‘Cabin’ Slasher’s Fresh Meat; ‘Lazhar’; ‘Stooges’: Movies

Chris Hemsworth, Jesse Williams, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz and Kristen Connolly in ``The Cabin in the Woods.'' Photographer: Diyah Pera/Lionsgate via Bloomberg

Five good-looking college kids head off to a creepy, secluded cabin.

You think you’ve seen “The Cabin in the Woods” before. Wait.

In what would pass for a decent final twist in an M. Night Shyamalan film, the deep-forest lodging is actually a high-tech marvel operated from a remote, CIA-like headquarters by a battalion of buttoned-down bureaucrats. Every zombie, ghost and hillbilly maniac is summoned to life with the push of a button.

That’s no spoiler. First-time director Drew Goddard (co-writer of “Cloverfield”), working from a script he wrote with Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), establishes early on that “Cabin” is going to be an elaborate exercise in meta.

As the slasher storyline plays out -- remote-controlled zombies are no less deadly than the traditional kind -- the scientists (or are they?) observe everything on monitors, controlling each bump in the night and jovially placing bets on the bloody outcomes.

“Cabin” then spins into increasingly bizarre territory -- my summary gives away nothing of the monsters or surprises to come. The quirky, self-knowing satire is almost too effective -- “Cabin” is scary, but not so much as it is clever.

Bloody Business

Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are deadpan perfection as the top-level office drones who approach their bloody business like so much keypunch operating. Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz and Jesse Williams are fine as the students, even when upstaged by more than a few unexpected arrivals.

“The Cabin in the Woods,” from Lionsgate, is playing across the U.S. Rating: *** (Evans)

‘Monsieur Lazhar’

At the start of “Monsieur Lazhar,” two Montreal schoolchildren find their teacher slowly swinging from a ceiling pipe.

Soon after that, an Algerian refugee named Bashir Lazhar learns about the suicide and applies for the post, claiming to be a teacher when in fact he’s not; he just needs work. Only, after a few weeks in the classroom, he knows, and we know, that he is.

“Monsieur Lazhar” reminds us that teaching is a gift some people are born with. The movie gently mocks Bashir as he tries to wing it in front of his new class. The kids -- they’re around 11 -- are flabbergasted when he gives them dictation from Balzac, as his own teachers gave him.

But astonishment may be just what they need after the trauma of the suicide. Old-fashioned Bashir is such a change from the cheerful progressivism they’re used to, and so demanding where they’ve been coddled, that at first they’re shocked. Then they perk up.

The director, Philippe Falardeau, is generous with his characters (except for a pair of chilly parents in one short scene). Both the children he’s cast and the adults blossom in front of the camera the way Bashir’s kids do.

“Monsieur Lazhar” was Canada’s entry at the Oscars this year. It lost to “A Separation”; it doesn’t have anything like the intensity of the Iranian picture. Yet it’s from the same artistic universe -- one where you don’t register the camera or the writing because you’re pulled in so quickly that you forget you’re watching a movie.

It’s a modest drama, neither pushy nor sentimental, and it doesn’t offer a lot to look at beyond the elementary school where most of it is set, a charmless, functional building that could be anywhere. But when one little girl gives an oral report on why she loves it all the same, she’s both touching and convincing. So is the film.

“Monsieur Lazhar,” a Music Box Films release, is playing in New York. Rating: *** (Seligman)

‘Three Stooges’

Bobby and Peter Farrelly’s “The Three Stooges” is a folly, filled with near-perfect impersonations and near-zero laughs.

Sean Hayes (as fuzzy haired Larry), Chris Diamantopoulos (bowl-cut Moe) and Will Sasso (Curly, the fat, funny one) strike each other (and no false notes) in their impressions of the classic slapstick trio.

The eye pokes and hammer-hits must have been easy; the better accomplishment is the actors’ uncanny impersonations (matched by three child actors playing the Stooges at age 10).

Silly Sibs

Written by the Farrelly brothers and Mike Cerrone, “The Three Stooges” unleashes the silly siblings into the modern world -- and gets little comic mileage from the clash.

In an effort to make the film family-friendly, the Farrellys avoid the lewdness that’s been their most reliable tool since 1998’s “There’s Something About Mary.”

Sofia Vergara plays a femme fatale, and her Latin bombshell schtick seems wearier than anything the real Stooges did. Craig Bierko is better as her hapless conspirator, and Larry David, playing the orphanage’s misanthropic Sister Mary-Mengele, is entertaining for a few minutes. He’s onscreen considerably longer.

“The Three Stooges,” from Twentieth Century Fox, is playing across the U.S. Rating: *1/2 (Evans)

What the Stars Mean:

**** Excellent
*** Good
** Average
* Poor
(No stars) Worthless

(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are their own.)

Today’s Muse highlights include a profile of chef April Bloomfield and a New York City weekend preview.

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