Jesse Williams

The Cabin in the Woods (2011, Drew Goddard)

I didn’t have much hope for Cabin in the Woods; though, I mean, director and co-writer Drew Goddard… he’s gone on to stuff. Good stuff. Right?

But if I’d known it was written in three days—it shows—and cost $30 million—it actually looks pretty darn good for $30 million, saving the money shots until the final third or so. And I guess it’s well-paced? Like, it’s terribly long and exasperating as the film threats the various unlikable cast members but then once it gets into the “final girl” sequence, it’s a lot better. I foolishly even had the wrong final girl picked; I thought Goddard and co-writer Joss Whedon were going to do something interesting with genre. Or maybe I just assumed they were going to try to do something interesting. Maybe feign something interesting.

I didn’t expect them to mix together a few standard sci-fi tropes, the Evil Dead, a not-Ace Ventura Jim Carrey vehicle, a pseudo-gory Texas Chainsaw knock-off, Whedon and Goddard’s celebrity “Lost” fanfic, maybe two other things I recognized and forgot, plus all the horror in-jokes and references I didn’t get. I got the Hellraiser one, of course, because that one was peculiarly… not desperate but maybe wishful. Like for a moment it became a different movie. Though I was confused the whole time because I thought it was supposed to be the merman not the Hellraiser guy. Cabin is often very talky and very fast and it’s not clear during the first half they’re ever going to painfully detail the big secret with a special genre guest star (if you’re willing to stretch genre). It’s a solid guest star “get,” but it would’ve been better with just a voice over and maybe just been Jamie Lee Curtis.

Even getting past the bad writing—because it’s not just a string of tropes fit into very specific, very literal boxes, it’s still terribly written—the acting is all atrocious as well. Cabin creates a role just for Bradley Whitford—paired with Richard Jenkins like they’re Lemmon and Matthau or something—and it’s bad. Like, the part’s bad and Whitford’s obnoxious. Jenkins is better, but definitely not good. He too is obnoxious, with a more explicit misogyny thing thrown in for good measure.

But the leads—Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Chris Hemsworth, Jesse Williams, Fran Kranz—they’re bad. Hutchison, Hemsworth, and Kranz are really, really, really bad.

It’s bad writing on the characters and all, but the acting’s still bad. If Connolly and Williams were really good, there might be some relief but they’re not. They’re just not as bad as the rest of them. They don’t get actively worse. When it seems like Connolly might be getting better but then doesn’t, it’s not a negative. It maintains. Hemsworth, Kranz, and Hutchison get worse throughout.

Good photography from Peter Deming, okay editing from Lisa Lassek (Lassek’s cuts are fine, the content’s just bad), strangely unmemorable score by David Julyan. I remember a lot of emphasis music but not any of the specifics about it, which is probably for the best.

Goddard’s direction is confused for the first half, when he’s homaging left and right, but it’s at least a low competent for the second half, as the film movies into a new realm.

The second realm is… technically more interesting than the first and the film definitely doesn’t get as bad as it sometimes threatens. But there’s only so good it’s ever going to get given the leads. And the writing.

Maybe it would’ve been better as a TV show? They could’ve called it “Lost in the Woods” or something.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Drew Goddard; written by Joss Whedon and Goddard; director of photography, Peter Deming; edited by Lisa Lassek; music by David Julyan; production designer, Martin Whist; costume designer, Shawna Trpcic; produced by Whedon; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Kristen Connolly (Dana), Chris Hemsworth (Curt), Anna Hutchison (Jules), Fran Kranz (Marty), Jesse Williams (Holden), Richard Jenkins (Sitterson), Bradley Whitford (Hadley), Brian White (Truman), Amy Acker (Lin), and Tim DeZarn (Mordecai).


Snake and Mongoose (2013, Wayne Holloway)

I’m trying to think of something nice to say about Snake and Mongoose because pretty soon it’s going to seem like I’m picking on it. Fred Dryer. As in “Hunter” Fred Dryer. He’s in it for a bit. He’s having fun and still has some personality.

