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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Aisle of the Damned: 10/20/17- Ryan Reynolds GIF War

Brade Lunner

Early in the 21st Century, THE WARNER BROS. CORPORATION advanced robot cinema into the NOSTALGIA phase – a movie virtually identical to a 35-year-old film. The 2049 Sequel was superior in strength and agility and at least equal in intelligence, to the cult film that spawned it. After a bloody mutiny, Bryan and Kent reviewed Blade Runner 2049. It was not retired.

They also take a look the Martin Campbell IRA triller The Foreigner, with Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan. Plus, Bryan takes a look at the TV cut of Superman: The Movie from Warner Archive. We also discuss news regarding old (Batman: The Animated Series, The Breakfast Club) and new (Snake Outta Compton, Bearmageddon) and everything in-between.

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Flock of Seagulls- I Ran (So Far Away)

Aisle of the Damned: 05/12/17- Mashed Potato Sculpture Man

Anybody got a cigarette?

It’s time to Ooga Chaka again! That’s right, Bryan and Kent take an extended look at James Gunn’s wonderful Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

Kent also looks at a couple of excellent indie films with Colossal and Free Fire. But first, we examine the first look at Kingsman 2, which features the great Frank Sinatra, and the final look at Wonder Woman, which features… music from a late-90s Army recruitment ad?

Plus Hellboy news, recommendations and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats– Stuck in a Movie
Charly Bliss– Ruby [Single Version]

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Wide-560x282

Guardians of the Galaxy is not Marvel’s best film. At least not in my eyes. It isn’t as consistent as The Avengers and it doesn’t offer quite the perfect blend of heady thrills that we received in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. But it absolutely delivers, and when taken as a pair with Cap, it makes 2014 the banner year for Marvel cinema. Some have called it this generation’s Star Wars. I would call it this generation’s much better version of The Last Starfighter. Whatever you call it, it is a great way to close out the summer.

But let’s put the kibosh on the outright Star Wars comparisons while we have the chance. While it’s obvious that Gunn grew up with Star Wars and brings that kind of semi-grungy feel to the proceedings, the most recent film I can think of that is reminiscent in tone is actually JJ Abrams’ initial Star Trek entry. It cares more about movement and fun (while including some pathos) than being serious sci-fi. And the way Gunn grounds the film with the soundtrack is a much better utilized extension of how Abrams clunkily snuck the Beastie Boys into Trek on an “oldies” station. Both seem to care more about establishing the characters and their interaction than plot, at least on the surface level. In fact, I kind of want to watch it again so that I can do a bit better analysis of the two and how they compare and contrast. But then I’m also reminded because I feel a lot of the original Trek in Guardians, as well there should be considering the cosmic side of the Marvel universe was being developed back in the sixties and seventies. The character Gamora, with her green skin, is highly reminiscent of an Orion woman with a higher make-up budget. This only enhances the proceedings as far as I’m concerned. They are both playful updates that keep the spirit of the pop-art sci-fi they were born from.

After an Up-style, heady, depressing opening designed to inform the audience of where our protagonist Peter Quill comes from, it wisely buckles in to become a tongue-in-cheek thrill ride with some great characters and an assortment of wonderful moments that range from small and personal to universe-shattering. Unlike a lot of films of this ilk, there are even moments when the two collide.

Quill, desperate to make a name for himself as an outlaw with the nickname ‘Star Lord,’ was abducted from Earth as a child right after the most tragic and defining moment of his life, his mother’s death. It’s obvious why Chris Pratt of Andy Dwyer fame on Parks and Recreation was cast, as he imbues the same kind of childlike innocence in the character that makes you root for him even as he’s doing things that could be considered border-line despicable. The real brilliance of the casting is that he manages to give Quill a sense of palpable arrested development. While he’s gotten older and become a seasoned pirate, for lack of a better word, there is a part of him that has never progressed from that moment and the film pulls no punches with the obvious metaphors in this regard. While it is never mentioned by name, Quill obviously labors under a love of the Han Solo model of scoundrel. But rather than push that connection, writer/director James Gunn fills him with just as well-known but more left-field references to the pop culture he grasped onto as a child and hasn’t let go of.

In addition, Quill continues to carry around a mixtape his mother made for him. Played on his original Walkman (still in fantastic condition, surprisingly), it becomes a part of the character and the ’70s and ’80s tunes are built into the film in an extremely organic way. No doubt, the soundtrack will sell a bajillion copies. If one were cynical (and I’m sure there are a few critics who have already said so) I could talk about the film being so blatantly calculated with its feel good, curated soundtrack. I’m sure there are lots of other ways that people can complain about being manipulated (as if that doesn’t happen with every movie), but every example I can think of actually comes across as good, solid, commercial filmmaking. Everything that could come across as trite is embedded into the story or the characters and given a real excuse to be there, beyond being, to quote Mike Nelson from the Twilight Rifftrax commentary, “Coldly calculated to pander to your shrieking demographic.” As an example of commercial limitations being built into character, there are things like Quill’s use of the term “a-hole,” used to get the director his first PG-13 rating, which come across as part of his stunted growth.

