The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

The only way it would be possible for me to love him more would be if Joss Whedon were a woman.  The man can do absolutely no wrong in my eyes, and hopefully with his writing The Cabin in the Woods and the amazing success of The Avengers, the man can breathe a lot easier everyday knowing he doesn’t ever have to worry about mainstream acceptance ever again.  Not that I thought something like that would keep him up at night.

The Cabin in the Woods is pretty much what the original Scream movie was all about: revitalizing the horror movie genre from the sad, pathetic state it had lumbered into.  Cabin doesn’t have cartoonishly stupid antagonists, and the heroes of the movie aren’t dumb either.  To a point, they’re super aware of exactly what’s going on in the movie, and don’t make all the dumb horror movie mistakes.  Except when they do, and that’s mostly because they’re being manipulated by Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford), two um.. scientists? that have put this operation together for A Reason.  The less I explain about the premise, the better, trust me.

The writing is excellent, the characters are in some cases tropes, but wonderfully so.  This is a “smart” horror movie, and I don’t generally like horror movies.  Seriously, The Hills Have Eyes,  the Hostel franchise, I Spit On Your Grave, etc. etc. they’re all garbage.  They’re offensively terrible, torture porn at their most flattering description.  The fact that there’s a thriving market for garbage movies like those is proof enough that there are alien races out there just waiting for our eventual self-destruction so they can come to our planet and harvest our resources.  You can believe in your gods without proof, I can believe in those aliens.

It’s a near perfect movie, never mind it being one of the greatest horror movies I’ve ever seen.  Director Drew Goddard gets great performances out of the cast, the gore and tone is never disturbing, and it’s a near satire of the genre.  I rarely recommend horror movies, and those that I do recommend, well most people dismiss that because they’re “boring” and not “scary”.  Bullshit.  Psychological terror is far more potent than any stupid hillbilly chainsaw murderer.  I’m off topic here.  Watch this movie, it is great.

4.5 / 5

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Serenity (2005)

Having just re-watched all of “Firefly” as part of my Summer TV Series Re-Watching Theatre, I had fully intended on writing up a new review of Serenity.  For those of you that don’t know, Serenity was the big screen sequel/expansion/whatever you want to call it to “Firefly”.  However, I found my original review – while cruder – conveyed my feelings better, as it was from the viewpoint of someone who had not watched “Firefly” beforehand.  Therefore, it shows that you don’t need the background knowledge to enjoy the movie, so read on!

Written and directed by Joss Whedon, Serenity is an expansion of Whedon’s apparently-cancelled-too-soon TV series “Firefly”. However, my not having seen even a minute of “Firefly” in no way hampered my ability to enjoy Serenity, just to get that question out of the way. Watching Serenity, however, definitely makes you want to pick up the “Firefly” series on BluRay so you can enjoy that much more of it.

Whedon writes such crisp, real dialogue, that anytime a few of the characters are sitting around quibbling over something, you almost wish the whole movie was that scene, extended for two hours. Which isn’t to say that the space battles and special effects are anything to sneeze at. While retaining a certain “Buffy”-esque amateurish quality to them, the special effects still look believable and beautiful at times. Whedon seems to be conjuring up a live-action Titan A.E. at points, which isn’t that odd since apparently he had a hand in the screenplay for that long-forgotten movie.

Featuring a cast of pretty much nobodies (unless you’re a Whedonphile like myself, you probably won’t recognize anyone but David Krumholtz and maybe Alan Tudyk), Serenity is all about the crew of the titular spaceship, a gang of ragtag thieves and smugglers or something. It’s not really explained in the movie what it is they do, other than just being a mercenary group for hire … or something. It’s not carved in stone actually, but they’re a lovable gang of talented losers, much like the Scoobies were on the “Buffy” series.

My favourite actor in the movie is, without a doubt, Nathan Fillion. Edmonton-born, half the time looking like a bad ass Jason Bateman, Fillion is charismatic and cruel at points, while still displaying a heart of gold and intelligence. With his every line delivery, you get that feeling that this is a space Western, just because of the grizzled feel to his dialogue. Here is a man that wouldn’t look out of place in the Old West.

I could analyze every little bit of the movie, but it would just be in a nit-picking way, and I enjoyed Serenity far too much to besmirch it anything. The cast has tremendous chemistry, the writing’s crisp, the story’s great (though formulaic in an enjoyable way), and it’s one of the best space movies I’ve seen in years. There is nothing I didn’t like about Serenity and I’ll probably end up rewatching it many times over the years, especially after I pick up the “Firefly” series.

5 / 5

The Avengers (2012)

I have to admit, I’m a bit jealous.  See, I’m not a Marvel Comics fanboy and the success that their high quality movie versions of their characters are enjoying makes me – a DC Comics fanboy – insanely jealous.  See, I know that if there ever were to be a Justice League movie, well DC Comics would have to have some sort of alternate (read: inferior) version of Batman, because it’s quite clear that the Christopher Nolan Batman isn’t in a world populated with heroes.  And while I enjoyed Green Lantern there are loads of others that didn’t.  Not to mention how every Superman movie that has come out since Superman II has been pretty craptacular.  Marvel went and signed Joss Whedon to direct The Avengers, so there went the best hope for any Wonder Woman movie, and there aren’t even any rumours that I’ve heard about a Flash movie.  So yeah, super jealous because DC can’t get their cinematic shit together.  Moving on.

