Skip to main content

Now we’re all in the stew, for an impulsive act, for a selfish act, under my roof!

Green Room
(2015)

(SPOILERS – also for Bone Tomahawk) Jeremy Saulnier’s follow-up to the keenly studied Blue Ruin (what next, Red Rum?) lacks that picture’s depth of character and thematic epistle on the pitfalls of revenge, instead positioning itself as a very straightforward siege movie. Assault on Precinct 13, but with an Oregon bar as the police station, a punk band as the besieged, and a posse of rabid neo-Nazis as the remorseless menace. Saulnier imbues the proceedings with the tension-ratchetting precision of a master of the genre.


Although, some have speculated over just what genre that is. Horror or thriller? It’s a bit semantic, really. Substitute zombies or unstoppable, undead mariners for the neo-Nazis and, with all the stabbing, gouging and mutilation going on, it would happily fit into the horror genre (to be fair to Saulnier, he isn’t one to linger on the violence, but there’s no shortage of it). Saulnier also plays with the rules of survival like one who knows the horror genre backwards, picking off the protagonists in such an atypical manner that it’s unclear who is going to survive and how.


Macon Blair was the unlikely “hero” of Blue Ruin (returning here as a neo-Nazi lieutenant) and Saulnier shows a similar willingness to shrug off expectations in Green Room. When Anton Yelchin’s guitarist Pat has his hand nearly hacked off at the wrist as the standoff escalates, we suspect the writer-director may be pulling a Hitchcock number and dooming the presumed lead in the first (well, second) reel. That Pat turns out to be something of a survivor may conform to lead-actor type, but it’s very much along the lines of the also-incapacitated Patrick Wilson in horror-western Bone Tomahawk, where against the odds – straining credulity, if you want to be picky, although Green Room is a movie where there’s a discussion on paintballing not reflecting reality, with real guns, so Saulnier is at least embracing his fictions – the least likely protagonist pulls through.


Certainly, I had little doubt Joe Cole’s Reece, as the only band member who can take care of himself with any degree of proficiency, would end up dead, but the escalation of events, and even the flip markers defy definites; I was sure Saulnier put in the line about letting Reece bleed out because he expected us to expect him, unattended, to not be nearly as dead after all. He also brings in Mark Webber's Daniel as a saviour, only to summarily dispatch him five minutes later. And, against the odds – since its incredibly stupid, like baiting an angry, skinhead badger – it isn’t the anti-Nazi song (The Dead Kennedys’ Nazi Punks Fuck Off) they open their set with that leads to the subsequent deadly events.


And, if it’s become something of a cliché in recent years that the most survival-friendly character turns out to be female, Saulnier is less than reverent with dispatching band member Sam (Alie Shawkat, who is just as good here as in Arrested Development, such a sure, confident performer she really ought to be headlining movies). It’s left to Pat and Amber (Imogen Poots, too often marginalised in thankless roles, gives a wonderfully unsentimental, matter-of-fact performance) to make the best of dire straits. Saulnier repeats devices from Blue Ruin – characters are terrible shots, there’s surprising stoicism in the face of death – but in tone this is much more stripped-down and streamlined. While he indulges in occasional fancies – the mosh of Ain’t Rights’ performance becomes a slow-motion ballet set to classical strains, early interludes of montage between the band mates providing tonal build up for what is to come – there’s no side steps once he gets going.


Patrick Stewart, meanwhile, prevents the Nazis from becoming a mindless horde. If Blair’s Gabe is out of his depth, Stewart’s Darcy’s failing is over-confidence in his clean-up operation. To that extent, he strays into the Bond villain territory of leaving the scene while his victims get a chance to escape, but Stewart has rarely gotten his teeth into a baddie (Conspiracy Theory was a fairly standard type) and clearly relishes the opportunity; he’s actually not soporific for a change!


I don’t think Green Room represents Saulnier’s growth as a filmmaker, however, except maybe technically.  One might argue he’s chosen the easiest of real-life subjects, ones who have it coming, and combined with the embrace of cathartic bloodshed at the climax, it’s something of a step down after the anti-revenge realisation that concludes Blue Ruin. That said, it’s easy to see why this has been a feature of many a year-end best of list, and it underlines once again what a too-soon departure Yelchin’s was.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

If this is not a place for a priest, Miles, then this is exactly where the Lord wants me.

