Kent’s 25 Favorite Damned Movies of 2017 (#25-21)

Now that the other stuff is out of the way, let’s look at my favorite films of 2017. The ones that, for various reasons, I connected to or appreciated in a pretty major way. Was I able to see everything? Of course not. I have a full time job and a reasonable social life for someone that spends a ton of time absorbing media, you weirdos. (And sometimes have to drive an hour to see obscure releases in the theater.) So take this for what it is: a heavily biased, personal opinion meant to sway you.

LET’S GET STARTED!

25. JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2-  I started out as an admirer of the film  John Wick, but it was repeat viewings that really drove home just how good it is.  If there’s a flaw in the sequel, it’s that it’s so effective in trying to provide a breathless follow-up to the original sleeper hit, that it ends up being exhausting. Beginning a short, but undefined, time after the end of the first film, it finds his recent revenge coming at a high cost as he is drawn back into the belly of the death trade he left behind. There are few pleasures in action films equal to seeing the faces of men who underestimate Mr. Wick, and there are many such pleasures to be had in this slam bang sequel. The world building is well done, drawing out details of the underworld he inhabits, but never overexplaining things. It also does a good job introducing us to new characters played by genre favorites like Franco Nero and Laurence Fishburne. As what is obviously supposed to be the middle installment of a trilogy, it certainly delivers on putting the titular character through the wringer and leaving him on the other side, broken, battered and in a worse place than he started; the viewer may just end up a wreck as well.

24. WONDER WOMAN- How good was the majority of Wonder Woman? So good that even a CGI clusterfuck of an ending couldn’t ruin it. And so good that it alone will almost single-handedly keep the current iteration of the DCU afloat, despite Justice League having to be a massive financial disappointment for Warner Bros. Gal Gadot is absolutely transcendent in the role, giving me the kind of “my Wonder Woman” feelings that others describe Michael Keaton and Christopher Reeves with, for their respective roles. Chris Pine takes to Steve Trevor with aplomb, showing us a character who exists in shades of grey, but is never an antihero. In the end, we can see why a literal goddess would catch feelings. Even the switch to a World War I setting manages to work, thanks to some deft wrangling of the film’s themes. The bold use of color alone, with her iconic outfit blazing in a sea of monochrome, puts this a step ahead of its brethren. (Or is it sistern?) Patty Jenkins deserves a lot of credit here, for making a movie that just plain works in an era where origin stories are often dismissed out of hand as old hat. It’s even grown on me through repeated viewings, elevating itself onto my list.

23. DAVE MADE A MAZE- This may at least partly be the result of a Kickstarter project, but don’t let that fool you; it’s a real movie and you may even recognize some of the people in it, if you watch the same TV that I do. It would be easy to call this the Michael Gondriest movie that Michael Gondry never Gondried, but that’s not giving it enough credit. This is the story of a man who wants to make something great, and gets swallowed up by his project as it spirals out of control and takes on a life of its own. Most of us try-hard artists can certainly relate. In this case, he creates a cardboard labyrinth in his living room, which takes on magical (and dangerous) properties. It’s one of a few movies this year (see my top 10) that do a great job examining the various reasons a person feels a need to create. In this case, it’s a warped frustration, lashing out against feelings of mediocrity and not having accomplished anything major. (This is possibly why one of my favorite bits is when some of the characters roll their eyes over the idea that the maze is “powered by imagination.”) It’s a wonderful pairing of subject matter and filmmaking, as the low budget feel adds to the home-made quality that permeates the entirety of its being. And there are definitely some fun things on display, with a production design that really manages to wow, using nothing more than acres and acres of cardboard, string and paint. Again, that doesn’t give it enough credit, however, because it also manages to incorporate stop-motion, animation and any and every type of practical effect you can think of to create this extraordinarily ordinary world of deadly whimsy. (How often do you get to use that descriptor?) Ultimately, even though I identify with it, I acknowledge there are plot threads left dangling and it can be a bit messy, character-wise. But if you’re the kind of person that loves inventiveness, you’ll find it worth watching just due to the visuals and wackiness on display. Hopefully, you’ll find that you’re like me though, and you’ll appreciate it in a broader way.

22. BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99- A strange movie that breathes the same air as 70s prison exploitation films, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is every bit an update of that kind of skewed message movie. The underlying current seems to be a pretty big statement against the prison system and the still continuing war on drugs. The harshness of the visuals matches the tone as a noble “loser” seems to be smacked down every time he tries to do the right thing, and finally goes crooked. Even then though, he can’t keep from being punished for having a conscience and the licking the universe seems intent on inflicting upon him begins to take on more and more vicious physical representations as he ends up on the bad side of a drug lord. The thing that makes the character surprisingly endearing though, is that he’s developed quite the tolerance to the utter heaping of pain that is constantly being dropped on him, and he can rage back against it with a righteous fury. Vince Vaughn has shown to have more range than people expect of him, going from broad comedies like Dodgeball to more dramatic fare like True Detective, but Brawl uses him in a way few people probably ever expected. Taking advantage of his size, something that is often overlooked thanks to his relaxed demeanor, the film reimagines Vaughn as a physical powerhouse. The kind of character Jack Reacher probably should have been on film, should he have been captured as he exists on the page: a quiet, thoughtful, imposing hulk who can overcome nearly any physical trauma due to the single-mindedness of his purpose. It’s his performance that helps keep the movie on track from its start as a fairly grounded drama, through it’s methodical morphing into something more pulpy, ending with a sudden burst of unreal ultraviolence.

