Blu Tuesday: Nazis, Mermen and More

After last week’s less than stellar offerings, movie fans will be delighted to see the wealth of new releases to choose from this week, including the Blu-ray debut of a certain whip-cracking archeologist, the latest from the mind of Joss Whedon and more.

“Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures”

As one of the last great film series yet to be released on Blu-ray, Paramount’s five-disc box set finally puts an end to the wait with an awesome collection that features digitally remastered versions of the first three movies, as well as a copy of the red-headed stepchild of the franchise, “The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” which will at least be welcomed by completionists and George Lucas apologists alike. Enough has been written about the Indiana Jones films over the years that it would be silly to gush about them all over again – and if you’ve seen them yourself, then you already know how great they are – but there is something that warrants mentioning, and that’s just how incredible these movies look in high definition. “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” which received a frame-by-frame restoration in addition to the color-correcting process performed on “The Temple of Doom” and “The Last Crusade,” looks especially brilliant, with its 20-plus years miraculously erased to the point that it’s almost like a brand new film. Though it would have been nice if fans were given the option between the original trilogy and a set collecting all four movies (that’s how bad “Crystal Skull” is compared to the others), it’s hard to complain too much when the studio has done such an amazing job giving the series the tender loving care that it so richly deserves.

Blu-ray Highlight: A lot of good bonus material has been brought over from previous releases, but the all-new making-of featurette “On Set with Raiders of the Lost Ark” is the undisputed gem of the set. Compiled from vintage footage of the production, the featurette offers an intimate look at filming certain scenes and the decision-making process behind those sequences. That footage is also supplemented by outtakes, deleted scenes and alternate takes, giving audiences a peek at what could have been.

“The Cabin in the Woods”

Leave it to Joss Whedon to take the horror genre and turn it on its head. The guy has been defying convention for years – from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog” – and if there was any genre in need of a shake-up, it’s horror. Directed by Drew Goddard and co-written with Whedon, “The Cabin in the Woods” is an entertaining and remarkably original genre hybrid film that, although it may appear to be a typical slasher flick at first sight, has more than a few tricks up its sleeves. Fueled by a great script inspired by horror classics like “Evil Dead” and boasting a wicked sense of humor, the movie is a fun twist on a tired formula. The cast of victims is also much better than your average slasher film, although it’s Richard Jenkins and Bradley Cooper as the pair of mission control guys pulling the strings that really steals the show. It does go a bit off the rails in the final act (though anyone familiar with Whedon’s work won’t be too surprised), but for a movie this ambitious, sometimes it takes that kind of risk to yield such a refreshing reward.

Blu-ray Highlight: In addition to a really fun and informative audio commentary by Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon, there’s an excellent making-of featurette called “We Are Not Who We Are” that includes a look at shooting the climactic elevator sequence and a hilarious tour of the control room with actors Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford.

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A chat with the cast of “The Cabin in the Woods”

If Lionsgate’s new horror film “The Cabin in the Woods” had been released back in 2010 like originally planned, there’s a good chance that audiences wouldn’t have recognized any of the young faces in the cast. Chris Hemsworth’s biggest claim to fame up to that point was a cameo role as James T. Kirk’s dad in “Star Trek”; Jesse Williams had just started his recurring stint on the medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy”; Fran Kranz was working on the short-lived Joss Whedon series “Dollhouse”; and Kristen Connolly and Anna Hutchison didn’t even have a noteworthy acting credit to their names.

Though most of the actors have still yet to truly break out (save for Hemsworth, of course), “The Cabin in the Woods” is definitely the kind of movie that could put them on the map, especially with so much positive buzz leading up to its release. I was fortunate enough to see the film at South by Southwest last month and joined a group of journalists in speaking with several cast members – including Connolly, Williams, Hutchison and veteran scene stealers Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins – about their experiences making the movie. Below are some highlights from the roundtable discussions, although because of the secretive nature of the film’s story, consider this your official warning that the following may contain potential spoilers.

And when you’re done, be sure to check out my interview with co-writer Joss Whedon and writer/director Drew Goddard for more on “The Cabin in the Woods.”

Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison and Jesse Williams on their initial reactions to the script.

JW: Our audition sides were totally fake. I think Joss just wrote them to fuck with us. And because they’re such good writers, they could just make stuff up in two seconds and have us jump around like animals to get the part. I didn’t read the script until after I agreed to do the movie, I don’t think.

KC: I had an inkling of what they were up to because I read one of the later scenes in the movie with Fran [Kranz]… to see if we were compatible. So then I finally got to read the script and I knew it was really special right away. It’s just mind-blowing, and it’s amazing, and it’s awesome and rare to read something that makes you want to keep reading, and that you really don’t know where it’s going to go.

