Aisle of the Damned: 07/20/16- Ghostblather

They don't actually manage to bust one ghost.

Bryan and Kent saw Paul Feig’s Pixels 2… sorry, Ghostbusters, and think it should be busting itself, because it’s pretty much DOA. Find out why we don’t think it works as a whole (SPOILER ALERT: They don’t manage to bust and hold onto one ghost in the whole film.) and the things we think do work on a small scale.

Plus, we have looks at Spielberg’s surprisingly underperforming The BFG and indulge our Aubrey Plaza and Anna Kendrick crushes with Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. As usual, we also have recommendations for our listeners. All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Los Straitjackets- ¡Ghostbusters!

Aisle of the Damned- 10/7/15: MATT DAMON!


In our newest episode of Aisle of the Damned, we take an in depth look at The Martian and praise it as being one of Ridley Scott’s better efforts. Kent also throws a bone to the horror-themed animated comedies Hell and Back and Hotel Transylvania 2. Then we knuckle under and give you a preview of the upcoming releases through the end of the year (and find a surprising number of films we are looking forward to.)

All that and less in this episode of Aisle of the Damned!

The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie

Jackie Fantheree- First Man on Mars

Aisle of the Damned: Episode XXII- Gary Shandling is Evil

Aisle of the Damned: Episode 22- Gary Shandling is Evil!

Greetings, movie fiends! In our first new episode of the year (the first of many, we promise), Bryan and Kent take a look at a Marvel 2-fer: The Amazing Spider Man 2 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Let us take you by the hand, dear listener, as we discuss the finer points of Cap vs. Man of Steel, the future of Chris Evans in the Marvel U., childrens’ movie adaptations in book form and the worst scenes in Spider-Man movie history. Not necessarily in that order.









The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie

DVDA- America, F*** Yeah!

Kent’s Movie Diary- Early Carpenter, Teen Wolf and some newer stuff as well

Some pretty different films this installment, so let’s just dig in.

DamnedTeenWolfTeen Wolf- Teen Wolf is one weird movie, man. I get that the country was riding the Michael J. Fox wave, but I’m shocked that this thing was a major hit. It has cult film written all over it.

I’m a huge fan of Axe Cop and one of the reasons why is that it is the work of a child that is being made by adults as though it is deserving of every resource they can muster. I don’t know how old Jeph Loeb was when he wrote the screenplay, but it almost feels like a 17-year-old wrote the script and it was made by adult professionals. It’s practically dadaist in many ways, from the sudden bizzare shifts in tone to the way there is no sense of linear narrative passing. (Dialogue indicates the film takes place over a matter of days while the climax indicates an entire basketball season has been played.) Not to mention the bizarre way that the main character is accepted immediately and nobody ever really questions the situation. Wouldn’t the confirmation of the existence of werewolves be at least worthy of local media attention? Wouldn’t it spark the slightest scientific curiosity?

I mostly knew of the film thanks to the Saturday Morning cartoon and from seeing Teen Wolf Too with my mom as a kid. (I assume she saw the first and enjoyed it, so she took us to the sequel that was ahead of its time in recognizing the cinematic qualities of intercollegiate wrestling.) But I’m sure I saw at least some of the original during some network broadcast in the mid to late 80s. My interest in seeing it complete was related to a Cracked podcast (one of the participants being ‘David Wong,’ writer of John Dies at the End) in which the film was discussed as not just an obvious puberty metaphor, but a subconscious racial tale in which Fox’s werewolf side, being flashy, confident, outgoing and good at basketball, is actually displaying traits associated with being black by popular culture of the time. The climax involves him returning to being “good” by abandoning those qualities and returning to being a cookie-cutter, under-the-radar white kid.

