Aisle of the Damned: 1/23/17- Best of 2016… and Passengers

*punch* No ticket.

Following our Christmas episode, we took a little time to enjoy the new year before we came back with one of the most anticipated episodes of the year: The Best and Worst of 2016!

After a discussion about the difficulties of seeing a lot of the stuff out there these days (there’s only so many entertainment dollars to go around) we lay out what rotted our eyeballs and delighted our brains over the last year. We also take on Underworld: Blood Wars, La La Land and Passengers before we’re done, and talk news about some blu ray announcements, Deadpool 2 news and how Warner Bros. still just doesn’t get it.

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie

Still Corners- Lost Boys

Aisle of the Damned: 12/24/16- A Baywatch Nights Christmas

Simply Red, Standing By

It’s the holidays and with so many Hassels to Hoff, we’re glad you found time to listen to our little duo.

We recommend some holiday viewing and talk about a new batch of trailers (Fate of the Furious, John Wick 2, Baywatch, etc.) Then we move on to some new movies: Moana is classic Disney, but what does Bryan think of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, not being a Harry Potter fan? Then we tackle the latest Star Wars “anthology” film: Rogue One. How does it compare to Episode VII? Is Alan Tudyk the best voice actor in the industry? Why does Tarkin look like he has way more liver spots than he did in New Hope?

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
The Vandals- Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies

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

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

Aisle of the Damned- 12/23/15: Nazi Rick Astley (“Goddamn it.”)

Space Dandy. He's a Dandy Guy. In Space.

Bryan and Kent both love Star Wars. They also both love Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But such is the power of the force, that their disagreement over it’s light and dark sides brings all sorts of Sturm und Drang. They are more in agreement over the greatness of Creed and the okayness of Spectre. Plus, The Night Before and The Final Girls! All this and less in this episode of Aisle of the Damned. (Spoilers for Spectre around 19:00 or so, Creed around 37:00 and for Star Wars around 57:00.)

Music
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Nerf Herder- I’m the Droid You’re Looking For

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Wide-560x282

Guardians of the Galaxy is not Marvel’s best film. At least not in my eyes. It isn’t as consistent as The Avengers and it doesn’t offer quite the perfect blend of heady thrills that we received in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. But it absolutely delivers, and when taken as a pair with Cap, it makes 2014 the banner year for Marvel cinema. Some have called it this generation’s Star Wars. I would call it this generation’s much better version of The Last Starfighter. Whatever you call it, it is a great way to close out the summer.

But let’s put the kibosh on the outright Star Wars comparisons while we have the chance. While it’s obvious that Gunn grew up with Star Wars and brings that kind of semi-grungy feel to the proceedings, the most recent film I can think of that is reminiscent in tone is actually JJ Abrams’ initial Star Trek entry. It cares more about movement and fun (while including some pathos) than being serious sci-fi. And the way Gunn grounds the film with the soundtrack is a much better utilized extension of how Abrams clunkily snuck the Beastie Boys into Trek on an “oldies” station. Both seem to care more about establishing the characters and their interaction than plot, at least on the surface level. In fact, I kind of want to watch it again so that I can do a bit better analysis of the two and how they compare and contrast. But then I’m also reminded because I feel a lot of the original Trek in Guardians, as well there should be considering the cosmic side of the Marvel universe was being developed back in the sixties and seventies. The character Gamora, with her green skin, is highly reminiscent of an Orion woman with a higher make-up budget. This only enhances the proceedings as far as I’m concerned. They are both playful updates that keep the spirit of the pop-art sci-fi they were born from.

After an Up-style, heady, depressing opening designed to inform the audience of where our protagonist Peter Quill comes from, it wisely buckles in to become a tongue-in-cheek thrill ride with some great characters and an assortment of wonderful moments that range from small and personal to universe-shattering. Unlike a lot of films of this ilk, there are even moments when the two collide.