AH: You kind of have a bit of blind faith if it’s a project with Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, because their previous things have been so rad, you’re kind of like, “I think this might be awesome.” And you guys didn’t have much of an idea going into the film, right? But you kind of knew that it might be good, and it is. I think that’s why I was just like, “Heck yeah, get me on this bad boy,” without even reading it.

Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins on the film’s script.

BW: I’ve said this a bunch, but what’s miraculous about this is you have two guys who obviously are great imaginative storytellers, and they look at each other and they go, “What would we write if we could write anything?” And the fact that that actually got done and that that movie got made is just a fucking miracle. (Laughs)

RJ: I almost think it was a bet that they made. They wrote this unbelievably complicated story and then [Joss] turned to Drew and they flipped a coin and said, “Okay, you direct it. See if you can possibly direct something.” And you know, as good as the script is, the movie’s better, which was amazing to see.

BW: It is amazing that he’s a first-time director, because when you’re reading the script, when the elevator doors open and there’s a lot of stuff that comes out of there… How do you make that work? Modulating that kind of ridiculous horror and remaining human is really difficult. Most directors will fuck that up for you. It was a shock seeing it. Realizing that the original impulse was achieved with that kind of clarity was amazing to me.

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A chat with co-writer Joss Whedon and writer/director Drew Goddard of “The Cabin in the Woods”

Joss Whedon is a bit of a geek god in some circles, having created cult shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “Firefly” and “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long-Blog,” but that’s all about to change with the upcoming release of “The Avengers.” Before Whedon assembles the Marvel superhero group on the big screen, however, the writer/director is reteaming with longtime friend Drew Goddard (a writer on some of Whedon’s TV series, as well as others like “Alias” and “Lost”) on the genre-bending horror movie “The Cabin in the Woods.”

Co-written by the duo, the film also marks the directorial debut of Goddard, who’s had to sit idly by and watch the movie endure a number of setbacks on its way to theaters. Originally completed back in 2009 before being indefinitely shelved due to MGM’s ongoing financial problems, the film eventually found a home at genre-friendly studio Lionsgate and will be released April 13th. “The Cabin in the Woods” had its world premiere last month at the South by Southwest Film Festival, and to say that it was well-received would be a serious understatement. I had the chance to speak with Joss and Drew (as well as some of the cast) with a roomful of other journalists two days after the premiere. Here are some highlights from the roundtable chat, although because of the secretive nature of the film’s story, beware that spoilers may follow.

Joss Whedon on whether making a horror movie was the next natural step for a filmmaker with a habit of killing off his characters.

We like killing characters, but I think we’re ready to step it up and kill actual people. (Laughs) I do not look forward to killing people. I love the people. The point of this movie, I think to a large extent… was definitely about the idea that people are not expendable, and that as a culture and for our own entertainment we assume that they are. Although I absolutely love horror movies and always have, I love the most when I really, really care about the people in dire trouble.

With the exception of “Alien,” I think… It’s not that I don’t care about them; it’s that I was very frightened by that movie because they didn’t care about each other. I didn’t think they were going to band together and fight back. I thought, “These guys would sell each other down the river in a heartbeat.”

Joss Whedon on the inspiration for the story.

The story itself really just sort of popped out. And then because it’s so clearly the kind of thing that we love – which is true horror with a cold eye toward “What is that about?” at the same time as we’re in the thick of it – and then once the idea just sort of came, it was years before we actually sat down and did it. But that was what made it so easy to do when we finally did, because we bandied back and forth… This is an entire movie of “I wish we could.” It’s too raging ids just enjoying themselves for 90 minutes.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to April

With the summer movie season just around the corner, Hollywood is gearing up for what promises to be its most exciting slate of films in a long time by heading into the blockbuster-filled madness of May on a high note. This month has something for just about everyone, including several promising comedies, an innovative horror film with “Scream”-sized potential, and a new movie from action guru Luc Besson. It may not compare to what this summer has to offer, but it’s better than the doldrums of winter.

“AMERICAN REUNION”

Who: Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Seann William Scott and Eugene Levy
What: The gang is reunited in East Great Falls, Michigan for their high school reunion.
When: April 6th
Why: I’ve been a fan of the “American Pie” series (not including those terrible direct-to-DVD spinoffs, of course) since the original film was released back in 1999. It’s a purely generational thing; when the characters are having the same major life experiences as most people your age, it makes them easy to relate to. The movies also happen to be pretty entertaining in a guilty pleasure kind of way, and it’ll be great to see the whole cast reunited for the first time since they all went their separate ways to become big movie stars. Though that didn’t exactly work out for any of them (Alyson Hannigan and Seann William Scott are arguably the most successful of the bunch), as long as their chemistry is still intact, “American Reunion” should be a fun trip down memory lane.

