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!

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

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Gravity

Ironically, she floats into the Event Horizon.

I knew two things when I walked out of Gravity the Thursday evening it opened.

1.) It was the best movie I’d seen this year. Yes, even better than Pacific Rim.

2.) It is the first movie I would actively advise people to see in 3D because it absolutely adds to the experience.

At its core an art film disguised in 90 minutes of 100% pure, uncut survivalist adventure, it manages to be one of the handful of films I can say I’ve never seen anything like and I officially predict it will be imitated by others for years to come. Copied until people will watch it in thirty years and wonder what the big deal is simply because it has been so thoroughly disseminated into the popular culture, not realizing how different it was at the time. (The last film I would describe this way is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which has officially began to be “homaged” in music videos.)

Seemingly filmed in large part as a series of long, uninterrupted takes, (honestly, it’s crazy enough that a lot of it could be multiple takes seamlessly put together through movie magic) it almost manages a documentary feel; yet while the camera is in constant motion, it never ends up with the terrible shaky-cam cinematography that has become so much of a crutch to modern filmmakers. It feels like it’s masterfully controlled through the entire film and is always in exactly the right place.

What also makes the cinematography incredible is that, even without lots of crazy tricks and things flying at the screen, it is the best use of 3D photography I’ve ever seen. I think a case could be made for it to win “best visual effects” come Oscar time, even over some astounding efforts from the likes of Man of Steel or Pacific Rim. Earlier in the year I marveled over the conversion job that had been performed on Jurassic Park and how so many things in that film seemed like they’d been created for 3D. This despite many of the things that impressed the most being things that I’d never really seen a 3D movie. Some of the best bits in Gravity are the same kind of beats. Like a close-up of Sandra Bullock’s face inside a space helmet with her breath fogging up the inside, the black void of space stretching infinitely behind her, Earth in the distance at the side of the frame.

Make no mistake, the film is gorgeous. But then so was Sucker Punch and that film was terrible. So what else makes Gravity work? Let me count the ways… First off, it is one of the most leanly constructed films I can think of in a long, long time. It’s not happening in real time, but due to the way the film is shot, (the aforementioned long, uninterrupted takes) it does take on that feeling. And not one second is wasted. We are either learning about the characters or watching as the rhetorical question, “What else could go wrong?” is answered with, “Oh, that.” In its 90 minutes there are really only a handful of quiet moments and they are all essential. They are all integral to the story and documenting the character arc of Dr Stone, a scientist that is not so much a trained astronaut as a specialist that is only there to fulfill one mission. One of the really clever bits is how much we learn about her as Clooney’s veteran astronaut tries to talk her down from a freak out. And then there’s my personal favorite moment of the film; an artful bit in which a space station is used as a metaphor for the womb, live-giving and perpetuating a feeling of safety from the chaos outside.

The film really only has two performances aside from a few voice-overs (including one that’s a bit of a clever in-joke from Apollo 13.) While I wouldn’t say that nobody else could have been in their parts, I know that Clooney and Bullock get people in the door and both do their job well. Clooney plays himself like usual, smarming his way through and getting away with it based on his charms. Bullock has the more weighty role and should prove her worth to those that moaned over her getting an Oscar for that football movie I never saw. She manages to bring a perfect balance to her part; she looks great (there are more than a few non-gratuitous ass shots contained within) but she manages to project enough of her “everywoman” look to feel believable instead of being a supermodel in a space suit. She also manages to be vulnerable without seeming weak or whiny, an important distinction in a film like this.

Almost a full-fledged co-star in the film is a stupendous score that manages to fill the void created by the fact that they actually keep space silent, all sound coming from comlinks and within structures. (Yes, there was sound in the trailer. You will not find it in the actual film.) I am not familiar with the composer, Steven Price (though I should since his two other credits are World’s End and Attack the Block) but after this effort I have a hard time believing he will not manage to begin occupying the same sort of space within the movie composing sphere that a newbie like Michael Giacchino did after his twofer of Star Trek and The Incredibles.

So let Neil deGrasse Tyson¬†kvetch on Twitter like a bitter guy who is mad he didn’t get a technical consulting fee. Gravity is an experience and one you won’t likely forget.

(Five damns given out of five.)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Stoker

And you thought The Addams were creepy.

Equal parts Asian horror, surrealist French cinema and twisted indie drama, Stoker is a film full of understated performances, bizarre actions and visual oddities.

It should come as no surprise that Stoker is, boiled down to its essentials, arty trash. Or perhaps it would be better to call it trashy art. Chan-wook Park, the Korean director making his stateside debut, is most famous for his Vengeance Trilogy, of which Oldboy, a tale of a man seemingly abducted at random off the street one night and held prisoner in a room for years (currently on the remake block with Spike Lee of all people) is the best known part. There are similar building blocks here in the darkness, menace and highly messed up family relationships that permeate, though the story and tone are far different.

