Aisle of the Damned: 10/06/17- Nephews Who Photoshop

Umbrella ella ella ella

Kent and Bryan have a lot to complain about this episode, but does that include Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Golden Circle? They take a close look at the sequel to one of the most entertaining spy films of recent memory.

They also take a gander at new trailers from Wes Anderson and the Ex Machina guy, talk the extended TV cut of Superman, discuss comments from DC/WB’s big wigs regarding the continuity of their films and gripe about issues with Amazon’s recent turn in service.

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Save Ferris- Superspy

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: 22 Jump Street

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The best thing about 22 Jump Street, besides the fact that it is very funny, very often, is that the way it so fluidly conforms, plays with and skewers the sequel formula in tandem. Time after time, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are told, “Just do the same thing as last time and everyone will be happy.”

That would usually be sound advice that would lead to the usual high box office and disappointed critical response of a hit comedy sequel. You know, like The Hangover Part II, which almost nobody I know enjoyed, but made approximately umptillion dollars at the box office. (Use of the word “umptillion” gets extra punch when it is read in the voice of an excited Jerry Lewis.)

What 22 Jump Street does is play to these expectations while injecting wry meta-commentary about the diminishing nature of sequels in general. The main storyline is actually pretty common; a nearly identical scenario plays out as the first film but with a subversion of the main character arc. Think Men in Black 2, though this movie is definitely better than that one. But it also manages to tweak that formula by realizing that simply reversing a scenario will not necessarily play out the same way because of the fundamentally different basic character flaws of the leads. So even when we see a familiar plot beat, it manages to put across a different idea.

In many ways the new Jump Street does play around with doing the same thing and who can blame it? The first movie was anarchic alchemy, which would seemingly make it so much harder to tackle a sequel given the impossibility of recreating that feeling of surprise. It took two performers I usually don’t care for and actually making me laugh steadily and hard. It introduced a new side to Channing Tatum that was far more interesting than the wooden performances that constituted his career up to that point. (I’m still dubious of hearing him try to use a Cajun accent, however.) Jonah Hill is the weak point of every film I’ve seen him in, but it’s the least I’d disliked him in any project. Their potent chemistry is still very much in effect.

Along with screenwriter Michael Bacall, we also have returning the directing team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who are rapidly becoming filmmakers that I have to watch carefully. 21 Jump Street was another in a long line of rubber-stamped TV show retreads looking to take advantage of a familiar name (and let’s be honest, most of which frankly haven’t done that well on either creative or financial levels, leading one to wonder why it continues to be a trend.) The Lego Movie was probably the worst example of a vapidly commercial “concept” ever conceived, taking the idea of name recognition to its greatest possible nadir, yet Lord and Miller managed to not just produce something viably entertaining, but something with heart, artistic integrity and an idea behind it. And now they’ve given us a comedy sequel that actually works on a level at or near the original while being very satisfying for the fans. I was not a big fan of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (I hated the animation and think it would have been a much more interesting film if they’d gone ahead and used the puppets they were obviously emulating) but it was hardly a disaster like a lot of expanded children’s books. If I was a Hollywood executive, these guys would be the first people on my speed dial for taking terrible concepts and spinning gold with them.

Even better, it doesn’t feel like they’re trying too hard, despite what had to be a very calculated structure that plays with the audience. They manage to have an uncanny knack of choosing just the right moments to stay the course or to zag off in another direction. The story contains lots of surprises, yes. But sometimes it plays right to expectations. In this way, the movie really does keep you guessing, wondering what decisions they will make at any given time. It also doesn’t feel like it’s pandering. They care much more about their characters and getting the jokes right than making a statement. I’ve heard at least one critic express that they should have been “brave” enough to simply make the Jenko character gay since the film’s character interaction plays out very much like a romantic comedy, apparently missing what I see as the point of the whole arc and the fact that it would be completely inconsistent with the characters, which are treated surprisingly seriously in their bid to keep them consistent. The farther they push the subtext, the funnier it gets. Changing the subtext to just plain “text” would ruin the joke. It’s for that reason, the consistency and the way things are held back just enough, that when one of the characters does let loose and go for an over the top, extended scene as Jenko and Ice Cube’s captain each get a chance to do in the later parts of the film, it absolutely kills.

