The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods pays homage to, and skewers, every slasher and horror movie you’ve ever seen. This film is intermittently hilarious, absurd, graphic, rousing, and ultimately very satisfying. The Cabin in the Woods is one of the best films of 2012.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released April 13, 2012

Written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard

Directed by Drew Goddard

Starring Amy Acker, Kristin Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz, Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, Jesse Williams, and Sigourney Weaver

Rated: R

*     *     *     *     *

Story

The story of The Cabin in the Woods is that there is more than meets the eye. A group of five friends heads to a cabin in some remote woods, being warned of grave danger by a creepy old guy. These are the characters, and if they sound familiar, they should:

1. Dana (Connolly): a cute, intelligent college brunette who feels a little separate from the group because she’s not as promiscuous– she’s semi-pure. Kind of.
2. Curt (Hemsworth): a smart, strapping college fellow who goes dumb and horny upon arriving at the cabin.
3. Jules (Hutchison): a fun-loving, smart, blond, beautiful college girl who goes dumb and slutty soon after arriving at the cabin.
4. Holden (Williams): a decent black fellow who seems to feel somewhat dragged along and who feels like intelligent conversation is more of a party than getting wasted.
5. Marty (Kranz): a major pothead, smart, wry, provider of meta-situational observations and humor

If you think Holden is the first that gets murdered, you’d be wrong, because this is Whedon.

There is another storyline that follows a bunch of technicians, led by Sitterson (Jenkins) and Hadley (Whitford), along with Lin (Acker). These techs, surrounded by all kinds of surveillance and other high-tech equipment, seem to be conducting some kind of experiment, or perhaps a ritual, but for them it is a regular day at the office. Brian White plays a security guard named Truman, who is new to the job and provides some accessibility for the audience to start to get a handle on what’s really happening.

This is a scifi/paranormal send-up and homage to slasher and horror films. The college kids get picked off in imaginative ways, all for a nefarious purpose that the techs slowly reveal.

I can say no more. Anything else must be experienced.

Critique

The Cabin in the Woods is one of the finest films made this year and is a near-perfect specimen of story telling on film, along with a brilliant, at times hilarious homage to horror films.

Think of every horror and slasher trope you’ve seen; Joss Whedon thought of all of those and more and included them deftly in this very finely-tuned and polished movie. But it’s not all homage and skewer; there’s a fully-fleshed story here, with entertaining and engaging characters populating it and bringing it into the real world. The characters feel like people you and I might know, and their dialogue is snappy and, as is normal for Whedon, extremely funny.

In addition to all of this goodness, you have some nice twists and an appearance from the grand maven of powerful scifi female roles: Sigourney Weaver.

All of that said, this is not a family film. There’s genuinely scary stuff here, along with a liberal dose of gore and some nudity. None of it is gratuitous; each bit is doing at least double duty: telling the story and satisfying some specific need within horror/slasher moviedom.

For fans of scifi and/or horror and/or slasher and/or Whedon, The Cabin in the Woods will make you very happy. For fans of simply good films, it will do the same for you.

Content warnings: lots of swearing and bloody violence, supernatural baddies, some nudity and sensuality. 

Writing: 5          Acting: 5          Overall: 5

What makes you think you’re not in a haunted cabin right now? Well, you are, and there are bad nasties coming to eat your fingers if you don’t share this review.. quick!

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Marvel’s The Avengers

Marvel’s The Avengers is the best movie of 2012 and possibly the best superhero movie of all time. It is, in fact, better than Spiderman 1 and 2 and the first two Dark Knight films. Here’s a preview:

Here are the deets:

Released May 4, 2012

Written by Joss Whedon and Zak Penn, based on the comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Directed by Joss Whedon

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Cobie Smulders, Robert Downey Jr., Samuel Jackson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Gwyneth Paltrow, Stellan Skarsgard, and Paul Bettany

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

The Avengers picks up where Thor, Iron Man 2, and Captain America left off, weaving their individual tales into one incredibly cohesive tale.

Loki (Hiddleston), since being foiled in his bid to rule Asgard, wants to rule Earth and has an army of baddies to wage explosive war on humanity. In order to get the baddies to Earth, Loki needs the tesseract, the blue cube that played such a huge part in Thor and Captain America. Currently, however, SHIELD, run by Nick Fury (Jackson) has the tesseract and is trying to figure out how to use it as a source of perpetual energy. He has the Black Widow (Johansson) along with Hawkeye (Renner) working as agents to help protect the tesseract, and his second in command is Agent Hill (Smulders). Clark Gregg reprises his role as Agent Coulson.

Loki steals the tesseract, so Fury gathers a team of super beings, namely Black Widow, Hawkeye, Thor (Hemsworth), Iron Man (Downey Jr), Captain America (Evans), and Bruce Banner (Ruffalo). Banner is ostensibly brought on board in order to use his knowledge of gamma rays to help find the tesseract, but we all know the Hulk’s going to show up.

And boy is it great when the Hulk does finally show up. Hulk smash.

The team sort of assembles, what with individual dynamics and Loki’s machinations. The story unfolds on a truck, on a hovering and invisible battleship, in space, and mostly in characters. Everything culminates in a massive and truly awesome battle in New York City. Poor New York.

Critique

There are a lot of reasons why The Avengers is so extraordinarily successful. The first reason is probably that Whedon and Zak Penn clearly have done their homework and are sufficiently steeped in the lore of the correct marvel comics. Each character is very much an individual, with only Hawkeye turning out a little flat, and the characters pretty much travel their own road. The fact that each character comes to the team with individual and clear motivations cannot be stressed enough– this is why the film is so successfully engaging and solid.

The snappy, excellent dialogue stems from the authentic and vivid characters. Humor is a natural result of personalities and situations, rather than a forced ingredient. Of course Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark gets some of the best lines, but Hulk actually becomes the source of the biggest laugh. Don’t laugh too loud; you’ll miss the second punch line. Pun intended.

Yes, Black Widow wears rather silly clothes, and her sexiness is clearly on display, but she’s also a very good character– nearly the most developed and interesting of the bunch. The way she interacts with Loki is genius.

That’s the other thing. Nobody in this movie is stupid. Nobody makes dumb mistakes in order to move the plot forward conveniently. Everybody is smart, tough, and complex. The actors imbue each character with clear, individual, interesting motivations. It’s a wonder that Whedon not only knew how to write such a phenomenal script and direct a film with remarkable pacing, but he also knew how to let these actors turn in some very fine performances– in some cases you get the feeling that the actors wrote some of the lines, they are so natural.

Stop reading my review now and go see this movie. It is the best movie of 2012 and very close to the best superhero movie of all time.

Content warnings: Plenty of superhero violence (without blood), lots of explosions, very little language, no overt sensuality

Writing: 5          Acting: 5          Overall: 5

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