Kent’s 25 Favorite Damned Movies of 2017 (#25-21)

Now that the other stuff is out of the way, let’s look at my favorite films of 2017. The ones that, for various reasons, I connected to or appreciated in a pretty major way. Was I able to see everything? Of course not. I have a full time job and a reasonable social life for someone that spends a ton of time absorbing media, you weirdos. (And sometimes have to drive an hour to see obscure releases in the theater.) So take this for what it is: a heavily biased, personal opinion meant to sway you.

LET’S GET STARTED!

25. JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2-  I started out as an admirer of the film  John Wick, but it was repeat viewings that really drove home just how good it is.  If there’s a flaw in the sequel, it’s that it’s so effective in trying to provide a breathless follow-up to the original sleeper hit, that it ends up being exhausting. Beginning a short, but undefined, time after the end of the first film, it finds his recent revenge coming at a high cost as he is drawn back into the belly of the death trade he left behind. There are few pleasures in action films equal to seeing the faces of men who underestimate Mr. Wick, and there are many such pleasures to be had in this slam bang sequel. The world building is well done, drawing out details of the underworld he inhabits, but never overexplaining things. It also does a good job introducing us to new characters played by genre favorites like Franco Nero and Laurence Fishburne. As what is obviously supposed to be the middle installment of a trilogy, it certainly delivers on putting the titular character through the wringer and leaving him on the other side, broken, battered and in a worse place than he started; the viewer may just end up a wreck as well.

24. WONDER WOMAN- How good was the majority of Wonder Woman? So good that even a CGI clusterfuck of an ending couldn’t ruin it. And so good that it alone will almost single-handedly keep the current iteration of the DCU afloat, despite Justice League having to be a massive financial disappointment for Warner Bros. Gal Gadot is absolutely transcendent in the role, giving me the kind of “my Wonder Woman” feelings that others describe Michael Keaton and Christopher Reeves with, for their respective roles. Chris Pine takes to Steve Trevor with aplomb, showing us a character who exists in shades of grey, but is never an antihero. In the end, we can see why a literal goddess would catch feelings. Even the switch to a World War I setting manages to work, thanks to some deft wrangling of the film’s themes. The bold use of color alone, with her iconic outfit blazing in a sea of monochrome, puts this a step ahead of its brethren. (Or is it sistern?) Patty Jenkins deserves a lot of credit here, for making a movie that just plain works in an era where origin stories are often dismissed out of hand as old hat. It’s even grown on me through repeated viewings, elevating itself onto my list.

23. DAVE MADE A MAZE- This may at least partly be the result of a Kickstarter project, but don’t let that fool you; it’s a real movie and you may even recognize some of the people in it, if you watch the same TV that I do. It would be easy to call this the Michael Gondriest movie that Michael Gondry never Gondried, but that’s not giving it enough credit. This is the story of a man who wants to make something great, and gets swallowed up by his project as it spirals out of control and takes on a life of its own. Most of us try-hard artists can certainly relate. In this case, he creates a cardboard labyrinth in his living room, which takes on magical (and dangerous) properties. It’s one of a few movies this year (see my top 10) that do a great job examining the various reasons a person feels a need to create. In this case, it’s a warped frustration, lashing out against feelings of mediocrity and not having accomplished anything major. (This is possibly why one of my favorite bits is when some of the characters roll their eyes over the idea that the maze is “powered by imagination.”) It’s a wonderful pairing of subject matter and filmmaking, as the low budget feel adds to the home-made quality that permeates the entirety of its being. And there are definitely some fun things on display, with a production design that really manages to wow, using nothing more than acres and acres of cardboard, string and paint. Again, that doesn’t give it enough credit, however, because it also manages to incorporate stop-motion, animation and any and every type of practical effect you can think of to create this extraordinarily ordinary world of deadly whimsy. (How often do you get to use that descriptor?) Ultimately, even though I identify with it, I acknowledge there are plot threads left dangling and it can be a bit messy, character-wise. But if you’re the kind of person that loves inventiveness, you’ll find it worth watching just due to the visuals and wackiness on display. Hopefully, you’ll find that you’re like me though, and you’ll appreciate it in a broader way.

22. BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99- A strange movie that breathes the same air as 70s prison exploitation films, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is every bit an update of that kind of skewed message movie. The underlying current seems to be a pretty big statement against the prison system and the still continuing war on drugs. The harshness of the visuals matches the tone as a noble “loser” seems to be smacked down every time he tries to do the right thing, and finally goes crooked. Even then though, he can’t keep from being punished for having a conscience and the licking the universe seems intent on inflicting upon him begins to take on more and more vicious physical representations as he ends up on the bad side of a drug lord. The thing that makes the character surprisingly endearing though, is that he’s developed quite the tolerance to the utter heaping of pain that is constantly being dropped on him, and he can rage back against it with a righteous fury. Vince Vaughn has shown to have more range than people expect of him, going from broad comedies like Dodgeball to more dramatic fare like True Detective, but Brawl uses him in a way few people probably ever expected. Taking advantage of his size, something that is often overlooked thanks to his relaxed demeanor, the film reimagines Vaughn as a physical powerhouse. The kind of character Jack Reacher probably should have been on film, should he have been captured as he exists on the page: a quiet, thoughtful, imposing hulk who can overcome nearly any physical trauma due to the single-mindedness of his purpose. It’s his performance that helps keep the movie on track from its start as a fairly grounded drama, through it’s methodical morphing into something more pulpy, ending with a sudden burst of unreal ultraviolence.

21. THE HERO– Sam Elliott needs to be the star of more movies. That one sentence honestly should be all I need to say about this film, wherein he plays an aging actor, renowned for his Western roles. Typecasting, right? He spends his days getting high and ambling towards obscurity and the grave with an ex-wife, an estranged daughter and a legacy of one film that he is truly proud of in his wake. There is a great supporting cast here, with Nick Offerman, Krysten Ritter and Laura Prepon, but it all comes back to Elliott and you can see that, like his character, when given a choice to rise above commercial voice overs and crappy Netflix sitcoms, he is doing the best he can to really sink his teeth into a role that had to have been written just for him.

< THE WORST OF 2017                                                       THE BEST OF 2017 (#20-16) >

Aisle of the Damned: 07/14/17- With Steve Urkel as Electro

Up next: Sadie Hawkins DanceHe’s doins’t whatever a spider can, but can Spider-Man: Homecoming save the wallcrawler from the evil clutches of the Sony executives? We discuss it in this episode. Kent also takes a look at the Sam Elliott character piece The Hero.

In addition, we have some various DCEU and Quentin Tarantino news, and a look at the trailer for another Child’s Play sequel for your earholes.

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Michael Giacchino- Spider-Man Theme Song
The Ramones- Spider-Man

Aisle of the Damned: 06/30/17- Robots in Disgrace

Bayformers: Robots in Disgrace

It’s finally happened. Transformers: The Last Knight is here to bludgeon you into submission with everything Michael Bay didn’t manage to say in the first 17 hours’ worth of Transformers movies. Who is still going to see these things? Well, Kent and Bryan, apparently, but mostly so you don’t have to.

Plus, we have more strange Sony tales and a stupefying Fantastic Four announcement to talk about, along with more news.

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Weird Al Yankovic- Dare to be Stupid

Aisle of the Damned: 1/23/17- Best of 2016… and Passengers

*punch* No ticket.

Following our Christmas episode, we took a little time to enjoy the new year before we came back with one of the most anticipated episodes of the year: The Best and Worst of 2016!

After a discussion about the difficulties of seeing a lot of the stuff out there these days (there’s only so many entertainment dollars to go around) we lay out what rotted our eyeballs and delighted our brains over the last year. We also take on Underworld: Blood Wars, La La Land and Passengers before we’re done, and talk news about some blu ray announcements, Deadpool 2 news and how Warner Bros. still just doesn’t get it.

