Kent’s 25 Favorite Damned Movies of 2017 (#15-11)

15. I, TONYA- A movie that chronicles the first 25 years or so in the life of Tonya Harding could have really gone one of two ways: either the self-serious Lifetime Movie route, or embracing the story’s inherent ridiculousness. Having Margot Robbie, who is “Hollywood pretty” by any standard, portray Tonya Harding at age 15 by giving her a short haircut and some braces pretty much shows right off the bat that the film intends to go the second way. But in addition to the requisite goofiness one can expect for a figure skating film full of rednecks, assholes, half-wits, and dim-wits, the movie itself plays things pretty smart. It’s been simultaneously praised and derided for taking inspiration from the work of Martin Scorcese. Goodfellas in particular is name-dropped in the advertising. But in order to put together a tale in which not one, but multiple unreliable narrators regularly refute each other, sometimes even turning to the audience and breaking the fourth wall to dispute the action occurring onscreen, it likely couldn’t have worked as well any other way. Ultimately, the film’s view of Harding is a sympathetic one (her POV is understandably the most prevalent), but it never lets her off the hook, as she is represented as throwing regular tantrums, making constant excuses, and usually only taking minimal responsibility for her actions. The storytelling has pop sensibilities through and through; in fact, I would go so far as to say it’s technically brilliant. However, there’s always some sadness around the edges to remind you that, no matter how absurd the plot gets, these are real people. The end credits even show excerpts from archival footage to try to drill home how surprisingly unexaggerated this whole circus is.

14. COCO- It’s possible that Coco may seem better than it is by virtue of having a truly bad Frozen special programmed before it. However, even if we assume that’s the case, it still comes across as a total winner for Pixar. The story, which follows a music loving Mexican boy through the mythological underworld on Dia de los Muertos, may have some plot holes, but it’s hard to worry about them when it’s so much fun and has a lot of great touches that remind us how Pixar really cares about the details. So in a lot of ways it’s more or less par for the course for the Lamp, but even then, Coco manages to elbow its way into the higher tiers of their films thanks to the humor on display and the main character being pretty endearing. Beyond that though, there’s some really mystifying stuff for anyone who wants to really dig, like how it takes place in an afterlife where fame is an even more valuable commodity than in our own world. The music is catchy (and, since at least one tune is repeated ad naseum, that is very, very important. See also: That Thing You Do.) The visuals are full of a Halloween splendor, with a walking tour of the most unique setting they’ve put on the screen since Monstropolis. But even in a movie this visually striking, Mama Coco herself stands out, at once creepy, heartbreaking and… even almost cute on occasion; truly great character design. While I’m glad animation has slowly been evolving and there are seemingly more voices in the features game than ever before, there’s a reason Pixar continues to stand out in their field.

13. BLADE RUNNER 2049- It’s hard to believe that Denis Villenueve pulled off a sequel that not only managed to keep from sullying the lustre of its now-regarded-as-a-classic progenitor, but may even improve upon it, leaving its moral relativism and complex plotting while forgoing a lot of the overcooked dialogue and adding something that the original only flirted with: genuine pathos. Ryan Gosling makes a surprisingly good lead, channeling his leading man status to serve as part of his replicant nature. Harrison Ford keeps up his “greatest hits” tour, following up his fun turn as Han Solo with another return to form, this time as Rick Deckard, the runner that took off with Sean Young’s experimental Rachel model of the original. But the real MVP is Ana de Armas, who is heartbreakingly good as various forms of an artificial intelligence named, appropriately enough, Joi. The plot twists here are not small, and the risk they undertook is definitely rewarded. While the visuals overall may not be as idiosyncratic and downright awesome (in the truest sense of the word) as the original, there are some bits here and there that certainly come close, especially a visit to an abandoned city that looks like it was rezoned to Mars. Plus, I can’t think of a recent film with a scene which has sucker-punched me in the gut like this one has, outside of Pixar. As time goes by, I predict 2049 will find itself having a very long shelf-life, just as the first film did.

