Aisle of the Damned: 05/26/17- I Got 99 Problems and They’re All Audio Related

Alien VI: This Time It's Repetative

Apology ahead of time, folks. We have some weird audio troubles this time so after a very ironic introductory statement, Kent is very quiet through a lot of this episode. (Some of you may be pleased by that, of course.) We’ve done what we can to fix it.

If you can hang with us, we have more crazy Sony news, we talk about Zack Snyder’s sudden departure from Justice League, Kent recommends some British comedy and we lay the smack down on Alien: Covenant, the sixth or eighth film in the venerable series, depending on how you count. (And arguably the fourth or sixth film too many.)

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music: 
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
The Misfits- Hybrid Moments

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Much Ado About Nothing

I wonder how much they got paid for this.

It occurs to me that there are a few instances of me starting out reviews apologizing for not meeting the expectations of the collective cultural consciousness or even simply the niche of what I would consider my fellow film-geek contemporaries. Upon reflection, I’m not sure why I feel the need to do this. After all, having independent views on art should be celebrated, especially if someone is at the very least taking the time to understand why they feel certain ways about storytelling in various methods. But the fact is, I feel the odd need to do it again, this time in service of explaining the following academic no-no: I don’t get Shakespeare. Oh sure, I thought MacBeth was kind of cool, but unless you’re counting The Lion King or the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode where they watched a dubbed German presentation of Hamlet, I haven’t gone out of my way to let the bard into my life. Perhaps it was the clinical, school-based setting in which I learned about him. Perhaps it’s my absolute hatred of Romeo and Juliet in its many, varied forms.

Oh sure, I understand Shakespeare. I understand his importance in theater/scriptwriting. I even understand that Francis Bacon might have actually written the plays under a pen name (thanks, Frank Cho’s Liberty Meadows for that little rant from Al the bartender.) But 400 years is a long time and his cult of personality gets a little overdone for my tastes. Plus, it’s just hard to get through. Reading it can be so utterly taxing and most film presentations seem to be built upon the foundation of making them absolutely boring and presenting little for modern context. Keep in mind, this is coming from a history major.

However, while I have drifted apart from Joss Whedon in the years since the Buffyverse was snuffed out from television, he has remained a vibrant and relevant figure in my cultural canon. Avengers and Cabin in the Woods were my number one and two films of 2012, respectively, bringing cleverness and originality into what could be well-worn tropes.
Now let’s be honest, a black and white version of a Shakespeare play filmed as a lark at someone’s house would normally not be picked up and distributed. The entire enterprise hinges upon the Whedon brand. So the question becomes, could Whedon make Shakespeare relevant to me through his direction, editing down of the material and updating the setting. The choice of the play is intriguing. It’s certainly not one of his most well-known pieces so it comes across as even more unique. Unlike Hamlet, it hasn’t been put in a sleeper hold by every English major with a chip on their shoulder looking to do “their take on it.” Casting Amy Acker, one of my official TV crushes, certainly didn’t hurt. Nor did the other familiar faces populating his cheapie.

As the film began, I had a tough time with the dialogue. It may be English, but for myself, listening to Shakespeare is often like watching Univision. Sure, I get every fourth word, but it’s so unfamiliar to my ears that a lot of it simply doesn’t register the way a conversation in modern, American vernacular would. Fortunately, I’m attuned with an ability to take what I am able to pick up and put it in context to understand what’s going on. By the end, I was doing a much better job of understanding what was being said and picking up on things. It certainly helps that, unlike my previous experiences with Shakespeare, the dialogue isn’t revered to the point that it’s the sole focus of the production. Whedon manages to inject personality into the film, picking up where the page leaves off. The incorporation of modern technology into gags absolutely helped my contextual grasp of the characters. And while not all the physical comedy works, Alexis Denisof does a good job with a lot of his and Acker does some exceptional bits out of nowhere. (It makes me wish she’d gotten to be more physical back when she was portraying Fred, a favorite back on Whedon’s series Angel, where she and Denisof had fantastic chemistry.) Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk manage to make the most of their small roles. Clark Gregg surprises a bit since I really only recognized him from his small roles as Agent Coulson in the Marvel Universe films. Sean Maher and Garfunkel and Oates’ Riki Lindhome manage to be a little bit menacing… everyone does their job here and most of them are known for being in one Whedon production or another, from Buffy to Avengers. Let’s face it. It’s a big part of the draw.

