Aisle of the Damned: 8/11/16- Suicide is Aimless

Mom, my crayons melted

Bryan and Kent take on a mission with little chance of survival; they’re bringing you their thoughts on Warner Bros.’ latest DC offerings, the controversial-for-all-of-five-minutes-because-of-an-R-rating Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (The Ultimate Cut) and David Ayer’s Suicide Squad.

After discussing the showy failures of Squad, they also discuss the tempered rewards of the 13th film in the Star Trek franchise, Star Trek Beyond.

Plus, Kent talks about Jason Bourne and Lights Out and the fellas give their recommendations for the week, one DC related and one decidedly not.

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:

The Aquabats– Stuck in a Movie
Death Hymn Number 9– I Reckon You Gonna Die

Aisle of the Damned: 07/20/16- Ghostblather

They don't actually manage to bust one ghost.

Bryan and Kent saw Paul Feig’s Pixels 2… sorry, Ghostbusters, and think it should be busting itself, because it’s pretty much DOA. Find out why we don’t think it works as a whole (SPOILER ALERT: They don’t manage to bust and hold onto one ghost in the whole film.) and the things we think do work on a small scale.

Plus, we have looks at Spielberg’s surprisingly underperforming The BFG and indulge our Aubrey Plaza and Anna Kendrick crushes with Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. As usual, we also have recommendations for our listeners. All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Los Straitjackets- ¡Ghostbusters!

Kent’s Movie Diary: In which I accidentally scare my brother’s kids…

It’s back! More tales from my blu ray player. Expect some more articles very soon with this series as I get my Netflix queue whittled down.

AOTDdiaryMummyTHE MUMMY (1999) I wonder if someday the kind of early CGI exemplified by Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy will be viewed the same way we look at stop motion/optical effects today. Barely 15 years old, the difference between it and newer films is utterly staggering. I remember people being dumbfounded by the digital work upon release. Now it is laughable at best. But is that necessarily a bad thing? One of the reasons I am a big fan of the sequel, The Mummy Returns, is because the effects aren’t perfect. I think the imperfections add to the goofy, playful nature of The Mummy’s Saturday matinee throwback nature. (I’ll elaborate on the differences between the first film and the sequel when I talk about it in these very pages, which I’m sure will happen soon.)

I love Ray Harryhausen’s work despite it being far from realistic. Is it really far fetched to believe that there will be people that develop an affinity for the kind of imperfect but then cutting-edge effects that littered the multiplex 10-20 years ago in the same way? I say no. There has long been a big anti-digital chip on the shoulders of many film fanatics. It’s hard for me not to sympathize with them because of my wailing and gnashing over the death of hand-drawn feature animation, but I don’t really count myself among them. Many of these purists are my age because they grew up with the last batch of blockbuster pre-CGI effects films in the 80s. Most of them are older. But the generation of film zealots after mine shouldn’t have that issue. Just as they never lived in a world without the internet, they never had movies without ILM weaving computer magic. I think they’ll be able to appreciate the effects of The Mummy, The Frighteners and The Mask the way I appreciate King Kong, The Bride of Frankenstein or the original Godzilla (pre-googly eyes.)

I hadn’t seen the first or second film in quite some time so I went ahead and ordered the box set on blu ray. For some reason I think I recall that they were some of Universal’s first releases in the format? The first one at least still looks pretty good despite its limitations. The ‘real’ stuff in film, like the actors, have a great level of detail as one would expect from a title created since the advent of digital home media. But the CG elements, especially backgrounds, are often blurry and not as sharp. I’m almost certain this is not a problem with the transfer, but a simple issue of the source material and the fact that the effects weren’t as well realized. Perhaps even on purpose in order to help mask them. Whatever the case, it doesn’t hurt the film which remains one of the best pure adventure yarns in recent memory, in my opinion. This is the kind of “remake” I can deal with. Rather than attempt to film a pitiful, cash-grabbing shadow of the 1932 Karloff vehicle, which let’s be honest isn’t scary at all, but is a classic nonetheless, Sommers and Universal took the film in a completely different direction. There are a few bare bones similarities. Both have an eponymous mummy named Imhotep and both involve a lost, forbidden love, but the similarities largely end there. It does not ride the coattails (or bandages rather) of the original film. It is a rip-snorting Indiana Jones style period piece full of colorful characters, humor and action. It’s also probably Brendan Fraser’s best role outside of George of the Jungle. Combined with Rachel Weisz’s underrated balancing act as the librarian that is competent enough that it doesn’t feel obligatory when she becomes the damsel in distress and John Hannah as the slightly weasely comic relief and you’ve got a really fun cast.

