April 12, 2012 6:08 pm

Satire? It’s just a bit of a giggle

This week’s films reviewed: ‘The Cabin in the Woods’, ‘The Gospel of Us’, ‘Blackthorn’, ‘Delicacy’, ‘Mozart’s Sister’ and ‘Battleship’

In The Cabin in the Woods five sexy American students travel to a rural location where they find themselves set upon by zombies. Worse, it appears their ordeal is being literally directed by surveillance experts, all crouched over control panels ensuring that each student will die as horribly as possible in order to satisfy the blood-lust of some malign intelligence. The film arrives garlanded with quotes promising that it will be the Event Movie of the year for comedy-horror fans. The trailer screamed “Gamechanger!” – never a good word in cinema, it really means “we’re coming in at the tail-end of a knackered tradition that desperately needs to reboot itself”.

The Cabin in the Woods isn’t a gamechanger any more than Jason and the Argonauts is today. That’s not to say the film isn’t occasionally cool and laconic – there’s a stoner character who does a groovy line in nose-thumbing – and the credits feature a merman next to a sugar-plum fairy, which has to be a first for horror. But a Truman Show-like satire on voyeurism? Man, that’s weak. All definitively feeble horror films are about voyeurism (you the viewer want to see blood and want to be punished for wanting, blah blah) and never add up to more than a low-level grumble about the situation. And anyway, voyeurism – because we all already know it’s wrong – is impervious to satire.

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Cabin is not a reboot or a satire or an attack – it’s the odd giggle. The “satire” on voyeurism and control here is just a plot device, a structural necessity. If you have no faith or confidence in the story itself, then the first recourse of the filmmaker is always the “reveal” – of which this film has several. If you haven’t anything to say, at a key moment you just have to demonstrate that it’s all taking place on Mars/been orchestrated to placate the gods/or all the other types of reveals that the director here was already well versed in when he wrote for the television series Lost – another story about people finding themselves “horribly manipulated by unnamed Higher Powers”. The only comedy-horror that ever worked was An American Werewolf in London – and it worked because it was about character. It had a mood of its own. It was not run entirely by its genre.

2 stars


The Gospel of Us
is a film (written by the poet Owen Sheers) of the actor Michael Sheen’s 2011 acclaimed public recreation of the events leading to Jesus’s death, all set in modern-day Wales. Please don’t let this page immediately slip from your fingers: the movie is quite something, if too long – but then so is the Easter Vigil. The dear Welsh. Truly there isn’t one among them who didn’t turn out to take part in this, from grannies in retirement homes to the Manic Street Preachers in a bingo hall, they’re all here, mingling keenly with the professional actors.

Sheen’s Jesus is rather too humble (“I just wanna say thanks for the soup,” he says at the Last Supper) and fond of hoodies. For one glorious moment, as he waded out of the sea, I thought he was going to ace the more taxing scenes entirely in a pair of striped pyjamas, as did Mark Rylance as Hamlet for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1988 (a high point in your reviewer’s unrecoverable girlhood). But Sheen manages both a rapport with his fellow performers (professional and otherwise) and a star’s separateness: he is a dishevelled mystic who really gives the people around him jolts. There is a raw, primitive response to Christ in this film, despite all its community theatre window-dressing. I loved its spirit of a fanfare.

4 stars


Blackthorn
rather thrillingly imagines what might have happened to Butch Cassidy had he not died with Sundance, but lived instead as a rancher in Bolivia in the person of Sam Shepard. The film is more than anything a paean to how well Shepard rides a horse – showcased memorably when he played a land baron in Days of Heaven, and a saddle-loving test pilot in The Right Stuff – and there are moments here (Shepard riding across the Bolivian salt flats, the Salar de Tunupa, a simple and lyrical, heavenly scene) that you suspect the entire movie was funded to feature.

But then there’s the way he stands too – such thinness. He is like a drawn breath. Although the scenery here is dramatic – locations include La Paz, Potosí, and Uyuni, all rarely seen on screen – the film is more about the 68-year-old Shepard’s face, and so it has a very individual temperament. It’s a Western, sure – with a quite typical genre plot about stolen booty, border-guards and fortune hunters – and yet it feels as unique as the way the ageing Shepard’s eyes appear weirdly independent of the rest of him. He’s a bird of prey gazing through the holes in a crumbling wall.

3 stars


In Delicacy Audrey Tautou is a beautiful young Parisian widow embarking on a love affair with a plain, Swedish colleague. The movie plays a nice trick on the audience in having the actor playing the plain Swedish colleague casually and quietly appear in a pivotal scene before he enters the plot proper, without our even noticing him – just as everyone in his life and in his office up to this point, have always done. When Tautou first embraces him – passionately, and seemingly on a whim – it comes as a real shock and you are left wondering guiltily about the scene in which you scarcely noticed him. A nice opening moment in which a man wonders about love and life in a café is reminiscent of the sexiest, saddest moments in Eric Rohmer’s Love in the Afternoon (such musings always sound better in French) but the rest really is no good.

2 stars


Several years before he concentrated on Wolfgang, Leopold Mozart devoted all his energies to shaping his daughter Nannerl into a great musician. Mozart’s Sister reminds us that such a girl existed – and survived her genius sibling by 40 years. It’s a varnished, interesting production that takes us even to Versailles, but is at its best when the Mozart family quip – as you are sure they must have done given the amount of time they spent on the road between concerts – about certain bodily functions and other minor irritants. You feel the Mozart of Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus could easily have emerged from this squabbling, loving, pressurised unit.

3 stars


All you need to know about Battleship – about an alien invasion suppressed by the US navy – is that it contains the phrases “We’re talking about an extinction-level event” and “It’s the North Koreans, I’m tellin’ ya”. Popcorn-crunching, full of shiny homoerotic strutting and Baywatch blondes with tanned bazookas, it says that being in the military – hell, being American – is all about how a star looks with shades on and shirt off. But then so did An Officer and a Gentleman. “Love lift us up where we wear thongs...”

1 star

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