My Week #45: The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods
Drew Goddard, 2012
Equal parts subtle and overt, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's practically ideal and cleverly subversive horror/comedy is easily the best simultaneous send-up and reverent homage to slasher and slasher-esque cinema I've seen, trumping 2006's sly "Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon". Sitting in the theater was sheer bliss as a physical euphoria washed over me for 90 minutes simply due to how damn much I was enjoying myself. While being perfectly satisfied on the level of a mere horror fan, I was also giddily laughing my ass off at the daintily whimsical nature that comes through in the lead creative duo's consistently pitch-perfect writing and directing. Any true fan of the genre's past 40 years should experience similar effects from the utter delight of watching these young actors unwittingly play in to every trope carefully arranged for them (and, really, for us, in an underlying economic sense) before the best third act imaginable ensues. Genre-defining? Yes, emphatically. In a way - a very fun way - it's even retroactively re-defining.

Further first-time viewings:

Planet Hulk - Sam Liu, 2010
So did someone take "A Princess of Mars" and rework it with Marvel characters? For all I've heard about this recent arc in the Hulk's pure comic incarnation, I can't but imagine that this presumably more obviously all-audiences animation is a severely watered-down summary. Why do I even bother with this sort of definitively unchallenging, colorful cotton candy filler stuff, when I could be watching one of the many, many heaped upon my pile of "I know of their reputed greatness, I'll get to them one day..." titles? Someone make me stop. Oh wait, too late, here comes this week's next film...

Big Money Rustlas - Paul Andresen, 2010
I watched "Big Money Hustlas" during my time as a fan of the Insane Clown Posse in 2004. I'd never call it "good", per se, but it has its moments, and the "magic, magic, ninjas, what" bit is honestly still hilarious. It's an enjoyable way for juggalos to waste time. This... I'm... well, I'm not sure it's doing ICP any favors when it comes to recovering from the (also hilarious) "magnets" fiasco not a year prior. Where "Hustlas" felt knowing of its ridiculousness, "Rustlas" feels like a crude celebration of idiocy, misogyny and gang mentality. Plus it just never really gels - even humorously - seeing dudes in thick clown paint doing up the whole old west thing. Still, not quite the worst thing I've seen from 2010.

Total: 3

Rewatches (2): The Evil Dead (Raimi, 1981); The Beast with A Billion Backs (Peter Avanzino, 2008)
- It is still so inspirational to see what a thoroughly entertaining and flat-out insane flick Raimi managed to make with just a group of friends, a camera and a few buckets of blood.
- Two years ago I would have told you that "Bender's Big Score" is the best of the "Futurama" movies. This year I'm amending that to bump former runner-up, "The Beast with A Billion Backs" in to first. It is more philosophically intriguing, as the property has the knack to whimsically be within its wacky universe full of snark and potential. It also doesn't have annoying naked aliens constantly sniffing things. The other two are fine, but suffer more from their episodic nature and poorer B-plots.

Episodic Television (4): Parks & Recreation (Live Ammo); South Park (I Should Never Have Gone Ziplining); The Benson Interruption (Episode 1 - Episode 6); Nick Swardson's Pretend Time (Powdered Doughnuts Make Me Go Nuts)
- Andy's "Boogie Nights" reference in the latest episode of "Parks"... just awesome. My girlfriend and I are always pointing out how that character is so similar to Eddie Adams. Now let's get an "Angels Live in My Town" rolling for Burt Macklin! Some major bricks were laid in this episode, perhaps altering my predictions and hopes for certain outcomes on deep levels (you wouldn't want me to get in to it, as I have elsewhere... I wouldn't stop). Exciting! As always!
- The South Park duo does a fair job of sending up both lame outdoors activity centers and even lamer melodramatic shock programming. The episode is tongue-in-cheek throughout, although a few ridiculously intricate fart jokes do elicit ironically earned laughs.
- I'm not sure if "Interruption" ever hit a stride, but at least it was beginning to get in to a slight groove after a very rocky and lackluster six episodes that quite honestly is better off having been cancelled (unfortunate coming from a comic whose apparent key source for material is the film world). I'm not sure who greenlights the premise of "A sleepy comedian sabotages vastly superior comedians' routines in the fashion of a lazy heckler before reciting his Twitter feed". I'm not sure if Benson really doesn't care or if that's just his schtick. I'm not sure about a lot of things, it seems. I am sure, however, that although this program does become more relatively watchable as it progressed, I only laughed out loud twice. One of those times was due to a Michael Ian Black-related plug for "Kids in America", which was later retitled "Take Me Home Tonight" thereby rendering the plug humorously inaccurate in retrospect.
- "Pretend Time" is shockingly not the worst thing I've ever seen, although man, it really is tough to get these sorts of sketch shows right. With rare exceptions, it's not nearly as good as just watching the same comedian's stand-up (an odd example to be using in correlation with the awful stand-up of Nick Swardson, but you get me).

