Aisle of the Damned: 07/28/17- The Hidden Secrets in Henry Cavill’s Mustache

Check yourself for VD

Luc Besson is back to making French comic book sci-fi and, much like The Fifth Element, it’s incredibly divisive. What did Kent think of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets? And what did he think of the Medieval sex comedy The Little Hours with a who’s who of comedy stars?

But even before that, we look at a metric ton of San Diego Comic Con news and trailers. Prepare yourself for all of this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Sloppy Seconds- Queen of Outer Space

Aisle of the Damned: 4/28/17- In Space, No One Can Hear You Say “Family”

family family family family

In our latest episode, Kent deals with all sorts of ne’er do wells with the cannibal import Raw, the very Lovecrafty chiller The Void, the Scottish pricks of T2 Trainspotting and the deviants behind Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Then Bryan joins in for a discussion about the 8th(!) film in a series that started with a decent Point Break remake: The Fate of the Furious.

We also discuss some Marvel and Transformers news and take a look at some new trailer drops like Atomic Blonde and Thor: Ragnarok. Oh, and a little movie called Star Wars: The Last Jedi. 

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats– Stuck in a Movie
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes– I am a Rock

Kent’s Movie Diary: Machetes, Swords, Hammers and… Ghosts.

MachetePoster

That’s right folks! It’s time for another Movie Diary, filled with what I’ve had my eyeballs glued to over the last week or two.

MACHETE/MACHETE KILLS– How does one even begin to review Robert Rodriguez’s Machete films? In a way, they’re made to be critic proof, much like the Grindhouse double-feature they spun off of (especially Rodriguez’s Planet Terror half.) I’m not even sure what to call them. The first is essentially doing little more than grafting Mexican culture onto 70s-style blaxploitation films, especially the kind that promoted the “revolution.” It almost feels like the La Raza charter was simply put into a word processing program. Because really, who doesn’t want to end their film with a good, old-fashioned race war? And then the type of over-the-top, insane action sequences you see in Bollywood film clips on youtube were randomly inserted. It’s not a parody of blaxploitation. Not in the strict sense that Black Dynamite was. But there’s far too many winks at the audience to really qualify as straight homage, either. And as Drew McWeeny over at hitfix.com pointed out last week in his review of Pompeii, because they aren’t taking themselves seriously, they don’t really count as camp.

Really what they end up being are entertaining messes. Especially the second which, while still trying to make political points with the subtlety of a baseball bat to the coconut, is far more focused on simply being as insane as possible for 90 minutes. It holds up surprisingly well considering the first film suffers in comparison to the Grindhouse trailer that preceded it.

Danny Trejo is, of course, pretty much fantastic in his star turn. His acting is terrible and spot-on at the same time. And the inability of beautiful women to keep their hands off him despite his chainsaw sculpture face is a great recurring gag. Michele Rodriguez, meanwhile, does some of the best work of her career in the films, parading around in skimpy clothes and an eyepatch, yet somehow exuding more character than all of her appearances in the Fast and Furious films combined.

Machete KillsPosterIn a lot of the secondary roles, it almost seems like these films are serving as actor rehab. Lindsay Lohan shows up in a small part in the first film and when she’s replaced by an obvious double, it’s damned funny. Charlie Sheen as the president is just plain surreal. And while I know we all hate Mel Gibson now, he tears into his role as the bad guy in Machete Kills with gusto. He seems to have just decided to own the crazy thing. Given how bad Hangover II was, he should probably be thanking Zach Galifianakis for getting him booted from that production. This suits him better. (I was going to make a comment doing some compare/contrast with Roman Polanski, but I don’t need that kind of heat right now.)

I’m not sure why it is that these films didn’t completely connect with me. Sure, I enjoyed them a lot despite the flaws. Many of which I am sure were built in. But they are cinematic Taco Bell. In one end and nigh immediately out the other. But, like Iron Sky, I’m simply glad that they exist even if they didn’t manage to be home runs. I’m sure I’ll watch them again when I need to satiate my desire for goofy bloodshed.

ZatoichiPilgramagePosterZATOICHI’S PILGRAMMAGE/ZATOICHI’S CANE SWORD– I am now more than halfway through the Zatoichi films produced through the 60s. I think I’m getting to the end of the Daiei films, but I’m not sure, I’ll have to check the book that came with it. In any case, these are two excellent entries in the series.

In Zatoichi’s Pilgrimage, our eponymous hero seeks to repent for some of the blood that he’s spilled (last measured as enough to fill a killer whale tank at Sea World) by visiting 88 temples across Japan. Of course this plan immediately goes off the rails because he’s attacked and has to defend himself. He ends up with the assassin’s sister, who takes him in. In the process, he ends up in a classic High Noon situation in which a village won’t defend itself against a gang of criminal hoods making life miserable for them. Ichi is the only one that will take them on, albeit reluctantly. The farmers haven’t seen Seven Samurai, I guess.