Quill, desperate to make a name for himself as an outlaw with the nickname ‘Star Lord,’ was abducted from Earth as a child right after the most tragic and defining moment of his life, his mother’s death. It’s obvious why Chris Pratt of Andy Dwyer fame on Parks and Recreation was cast, as he imbues the same kind of childlike innocence in the character that makes you root for him even as he’s doing things that could be considered border-line despicable. The real brilliance of the casting is that he manages to give Quill a sense of palpable arrested development. While he’s gotten older and become a seasoned pirate, for lack of a better word, there is a part of him that has never progressed from that moment and the film pulls no punches with the obvious metaphors in this regard. While it is never mentioned by name, Quill obviously labors under a love of the Han Solo model of scoundrel. But rather than push that connection, writer/director James Gunn fills him with just as well-known but more left-field references to the pop culture he grasped onto as a child and hasn’t let go of.

In addition, Quill continues to carry around a mixtape his mother made for him. Played on his original Walkman (still in fantastic condition, surprisingly), it becomes a part of the character and the ’70s and ’80s tunes are built into the film in an extremely organic way. No doubt, the soundtrack will sell a bajillion copies. If one were cynical (and I’m sure there are a few critics who have already said so) I could talk about the film being so blatantly calculated with its feel good, curated soundtrack. I’m sure there are lots of other ways that people can complain about being manipulated (as if that doesn’t happen with every movie), but every example I can think of actually comes across as good, solid, commercial filmmaking. Everything that could come across as trite is embedded into the story or the characters and given a real excuse to be there, beyond being, to quote Mike Nelson from the Twilight Rifftrax commentary, “Coldly calculated to pander to your shrieking demographic.” As an example of commercial limitations being built into character, there are things like Quill’s use of the term “a-hole,” used to get the director his first PG-13 rating, which come across as part of his stunted growth.

And the characters are extremely well put together. The villains and side characters may lack a certain amount of depth, but Gunn does such a good job balancing and creating interpersonal relationships between the eponymous Guardians that one would struggle to come up with a standout. Given that means fully developing five separate characters from scratch (none of the main characters have been seeded in other films) and giving each of them a real arc, that’s not bad at all. Besides Quill, we also have Gamora, played by Star Trek alum Zoe Saldana, who is the adopted daughter of Marvel’s Darkseid analog, Thanos. She finally feels she’s found a chance to escape his clutches. If anyone gets a shorter shrift it’s her, but it’s not from a lack of trying. Part of her character simply requires her to have less of the humorous moments that pull the audience in. If her “sister” Nebula (Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan, sporting one of the more impressive make-up jobs I’ve ever seen) had been further developed, it may have helped as she does have that interpersonal relationship to fall back on, but we may have to wait for the inevitable sequel for that. Marvel occupies this incredibly unique sphere where their films work individually, yet their almost assured success thus far has allowed them a tremendous amount of breathing room. If a plot thread isn’t overly developed in one film, it can be picked up in another. Gunn does a fantastic job wrapping things up in satisfying fashion at the end, but there is more than enough to bring along for another film. It’s a balancing act that most of the Marvel directors have proven deft at and speaks well to the planning that has gone into their overall series. (Ant-Man could always be the first blow against them, but I hold out hope that Peyton Reed will finally get a chance to pull off his superhero film that he’s wanted to do since he was prepping what sounds like a far superior version of Fantastic Four than what ended up coming out.)

In addition, we have a surprisingly good performance from Dave Bautista, who made his name as a professional wrestler. Based on what little I’d seen of his performances talking up matches and his serviceable but unremarkable role in Riddick, I was expecting him to bring a strong physicality to the role of Drax the Destroyer, for sure. But I was pleasantly surprised by the comic timing that he brings to the screen. He gets a good hook that allows humor to be built off him so he can be taken in by the audience much more than a typical scarred up, tattooed, hulking ball of rage. The characters that will undoubtedly find their way into the highest echelons of pop culture, as kids will undoubtedly latch onto them like crazy, are Rocket (aka Rocket Raccoon) and his ent-like sidekick Groot. While they will surely be turned into cute plush toys, neither comes across as particularly adorable for most of the screentime with Rocket managing in particular to come across more as irritable. There’s little chance of him being confused with the kind of CGI animals that inhabit family films where screenwriters work out their issues with how they think their dads worked too much. No, our little Rocket is a hissing, mangy bag of annoyance. And while I still personally would not have picked Bradley Cooper to voice him (I had spent a good deal of time rooting for the David Tennant rumor to be true, giving him a gruff British Isles accent as he does in some media he’s appeared in), he does a more than serviceable job. Also doing his job well is Vin Diesel, who manages to give Groot’s limited vocabulary a surprising range. What in many ways could come across as a one-note character is, through Diesel and some excellent work by the film’s animators, given a surprising depth and unique personality. Sometimes he feels like a Miyazaki character that accidentally fell into the wrong universe.