I actually showed my brother’s kids the movie when I went home last weekend and it didn’t go so well though. Now before anyone gets upset with me, keep in mind that these are kids I’ve seen watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. You know, bugs, chilled monkey brains, hearts being ripped out? I really thought they’d be okay with something as innocuous as a cartoony CGI mummy, but they only got about a third of the way through. We didn’t even get to the opening of the sarcophagus. And when they got home it seems all they could talk about were bugs that eat people, despite the fact that I stopped it and put on the Batman movie with Adam West. Sorry about that. So lesson for me, don’t let them pick their own movie and if they say they like it when things are a little scary, don’t necessarily believe them. Maybe if I’d shown them the second one instead…

AOTDdiaryZatoichiChallangedZATOICHI CHALLENGED- Zatoichi Challenged puts a new twist on an old story that they’ve already done in saddling him with a child, by making it a toddler rather than a baby that he escorts. (He’s become a father figure to other kids before, but this is only the second time he’s taken responsibility for one to deliver it to a family member.) It also varies in how that story ends, being much more pleasant than the previous family’s reactions.
Most importantly, it features a new storyline, just varied enough to make up for the parts that seem redundant. Inchi still is going up against gangsters and politicians, but he’s also not just trying to stop them or protect common folk from them, but help someone flee after being caught up between them and a myopic official trying to wash crime away with blood, leaving him literally trapped due to a single mistake that they can’t escape from.

As often is the case with these films, the ending is the best part, with Ichi facing off against a samurai obsessed with honor in the wake of becoming a ronin. Not only does he present a valid threat from which Ichi actually has a prolonged battle (rather than having to slice n’ dice his way through dozens of underlings) but he actually grows and changes in such a way to make their parting not exactly anticlimactic, but certainly a break from formula.

AOTDdiaryTrekXSTAR TREK: NEMESIS- I finally finished seeing all of the Star Trek movies with the last Next Gen film. I guess they knew the writing was on the wall during production because they make some pretty big shifts as per the personnel. (Then again, they shipped off Worf to Deep Space Nine, yet he always managed to show up in every film.)

My reaction to the film is a big, fat “meh.” I’ll grant you, part of that may be because I’ve just never been a Next Gen fan, but I know I’m not alone in that assessment, even among Trek fans. While given to hysterics (they proclaimed Into Darkness to be the worst film in the franchise, which is not even close to being true), enough time had passed to allow a decently fair review on the four films regarded as being part of that particular cycle and only First Contact fared well. I can’t disagree with them as it’s the only one I truly enjoy as a casual movie goer. I’m not sure exactly what it is about Contact that works so well compared to the others, but this crew just seemed ill equipped for the transition to the big screen. Insurrection felt too much like a long episode rather than a movie, while Nemesis seems like too big a departure. I know it’s not really fair, but it’s just really hard for them to win.

Fetish model Picard (aka skinny Bane) is a villain I don’t particularly get unless it’s to show ‘our’ Picard what a blowhard he is. But then it seems like they’re changing Picard Classic’s personality for a decent amount of the film what with his sudden penchant for four-wheelin’ over fragile alien ecosystems.

The Romulans/Remans should have been interesting enough without having to shoehorn the clone plot inside and the political flips and twists to put him in power seems like too much trouble for the payoff.

I’ll admit that the big battle at the end has its moments, even though I have to wonder if they’re ever going to get tired of destroying the Enterprise. At least this time we have something new happen with the bridge. The sacrifice at the end, trying so hard to echo Wrath of Kahn, doesn’t work because Data simply isn’t Spock. And there is a backdoor to the “death” so wide open and obvious that I don’t see anyone actually thinking it would stick if they’d done another film with that cast.

Now I know this is a completely contrary thing to say thus far into my ranting, but even though I’m not nearly as big a fan of the Next Gen characters as the original series or even the new cast, I wonder if Paramount wasn’t too hasty in ending the series. I think they could have kept making money by making modestly budgeted films with the Next Gen/DS9/Voyager casts spaced between the Abrams films. What’s wrong with having two continuities simultaneously? Japan does that kinda stuff all the time. Especially with how the current films are actually sequels to the previous series that take place in a different universe. But instead of doing what they’d been doing, they could have followed Riker’s command with new and old characters populating the ship and allowing for the type of flexibility needed to really create cinematic adventures of characters that people already loved. Maybe I’m crazy.

More to come soon!

Kent’s Movie Diary: Dead birds for everybody!

LRresizeTHE LONE RANGER- “I can’t help but feel it’s a mistake to try to mash up Pirates of the Caribbean and Unforgiven.” -Nobody associated with The Lone Ranger film

Anyone else remember that Night Court episode where they had the Lone Ranger-ish guy that wouldn’t take off his mask because some Hollywood schmuck was trying to do a gritty reimagining of the character? I can’t help but feel that he was trying to prevent a misfire of a crap pile like Disney’s Lone Ranger. Apparently the Mouse House didn’t watch their own Muppet movie, because this is the Moopet Lone Ranger. A hard, cynical Western comedy for a hard, cynical time.

I wanted to like this movie. I really, really did. And the reason it hurts most is because the zygote of something good is here, but nine out of every ten decisions made in the making of the film are completely mind-boggling. And they’re mistakes that seem like they’d be so easy to pinpoint at the script stage.

