Aisle of the Damned: 07/21/17- Matthew McConaughey, Giant Dwarf

Monkeying Around

Get yer Kong on with the Damned boys as Kent and Bryan wage War for the Planet of the Apes. How does the end of what is kind of a trilogy in an eight (or is it nine?) movie series fare? And how far did Bryan have to go to see it? Plus, Kent takes a quick look at Sophia Coppola’s new film, The Beguiled.

In addition, we have some silly news that we make fun of and a buttload of trailers for everything from The Disaster Artist to Goon: Last of the Enforcers!

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
The Vandals- Ape Shall Never Kill Ape

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: How to Train Your Dragon 2

How-To-Train-Your-Dragon-2-Quad-Poster

It’s not often that we’re lucky enough to get two extremely well-made sequels in the same weekend. In this case, we managed to get 22 Jump Street and How to Train Your Dragon 2. Both take very different approaches in successfully continuing their original films.

While 22 Jump Street takes a somewhat meta approach to deconstructing sequels in general and tweaking the formula, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is the epitome of the modern franchise film. Like Kung Fu Panda 2 before it, Dragon picks up where the previous film left off with nary an ounce of fat on it. There is no regurgitation of the first film here. We don’t have to sit by as Hiccup has to train yet another dragon or retrain his pet Night Fury Toothless. Nope. Whereas previously studios worried incessantly about making films accessible to new audiences who may not have seen the first or doing the exact same thing again, the new franchise model, as seen in films like this or the Marvel movies, simply tells the next chapter in the story of these characters. The audience, most likely having seen the movie twenty times (or more, as is likely with the original Dragon, knowing how kids love that movie) is expected to keep up, get the callbacks and in general know what’s going on. Home video has effectively forever changed how sequels are made for the better. Now if there isn’t a story worth telling that can be a problem, but fortunately for Dreamworks, Dean DuBois has definitely found something worth showing us.

The direction that Dragon 2 takes is largely the expansion of its mythology, introducing new types of dragons and literally increasing the world of the first film immeasurably. This is quickly established in a rather great bit of visual exposition as Hiccup and Toothless are out exploring to find new lands and new species, unfolding a rather unwieldy looking map.

If there’s one thing that bothers me about the film it is the relationship between Hiccup and his father, Stoic the Vast, which seems to have taken huge strides forward, yet still exhibits many of the problems they had in the first film. Maybe that simply makes it more realistic since even when people change, they still have their personality, but it also makes it frustrating. Stoic wants Hiccup to become the chief of Burke, their rocky little island village because of how he changed life for everyone. Hiccup simply wants to explore and do what he enjoys. His dad refuses to listen despite how the entire reason he wants his son to take over being because people listen to him. Do interpersonal relationships take that type of paradoxical sheen to them? Sure. But it still is maddening. On the plus side, you have Hiccup’s love interest from the first film, Astrid, who is a much more interesting character here simply because her relationship with Hiccup has changed in a big but understandable and ultimately believable way. Their chemistry together is far more palpable and their romance, at this point having gone on for years, is expertly written. If there’s one thing this film does especially well, it is lay out exposition in interesting ways and we learn everything we need to know about their feelings for each other as Astrid gently mocks Hiccup and his mannerisms, spilling over with playfulness and affection. At the same time, she is seeding important information on how things have changed in the five years that have passed since the last film. (The kids are supposed to be in their 20s now.) It’s a master-class in serving multiple functions with one scene.

The basic plot revolves around a couple of major tremors in Hiccup’s life. For anyone that managed to avoid having the surprise ruined for them by the trailers, I’ll just say that one is of a deeply personal nature that effects both him and his father. The other is the discovery of a long lost foe of Stoic’s, a mysterious figure that seeks to capture and control all of the dragons he can lay his hands on, simultaneously claiming to be protecting people from dragons while using them to conquer all who lay in his path. He definitely serves as an example in my theory that you should never trust a white dude with dreds. Despite the shallowness of his character, he manages to be a pretty impressive threat.

The voice work has only gotten stronger with the cast. Despite my misgivings about the way their relationship is portrayed, Jay Barruchel and Gerard Butler deliver outstanding performances. Butler especially delivers a kind of nuance that I don’t think I’ve experienced in his live action films. America Ferrera’s Astrid greatly improves on the original. The writing no doubt had a lot to do with it, but it would not succeed if she hadn’t stepped up her game. I’d be hard-pressed to say that the “kids” have much to do this time around with Kristen Wiig, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Jonah Hill pretty much doing the same things that they did last time to the same effect. The opening sequence with their characters playing a new sport that blows quidditch out of the water is an instant classic, however. If there’s one disappointment, it is that Craig Fergusen doesn’t have as much to do as Gobber, but there’s always next time.

If there’s a central theme to the first film, it almost seemed to be that sometimes tradition can be wrong and that new ideas can bring about prosperity and improvements. If there’s a theme to this film it would almost seem to be the opposite; your parents have been around and sometimes they know best based on their years of experience. It’s nice to see some balance and not just have another kids movie worshipping youth culture and declaring children are right about everything and those darned old adults are just stodgy dopes clinging to the past. There’s room for both sides to be right, sometimes even simultaneously. If it sounds like a complex idea, don’t worry. While it’s decidedly more intelligent than a lot of what purports to be family fare, it is not some preaching drag. It is full of action, lots of fun and some decidedly cool moments to go with the drama. (My friend I saw it with spent a great deal of the movie fangirling out, if that’s any indication.)

(Four damns given out of five)

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)