Tag: Community

The Long “S” Stupid: Embracing the shock of The Cabin in the Woods and other things

“To call you stupid would be an insult to stupid people! I’ve known sheep that could outwit you. I’ve worn dresses with higher IQs. But you think you’re an intellectual, don’t you, ape?” – A Fish Called Wanda

It happened again. It haunts me. Family members do it. Friends do it. Random audience members do it. And whenever they do it I seethe. It’s the thing that makes me the most angry and I hate it. It’s the Long “S” Stupid. That sibilant that expresses just how contemptuous the speaker is of the subject. “This is SSsssssstupid,” they’ll say, and I’ll know that they’ve checked out. Something has turned them off and they’ll never recover again. I first noticed it when I was watching an episode of Community with my family, and at some point, likely one of the more slapstick-y points, my dad just said “SSSssssstupid.” But there’s a problem. The subject, the SSSsssssstupid thing, is almost never actually stupid. It’s weird, sure. It’s different, it catches you off guard and it challenges you, but it is rarely actually stupid.

I most recently heard the Long “S” Stupid in the theater, watching The Cabin in the Woods. That is a film that is different from a lot of the horror that is popular today, and it’s even different from the movie that the marketing told you it’d be. If you went to the movie expecting a slash-fest you’re in for a shock. Firstly, it’s a comedy as much (or more than) it is a horror film, an element that was absent from most of the advertising of the film. Horror is a genre that generally takes itself seriously – too seriously, often (Saw) – and an audience that goes to a movie called The Cabin in the Woods won’t be expecting to laugh a lot. My audience didn’t crack up until a good 15 minutes into the movie, long after the first joke flew (that happened in the first few seconds of the film). After the dam burst they were looser and quicker to laugh, which was great, but those first 15 minutes also contained some great jokes that were missed because the audience wasn’t even looking for the film to be funny. This is, however, just setting the table for the Long “S” Stupid.

The Cabin in the Woods is a movie that has a few surprises in store for it’s audience. I won’t go into much detail here but if you want to go in completely unsoiled by spoilers you might want to skip on to the next paragraph and assume that I made excellent and salient points about everything. Ok, here we go. The first surprise happens with the first shot of the film, showing us that there’s more going on in this movie than in your typical horror flick. It’s hinted at in the trailers, so it’s not a total surprise, but the full story is a little more in-depth than what you might expect. A lot of good horror works on a psychological level as well as a visceral level, so it’s not unheard of that there’d be more than just slashing, but the past few years have shown that the smart horror film is not the most popular genre. I’ll point again to the Saw franchise. The first film is pretty smart, but each successive sequel got dumber and dumber, raking in more and more money as they did so. When The Cabin in the Woods twists even further and the characters begin to realize what’s going on there’s a point where you’ll either go with it or jump off the train. It happens in an elevator and we get a peek at what’s to come. It was at this point where a member of my audience announced that, “This movie is SSSsssssstupid.”

Of course, that moment was the point where the film solidified into my favorite of the year so far, and a potential top 100 film. So what is it about those Long “S” Stupid moments that turns some off and energizes others into love? It seems, in my experience, like some people just don’t want to go exploring with their entertainment. We’ve become so entrenched in specific forms and expectations that we can practically predict an entire movie from a two-minute trailer or know what’s going to happen in a TV episode within the first five minutes. When those movies and TV shows then confound our expectations and do something different we can have one of those two reactions, embrace or reject. Neither is inherently better than the other, both are completely valid reactions. But if you have uttered the Long “S” Stupid at something, ask yourself why. Why are you reacting that way to that piece of media? What, exactly, is stupid about it? Is there a different way to see it? Could it maybe be silly instead of stupid (I’d call both of my examples, Community and The Cabin in the Woods, stupendously silly and I love that about them)? Could it just be different from what you were expecting? Don’t fear difference! Embrace it! Love it!

5 Jawesome Things for the week of March 16, 2012

The five best things I came across in the past week.

1. Community returns!

There’s enough on the internet about Community and how it needs to make a relatively big splash in the coming weeks in order to stick around, so I won’t write about that. I will tell you how happy I was to see the dysfunctional family back to being dysfunctional and familial. And the writing was sharp as ever (probably because they didn’t take a break in the production of the show, just the airing of it). Britta describing an analogy as “a thought with another thought’s hat on it,” was super brilliant to me as a budding, delusional writer. Check out this excellent trailer for the second half of the season.

2. The Awakening

This is, unfortunately, not a retelling of the Kate Chopin story of a woman’s struggle in the late 1800 American South. It is, however, pretty great. There’s history (it takes place shortly after WWI), there’s atmosphere (spooky giant English house with constantly overcast skies), there’s a ghost or two. This film, not yet released in America, is a gothic horror film in the tradition of The Others, The Orphanage, and The Devil’s Backbone, though it owes most of its style to The Turn of the Screw, the modernist novel (hey, there’s the Chopin connection!) that kicked off the gothic horror tradition. Are there really ghosts, or is our hero, played quite well by Rebecca Hall, not all there? There are a few good scares and a few great dramatic scenes, so check it out if and when you can.

3. John Carter

I don’t want to talk about the budget of this film or how much it made. I’ll save that for the next Jawesome Thing. The movie is what it is, which is to say not great but not as bad as it has been made out to be. There are some excellent scenes and, had they given this space epic a more epic runtime instead of the standard two hours, it might have been great. It would have allowed for more character development and a less rushed feel to the film. It’s still a fun way to spend your two hours. I recommend seeing it on as big a screen as you can, and in 2D if possible, as it was post converted and not shot in that format.

