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: 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: 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

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: Her

Him. And the Mustache. They're cops.

Spike Jonze’s new film, Her, is the best romantic prequel to the Terminator franchise I can imagine.

Jonze has always been an enigma to me. I love the man and the bulk of his work. His smart, sarcastic and trippy music videos, short films and television work (he’s a producer on the Jackass series and films, for example, even going so far as to make appearances in old age make-up) are nigh ingrained in my DNA. I even loved his performance in David O. Russell’s Three Kings as the skinny redneck soldier, Conrad Vigg.

But when it comes to his feature film work, I’ve always loved the ideas behind them better than the actual finished product. There was something keeping me from connecting, even as I found them to be intellectually fascinating. Even though I didn’t love the film, I still think Charlie Kaufman should have undoubtedly won an Oscar with his screenplay for Adaptation. It’s a brilliant piece of work. (I’ll go ahead and confess that despite my best intentions, I still haven’t seen Where the Wild Things Are, so feel free to throw your rotten eggs now, indie cinemaphiles and/or hipsters.)

Her, his first ‘adult’ work not written by Kaufman, is by far his most accessible film for me. Part of it may be the fact that, for a science fiction film, it is deeply rooted in modern technology. Most of the ideas seem like they are extensions of what early adopters are using now and it feels like it is a period piece from ten years in the future. Aside from the characters wearing high-waisted pants and looking like they buy their clothes at Silver Lake thrift stores, I mean. Hell, in a movie about artificial intelligence, the most unbelievable aspect is the idea of people actually embracing railway travel in LA.

Aside from a cartoony moment or two that seem amplified to show just how weird and scary humans are, probably an ironic attempt to humanize the computers, it is a very down to earth story that is rooted in the “realness” of feelings and an extension of how relationships have begun to work in a digital world. It’s funny the hesitance that the main character shows to let people know the nature of his relationship given how accepting most of them are. The stigma of online dating has drastically disappeared, but the idea that an online relationship is not real and that people will see through that still exists in the back of people’s minds as they worry about telling their friends.

As someone whose most serious and longest-lasting relationship to date began online with a cartoonist girl from halfway across the country (way back when in the annuls of ancient history), I’ve seen firsthand how connecting with someone without the benefit of physicality works. Some people even go so far as to classify this as a more “pure” form of love because it consists solely of getting to know the person and not letting physical infatuation get in the way. This is even touched on in the film. Personally I’ve never believed that. No more than I would the people for whom a purely physical relationship with almost no mental connection is the most pure form of love, hearkening back to our more animalistic instincts. One denies our basic humanity. The other leaves us slaves to it.

But then, that’s the point, isn’t it? The whole idea of Her is finding “someone” that fills the ever-changing hole in your soul, despite an utterly complex and ever changing state of being that runs the gamut in terms of your needs. It also asks a question we may have to answer soon; whether feelings from the digital aether are any less legitimate than those that originate from our squishy, organic brain chemistry. The feelings that we claim make us specifically human. If we create something that has the same results, does that make them any less real?

At the center of this philosophical dilemma is Theodore Twombly, a writer that makes a living composing personal letters for other people. It seems like a bizarre and outrageous idea. But when one contemplates how many people have tried to express their feelings with a perfect mixtape because they lack the ability to communicate their feelings through words, it suddenly becomes much more understandable that one would hire a professional to convey what they themselves can not. As a recently divorced man in the middle of a terrible funk, he succumbs to Apple-like advertising for new software that promises to change his life. To be fair, it definitely does that.

Joaquin Phoenix’s typical performance style mostly consists of scenery chewing or being a depressed, wall-eyed sack of mashed potatoes with little transition in-between. And Her suits his second skill set well. Sometimes it seems like he’s a refugee from a mumblecore set looking for a gonzo student film. Thankfully Jonze manages to have him stretch and he gets to show some real joy in-between his moping. In these scenes, he really shines. Scarlett Johansson, meanwhile, is the voice of Samantha, Ted’s new artificially intelligent operating system for his computer. Her slightly husky voice and inquisitive manner make it plausible that someone could build a real rapport with her. It also shows that she should probably do more voiceover work. Like Hugo Weaving in V for Vendetta, I find it a shame that the Academy Awards doesn’t recognize performances outside the mainstream in which actors manage to create something compelling without the aid of all the tools normally at their disposal.

Her is frequently funny. Sometimes laugh out loud funny. But it is also uncomfortably intimate with scenes that, while seeming reasonably realistic and artistically valid, are just plain hard to watch for us Midwesterners. Just a warning, I would be mortified to view this film with my parents. It’s so frank with its ideas on sex that I’m actually surprised it ended up with an R rating, despite it not seeming exploitive or necessarily in bad taste for the most part. (Guess I’m just used to the MPAA being on the wrong side of these things.) It also holds some very heartbreaking moments. Its a film that is actually frank with most of its ideas but is free enough to let you interpret them yourself.

Despite my prosthelytizing on what the film seemed to obviously mean, I could see ten people seeing it and many of them walking away with different viewpoints on the characters and what they just went through depending on their experiences. I suppose that’s the true heart of Her. Its plot revolves around people changing at different rates as they take in the world. So it makes sense that the film would change along with its audience.

(Five damns given out of five.)