The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Grade: B | 1st and 2nd Viewing
To be honest, my expectations heading in to Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods were low. The only thing more cliché than a teenage horror movie these days is a movie that “subverts the genre” of horror. So I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Cabin in the Woods is at the most a clever homage to horror movies of the past and present and at the minimum a whole lot of fun.
The marketing team behind the film has been adamant about preventing any spoilers, and while I don’t feel the experience is ruined if you go in knowing too much, I will nevertheless refrain from providing a synopsis. The thing that you need to know, though, is that writer/director Drew Goddard along with his more ubiquitous co-writer and producer Joss Whedon got their start in television. The reason that is significant is because there is a very television-ish feel to Cabin in the Woods, a film that gets an “A” for concept and a “B-“ for execution. Goddard and Whedon are delightfully clever in their plot twists and have a great ear for dialogue, but are less interested in using the camera as a storytelling device or getting cinematically deep into the themes that are introduced.
That being said, it’s still a hell of a lot of fun. The film is part satire, part parody, and part absurd comedy, but not really “horror” in any way other than a deconstruction of the genre. Goddard and Whedon point out the silliness of horror movies in general by concocting a worldwide, pre-historical plot that is as fun as it is original. The third act of the film moves quickly enough that it is fun to re-visit and discover new things in subsequent viewings. I still think the original Scream film is the best satire of the horror genre yet, but The Cabin in the Woods comes awfully close.
Damsels in Distress (2012)
Grade B | 1st Viewing
Whit Stillman has never been apologetic about the exceptional wealth that his characters possess. In Metropolitan, for instance, the characters exist in a sphere of privilege that many will never identify with, yet Stillman uses their status more to observe them than to criticize them. Today, with such a strong anti-1% sentiment brewing, Stillman seems to have changed his approach. Set in a fictional college called Seven Oaks, the characters in Stillman’s first film in thirteen years, Damsels in Distress, are in a slightly more relatable environment.
The film surrounds a trio of girls, lead by the outspoken Violet, who seek to reform the brutish types at their humble school and instill them with a sense of manners. They adopt other girls as projects and disregard them as soon as they do something they find disapproving. They pontificate about rules and manners with the delightfully light dialogue provided by Stillman.
Damsels in Distress is a hard movie not to like thanks in large part to the magnificent cast lead by Greta Gerwig and Adam Brody who express thoughts about the importance of tap dance or the lost artistry of homosexuality with impressive earnestness. There are points in the film that become a little too silly and make the whole thing flirt with pointlessness, like a weird subplot about a frat boy who doesn’t know his colors. However, an uplifting and escapist Fred Astaire inspired dance sequence at the end brings everything to a wonderful conclusion.
Grade: B+ | 1st Viewing
Luckily one does not have to be a Talmudic scholar in order to appreciate Joseph Cedar’s film Footnote, about feuding father and son professors. Cedar uses the revered study of the Talmud as a backdrop for a story about intergenerational conflict and the factors that affect the love between a father and a son. In the film, Professor Eliezer Shkolnik is told he will be receiving the Israel Prize, which is actually intended for his son, Professor Uriel Shkolnik. The mix-up causes the already strained relationship between father and son to rift even further as the son tries to maintain his father’s honor while the father drags his son’s name through the mud.
With both Professor Shkolniks having careers in academia, there is some inherent narcissism and hypocrisy in their approach to the conflict, with each of them assuming their methodology is correct. Uriel appears to be the more ethical of the two because of his steadfast devotion to his father, but we also see beginning stages of neglect toward his own son. Cedar never forces the audience to choose sides, although I suspect that each audience member will more closely relate to the individual who is nearer to their own age and experience.
Cedar uses some creative imagery to juxtapose the differences between the two generations. In one early scene we see the younger Uriel stuffed into a small room of older academics, in a setting that looks more appropriate for his father than himself. The older Eliezer Shkolnik receives news of the Israeli Prize on a cell phone that he looks altogether uncomfortable using. It is subtle, but smart flourishes like those that make Footnote the above average comedy.
What movies did you see this week?