Tag Archive: Joss Whedon


REVIEW: THE AVENGERS

THE AVENGERS (2012)
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner & Samuel L. Jackson
Written & Directed by Joss Whedon
Produced by Kevin Feige
Cinematography by Seamus McGarvey
Music by Alan Silvestri
Edited by Jeffrey Ford & Lisa Lassek

No one takes city-wide demolition and chaos quite as seriously as The Avengers.

   You know, it’s funny – I didn’t really have a huge desire to see this movie. I’m not really a big comics guy – I certainly admire them, but I’ve definitely never gone out and collected superhero comic books the way so many out there do. My only real association with the world of comics is through the movies based on them – in case you haven’t noticed, I’m definitely more of a movie guy. And, given the slew of mediocre to terrible superhero comics-to-film adaptations out there (amidst the genuinely awesome ones, of course), I wasn’t getting my hopes up too much for this release. Honestly, a mega-million dollar movie with gigantic stars playing strong people in fancy suits doesn’t really throw my Indulgence Necessity Meter (INM) for a loop. I can appreciate the fact that these are all super-legendary characters with huge, devoted followings, and the fact it’s pretty cool that a movie like this has never really been done before – an epic unification of several large media franchises into one grand story. This is definitely what could be labelled as an “event film”. And yet, for that very reason, I felt this strange obligation to see it. I’ve definitely grown distrustful of the recent fascination with loud, high-budget, computer-enhanced, scenery-destruction-obsessed movies centering on spectacle rather than story – having my brain barraged with images of cartoon robots blowing shit up for no reason ain’t exactly my  idea of a fun time at the movies. But, the good news is, there’s still a possibility to have a wild spectacle-heavy action flick that actually manages to tell a decent story. I guess it was with that hope in mind that I actually decided to check this particular cash-in flick out. It’s shamelessly over-the-top, extravagant entertainment, but the best thing about The Avengers is…it knows that.

   Now, with that all out of the way, I can tell you that The Avengers is a really fun movie. I can definitely say I was entertained while I was watching it, and there enough new ideas and interesting turns in there to keep a seasoned film buff (read: cynical snob) like myself satisfied. I especially enjoyed seeing the personalities of these superpowerful titans bouncing off each other – even more than the incredible action sequences where they were physically doing the exact same thing. The movie really focuses on the forming of this group of extraordinary individuals into a cohesive team – which is cool when you start seeing Iron Man and Thor fucking throw down in the middle of the forest. I gotta say, it’s the most appealing thing about the movie, and exactly why it’s already going to gross near-Avatar­ levels – it’s just fun to see all of these movies meld into one. Although I am highly critical of the slew of superhero movies being shoved down our throats lately, I do have to admit their tactic was pretty genius – and it’s obviously working. I mean, it’s good for them – they get money. Meanwhile, we have to put up with mediocre films. I guess it’s a fair enough tradeoff, because eventually we get The Avengers – the big one that a bunch of those superhero movies were leading up to. They’ve taken the comic book mentality and thrust it onto the big screen – for better or for worse.

The Avengers are not amused by the smartass onlooking citizen yelling “Free Bird!”

   So The Avengers is fun. But is it really necessary? The answer is no, of course not. I’m not trying to say it’s not worth your time, or that it’s a terrible film – I’ve definitely seen plenty big-budget, star-studded action flicks WAY worse than this one. It’s just…..don’t let it get to your head. This is pure film fluff at its highest form – a purely mind-numbing exercise in awe-inducing spectacle with just enough plot and character development to be acceptable. And it is! This is a very quality made film. But once you get down to it, it’s just another superhero movie…or rather, several of them. It is interesting to see all of these stories intersect with one another, and there are plenty of individual character moments where – if you were to take the particular scene out of the movie and watch it separately – it would definitely seem like it was a solo movie for that character. That’s probably the movie’s greatest feat: effectively welding all of these crazy-ass epic stories together. I think the credit clearly goes to uber-writer/first time film director Joss Whedon here. I’m pretty sure Whedon’s entire life has been leading to his involvement with this film, meaning that he actually had a DEEP interest in doing a big-screen version of this comic book right. The dude’s actually written comics before, and he’s written movies (including the last one I reviewed) – he knows how both work and how to integrate them effectively, so it works! By this end, the movie was in VERY good hands. And it shows.