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)
(SPOILERS) Sometimes a movie comes along where you instantly know you’re safe in the hands of a master of the craft, someone who knows exactly the story they want to tell and precisely how to achieve it. All you have to do is sit back and exult in the joyful dexterity on display. Bad Times at the El Royale is such a movie, and Drew Goddard has outdone himself. From the first scene, set ten years prior to the main action, he has constructed a dizzyingly deft piece of work, stuffed with indelible characters portrayed by perfectly chosen performers, delirious twists and game-changing flashbacks, the package sealed by an accompanying frequently diegetic soundtrack, playing in as it does to the essential plot beats of the whole. If there's a better movie this year, it will be a pretty damn good one.

I am so sick of Scotland!

Outlaw/King (2018)
(SPOILERS) Proof that it isn't enough just to want to make a historical epic, you have to have some level of vision for it as well. Say what you like about Mel's Braveheart – and it isn't a very good film – it's got sensibility in spades. He knew what he was setting out to achieve, and the audience duly responded. What does David Mackenzie want from Outlaw/King (it's shown with a forward slash on the titles, so I'm going with it)? Ostensibly, and unsurprisingly, to restore the stature of Robert the Bruce after it was rather tarnished by Braveheart, but he has singularly failed to do so. More than that, it isn’t an "idea", something you can recognise or get behind even if you don’t care about the guy. You’ll never forget Mel's Wallace, for better or worse, but the most singular aspect of Chris Pine's Bruce hasn’t been his rousing speeches or heroic valour. No, it's been his kingly winky.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

It is the greatest movie never released, you know.

They'll Love Me When I'm Dead (2018)
(SPOILERS) They'll Love Me When I'm Dead, Morgan Neville's documentary on the making of Orson Welles' long-gestating The Other Side of the Wind, is much more interesting than the finally finished article itself, but to be fair to Welles, he foresaw as much as a possibility. Welles' semi-improvised faux-doc approach may not seem nearly as innovative nearly fifty years on – indeed, in the intervening period there's a slew of baggage of boundary-blurring works, mockumentaries and the whole found footage genre – but he was striving for something different, even if that "different" was a reaction to the hole he'd dug himself in terms of bankability. On the evidence of the completed film, he never quite found the necessary rhythm or mode, but the struggle to achieve it, as told here, is fascinating.

You kind of look like a slutty Ebola virus.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
(SPOILERS) The phenomenal success of Crazy Rich Asians – in the US at any rate, thus far – might lead one to think it's some kind of startling original, but the truth is, whatever its core demographic appeal, this adaptation of Kevin Kwan's novel taps into universally accepted romantic comedy DNA and readily recognisable tropes of family and class, regardless of cultural background. It emerges a smoothly professional product, ticking the expected boxes in those areas – the heroine's highs, lows, rejections, proposals, accompanied by whacky scene-stealing best friend – even if the writing is sometimes a little on the clunky side.

Have you ever looked into a goat's eyes?

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
(SPOILERS) There was probably an insightful, sensitive movie to be made about the World War II experiences of conscientious objector Desmond Doss, but Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge isn’t it. It’s unsurprising that a number of reviewers have independently indulged the wordplay Hackneyed Ridge, an effective summation of the ridiculously over-the-top, emotionally shameless theatrics Mel indulges, turning a story that already fell into the “You wouldn’t believe it if it wasn’t true” camp into “You won’t believe it anyway, because it’s been turned up to 11” (and that’s with Gibson omitting incidents he perceived to be “too much”, such as Doss being shot by a sniper after he was wounded, having given up his stretcher to another wounded man; certainly, as wrung through Mel’s tonal wringer, that would have been the case).

Perhaps Mel should stick to making subtitled features, the language barrier diluting the excruciating lack of nuance or subtlety in his treatment of subject m…

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

What if I tell you to un-punch someone, what you do then?

Incredibles 2 (2018)
(SPOILERS) Incredibles 2 may not be as fresh as the first outing – indeed, certain elements of its plotting border on the retread – but it's equally, if not more, inventive as a piece of animation, and proof that, whatever his shortcomings may be philosophically, Brad Bird is a consummately talented director. This is a movie that is consistently very funny, and which is as thrilling as your average MCU affair, but like Finding Dory, you may understandably end up wondering if it shouldn't have revolved around something a little more substantial to justify that fifteen-year gap in reaching the screen.