Halloween Scene: The Cabin In The Woods (2011)

Every now and then a horror flick comes along where the story behind the movie is almost as good as the movie itself. Usually there’s a lot of studio interference delaying the release of the movie like in the case of the wonderful Trick R Treat and sometimes its big names have a surprising time getting a movie distributed. In the case of Cabin In The Woods, it’s a little bit of both. The film was written by Drew Goddard and a guy named Joss Whedon of Cloverfield and Buffy The Vampire Slayer fame respectively with Goddard directing. You’ll also remember that Whedon went on to direct a little film called Avengers and both films happen to star a guy named Chris Hemsworth. Of course, that was all well after CITW had finished shooting. Even so, you’d think that a pair of beloved genre guys could get a movie out to the public. Well, Lionsgate shuttered it for whatever reason and then finally decided to release the thing last year to critical acclaim.

All of which brings me to watching the movie, which I honestly had pretty high expectations for. The trailers hinted pretty heavily that the Evil Dead-type set-up they were showing off was just the conceit and that there was a kind of Truman Show thing going on where people were monitoring these probably soon-to-be-dead teenagers. As it turned out, for me at least, this movie turned out to be more about finding out exactly what was going on and not so much the horror or teen character stuff.

It’s nearly impossible to talk about this flick without getting into SPOILER TERRITORY, so let’s do just that for a few paragraphs. We’re instantly introduced to characters played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford who clearly work for some kind of organization that manipulates college kids into some pretty horrific situations in a cabin, but we’re not exactly sure why. Here’s the deal (remember that SPOILER WARNING), the kids represent specific archetypes (the athlete, the fool, the whore, the scholar and the virgin) who need to be sacrificed in a certain order to appease old gods living beneath the surface of the world. We’re not told when this somewhat high-tech organization was put into place to fulfill these duties, but we do know that several other projects like this one exist all over the world.

To achieve their goal, the organization manipulates the quintet to the location and, using a series of drugs and other elements to mess with their heads, get them down to a crowded basement where they inadvertently chose the form of their destroyer. There’s apparently an entire Cube-like set-up of potential supernatural and mythical murderers to chose from (everything from redneck pain-loving zombies to regular zombies and killer unicorns to mermen). Two of our characters screw up the order, find their way into the facility and wind up unleashing every single monster before actively allowing the world to (seemingly) be destroyed by the old gods.

So, yeah, there’s a lot going on. I admit, I really like the story. Like I figured from the previous, it pays homage to the films that came before it, but also takes those tropes and actually does something new with them, which I really appreciate on a creative level. However I had some problems. First off, the stoner kid was just way too over the top. He was like every single stoner from every 90s movie all rolled into one, thrown into a bong and distilled into this annoying, Shaggy like kid who was pretty difficult to like for me. While the other characters’ weirdness was explained to an extent, his wasn’t and I found myself taken out of the movie by his cartoonishness. I was also as disappointed by the shoddy looking CGI as I was by keeping scenes that needed the heavy CGI in the film when they could have been changed to not even need CGI. My wife and I have been watching Once Upon A Time on Netflix and it’s a pretty good show, but the effects there can be pretty bad. Some of the CITW monsters looked almost as cheap and that really takes me out of a movie, especially one like this is that is doing a lot well. And it’s too bad because the redneck zombies looked amazing while the dragon or whatever looked silly. Cut the dragon out and use more costume effects and I think you’d have a much scarier experience here.

END SPOILERS. However, overall, I’d say I did really enjoy this movie. It goes places you won’t expect, does things that will surprise even the most jaded horror fan and has a certain amount of fun while doing so. At the end of the day, that passion is what I like to see on screen, even if it means some subpar special effects.

Series Premiere: The Good Guys

I REALLY expected to like Fox’s The Good Guys which premiered last night. It’s an action comedy starring two actors I love to watch: Colin Hanks and Bradley Whitford. They’re kind of down and out cops trying to do their thing, so it’s also a bit of an underdog story. Unfortunately I found the show to be almost unwatchable. See, the concept behind the first episode is that Hanks (a by the books guy) and Whitford (a crazy dumbass) are trying to bust a car thief ring, but it turns out that SPOILER a woman from the task force is actually working with the dude running the ring. The show employs an incredibly annoying flashback device where, right after something happens in the present, they pause, throw up a period of time later, show that scene and then come right back to show you the present scene again. Aside from being jarring, most of the stuff didn’t seem all that necessary to explain. This isn’t Lost, I don’t need to see how Whitford made the car burst through the window.

