Aisle of the Damned: 06/09/17- Butt Rock for Ladies

Are you Gal Gadot, or Gal Gadon't?

Kent and Bryan can’t wait to discuss the newest D.C. Comics adaptation, Wonder Woman, the first of the current series to be released in color. Does it break the chain of disappointing attempts to chase Marvel? (Spoiler alert: YES.) Then they decide to see just how Depp the rabbit hole goes in the fifth film based on a silly walk and some gold teeth: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.

There’s also discussion about a few new trailers for films and some news regarding Terry Gilliam, the Weinsteins and the sad loss of everyone’s favorite cheese loving inventor. All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Nerf Herder- Diana

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: 01/27/16- Seinfeld with Guns

We don't need no steenkeeng badgers!

Delayed, but not forgotten! In the new episode of Aisle of the Damned, Bryan and Kent tackle Tarantino’s latest, The Hateful Eight. We also discuss our favorite films of the year. And how one actor can appear in both our most favorite and most hated films of the year. Plus, detours into Kevin Smith’s career and Batman v Superman territory. Want to know how many Air Bud sequels there are? You’ll find out in Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Johnny Zorro- Road Hog

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Have a little Captain in you?

How do you manage to do an apolitical political thriller? It seems unlikely, but Captain America: The Winter Soldier has managed to pull it off.

The title is only slightly misleading because the actual Winter Soldier, while excellently used and portrayed, is not really the main focus of the film. In fact, directors the Russo Brothers, formally major creative forces on TV with Community and Arrested Development, juggle many balls in the air. The film deals with the political intrigue of the spy organization SHIELD, Cap’s continuing work relationship post-Avengers with Black Widow (calling the film a team-up between them would not be out of line), the introduction of his comic book compatriot The Falcon, the struggles with the Winter Soldier himself and his dealings with being a man out of time. Joe and Anthony Russo may have seemed like strange choices to helm a film like this, but like a lot of Marvel’s creative gambles it pays off with them making the transition to an action movie with style.

The plot of the film is straight out of Alex Jones’ worst nightmares. It had the prescience to be written before we found out the NSA was unconstitutionally spying on all of us, but given the ever-expanding definition of the Patriot Act, drone-strikes and the horrors of the TSA, it probably just seemed like an extension of anxiety over a security state that seems at best a necessary evil and at worst something that tentacle hentai could be a metaphor for.* Nick Fury, a major presence in the film, is the keeper of secrets and a spy’s spy. This has caused friction before, but he’s always come across in the films as ultimately a good guy who sometimes makes questionable decisions. But what happens if someone without his shadow of a moral compass ends up in charge of the most powerful intelligence organization in the world? Bad things, as you would assume.

It adds up to a pretty good plot, but what really makes Cap 2 the best of the Marvel solo films (and arguably the equal of Avengers, despite being a very different type of film at its core) is the fact that all of the disparate elements feed into each other and the very well-done action sequences inform the plot rather than seeming like an obligatory pause before getting back to more exposition.

Captain America (or Steve Rogers if you prefer) is sneered at by many of the cynical pop culture consumers these days. Much like Superman, he’s mocked for the very qualities that make him truly different in a sea of post-90s antiheroes and psychopaths in capes. Luckily Chris Evans has succeeded in capturing the qualities which make him interesting and not through mocking him or belittling him for being old fashioned. (For a jeering example of that kind of deconstruction, see Disney’s Lone Ranger debacle.) I personally believe a lot of this success is because of Marvel starting where they did with the character in Joe Johnston’s fantastic go-round showing his origin before dropping him into our modern world as a fish out of water. We’ve seen how he was in his own time and Winter Soldier does a great job building on that foundation. It’s true, there’s a lot of Black Widow and Nick Fury in the film. But this isn’t because Steve’s a weak or bland character. Quite the opposite. It works because it allows these other characters to bounce off him. He is the moral rock of Marvel’s cinematic universe, the personification of a lost era of ideals. Rather than seeing him broken down and compromised, we see him rub off on the others. The reason we need other larger than life characters in Captain America is to show just how much he effects the lives of others and makes them want to be better.

Black Widow has her best role to date and shows that she could carry her own film. Her playful chemistry with Rogers and the way she helps him survive the spy game are reason enough to include her, but her character growth in the process is one of the better arcs that we’ve seen from Marvel. I have always been of the opinion that Scarlett Johanson was serviceable in the role but didn’t bring anything particularly unique to it other than looking curvy in a tight suit. Winter Soldier has made me reevaluate that. She’s slowly made the character her own. At this point, I can’t see another person in the role.

