Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Cabin in the Woods

We are a few days shy of Halloween, and sure enough there was a spooky movie to be consumed out of my backlog box, so today’s entry is for 2012’s The Cabin in the Woods (trailer). If you are completely unaware of this film, I suggest you watch that trailer, skip this review and come back immediately. If you did not heed my advice and only watched the trailer and know nothing about the film beforehand you probably thought the trailer made it seem like this was a stereotypical teen slasher flick with maybe some little twist (which I will be spoiling below) to keep you on your toes. Turns out that little something extra wound up being a whole new dynamic that made CitW stand out unlike any other slasher film before it.

I did not catch this in theaters until it was out for a few weeks, and during that time a couple friends and hosts on podcasts I listened to all said along the lines of “I cannot discuss this movie without giving away key plot details, just go see it!” Somehow, I managed not to see any trailers or details about the film beforehand and essentially went into the movie thinking that this was going to be unlike any slasher film I saw before. That indeed was the case, and it made for an unforgettable theatrical experience with my friends and me cracking up at the ingenuity of the film and being completely unprepared for what the filmmakers were going to throw at us next.

CitW features five college kids going out for a weekend getaway off the grid in the middle of the woods. The five victims-to-be include the burn-out Marty (Fran Kranz), the girl next door Dana (Kristen Connolly), the sports jock Curt (Chris Hemsworth), the tempting vixen Jules (Anna Hutchinson) and the scholar Holden (Jesse Williams). Worth noting is that this film finished post-production a couple years before it hit cinemas, but Lionsgate held off releasing the film until the year after Thor hit theaters so they could understandably capitalize on Chris Hemsworth’s newfound fame.

From the beginning of the film, that the trailer just barely shows a glimpse of, you are introduced to three of the top executives (Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford and Brian White) behind putting this gang of misfits together in the cabin. The film winds up referring to them as ‘the puppeteers’ who play a key role in determining the fate of the kiddos in the cabin. These puppeteers tinker away with settings in their control room by filtering in elements like nerve gas that alters the thinking of our protagonists to play along with slasher film clichés like the obligatory isolated sex scene, and splitting up while on the run from danger. When this all came to light in the film, this new dynamic completely caught me off guard and I immediately embraced the wild ride I was taken on throughout the rest of the film.

Watching the dorm rats try to figure out what is really going on with the cabin with every type of monster imaginable after them made for an entertaining journey. So were the scenes jumping back to the puppeteers and the mysteries on why they are doing this are gradually revealed. The unique nature of this film made it more of a comedy than a scare flick, and even the expected gore and death scenes are handled in a lighthearted way to make this film friendly for both hardcore slasher flick fans wanting something different and people who do not care for gratuitous gore and jump scares.

The BluRay of CitW is packed with extras. It’s not what you Think is a bonus picture-in-picture viewing mode that randomly splices in unique interview snippets with the cast and crew throughout the film. I did not watch too much of this as the interviews mute the film’s audio and made it a little too distracting. I did listen to the commentary track though with producer, Joss Whedon and director, Drew Goddard. The two have a natural chemistry and there is never a lull in their commentary. Noteworthy commentary anecdotes include getting the studio fully on board for the nature of the film, giving unique props to one of the scene decorators, and Whedon glorifying pot use throughout the commentary.

There is around an hour and a half of behind-the-scenes extras. We are not who we Are is nearly a half watch primarily revolving around the film being Whedon and Goddard’s passion project and how CitW came to be. Secret Stash is two shorter features where Franz guides us through the various pot props and Whedon gives a tour of the cabin. Army of Nightmares and Primal Terror are 12 minutes apiece and are all about the practical effects, monster costumes and CG special effects and how they tried to get the most out of practical effects and only use CG when they really needed to. Finally, there is a Q&A with Whedon and Goddard that took place at a comic convention where the two answer questions from fans for nearly a half hour. If you are into special effects I think you will get a lot out of the two effects features, and the Q&A does have a few worthwhile production stories to be had, but the only must watch of the extra features I feel is We are not who we Are.

I was a little tepid if CitW would hold up on my second viewing knowing the plot’s twist beforehand this time, but I quickly put my reservations to rest because it was still as entertaining to endure as it was the first time. Like I said above, I am not usually too big on scare or slasher flicks and I had no problems getting through this. If you know a friend or peer that is unaware of this film, drag them to your place and be entertained as they get wrapped up in the unique beast that is The Cabin in the Woods.

