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

Aisle of the Damned: 6/6/16- It’s a Metaphor for the Suburbs

Baldpocalypse Now!

Bryan and Kent wonder if their mutant power is thinking they saw a different movie than other people; they actually like this critically-maligned X-film. Unless you can read minds, you’ll have to listen to find out why.

Also, find out our thoughts on Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, our recommended picks and a remembrance of the late, great Darwyn Cooke. All this and news in the latest episode of Aisle of the Damned.

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
The Suicide Machines- It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

Aisle of the Damned: Episode XXIII- It’s your kids, Professor X! Something’s gotta be done about your kids!

Time for a new episode, humans and mutants! YES. ALREADY. This time, Kent talks about Godzilla, Bryan waxes X-Men: Days of Future Past and we both like Neighbors. Then we wonder bewilderingly about Edgar Wright leaving Ant-Man and David Goyer being a total dick. Join up, will not you?

Music:
The Aquabats– Stuck in a Movie
Huey Lewis and the News– The Power of Love

Go-Kart Godzilla! Woo-ooo-oooo-ooo!

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: X-Men: Days of Future Past

X-Men 5

We’re two for three in superhero movies so far this summer. Bryan Singer’s welcome return to the X-Men franchise is incredibly successful with Days of Future Past. I’m not sure that I can say I enjoyed it more than First Class, which I enjoyed initially and have liked even more with subsequent viewings, but between the two of them, the franchise has officially been rescued from the God-awful Last Stand and only slightly better Origins: Wolverine that were nearly the one-two punch that killed this cash cow. (Maybe I should have hoped for that so the characters could return to the Marvel fold, but we’ll let it go.)

Loosely adapted from one of the most popular stories that the characters have ever been involved in, it begins in an undisclosed future where mutants and many humans have been hunted down by the robotic Sentinels from the comic books. We get to see a few of the X-characters in this future that I honestly never believed would appear unless it was the kind of crap cameo that Brett Ratner relegated Psyclocke to. We get Blink, man. I am honestly flabbergasted about that one. And she is done well. (For those that don’t know, Blink is a popular mutant that creates portals. She seems depowered and decidedly non-lilac in this instance, but still.) It feels much less like the mutants of the film are getting short shrift here just to pack in as many as possible the way some of the lesser movies have done. In a departure from comic lore, Wolverine is sent back in time to stop the Sentinel program from ever being started. (In the comics, it was Kitty Pryde that did the honors, which I would have welcomed instead of getting yet another Wolverine-centric movie, but the bean counters at Fox apparently think only his bub-ness sells tickets, First Class to the contrary.)

It is a little surprising to me that Singer seems more at ease with the cast of First Class over the runtime than those of the original film since Matthew Vaughn was at the helm for that one. I guess maybe he was hands-on as a producer? In any case, aside from some clunky exposition that even Patrick Stewart can’t keep from sounding overdone (and he has a lot of experience with exposition from Star Trek) the movie gets going quickly and doesn’t stop often. It all comes out a bit Terminator-ish, but then Marvel beat Cameron to the punch by a couple of years so all’s fair.

The time-travel reset button is a brilliant thing to do on multiple fronts. Number one, it gives the people currently making the films a chance to eliminate all the horrible decisions made when Fox was in the mentality that the X-Men films a) needed to be forced into a trilogy, because that’s just how it’s done and b) needed to be crapped out as soon as possible in order to punish Bryan Singer for taking a job directing Superman Returns. I think making that movie was punishment enough. Number two, it allows the use of both the original characters and the new cast that earned the right to continue the series. Number three, it creates the possibility of doing two equally deserving continuities, one in the past and one in the present going forward. If this is Fox trying to play catch up with Marvel Studios, all I can say is bravo for doing it in an incredibly inventive and dramatically fulfilling way compared to Sony and their botched Spider-Man experiment.

Even though it is yet another movie with Wolverine front and center, we get to spend a lot of time with Charles (Professor X) and Erik (Magneto) in both timelines, and the film is all the better because of it. Their relationship is by far the most interesting part of this series and First Class made that painfully obvious. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender continue to be fantastic in their roles. At this point they own them just as much as Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan. Combine that with pretty meaty parts for Mystique and Beast and you have a much more rounded ensemble film than it could have been. They lucked out when they cast Jennifer Lawrence and they seem to know it, making her an integral part of the story. As per the aforementioned Blink and Kitty (Ellen Page, returning as one of the two good things from X3 worth saving), as well as other mutants like Iceman, Bishop and Storm, they aren’t really given much to do for an arc, but they’re well used enough in action sequences that they don’t feel like they’re given short shrift. Many others have glorified cameos, but nothing feels particularly forced.

