Monday, 30 April 2012

A political viewing of 'The Cabin in the Woods'

Taken from here.

"This ending has zero moral satisfaction; this isn’t Buffy saving the world by jumping into a swirling vortex, or stabbing her demon lover through the stomach and sending him into a swirling vortex; there’s no superhero here to whose virtue, self-sacrifice and rad individualism we can all aspire. There are no old ideals worth defending.

And yet Joss Whedon, once again, seems to have taken the temperature of the cultural zeitgeist (literally “time ghost”—uniquely appropriate for the horror genre) with startling accuracy. Because every single “emerging adult” in that audience was laughing and sighing and cheering right along with me throughout Cabin in the Woods. We recognized ourselves up there: We were Marty and Dana, staring at a proscribed future (be successful! Raise good kids! Die for the sake of humankind!) and finding it at best non-viable and at worst utterly devoid of meaning." [...]

"We’re citizens of a rapidly overpopulating, ecologically imploding globalized world, surrounded by repressive conventions and outmoded systems and vitriolic political debates and brutal conflicts and the very old and the very new and much, much, MUCH more information about all of these things than our parents could ever have imagined dealing with at our age. We’re looking for new and old ways to handle it all, and no one has any answers, because no one has ever lived the way we are living now.

So excuse us while we decide not to devote our lives to work without considering what kind of impact, violent or otherwise, that work is having, on our selves and on the world. Excuse us while we try and build our own temples and battle our own demons, instead of blindly sacrificing our blood for yours. And if you don’t excuse us, whatever, it’s cool, Joss Whedon does. He gets it. I think."

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Friday, 27 April 2012

Review: 'The Avengers' (2012)

I didn't think I was capable of loving Joss Whedon's work any more after reviewing The Cabin in the Woods the other week. However........


So the story ain't the most complicated - god Loki (Thor's brother) arrives and plans to summon an alien army in order to rule mankind. That's it. But plot isn't really what we're interested in. It's the characters. And it was always going to be a difficult task - by bringing together so many huge heroes in the space of one film, there was a high chance that some were going to be overlooked and cast aside as Muscle of Comic Relief. This is true to an extent, but what is genuinely impressive is that every Avenger - Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Bruce Banner - are all given their time in the sun. And even some lesser characters (Agent Phil Coulson, Agent Maria Hill, Nick Fury) shine through the egos.

Captain America is our fish-out-of-water doorway to the film, offering a way for the audience to view the premise. Unfortunately, he's the least-developed character, despite being the guy with the most hangups (going to sleep in WWII and waking up in 2012 will fuck you right up!). But Cap never really interested me as a character (I was always more interested in that guy who throws a hammer and wields lightening), so I'm not too bothered.

Tony Stark is his usual cocky self, but now in a relationship with Pepper Potts which is a nice touch. He's still a smart-arsed egotistical, arrogant jerk, but he has heart. And he has a good arc within the movie. Thor obviously has family issues (again!) so there are two sides to every action he makes - saving the world vs. the love for his (adopted) brother. Hawkeye has a good story too - I won't say too much to avoid spoilers, but he gets to shoot a lot of people and sometimes feels bad about it.

But for me, Bruce Banner is the top of the pack. Mark Ruffalo brings great presence to the role - his awkward body language make him seem like a ticking time bomb. Banner's relationship with Black Widow is very compelling and these two probably have some of the best scenes in the movie. They explain each other - through Natasha we learn about Banner, and vice versa.

Obviously the action is great (it was always going to be, right?!) and it's very funny (this is Joss Whedon afterall). But there just seems to be something lacking that stops me wanting to give it 5/5, no matter how much I want to. It's my favourite Marvel movie, but some issues with the Hulk and Captain America prevent  .5 of a star. But Joss says 45 minutes was cut on the editing floor, and with the film already coming in at 2 hours 20 minutes, maybe those issues weren't there earlier on and some necessary cuts had to be made. Personally I'd watch a 3h 30m superhero movie by Joss Whedon, but it wouldn't be for everyone.

It's a war movie, pure and simple - there are a lot of battle sequences, and an abundance of war-room talk. But don't let that put you off if you don't like war films - this is still an fast-paced, exciting superhero flick. It's perfect in almost every way, with Whedon's script demanding the very best performances from the cast. And that's what's so fun to watch - the interactions between these couldn't-be-more-different characters make The Avengers a first-rate film.


The Avengers to date:
The Avengers (2012) -   4.5/5
Captain America (2011) -   3/5
Thor (2011) -   4/5
Iron Man 2 (2010) -   3/5
Iron Man (2008) -   4/5
The Incredible Hulk (2008) -   3/5 

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Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Review: 'The Last Exorcism' (2010)

It's hard to write an objective review of anything with "exorcism" in the title because you're always going to compare it to that little film of the 70s. But I'll try to stay on-topic.

