Edited from its original form. This was intended to be my observations of the movie’s first few scenes with some criticism here and there.
Reviews of The Cabin in the Woods have been generally positive, although there have been voices of dissent here and there. Whichever side of the fence they’re on, they don’t write about its plot except for a basic premise. There were the few I’ve read and the many that have advertised themselves as spoiler-free. I’ll do my best for this to not be that kind of post even though I’m the last person ever to see it. But nonetheless, let’s get this party started.
It starts with two women in their college dorm, the scene continuing with one character introduction after another. Jules (Anna Hutchison), recently changing her hair and personality, tells Dana (Kristen Connolly) to ditch her Soviet economics books and get into a weekend getaway mode. Jules’ also takes her boyfriend Curt with a C (Chris Hemsworth), a guy who dresses like jock who’s actually a smart sociology major. Out of this triumvirate, only Hemsworth can pull of the dialogue’s wit. Hemsworth is also able to recommend what books Dana should be reading while sounding like he knows what he’s talking about.
Hutchison and Connolly, however, seem to be too deadpan – Drew Goddard‘s blase direction doesn’t always help with this neither. But those two are interestingly cast, Hutchison’s face and demeanour seemingly too mature, her gaze too penetrating to really be the dumb blond persona that Jules has taken on for the weekend. Just as intended. Connolly is more fresh-faced so we’ll know that she’s last girl, whether she lives or not.
Anyway, apparently they’re the only people awake on campus despite it being a sunny spring day, or that they’re the last people to leave on their breaks. Curt offers his cousin’s cabin for the weekend getaway place and Jules asks him to invite his friend Holden (Jesse Williams of Grey’s Anatomy fame) so that Dana doesn’t feel left out. Marty (Fran Kranz), who looks like he’s going to act like a gargoyle for the rest of the movie, usurps into this otherwise picture perfect group and before they venture out into the titular cabin.
The journey towards the rural hideout is already filled with dread (why do young people in movies still go out in the woods to party even though we all know that most of them are going to die?). Being unable to find it on a GPS, they make a stop at a gas station and its attendant, Mordecai (Tim de Zarn), appears through a perfunctory shock cut. He calls Jules a whore, and a fight between the group and Mordecai almost break out, but they decide to leave him and have their fun as planned. As they drive their Winnebago through a tunnel a CGI bird flies in the sky, only to be stopped and killed by an invisible electric grid, reminding us that there are another set of characters in this story.
The movie actually begins with a mundane shot of a coffee vending machine that two white coats Sitterson (Oscar nominated Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Studio 60’s Bradley Whitford) use. Joined by the pencil-pushing Lin (Amy Acker), she worries about the day’s operation, although Sitterson smugly reassures her that they haven’t had a glitch since ’98. The two men leave her stranded, driving out with their cart within a large – public or private? – facility whose operation involves the characters who are cabin bound. We don’t know why they’re doing this or why they choose those kids. The same clunkiness permeate here as well, shot too close and lit too dirtily than I would expect in a scene featuring workplace humour. It also seems like the actors on this side work Whedon’s dialogue better throughout the movie…just like Curt does….and it is his cousin’s cabin. Despite of the imperfections here, Whedon and Goddard do start dropping pieces of the puzzle this early on.
It has the usual setup of young people discovering things hidden beyond the borders of civilization or revealing a character’s family secret. But what I like is that these characters challenge each other, the ones in the facility wondering, just like we do, how these kids will slip into which mess. The characters in the cabin, however, test each other on whether they’ll advance on each other sexually or be more modest towards each other like Dana and Holden does.