As for new characters, Anthony Mackie’s Falcon is a bit bland in design, forgoing one of the more ridiculous costumes in all of comics for some generic military tech straight out of Iron Man 2. However, any visual issues do not extend to the writing. The work by Mackie and the screenplay establish him quickly as a formidable friend to Steve, not just because he’s a good man and a soldier, but because he’s one of the few people who can seem to understand some of the things that Steve is going through as a combat vet.

It’s hard to go more into the film’s specifics without spoiling some of the best secrets and moments, including those that involve the Winter Soldier himself. His identity may be common knowledge to comic book readers, but Marvel and Disney were nice enough to try not to spoil it for new fans and I’ll respect their decision. What I will say is that some unexpected characters return and in every case it is handled deftly and in interesting fashion.

Winter Soldier does a great job building on the films that have come before and even the Agents of SHIELD TV series. I think a person who has seen them will get more out of it simply through the larger context. However, it does a good enough job with the characters that I don’t think having a working knowledge of the film universe is a necessary precursor to enjoying it. It may even bring in some new fans. If this level of development, meaningful action and imaginative world building reflecting a stylized but recognizable reality does not bring people in, I doubt much of anything would.

(Five damns given out of five)

* (I don’t tend to get into politics in this particular site for good reason. I’ll just say I have Ron Swanson as my facebook avatar and leave it at that. Given this film and Iron Man’s penchant for telling the government to screw off, I asked Bryan if I was crazy for thinking that the Marvel Cinematic Universe had something of a Libertarian bent, perhaps as a way of circumventing criticism from either of the more traditional modern political parties. He said I wasn’t crazy. So I could be wrong, but as with all things I’m sure some of it comes down to what you bring into it.)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Jurassic Park

Admit it. You hear John William's score right now in your head.

I still remember seeing Jurassic Park for the first time. It seemed to take forever for the small Jayhawk Theater in Atwood, Kansas to bring it to us, but that was the norm for a single-screen theater in a tiny midwestern town (pop. approx. 1,350.) Or maybe it just felt that long because I wanted to see it so bad. As a dinosaur-obsessed kid grown into a junior high student, I quite loved the film. Actually, “it blew my widdle mind” might be more accurate. I remember getting the VHS as soon as it was released and putting it on while some people were visiting our home, including a girl that was staying with our guests as a foreign exchange student. She seemed bored by the whole idea of a dinosaur movie… until that brachiosaur lumbered across the screen and she let loose with a breathy ‘wow.’

I’d already read the book. It remains my second all-time favorite novel, right behind The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and it made me a lifelong fan of Michael Crichton’s particular brand of thriller. This is not to say that the movie and the book match up, of course. They’re two completely different kinds of pleasures. The book, with it’s indepth philosophical examination of mankind’s ego in his supposed control over or destruction of nature, only scratched upon in the film by comparison, and the explosive finale that contrasts with the crowd-pleasing antics of Steven Spielberg vary to a large degree. But thanks to Crichton adapting his own story with David Koepp, the movie is very much it’s own animal. Despite the fact that the ‘new’ ending makes absolutely no sense, it’s hard not to love it.

Now, on the twentieth anniversary of the its release, we have it back in theaters. I suppose this isn’t so much of a review of the film, given that it is a couple of decades long in the tooth. Rather, it’s more of a reflection on the film and it’s influence on my life, in most ways. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen Jurassic Park on film since 1993. Only a couple of years ago, Liberty Hall in Lawrence, where I currently live, played it as part of the town’s Christmas opening. It was a bit of a beaten-up print, but I’ll take a somewhat scratched and speckled screening of a favorite film any day over a DVD projection. I got to hear kids squeal during the velociraptor attacks as if it was brand-new. Nice to know it still has that magic for the next generation.

Like a few certain special effects spectaculars, Jurassic Park has managed to keep away a timestamp, despite excited references to CD-ROMs. The same way we don’t care that the people in King Kong don’t have cell phones, it is in some ways a ready-made period piece, the ravages of time being very kind to it thanks to the writing and the character work. But the true marvel is how well the effects have aged. While we keep being told that computer animation is improving by leaps and bounds (which can certainly be seen from instance to instance) it’s bizarre and somehow miraculous that Jurassic Park still remains one of its greatest triumphs. Part of that has to be thanks to its judicious use. Wisely, practical effects were used in a great many instances and they blend fantastically with the animation. (See the first Iron Man for another instance in which this was done to positive results.) Plus, the method of the computer animation was done old-school; the animators used stop motion techniques to animate the dinosaurs like hi-tech Harryhausens. The result manages to retain personality that is often unseen in the rubbery, boneless critters that now populate the big screen. When I read the words of internet trolls criticizing the effects in the film, I have to shake my head.

