Sunday, June 24, 2012

BLOOD AND LORE:  CABIN IN THE WOODS REVIEW


“…nobody wants to see vampire killers… or vampires… Apparently all they want to see are demented madmen running around in ski-masks, hacking up young virgins.”


Peter Vincent (Roddy MacDowall), Fright Night (1985)

If someone unexposed to horror films from the past 35 years or so were to watch a marathon of several of these films back to back (and let’s say none of them were sequels), how many would it take before he or she began to predict what’s going to happen next? For an American film audience culture that has by now endured the irony-heavy Scream franchise and the gloomily unironic spate of “torture porn” from auteurs like Eli Roth and others, can there truly be any genuine shocks in horror anymore? Cabin in the Woods film attempts to answer that question with a wink and a nod.

The new film features five college-aged protagonists, each fitting a certain stock cliché to be found in assorted horror films: the jock/de facto leader (Chris Hemsworth ), the dumb blonde (Anna Hutchison), the nerd/token minority (Jesse Williams), the druggie (Fran Kranz) and the nice girl (Kristin Connolly.) The (slight) twist is, not all of the characters inhabit these roles from the get-go, but are manipulated into them.

A creepy gas station attendant (is there any other kind?) gives an oblique warning (to the students and the audience) as the quintet heads up to the titular cabin for a weekend of unsupervised fun. Before the film is over, threads from Deliverance, Friday the 13th, Ju-On/The Grudge and more are touched on in various depths. The Saw films, which are already on their seventh (or is that VIIth?) installment, are also clipped for some thematic DNA.

The film was co-written by Joss Whedon (Marvel’s The Avengers) and directed by Drew Goddard—the latter of whom wrote and/or directed several episodes of Whedon’s Buffy and Angel TV series as well as the conspiracy-heavy TV drama Lost. Both collaborators bring a satirical sensibility to this horror entry. Cabin reveals its core conceit in its opening scenes (though less-knowing viewers may be hard-pressed to connect the dots early on), and so perhaps the film has less bite (pun intended) than it would have were it to wait until later. Still, the twists, when they happen, are more intriguing than draining, especially by the climax, which manages to be nihilistic and liberating at the same time.

Cabin functions as a witty indictment and apology of sorts for the clichés of contemporary horror cinema and the slasher subgenre in particular. Depending on how cynical the viewer is, the only way to really ruin this experience—would be to have a sequel.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

GWYN AND BEAR IT


This author is a week or so behind in tackling this particular hip-hop related scandal, but unlike the average shelf-life of a Twitter post, it still bears further discussion.  Indeed, Twitter is at the center of this particular celebrity faux-pas.

It seems that Gwyneth Paltrow-- A-list movie actress, wife of Coldplay bandleader Chris Martin, and mother to quaintly-named children Apple and Moses, found herself in a foot-in-mouth social networking fuss when she typed a tweet "Niggas in Paris for real" while at a Jay-Z/Kanye West concert (Paltrow and her husband are apparently godparents to Jay-Z and Beyonce's baby Blue Ivy.)  http://tinyurl.com/7tg2txr For the uninitiated, "Ni**as in Paris" is a Jay/Kanye song, though on radio and in the music-video it is officially referred to simply as "Paris"-- go figure, right?



In interviews, such as with Tanning of America author/hip-hop manager Steve Stoute, Paltrow is upfront about having been a rap music fan while growing up, even name-checking the likes of N.W.A.  When Paltrow's tweet went viral, any number of celebrity culture blogs and even mainstream news-talk programs brought it up.  Meanwhile, an assortment of hip-hop culture personalities like Nas, Ice-T, Russell Simmons and The Dream have come to her defense.  More often than not, Paltrow's buddy-credibility with rappers has been mentioned and the relatively innocuous context of N-word being said among knowledgable friends, particularly when spelled with an 'a' rather than 'er'.

This author is not so cynical as to equate Ms. Paltrow with the Ku Klux Klan for her tweet. However, what hasn't been discussed (the surface was scraped with Russell Simmons' response) is how people are going to be more nuanced in facilitating cross-cultural communication in this post-post-hip-hop America (and the world.)

For the better part of three decades people across national/ethnic lines have been assimilating hip-hop's music, street slang, dance moves, graphic designs and politics.. but for those younger folks (and those now grown) who were already of a background that could be largely considered "establishment"/middle-America, do they simply have "empathy" for the "ghetto/minority experience", or are they willing to make personal choices that, at least in some small individual way, counteract the cultural/political traditions that led to "the 'hood experience" to begin with? Can you be 'hip-hop down' but hate the idea of visiting downtown Detroit (or a neighorhood non-profit) for a day? Does loving Jay & Kanye's lavish-life themes on the Watch the Throne album mean you endorse the idea of expanding the social safety net, or are you more of a free-market/tax-free absolutist like Mitt Romney and his Bain Capital peeps, since, clearly, those guys are "making that cheddar"?

Let's face it, for a lot of folks who grew up in the 'hood, there's always been a certain counter-cultural novelty context to seeing whitebread Caucasians (and other ethnics, including outer-suburban reared blacks) speaking urban slang, however awkwardly or adeptly. Often times this is met with laughter, or for those who've been granted a 'pass', "yo, you my boy/girl" accolades [and for however long the fellowship lasts, at the concert, club, party, etc., there's an unstated solidarity along the lines of "we're all some n_____ up in here!"]

But when the lights come on and people go back to their daily lives...

Is Gwyneth going to get passed over by taxis now, in NY or Paris? Is she likely to face being detained by police for extended periods without explanation?  Would the Louis Vuitton store clerks usher her out if she says "she just wants to browse"?  Ummm.... I don't care how many celebrity rap/R&B folks are friends with or being godparents to their kids, I don't want to see Paltrow or Chris Martin-types walking up to me (or near me) at a restaurant and popping off with the n-bombs like it’s just another accepted insult-turned-term of endearment (e.g., d*ck, b*tch, d*uche, a**hole, etc.)

For countless groupings of people, “my n***as” is an accepted private joke. But a private joke, by definition, means that not everyone is in on the gag. Sometimes for good reason.  Not every person, even when they intellectually understand the cultural nuances of how an historical slur-word/phrase has evolved, and how often it may have been used in their own families and neighborhoods, is on board with said word/phrase becoming the equivalent of a marketing brand.  No, symbolic burials won't make it go away (sorry, NAACP) but pretending that taste in music or fashion automatically equates with facilitating social justice is just as naive.

The rappers and others who dismiss ‘Gwyneth-gate’ as meaning nothing are either clueless or just aren’t being fully honest about addressing the broader issues at work here.