his parents are shelling out for that.

Anyway, as he stumbles in, Dracula ends up disguising him as a monster, “Johnnystein,” to keep him from scaring the guests away. What a twist! Mavis falls for Johnny. Johnny falls for Mavis. Wacky hijinx ensue.

The fun comes in the cartoony animation and in the gags, with the script being at least partially written by Late Night with Conan O’Brien fixture Robert Smigel. AKA: Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. When the two are put together, it sometimes feels like a strange, old MGM cartoon. The kind in which the funniest jokes aren’t necessarily adult, but go well over the heads of the kids in the audience.

I don’t know if everyone will respond to it the way I did, but I feel it’s a solid triple for Tartakovsky and I eagerly look forward to whatever comes next from him.

(Three out of five stars)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

You shall not pass gas!

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first; no, The Hobbit does not show justification for being broken into three movies, let alone the run time of this one. Yes, it’s still absolutely worth seeing.

Peter Jackson’s decision to milk the remainder of J.R.R. Tolkien’s oeuvre that was available to him has been controversial to say the least. Having just read the novel beginning to end for the first time (an aborted attempt was made back in high school when it was assigned reading) I can say that a lot has been added to extend it. For good or ill, single sentences or mentions are expanded to full special effects laden sequences. Not to ruin the ending of the story for you, but there’s a battle, just as one would expect, and it has about four pages of description, in past tense as a recollection, no less. I figure this will account for nearly the entirety of the final film. I have not read The Silmarillion or the various scraps of his father’s work that Christopher Tolkien, angry with Peter Jackson for exploiting his father’s work, has compiled and released posthumously to… exploit his father’s work. Therefore, I can not tell you how much of this material is from those volumes.

Regardless, The Hobbit is a different animal from the previous Lord of the Rings trilogy for which it serves as prequel. Not for lack of trying, however. Characters that did not appear in the original novel make not altogether unwelcome cameos and at times the action is so spot-on in its mimicry, it is almost like Jackson is pointing to the screen saying, “Look, look! Remember that?”

While there are certainly exciting action sequences, the majority of the film seems almost like a walking tour of Middle Earth. Once again, this is not necessarily a bad thing. The problem comes when the film’s tone seems at odds with itself. The novel is essentially a very good children’s book. Let’s call a spade a spade. And as such, it is filled with whimsical touches that seem out of place with much of the tone set in the original film trilogy. This would not be a problem if Jackson didn’t seem so intent on carrying over so much of that previous tone.

One place the film excels over the book is that of characterization. Ian McKellan is, of course, still fantastic as Galdalf the Grey. Taking Ian Holm’s place (once a Saving Private Ryan-in reverse framing device is employed) as Bilbo is Martin Freeman who is, as one would expect given his turns in fare such as The Office and Sherlock, perfect for the role. He plays the character very close to the book, all his naiveté, bumbling and charm intact. At the risk of upsetting Tolkien disciples, it’s interesting that people have been complaining about the dwarves’ lack of personality in the film as, while they are spread thin given the sheer number of them, there is far more to them than the dwarves in the book. Perhaps readers don’t remember that most of them don’t even seem to have lines in the slim tome, let alone discernible persona. This helps show why Guillermo del Toro, before bolting the project, found it his biggest worry in adapting the film. Given what they had to work with, I found the solution of giving them personalities based often, at least in part, on their appearance, to be an excellent short-hand.

The stand-out sequence of the film is, as is to be expected, the famous “Riddles in the Dark.” When Bilbo finds the ring that will cause no end of trouble to his kin, his interplay with Gollum is tense, creepy while simultaneously being funny and altogether outstanding.

The first of the Hobbit films (and I would suspect the other two as well) have all the qualities of Peter Jackson not running a victory lap, but a victory-rerunning-of-the-race. It seems like a bit much, but it’s much better than nothing, if that makes sense.