Speaking of which, Ice Cube gets far more to do this go round. He’s used very well and very wisely and he practically steals the whole movie out from under the leads, which is no mean feat. In the first film he mostly served as an entertaining device to unload exposition. In the new film he actually gets to deliver a lot of the tweaks at the workings of a sequel under the guise of exposition. He really sinks his teeth in and I get the feeling he had more fun making this movie than all of the “Are We There Yet?” films combined.

If there’s one weakness in the film it’s the loss of certain players. Amber Stevens is very capable and as a plot device she’s practically essential, (one of the best gags in the movie wouldn’t be possible without her) but she simply doesn’t fit as well into the proceedings as Brie Larson. Of the people I miss, she’s the only one that actually could have been involved without going out of the way to justify their presence. While I’m sure Ellie Kemper, for example, could have been worked into the film, I have to figure there were simply other things they were more interested in doing than the narrative heavy lifting it would take to have her appear. As it is we get a few minutes with Rob Riggle and Dave Franco and, while funny, it is one of the few parts of the film that feel a little unnatural. Instead we get a few new folks making glorified cameos like Patton Oswalt and Jon H. Benjamin.

22 Jump Street isn’t Lord and Miller’s best film this year since Lego came out this winter, but it’s yet another solid entry into their repertoire. It simply feels like most of the choices they made are right on the money, something that so rarely happens in the entertainment industry when studio executives try to “fix” anything that comes out of nowhere to be a surprise hit by getting some fingerprints on future projects. If they’ve been able to parlay an amount of autonomy out of the success they’ve had so far, I am very interested to see what they have up their sleeves for the future. I would not bet on seeing more Jump Street films in that future (they pretty much nuke that option during the end credits to this one) but whatever it is, I’ll probably be in line for a ticket. As it is, I’m giving it the same grade I gave the first film and wouldn’t be surprised if it grows on me even more.

(Three and a half stars out of five)

Kent’s Movie Diary: 7/31/13

7/31/13- One cool thing so far about Spence being homeless, we’ve been watching movies and we’re getting into a bit of a groove with it. Last night we started with a Netflix documentary, American Grindhouse, which I’d seen but it had been awhile, as I wanted something quick and he seemed to be in a  documentary-type mood. It’s pretty paper-thin as documentaries about movies can often be, but as before it makes me want to actually see a lot of these films, be they culturally relevant or just crazy. I also noticed just how many old exploitation films have had bands named after them. Or at the very least, songs. The real reason to watch it is John Landis, who is both incredibly funny, and also striking of an odd balance between not being a dick, but without giving way to bullshit when describing some of the films and how truly awful they are. Somehow he can degrade a film but not go out of his way to be just plain mean.

After that, I put in 21 Jump Street as he’d never seen it and he seemed to feel exactly like I did about the film before I had actually seen it. The movie is the biggest example of cinematic alchemy I can think of, taking a terrible actor (Channing Tatum), an unlikable comedian (Jonah Hill) and a tired premise (a remake of a TV show that was pretty lame, even if I like Stephen J. Cannell) all on at the same time. And yet, because of a fantastically funny screenplay by Michael Bacall of Scott Pilgrim fame and the fact that Tatum turns out to be far, far, FAR more talented at comedy than he is at drama or action (plus some great and rather out-there work from the comedians in supporting roles) it is actually really, really freakin’ funny. Almost shockingly so. I’m surprised I haven’t’ heard more about this film since it came out because I thought its legend would grow like Anchorman and it would be continually quoted online. Maybe it is and I know the wrong people. I don’t know what the hell they’re thinking making a sequel because I don’t think lightning will strike twice, but hey. Good luck to ’em. If they do something half as funny as the drug freak-out it will be worth being made. Spence thought it was hilarious, so I managed to gain some street cred with him.

