Sunday, May 1, 2016

Rapid Reviews: Barbershop: The Next Cut and Green Room

Sequels and new franchise installments are a tricky element to dissect. In some instances they can be rushed into production quickly for studios to cash in on the name recognition, or they may take a decade or two until a follow up film is given the green light. Either way, there's no full proof method of using a time-frame to know whether or not a new entry to a series will be serviceable. Personally, I believe it comes down to how much commitment and care is invested in the overall project. Thankfully, Barbershop: The Next Cut represents a valuable third installment nearly a dozen years in the making.

The film takes the audience back to the south side of Chicago to Calvin's Barbershop, where the owner (Ice Cube) is making ends meet by splitting the rental space four ways with his friends and co-workers. But as the local neighborhood becomes infested with gang rivalries and daily drive-by shootings, Calvin begins to worry that it's time to relocate his business to the north side and remove his teenage son from all of this chaos.

The Next Cut is a refreshing follow-up film that molds together sharp-witted comedy with an insightful fable-like message to the inner city youth all across the country. I have always been a fan of Ice Cube's work, but it's clear that the gifted performer is becoming a respected icon for urban communities, both as an actor and a voice of reason. The old wise African American character is a cliched staple in comedies, but The Next Cut uses Ice Cube's sage wisdom to try and reach the future generation of America. Cedric the Entertainer reprises his role in the franchise and proves that he's still got it. The comedy-infused dialogue is both hysterical and insightful, a true accomplishment by today's standards. And even though The Next Cut over-embellishes its dramatic elements thanks to a PG-13 rating that's a necessary evil, its pacing and positive message reinforce the film as a winning comedy.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

After skipping out on Jeremy Saulnier's debut revenge thriller, Blue Ruin, during the 2013 Philadelphia Film Festival, I immediately regretted the decision and put the movie near the top of my must-see list at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Blue Ruin was a slow burning and violent entry that proved you don't need a massive budget to mesmerize audiences. Therefore, I can assure you that I was first in line for Saulnier's follow-up thriller, Green Room.

Set in the backwoods of the Pacific Northwest, a hardcore punk rock band, The Ain't Rights, find themselves in the midst of an unsuccessful tour. Broke and tired, they consider returning home until they're promised a solid payout at an impromptu gig held at a white supremacist venue. But after they finish up their set and return to the back room, they discover that a murder has been committed. As witnesses, they must fight for their own lives against a violent band of skin-heads.

Jeremy Saulnier provides relentless tension through the use of visceral violence and well-crafted situational horror. Once again, the director gives way to the stereotypical big-budget horror-thriller genre and creates a far more suspenseful atmosphere than those cookie-cutter cash cows we're typically given. Green Room unravels slow enough to give the audience time to connect with the characters all before a blood-shedding finale that includes some unforgettable moments. Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots headline an effective B-list cast and Blue Ruin star, Macon Blair, re-teams with the director once again. The film's biggest weaknesses comes from a few noticeable plot-holes and conveniences that seem bitterly unrealistic. However, Green Room delivers no shortage of thrills and a fantastic closing line of dialogue that perfectly sums up the entire feature. Sometimes less is more and Saulnier has mastered that concept through the early stages of his career.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

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