There is certainly evidence to support the theory, though it does seem accidental at best. It’s just one part of a really, really confusing theme that seems to be a preemptive argument against The Incredibles’ cries of positive individualism. Sure, Fox’s Scott gets popular when he is revealed to be the eponymous monster, but his friends become afraid of him or exploitive and the basketball team hates him for becoming a ball hog. He also finally attracts the attention of his crush, who turns out to be both a good lay and a mind-gaming psycho on the level of her boyfriend that insinuates he killed Scott’s mom in the tradition of 80s teen movie bad guys that seem like they are trying to outdo Ted Bundy. (It also features the classic genre stereotypes of the fat guy, the sidekick that always has a scheme up his sleeve and the best friend/love interest that is actually more attractive than the popular hot girl, but they think because her hair isn’t teased, that somehow makes her “plain.” This would reach its nadir with She’s All That.) Rather than embracing his growth, the girl wants him to be his unassuming old self. And instead of using his natural abilities on the court, he intentionally hobbles himself. (Meanwhile the rest of the team somehow begins to play well magically despite still using the same poor, arcless shooting.) So what is it? Pro-USSR Cold War conformist propaganda? Parody of Michael Landon’s I Was a Teenage Werewolf afraid to go full Zucker Bros.? Segregationist racial allegory? All I know is it’s weird, it’s fun and it’s kind of terrible. So a great late night movie.

DamedInaWorldIn a World…- I wonder if Don LaFontaine’s family insisted on his lionization to use his name in the film In a World… The best known of the Hollywood trailer voices, one has to ponder if it’s because he was truly the most talented or if it is because he had the best agents. Because he’s spoken of like a God in this film. Regardless, the film is a fun little slice of indie comedy.

I personally found myself interested because it is set within the Hollywood voiceover industry. (A business I’ve had people suggest I should be a part of on occasion.) As trailers all meld together and become more and more alike, I’ve actually noticed a dip in the amount of voiceovers with trailers relying more on editing and text to sell films. Usually accompanied with the ever popular “thum!” sound effect. Which is a shame. It certainly hasn’t helped trailers get any better. Still, there’s plenty of work for voice over artists if you can find it and in this story, Lake Bell is on the verge of breaking through and out from under her famous (within the business at least) father’s shadow.

In doing so, we are treated to a pretty great cast of actual vocal performers, cameos announced and unannounced and excellent comedians. Her main rival outside the family is Ken Marino, who I’ve been a fan of for a while as he’s bounced around between The State alumni projects and small roles in lots of varied projects like the show Reaper and films like Role Models. There’s also Rob Courdry appearing as her brother-in-law, but the side story between him and her sister is actually the weakest part of the film. I mean, I get it as an attempt to build the world and deepen her background. On it’s own it would even be a decent enough short film. But ultimately it didn’t feel like it tied into the main plot enough to justify spending so much time on it. Still, Courdry is good as usual. Add in some all-stars like Dimitri Martin as her love interest and Nick Offerman (looking bizarre without his mustache) as an engineer and you’ve got enough talent to make even a failed attempt worth watching.

Fortunately, the film succeeds in being a low key success. It turns out to be utterly charming and funny. The best part is that while the film certainly fits into the “young woman adrift and flailing in the real world” genre, it doesn’t revel in it. Bell’s character Carol is seemingly a decent person who isn’t just making horrible mistakes that hurt others. She actually grows. She learns. She works to succeed. She may be a complete dork and a more than a little socially retarded, but we get some explanation for that and we see her breaking cycles to move forward with her life and that’s a great thing. It may have the technical merits of a Kevin Smith production, but the writing is strong enough to overcome its limitations.

This isn’t one of those surprise films that I find myself putting onto my “top films of the year” list like I did with Safety Not Guaranteed a couple of years ago, but I highly recommend it.

DamnedZatoichi16Zatoichi the Outlaw- In the sixteenth entry of the series that I’ve been making my way through, we find what is probably one of the weaker episodes thus far simply because there’s almost nothing new in it and it is not paced or structured as well as many of the others.

In this chapter we get a patchwork of things that have dotted the series over the last several films. Yet again, he gets involved in a gang war between rival yakuza. And they become corrupt thanks to colluding with the local government officials. Once again, a woman is forced into prostitution due to the yakuza she loves making poor choices and by the time he tries to take responsibility, she is an alcoholic who thinks her honor is too tarnished. And once again, Ichi has to deal with a moralist who chides him for using his sword to help others, though at least in this one he’s thanked in the end by a majority of the people he saves. Hell, we’ve already seen some of the actors playing at least two or three other characters. The only thing really different in this case is some b-grade Three Stooges-style hijinx involving other blind masseurs.