Sadly, the main actors have none. Richard Blake is a little bit better than Jesse Williams, but Williams is atrocious so it doesn’t make much difference. The rest of the supporting cast is even worse, though a lot of the fault might be the script. Alan Paradise and director Holloway write in one liners. It’s okay, of course, since the actors don’t act so much as wait to recite their crappy lines.

But the film’s incompetent in some ways it shouldn’t be. Holloway has a very limited budget. The way he shoots cars, one has to wonder if he promised the owners of these classic vehicles they’d be presented well. Shame Holloway didn’t put the attention into how he was shooting scenes.

Budget aside, the problem is director Holloway. He has no imagination for his small budget. He just pretends what he’s doing works and it doesn’t. More than half the film is old footage of the actual events, but there’s no attempt to integrate the scenes stylistically. Experienced cinematographer John Bailey doesn’t help. Sure, it’s digital, but Bailey does an awful job.

Snake and Mongoose’s badly made, badly acted. It’d do better as an historical clip reel than as an inept docudrama.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Wayne Holloway; written by Alan Paradise and Holloway; director of photography, John Bailey; edited by Richard Halsey and Nicholas Wayman-Harris; music by Gary Barlough; production designer, John Mott; produced by Robin Broidy and Stephen Nemeth; released by Anchor Bay Films.

Starring Jesse Williams (Don ‘The Snake’ Prudomme), Richard Blake (Tom ‘Mongoose’ McEwen), Ashley Hinshaw (Lynn Prudhomme), Kim Shaw (Judy McEwen), Maxwell Perry Cotton (Jamie), Fred Dryer (Ed Donovan), John Heard (Wally Parks), Julie Mond (Wendy), Leonardo Nam (Roland Leong), Ian Ziering (Keith Black), Tim Blake Nelson (Mike McAllister) and Noah Wyle (Arthur Spear).


Brooklyn’s Finest (2009, Antoine Fuqua)

When Richard Gere gives the best lead performance in a film, it’s definitely a problem. Gere doesn’t bring any gravitas to this role–a retiring police officer–and, when it gets to his redemption, it’s not clear why he needs redeeming. The film calls him a failure a lot, but it’s never clear why he’s a failure, especially when he’s being juxtaposed against two dirty cops.

Don Cheadle’s at least an undercover cop who’s experiencing morality qualms as his superiors support one drug dealer over another, but Ethan Hawke’s just a scumbag. The film loves to use Catholic as an excuse for anything, like why Hawke and Lili Taylor have an endless supply of kids, one for whenever the film needs to emphasis Hawke’s money troubles.

Fuqua manages to keep Brooklyn’s Finest on schedule, if not on track. His Panavision composition doesn’t fail and, for a time, it seems like the film might squeak out one honest moment (the script’s a collection of movie cliches). But every opportunity it has, it squanders–most of these opportunities go to top-billed, non-lead Gere, whose story has at least two threads left unfinished, though only one of them really deserves any attention.

The supporting cast–Vincent D’Onofrio has a great cameo–is weak. Will Patton’s terrible, as is Ellen Barkin. Wesley Snipes plays a caricature, but is better than most of those around him (surprising since they’re all “Wire” alums).

Too bad they didn’t hire a “Wire” writer for a rewrite.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Antoine Fuqua; written by Michael C. Martin; director of photography, Patrick Murguia; edited by Barbara Tulliver; music by Marcelo Zarvos; production designer, Thérèse DePrez; produced by John Thompson, Elie Cohn, John Langley, Basil Iwanyk and Avi Lerner; released by Overture Films.

Starring Richard Gere (Eddie), Don Cheadle (Tango), Ethan Hawke (Sal), Wesley Snipes (Caz), Jesse Williams (Eddie Quinlan), Will Patton (Lieutenant Hobarts), Lili Taylor (Angela), Shannon Kane (Chantel), Brian F. O’Byrne (Ronny Rosario), Michael K. Williams (Red) and Ellen Barkin (Agent Smith).


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