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie

Still Corners- Lost Boys

Aisle of the Damned: 11/21/16- Strange(r) Things

Don't talk to strangers

Sorry for the lateness. You know how it is when turkey is involved. But here’s one Thanksgiving leftover you won’t want to leave in the fridge.

Kent and Bryan discuss the films Arrival and Doctor Strange, two pieces of pulp that seem to be trying harder than usual to engage your brain. We also say goodbye to Robert Vaughn and discuss our DC-flavored recommendations of the week, both of which are revivals of a TV series in one way or another.

All this and less in Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Echo and the Bunnymen- People are Strange

Aisle of the Damned: 9/1/16- Kent Hasn’t Seen Empire Records

Have you seen my wiener?

After his admission that he had not seen Empire Records last week, Kent lost several of his friends. But at least we’ve got a couple of animated films to review! Laika Studios (Coraline, Paranorman) has a new stop-motion flick called Kubo and the Two Strings. Meanwhile, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (This is the End, The Interview) decide to call hot dogs ‘sausages’ so they can name their movie Sausage Party, even though nobody actually does that. Are you ready for some cartoons? All that, plus some upcoming movie discussion about Spider-Man: Homecoming and Justice League Dark. Oh, and our recommendations. And we gripe about the ratings system again.

All this and less in Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Soul Heirs- Hot Links

Aisle of the Damned: 8/11/16- Suicide is Aimless

Mom, my crayons melted

Bryan and Kent take on a mission with little chance of survival; they’re bringing you their thoughts on Warner Bros.’ latest DC offerings, the controversial-for-all-of-five-minutes-because-of-an-R-rating Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (The Ultimate Cut) and David Ayer’s Suicide Squad.

After discussing the showy failures of Squad, they also discuss the tempered rewards of the 13th film in the Star Trek franchise, Star Trek Beyond.

Plus, Kent talks about Jason Bourne and Lights Out and the fellas give their recommendations for the week, one DC related and one decidedly not.

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:

The Aquabats– Stuck in a Movie
Death Hymn Number 9– I Reckon You Gonna Die

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Sad Batman is Sad

I’ve been a defender of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. Despite the issues I have with it (the terrible color correction, the insane death of Jonathan Kent, etc.), I thought it made the best of some source material that I always found questionable, aka forcing a Xerox of Batman’s spirit quest around the world into his mythology. I guess I was so relieved to finally have a Superman movie without an awful, over-the-top bumbling Clark Kent performance, a nonsense Luthor scheme, fluctuating powers that defy the movie’s internal logic, bastard kids or a thoroughly dislikable Lois Lane that I could overlook the flaws. After all, despite the bleakness, there’s promise in the film. Clark has finished a costly first battle and is in a position to use that sacrifice to learn and be the hero he should be. He can take his actions from Man of Steel and build on them, vowing to never take another life. Though unlike all the people who apparently have forgotten both the comics and the ending of their beloved Superman II, I had no problem with Clark killing Zod, seeing as how he’s the one character Superman has ever knowingly offed.

The question was, would the sequel build on that promise, or would it double down on the unique problems this take brought to the franchise? All of the marketing material seemed to indicate this would not so much be a Superman sequel as either a proto-Justice League movie or a jumping off point to a Frank Miller Batman franchise, none of which sounded particularly appealing. Unfortunately, this is largely correct. Superman seems like an also-ran in his own film for the most part.

After a strangely gripping prologue that gives a street level view of the devastation wrought by the battle between Clark and Zod in Man of Steel, the film settles in for an hour or so, spending a lot of time introducing us to this version of Batman, who follows the natural through line from Burton to Nolan to Snyder, finally adopting a fully-functional Dark Knight Returns-style Batman who is equal parts psychotic and broken. An impotent man who takes out his fury by torturing criminals and not especially caring if people die in his pursuit of self-serving justice. It’s certainly not my favorite style of Batman (I skew much farther towards the Denny O’Neil-style well-rounded version) but much as certain fanboys may deny it, this version of Batman is what many of them have been angling for.  Be careful what you wish for.