The best part about the film is definitely the ending and it has all the trademark grace notes of the series’ excellent sword play, as well as a return to actually including some gore in the proceedings with fake blood and the like instead of being like an old TV Western in which someone grabs the effected area and keels over. It was very odd that I remember there being a film or two that didn’t do that, but then it went right back into the bloodless killing. I’m not sure if it has to do with the particular director or if the studio tried to mimic another film and decided it hadn’t worked, but I for one enjoy the goofy bloodspray that occupies such films as the Lone Wolf and Cub series, so for me it is jarring but fun.

Given some of the themes of these films (rape or attempted rape being a rather obvious one), I’d be very careful about showing them to children anyway, so for me it makes sense to go ahead and make them visually more adult.

DamnedTheFogThe Fog- I’ve decided that on my quest to better myself in terms of expanding my cinematic horizons, I need to start catching up on the work of John Carpenter. I’ve hit most of the big beats. I consider Big Trouble in Little China a classic and look at The Thing as one of the greatest movies of all time, regardless of genre. So where did I start on this journey? Scream Factory’s release of his low-budget 1980 ghost story, The Fog. And darned if I didn’t kinda love it, despite it’s flaws.

I’ll grant you, I had the idea this would be a good starting place based on my predilection for atmospheric supernatural tales. Fortunately, the atmosphere is what Carpenter gets right above all else. The use of the actual fog they have crawling around buildings and under doors is insanely cool. They must have gone through enough dry ice to keep Mr. Wizard stocked for life. When combined with the coastal town production design (and the early 80s setting that somehow adds to the proceedings) it makes the film much more than the sum of its parts. But most of the film is shot exceedingly well in anamorphic widescreen, which helps it look like a much more professional production than it may have if it was done another way. Even the bright daytime scenes carry the film because the locations are so great, like the lighthouse/radio station that Adrienne Barbeau owns.

In many ways, the film is an urban legend mashup before that concept really even existed. You have vengeful ghosts (many of which kill with hooks), a ghost ship, a teen hitchhiker, references to the “witching hour” and all sorts of elements that come straight from a campfire horror tale. The opening exposition showing just that is a brilliant move on Carpenter’s part. It sets the mood for a tale that never is really that scary, but definitely manages to be wonderfully creepy. While there is definitely gore in the film (the most egregious example of which is an eyeless corpse) it seems downright quaint compared to a lot of the slasher films that would follow it. The music is also fantastic and is probably my favorite of Carpenter’s scores thus far.

The issues with the film are abundantly clear. The characters’ lack of depth is the biggest offender and I’m sure part of that boils down to how many characters are featured. Due to their paths only crossing on occasion, they don’t really gel that well either. That said, some of the principles are stronger than others. Father O’Fallon is a flawed man, but he manages to be a hero in the end and is utterly repentant for the sins of his fathers. Barbeau’s Stevie Wayne sinks to hysterics in some moments, but still manages to sink her teeth into the role, exuding sultriness in her role as the town radio station’s owner operator that apparently is only not working for five hours a day. It’s no wonder the Batman Animated producers made her their Catwoman. I wonder if her character wasn’t an inspiration for the show Welcome to Nightvale. The weakest link is probably Vivian Leigh’s town “historian” that comes across as a less negligent version of the mayor from Jaws.

Shout/Scream Factory has done a great job with this release. They honestly love this kind of material and it really shows. As a low-budget affair with lots of dark shots and optical effects, there’s no way The Fog was ever going to look pristine. The quality of the video varies wildly from soft shots full of grain (thankfully most of these are very short) to vivid, detailed images. It skews more towards the latter and I have a hard time believing it could look any better without seeing a pristine 35mm print on opening weekend. It also has some very interesting and candid special features in which Carpenter and co. talk about how the first cut of the film was simply terrible and quick, messy reshoots essentially saved it and turned it into a modestly successful film whose reputation has grown over the years thanks in large part to home video. I highly recommend this disc. I don’t have as many Shout blu rays as I’d like (off the top of my head, all I remember is this, MST3K: The Movie and Night of the Comet) but I will continue to build my collection. If they’re trying to be the B-Grade/cult version of Criterion, they’re doing it right.

DamnedKonTikiKon Tiki- It’s hard for me to be impartial about the film Kon Tiki because I love the book. It made me want to hop on a raft and make the trip, myself.

