The Cabin in the Woods * * *
Cert 15, 95 mins
The creative brain behind TV series like Firefly and Buffy is back with a hi-tech take on the ‘don’t go down into the woods’ routine.
As well as writing and directing the forthcoming Avengers Assemble movie, Joss Whedon has also produced The Cabin in the Woods, which he’s co-authored with debut director Drew Goddard who penned Cloverfield (2008).
This fusion of minds has created a genre film that offers a considerable amount of horror and a lot of fun, especially as the leading characters seem to be variations on the old Scooby-Doo team.
If Marty, the hilarious ‘stoner’ character played by the excellent Fran Kranz, isn’t based on Hanna-Barbera’s Shaggy then I’m a Great Dane.
But, just when you think this could have been a real classic, it becomes hamstrung by the scale of its own implausibility.
Perhaps Whedon and Goddard were fancying a megalomaniac, technology-driven horror alternative to the baddies in a James Bond movie when they suddenly thought: ‘To hell with that... let’s just get down into the forest’. But the two dimensions don’t really gel, except in a Hollywood bolt-em-together fashion.
Five friends set off for a vacation and meet a typical phlegm-spitting loner at a gas station en route.
So far, so predictable.
Just like the fact that their destination is harder to find than they thought.
Of course, when they do get there, having three boys and two girls on the trip makes you question who is going to sleep where and with whom.
In the first of a neat series of twists, we see how men can actually put a woman’s feelings before their own. The undercurrent of the whole movie, though, is the sheer inevitability that our new pals will start to meet a grisly fate one by one.
Who will go first and how is the raison d’être of turning up to watch a film like this and there will be a neat mixture of expectant tension and fully-realised good humour in the audience.
A producer of TV series like Alias and Lost, Goddard isn’t at all shy when it comes to either the speed of his stars’ exits or their manner of departure.
Where he goes wrong is that even at Easter time subsequent developments take far too much liberty with what humans are capable of suffering.
From the opening scenes, the ability of Sittterson (Richard Jenkins) to control this mash-up between Big Brother, I’m A Celebrity... and the likes of Cabin Fever and George A Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is a case of stretching the available material too thinly between two diverse entities. GY
Battleship * * *
Cert 12A, 131 mins
Actor turned director Peter Berg has clearly been enjoying a steady diet of Michael Bay movies if this is anything to go by.
In Battleship he revisits Pearl Harbor by way of Transformers – with a nod to the grid-based strategy game that inspired it (toy manufacturers Hasbro, who make a board version, are producers).
Berg proves as much a stranger to subtlety as his mentor, believing one should go big or go home.
No action movie cliché remains unmilked in a movie so jingoistic it practically bleeds red, white and blue – though as this is a 12A with an eye to pubescent boys as its target market, deaths are accompanied by relatively little gore and lots of big explosions.
Taylor Kitsch, fresh from Mars-based flop John Carter, is having a spot of alien bother again, though this time he has the home court advantage.
ET has come locked and loaded, responding to a message being beamed out by boffins on O’ahu and aimed at what appears to be a habitable planet, apparently interpreting it as an invitation to come and carjack Earth.
Just like in 1941, the Hawaiian locals and the American Navy, who are playing simulated war games with the Japanese (surely a deliberate choice given the historical parallel) off the coast, are blissfully unaware of the fast approaching threat until it hits.
Taylor is the feckless trouble magnet who has been shanghaied into the Navy by his despairing older brother (Alexander Skarsgård, rather amusingly towering above Kitsch), and is about to be busted out of it by the Vice Admiral (Liam Neeson) whose daughter he wants to marry.
But when the chain of command is cut off or killed it is up to Captain Irresponsible to step in, inspire the remaining crew, including an effectively feisty Rihanna, and save the ship/day/planet.
Battleship is relentlessly and knowingly square-jawed in its execution, its script peppered with suitably heroic posturing – prompting one boffin to query ‘Who talks like that?’ – and it makes the film laugh out loud funny at times.
Berg, whose first movie as director was the black comedy Very Bad Things, presumably is not unaware of this and it’s his decision to just embrace the machismo that knocks it up to three stars. AJ
La Delicatesse (Delicacy) * * *
Cert 12A, 109 mins
We still haven’t seen enough of Amelie star Audrey Tautou for my liking and, at 35, she’s not getting any younger.
But she remains a captivating screen presence in Delicacy, even though for the most part, her character of Nathalie Kerr is a widow who doesn’t seem to want to get to know any other men.
Then, one day, she inexplicably kisses oddball Swedish colleague Markus Lundl (François Damiens) and might just be igniting something strange in the heart which lies beneath his typically Scandinavian pullover.
For the first hour, Delicacy feels very, very French, its wordy nature weighing relatively heavily on the subtitles.
But, once it appears that Nathalie’s own heart might be reopening to offers, Miss Tautou lifts a weight from our shoulders.
Although the ending is of the make of it what you will type, it is surprisingly delightful. GY
The Cold Light of Day * *
Cert 12A, 93 mins
Everyone now and then I really, really love a bit of Bruce Willis.
Unfortunately, a ‘bit’ is all that you get of Bruce in this movie.
Just when you are expecting him to be the leading man in a taut thriller following its claustrophobic opening on a yacht, the film takes a left-field twist into something else altogether.
Which is a shame because Bruce is perhaps the closest thing we have right now to the pure Hollywood star, someone you just switch on to whenever you want to be entertained.
At 57, he’s certainly young enough to be doing anything he wants to be and making The Sixth Sense (1999) should have been the making of him in more ways than one.
Thirteen years later, Bruce is yet to have a single Oscar nomination, while his lead actor Emmy award in 1987 was for the TV series Moonlighting.
Astonishingly, you’d have to go back to Die Hard 4.0 in 2007 and 16 Blocks (2006) to see Bruce doing what we generally like him to be doing best. The opening of The Cold Light of Day illustrates the point perfectly when father Martin Shaw (Willis) is on board a yacht with his family.
Following a simple accident, son Will Shaw (Henry Cavill) dives overboard to swim to shore for some antiseptic.
Suddenly, Will is a man in the middle of a bizarre conspiracy thriller involving a mysterious briefcase and a team of agents led by Sigourney Weaver’s Jean Carack.
If ever she wanted to be a no-nonsense gun-slinging urban cowgirl in the Willis mould, this is the Alien star’s big chance at the age of... 62.
Sigourney can certainly deliver a mean stare and she also has a gleaming Range Rover to put her foot down in during one of the longest car chases seen in recent years.
There’s the usual mixture of flying tables and chairs and various scrapes here and there while unknown director Mabrouk El Mechri tries to remember what he was supposed to be doing with the plot.
Sigourney also shoots at innocent motorists to try to clear her tale and unceremoniously takes the Range Rover down a series of steps.
In the end, there will be more fun to be had on screen here for Midland motoring engineers than they can ever enjoy on the off-road test track at the Heritage Motor Centre in Gaydon, Warwickshire.
But the sales guys will not be relishing seeing one of their beloved all-terrain 4x4s actually toppling over.
As for Jersey-born Cavill, this Bourne-lite film will have been a good practise run for Man of Steel, a June 2013 release in which he plays Clark Kent / Superman.
By then, Bruce should already have returned in the planned Valentine’s Day 2013 release of Die Hard 5 aka: A Good Day To Die Hard.
Sadly, it seems as if it’s his old habits that are dying hard, when our real craving is for him to make something new, fresh and exciting.
And very, very Bruce. GY