   So what the hell is this movie about anyway? Why, it’s about superheroes trying to save the fuckin’ world, ya dope!!! What else would it be about? I mean, you could also say it’s about how teamwork and putting aside differences – no matter how super you are – is the most effective way to get the job at hand done, but no, it’s about SAVIN’ THE WORLD!!! Therefore, the plot is quite simple: Loki, the evil and “adopted” brother of Thor (his words, not mine) portal-warps onto our planet and starts killing everyone he sees (except for the important characters) because he wants to rule the puny humans. He got here by using the Tesseract, an energy cube of unlimited and unknown power that us humans found at the bottom of the ocean. After some good guys get mind-bent over to Loki’s side, including the absolutely savage archer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Nick Fury (the right-at-home Samuel L. Jackson) takes one in the bulletproof vest, said victim of pesky bullet-tickling waits for the bad guys to leave without killing him and orders the re-engagement of The Avengers Initiative – a super elite team of Earth’s mightiest heroes to take the son of a bitch down before he subjugates all of mankind. From that point on the entire movie is pretty much just down to meeting the Avengers, and seeing them overcome personal differences to have a drawn-out yet highly kickass battle at the end of the movie.

Serious stares are only that much more serious when there’s an eyepatch involved.

   Normally, I would say that such a lack of plot would be a detriment to a film this huge, but in a strange way, the miniscule narrative is actually part of the fun of the movie. Since everything is laid out for us to understand, we can pretty much just focus on the characters, which is a GOOD thing. If there’s one thing Joss Whedon can do, it’s write snappy, witty dialogue that fits characters appropriately, and it’s really fun to watch. Another big thing working for the movie are the performances: there are a lot of kickass actors in this film, and while their talents might be better off being in some Oscar-baiting type of material, they work wonders here. I may be biased, since I think she’s one of the most beautiful women on the entire planet, but Scarlett Johansson really knocks it out of the park as Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow. I also think she’s a really gifted actress, so that helps as well. I will admit, I’ve always thought of Scarlett as having a bit more class than this kind of movie…seeing her in this makes me think of the scene in Lost In Translation where her character sees a dumb blonde actress doing press for a stupid action flick she did. But I can definitely say that Scarlett brings a lot of class to the role, and she totally looks badass beating the shit out of countless thugs, so maybe it’s not that big of a deal.  Anyway, her character was introduced to the movie-going populace in Iron Man 2, and quite frankly, apart from her scene where she kicks a bunch of dudes’ asses in a hallway, she was pretty much wasted in that movie. (I actually think that entire movie was a waste, but that’s another review.) It’s really refreshing to see her strut her stuff more here, and her character manages to fit in quite well amongst the hodgepodge of superhuman testosterone.

Even with 6 other dudes, having a chick like that on the team pretty much evens out the hormonal scorecard.

   Also bringing something surprising to the table was Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, aka The Hulk. Now, The Hulk hasn’t really had the greatest luck when it comes to super big-budget film adaptations. Hulk, the Ang Lee-directed first outing from 2003, was a boring, self-indulgent mess. The Incredible Hulk, the 2008 reboot starring Edward Norton, was….pretty cool, I guess, but nothing great. This time around, The Hulk is one of the most enjoyable things about the movie, and I really think it’s because of Mark Ruffalo. At first I wasn’t really sure how he would measure up compared to the other actors (especially Robert Downey Jr., who still is my favorite out of all these people) but Ruffalo definitely holds his own and kind of makes me wish they had gone with him from the get-go. He brings a charming awkwardness to Bruce Banner, making him a strange, nerdy type of fellow who just happens to be harboring one of the most unpredictable and destructive forces in the galaxy inside his person. Next to Downey Jr., who was pretty much born to play the role of Tony Stark, I’d say he gives one of the film’s strongest performances.