To shake things up, the film decides to use the fake found footage, docu-style filming so popular with horrors these days, using a camera crew to tell the "real" story. The first half does exactly what it needs to - sets up the characters and establishes the lore of the film: Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) is a religious preacher who's lost faith in the Almighty. Now under the belief that demons don't exist (in his own words if a man doesn't believe in demons, he can't believe in God), he sets about exposing exorcisms for the sham that they are. This is all very on-the-nose, but it's not a big deal - we can move past it.

We quickly move onto Cotton's final job - a young girl whose father believes she is possessed. A lot of horrors pass over character in favour of scares. The Last Exorcism isn't that bad - our religious preacher is compelling (if somewhat cliche), and the young possessed girl demands our attention, as do her father and brother.

But the real horror of the film comes from your own head. Our protagonist tells us that demons do not exist. But we know this is a horror film. So they can. But what if it's all psychological? But what if it isn't? That's what this movie does - you're constantly going back and forth on supernatural vs. science. The way the film presents this is more than enough to keep you entertained for the full 90 minutes.

There's a lot of screaming, some "what was that?!", a sprinkle of "somebody do something!", and plenty of in-the-dark horror set pieces. Everything you expect for the most-part. In an attempt to avoid spoilers, I won't say too much, but the ending is a bit of a side-step chaos-fest. It will divide audiences. I laughed. Then felt cheated. But in hindsight, I think the movie achieves its goal. It makes you question the world of the film and, consequently, the world we live in.

So why only 3/5??? Because it's impossible to watch the film without comparing it to its inspiration. I take that as a 5/5 movie, near-flawless. Don't get me wrong, The Last Exorcism is fun, scary, and intriguing. But it's no Exorcist!


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Friday, 13 April 2012

Trailer: 'Looper'

Great concept, but not sure the execution seems spot-on. Has the potential to make some bold statements though........

Review: 'The Cabin in the Woods' (2012)

WARNING - I have a ridiculous blind-side when it comes to Joss Whedon, so this review might be a tad (but only a tad, mind!) biased. With that in mind.....

So you know the story - five young friends go to a cabin in the middle of nowhere for summer fun. Horror, madness and general violence promptly ensues. There's a scene immediately following said cabin arrival that features a mirror. Another scene sees a character drop a weapon in a.....erm....interesting way (really hard to avoid spoilers in with this thing!) Anyway, those scenes directly tell you everything this movie is trying to do. And it succeeds. On many levels.

The writing is classic Whedon. There's not quite so much of his usual wit and funny-talk, but that's probably a good thing since it's an acquired taste. But there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, particularly if you like horror movies. On that note, if you're a horror buff (I consider myself to be nearing that title) you will love it! It does for the standard Monster Horror what Scream (1996) did for Slashers.

The characters are deliberately stock. The jock, the slut (not my words!), the smart glasses-wearing guy, the joker/geek, and the innocent virgin heroine. Some time is spent at the beginning of the film to get to know these guys, but it's not really that necessary, since you've seen them all before. Like I said, that's deliberate. And enough twists are given to their personalities to make them fun players (to explain what I mean by that would give too much away).

The aforementioned heroine Dana (Kristen Connolly) would easily fit in any of Whedon's other works - she's one of those Strong Female Characters he loves so much. And I love her too - she's strong, powerful, funny, and capable of stabbing scary monsters repeatedly (a useful trait in any girl!)

Overall, the script is funny and tightly-written, the performances are right as they should be (perfect casting!), the horror is standard but deliberately so, and the twists and turns keep you hooked throughout. I often rate a film based on what time I look at my watch. That doesn't mean I get bored at that point, but I want to know how long there is to go. For example, Captain America had me checking an hour in, whereas Thor kept me hooked until nearly 2 hours. During The Cabin in the Woods, I didn't check the watch once. Yeah ok, I know it's not that long, but it must mean something!

It's a great film, no two ways about it. It's not just a horror/comedy. And it's not just a critique/love letter to the genre either. The film has something to say about the world as a whole, as all good films should. And fans of Whedon's other work (Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse etc) will enjoy spotting various actors used before. It's not too spoilerific to say that a certain nerd who features heavily in Buffy season 7 pops up

Joss Whedon and director Drew Goddard worked together for years on Buffy, and it's clear they do so perfectly. So go see this film immediately!

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Wednesday, 11 April 2012

What should good TV do?

I happened across a thought last night. I think good television should challenge what a 10-year-old knows. Either that, or is should have the power to shape what a 10-year-old believes. Anyone who knows me will be aware that Joss Whedon's work is pretty much my favourite thing ever (followed very closely by anything Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam do!).

I started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer when I was about 9. I vividly remember my sister saying she was going to watch this thing with a really weird title. I figured it was some sort of geeky kids' cartoon. So I ignored it. But some time between episode one and two, my sister convinced me of its awesomeness. And after episode two, I was hooked.

I think because I watched it from such a young age, it shaped what I believe. I didn't see anything unusual about a young girl who killed vampires. But that was unusual in a male-dominated world. Looking back on Buffy now, I think it shaped the way I see a lot of things, mainly feminism and equality. It also defined what I consider to be heroism. That's going into battle despite a prophesy that tells you you're going to die. It's killing the man you love to save the world. It's doing whatever it takes to protect those around you. And it's sharing the power you have for the greater good.

