Aisle of the Damned: 08/18/17- The Back to Skull Special

Art Repurposed for a Reason

Kent and Bryan are ready for fall, but is your local multiplex? The Damned boys discuss what we have to look forward to in the next few months with their annual Back to Skull Fall Preview and there are a few places on the calendar which feel like a wasteland.

They also take a look at some Kevin Smith news straight from Boston ComicCon, discuss some big news from Movie Pass and talk some Bond.

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats-
Stuck in a Movie
The Hives- Fall is Just Something Grown-Ups Invented

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: G.I. Joe: Retaliation

Damn. I knew The Rock was bigger than most people, but...

I’m trying to be fair to the new G.I. Joe movie. I really am. But there are a couple of things that I have going against it from the beginning.

First off, there’s the simple fact that I was not a fan of the cartoon growing up. I never had any of the toys. I never read the Marvel comics. So really, I don’t have that unquenchable thirst for nostalgia that so many of my generation exhibits. That thirst which led to abominable Transformers sequels becoming box office juggernauts despite near-universal panning. When I was but a young ‘un, I had two loves. First was He-Man, which I watched every afternoon until I began school (and by proxy She-Ra because she was He-Man’s sister, of course.) I did try to revisit Masters of the Universe years later to see what made me love it so and could not for the life of me understand because it was awful. Chalk that one up to being six. At the time, I had segued right into my Ghostbusters obsession that kept me glued to the TV on Saturday mornings. Thankfully, this one held up better since it came from a classic movie, an OK sequel and a much better than your typical spin-off cartoon of the time that was originally driven creatively by J. Michael Straczynski back before he became the worst Superman writer in recent memory. But no Joe.

Secondly, I have not screened the original Stephen Sommers film, The Rise of Cobra. The best thing I ever seemed to hear about it was, “Well… it’s kinda fun,” so I just never got around to seeing it, despite the beckoning thrall of Sienna Miller’s fabulous leather-swaddled derriere on the box. Because of this, I have no idea how much of what didn’t make sense about the second film is due to not having that working knowledge and how much is due to not knowing the ’80s cartoon. (The first would be my fault, the second would be the film’s.) While reading about the film’s delays and troubles, I had been led to assume that one would not need to be acquainted with the first film to see this one, but there was definitely either something I was missing out on or the film did a very poor job of establishing the characters and situations. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt and assuming it’s the previous.

That said, I found Retaliation… and I hate to be an echo machine… kinda fun. The story is like something a child in his sandbox playing with his three and three-quarters figures would come up with. There’s a ton of goofy sci-fi gadgets that are as ridiculously specific as “Bat-Shark Repellant” and plot holes the size of “Prometheus.” And yet…

It definitely helps that they got an absolutely winning cast to bring this absurd world to life. Dwayne Johnson remains charismatic as ever and remains only a couple of great movies away from being this generation’s Schwarzenegger. Just as he helped bring the Fast and the Furious series back from life support, he contributes his larger than life persona here. Adrianne Palicki is an addition that I can get behind as Lady Jaye for sure. I have never been sure what to think of her as other people always seem to have found her more attractive than I do. Though I was glad to see her succeed as a fan of Supernatural from the early days. I can honestly say that she is breathtaking in Retaliation, and, even better, she gives a performance which definitely adds to what is on paper. Ray Park mostly just jumps around as Snake Eyes, but darned if he still doesn’t manage to be cool, despite how utterly ridiculous the character and his Daft Punk-ish costume are, even in the stylized universe he inhabits. (Maybe part of it is the fact that you have to love a ninja that uses guns.) Everyone else fills their spaces amiably, including Bruce Willis, who doesn’t get a ton to do as the original Joe, but still manages to be more engaging than in A Good Day to Die Hard.

Oh, I do want to give a special congratulations to Justified favorite Walton Goggins for being pure awesome in his short but memorable role.

