Movies: 'Cabin in the Woods,' 'Jeff Who Lives at Home' & 'Wrath of the Titans'
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"THE CABIN IN THE WOODS"
Perfectly timed for Friday the 13th, this is a fresh, hip take on the horror movie genre as Joss Whedon and his "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"/"Angel" collaborator Drew Goddard, who also wrote "Cloverfield," slyly subvert all your expectations.
It's obvious that the five college friends who pile into that RV for a weekend party in an isolated cabin by a lake are intentional archetypes. There's sensible, demurely virginal Dana (Kristen Connolly); the handsome black nerd, Holden (Jesse Williams); the sexy, ditzy, blonde sorority sister, Jules (Anna Hutchison); the pothead philosopher, Marty (Fran Kranz), and the Alpha-male football jock, Curt (Chris Hemsworth). And they face a veritable R-rated orgy of menacing terrors.
That's predictable. But then there's another macabre element. In an underground lab, researchers Steve (Richard Jenkins) and Richard (Bradley Whitford) manipulate what happens to the captive quintet -- think of "The Truman Show" -- revealing that there's a reason horror movies have rules, like: "If they don't transgress, they can't be punished." So when cliched characters don't do what we -- and they -- expect, who knows what can happen?
Shot in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2009, long before Chris Hemsworth became the Marvel superhero, Thor, it sat on the shelf for two years because of MGM's bankruptcy. Nevertheless, allusions to previous horror films like "Evil Dead," "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "Friday the 13th," etc., are effectively utilized. While it's not scary in the traditional sense, it's certainly filled with gruesome computer-generated zombie gore. Yet what's most memorable are the wry, tongue-in-cheek comedic moments, like when the visitors examine the contents of the cabin's creepy basement, another inventively involving a speakerphone and an unbilled cameo by Sigourney Weaver.
According to Whedon, this self-aware film is a "loving hate letter" to the desensitizing slasher/torture porn genre and "a serious critique of what we love and what we don't about horror movies."
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Cabin in the Woods" is an amusing, ingenious, unexpected 8, revealing what really may be lurking in the darkness.
"JEFF WHO LIVES AT HOME"
The writing/directing team of Mark and Day Duplass has staunchly resisted Hollywood's monetary lure, preferring to make their own independent movies since they began, as children, in Louisiana. And that Southern state is where their latest effort is set.
Living in his enabling mother's basement, scruffy 30-year-old Jeff (Jason Segel) has never grown up. He firmly believes that "everyone and everything is interconnected in this universe," referring to M. Night Shyamalan's movie, "Signs," which he watches obsessively while smoking weed from a bong.
So when he answers a wrong number from a random caller demanding to chat with someone named Kevin and is forced to leave the house to buy wood glue to fix a kitchen cupboard door, Jeff reads deep significance into the fact that he sees a young man on the bus with "Kevin" on the back of his basketball jersey, follows him and gets mugged in a bad neighborhood of Baton Rouge.
Jeff is a constant irritation to his older brother, Pat (Ed Helms), a Poplar Paint Co. salesman, who is so obsessed with owning a new Porsche that he neglects his marriage to miserable Linda (Judy Greer), who may or may not be having an affair -- and the suspicion finds Pat and Jeff teaming up as sleuths. Then there's Jeff's weary, hard-working, widowed mom, Sharon (Susan Sarandon), who pours over flirtatious messages from an anonymous admirer that appear on her office computer, trying to decipher them with her gay pal, Carol (Rae Dawn Chong).
Since their first film, "The Puffy Chair" (2005), the Duplass brothers have been intrigued by true-to-life interpersonal relationships, utilizing improvised "mumblecore" dialogue, a hand-held camera and a cast often consisting of close friends. Their second effort, "Baghead" (2008), was a horror satire, followed by "Cyrus" (2010) with Jonah Hill as a teenager fighting his single mother's budding romance.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Jeff Who Lives at Home" is an absurdist 6, chronicling a cosmic incident in the drab life of a slacker/stoner.
"WRATH OF THE TITANS"
The demigod Perseus faces his heroic destiny in this epic, action-packed sequel to "Clash of the Titans," which generated nearly $500 million at the box-office in 2010.
Set a decade later, the half-god/half-human Perseus (Sam Worthington) is a widower, raising his young son, Helios (John Bell). Turning his back on the tortuous machinations atop Mount Olympus, he's literally "gone fishing," as his diabolically jealous brother Ares (Edgar Ramiriz) puts it. Problem is: The people of Greece are also ignoring their ancient gods and, when faith in these mythological deities disappears, they lose strength and power. Without prayer, they literally turn to stone.
But then Perseus' father Zeus (Liam Neeson) is imprisoned by his embittered brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) in the Underworld city of Tartarus, where fiery, lava-spewing Kronos -- who fathered Zeus, Hades and Poseidon (Danny Huston) -- is determined to drain the gods' power and destroy the world.
On a quest to rescue his father and restore right to the universe, Perseus teams with Poseidon's demigod navigator son, Agenor (Toby Kebbell), the warrior-queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) and humorous Hephaestus (Bill Nighy), who is not only serves as metallurgist/armorer to the gods but also knows the secret way into Tartarus.
Based on an improvised, obviously sketchy story by Greg Berlanti, it's inanely scripted by Dan Mazeau and David Johnson, who create one-dimensional characters shouting solemn, stultifying dialogue. Visually directed by Jonathan Liebesman ("Battle: Los Angeles"), the most memorable moments emanate from the creative computer-generated team -- as when Perseus races through the labyrinth and fights the monstrous Minotaur. But that's only one of his battles. And so much more could have been done with Pegasus, the winged horse.
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, "Wrath of the Titans" is a fantastical 4, but -- bottom line -- it's tediously bland and banal, lacking the excitement and suspense that this kind of adventure should have.