The Green Inferno

WARNING: I will be describing certain certain scenes in detail, so reader discretion is advised.

Released: September 25, 2015

Director/Writer: Eli Roth

Distributor: Open Road Films

Run Time: 100 Minutes

Rated R

Lorenza Izzo: Justine
Ariel Levy: Alejandro
Aaron Burns: Jonah
Kirby Bliss Blanton: Amy
Magda Apanowicz: Samantha
Daryl Sabara: Lars
Nicolas Martinez: Daniel

A little over a year ago, I watched this little Italian horror film from the early 80s called Cannibal Holocaust.  It was directed by Ruggero Deodato.  Initially released back in 1980, Cannibal Holocaust quickly became one of the most notorious horror films in the genre.  If you had never heard of the film, you might ask why it was so notorious and controversial.  Short answer:  It was one of the most brutal, graphic and unpleasant movies ever released.  There were graphic depictions of rape, cannibalism and other forms of extreme violence.  It was particularly controversial once it was discovered that real animals were butchered on screen.  This angered a lot of people.  The other thing is, is that a lot of people thought that Holocaust was a snuff film.  As a result, the director was arrested on obscenity charges.  He also had to prove that the actors were not actually killed during filming.  Cannibal Holocaust, along with its many imitators, were subsequently banned and put on the U.K’s infamous “Video Nasties” list.  A few years back, filmmaker Eli Roth completes filming and production on a film that is inspired by Cannibal Holocaust, called The Green Inferno.

The film begins as young college freshmen Justine wakes up to activists that are protesting outside her dorm room.  Shortly afterwards, Justine attends a class that describes female circumcision as a global catastrophe.  Clearly distraught over the idea of something like this happening, Justine is introduced to activist Alejandro who plans on taking a group of people to Peru to protest the destruction of the country’s jungles, which would endanger the primitive tribes residing within.  After convincing Alejandro to let her join him, Justine travels with the group and ends up tying themselves to the trees and bulldozers that are destroying the forest, as the activists claim.  After a successful mission, the group’s plane crashes somewhere in the forest, where they are promptly captured by a local indian tribe.  Right from the outset, it is very clear that Eli Roth is skewering what is called college “slacktivism,” or the act of protesting something without putting any real effort towards it.  It’s a simple story that’s been done before.  It’s been done better, namely by Deodato.  There’s actually a great deal of stuff to like here.  I definitely like the fact that Roth is skewering political and social issues, namely the whole Social Justice Warrior movement that’s been irritating everybody over the past few years.

The setting of the film is absolutely stunning.  It was filmed on location in Peru, and Eli Roth actually managed to use a local tribe to play the cannibals in the film.  That is absolutely fantastic, and it lends a certain authenticity to the film, which it would have never had otherwise.  It’s very well-filmed, and while the film starts off a little slow, it picks up and it doesn’t stop.  Once the group is captured, the film’s pace skyrockets.  It gets really intense.  The visual effects are absolutely impressive, being done by the legendary KNG Effects group.  They are masters of their craft, so when you see the village’s elder cut out somebody’s eye and then eats it, it looks pretty real.  The Green Inferno, being an homage to the old Italian cannibal flicks, is naturally a very violent movie.  I’m amazed that Eli Roth managed to get away with just an R rating, considering the crap that’s happening on screen.  It’s brutal stuff, and it’s definitely rubbing some people the wrong way.  Those people probably didn’t see Cannibal Holocaust.

There are a lot of comparisons to Deodato’s film, which isn’t surprising, considering the film’s name.  The title itself is referencing the documentary being filmed by a group of people in Holocaust.  It was a kind of a film-within-a-film deal, which was surprisingly brilliant.  Eli Roth himself has said he’s a huge fan of Deodato’s films and the horror films of that era, so it’s no real surprise that he decided to tackle a cannibal movie.  Roth actually managed to get Ruggero Deodato a cameo appearance in Hostel II.  Roth clearly wears his influences on his sleeves.  While the comparisons to Deodato’s film are obvious, The Green Inferno doesn’t quite live up to Cannibal Holocaust.  Depending on your perspective, that can be a good or bad thing.  On the plus side, it’s not Cannibal Holocaust.  On the downside, it’s not Cannibal Holocaust.  I’ll explain why.  One the one hand, The Green Inferno really doesn’t have the extreme brutality that Holocaust did.  While it does feature some pretty graphic nudity, there are no rapes to speak of, but I would imagine that an unrated version of the film would feature some of that.  The film also has the fortune of not butchering live animals on screen.  On the other hand, The Green Inferno doesn’t actually push the envelope enough to shock people who have already seen Deodato’s opus.  It’s a bit of a mixed bag in that regard.

