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The Cabin in the Woods

2 out of 5 stars

Its title leaves little to the imagination: There’s no getting around the fact this bloodbath involves a cabin in the woods, invaded by the token party-minded college students.

Unfortunately, it involves much more – too much for its own good. The movie ads’ blurbs exclaim “From the makers of Cloverfield and The Avengers!” which struck me as a warning rather than a recommendation. Much of the national hype is due to its stab, if you will, at satire and the filmmaker’s so-called clever “wink” and elbow to the ribs about the horror genre. Cabin is also overpraised for being creative, an adjective tossed around to describe its premise of sacrifice and use of a “reality” TV-style lab underneath the titular building. Smug white-collar overseers (including Richard Jenkins, who holds his own amid the nonsense) strive to manipulate zombies and, in turn, the unsuspecting cabin visitors.

All of which seems more of an excuse than validation for the mess on screen. The punishing and pretentious climax appears to borrow creatures from Star Wars and Men in Black, while the cabin’s survivors get to the bottom – literally – of what’s going on. Late in the day, a big-name veteran actress emerges in a groaner of a cameo that, frankly, anybody could’ve managed.

The concurrent Silent House proved more effective with less. In this case, a few amusing one-liners and handful of eerie moments do not a movie make.

No matter how hard Cabin director Drew Goddard tries – and he definitely works up a sweat – he can’t take horse manure and make apple butter. The joke’s on us.


Bully

3 out of 5 stars

Documentarian Lee Hirsch arms himself with a subjective and shaky camera that he keeps focused on unscrupulous youth: students who abuse their peers on buses, in hallways and classrooms.

Despite its hot and sensitive subject, there’s nothing special on the production side of things: Bully is weak out of the gate, merely following around a family while splicing in archival clips of home movies. If the director was trying to lay the groundwork, his foundation is wobbly. (But kudos to Hirsch for eventually notifying officials about ongoing abuse he witnessed on a school bus.)

It begins, aptly enough, on the first day of school in Sioux City, Iowa, but could just as well be Anywhere, USA. The kids spotlighted throughout include a young man who hanged himself; a gay, suicidal girl in Oklahoma; and a Mississippi teen whose frustration triggers her to pull a gun on her school bus.

But the picture’s heart and center belongs to Alex, the 12-year-old whose parents were once informed – due to health complications – he wouldn’t live to see his 1st birthday. On the surface, he’s an easy target: gangly, with thick eyeglasses and a mop of hair. To the chagrin of his worried mom, the unassuming boy rolls with the punches (“I’m starting to think I don’t feel anything anymore.”).

The story doesn’t hit its stride until approximately halfway through, during a town hall meeting where emotions come to the fore. Poignant and compelling moments abound, in spite of an assistant principal who is so obtuse she seems more caricature than human.


Wrath of the Titans

1 out of 5 stars

The movie begins with a groggy Liam Neeson muttering over the opening credits that our world was once – wait for it – ruled by gods and monsters. It gets worse from there.

Titans proves to be the ultimate in overblown, unnecessary sequels. Its narrative is beyond pedantic, with characters stating the obvious, especially while identifying others: “You are Hades, ruler of the underworld!” Another player follows suit with more script-stuffing baloney, as a legendary winged horse lands before him: “Look, there’s Pegasus!”

Human-sized figures can’t compete with the large and loud special effects. Sam Worthington’s presence barely registers, while Ralph Fiennes looks apathetic, as if gazing at better days gone by.

editor@syvjournal.com