Gunn manages to herd these characters through several action sequences and alien worlds, giving us a rudimentary travelogue through Marvel’s cosmic branch. For decades the company has had a history of characters jumping around in deep space but this section of the publisher’s continuity had largely been overlooked in favor of Earth-based heroes in the films. Some of this may be because arguably the most well-known of these characters, The Silver Surfer, is tied to the Fantastic Four franchise over at Fox. Some of it is certainly due to a lack of name recognition compared to a character like Captain America (though really, Iron Man was only a sixties cartoon away from similar obscurity to the general public before that movie was a big hit.) And some of it was, no doubt, due to worries about the nature of the ensuing film. After all, apart from Star Wars/Trek, there have been relatively few space franchises that have made a splash at the box office. Put it all together and it’s no wonder people thought this was a big gamble for the studio and their Disney overlords. We’ve been given peaks and glimpses to this larger universe in the Thor films and The Avengers, but on the whole it is a very different project for them.

However, the Marvel name has deservedly become a huge selling point and they made all the right calls here. It may be sci-fi spectacle, but they have injected it with plenty of the Marvel DNA that typically means a fun and exciting story that won’t depress the hell out of you. They put together that rarest of things: A special effects blockbuster with not just a pulse, but a soul.

(Four and a half damns given out of five)

Five (or Seven) Movies I (and Possibly I Alone) Want to See on Blu Ray

Just for fun, I thought I’d make a list of some movies that I, as an avowed physical media die hard, would love to see finally get pressed on that most sweet of plastic discs, the blu ray. This is probably the first of many of these lists. Though at least I don’t have to add Hercules and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad since Disney is finally down to the stuff that they’ve been putting off forever.

5. Tropic Thunder: The Theatrical Cut tropicthunder-bannerSure, we have the “director’s cut” of Ben Stiller’s masterpiece on blu ray, but damn it, I want the version that I originally fell in love with. The one that includes the immortal line, “When we get back to the world, I’ma finally teach you how to juggle.” Like most comedic director’s cuts, especially those from the post 40-Year-Old Virgin world, the recut slows down the great pacing and includes material that had originally been cut for a reason. Take Anchorman for example. I loved that film from the first time I saw it, but the “unrated” (aka R-rated for language) cut practically ruined the movie for me. I honestly don’t mind including unrated or director’s cuts on blu ray. Hey, it’s a great extra and simply adds value to your purchase. In fact, the ability to do that is one of the reasons I love the format and continue to support it. It still blows my mind a little bit having worked at a video store stocking VHSs for idiots who would complain about “them black bars” for widescreen titles that people can watch multiple seamless versions of movies. But it drives me absolutely bonkers on those few occasions when studios make a seemingly arbitrary decision to not include the original film you went to see. In this case, the one for which Robert Downey Jr. deservedly got nominated for an Oscar.

4. The (original) Star Wars Trilogy SWtrilogyThis one I know I’m not alone on, though I’m much, much less rabid about it than many fans. We did get the option of getting the original release trilogy on DVD after all, even if it wasn’t animorphic, so I don’t feel like Lucas was trying to screw fans as much as a lot of people. I’m not a fan of everything that was done in the Special Editions. The Sarlaac Pit in particular just felt like the wrong way to go. But I also feel like there were a lot of things that I would consider improvements. Like almost everything that was done in Empire. Still, having the original films, warts and all, makes for a fascinating historical record of what made people fall in love with these movies in the first place and it would be great to have them in the best format available. Lucas has claimed they no longer exist in those forms, but that’s undoubtably hyperbole. Good prints certainly are out there. Hell, the Library of Congress has at least one of Star Wars and one of Empire since they were both selected for preservation under the National Film Registry. Now that Disney is in charge of the materials, I have a surprising amount of optimism that they will partner with Fox to release them. Maybe it won’t be right away. They are concentrating on creating new content after all. But there’s too much money to be made from them to not see it through. If the Batman TV show rights can finally be hammered out, this definitely can.