The added draw that is intended to bring out audiences who have had the film on video, DVD and now blu-ray for that last two decades is, of course, that it has been post-converted to 3D. I haven’t exactly made it a secret in the past that I am not a fan of that particular brand of 3D, preferring to only go to films that were intended for and natively filmed in the format. Of the post-converted films I’ve seen, only a couple have really managed to not support my feelings on the matter. Most are dark, blurry messes.
I would be lying if I didn’t say Jurassic Park was the best conversion job I’ve seen. I’m sure the time they had to get it right certainly helps matters. While there are certainly examples of the film succumbing to the problems inherent in the process like softening of details and blur, the people behind the transformation have done a surprisingly good job of making it seem like it was intended to be this way. Depth of field is applied very well, not just in the wide expanses of the park, but in the indoor scenes and even close ups. The infamous Tyrannosaurus sequence, still one of the best bits in cinema history, makes spectacular use of the rain and dark where these criteria would usually play havoc with the attempt and it was obviously treated with tender loving care.

I absolutely recommend seeing this movie again in the theater, with or without 3D. It retains its scares, it’s tension and its humor and remains a jewel in Spielberg’s crown.

(Five damns out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Django Unchained

House of Chain

To say Django Unchained is Quentin Tarantino’s crack at Blazing Saddles is the highest praise I can put upon it. In both cases, Mel Brooks and Tarantino in turn used the genre of the Western to push our faces in the collective poop that the United States took in the form of slavery and racism and say, “Look what you did!” And somehow, both manage to do this in an incredibly entertaining way. Talk about a magic trick.

The story of Django is more straightforward than most of his previous films, leaning much more towards Inglourious Basterds than his earlier work. Also like Basterds, it is something of an alternate history, full of anachronisms to play with the theme, though it does not fiddle with things on as grand a scale by any means. It mostly settles for things like naming characters “Von Shaft” or “Dr. King.” And unlike Basterds, there is only one sequence that comes across as Tarantino being in love with his own monologuing. And that particular speech is actually highly reminiscent of the infamous Dennis Hopper/Christopher Walken showdown from his True Romance script.

In a nutshell, Django enters into what would more strictly be referred to as an endentured servitude when Dr. King Schultz (in an astoundingly fun turn by Christoph Walz) purchases him in complicated fashion from a pair of thugish brothers and offers him freedom in exhange for helping him hunt down three wanted fugitives known as the Brittle Brothers.
Schultz, a bounty hunter emigrant from Germany then does something astounding to Django; he treats him like a human being. While Schultz certainly does not romanticize his place in society (comparing himself to slavers because he deals in the “flesh trade”) he operates on his own code of honor. He will not hesitate to kill a bounty from a distance or take out a threat at the first sign of trouble. But it is not until he is threatened that he takes action against those that do not have a bounty on their heads and he treats Django and the other blacks he comes in contact with if not as equals, then as lives that should be respected. Impressed by Django, Shultz takes him on as a novice partner and eventually offers to help him free his still enslaved wife.

The problem? Calvin Candie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio with all the subtlety of a plantation-owning freight train, now owns her.

In the process of all this, blood is spilled in much the same way I imagine it would be had the Black Knight sequence of Monty Python and the Holy Grail used shooting irons instead of swords. It sprays red and superfluous, coming close to the kind of overkill that would make Sam Raimi impressed.

There are several noteworthy performances in the film, but most of the attention seems to be focused on the wrong people, in my opinion. The first of the standouts has got to be Walz, who somehow manages to outdo his own star-making turn in Basterds with what is already looking to crawl onto my list of my favorite film characters of all time. Also showing off is Samuel L. Jackson in a bizarre role as Candie’s head slave. His head tufted with cottony white hair, he has made a place for himself at the top and he will do anything he has to in order to keep that place. As he acts the part of the ignorant servant, machinations are always churning behind his eyes in ways that make him at once hysterically funny and disgustingly vile. On the other end of the spectrum, Tarantino himself continues to pretend to be Hitchcock, this time hiding behind an awful Australian accent. It’s a thousand times better than M. Night’s ego boosts, though.

