Baby Driver (2017, Directed by Edgar Wright) English 9

Starring Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lilly James, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal, Flea, Eiza González

Edgar Wright makes well-worn genre films seem fresh. He doesn’t play by any discernible storytelling rules, and revels in flouting expectations. It’s his greatest attribute as a director, and one that he validates more than ever in his newest film, Baby Driver.

The film starts off in high gear, mid-heist, involving Buddy (a tatted-up Jon Hamm), Darling, Griff, and, of course, Baby (Elgort), a whiz kid behind the wheel hampered only by his need for music to drown out his tinnitus. We see Baby’s superhuman ability as a getaway driver, the editing and movement of the characters in step with the bizarre music, and right away we understand that we’re watching something special being done. It harkens back to Walt Disney’s ideas with Fantasia, that you could combine music and imagery to create something amazing in film. We get to know the supporting characters in Baby’s life. He’s in love with a beautiful waitress named Debora (James), like the T-Rex song, not like the song by Beck, she tells him. He lives with and cares for an elderly black man who helped raise him after his parents died.  He’s indebted to criminal mastermind named Doc (Spacey)., and realizes that Doc’s never going to let him leave his life of crime. He’s too valuable. Doc considers Baby his good luck charm as the operation’s getaway driver. The crux of the plot hinges around the buildup to a major heist, centering on the money orders at a post office. Baby plans his escape with Debora while working with a group of psychopaths that Doc’s assembled for his latest crime masterpiece: Buddy, Darling, and Bats (possibly the craziest of the group played terrifically by Foxx).

A few things besides the music separate this film from the mass of other slick bank robbery flicks it surpasses. Early in the movie, Baby pulls a job with Bats, and we see violent consequences for the crime. People are killed. Baby struggles with it. There’s a weight to the film that shows director Wright’s immense ability at shifting tones seamlessly, from light to dark, from serious to funny, at will. Secondly, as the film progresses, it becomes more and more unpredictable, which is rarely the case. As soon as you think Wright is setting one situation up, something happens to make that situation impossible, ad completely change the direction of the entire film. That takes some getting used to.  This quality could lead to disappointment for some of viewers. I know I’ve seen certain films that on first viewing didn’t match my expectations which led to me being disappointed, but upon second or third viewings, I realized what the films did was actually better than my expectations.

The film’s main selling points are its soundtrack and its action/car sequences. It delivers in full on both counts. The soundtrack is eclectic, funny, cool, original, you name it. I especially enjoyed the use of Barry White in one of the film’s most tense scenes; a showdown between Baby and an enemy. It weaves in and out of songs, altering the sound level depending on Baby’s focus. It’s very well done. The chase sequences are spectacular. They depend much on quick cut editing, so they aren’t authentic in the same way as some of the old classics like Bullitt or The French Connection, but they carve out their own territory in film history.

If the film has a flaw, I would say its ending was a little too drawn out. It’s not that the ending was bad or unsatisfying, but it lasted just a touch too long. After the unbelievable last car fight scene, it can only be anticlimactic from there. So I would wrap it up.  Overall though, Edgar Wright has made his best movie yet. Ever since his debut with Shaun of the Dead, a romantic comedy/bromance/zombie apocalypse movie, he’s proven to be a true original and an expert genre masher.

-Walter Howard-

My Week of Films (June 26-July 2)

Had a pretty random assortment of movies this week, starting with License to Drive (1988). Although I didn’t see anything especially great at home this past week, I was able to get to the theater three times to see The Mummy on Monday, Baby Driver on Thursday, and Despicable Me Saturday night.

License to Drive  17% on Rotten Tomatoes        5    (Netflix)

Image result for license to drive 1988

Starring Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, Heather Graham, Richard Masur, Carol Kane

Plot Summary-A teenage boy on the cusp of getting his drivers license fails the test, thus, in his mind destroying any chance of a social life. He responds by going joyriding for a night with his two friends and the girl of his dreams, who happens to be unconscious for most of the movie.

My Take-It’s not as horrible as its reviews would suggest. It does a good job of making its silly premise (Haim getting his license) seem vital, and the adult actors are all very good. I like the parents in the film. They’re given more to do than the typical teen comedy where the parents play the heavies. It’s problem is that it’s not very funny, and nothing that exciting happens on their night of adventure.

-Directed by Greg Beeman

Atlantis: The Lost Empire 49% on Rotten Tomatoes 7     (Netflix)

Image result for atlantis the lost empire

Voices of Michael J. Fox, James Garner, Don Novello,  David Ogden Stiers, John Mahoney, Jim Varney, Leonard Nimoy

Plot Summary- Milo Thatch has always been considered crazy for believing that the lost empire of Atlantis exists. Than one day, he’s asked to meet Preston B. Whitemore, an eccentric millionaire who wants to fund an expedition and wants Milo to lead the way. Set in the 1910s, this is Disney animations first sci-fi flick.

My Take- I think critics focused too hard on the flaws of this film, and missed out on some of its greatness. No, it’s not a great film, but it is ambitious, gorgeous, innovative, and entertaining. The voice actors are fantastic. Michael J. Fox is always an engaging protagonist. Its flaw is the lack of character development. It carves out nice characters, but we don’t get enough time to care about them. I actually think it could have been interesting as Disney animation’s first epic, meaning longer than an hour and twenty minutes.

-Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise

The Lamp   Short Film       5     (Filmstruck)

Image result for the lamp polanski

Plot Summary-When a toy maker leaves his shop, the parts come alive. Whispering amongst each other.

My Take- It’s pretty bare-bones and inconsequential outside of the fact that the great Roman Polanski directed it. It’s one of his student films, and it without question shows off his talent at suspense and intrigue, but it’s not very interesting.

-Directed by Roman Polanski

Scared Stiff    83% on Rotten Tomatoes     7     (YouTube)

Image result for scared stiff 1953

Starring Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Lizabeth Scott, Carmen Miranda, Dorothy Malone

Plot Summary-Thinking he killed a man, Larry Todd (Martin) goes with a pretty heiress to her ancestral home on an island said to be haunted. He brings with him his best friend, Myron (Lewis), a hapless and most ridiculous sidekick.

My Take-I’m no great Jerry Lewis fan. I find him generally annoying, but I love Dean Martin, and this movie was a blast. A decent mystery plot, a haunted mansion, Martin crooning, beautiful leading lady, non-stop jokes, action. It’s all here.

-Directed by George Marshall

Phantom of the Paradise 91% on Rotten Tomatoes    9  (YouTube)

Image result for phantom of the paradise

Starring Paul Williams, William Finley, Jessica Harper

Plot Summary-A nobody composer, Winslow Leach, has his work, what was to be his magnum opus, stolen by a ruthless record producer who runs a night club called the Paradise. A heinous plot against Winslow leads to disfigurement, and so he stalks The Paradise looking to exact his revenge. There’s also touches of Faustus and The Picture of Dorian Gray in addition to the obvious Phantom of the Opera.

My Take- What a trip this movie is. It’s completely nuts. The eye-popping colors, Brian De Palma’s technical wizardry, the excess. It’s incredibly silly at times, but often clever and satirical. “Beef” will forever live on in my mind, but you’d have to see the film to know what I mean. Hilarious and the music is fantastic. Easily my favorite adaptation of Phantom of the Opera.

-Directed by Brian De Palma

-Walter Howard-

 

License to Drive (1988, Directed by Greg Beeman) English 5

Starring Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, Heather Graham, Carol Kane, Richard Masur

Am I too forgiving of ’80s movies? This critically maligned teen comedy stars “the two Coreys,” as they were billed back when people cared, and centers around one night of gleeful and destructive joy riding. The film has its moments. It has a good amount of energy, the acting is all credible, but it stalls at points. I think it could have benefited from an antagonist, or more focus on the romance between our dorky protagonist (Haim) and the girl of his dreams (Graham).

A Kid in King Arthur’s Court (1995, Directed by Michael Gottlieb) English 5

Starring Thomas Ian Nicholas, Joss Ackland, Art Malik, Kate Winslet, Daniel Craig, Paloma Baeza, Ron Moody

Goofy, nostalgic fun adaptation of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. A Californian teen gets time warped to King Arthur’s days of ruling Camelot, just in time to foil a treasonous plot. It’s dumb, entirely inconsequential but also mostly entertaining. Early roles for Winslet and Craig.

Cars 3 (2017, Directed by Brian Fee) English 6

Voices of Owen Wilson, Armie Hammer, Larry the Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt, Nathan Fillion, Chris Cooper, Cristela Alonzo, Tony Shalhoub, Kerry Washington

A return to form for the series which was never high on originality, this third installment once again focuses on Lightning McQueen, now a living legend fighting against becoming a washed up has-been. New racers have taken over the sport, Jackson Storm, chief among them. After a major crash, Lightning goes on a journey, along with his overly enthusiastic trainer, Cruz Ramirez, to get his groove back. The story’s been told before, but it’s a compelling one. The animation is technically great, rather than creatively inspired. The voice actors all do good work. My problem, and it’s hard to explain without spoilers, is the film’s resolution. It’s a good message to be sure, but just not as satisfying as the ending they spent much of the movie setting up. It undid much of its own build up.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2010, Directed by David Yates) English 7

Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Warwick Davis, Rhys Ifans, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Jason Isaacs, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton

Star-studded, big-budget spectacle adaptation of J.K Rowlings’ seventh book in the Harry Potter series. Harry, along with Ron and Hermione, seek out horcruxes and try to decipher recently deceased Dumbledore’s cryptic instructions to them. Since the filmmakers decided to cut the book in half and make two movies, this first part doesn’t have a very strong structure to it. Also, like other films in this franchise, many plot points don’t make much sense if you haven’t read the books. Still a very compelling narrative despite its problems; well-acted, with three excellent action sequences.

What’s Up, Doc? (1972, Directed by Peter Bogdanovich) English 6

Starring Barbara Streisand, Ryan O’Neal, Kenneth Mars, Madeline Khan, Austin Pendleton

A ’70s update of the classic screwball genre stars Ryan O’Neal as a professor on an important trip which can determine whether or not he receives a grant. The biggest obstacle for him: Barbara Streisand. As the screwball heroine, she’s a relentless source of trouble for O’Neal who she instantly falls in love with; of course, she’s also a source of joy which he comes to understand eventually. The plot is as intricate as any I’ve seen or read, involving identical luggage, government secrets, jewel theft. It’s a fun excuse for a madcap movie. The writers, director, and stars have the style down pact. My quibble is that it’s almost too fast. There’s no chance to breathe. Some of the big sequences weren’t as compelling as a simple scene in the middle of Streisand and O’Neal falling in love by a piano.