Sean K. Cureton

Archive for May, 2016|Monthly archive page

Committing Fratricide In Green Room

In Movie Reviews: 2016 on May 28, 2016 at 11:38 am
Green Room

A24

Green Room
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
3 out of 4 stars

Like his preceding directorial effort, Green Room sees writer-director Jeremy Saulnier grappling with an inherently violent revenge fantasy wherein everyone equally plays the parts of victim, perpetrator, and vigilante. Like Blue Ruin, Saulnier’s latest depicts two tight-knit groups of warring factions forced to murder one another in retaliation to grievous offenses both explicitly committed and hysterically intimated. Anton Yelchin (Star Trek Beyond), Patrick Stewart (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Alia Shawkat (Pee-wee’s Big Holiday), and Macon Blair (Blue Ruin) all come into an impossible situation by sheer accident, but that doesn’t mean that their resulting transgressions against one another will go unpunished. From the very onset of the film’s cold open first scene, wherein Yelchin and his punk rock band mates are huddled together in their van in the midst of a cornfield, there is an undeniable sense of claustrophobia that looms over the entire film’s fabric. Violence is a given in the world of Saulnier’s films, and as each of his protagonists begin to feel the constraints of living in close quarters with those who might wish to do them harm his scripts inevitably confront the self-defeating nature of retributive justice.

Libertarian might be too clearly defined a term to apply to the politics of the world created by Saulnier in Green Room as the anarchy at play gives birth to a chaos far too personally charged, lending the production the aura of an essentially perverted civil discourse. Despite the presence of Stewart and Blair as neo-Nazi club owners whose collective ulterior agenda is preexistent and well known, when Yelchin and his band mates mount an assault against said antagonists the stakes are raised to the level of approximate fratricide. The entire film is viscerally charged due to this emotional connection between characters on both sides of the line of fire, making the final battle one of devastating heartbreak and bitter reward. No one wins when human lives are at stake, and Saulnier appears certain of that fact in his undisguised recreation of explicitly violent scenes that never shy away from any of their suggested carnage. For a movie that is ostensibly about a murder in a neo-Nazi club, Green Room offers insight on human vulnerability and volatility that extends far beyond the implied politics of the former sub-cultural sect.

Blue Ruin might be a far more personal revenge fantasy, but Green Room extrapolates on the preceding individual narrative by applying it to a far more expansive and all encompassing social environment. After accidentally witnessing the murder for which Yelchin will be kept in captivity for the larger part of the film’s 95 minute runtime, the punk rock music scene is accordingly satirized in a surprisingly playful manner and in an entirely unexpected way. For all of the gruesome angst that drives the songs played by both Yelchin’s band and the offending neo-Nazi outfit, their rebellions arise from a similar stock and source. Each band is rebelling against conformist society but each one has taken their adolescent angst to different logical ends. Yelchin declares that he can’t see himself wearing a Minor Threat t-shirt well into middle age, which stands as an open acknowledgement of the shallow well from which his music derives, while Stewart has continued to quench his thirst on the dregs of that self-same, spiteful immaturity.

Saulnier is undoubtedly a leading talent within the contemporary thriller film genre among American filmmakers and Green Room only serves as further indication of his capacity. Films like Blue Ruin and Green Room suggest an underlying mastery that is yet to come, and each of the aforementioned productions appear to be building up to something far more substantial and morally progressive. With any luck Saulnier will bring viewers another revenge fantasy over the course of the next few years the likes of which will throw both Blue Ruin and Green Room in stark relief against a capping statement on violence. The politics of homicide in Saulnier’s fims thus far have proven tenuously upheld at best, as each murder depicted inevitably arises from deep-seated personal hurt, anger, and despair. Despite the overriding moral righteousness felt by his characters, Saulnier is far more interested in the devastation that is indirectly wrought by violence, not the misguided excuses subsequently concocted by its perpetrators.