One of the other things that works against the film, is the fact that none of the characters are likable.  They’re all a bunch of pretentious and naive little twerps that end up in a very bad situation.  That’s also a throwback to Deodato.  The characters are scumbags, so when they get butchered and eaten, you feel nothing for them.  The film would have been better served if Roth had written more sympathetic characters.  The effectiveness of a horror film lies in its ability to make its characters sympathetic, not apathetic.  The acting is also….questionable.  One of the running themes that I’ve noticed in Roth’s movies is the fact that he’s got attractive young Americans in very dangerous places around the world.  There’s an element of xenophobia that really comes across as being pretentious.  Some of the humor in the film feels really out of place.  The masturbation and fart jokes are really inappropriate for a film like this, and I was rolling my eyes when this stuff was happening.

The Green Inferno isn’t a bad horror movie.  Not at all.  There’s a lot I love about it.  But it’s really offset by some of the more questionable decisions and writing that Roth had made throughout the movie.  Considering some of the horror movies I’ve seen recently, The Green Inferno is relatively tame in comparison.  That’s not really a bad thing though.  I enjoyed Inferno more than I did Cannibal Holocaust.  It just doesn’t have the some kind of power.  It’s definitely worth watching, and I’m actually hoping to see a director’s cut of the film on DVD, because it also feels like some stuff was cut out to hit that R rating, so the film could be released in theaters.  Eli Roth is not a bad filmmaker, far from it, it’s just that sometimes he gets a little full of himself and it sometimes ends up on screen.  Overall, though, I think I can recommend The Green Inferno to horror fans.  This gets an 8/10.

Furious Seven

Released: April 2015

Director: James Wan

Rated PG-13

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Run Time: 137 Minutes

Vin Diesel: Dominic Toretto
Paul Walker: Brian O’Connor
Jason Statham: Deckard Shaw
Michelle Rodriguez: Letty
Jordana Brewster: Mia
Tyrese Gibson: Roman
Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges: Tej
Dwayne Johnson: Hobbs
Kurt Russell: Mr. Nobody
Tony Jaa: Kiet
Djimon Hounsou: Jakande
Ronda Rousey: Kara

I’m going to admit something:  I’m not a gearhead.  I don’t really know a whole lot about cars, other than knowing how to drive them.  If you ask me something about the engine or anything mechanical about the thing, I’m going to end up giving the “deer-caught-in-the-headlight” look.  I know about basic maintenance like changing tires, but outside of that, I’m pretty damned clueless.  That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a good car, though.  I’ve always wanted a 1973 Shelby GT500.  Beautiful vehicle.  When it comes to movies about cars, though, I tend to pay more attention.  Some of the most classic car movies come from the 70s:  Vanishing Point and Gone in 60 Seconds are two of my absolute favorites.  Are they good movies?  Not really, but they really weren’t about story or plot development.  The cars were the characters, and that’s all that mattered.  They were very simple, showcasing some of the greatest chase scenes and stunts I’ve ever seen in a movie.  My generation didn’t really get a good car movie until The Fast and The Furious came along in 2001.  That was a movie that really took the world by storm.  14 years later, we have a SEVENTH installment of the franchise.  You could say the series got really popular.

Opening on a desert roadway, we see Dominic Toretto and his girlfriend, Letty driving towards a massive competition called Race Wars.  After beating a competitor, Letty has a breakdown and runs away from Dom.  The film cuts to Agent Hobbs’ office where he discovers a mysterious person hacking into his computer.  After a massive fight that lands Hobbs in the hospital, we see an image on a computer screen of the man’s next target, Han.  We cut to O’Connor getting into a minivan with his son, Jack.  Dom notices a strange package on the porch of his house, when he gets a call from somebody in Tokyo.  Grabbing Letty and jumping from the porch, the house explodes.  The man who is targetting Dom is Deckard Shaw, the older brother of the previous film’s villain, Owen Shaw.  After the first three films, which were mostly about racing, the formula changed with Fast and Furious, the fourth movie.  Instead of just being another race movie, it became a heist movie, which is where this series truly shine, in my opinion.  Yeah, the first movie was awesome, but the second two movies were….meh.  When Paul Walker and Vin Diesel reunited for the fourth film, it took the franchise in a different direction and that was a needed change.  The movies are still about the cars, but now we’ve gone absolutely bonkers with crazy stunts and unforgettable action sequences.  Starting with the fourth film, the series started developing more of a story as the films went along.  Nothing ground-breaking, but it was enough to motivate the characters and action.