Other Random Backlog Movie Blogs

12 Angry Men (1957)
21 Jump Street
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie
Atari: Game Over
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Bounty Hunters
Cabin in the Woods
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Clash of the Titans (1981)
Clint Eastwood 11-pack Special
Dirty Work
Field of Dreams
Fight Club
The Fighter
For Love of the Game
Good Will Hunting
Hercules: Reborn
Man of Steel
Marine 3 & 4
Mortal Kombat
The Replacements
Rocky I-VI
Running Films Part 1
Running Films Part 2
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Source Code
Star Trek I-XII
Take Me Home Tonight
The Tooth Fairy 1 & 2
Veronica Mars
The Wrestler (2008)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

redvsblue Season 8

Season 8 of redvsblue is a major milestone for the long running machinima web series. First and foremost, it wraps up the second major story arc of series, Recollection, with season 8 being part three of three of this arc and titled, Revelation (trailer). Season 8 happens to be the final season filmed primarily using Halo 3. Finally, it is the first season where the folks at Rooster Teeth Studios start implementing CG-animation of our favorite Spartans that makes them perform all kinds of unique motion-captured animations that are not possible in the game. However, through the hard work at Rooster Teeth they manage to make it seamlessly blend in and appear that it was taken entirely from the game.

Revelation starts off with the return of Doc (Matt Hullum) who has been away for quite some time. He is answering a distress call as a result of the unfortunate ending of season seven, but it ends up being a trap set up by our antagonists for this season, the team of The Meta and Agent Washington (Shannon McCormick). Doc winds up being their obliviously naïve prisoner, and he has a great dynamic playing off Washington throughout the season. Last season I mentioned how Church (Burnie Burns) returned in a new way. In Church’s new presence, he has a legion of alien followers he willingly takes advantage of with an awesome eulogy scene commemorating all the fallen soldiers at the end of the big season seven battle. Not all is moonshine and gravy for Church however as he starts having flashes of his past haunt him, and allude that big happenings are soon-to-transpire.

Caboose (Joel Heyman) takes Church to a secret facility to discover some long-anticipated answers to the series’ cannon. Sarge (Matt Hullum), Grif (Geoff Ramsey) and Simmons (Gus Sorola) are not too far behind as they have been trying to fend off Meta and Wash in some slick looking, CG battle sequences. When I first watched this season I had no idea of the new tech Rooster Teeth had in mind for me and I had to do a double take and rewind before I realized what they were doing. It is really remarkable looking CG, and I am surprised at how seamless they got it to work within the Halo 3 engine.

Probably a standout use of this new CG tech is a big skirmish between the reds and the return of an even more powerful Tex (Kathleen Zuelch). Eventually Tex, the reds and blues all settle down before they discover their true nature and the answer to the long-running question of the show, ‘Why are we here?’ It is quite the stunner, and I definitely dug Sarge getting pissed off upon discovering these answers. This all leads to a dramatic showdown against Washington and the Meta in an even more impressive display of CG to close off the final big firefight of the season. The epilogue features some nice touching words after the intense final showdown. Rooster Teeth gives us a great taste of what is to come in season nine with the first shots captured from the Halo Reach engine during Revelation’s final moments.

There is the usual slate of extra features on hand. First is a three part mini-series, Holiday Plans, which lasts just under 15 minutes and is a dumb fun holiday special featuring most of the redvsblue crew. There is 20 minutes worth of bonus special videos/PSAs. The standout bonus videos this season are probably Rooster Teeth’s 101 guide on how to make a successful YouTube video and them running down video game review scores and ratings. There are two mini behind-the-scenes specials, one is about breaking down how they implemented the aforementioned CG animation which I highly suggest checking out and another interviews the two primary female voice actors of redvsblue: Yomara Cruz (Sheila) and Kathleen Zuelch (Tex).

There is the usual smattering of deleted scenes and outtakes, and rounding off the extras is a commentary track with several members of the Rooster Teeth team who swap out at random intervals. Notable talking points on this season’s commentary track feature the crew explaining Doc’s absence, their love for the film Walk Hard, setting up the first big CG sequence and working 20 hour days for the final elaborate CG scene and a nice tidbit on how Bungie let them get early access to Halo Reach for the final shot of the season.

