Aisle of the Damned: 08/18/17- The Back to Skull Special

Art Repurposed for a Reason

Kent and Bryan are ready for fall, but is your local multiplex? The Damned boys discuss what we have to look forward to in the next few months with their annual Back to Skull Fall Preview and there are a few places on the calendar which feel like a wasteland.

They also take a look at some Kevin Smith news straight from Boston ComicCon, discuss some big news from Movie Pass and talk some Bond.

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats-
Stuck in a Movie
The Hives- Fall is Just Something Grown-Ups Invented

Kent’s Movie Diary: How do you mess up a Sharknado?

return-of-daimajin--29/13/13- Turns I was right about Daimajin following a formula the last time I wrote about it. In Return of Daimajin, the god/statue is back, this time a “lake god” instead of a mountain’s protector. Once again, it is seeking to protect a family in charge (guess those Japanese still had a thing about “divine right” back in the 60s) and once again it takes out an invader seeking to wrong the people out of greed. And once again, he doesn’t bother showing up until the end when a comely, kimonoed beauty pleads for it. And once again, he basically stomps around for a glorious 20 minutes at the end of the film.

The historical drama part of the story is, like the first one, pretty engaging as it is though, so it ends up being pretty damned entertaining on it’s own with the kaiju-style hijinx being the cherry on top. I’m not sure if maybe the budget went down with this one because while the effects are still pretty good, there are some instances where they just don’t measure up with the first one. There are a couple of moments in which the optical effects reminded me of some of the problems with Godzilla vs. King Kong. While I haven’t watched the final film of the trilogy yet and the mastering didn’t seem quite as good on this one as the first one, I have to recommend picking this set up if you find it inexpensively.

143687~The-Pearl-of-Death-PostersI’m continuing to watch the Universal Sherlock Holmes films on blu ray and The Pearl of Death definitely impresses by being not just a decent entry into the series (Holmes actually gets bested for once), but it also looks pretty great. This must be one of the instances where the UCLA Television and Film archive had access to a pretty clean print.
What surprises me is how the origin of the scripts seems to have little bearing on how good they turn out. This one is based on The Three Napoleons, one of Doyle’s stories. The Scarlet Claw, another top entry, was a new idea. Traditionally, you’d think the best ones would be all from the Doyle stories, but there have been weak instances of both. Just something I was thinking about.

As a bonus, it contains the appearance of Rondo Hatton as The Creeper. And who is that, you ask? Let me answer your question with a question. Have you seen The Rocketeer? Sinclair’s henchman Lothar was a tribute to him. You can also see him in The Brute Man, a film that was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. He doesn’t even have a line in The Pearl of Death and for the most part is shrouded in shadow for its running time, but when they finally reveal him, you get to see just how huge he was. I would call this one of my favorites of the series so far.

Critters9/16/13- Critters. Somewhere between Gremlins and Hobgoblins you lie.

I’d never seen the film before, but I grew up seeing the furry monster giving a smirking stink-eye from the VHS box in many a video store. And when I had had enough of work last Saturday night, I headed out to catch a late-night screening in Kansas City. Having seen it, I’m sure this was the right choice, as I can’t see there being a better way to see this Reagan-era relic of puppety violence than sitting in the theater with a scratchy 35mm print at midnight.

The movie itself isn’t fantastic by any stretch. It is clearly a Corman-esque attempt to capitalize on the Gremlins phenomenon (and it did so successfully considering there are more Critters films than the franchise that spawned it). Not only that, but it tries desperately to seem associated with the unrelated, in-jokey Amblin universe with a family cat named Chewie and an appearance by ET (in stuffed toy form), among other things.