   I really don’t have a lot else to say about The Avengers…it’s really quite a simple film, at least in terms of what it’s there to do. It’s certainly a fun, exciting, very well-executed piece of commercial filmmaking, and it actually has a brain thanks to a competent writer/director. The action sequences are exhilarating, although a little lacking in suspense (c’mon, you already know they’re going to win. It’s, uh….it’s obvious), and it has great dialogue and performances from everyone involved. But I will say again…this is purely a piece of commercial filmmaking. I’m hesitant to even really call it “art”…this movie was definitely made because the people making it want to make a yacht-full of money. And they are succeeding. The movie’s already broken the world record for the highest grossing opening weekend of all time, and it’s only going to keep getting bigger from there – I wouldn’t be surprised if it dethroned Avatar as the highest grossing film of all time.  But what I’m trying to say is, there are definitely more artfully executed, genuinely thoughtful movies out there that are probably more deserving of the the jillions of dollars and heaps of accolades this movie will accrue. The Avengers is a pop culture-infused juggernaut, the result of a carefully laid-out plan to infiltrate the wallets of as many average citizens as possible. I’m probably sounding more grumpy and lame than I mean to, but in all honesty, I just don’t think this movie is that big of a deal. It accomplishes telling a coherent story with a multitude of epic characters, and for that it’s impressive. I definitely recommend it to anyone looking to have a fun time watching a movie, because at the end of the day, that’s what movies are for! But like I said…just don’t let it get to your head.

REVIEW: THE CABIN IN THE WOODS

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012)
Starring Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchinson, & Jesse Williams
Directed by Drew Goddard
Written by Drew Goddard & Joss Whedon
Produced by Joss Whedon
Cinematography by Peter Deming
Music by David Julyan
Edited by Lisa Lassek

You know, on paper the whole Rubik's cube thing seems like quite a cool idea, but a bit of the novelty wears off once you find yourself in desperate need of a bathroom.

   If there’s any genre truly dedicated to embodying the simplistic fun the world of films can be, it’s the horror genre. In my opinion, no other genre of moviemaking lends itself to the intrinsic silliness, the pure, imaginative, and almost decadent spectacle associated with grabbing a camera and shooting stuff with it – a single genre obsessed with portraying the most abstract, depraved, mindfucking type of experiences you could ever achieve in a theater. One thing that humans beings love is watching other human beings pretend to meet gruesome, horrific fates. Groups of friends gather together ceremoniously to watch horror movies and willingly share in getting the ever-living crap scared out them. Basically what I’m saying here is, the horror genre is a very crucial part of the filmmaking universe – it encapsulates everything magical about the art of cinema, even if it can be incredibly gross and macabre at times.  I mean, think about it – almost every important and influential filmmaker out there has crafted at least ONE horror movie: Spielberg, Scorcese, Kubrick, Coppola, the list goes on for ages. Countless young filmmakers start their careers by making cheesy little horror flicks on cheap, shitty cameras – it’s just fun making horror movies!

   However, despite the continous love the populace feels for horror movies, an unfortunate stigma the genre has acquired over the years is that it’s just grown so…..repetitive. Redunant. Boring. Played out, even. It’s gotten to the point where you can literally guess exactly what’s around every turn, who’s going to die, HOW they’re going to die, etc. etc….even if you’re not really a horror film buff! There seems to be a blatant sense of laziness clouding the genre nowadays, a notion that “hell, people have paid for this shit time and time again…..so why would they stop now?” I believe If there’s one thing that should be absolutely dreaded by any creative force in the world, be it an individual artist, a group, or even an entire industry, it’s mindless repetition. I’d rather people just stop creating things, or at least take a break once they’ve reached a creative plateau, instead of endlessly churning out the same run-of-the-mill product, effectively diluting anything imaginative or original. Once you stop looking for new ideas, creative ways to bend storytelling to new limits, and genuinely interesting premises, then the entire world can feel the gears beginning to rust – the horror movie especially has become both a victim and perpetrator of this heinous crime.