I’ll start with the good. First off, Armie Hammer is actually not a bad choice as the Ranger. He has some of the same kind of wooden charm that the cowboy heroes from the thrilling days of yesteryear (see what I did there?) possessed in their simple morality plays. In theory he is a fitting replacement for Clayton Moore. The problem is that he’s given so little to work with. Instead of being a capable Texas Ranger who was ambushed and left for dead, he is a nitwit lawyer in over his head. In many cases he’s heroic by accident and rather than simply being a great lawman-cum-cowboy, he has some kind of supernatural “spirit-walker” powers. I have nothing against doing some kind of supernatural western genre concept, even if they seem to be tough to pull off. But there’s very little left that makes him the Lone Ranger in anything but name. So the fact that he’s still even partway likable is a testament to Hammer.

There’s also one hell of an amazeballs action sequence at the end in which the film seems to finally figure out what it is, complete with the William Tell Overture and jumping Silver from train car to train car. Right before it falls on its face again trying to take its own piss. But for about twenty minutes, it is the Lone Ranger movie that it should be. The type of fun action Western that it was sold as. It’s like the characters are completely different in this sequence as well. You feel as if you suddenly are transported into an alternate universe in which they got the movie right and then, sadly, back again.

The fact is, the people involved seem to be completely ignorant about the property. It’s not just the title character that is different. Tonto is unrecognizable. For all the complaints about Jay Silverheels’ speech patterns, I remember Tonto being a rather competent sidekick who saved the Lone Ranger’s life. He certainly didn’t resent him. Or drag his head through horse poop. Depp’s Tonto is (forgive me) Injun Jack Sparrow. He’s a white face, psychotic goofball mostly concerned with revenge and mugging for the camera. I know the look of the character was inspired by a piece of artwork, but it’s almost as over-the-top as his horrible Mad Hatter get up.

The script is determined to make jokes at the expense of iconic things that they think people either don’t remember or are too sophisticated to enjoy. But if that’s the case, why are they making a Lone Ranger movie in the first place? The use of “Hi-yo Silver, away!” is met with derision as though it’s something cheesy. As opposed to a guy with a dead bird on his head. (Seriously, that stupid bird is the worst.) Instead of celebrating the character and the adventure of the old west, it is an exercise in seeing unpleasant a film can be and how many corrupt, horrible white guys they can pack into a liberal arts professor’s vision of the time period. Add to that a constant barrage of non-sequitors, gross-out gags and a framing sequence that adds nothing to the film but padding on it’s already bloated runtime, and you’ve got one of the worst summer tentpoles this side of Michael Bay.

Trek9resizeSTAR TREK: INSURRECTION- I finally saw the ninth film of the Star Trek franchise. First thought: Become a rapper called Trek9 and do songs only about this film. (OK, so only Kansas City people might get that gag.) Anyway… It shouldn’t surprise me to see an anti-technology fetishist Star Trek movie, but somehow it still does.

Yep, the crew of the Enterprise, whilst zipping around in their starship, seeks to stop some white Indians that live “in harmony with nature” and never age due to their planet’s unique atmosphere from being displaced by a bunch of grotesque beings.

It’s obvious from the outset that the vaguely European luddites are stand-ins for Native Americans being forced off their land. (Settlers from another land that live “unspoiled” lives being relocated by a more powerful group for the sake of progress. Not really historically accurate, but what else would you call it?) However, the themes of the film are so muddied that it completely falls apart while they’re trying to make whatever vague point that they think they’re making.

The settlers are, of course, pacifists. Though they have no trouble with the crew of the Enterprise locking and loading on their behalf. Later on we also find out that they do not tolerate change or any kind of opposing views amongst themselves, but this is completely brushed over because it’s inconvenient to actually ask about the morality of the people Picard and Co. put their chips in with. Not when there are imperialist villains to fight in the name of the Prime Directive. Or not. Whatever.

It’s just one big episode of Next Gen, which for me is not a selling point since I’m much more of a TOS fan. This explains why this was my first viewing of Insurrection (and the upcoming Nemesis.) On a technical level it’s not all bad. Jonathan Frakes does a good job of directing and misdirecting, as it were. It looks good, even if the renaissance fair opening credits are eye-rollingly boring as hell. The effects are more than comparable to the task. It’s even got some good character moments. It’s just not a good story. If it were nothing but a think piece, I would be more behind it. I’m one of the defenders of the first Trek movie because I love the ideas behind it. But the film is trying to serve two masters in trying too hard to duplicate First Contact by grafting in some rather generic action sequences. Together with the half-baked screenplay, it ends up less bad than simply bland.

V&DresizeVIOLET AND DAISY- Everything that’s right about Violet and Daisy can be summed up with the beginning. During the first few minutes the title teen girl characters, dressed as nuns, clean out an apartment full of armed men with handguns, culminating with a pretty faithful cover of “Angel of the Morning.” Everything that’s wrong with Violet and Daisy can be summed up with the mawkish, sentimental ending. A story of two unusual assassins, it definitely has its moments, but ultimately falls under its own pretension, like someone trying to set a Thomas Pynchon novel on a Jenga tower.