The book, written by Thor Heyerdahl, the man behind the expedition, is a pure adventure tale. It is largely bereft of interpersonal squabbles and full of fascinating scientific observations, colored with an explorer’s philosophy. In comparison, the film seems somewhat exploitive and false. For all I know, everything in it could be true, but it makes it seem so much more like soap opera. And I’m torn on that. Part of me knows that it would be harder to maintain interest in the story without showing the emotional effects of spending months at sea, sharing a tiny raft with five other men. I understand a big part of that is how the nuance of the journey would be hard to explain without tons of internal monologue style narration or clunky exposition. And to be fair, it does turn out to be quite a good film, beautifully shot and featuring some great, low-key special effects. There is an “infinite crane” shot that especially dazzles, showing just how isolated and small they are against the Pacific Ocean, like someone appropriated Powers of Ten and added a plot.

I watched the English language version because, while the film was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar, there are two distinct versions of the film. One is in Norwegian (the country from which the men in the expedition came and where the film was essentially made.) The other is, rather than a clumsy dub, filmed natively in English and is supposed to be the exact same film, but with the actors speaking a different language. This in and of itself is rather fascinating and I’d love to compare the two. It reminds me of when Universal made English and Spanish versions of Dracula at the same time, except in the case of Kon Tiki, they actually use the same actors.

I highly recommend the film, especially if you haven’t read the book. If it is a good starting point for getting you interested in actually reading about the expedition, so much the better. It’s especially interesting now as for a very long time Heyerdahl’s work was said to be discredited due to genetic research showing Polynesia was populated from the west. But, as with most things, it turns out it wasn’t that simple and recent tests show traces of Peruvian genetics in the people of Easter Island, lending credence to his theories and showing that even now, the story of Kon Tiki isn’t over.

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Veronica Mars

They put those things in cameras now, you know?

A long time ago, we used to be friends. But we hadn’t thought of her lately at all. At least until last year when Veronica Mars’ creator Rob Thomas started their infamous Kickstarter campaign to make a feature film continuation of the beloved but nigh unseen jet-black TV show about a wisecracking teen sleuth.

Full disclosure, I am one of the fans of the show that threw in on the effort to get it made and have proudly worn the good looking but kinda flimsy t-shirt they sent me, so this is coming from someone familiar with the material. I’d say that isn’t a huge deal though. After all, if a person is a fan of a novel or a comic book character, the movie still has to work on its own and that’s the case with Veronica. The whirlwind wrap-up of the film’s first season and series finale might be a bit much to digest for a few folks at the beginning of the film, but the relationships are pretty easy to grasp and there’s still a good crime to chew on for mystery buffs.

So how is the film for a fan? Pretty satisfying. There’s plenty of the show’s trademark wit and a goodly amount of the kind of darkness that always seemed so contrasting against Kristen Bell’s adorable demeanor. The neo-noir qualities are what made the show work as well as it did in the first place. It’s what made the property function on a different level than most mystery series and certainly any other show centered around a teen. Any Nancy Drew comparisons should disappear quickly in the seedy world of murder, sexual assault and petty crime that oozes through Neptune, California.

The nights always seemed darker in Neptune. (Maybe SoCal’s now endangered sodium street lights helped with that.) After leaving for nine years, the contrast between the sunny days and the inky nights is more pronounced than ever as corruption and secrets have further eaten away at the soul of the town.

I certainly am not happy about everything that happens in the film, (I’ll say that I could be in the minority on that one) but thankfully I’ve never lived or died by which fictional characters have hooked up. Speaking of which, Logan Echolls is back. And he’s changed not a whit. He’s still the same hare-trigger psycho that he’s always been. Not that his backstory hasn’t provided him with plenty of reasons to turn out that way, but you’d think time and military service would have mellowed him a bit. Nope. He still hasn’t grown up. A lot of fan favorite characters return and it helps liven up the experience for fans while simply providing more depth for the casual viewer. It’s great to see Tina Majorino again as Mac and Wallace doesn’t get much to do, but he’s a necessity. We get a great smattering of people from the show and other Rob Thomas alumni, many of which get glorified cameos if nothing else. But it’s so nice to see folks like Ken Marino’s Vinnie Van Lowe, who cares if it’s fleeting? (I’m sure this paragraph means little to new viewers, so I hope they’re indulging me.) Even Piz, who was a wet sack of crap in the series, has a great role. I’m not one given to hysterics over the replacement of a love interest in series. I’m still a defender of Riley Finn on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But Piz was awful. I don’t know how much of this is the writing and how much is goodwill built into Chris Lowell’s role on the criminally underwatched show Enlisted, but there is a complete turnaround in the character. Suddenly he’s not the annoying lame ass hipster guy that he was. Of course the truly important thing is that Enrico Colantoni is back as Keith Mars, probably the best character he’s ever played (yes, I’m including Galaxy Quest) and the guy that would normally be the star of a detective show like this. Hell, I’d throw in for a Keith Mars spin-off film and I bet a lot of other people would too.