Episodic Television Rewatches (2): Parks & Recreation (Flu Season - Li'l Sebastian); Futurama (Time Keeps On Slipping - A Taste of Freedom)

Literature (1): Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America (Leslie Knope, 2011)
- For as much as I enjoyed this book throughout, I will say I feel it peaked big time with its first chapter - Leslie's 24-hour tour of Pawnee. The character's blind enthusiasm for her town makes me want to move to rural Indiana and find a waffle diner with a rotating pie display. For the most part, the rest of the book undermines this attitude by detailing the preposterously heinous history of the town, from atrocities committed against the natives to supplementing the water supply with corn syrup. Of course part of Leslie's endearing nature is her ability to look beyond this history and aim to improve her surroundings, but man, chapter after chapter of that stuff almost makes the Pawnee of the book seem separate from the Pawnee of the show.

Stand-Up Comedy (1): Patton Oswalt: No Reason to Complain

Video Games (2): Dragonvale; Pocket Legends
- Now I get why people are so addicted to "FarmVille". Oh, who am I kidding? It's not that difficult to understand, and I've played plenty of games like it before. In "DragonVale" the carrot is always being extended in front of your nose with no ultimate reward outside earned aesthetics and increasingly ready access to them (an arguable point for many online RPGs, although in this case there isn't so much as a storyline... not that one is needed, but that's a whole other can of worms that will assuredly see me swooning over how perfect "Final Fantasy XI" was for the umpteenth time). Still, I can't quit watching/tapping my farms, my breeding cave, my habitats, etcetera, and I've near obsessively designed a practical yet attractive layout for my island. The game is blatantly built around encouraging in-game purchases with real money, which is a major downside, but thankfully one easily ignored in this case. I mostly just wish more was done with the idea of luring visitors to your island. There's a visitor counter, but as far as I can tell it doesn't hold sway over anything other than creating the illusion of perpetual activity - your exhibits earn steady profit regardless.
- "Pocket Legends" is like "Guild Wars" meets "Zork". Fun stuff, although again bothersome in its reliance on in-game purchases. I've been discouraged from continuing by reports that it's pretty much impossible to be worth a damn after level 20 if you're not shelling out the real bucks. No, thanks, that's not what I downloaded a free app for.

"My Week in Movies" is a Saturdaily column in which I share preferentially ranked capsule reviews for the films I view in, well, a week, along with thoughts on other forms of media I'm taking in (or masochistically subjecting myself to).


My Week #44: Lockout; Mongolian Ping Pong; The Raid; In Time

James Mather & Stephen St. Leger, 2012
Luc Besson strikes again! "Lockout" is a pure "B"-movie delight, right at home with '80s and '90s action classics such as "Die Hard", "Air Force One" and, yeah, "Escape from New York". Guy Plissken-- I mean, Pearce, isn't quite Kurt Russell, but he gets the job done nicely in the role of a character fluent in the language of snark. His name? Snow. Some other character names are Hawk and Mace. Awesome, right? Sure, regard for basic science is out the airlock with sequences of cryogenically frozen prisoners awakening (from stasis that negates the rehabilitative potential of incarceration) and becoming fully alert and mobile within seconds before going nuts with traditional firearms inside pressure-controlled space vessels, though if you're caught up on that you're missing the fun. From where I'm sitting what we have here is a sexy-looking and quotable ("Here's an apple") modern action standout that hits the notes it needs to succeed with gusto. Some punches may be pulled for the sake of a PG-13 rating, and are more noticeable than the same in Besson's "Colombiana" (which prospered from the "pulls" by accentuating the lead's dauntingly stealthy presence), but this does not compromise the full experience.

Lü cao di (Mongolian Ping Pong)
Hao Ning, 2005
In what feels like a slightly more accessible mix between Brosens' "State of Dogs" and Byambasüren's "The Cave of the Yellow Dog" (with maybe a little of "The Stars Caravan" tossed in for good measure), "Mongolian Ping Pong" observes nomadic Mongolian life with a unique hook, and enjoys gorgeous cinematography with plenty of culturally intriguing highlights to boot. I cannot say it is as strong or memorable as either of those works, the masterful former in particular, but of what I consider the second tier Mongolian films I have seen it is likely the best, and at the very least provides some cinematic fleshing out for what is such a fascinating region of earth and humanity. Of note, regarding the title: Obviously "Lü cao di" (Chinese) does not literally translate to "Mongolian Ping Pong". Through Google Translate, the closest translation I can find is "Green Grass". Almost coincidental, as "Mongolian Ping Pong" vaguely reminded me of the more recent Montana-based "Sweetgrass", which against all odds I actually did not much care for.