The thing that I wasn’t sure always worked was the decisions in terms of the cinematography. For what is supposed to be one of Shakespeare’s comedies, it is filmed in a way that really doesn’t heighten the “funny” involved. Back when Kevin Smith made Clerks, black and white was an economic choice. But since Ado was shot digitally (and Whedon is far from being a guy selling his comics just to buy the film equipment), the decision to go black and white would have to be a purposeful one. Is it to try to minimize the “home movie” aspects of the film? Perhaps. Because as far as being an “artistic” decision, I don’t see purposefulness of it. It’s not like great comedy doesn’t exist in black and white, but typically when it is done in modern times, it’s part of creating a dark, noir feel and this is certainly far from a noir. There’s absolutely some interesting camerawork and compositions going on, but overall I wonder if it was the right stylistic choice.
Regardless, as a way to bring Shakespeare kicking and screaming into the modern world and as an entertainment, Ado is a success. I could see this taking the place of at least one Branagh movie in high school classrooms.

(Three damns given out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: The Cabin in the Woods

Link

Design by Frank Lloyd Escher

So here’s the straight poop: you probably shouldn’t even be reading this review. Cabin in the Woods is the best kind of surprise. The kind of film you shouldn’t know anything about until you pull the bow on the box and it explodes in your face like one of Jokey Smurf’s boxes o’ sexual metaphor. In fact, even the carefully cut trailer gives away too much. You should pretty much just lock yourself into a bomb shelter with your fingers in your ears screeching “La la la!” at the top of your everloving pink lungs until you get to see it.

If you like horror films (heck, if you’ve even just plain seen a horror film from the last 30 years) than you should appreciate the film’s approach, given you have any kind of sense of humor and enjoyment of film tropes. It is the Community of genre-filmmaking: a brilliant screenwriting exercise that manages to be commentary and parody of something the creators are obviously deeply in love with, while not sacrificing what makes it work as a genuine classic of its genus at the same time. Like Community is to the American sitcom, hence the comparison.

In this case, the target is films about people (usually teens and students) going into the woods and finding something going bump in the night that may be animal, vegetable or mineral. A worthy foe indeed, as it has been well worn since the days that the first couple of Evil Deads were injecting themselves into the veins of midnight moviegoers with an axe.

At its core, this is often a film about the very nature of the viewers of horror films. The cheers at the kills, the obvious hearstring tugs that are attempted by throwing together one-dimensional groups of “identifiable” archtypes… but thankfully the wry observation never gets in the way of telling the story

Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, the writers and director, respectively, are thankfully up to the task and tear things wide open with an incredibly fun movie. They’ve both been long-time creators of that type of subversion of formula, mixing humor and horror on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Goddard proved himself as a solo writer with a fresh take on giant monster films with Cloverfield. And here they combine their efforts into a take fresh enough that it may make your smelly local cineplex feel like it’s been thoroughly Febreezed. This isn’t just a greatest hits reel of their time on The WB, as nice as that would have been. This is a dark movie that plays dirty and takes advantage of it’s R rating.

Emphasis on dark. Given the cinematography, thank God that the 3D conversion they started on this movie while it was shelved due to the great MGM debacle was nixed. Hopefully someday people in Hollywood will realize that converting stuff that takes place mostly at night is a terrible idea.

The actors in the movie are uniformly great. The kids have been seen in the trailers and they give performances that are so fantastically subtle in the slow transformation that takes place with their characters, that many people probably won’t even realize how good they are. (And of course, Amy Acker continues to be my muse.) But the true MVPs here are Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins. They’ve been kept off the ads for the film, but I don’t feel bad about disclosing their involvement due to the fact that theirs are the first characters to appear. In the final cut, they could very well make or break the film and boy, do they make it.

As much fun as it would be to simply rehash the great scenes and fantastic (and often hilarious) ideas, it would simply be a disservice to you, the folks at home. That conversation is something that will take place over many, many midnight screenings, slumber parties and film student dorm rooms to come over the next couple of decades.

(Five out of five stars)