The main mystery revolves around Logan being accused of murdering his pop star girlfriend (who happens to also be a character from the show) and it builds from there, tying in directly to Neptune’s ten-year reunion of the class of ’03. If there’s a downside to it, it’s that we’ve seen Veronica solve better cases. And while Thomas and his writing is still great, sometimes the show still FEELS more or less like a TV show despite the ultra-widescreen format because the cinematography is simply not particularly dynamic and that’s to be expected considering Thomas’ pedigree is completely television based. When the climax doesn’t seem as hugely exciting as Veronica facing down the murderer of her best friend, part of that is because we haven’t had a whole season leading up to it and part of it is because Thomas hasn’t learned that bag of tricks that can amp up the menace the way someone like DePalma could do in his early days. In the end it doesn’t matter though, because the characters are what’s important and the ending finds a great note that serves as both a finale and a beginning (apparently to a series of novels, the first of which comes out today.) I say check it out, but not just as a selfish fan of a TV show or a promoter of PI-based detective fiction. I say check it out because it is worthy of your time and it is an important step in the world of filmmaker independence within the studio system. I don’t know any other TV show that would have the perfect alchemy to achieve this the way Veronica did, but it’s still got to be good news to filmmakers with followings that they can do something like this if they put their heart and soul into something good enough to capture the hearts and minds of people.

(Four damns given out of five)

Kent’s Movie Diary: Ramblings on Nostalgia


10/20/13- Only two Basil Rathbone films left and I’ll have seen all the Sherlocks. Apparently, according to a commentary on the set, Pursuit to Algiers is considered the low point of the series, but I actually quite enjoyed it. I can see why some people don’t; the fact that it’s somewhat padded with musical numbers (though they’re actually fairly well written into the story since one of the characters is a singer) and the fact that about halfway to two-thirds of the way into the film, Sherlock stops having to try to solve a mystery as the bad guys pretty much announce themselves and the rest of the film is a cat and mouse game of one-upsmanship as he proves to be the more resourceful. Plus, Nigel Bruce’s blustery Watson gets very few of the quiet moments of dignity he’s afforded in many of the films to keep him from being a total cartoon. Personally I liked the red herrings that were thrown about as well as the twist at the end. Plus I enjoyed the way they wrote a reference to one of the Holmes stories that would never find its way to the screen: The Giant Rat of Sumatra.

Pure of Heart, says his prayers, blah blah.10/30/13- Boom! Halloween awesomeness! I’ve seen a couple of good old fashioned Halloween classics over the last week at the Drafthouse. First, The Wolfman. You know, the original with Lon Cheney Jr. that repeats the “Even a man that’s pure in heart…” nursery rhyme three times in the first half hour, just in case someone happened to be in the bathroom. It’s one of my favorite of the Universal Horror films. I missed the opportunity to see Creature of the Black Lagoon in 3D which saddened me greatly and I wasn’t able to hit Bride of Frankenstein (another of my favorites), but at least I got one in. I’d always wanted to see one of the classics on the big screen and even though it was digital projection instead of a print, how can you go wrong? It has the distinction of being later than most of the films (though certainly much earlier than Creature, which was the studio’s classic horror death rattle.) Despite this, it fits in well with the earlier films given its mix of ‘modern’ and stylized atmosphere. There are people walking around in 40s attire, yet the buildings are all old, there are cobblestones, the Hollywood Gypsy is in full effect and there are as many horses as cars. At the time it may have seemed archaic, but given all the time that’s elapsed since its release, what was once current fashion melts together with the old-timey touches to create a now timeless current of eras past.

