“Green Room”

When I learned that Jeremy Saulnier (director of 2014’s thrilling “Blue Ruin”) was making a Nazi horror flick with Patrick Stewart and Anton Yelchin, All I thought was: “So, this is an unofficial ‘Star Trek’ crossover, eh?”

“Green Room” stars Yelchin as Pat, the leader of a pretentious punk band, The Ain’t Rights. He’s the bassist and is struggling on the road with his bandmates Sam the guitarist (Alia Shawkat from “Arrested Development”), drummer Reece (Joe Cole), and lead singer Tiger (Callum Turner). They bite off more than they can chew when they take a gig at a Nazi club. After playing Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” and finding a girl with a knife in her head,we then meet the club’s charismatic and cold-blooded owner, Darcy (Stewart), and it won’t end well.

I’d been looking forward to “Green Room” since I learned of the movie, and for many reasons, it lives up to the hype! I was mostly excited for Patrick Stewart’s villainous turn; while he’s a terrific villain, there’s a lot more to love.

“Green Room” is a siege movie and a tribute to classic 70’s survival thrillers like “The Warriors”, “Assault on Precinct 13”, and “Straw Dogs”. The siege atmosphere is within the green room itself; it’s the band members’ battle station. The movie’s also a love letter to punk music, and it’s executed brilliantly due to Saulnier’s attitude and charm.

All characters in this movie have attitude and thus, the Ain’t Rights and the Neo-Nazis are evenly matched (well, almost). The Nazis have guns with plenty of cartridges (one character colorfully explains the difference between cartridges and bullets), machetes, and attack dogs, but the band has a box cutter and jiu-jitsu, and that’s enough.

It should be no shock for people that “Green Room” is a violent and bloody movie, but most of the violence is underplayed in quick bursts. Saulnier evenly matches violence with dark humor in the same vein as the Coen Brothers and Quentin Tarantino.

The cast is great, but the standout performances are Imogen Poots as a tough party girl named Amber, who witnesses the murder and Macon Blair (“Blue Ruin”) as Darcy’s reluctant right-hand man Gabe. These two have the most depth and move the plot forward with emotions and expressions.

Each character in “Green Room” conveys realistic emotions and grows smarter as the situation escalates; I believed this is how someone would act in a survival horror scenario. “Green Room” is a fantastic thriller filled with a kick-ass soundtrack, lots of gore, surprising twists, and dark humor.

Grade: A

Top 10 Hated Movies

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So, I learned recently that everyone was curious what my favorite hated movies were. Man, I had to think about this long and hard because I rarely find a movie that I hate. Let the comments and backlash begin because here are my top 10 favorite hated movies!

SOME SPOILERS REGARDING ENTRIES.

10) Pacific Rim (2013) – People were expecting more depth to Pacific Rim, given Guillermo Del Toro matched style with substance in Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). They didn’t want cheese action movie one-liners or cliched voiceover narrations, but have they seen giant monster movies? Monster movies are meant to be cheesy and Del Toro embraces the cheese factor, delivering one badass and visually stunning monster movie. Seriously, why was The Lone Ranger (2013) nominated for visual effects and not this?

9) Funny People (2009) – With Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen acting alongside each other in a movie about stand-up comedy, there was hype. Audiences were ultimately disappointed when they got a drama about a cancer-diagnosed narcissist; the 2 1/12 hour-running time didn’t help either. This is Adam Sandler’s last good movie and one of his best. Yeah, there are times it feels like we’re watching Adam Sandler, but we’re mostly watching a guy who doesn’t know how to be a good person. Judd Apatow also wrote the script as a tribute to his and Sandler’s friendship, resulting in a very personal movie.

8) Licence to Kill (1989) – Back then, no one liked the gritty and realistic Bond movies because of how unconventional and hapless they were. Licence to Kill is no exception, as we follow the polarizing Timothy Dalton seeking revenge against a drug cartel for maiming his best friend. This is one of the best Bond movies because he doesn’t rely on gadgets or liaisons. He relies on his wit and charm, going undercover as an assassin for Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi), the cartel leader. Also, that final showdown between the two shows how capably ruthless Bond is, which is the best kind of Bond.

