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

Aisle of the Damned: 10/17/16- Tim Burton’s X-Men

Tim Burton's X-MenDisney is weird and we talk a little bit about their current remake process as Kent discusses the new version of Pete’s Dragon, along with some other theatrical features like Morgan, Blair Witch and Tim Burton’s latest, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

We also discuss some films for the season with the “Bad Robot” restoration of Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm and the blu rays of Conjuring 2 and 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Oh yeah, and we have our recommendations and our commentary on Paramount screwing the proverbial pooch again with Star Trek Beyond.

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Dave Gardner- Mad Witch

Aisle of the Damned: 3/29/16- Batman Can’t Get a Boner

The right one is up front

In the historic tradition of such epic cinematic grudge matches as Godzilla vs Mothra and Kramer vs Kramer comes Batman v Superman. As DC bets the farm on Frank Miller fanboys, Bryan and Kent also set about to fighting; one of them hates it while the other… hates it less. Also, looks at 10 Cloverfield Lane, London Has Fallen, Zootopia, the Ghostbusters ’16 trailer and our host recommendations. All this and less on Aisle of the Damned.

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Will Arnett- Untitled Self Portrait

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: Monsters University

My letter jacket is buried in my closet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ah, the curse of the Pixar sequel. Except that of the four sequels they’ve done, two of them were better than the original. Only Cars 2 was a drop from the original film. In my opinion a rather large drop as I am a big fan of the first one and found the second to only be enjoyable. I don’t think I ever put it up on this website, but I ended up giving it two and a half stars (now changed colloquially to “damns given” because I’m incorrigible) and noted that it really was only a disappointment by Pixar standards. I believe I said something akin to “being the worst Pixar movie is like being the least attractive Playmate of the Year.” Regardless, it caused a critical backlash and a seeming sequel fatigue that is setting in, even with myself, despite Lassater and crew being much more picky about producing them than the Dreamworks factory that announced they were going to make six “How to Train Your Dragon” films.

“But wait”, you say, “that’s only three sequels!” Of course it is, my observant friend, because I’m leading up to their latest, Monsters University. Or, as I like to call it, When Harry Met Sully. Zing! It is their first prequel-style sequel, detailing the beginnings of friendship for our favorite scarers of Monsters Inc., a personal favorite of Pixar’s films. Unfortunately it is not as good as the original, though the improvement in computer animation in the intervening dozen years is certainly easy to see.

The other good news is that it is a bounce back for the house that lamp built over Cars 2 and, while not as brilliant as Toy Story 2 or bittersweet as Toy Story 3, it manages to never feel extraneous. Unnecessary, maybe. But it doesn’t ever settle into being a lazy cash grab and as a broad college comedy it manages to be a movie unlike any other that Pixar has produced, despite its sequel status. It certainly features callbacks and a few gags that require viewing of the original film to truly appreciate, but it largely works on its own as a story, never falling back on the ancient framing device of having the characters reminiscing, “Hey, remember when we met?” Pixar seems conscious of their chance to do some further world building in this reality where Monsters as wide and varied as ocean life all live together. Not only that, but it leads somewhere. There are messages to the film before it ends. Messages that I never expected to see in a so-called children’s’ film.

Personally, I’ve always hated that label for the Pixar films, because with one glaring exception they seem to be the very definition of the oft-vaunted and usually awful “family film.” That rare movie that manages to entertain everyone from the three year old clutching his Mike Wazowski plush doll to grandpa. In that regard they are often more successful than even their vaunted parent company has been when you average things out. One of my fondest memories was picking up my grandma from the nursing home and taking her to see Up before she largely stopped going out and eventually passed away.

But I’m rambling. There are some unusual things being taught in this film. Sure there are messages of holding onto your dreams and never giving up, but there are a metric ton of movies that throw that “Secret” style naiveté at us. The ultimate message seems to be ‘what can you do when your dreams are shattered, yet life goes on.’ And I never thought I’d see a college movie that actually indicates college isn’t for everyone, given the way higher education has become a sacred cow, necessary for everyone from doctors to hamburger chefs.