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Superman Returns In Fleeting Relief

In My Favorite Movies on May 7, 2016 at 2:24 pm
Superman Returns

Warner Bros. Pictures

Superman Returns
Directed by Bryan Singer
Commercial Release: June 28th, 2006

In the years since Bryan Singer first reestablished the comic book superhero for mainstream movie-going audiences in X-Men from the year 2000, the intellectual properties beholden to Marvel Comics and DC Comics have become synonymous with big budget success. This year alone has already seen the theatrical release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice from Warner Bros. Pictures and Captain America: Civil War from Marvel Studios, with each motion picture being met with respectively wide appeal. The one aspect that both films share is in the financially crucial realm of box office revenue. Each movie has been met with varying degrees of critical praise and fan reception, but each of them will result in copious sequels and stand-alone spin-offs down the road. The age of the superhero movie as being not just a summer season spectacle but also a national past time for audiences of all ages is upon us.

Personally, I don’t remember a time when movies starring caped crusaders from comic book panels that I had largely never read weren’t a facet of the contemporary movie-going experience. Films like Singer’s aforementioned X-Men, noted genre film director Sam Raimi’s initial Spider-Man trilogy, and Oscar-winning auteur Ang Lee’s Hulk are the movies that introduced me to the basic concept of the superhero archetype. The influence of each film has diminished in the interceding years among general audiences while the meticulously packaged world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has simultaneously promoted a total recall on the genre from the ground up. The Incredible Hulk has been recreated twice over since actor Eric Bana made his first stumbling attempt at the role, Spider-Man has been the center of intense creative friction which may have finally given rise to the greatest cinematic adaptation of the character yet, and Singer’s X-Men film franchise is heading into what could be considered its third generation of original motion picture events. The superhero is the new Humphrey Bogart, Clint Eastwood, and Woody Allen all wrapped up in one attractive package.

There will be no shortage of the new, gritty, and realistic superhero for the foreseeable future, just as there is no end in sight for the inherently marketable Marvel Cinematic Universe. Christopher Nolan truly broke the mold with his The Dark Knight trilogy starting in 2005, and in its wake Marvel Studios and Warner Bros. Pictures have followed its thematically alluring suit. But what Nolan has inexplicably wrought by the making of his Batman movies is the illusion that superhero movies are for adults. The Dark Knight is a stunning crime drama that served to help establish a tone for contemporary Oscar-caliber filmmaking, but it also features certain noted comic book characters designed to appeal to children. The Dark Knight, regardless of its explicit narrative content, is not really a superhero movie, nor is it a Batman movie; it is a psychological-thriller masquerading under the guise of the comic book brand.

Of the superhero movies that I can still stomach, one of the high water marks in my mind is Superman Returns from 2006. Produced and directed by Singer during his brief reprieve from the X-Men franchise, the movie sees actor Brandon Routh in the role of Krypton’s last son, having returned to Metropolis after five years spent in isolation amidst the remains of his long-since demolished alien home. Picking up where director Richard Lester’s Superman II left viewers in 1980, and abandoning the content previously established by the two preceding Superman films, Superman Returns offers an antiquated take on the mythological superhero narrative for twenty-first century audiences. In the role of Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman, Routh strikes a pose that appears largely in keeping with the look of the late Christopher Reeve, and manages to carry the heft of a remarkably Messianic narrative with poise and style. Remarkably, Superman Returns plays like an attempted resurgence of the aesthetic featured in the original Fleischer & Famous Superman cartoons of the 1940s, which simultaneously serves as its singular charm and most glaring blind spot.

Coming out only a year after Batman Begins, Superman Returns feels like a movie made out of time. If it had come out ten years earlier in the midst of the optimism and malaise of the 1990s, it might have been a bigger hit, albeit a smaller source for national attention. Films like the body horror themed X-Men, the languorously meditative Hulk, and the whimsical romantic-comedy Spider-Man just don’t fit into the contemporary superhero model and platform currently established by films like Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Yet all of those films boil down to the same comic book men in multi-colored tights. The superhero movie is always going to be about the perennial pursuit of a childish fever dream that might yet save us from amoral nihilism, standing up as a metaphor to be extrapolated upon in fleeting relief; enter Superman Returns.

Superman Returns is available to own on Blu-Ray, DVD, and VOD, and is one of My Favorite Movies.