It is a little hard to say right now whether I prefer Blood Gulch Chronicles or The Recollection as the dominant of the two major story arcs so far. I will probably give the nudge to BGC since a majority of that arc is easy to follow and it takes place primarily in one location while The Recollection is quite the ambitious project while it jumps across many maps and really explores the vast edges of the redvsblue cannon. It was a bit overwhelming on my first experience which caused me to walk away from the series several years ago, but watching the three seasons now back-to-back over three months made it more convenient to consume and it all pieced together far better for me this time around. Join me again next month as I tackle season nine!

Past redvsblue Blogs

Season 1 Season 2
Season 3
Season 4
Season 5
Season 6
Season 7

Monday, October 12, 2015

RoH Supercard of Honor VIII

Welcome back to my continuing coverage of Supercard of Honor (SoH), the only major Ring of Honor (RoH) show I go out of my way to watch a year. Occasionally I will catch an episode or two of their weekly syndicated TV show off the RoH website a year, but SoH is the only major RoH event I try and watch each year because most of them transpire within miles of the hosting venue of Wrestlemania the day before the biggest WWE event of the year. So naturally RoH tries to put on a stacked show that usually draws one of their best crowds of the year.

Today I am covering 2014’s Supercard of Honor VIII. At SoH VII last year SCUM was the dominant bad guy faction that had a presence throughout most of the show. At some point between SoH VII and VIII, SCUM dissolved and from its ashes another dominant faction emerged called ‘The Decade.’ It consists of a bunch of RoH vets who have been there since the promotion’s early years and the faction had a big presence on SoH VIII’s opening matches. Roderick Strong represented The Decade in the opening match with a victory over Cederic Alexander. As I noted in past RoH blogs here I am not a fan of Strong because he usually is in one of the main events of the show and the guy is one of the least charismatic headliners I have seen, and most of his bouts I have seen tend to be a chore to get through. However in the opener here with Alexander, it is a very quick paced affair with plenty of quick highspot moves to get the crowd riled up like a good opener should, but does not overstay its welcome.

The rest of the Decade at ringside stuck around for their six man tag team match next which featured BJ Whitmer, Adam Page and Jimmy Jacobs of the Decade against ACH, Everett and TD. This was another match filled with rapid-fire action in a scramble format so no tags were necessary. ACH stood out as the most charismatic of the six and had an organic connection with the fans and Everett recovered from a botched flip and made up for it with a few other big moves that dazzled the crowd. However, the dirty tactics of the Decade secured them their second victory of the night. There was a pretty dumb angle next where Matt Taven was scheduled to face a mystery opponent representing the no-good Truth Martini. I am guessing a deal must have fell through for a mystery opponent because what we got instead was Truth Martini coming out and rambling on for a few minutes before shooting a flame out of his vintage “Book of Truth” he carries with him wherever he goes at Taven. Taven tried to seek revenge against Martini later on backstage, but Martini shot another fireball at him again off camera, and Taven finished off the night with medical aids at his side in a surprisingly poor angle that is usually rare from RoH. I wonder if this will result in Taven wearing an eye patch like Chris Harris did in TNA for nearly a year.

Something crazy must have happened to RD Evans in the last year, because at SoH VII he was just a manager, but a year later at SoH VIII he is now a wrestler with a lucky undefeated streak of 82-0 going into this show. Evans dresses like Fandango, but is just a little more acrobatic than the WWE dancer-turned-wrestler. He is facing off against Silas Young, who looks eerily like a carbon copy 80s AWA Scott Hall, complete with Magnum PI mustache. Just watching this match alone I am guessing Evans’ gimmick is that of a modern day Honky Tonk Man who keeps his record alive with lucky DQs and non-finishes because that is what happened here where it appeared Young got the victory, but it got reversed after the match’s original ref came to after a ref bump and disqualified Young.