I decided to watch the film based on the cast, who are the bulk of what works about it. Saoirse Ronan is Daisy. Light and airy like the spongecake that seems to exist between her character’s ears, she seems to be drifting through much of the film on a pink cloud. Alexis Bledel is Violet, the more hardass of the two and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I don’t mean to disregard her acting ability because I actually thought she was pretty great on Gilmore Girls, but if it had been a more one-note performance and not included some pretty wild temperamental shifts, she probably would have been better. As it is, I wonder if the chemistry between them would have worked better if they’d switched roles, especially having seen Hana. A pre-death James Gandolfini is a target that takes the girls by surprise. He’s not bad. But like the film itself, he descends into mawkishness eventually. I’m not sure how much of this is problems with the script and how much of it is issues with the directing.

The performances/directing is definitely stylized and reminds me almost of the performances in Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko, despite being very different films. Probably because it involves a couple of young characters spouting nonsense dialogue with severe conviction like it’s gospel. Plus both include really bizarre surreality at random as well. Now inject into that a sense of Quentin Tarantino-style cartoonish playfulness for some of the crime aspects, including a complete disregard for linear storytelling and the (albeit more subtle) use of graphics. The titlecard reveals, among other things, that the film is in technicolor and 3D, but it is very small, almost like they intend it to be an inside joke for the filmmaker. It also divides itself up into chapters, some very short, with a brief name for each.

It’s a fun film stuck with some horrible dead spots. Or is it a mediocre movie with small flashes of delirious coolness? Either way, it’s not a film I can recommend, but I did laugh a decent amount and I don’t regret seeing it. Even though it’d probably make a better play than a film. It feels like an effort of someone with potential but who needs to learn more about tone and structure and rein in the instinct to deepen the story by creating an aspartame ending full of false sweetness.

KoSresizeKINGS OF SUMMER- If I were 16 years old, The Kings of Summer might be one of my favorite movies. As it is, it made me laugh a lot, both at the a-holish behavior of Nick Offerman as a recently widowed father and the angst-shellaced pubescent antics of a trio of teens that decide to build a home in the woods to assert their independance and masculinity.

Like a guaze-wrapped summer daydream, it spins a golden tale of boys becoming men (in the traditional sense, not the way that most teen comedies do by having them lose their virginity) and failing along the way. Joe is the defacto leader of the group, ironic as his friend Mike is the larger and more centered of them. Then there’s Biaggio, a strange kid that seems like the ethnic offspring of Dwight Schrute, spouting nonsense and playing with a machete the size of his arm.

Sick of their parents’ interference, they retreat to the middle of nowhere so that no one can find them and proceed to live (almost) off the grid, building a suprisingly sturdy house out of found objects. They play, swim, explore and basically do what boys do in the woods. Of course this can’t last forever and a combination of hormones and hurt feelings threatens to destroy their Eden, but that’s always the way it goes. In the meantime, there’s some great one liners and deviations about Chinese food and board games.

The cast is largely excellent with some surprise actors taking part. Alison Brie, one of my official crushes and star of Community, is a secondary player and there are appearances by 24’s Mary Lynn Rajskub and Arrested Development’s Tony Hale. The music is also interesting as it liltingly flips from indie to chiptunes.

I highly recommend taking up Kings of Summer for a viewing, especially once the season finally hits and we get out of this winter hellhole. As it was, at least it reminded me of a time without snow. And that was something I really needed after the last couple of months.

Kent’s Movie Diary: Netflix Roundup

I’ve been trying to catch up on some stuff in my Netflix queue. Finally. I had the same discs sitting in front of my TV for, like, four months. So let’s take stock of some things I’ve seen lately on blu ray.

OMFUG! CBGB: Those of us who are fans of old school punk (aka those of us who listen to The Ramones and don’t just wear their shirts) all know about CBGB, the club that gave rise to great punk and new wave bands when the rest of the country was awash in the horrors of disco and arena rock. Blondie (back before they went disco themselves), Talking Heads, Television and many other bands got their start on its stage, in front of floors packed with people that weren’t smart enough to run from the bankrupt, rat-infested 10th level of hell that was New York in the 70s.

Alan Rickman is probably one of my favorite actors. Hans Gruber? Snape? The Metatron? Take your pick. He tends to be great in most things he does. However, he typically isn’t trying to play a New Jersey Jew and, honestly, his American accent has gone a little downhill since he was in Die Hard. They try to make up for this by mostly giving him monosyllabic dialogue, but it’s still more a fun excursion than a great performance as CBGB’s owner, Hilly Kristal.

The film isn’t great, but I actually did find it a pretty solid bit of entertainment for a fellow with my interests. There are a surprising number of people that you may recognize in it. Rupert Grint plays one of The Dead Boys, a band known for their outrageous stage shows involving cutting, sex and asphyxiation. Stana Katic of Castle and Bradley Whitford are record execs. That annoying guy from Big Bang Theory is a manager. (I know what you’re thinking; could you be more specific?) Donal Logue wears a hardhad at all times. It’s pretty fun playing Where’s Waldo with them.