   Bringing a big, fat can of oil to the party is the new film The Cabin in the Woods, directed by Drew Goddard and written by Goddard and Joss Whedon, both of whom hail from cultish fanboy fame and glory. These two dudes have a bunch of underground TV hits under their belts – Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Angel, and Dollhouse are just a few of their credits. I myself am not a part of the Goddard/Whedon following, but after seeing this film, I could easily see myself checking out their other projects. Basically, The Cabin in the Woods is a tale we’ve seen a billion times before – a group of young, college-age friends go out to a cabin in the middle of the woods and suffer horrific and terrifying fates at the hands of……some ungodly creation from hell. But, one thing that The Cabin in the Woods does – as it quite loudly proclaims in its advertising – is take that age-old (read: clichéd) idea and take it to some unpredictable, mystifying new heights. And hooooooo baby, you ain’t never seen anything like it before.

For one thing, it's got rampant woman-on-stuffed-animal action....an interesting turn of events to say the least.

   Now, before I continue, I just want to warn you: The Cabin in the Woods is not an easy movie to talk about adequately without giving away what happens. If you are genuinely interested in seeing this movie, then please, DO NOT READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW. If you want to truly experience a movie as strange and wonderful as this without any preconceptions, go to the theater right now and SEE IT. Because – and here’s a spoiler of my own review – this movie is REALLY good. If you want to know why and haven’t seen it yet, and have no problem with spoilers, then read on, my friend! But, if you don’t want to have an awesome experience spoiled for you, then I insist that you stop reading this and PLEASE go see this movie!

   Still with me? Good, because we have a lot to talk about. Like I said above in my spoiler warning, The Cabin in the Woods is an AWESOME movie, but not quite for the reasons you’d expect. One thing that needs to be stated about The Cabin in the Woods is that, as far as I’m concerned, it is secretly a comedy. This movie made me laugh a LOT more than it made me jump, and it wasn’t because things happening in the movie were corny or cheesy – this movie is genuinely clever and witty in its execution. Basically, The Cabin in the Woods serves a giant genre deconstruction – a movie made by true lovers of horror who are disappointed with the way the genre has turned out. It’s important to understand that this film is making a statement about the nature of horror films, while also working as one in its own regard – knowing this definitely plays a part in how the movie is perceived. If you’re going to this movie expecting something you’ve seen before, you are in for QUITE the surprise.

Another spoiler alert: creepy shit happens.

   The movie begins with a rather generic-looking title sequence – dripping blood with spooky images in it, red text, the works. But then suddenly, the film smash cuts to a plain-looking room in an office building, with two white-collar guys talking about something so mundane it’s just impossible not to laugh. We follow these guys – who turn out to be key elements of the story, and are expertly played by Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins – out into a fancy-looking compound, continuing their droll conversation until giant red text cover the entire screen with cheesy horror music – THE CABIN IN THE WOODS.  It is truly an unconventional way to begin a movie labeled as a “horror” film, but then again, this is quite an unconventional film.

   We are then introduced to the protagonist of our movie: the very pretty Dana, portrayed by Kristen Connolly, who is getting ready to leave for the weekend with her friends. We soon meet those friends in the same scene, and they appear to be the normal horror movie fodder – a jock, a smart jock, a bimbo, and a stoner. But one thing I appreciate about this movie is that it actually establishes character very well – at least, as well as it needs to. This scene is full of great little moments and lines that set up these characters’ personalities, and all of the actors compliment their roles very adequately. My favorite character in the movie is definitely Marty, the quite articulate and surprisingly wise stoner who is hilariously played by Fran Kranz – he rolls up smoking a giant bong that turns into a Thermos and is soon waxing intellectual about the state of humanity and the fact we’ve let things get too far out of hand. “Society needs to crumble,” he says while rolling a joint, “we’re all just too chickenshit to let it.” Regardless of how you may feel about such a notion, I definitely give Whedon and Goddard props for introducing such a heavy theme into a mainstream horror flick – it doesn’t mean a lot at this early point in the movie, but it will definitely come back later in full effect.

That moment of curious recollection where you feel you've seen all this somewhere before...it usually happens before somebody does something stupid.