When India’s father, Richard, dies on her birthday, she begins to descend down a dark path that is egged on by her enigmatic and handsome uncle Charlie. An uncle she didn’t even know she had until her father’s funeral. Matthew Goode, who was not quite right in Watchmen as Ozymandias, nails the creepy, sleazy Charlie, spending most of the run time with a bemused smirk on his face, choosing the right moments to insert himself into India’s life, much as she may attempt to push him away. Like the family’s eponymous name, he fans flames that smolder inside her, attempting to bring her to a blaze. Her mother (Nicole Kidman) was already falling apart, coinciding with the crumbling foundation of her marriage, and she begins an escalation in selfishness and hedonism that centers around her resentment of India’s closeness to her father instead of being the daughter she wanted. Bette Davis on Prozac would be an apt comparison. She manages to pack a ton of malice into her impressive performance, even more so because she does a great job of poorly trying to hide it for much of the picture. She spanks the tawdriness of her Academy-bait performance in To Die For and sends it to the corner.

Without going into the kind of detail that would ruin the surprises of the movie (there is no real twist, but the story spills forward in fits and starts), it fits well into Park’s filmography that centers on broken people with broken motivations and contains many of his trademark shocking moments that will leave you at least uncomfortable and at most disturbed. And it’s written by that guy from Prison Break. Who knew?

Mia Wasikowska, whose Victorian looks no doubt helped her land the lead role in Tim Burton’s megablockbuster sack of crap, Alice in Wonderland, brings a much deeper sense of personality as India Stoker. She displays more in the forever folded-armed character’s twitches and glances than in whole acts from Burton’s film.

Visually, the film is almost a cinematic haiku. Images from previous scenes repeat later in the movie (sometimes multiple times), flickering across the screen for moments, seeking to connect the seemingly unconnected and fold the film in on itself. In some cases, one image transitions into another through clever visual effects and in still others, scenes based on a visual idea or metaphor will fold within longer scenes with almost no sense of continuity. The movie in itself has a very loose interpretation of time, sometimes using it to advance the story, sometimes flashing back almost at random. For the most part, the confusion adds to the tone and makes the jumbled, frightening changes in India seem to jump directly off the screen in a stream of consciousness. However, it is also to the film’s slight detriment in a way and is used to the point of ultimately making the film tough to digest. Park’s attempts to elevate the material get in the way of it succeeding in its primary needs as a narrative. (See Ang Lee’s The Hulk for an infinitely worse example of this problem of overpowering ambition mixed with Eastern film styles.) Fortunately for Stoker, it does not go to that extreme and remains effective.

(Three damns out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Argo

Ben, the two of us need look no more...
Ben Affleck has made one of the best films of the year.

And no, I never thought I’d say those words. Especially considering fifteen years ago the only things he seemed to be any good in were Kevin Smith movies (and the great commentaries on the accompanying DVDs, largely consisting of making fun of Affleck to his face.)

In Argo, Affleck has managed to capture a specific place and time in the history of 20th Century American outrage and done so in a way that is not so much in the tradition of the melodramatic Oscar-bait that usually accompanies the kinds of films that receive the type of praise it has, but that is highly entertaining and, dare I say it, fun to watch.

A lot of the credit no doubt comes from the cast he’s assembled. While Affleck would be considered the main character of the piece, he wisely underplays his portrayal of CIA extraction expert Tony Mendez, following up his humorous and sad introduction with a subtle performance that lets others get the glory. John Goodman and Alan Arkin practically steal the film out from under him and deserve all the praise that can be ladled upon them during this awards season. They are not just engaging, but just on the right side of softly cynical, knowing the system that needs to be worked, even as they acknowledge how ridiculous Hollywood is.

In a vastly streamlined account of a true story, the film recounts a classified incident from the days of the Iran hostage crisis. While the furious revolutionaries under the new Ayatollah laid into the American Embassy and took the US citizens inside hostage for over a year, a half-dozen low-level employees managed to escape the besieged compound and took refuge in the Canadian ambassador’s residence, hiding from the government. As a part of what Mendez’s boss (portrayed by the always great Bryan Cranston) calls, “by far the best bad idea we’ve got,” the CIA fabricated a film production, inserting the agent and then extracting him and the fugitive Americans under the guise of being a Canadian film crew, scouting locations in the Middle East. Goodman is John Chambers, a Oscar-winning make-up man for Planet of the Apes who has worked with the CIA before, while Arkin is a producer he brings into the plot in order to facilitate the business aspects of the operation.

Broken into three distinct acts, all of which are entertaining in their own way, Argo shows not just the escape of the Americans from the compound and their subsequent escape from Iran, but features a brilliantly funny portrait of Hollywood as the Agency puts together a piss-poor Star Wars rip-off over the course of four days in order to give their cover identities credibility. A screenplay is chosen, a table-read is performed and even the legendary comic artist Jack Kirby (Michael Parks) is recruited to produce production art. The humor and surreality of the Hollywood segment helps alleviate the tension just long enough before it is ratcheted up in a finale that is most likely not an accurate timeline of events, but is certainly fantastic filmmaking.

Argo is not a traditional spy film, political thriller or caper film. However, it manages to wrap up the best parts of all three into a shiny, new package while maintaining a high-wire act one could almost call “old-fashioned” in its style and entertainment value. (I will admit a certain amount of nerd-glee over the use of the 70’s era Warner Bros. logo at the beginning of the film, which immediately set me in the mood for what followed.) Despite knowing how the story ends, the film manages to keep the audience highly engaged in the fate of these countrymen in the face of overwhelming odds. That it is done with style, humor and top-notch acting makes it one of the most successful movies I have seen from 2012.

(Five out of five stars)