The aesthetics are too playful for some of the darker themes of the film, though. It makes better use of a comic book framing device than Ang Lee’s Hulk did (using Punk magazine as its basis for doing so) but the whole thing seems to suffer from a tonal problem. Still, for anyone that loves this kind of music, I say check it out. It’s worth a rental.

Jurassic Park it ain't. LAND OF THE LOST: I know the critical community took a dinosaur-sized crap on this film, based somewhat loosely on the Sid and Marty Krofft television series. And when I say loosely, it’s because most of the elements from the show are present: dinosaurs, time portals, Sleestaks, pylons… but it’s presented in a way that’s completely different. Instead of a family falling through a time portal to the Savage Land, what we have instead is a couple of scientists and a redneck. Will Ferrell is Dr. Rick Marshall, a professor that ruined his career by focusing on time travel and getting into a fight with a well known TV personality. Holly is recast as a British grad student that drags him back into research and looks good in some Daisy Dukes. And then there’s Will, a tourist trap owner played by Danny McBride. He’s pretty much just Danny McBride. Again.

And I can understand why this thing flopped at the box office and audiences stayed away in droves. It’s just plain weird. Like, cult film weird.

I have rattling around in my brain some particularly memorable bits and pieces of the show because they showed reruns on CBS Saturday mornings as I was growing up in the early 80s. And it really was pretty much an insane slice of psychedelia made on the cheap, mostly distinguishable from the Kroffts’ other works by its tone. And the tone was kind of creepy, honestly. As laughable as the effects and the production values may have been, for a kid, it was kind of nightmare fuel. And the movie goes hog wild with the complete bizarreness of the world they created. The plot really doesn’t make sense in a lot of cases, but it also doesn’t pretend to. It uses logic as toilet paper. I use that metaphor because the movie is also kind of filthy. I’m surprised at some of the jokes they got away with in a PG-13 film.

That said, I actually liked the movie. Quite a bit, in fact. There were definitely gags that did not land and a lot of the references to the original show are just plain too on the nose. Actually, so much so that I think they were purposely doing them that way. You can practically see Ferrell playing chicken with the audience when he pauses with drama prior to every use of the movie’s title in his lines. But I thought Ferrell was pretty damn funny doing his pompous idiot routine. I liked the psychedelic rock used in the soundtrack. I liked the grainy, washed out cinematography. I liked the great Sleestak costumes and the terrible CGI effects. And I just plain liked the balls out ridiculousness of the script. Maybe this is based too much on it being a deserved lampooning of my nostalgia, but I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Or don't. Totally up to you.SLEEPWALK WITH ME: Mike Birbiglia is a stand-up comedian who became well-known for a one-man show in which he talks about his experiences with a rare sleep disorder which causes him to act out his dreams. After performing on NPR’s English Major wankfest This American Life, he and show host Ira Glass decided to adapt his autobiographical comedy act into a film.

In some ways you could say that the film is an indie equivalent to Howard Stern’s Private Parts. (Albeit a PG-13 rated one.) He says it is about 70% accurate to his life with some events mixed around and some cinematic shorthand applied. See, Mike is a pretty regular guy working a crappy job and having a dream to make it in stand-up comedy. The problem is that he’s completely awful at it. Regardless, he begins pursuing gigs while his relationship to his long-term girlfriend starts to slowly disintegrate in large part due to his fears of marriage and children. The couple’s horrible friends certainly don’t help. This anxiety triggers his ever-increasingly dangerous and bizarre sleepwalking adventures.

Despite the depressing premise of a failing relationship, the film not only manages to be funny, but it hits on being genuinely sweet at times. He doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to saying that he did things wrong which actually works in his favor. “Remember that you’re supposed to be on my side,” he apologetically says to the audience. It could come across as cheesy, but instead seems genuine. I highly recommend spending seventy minutes with him. It is definitely an excellent film.

Furious 6! Vin smash! FAST AND FURIOUS 6: I have not seen all of the F&F movies. I took the strange move of seeing the first in the theater when it came out and then seeing the fifth in the theater due to interest drummed up from rave reviews. I did not see any of the others in-between. I’m thinking I need to go back and catch the ones in the middle. Maybe make it one of the series I catch up on since I’m switching between several of them. (Currently in the middle of the Zatoichi films and the Star Trek Next Gen films, which we’ll get back to.)

Like the last film, Justin Lin (who’s best work I still consider to be the paintball episode of Community) is at the helm and he creates one hell of a fun, stupid ride. The script is an absolute mess. It’s just dumb. Like, dumb as my sister-in-law’s mentally challenged Boston Terrier. It makes Fast Five seem downright Shakespearian. There are plot points that don’t make even the slightest bit of sense, twists that make you say, “Whaaaa?” and some serious problems with physics. But damn does he know how to do action scenes and do them well. He’s basically a very talented director in search of better material.