Now as to the technical aspects of the film; these were where I was truly disappointed. I know that CGI has advanced in the decade since Lord of the Rings bowled me over. However, the effects simply don’t look it in a lot of places. I put this squarely on the use of the high-speed frame rate of 48 frames per second that Jackson made the film with. There are so many issues with the lighting and overall look of the film, that I will say it was absolutely a mistake to begin using it with these films. Perhaps with more experimentation the problems will clear up, but as of now, the process adds nothing over what I have otherwise seen of IMAX or 3-D presentations and detracts much in terms of the look of the film. To be clear, I saw the film twice, first in IMAX 3-D with the high frame rate and once on a regular movie screen in 2-D, so I could compare them. The 3-D of the IMAX screening was some of the least impressive I have ever seen. On more than one occasion, I was struck by a sheer lack of depth to the image. For instance, when the dwarf band emerges on a cliff overlooking Rivendell, it was like they were standing in front of a matt-painting. Even mediocre conversion jobs that I’ve reluctantly seen have been more impressive. I’ve heard people describe the issues with the HRF process that it “is too real.” I couldn’t disagree more. I’ve never seen anything in real life look like that. Everything seems to have a waxy coating to it. As I do recommend seeing the film, I also highly recommend seeing the film in the regular frame rate. Many of the visual issues still exist because of the filming process, but they are not as glaring, thankfully.

(Three and a half out of five stars)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Iron Sky

Heil, myself!

There are a couple of movies I’ve reviewed here that I’ve given better grades than they may have deserved, based on their sheer audacity to exist. Iron Sky is such a film.

The product of a metal musician from Finland named Timo Vuorensola, the main idea behind the film is that in the 1940s, the Third Reich sent some UFO-type shuttles loose of Earth’s gravity and secretly landed on the dark side of the moon. Since then, they have bided their time, waiting for the moment that the Moon Fuhrer will reestablish the Nazi regime, in their subtle-as-a-face-tattoo swastika shaped moonbase.

When the film is built around this plot, it is wonderfully goofy and full of the kind of crazy grindhouse fun such a premise promises. When an airlock is opened and the female lead is stripped to her outdated undergarments, it’s in the tradition of the kind of weird Naz-ploitation movies of the 70’s that inspired Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the S.S. trailer. When the lunar Krauts unleash their meteor blitz, it is astounding that such a small budget could produce something like this. It would have been unheard of, probably even a decade ago. And that’s where this film being made tickles me greatly. I love that some musician with an idea was able to put together a film on this scale and get it released around the world. It is a credit to creativity and ingenuity.

Then comes the but… But there is another very large part of the film that does not work as well.

Political satire can be hilarious. However, the attempted satire in Iron Sky lands with an incredible thud. An American president, modeled seemingly after porn star Lisa Ann’s portrayal of Sarah Palin, infused with a W. accent and plenty of Obama-isms thrown in (“Yes she can!” proclaims a reelection poster), is shown bungling everything in regards to the threat, at different times unknowingly and knowingly using them in her campaign for another four years. The only thing this president cares about is results. Election results, to be exact. Most of her fellow Americans are not much more enlightened, either. Not that the majority of other countries are shown in a particularly better light, but we’re going by screentime percentage here. There are a couple of instances when this mess yields results: an attempt by a North Korean delegation to give the Kim family credit for destruction caused by the Nazis and a parody of the oft-resubtitled scene of Hitler in his bunker from the movie Downfall come to mind. But for the most part, that particular half of the film is an over-broad, unfunny dud, especially when it decides to start moralizing towards the end. In the end it sinks the film and makes it just plain not work. I can applaud the director trying to make more of something than it would appear to be on the surface, but risks sometimes just don’t pan out, especially when the attempts at comedy are handled with such clumsy hands.

With the exception of Julia Dietze, a devoted party teacher that turns her back on the Reich once she learns more about what is in the world, and Udo Kier, who could play the Moon Fuhrer in his sleep given his resume, the acting is pretty darn awful across the board. Sometimes this works in the film’s favor, with what kind of a movie it is, but at other times it is just plain distracting. I think it could be an example (much like another film I saw recently, The Last Stand) of issues a foreign-language director may have when making a film in English.

I am recommending Iron Sky on a conditional basis. If you have a sense of humor and enjoy weirdness, it is worth seeing , but you most likely will not be revisiting it at a later date. Unless, like me, you will be skipping ahead to the ‘good parts.’

(Two and a half out of five stars)

Aisle Of The Damned Episode XV: Finally. Again. FINALLY.