I admit that it’s weird how my mind will associate things from the forties to the mid-sixties as having this timeless feeling while most things after that tend to have to work much harder to impress me. The black and white picture and the pre-cultural revolution fashion seems to help sell what would make me roll my eyes if it starred people with shaggy hair and some stupid striped bell-bottoms. I wasn’t born until the late 70s, so it’s not nostalgia. Not unless one can experience nostalgia for things they never experienced and can never truly be a part of. I sometimes wonder if, to quote The Beach Boys, I just wasn’t born for these times. In some ways our current technological advances make this thought as

My precious....

My precious….

possible as it ever has been. I have been amassing a pretty decent record collection lately thanks to avenues like ebay and Amazon supplementing my local record store (which has delivered some pretty choice nuggets, proving the internet isn’t the end-all be-all.) Yeah, vinyl. And vinyl sales are up 17% over the past two years, so obviously I’m not the only one buying them. Most of my absolute favorite songs were recorded pre-1962. Yet I don’t think I exclusively fetishize the past since I still obviously love a lot of modern pop culture. I preordered the blu rays for a lot of films this summer. I just preordered the new album by Five Iron Frenzy (which can be argued is as much misplaced hope for a fourth wave of ska as it is 90s nostalgia) and I have a pretty good selection of modern music mixed in, even if they’re on a defunct format. Just because I hate 90% of the radio and a lot of what’s popular on TV, doesn’t mean I’m completely devoid of modernity. (“He said, ruining his own argument.”) I may be the wrong person to judge this, but I find myself better off than the people that fetishize the “now” to the exclusion of all else, refusing to learn from history and thinking that everything they do is new and unprecedented. (Even to the point they think the reason things that have been tried before and failed, failed only because they weren’t involved.)

Diaryghostbusters_ver2_xlgSome actual childhood nostalgia came into play last night, however. And it’s entirely justified as Ghostbusters hasn’t just been my favorite film since I was approximately eight years old, but I truly believe it is one of the greatest comedies of all time. It displays a masterclass of comedic timing, chemistry and intelligent writing. Plus, the structure of the film and it’s build-up from a trio getting scared out of a library to a quartet facing down a Godzilla-proportioned confectionary mascot is flawless. It also is one of the greatest performances of Bill Murray’s career, which is saying something. The presentation was a quote-along in which patrons were encouraged to say their favorite lines along with the characters in the film. Usually there are subtitles presented, but it seems Sony/Columbia is completely nutty and would not allow the words to be put either on screen or in any kind of handout. We did get treated to glow sticks (to be used when Ecto-1 was running through the streets with the siren going), slime balls and marshmallows. I’ve only gotten to see the film on the big screen twice and they’ve both been very recent. I guess I’m making up for lost time.

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec

We named the DOG Blanc-Sec!

Usually I would not review a movie that has been out for three years, but since this is the first time it has been available in the US and it’s pretty darned entertaining, I figured I could champion it just the teeniest bit and not relegate it to a blurb in my “Movie Diary” series. The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc Sec, a film that was released in France in 2010 and is just now finding its way to the US courtesy of Shout Factory, finds French director Luc Besson firmly in the kind of mode he was in when he made The Fifth Element.

The introduction of the character is a distinct echo of the opening of that film, actually, both showing his take on turn of the century-style hijinx related to Egyptian archaeology. They both then descend into nutty, imaginative adventures with his distinct visual flair and a blasé attitude toward the believability of his effects as long as it looks… well, comic book-y, I think works as an adjective. This especially makes sense with Adele as, if Wikipedia can be believed since I’ve never actually heard of it before, the film is based on a popular series of French comics that started as almost a parody of the kind of TinTin adventure fiction that has been made in Europe since the 30s and 40s and slowly turned into the very thing it was poking fun at.