And the characters are extremely well put together. The villains and side characters may lack a certain amount of depth, but Gunn does such a good job balancing and creating interpersonal relationships between the eponymous Guardians that one would struggle to come up with a standout. Given that means fully developing five separate characters from scratch (none of the main characters have been seeded in other films) and giving each of them a real arc, that’s not bad at all. Besides Quill, we also have Gamora, played by Star Trek alum Zoe Saldana, who is the adopted daughter of Marvel’s Darkseid analog, Thanos. She finally feels she’s found a chance to escape his clutches. If anyone gets a shorter shrift it’s her, but it’s not from a lack of trying. Part of her character simply requires her to have less of the humorous moments that pull the audience in. If her “sister” Nebula (Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan, sporting one of the more impressive make-up jobs I’ve ever seen) had been further developed, it may have helped as she does have that interpersonal relationship to fall back on, but we may have to wait for the inevitable sequel for that. Marvel occupies this incredibly unique sphere where their films work individually, yet their almost assured success thus far has allowed them a tremendous amount of breathing room. If a plot thread isn’t overly developed in one film, it can be picked up in another. Gunn does a fantastic job wrapping things up in satisfying fashion at the end, but there is more than enough to bring along for another film. It’s a balancing act that most of the Marvel directors have proven deft at and speaks well to the planning that has gone into their overall series. (Ant-Man could always be the first blow against them, but I hold out hope that Peyton Reed will finally get a chance to pull off his superhero film that he’s wanted to do since he was prepping what sounds like a far superior version of Fantastic Four than what ended up coming out.)

In addition, we have a surprisingly good performance from Dave Bautista, who made his name as a professional wrestler. Based on what little I’d seen of his performances talking up matches and his serviceable but unremarkable role in Riddick, I was expecting him to bring a strong physicality to the role of Drax the Destroyer, for sure. But I was pleasantly surprised by the comic timing that he brings to the screen. He gets a good hook that allows humor to be built off him so he can be taken in by the audience much more than a typical scarred up, tattooed, hulking ball of rage. The characters that will undoubtedly find their way into the highest echelons of pop culture, as kids will undoubtedly latch onto them like crazy, are Rocket (aka Rocket Raccoon) and his ent-like sidekick Groot. While they will surely be turned into cute plush toys, neither comes across as particularly adorable for most of the screentime with Rocket managing in particular to come across more as irritable. There’s little chance of him being confused with the kind of CGI animals that inhabit family films where screenwriters work out their issues with how they think their dads worked too much. No, our little Rocket is a hissing, mangy bag of annoyance. And while I still personally would not have picked Bradley Cooper to voice him (I had spent a good deal of time rooting for the David Tennant rumor to be true, giving him a gruff British Isles accent as he does in some media he’s appeared in), he does a more than serviceable job. Also doing his job well is Vin Diesel, who manages to give Groot’s limited vocabulary a surprising range. What in many ways could come across as a one-note character is, through Diesel and some excellent work by the film’s animators, given a surprising depth and unique personality. Sometimes he feels like a Miyazaki character that accidentally fell into the wrong universe.

Gunn manages to herd these characters through several action sequences and alien worlds, giving us a rudimentary travelogue through Marvel’s cosmic branch. For decades the company has had a history of characters jumping around in deep space but this section of the publisher’s continuity had largely been overlooked in favor of Earth-based heroes in the films. Some of this may be because arguably the most well-known of these characters, The Silver Surfer, is tied to the Fantastic Four franchise over at Fox. Some of it is certainly due to a lack of name recognition compared to a character like Captain America (though really, Iron Man was only a sixties cartoon away from similar obscurity to the general public before that movie was a big hit.) And some of it was, no doubt, due to worries about the nature of the ensuing film. After all, apart from Star Wars/Trek, there have been relatively few space franchises that have made a splash at the box office. Put it all together and it’s no wonder people thought this was a big gamble for the studio and their Disney overlords. We’ve been given peaks and glimpses to this larger universe in the Thor films and The Avengers, but on the whole it is a very different project for them.

However, the Marvel name has deservedly become a huge selling point and they made all the right calls here. It may be sci-fi spectacle, but they have injected it with plenty of the Marvel DNA that typically means a fun and exciting story that won’t depress the hell out of you. They put together that rarest of things: A special effects blockbuster with not just a pulse, but a soul.

(Four and a half damns given out of five)