After a month plus hiatus we are back! Thanks for hanging with us. In this episode we review The Grey, The Hunger Games, Dick Tracy, Ted and Iron Sky. For theatrical reviews we cover Texas Chainsaw 3D, The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey, and Django Unchained. Please enjoy as I was highly intoxicated as we recorded this!  and Honk if you love Justice!

*Also I apologize for the tapping noises from time to time…that’s Kent’s laptop fan going KAPLOOEY!

Music: The Aquabats – Stuck In A Movie, Django Unchained Theme

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Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: The Last Stand

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It makes sense that Jee-woon Kim’s first film for an American studio is a film like The Last Stand. Previously, he has probably been most well known for his “Eastern Western,” The Good, The Bad and The Weird. Set in turn of the century Mongolia, it borrowed heavily from lots of Western tropes, both Hollywood and Spaghetti, ran through an Asian filter.

The classic American action movie, originating in the 70s and going full-bore in the 80s, borrowed a lot from those films as well, the tropes being fully acknowledged with dialogue from Die Hard in which Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber refers to John McClane as a cowboy, raised on John Wayne and the like. “Roy Rogers, actually,” McClane states before uttering his infamous “Yippie Kai Aye [expletive deleted]” call that would follow him through the franchise to come.

Like John Woo’s American breakthrough, Broken Arrow, Kim makes his debut with a straight-up action flick set in the open spaces of the American southwest, centering in and around an Arizona border town. The Sheriff of this town is the newly evacuated ex-governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger in his first starring role since returning to acting. (We won’t count the Expendables films, obviously.)

What’s good about The Last Stand is also what’s bad about it. There is no pretension in the film. There’s not much winking at the audience. Arnold thankfully doesn’t make jokes about being back. It’s got a seemingly Rio Bravo-esque slam bang finale that makes up for a good part of the running time being uninspired. Schwarzenegger’s character balances his responsibilities as a lawman with his devotion to his underlings and his desire to protect his town. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the film, but there’s nothing new here. There’s not a twist on the formula or any kind of an attempt to show anything in a new light. The story follows structure so rigidly that it may as well be mainlining Viagra. At one point, we know a character is doomed when he requests a transfer to get more action in his life. I’d call it a spoiler, but it’s so obvious, everyone who’s ever seen a movie of this type has to know it’s coming. On the plus side, it’s nice to see an action movie that doesn’t require dramamine due to overuse of shakycam. It looks pretty darn good.
The performances, including those from such usual standouts as Forrest Whittaker, seem to be on autopilot. Luis Guzman deserves the statue of him that’s kept at Greendale Community College (shoutout to my fellow Community fans), but he’s not exactly expanding his range. Johnny Knoxville remains eminently likable, but he’s going by the numbers. And Arnold remains Arnold, but this time making some cracks about his age, as if he is performing in a sequel in which one of his shoot ’em up characters from the 80s retired to the middle of nowhere and is now thrust back into action. While watching the film, one can picture clearly the screenwriter typing and erasing, “I’m getting too old for this sh*t” over and over again, the desire to put it in almost overwhelming him. The one person that seems to be getting to flex their muscles is Jamie Alexander, getting to do more than she did as Lady Sif in Thor. But not a ton more. Oh, and Harry Dean Stanton puts in yet another great cameo.

In another seeming throwback to thirty years ago, the villain is a sneering, violent drug kingpin for whom, to quote Joe Carnahan’s A-Team, “Overkill is underrated.” After a rather crafty escape from federal custody, he slips into a modified Corvette that can go 200 miles per hour. Luckily for this hombre, he is not just an entitled jerk, but a pro race car driver that can perform all sorts of crazy car fu that actually seems to have mostly been done with real cars. (If it was CG, than I as a non-car enthusiast did not notice any huge, exposed seams.)

Why no one thinks to put up any spike strips to blow his tires, I do not know. Aside from the fact that the movie could possibly be a lot shorter.

As he tries to cross the border, the local law finds themselves the last line of defense to keep the the creep from escaping to Mexico where it is apparently assumed that the Federales have no interest in curtailing him.

Along the way there’s gunplay, yelling on the phone and a lot of CGI gunshots that I can ofter the faint praise of looking better than the ones in the afore-mentioned Expendables. All in all, it’s a solid, if underwhelming, actioner; good for a rental so one can assess the novelty value of ol’ man Arnold teaming up with Asian directors come abroad.

(Two and a half out of five stars)