The only other new characters to truly be of note are pretty much Evan Peters as Qucksilver and Peter Dinklage as Bolivar Trask. Both are excellent. For all the hubbub about Quicksilver appearing in both this film and the second Avengers film, I doubt there will be much similarity in the portrayals. In Future Past, Qucksilver, really only brought in for the purpose of one action scene, is less the abrasive speedster from the comics and is instead an carbon copy of DC Comics’ Impulse with a worse costume. An ADHD-riddled kid with bad hair and a penchant for being charmingly annoying. The action scene in question is possibly the most fun scene in the entire film, so it’s understandable that Singer was so hyped to use him.

Trask does horrible things in his quest to realize his dream of the Sentinels. He cautions that mutants will replace humans, citing Neanderthal man’s disappearance as a warning. (Of course he wouldn’t be privy to the current theory that Neanderthals actually interbred with cro-magnon.) We’re given glimpses of his life that indicate he’s a genius and he talks about doing a lot of good things for humanity. But it’s obvious he doesn’t see mutants as humanity, only as a means to an end. They don’t exactly subtle-up the Nazi metaphors. And just to make one statement about who would normally be one of the villains of the film, it was nice to see Richard Nixon portrayed as an actual human being and not a complete cartoon bad-guy for once. The government and the military aren’t shown to be evil or even necessarily in favor of wiping out mutants. They simply get used by Trask as more means to his end.

The movie is paced elegantly with never a dull moment, but also never being overwhelming. It feels like all of Singer’s superhero movie experience has been leading to this moment where he finally feels comfortable with all the things he was holding back on in the second film. (Having the brass at Fox on his side instead of demanding Jon Peters-esque changes on a whim it probably helps.) The action sequences feel fresh, despite several of them having a lot in common with previous installments which is a testament to their presentation and the quality of the effects. There is no question in my mind why this movie cost so much and it honestly seems worth every penny. It is polished and even the questionable CGI just makes it seem that much more comic book-y.

After seeing the teaser at the end which brought many a “What the hell?” from the crowd in our theater, I am very much looking forward to seeing what Singer, Vaughn and their cohorts bring to us next.

(Four damns given out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Prometheus

FACED

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is a maddening mess of contradiction. It is a film that attempts to serve two masters and thus serves neither. It attempts to ask big, smart questions and dares you to think, but once you start thinking, it contains more plot holes than it takes to fill the Albert Hall, to appropriate the Beatles’ lyric. In doing so, it therefore negates its attempts to raise itself above what it ends up being: an A-grade B-movie. Which, in all fairness, certainly makes it more successful than the Matrix sequels which have in common a lot of pretentious dialogue that means nothing. It wants to make a statement, but is so determined on leaving room for interpretation that it leaves itself in complete ambiguity. It is a film that is utterly nihilistic, while spending a good amount of its running time talking about what it means to be human.

It is a film with great actors giving fantastic performances in service of supposedly brilliant characters doing stupid things in order to be able to deliver the horror film that is promised in the final 45 minutes.

Let’s start with what Scott is known for. Visual splendor. The film is nothing short of beautiful in the way it merges the aesthetic of Alien (the film) into the aesthetic of Alien (the concept by H.R. Geiger) in a collision the likes of which has not been seen in any of the previous films in the series.

And words will not be minced. This is, in every way, an Alien movie. It is a direct sequel/prequel/whatever the hell term you want to use to describe it. There isn’t much of a way of knowing why they felt the need to pussyfoot around this, but even if there isn’t a shiny black critter running around and spitting acid, the thematic elements and story beats are so clear that there’s not any question.

But back to how the movie looks. The film possibly features the best use of 3D ever in a live-action film and may be the first non-cartoon to make it worth the extra few dollars in ticket price. If only Green Lantern had used its extra dimension to portray space as effectively. Part of what makes the 3D so effective is that it never feels like a gimmick and never feels invasive. It simply feels natural to the story telling. It does a fantastic job showing size, depth and grandeur. Take one early moment for example: in a nod to Lawrence of Arabia’s famous desert sequence in which the characters are so small on the screen that it is hard to see them without a 70mm print, we see the ship Prometheus as a tiny speck, rocketing silently and insignificantly in front of a giant planet.