The reason to watch this film, like always, is to see some good, old fashioned chases and wrecks. Due to CGI there aren’t enough of them nowadays and it’s great that there’s at least one franchise that is keeping stuntmen employed. Plus, with some of the vintage vehicles they pull out, you’re getting some classic car porn. The actors are still really likable. Putting them all in the same film is what really kicked the franchise into new territory when most film series would have died. The problem is that my favorite two characters are gone by the end of film, which cuts into my interest in the upcoming seventh film (currently scrambling to recover from the death of Paul Walker).

It’s hard to believe that this franchise has become one of the most successful in Hollywood history. I suppose maybe part of it is because there’s been surprisingly little imitation of it. In my head, I’m assuming it is because it was a slow-growth success where most copycats go after things that are overnight sensations. Either way, despite my misgivings about the intelligence of the plotting, I am much less insulted by this series that quietly serves its fanbase than I am more aggressively stupid fare like the Transformers films. So I say keep making them as long as they’re entertaining.

Let's listen to the Picard song on repeat! STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT- And here’s the first film in these reviews that I did not get from Netflix. I’m very, very slowly making my way through the Star Trek movies. I love the original cast and I am a big fan of the JJ Abrams helmed films (more so the first than Into Darkness, though both are well made) but I’ve never been a great lover of Next Generation. I’m a Kirk man through and through.

That said, I am a big fan of this film for multiple reasons and it was nice to revisit it. Picard actually does things. The action is handled well, even if there isn’t that much of it. It manages to build on some squiggy plotpoints from Generations in a positive way. (Mostly Data’s emotion chip.) And it has a lot of humor involved.

I guess the way I would try to sum it all up succinctly is that it doesn’t succumb to shoving its head up its own butt as I’ve learned to expect from a lot of modern Trek with Berman and Braga. The blu ray looks pretty darn good and showcases the then cutting edge work ILM did on it (watch for the cameo by the Millenium Falcon fighting the Borg cube), even if there are some examples of the problems of early CGI.

I haven’t seen Treks 9 and 10, so the next couple of films will be new to me. I’ve heard that First Contact is the one excellent film they did with the characters, so it’ll be interesting to see if I agree with fan sentiment or if I’ll enjoy them more since I’m not particularly invested.

Kent’s Movie Diary- Mid-August rundown

8/17/13- First off, can I just say that when I die, I would be perfectly happy to be wrapped up like a mummy and hidden in the walls of the Alamo Drafthouse to be discovered someday by a future generation like King Tut. When I went to Kick Ass 2 on Friday night, I visited the refurbished Mainstreet Theater in downtown Kansas City which is under their management now and, wow, what a great movie house. It had the best sound I’ve ever heard and while it’s one of those “dine-in” theaters I never felt like it interrupted the film. (Oddly enough I saw the original Kick Ass in one of those types of theaters in Wichita and there were all kinds of interruptions and noise from the servers.) There were only a few trailers and the original “in theater” entertainment actually was something I was interested in, rather than a terrible batch of ads. I definitely will be going back, despite the fact that it’s an hour’s drive. At the moment I’m deciding if I’m going to try to make the trip to see the Cornetto Trilogy there this Thursday given I’ve just watched Hot Fuzz in the last two weeks and I’ll be watching Shaun of the Dead tomorrow. With the quality, I might go ahead. And since they put out a magazine that says what they’ll be playing in the next month, I’ve got all kinds of other movies I’m eager to see like Back to School, Battle Royale and one of my all-time favorites, Rushmore. (It’s a theme.) I am a capitalist at heart to be sure, but I can’t help but be mystified by the way most theaters are run. This is a theater run by movie lovers.

 
By the way, they showed a new Machete Kills trailer beforehand and, with proper respect to Dr. Banner, it appears crazy as a bag of cats. Looks like Mel Gibson is finally getting to play a remorseless bad guy after getting nixed from Hangover II.

 
ARRY POTTAH?!? In the meantime, I’ve been watching lots of stuff at home. I’m making my way through a number of series at the moment. First off, I decided that over the next month I was going to rewatch all the Harry Potter movies. I’ve watched the two Deathly Hallows films a handful of times since they were released, but I haven’t watched the first six since I first got my set. They vary in quality, but it’s surprising how well they’re able to match the novels in terms of the way they mature over the course of the eight films. Starting with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

 
Chris Columbus’ films are definitely the most kid-friendly of the octet. They’re also the most generic. Perhaps that’s partly because he’s an American trying to do something that’s so darned British. The question is, is that a bad thing? I actually found a decent amount of things to enjoy in the second, especially with the end. And I’ll be getting to that one next. But Sorcerer’s Stone, for all one should be impressed by how it managed to set up these films and what turned out to be fantastic casting of the kids, is definitely the hardest for me to get through. There are times I found my interest wandering off in danger of getting completely lost. As good of actors as they all ended up being in the end, the kids make Macaulay Culkin look like Lawrence Olivier in the first one. I was thinking back to how long it had been since these films started and even though I didn’t know anything about the books (keep in mind, I was heavily outside their original demographic), I saw the first one in the theater based on some positive reviews. And I found it to be a fun kids’ movie, but little else. I didn’t even realize the second one was coming out until we got it to show at the campus when I was with the Union Program Council Films Committee at Kansas State. (I actually made a banner for that one with original art of Harry that I wish I could have grabbed after it was used as I was really pleased with it.) It isn’t until just now that I realized I saw all of the films in their original theatrical run, even though I didn’t really get invested until late in the game. Not sure how that happened. I didn’t read the novels until around the time Half-Blood Prince came out because my then fiance was spoiling them for me and I figured I’d better get it over with before it was all ruined. And like the movies, I found they really took off starting with the third entry.