Further first-time viewings:

Serbuan maut (The Raid) - Gareth Evans, 2011
What a disappointment. Well, alright, it's actually pretty okay. It does, however, take too long and inconsequential a while to get going, peak in the middle then drag in its final act, offering a little of the style I crave in these sorts of films and relying more on monotonous shaky-cam nonsense. I figured such a martial arts-heavy film would relish opportunities to really show off the physical craft of its performers rather than rely more on blurs and graceless handheld cinematography. Being story-lite is fine, but even "Act of Valor" (my new go-to bad movie reference) has more story to justify its action than "The Raid". Again, overall it's pretty okay. That peak in the middle is inspired and even bordering on superficially exhilarating at times. More is required, however, to create a full-fledged film rather than something on the level of an arm's-length YouTube phenomenon with highlights better off seen in a compilation reel than in a full feature that screeches to a halt any time someone's not getting punched, kicked, stabbed, sliced, shot or DDTed. The stretches of quality are practically groundless, littered with poor attempts at a bigger picture and sandwiched between tedious and tiring opening and closing acts.

Love Streams - John Cassavetes, 1984
There are directors who use actors as tools, there are "actor's directors", and then there is John Cassavetes, who seems solely concerned with actors and barely anything more. Widely unremarkable camerawork and a story merely concerned with rote family drama does not a compelling cinematic experience make. Gena Rowlands always seems to play a version of the same character, but she's damn good at it. Through Cassavetes' obsessive focus on her the film sees potential redemption, but ultimately fails to generate a satisfying experience.

In Time - Andrew Niccol, 2011
Starting as a harmless sci-fi excursion that, although never bothered to justify its lofty concept or that concept's basic mechanics, is perfectly sufficient on technical levels, "In Time" relishes cheaply imagined gadgetry and simple action, eventually becoming an insufferable, implausible bore that tries to get a pass by adding "Ktchsss" sound effects when car doors open. The boiled-down allegory for contemporary economic woes - particularly regarding the world's needy - could be intriguing yet instead it comes off as just silly. I'd like to say this whole premise could have served better as backstory to a more interesting Robin Hood type tale, but... well, if accomplished similarly such a tale would not really be all that interesting at all, would it?

Total: 5

Rewatches (4): Wrath of the Titans (Liebesman, 2012); Bender's Big Score (Carey-Hill, 2007); Bender's Game (Carey-Hill, 2008); Into the Wild Green Yonder (Avanzino, 2009)

Episodic Television (2): South Park (HUMANCENTiPAD; Ass Burgers; Bass to Mouth; Butterballs); Dark Shadows (Episode 210)
- I feel like "South Park", of which I've somehow seen every episode of through season 14, has grown too tedious for its own good. I just don't enjoy it anymore.

Episodic Television Rewatches (2): Parks & Recreation (The Telethon - Go Big or Go Home); Futurama (Crimes of the Hot - The Devil's Hands are Idle Playthings)

Literature (1): Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America (Leslie Knope, 2011)

"My Week in Movies" is a Saturdaily column in which I share preferentially ranked capsule reviews for the films I view in, well, a week, along with thoughts on other forms of media I'm taking in (or masochistically subjecting myself to).


MY WEEK #43: Titanic 3D; Urga; Faces

Nikita Mikhalkov, 1992
AKA "Territory of Love", AKA "Close to Eden". An often beautifully assured and expertly executed depiction of a dwindling culture being absorbed by vastly more powerful neighboring countries, though it is plagued by an oddly ignorant American sensibility that fights to cheapen it throughout.

Further first-time viewings:

Faces - John Cassavetes, 1968
What begins in an appealingly raw fashion almost pre-echoing "Putney Swope", if you will, quickly dissolves in to an actor's playground full of relentlessly obnoxious antics and bipolar thought processes even less sensible than seen in "A Woman Under the Influence".

