Aisle of the Damned: 03/22/17- Logan’s Heroes

This is the worst photoshop you will ever see.

We’re back after a medical hiatus to discuss the latest that Hollywood has dumped on us! Just kidding; March apparently doesn’t suck anymore as we have some pretty damn good movies to geek out about, including X-Men outlier Logan, giant monster movie Kong: Skull Island, indie horror wunderkind Get Out and the latest in the Matt Damon series, Matt Damon Goes to China.

We also discuss some new trailers, like Wonder Woman and Baby Driver, finally crap on the Oscars, talk about Joe Carnahan’s good decisions and Sony’s stupid-ass decisions and talk about Disney’s battle with their own history.

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Big T. Tyler– King Kong

Aisle of the Damned: 5/10/16- ****ING [spoiler redacted] MOTHER****ER!!

Face/Off 2

Bryan and Kent jump with both feet into the summer movie season with Captain America: Civil War.

Despite a disappointing lack of appearances by Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, they’ll make do with Iron Man and Captain America having an ideological measuring contest. Spoiler: the audience wins.

Also, reviews of Keanu, Everybody Wants Some!!, The Nice Guys, and Green Room, plus our recommendations and discussions of the Rogue One trailer. All this and less in the new episode of Aisle of the Damned!

MUSIC:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie!
The Rolling Stones- Street Fighting Man

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 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: Ted

Mark Wahlberg will soon be yelling at the urinal.

The “man-child grows up” film is nothing new in Hollywood these days. There are two different ways the story usually plays out; either as a female fantasy about fixing a flawed guy or as a way of criticizing that fantasy. Ted manages to walk a particular tight-rope that allows both of these ideas, much the same way as Shaun of the Dead did. This is not to say that the films are the same, of course. There’s a big difference between Edgar Wright and the guy that created the TV show that won’t die. Yes, it’s a romantic comedy from Seth McFarlane, the basis for a lot of Fox’s now mediocre Sunday block.

The main gist of the story is that Bostonian John Bennett (the oft angry and confused Mark Wahlberg) was an unpopular child who, upon receiving a teddy bear one magical Christmas Day, gets his wish that his bear would come to life so they can be best friends forever. 25 years later, they’re a couple of foul-mouthed buddies who prefer to sit on the couch all day, watch Flash Gordon and get baked, if they have their druthers. The teddy bear is now Ted, a former celebrity who has faded into obscurity, but has never steered away from his main purpose of being John’s BFF. The problem with that is Lori, John’s girlfriend (Mila Kunis), who wants him to get himself together and be responsible enough to… well, not skip-out from his mediocre job and get high all day.

The fortunate thing about what McFarlane does with the film is that he avoids the usual cliches by making Lori an actual three-dimensional character. She doesn’t want John to change everything about himself. She loves him for who he is and she understands the importance of Ted in John’s life. She just wants John to get his own life so they can move forward as a couple. Given John’s actions throughout the film, audience members are able to be highly sympathetic to her way of thinking. Without ruining any jokes, she’s given plenty of reasons to be upset with Ted’s place in John’s arrested development, though McFarlane is also smart enough to point out John’s own place in his self-destructive behavior.

Ted himself is surprisingly one of the better-rendered CGI characters that has come about. His interactions with John and others work very well for a special effect in the hands of a first-time live-action director. (That said, the look of the film is pretty darn pedestrian for the most part. Perhaps it’s due to his animation background, but a lot of it feels like the set-ups and filming are very static and front and center. As a comedy, that’s not necessarily an issue, but it is noteworthy.) In a lot of ways, Ted inevitably feels like a teddy bear version of Peter Griffin, albeit with a Boston accent instead of Rhode Island, let loose without a network censor. The good news is that back in the day before it’s initial cancellation, Family Guy was a pleasant enough diversion and this manages to skirt closer to the sweet-but-weird nature of those early efforts. There are a few odd pop-cultural cut-aways, but only one of them seems terribly out of place and even it manages not to overstay its welcome. (Some of the others benefit from being delivered by the always fantastic Patrick Stewart.) There are also some oddball plots that don’t necessarily go anywhere but do add to the humor and several cameos, mostly from his animated series’ voice cast (and Supergirl), that don’t over-do it.

One other thing noteworthy about the film is the music. While most TV comedies (and especially cartoons) have languished with canned music over the years, Family Guy has always benefitted from the orchestral scores of Walter Murphy and McFarlane is smart enough to port him over to his film work. Murphy’s work for the film absolutely elevates it and lends it a sense of class that it may not deserve, but certainly benefits from.

In the end, the film is a success because it will likely make you laugh. It may not be the best comedy of the year, and who knows if it will stand the test of time, but it is definitely a step up from what this kind of film usually is and it definitely works better than most special-effects comedies.

(Three and a half out of five stars)