The movie is enigmatic and works its way into being character based but it didn’t really win me over until two of the characters find their way to fight back. When a certain scene happens the sounds of it make me feel like Whedon and Goddard had smiles on their faces while writing and making it. But that defining moment, coming in so late, and the movie’s hype itself, makes me cautious on whether to embrace it. Either way, the movie’s second hour makes the rest more bonkers and fun. 4/5
- The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 2011) (faircomments.wordpress.com)
I’m wishing that We Need to Talk About Kevin, the movie based on the Lionel Shriver bestseller, came out on DVD already so I can share with you the film’s first two images. The first one is of a translucent white curtain slowly being blown by the air. The second of an inevitably erotic nature, of muscle squashing together tightly, painted red by tomatoes and tomato juice, those bodies ion the streets that we see from the air in the Tomatina festival in Spain, one of its participants being our protagonist Eva Katchadourian (Tilda Swinton). Seeing these I inevitably compare this work of Lynne Ramsay’s to artist-turned director Steve McQueen’s, both seemingly having the same meditative pace and construction. The movie doesn’t live up to those expectations although we get a few visual treats – Eva hiding behind carefully stacked Campbell Soup cans, jagged ones of meeting her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly), her troublesome six-year-old son Kevin (Jasper Newell) making her office room wallpapered by maps into a ‘special’ Jackson Pollock of a mess – to clarify I’m not a Pollock hater but I would equally freak out if my kid dripped and shot paint all over the walls – and countless ones where mother and son (the teenaged version played by Ezra Miller) awkwardly share opposite sides of the same uncomfortable space. Eva, and sometimes Kevin, live in middle American kitsch suburbia, these poppy images drowned under fluorescent blandness. These images satisfy, the rest of the compositions mixing the elfin Swinton with middle American motifs, an unlikely pair that we get used to.
But I keep going back to the first two images, the second set pushed to the back burner as the happiest moment of Eva’s life while the first is the gateway and culmination of her worst. The movie’s intertwining plot lines mostly show us that her worst moments continue. Her new, shabbier house is often vandalized, surrounded by distant neighbours, their suspicious children and the occasional Jehovah’s Witness missionary, oblivious to her eternal damnation. But the movie also return to her relative misery as a wife/mother of two in a rich neighbourhood, their house funded by her best-selling travel books. She’s the town’s pariah, having to apply for a lowly travel agent job while her skeletal face gets clocked by another housewife after her job interview. We find out why the townspeople hate her so much as she has to, out of obligation, visit him in jail. When her family was intact, there seemed to be an alliance between Kevin and Franklin while Eva asks for the sympathy of her daughter, which he gets. But in her present situation, mother and son are stuck together.
Despite the images, this adaptation, as a medium, can’t help but be more one-sided than I imagine the novel to be. We the audience see Kevin as a baby alone with Eva – she takes his stroller to a construction site to drown out his incessant cries as opposed to, you know, feeding him or changing him or whatever actual good mothers should do. Then he magically stops crying when daddy comes home. She even tells him that she would be in France if he wasn’t born, these impulsive words heard by the disapproving Franklin. Speaking of changing, six-year-old Kevin is seen wearing diapers, and eventually we discover that she has to accidentally injure him in order for him to be potty trained. Until this section of the movie Eva seems like a passive character but even with punitive action she can’t discipline the boy or make him be nice to her. There is an exception when, after the hospital visit, she reads “Robin Hood” to her child, only realizing that hell take up an archery obsession that eventually drives her crazy. As the torture continues to his teenage years, Kevin giving her the cut eye to let her know that something would be amiss in the house for which he’s responsible. There’s also a sequence of her as she takes teenage Kevin for a golf and dinner date, when he combats her every attempt of small talk, Miller delivering each line with vehemence as Swinton is exquisite even while reacting. But I keep replaying the dialogue in that sequence in my head, since there are possibilities that his words aren’t that mean, that he’s just holding up a mirror to her hypocrisies and performed motherly warmth.
There’s also this unnecessary nihilism to the movie, especially with introducing Eva’s daughter. The movie, especially with its flashbacks and forwards, makes us wait for what he does that puts him in jail and for why her daughter has to wear an eye patch and the way the movie develops makes us feel that these events will be obscenely portrayed. This also makes me curious about how parents of juvenile criminals in reality are treated because it can’t be as bad and extreme as this. It is about the labourious plastering of how Kevin affects Eva. I’m not necessarily asking for a sugar-coating of the grisly subject it’s as if Ramsay and those involved in this movie are making it more difficult to reach these characters’ and environment’s humanity.
Walt Disney and crew’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, this week’s featured movie in Nathaniel’s Best Shot series, doesn’t really suggest images to me but acceleration. There’s this slowness to their movements but there’s this jolt of urgency to them as the movie progresses. The characters are also the only solid blocks of colour, the opposite of their Medieval-styled ornate surroundings. Here are some of my favourite shots.