Meanwhile, we see Superman performing many acts of heroism, saving people around the world from disasters, intercut with footage of a world who doesn’t know how to react to him or trust him. It’s not so much a bad portrayal of Kal-El, but it certainly does create a morose environment surrounding him. After much sturm and drang, this overall paranoia leads to the confrontation of the title. To reveal much more would be to give away the mechanics of the plot, but it is fair to point out the much touted appearances by other Justice League members don’t just feel distracting, but actually lower the excitement over Warners’ plans for their characters.

The good news is that while the film is full of bad ideas, the ideas are filmed and acted competently. The bad news is that competence doesn’t fix bad ideas, it simply makes them go down easier. Make no mistake; there are some things to enjoy in the film which make it still worth seeing. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman does great things with her limited screentime. Gadot herself, apart from seeming to have trouble getting her Israeli accent around some of the overinflated dialogue, is a wonderful physical actress. Jeremy Irons’ Alfred manages to be an absolutely necessary source of humor in an otherwise dour affair. The majority of the acting is fine, even Ben Affleck’s, though he comes up short selling Batman’s character arc and revelation moment. The major exception is Jessie Eisenberg who seems to be edited in from a completely different film. While I’ve never been a fan of the way Luthor has been used in the Superman films, it’s quite a shock to go from the intelligent menace of Kevin Spacey’s portrayal to Eisenberg’s collection of tics and vocal contortions masquerading as a performance. He plays Lex Luthor as some kind of bizarre Joker variation, his motivation either making him pathetic or a puppet. Sometimes he is effectively creepy, but mostly he comes off as annoying.

The plot grabs famous storylines from the two characters at random like Scrabble tiles from a bag. In the end, what we have is a mess. A mess that is interesting, but overly long and needlessly complicated. It has a fourth act tacked on because there was never a scenario where the Superman/Batman fight could be dramatically satisfying as a conclusion.

Worse, in their misguided race to force a rivalry with Marvel Studios, Warner Bros. attempts to cram huge amounts of set-up into the film and none of that set-up feels earned. Watching it feels like we missed a few movies that were released between Man of Steel and now. Many audience members may even be completely lost as to what a lot of what is going on. When your entire movie is based on laying a foundation for future installments, that should be rather disconcerting. As of this moment, I’m not particularly looking forward to Justice League. Or Suicide Squad with its copy and paste characters who look like they stepped out of a 90s pitch meeting when “edgy” was still a buzzword. Wonder Woman and the Lego Batman Movie are they only DC film projects which continue to pique my interest. As I am a person who was a big DC fan until fairly recently, that kind of reaction should have Warner Bros. concerned. Somehow, I don’t think they’ll care.

(Two and a half damns given out of five)

Aisle of the Damned: 3/29/16- Batman Can’t Get a Boner

The right one is up front

In the historic tradition of such epic cinematic grudge matches as Godzilla vs Mothra and Kramer vs Kramer comes Batman v Superman. As DC bets the farm on Frank Miller fanboys, Bryan and Kent also set about to fighting; one of them hates it while the other… hates it less. Also, looks at 10 Cloverfield Lane, London Has Fallen, Zootopia, the Ghostbusters ’16 trailer and our host recommendations. All this and less on Aisle of the Damned.

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Will Arnett- Untitled Self Portrait

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Man of Steel

Woman of Tissue

For all his flaws, I tend to be, if not a Zach Snyder supporter, then at least Snyder neutral. I found his Dawn of the Dead remake to be largely unneeded but not insulting (and the one film he’s done that actually had a good selection of songs.) 300 was entertaining and certainly gave us a lot of eye candy. I will defend Watchmen as having surface problems (like the mostly terrible soundtrack), but being near as good as anyone could have made it into a feature film. It certainly was more ‘extreme’ than the comic, but that in itself almost seems like a commentary on Watchmen’s effect on the comic industry. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole was not what I would consider a great film, but as a children’s film it was, once again, not insulting. It also was one of the better films at incorporating 3D. Plus, I respect any director willing to make the leap to a new type of media, the way Brad Bird, Wes Anderson, Spielberg, etc. have started to do, slipping from animation to live action and vice versa. The one absolute turd in the punch bowl of his career is Sucker Punch and on that one I will admit he made an abomination so bad that it is probably one of the worst films I have ever seen, even if parts of it were fun to look at.

