Green Room

“It kind of excited me that a film of this ultra-violent horror genre was getting such stellar reviews. It’s often dismissed as frivolous or obscene or something else negative. When star Patrick Stewart first read the script, he was so terrified and completely horrified by the character’s actions that he had to take on the role, thus giving a little more screen cred and attention. I say thank you, sir!

In this film, an underground hardcore punk band, which includes Anton Yelchin and Alia Shawkat, book a last minute gig at some unknown club off the beaten path. On their way out after their set, they accidentally witness something they shouldn’t have, incurring the attention and anger of the white supremacist owner (that’s where Stewart comes in) and his fellow skinheads (in behavior if not necessarily appearance). The band is left fighting for their lives as they try to make their escape.

Had this been released ten years ago, it would have been quickly classified as torture porn and quickly swept under the rug. And that would have been a huge disservice to the film. Yes, the film is very violent, and yes some of it is gratuitous, but there’s a realism to it that you don’t find in torture porn. The blood isn’t over the top or excessive. The things that happen and how they happen aren’t a big stretch of the imagination. There’s no crazy mastermind behind everything or unhinged psychopath wreaking havoc. Everything is calculated and intentioned. Something happens, people respond, things escalate, blood gets spilled, people die, these things happen.

The suspense comes out of the realism (and the minimalism) too. Our band is confined in a room in a club with no exit. There’s some very angry and fighty people outside. What do you do? Where do you go? No one knows where they are. Hell, they hardly know where they are. It’s scary and it’s unsettling, and it’s everything I want in this genre of a movie.

One thing I want to make clear. This write up isn’t a blanket recommendation. There’s certainly a subset of people that would never see this kind of film, a subset who absolutely would, and everyone in between. If you’re in that first group, you’d do yourself a service to stay away. I’m mostly speaking to that next group and those who lean in that direction. If this kinda film is your jam, then jam on this way!

Green Room – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

21 Grams

“It was kind of a no brainer when I came to this cubby on the movie shelf that I should blog one of the two Iñárritu movies I haven’t written up yet. If I have to explain why he’s significant you haven’t been paying attention to movies for the past two years. I was kind of excited to revisit this, vowing to pay more attention that I had when I first bought the DVD.

The story follows three characters, played by Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, and Benicio Del Toro, and how they’re intertwined in life and death. What’s confusing is that we’re constantly jumping across timelines. I had a really hard time keeping them straight, especially since I made some false assumptions about the clues. By which I mean, healthy looking Sean Penn actually comes after sickly Sean Penn, which is counter-intuitive, and threw a lot of stuff off.

While it was filmed in chrono order, I don’t necessarily know that watching it that way would have made things better. I think the story was far more effective and engaging (and powerful even) jumbled up. It’s just the sort of thing that I think I’d need to rewatch yet again in order to fully appreciate it all. Not that a rewatch would be such a bad thing. The cast is at their top of their game and again the story being told is a great one.

Now I’ve just gotta get my hands on a copy of Babel (which I saw a long time ago, pre-ExpDel) and my Iñárritu feature post collection will be complete!”

Aliens

“Considering my love of scifi and love of the 80s, it’s surprising that I don’t know 80s scifi very well. I realized this the other day when I saw someone wearing a Blade Runner shirt, and it took me far too long (and a google confirmation) to definitively identify the reference. I’m more of a Terminator girl anyway.

However, I do kinda need to rethink action movies as home blog movies. I’m cool through all the drama and dialog, but once we get into the action-y sequences, the myriad of distractions in my home tend to overtake and I miss out. That’s kinda what happened here.

I bought the Aliens trilogy sometime back and sort of powered through them without paying much attention. A couple years ago, I sat down with someone and more attentively rewatched the first. I attempted that for the second this past weekend. I was with it all through the set up, but couldn’t focus in on the last act or so. Pity.

I do think that Ripley is one of the most badass action characters of all time. Notice I didn’t say female in there, because I think she’s one of the best ever, either way. Similar to Sarah Connor’s rise in T2, we get to see a lot more butt kicking from Ripley here, as this would be the film that cemented her hardcore status.”