   Anyway, the kids get to the cabin after having a run-in with a particularly foul gas station owner named Mordecai, but are fully unaware their every move is being monitored by people in the facility we saw at the beginning. Jenkins and Whitford’s characters are sort of the main puppetmasters, pulling all the strings and manipulating events to influence the decisions of the 5 kids. That dude Mordecai I mentioned is actually apart of their scheme – in one of the film’s funniest scenes, he calls the puppetmasters to preach all kinds of creepy and ridiculous nonsense, unaware that he is on speakerphone and everyone listening to him is trying not to laugh their asses off. You see, Mordecai is the “Harbinger”, the guy who basically screams “YOU WILL DIE” at the “guests” before they arrive at the cabin. His purpose is to intimidate the cabin-goers, and establish a sense of unease in them that they inevitably choose to ignore. By pointing out this paradigm, giving it a name and reason for existing, the film effectively singles out every other time this ploy has taken place in countless other movies. How many horror movies have you seen where the main characters encounter some strange, undeniably creepy fellow who sets an uneasy tone for the rest of the movie? From my own experiences, my personal answer is WAY too many to count.

   This is where I’d like to talk about the interesting dynamic that sets this film apart from all others – the notion that there are people behind the scenes, actually controlling what’s going on according to a strict set of guidelines. The people running this operation know exactly what they’re doing, and how to achieve it – there are brief mentions of toxins in the newly-dyed blonde hair of the character Jules (played by Anna Hutchison) that alter brain operation, and more obvious manipulations with the “pheremone mists” that are deployed when Jules and Curt (Chris Hemsworth) are out in the woods to get a little busy. You see, this movie offers up a sort of ridiculous explanation for why characters in horror movies always make the same stupid and obviously pre-conceived mistakes – there are people directly manipulating it. And this is actually TRUE, because the people writing the scripts for those movies are usually following the general, pre-plotted outline and make their characters act accordingly. This whole “puppeteer” foil is brilliant – acting as its own entity inside the reality of the movie, while also making the external audience (you know, us) aware of the almost routine exercises that lead to these people being brutally slaughtered. The characters played by Whitford and Jenkins have a sort of detached sense of humor about what they do – they’re portrayed as regular Joes whose job just happens to be orchestrating the violent deaths of young, college-going human beings. The other people in their facility are equally detached – at one point, the entire staff starts making bets on which horrible atrocity will be unleashed upon our unwitting heroes. It’s maintained that this is just a job – a horrible one, but one that human beings must commit and cope with for…a purpose. As a self-aware, genre-critiquing foil, the whole “Death Operation” idea is executed perfectly, and I believe it’s what makes the movie great. There are two stories happening at once – the main story with the kids in the cabin, and alternate story with the people behind the scenes controlling it all. Eventually, these two stories collide, and the results are, simply put – a doozy.

I dunno about you but I would completely trust a multi-billion dollar internationally top secret undercover operation to these people.

   So the kids start to get murdered by a “zombie redneck torture family”, a choice unwittingly picked by Dana out of a cornucopia of hellish freaks, beasts, and monstrosities. This is where the horror movie aspect of the movie works really well; the zombies actually look pretty damn scary, and there are even a few creative embellishments here and there. I especially enjoyed the zombie that wielded a bear trap as a weapon and swung it around in the air like a lasso to latch onto the backs of escaping victims – even if I saw that in a normal horror movie I’d STILL think that was a hilarious idea. Eventually the kids start to understand that something is NOT right when the tunnel they’re escaping through caves in due to an explosion (cued by a frantic Jenkins at the facility, trying desperately to keep them from leaving), and when Curt dramatically tries to jump the gorge that would lead to freedom, only to be killed instantly when he smacks directly into an invisible force field keeping them caged inside. Eventually the survivors come across an elevator that takes them down into the facility, where a blockade is set up to execute them before they cause any further trouble. Backed into an inescapable corner, Dana spots a conveniently large and bright red button that says “SYSTEM PURGE” and pushes it. This unleashes all sorts of hell and painful, torturous mayhem as the countless horror movie monsters run rampant on everyone in their path, resulting in what is undoubtedly one of the GREATEST climaxes to ever exist in cinema history! Seriously, if I had to choose one simple reason to see this movie, I’d pick the final 20 minutes of the film where absolutely absurd chaos reigns supreme….it is A LOT of fun to watch! There are many visual allusions to horror films past, and indeed the entire scene is a loving celebration of why horror movies are so damn awesome in the first place – any kind of horrific fate can and WILL happen, no matter what. The survivors use this chaos and unpredictability to make their ways to the very bottom of the facility, where an explanation and the end of the movie both reside.