It’s admittedly pretty entertaining, though seemingly meaner than Gremlins, despite the PG-13 rating. It fit perfectly in the early New Line Cinema oeuvre, back when they were a horror factory and hadn’t “legitimized” themselves with Lord of the Rings and such. The film made me laugh, but I’m not sure whether a few of the things that made me chuckle were supposed to be funny due simply to the period in which the film was made. Is the Bon Jovi-like singer supposed to be making fun of those types of “rockers” or was he actually supposed to seem cool? Those mooks skewed so close to parody anyway that it’s impossible for me to know without having been there. There also isn’t much in terms of recognizable star power. There’s that guy that looks like a rougher Charles Durning. And the mom from ET. And a young Billy Zane in full-on 80s douche mode, complete with little pony tail. I spent most of his screen time resisting the urge to tell him to put a cork in it.

piranha_poster_05The next night I decided to try out another couple of creature features. First up was Sharknado and, dear God, I knew it would be bad but I was expecting funny bad, not “complete and total incompetence” bad. It does lend itself to an interesting discussion on the nature of “bad” movies, however. Because after that I watched Piranha and while they’re two sides of the same coin, they couldn’t be more different.

The makers of Piranha (i.e. Joe Dante, Phil Tippet, John Sayles, etc.) went in knowing what they were making; a Jaws knock-off that was going to be pretty ridiculous. But they sought to make the best darn movie about killer, genetically enhanced piranahs they could. There’s definitely room for fun in the film, plus the editing is well done and there’s a comprehensible story to follow. The piranah themselves work surprisingly well despite their obvious practical effect limitations. It’s a fun exploitation film that, despite being one of Dante’s first films, has managed to stay popular because it is more than the sum of it’s parts. There’s a reason it’s fondly remembered as one of the best films to come out of Roger Corman’s New World schlock factory.

No, seriously. How do you @*$( this up?

No, seriously. How do you @*$( this up?

The makers of Sharknado, on the other fin, are The Asylum. This is the infamous studio that puts out awful knock-offs for clueless idiots to grab without thinking, like Transmorphers and Atlantic Rim. The kind of movies that causes initially excited children to cry the delicious, salty tears of disappointment upon with The Asylum feeds. (I swear to God, it’s gotten so bad that they even had a trailer for a fake Tyler Perry movie.) So you know out of the gate that it will be a terrible movie. But given the name “Sharknado,” one would assume it started out its development tongue in cheek and should be fun in an outrageously stupid kind of way. And it certainly is that. But it’s so ineptly made, that I can only assume they’d gone to film School at Ed Wood Tech. It makes Manos: The Hands of Fate seem like a masterpiece of logical plotting. It’s one thing to make a stupid or strange or over the top movie on purpose. I love a lot of movies that fall under that category. It’s another to make a stupid movie so terribly that it starts to ruin the fun. Sharknado has everything; a script in which main characters die without the viewer ever even knowing their names, incomprehensible editing, stock footage that is completely out of place with the film, the worst CGI you will ever see this side of Birdemic, a disdain for the most rudimentary of even Hollywood action movie physics, a token global warming reference as the reason for everything bad that’s happening… I am very conflicted as far as whether I liked it or not because for me there’s a fine line between something that is accidentally bad because people don’t know any better and something that is bad because they just didn’t care. Sharknado seems more like the latter, and that’s the thing that doesn’t sit well with me. It’s not parody or satire, or even a surrealist exercise in storytelling like Axe Cop. It’s nowhere near clever enough. Yet at the same time, I feel a desire within me to force others to watch this out of disbelief that something this poorly executed exists.