The worst part of the series, though, is Whitford’s ridiculous performance. He’s a cop who doesn’t understand how computers work. Okay, that’s not so bad. But it doesn’t end there. When the computer gets a virus he says something like “Computers can’t get sick.” And later is literally hopping mad, screaming at a laptop. Honestly, it seems like he’s trying to play the character as slightly mentally handicapped. It’s uncomfortable.

So, unless I hear some good things down the road I won’t be returning to The Good Guys and I can only blame the writers for taking a good concept and crapping it out in the very first episode.

Canceled TV Cavalcade: Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip (2006-2007)

Yeah, I know I’m using a pun on the whole Canceled Comics Cavalcade with my semi-frequent Roseanne posts, but what can I say? A good title is a good title.

Back in 2006 I was pretty excited because there were two shows coming out that were based around a Saturday Night Live-like sketch comedy show. Many people actually took sides between 30 Rock and Studio 60 and I was one of them, but I totally sided with Studio 60. The show was created by TV royalty Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme who have had varying levels of success with their partnerships. West Wing, which I haven’t watched, lasted plenty of seasons while Sports Night, which I did watch and loved, lasted only one season, just like Studio 60.

The concept is that an SNL-like show set in California starring DL Hughley, Sarah Paulson, Nathan Cordrry and a series of other actors including Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg gets taken over by former head writer and producer Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford after their old boss loses it on TV and tells people how it really is. Meanwhile, Amanda Peet plays a brand new executive at the TV station who’s first day coincides with the old boss’s meltdown. It’s her idea to get Perry and Whitford even though her boss/fellow exec Steven Weber isn’t so sure about it. From there you get fictionalized accounts of the politics of television from the boardroom to the writers room and a series of relationships like Whitford and Peet’s burgeoning romance and the crazy-complex history between Paulson and Perry who have dated and broken up more time than Ross and Rachel on Perry’s former show. 

I absolutely love this show. For one thing, it’s got that signature Sorkin walk and talk format with the camera following characters from one place to the other and moving the story forward in that very natural manner. When I was working at the magazine and there were more people there, this is kind of how things would be sometimes. I also like watching shows about writing and the process of writing. Perry finds himself in a writer’s room with a former writer whose wife and daughter died recently (Mark McKinney), a failing stand-up comedian (Colombus Short) and a writer from the room who hasn’t had a sketch on the show yet (my beloved Lucy Davis from the amazing British Office) and basically takes the reigns and ends up doing most of the show himself. I can kind of relate to how things when towards the end of my tenure at the magazine, but not nearly to that degree. As a writer myself, I’ve definitely had to deal with writer’s block and feeling like my material just isn’t good enough.

Now, of course, I’ve never been in a comedy TV writing room. I have been in rooms trying to come up with ideas for TTT, but I’m guessing it’s not really the same thing. My point is that I don’t know how accurate the portrayal is, but I also don’t really care because I always had fun with what was going on. I also appreciate how the show really gets into the nuts and bolts of putting a TV show like this on, unlike 30 Rock, which I also love. Heck, if you pay attention, you can learn something about the bedhind-the-scenes type stuff from Timothy Busfield’s role as the guy in the control room.

I’m also envious of the relationship between Perry and Whitford. They’re basically two dudes who met while working on the show and became friends. After their mysterious departure from the show within a show (which we find out about by the end of the series) they stuck together and paired up to write and direct successful movies. I’d like to have that kind of working relationship with someone. Their relationship is written and directed so well it reminds me of a lot of the people I used to work with and am still friends with now. Even their names, Matt and Danny, sound really good together. It’s those little touches that reveal more detailed writing.

Anyway, the question that always comes up when talking about a show that only lasted one season is “does it end well?” While there are definitely some smaller story elements that could have been carried on in a second season and oh how I wish it had, all of the major elements do get addressed by the end of the series. From the relationship between Perry and Paulson to Whitford’s relationship with Peet are her child. It’s a little more satisfying than something like Freaks & Geeks which still ended well, but left things on a total cliffhanger/set up for the next season. I highly recommend this show for anyone.