Skip to main content

Any of army of nightmares, huh? Let's get this party started.


The Cabin in the Woods
(2011)

(WARNING: SPOILERS) Highly entertaining, but not the reinvention of the wheel that many of the geek-outs over it would have you believe. Indeed, in many respects this is fairly par for the course Joss Whedon fare, with his expected trickiness, self-consciousness and stock characters with stock dialogue thrown wholesale into the horror genre (Buffy may have had certain of the trappings, but it wasn’t really horror).

If the teens-in-peril slasher by way of The Truman Show premise is diverting enough (one character is called Truman, in case we needed telling), the sum total is so pleased with itself that it never manages to be even vaguely unsettling. And it suffers from the same problem as Avengers; Whedon's at his best when he can tease out a plot over six or more hours. Without that pace and indulgence of character, you're barraged by constant punchlines. I'd argue that In the Mouth of Madness tapped a similar vein of post-modern horror in a more subtle and effective way,

But it can be a problem when you've been primed that something is cleverer than much else out there; you end up regarding anything less than genius as a bit of a failure. There is a huge amount to enjoy in Cabin, and it was a lot of fun to see actors like Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins spouting Whedonisms (although - again like Avengers - some of the writer’s shtick is wearing a bit thin; even Whitford couldn't sell breaking a dramatic moment with a cry of "Tequila!"). While the riffing on standard characters and references to Evil Dead ("Angry molesting tree") aren't that original when we had Scream overloading on genre referencing only... okay 15 years ago, the licence to run with it in places is quite satisfying (the menagerie of grotesques, the occasional stand-out bad taste line, such as "How hard is it to kill nine year-olds?") 

Also nice to see a Howling-esque werewolf, and fun to spot Whedon alumni in various roles both large and small. I wondered who "Kevin" was supposed to be on the monster chart, and wasn't the line "We are not who we are" from The X-FilesIce?

****


Popular posts from this blog

The minotaur isn’t even history. He’s mythology!

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013) The long awaited, some might suggest past-its-sell-by-date, return of Ron Burgundy doesn’t begin well. It pretty much confirmed my fears this was a sequel with no reason to be, one that weakly rehash the gags and set-ups from the first movie. It isn’t until the gang gets back together that Will Ferrell and Adam McKay hit their groove, by which I mean there’s a higher hit than miss ratio to the jokes. Many of the ideas that come with the central concept are soft connects, but the more absurd The Legend Continues gets, the funnier it becomes, leading to a final act (if you can call it that) so glorious in its silliness that much of what fails before becomes virtually irrelevant. Anchorman 2 was on-again, off-again for quite some time before it finally got the green light, with a stage musical even considered at one point. It seemed to me to be messing with a good thing; the inspired lunacy of the first picture had already shown

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

Ziggy smokes a lot of weed.

Moonfall (2022) (SPOILERS) For a while there, it looked as if Moonfall , the latest and least-welcomed – so it seems – piece of apocalyptic programming from Roland Emmerich, might be sending mixed messages. Fortunately, we need not have feared, as it turns out to be the same pedigree of disaster porn we’ve come to expect from the director, one of the Elite’s most dutiful mass-entertainment stooges, even if his lustre has rather dimmed since the glory days of 2012.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

I’ve had enough of this 2012 Alamo bullshit.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016) (SPOILERS) Not The Secret Private Military Contractors of Benghazi , as that might sound dubious in some way, and we wouldn’t anything to undermine their straight-shooting heroism. That, and interrogating the politics of the US presence in Libya, official and unofficial, and involvement in the downfall of Gaddafi (Adam Curtis provides some solid nuggets in his rather sprawling HyperNormalisation ), is the furthest thing from Michael Bay’s mind. Indeed, it’s a shame 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi bears the burden of being a tale based on (murky and disputed) facts, as it’s Bay’s most proficient piece of filmmaking in some time. So, you’re not going to find out what the CIA was actually up to in their Benghazi base (most likely, the dodgiest conclusion you can reach will be the right one). You’ll only be informed that a brave team of ex-military types were there to protect them, and stepped up to the plate, ju

It looks like we’ve got another schizoid embolism!

Total Recall (1990) (SPOILERS) Paul Verhoeven offered his post-mortem on the failures of the remakes of Total Recall  (2012) and Robocop (2013) when he suggested “ They take these absurd stories and make them too serious ”. There may be something in this, but I suspect the kernel of their issues is simply filmmakers without either the smarts or vision, or both, to make something distinctive from the material. No one would have suggested the problem with David Cronenberg’s prospective Total Recall was over-seriousness, yet his version would have been far from a quip-heavy Raiders of the Lost Ark Go to Mars (as he attributes screenwriter Ron Shusset’s take on the material). Indeed, I’d go as far as saying not only the star, but also the director of Total Recall (1990) were miscast, making it something of a miracle it works to the extent it does.