In the middle of this is one of the best pure comedies that Pixar has done with quite a few laughs, many of them laugh out loud. They are very successful in wringing out the remaining chemistry between Billy Crystal and John Goodman (who manages to actually seem to make himself sound younger despite adding a decade) while adding some new faces to the cast and a few familiar ones. Thankfully few of the latter since it is the lazy origin story that simply plugs all the original players into major roles. Among the new standouts are the frightening Dean Hardscrabble, portrayed with the ridged gusto one would expect for what amounts to a remake of Revenge of the Nerds. Or any other “snobs vs. slobs” campus comedy ever to hit the screen. At least it’s the best one to ever be rated G. Given the movies it’s riffing on, of course there is also the worst frat on campus, in this case Oozma Kappa. Voice talent like Charlie Day and Bugs Life-alum Dave Foley do a good job of making them the usual likable losers. And of course there has to be the rival frat of jerks, led by all-around scamp Nathan Fillion with an extra ladle of smarm.

Most of the film plays out just as all films of this type do (is it really even a spoiler to say the frat ends up involved in a set of fraternity games?), but with a fresh perspective brought by the gags involving the monster society and students. Just as a factory floor became a place of unbridled imagination, so does a campus, crammed full of sight gags, parody and background yucks. The simple skin-graft makes all the difference, turning what would otherwise be a rather cliche affair into something that, were it not for the first film, would feel pretty darn original. But because we do have that first film and we do have all the hijinx of every Animal House imitator, it never really manages to completely rise above and become something more, even with a very satisfying final act. I suppose what I’m saying is, it may not be one of Pixar’s all-time best, but it’s a solid triple.

(Three and a half damns out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Argo


Ben, the two of us need look no more...
Ben Affleck has made one of the best films of the year.

And no, I never thought I’d say those words. Especially considering fifteen years ago the only things he seemed to be any good in were Kevin Smith movies (and the great commentaries on the accompanying DVDs, largely consisting of making fun of Affleck to his face.)

In Argo, Affleck has managed to capture a specific place and time in the history of 20th Century American outrage and done so in a way that is not so much in the tradition of the melodramatic Oscar-bait that usually accompanies the kinds of films that receive the type of praise it has, but that is highly entertaining and, dare I say it, fun to watch.

A lot of the credit no doubt comes from the cast he’s assembled. While Affleck would be considered the main character of the piece, he wisely underplays his portrayal of CIA extraction expert Tony Mendez, following up his humorous and sad introduction with a subtle performance that lets others get the glory. John Goodman and Alan Arkin practically steal the film out from under him and deserve all the praise that can be ladled upon them during this awards season. They are not just engaging, but just on the right side of softly cynical, knowing the system that needs to be worked, even as they acknowledge how ridiculous Hollywood is.

In a vastly streamlined account of a true story, the film recounts a classified incident from the days of the Iran hostage crisis. While the furious revolutionaries under the new Ayatollah laid into the American Embassy and took the US citizens inside hostage for over a year, a half-dozen low-level employees managed to escape the besieged compound and took refuge in the Canadian ambassador’s residence, hiding from the government. As a part of what Mendez’s boss (portrayed by the always great Bryan Cranston) calls, “by far the best bad idea we’ve got,” the CIA fabricated a film production, inserting the agent and then extracting him and the fugitive Americans under the guise of being a Canadian film crew, scouting locations in the Middle East. Goodman is John Chambers, a Oscar-winning make-up man for Planet of the Apes who has worked with the CIA before, while Arkin is a producer he brings into the plot in order to facilitate the business aspects of the operation.

Broken into three distinct acts, all of which are entertaining in their own way, Argo shows not just the escape of the Americans from the compound and their subsequent escape from Iran, but features a brilliantly funny portrait of Hollywood as the Agency puts together a piss-poor Star Wars rip-off over the course of four days in order to give their cover identities credibility. A screenplay is chosen, a table-read is performed and even the legendary comic artist Jack Kirby (Michael Parks) is recruited to produce production art. The humor and surreality of the Hollywood segment helps alleviate the tension just long enough before it is ratcheted up in a finale that is most likely not an accurate timeline of events, but is certainly fantastic filmmaking.

Argo is not a traditional spy film, political thriller or caper film. However, it manages to wrap up the best parts of all three into a shiny, new package while maintaining a high-wire act one could almost call “old-fashioned” in its style and entertainment value. (I will admit a certain amount of nerd-glee over the use of the 70’s era Warner Bros. logo at the beginning of the film, which immediately set me in the mood for what followed.) Despite knowing how the story ends, the film manages to keep the audience highly engaged in the fate of these countrymen in the face of overwhelming odds. That it is done with style, humor and top-notch acting makes it one of the most successful movies I have seen from 2012.

(Five out of five stars)