The swordplay is good in this one, but not spectacular. The real reason to watch it is simply because it’s a great character piece for Ichi. He doesn’t want to be a hero, but at the same time his sense of honor will not allow him to back out without defending the person he sees himself as having wronged. Regardless of how much he may try to talk himself out of it.

ZatoichiCaneSwordZatoichi’s Cane Sword, the fifteenth film, is one of the best in the series thus far. It’s got a lot of wit and manages to balance the drama with humor. Something the series can struggle with at times as different films can veer wildly from dour to fluffy. Ichi remains fairly consistent in character through them, which is why even the most mediocre of the films tends to still work on at least a level of basic entertainment. But the best are the ones that manage to be well-rounded.

The story itself is admittedly something that has been done many times within the series. Gangsters and corrupt government officials conspire to oppress the people, they kill the wrong folks to gain power, they tick Zatoichi off and lots of people die. But the power is, as always, in the execution. (Execution often being a key word with these films.) And this one is really well made. It also goes a little bit into the history of his ever-present sword cane, part of what feeds into his iconic persona. Samurai movies often manage to fetishize blades and this one does a great job of showing it done right. It definitely comes across as more rewarding than finding out about Jack’s tattoo on Lost. This wouldn’t be the first Zatoichi film I showed people to get them into the films, but it would be on the short list for people that want to pick a handful of them rather than watch the entire series.

ConjuringPosterTHE CONJURING– Who knew James Wan had it in him? After slumming around in the Saw series, he’s put out what I would say is one of the best straight-up horror flicks in a really long time.

This isn’t just because the film is well-made, however. Though it is. The cinematography, despite being partially dependent on my usually hated documentary style, is great. Shots are given room to breath and while there are definitely jumpcuts, they’re not overused. Part of this is because the film wisely uses a slow-build to the more outrageous and showy stuff towards the end. It starts with creaks and whispers interrupting periods of silence. The sense of dread is palpable.

But one of the real reasons this film is a standout is the job that Patrick WIlson and Vera Farmiga do in portraying real life, married paranormal investigators, The Warrens. It’s hard to believe that using a couple of ghost hunters actually grounds a film, but their personalities are actually believable. They aren’t portrayed as kooks. They are religious and well versed in Catholicism. They are not looking for proof in life after death. They already believe in it because of their religious backgrounds. They don’t blindly accept that everything is caused by the supernatural. They look for proof. They start every case with a healthy dose of skepticism. And they provide heroes to root for against the evil presence haunting a family in 70s Rhode Island that serves as the focus of the film.

It’s supposedly based on a true story, but we all know how far that usually goes when it comes to movies. But because of its structure, it doesn’t immediately drop a bunch of CGI slime on you. And because of that, it feels more believable. (I found the first half scarier than the second, actually.) It’s too bad more films don’t follow this mantra. I mean, Ghostbusters didn’t drop the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in during the first fifteen minutes. The Conjuring takes its time.

I’m sure there will be people that consider themselves above this type of film. Many of them are snide folks that don’t allow themselves to be scared by films or let a story pull them in. I feel sorry for those folks.

I also think the film is a travesty of an R-rating. While I certainly wouldn’t want to show it to a child, the film has very little on-screen violence, minimal gore and almost no real swearing to speak of. It’s only rated R because the people viewing it felt it was too darn effective, which is ridiculous. I would say it is appropriate for any teen that is mature enough to handle it. There are 14-year-olds that will be able to handle the film better than some middle-aged people. It’s just one more example of the fact that the MPAA’s system is flawed with its rigidity and resultant decisions.

all-hail-the-kingTHOR: THE DARK WORLD/ALL HAIL THE KINGIt’s pretty easy for folks to see what I thought about the sequel to Thor and its post-Avengers leap into deeper mythology.

(To summarize, it’s an extremely fun and confident film, especially for a first time filmmaker, that does a great job expanding on the characters.)

I think I actually enjoyed the film more the second time around. It’s not perfect, but it’s got a great energy and I love some of the weird ideas presented. I do wish they’d managed to work the blue/black designs in for the dark elves, but we can’t get everything we want.

The real thing to point out though is that the video release includes the latest and most ambitious of Marvel Films’ “One-Shot” series and it’s the best one yet. All Hail the King is a sequel to Iron Man 3 and picks up during the incarceration of Trevor Slattery. (I’m kind of assuming the people reading this review have seen IM3 considering about a quarter of the planet was represented in its box-office figures. So you are warned.)

The faux Mandarin is actually enjoying more success behind bars than he ever did during his career and he’s taking full advantage. The fifteen minute short is pretty much hilarious and Ben Kingsley is in fine form. Not only that, but it actually addresses some of the butthurt that myself and other fans of The Mandarin felt when the film universe essentially pooped the bed in his use. While I found Iron Man 3 to be extremely entertaining, I’ll admit that the twist, while funny, meant switching from a very effective villain to little more than a retread of the first two films.

