Aisle of the Damned: 08/11/17- Because Lionsgate, That’s Why

More like Dork Tower, amIright?

Bryan and Kent saw the big-screen adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower and both were confused by the experience, though not as much by the film. Kent, meanwhile, has seen the artiest of arthouse fare, A Ghost Story. Does the experience haunt him?

Meanwhile, the boys take advantage of a slow news week to review the Spider-Man that could have been, had Sony not handed him over to Marvel, and he takes a severe turn towards the Herbert West.

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Viva Voce- The Center of the Universe

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Pacific Rim

Jimpsy Darglar

I’m just going to go ahead and say it; I loved Pacific Rim. I loved it unabashedly and without the dried-up cynicism that invades even my own thoughts from time to time. I haven’t had as much fun watching a movie in the theater since The Avengers. Apparently this is not universal. I see people complaining about it being too dark. I see people complaining about it not being dark enough. Well, I guess they made this one just for me, because it hit my sweet spot with the gooey, chewy chocolate center. I found myself grinning over the course of nearly the entirety of Guillermo del Toro’s big knock-down drag-out.

It seems like del Toro, though having common flourishes in his work, has two modes of film-making. There’s the Pan’s Labrynth-style horror fantasies that seem to delight the arthouse community and then there’s his Hellboy mode in which he goes for the big, fun action film. Both are exciting to see for different reasons and both are usually high quality in their respective genres. This is squarely in the second column. A tale of human-piloted robots (aka “Jeagers”) versus alien monsters which are attempting to wipe out said humanity (kaiju, literally the Japanese word for giant monster), it also manages to have a human core that elevates the material while never bringing the film to a skidding halt.

One of the clever things del Toro does is plug the characters’ motivations and personalities directly into the plot. Somewhat literally. Early on it is explained that the strain of piloting a Jeager is simply too much for one person to handle, so a link is made between two pilots. They share their memories, fears and feelings with each other, which of course leads to all sorts of complications and makes it tricky for just anyone to be a pilot. We see father-son teams. Brothers. Husband and wife. I actually found myself hungry for more information about these people. The intimacy described is never fully explored for, one would guess, several reasons. Of course there’s a possibility of getting down and dirtier into the concept if there are more films, but while there is enough story here to fill a franchise, it seems satisfied to simply tell a streamlined yarn. Could they be brought about easily? Well sure. But there’s nothing here, even in a post-credits sequence, that feels like it’s specifically being seeded for the purpose of setting up a franchise, which is kind of refreshing, honestly.

It’s an odd assemblage of a cast, cheerfully devoid of any traditional star power, and it works. Idris Elba continues to be awesome in everything he does except The Office. (Never quite understood that one considering he’s got some good comedic timing.) Rinko Kikuchi’s Mako, a rookie pilot in the Jeager program, manages to be effective even with her broken English. Charlie Day is fantastically funny as a kaiju expert and he has fantastic chemistry with the entire cast, but most notably del Toro favorite Ron Pearlman, who plays a black market dealer in kaiju parts. The only weak spot is, surprisingly, Charlie Hunnam. His performance seems oddly stilted against the others, though I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because he’s concentrating on his American accent.

As I was leaving the theater, one of the staff was asking people what we thought of the film. Getting positive feedback, he replied, “So it’s not just a live-action Gundam Wing?” I responded, “It’s more like Neon Genesis Evangelion with Star Wars overtones.” “Touche,” he said. Not sure what he meant by that, but I decided to move on.

And while it’s become cliche to describe a film as being the next Star Wars, Pacific Rim does share many characteristics. The fantastic setting doesn’t transfer over, of course. Pacific Rim is decidedly Earthbound. But just as George Lucas took the cheesy Flash Gordon serials he had seen as a youth and tweaked them into something new, so Guillermo del Toro took the at times sublime, but often goofy, giant monster films he saw as a kid, combined them with famous anime concepts and tweaked them into something familiar but put together in a fresh way. Both used an advance in budget and special effects to update childhood loves that often look ridiculous by today’s standards. Both do a great job of world building, giving us glimpses of things that would be fascinating to learn more about. Both star a wooden-acting, younger blonde alongside a veteran Brit. Both have a kick-ass lady that manages to exude attractiveness without being overtly sexual. I doubt the blue streaks of Kikuchi’s Mako will end up being as iconic as Princess Leia’s ear-buns, but still. Without recapping the plot, they also both share story characteristics as del Toro deftly maneuvers the Jeager program to be, like a certain group of rebels, outsiders and underdogs attempting to go up against incredible odds.