Here comes the Fuzz!8/1/13- Since I’ve had the last couple of days off, I’ve watched a couple more movies with Spence. He decided to put in Jurassic Park. I’m starting to develop a theory based on my blu rays. Most 80s titles look like crap. It’s pretty obvious. Especially the comedies and anything with special effects. Everything was shot soft, for one thing. It’s like everyone was trying to make their movie look like softcore porn. And it’s often pretty grainy. My God, the Ghostbusters transfer alone is abysmal enough to prove my point. Today, most movies look pretty amazing out of the gate. But there’s this transition period in the 90s where things don’t look as bad as 80s movies, but they still don’t look pristine, either. Men in Black was that way. Jurassic Park is another. (I just got Independence Day as I haven’t watched it in forever and had a hankering. I bet it’s the same way as well.) I don’t know the reason. I’m not technical and what I know about filmstock would fit on my pinkie. Just something I’ve noticed. Today I threw in one of my all time favorite movies for the next-to-last Yocum Thursday: Hot Fuzz. My personal favorite of the three films of Edgar Wright’s (all of which I love dearly), it was once again nice to show a flick to an appreciative audience. I feel like I should make a notch in my TV stand for every film I get someone to buy after showing it to them. (John, if you’re reading this, I ordered Forbidden Planet today, so you got one over on me, too. It was on sale for $7.50, so how could I resist?) Every time I watch Hot Fuzz, it manages to find a new way to surprise me because of how deeply layered some of the callbacks are. Sure, some of them pay off right away, but some of them are really “blink and miss.” The script is simply fantastic. I have seen some people dismiss it simply because it’s not Shaun of the Dead and I feel sorry for them, because it’s an absolutely brilliant piece of filmmaking, one that I appreciate more every time I watch it. I can’t wait for The World’s End. And as my local Regal Theater is not participating in the “Cornetto Trilogy” screening, much to my chagrin, I will just have to watch them with some friends in the comfort of my own home. Tonight after he gets off work and I’ve had a beer or two, I think I’ll sit him down with Safety Not Guaranteed and see how well it plays for him. I’m expecting good things.

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: 21 Jump Street

A dad's worst nightmare.

Damn it.

I really didn’t want to like this movie. As much as a critic is supposed to come to the table without bias and judge everything on it’s own merit, I am, as every other member of the human race, a supremely biased animal and the fact is I can’t stand Jonah Hill and, as I think I said in my review of Haywire (like I’m going to take the time to accurately quote myself), Channing Tatum has proven in the past to be “a pine two by four with a haircut.”

And while I still am not a Jonah Hill convert (he remains the weakest part of every movie I’ve seen him in), it turns out that all Channing Tatum needed was a comedic role in which he could loose his freak flag and run wild, like a ‘roided-up bull raging in a Home Depot-sized china shop. I may stand by my previous assessment of his dramatic chops, but he is definitely the highlight of the film; a dumbass that skated by on his looks, riddled with insecurity and panicking upon finding that his natural environment doesn’t exist anymore. The biggest laugh of the movie is his, an instant classic scene that takes place while he is tripping the narcotic fantastic. If he is not quoted regularly from this movie by the current generation of 14-30 year-olds almost immediately, I will be gob-smacked.

Now, I loved Stephen J. Cannell as much as the next guy, assuming the next guy grew up in the 80s and watched the hell out of The A-Team, but 21 Jump Street was a pretty goofy idea for a TV show to begin with. The 20-something actors that usually play teenagers on TV playing 20-something cops infiltrating high schools of 20-something looking actors playing high schoolers. So, like a lot of the better TV show adaptations, The film version of 21 Jump Street simply embraces it’s surreal premise to the hilt while simultaneously mocking it relentlessly. Jokes about recycling old crap from years ago abound. Tatum and Hill don’t look at all like high schoolers and this is pointed out on several occasions by nearly all parties involved. It also takes the rather smart idea of making a good chunk of the story about the wish-fulfillment of a high school do-over. Who hasn’t thought about how much better high school would be if you could go back with the knowledge and experience that has followed? So when the officers make the leap, they think they know what to expect, not realizing just how different the high school experience is than just ten years ago. Early on, they try to identify the students by clique and end up utterly bewildered by the increased number of niche cultures now exploding in the student body. Retro-fueled swing kids, hipsters, girls that look like they’re doing half-assed anime cosplay… “I don’t know what the f*** that is.”

Tatum, a former jock that now finds himself on the outs when he tries doing the same stuff that made him cool just seven years ago, has a theory about what happened. “F*** you, Glee.” Right there with you, boss.

And when a scene shows a girl playing a record, yet confused about getting an actual call on her phone instead of getting a text, their confusion seems justified. It’s just the little tweak that the premise needed to make it work.

Add in some inventively comic action scenes that effectively build on themselves in both tension and comedy and a lot of extremely funny secondary characters played by the dependable Ellie Kemper, Ron Riggle and Chris Parnell, and it becomes something I didn’t expect going in; a consistently funny comedy with an abundance of cleverness and crude excess.