21. THE HERO– Sam Elliott needs to be the star of more movies. That one sentence honestly should be all I need to say about this film, wherein he plays an aging actor, renowned for his Western roles. Typecasting, right? He spends his days getting high and ambling towards obscurity and the grave with an ex-wife, an estranged daughter and a legacy of one film that he is truly proud of in his wake. There is a great supporting cast here, with Nick Offerman, Krysten Ritter and Laura Prepon, but it all comes back to Elliott and you can see that, like his character, when given a choice to rise above commercial voice overs and crappy Netflix sitcoms, he is doing the best he can to really sink his teeth into a role that had to have been written just for him.

< THE WORST OF 2017                                                       THE BEST OF 2017 (#20-16) >

Aisle of the Damned: 02/14/17- What’s Shannon Elizabeth Up To?

He's thinking he's back.

Welcome back! Kent and Bryan talk about the 90s for a while before moving into some new films that run the gamut from terrible to kick ass: Monster Trucks, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, Resident Evil: Final Chapter, The LEGO Batman Movie and John Wick: Chapter 2. 

Our recommendations bring up Joe Bob Briggs and Scott Bakula (two fine gentlemen), discuss the problem of putting 90’s special effects driven shows on blu ray, and we talk a little bit about movie news.

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
The Black Angels- Don’t Play with Guns

Aisle of the Damned: 12/24/16- A Baywatch Nights Christmas

Simply Red, Standing By

It’s the holidays and with so many Hassels to Hoff, we’re glad you found time to listen to our little duo.

We recommend some holiday viewing and talk about a new batch of trailers (Fate of the Furious, John Wick 2, Baywatch, etc.) Then we move on to some new movies: Moana is classic Disney, but what does Bryan think of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, not being a Harry Potter fan? Then we tackle the latest Star Wars “anthology” film: Rogue One. How does it compare to Episode VII? Is Alan Tudyk the best voice actor in the industry? Why does Tarkin look like he has way more liver spots than he did in New Hope?

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
The Vandals- Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: John Wick

Whoooooah!

There’s this stigma that surrounds Keanu Reeves and I don’t think it’s warranted. No, the guy doesn’t have that much range. He’s basically got two modes he excels in: Ted and man of action.

Of course he hasn’t really reprised Ted-mode since the second of the underrated Bill and Ted films (unless you count his short cameo in Alex ‘Bill’ Winters’ Freaked) but the action man trope is something he’s visited many times with varying amounts of success. I would argue that a lot of his failures haven’t so much been because of Reeves’ abilities but instead largely on a pile of bad scripts and a lack of understanding in how to use him.

Much like other actors like, say, Jackie Chan or John Wayne, Reeves doesn’t have a ton of range, but he excels when he gets in the hands of a smart moviemaker that knows what to do with him. Speed and The Matrix are of course the most prominent examples. John Wick should also be added to that list, because David Leitch and Chad Stahelski’s John Wick is a very smart, taut and well rendered example of its genre that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other beloved entries. In fact, if I were to describe it in terms of mixing examples, it would be Payback mixed with Drive. In fact, it hit me the way Drive must have for a lot of people, given the way they described their experiences with it.

The basics are that Reeves plays the title character, a former hit man that left the mob awash in blood and death. After losing his wife, (his initial reason for getting out) he finds himself dragged back into the life in order to revenge himself against the very people he used to work for. His world is populated with fantastic character actors like Willem Dafoe and Adrianne Palicki doing great work as his colleagues and Michael Nyqvist doing a lot of heavy lifting as a Russian boss.

Part of the reason it is a success is because it doesn’t make Reeves do a lot of that heavy lifting, mostly being satisfied to let his actions speak for him as he bounces off the other characters in the film. Despite that, I would say it comes across as his most impressive performance. Does that make a ton of sense? Maybe not. Yet that’s how it felt watching the movie.

Also making an impression is the smart way that the filmmakers build an established mythology around Wick, but never take it too far. They spend a good deal of the run time building him up as a threat before unchaining him and when he does break loose, it lives up to the hype. The action sequences themselves manage to be both exciting and fluid without seeming too staged. They are expertly rendered.

They also do a good job of creating a mob-based society that functions under the surface of the regular world that stretches credulity without ever hitting the breaking point. Take the club where professional killers gather in the middle of the city with its own established rules and an entry cost of a gold coin. This could easily be taken to a ridiculous level and in many films today, it would be. Especially if there’s a chance at a sequel or a franchise. But in John Wick it mostly exists as an interesting aside that helps further the main plot. Leitch and Stahelski use it to spice up the film and create atmosphere, but they lose the focus on Wick and his quest for vengeance in their storytelling.

You might be getting tired of me listing things that work in the film, but I’d also be neglectful if I didn’t bring up the crackerjack script that is full of hard-boiled dialogue. Yet it offers a lot of opportunity to the actors to contribute, sometimes letting them create a huge laugh with a single word.

If there’s a downside to the film, it would probably be that if you are familiar with the genre, you aren’t going to see anything particularly new. But sometimes isn’t solid competence enough? Not every film has to reinvent the wheel or serve as deconstructionist meta-commentary. This movie is absolutely solid and I find myself liking it even more upon reflection. It makes lots of good decisions. It will hopefully serve as a precursor for even better things to come for this pair. I’m arguing with myself over how high to grade it and in the end I’m going to err on the high side. I hope people find this film because it will come as a very pleasant surprise to many.

(Four damns given out of five)