Aisle of the Damned: 01/19/17- The Perfunctory 2017 Wrap-Up

Hello, fellow movie geeks! Bryan and Kent are up to their old tricks again with their mandatory look at the year that was! Yes, there’s a look a the best, the worst, and the most disappointing releases of the year. Which movies will top their lists? Will Bryan have room for anything besides the plethora of grand superhero films this year? Find out!

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

MUSIC:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Velocity Girl- My Forgotten Favorite

Aisle of the Damned: 12/22/17- O hai, Luke

Yep, it’s the hap-happiest season of all: Star Wars movie release time! Oh, and Chanukkah or something is going on too. Bryan and Kent discuss Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the petulant reaction of a certain section of fanboys.

Not satisfied with that, they also discuss The Disaster Artist, with James Franco taking on the role of Tommy Wiseau, the auteur behind The Room.

We also have a slew of trailers for upcoming 2018 films and a big discussion of the biggest shake-up to hit Hollywood in years: Disney’s buy-out of Fox’s entertainment division! Plus, Quentin Tarantino is beaming into Star Trek, the National Film Registry has picked 25 new entries and some GI Joe news.

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Supernova- Chewbacca

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: This is the End

You know, like that Doors song.

This is the End is undoubtably one of my favorite films of the year.

It is indulgent, inside baseball and meta to the point of insanity, but it is also hilarious, fearless and… meta to the point of insanity. An apocalyptic Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back for the Apatow-adjacent crowd, it takes full advantage of the celebrity-obsessed culture that exists more than ever in today’s America. The climate wherein actors are scrutinized in every detail. It uses the collective knowledge of their careers and relationships to skewer the TMZ-ized Hollywood bubble with pin-point precision that asks, “Why the hell do we care so much about/listen to these sociopathic dopes?” And yet, in the middle of that an emotional core emerges in the guise of a broken friendship in need of mending, leading you to actually end up caring about a couple of them despite their collective idiocy and bad behavior. If it wasn’t so well done and so self-deprecating, it could definitely come off as a vanity project. Instead it comes across as one of the most original mainstream films in some time and also one of the rare “special effects comedy” success stories. (You may wonder where the $30 million budget went while watching a majority of the film, but you find out in the third act.)

Everyone appearing in the movie plays a heightened version of themselves with little regard for ego. Seth Rogen is the common thread between them, appearing with each of the main players in at least one project. Seth is largely clueless about everything going on, having morphed from being the 20-something, weed smoking guy that echoes his character in Knocked Up to being a full-blown LA phony, taking part in ‘cleanses’ and jumping into fad diets.

This is in contrast with Jay Baruchel, a co-star of Seth’s from Undeclared and a long-time friend that still lives in Canada. (I gushed a wee bit on his hockey movie Goon last year as an example of a sports movie done right.) Jay hates Hollywood and the person that Seth is becoming as he hangs out with his new(er) friends like his frequent collaborator James Franco. Franco has his weirdness level set to 11, but creepily feels like he’s playing his “character” the closest to his real life self. His less than ambiguous affection for Rogen may inspire many, many gif sets on Tumblr when this film comes out on video.

Coming down to spend time with Rogen, Baruchel is dragged out into the belly of the proverbial beast (when he’d rather just hang out and play video games with his friend) to a housewarming party for Franco’s new pad, where we see a bevy of famous faces. I will say right here and now, if you like Michael Cera, you may love him after the beginning of this film. If you hate Michael Cera, you may still cheer. He gives what I would say is the funniest extended cameo in a film since Zombieland.

While Jay gets Seth to pop out for a pack of smokes to get away from the smug, the world starts going to hell. As the craziness piles up, they race back to Franco’s home in the Hollywood Hills where things truly get dicey. Trapped in Franco’s house waiting for help, Rogen, Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride (portraying himself as pure id) proceed to deal with life without an outside world. As society breaks down, wounds are opened up, both physical and emotional.

Gleefully rated R, there is plenty of gore, drug use (I’ve never understood what is supposed to make someone smoking a blunt inherently chuckle-worthy, but there is one fantastically funny bit involving illegal substances), foul language and more wang than you might want to see. So keep the kids at home. Unless your kids are already messed up, then who cares?

