Aisle of the Damned: 07/14/17- With Steve Urkel as Electro

Up next: Sadie Hawkins DanceHe’s doins’t whatever a spider can, but can Spider-Man: Homecoming save the wallcrawler from the evil clutches of the Sony executives? We discuss it in this episode. Kent also takes a look at the Sam Elliott character piece The Hero.

In addition, we have some various DCEU and Quentin Tarantino news, and a look at the trailer for another Child’s Play sequel for your earholes.

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Michael Giacchino- Spider-Man Theme Song
The Ramones- Spider-Man

Kent’s Movie Diary: Dead birds for everybody!

LRresizeTHE LONE RANGER- “I can’t help but feel it’s a mistake to try to mash up Pirates of the Caribbean and Unforgiven.” -Nobody associated with The Lone Ranger film

Anyone else remember that Night Court episode where they had the Lone Ranger-ish guy that wouldn’t take off his mask because some Hollywood schmuck was trying to do a gritty reimagining of the character? I can’t help but feel that he was trying to prevent a misfire of a crap pile like Disney’s Lone Ranger. Apparently the Mouse House didn’t watch their own Muppet movie, because this is the Moopet Lone Ranger. A hard, cynical Western comedy for a hard, cynical time.

I wanted to like this movie. I really, really did. And the reason it hurts most is because the zygote of something good is here, but nine out of every ten decisions made in the making of the film are completely mind-boggling. And they’re mistakes that seem like they’d be so easy to pinpoint at the script stage.

I’ll start with the good. First off, Armie Hammer is actually not a bad choice as the Ranger. He has some of the same kind of wooden charm that the cowboy heroes from the thrilling days of yesteryear (see what I did there?) possessed in their simple morality plays. In theory he is a fitting replacement for Clayton Moore. The problem is that he’s given so little to work with. Instead of being a capable Texas Ranger who was ambushed and left for dead, he is a nitwit lawyer in over his head. In many cases he’s heroic by accident and rather than simply being a great lawman-cum-cowboy, he has some kind of supernatural “spirit-walker” powers. I have nothing against doing some kind of supernatural western genre concept, even if they seem to be tough to pull off. But there’s very little left that makes him the Lone Ranger in anything but name. So the fact that he’s still even partway likable is a testament to Hammer.

There’s also one hell of an amazeballs action sequence at the end in which the film seems to finally figure out what it is, complete with the William Tell Overture and jumping Silver from train car to train car. Right before it falls on its face again trying to take its own piss. But for about twenty minutes, it is the Lone Ranger movie that it should be. The type of fun action Western that it was sold as. It’s like the characters are completely different in this sequence as well. You feel as if you suddenly are transported into an alternate universe in which they got the movie right and then, sadly, back again.

The fact is, the people involved seem to be completely ignorant about the property. It’s not just the title character that is different. Tonto is unrecognizable. For all the complaints about Jay Silverheels’ speech patterns, I remember Tonto being a rather competent sidekick who saved the Lone Ranger’s life. He certainly didn’t resent him. Or drag his head through horse poop. Depp’s Tonto is (forgive me) Injun Jack Sparrow. He’s a white face, psychotic goofball mostly concerned with revenge and mugging for the camera. I know the look of the character was inspired by a piece of artwork, but it’s almost as over-the-top as his horrible Mad Hatter get up.

The script is determined to make jokes at the expense of iconic things that they think people either don’t remember or are too sophisticated to enjoy. But if that’s the case, why are they making a Lone Ranger movie in the first place? The use of “Hi-yo Silver, away!” is met with derision as though it’s something cheesy. As opposed to a guy with a dead bird on his head. (Seriously, that stupid bird is the worst.) Instead of celebrating the character and the adventure of the old west, it is an exercise in seeing unpleasant a film can be and how many corrupt, horrible white guys they can pack into a liberal arts professor’s vision of the time period. Add to that a constant barrage of non-sequitors, gross-out gags and a framing sequence that adds nothing to the film but padding on it’s already bloated runtime, and you’ve got one of the worst summer tentpoles this side of Michael Bay.

Trek9resizeSTAR TREK: INSURRECTION- I finally saw the ninth film of the Star Trek franchise. First thought: Become a rapper called Trek9 and do songs only about this film. (OK, so only Kansas City people might get that gag.) Anyway… It shouldn’t surprise me to see an anti-technology fetishist Star Trek movie, but somehow it still does.

Yep, the crew of the Enterprise, whilst zipping around in their starship, seeks to stop some white Indians that live “in harmony with nature” and never age due to their planet’s unique atmosphere from being displaced by a bunch of grotesque beings.

It’s obvious from the outset that the vaguely European luddites are stand-ins for Native Americans being forced off their land. (Settlers from another land that live “unspoiled” lives being relocated by a more powerful group for the sake of progress. Not really historically accurate, but what else would you call it?) However, the themes of the film are so muddied that it completely falls apart while they’re trying to make whatever vague point that they think they’re making.

