Green Room (2015)

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Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Cast: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Patrick Stewart

Screenplay: Jeremy Saulnier

94 mins. Rated R for strong brutal graphic violence, gory images, language and some drug content.

 

I’m hardly the first person to see Green Room. It premiered last year at Cannes to solid reviews. But, I was lucky enough to be a part of an advance screening last night, and let me tell you, it was worth it.

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Green Room is the story of a band called “The Ain’t Rights” as they, desperate for income, pick up a quick gig near Portland, which they quickly discover is a skinhead Neo-Nazi bar. When Pat (Anton Yelchin, Star Trek, Burying the Ex) goes back to the green room to collect a cell phone, he unknowingly stumbles upon a horrific scene, and now, he and his bandmates are in for the fight of their life, holed up in the green room as the skinheads, led by Darcy Banker (Patrick Stewart, TV’s American Dad, Ted 2) attempt to tear them apart in order to cover their tracks.

Green Room is absolutely intense during the entirety of its 94-minute runtime. I found my hands shaking and sweating as I reeled in my seat. Anton Yelchin is a great lead as the de facto brave leader of the band. His guttural performance left me with chilled to the bone. On the other side, Patrick Stewart plays a monster in a man’s body as the ruthless villain Darcy. He gives such a creepy and nuanced performance without falling into cliché.

Imogen Poots (Need for Speed, Knight of Cups), who also appeared with Yelchin in the Fright Night remake a few years back, plays Amber, another witness to the murder in the green room, and she finds herself joined up with The Ain’t Rights for survival. Poots gives great work as Amber and provides an uneasiness to her unhinged character.

I saw director Jeremy Saulnier’s early film Murder Party, and while it has been some time, I recall enjoying that one quite a lot, though in tone the two films find themselves somewhat distanced. Saulnier’s screenplay gives out some awkward chuckles that relieved me in between the moments of sheer animosity. Even with the comedic elements, the shock and horror felt unrelenting. The faults with the film line up with a simple setup made somewhat more confusing at the beginning. It took me a bit longer than it should have to put the pieces of this film in place, but it didn’t detract from my viewing.

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I’m happy to say that Green Room is one of the best horror films I’ve seen in a theater in some time. I really enjoyed myself and cannot wait to see what this filmmaker has next. His use of top notch performances with a terrifying environment in a film I’m not sure I can even compare to another. It was a great time at the movies and an exhilarating experience overall.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 15th Birthday!] Shaft (2000)

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Director: John Singleton

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Vanessa Williams, Christian Bale, Jeffrey Wright, Richard Roundtree

Screenplay: Richard Price, John Singleton, Shane Salerno

99 mins. Rated R for strong violence and language.

 

Apparently, Shaft is one bad motha-“Shut Your Mouth!”

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John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction, Avengers: Age of Ultron) has carried on the family crest from his uncle John (Richard Roundtree, Se7en, Speed Racer). When he responds to a racial attack and has millionaire rich-kid Walter Wade, Jr (Christian Bale, The Dark Knight, Knight of Cups) arrested in the death of a black youth. Now, with the help of Narcotics specialist Carmen Vasquez (Vanessa Williams, Eraser, Temptations: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor), Shaft must defend the woman who witnessed the attack from Wade who has now teamed up with drug lord Peoples Hernandez (Jeffrey Wright, Casino Royale, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1).

Shaft is surprisingly not terrible, though it seems to have forgotten a lot of what made the original so cheese-good.

The greatest idea put forth here was to make this incarnation of Shaft a sequel to the previous trilogy. We even get to see the Richard Roundtree as the uncle, also known as John Shaft. I love the idea of continuing the story. Too many films just go the remake route but this works so well.

Sam Jackson does a great job here, but he gets bogged down by the truly disappointing work from Wright and Bale.

I also felt this to be the tamest of the Shaft series. Literally, he doesn’t have any of the sensuality of the original character. Now, granted, as I said before, these are different characters, but I feel like it was a big miss from the film.

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Shaft is good, but I can see why the franchise never continued. Singleton’s directing works in short spurts but this film didn’t really go anywhere. The film had several plotlines that didn’t go anywhere, for example the thread involving Dan Hedaya and that other guy becoming crooked cops. I just didn’t care. There were just a lot of chopping to be done to this film and a lot of elements missing here.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of John Singleton’s 2 Fast 2 Furious, click here.

 

[Star Wars Day] Return of the Jed-Five…Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Bakers, Frank Oz

Screenplay: George Lucas

140 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and some intense images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Makeup

 

As we continue the tradition of Star Wars Days, on Return of the Jed-Five (it is a term I coined so that I can continue celebrating well into Revenge of the Sixth tomorrow), we will look at Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, the final film in the Star Wars Saga that was released almost ten years ago. Fans have waited a decade for the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.