There’s never going to be another Star Wars. There’s just never going to be that kind of a universally beloved original film which comes out of nowhere, surprising everyone. So comparisons notwithstanding, I’m not going to sit here and declare it the next anything. I’m not even going to call it the next Godzilla. (I actually found more in common with the 90s trilogy of Gamera films, anyway.) While I noticed a subtle nod here and there, mostly the overt pastiche is kept to a minimum so rather than play “Spot the Reference,” I was able to simply enjoy it as the first Pacific Rim and leave it at that. Frankly I’m appreciating it for being just about the only ‘blockbuster’ this summer that isn’t a sequel, remake or an adaptation. (Even if I’ve enjoyed several of them.) This is Del Toro’s love letter to the science fiction he grew up with and it is joy-filled movie making on a grand scale.

(Five damns given out of five)

 

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Prometheus

FACED

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is a maddening mess of contradiction. It is a film that attempts to serve two masters and thus serves neither. It attempts to ask big, smart questions and dares you to think, but once you start thinking, it contains more plot holes than it takes to fill the Albert Hall, to appropriate the Beatles’ lyric. In doing so, it therefore negates its attempts to raise itself above what it ends up being: an A-grade B-movie. Which, in all fairness, certainly makes it more successful than the Matrix sequels which have in common a lot of pretentious dialogue that means nothing. It wants to make a statement, but is so determined on leaving room for interpretation that it leaves itself in complete ambiguity. It is a film that is utterly nihilistic, while spending a good amount of its running time talking about what it means to be human.

It is a film with great actors giving fantastic performances in service of supposedly brilliant characters doing stupid things in order to be able to deliver the horror film that is promised in the final 45 minutes.

Let’s start with what Scott is known for. Visual splendor. The film is nothing short of beautiful in the way it merges the aesthetic of Alien (the film) into the aesthetic of Alien (the concept by H.R. Geiger) in a collision the likes of which has not been seen in any of the previous films in the series.

And words will not be minced. This is, in every way, an Alien movie. It is a direct sequel/prequel/whatever the hell term you want to use to describe it. There isn’t much of a way of knowing why they felt the need to pussyfoot around this, but even if there isn’t a shiny black critter running around and spitting acid, the thematic elements and story beats are so clear that there’s not any question.

But back to how the movie looks. The film possibly features the best use of 3D ever in a live-action film and may be the first non-cartoon to make it worth the extra few dollars in ticket price. If only Green Lantern had used its extra dimension to portray space as effectively. Part of what makes the 3D so effective is that it never feels like a gimmick and never feels invasive. It simply feels natural to the story telling. It does a fantastic job showing size, depth and grandeur. Take one early moment for example: in a nod to Lawrence of Arabia’s famous desert sequence in which the characters are so small on the screen that it is hard to see them without a 70mm print, we see the ship Prometheus as a tiny speck, rocketing silently and insignificantly in front of a giant planet.

The acting is much of what keeps the film from imploding in on itself and makes it an enjoyable trip while you’re in the theater. Noomi Rapace gives possibly her best performance yet as Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, the woman who inspires the spaceship Prometheus to travel across space to find the origins of man in the universe. It is on her shoulders that the film stands and she shows herself to have been wasted in things like her small role in the Sherlock Holmes sequel. Hopefully following this film, she’ll start seeing the kind of work she deserves. Idris Elba gives an expectedly good performance as the Prometheus’ captain that is often funnier than his oddly serious role on The Office. (Ironic that he had to appear in a horror film to show his comedic chops.) He is the most likable character in the film and provides a needed sounding board for the characters, even as they make seemingly random decisions from scene to scene. Michael Fassbinder gives a standout performance as David, an early android of the type that appears in the later films. Though supposedly emotionless, he exudes quiet disdain for his creators, all while the human characters search for our own. Fashioning himself physically after Peter O’Toole in the aforementioned Lawrence of Arabia, he displays no compassion for humans and indeed seems to take every opportunity to differentiate himself from them, yet seems insulted when his lack of humanity is pointed out to him by his creators. It is also worth mentioning that Charlize Theron gives another winning performance as an unlikable bitch.

It all serves to elevate what is a half-assed attempt to combine a pretty standard “Chariots of the Gods” idea that has been explored in other forms such as Quatermass and the Pit or Stargate, with what is expected from a horror film. One wonders how successful it could have been if Scott had simply said what was on his mind, instead of purposely obfuscating his ideas or if it had simply been set outside that particular universe. There are already tons of examples of the issues with the script on the internet, so there’s no need to delve into them and ruin the genuine pleasures you may experience in viewing the film here. Some can be explained in no-prize fashion, but all in all, it shows to simply be sloppy storytelling. How much can be assigned on the writers (including Damon Lindelof of Lost) and how much is on Scott is up for debate.

Yet, for all the kvetching, it is an affecting film with some genuine classic moments in the horror genre. One squeam-inducing moment involving self-sugery is enough to make even the hardcore horror hound cringe. Say what you will about Scott, but once the fan is hit, the tension is successfully ratcheted at a good clip and in a lot of ways, these visceral moments make up for the shortcomings of the film. And it is for that reason and those of the acting and visuals that, while not perfect, it is a movie that can be recommended and on the big screen at that.

(Three out of five stars.)