7) Vanilla Sky (2001) – Everyone saw Vanilla Sky because it had Tom Cruise, but it left critics and audiences shrugging their shoulders. Guys, Vanilla Sky is fantastic. Cruise delivers one of his most convincing performances as a playboy who loses his mind, Cameron Diaz gives her best performance as Cruise’s stalker, and the surreal imagery, soundtrack, and Sci-Fi twist result in one crazy nightmarish experience.

6) Titan AE (2000) – Titan AE bombed in the box office and critics felt the story of an orphan searching for his lost father in the galaxy was too generic. Well, duh! Star Wars made that plot generic. But between the traditional animation blended with CG and the Dredge aliens’ design, it’s quite an experience. Plus this movie has a lot of heart, which is hard to find in genre movies these days.

5) Shutter Island (2010) – I remember posting my praise for Shutter Island on Facebook after seeing it in theaters and how everyone was telling me I was wrong. Either horror fans were disappointed in the slow-burn character study, or Scorsese fans felt it was too conventional and predictable for a Martin Scorsese picture. For me, it’s all about how you interpret the ending. If Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) was crazy all along, then yeah, that’s a let-down and cliched ending. But what if he was sane and the hospital staff manipulated him, then it’s quite a mind-trip.

4) The Cable Guy (1996) – I hope people still don’t think The Cable Guy killed Jim Carrey’s career. If anything, this movie showed Carrey had range! The Cable Guy was misunderstood due to its dark tone, mean-spirited nature, and Carrey playing a psycho stalker. The main issue was it was ahead of its time. Carrey is brilliantly creepy and darkly funny as the titular character, combining meta humor with pop culture references and physical comedy. Also, the satirical subplot with Ben Stiller as the celebrity accused of murdering his twin brother that everyone is watching on TV: genius.

3) The Fountain (2006) – Critics laughed at The Fountain, finding it pretentious. Audiences said aloud, “What the hell?” The Fountain is unrestrained at times (especially in its last twenty minutes), but the anthology of a man (Hugh Jackman) searching for immortality through three life spans kept me intrigued until the end. Especially with Present Jackman and Future Jackman’s stories because we get the impression they’re the same person. If you like hard sci-fi like I do, give The Fountain a shot.

2) Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom (1984) – I find it hard to believe people rank Crystal Skull over Temple of Doom. Yes, Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) is a terrible and sexist character, Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan) is a caricature, but he’s still a badass sidekick, all things considered! Driving Indiana Jones out of gunfire? Saving him from possession? Also, Temple of Doom has a more grounded story than Crystal Skull and doesn’t feel like a cop-out in its revelation like Crystal Skull. Plus the tunnel chase and bridge showdown are still thrilling today as they were when I was six!

1)  Watchmen (2009) – Too violent? Too long? Too faithful to the comic? Well, Alan Moore’s classic graphic novel is a dark and epic tale that demands length and faithfulness in an on-screen adaptation. Zack Snyder reaches Kubrick levels of showmanship with his cinematography, fight scenes, and music choices. The opening credits is still one of the best opening credits sequences to date, and almost every cast choice (excluding Matthew Goode) was perfect, especially Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach.

Honorable mentions: Prometheus (2012), Tomorrowland (2015), Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990), Starship Troopers (1997).

I know you’re all wondering now what acclaimed movies I disliked. Well, stay tuned for my top ten overrated movies!

“The Jungle Book”

The producers of Jon Favreau’s (“Iron Man” 1 & 2) “Jungle Book” re-imagining should fire their trailer editor because they undersold this movie. I assure you this version isn’t lackluster, my friends!

So, we all know the story of “The Jungle Book”, right? If not, I’ll sum it up. There’s a kid named Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi) who’s raised by a panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) and a pair of wolves, Raksha and Akeela (Lupita Nyong’o and Giancarlo Esposito). They want him to adapt to the ways of animal culture, but it’s inevitable he won’t because, well, he’s a human!

This is where the vicious tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) comes in. He believes Mowgli is a threat and will stop at nothing to kill him, but with the help of his animal family and a bear named Baloo (Bill Murray), Mowgli must face Shere Khan in a fiery climax.

Favreau’s interpretation of “The Jungle Book” is the best live-action version to date. The 1994 live-action version with Jason Scott Lee as a twenty-something Mowgli was fine, but it was missing the magic of the 1967 classic cartoon. Favreau restores the magic that made the original a fun and charming movie, thanks to old-fashioned studio logos, beautiful shots, and an innovative closing credits sequence.