King manages to fix some of that damage. For some it may be too little, too late, but for me it was a welcome semi-apology. While most Marvel cinephiles will most likely already be buying the film to continue their collections, the inclusion of the short really does increase the value of the release. I applaud Marvel for putting so much effort into it and hope for the best in the future.

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Thor: The Dark World

Come to daddy. The worst thing about Thor: The Dark World is the greasy hair. Apparently, despite their civilization lasting since the dawn of time, they haven’t figured out how to make shampoo because everyone looks like they haven’t washed their coifs in weeks.

That aside, the second follow-up to The Avengers succeeds in being probably my favorite sequel produced by Marvel so far. (We’ll have to see how the second Captain America comes out as the trailer is pretty freakin’ great.)

So first things first. I saw the new film in 3D so I could see the exclusive Cap preview. Is it necessary to see Thor 2 in 3D? Not at all. If I see it again (and I just may), I will be going with the standard option. The 3D does your standard mediocre conversion job, much like Iron Man 3. (Though this is certainly better than the awful job that was done on the first Thor.)

On to the most important things: how is the movie itself? I’m giving it the same grade as Iron Man 3, but I think I like this film a smidge better. The main differences are that while I had my problems with the last Iron Man film to be sure, Shane Black’s dialogue was fantastic. While there are some great moments of dialogue in Thor, it is certainly not at the same level. However, I enjoyed the story more (it didn’t seem like as much of a retread of the previous film as the pattern the Iron Man films have followed) and overall I liked the tone of the film more despite some puzzling, but not devastating, choices with the editing.

The film borrows heavily from Walt Simonson’s run on the character for its main plot involving a race of dark elves from before our universe began. They sought to return the universe to the darkness that they knew and were put down by Bor, father of Odin. If there’s a flaw in the film’s storytelling it is this bit; while the motivations of the elves in many ways mimic those of General Zod from this summer’s Man of Steel in destroying what is to try to bring back a facsimile of what was, less attention is paid to giving the elves or their leader, Malekith, much exposition as to their motivation. It’s forgivable to me because in classic myth there is rarely clear-cut motivation. Characters of these archetypes are usually simply good or evil. Creators/keepers of the status quo or destroyers. And that’s the case with comics as well. I adore Simonson’s run as possibly the best use of the character in his long and storied history, but I don’t remember Malekith being particularly deep on the page either. I just remember his looking like a black and blue version of Frank Gorshin on Star Trek. What’s clear is that they’re bad guys, just like other one-dimensional villains that have run the gamut from the great Star Wars stormtroopers to the hilarious drug-peddling ninjas in Miami Connection. Faceless lackies meant to be menacing.

Marvel adapts the plot to fit with the more cosmic-oriented Asgard of the film universe. This is just fine with me because I have always found the myth-based and cosmic lines of Marvel to be in largely similar in their use of confusing, logic-challenged wonkiness in service of big ideas and cool concepts. The elves are going to use a floating liquid called the “Aether” to remake the universe. How does that work? Hell if I know. But I don’t particularly care because the fact is, it does. Let’s take the maguffin at face value.
And the film delves far more into the myth and history of this particular version of Asgard than the first film which was largely an Earth-based origin story. It does a pretty good job balancing the action of the marauding elves with the family drama of the Asgardian royals and the subplots involving Jane Foster and her superscience pals from the first film.

Unsurprisingly Loki gets a pretty major role following his previous popular turns and his relationship with Thor remains prickly and emotional. Most of the actors and characters that I enjoyed from the original film return intact with Anthony Hopkins and Rene Russo both in fine form as Thor’s parents. I’m one of the few defenders of Natalie Portman as Foster, feeling there’s a detectable chemistry between her and Thor. (Odd how some people seem to see it and some people don’t.) I’m also one of the people that actually really enjoyed Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgård and I, for one, loved how they were used in the film. I hate to drag other people’s opinions into my review, but I’ve seen complaining about the amount of ‘comic relief’ in the film. Some of it from the same people complaining about Man of Steel being too serious. All I can say is that the comedy worked great for me and I laughed throughout the film, never finding it to be too much for the heft of the story to bear. With the “wibbly wobbly timey wimpy” stuff in play, I don’t have any problem with being tongue in cheek. That was a big part of what I thought made The Avengers work so well. This isn’t on the same level, but it works. It doesn’t surprise me that Whedon came in to help on a few scenes.

The only characters that really get short changed are the Warriors Three. They do get their moments, but mostly they are fleeting. Here’s hoping they get further exposure in the next film.

I would have welcomed the return of Kenneth Branagh as director, but for a first feature, Dark World is a hell of a ‘debut’ for TV vet Alan Taylor. The film ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, true to its comic book roots. I can’t wait for the third chapter in the franchise and look forward to the big lunk’s return in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

(Four damns given out of five)

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)