Green Room (2016): Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots Nailing It (Review)

Anton Yelchin as Pat

Written and directed by “Murder Party” and “Blue Ruin” auteur Jeremy Saulnier, Green Room has the sad distinction of being the last film released starring Anton Yelchin before his untimely death on June 19, 2016. The film follows the misfortune of a struggling punk band who stumble onto a murder while playing at a skinhead roadhouse.

Saulnier, whose debut feature length film was the brilliant low/no-budget offering “Murder Party,” has a knack for making American film that have a distinctly English feel to them.  Taking a note  from such talented Brit filmmakers like “Dog Soldiers” (Neil Marshall, who wrote and directed the werewolf picture, specialized in violent and terse thrillers like Doomsday and the gloriously scary, and all female, The Descent before moving onto mainstream television.)

Yelchin plays the meekest member of a punk band who later teams up with Poots as they fight against a group of white supremacists tasked with killing them.  Patrick Stewart plays wonderfully against type as the club owner who calmly arranges for all the witnesses of the murder to be disposed of.

Green Room, for the most part, takes place in a claustrophobic setting. The band members plus one, Poots’ character Amber, are trapped in a club (roadhouse) in the dressing room, aka green room as Darcy (Stewart) and his Aryan lackeys work out how to kill them all.

The band, which consists of three young men and a female guitarist, and Amber work together and the film is really all about survival. Everyone does a great job in their respective roles but Poots and Yelchin almost effortlessly nail their performances from word one.

Poots boasts a sort of “bowl” band cut and pigtails that makes her looks like a demented Pippy Longstocking’s wannabe while Yelchin appears to be almost emaciated. At one point early in the film Pat (Yelchin) takes Sam (Alia Shawkat) on the back of a folding bicycle and he looks so rail thin that one wonders how he pedals the thing with her balanced on the back. 

All  the band look thin and somewhat wasted, as behooves a young musical group struggling to find gigs, food and petrol. Wisely, the film spends little time on white supremacy themes and opts instead to have Darcy remind his club members to “remember, it’s a movement, not a party,” as the only reference to their leanings.

There are pit bulls, the usual “pet dressing” of these members of society, and they are used against the young band members throughout the film. Saulnier, who has already proven that he can do comedy horror on a budget, with “Murder Party” and a quirky, bloody, crime thriller (Blue Ruin) has now shown what he can do with a horror/thriller.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the entire film is Darcy’s unflappable calm as he plots the demise of so many people. He even instructs, via a seemingly throwaway remark, how to kill the people responsible for the whole “cluster-f***” in the first place.

The soldiers who willingly go after the targets are also unsettling but as they are really quite two dimensional they serve more as bogeymen cohorts rather than the real deal, like Stewart’s character.

Green Room looks top notch with its grimy sets and gritty decor. Black walls with graffiti scrawled everywhere and a dressing room that looks too disgusting to walk through add to the grungy feel of the bar where the band play.

Once again, the late Yelchin proved just how versatile an actor he really was by playing a more unconventional lead character. Saulnier even allows his lead to be somewhat horrifically injured, a move that causes the audience to wonder of the actor’s character will make it past the first reel.

The band comes across as a real group of musicians who are working hard to make it happen. Kudos to all the actors for finding the truth of characters that could have been flat two dimensional people without a perfect marriage of script and actor.

Green Room is a solid 4 star film. It entertains and keeps the audience close to the edge of their seat as the characters are hunted down through the film. The movie can be seen on Amazon.com, as part of the “Prime” stream and if you have not already done so, head on over to watch this one.

Barely Lethal (2015): Hailee Steinfeld High School Assassin (Review)

Hailee Steinfeld as 83 in Barely Lethal

Directed by Kyle Newman and written by John D’Arco “Barely Lethal” is a light trip  down teen action comedy lane with Hailee Steinfeld as Agent 83/Megan Walsh. A teen orphan who has been trained to be a black ops assassin practically from birth. The girl is good at her job, the first to be field ready, but she longs to be a real teenager.  High school, boys, classes on normal subjects and the school prom are all things Megan dreams of.

During a mission to capture the deadly Victoria Knox (Jessica Alba) Megan is almost shot by the arms dealer and escapes by plunging into a river. Hardman (Samuel L Jackson), her handler, tries to contact his best agent. Megan decides to disappear and the leader of Prescot   believes her to  be dead.

Megan, who has been researching teenage life. by watching teen romance films, becomes an exchange student from Canada and picks a family to lodge with so she can experience high school. As can be expected this does not go to plan and becomes a comedy of errors as this trained assassin learns how to be a normal American teenager.

Along the way she dates the school’s rock star heart throb, falls in love and helps to save the day  with her adopted family. (Headed up by the delightful Rachael Harris.) Megan even manages to become a YouTube sensation.

The video brings her to the attention of Hardman who tracks her down and interrogates his agent to see who  she is working for.

The film is amusing and aimed at a younger demographic. Jackson’s character never uses one swear word throughout and Alba is excellent as the arms dealer with an impish attitude toward her capture.  There are a couple of familiar faces that Game of Throne fans will appreciate.

Sophie Turner plays Agent 84/Heather and GoT fans will recognize her as Sansa Stark. Also appearing in a main role is Toby Sebastian who plays rock star Cash Fenton and he is Trystane Martell in GoT.

“Barely Lethal” has very little in the way of bloodshed, but does feature a fair amount of choreographed violence.  There are no underage sex scenes, all the school kids are around 16 years old, there is a tiny bit of underage drinking and kids trained to kill.

Steinfeld is spot on as the dreamy assassin who really does not have a clue what real high school is like.  Alba almost steals the film and another scene stealer is young Jason Ian Drucker (in what was only his second feature) who plays Parker Larson, the ninja obsessed little brother of Liz (Dove Cameron).

Overall a bit of fun along the lines of “Agent Cody Banks” but with a twist and a female protagonist. It is an interesting take. Having a strong female lead follow her childhood dream of being  a normal teenager and having problems from moment one is funny. Her research, watching films like “Mean Girls” to learn about teen life in school, was priceless.

There are gags that work less well. The inept parent of  Roger (Thomas Mann) was an overused trope that is in almost every Disney and teen production made in the last 10 years. So too is the fawning science teacher who plays favorites with Cash.

On a more positive note, Rachael Harris as Mrs. Larson was a cool mum who knew when to step in to offer advice and when to back off.  Unusual to see in any teen film and a sign of intelligent film making. 

With an opening for a sequel it will be interesting to see what, if anything, follows.  There are some comic gems, in terms of “one liners” and Alba’s character gets the best one. When she is appended by Hardman’s crew of teen agents, she looks around and says he is still using  “double oh seven year olds.” Unexpected and quite funny.

Rotten Tomatoes was not overly flattering about the film; citing a confusing target audience and a “scattered script” but over all it is amusing and at just over an hour and a half running length is worth viewing at least once.

“Barely Lethal” comes in as a 3.5 star film.  Not overly intelligent or deep but good for a laugh and some fun performances from Jackson, Alba and Steinfeld. Streaming on Amazon prime at the moment it is well  worth a look.