3. Fiend without a Face fiend lobby
One of my favorite old horror films, I want to see this atmospheric Cold War creature feature in hi def. Especially from Criterion, since they put out a great DVD of it. It would make a great companion piece to the fantastic Blob release they did. I love the brain monsters with their spinal chord tails and slug-like eye stalks. I love the creepy stop motion they use for them when we finally see them in the end. I love the jelly-like blood that comes out of them when they get shot. And I love the nonsensical but awesome origin for them. Blu is mostly known for producing fantastic color images, but I honestly feel it sometimes is even more impressive when it’s used for a great black and white transfer that makes the shadows inky and the whites pop. I long to see many, many classic monster/horror/sci-fi films on blu. I also would enjoy seeing Cat People, Them, War of the Worlds, The Thing From Another World… the list goes on. Fiend could be seen as a placeholder for them. But it is near the top of the heap for me and hopefully because of its association with Criterion it’ll see release someday.

2. The Iron Giant the-iron-giant-posterSpeaking of the Cold War, IG may have tanked at the box office due to the poor efforts of a confused Warner Bros marketing team, but it is widely beloved by those who’ve fallen under its spell. Besides simply being the most gorgeous animated film to come out of Warner Bros’ short-lived animation department with its wonderfully stylized character design and beautiful 2D animation (with some CGI assistance that is not overpowering), the film is important for being the debut feature of Brad Bird, who went on to create Pixar classics and direct the best Mission: Impossible film. So you’ve got exactly what blu-ray was made for: fantastic visuals, historical and artistic significance and a great story all coalescing to be worthy of a truly special release. Sure, if Warners releases the film as a bare-bones disc people would probably just be happy to have it. (Assuming it has a top-notch transfer.) But given how important it is and how underappreciated it was, it screams for context. Give us some commentaries! Give us some deleted scenes in hi-def! Give us production art! Give us features that are actually special and don’t just put it out as a kiddie title. Please. This film deserves more.

1. Baseketball Baseketball
This movie did not do very well when it was released to theaters, though I went and was immediately a fan. I don’t know that it did that well when it was released on DVD, though I bought it. I haven’t seen the sales figures. But dammit, this weird little attempt to turn Matt Stone and Trey Parker into live action stars is the Top Secret of it’s era. A Zucker parody film that actually sticks it to a genre instead of slapping together disparate scenes and/or characters from other movies in unclever mash-up scenarios like most everything we’ve gotten lately. In addition to the South Park guys being widely involved in something they didn’t create for what feels like the first and only time, you are basically getting the only anti-bro sports movie ever made. You have a host of great character actors appearing, some of which we’ve now lost. Ernest Borgnine, Robert Stack and Robert Vaughn among them. There’s Yasmine Bleeth showing she’s better at comedy than fake lifeguarding. I had a poster of her pretty much because of this movie. You have Jenny McCarthy back when MTV was determined to make her a star and she was game to do some impressively weird and crude stuff. And thankfully was not yet a crazy anti-vaxer.baketl
The appearances of Reel Big Fish as the Milwaukee Beers’ house band immediately sealed its legendary status with us third-wave ska kids. But mostly, the movie is actually really funny. While not everything has aged well (does anyone still remember Women Who Run with the Wolves?) I still quote lines from it. “No you don’t, you like Taco Bell” and “It certainly does seem to be raining sh@t on Joe Cooper right now” being a couple of notable examples. It’s a perfect encapsulation of who I was and what I loved when I was 18 years old. Some people have Animal House. Some people have Breakfast Club. But for me, it is calling people in khakis “cock,” jamming to Beer and dicking around in the driveway playing games with your friends.

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Pacific Rim

Jimpsy Darglar

I’m just going to go ahead and say it; I loved Pacific Rim. I loved it unabashedly and without the dried-up cynicism that invades even my own thoughts from time to time. I haven’t had as much fun watching a movie in the theater since The Avengers. Apparently this is not universal. I see people complaining about it being too dark. I see people complaining about it not being dark enough. Well, I guess they made this one just for me, because it hit my sweet spot with the gooey, chewy chocolate center. I found myself grinning over the course of nearly the entirety of Guillermo del Toro’s big knock-down drag-out.