When it comes to action movies, Furious Seven is really off-the-charts crazy.  The action in the previous films was awesome, but it was borderline cartoonish.  In this latest installment, the action has a much grittier and grounded feel to it, thanks to the direction of James Wan.  There a number of scenes that really stand out.  There’s a sequence in which Toretto’s team basically drives their cars backwards out of an airplane, and parachuting onto a mountain highway, chasing down a hacker that’s been captured by mercenaries.  This scene is nuts.  It’s mostly done practically with real cars and stunts, and is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.  It even features a fight scene between Paul Walker’s character and Tony Jaa, who makes his American film debut.  But wait, there’s more:  There’s another wild sequence in which the characters have to retrieve a disc containing a program that will let you find anybody in the world at any time.  It’s a silly MacGuffin, but it works.  But if you thought that the mountain chase was crazy, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!  This scene takes the crew to Abu Dabhi, where they have to retrieve that disc, but the only way they can is to steal the car that it’s been put in.  Only, that car is in the penthouse of a Saudi royal.  Does it make sense?  No.  Is the whole thing awesome?  Yes.  The whole movie gets even crazier when it gets back to Los Angeles.

One of the things that’s really changed with the movies, is the addition of an actual villain and some pretty serious fisticuffs.  The first major hand-to-hand scene is when Jason Statham’s character takes on Dwayne Johnson.  Damn.  That’s a very hard-hitting scene with an explosive conclusion.  The next is the fight I described above with Tony Jaa.  While Tony Jaa’s previous film, The Protector 2 was a major let-down, he shines here, whenever he’s on screen.  He does his usual high-flying acrobatics and Muay Thai stuff.  He’s still got it.  The next one is when Michelle Rodriguez faces down the MMA champion, Ronda Rousey.  It’s pretty cool, but it’s not quite as spectacular as I was hoping.  Even Ludacris has a little bit of a fight scene.  All the action in Furious Seven is spectacular.

On the acting side of things, everybody does pretty good.  I was never the greatest fan of Paul Walker, but he always gives his stuff 110 percent.  He was pretty good.  Vin Diesel is Vin Diesel.  Other than Richard B. Riddick, Dominic Toretto is the most iconic character that he’s played.  It’s always fun to see Dwayne Johnson either beat people up, or blow shit up.  He’s got this charisma and sense of humor that really resonates with people.  There’s a reason he was one of the most electrifying personalities in the WWE.  The most surprising addition to the cast is Kurt Russell.  It’s Kurt Russell.  What can I say about the man who has done just about everything?  He’s clearly having a lot of fun here, and he even gets to shoot some people.  He’s definitely a good guy, but he’s a bit on the mysterious side.  He’s the reason why Toretto’s crew is after this God’s Eye program.  Jason Statham makes a great bad guy.  The opening sequence of the film shows how bad-ass he is.  There are some downsides to this movie.  The first one is that Dwayne Johnson is not in this as much as he was in the previous two.  Another is the fight scene between Letty and Kara was somewhat underwhelming, and the fact that Rousey is not an actress.  Tony Jaa also suffers from not having enough screen time.  Also, I noticed that while Dom is chasing down the program that he needs to find Shaw, Shaw actually ends up finding Dom periodically.  So…what’s the point of going after the God’s Eye program if their target is finding them?  Overall, though it’s a pretty solid action flick.

One of the main themes that runs throughout the entire series is how important family is.  We see the relationship between O’Connor and Toretto get stronger with each movie, to the point where they become brothers.  That’s one of the biggest themes about the movie:  Brotherhood.  Now, I have to mention this because it’s very important:  Paul Walker was tragically killed in a car accident while the movie was being made.  As a result, the scenes that he needed to shoot couldn’t be finished.  Being shocked and saddened by this tragic turn of events, production on Furious Seven was halted, while people dealt with this sudden loss.  The release date of the movie was supposed be April of 2014, but it got pushed back a year while they restructured the script and story so that Walker’s character was given a proper send-off.  To achieve this, James Wan brought in Paul Walker’s brothers to stand in for him in certain scenes, while they used CG to replace their faces with his, and it’s remarkable how well they did that.  You can tell that Paul’s presence was missed in certain scenes.  The final scene of the film, is a touching montage to Paul Walker and his presence within the franchise.  There’s no doubt in my mind that Paul Walker had grown as an actor, but he was also very grounded.  The people who knew him best, including Vin Diesel, said that he was one of the nicest people you could ever meet.  While unintentional, it does give the film an emotional anchor, and it’s very appropriate the way it ended.  It gave the rest of us one last chance to say goodbye not just to Brian O’Connor, but Paul Walker as well.  It is to him and his memory, that I dedicate this review.