Yes, we get to hear the classic songs like “Bear Necessities” and “I Wan’na Be Like You” (who spells “wanna” like that?”), and they are just as charming as the original. This movie is also visually stunning and thrilling!

The intensity comes mostly from Shere Khan. He is an evil and merciless creature, and Idris Elba provides haunting voice work here. Everyone else delivers exceptional voice performances, but the standout is Bill Murray as Baloo. He’s hilarious, sassy, and classic Bill Murray in the form of a beloved bear.

Christopher Walken also steals a scene as King Louie – a menacing and charismatic orangutan who breaks out in a musical number. Scarlett Johansson is well-cast as Kaa, a lethal snake that’s used as a exposition tool. That’s the problem with both of these scenes – they don’t serve a purpose to the plot.

We’re here for Mowgli’s adventure and self-discovery; not a rushed subplot involving a mobster-like ape or a quick meeting with a seductive snake.

In addition to those two scenes, there’s also a heavily unbalanced tone. Favreau has a hard time deciding if he wants to keep a scene charming like the classic cartoon, or gritty like a DC movie.

Sure, those are a few shortcomings, but the movie is still a fun spectacle! There are talks of Favreau making a sequel and I’m looking forward to seeing these beloved characters return to sing again. Hopefully with a more balanced tone, though.

Grade: B+

“Hush”

For those who love horror movies like I do and are tired of cliches, please watch Mike Flanagan’s (“Oculus”) Netflix film, “Hush”.

“Hush” stars newcomer Kate Siegel (who also co-wrote the script with Flanagan) as an introverted writer named Maddie. She’s suffering from writer’s block, and while working on her ending for her new book, she receives a picture message of herself from her phone. She looks out the window and finds a masked killer with a crossbow holding the phone.

A cat-and-mouse game ensues, as the killer doesn’t want to kill Maddie right away – he wants to lure her outside. Maddie also has two serious disadvantages – she’s mute, so she can’t scream for help. And she’s deaf, so she can’t hear if the killer is inside or outside!

“Hush” took me by complete surprise, especially in its opening twenty minutes; the introduction of the killer alone is the most terrifying horror villain introduction since the first “Scream” movie. This isn’t meta or a parody like “Scream” or loaded with jump scares like a cliched slasher movie. It’s a harrowing thriller that builds to a violent climax while visually developing the characters.

Most of Maddie’s thoughts, fears, and plans are expressed through her head in some clever moments and as a result, we’re psyched out occasionally. Flanagan brilliantly used editing to trick viewers during the creepiest moments in “Oculus” (which was fantastic), and continues to show off his talent.

The killer is a twisted, menacing, and intriguing psychopath and we see that he isn’t your cliched slasher villain, but is more of a hunter. The way he toys with Maddie and how she observes for defense increases the tensity.

While “Oculus” was a study of memory and guilt, “Hush” is more of a study of disabilities and isolation; and a damn good one. Please, watch “Hush” if you consider yourself a horror fan and have a Netflix account!

Grade: A-

 

“Hardcore Henry”

When I figured out the message in the opening two minutes of “Hardcore Henry” literally was, “Don’t be a pussy,” I immediately lowered my expectations. I still embraced the mayhem and Sharlto Copley’s wicked performance.

The whole movie is told from the first-person perspective of Henry, who wakes up in a lab and finds he’s now an android. His wife Estelle (Haley Bennett) is then abducted by an eccentric terrorist with telekinesis named Akan and must battle his army with the help of Jimmy (Copley).

“Hardcore Henry” is a dizzying, bizarre, and bloody good time! Director Ilya Naishuller applies video game aesthetics to an action movie that’s reminiscent of the 1995 thriller “Strange Days” and the “Half Life” video game series.

We don’t see Henry at all, which docks a few points since we don’t get to know our protagonist, but that’s okay because Sharlto Copley steals every scene he’s in! Jimmy is a versatile character who’s part suited agent, hippy, bum, punk, nerd, cokehead, and British soldier. He’s the film’s main source of humor, charisma, and exposition. I’d argue that he’s our main hero.

The action is thrilling and often has frenetic and gory results. Through Henry’s perspective, he blows up cars and flies off of them, rips a guy’s junk off, throws someone into a fan, and pulls some insane stunt work on a helicopter. It’s impressive action since most of the stunts are performed by either the cinematographer or Naishuller himself.