12. COLOSSAL- I’ve heard a lot about the controversy surrounding Colossal. Personally, I think it’s one of those movies where the biggest messages one interprets are ones you’re bringing into the screening with you. Which, if we’re being honest, is often a hallmark of interesting sci-fi and art in general. I didn’t see it as some huge statement of empowerment, or a screed for misandry, despite advertisers and critics telling me what to expect. I saw a movie about a terrible, manipulative person having to make better decisions, because she’s surrounded by other people who are also varying degrees of manipulative and/or terrible (or at the very least, allow that sort of behavior to continue.) So rather than focus on the controversy, or the politics, how about I point out that it’s an incredibly clever, and original movie. That it is genuinely funny and engaging. That Jason Sudeikis puts in the best performance of his career so far, at times seething under the surface with genuine menace that belies his usual charming demeanor. That Anne Hathaway continues to impress me and puts in a wonderful effort as the main character of this stealth genre film. (I’ll never understand the relatively small, but intense, cult of public disdain that follows her like a dark cloud.) That, even with a doofy explanation for why what’s happening is happening, I found it to be a wholly satisfying experience. Colossal is small, but mighty. It is thoughtful, provocative, and absolutely worthy of your time.

11. THE BIG SICK- Telling people something is “a _____ for people who don’t like _____” is not one of my preferred descriptors. It feels reductive in most respects, to both the film being recommended, and the genre which contains it. But I would definitely recommend The Big Sick to people, even if they typically don’t enjoy Hollywood romantic comedies, because it doesn’t feel like a typical, ridiculous romantic comedy. Not only that but, perhaps because it’s based on a true story, it avoids the common clichés of them while keeping the basic tenants. Yes, there’s a big secret that keeps them apart. No, that secret isn’t something ridiculous or something that makes the main character seem like a complete sociopath for piling lie upon lie. Star Kumail Nanjiani manages to come across as natural and charming, while Zoe Kazan manages to take what would usually be a thankless role, pumping the brakes when we’re rooting for them, and is actually allowed to be sympathetic. Most importantly, director (and The State alum) Michael Showalter make it feel like a character piece first, and it never loses sight of that second word in its descriptor. It’s a movie that is genuinely funny throughout, despite tackling some heavy topics. These heavy topics, like family friction created by breaking with tradition and a large dose of medical drama, even result in fully-formed character arcs. It never even feels exploitive the way a tear-jerker would, milking the hospital scenes for all their emotional worth, despite the title. See it with someone you care about (who doesn’t like to be bored.) You’ll be glad you did.

<The Best of 2017 (#20-16)                                                       The Best of 2017 (#10-5)>

Aisle of the Damned: 12/01/17- Like a Bat-Kid on Christmas

Howdy, folks! As the holiday season bears down on us, Justice League has been unleashed upon us. Does this Frankenstein monster of a film fly like Superman or sink like Aquaman? We will discuss the particulars! Meanwhile, Kent has seen Coco and is dying to tell you about it.

Plus, we discuss some Marvel developments, some trailers and less, on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Amazing Transparent Man- Holding Out for a Hero

Aisle of the Damned: 08/18/17- The Back to Skull Special

Art Repurposed for a Reason

Kent and Bryan are ready for fall, but is your local multiplex? The Damned boys discuss what we have to look forward to in the next few months with their annual Back to Skull Fall Preview and there are a few places on the calendar which feel like a wasteland.

They also take a look at some Kevin Smith news straight from Boston ComicCon, discuss some big news from Movie Pass and talk some Bond.

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats-
Stuck in a Movie
The Hives- Fall is Just Something Grown-Ups Invented

Aisle of the Damned: 06/23/17- It Has to Wash Its Sheets in the Morning

Transformers: It Comes on a Rough Night

Two weeks ago saw the opening of It Comes at Night. Last week, we had the bachelorette comedy Rough Night. This week we get Transformers: The Last Knight dropped on us like a 10-ton anvil. Coincidence?

Probably.

Regardless, Bryan and Kent are here to slice and dice films for your pleasure and It Comes at Night and Rough Night are both on the chopping block. So which is worth your dollars? The divisive psychological horror film or the gender-bent Very Bad Things? Find out in this episode! Plus, we have Pixar’s latest: the inevitable Cars 3. Does it handle better than the second entry?

PLUS, we have some movie news, including some superhero stuff. All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine- Down with the Sickness

Aisle of the Damned: 06/16/17- Atomic Batteries to Power

Who's the monster?

We’re back for more punishment from Tom Cruise’s to-do list. Actually, we talk 2017’s new version of The Mummy after a discussion of the Aubrey Plaza vehicle The To Do List sparks a little conversation over 90’s nostalgia.

Before we talk about the Dark Universe though, we talk about the legacy of the great Adam West of Batman: The Movie and so much more.

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Nelson Riddle- To the Batmobile
Nelson Riddle- Hi-Diddle Riddle
Link Wray and his Ray Men- Run Chicken Run

Aisle of the Damned: 4/7/17- Mighty Morphin’ Wrist Cutters

What about Ranger Smith?

