Movie reviews

The Cabin in the Woods (16s) begins in an entirely conventional fashion, as five college kids take off in a camper van for a weekend at, you guessed it, a remote cabin in the woods.

There’s the blonde vamp, the geeky stoner, the bookish virgin, you know the drill. Well, the drill’s about to change, because this is the most inventive horror movie since Scream (1996). Directed by Lost producer Drew Goddard, the movie blends the standard schlock gore of classic kitsch horrors such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) with Scream’s self-awareness, and tosses in a generous helping of The Truman Show (1998) for an audience reared on reality TV excess.

It’s all fiendishly clever and chin-strokingly post-modern, of course, but Goddard & Co never forget that the point of the exercise is a fast-paced horror flick that pushes all the right buttons, even as it scoffs at our expectations and our need for old-fashioned narrative resolution.

Some very fine performances from Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz, Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford give the film a heart as well as a brain.

Challenging, heartbreaking, thought-provoking and fun, The Cabin in the Woods is the movie The Hunger Games should have been. You’ve seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), right? One of the great Westerns, in which, at the end, Robert Redford and Paul Newman die in a hail of bullets courtesy of the Bolivian army. Yes? Well, apparently not.

Blackthorn (15A) stars Sam Shepard as the eponymous hero, an aging horse rancher living high in the Bolivian mountains, who is gradually revealed to be none other than Butch Cassidy. Bedeviled by circumstance, Butch finds himself dragged back into his outlaw ways by a young Spaniard, Eduardo (Eduardo Noriega), just as he was hoping to finally go home to California.

Written by Miguel Barros and directed by Mateo Gil, this is an elegiac tale, one that pays homage to the old Westerns, even as it undermines their mythology of heroes and villains, of white hats and black. Shepard is brilliant as the grizzled old outlaw who understands he’s a man out of time, and he gets strong support from Noriega and Stephen Rea, the latter playing a Pinkerton detective who has been on Butch Cassidy’s trail for half his life.

Superb cinematography by Juan Ruiz Anchia makes the most of some harsh but beautiful settings and Gil even finds room for some black humour at the expense of those who believe Butch and Sundance should have been let lie. “Ain’t no grave / To hold my body down,” sings Lucio Godoy on the soundtrack, while Sundance (Padraic Delaney) has the last word on that celebrated finale to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. “Damn Bolivian army,” he observes during a flashback, “worst aim I’ve ever seen.”

Mozart’s Sister (PG) offers a fictional take on the life of Nannerl (Marie Féret), Mozart’s older sister and a musical prodigy in her own right. René Féret’s film follows the peripatetic Mozarts as they move from court to court entertaining the great and good. The tale winds around the complex relationship that develops between Nannerl and the Dauphin of France (Clovis Fouin), who is in mourning for his recently departed wife. For some reason the whole experience feels both self-indulgent and too tentative, and while its time and place are beautifully evoked, Marie Féret is less than convincing as Nannerl.

Battleship (12A) is the latest Hollywood blockbuster to be based on a toy, as US Navy maverick Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) leads mankind’s last-ditch battle against invading aliens, the war ranging through the Pacific to finish on Hawaii. Given that Battleship is a Hasbro game, you also get a hefty chunk of Transformers for your beleaguered buck; throw in a relentlessly bouncy Brooklyn Decker and 12-year-old boys may well hail this as the movie of the year. Adults, however, may have more fun trying to imagine the casting conversation that united the unique talents of Kitsch, Decker, & Rihanna and our own Liam Neeson. Next year: Daniel Day-Lewis, Chuck Norris and Miley Cyrus star in Swingball!

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