Ok, this image is more of a static and and I didn’t even feel like including this because it feels like I’m just repeating my Black Narcissus best shot. Springtime is for lovers and Disney’s version puts us smack dab in the middle of the story as opposed to taking us to Snow White’s parents, etc. I know you know the story but the original Grimm Brothers’ tale is about Snow White’s growth as a domestic and sexual being, as well as the Evil Queen being Snow White’s mother and the Prince being the father, if I haven’t ruined your childhood yet. Anyway, this shot reminds me of the movie’s operatic structure, this tenor complementing Snow White’s coloratura. There’s also the Medieval costume’s drapery being very creamy throughout the film, influencing how we see these characters’ movement and posture. He’s not as effete as most of the Disney princes but those shoes look like they can walk on water.
Just like her suitor’s footwear, Snow White represents the daintiness of womanhood that earlier literature – and 1937 counts as ‘early’ – propagates, going through the woods and surviving while wearing pumps. She glides on surfaces instead of touching them like normal humans. She finds refuge from her homicidal (step)mother in the most hopeful of places. However it’s strange how these strangers can carve wood for their houses but find no time to dust heir house. Digging all day is not an excuse. It’s also more infuriating that her ragged state while shining the Queen’s Palace’s front steps is framed as slavery but cleaning for a bunch of dudes is totally ok. But we’ll give her brownie points for venturing into the cottage on her own and leveraging her lodgings and influencing the dwarfs’ eating habits. But that still feels codependent.
But can I really begrudge such people, even if they scare me more now than I did when I was a child? The dwarfs, by the way, probably start the tradition of fairy tale creatures as surrogate husbands, later prototypes of which include the original “Peter Pan.” This shot is my best shot simply because it will begin my quest to decide which dwarf is which. Doc, Dopey and Grumpy are the most constant characters so they’re the easiest to tell but to know the others I had to look into their eyes, which is nearly impossible if they’re moving too fast and freaking out while they’re imagining a monster sleeping in their beds. Thank God I eventually used the pause button. Also, this shot is one of the few examples that show how these characters have no bones in their bodies. They’re swift yet also graceful.
And finally the shot of the Queen. This scene is the Wicked Stepmother’s Lady MacBeth moment, having to take away her own femininity to make herself do the evil deeds that she believes must be done. The hoarseness within the voice actress becomes externalized, her slim figure becoming more brittle. This also baffles me after this recent rewatch because she is getting herself ugly to defeat the young woman more beautiful than her. Eventually she poisons the princess, their only onscreen encounter which is surprisingly not hostile.
A dirty-mouthed, homophobic high school kid named Costa talks directly to the video cam in front of him about the titular Project X, when he’s throwing what he hopes is ‘the best house party ever’ for his introverted, lanky friend Thomas Kob (Thomas Mann).
The camera, held by a conspicuous goth, follows both kids as well as every character he comes across, like Thomas’ parents who, going out-of-town, are confident that no house party will happen because he’s a ‘loser.’ But the turn of events are going to prove these adults wrong, because as the kids do their alcohol shopping they learn that Miles Teller is going too.
For some reason youths will go to any party before asking who is organizing or who it’s for, which I actually like because these children, celebrating and illegally drinking together, are less clique-y than my generation ever was. There are one or two kids, including the goth and the Thomas and Costa’s overweight and more awkward friend J.B., who are outcasts but they’re still allowed in.
When they actually see the celebrant, they stop the Muzak blaring from state of the art speakers – the great soundtrack includes Animal Collective, which, thank you – sing him the birthday song. It’s that one decrescendo after a series of well choreographed scenes going off in different parts of the block. It’s the right amount of organized chaos.
And when the music goes back on, we see people having a lot of crass fun and even if I watched this during a sober-timed matinée, I couldn’t help but root for the kid and the booze fest around him. It’s nice to see him transform from a ‘nobody’ to someone to cheats on his childhood sweetheart with some new bimbo. But in any circumstances, the movie’s music and the smoke and drug haze makes its audiences join in on the fun. Nobody wants to be a party pooper.
But the Todd Phillips and Joel Silver produced and Nima Nourizadeh directed party comedy begins in crass-ness and ends there with a riot breaking out. There’s just too much misinformation about collective outbursts for me that the movie’s association of the act with the ‘fight for your right to party’ generation seems condescending, vapid and vulgar. It’s ends up saying that kids haven’t evolved or have no thinking, as if all we or the young ones do is riot, destroy and have tantrums when we don’t get what we want. 1.5/5
- Todd Phillips PROJECT X Still Rocking The Joint With Second Full Trailer! (thepeoplesmovies.com)
The Virgin Spring seems to ask: Why are teenage girls perpetually dumber that we expect them? Tore (Max von Sydow) sends his daughter Karin (Brigitta Pettersson) out on a simple errand but within her little pilgrimage she does things that common sense would tell the audience not to do.
