Posts Tagged ‘Green Room’

2016 was bad. Just ugly, toxic, divisive, terrible, horrible, no good, very bad.

Except for film. In that one category, 2016 was *awesome*! It was a year when filmmakers took risks, writers bucked convention, directors toyed with genre and even the stiffest franchise fare from the major studios flexed their creative muscles — for good or ill.

The annual Top 10 is coming soon. But as always, and in particular this year, there was an abundance of quality film that demands recognition.

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Best Box Office Flop: The Nice Guys

It is a crime, an honest-to-God, should-be-prosecuted crime that The Nice Guys failed to find an audience. It’s a neo-noir action comedy, pairing Ryan Gosling and Russel Crowe as wise-cracking private detectives in late-70s Los Angeles, and is writer-director Shane Black’s follow-up to Iron Man 3. (Black, by the way, also wrote and directed Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which if you haven’t seen yet WHY ARE YOU STILL READING THIS PARAGRAPH AND NOT RECTIFYING YOUR WASTED LIFE?)

Black has a talent for structured chaos, in which everyman characters save the day through a combination of ingenuity and dumb luck as dominoes fall around them. His action scenes are like Rube Goldberg contraptions, which burst outward in unexpected ways without every sacrificing credibility. And his scripts, meanwhile, are filled to the brim with smart, winking dialogue that  sizzles with energy. It’s a delightful recipe that in Nice Guys puts a modern spin on the old gum-shoe tale with jazzy, retro setting.

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Best Superhero: Doctor Strange

In a year of strong competition (Deadpool, Civil War) and weak competition (Batman v Superman) it’s Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sorcerer Supreme that turns in the most memorable comic-book tale of the year. As satisfying as the other entries are (or aren’t), they still amount to “Who Punches Hardest?” while Dr. Strange culminates around a kaleidoscopic phantasmagoria and the manipulation of time and space. And while the Marvel movies are routinely lacking by way of compelling antagonists, Strange scores by revealing its big bad to be an amorphous mass while setting up more personal threats down the road. The line for DS-2 starts here.

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Best Documentary: Tickled

Welcome to the wonderful of competitive endurance tickling, where teams of young, male athletes take turns tying each other down and tickling the stuffing out of each other. If that sounds like some weird kinky fetish, well…it kind of is.

What starts as a passing curiosity for journalist David Farrier quickly turns increasingly bizarre and sinister as Farrier falls further down the rabbit whole of internet tickling videos. There’s not much more to say without spoiling the films myriad twists, suffice to say that Tickled tells the kind of true story that gives meaning to the phrase “stranger than fiction.”

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Best Indie (tie): The Witch, Love & Friendship

Two Sundance Festival breakouts share the distinction of 2016’s best indie. Both period pieces, albeit on opposite ends of the genre spectrum, one is a minimalist thriller about a frontier family battling a malicious entity and the other is a Regency-era comedy about a master of manipulation. They’re also among the eeriest and funniest, respectively, cinema produced this year. In either case the filmmakers show an impeccable attention to detail and atmosphere, giving the scenes a lived-in quality in which the actors can disappear, serving spine tingles and belly-laughs in spades.

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Best Western: The Magnificent Seven

In today’s landscape of sequels, prequels, sidequels and all other -quels, its refreshing to see a movie with a healthy budget and recognizable actors commit to telling a single story rather than twisting itself into a narrative pretzel for future installments. And movies are meant to entertain, and sometimes an old fashioned shoot-em-up is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Such are the strengths of The Magnificent Seven, a saddles and spurs yarn about a motley crew of assorted scoundrels teaming up to take out a mustache-twirling villain, with no larger ambitions then to tell its tale of camaraderie and derring-do. It’s a pleasure watching the pieces come together, and it builds to a bombastic climax this is remarkably satisfying for its ability to avoid the pratfalls of lesser efforts while honoring expectations.

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Best Head Trip: The Invitation

When Will arrives at his former home, to attend a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife, something is just a little…off. Thus begins one of the most effective thrillers in years, that takes “slow burn” to a new level, incrementally dialing up Will’s paranoia and building up to a climax that is both inevitable and shocking when it arrives. Director Karyn Kusama is almost too effective at making the audience sense the unease, aided by stellar work by Game of Throne’s Michiel Huisman and jack-of-all-trades John Carroll Lynch, and the final moments of the film’s kicker ending are expertly composed to haunting results.

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Best Setup: 10 Cloverfield Lane

10 Cloverfield Lane, the second film in the barely-defined anthology universe of Cloverfield, has third act problems. Your mileage may vary on the ending, but whether you like or loath the climax, there is no denying that what comes before it is Grade-A mystery box storytelling. For two-thirds of the movie, the audience is kept at arms length about what is or is not going on in an underground bunker and the world above it. At the center is John Goodman, who makes poetry of his doomsday prepper who is either a reluctant savior or an unhinged predator, or both, or neither.

Things go a little sideways, to say the least, when the Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s heroine makes it outside. But even if you turned off the film at that point it would be time well spent.

And finally, the 2016 Wood’s Stock Balls-To-The-Wall Award goes to:

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Green Room

Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier made a splash in the indie scene with his film Blue Ruin, a revenge tale that took a nuts-and-bolts approach to on-camera violence. In his follow-up, Green Room, Saulnier flexes those same muscles but with a greater degree of confidence as a storyteller.

The film, which features one of the final performances by the extremely talented and tragically gone-too-soon Anton Yelchin, revolves around a punk rock band fighting for survival after a gig at a skinhead bar goes south. It’s a story of colliding motivations, and told in a way that feels raw and human, within the realm of possibility and prone to the errors of casual mistakes.