4. Corey Atad’s fighting the good fight

I’ve been known to call the internet out on a few things from time to time. This week fellow blogger and internet friend Corey Atad did it for me. Just take his opinions on John Carter‘s budget and its opening weekend haul and The Hunger Games vs. Battle Royale as being almost exact reflections of how I feel. It’s like our minds have joined into one angry and overly-concerned-with-frivolous-things supermind. We are legion, for we are two.

5. Bruce Greenwood on The River

The River is an ok TV show. It’s a found footage miniseries (only 8 episodes) detailing a rescue party composed of family and former workmates trying to find a nature documentarist (I may have just made that word up) who has gone missing down a mysterious tributary of the Amazon. Along the way there have been ghosts and monsters and storms and junk, and it’s all been just ok, for the most part. But last week (technically in time for the previous list of Jawesome Things but I didn’t see it until this week, so shut up) focused almost exclusively on the missing man and his obsessive search for The Source – whatever that is – , played wonderfully by character actor Bruce Greenwood. I don’t know how they got him on this show, though I suspect that Steven Spielberg Executive Producing it probably helped, but his ability to inhabit nearly any role produced some fantastic tv. There’s a moment, late in the episode where he is lost and dying of hunger, thirst, and infection and his dog shows up – don’t ask – and he must decide whether he can kill his best friend. It’s an intense and emotional moment because he wouldn’t be wrong to eat the dog, but it’d also be a truly brutal thing to endure. Greenwood sells all the ways this plays out in his head and it is horrible and wonderful to watch. I don’t know how well the episode (titled simply “Dr. Emmet Cole” after Greenwood’s character) would work on it’s own, but I suspect it would fare quite well, as you don’t get much in the way of the current plotlines. Look out for it. If there’s any justice Greenwood will be nominated for something for it.

Those were the 5 Jawesome Things of the week. What were yours? Leave a comment and let me know!

Movie Review: Submarine (2010)

I’ve seen Richard Ayoade in a few things including The IT Crowd, a hilarious Britcom where he plays a socially awkward IT guy of the highest order. He is brilliant in the show but it didn’t prepare me for his superb directorial prowess. He directed the superb Pulp Fiction/My Dinner With Andre episode of Community earlier this year but even that didn’t let on just how good Ayoade is behind the camera. If there is one thing that Submarine has going for it, it’s the supreme technical craft of the film. Everything looks right, feels right, acts right. It’s a subjective film, we only see the events through the lens of Oliver Tate, and as such Ayoade is free to break reality as often as he wants. When Oliver mentions in an early voice over that this moment would be best suited to a rising crane shot but that the film of his life would only have the budget for a zoom out the frame predictably zooms out, even a bit awkwardly. People freeze while the camera moves and when his father talks about “being underwater” the next shot shows him hunched below the large fish tank previously hidden off-screen. But is that enough? Does the story work beyond the technical achievements?

Well, kinda. Mostly. Probably. Yes? The problem (or not) is that Oliver Tate needs a good slap in the face. He’s got a big ego with little to back it up. He’s the victim of bullying but bullies others in order to get the attention of a girl, Jordana Bevan. And she’s not immune to emotional problems. Their relationship seems to be based on doing as little as possible that could be perceived as actual fun. Or love. The practically torture each other, even though they both want to be with each other. It makes for difficult viewing. I just wanted to go into the screen and sit them down for a little heart to heart in the early goings. Tell them that they need to stop being so pretentious. Stop acting so uninterested in everything. Just enjoy things. Luckily, the film does that for me after the first section. With the reintroduction of Oliver’s mom’s old flame creating marital strife and Jordana’s mom having brain cancer these two teenagers are forced to deal with issues outside themselves. They’re kicked out of their own world and into reality, as much as they try to resist.

The acting in this film is phenomenal. Even if I didn’t care for the two romantic leads (Oliver and Jordana), their actors (Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige) perform them quite well. The adult actors play their roles well, too. Paddy Considine (pictured above rocking the silliest haircut I’ve seen outside a Coen brothers film) brings a kind of quiet humanity to a role that could have been over the top and silly, the spiritual new-age-y motivational speaker that used to date Sally Hawkins‘ Jill Tate (Oliver’s mom) before she married Noah Taylor‘s Lloyd Tate. This couple totally works. You can see why they were a good match for each other – the idea of Noah Taylor’s depressed, scraggly professor ripping his sweater vest off to woo Hawkins’ neurotic wannabe actress is one of the funniest images in the film, even though it’s not shown because they bring so much depth to such lifeless characters – and why they are drifting apart. This is where Oliver and Jordana could end up if they aren’t careful. So trapped in their own ways that seemingly nothing can break them out of their idiosyncrasies.

In fact, for all of my misgivings about the early parts of the film (which are spectacularly done, I must reiterate. I just couldn’t stand the characters), this story develops into something with real heart. It is, after all, a coming of age story – a bildungsroman, if you’ll allow me an English major word and let me justify the title of this blog – and Oliver and Jordana develop into better people. They understand that there is more than just their inner lives and that sometimes people screw up. They learn that relationships of any kind are hard to sustain and that the outcome is worth the effort. When the film ends you have hope that these two, and even the three adults, will be able to live with a little bit more compassion instead of the empty affectations they put on in the early goings. And it’s also quite funny. There are clever jokes and character moments and even filmmaking techniques that make the film flow with a quick wit and a quicker pace. Not since Edgar Wright‘s Hot Fuzz have I seen the kinds of filmic jokes found in this movie. It’s always good to see a joke whose punchline is a cut instead of an actual line. Ayoade’s technical and, more importantly, emotional awareness makes him a writer and director to watch out for.

Submarine (2010) – Written and directed by Richard Ayoade