Hardcore Henry

“I talk alot about wasted potential in movies. Too much, I think that’s an overused phrase (and sadly an all too common problem). I was ready to once again use that phrase to describe Hardcore Henry, but then I realized it wasn’t so much wasted potential as under-developed potential. As an action movie junkie (my daddy raised me right!), I was really excited to see this, ready for this new take on the genre. But I was left with all visual and no story, which equaled boredom. Sadness.

Hardcore Henry takes on a sort of video game first person shooter perspective as our titular character wakes up from some unknown grievious injury and little memory. He’s outfitted with some bionic limbs (or something) by his doctor wife (who he also doesn’t remember). And then there’s bad guys and lots and lots and lots of fighting as he struggles to find out who he is and exactly what the heck is going on.

The shiny new perspective, all shot on a GoPro, is pretty cool. And also doesn’t work as well as I’d have hoped. I don’t know if they sped things up or omitted frames or what was going on, but it was all very jerky and difficult to follow the action, plus the constant motion from side to side and up and down and all over the place. I can’t help but think this is what the original Blair Witch audience felt like. Had we just slowed things down a tad, I think the effect could have been something really awesome.

But the biggest disappointment really is the minimal storyline. The film relied on constant action, but without anything really driving it other than must-keep-moving and must-find-out-something, you can only sustain the momentum (and my interest) for so long. Plus confusing things like the very entertaining and quirky Sharlto Copley continuing to pop up and die and then show up again different and die and lather/rinse/repeat. I’m still not entirely sure what his deal was.

I kinda expected everything to tie back into some sort of video game theme, but it just sort of imploded on itself. I would like to see this sort of style attempted again, with a little more finesse. Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a Duke Nukem movie like this? Or Wolfenstein? Now that would be truly bad ass. This was more eh.

Hardcore Henry – \m/ \m/”

The Jungle Book

“I accidentally saw this in LIE-MAX 3D. Well, maybe accidentally is not the right word, but it sounded cool. It was more of a last minute surprise, given some quick thinking and schedule reshuffling based on auditoriums. I typically don’t advocate for premium screens with an unnecessary upcharge, but this may have been one of the few that would be worth it.

The other big surprise was just in how enjoyable this movie was. The current trend of live action remakes of animated fairy(ish) tales has been sort of hit or miss, and nothing indicated to me this would be a hit. I was wrong.

I’m not even sure what was so right about it, but all I know is that I was instantly absorbed into the world. I do give a lot of credit to director Jon Favreau, who clearly knows how to orchestrate a true crowdpleaser (see also Iron Man, Elf). Everything just looked and felt amazing.

I expected much of the film to hinge on the nostalgia factor, and there was just enough of that. I got far giddier than I would have ever expected when I heard Christopher Walken sing “”I Wanna Be Like You””. But even though it was a familiar world with a familiar story, enough of the details were changed that it felt new. Sure, I mostly knew what would happen next, but there was just enough mystery to keep things fresh.

However, I think the single best thing was the voice cast. Whoever thought to cast Bill Murray as Baloo was genius. I don’t think we could have had a more perfect loveable bear. He alone is worth watching for. Ben Kingsley as Bagheera was also perfection, and Scarlett Johannsen as Kaa was an inspired choice.

I don’t know that I’m adequately capturing the magic of the movie. But I will say this. Watching the movie, all I could think is that I wish I was back home so that I could take my little cousins to see this. This is an experience that is truly meant to be shared with the whole family. Wow that was cheesy.

The Jungle Book – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Jarhead

“Still on a bit of a Jake Gyllenhaal kick. Can you tell?

As part of his press tour for Demolition, Gyllenhaal answered an interviewer’s question by saying that he worked with three amazing directors when he was about 25. Of course, I had to guess for myself which those were. First was easy, Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain. The second one, came to me as soon as I pulled up his IMDB credits circa ten years ago. David Fincher for Zodiac. The third, required me to click into a few entries before I spotted it. Sam Mendes directed Jardhead?!