In terms of narrative, “Hardcore Henry”mildly stinks. There’s a predictable twist halfway into the movie with Estelle, and Akan’s plot makes little sense, but we aren’t here for the plot, are we? We’re here for a non-stop adrenaline rush featuring a brawl with Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” as background music.

I wouldn’t watch “Hardcore Henry” again by any means since this movie made me feel hungover right after I recovered from a hangover. But it’s a badass 90 minutes that everyone should experience once.

Grade: B

“Midnight Special”

It’s very rare these days we get a film that’s so original and mysterious, we’ll be thinking about it for days. “Midnight Special” is that kind of film!

We follow Roy (Michael Shannon), who’s rescued his son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) from a dangerous cult led by Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard). With the help of his ex-wife Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) and childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton), Roy will do anything to make sure Alton reaches a specific destination.

Complications arise when Alton demonstrates great, majestic powers that can alter the world, attracting not only the cult’s attention, but the government’s, as well.

“Midnight Special” is writer/director Jeff Nichols’s fourth film. He’s also brought us great indie gems such as the psychological horror film “Take Shelter”, and the coming-of-age crime drama “Mud”. “Midnight Special” is nearly as great as those two, combining a thrilling sci-fi tale with an emotional family character study.

Roy, Alton, Lucas, and Sarah are a family on the road. Roy cares for Alton deeply and would die to protect him, Sarah’s given a second chance to act as Alton’s mother and doesn’t take it for granted, and Lucas takes on the role of the cool uncle.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

The dynamic between the trio is moving with Roy and Sarah hesitant to give up Alton, despite knowing his extraordinary fate. Lucas, on the other hand, knows from the start that taking Alton to his destination is the right, and acts as his loyal bodyguard.

The cast’s performances are often quiet, but expressive. Shannon and Edgerton in particular give the best performances and are empathetic characters, expressing emotions of fear, wonder, and guilt. Dunst is just as good, while newcomer Lieberher delivers a wonderful performance. I normally don’t like kid actors, but he knocks it out of the park .

The mysteries of “Midnight Special” demand time to analyze and interpret after first viewing. We get some beautiful visuals and suspenseful sequences that emphasize Alton’s true powers, but that’s all we need. There’s no exposition tool characters here to tell us everything like in “Inception” or “The Matrix”!

The only thing that’s not well-developed is the cult. We get to know Calvin in the first ten minutes, but then he disappears for the rest of the movie. We don’t know the cult’s motives or why Roy left, and that can be frustrating since they are our antagonists.

I can forgive that flaw because the point of the movie is the relationship between Roy and Alton. Once Alton tells Roy he doesn’t have to worry about him and Roy replies with, “I like worrying about you,” we understand that this is a father-and-son movie.

Nichols wrote this movie as both a tribute to John Carpenter and his newborn child, thus “Midnight Special” feels personal without being too self-indulgent. When was the last time you saw a movie execute that?

Grade: A-

“I Saw the Light”

The key to making a good biopic about a troubled icon is to show why they were so troubled. “I Saw the Light” doesn’t follow this one rule whatsoever.

We follow Tom Hiddleston as the legendary country music star, Hank Williams. It’s an exploration through his short-lived success, two marriages, and A LOT of booze and painkillers. We see glimpses of Williams’s insecurities, back pain, and semi-manic behavior without any idea of what to make of it.

“I Saw the Light” was originally scheduled for release for Oscar season last December, but was delayed due to a booked release schedule. This would have been 2015’s one Oscar-bait movie that missed all its marks.

Hiddleston is semi-entertaining as the drunk and easily amused Williams, showing off solid singing skills (he did all of his own vocal work in this movie). Elizabeth Olsen  plays Hank’s wife Audrey, who’s often critical of Hank’s lifestyle and constantly threatens Hank with divorce. Her performance is fine, but I wish the writing for her character was more than redundant nagging. We don’t get to know anyone else but them, by the way.

Writer/Director Marc Abraham gets caught up in Williams’s debauchery and abusive behavior (he nearly shoots Audrey in one scene), but there isn’t a flashback, line of dialogue, or any indication of what made him such a terrible person. It feels like Abraham read the Hank Williams biography, highlighted his favorite moments, and decided to just film those without context.

After seeing “Batman v. Superman” last week, I wondered if movies could get more disjointed. Abraham beat Snyder in that category with this Cliff Notes mess.

Grade: D