(Netflix Streaming, November 2016) While Green Room suffers from a slight case of over-hype, it’s not a fatal one. I’d been waiting a while, like many others, for a follow-up to writer/director Jeremy Saulnier’s acclaimed Blue Ruin, and Green Room does have a lot of what made the first film so interesting: sharply observed details, a respectful look at the lower rungs of society and an often-upsetting use of realistic violence. As a punk band gets embroiled in the dirty dealings of a neo-Nazi club in the middle of nowhere, the stakes quickly get deadly as they are locked in the green room and their opponents plan what to do with them. As a genre exercise, Green Room is well accomplished: our heroes are inside, the enemies are outside and there’s no help around. Violent episodes punctuate the film, resulting in a dwindling cast and ever-more inventive story beats. It ends satisfactorily enough, even though the film doesn’t revolutionize anything. Anton Yelchin stars as the headliner of the punk band. Against him, Patrick Stewart is simply chilling as a neo-Nazi leader. Meanwhile, it’s always interesting to see Alia Shawkat have a good role for herself. Still, the star remains Saulnier, who moves his chessboard pieces with cleverness and cranks up a decent amount of suspense when it counts. Now that he has created even more anticipation for himself, what will his next movie bring?
(Netflix Streaming, July 2015) Teenage sex comedies aren’t exactly rare, but what distinguishes The To Do List from the pack are that it dares take the perspective of an awkward but intelligent overachiever who get to set her own agenda when it comes to losing her virginity during her pre-college summer. Setting the film in 1993 ensures that the answers to her fumbling exploration of the issue aren’t an Internet search away. (Incidentally, I realized watching the film that 1993 was also the year of my pre-college summer. Gee, I’m getting old when 1993 earns nostalgia points…) The film does have a pleasant narrative drive, but it quickly becomes obvious that it’s not even slightly interested in being sexy –merely amusing with a side-order of cringe-worthy. Aubrey Plaza headlines the film, but while I liked her a lot in other supporting roles, here she seems a bit generic –fortunately, supporting performances from Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele as the protagonist friend have more personality. The film’s low-budget is sometimes apparent, and the humor is uneven. But I really don’t want to be overly critical of The To Do List: The female gaze of the film, written and directed by Maggie Carey, is undeniably more interesting that most American Pie-inspired boys antics and the conclusion seems surprisingly mature given the sub-genre of the film. It is, in other words, the kind of small-scale film, imperfect and easily overlooked, that’s nonetheless a small success in its own way. It would be a shame not to see it.