To add further context, I’m one of the rare individuals out there that isn’t just a Superman fan (love the big, blue boy scout), but one that hates the Donner movies. And by extension, Superman Returns, which took all the flaws of the Donner films and multiplied them exponentially while cutting out all the redeeming qualities. I have never seen a more radical misstep than the storyline involving his illegitimate son. It’s not like I haven’t enjoyed Superman on film, but for some reason the interpretations I respected and admired were all on TV. The animated series would have to be top of the heap, along with it’s parlance into Justice League, but also the George Reeves series, Lois and Clark and even Smallville because they all were smart enough to respect the character of Clark Kent, unlike the bumbling fool that he became under Christopher Reeves.

So it was with understandable trepidation I approached Man of Steel.

Somehow, against all odds and beyond all reason, I finally found a Superman film I can embrace. Is it perfect? No. As I was dissecting things with a friend afterwards, more and more things started to come out to nitpick. To name a few things that came up, it was too serious, it was a little long, it effs with the mythology in ways that I was not happy with. And while he may be the Man of Steel, he apparently has a suit of dodgeball material. Seriously, that thing is terrible. Can we put the guy back in his proper uniform instead of this New 52 garbage? Yet in the most important ways, it was the Superman movie I have been waiting for.

Apparently, the over-the-top visual style of Zach Snyder and the gloomy story stylings of Christopher Nolan, for all the oddness of the pairing, resulted in them meeting in the middle. The best way I can describe the result is with an oxymoron: it is like an intelligent Michael Bay film. While a great deal of the beginning of the film moves slowly and focuses on character while detailing the life of Clark as he prepares to assume the mantle of Superman (Snyder’s restraint is admirable at this point), once the last third of the film kicks in, the action is nearly non-stop and features a kind of overkill in the destruction I have never before seen. It finally captures, someplace other than animation, the power of these characters engaged in combat. The military is featured in the film as a positive force (for the most part.) And where Superman Returns sought to eliminate it, Man of Steel embraces the character’s deep American symbolism. (It also embraces his Kansas roots in several ways, not running from the rural beginnings of the character.) Destruction, long action sequences and military rah-rah show up in Bay’s films all the time. The differences here are, a) someone seems to have given a crap about the script and b) Snyder is much better at actually putting together sequences that make a logical sense, or he has a much better editor.

Then there is the subtext; the religious nature of the Superman mythos has always been present. His origin is, after all, a cosmic retelling of the story of Moses. But Steel manages to inject the film with, if not a more subtle allegory, than certainly a more palatable presentation than we got from Bryan Singer.

My biggest problems with the film were the ways in which it messed with the mythology the most. There have obviously been changes when it comes to Superman’s mythos over the years. Hell, Kryptonite, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White all came from the radio show in the 40s and were adopted into the larger Superman universe. But at this point, some things are sacrosanct. The film flirts wildly with violating that… and yet, it seems to have been done from a respectful place. Most of the largest changes make sense within the story they’re telling, so I was able to put aside my bile and muscle through, much to my benefit.

So far as the performances go, Henry Cavill makes a splendid Man of Tomorrow, even if he needs a spit curl. His Clark is just plain good, with emotions simmering below the surface. Amy Adams and Laurence Fishburne as Lois Lane and Perry White are serviceable, if generic and subdued. The standouts here are Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner as Clark’s two dads from different worlds. Both do a hell of a lot with what they are given. Michael Shannon’s Zod manages to completely break with Terrance Stamp’s iconic portrayal, much to his gain. He manages to project genuine menace.

I’m not sure how I’ll feel towards this film with a second viewing or years down the road. All I know is, for the time being I finally like a Superman movie and it feels good.

(Four damns out of five)