It’s a passionate discussion this episode as we tackle some news dripping with Sony’s flop sweat. They’re working on a stand-alone, R-rated Venom movie. Meanwhile, Warner Bros. has been talking to Joss Whedon about making a full-blown Batgirl film.

More importantly, we discuss the American remake of Ghost in the Shell and the big-screen adaptation of the ’90s kiddie kaiju show, Power Rangers. (Or is that Saban’s Power Rangers? Might depend on how you feel about adding “John Carpenter’s” to the title of films.)

We also discuss a slew of summer and fall trailers that have come out since the last episode. How are the studio marketing teams trying to sell us the biggest and smallest films of the season? Don’t forget our regular recommendations. All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
They Might Be Giants- Sensurround

Aisle of the Damned: 7/6/16- Social Networkland

They had it coming.

Kent and Bryan are limping through a summer of unrequested sequels and retreads. We discuss the way a lot of sequels have been failing at the box office and which films have bucked the trend. We also give our top entertainment picks for this month, discuss the implications of the Ultimate Batman v Superman cut and also the 180 that Warner Bros. has pulled on Justice League. Later, they talk The Conjuring 2, Finding Dory, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Central Intelligence and the long expected follow-up, Independence Day: Resurgence.

Come and sequel, won’t you?

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
The Lillingtons- Invasion of the Saucermen

Aisle of the Damned- 07/31/15: LeBron Leaves the Tune Squad

Then You Will Have My Permission To Drive

In a flurry of catch-upedness, Kent and Bryan bring us up to speed on movies they’ve seen over the summer including Mad Max: Fury Road, Jurassic World, Terminator: Genysis, Ted 2, Trainwreck and Inside Out. But not before discussing our favorite theaters and our disappointment in Disney for announcing that Avengers: Age of Ultron will be out on digital download a full month before blu ray. Plus, random segues into Lebron, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, the virtues of Jurassic Park III and more!

You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll mostly cry.

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
The Offspring- Bad Habit

Movie Diary- 8/9/13

New player enters the game!8/2/13- Watched the second part of the Evangelion “rebuild” last night. It’s too bad I have no idea what’s going on, because it’s actually pretty damn cool in places. I described Pacific Rim as Evangelion with Star Wars overtones. I also maybe should have specified, “without all the psuedo-theological hokum and a plot that a sane person can follow.” What is awesome is that while the first one was just a compressed version of the TV series, this one was pretty divergent in a lot of ways. First off, Mari is an awesome addition to the cast. When the Mark 02 goes feral, it’s pretty damn impressive and the way they use color for her (especially after giving her that weird meet cute with Shinji) is just jarring and badass. Not only that, but the existing characters are actually more likable. Shinji doesn’t come across as such a whining wimp and doesn’t sit around crying the way he had so often in the show. Asuka (who has bizarrely had her name changed so that even the European characters seem to have Japanese surnames) is even more of a sociopath, but she’s given a bit of depth along with it and goals for her future. And the ending is just a whole bunch of “WTF.” If you liked the original series, you will either hate this for not being exactly the same or love it because it’s finally telling a new story. Hopefully it won’t end with as complete a narrative f@ck you as the show and the previous “End of Evangelion” movie did.

8/5/13- I have a rant about animation coming that I wrote at work and forgot to send to myself. In the meantime, I’ve watched a couple of movies with Spence and his girlfriend Allie. Brave being the main one. Which is still great. The thing’s hilarious and I don’t get why people just decided to take a big dook on it, because I think it’s really well made.

I got into a discussion about the glut of CGI animated films with my friend Jared. It turned into a gripe session of the current state of animation in general. I feel like the “dooming of 2D” is basically a self-fulfilling prophecy that was caused by the animation industry and Hollywood itself. If you look at recent history, the last big hand-drawn hit was probably Lilo and Stitch. Home on the Range crashed and burned because nobody liked it and Princess and the Frog did reasonably well. Certainly well enough to justify continuing the practice of making hand-drawn features. What’s really frustrating is that Frozen, the next feature from Disney, started out as hand-drawn but because of the success of Tangled, a film I actually really enjoyed in part because it aped 2D so well thanks to the handiwork of Glenn Keane, was switched over to yet another 3D feature and apparently the Diz has laid off nearly all their 2D animators.