Sometime back, I was asked by someone what my favorite war film is. I still struggle to answer that (probably Full Metal Jacket, unless there’s enough combat scenes for you to consider Forrest Gump a reasonable answer). But I remember at the time, it hadn’t been too long since I’d seen Jarhead and it came to mind pretty quick. And for good reason, because this is a great movie that still holds up ten years later.

This is basically Full Metal Jacket for the next generation. It follows Gyllenhaal as a new Marine recruit through his basic and sniper training, and into desert storm. It’s a very intense look at war, focusing on the mental effects on a soldier out in the field. You’ve got the guys that just want to be home, the guys that want to be nowhere else but the suck (as they refer to it) and everyone in between.

The supporting cast includes Peter Sarsgaar, Chris Cooper, Jamie Fox, and Lucas Black all of them giving very in your face performances. As mentioned, this is directed by Sam “”American Beauty”” Mendes, so you know from that how artfully crafted the film is. It’s sort of faded into distant memory over time, but it deserves to be remembered along with other wartime classics.”

The Boss

“I adore Melissa McCarthy. She is one of the funniest women on the planet, a role model of a strong woman, and a truly genuine charismatic and caring person. I’ve been excited for all her tv appearances and interviews. I love hear what she has to say, and how she has to say it. I’m thrilled to see her leading her own movies, and I love the partnership she has with her husband in making these films happen. So why do I always find them underwhelming?

I recounted a similar feeling toward Sacha Baron Cohen a few weeks ago, and I often used to make the same lament about Will Ferrell. I just don’t like these over the top characters enough to maintain an entire movie. The basis for the comedy (lots of flash and visual) just don’t do it for me. There was a gag (not a spoiler, it’s in the trailer) where she is launched off a sofa sleeper into the wall. Uproarious laughter throughout the room. The older gentleman in front of me had aftershocks of chuckles through the next few minutes. I sat there stone faced (and not because I already knew that gag was coming, the trailer received the same lack of response from me).

I’d love to see McCarthy take on a more realistic role, that les her personality shine through a bit more, and plays off that natural charisma. And then save these flamboyant characters for featured roles and small scenes to steal.

I did really like her pairing with Kristen Bell. Her more straight but still funny role is the level where I’d like to see McCarthy. But since Bell was here, she had the chance to shine, and she was fantastic. Maybe we can pair these ladies up again some time?

The Boss – \m/ \m/ \n”

Everybody Wants Some

“Oh man, lack of motivation for starting this post. I’ve procrastinated for about an hour, two Flash episodes, a few Jet Blue surveys and some Chinese food. I even cleaned the tub.

I kinda had a similar procrastinate-y feel towards this movie. I saw the trailer and thought “”eh””. I do respect Richard Linklater’s work (Boyhood, School of Rock, Bernie), but didn’t really feel drawn to this. I thought it was perfect that the release coincided with my last NYC trip, so I wouldn’t be able to see it right away anyways. But, as is often the cast, the overwhelmingly positive buzz (91% fresh on RT!), coupled with a respected director, I gave in. Now having seen it, I’m still ambivalent.

Touted as a spiritual sequel to both Dazed and Confused and Boyhood, Everybody Wants Some follows a group of college baseball players in 1980, through the eyes of the new freshman pitcher. Our froshling, Jake, has arrived at their housing a few days before registration, and jumps right in to the non-academic aspects of college life.

This is more an ensemble-as-a-character piece than a straight up story with a plot. We all know that never tends to go too well for me. I like plot. So therefore, by the nature of the beast, there were scenes I liked and others that for me felt like they went nowhere. And there were times when I really liked these guys, and wanted to hang out with them, and others where I was so turned off by their behavior, I was glad to be done with college boys.

What Linklater does really well is create compelling, complex characters, you care about. And he gives you a very real look at life that’s just above the mundane. Huh, yeah I guess it does follow Boyhood more than Dazed, at least in tone and subject. Structurally it’s more Dazed, especially with the setting, but either way, it’s got Linklater’s craft all over it.

