The intro shows Nick Offerman getting killed after burying some stolen money under a hotel room floor, and between this and The Sisters Brothers, I’m having a Coen Brothers-reminiscent double-feature. Ten years post-Offerman, four guests meet in the hotel lobby: false priest Jeff Bridges, pissy Dakota Johnson (A Bigger Splash, daughter of Melanie Griffith), salesman Jon Hamm, and downtrodden singer Cynthia Erivo (Tony-winning star of The Color Purple musical), along with lobby boy Lewis Pullman (The Strangers 2). Four of these people are not who they seem (the singer is exactly who she seems), and the movie will cut back and forth in time introducing each of their backstories as they violently collide in the present day of 1970-something. I heard this movie was a fun Tarantino knockoff, and it’s kinda Four Rooms-meets-Hateful Eight, maybe not up to the high standard of Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods and The Good Place, but it looks excellent and is a fun way to spend two long hours (each scene deliciously stringing you along, knowing you ain’t got nowhere better to be).

Chris “Thor” Hemsworth is introduced in the second half. After so much violent duplicity it seems like overkill to suddenly introduce a sex/death-cult leader, but I was busy being distracted by thinking he was definitely Chris Pine, but knowing he couldn’t be since Pine has bright glowing eyes and the only person in this movie with bright glowing eyes is Jeff Bridges as the false priest. Bridges was Offerman’s partner, seeking the money after a decade in prison, and Johnson and her psycho-killer younger sister Cailee Spaeny (Pacific Rim 2) are escapees from the Hemsworth Manson/Morrisson cult. Hamm is an FBI agent looking for God knows what but stumbling across the surveillance system in the hotel, run by self-hating Vietnam sniper-turned-heroin addict Pullman. Everyone kills everyone else, but Cynthia is too sympathetic to die, so she makes it out, possibly with the cash and/or Jeff Bridges, I don’t remember. Desplat lays down some fun music, but most of the entertainment comes from the jukebox songs and the ones Cynthia sings, sometimes in fragments, pausing and backing up.

Every year a new Jessica Chastain movie where Matt Damon’s left all alone on a planet. A Ridley Scott movie with screenplay by Drew Goddard, I was expecting the light tone, the relentless science (this movie loves science), the upbeat ending, the highly convincing Martian landscapes, but I wish the visuals were half as impressive as those in Prometheus. Maybe I needed to watch the 3D version.

Wounded Damon is left on planet by Chastain and Michael Peña and crew, NASA head Jeff Daniels argues with project head Chiwetel Ejiofor and something head Sean Bean on what to do, with further ground help from Kristen Wiig and Donald Glover and Eddy Ko.

I completely enjoyed this at the time, so not sure if it’s the movie’s fault or some other reason that I turned on it a few days later, deciding it was formulaic entertainment and that all movies look the same and I need to start watching new kinds of things before I start boring myself. I’m looking at showtimes for Crimson Peak and Bridge of Spies and Coming Home and Truth and Sicario and Beasts of No Nation and thinking “ugh, how awful” and pondering going on an avant-garde spree (or at least a Nagisa Oshima spree) instead. It’s probably just a phase. In the meantime, The Martian is my Birdman of the year: convincing in a theater, troubling immediately afterward.

This is one of my favorite things – I went back and watched it again, to be positive. Goddard (wrote Cloverfield, worked on Lost and Buffy) and producer Whedon (who is having a big month) manage to make it seem easy, blending horror and comedy, movie and meta-movie more excitingly than Scream did, forming a sort of horror-movie construction-kit. It gradually reveals its scheme while telling us why this is all necessary, and when the stock characters realize that they’re stock characters and break out of the model, they knowingly and misanthropically unleash Lovecraftian armageddon.

The Virgin: Kristen Connolly

The Scholar: Jesse Williams of Grey’s Anatomy
The Athlete: Chris “Thor” Hemsworth
The Slut: yellow power ranger Anna Hutchison
The Fool: Fran Kranz of Whedon’s Dollhouse

Not pictured: Richard Jenkins and West Wing star Bradley Whitford push the buttons manipulating our stock characters to their doom. Brian White (IMDB specifies that he’s their 34th Brian White) is the new guy, Amy Acker (also Dollhouse) runs the chem department, and an uncredited Sigourney Weaver runs the whole show.

Writer/director Goddard:

The truth is, this movie does comment on a horror movie, but that wasn’t our goal. We wanted to comment more on who we are and what part horror plays in us as a people. If you keep that in your sights the whole time, it’s easier to find the balance, because then your movie is just becoming about commenting on the human condition and not worrying too much about, “What is this saying about the genre or the films?” It’s much more just, “What are we saying in general?” That’s the sort of thing you have to hold firm to.