The acting is much of what keeps the film from imploding in on itself and makes it an enjoyable trip while you’re in the theater. Noomi Rapace gives possibly her best performance yet as Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, the woman who inspires the spaceship Prometheus to travel across space to find the origins of man in the universe. It is on her shoulders that the film stands and she shows herself to have been wasted in things like her small role in the Sherlock Holmes sequel. Hopefully following this film, she’ll start seeing the kind of work she deserves. Idris Elba gives an expectedly good performance as the Prometheus’ captain that is often funnier than his oddly serious role on The Office. (Ironic that he had to appear in a horror film to show his comedic chops.) He is the most likable character in the film and provides a needed sounding board for the characters, even as they make seemingly random decisions from scene to scene. Michael Fassbinder gives a standout performance as David, an early android of the type that appears in the later films. Though supposedly emotionless, he exudes quiet disdain for his creators, all while the human characters search for our own. Fashioning himself physically after Peter O’Toole in the aforementioned Lawrence of Arabia, he displays no compassion for humans and indeed seems to take every opportunity to differentiate himself from them, yet seems insulted when his lack of humanity is pointed out to him by his creators. It is also worth mentioning that Charlize Theron gives another winning performance as an unlikable bitch.

It all serves to elevate what is a half-assed attempt to combine a pretty standard “Chariots of the Gods” idea that has been explored in other forms such as Quatermass and the Pit or Stargate, with what is expected from a horror film. One wonders how successful it could have been if Scott had simply said what was on his mind, instead of purposely obfuscating his ideas or if it had simply been set outside that particular universe. There are already tons of examples of the issues with the script on the internet, so there’s no need to delve into them and ruin the genuine pleasures you may experience in viewing the film here. Some can be explained in no-prize fashion, but all in all, it shows to simply be sloppy storytelling. How much can be assigned on the writers (including Damon Lindelof of Lost) and how much is on Scott is up for debate.

Yet, for all the kvetching, it is an affecting film with some genuine classic moments in the horror genre. One squeam-inducing moment involving self-sugery is enough to make even the hardcore horror hound cringe. Say what you will about Scott, but once the fan is hit, the tension is successfully ratcheted at a good clip and in a lot of ways, these visceral moments make up for the shortcomings of the film. And it is for that reason and those of the acting and visuals that, while not perfect, it is a movie that can be recommended and on the big screen at that.

(Three out of five stars.)

Kent’s Damned Retro Reviews: X-Men: First Class

Just standing around like we're on a Christian album cover.

Let’s get one thing out of the way before all else; Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class is miles better than the slightly fun, but mostly dumb, Wolverine and the all-dumb X-Men 3. Bryan Singer’s return to the franchise as a producer is felt immediately and this is very much the spiritual successor to the first two X-films. One will probably find themselves wishing that he would ape his own Superman Returns in its flagrant nose-thumbing at what’s come before and make a sequel to the first two films that ignores the established film continuity of the third and fourth. (Actually, I’m pretty sure First Class already does in a way. I haven’t seen Last Stand since it was released in theaters due to its stank, but I seem to recall its opening (and the end of Wolverine) being contradicted by the ending of the current film.)

But enough of this nerdy fanboyism as to continuity and its place in the X-pantheon. (Yes, I hope to use a lot of X-words today.)

As an origin story, X-Men: First Class is pretty much X-pendable. It’s simply not needed. The first film did a good enough job introducing the characters and concept. However, this is no waste of a movie. It’s a solid piece of storytelling and a lot of fun.

The important thing is that not only does this sequel take us back to the roots of what made the franchise enjoyable, but it gives us something we haven’t seen before; a period superhero film that isn’t set in World War II and that takes itself seriously enough to get us to take it seriously.

It’s the sixties and the Reds are just shy of parking some warheads where they can shove them up our collective asses in, as JFK pronounces it, “Cuber.” In this alternate, comic book history, we see the situation being exacerbated for the malevolent machinations of Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), leader of the infamous baddies, The Hellfire Club. Will the X-tots be able to stop all-out nuclear war? Will Shaw act as Blofeld-ian as Kevin Bacon is capable of? Will Emma Frost strut around in what appears to be a wonderbra long before they were invented? What do you think?

There are certainly moments when the proceedings (or at least some of the props) will likely make you roll your eyes, but none of them are deadly to the enjoyment of the story. For the most part, the actors play their roles well and look the part, especially in their dapper yellow and black outfits, inspired by their Silver-Age origins. Take that, black leather.

The biggest question marks in the casting going in would undoubtedly be Xavier and Magneto, given the pedigree that the characters have been filled with in their later incarnations, but both are portrayed acceptably. Michael Fassbender’s turn as the future leader of the Brotherhood is especially inspired as he harnesses the rage of Magneto before it is tempered and turned into the simmering, weary villain that Ian McKellen would embody.