 
I have to admit, there are things that were carried through the books that I was sad to see disappear from the movies. Aside from the Deathly Hallows Part II, I don’t really remember seeing any of the house ghosts after the second one. And I loved Nearly Headless Nick. What a waste of John Cleese to not have him in more of the movies.

 
Another series I started on was the Next Generation Star Trek films. The blu ray set was onWhere no man has gone before. sale on Amazon for $20 so I decided, why not? I was never a fan of the Next Generation series (Kirk 4 Life) but I’d never even seen the last couple and figured it was time for me to finally have an informed opinion. Starting with Generations, I’m doing just that. I saw Generations (aka Star Trek 7) in the theater since it was a continuation of the original cast films and I remember thinking it was alright, considering I didn’t know anything about the Next Gen cast at the time. Watching it now for the first time since it was on VHS, I can say that I was probably giving it too much credit. As awesome as Shatner is, he’s not given the best send off. And the fact that Picard’s ultimate fantasy is a houseful of Dickensian moppets… Just ugh. Oh yeah, and when he has all of time and space to return to if he leaves the Nexus, he decides to come back at a time when it’s incredibly dangerous and last minute instead of going back to nip things in the bud ahead of time so he can save everyone and make sure to end things without bloodshed. Yeah, I know, it’s a movie. The sad thing is, there’s the makings of some good stuff in here. Malcom McDowell has shown he’s capable of being a fantastic villain. The idea of a guy trying to get back into heaven by destroying the lives of millions has some great dramatic irony to it. The destruction of the Enterprise D is actually a pretty decent action sequence and I really like the way they were still using miniatures at the time. But it feels squandered. That’s Berman and Braga for you. There’s a reason Enterprise was a mediocre series until they went hands off in the third season.

 
How dare you, Ogami Itto!?On the other side of the fence, the most surprising thing about the Lone Wolf and Cub series is how consistent they are. Here I just finished the next to last film (Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons) and it’s still entertaining and still has invention taking place. The action scenes don’t seem played out. While the first two and the fourth are my favorites so far, I would feel comfortable recommending any of them. (It may help that I’ve spaced them out so I haven’t watched them all back-to-back.) I understand the last has a different director than the first five, so we’ll have to see if it manages to close out well. This particular chapter has some moments that are pretty tough to swallow as a Westerner. It’s hard to believe that they have the gonads to let the hero decapitate a little girl. Of course the fact that the extremely young girl gives a kill order on Ogami Itto makes it a little easier to take. He could be stopping a future female equivalent to King Joffery, after all. But it’s one of those samurai movies where pretty much everyone dies. It’s a real shame that the picture quality on this set just seems to get worse and worse. The films are smeared, blurry, digitized and all sorts of horrible things. If I hadn’t gotten it cheap I’d feel ripped off. I can only recommend the set from Animeigo if you find it on sale. I love the movies, but the transfers are pretty hard to swallow. They’re even worse than the Ghostbusters blu ray.

 
Speaking of samurai movies, what’s up with that Criterion Zatoichi set? Super excited about it, but with one caveat. It looks like they’re moving away from separate DVD and blu rays to doing combo packs, which I kind of hate. You’ve seen my short rant about that pet peeve if you follow my postings. I honestly can’t understand why they would do this just inThe Blind Samurai time for this behemoth that won’t fit on people’s shelves. Given Criterion’s customer base of extreme cinephiles and/or young people picking up newer indie films, who are they going to continue putting out the DVDs for? As long as they continue to put things out in blu ray sized cases, I guess it’s just “added value” that I’ll never use so I can’t complain too much as the prices seem to be staying the same. From what I’ve read, the 25 of 26 film set (what happened to the last one?) is going to be a freakin’ 27 disc set when both are combined. This indicates that there will be multiple films on each disc. Usually this would worry me, but Criterion has earned the benefit of the doubt. I’ll have to see if I can put aside the money to pick this up the next time Barnes and Noble is having their 50% off sale. But even at full retail price, $180 is actually really good for that many films in one package at the kind of quality Criterion is known for. If only THEY put out Lone Wolf and Cub. It’s a series I would definitely double-dip for if it was done right.

 
8/18/13- The new Muppet Movie blu ray is pretty good. While The Muppets has the best live-action transfer in my entire movie collection (seriously), The Muppet Movie is far from an ideal source considering its age and the pedigree of being a comedy with optical effects. Given that, the new transfer is exactly what you would expect; grainy in some spots, fantastic in others and altogether far better than the subpar pan n’ scan transfer from the old DVD. The movie itself holds up well. While children will look at 90% of the celebrity cameos and say, “huh?”, most of them are just playing parts so while they won’t get a kick out of Madeline Kahn just due to who she was, they’ll think she’s got a funny voice. And Mel Brooks’ appearance as the evil doctor is so wacko that it still kills. “It’ll be a hot time in de ol’ skull tonight!” I’m thinking about taking it with me to my parents’ place and seeing if my nephews (and niece) what to watch it.