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The Clone Wars have waged for three years, but the battle is far from over. Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen, Jumper, Vanishing on 7th Street) is now a full-fledged Jedi Knight and, along with Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, Mortdecai) have been leading armies into battle against the Separatists and the tyrannical Count Dooku (Christopher Lee, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Dark Shadows). Anakin’s secret marriage to Padme (Natalie Portman, V for Vendetta, Knight of Cups) is further complicated when she discovers she is pregnant, and Anakin’s nightmares of her dying in childbirth lead him towards the dark side and a few revelations about his friends on the Jedi Council and those in the Galactic Senate.

If one were to look at the prequel trilogy, Revenge of the Sith is easily the best in the series. A nearly perfect entry in the Star Wars Saga, Episode III features some of the more incredible action sequences and emotional beats.

Hayden Christensen again continues to underwhelm as Skywalker. His performance is carried by Portman, McGregor, and Ian McDiarmid (Sleepy Hollow, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) as Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. In fact, just about all the performances here with the exception of his are amazing.

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Director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138) has learned from his previous mistakes here and gives fans exactly what they want here. Revenge of the Sith ties up the franchise with a nice little bow. The flow is great, and the opening sequence, in which our heroes attempt to save Palpatine from the mechanical General Grievous, is stunning, with special regards to the first shot of the film.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

[Star Wars Day] May the Fourth Be With You…Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Frank Oz

Screenplay: George Lucas, Jonathan Hales

142 mins. Rated PG for sustained sequences of sci-fi action/violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Visual Effects

 

Happy Star Wars Day, and May the Fourth Be With You. Today we will look back on Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, from director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138).

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Ten years after the events of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen, Jumper, Vanishing on 7th Street) and his master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, Mortdecai) have been called to Coruscant to protect the former Queen, Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman, V for Vendetta, Knight of Cups) against those who wish to assassinate her. As Anakin and Padme grow closer, Obi-Wan finds himself getting closer to the truth as he encounters the sinister Count Dooku (Christopher Lee, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Dark Shadows) and an army of clone troops trained to be an Army of the Republic.

The second in George Lucas’ prequel trilogy fixes a lot of the problems that the first film had, though not all. I love the tone of the film as it shifts from mystery to romance to war to fantasy and back to mystery. The tonal shifts keep the film invigorated and interesting. McGregor and Portman turn in excellent work as Kenobi and Amidala, as do Ian McDiarmid (Sleepy Hollow, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) as Chancellor Palpatine and Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Avengers: Age of Ultron) as the Jedi Master Mace Windu. New character Count Dooku is excellent and terrifying.

Hayden Christensen is a better Anakin than Jake Lloyd, but not by much. He is by far the biggest problem here.

As always, George Lucas presents us a stunning vision of his galaxy. The film is stitched together nicely and is beautifully scored. There are a lot to love here. Now the aging of the special effects is noticeable here and could have been avoided with a more practical touch. I miss the look of the original films, but I can deal with it.

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Attack of the Clones is a fantastic Star Wars event. It has a few detractors, but it is lovely nonetheless.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

[#2015oscardeathrace] How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

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Director: Dean DeBlois

Cast: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig, Djimon Hounsou, Kit Harington

Screenplay: Dean DeBlois

102 mins. Rated PG for adventure action and mild rude humor.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

 

How to Train Your Dragon was a film that needed to have a sequel. Two, in fact. The first film had a very SAGA-like feeling to it. It had some more story that needed to be told. And it was, in last year’s How to Train Your Dragon 2.

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Hiccup (Jay Baruchel, TV’s Man Seeking Woman, Million Dollar Baby) and his dragon Toothless have come a long way in their relationship, and their home Berk has changed along with them. Hiccup’s father, Stoick (Gerard Butler, 300, Olympus Has Fallen), has learned to respect him as a son and a man. Hiccup’s girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera, TV’s Ugly Betty, Cesar Chavez) has furthered her affection for him. Everything is going just great for Hiccup, until he discovers a dragon army led by the terrifying Drago (Djimon Hounsou, Gladiator, Seventh Son) and comes face-to-face with Valka (Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Knight of Cups), his missing mother in this sequel from director Dean DeBlois (Lilo & Stitch).

How to Train Your Dragon 2 excells in almost every way further than its predecessor. Visually, it is stunning. Emotionally, it resonates. The above developed relationships are tested further and further as the film progresses. Cate Blanchett, Djimon Hounsou, and Kit Harington (TV’s Game of Thrones, Pompeii) are great additions to the voice cast.

DeBlois’ sequel is a tightly-knit thrill-ride, with beautiful music, and gorgeous set-pieces. It also has the distinction of being the first animated film to contain an openly homosexual character (I won’t say who, but it shouldn’t really matter). For that alone, the film deserved praise.

The flaw, and there is a big one, comes at the end, when the film takes a fairly mediocre and cliché turn developing in an underwhelming finale. Hiccup and Toothless have a respect that is stretched to its lengths, yet the plotholes near the end make one question what it was all for.

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The ending aside, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is still a massively successful sequel and well worth the viewing. I only hope the open threads are continued throughout the future installments.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders’ How to Train Your Dragon, click here.

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