Kent’s Movie Diary: Dante’s Inferno

FIST: THE MOTION PICTURE8/31/13- So turns out Ip Man is a pretty great chop socky flick. I should have known since it has Donnie Yen (aka Iron Monkey), but I hadn’t really paid attention to it before. It languished on my Netflix queue for a while. (“It’s in my Netflix queue,” is the new way of saying, “I’m never going to get to it, but I want you to leave me alone about it.”) After a coworker recommended it to me, it pushed me to finally give it a go and after the streaming finally stopped sucking and the picture got halfway decent, I enjoyed it a lot. Sammo Hung’s fight choreography is superb with the misses and the defense being as exciting as the punches and kicks that land in the fights. The story is that of one of Bruce Lee’s masters whose city in China was occupied by the Japanese army in World War II. They took his home (he was reasonably wealthy) and, after shoveling coal for a while, he ends up in some fights arranged by the Japanese to test their soldiers and beat up on some of the home team. The general that is in charge of them looks strangely Caucasian to me, but that could just be my ignorance. His gun-happy toadie, meanwhile, skews so far to the other side that he looks like he stepped out of Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips. (You can find it on youtube. There’s no way in hell you’re going to get an official release from Warner Bros.) I have seen historical martial arts epics before, but setting one during dubya dubya two is a new one for me and it made for a nice change. It sucked me in pretty well and I definitely recommend it.

Sequel: The Movie9/2/13- I’ve spoken on the podcast about my love of Joe Dante’s Gremlins 2 before and how it’s an insane parody of the first film that really deserves to be seen by more people. It does finally seem to slowly be getting the reputation it deserves as it has found champions in the online critic community. I got to see it on the big screen for the first time when the Drafthouse put on a near-midnight showing of it on 35mm on Saturday night. It took a while for them to get the focus right and they had it incorrectly framed (there were visual gags being cut off the sides that I remembered from the blu ray) but it’s so great seeing it on the big screen. As much as I love a lot of his work, this one might be my favorite film of Dante’s and the big gags play better big, as obvious as that would seem. Sure it’s goof for the entirety of its length, but around the hour mark it completely goes off the rails and rids itself of any pretense of not being an complete cartoon. Of course, I mean that in a good way. It’s a shame his Termite Terrace film about the animation department at Warner Bros. in the 30s and 40s never got off the ground because the dubya-bee wanted to focus completely on Space Jam. I’ll never understand how Warner Bros. is so completely weird about exploiting its catalog in multiple directions at once. Their movie department is notorious for pushing around their TV/animation divisions when it comes to their superheroes. Which is the reason you never got a good shot of the Superman suit in Smallville despite having to wait 10 years. And why Bruce Wayne never appeared on that show. And the reason the Joker and every other “Batman” villain disappeared from Justice League for the end of its run. And on and on. Do they really believe having two wildly different projects featuring a brand so all encompassing as the Looney Tunes would have caused confusion? I mean, cheezus, The Japanese will put out three versions of the same property at the same time if they think it will work and it doesn’t hurt anything. I guess they just trust the public to be smart enough to get it.

The Ramones: The Motion PictureSpeaking of Dante, I threw in the Shout! Factory blu ray of Rock N’ Roll High School from their Corman collection. Allan Arkush is the director, but Dante also stepped in to do some of it and his fingerprints are all over it. And given it’s a z-budget picture from the most notoriously cheap production house in Hollywood history (until Asylum came along to make the easily duped consumer suffer with direct-to-video titles like Transmorphers), it looks pretty good. Sure it’s not perfect. There’s some issues with a little dirt and scratches. And since I’ve been spoiled by blu being, up to this point, a cinephile format that typically seems to really pay attention to technical aspects I’ve gotten to be a completely anal purist about things like OAR which should be 1.85 for RNRHS but instead is presented in “full frame” for widescreen TVs, AKA 1.78, but complaining about that probably makes me seem slightly insane. Which I am. But let’s move on. The great thing about Rock N’ Roll High School is that it does to teen movies what The Ramones did to pop rock. For all the talk about being the founders of punk, what The Ramones really did was completely reject all the overblown aesthetics of 70s arena rock which had turned it into pretentious nonsense. They stripped it down and went back to the roots of 50s and early 60s rock and roll. They then played it louder and faster and made it funny, self-deprecating and a bit anarchic. Rock N’ Roll High School takes the skeletal remains of the ultra-popular, mass-produced teen films of the same era about kids rebelling against authority and generally just wanting to be kids without being hassled and turned it punk: louder, faster and funnier. Sure PJ Soles’ Riff Randell (“Rock and roller!”) isn’t the typical punk according to the people that deride the character (one of my official movie crushes) and the movie in general as being too old-fashioned. Part of that is because they’ve been conditioned by mass culture to think anyone who likes punk music has to fall completely into an empty cliche of leather, piercings and poorly-thought out political beliefs that somehow think socialist-style collectivism is part of an anarchist worldview. Ironic, no? Meanwhile, I love punk music and I’m as far away from that as most people could be. But people have always defined niches by the boxes they’re put into by mass media that are usually only one-dimensional sketches. Abbey on NCIS remains just about the only goth character on TV that actually seems halfway like the perky, humor-loving goths I knew in college that met for pizza every week. Riff, despite not being punk enough for some, manages to get the whole school dancing to The Ramones’ Sheena is a Punk Rocker, takes a chainsaw to her permanent record, wears whatever the hell she feels like, gets her stuffy music teacher into The Ramones by getting him to go to a concert and… oh yeah, BLOWS UP HER SCHOOL. All of which strikes me as more punk than shaving your hair into a mohawk and quoting the Dead Kennedys.

