Usually when a film doesn’t see release until three years after filming, it’s a bad sign; poor test screenings, rewrites, reshoots, and bickering between studio and director over the final cut are often the culprit. But Cabin in the Woods, filmed way back in 2009, is seeing some of the best reviews for any horror film in recent memory as it finally comes out this weekend. Co-written by Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon and Cloverfield scribe Drew Goddard, and directed by the latter, the film looks on the surface to be boilerplate teens-in-trouble horror. Five college students head to the titular location for a weekend of carousing, and Very Bad Things happen once they’re cut off from society. But that’s just the familiar theme Goddard and Whedon use to mount a heavily satirical, wickedly smart and funny deconstruction of all the genre conventions that have become de rigueur–and a bit tiresome–in modern horror.
Filmfest DC, long one of the area’s premiere film festivals, is in its 26th year this spring, starting tonight with a screening of the Canadian film Starbuck, a comedy about a fortysomething man who hasn’t done much with his life–apart from fathering upward of 500 children via a sperm bank, more than a hundred of whom now want to meet him. That film sets the tone for ten days of films that will be heavy on international comedies, as well as a section for new films from the Caribbean and a series of films dealing with social justice issues.
Opens tonight and continues through April 22 at a number of venues throughout the city. Check the schedule for complete listings and information on tickets.
The AFI has a new round of retrospective series getting underway this weekend, most of them running from now until early summer. Here’s the list:
Parents and children alike will find plenty to love in this baker’s dozen worth of titles from the most well-known animation studio outside of Disney: the Japanese imagination powerhouse Studio Ghibli. Most of the titles here are from its cofounder and best-loved director, the great Hayao Miyazaki, along with a few from Isao Takahata, and a couple of other Ghibli directors thrown in for good measure. Things get started this weekend with screenings of Miyazaki’s early masterpiece, My Neighbor Totoro (which lends Ghibli the image for its iconic logo), a perfect entry point to the blend of quiet bucolic pleasures and mythic storytelling that typify Miyazaki’s work. In partnership with the AFI series, which runs for a couple of months, there’s also a marathon of Miyazaki at the Freer on Saturday as part of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, with screenings of his films Ponyo, Porco Rosso, Princess Mononoke,and Spirited Away.
This one-week series features screenings of all four feature films created by the British masters of sketch comic absurdity, Monty Python. That includes the eminently quotable Holy Grail, showing at midnight on Friday in what’s sure to be a lively screening, as well as the alternate-gospel religious satire Life of Brian. Their other two films are closer to the material that made them famous, as they’re sketch-based, with The Meaning of Life, a collection of short pieces examining exactly what the title promises, as well as And Now for Something Completely Different, a greatest-hits compilation of their best work from the series, restaged and filmed for the feature.
The resurgent interest in silent cinema, thanks to last year’s double shot of nostalgia in Hugo and The Artist, has prompted this wide-ranging series of titles stretching across 109 years of cinema, from 1902 to 2011. 1902 is represented with Georges Méliès’s landmark fantasy, A Trip to the Moon, and a 15-minute short from the cinema pioneer who factors so heavily in Scorsese’s Hugo is coupled with The Extraordinary Voyage, a feature-length documentary about the painstaking restoration process that went into bringing Méliès’s work back to its original glory. The 2011 title is Hugo, and from the intervening years, there are films from Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, F.W. Murnau, Harold Lloyd, and Mary Pickford.
Jack Nicholson has been making movies for more than half a century now, so there’s no shortage of material for the AFI to choose from in celebrating his long and diverse career, which started out in Westerns and cheap B-movies before he became a fixture in the New Hollywood and then a personality as famous for just being himself as for the roles he chose. The opening few days of this series combines two well-known latter-day Nicholson roles (The Departed and As Good as it Gets) with a pair of early Monte Hellman-directed westerns (The Shooting and Ride the Whirlwind) before continuing on through psychedelia, New Hollywood classics, films with some of the best and most revered American and European directors of the 20th century, and a pair of his own directorial efforts.
All these series open this weekend at the AFI. Check their site for complete listings over the next couple of months.
The Cabin in the Woods isn’t the only title coming out this week with Joss Whedon’s name in the writing credits. This Morgan Spurlock documentary examines a subject near and dear to Whedon’s heart: the geekier side of pop culture, as manifested in the annual San Diego Comic Convention. Spurlock ditches his usual Michael Moore filmmaking approach, letting the characters of the convention take the spotlight rather than himself, interviewing convention-goers as well as the luminaries they’re there to see: people like Whedon, comic book titan Stan Lee, and critic Harry Knowles, all of whom also serve as producers on the film. Spurlock will be in town this weekend to appear at the local premiere, Friday night at West End.
DVD/Blu-ray Pick of the Week: A Trip to the Moon
You can enjoy the newly restored Georges Méliès landmark 1902 silent movie this week at the AFI or at home with the release of the film on DVD and Blu-ray. You may be used to seeing this film in fuzzy-focus black and white, but the original version was, as Scorsese’s Hugo showed, actually in color, each frame painted by hand. This release restores that original version and returns the director’s fantasy about an expedition to the moon to a form not seen for decades. For a look at just how dramatic the difference in the images is, take a look at this side by side comparison.
Special Features: Since the film itself is only 15 minutes, there are plenty of special features on this disc to make it well worth the purchase. There’s the feature length documentary on the restoration, Extraordinary Voyage; a couple of other silent shorts; an interview with the band Air, who composed a new soundtrack for the film; and a 12-page booklet of liner notes.
View a clip from the restored version.