   So, at this point I’m gonna delve into the BIG spoiler of the movie, the big juicy secret which I’ve avoided mentioning until now. If you’ve been reading this and haven’t seen the movie, you might be wondering just what in the hell is the exact reason for all this brain manipulation and horrible acts of violence. The answer, to put it quite simply, is – human sacrifice. The fact of the matter is, the old gods which used to rule the Earth – they’re referred to as the “Ancient Ones” – have agreed to stay underground and let humans do their thing on the surface, so long as they are appeased by the bloody sacrifice of 5 particular youths at some sort of regular rate. The gods demand the blood of certain human archetypes: The Whore, The Athelete, The Scholar, The Fool, and finally, The Virgin. These 5 people, whoever they may be, are manipulated and brainwashed into being unwilling sacrifices to these gods, so that the rest of humanity may live. That’s right, the entire plot revolves around an intricately elaborate sacrifice of young blood to ancient, as-of-yet dormant gods. And my guess is, by the time you’ve finished reading that sentence, you’ll have already decided if this is the type of movie for you. Once the survivors make it to the sacrificial center room, we’re treated to an awesome cameo from Sigourney Weaver as The Director of the entire operation, who explains the details I just laid out for you. If the blood quota is not met by sunrise, The Director says, the Ancient Ones will rise out of their dwellings and wreak havoc upon the entire human race, no doubt ushering in a new era of life on Earth…with significantly less humans. I won’t spoil precisely what happens in the end, but I will say that the whole “society needs to crumble” theme I addressed earlier plays heavily into the proceedings.

Bro, it's like....a cabin, inside of a cabin, inside of a CABIN....it's like, the Inception of horror flicks, no joke.

   Simply put, the premise for The Cabin in the Woods is inherently silly and over-the-top. Once you begin the apply real-world logic to it and try to pick apart how the whole operation could work, you realize the silliness of it because there’s no way it could feasibly function in reality – for example, whenever somebody is killed, the Puppeteers pull a giant wooden lever which siphons their blood into a sacrificial offering for the gods. The whole mechanism for how this blood is retained is never explained, and honestly, there really is no way to logically explain how they got the blood to flow exactly where they needed it to go. But, despite the flaws in logic that would normally make other movies fall apart, I feel that this absurdity is precisely why the movie works, and what makes it so lovably strange – it’s a completely outrageous story that exists to point out the tired clichés of a genre that might have gotten too needlessly predetermined for its own good, while establishing a new precedent in movie silliness. The movie is more focused on having fun than making sense in a truly logical way; the logic holds up just enough for the plot to work, and that’s really all it needs. I don’t feel that Cabin is a movie that should be held to “regular” movie standards, because it is clearly not a “regular” movie….it’s trying to be something a little more than that.

   The Cabin in the Woods is definitely a comedy in disguise, a critical smart-ass of a film that picks apart and pinpoints every expectation of the horror genre we’ve grown to both love and hate. It’s a self-referential, self-aware movie that deliberately doesn’t play by the rules…in fact, it completely defies those rules and makes us question if they should even be followed to begin with. It delves into the idea that things might go a little deeper than we previously assumed, the idea that there is something vastly greater going on right beneath our noses. These are the core reasons why I particularly enjoyed the movie – it exists to make the audience watching it aware of what makes these movies tick, while also existing as its own hilarious story which stands up on its own. I just enjoyed the themes of the movie, what it was trying to convey to the audience, and on top of that it was well-written, directed and performed outside of all that other “deep” shit. I have no qualms with saying that The Cabin in the Woods is a groundbreaking film in that regard. It’s an undeniably funny movie that provides a fresh and interesting perspective on what we’ve previously accepted as the norm, and not just in horror films. Like I said before, I’m not a big Joss Whedon/Drew Goddard fan, but I can definitely say that they have achieved something very original and needed in the realm of horror movies. I’m hoping that the movie finds a wide audience that will understand and be inspired by its convictions, although to be honest it is a very weird movie. If you’re the type of person who can deal with unconventional, self-referential moviemaking, then this is definitely a movie for you. If not, well…..the remake of Friday The 13th is always a safe option.