Underwater Bond: The Movie9/3/13- One of the many film series I’m making my way through is the Bond franchise. At least the early Connery/Lazenby era before Roger Moore completely ruined them. Basically I’m going through the excellent MGM remasters one at a time catching the ones I’ve missed. And for the most part they do look pretty amazing. I still will put Goldfinger against just about any other film in my collection. The latest one I watched was Thunderball. I’ll admit, part of the reason I’ve missed this one so far is because of its reputation for being a step backwards towards the gadget-obsessive franchise it became. Turns out that’s true. It’s also overly long. But I found it to be much better than I’d been led to believe, though now I know where a lot of the direct parody in the first Austin Powers is from. Despite the fact that he has a couple of moments at the spa that are kinda rapey (I guess “it was the 60s” is supposed to serve as an excuse) Connery really was the best Bond. And, funnily enough, like Daniel Craig, he’s actually kind of a crappy spy. Everyone knows who he is, which seems pretty counterintuitive. And they both lose way more often than they win. But because the damage is always towards side characters, they manage to get away with it. And boy is there more damage and death and violence from Bond in this one, including stabbing a guy in the eye with a harpoon. How cool is that? But as for the film, I actually thought all the underwater stuff that people gripe about was cool. The effects work was pretty great and that title sequence was fantastic. It’s no wonder everyone chases Maurice Binder, but never manages to top him. The music is pretty darn good. The cinematography is excellent and the franchise made the move to widescreen extremely successfully. The visuals sort of perfectly capture a middle ground, using eye-popping color choices, but not going to far as to make it the kind of bizarre pop-art artificiality that took over. The one big issue with the film that really bothered me is that it seems to be sloppily edited. Sometimes scenes change in such a way that they cut off what the characters are saying and it’s just weird. Up next: You Only Live Twice, which seems to really divide people. So bring it on.

 

Kent’s Movie Diary- 7/29/13

7/27/13- So out of curiosity based on it having been sampled for a Man or Astroman? song, I checked out a fetid piece of sixties beach-based hilarity called The Beach Girls and the Monster yesterday. Now compared to Red Zone Cuba, which I’d just watched on Mystery Science Theater 3000, it’s a marvel. Any film student that worries about how bad their movies may end up being need only remember that they’ll never be as terrible a filmmaker as Coleman Francis. Anyway, Beach Girls is hysterical tripe. Weighing in at only 66 minutes, it manages to pack in everything you love about bad teen cinema of the era. A terrible/awesome-looking monster, girls’ hinders, an honestly good score consisting of an odd melange of choice surf tunes and avant-garde jazz by Frank Sinatra Jr. of all people (which gets totally butchered in the sound editing), girls’ hinders, acting that seem like real actors were rotoscoped over characters from Scooby Doo and a hero with even more body hair that me… oh and did I mention girls’ hinders gyrating around? It’s honestly an awful film but in the best traditions of movie mocking, it’s entertaining as hell. I could see this being a rousing success at a Cinema A-Go-Go event hosted in Lawrence by the Retro Cocktail Hour much the same way that such cinematic slurm as Cat Women on the Moon and The Brainiac were.

