Monday, May 28, 2012

Movie Bob Reviews Cabin in the Woods

Continuing right along on the Cabin in the Woods love fest, below is a video review of the film by Movie Bob, who longtime readers will recall is one of my favourite critics. It's a solid and somehow even more glowing review than my own, but and likewise does its best to shy away from spoilers. Give it a watch, particularly if you've seen the film and are in on the jokes.

Now I just want to see it again...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Short Love Note to Cabin in the Woods

Just five college kids in an old abandoned cabin in the woods... Oh yeah!
I've been on a bit of a Joss Whedon tear of late, so you'll have to excuse me as I continue the trend with a glowing (albeit short) review of Cabin in the Woods. Written by Whedon and Drew Goddard (of Cloverfield fame) and directed by Goddard, Cabin in the Woods is a loving "spoof" of the horror genre. It begins with the typical horror movie set-up of five college students heading off to a cabin in the woods for a fun filled weekend of youthful shenanigans (I feel so old typing that), but what unfolds is anything but ordinary.

I'm going to be strict with myself about avoiding spoilers here because the less you know going in the more you'll enjoy Cabin in the Woods. I won't even post the trailer or the film's poster here because frankly they give away too much. All I'll say is that this film is a loving send up of the entire horror genre that engages in an intelligent, creative, and hilarious analysis of the acts of both making and watching horror movies. It's incredible, see it.

Beyond that it's hard to know what to say without spoiling things. In terms of the cast, numerous Whedon regulars are featured here including Kristen Connolly and the always amazing Fran Kranz (Topher!), as well as Chris Hemsworth (who continues to impress me with every role he takes on). There are also some additional roles that I won't mention here but are played by some fantastic actors, and once you see the film you'll know exactly who I mean. Everyone involved does a great job and understands their roles, which all include elements of horror and humour alike. It's a delicate balance but everyone pulls it off elegantly.

I should also clear up the whole "horror movie" thing. Cabin in the Woods is a horror movie more in spirit than effect, which is to say that it has a horror movie premise (kids go into woods, people die, there's blood, etc) but it isn't really horrific per se. There's only one shot that I would qualify as "gory" and it's really pretty tame. More than that the movie just doesn't focus on/feature the horrific elements: terrifying things occurs, granted, but they're more often played for laughs. Also the movie isn't shy about critiquing itself, both for depicting horrific events and for enjoying them, explicitly or otherwise. As I said, it's a delicate balance and I'll leave it for you to see it to understand it, but trust me: it works.

I think that's just about all I can say about Cabin in the Woods without giving anything away. It's an intelligent, hilarious, and endearing ode to the horror genre and film making/watching in general. It's definitely my favourite film of 2012 so far, and I can't wait to see it again. It's just an amazing movie. Don't go in expecting a slasher, it's so much more than that, and don't look into it because the les you know going-in the better. But definitely see it, because Cabin in the Woods is brilliant.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Joss Whedon's The Avengers Review

Who woulda thought they'd be able to pull this off?
The Avengers is a summer blockbuster unlike anything we've ever seen. Featuring an all-star ensemble cast, the movie is the cumulative product of five films worth of world-building and ground-laying. Over the course of the two Iron Man flicks, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: The First Avenger, and Thor, Marvel Studios has effectively crafted an onscreen comic book universe in which four larger-than-life heroes can believably join forces to save mankind. They've been doing this stuff since the '60s in comic books but never before has such a monumental task been attempted in film. With that in mind, it's more than a little reliving to say that The Avengers succeeds, thanks in no small part to the brilliant mind of Joss Whedon.

When Iron Man came out in 2008 I was pleasantly surprised to find it was an enjoyable super hero origin story. The movie played to its main strength in Robert Downey Jr. and presented a funny and charismatic hero that was fun to watch and easy to root for. And in the end it made us a promise: that Marvel would give us something more, something bigger than we'd ever seen. Based on how great Iron Man turned out to be I was excited, but after Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk ended up being mediocre at best, I worried that The Avengers would prove to be a disappointment. My fears were abated somewhat when Marvel brought Joss Whedon on board in April 2010, but then last summer's Captain America ended up being kind of shitty despite Whedon's additions to the film's script. As much as I adored Whedon's prior work (particularly the short-lived Firefly and the troubled Dollhouse), I wasn't sure he could pull together something as big as The Avengers, especially given Marvel's heavy-handed approach to the franchise with Iron Man 2. My fear was that Marvel would restrict Whedon to the film's detriment, and force him to make their movie as opposed to his.

And they sort of did.

The first half of The Avengers is a mess. Seriously, it barely makes sense. The villain is sort of established, the heroes assemble, they fight amongst themselves, the villain attacks, etc., but it doesn't really seem to go anywhere. Each of the major characters is expertly acted and written, and their developing relationships are enjoyable to watch. It's clear that Whedon's at the helm because the movie gets by solely on how the heroes interact with one another, which has always been Joss's forté. However the larger story seems aimless, and nothing that occurs seems to be clearly building towards, well, anything. Don't get me wrong, I was never bored in the theatre, but for the first hour and a bit I was underwhelmed.

But then something happens. I won't spoil it here but one character's dialogue identifies an event as a clear "deus-ex machina" type moment where the writer (Whedon) gives the heroes a reason to unite. It's heavy-handed and a more than a little cliché, but somehow it's brilliantly effective and everything that comes after is a pure joy to watch. I can't really explain it without giving away too much but trust me that you'll know the event when it happens, if only because the movie suddenly becomes awesome.

The movie's trailers have made no secret of the fact that The Avengers concludes with an epic battle sequence that literally takes up almost half the movie. However, in a rare example of restraint in Hollywood marketing, the trailers don't give away the scene's most incredible moments. All of the heroes come together for an epic battle for Earth against an (admittedly underdeveloped) alien enemy, and it ranks among the most rewarding action sequences ever put on film. Not only are the action shots effective and awe-inspiring, there is also a character-driven sense of humour to the scene that was unlike anything I have ever seen. It's strange to say but there were moments during the battle where I laughed as hard as I can ever remember laughing in a theatre. It's a rare and wonderful thing for a fight sequence to succeed so brilliantly in this kind of way.

The Avengers is a unique and worthwhile experience, almost solely on the merits of the final battle sequence, and I wholeheartedly attribute it to the talent of Joss Whedon. What probably happened with the movie is that Whedon came onboard after the overall premise of the film (ie the villain, the basic plot, etc) had already been set by Marvel and the original script writer, Zak Penn. The fact that Penn was ultimately only credited with the story backs this theory up, and indicates that Whedon was probably only able to flesh out the characters, dialogue, and minor happenings within the film's larger preset framework. It makes sense then that although the characters are strong throughout, the film stumbles through its own plot until the final battle. At that point Whedon undoubtedly had a lot more room to stretch in terms of his contributions to the script, so long as the heroes still had an epic concluding fight.

The Avengers succeeds against all odds on the strength of its director and the talented ensemble cast. It's not a perfect movie by any stretch, but it doesn't suffer from many of the problems you might expect. Each of the actors involved does a great job, their interactions are pitch-perfect, and the movie is far from a mindless action-fest. All of these are common characteristics for Whedon's work, and it's unsurprising but also a little relieving to see his talents on display. Somehow Joss's personality is able to shine through and The Avengers doesn't crumble under the weight of the five lead-up films or Marvel's franchise crafting.

I urge you to check out The Avengers while it's still in theatres. It's not intellectual, it is a super hero movie through and through, but it's some of the most fun I've had in a theatre in a long time and that's worth a lot. If anyone feels differently then I'd be happy to discuss the movie's relative merits and flaws over a shawarma.