Besson has sort of struck me as the French equivalent Robert Rodriguez, going from action to family without ever completely having his style disappear. And moving from La Femme Nikita to Fifth Element to Taken to Adele Blanc-Sec actually supports that theory in my opinion. The good thing about Besson is he seems to have a magic ability to be old-fashioned in his filmmaking without ever seeming to be a throwback and to embrace the fantastic without sending people into mouth-foaming overdoses of whimsey. This is very much supposed to be a family adventure film and Besson goes gonzo with the fantastic elements involved relating to dinosaurs, mummies, turn of the century spiritualism and the creepy old guy that ties them all together. It may not have the Hollywood mega-tentpole budget of the Stephen Sommers Mummy films, for example, but it uses that to its advantage. He’s not trying to outdo Indiana Jones, though there’s certainly ties to that sort of old-fashioned adventure storytelling. He goes more for the fantastic and goofy. Many of the characters feature outrageous make-up jobs to make them look more like drawn characters and the digital effects, of which there are a surprising amount, match that aesthetic. I can’t help but wish this had been the approach taken to the filming of the TinTin movie instead of making them disturbing “realistic” cartoons.

I’ll say one thing for the French, for all their talk about culture, they do love their bodily fluid-based humor. This one includes a couple of noteworthy instances of evacuation-based yucks. It also contains some heart-felt moments, which never overwhelm the film with saccharine, and a thorough demonstration on why it’s important to wear the proper attire while playing tennis.

One of the big reasons to watch the film is Louise Bourgoin, playing the titular Adele with both aplomb and gusto. I’ve certainly never heard of her before this, but I’ll be looking out for her in the future. She really manages to invest Adele, a writer in aughties Paris, with the same sort of anarchic intellect and energy that made me enjoy Matt Smith as The Doctor. Adele is a classic comic book journalist, of the same ilk as the Lois Lane that would stomp unapologetically into a male-centric world based only on sheer bravado, talent and balls. I hear this is supposed to be the beginning of a proposed trilogy about the character. I’ll eagerly look forward to the future installments as it seems like a winking bit of post-modern Harryhausen in which fun is the main propellant.

One note about the soundtrack, I watched it in the original French track, but I did take a moment to listen to the English dub. In the bit I watched, most of the characters were talking with some of the blandest American accents I’ve ever heard. I guess they were forbidden from injecting any actual character into the dialogue. It was pretty awful. But most dubs are, so that shouldn’t be a terrible surprise. I shut it off after a couple of minutes. There’s supposed to be a director’s cut coming out in October, but I have no idea what the differences are.

(Three damns given out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Despicable Me 2

Beedo beedo beedo!

I’m going to go out on a limb and say a lot of people probably enjoyed the first Despicable Me more than I did. I thought it was alright, but ultimately I thought the pacing didn’t work as well as it should and most of the characters were flat. But it did have some moments of high-volume laughter. Similar problems surrounded the animation house Illumination’s Hop. A story that was just… off. What could have been a fantastic parody of Christmas movies settled for being a mediocre copycat of them with a grafting of Easter jokes.

Fortunately, while Despicable Me 2 is certainly not a great film, the company seems to have learned from their earlier efforts to produce a more well-rounded piece with improved comedic timing and a deeper look at Gru, the centralized supervillian-cum-domestic.

Of course everyone loved the Minions of the first film and there was no doubt that they would be back with a vengeance considering most of the film’s advertising revolved around them. What surprised me is just how much of them is in the film. I am of two minds when it comes to the little yellow tater-tots with eyes. Part of me loves that they seem to exist in large part to allow for more cartoon violence than often seems to be permitted in modern animation. As a ne’er-do-well kid raised on Tom and Jerry and Tex Avery cartoons, this appeals greatly to me. But there’s a large part of me that knows the reason why kids love them is the reason they are always threatening to tip the scale to being too much of a good thing; they can be utterly annoying if done wrong. Every single time I saw the trailer played before a movie this summer, a kid would immediately imitate the “fire alarm” minion and repeat “BEEDO! BEEDO! BEEDO!” I can only grimace thinking of what terror parents will be experiencing as their children try to recreate their mannerisms, watching the film at home over and over. Fortunately, the filmmakers walk the fine line and the Minions manage to stay on the funny side despite a larger presence in the sequel.

Gru is still the main character, this time being recruited by the Anti Villain League, a super-secret spy organization that, like MI-6 or C.O.N.T.R.O.L. has a wrangle on the type of crooks that Gru used to be and given his pedigree (stealing the moon has made him a legend) they decide he can help them combat a new threat. Joining him is Agent Lucy Wild (Kristen Wiig) who becomes closer to him and is a decent addition to the cast as a romantic foil. Indeed, thanks to the expanded universe of the second film, the whole thing feels more like Get Smart, but that seems to only help, especially since the archetypes seem to help the flimsy story go down a bit smoother. The design work also seems just a little bit tweaked more towards a retro 60s aesthetic in some ways, though it’s been long enough since I’ve seen the original that I’m not sure why. It just vaguely seems that way.