It seems like del Toro, though having common flourishes in his work, has two modes of film-making. There’s the Pan’s Labrynth-style horror fantasies that seem to delight the arthouse community and then there’s his Hellboy mode in which he goes for the big, fun action film. Both are exciting to see for different reasons and both are usually high quality in their respective genres. This is squarely in the second column. A tale of human-piloted robots (aka “Jeagers”) versus alien monsters which are attempting to wipe out said humanity (kaiju, literally the Japanese word for giant monster), it also manages to have a human core that elevates the material while never bringing the film to a skidding halt.

One of the clever things del Toro does is plug the characters’ motivations and personalities directly into the plot. Somewhat literally. Early on it is explained that the strain of piloting a Jeager is simply too much for one person to handle, so a link is made between two pilots. They share their memories, fears and feelings with each other, which of course leads to all sorts of complications and makes it tricky for just anyone to be a pilot. We see father-son teams. Brothers. Husband and wife. I actually found myself hungry for more information about these people. The intimacy described is never fully explored for, one would guess, several reasons. Of course there’s a possibility of getting down and dirtier into the concept if there are more films, but while there is enough story here to fill a franchise, it seems satisfied to simply tell a streamlined yarn. Could they be brought about easily? Well sure. But there’s nothing here, even in a post-credits sequence, that feels like it’s specifically being seeded for the purpose of setting up a franchise, which is kind of refreshing, honestly.

It’s an odd assemblage of a cast, cheerfully devoid of any traditional star power, and it works. Idris Elba continues to be awesome in everything he does except The Office. (Never quite understood that one considering he’s got some good comedic timing.) Rinko Kikuchi’s Mako, a rookie pilot in the Jeager program, manages to be effective even with her broken English. Charlie Day is fantastically funny as a kaiju expert and he has fantastic chemistry with the entire cast, but most notably del Toro favorite Ron Pearlman, who plays a black market dealer in kaiju parts. The only weak spot is, surprisingly, Charlie Hunnam. His performance seems oddly stilted against the others, though I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because he’s concentrating on his American accent.

As I was leaving the theater, one of the staff was asking people what we thought of the film. Getting positive feedback, he replied, “So it’s not just a live-action Gundam Wing?” I responded, “It’s more like Neon Genesis Evangelion with Star Wars overtones.” “Touche,” he said. Not sure what he meant by that, but I decided to move on.

And while it’s become cliche to describe a film as being the next Star Wars, Pacific Rim does share many characteristics. The fantastic setting doesn’t transfer over, of course. Pacific Rim is decidedly Earthbound. But just as George Lucas took the cheesy Flash Gordon serials he had seen as a youth and tweaked them into something new, so Guillermo del Toro took the at times sublime, but often goofy, giant monster films he saw as a kid, combined them with famous anime concepts and tweaked them into something familiar but put together in a fresh way. Both used an advance in budget and special effects to update childhood loves that often look ridiculous by today’s standards. Both do a great job of world building, giving us glimpses of things that would be fascinating to learn more about. Both star a wooden-acting, younger blonde alongside a veteran Brit. Both have a kick-ass lady that manages to exude attractiveness without being overtly sexual. I doubt the blue streaks of Kikuchi’s Mako will end up being as iconic as Princess Leia’s ear-buns, but still. Without recapping the plot, they also both share story characteristics as del Toro deftly maneuvers the Jeager program to be, like a certain group of rebels, outsiders and underdogs attempting to go up against incredible odds.

There’s never going to be another Star Wars. There’s just never going to be that kind of a universally beloved original film which comes out of nowhere, surprising everyone. So comparisons notwithstanding, I’m not going to sit here and declare it the next anything. I’m not even going to call it the next Godzilla. (I actually found more in common with the 90s trilogy of Gamera films, anyway.) While I noticed a subtle nod here and there, mostly the overt pastiche is kept to a minimum so rather than play “Spot the Reference,” I was able to simply enjoy it as the first Pacific Rim and leave it at that. Frankly I’m appreciating it for being just about the only ‘blockbuster’ this summer that isn’t a sequel, remake or an adaptation. (Even if I’ve enjoyed several of them.) This is Del Toro’s love letter to the science fiction he grew up with and it is joy-filled movie making on a grand scale.

(Five damns given out of five)