The settlers are, of course, pacifists. Though they have no trouble with the crew of the Enterprise locking and loading on their behalf. Later on we also find out that they do not tolerate change or any kind of opposing views amongst themselves, but this is completely brushed over because it’s inconvenient to actually ask about the morality of the people Picard and Co. put their chips in with. Not when there are imperialist villains to fight in the name of the Prime Directive. Or not. Whatever.

It’s just one big episode of Next Gen, which for me is not a selling point since I’m much more of a TOS fan. This explains why this was my first viewing of Insurrection (and the upcoming Nemesis.) On a technical level it’s not all bad. Jonathan Frakes does a good job of directing and misdirecting, as it were. It looks good, even if the renaissance fair opening credits are eye-rollingly boring as hell. The effects are more than comparable to the task. It’s even got some good character moments. It’s just not a good story. If it were nothing but a think piece, I would be more behind it. I’m one of the defenders of the first Trek movie because I love the ideas behind it. But the film is trying to serve two masters in trying too hard to duplicate First Contact by grafting in some rather generic action sequences. Together with the half-baked screenplay, it ends up less bad than simply bland.

V&DresizeVIOLET AND DAISY- Everything that’s right about Violet and Daisy can be summed up with the beginning. During the first few minutes the title teen girl characters, dressed as nuns, clean out an apartment full of armed men with handguns, culminating with a pretty faithful cover of “Angel of the Morning.” Everything that’s wrong with Violet and Daisy can be summed up with the mawkish, sentimental ending. A story of two unusual assassins, it definitely has its moments, but ultimately falls under its own pretension, like someone trying to set a Thomas Pynchon novel on a Jenga tower.

I decided to watch the film based on the cast, who are the bulk of what works about it. Saoirse Ronan is Daisy. Light and airy like the spongecake that seems to exist between her character’s ears, she seems to be drifting through much of the film on a pink cloud. Alexis Bledel is Violet, the more hardass of the two and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I don’t mean to disregard her acting ability because I actually thought she was pretty great on Gilmore Girls, but if it had been a more one-note performance and not included some pretty wild temperamental shifts, she probably would have been better. As it is, I wonder if the chemistry between them would have worked better if they’d switched roles, especially having seen Hana. A pre-death James Gandolfini is a target that takes the girls by surprise. He’s not bad. But like the film itself, he descends into mawkishness eventually. I’m not sure how much of this is problems with the script and how much of it is issues with the directing.

The performances/directing is definitely stylized and reminds me almost of the performances in Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko, despite being very different films. Probably because it involves a couple of young characters spouting nonsense dialogue with severe conviction like it’s gospel. Plus both include really bizarre surreality at random as well. Now inject into that a sense of Quentin Tarantino-style cartoonish playfulness for some of the crime aspects, including a complete disregard for linear storytelling and the (albeit more subtle) use of graphics. The titlecard reveals, among other things, that the film is in technicolor and 3D, but it is very small, almost like they intend it to be an inside joke for the filmmaker. It also divides itself up into chapters, some very short, with a brief name for each.

It’s a fun film stuck with some horrible dead spots. Or is it a mediocre movie with small flashes of delirious coolness? Either way, it’s not a film I can recommend, but I did laugh a decent amount and I don’t regret seeing it. Even though it’d probably make a better play than a film. It feels like an effort of someone with potential but who needs to learn more about tone and structure and rein in the instinct to deepen the story by creating an aspartame ending full of false sweetness.

KoSresizeKINGS OF SUMMER- If I were 16 years old, The Kings of Summer might be one of my favorite movies. As it is, it made me laugh a lot, both at the a-holish behavior of Nick Offerman as a recently widowed father and the angst-shellaced pubescent antics of a trio of teens that decide to build a home in the woods to assert their independance and masculinity.

Like a guaze-wrapped summer daydream, it spins a golden tale of boys becoming men (in the traditional sense, not the way that most teen comedies do by having them lose their virginity) and failing along the way. Joe is the defacto leader of the group, ironic as his friend Mike is the larger and more centered of them. Then there’s Biaggio, a strange kid that seems like the ethnic offspring of Dwight Schrute, spouting nonsense and playing with a machete the size of his arm.

Sick of their parents’ interference, they retreat to the middle of nowhere so that no one can find them and proceed to live (almost) off the grid, building a suprisingly sturdy house out of found objects. They play, swim, explore and basically do what boys do in the woods. Of course this can’t last forever and a combination of hormones and hurt feelings threatens to destroy their Eden, but that’s always the way it goes. In the meantime, there’s some great one liners and deviations about Chinese food and board games.

The cast is largely excellent with some surprise actors taking part. Alison Brie, one of my official crushes and star of Community, is a secondary player and there are appearances by 24’s Mary Lynn Rajskub and Arrested Development’s Tony Hale. The music is also interesting as it liltingly flips from indie to chiptunes.

I highly recommend taking up Kings of Summer for a viewing, especially once the season finally hits and we get out of this winter hellhole. As it was, at least it reminded me of a time without snow. And that was something I really needed after the last couple of months.

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.