It clearly earns it’s R rating with graphic swearing used like punctuation and a bewildering array of sexual references and violence. It seems determined to marry Apatow-isms to a Beverly Hills cop-type formula and for the most part succeeds, seeming to increase it’s laughs the more over-the-top the juxtaposition.

Most importantly, it’s just plain funny.

Damn it.

(Three and a half out out of five stars)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Haywire

   

    Taking someone from the athletic field and plugging them into a film isn’t exactly a new trend. Hell, if there wasn’t a National Football League, there probably wouldn’t even be a viable blaxploitation genre. Plus, how many wrestlers have tried to make the move to movies? Sometimes you get The Rundown. And then sometimes you get Santa with Muscles.

In this case, the non-actor in question is Gina Carano, a mixed-martial artist with looks enough to have emerged as a fan-favorite in the sport. I’m sure her expertise in the field helps, though tennis players have certainly been able to get by without it. Luckily for her, director Steven Soderbergh constructs Haywire in such a way that it comes across as a stylish 70’s-style thriller rather than, say, Gymkata.

And Soderbergh doesn’t shy away from drawing parallels to the era at all. The excellent, high-octane, funk-tinged score is certainly evocative of the time and some of her outfits display just enough retro-chic for the time without being terribly blatant and in-your-face about it. Add the fact that it actually holds shots and takes so you can follow the action and it seems like they are getting the audience to almost subconsciously associate with the films of that decade, a smart decision for them to make, as the leanness of the film and the genre trappings help curb certain expectations for the star, while making it a unique enough vehicle that it doesn’t seem at all like yet another entry in the over-cut, blue-filtered, direct-to-video action glut one would expect to see a fighter debut in.

Can she act? No. But she’s good enough that she doesn’t hurt the film, which is often the thing that is worrisome about putting someone with little to no performance experience in the lead role of your major motion picture. Perhaps that’s why there’s a sizable role for Channing Tatum, or as some may know him, the pine two-by-four with a buzz cut; so that there’s someone that will make her look good by comparison.

As for her fighting, the movie uses that to its advantage as well. It doesn’t try to finesse the action with fancy choreography and it doesn’t even seem to try to feel the need to make it seem more brutal than violence already is. At times it feels like the foley artist is taking the day off, because rather than having punches sound like a couple of t-bones being slapped together, they actually sound like… well, punches. The kind of sound that you heard as a kid, when your brother and yourself would finally just lose patience and wail on each other.

The plot is a pretty standard variation on the “wrong man been wronged.” Gina, going by the name Mallory and checking in often with her military daddy (Bill Paxton), is a mercenary. Sorry, “licensed government contractor.” She’s on the verge of quitting her position with the fella she’s been working for (Ewan McGregor) but he’s still giving her jobs. And on one of these jobs, she is the victim of an attempted frame-up and execution. She spends the rest of the movie running from the clueless authorities and pummeling the ones that did the wronging. That’s the basic plot. You can guess as much from the trailers that make it look as run of the mill as possible. Which is exactly what it is, story-wise.

What makes it unique are two things; first, the script, while keeping things tight and adhering to the established conventions, does a good job of establishing the double-dealings into an air-tight story. When the web is revealed in its entirety, there aren’t any glaring plot-holes (at least none that have been nagging me since leaving the theater.) It’s almost a let-down when you find out how limp the plot wrap-up is, but that’s almost the point. The characters she’s dealing with are the type of people who do this every day and the decisions they make with regards to her mean little more to them than their decision whether to have toast or bagels in the morning. Their machinations are just them using circumstance to their advantage.

Second, you have the cast. With this type of story, you usually have one up and comer and an aging star, who is playing the bad guy in order to chew some scenery and pick up a paycheck. In this case, the cast is much better than you’d usually get and they’re bringing their A-game. McGregor, Paxton and Michael Fassbender all put in excellent performances, despite not having a ton of screen time. Plus, you get Antonio Banderas in a role that is much more understated and low-key than one would expect. And yeah, OK… Michael Douglas showed up for a few days and collected a paycheck for playing Michael Douglas.

In the end, your milage on this type of film may vary, but I would recommend this one over any other with its tropes in recent memory. It doesn’t waste a moment of it’s run-time and is much more intelligent fun than you may expect.

(Three 1/2 out of five stars)