The inclusion of Lucy, the romance subplot and the new focus on the minions means that the three girls that Gru has adopted, while still present and still a big part of his life (up to the point of giving up villainy), are largely sidelined and only really show up in a secondary capacity aside from serving as comedic devices or to help push the plot forward. I doubt most people will be disappointed by this.

Steve Carrell’s odd, nondescript accent still doesn’t make sense as a performance decision to me (it sounds like Michael Scott doing a bad impression), but the character does manage to display some pathos. Of course one of the highlights for me was the surprise of hearing Kristen Schaal, who should be in pretty much every animated project. Such is the power of her voice.

In a battle of broad summer animated comedies, I’m giving the edge to Monsters University, but Despicable Me 2 (is it weird that I actually view numbered sequels as a novelty now?) is definitely good for some belly laughs.

(Three damns given out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Killer Joe

Set-up to the worst knock knock joke ever.

[Author’s note: I saw this film through Netflix ,which states that it was rated R. The film as released in theaters was NC-17 and it was released to video in R and unrated versions. I would not at all be surprised if the version of the film I saw was incorrectly labeled and was actually the unrated version, but I did want to make it clear that I’m not sure which version I viewed.]

I thought about describing William Friedkin’s Killer Joe as Kentucky Fried Fargo, but it’s not quite apt (and not only because the film takes place entirely in Texas, seemingly on the outskirts of Dallas.)

Unlike the Coen’s white-out noir, this isn’t a good versus evil tale of a planned crime spiraling out of control. Like a Jeff Foxworthy routine as filtered through a Hustler magazine, it is a tale of despicable people doing despicable things and having them slowly blow up into an explosion of deplorable human behavior in a trailer park.

You see, Chris is, to be nice, kind of an idiot. Portrayed by Emile Hirsch, he is a mix of naive innocent and stupid criminal. It’s not hard to see how he got that way, what with his mother being an alcoholic that tried to kill his sister and his dad (Thomas Haden Church) being dumber than the proverbial box of rocks.

In many ways, we’re told what kind of a seedy world we’ll be entering at the outset. Chris, pounding on the door of his father’s trailer to escape a downpour, has the door thrown open and we are greeted with an over the shoulder, eye-level view of Gina Gershon’s naked crotch.

It’s not just rain coming down on Chris’ head. He’s in to a loan shark and his mom has stolen the drugs he could sell to pay it off. However, he’s been told about a detective for the Dallas Police Department that will commit murder on the side, as long as you pay up front. And his mother has a life insurance policy worth $50K.

That detective is Joe, portrayed with hypercreepiness by Matthew McConaughey. He would normally just walk away from the situation, but through a chance meeting he’s met Dottie.

Dottie is an apt name. Chris’ sister, seemingly brain damaged by her mother’s attempt to kill her as a baby, is stuck in a nearly childlike state. She functions in society, but there are many things about her that seem to be in arrested development, like different parts of her personality are at different ages. Brit actress Juno Temple portrays her as adolescent and Friedkin uses that to sleaze up the picture in what seems like a nod to the lolita-style exploitation films that dotted the seventies. (Let’s just say that her flattering baby doll negligee can’t be a coincidence.) It’s a tightrope performance that shows just how good she can be and may be too much for some people. Joe becomes infatuated with Dottie and agrees to take her on as a “retainer.”

Of all the adjectives that can be used to describe Killer Joe: off-putting, darkly comic, punctuated with violence and sometimes hard to watch… sleazy does seem the most apt. Friedkin succeeds in making the film a lurid Southern noir. A kind of grindhouse Faulkner that takes the dregs of what would have to be called white trash and amps up that trashiness to the Nth degree.

By the time the film reaches it’s explosive, squirm-worthy conclusion, it’s tough to imagine anything better fitting to this celebration of the lurid. You’ll certainly never again see McConaughey as the stoner townie that has defined him for so long. Not everyone can nor should watch this film and the finale shows exactly why. It’s sick and wrong and there’s very little other way to look at it. Which exactly describes this film as a whole.

(Three damns out of five)

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)