Talking Movies

April 10, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods

Five American teenagers travel to a remote cabin in the woods in the South for a debauched weekend; terrible things ensue, and by gad sir is it hysterically funny…

Alpha male Curt (Chris Hemsworth) invites his loose girlfriend Jules (Anna Hutchison) and her sober friend Dana (Kristen Connolly) to join his bookish friend Holden (Jesse Williams) and their mutual stoner friend Marty (Fran Kranz) at his cousin’s vacant cabin in the woods. Once there they unwittingly unleash forces of evil that pick them off by one. The set-up and execution is the stuff of parodic cliché. But then, it is parodic cliché, because the script is by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard; with the great Goddard making his directorial debut. The sinister blood-stained opening credits are interrupted by coffee-making, and then the mundane office drones sequence that launched is interrupted by the inappropriately sound-tracked title card. This is by far the funniest film I’ve seen in quite some time…

Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins play the office drones in the control room of a giant military-industrial operation that Goddard uses to undercut all the horror clichés. They have tremendous comedic chemistry and make this move terrific fun as they organise office gambling pools, snarl at video monitors, indulge in an unbelievably funny speakerphone prank sequence, and humiliate Whedon regulars Amy Acker and Tom Lenk; a harassed chemist and intern respectively. It’s a privilege to see Studio 60’s Whitford again rampaging thru great comedic dialogue, his delivery of lines like “I think, mostly, that I just want this moment to end now” guaranteed to bring the house down. Great lines like “Yeah, I kind of dismembered that guy with a trowel” abound and Kranz, despite his irritating vocal delivery, grabs a lot of them. The true acting revelation though is just how likeable Hemsworth is when he’s not playing Thor.

This is not a scary movie. There’s gore aplenty at the end, but it’s so ridiculous that one setting in particular seems like it was a bet with Piranha 3-D auteur Alexandre Aja on who could use more fake blood. Having read Buffy season 8 I’m inclined to praise Goddard for everything that’s great, especially all the hilarious nonsense with Whitford, Jenkins & Co, and blame Whedon for everything that doesn’t work, namely the final act’s descent into VFX overload and lame mythology. The collision of military science and magic screams Whedon’s disastrous Initiative in Buffy season 4 and the increasingly silly mythic tone is pure Season 8. Goddard meanwhile has always specialised in joyous (and undercutting) comedy preceding incredibly bleak shocks. Here his comedy soars before unveiling the most fitting character death you could hope for.

Sure the ending is deeply unsatisfactory and the whole third act is increasingly preposterous, but this so damn funny that it must be judged an excellent film overall.

4/5

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December 20, 2011

On Doubting The Avengers

I can’t get excited about The Avengers, allegedly the biggest or second biggest film of 2012 depending on who you talk to, even though it should be catnip to me.

The Avengers consists of one successful film franchise, Iron Man, two newly launched franchises (that with their Norse Gods magic as opposed to super-science technology don’t really synch with the interior logic of the successful franchise), Thor and Captain America, and one franchise that has failed to launch, twice, Hulk. That mixture just does not cry out for a super-team-up super-franchise. If in 1991 John McClane and Riggs & Murtagh had joined forces for a super-team-up action-movie buddy-cops super-franchise, Die Hard with a Lethal Weapon, it would have made far more commercial sense than Marvel foisting The Avengers on us.

Commercial sense (and interior logic) aside I have grave screenwriting concerns about the movie. Does anyone really think that one film can successfully contain so many characters? Think about it. Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk, Thor, Nick Fury, Black Widow, Pepper Potts, Agent Coulson, Loki and The Krulls. What exactly can be done in 2 hours in terms of actual story once you’ve finished establishing ground rules for all those characters (in case some people, as is highly likely, missed some of their cinematic instalments), introduced Hawkeye and somehow not made him ridiculous, and given the stars ego-balanced arcs?

If by some miracle you manage to synch all the fictive micro-universes together into one coherent macro-universe, and massage all the egos involved in juggling several franchise characters, what villains are you left with after the customary slaughter of bad guys in the denouements of the existing franchises? The Krulls. Oh, great. What works well in comics doesn’t necessarily work well in cinema. The Krulls immediately invoke the Mission: Impossible 2 peril. If everyone in every scene could really be someone else wearing a mask then you cease to emotionally invest in anything that happens because it mightn’t be real.

Given these problems does anyone really think that co-writer/director Joss Whedon has it in him to pull this off? Whedon has after all directed only one two film, which had a fraction of the budget and star power of The Avengers, while his most recent filmed screenplay has been sitting on a shelf for over a year, allegedly while the studio debates whether to convert it into 3-D because all horror films have to be in 3-D now. Paranormal Activitys rake in the money without being in 3-D which leads to the suspicion the studio thinks The Cabin in the Woods sucks just as much as Buffy Season 8. Whedon apologised for that arc (so awful that Wolves at the Gate, the largely stand-alone volume written by his Cabin co-writer Drew Goddard, is the only remnant worth salvaging) citing unlimited VFX giddiness…

Thus giving Whedon an unlimited special-effects budget, without Goddard’s counter-weight, may be as counterproductive as giving Richard Kelly the money he always needed to ramble on about aliens, time-travel, philosophy, and water.

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