Why would she go into a dark forest without hesitation or go on without her escort? Why would she let herself get distracted by suspicious looking men?
This movie seems different from Ingmar Bergman‘s later, more excellent films because of its straightforward approach towards storytelling, but he comes up with a great formula nonetheless. He compartmentalizes every part of the narrative, the script firing off one section or character evenly.
And I know that Hollywood rules don’t apply to him but I also somehow applaud his decision to show a graphic sexual assault but not a murder. In 1960.
It has a straightforward enough of a message but we can also dig for the complexities within this cautionary tale. We can say that this movie exposes the arbitrary and cruel nature of violence, as she’s taken away without warning.
Instead of saying ‘bad things happen to people,’ we can say that God punishes a girl for her lack of judgment, innocence, gullibility, altruism and obliviousness.
They aren’t necessarily vices but I assume that contemporary audience’s eyes see her qualities as flaws working against her survival. We’re not looking at her merely as a victim because a victim is a blank slate and she is not.
And as much as it is about Karin it’s also equally about the people around her, and through them Bergman finds room for complex character studies within this simple movie. An example is Karin’s more beautiful yet pregnant escort Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom).
In the earlier part of their journey they argue about Karin dancing with the father of Ingeri’s child, being doubtful of anyone’s purity. She leaves Karin for a while, making a pit stop at a cabin and then running away to follow Karin from a distance.
Ingeri inadvertently watches as Simon and his cohorts assault her. Keeping her pregnancy in mind, she also behaves as if constantly troubled, and being a constant survivor doesn’t help her guilt and powerlessness.
There’s also Tore and his reactions towards the news of her daughter’s violent murder. As luck would have it, Karin’s murderers would ask to lodge in his home. He avenges her but his act doesn’t satisfy him.
The titular spring appears where her body is found, a sign of her family’s redemption. But since the movie has gotten to the point in depicting Tore’s part of the story, it shows a family with one less child, a community broken from a future that could have been.
- My 15 Favourite Moments in Ingmar Bergman Movies (via Southern Vision) (manonmona.wordpress.com)
Sleep deprivation in 2009 would probably have made me wonder ‘What is this HORSE doing in Fish Tank?!’ But the day before this year’s festival’s kickoff might be the perfect time to watch this to prepare for Michael Fassbender and Andrea Arnold‘s new works. This movie also has the funniest one liners and might be the only Criterion that features a Cassie song.
Nick wrote that Katie Jarvis should have been nominated for an Oscar, which my friends doubted because she was playing ‘herself’ here. I’ll never know what ‘herself’ is, but it’s probably the only time I’ll see an actress convey emotion even when her back is towards the camera. Her performance, the imagery and even the horse adds to its novelistic feel.
Films with cartoon-y aesthetics are gaining more acceptability with the cult success of Scott Pilgrim, but movies have tried to venture on that road twenty years ago. I’ve already written about Riki-Oh but now I’m here to talk about a more Hollywood and less bloody version, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The film includes a rat character – coming with an almost offensive Japanese accent – that I don’t remember in the cartoon’s I’ve seen as a child. This character is a gateway to the film’s origin story that includes his younger self as a small rat puppet doing karate moves, teaching his martial art skills to the turtles’ miniature versions and jumping on a guy’s face and this is already the greatest movie ever made.
Elias Koteas, a younger version of Robert de Niro and the rich man’s Christopher Meloni, is also in the movie, at a time when the world and Hollywood wasn’t so nice to him. How this man can be sexy and be able to pull off long, 90’s grungy long hair is beyond my feeble understanding. He and a love interest of a news reporter join the teenage ninja turtles in a retreat in the love interest’s farm-house for some meditation, for some reason. They’re freshening up before saving the rat from a Darth Vader lookalike of a samurai, ninjas and their ridiculously antisocial minions (Hey look! Teenagers with cutoff faded jeans playing pool!). Cue the slapstick martial arts standoffs that take place in the film’s New York mise-en-scene.