 
It’s really odd to think of the Muppet films as a series for me because they almost seem more like actors that are starring in films. Up until The Muppets there really wasn’t an attempt at establishing any kind of continuity and they’re so completely different in subject matter that the only thing that they have in common is the simple fact that they have Muppets in them. Plus, they were made by different companies through the years as the brand changed hands and they went through some God awful times. Thank God most of their awful stuff was on TV with only Muppets From Space being completely worthless as a theatrical release. Seriously? Who’s idea was it to actually explain what Gonzo was! He’s a weirdo, that’s the whole point! Oh well.

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Star Trek Into Darkness

The Dark Batch

Star Trek Into Darkness is a bit of a weird title. It comes across as a Wheel of Fortune ‘before and after’ puzzle. But, if we stretch the metaphor beyond breaking, that Wheel joke expresses the transitory nature of the story for the film.

You see, Kirk has been given permanent control of the Enterprise following his actions against the future Romulans in Abrams’ first Trek film. But he’s not the Kirk we know yet. He has not began his mission of exploration. Darkness has the unusual propensity to be the sequel to a sequel to the original franchise’s continuity that also functioned as an almost prequel. I sure can’t think of another franchise like it. It’s not like Mayday Parker showed up in the last Raimi Spider-Man and then went back in time to kickstart the Garfield flicks. That’s part of what made Trek XI so intriguing and what provides the frustration I felt for Trek XII.

Don’t get me wrong; I really had a great time with Darkness. Even if I did not like it as well as the previous film, it is still definitely in the upper tier of the franchise’s installments. The main issue is that they don’t seem to be taking the opportunity to be as original as they could be, perhaps because of the expectations that go along with the name. While the previous film absolutely had ways that it was reminiscent of other Trek entries, they found ways to make them different enough to feel fresh. Darkness, on the other hand, plays its homage so on the nose as to be distracting.

Trying to avoid spoilers for a film like this is priority, of course, and it can be tough to do when so much inference can be made due to rumor and innuendo, especially when it comes to an Abrams film. Abrams is so cryptic and secretive when it comes to even the most basic plot of his films that he could hold a birthday party and his invitations would read, “There is something going on somewhere on a  specific date and time. THERE WILL NOT BE CAKE.” This makes it very difficult to discuss specifics of many of his films without making people scream at you. This despite people literally going over every frame of the trailer trying to expose some nuance and glance something that would give away the story and any new characters that may appear. The thing is, Abrams also makes really, really good movies. Mission: Impossible III managed to resurrect a franchise that Tom Cruise had destroyed with his massive ego. Star Trek, which played in my particular theater right before Darkness as a double feature, is fantastic entertainment, especially on the big screen. Super 8 was my personal favorite movie of 2011. That’s how he gets away with it. And Star Trek Into Darkness is another notch in the “win” column, despite some glaring things that, while well done, made me roll my eyes a little bit. Like most of his films, it is a rollicking movie with lots of humor, great action sequences and an important character dynamic at its core.

In this case, the story is built around the budding relationship between Spock and Kirk. Since Kirk has had it made clear that he and Spock are intended to be the best bros since Paul Rudd and Jason Segel in I Love You, Man, he’s definitely making an effort to reach out to him. But since their friendship was jump-started as opposed to beginning organically, it has had many bumps and snags along the way. Kirk’s swagger and attempts to preserve life, even when it violates the prime directive (one of his more endearing characteristics held over from the TV series) and Spock’s rigidness collide, even when they are getting along. The way that the events of the previous film instruct their interplay is one of the biggest highlights of the film, as well as further integration of Karl Urban, whose McCoy remains absolutely spot-on without ever seeming like a caricature. Something he pulls off better than any other member of the cast, all of which thankfully return and will hopefully be coming back for many more incarnations.

New to the cast is Alice Eve, who was notable in Men in Black III, and she is possibly more fetching than in any of her other film roles. Her part is one of the ways in which the series is taking things in a new direction, one that could yield some positive results. The ever-dependable Peter Weller, as a senior member of Starfleet, adds some gravitas to the cast. Also coming aboard is Benedict Cumberbatch, fantastic as always, though his casting is admittedly questionable. His role is the one that has been speculated about the most and I wouldn’t dare bring up how he fits into the plot. What I will say is, if you’re a fan of his from his previous work such as Sherlock, you should come away happy with his work.

It’s not often that I love and am frustrated by a movie at the same time, but this is one of them. I’m trying to decide who it was made for; the parallels and abundant references are obviously only things that a Trek fan would get, but the story feels like it would perhaps play out better for a newbie that just came on board with the previous film.

(Three and a half out of five stars)