Joss Whedon

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).


Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992, Fran Rubel Kuzui)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is so technically inept, not even Carter Burwell turns in a good score. Most scenes are just trying to decide who’s doing a worse job, director Kuzui, cinematographer James Hayman or editors Jill Savitt and Camilla Toniolo. Overall, it’s obviously Kuzui, but the editing in the first half by far worse than the photography. But the photography in the second half is so awful, it’s difficult to hold anything against the editing.

And then there’s Joss Whedon’s script. Regardless of whether or not someone rewrote it, it’s still awful.

But there’s a very likable quality to Buffy–Kristy Swanson. She does really well in the film. She has actual chemistry with Donald Sutherland and Luke Perry, even though Kuzui directs the actors terribly. Swanson weathers Kuzui’s direction best, Sutherland worst, Perry somewhere in between. Kuzui doesn’t have a sense of humor, which doesn’t help things. But Swanson gives a rather good performance. The film fails her over and over.

Perry manages to be likable whenever he’s around Swanson, until the film gets uncomfortable with her in the driver’s seat of their romance.

The vampires are lame. Paul Reubens is awful (Kuzui’s lack of humor fails him the most), Rutger Hauer isn’t much better. He and Swanson are awful together.

The movie runs eighty minutes and change. The first half, as Swanson trains to become the Vampire Slayer, moves pretty well. Kuzui and Hayman don’t do well, but they do okay. It’s trying to be a high school movie with vampire hunting. Swanson gets a great character arc and the script’s better one liners. Kuzui doesn’t seem to understand how the one liners work, but Swanson does. In contrast, Perry flops whenever he gets one of the one liners.

It ought to be a whole lot more entertaining, but the brisk pace of the first half and Swanson do get it to the finish. And, for what’s got to be the first time ever, I’ve got to single out the hair stylist–Barbara Olvera–she does a fantastic job with Swanson’s various styles.

I wish Buffy were better. It’s not, but I really wish it were. Swanson deserved it, Perry even deserved it. But really Swanson. She effortlessly goes from being likable to good. Shame the movie doesn’t even manage the former.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui; written by Joss Whedon; director of photography, James Hayman; edited by Jill Savitt and Camilla Toniolo; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Lawrence Miller; produced by Kaz Kuzui and Howard Rosenman; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Kristy Swanson (Buffy), Donald Sutherland (Merrick), Paul Reubens (Amilyn), Rutger Hauer (Lothos), Luke Perry (Pike), Michele Abrams (Jennifer), Hilary Swank (Kimberly), Paris Vaughan (Nicki), David Arquette (Benny), Randall Batinkoff (Jeffrey), Andrew Lowery (Andy), Sasha Jenson (Grueller), Stephen Root (Gary Murray), Natasha Gregson Wagner (Cassandra) and Candy Clark (Buffy’s Mom).


Alien: Resurrection (1997, Jean-Pierre Jeunet), the special edition

Joss Whedon has never met a cheap, cheesy one liner he didn’t like. He also feels the need to revise future technology based on modern developments (androids with wireless modems, which they would have had in the first Alien movies… except the lack of that technological possibility when said films were made). The first problem is an exceptional one (especially since he can’t go two minutes without one of those awful one liners), while the second one is just stupid. Alien: Resurrection is the first fanboy-written film. Its failure means it isn’t responsible for what came next (the utter eradication of quality science fiction or “genre” films from Hollywood), but it’s perfect foreshadowing. Even when it’s really bad, it’s no worse than the crap coming out today. With the exception of the bad CG, it’s probably even better.

The film–I watched the 2003 special edition–is actually all right for a bit at the beginning. Accepting the idea such an extraordinarily useless, artistically-soulless commercial venture can be all right, anyway. Then Winona Ryder and the crew of “Firefly” show up. Whedon essentially turned an Alien sequel into a pilot movie for his characters. Fine, whatever, it’s 115 minutes and there are some occasionally interesting moments… but I don’t like watching movies and pitying the actors. Watching Alien: Resurrection, one just has to pity Sigourney Weaver. It’s just terrible in parts. The other interesting thing about the pre-Ryder moments is Jeunet’s direction. Most of the film just looks dirty and green, but the beginning has some real Jeunet flourishes–which the new opening credits sequence illustrate well, even if the CG is cheap. While Brad Dourif’s got terrible dialogue, he, J.E. Freeman and Dan Hedaya really look like they belong in the film.

Alien: Resurrection being an acceptable waste of a couple hours comes mostly from the cast (there’s some effective scoring too, I suppose). Weaver does have some good moments–though it wasn’t until I watched the film this time, my fourth time in ten years, I realized Weaver and Ryder’s relationship was supposed to mirror the Ripley and Newt relationship from Aliens or something (yes, Joss Whedon is that incompetent). By the end, the good ones even outweigh the bad and embarrassing ones. Dourif’s not good, but Freeman and Hedaya are both excellent. Ron Perlman and Gary Dourdan are both saddled with terrible lines, but they’re fine. Michael Wincott and Kim Flowers are both really good (Flowers’s death scene is fantastic, the only effective death scene in a film with a dozen or more).

Alien³ is a film incapable of supporting a sequel, certainly one with Weaver anyway, but Resurrection isn’t as terrible as it could be, I suppose. It’d be much worse if it were made today. I remember when it bombed–after Fox spent a fortune making it–I realized no one had been really asking for another Alien movie. Fox was just trying to jump-start the franchise, a slur I’d never use against the Alien films. But there were comic books and toys and–really, Whedon seems like he learned how to write off of comic books, with no real understanding of how dialogue plays out off the page.

It’s an interesting film in parts, the way it’s made, some of what Jeunet does, but it’s so idiotically written–and I think that aspect is what makes it most like Hollywood films today, the absurdity of the writing being acceptable to someone who… can read–it doesn’t really matter. Even if it’s interesting, it’s still a stinky pile of crap.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet; written by Joss Whedon, based on characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Darius Khondji; edited by Herve Schneid; music by John Frizzell; production designer, Nigel Phelps; produced by Bill Badolato, Walter Hill, David Giler and Gordon Carroll; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Winona Ryder (Annalee Call), Dominique Pinon (Vriess), Ron Perlman (Johner), Gary Dourdan (Christie), Michael Wincott (Elgyn), Kim Flowers (Hillard), Dan Hedaya (General Perez), J.E. Freeman (Wren), Brad Dourif (Gediman), Raymond Cruz (Distephano) and Leland Orser (Purvis).


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