Total: 2

Rewatches (1): Titanic (Cameron, 1997)
- Seeing "Titanic" for the first time at age 13 - brought to the theater by my father once the rating was dropped to PG-13, an experience he remembers me being resistant to - it was easy to write off the experience as, well, from a 13-year-old perspective, 3 hours of what was expected just to see some boobs. But on a more serious and more important note, it was easy to write "Titanic" off as exploitative of travesty just for the sake of telling a sweeping love story. Now with my much-anticipated revisit to the epic (which I'd seen countless times between on dual-tape VHS) having come to pass, I reverse that notion. "Titanic" is first and foremost about the history and the human disaster - what went in to causing the catastrophe and why so many died due to class hubris, and weaves these aspects in with the character narrative seamlessly. The themes couldn't be more obvious and at many points experience excess, but all the while we have the "Romeo & Juliet"-esque lovers Jack and Rose and their supporting cast of clear archetypes to relate to amongst the chaos, and through putting ourselves in their shoes does the experience truly begin to flourish. The romance itself is somewhat obligatory - rooted in a winning desire for freewheeling liberty in defiance of oppressive hierarchal differences yet almost too perfect and grandiose to really become intimately involved with - but again, it works swell, and James Horner's capitalizing score allows it to occasionally soar. There is plenty left to desire compositionally and emotionally from this film, though it is inarguable that in utilizing unfettered cinematic spectacle Cameron crafted a suitably effective and draining experience that runs the gamut and leaves you breathless (despite what is perhaps too frequent a reliance on comic relief) while not being afraid to get quiet when appropriate. Returning to the picture on the big screen brings new relevance to the opening framing sequence, in which we empathize most with Rose in the capacity of a return audience - we are going back to "Titanic" as she is, and viewing Bill Paxton's selfish scavenger hunt through more knowing eyes. Even with its length the enveloping film flies by in no time with practically zero filler to be found. The new coat of paint does the picture well, and the 3D is adequate, at times enhancing immersion and particularly assisting in our comprehension of and marvel at just how titanic the Titanic really was. The nature of converted classics is imperfect, of course, as the films were not composed with 3D in mind and this shows when Jack and Rose share close-up OTS shots and their eye-lines are just off enough to be noticeable (though not detrimentally distracting). What are you waiting for, go see "Titanic" again! Big screen! Billy Zane!! Just don't do what my audience dubiously did... I swear, there was exodus right before the aforementioned boobs, as if the scene were being treated as intermission. I honestly have no idea what those people were thinking. Boobs over popcorn any day, I always say.

Episodic Television (2): Wings (Hell Hath No Fury Like a Policewoman Scorned - Friends or Lovers?); The Office (Search Committee Part 1; Search Committee Part 2); Futurama (The Prisoner of Benda; Mobius Dick - All the Presidents' Heads)
- I'm just including "Wings" with first-time viewings because when I used to watch was so long ago and only on rare sick/snow days (in hour blocks right before "Ned & Stacey"!) so I hardly remember which ones I've previously seen! Great sitcom. Total comfort zone material. "High Anxiety" brings the show's first real emotional highlights.
- Man, I know this is beating a dead horse but "The Office" has gone so far downhill. I'm morbidly curious about the current season, but it took enough sheer boredom just to feel like slapping on the rest of season 7...

Episodic Television Rewatches (2): Parks & Recreation (Woman of the Year; Park Safety); Scrubs (Our First Day of School); Kid Notorious (Pussy Power); Futurama (Rebirth - The Late Philip J. Fry)
- Man, I used to adore "Kid Notorious". This is the first time I've managed to track it down since it got prematurely cancelled. I wish I could say it held up, but it's brazenly insensitive and relishes simple mentions of sex as titillation alongside cheap slapstick and toilet humor. Maybe the subsequent episodes were better? I'll have to see if I can find those, now. I seem to recall more Hollywood insider humor and a particularly excellent Christmas episode involving Slash, Kim Jong Il and cocaine snow.

Literature (1): Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America (Leslie Knope, 2011)

Stand-Up Comedy (1): Louis C.K.: Hilarious (2009)
- On the heels of viewing "Chewed Up", "Hilarious" is rather a disappointment. Carelessly repeated jokes and weaker material all around, although there is one bit toward the end that had me in stitches.

Video Games (1): Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (1992)
- Wow, could they have improved any more on (the already competent and fleetingly fun) "Super Mario Land"? This is almost like the leap between "Super Mario Brothers" and "Super Mario World". My only very minor complaint so far is that the jump physics are just ever so slightly off, as I suppose they kind of were in the predecessor as well (though not nearly as far off as the recent "New Super Mario Brothers", or any handheld and recent 2D iterations of Sonic, for that matter). I mean, in one stage the goombas wear Jason masks... how can I not love it? And it was free through a GameStop promotion! Score!

- In less than an hour, at 2:22 in the afternoon, I commence my 28th year of life. I'll be 27. What a number. I'm so old. I'm still waiting for my real life to begin. But it's actually looking to be taking some steps soon, so the waiting might end and the proactivity may begin! Only the remainder of 2012 will tell. Or something. I didn't plan this to be so pseudo-melodramatic. Insert any Ron Swanson quote about birthdays here. Went out to brunch with the whole family - Jaime, Tuesday, mom and dad - and then went diaper shopping, hurray! Also ordered myself an iPad 3 the other day, ho ho ho! And my Facebook is blowing up more than ever. Specialness. Hope you're having a good day, too!

"My Week in Movies" is a Saturdaily column in which I share preferentially ranked capsule reviews for the films I view in, well, a week, along with thoughts on other forms of media I'm taking in (or masochistically subjecting myself to).