Paul Walker

September 12, 1973-November 30, 2013

The Salvation

Released: February 2014

Director: Kristian Levring

Rated R for Violence Throughout

Run Time: 92 Minutes

Distributor: IFC Films

Mads Mikkelson: Jon Jensen
Eva Green: Madelaine
Jeffrey Dean Morgan: Henry Delarue
Eric Cantona: Corsican
Jonathan Pryce: Mayor Nathan Keane

In the arena of film, there are few genres that are as beloved as the Western.  The whole concept of the Wild West is an extraordinary one.  Heading out to explore the Western Frontier during the 1800s sounds like a very….romantic ideal, even though the reality was far from romantic.  It was brutal, bleak and extremely dangerous.  Yet, that never stopped people from fantasizing about strapping on a pair of cowboy boots, a revolver, and a cowboy hat while hopping on a horse and taking off towards the sunset.  It’s an iconic scene that’s been done by the legendary Roy Rodgers, John Wayne, and even Clint Eastwood.  It doesn’t get old, at least, not for me.  There have been many great westerns over the past 60-70 years, far too many for me to list here.  Yet, while we have seen a number of westerns over the past decade, how many of them have actually been any good?  I can count on one hand, how many that is.  It strikes me as inconceivable that people would be able to manage to screw up a western.  I grant you, it’s kind of hard to come up with an original story set in the Old West, and yet some film-makers seem to have forgotten what makes a Western, a Western.  It’s not just about cowboys and Indians, it’s about the environment and the world in which these characters exist.  The landscape of a Western is as important a character as say, someone like Wyatt Earp.  So, what happens when you have an American Western that’s not made by Americans?  Surprisingly, something very, very good.  Here, is where The Salvation comes in.

Opening in the Old West of the 1870s, we see a former Danish soldier, Jon, on a train platform awaiting the arrival of his wife and son; a wife and son he has not seen in 7 years.  After getting into a stagecoach with two other….questionable passengers, Jon and his family are on their to his ranch near the town of Black Creek.  Unfortunately for Jon, the two other passengers are criminals who had just gotten out of jail and force him out of the stagecoach.  Chasing down the coach, he discovers that his son and wife have been brutally murdered.  Enraged, he takes his vengeance out on the two scumbags who destroyed his family.  What Jon does not know, is that one of the crooks that he executed is the brother of a former Army colonel-turned-gangster, Henry Delarue.  Delarue, after learning that his brother was gunned down, is demanding Jon’s head.  A good story doesn’t have to be complex or original to be compelling or entertaining.  In fact, The Salvation borrows a lot of its themes from many other movies like The Unforgiven, but it borrows the best bits.  The theme of revenge and redemption is very common in a Western.  Here, we have two different men whose families have been torn apart and each one is seeking retribution for the other’s crimes.  It’s a classic trope, and when done right, it’s absolutely thrilling.

Like I said above, what sets this movie apart from the rest, is the fact that it’s made by Europeans, not Americans.  It’s not even shot in America.  That tells you what kind of filmmakers you’re dealing with here.  While the film isn’t perfect, it’s more than good enough to make up for those flaws, and I’m going to explain why.  For one, the cast is extraordinary.  Our lead actor is Mads Mikkelson, from the TV series, Hannibal.  This guy is an incredibly intense actor.  You look at his eyes and his face, and you could believe that he could stare down a herd of charging buffalo, and they would turn to avoid him.  He could stare right through you.  That helps the man’s performance incredible.  One of the biggest surprises comes from Eva Green, who plays the mute Madelaine.  Eva Green is one of the most expressive actresses I have ever seen.  Her character had her tongue cut out, so she doesn’t speak a word, but she doesn’t have to.  Her eyes and her facial expressions say it all, and not many actors can get away with that.  Eva’s character is a very strong woman, and is willing to get her hands dirty.  She’s also the wild card in the film.  We have no idea whose side she’s really on.  She and Mads Mikkelson are the main anchors of this film with absolutely incredible performances.

With this being a Western, you have to expect certain things to happen, namely gun fights.  Oh, there are gun fights.  This is a pretty violent movie as far as Westerns go, but it’s done for a reason.  It’s not overly bloody, but it’s still pretty brutal considering the main character’s motivations.  While there are some obvious CGI effects, it doesn’t really dampen the affair, as it’s incredibly intense from beginning to end.  The battles are very well executed(pardon the expression).  Every battle has weight to it.  The last battle is epic and brutal.  It’s incredibly fun to watch.  The film is very well-paced.  The 92 minute run-time ensures that The Salvation doesn’t overstay its welcome.  It’s an incredibly solid effort from Danish filmmaker Kristian Levring.