The structure of the film is a little weak with the real climax coming about three quarters of the way into the film, and the film feels a bit too long as a result. Granted, many of Tarantino’s films can feel that way. The character work and the humor make up for it though, as well as the fact that, for a Western by a director known for his visual accumen, it sometimes seems flat. One would expect Tarantino to get his John Ford on, but looking back I can only think of a handful of landscapes that are really given much attention, mostly in one montage sequence. Perhaps it was a concious decision to make the film a bit more spartan. Perhaps I’m remembering it wrong. But it was something that occured to me while watching it. It’s a bit of a moot point since you can’t really fault a Tarantino film for being a Tarantino film. Especially one as strong as Django Unchained.

(Four and a half out of five stars)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: The Avengers

Repulser? I just met her!

 

There is an internet phrase that originated some time ago in regards to entertainment that flashed across my mind shortly after seeing The Avengers.
To put it delicately (ie incorrectly) for grandma, it is known as the “Eff yeah moment.”

The term that means a scene that is badass and/or unexpected. The more of each are combined, the better. A moment that makes you want to throw your fist in the air and yell… well, you get the idea. I can say with absolutely no doubts in my mind that Joss Whedon’s The Avengers contains more of these moments per hour than any other film I have ever seen. Every character seems to get at least one bit that made me want to stand up and cheer. Based on the nigh-continuous applause at the midnight screening I attended, I was not the only one.

There is such a joy in the writing for the characters, that none of the principles get lost in the shuffle. None of the Avengers. Not Nick Fury. Even most of the secondaries get their chance to shine. The plot itself is, perhaps not weak or thin, but very simple when you get down to its bare bones. (I will not reveal that plot, lest I become the newest super villain of the internet.) But part of the reason the plot isn’t incredibly complicated is because the characters and their relationships are. This is not an origin story for the characters. The previous films in the “official” Marvel series have taken care of that, and thank goodness. But this is the origin of their relationship. With the exception of a few, mostly Iron Man and various members of SHIELD, the clandestine organization that houses Fury, Black Widow and the fan favorite original creation Agent Coulson, these characters are meeting each other for the first time and their dynamic is thoroughly explored with each other. Iron Man, Thor and Captain America bounce off each other with surprising economy as the confluence of events leads them to quickly find who they are in relation to each other. Oddly, while Iron Man quips his way through with the kind of aplomb you would expect and Hulk is used like a desert to add perfectly to the few scenes that the giant Green Meanie is attached to, it is Captain America that seems to benefit most from this approach. “Maybe we need something old fashioned,” Fury remarks early in the recruitment. He seems to be right. While Cap may not have as many moments of pure badassery, when he emerges as a leader (only a spoiler if you haven’t been aware of the comics at all for the last fifty years) it not only feels natural, but necessary.

(In many ways the treatment of Iron Man and Captain America feels like the excellent character work of Superman and Batman in the DC comics animated series that ran on the now-defunct WB. Characters that personally create friction, but manage to find common cause out of adversity, not being “Superfriends,” but also never seeming to snipe just because the story needed a dramatic beat.)

That’s the balancing act that Whedon pulls off, and it’s done in a way that makes it seem like most of his work was a first draft for this film. He manages to fold exposition into character development and character development into fun setpieces that are as big or bigger than any of the summer blockbusters of the last ten years, yet manage to feel far more intimate and personal than anything Michael Bay is capable of. The interactions are reminiscent of his season-long arcs on shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, already comic book/horror hybrids, but boiled down to their essence.

The actors bounce off each other like flubber, creating more energy with each blow. The only newbie on the team, Mark Ruffalo, does a decent enough job, even if I personally preferred Ed Norton in the role. It is his Hulked out alter-ego that steals the show. If you have kids, expect them to be wanting Hulk hands for Christmas this year. Cobie Smulders plays the other unknown quantity, SHIELD agent Maria Hill and she does so well enough, mostly being frontloaded in the film.

Everyone else brings their A-game, continuing on what has turned out to be miraculous casting over the course of the previous five films. While the dialogue threatens to become, to steal his trick of slapping a “Y” on the end of anything to make it an adjective, too Whedon-y at times, the actors manage to make it compatible with their past films so it doesn’t seem like as big a shift as the use of someone with such a notoriously stylized use of language could be. With a television series that he’s created or a film like Cabin in the Woods, that’s not an issue. With a film that’s part of a series in which each of the individual directors has to create something that works individually, but also with each other, the results could be less than desirable. The script teeters on the brink on more than one ocassion, but it always manages to pull itself back.

In the end, this is probably the most raucous, joyous, utterly preposterously fun blockbuster in recent memory. I smiled. I pumped my fist. I said, “Eff yeah!”

(Five out of five stars)