After lots of rumors that dance movie director Jon M. Chu had screwed the pooch on this one and that it was a big part of the film’s delay, it’s hard to see anything glaringly incompetent. Certainly to the degree that people seemed to think was going to be unleashed. It seems to point more towards the explanation that reshoots were made expressly for expanding the role of Channing Tatum after his triple-crown of box office toppers last year. Most of the film seems workmanlike, though there is at least one inspired and off the wall (actually more “on the wall” if you’ve seen it) sequence involving ninjas and ziplines that is pretty darned creative. There’s nothing that seems as poorly done as some films I’ve seen in the last few months. When it comes to the performances, in many ways, he seemed to just be smart enough to let his actors do their thing and not get in the way.  The post-converted 3D doesn’t really add anything, but it’s the only non-native 3D I’ve seen besides The Avengers that doesn’t take away from the film. I guess they used their extra year to get it right.

The hard part for me is deciding what rating to give. I ultimately am choosing to go with a strong two and a half as opposed to a weak three, but I can imagine that old-school fans of the franchise will obviously get a bigger kick out of it than I do.

(Two and a half damns out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: A Good Day to Die Hard

*sigh* Hard

A Good Day to Die Hard (aka Die Hard 5: The Deadening) wants so desperately to harken back to the days of the earliest couple of films in the franchise that it’s practically palpable, yet it fails on most every level. Like a graduate course in mediocrity, it just feels absolutely lazy.

It’s not surprising that, like John McClaine himself, the series is showing its age, but all of the previous sequels, even the much maligned PG-13 fourth installment, have been well-made and well-acted with snappy scripts and fun performances.

While it’s nice to see Mary Elizabeth Winstead appear for all of two minutes as Lucy (reprising her role from Live Free or Die hard), John “Jack” McClaine Jr., as portrayed by Jai Courtney, is a total dud as an addition to the family McClaine slowly seems to be reassembling in his old age. If they make a sixth film, will Bonnie Bedelia be back? They can call it “Til’ Die Hard Do Us Part.”

In a move pretty much spoiled by the trailers, McClaine heads to Moscow in this installment to find his estranged boy, not knowing he has been off on a mission for the CIA for the last few years. Rather than build any kind of relationship for them at the beginning, the film simply throws up lazy cliches of McClaine not being there for his kids and Jack being terminally angry in order to hurry into the first action sequence, which takes a tried-and-true three-way freeway chase and turns it into a mess of bad editing. It is at this point that McClaine starts his awful running joke of saying every fifteen minutes that he’s “on vacation,” despite the fact that he obviously is not, unless going to stop your son from being executed is a vacation.

But that’s the kind of movie it is. It’s so determined to pack in every single thing it thinks you expect from an action movie that it doesn’t bother to make sense of it. It’s like a kid with a jigsaw puzzle and a mallet, smashing pieces together that don’t fit so they don’t make sense as a picture and then saying, “Close enough.”

Given how director John Moore managed to screw up a sure thing like Max Payne, it shouldn’t surprise me that he managed to blow this one. I’m trying to figure out where this whole thing fell apart. It certainly starts with the script, but the editing is also poor and makes it difficult to follow the action (which should be the film’s bread and butter) while nearly all of the movie’s principals are sleepwalking their way through it. Between Moonrise Kingdom and Looper last year we’ve seen that Willis still has his acting chops, but maybe even he just didn’t feel he could elevate the hackneyed material. While he was not the wisecracking everyman cop from the first film anymore even before the series reached this point, there was still some of the old McClaine in the fourth film, albeit hardened by his experiences and more curmudgeonly. There is basically none of the original McClaine left in A Good Day to Die Hard.