I'll have started watching Angel when I was about 11 or 12. That taught me something very clear - no matter what you've done, however bad, there can always be redemption. And not any religious capital R redemption. Yes, Angel fights with the hope of a reward. But in the final episode, he makes a decision that guarantees no reward will be given (he literally signs on the dotted line!). And yet he fights on anyway. He keeps doing what's right.

I didn't watch Firefly until about 6 or 7 years ago, so most of my opinions were set. But it developed them. Back then, I'd have probably said I was an agnostic. Now I'm an atheist. Turns out that when a TV show puts a die-hard atheist on a spaceship with a religious preacher, both sides are brought out. Mal (our atheist captain) was also probably the most moral man on the ship. That taught me something.

In Serenity (2005), Mal talks with Book (our religious preacher) about faith. Book says "When I talk about belief, why do you always assume I'm talking about God?" That taught me that you don't need to be religious in order to believe in something. You can - like Mal - believe in yourself and the people around you. Mal also says "I'm going to show you a world without sin." Which told me very clearly that challenging what you're told and what the masses believe is a good thing.

I don't think it's a coincidence that my three favourite TV shows have also shaped the way I think. So it's this humble blogger's opinion that good TV has the ability to challenge and shape what we think and believe.

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Thursday, 5 April 2012

Why X2 is better than X-Men: First Class

When X-Men: First Class came out, general conception seemed to be that it was the best X-Men movie ever (it gets 7.9 on IMDb vs. X2's 7.6). To which I say bollocks! And here's why.....


Let's take the protagonists. X2 has Wolverine, First Class has Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto). Both have compelling missions - Wolverine's is to find the truth about his past, and Erik's is to seek revenge on the man who murdered his mother. Wolverine's mission is carefully developed throughout the entire movie, going from investigation at Alkali Lake, to interrogation of Xavier back at the mansion, to full-circle return to Alkali.

This is interrupted by William Stryker's attack on the mansion. But the two key points here are that a) the interruption is caused by the man who holds the key to Wolverine's mission, and b) Wolverine is forced to take this trip away from his primary mission - "I'll be fine," he tells Rogue as they flee the mansion. "But we won't," comes the reply. Wolverine must leave his mission in order to save lives.

In First Class, Erik's mission is interrupted by Sebastian Shaw (ok, good - he holds the key to his primary mission). But in contrast, Erik doesn't have to further divert from his goal of revenge. We've already seen that he is more than capable of fighting his way to Shaw and coming within spitting distance of him. But presented with the possibility of creating a cool team of superheroes with a guy he's just met, he says yes. Why would he do this when he can just fight his way back to Shaw and have another crack at him? This is a man who has spent his entire life filled with anger and revenge, and he's suddenly willing to put that on hold to mentor a few spotty teenage mutants? Sorry, I don't buy it!

The other problem is that First Class does a rather poor job of juggling a few too many characters. Our focus is on Erik for the first act (and what a great first act it is!), with secondary thoughts on Charles and Raven. Then suddenly we're expected to care about a bunch of teenagers who we haven't seen before. That's where the problem lies - we put a lot of time and effort into following Erik's story, but then we're cheated when the film changes from a revenge thriller to a motivational teen movie. And why should we care about them? For example, why was Alex Summers in prison? Why should I care about him if you won't give me a reason?!

In contrast, X2 juggles a large number of characters near-perfectly. Nightcrawler demands a bit of our time, especially later on in the movie where his knowledge and skills become vital. But it's ok, because he is introduced in the opening act. The same goes for Rogue, Bobby and Pyro. But again, we see them early on, so their stories don't come out of the blue. And their backstories are explained enough for us to care.

The only issue I have with X2 (and all of the X-Men movies for that matter) is that Cyclops is criminally under-used. Once he's kidnapped, we don't see him again until the finale, where he does sod all. But perhaps that was wise, as trying to deal with too many main characters can be a disaster (as First Class demonstrates).

Don't get me wrong - I like First Class (it's miles better than The Last Stand, anyway!). I think the first act is excellent, but it's downhill from then on. But X2 beats it on every level. Especially in the final act. Characters ring true in X2 (Magneto betrays his new team members, tricking Xavier into attacking every human on the planet). Whereas First Class expects us to believe that Raven is going to abandon Charles (a man she has spent the best part of her life with) when he has just been shot and paralysed (and may be dying!) in favour of the guy who just caused said paralysis and is wearing the helmet of a Nazi-friendly murderer!

Nah, X2 will always be far superior to First Class.

Rant over.

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Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Relaunching the blog

Since the last thing I posted on here was back in October, I've come to the conclusion that I should re-brand the blog. So from now on, I'm mainly going to be posting super-short film/TV reviews/musings. In the meantime, here's a picture of a cat.

Watch this space.....