I have no idea how this film got made by a major studio because any executive reading the script had to wonder what the hell they’d gotten themselves into. God knows it may not age well because it is so cued into the moment and for maximum effect requires a working knowledge of their movies, careers and relationships. But for the time being it has cult comedy written all over it and with the fantastic callbacks set up throughout the film it will have an immediate shelf-life that rewards multiple viewings.

(Four and a half damns out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Spring Breakers

More like Spring Broken, amIright?

Spring Breakers absolutely has its foundings in the youth gone wild pictures with titles like High School Big Shot and Kitten with a Whip, which blew through drive-ins (and onto Mystery Science Theater 3000) with their over-earnest screenplays and protagonists seeking to fill their empty lives. They would promise teens shock and titillation  while hiding behind the claim of teaching moral lessons to anyone that actually ended up paying attention by the end. Spring Breakers may be filmed with a documentary style and it has a much more morally ambiguous ending than you’d find in the 50s, but 95% of the film seems preordained from the first ten minutes, in some ways flat out telling the audience exactly what will happen if you have any experience with these types of films.

Of the four principal actresses, the most famous would probably be Selena Gomez, seeking to get from under her Disney Channel shadow. She is playing up a metaphor of her own life as the goody two-shoes girl that wants to push the boundaries and see what’s out there that she hasn’t experienced in her sheltered life. As she attends church group meetings, her enthusiasm is waning with her faith. Faith also happens to be her on-the-nose character name. Her friends, newly-minted blonde (and pink) bombshells Vanessa Hudgens of High School Musical fame, Ashley Benson of Pretty Little Liars and Rachel Korine of… well, not much apparently, if her IMDB page is to be believed, we meet lounging in their dorm room, smoking weed and watching My Little Pony. Initially we are led to believe that Faith is the one that is outside the norm, but within a short while we find that she’s the only reasonable one. Gomez probably gives the best performance of the four, but she also doesn’t make it through the whole film. (Something that’s very, very telegraphed from the beginning.)

When they find that there’s not enough money between them to take their dream trip to Florida to participate in the bacchanal that is Spring Break, Faith’s friends stage a robbery of a local restaurant to get the funds. What happens when they arrive is that Spring Break is basically presented as a Caligulan orgy of booze and sex. While only one of the four actresses shows as much skin as your average Girl Gone Wild, there is no shortage of nudity in the film.

Unfortunately for the girls, while they seem to get away with the robbery, they party a little too hard in their own hotel room. Someone eventually calls the cops and they get nailed for underage drinking and narcotics charges.

But then you have James Franco. Playing ‘Alien,’ he claims to be from another planet and I’m almost inclined to believe him. His performance is so whacked out that it’s hard to tell if it’s brilliant, gonzo or both. A terrible rapper, but a pretty good drug dealer, his character bails the girls out of jail, seeking to prey on them, seeing something in them that is manipulatable. With his corn-rows, awful tattoos and teeth that make Jack Sparrow’s seem practically modest, he looks like he stepped straight out of a Gathering of the Juggalos video. While struggling to describe his character, the best thing I could come up with is that Franco is the walking embodiment of the Dynamite Hack cover of Boyz in Da Hood. And the more sincere he becomes, the more hysterical his performance is.

The problem is, I’m not sure if that’s how he is supposed to be perceived. It’s really hard to put one’s finger on the exact tone that Harmony Korine, the writer/director behind the film, is trying to set. While the film has more than it’s share of absurd and/or funny moments, it can’t break away from acting like we are supposed to be taking this very, very seriously through the direction, style and tone. Every time the film begins to look like straight-up satire as a montage streams by with one of the girls waxing philosophical about the amazing spirituality of where they are contrasting with debaucherous images, another moment would rumble in depicting the consequences of their actions with the subtlety of an after-school special. As these girls descend down a darker and darker path, I laughed a lot, but I don’t think I was supposed to laugh as much as I did. I can’t say I really recommend Spring Breakers, but I can’t deny it has moments that work and moments that are interesting, even if they don’t work. I give the film credit for not spooning out easy answers to its questions of why these three young women would dive headfirst into the world that they do despite the obvious insanity of it; seduced by violence, money and an awful, awful musician.