It’s a sad day indeed given when John Lassetter took over the Mouse’s animation department, including the newly integrated Pixar, it sounded like they were going to actively pursue 2D animation again, in the spirit of the studio’s long history. I have no problem with 3D animation when it makes sense for the story. Pixar has done a good job of picking projects that seem to lend themselves to the particular look of CGI, for the most part. Wreck It Ralph made absolute sense to do in 3D because it was about computer-generated characters. But why aren’t these studios making movies based upon which medium is simply going to be better for the story being told? It’s not like making a film in CG guarantees it to be a hit. I mean, criminy, look at all the movies that have either failed to make a dent at the box office, if you’re speaking generously (or bombed if you aren’t.) Turbo is only the most recent example of one of them underperforming.

I find it very sad that Hollywood has convinced itself this is meaningless and that 2D is dead for no reason. At this point only France and Japan seem to be actively involved in creating hand-drawn films and I find it sad that the country which pioneered the animated film (and perfected the animated short through Warner Bros. and MGM) simply doesn’t care anymore.

At least we still get a stop-motion film or two a year, even if they’re falling into a pattern of nearly all having to be Burtonesque macabre comedies. (This coming from someone that enjoys that kind of thing.) I will take a pure CG movie any day over a mo-cap feature though.

Most of these Zemmeckis-pioneered features are mediocre at best and the visuals rarely have wowed me. As much as I enjoyed TinTin, and I do enjoy it a lot (more each time I watch it, actually) I am continually bothered by the awful decision to do it as a mo-cap feature with what is, frankly, some pretty grotesque design. Herge’s characters are pretty universally beloved throughout Europe and much of the non-American world, so why not actually make the characters look like they do in the comics? Or even just bite the bullet and film it as a live-action feature? Because instead it is a charmless and puzzling visual mish-mash that is simply unappealing. The look of the film really pleased noone that I’ve spoken to, with the distraction of the character design hampering the things that work really well like the imaginative set-pieces, a fine script by the cream of the creative crop currently in Britain’s TV and film industry and the best chase scene Spielberg has directed since Raiders. But that’s the problem with motion capture, period. I simply don’t know who it’s supposed to appeal to. The only film I can think of that really worked with it was Monster House. (This of course is not counting the stupendous work by Andy Serkis and the artists behind Gollum and other such instances of incorporating CG characters into live-action film, but rather a self-decribed “animated film.”) But the characters in Monster House were stylized so that they were more appealing and didn’t fall into the uncanny valley trap quite as hard. And even then, the motion capture seemed worthless because a good animator can do a better job of conveying emotion than some dots glued to a person’s face. There’s really very little reason to hire an actor when an animator is already doing the job of an actor if they’re any good.

Is it neat that Speilberg tried a different medium? Absolutely. With directors like Wes Anderson, Brad Bird and Andrew Stanton jumping from live action to animation and vice versa, it’s an exciting time for creative freedom in film. These folks are taking advantage in the blurred lines of filmmaking and picking up the reigns from the likes of Frank Tashlin to try to take advantage of the best avenue for them to tell their stories. It’s just a shame that one of them is completely closed off now. I’ve loved every one of Bird’s features, for example. He managed to keep the Mission: Impossible franchise from squandering the goodwill JJ Abrams presented it with and his Pixar films, especially The Incredibles, are not just some of the best animated films of the last 20 years, but a couple of the best films of the last two decades period. But I could not see The Iron Giant being what it is were it live-action or computer animated beyond what was used initially. (Speaking of which, why isn’t that on blu ray yet? Can Warners still not figure out that it’s a hugely popular cult film that could be sold on the basis of Bird’s megahits?)

Really the main disturbing trend is that animation in its various forms, especially CG, is more in demand than ever thanks to increasing special effects and more films flooding the market then ever, yet prospects for animation seem so bleak. Effects houses have publically been failing because they are not rewarded for a job well done in many cases (even when they win an Oscar.) Animators have become the pariahs of Hollywood. While art and “geek culture” proceeds to dominate the box office and the pop culture consciousness, the actual creators of the art in cinemas are being pushed around as though the work can be done by any schmuck off the street with the right software. This isn’t the case in every instance to be certain, but as a whole it seems like outsourcing and undercutting are the rules of the day. Perhaps they always have been. Rocky and Bullwinkle were animated (if you can call it that) in Mexico to cut costs and that was in the 60s. But for some reason it just seems worse now. Maybe it always seems worse now than in the past. It is human nature to paint the most dire portrait of the present. After all, I suppose at least as an audience we’re getting more content than ever and we’re no longer in the dark ages of the late 70s and early 80s.

