Aisle of the Damned: 08/04/17- Tammy and the T-Rex 2 on USA Up All Night

Tick Tick Boom

It’s one of the biggest films of the year (literally) as Kent and Bryan take a look at Christopher Nolan’s 70mm war film, Dunkirk. They also find Germans in the 80s set spy thriller, Atomic Blonde. Does Charlize Theron provide enough heat to melt the Cold War? Bryan, meanwhile, finally got to see Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Does he agree with Kent’s take, or is it Fifth Elementary, my dear Watson? Kent, meanwhile, gives us his takes on indie romantic comedy wundkerkind, The Big Sick.

Additionally, the Damned boys talk about some news that should make Batffleck fans stop worrying.

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Goldfinger- 99 Red Balloons

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: The Lego Movie and The Monuments Men

legomovieresize The-Monuments-Men-UK-Quad-Poster

Author’s Note: This review gets into the contrasting themes of these two films. Despite all attempts to the contrary, discussion of some of these themes may be looked at as spoilers, somewhat. For those that may be squeamish about such things, I would recommend seeing the films in question before reading the meat of this review. In service of this, I’ll go ahead and place my ratings at the beginning.

The Monuments Men- Three damns given out of five

The Lego Movie- Four and a half damns given out of five

Preservation vs. Creation

It’s an interesting dichotomy that arose from seeing The Monuments Men and The Lego Movie back to back.

With Monuments Men, you’ve got a (based on a true) story about a group tasked with saving art from the Third Reich in the waning days of the second world war. It is a film that asks, “What is art worth?” and answers with, “One whole heck of a lot.” Indeed, they are risking their very lives in an attempt to save landmarks and secure thousands upon thousands of pieces lifted by the Germans in their march across Europe.

Then along comes The Lego Movie which sticks its finger (or should I say clawed yellow hand?) in the very eye of the idea of preservation, even going so far as to call it a selfish and destructive concept because it can stifle the creative spirit. Granted, there is more to it than that, but the very idea that this comparison can be drawn is the Lego Movie’s own fault for actually exceeding expectations and being ABOUT something.

I suppose part of the split comes down to the medium. Paint, clay, bronze… these are traditional ways of creating works of art. Plastic bricks that are responsible for a lot of late night parental foot injuries are not. Between this and their origins, they are seen as toys. (I can hear a multitude of readers saying, “No crap.”) Of course, like clay vs. Play-Doh, crayons vs. pastels or a coloring book with a tray of hard watercolor paints, often what distinguishes an art supply from a toy boils down to what’s done with it.

In the case of the Lego movie, a lot is done with it and the movie itself is what I would consider to be art.

The Lego Movie involves a group of “master builders.” Figures in the literal sense (many of them small, yellow versions of characters from history or popular culture) that use their surroundings to create whatever comes to mind. Aside from well known characters like Batman (Will Arnett), it includes such originals as Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), Unikitty (Community’s Allison Brie) and Metal Beard the Pirate (Nick effing Offerman). Most importantly, it includes Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), who is helping lead the resistance against Lord Business (Will Ferrell) and his plan for perfection.

In many ways the builders look down on the “regular” members of their society that stick to the instructions. People like Emmet Brickowoski (voiced by Parks and Rec’s Chris Pratt), the everyman hero of the film. Like everyone around him, he likes to watch awful TV shows and listen to the same pop song over and over. And admittedly, I could see some of myself in the master builders. Those who know me are aware of my disdain for many of the things that are as close as we seem to get to mainstream culture these days of niche entertainment, usually skewing towards what I see as more creative, funnier and better made.

Perhaps ironically, this is exactly what drew me to The Lego Movie. When it was announced, I figured it to be a hollow merchandising tie-in; slapping the name of a children’s toy with no built-in narrative and counting on name recognition to sell it to children and the parents seeking to keep them quiet after their offspring are bombarded by ads during Spongebob. Battleship alone proves my point about how utterly insane the Hollywood machine has gotten in terms of what it will greenlight. But Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the same team that dragged me kicking and screaming into admitting that 21 Jump Street was hilarious, instead used that expectation as a springboard to create one of the most bizarre, smart, subversive and original film experiences I’ve ever seen. Not to mention funny. These guys are now the top name in turning horrible concepts on paper into well-thought out entertainment. I’d almost describe The Lego Movie as one of the most experimental mainstream films I’ve ever seen. However, a lot of it is built on not just nostalgia for Lego’s marketing or a working knowledge of the brand and its use of licensing. It is also built on a heavy base of pop-cultural riffing (the Batman jokes alone are worth seeing the film for) and functions as both a parody of these types of merchandising events and of the Joseph Campbell hero model that gets grafted onto so many stories, even ones that it is out of place for (like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.)

In short, the film is built on what came before. The movie more or less acknowledges this in that it becomes a huge part of its themes. As such, it comes back around to the types of speeches given in Monuments Men when that film espouses how without protecting our history and culture, there is nothing to build on and people are lost. If not for the preserved works of the old masters, what will the new masters learn from?

If only that film let the action do the talking instead of the multiple soliloquies that George Clooney unlooses upon the fellows in his task force (and the audience in general.) The Monuments Men has too good a subject and too great a cast to be a total wash and I actually found myself interested throughout. After all, having Bill Murray, John Goodman and Jean Dujardin (from that movie that won best picture at the Oscars and never seemingly was spoken of again) is enough to prop up a goodly amount of its running time. In fact, it starts out pleasantly enough, seeming like it may end up being a low-key type of Kelly’s Heroes or a twist on a military heist film. Instead, it finds itself being sucked down into a dour foxhole of World War II film clichÈs with moments of fun punctuating it.

