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Joss Whedon (#110 of 16)

Review: Amy Pascale’s Joss Whedon: The Biography

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Review: Amy Pascale’s Joss Whedon: The Biography
Review: Amy Pascale’s Joss Whedon: The Biography

Joss Whedon is one of a handful of writer-directors (along with J.J. Abrams, Peter Jackson, Kevin Smith, and Quentin Tarantino) who rule the current age of nerds. Whedon has a notoriously rabid fanbase, especially those who championed his work through cancellations (Firefly) and disappointing box office (Serenity). To these fans, Whedon rarely does wrong. And in Amy Pascale’s Joss Whedon: The Biography, Whedon has never done wrong. He comes across as an impossibly good (and, thus, uninteresting) figure who chirpily learns lessons from banal tribulations. In the foreword by Nathan Fillion, star of many of Whedon’s projects, he calls him “heroic,” which best describes the view of Whedon here. Joss Whedon is a sycophantic enterprise, a serviceable document of his career, well researched, thorough, and topic savvy, but she spends more time tracking the ins and outs of Whedon’s many projects than she does on his actual life. Whedon, here, is more like a composite of all his creations, a Creator, and less like an interesting person deserving of a full-fledged biography.

Pascale is clearly a fan, but in her introduction, she credits “Joss and Buffy” with giving her the “fortitude and bravery” to deal with a heavy, personal “twenty-year burden” in her life, which means Whedon’s art has a deeper, more emotional meaning for her as well. Whedon’s work, she tells us, “is a testament to defeat,” to those who “face every challenge and celebrate every victory along the way, even if they final battle doesn’t go their way. The defeated do not fail, because they keep on fighting.”

Summer of ‘88: Waxwork

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Summer of ‘88: <em>Waxwork</em>
Summer of ‘88: <em>Waxwork</em>

The Cabin in the Woods ends with a deliriously apocalyptic Grand Guignol in which just about every ghoulie that’s ever appeared in a horror movie is released from a subterranean prison to wreak bloody mayhem on their captors. But Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard were hardly the first to conceive of a finale of that kind, and on that kind of massive scale. The 1988 horror yarn Waxwork ends with a band of hunters—including Valley Girl’s Deborah Foreman and Gremlins star Zach Galligan—facing off against a slew of vampires, werewolves, mummies, zombies, even an Audrey II-like man-eating plant in a wax museum-set battle royale over the fate of mankind. Notwithstanding a very-’80s proliferation of cheesy one-liners before the heroes dispatch the various villains, this finale exudes a similar no-holds-barred spirit that the climax of The Cabin in the Woods would tap into 23 years later, albeit with a bigger budget and even less abandon.

For me, The Cabin in the Woods was condescending in its deconstruction of horror conventions, wrapped in a smart-ass concept—a government agency presiding over the fates of a bunch of innocent cabin-dwellers, not unlike filmmakers trying to come up with an audience-savvy product—that eventually turned its contempt toward the audience, supposedly for uncritically eating up this crap without desiring more from their entertainment. Waxwork isn’t nearly as clever, to be sure, and its execution is at times clumsy, especially with its wobbly sorta-campy tone. (The broad caricatures and cheesy acting in the film’s first 15 minutes alone are cringe-inducing.) But for all its shakiness and obvious low budget, Anthony Hickox’s film does at least display a sincere love for the horror classics to which it pays tribute, even going so far as to shoot a Night of the Living Dead-inspired sequence in black and white to match its source material. In other words, Waxwork is thankfully free of Whedon and Goddard’s smugness.

SXSW 2013: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and V/H/S/2

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SXSW 2013: <em>The Incredible Burt Wonderstone</em> and <em>V/H/S/2</em>
SXSW 2013: <em>The Incredible Burt Wonderstone</em> and <em>V/H/S/2</em>

Another opening-night gala screening, another crapshoot. Two years ago, South by Southwest gave the red-carpet treatment of Duncan Jones’s entertaining time-travel thriller Source Code, but last year Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s irritatingly snarky horror-genre deconstruction The Cabin in the Woods got the top honor, and now this year we have The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, which, in spite of a nasty concluding punchline, can’t even claim the kind of cleverly subversive comic gusto The Cabin in the Woods has in abundance—for better and for worse.

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Visual Effects

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Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Visual Effects
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Visual Effects

Like Avatar before it, Life of Pi is the kind of Oscar-y prestige pic that also stands as a benchmark for the medium—a whopping widescreen spectacle displaying the latest in CG, 3D, and OMG imagery. Say what you will about David Magee’s boilerplate script, which fumbles religious themes and offers very rusty bookends, but the vast second act of Ang Lee’s boy-and-his-tiger tale is pure cinema on a grand scale, bringing myriad wonders of ones and zeroes to his stranded protagonist. Just as its sheer scope conveys the humbling hugeness of life, the sea provides Lee and his F/X wizards with a great canvas on which to work, leaving ample room for neon-hued whales, flying fish, and a carnivorous island crawling with meerkats. What’s more, all of that comes after the film’s gargantuan inciting incident—the most awesome ship-foundering since James Cameron sunk the Titanic. In short, Life of Pi is, with next to no doubt, your victor in this category, unless some scandal emerges about, say, animal cruelty, toward the scant few animals that weren’t uncannily crafted by digital artists.

Critical Distance: The Avengers

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Critical Distance: <em>The Avengers</em>
Critical Distance: <em>The Avengers</em>

For 10 years, comic-book superheroes have permeated popular movies. After the mega-success of Spider-Man in 2002, costumed white fellas saving the world became multiplex staples. Once all the iconic heroes were accounted for, studios found continued success with second-tier characters, from the previously obscure (Iron Man) to the uncomfortably jingoistic (Captain America: The First Avenger). The circuit escalated into the late 2000s, spawning remakes, reboots, sequels, and prequels with a frequency that only the most ardent fans could keep up with. A few X-Men spinoffs, a Superman hybrid, and two Hulk films later, we now arrive at a moment of superhero saturation, wherein each new release affirms the general consensus that these films represent a creatively dry enterprise.

15 Famous Cabins in the Woods

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15 Famous Cabins in the Woods
15 Famous Cabins in the Woods

This weekend sees the release of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods, the most anticipated and buzzed-about horror film in some time. The setup is indeed the same one you’ve experienced over and over: a group of partying, young-adult archetypes head to a remote getaway, only to find terrifying carnage. But the guys behind Cabin delve far deeper into the geek abyss than many viewers will expect, emerging with a gonzo, convoluted send-up that stirs the pot even as it flies off the rails (no spoilers here, kids). The titular locale is but a dilapidated entry point, and we’ve got 15 more shacks that have opened their doors for audiences through the years.