Sadly, as with all things, this is not a perfect movie.  As I mentioned, some of the CGI shots are fairly obvious and not particularly great.  Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s performance as Delarue, while subdued, doesn’t really strike me as threatening, as you would expect from a character like that.  He maintains such a straight face and monotone voice throughout the entire affair.  While I’m glad he didn’t go over-the-top, he definitely lacks the flair of some of the better villains in Westerns.  The rest of the actors are just kind of…..there.  They don’t really add much to the whole movie.  Jonathan Pryce, while good, is criminally underused as the town’s mayor.  With that in mind, if you are a fan of good Westerns, you should really give The Salvation a look.  It’s got some really great acting from two of its leads, and has some pretty impressive scenery and gun fights.  This one gets a 9/10.  Recommended.

Wolf Warrior

Released: April 2015(China)

Director: Wu Jing

Not Rated

Distributor: Well Go USA Entertainment

Run Time: 91 Minutes

Wu Jing: Leng Feng
Scott Adkins: Tomcat
Nan Yu

It’s kind of a rare thing for a martial arts actor to direct his own movie.  It’s even more rare when that movie actually turns out to be any good.  We’ve had a few: Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and even Bruce Lee directed his own movie.  It’s a difficult thing to do, because the actor not only has to direct others, but himself as well.  He also has to keep an eye an all other aspects of production.  So, it’s a minor miracle that a kung fu movie directed by a kung fu movie star is any good at all.  Jackie Chan has had more success in that regard than almost anybody else.  Along comes “Jacky” Wu Jing, another Asian martial arts actor.  I first noticed this guy in SPL a.k.a KillZone with Donnie Yen.  While not nearly as charismatic as Yen, Wu Jing is a very talented martial artist.  So, for a movie called Legendary Assassin, Wu Jing stepped behind the camera as a first-time director.  Sadly, the film was not very good, with over-used wire-fu.  Sure, it was fun, but it was absolutely derivative of better films.  7 years later, Wu Jing gives directing another shot with a film called Wolf Warrior.

Opening in an abandoned factory, the film sees a group of Chinese military and police officers working together to take down a drug smuggling operation.  With the ringleader taking a hostage, and the officers ordering the police to stand down, Leng Feng disobeys a direct order and takes out the ringleader.  In another part of the country, the military is preparing to take another drug dealer into custody when they are attacked by a group of mercenaries.  After serving some time in jail, Leng Feng is offered a chance to join a legendary special forces outfit called The Wolves.  But, certain mercenaries also have Leng Feng in their sights.  While the overall story isn’t terrible, it does feel like a 90 minute commercial for the army, and that’s not necessarily what you want in what is supposed to be a martial arts flick.  It’s also loaded with an overdose of patriotism.  There’s also the subplot of a man-made virus that was designed to target the Chinese specifically…..right.

The acting in the film isn’t too bad, with Wu Jing himself leading the charge.  While he definitely fits in with the whole tough guy role, the others are just….there.  Scott Adkins plays the mustache-twirling Tomcat, and he does a pretty good job with it, but it would probably be better if he was playing a Russian.  He’s good at that.  The action in the film isn’t actually that bad.  There’s a lot of gunplay and explosions if you’re into that kind of thing, and I usually am.  The issue here is the assumption that this movie is a martial arts flick, and it isn’t.  Not really.  Despite the fact that you’ve got Wu Jing AND Scott Adkins in the same movie together, there is not a whole of martial arts going on here.  If you follow martial arts movies as well as I do, you would think that Adkins and Jing would end up in a spectacular free-for-all towards the end of the movie.  It was not to be.  The fight that we get between the two is almost not even worth mentioning.  These are two of the coolest martial artists in the industry and they get short-changed by Wu Jing’s complete lack of experience in directing a major action film.  I don’t know if it was written that way, but it feels like it could have been so much more.

I will give the film credit for not being boring.  It keeps things moving at a relatively quick pace.  There are also a few funny bits here and there between Leng Feng and his group.  Overall, though, I can’t help but be disappointed by the fact that this isn’t the action movie that a lot of people were expecting.  A lot of people were expecting, rightly so, a top-notch action film with fantastic martial arts sequences, and we didn’t get it.  Now, on the Blu-Ray cover, there is a quote from somebody called Movie Cricket, claiming that the film had “Breathtaking martial arts.”  I don’t what movie they saw, but the film that I saw barely had any of that.  At the end of the day, what we have here is a competent action flick, but not a whole lot else going for it.  If you’ve come to see Wu Jing and Scott Adkins in a spectacular face-off, you’re in for a major disappointment.  My final recommendation?  Rent it.  7/10.