In the next couple days, my reviews for the rest of the movies that are part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be posted (except Captain America, as that one was already posted) and what you’ll find is that they’re all pretty damn good movies.  For the most part.  The sum of them all is The Avengers, and honestly, you couldn’t find a better director than Joss Whedon to helm this ship.  Whedon has an affinity for the characters that he’s been reading for decades, and if we’ve learned anything from Whedon’s fanbase, it’s that he can make us feel in a way that most directors/writers take for granted.  When Wash dies in Serenity, he wasn’t the only who felt like they’d been impaled, and that was because of the heart that Whedon instills in his characters.  So the whole time watching Avengers, I was wondering which ancillary character was going to bite the dust so we could truly feel like This Means Something.

Another trademark Whedon-ism is the wry sense of humour that characters have in the face of insurmountable odds, and that humour is very much evident throughout the entire film.  I’m pretty sure every character, from Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) to Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) hell, everyone of them gets a laugh in the movie.  Of course, front and centre is the most fleshed character out of the Avengers team (so-far), Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), but this movie isn’t his.  It’s not Captain America’s (Chris Evans) or Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth).  In fact, I think that the Big Bad of the movie, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), might have had more screen time than anyone else.

The movie doesn’t really have to waste time with showing the origin stories of all these heroes, because they have their own series, just like in the comic book world.  It’s the story of a bunch of combustible elements coming together to form a super power to combat the end of the world.  Honestly, I would have to say that this is the greatest comic book movie of all time, and that’s mostly because I think the Christopher Nolan Batman films can actually hold their own as non-comic book movies.  The Avengers movie and the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a lot of fanboy pandering to them, but it’s all great popcorn, summer blockbuster fun.  The Nolan Batman films, well they’re exploring areas outside of the comic books with the implication that they take place in a very realistic world.  Nolan’s Batman would never be in the Justice League.

Anyways, The Avengers is pretty much what any comic book nerd dreams of: the action on the screen taken directly from the pages of their comic books.  The heroes they love, the villains they hate, they’re all expertly interpreted into a new medium and it’s a goddamn great movie.  I don’t even think you’d need to see the other Marvel Cinematic Universe movies to completely enjoy the movie, but they would certainly add more depth to the experience.  Also, the 3D was much like Toy Story 3, not invasive and all OMG LOOK IT’S 3D so I strongly recommend seeing it in a theatre when you can.

5 / 5

Toy Story (1995)

Even though I’m a recovering film snark, I am glad I have a wealth of decently-written reviews to re-post because I said what I want to so succinctly the first time.  Here is another instance of that.  My original review:

It never fails to amaze or depress me how many CGI-animated movies are made these days that pay almost no attention to the lessons that Toy Story taught us. With a relatively unproven newcomer in John Lasseter directing Pixar’s very first full-length motion picture, the film turned out to be a critical darling and a monster financial success. As well, it ushered in a seemingly new genre of animated film, those that adults and children alike end up loving for many reasons. Upon writing this paragraph and re-reading it, it feels as though this is the conclusion to my full review. Or – for those of you that have never watched the film (and why the hell not?) – it seems like it’s giving away my entire review right off the bat. Duh. Toy Story is one of the most phenomenal movies of all time, never mind just animated movies, and if you don’t think it’s a 5 / 5 movie, I feel sorry for you.

I mean that in all seriousness. If you’re an adult and you watch Toy Story and don’t have a little longing in your heart for the days when you were a kid, playing with your toys, killing hours and hours of time with nothing but your own derivative imagination, well I pity you. Especially if you can’t even remember those days, how dead inside do you have to be to be like that? I’m starting to get a bit off-topic there, so back to the movie. Toy Story is generally the template that most animated movies (CGI or hand-painted) that were made after it’s 1995 release have applied to their productions. Big name celebrity voices, a look into the world of something we humans generally take for granted, and amazingly realistic animation, which are all aspects of the so-called “Pixar formula”.

Generally though, Pixar films tend to have celebrity voices that fit their characters, not create characters to fit celebrity voices like SO many other animated films have done in the intervening years. The Pixar films have a great mix of A-list celebrities and reliable and talented character actors to voice the wonderful creations. This is in stark contrast to something like Shark Tale, which had an enormously bloated cast of A-listers basically voicing fish versions of themselves in a film that was basically a hacked-up-rip-off of Pixar’s Finding Nemo. What I’m saying here is that I can’t picture anyone other than Jim Varney as the voice of Slinky Dog, but if you cosmetically change the appearance of the lead fish in Shark Tale, it could easily be Ben Stiller, or anyone else enormously famous.

Yet another aspect of Toy Story that gets bastardized in almost every animated film nowadays is the overall premise of the tale. Yes, it’s about the world of toys and what they do when humans aren’t around, but the toys don’t live in a world that is only populated by toys because that would not make any sense and it would make my head hurt and my heart angry. You should probably just read my review of Robots so I don’t end up repeating myself yet again. Pixar has only been guilty of that premise once with Cars, and even then they still somehow made a “good” movie, rather than the usual greatness we’ve come to expect. There is actual substance behind all that pretty style.

There’s so much to love about Toy Story, whether it be the wonderful performance Tom Hanks puts on, or that it actually gave me an appreciation for Tim Allen. The animation is amazing even now, with small little details that you don’t fully appreciate until you’ve seen the movie a few times and finally notice. The score and songs by Randy Newman are whimsical and fit absolutely perfectly. There are enough visual gags to keep the kids entertained, and a multitude of pop culture references from the comments the toys make to the toys themselves that adults will enjoy it just as much, if not more.

5 / 5