Everybody Wants Some – \m/ \m/ \m/”

Demolition

“Jake Gyllenhaal is in Boston. I know this for a variety of reasons, some of which I am not at liberty to discuss. So I figured that with his new movie opening this weekend, there was a very very slim longshot that he’d show up at the back of the theater for a screening. I took a gamble on the first show at the Common, seeing as how he was there at an advance screening of Nightcrawler back when that came out, and he’s been spotted at various Back Bay locations. Despite the rain and chill, I wore a short skirt in hopes of showing Donnie Darko my Frank tattoo. My heart leapt everytime someone walked into the auditorium. Alas, it was never Jake. Ah well, perhaps the one meeting years ago will be the only one for Dawnie and Donnie.

But what about the movie? In Demolition, Jake stars as Davis, a yuppie investment banker whose just lost his wife. In her death, he realizes that he never really knew her, so he looks to deconstruct his marriage and figure out how he’s supposed to cope with it all. What excited me is that this is directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who coaxed brilliant performances out of his casts in Dallas Buyers Club and Wild. I really wanted to see what he’d do with my boy.

And on that front, that duo really delivered. Davis was just such an interested character, expertly acted. I was fascinated. Is he a psychopath (in the clinical, lack of emotions sense, not a la Dexter)? Is he on the spectrum? Davis poured out his life story in a series of letters to a customer service rep, and I was enthralled by his narration. He started to literally take things apart, and I wanted to take his brain apart, see what made him tick.

But of course, we can’t just have an interesting character. We have to move the plot along, and that’s where it lost me. He forms a relationship with his customer service rep friend, Naomi Watts’ Karen. It was awkward and weird. I just couldn’t get into it. I liked the letters he’d send her, but their in person interactions were tough to watch. I preferred him solo or the scenes he shared with his father in law, Chris Cooper. Eventually, he starts to bond with Karen’s son, and I started to get more into it, mostly because I thought the kid was an interesting character as well. We didn’t go nearly as deep with him as we could have though.

Yeah so basically, thumbs up for characters and cast. Thumbs down on plot and structure. The former definitely wins out, but the later is kinda frustrating. Yet another recent example of wasted potential. I would love to see Vallee team up with Gyllenhaal again sometime. I think there was gold between them that just needs a better venue to truly shine.

Demolition – \m/ \m/ \m/”

Lord of War

“Lord of War was released back when I really didn’t like Nicholas Cage at all. The movie barely registered on my radar when it was out, and I never even considered seeing it.

Then a few years ago, a friend recommended it to me. I replied that I wasn’t too interested in, but I at least looked it up. And saw that Jared Leto had second billing. Okay yes, definitely needed to see it.

I was blown away. This is such a sleek and stylish and stirring film. Cage is Yuri Orlov, a man who immigrated to the US as a child with his family, who has gone on to be a rather successful arms dealer. He travels the world making deals with rather shady characters, making excuses for his lack of morals, and amassing a rather sizable fortune for himself.

What most sells this film is that Cage simply owns it. The story is straightfoward. The character should be despicable. I don’t recall if this was the movie that finally won me over on Cage, but if it wasn’t, it sure made a very solid case for him. But even more so, I love Leto as Yuri’s brother Vitaly. In a role that’s not too far off from what he gave us in Requiem for a Dream (my favorite Leto performance), he provides some moments of heart. I know, I use that term too much, but I can’t help it if that’s what I’m often drawn to in a film. Vitaly’s journey is only seen in glimpses scattered in between chapters of Yuri’s story, but he has quite an arc. And the brotherly love between these two is papable.

We’ve also got Ethan Hawke as the law enforcement officer that is eternally chasing Yuri. As Yuri describes him, “”And he was the rarest breed of law enforcement officer. The type who knew I was breaking the law, but wouldn’t break it himself to bust me.”” It’s weird. I love Ethan Hawke, and on paper I should fully support his character most. But between how the characters are written and how effectively they’re played, I always find myself rooting for Yuri when they match wits.

Oh I got so caught up in recapping, I forgot what was initially meant to be one of my leading points. The opening credits sequence that follows the life of a bullet. It’s one of the best openings for any movie, and that alone is worth watching. The movie is just nonstop from there.”