Quite a number of the other mutants are throwaways, shoehorned from more modern eras, but most of them work. Special attention is due to Rose Byrne as Moira McTaggart, a CIA employee that manages to pull off seeming like a capable agent and looking great in her underwear at the same time. Not an easy feat.

If you started out as a fan of this series, but feel burned by some of the previous entries, I recommend giving Professor X’s brood another chance. You’ll likely find a lot to enjoy in this Bond-ian superhero romp.

(Three and a half out of five stars)

 (This review was first published at the time X-Men: First Class was released in theaters.)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Haywire

   

    Taking someone from the athletic field and plugging them into a film isn’t exactly a new trend. Hell, if there wasn’t a National Football League, there probably wouldn’t even be a viable blaxploitation genre. Plus, how many wrestlers have tried to make the move to movies? Sometimes you get The Rundown. And then sometimes you get Santa with Muscles.

In this case, the non-actor in question is Gina Carano, a mixed-martial artist with looks enough to have emerged as a fan-favorite in the sport. I’m sure her expertise in the field helps, though tennis players have certainly been able to get by without it. Luckily for her, director Steven Soderbergh constructs Haywire in such a way that it comes across as a stylish 70’s-style thriller rather than, say, Gymkata.

And Soderbergh doesn’t shy away from drawing parallels to the era at all. The excellent, high-octane, funk-tinged score is certainly evocative of the time and some of her outfits display just enough retro-chic for the time without being terribly blatant and in-your-face about it. Add the fact that it actually holds shots and takes so you can follow the action and it seems like they are getting the audience to almost subconsciously associate with the films of that decade, a smart decision for them to make, as the leanness of the film and the genre trappings help curb certain expectations for the star, while making it a unique enough vehicle that it doesn’t seem at all like yet another entry in the over-cut, blue-filtered, direct-to-video action glut one would expect to see a fighter debut in.

Can she act? No. But she’s good enough that she doesn’t hurt the film, which is often the thing that is worrisome about putting someone with little to no performance experience in the lead role of your major motion picture. Perhaps that’s why there’s a sizable role for Channing Tatum, or as some may know him, the pine two-by-four with a buzz cut; so that there’s someone that will make her look good by comparison.

As for her fighting, the movie uses that to its advantage as well. It doesn’t try to finesse the action with fancy choreography and it doesn’t even seem to try to feel the need to make it seem more brutal than violence already is. At times it feels like the foley artist is taking the day off, because rather than having punches sound like a couple of t-bones being slapped together, they actually sound like… well, punches. The kind of sound that you heard as a kid, when your brother and yourself would finally just lose patience and wail on each other.

The plot is a pretty standard variation on the “wrong man been wronged.” Gina, going by the name Mallory and checking in often with her military daddy (Bill Paxton), is a mercenary. Sorry, “licensed government contractor.” She’s on the verge of quitting her position with the fella she’s been working for (Ewan McGregor) but he’s still giving her jobs. And on one of these jobs, she is the victim of an attempted frame-up and execution. She spends the rest of the movie running from the clueless authorities and pummeling the ones that did the wronging. That’s the basic plot. You can guess as much from the trailers that make it look as run of the mill as possible. Which is exactly what it is, story-wise.

What makes it unique are two things; first, the script, while keeping things tight and adhering to the established conventions, does a good job of establishing the double-dealings into an air-tight story. When the web is revealed in its entirety, there aren’t any glaring plot-holes (at least none that have been nagging me since leaving the theater.) It’s almost a let-down when you find out how limp the plot wrap-up is, but that’s almost the point. The characters she’s dealing with are the type of people who do this every day and the decisions they make with regards to her mean little more to them than their decision whether to have toast or bagels in the morning. Their machinations are just them using circumstance to their advantage.

Second, you have the cast. With this type of story, you usually have one up and comer and an aging star, who is playing the bad guy in order to chew some scenery and pick up a paycheck. In this case, the cast is much better than you’d usually get and they’re bringing their A-game. McGregor, Paxton and Michael Fassbender all put in excellent performances, despite not having a ton of screen time. Plus, you get Antonio Banderas in a role that is much more understated and low-key than one would expect. And yeah, OK… Michael Douglas showed up for a few days and collected a paycheck for playing Michael Douglas.

In the end, your milage on this type of film may vary, but I would recommend this one over any other with its tropes in recent memory. It doesn’t waste a moment of it’s run-time and is much more intelligent fun than you may expect.

(Three 1/2 out of five stars)