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)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Wreck-It Ralph

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If the original run of films through Walt Disney’s life from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves through 101 Dalmations or so was the company’s golden age and the silver age was the late 80s (most would say beginning with The Little Mermaid or Who Framed Roger Rabbit, though I would argue The Great Mouse Detective was the first big sign of progress) and running through around Lilo and Stitch, then one would have to say the Mouse House is entering their bronze age.

Beginning with the deeply flawed but sometimes brilliant Meet the Robinsons (a movie that cried out desperately to be traditionally animated in a flat, stylized UPA manner) and continuing through films like Princess and the Frog and Bolt, John Lasseter’s term in charge of the Disney Animation department has seen a steady uptick in the quality of it’s films over time, culminating in the release of Tangled, a film that somehow managed to capture the magic of the oldest of old school fairy-tale Diz, while managing to somehow be modern without ever crossing over into the snarky pop culture tripe that Shrek kept mining until the vein petered out (sadly, long before the series was over.)

Wreck-It Ralph may not surpass Tangled, but it is in every way its equal while also being completely different. There are definitely a lot more pop culture gags here, nearly all of them video game related, but they are so fluidly integrated into the story that it never feels out of place. The director here is a Futurama alum, and the feeling and pace of the jokes really reflects that. The current generation of parents will get the jokes about Ralph taking the cherries from a game of Pac-man. The kids will find it funny for different reasons. The only real worry is whether kids today, practically born with a console controller in their hands, will understand just what an arcade is. (If the film causes a resurgence in them, it can only be a good thing.)

The story, in a nutshell, is that Ralph is the baddy in a classic arcade game, Fix-It Felix, Jr. Over 30 years, he has become dissatisfied with his lot in life, with the other characters in the game treating him like he really is a bad guy when he’s just doing his job. Thinking that if he can prove himself to be more than an engine of destruction he will be more accepted, he begins hopping to other games in the arcade, looking for a medal to prove his valor.

At a glance it would seem like Wreck-It Ralph, with its look into the “secret life of video games” is more of a traditional Pixar film than a Disney film and that description would not be inaccurate.

For one thing, it is a film that feels like 3D computer animation is truly the best medium for it, and it’s not just because it has become the industry standard thanks to the declining fortunes of the more mediocre hand-drawn films of recent years. It makes absolute sense that a movie filled with computer generated characters would be generated by a computer.

Another positive about the film is, despite a lack of straight up voice actors in the cast, this isn’t a film cast with “stars” to cash in on a name. John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman obviously aren’t slouches, but one could hardly call them box-office draws. Instead they seem to have grabbed people with fantastic voices, perfect for the parts they are playing. Reilly puts layers of fed-up subtext into his performance, while 30 Rock’s Jack McBreyer is so spot-on as the voice of Felix that one would hardly know who else could possibly fill the part. Throw in Alan Tudyk doing what is an oddly original version of what could easily slip into being merely an impression of Ed Wynn’s classic Mad Hatter from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland in his role as King Candy from a sweets-based racing game, and you end up with a cast of character actors that creates the feeling of the era when Disney used to cast strong radio personalities. (One of the reasons their early films have endured, in my humble opinion.)

All this would be moot if the story were awful, but it’s big, bold and emotional. The only downside of the film is that it could absolutely be described as predictable and a bit paint-by-numbers as well, but most folks should be having such a good time watching it unfold, that only the worst cynics should whine about it.

With Wreck-It Ralph, Disney can put another feather in its cap. If they continue to put out entertainment on this scale, they may find themselves considered the equal of their stablemates Pixar again.

(Four out of five stars)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Brave

Think I'll listen to some Flogging Molly.

In a lot of ways this year has been a bit predictable at the cinema, but one of the biggest surprises has come from the house of mouse. While the trailer for the main Disney Animation department’s Wreck-It Ralph makes it look like something of a cross between Toy Story (with its combination of familiar ‘playthings’ mixed with original characters) and Monsters Inc. (a “video game world,” much like the world of monsters, or Cars for that matter), the Pixar arm has made a classic fairy tale. So basically, Disney has made a Pixar movie and Pixar has made a Disney film. I can’t speak to the quality of Ralph yet (though I am very encouraged by the trailer and can’t wait to see it), but as far as Pixar goes, they have been highly successful in taking on the creation of an original tale that, like Tangled (the film that looks like it may be the “Little Mermaid” of the next Diz renaissance), manages to create a fable that is charming, full of personality and often very funny while avoiding the kind of full-blown post-modernism that made the first Shrek film a quirky diversion… and the rest of the Shrek films ham-fisted and terrible.

Actually, if there’s one adjective I would use to describe Brave, it would absolutely be “charming.” The design is a great mix of old-world and cartoony, with the character design standing out as varied, but never seeming out of place with one another. The story seems like something that could have been updated from a Grimm tale, with a decidedly old-school Walt feel to the proceedings. With the exception of not having any musical numbers, it features the same kind of economic, straight-forward storytelling that surrounded films like Sleeping Beauty; albeit with a decidedly new-school resolution to the proceedings..

Merida, the story’s ginger-locked heroine, is seeking to avoid betrothal at all costs and in doing so, sets out on a course that could send her father’s fragile new kingdom into war. Along the way, lessons are learned (communication is the key to understanding seems to be the moral of the day) and eventually she figures out that using brains and diplomacy is the best option to get her way. On the route to that truth, she ends up doing more than just putting the kingdom in danger, however. Her family also ends up in the crosshairs of her efforts. Without trying to spoil the plot of the second half of the film that Disney’s marketing department has tried to hide, let’s just say that the fairy tale label is accurate indeed.

(As an aside, I’ve read some commentaries about the film in which some people seem to miss the point of the story because they’re too busy trying to demand completely modern political philosophies in a fairy tale about a royal family a long, long time ago in a Scotland far, far away. Unless you totally miss the points of historical setting and metaphor, you should be fine.)

Another way Brave is reminiscent of old-school Disney fairy tales is that there feel like there are stakes. Like with Toy Story 3, it feels like there is risk in the story; like things may not end up happily ever after and that the animators are playing for keeps. There is danger, violence and, yes, death. Fortunately, there is also a lot of comedy. Often just a smidge ruder than one usually sees in a Pixar film as well, which I would imagine partly led to the PG rating that was bestowed on it, but never to the point that it feels like fart jokes inserted merely to satiate the demands of studio execs. The moment in the middle of the film that seems to fully transform the story into a tale of the supernatural is full of whimsical touches that never feel overdone. A lot of the humor is also character based. The various clans are artfully rendered in their oddball natures. The voice acting of Billy Connolly especially seems to be made for Pixar to use as he makes Merida’s father into what one would imagine King Robert from Game of Thrones would be like if he were actually a half-decent monarch. He brings a lot of laughs to the table by himself, but the triplet younger brothers of the family are instant classic comedic characters.

When Cars 2 came out last year, I defended it as a good film that, despite having an oddball charm of it’s own in reversing the message of the first film, managed to be the least of Pixar’s efforts. Brave does not suffer that same damning with faint praise. While certainly not one of their absolute best films, Brave is a more-than-solid entry in their ledger that probably would be around the same place as Ratatouille and the first Toy Story in my personal rankings. Which is to say, a film I will revisit and enjoy many times in the years to come.

(Four out of five stars)