“COMIC-CON: EPISODE IV – A FAN’S HOPE”

Who: Chuck Rozanski, Holly Conrad, Eric Henson, Anthony Calderon and Skip Harvey
What: A behind-the-scenes look at the fans who gather by the thousands each year in San Diego, California to attend Comic-Con.
When: April 6th
Why: It’s actually quite surprising that no one has thought to make a documentary about Comic-Con until now, because although it’s not really a hard-hitting subject matter, it already has a built-in audience that continues to grow every year. Morgan Spurlock isn’t the first person you’d think of to direct a documentary about the popular geek Mecca, but he’s wisely chosen to stay out of the spotlight this time around, instead opting to focus on the lives of five attendees (including a toy collector, an aspiring artist and a costume designer) who have traveled to the annual convention for various reasons. And with guys like Stan Lee, Joss Whedon and Kevin Smith all involved in some form, Spurlock’s latest doc has the makings to be the perfect love letter to comic book geeks everywhere.

“THE CABIN IN THE WOODS”

Who: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford
What: Five friends head to a remote cabin in the woods for the weekend where they get more than they bargained for.
When: April 13th
Why: I’ve had the good fortune to see Drew Goddard’s “The Cabin in the Woods” twice now, and it’s every bit as original and entertaining as you’d expect for a movie co-written by Joss Whedon. This is one of those films that you need to go into knowing as little as possible, so while the trailer has been provided below, I’d recommend that you don’t watch it in order to avoid spoiling anything. It may look like just your average slasher flick on paper, but the movie has a few tricks up its sleeves. Fueled by a great script that not only defies most horror conventions, but does so with tongue firmly planted in cheek, “The Cabin in the Woods” is either going to be the movie that everyone can’t stop talking about, or that no one goes to see. Do your part and make sure it’s the former.

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SXSW Film Fest 2012: Day One

This is my third year down in Austin for the South by Southwest film festival, and I think that I’ve finally figured out the science to covering the event all on my lonesome. Instead of past years, where I’ve done a mix of both full-length and shorter movie reviews, this time around, I’m going to be doing daily blogs with even shorter, capsule-style reviews of the films that I saw the previous day. I’m hoping this will make me more productive than usual, but as my schedule is constantly in flux, please bear with me. And if you can’t wait for my daily posts, be sure to follow me on Twitter @JasonZingale for more.

“The Cabin in the Woods”

Leave it to Joss Whedon to take the horror genre and turn it on its head. Though it appears to be nothing more than a typical slasher flick at first sight, “The Cabin in the Woods” (which was directed by Drew Goddard and co-written with Whedon) is an entertaining and completely original genre hybrid film that has more than a few tricks up its sleeve. The setup is simple: five friends head to a cabin located in the middle of nowhere for a weekend of fun, only to find themselves fighting for their lives when they accidentally resurrect a family of killer rednecks from the dead. Of course, there’s much more to the story than that, as the audience learns very early on that there’s a third party behind all the death and destruction. It’s an excellent twist on a tired genre, with Whedon and Goddard’s script not only defying convention on several occasions, but also lightening the mood with deft strokes of humor. Though the film features Chris Hemsworth in a role that precedes his “Thor” days, the real stars are Fran Kranz (from Whedon’s short-lived “Dollhouse”) as the pot-smoking comic relief, and Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford as the men orchestrating all the mayhem. It goes a bit off the rails in the final act, but for a movie this ambitious, sometimes it takes that kind of risk to yield such a refreshing reward.

“The Babymakers”

It may not be an official Broken Lizard movie in theory, but that’s not going to stop some people from comparing “The Babymakers” to the group’s other films, mainly because it was directed by Jay Chandrasekhar and features him and fellow member Kevin Heffernan in supporting roles. But while it definitely shares the group’s brand of goofball humor, “The Babymakers” feels like a cheap imitation without the other Lizards. Fortunately, it still has its share of funny moments thanks to Paul Schneider, who delivers a wonderfully dry performance as a man so desperate to impregnate his wife (Olivia Munn) that he plots to steal the last vial of sperm he donated years before after learning that his current count is too low for conception. Much like fellow “Parks and Rec” alumnus Adam Scott, Schneider has been on the verge of a big breakout for years, and “The Babymakers” proves that he’s a more than capable comedic lead. Munn is better than usual, but she’s definitely not leading lady material, while the rest of the cast fails to do much with a script that goes for the easy joke far too often. And that’s a shame, because with a sharper script and better execution, “The Babymakers” could have been the perfect Broken Lizard vehicle.

  

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