(Two and a half damns out of five)

Kent’s Damned Move Reviews: Oz the Great and Powerful

F5. Finger of God

After all the trailers, it was obvious that Disney was trying to sell Sam Raimi’s Oz: The Great and Powerful as the second coming of Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Thankfully, that’s not entirely the case.

Firstly, Oz actually lends itself more to this kind of thing. When the hero’s journey was grafted onto Alice, it felt out of place because Lewis Carroll’s novels are dreamlike and episodic. They flit from one fancy to the next, never worrying about plot or theme, but only caring about fun and cleverness. The Oz books, however, are more about the journey and when you slap the fact that the original film version was very much that type of film, it makes much more sense to go back to that well. It’s also a prequel that sort of makes sense; I mean, how did that guy get to be the “Wizard of Oz” when he’s just a dude behind a curtain? Wouldn’t someone have noticed?

Admittedly, I’m not the ideal candidate to review this film because I hate the Judy Garland film. Haaaaaate it. H-A-T-E. Hated it as a kid and never wanted to go back for another go as an adult. However, if only from growing up in Kansas and having popular culture (and a lot of Californians, if no one else) shove it down my poor throat, I’ve kept a lot of it through simple osmosis. What Raimi’s done here, whether the film is successful as a whole or not, is commendable and should be a pleasure for fans as he’s managed to capture a lot of the spirit and aesthetic of that experience while managing to neatly side-step the toes of MGM. (Disney may have the rights to much of Oz, but not to the original film.) The music by Danny Elfman adds to the film, even though it sounds so much like generic Elfman that the main theme that echoes seems only a few notes shy of being the Jack and Sally theme from Nightmare Before Christmas.

After one of the better opening credits sequences I’ve seen in a while, the film settles in to an Academy ratio screen (think your old TV set) in glorious black and white. It’s turn of the century Kansas and Oz (James Franco) is a carnival magician. And for a carnival magician, he’s pretty good. He manages to incorporate people’s expectations into his act in order to make things even more “magical.” But apparently, his audience is made up of morons that aren’t familiar with the concept of stage magic and want him to become a revival preacher that can heal the sick. It’s a little tough to swallow and feels like kind of a misstep, though thematically it makes sense later in the picture. To escape a beating, Oz (aka Osbourne) takes off in his hot air balloon and winds up swallowed by a tornado. It’s this point that I was actually wishing I’d been able to see the film in 3D since the sequence is full of tricks that look like they’d be fun and Raimi is the kind of showman kook to throw them in there because they’re fun.

As he is spit-up by the tornado, he finds himself exactly where you’d expect to find him, the land of Oz. At this point, the film expands to vivid, almost overwhelming, color and takes up the entire screen. Oz finds himself welcomed by Theodora (Mila Kunis), one of three witches that will help determine his fate of the stranger in the even stranger land. Along the way, it follows another motif of the original film in which he gathers companions that have Kansas counter-parts like the flying monkey he adopts voiced by Zach Braff, who also plays his assistant in the carnival.

As much visual wow as Raimi throws at the audience, the film still ultimately falls on the shoulders of Franco and that’s where it falters. Franco has absolutely been good in things. I have an affinity for anyone that was a member of the Freaks and Geeks ensemble and he was actually one of the bright spots in the studio-tinkered Spider-Man III while Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst were a bit lost. But the way Oz is written, it relies on him being able to play a charming asshole. A lovable rogue. A scoundrel, as Princess Leia might put it. And when the film was initially being developed, Robert Downey Jr. was to be in the title roll, a decision that makes complete sense. But Franco just can’t make it work. There’s very little difference between his acting and when he’s acting… like he’s… acting. Anyway, it would take a very nuanced performance and Franco is playing it big and broad practically the entire time. There’s enough ham there to keep him out of a Jewish deli. Of the other performers in the film, Michelle Williams seems to exonerate herself the best, bringing some interesting shades to Glinda while Rachel Weisz is good but one note and Mila Kunis somehow manages to be very good at displaying naive vulnerability, but seems to be stilted, perhaps because of the dialogue.

I’ll give the film a middling review because I saw it as a middling film. If you’re a big Oz fan, I could see enjoying it a lot more than I did. Even if the ending can’t help but feel like a placeholder due to the demands of the story.

(Two and a half damns out of five)