More than any other films horror films are inclined to stand above the action. Even beyond movies like Shaun of the Dead, Scream and now Cabin in the Woods there are the torture films trying to one up each other or the ultra high-concept mashups that do things like toss Abe Lincoln into a monster movie.
So can horror films stop commenting on horror films and just try to scare people? I get into the question this week at The Film Experience. Go check it out.
Not being aboard The Avengers Runaway Hype Train these past few months has left me feeling like a cranky old malcontent. I'm not a rabid Whedonite nor am I a Marvel devotee. That leaves me as Carl from Up coming out on my porch to shake my head at all the fuss, before shutting the door and turning up the volume on my Criterion Collection edition of Amarcord to drown out the world.
In fairness to me, Marvel has given me almost nothing tangible on which to pin my excitement. I thought the second Iron Man was a sizeable misstep, Thor was a dud, and Captain America, after a rollicking first act, was merely OK. The less said about the twice aborted attempts to launch Hulk the better. So if I’m am varying degrees of indifferent to these characters why should I get jacked up like a kid on Christmas at the idea of them engaging in a cinematic ten-car pileup? Add to that the feeling of acute annoyance that these franchises are monopolizing the time of many of our most interesting actors and it all adds up to a party to which I felt no reason to RSVP.
No reason until now. Having finally caught up Serenity after all these years I finally feel a twinge of the excitement Whedonites must have been bursting with since the project was announced. Rarely has the marriage of director and property appeared so harmonious.
Serenity it turns out, was the perfect job application for The Avengers. To wit:
If there is one element that consistently drags down the superhero genre it’s the endless explanation, name-checking, and origin story backtracking. As the mothership of all franchise movies The Avengers seemed doomed to collapse under the weight of all these properties, but after witnessing the elegant way Whedon handled getting the movie audience up to speed on Firefly history I’m more optimistic.
In one unbroken shot lasting over 4 minutes we follow Nathan Fillion through the depths of the ship as Whedon quickly catches everyone up with the cast of characters, their relationships and their current predicament. Here’s hoping he can be just as deft with the all star cast of heroes. I would have included this on my recent list of 14 Under-Appreciated Long Takesbut I left it off under the reasoning that nothing in a Whedon project could ever qualify as under-appreciated.
It’s hard to think of many moments from the spate of Avengers origin stories that made the viewer take a step back and go “Wow. That was cool.” But Whedon has that quality guys like Brad Bird or Tarantino share that never settles for the familiar. They need something special in the execution that takes the standard action and twists it into something memorable.
Like this elegant bit of offscreen violence where Whedon takes the standard “Badass villain dispatches peons” character intro and turns into something special with Ejiofor paralyzing Michael Hitchcock and then waiting patiently for him to tip forward onto his sword, all with an unsettling calm, bordering on kindness. Can’t say I’ve seen that before.
Moments like this shot, my favorite in the movie, makes the best case for getting excited over the idea of Whedon's Avengers.
If there is one thing The Avengers movies have lacked so far - including the first Iron Man if I'm being brutally honest - it is this sense of grandeur. The idea that its characters are bigger than life. Thor's a demigod for Chrissakes, yet there is nothing in his film that can touch the level of awe Whedon summons in images such as this. If he can grant this odd, damaged waif onscreen presence that borders on Batman, surely he can invest Hulk and Capt. America with the gravitas they've been sorely lacking.
I've already written in depth on my love for animator Vladimir "Bill" Tytla before inthis tributeto his brilliant work on Dumbo, but since The Film Experience is doing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs for its Hit Me With Your Best Shot feature today I thought it was worth singling out another one of his crowning achievements: Grumpy.
Simply put, Tytla was one of the greatest screen actors in history, but is rarely recognized as such because he did all his acting through a pencil. He, along with Fred Moore, were primarily responsible for the design and animation of the dwarfs - which is another way of saying they were directly responsible for the massive success of one of the most successful movies in history.
Dopey hogs all the affection, but my favorite dwarf has always been Grumpy because he is the only one who gets to play conflicting emotions. All the others stick to their one note. My favorite display of Tytla's gift for wordless acting comes when Grumpy desperately wants a goodbye kiss from Snow White but refuses to admit it or drop his gruff exterior. It's a complicated idea to get across without dialogue but Tytla makes it look easy showing Grumpy sneaking peaks in the mirror, playing up his crankiness and mock struggling as Snow White plants one on his head. The sequence tops off with this shot featuring a virtuoso bit of animation as Grumpy briefly forgets himself and melts after getting his kiss.
Over the last decade Woody Allen has developed the habit of following up his artistic resurgences with dizzying drops in quality. Scoop followed Match Point. Whatever Works followed Vicky Christina Barcelona. Now coming off his first Oscar win in 25 years for Midnight in Paris we are going to get the anemically titled To Rome With Love, and I get the feeling that the worn lifetime pass I long ago issued Woody is going to get a little more tattered.
But does Allen, or any beloved director for that matter, deserve a lifetime pass? Or should they be ignored same as anyone when they are clearly spinning their wheels or worse? I get into the question of lifetime passes in this weeks episode of Burning Questions at The Film Experience. Go give it a read, and chime in with the name of any filmmaker you know you will never quit no matter how they break your heart.