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Monsters University

My letter jacket is buried in my closet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ah, the curse of the Pixar sequel. Except that of the four sequels they’ve done, two of them were better than the original. Only Cars 2 was a drop from the original film. In my opinion a rather large drop as I am a big fan of the first one and found the second to only be enjoyable. I don’t think I ever put it up on this website, but I ended up giving it two and a half stars (now changed colloquially to “damns given” because I’m incorrigible) and noted that it really was only a disappointment by Pixar standards. I believe I said something akin to “being the worst Pixar movie is like being the least attractive Playmate of the Year.” Regardless, it caused a critical backlash and a seeming sequel fatigue that is setting in, even with myself, despite Lassater and crew being much more picky about producing them than the Dreamworks factory that announced they were going to make six “How to Train Your Dragon” films.

“But wait”, you say, “that’s only three sequels!” Of course it is, my observant friend, because I’m leading up to their latest, Monsters University. Or, as I like to call it, When Harry Met Sully. Zing! It is their first prequel-style sequel, detailing the beginnings of friendship for our favorite scarers of Monsters Inc., a personal favorite of Pixar’s films. Unfortunately it is not as good as the original, though the improvement in computer animation in the intervening dozen years is certainly easy to see.

The other good news is that it is a bounce back for the house that lamp built over Cars 2 and, while not as brilliant as Toy Story 2 or bittersweet as Toy Story 3, it manages to never feel extraneous. Unnecessary, maybe. But it doesn’t ever settle into being a lazy cash grab and as a broad college comedy it manages to be a movie unlike any other that Pixar has produced, despite its sequel status. It certainly features callbacks and a few gags that require viewing of the original film to truly appreciate, but it largely works on its own as a story, never falling back on the ancient framing device of having the characters reminiscing, “Hey, remember when we met?” Pixar seems conscious of their chance to do some further world building in this reality where Monsters as wide and varied as ocean life all live together. Not only that, but it leads somewhere. There are messages to the film before it ends. Messages that I never expected to see in a so-called children’s’ film.

Personally, I’ve always hated that label for the Pixar films, because with one glaring exception they seem to be the very definition of the oft-vaunted and usually awful “family film.” That rare movie that manages to entertain everyone from the three year old clutching his Mike Wazowski plush doll to grandpa. In that regard they are often more successful than even their vaunted parent company has been when you average things out. One of my fondest memories was picking up my grandma from the nursing home and taking her to see Up before she largely stopped going out and eventually passed away.

But I’m rambling. There are some unusual things being taught in this film. Sure there are messages of holding onto your dreams and never giving up, but there are a metric ton of movies that throw that “Secret” style naiveté at us. The ultimate message seems to be ‘what can you do when your dreams are shattered, yet life goes on.’ And I never thought I’d see a college movie that actually indicates college isn’t for everyone, given the way higher education has become a sacred cow, necessary for everyone from doctors to hamburger chefs.

In the middle of this is one of the best pure comedies that Pixar has done with quite a few laughs, many of them laugh out loud. They are very successful in wringing out the remaining chemistry between Billy Crystal and John Goodman (who manages to actually seem to make himself sound younger despite adding a decade) while adding some new faces to the cast and a few familiar ones. Thankfully few of the latter since it is the lazy origin story that simply plugs all the original players into major roles. Among the new standouts are the frightening Dean Hardscrabble, portrayed with the ridged gusto one would expect for what amounts to a remake of Revenge of the Nerds. Or any other “snobs vs. slobs” campus comedy ever to hit the screen. At least it’s the best one to ever be rated G. Given the movies it’s riffing on, of course there is also the worst frat on campus, in this case Oozma Kappa. Voice talent like Charlie Day and Bugs Life-alum Dave Foley do a good job of making them the usual likable losers. And of course there has to be the rival frat of jerks, led by all-around scamp Nathan Fillion with an extra ladle of smarm.

Most of the film plays out just as all films of this type do (is it really even a spoiler to say the frat ends up involved in a set of fraternity games?), but with a fresh perspective brought by the gags involving the monster society and students. Just as a factory floor became a place of unbridled imagination, so does a campus, crammed full of sight gags, parody and background yucks. The simple skin-graft makes all the difference, turning what would otherwise be a rather cliche affair into something that, were it not for the first film, would feel pretty darn original. But because we do have that first film and we do have all the hijinx of every Animal House imitator, it never really manages to completely rise above and become something more, even with a very satisfying final act. I suppose what I’m saying is, it may not be one of Pixar’s all-time best, but it’s a solid triple.

(Three and a half damns out of five)