Instead the character is now a one-dimensional joke. The film lazily makes callbacks to the original film as a way to try to make the audience think this facsimile is the genuine article (McClaine’s ringtone is “Ode to Joy,” one of the bad guys makes reference to how much he hates cowboys, etc.) but the audience should not be fooled. It doesn’t help that most of his forced one-liners were old when Willis’ career began. It’s a sad commentary that the series that broke the mold and changed what an action film could be has sunk to being the very kind of film they were avoiding. In the first film and beyond, the filmmakers made a point of showing McClaine getting hurt due to his heroics. Now, he falls through glass ceilings, flies through the air and down building sides and aside from a smattering of fake blood, he seems to suffer no ill-effects. His son takes some rebar through the torso and is fine hours later.

There are some interesting ideas on display here as far as the action sequences are concerned, but nearly all of them are mishandled, poorly coreographed and incoherent.

After this disappointment, I am wondering what will become of the franchise. Perhaps its failure will convince Fox to hang it up and call it a day, but I wouldn’t bet on it. In a few years, we’ll probably be seeing Die, Die Hard My Darling. The Die Hard is Cast? If I Should Die Hard Before I Wake, maybe? Regardless, this might be the installment that finally proves the name wrong.

(One and a half damns out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Looper

Prepare for that time travel migraine

As a time travel story fan, I would say that you will most likely have a good time with Looper if you can get past the weird make-up used to disguise Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young Bruce Willis. (Apparently it was easier to turn Levitt into Willis than Willis into Levitt. Whodathunkit?)

A tale of the surprisingly low-key near-future in which most things are, rather than crazily changed, exaggerations of current technology like smaller, clear phones and big, cartoony guns that reminded me of a prop from Who Framed Roger Rabbit, time travel has not yet been invented, but is being implemented.

Time travel exists in the future, but has been made illegal, so the only people using it are criminal organizations. They use it to commit clean murders. Victims are sent back in time at a specific time and place where hitmen called loopers dispose of them; no fuss, no muss. Apparently, once time travel is illegal, only criminals will have time travel. Think about it… won’t you?

One of these loopers is Joe. Apparently good at his job, he wipes out a lot of targets on his tarp near the edges of a cornfield. (The action takes place in an undisclosed city which apparently is not that large because it doesn’t take long to leave it and be in the backwater country.) He gets paid for this by his boss from the future, Jeff Daniels, and puts it away for the future. But loopers are expected to do something unusual; provided they are still alive in a few decades, their future selves are sent back and the loopers are expected to kill themselves, aka “close the loop.” In between dosing himself with eye-administered drugs and oh my lord, I’m turning into one of those critics that tries to fill a review with nothing but a recap of the movie and we know how annoying THOSE are. OK, long story short, everything is fine until his future self (Bruce Willis) pops up and proceeds to screw everything up.

Part of how much you enjoy the film will undoubtedly rely upon your ability to accept Levitt and Willis as the same character. I thought it worked reasonably well, but not always. Eventually, I just let it go because they’re both good. Also of note is Emily Blunt. She is quite good in the film, but in a role I can’t really reveal, as this is one of those movies that’s best to go into without too many spoilers.

Looper may not be as original and imaginative as its backers seem to imply, but it is definitely smart and fun. The film is presented as something of a neo-noir, taking its cues from films like Blade Runner in combining the pulp thrills of crime novellas and sci-fi yarns into a single vision. Writer/director Rian Johnson relies more on writing and ideas than spectacle, a rare instance in this day and age. Thankfully, it also still contains plenty of visceral thrills with gunplay and inventive camera work to spare. It’s also wisely, elusively stingy details to almost the point of frustration. Old Joe keeps tight lipped about the effects of time travel except when hard pressed. Most aspects of the future go unexplained in their appearance or development. Young Joe narrates the movie expecting you already know about the humdrum of everyday future living and only explains the seedy side that most people wouldn’t be aware of. A murderous Dashiell Hammett character-type.