7/29/13- I threw one of my vaunted Movie and a Dinner parties last night. Had around ten people show up, which is a nice number for my apartment. The reason I mention this is because a lot of times when I show a newer film, I’ve noticed the that fewer people tend to show up. My highest attendance the whole time is from when I showed North By Northwest, which is understandably a great film. This time I showed The Muppets, the latest film to feature Kermit and the gang and it went off like gangbusters. Personally, while I certainly have an affinity for films like Great Muppet Caper and Muppet Treasure Island (the only outright horrible Muppet film is Muppets From Space), I think the latest is the best Muppet film since the original Muppet Movie and my Muppet-loving friends seem to agree. (I wonder how many times a person can legitimately use “Muppet” in a sentence?) I am still bewildered over how some of the original cast felt that the film was an affront to Muppet-lore because it’s so obvious that the filmmakers, James Bobbins, Jason Segal, et al, love the property and took incredible care to craft something that built on the Henson work instead of just slapping the characters into an existing story. I have to imagine they were devastated when they heard this, but I’m glad they continued on their vision because it’s fantastic. Is Kermit relatively passive in the film? Absolutely, but the ironic thing is, considering he’s the Muppet leader, he’s ALWAYS been fairly passive. He doesn’t leave his swamp to go to Hollywood until somebody tells him he should. He mostly seems to be the “put upon” character that things happen to, so his character in The Muppets seems like a logical progression. The only thing about the entire film that I find underwhelming is the ending. Knowing that the original planned ending, it’s a little hard to figure out exactly why the decision was made to go with the very odd way they chose to go. (I’ve read originally, coming one dollar short of their telethon goal, Statler and Waldorf end up dropping a buck from the balcony, declaring the show “wasn’t THAT bad.”) It seems altogether more satisfying than what happened, even if it ends up surprisingly “uplifting” given the bleakness of it. Sure, the whole thing is completely turned around as part of a closing credits gag, but that’s pretty far to wait for people that tend to pick up and start moving as soon as those names start rolling.

Afterwards, I threw in Gremlins 2: The New Batch since they both involve a lot of puppet work, fourth wall breaking and comedy. I’ve mentioned on the podcast my adoration of Joe Dante’s parody of his own work. And I know I’m not alone. AV Club made it an honorable mention for their “best movies of the 90s” article.  http://www.avclub.com/articles/the-best-films-of-the-90s-orphans-outliers-and-per,86534/ The movie completely takes the piss out of the original (also enormously entertaining) film and turns it into pure chaos in the style of the Looney Tunes, even to the point of Bugs and Daffy introducing the picture. Daffy even takes a few parting shots if you bother to stay through the credits. If you haven’t bothered to see the sequel, I absolutely recommend throwing it in your DVD/blu ray player, if only as an experiment. Besides, Christopher Lee is in it as Dr. Catheter.

Finally, this morning as I was feeling really crappy and my friend Spencer, a big fan of the original, is staying with me. I put in Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, the 90s remake of the “classic” (if you’re being extremely generous) 60s giant monster film that came out to capitalize on the Godzilla train and somehow ended up with sequel after sequel. The modern trilogy are some of the best kaiju films ever made and if you want to see some giant monsters stomping around Japan following Pacific Rim, by all means, pick up the blu ray set from Mill Creek. The discs are cheaply made and the subtitles are mediocre at best, but it could be worse, believe me.