Oh, and did I mention that Patrick Stewart plays a neo-Nazi?

Not for the faint of heart, the walls of Green Room are painted red with blood. But Saulnier’s style is not one of torture-porn exploitation. It focuses instead on the lengths people can and do go when backed into a corner, and it makes for a wild ride.

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*Note: portions of this review were originally published during coverage of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival

Director Jeremy Saulnier prefers no-frills violence, free of manicured choreography and unrealistic precision. In his films, like Blue Ruin and now Green Room, the characters are clumsy, prone to mistakes and victims to unpredictable chaos: like actual human beings.

In Green Room, an indie hardcore punk band is wrapping up a tour when they book a gig at a forested venue popular among the shaved-head-and-swastika-tattoo crowd. After their set, they witness an act of violence, triggering a chain of events that sees the band fighting for survival against a small army of aggressors led by a chillingly calm and sinister Patrick Stewart.

Lesser thespians playing against type might fall into mustache-twirling caricature. Perhaps the best treat of Green Room is watching the subdued Stewart, best known as the wise and pacifist  Jean-Luc Picard, icy cold and subdued as the shot-calling Darcy.

But Saulnier knows when to play, and when to hold, his Ace. Stewart makes a late entrance, after the already competent cast — including Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat and Ruin‘s Macon Blair — have set the stakes. The movie has a certain pulse to it, moving the action out, in and back out again of the titular green room, only to see its heroes encountering fresh hell at every turn.

After setting the chess board, every beat in Saulnier’s tight script feels natural and brutally real. But the film is also full of surprises, as Saulnier intentionally steers the action into seemingly predictable territory only to have a sly reversal tucked up his sleeve.

Grade: B+

*Green Room opens nationwide on Friday, April 29

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Green Room

Director Jeremy Saulnier prefers no-frills violence, free of manicured choreography and unrealistic precision. In his films, like “Blue Ruin” and now “Green Room,” the characters are clumsy, prone to mistakes and victims to unpredictable chaos: like actual human beings.

In “Green Room,” an indie hardcore punk band is wrapping up a tour when they book a gig at a forested venue popular among the shaved-head-and-swastika-tattoo crowd. After their set, they witness an act of violence that triggers a chain of events that sees the band fighting for survival against a small army of aggressors led by a chilling calm and sinister Patrick Stewart.

After setting the chess board, every beat in Saulnier’s tight script feels natural and brutally real. But the film is also full of surprises, as Saulnier intentionally steers the action into seemingly predictable territory only to have a sly reversal tucked up his sleeve.

Grade: B+

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The Lure

“The Lure” is a musical from Poland about two mermaids, Silver and Golden, who wash up on shore and find a surrogate family in a trio of nightclub performers.  Their act is a smash hit, but Golden clings to her past as a violent sea creature while Silver longs for a fully-human life.

Thematically, there’s some interesting threads to pull on here — immigration, transphobia, exploitatio — and director Agnieszka Smoczynska ties it all together in a package with no shortage of delightful atmostphere and style. Problem is, “The Lure” is not one for subtlety. And just when you think you’re getting somewhere it halts for a full-production musical number, which suffer from diminishing returns and lyrical work that suffers in translation.

Unique, for certain, with plenty onscreen to keep you entertained, but more memorably for its bizarre qualities than its actual quality.

Grade: C

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Swiss Army Man

On paper, the story of “Swiss Army Man” is full of promise: like the deranged blend of “Weekend at Bernies” and “MacGyver”. A shipwrecked and desperate man (Paul Dano) is about to commit suicide when he spots a dead body washed up on shore. The body’s utility becomes essential for survival, and he strikes up a friendship with the corpse as he searches for a way home.

But it becomes apparent, very quickly, that directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert and only interested in using their film as a delivery mechanism for 90 minutes of juvenile body humor. This is a film where most of the critical plot developments hinge on flatulence and erections.

The Daniels seem to be actively fighting against letting their movie become inadvertently good, making sure to throw in some gross-out gags every few minutes to interrupt what could have otherwise be a beautifully-shot, musically-inventive, psychologically-ambiguous piece of surrealist pop.

What makes “Swiss Army Man” truly offensive is that there’s the bones of a very different, and very interesting film under the layers of asinine filth. Instead, a considerable amount of indie talent is squandered.

Grade: D

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Under The Shadow

Get ready to start hearing a lot of chatter about “Under The Shadow,” the early breakout from this year’s Midnight category at Sundance, a quirky clearinghouse for genre films where Aussie import “The Babadook” premiered last year. And like “The Babadook” before it, UTS centers on a mother trying to protect herself and her child from an unseen evil that doubles as the physical representation of the mother’s anxieties.

But unique, and particularly brilliant, to “Under the Shadow” is that the film is set in the middle of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. Almost every night, the lights go out and sirens wail as bombs fall from the sky, and that’s only the start of the bumps in the night. And the demon in question is, presumably, a Djin, a malignant spirit that blends religion and Middle Eastern folklore.

The period setting and cultural notes are just two of the feathers in director Babak Anvari’s cap. His film is a crescendo of unease, deepened by the political subtext and punctuated by effective scares that sent literal chills down this reviewer’s spine. There’s plenty to unpack in this movie, with the protagonist dealing with the death of a parent, abandoned by her doctor husband who is drafted into the combat zone and her own stagnant medical education, from which she is barricaded by the attitudes of her time and place.

Anvari isn’t about to explain what it all means, but his film holds all those threads in a tight grip while also offering a fresh spin on the traditional Haunted House  tale.

Grade: A-

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