Mark Briscoe and Mike Bennett face off next in a No DQ match that lived up to its name that featured all kinds of crazy brawling into the stands and plenty of weaponry getting involved. Briscoe looks legit-crazy and reckless as always and I love him for it, but Bennett got the W after knocking out Briscoe with a move before locking in his new crossface-style submission. RoH’s version of Hornswoggle, Cheeseburger is tossing out shirts to the crowd in the next segment when Matt Hardy interrupts to endorse RoH champ Adam Cole to the chagrin of the crowd who takes pleasure in absolutely shitting on Hardy. Hardy rewards the fans by beating up the loveable Cheeseburger.

Next up was a triangle tag team match between the ReDRagon, Hanson & Rowe and the Forever Hooligans. Match started off a little slow and disjointed, but eventually all three teams found their groove for an entertaining final few minutes with ReDRagon emerging victorious. Next match was for the TV title that saw Jay Lethal challenging the defending champ, Tomassa Ciampa. I just saw Ciampa compete this past month in a couple episodes of NXT in part of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. I think he is part of the roster there now, and hope he has success there because he looked promising in NXT and here where he lost the title to Lethal after Lethal accepted a weapon from Martini at ringside and used it against Ciampa to win the title and turn against the fans in the process. This was kind of a big moment because I cannot recall Lethal as a villain before, and I heard he went on to have a big year in RoH following this so it looks like this night was a big catalyst of future success for Lethal.

Kevin Steen (aka Kevin Owens) squared off against Michael Elgin next in this battle of the big men. For big guys, both are capable of doing high-flying moves so part of this match was a big-man slugfest and another part consisted of tons of high-flying spots that dominate a lot of RoH matches. Elgin won with Steens’ own cradle pilderiver move for the finish, and even though the crowd was really into this match I was just not feeling it. I cannot help but think whenever Steen wrestles that he really should drop a good 40 pounds with all the high-flying moves he does before he suffers a heart attack in the middle of a match. Elgin gets a pass because he has more of a natural-big bone body, much like Rusev in WWE where Steen/Owens is just straight up overweight.

Jay Briscoe challenged Adam Cole for his World Title in the main event in a ladder match. The two pulled out all the stops here with countless vicious looking spots that resulted in Jay bleeding all over the place. There were also countless chair shots to the head throughout this match, but I think sometime after this show RoH incorporated WWE and TNA’s policy of banning chair shots to the head. A lot of run-ins in the bout’s final moments made for an intense crowd, and it was too bad Cole struggled getting the titles unclamped from the hook for a moment too long that made for an awkard final minute of the match. Despite that hiccup, this was easily the best match on the show.

Closing thoughts on SoH VIII was overall this was probably one of the weaker SoH events. I am glad to see the lighting and TV production aspects of RoH continue to improve, and the first two matches were solid openers and the main event delivered, but the rest of the card was kind of all over the place in terms of quality. I love the Briscoes so to have them both lose their single matches was a bit of a bummer. Matt Hardy just does not seem like a proper fit in RoH, and the crowd definitely let him in on that here, and the whole Taven/Martini angle throughout the show took more away from it then added to it. It is worth noting there is a two disc version of this show available on RoH’s website with a bunch of bonus matches and promos from RoH TV on the bonus disc, but I stuck with the single disc version. The ladder match was the only standout match of the show, but I cannot give this DVD a recommendation based on that match alone, so feel free to give this show a pass, which is surprising to say about an RoH show that usually has a far better track record.

Past Wrestling Blogs

Best of WCW Monday Nitro Volume 2
Biggest Knuckleheads
Bobby The Brain Heenan
Dusty Rhodes WWE Network Specials
For All Mankind
Goldberg: The Ultimate Collection
Its Good to Be the King: The Jerry Lawler Story
Ladies and Gentlemen My Name is Paul Heyman
Legends of Mid South Wrestling
Macho Man: The Randy Savage Story
Memphis Heat
OMG Vol 2: Top 50 Incidents in WCW History
RoH Supercard of Honor V
RoH Supercard of Honor VI
RoH Supercard of Honor VII
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
Superstar Collection: Zach Ryder
Top 50 Superstars of All TimeTough Enough: Million Dollar Season
Warrior Week on WWE Network
Wrestlemania 3: Championship Edition
Wrestlemania 28
Wrestlemania 29
Wrestlemania 30
The Wrestler (2008)
Wrestling Road Diaries Too
WWE Network Original Specials Summer 2015