Because of their personalities and their mission, it’s easy to root for the Men anyway. But after watching both of the films back-to-back, it did bring up the unasked question of who they were to decide what was worth saving. Many of them were well-known artists in their own right, but when it comes down to the critically acclaimed against the popular, what is worth saving more? The Lego Movie seems to feel nothing is worth saving per se, but (and this probably relates to the fact that the medium itself, like an Etch-a-Sketch, is viewed as a temporary one) that things exist only to be broken down and used to make new things. Perhaps it is a natural extension of the Remix Generation which often seeks to recycle others’ work into their own. (Of course as a cartoonist, I know this can be a crucial learning tool, but let’s not digress too far.) More importantly, Lego would argue that the great and the functionally mundane are of equal importance and you can’t necessarily even have one without the other. Of course in most cases the creative-types of the real world do not have to worry about preservation when they create new things. Art supplies are prevalent and the digital world offers an unlimited canvas. Not only do we not have to destroy the work of another to create, but we are lucky to be in a society where both are able to exist side-by-side at the moment. In Lego there is a bit of an artificial battle for resources, one that ultimately may not make total sense, but the metaphor is so clever and heartwarmingly delivered that I can’t possibly argue too much about it. The fact is, no matter how imaginative or dull a child may be, they need play.

In the end, The Monuments Men, despite the things that are right about it, almost feels like a dirge, carefully praising art while mourning what is lost. The Lego Movie is a joyous celebration of creation and destruction, seeing them as necessary yin and yang to each other. While my head veers towards the message of the former, my heart can’t help but applaud the latter.

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Gravity

Ironically, she floats into the Event Horizon.

I knew two things when I walked out of Gravity the Thursday evening it opened.

1.) It was the best movie I’d seen this year. Yes, even better than Pacific Rim.

2.) It is the first movie I would actively advise people to see in 3D because it absolutely adds to the experience.

At its core an art film disguised in 90 minutes of 100% pure, uncut survivalist adventure, it manages to be one of the handful of films I can say I’ve never seen anything like and I officially predict it will be imitated by others for years to come. Copied until people will watch it in thirty years and wonder what the big deal is simply because it has been so thoroughly disseminated into the popular culture, not realizing how different it was at the time. (The last film I would describe this way is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which has officially began to be “homaged” in music videos.)

Seemingly filmed in large part as a series of long, uninterrupted takes, (honestly, it’s crazy enough that a lot of it could be multiple takes seamlessly put together through movie magic) it almost manages a documentary feel; yet while the camera is in constant motion, it never ends up with the terrible shaky-cam cinematography that has become so much of a crutch to modern filmmakers. It feels like it’s masterfully controlled through the entire film and is always in exactly the right place.

What also makes the cinematography incredible is that, even without lots of crazy tricks and things flying at the screen, it is the best use of 3D photography I’ve ever seen. I think a case could be made for it to win “best visual effects” come Oscar time, even over some astounding efforts from the likes of Man of Steel or Pacific Rim. Earlier in the year I marveled over the conversion job that had been performed on Jurassic Park and how so many things in that film seemed like they’d been created for 3D. This despite many of the things that impressed the most being things that I’d never really seen a 3D movie. Some of the best bits in Gravity are the same kind of beats. Like a close-up of Sandra Bullock’s face inside a space helmet with her breath fogging up the inside, the black void of space stretching infinitely behind her, Earth in the distance at the side of the frame.

Make no mistake, the film is gorgeous. But then so was Sucker Punch and that film was terrible. So what else makes Gravity work? Let me count the ways… First off, it is one of the most leanly constructed films I can think of in a long, long time. It’s not happening in real time, but due to the way the film is shot, (the aforementioned long, uninterrupted takes) it does take on that feeling. And not one second is wasted. We are either learning about the characters or watching as the rhetorical question, “What else could go wrong?” is answered with, “Oh, that.” In its 90 minutes there are really only a handful of quiet moments and they are all essential. They are all integral to the story and documenting the character arc of Dr Stone, a scientist that is not so much a trained astronaut as a specialist that is only there to fulfill one mission. One of the really clever bits is how much we learn about her as Clooney’s veteran astronaut tries to talk her down from a freak out. And then there’s my personal favorite moment of the film; an artful bit in which a space station is used as a metaphor for the womb, live-giving and perpetuating a feeling of safety from the chaos outside.

The film really only has two performances aside from a few voice-overs (including one that’s a bit of a clever in-joke from Apollo 13.) While I wouldn’t say that nobody else could have been in their parts, I know that Clooney and Bullock get people in the door and both do their job well. Clooney plays himself like usual, smarming his way through and getting away with it based on his charms. Bullock has the more weighty role and should prove her worth to those that moaned over her getting an Oscar for that football movie I never saw. She manages to bring a perfect balance to her part; she looks great (there are more than a few non-gratuitous ass shots contained within) but she manages to project enough of her “everywoman” look to feel believable instead of being a supermodel in a space suit. She also manages to be vulnerable without seeming weak or whiny, an important distinction in a film like this.

Almost a full-fledged co-star in the film is a stupendous score that manages to fill the void created by the fact that they actually keep space silent, all sound coming from comlinks and within structures. (Yes, there was sound in the trailer. You will not find it in the actual film.) I am not familiar with the composer, Steven Price (though I should since his two other credits are World’s End and Attack the Block) but after this effort I have a hard time believing he will not manage to begin occupying the same sort of space within the movie composing sphere that a newbie like Michael Giacchino did after his twofer of Star Trek and The Incredibles.

So let Neil deGrasse Tyson kvetch on Twitter like a bitter guy who is mad he didn’t get a technical consulting fee. Gravity is an experience and one you won’t likely forget.

(Five damns given out of five.)