The time travel goes by Back to the Future rules which means it doesn’t necessarily hold to to fierce scrutiny in immediate cause and effect in a lot of cases, but is treated as usually being fluid. But time travel, in not existing anyway, has many interpretations and it’s up to the writer to determine how a change in the present reflects upon a splitting timeline, especially to those present in the original. In the end, it’s a storytelling device and as long as the story is well told and not full of the kind of obvious logical holes that accompany, say, Prometheus, it’s best to enjoy the ride regardless of the physics that make time travel a practical impossibility in the first place for everyone but John Titor. (Just look it up on Wikipedia.)

(Three and a half damns out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson’s newest film, Moonrise Kingdom is, as I described it to a friend, his Wes Ander-most film. In a lot of ways, this feels like the culmination of all his previous films into the pinnacle of his artistic style.

Want over-smart, precocious kids? This one has two of them. Big visual jokes, like the kind that entered his filmic vocabulary in his last movie, the animated Fantastic Mr. Fox? Check. An all-star cast working for peanuts? Bigger than ever. A French new-wave style of cinematography, updated to fit an American story-book aesthetic? Here in spades. Bill Murray? Boom, baby. Oddball characters that take comfort in their strange routines and ceremony? A-yup. Mark Mothersbaugh or Alexandre Desplat music? Both, actually. British invasion tunes? Well, okay, not that one. But there is a great French ye-ye tune that fans of April March’s covers will probably recognize.

The big difference is that, unlike his other films that seem to have been made in the past, taking place in an anachronistic future, this one actually is a period piece set on a New England island in the mid-1960s. Well, that and the fact that it’s his first live-action film that is not rated R.

The story behind Moonrise Kingdom is that of a 12-year-old couple which decide to escape their miserable lives and head into the wild, launching a community-wide search by the whole island (including the Boy Scout stand-in “Khaki Scouts”) to recover the pair before the “worst storm of the second half of the 20th century” hits.

The story then moves along at a clip, pausing for the appropriate character moments, until its entertaining conclusion in which the storm hits and all hell breaks loose. In the meantime, the kids are delightfully twisted. Sam, the boy who escapes camp and is smaller than the girl, Suzy, displays a Max Fischer-like confidence beyond his years and enjoys painting (landscapes and nudes, mostly.) Suzy is the quiet daughter of a lawyer couple who loves to read female-centric adventure fiction. Both of them are considered to have “mental problems.” It’s a great look into how little it sometimes takes to be cast a misfit and how society attempts to curb those who don’t fit in. Even if they’d rather just peacefully remove themselves from everyone else to be on their own, using the metaphor of a couple of young kids in the woods, society won’t let them, as evidenced by the extreme measures Sam’s fellow scouts are initially willing to go through to bring him back. Anderson’s bread and butter has been shining lights on outcasts and misunderstood geniuses and Moonrise Kingdom absolutely follows that arc. The way Anderson seems to bring back his eternal-autumn color palate and scenery from Fox just helps move along an almost never-ending sense of sunset falling over the end of American innocence. At the same time, perhaps a little ironically, the more family-friendly rating actually seems to help bring out the whimsy in his work, while never feeling like he’s pulled his punches.

There truly are some stand-out performances in the film. Ed Norton puts in what may be his best performance in a long time as the troop’s scoutmaster that tasks himself with trying to bring back his lost member. Jason Schwartzman is hilarious as another supposed Khaki leader that is at once a terrible authority figure and a character you will likely be rooting for. But really all the actors seem to be working together in service of the story and with deference to the main kids. Speaking of kids, Anderson coaxes fantastic performances out of his young actors, especially the scouts who exude tons of personality in a short period of time, often with just their appearance and a few actions.

It’s absolutely a fantastic experience that, if you’re a Wes-head like me, will be one of the best films of the summer and make you laugh. (Though granted, I was laughing more than just about anyone else in the theater.) In any case, in my opinion, it’s a lovely film that manages to build on Anderson’s previous work and themes while never feeling like a retread of that work.

(Four and a half stars out of five)