Baby Driver

June 29, 2017 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey
Directed by: Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead”)
Written by: Edgar Wright (“Hot Fuzz”)

In a landscape overpopulated with dour and brooding popcorn movies, “Baby Driver” stands out as an optimistic beacon of cinematic bliss. This is moviemaking at its most relentlessly joyful, an intoxicating fusion of music and image guaranteed to make you grin from ear to ear. It’d be easy to say that we need more movies like this, but it’s impossible to duplicate something so special.

Ansel Elgort has always held a strong screen presence, but this will be the movie that makes him a star. He perfectly blends charm and angst, giving us a character that recalls Sinatra, McQueen, Brando, and Kelly, but one that is unarguably entirely his own. Elgort plays Baby, a getaway driver who constantly listens to music to drown out the tinnitus brought about by the car accident that took his parents‘ lives. Increasingly perturbed by the blood-tinged darkness his job attracts, Baby wants nothing more than to leave everything behind him and hit the road with beautiful waitress who works at the local diner.

Writer and director Edgar Wright’s film operates in a well-established genre (a cameo by Walter Hill cements what branch of cinema Edgar Wright is saluting), and he nails all the familiar notes while simultaneously bringing his singular vision to the table. The car chases are thrilling and fresh, taking place during the day to better see the great practical stunt work on display. There’s a warehouse shootout that, like everything else in “Baby Driver,” is choreographed and synced up perfectly in line with a killer soundtrack.

The romance between Baby and Debora (Lily James) has a classic feel to it. The two share a scene in a laundromat that bursts with energy and romance, and little details like talking on a payphone makes their relationship even more intoxicating. There’s a showdown between Baby and a villain at the end of the film, but it doesn’t involve that character you’d expect. In fact, you understand where both parties are coming from and find it hard to root entirely for one character. Even the final moments of the film take an unexpected but completely enthralling turn.

Wright’s script is layered, witty, and hilarious. All of his actors get great material to work with no matter the size of their part. You’ve never seen Jamie Foxx this terrifying, Kevin Spacey this catty, and Jon Hamm so gosh-darned magnetic. Everyone is on their A game here, including people in smaller roles. Mexico City native Eiza Gonzalez is a badass dame. Cast her in stuff, Hollywood. She’s destined for greatness. CJ Jones brings great heart to the table as Baby’s deaf roommate and father figure. There’s even a moment where Brogan Hall steals the show as Kevin Spacey’s son. The masterclass in editing is a crucial character in the film as well. There’s just so much to love and relish here. Before you even know it, “Baby Driver” will have stolen your heart.

Annie

December 19, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Quevenzhane Wallis, Jamie Foxx, Rose Byrne
Directed by: Will Gluck (“Easy A,” “Friends With Benefits”)
Written by: Will Gluck (“Friends With Benefits”) and Aline Brosh McKenna (“The Devil Wears Prada”)

My memories of the original big screen adaptation of “Annie” are fuzzy, mixed up with the McDonald’s commercials that interspersed the movie which my mom had recorded off of a TV broadcast in the mid-’80s for my sister and me. Sure, I know the songs “Tomorrow” and “Hard Knock Life” like the back of my hand, but they also seem strangely related to that commercial where the girl has a piano recital and sings along to “Fur Elise” by talking about how much she loves McDonald’s cheeseburgers and chocolate shakes just the same. I guess what I’m saying is that, while that version of “Annie” was a big part of my childhood, it wasn’t important enough that my mind immediately turned to rage when I was made aware of director Will Gluck’s (“Easy A”) modern take on the venerable Broadway musical.

Swapping out the source material’s Depression-era setting for present-day New York, we find Annie (Quevenzhane Wallis) as an agreeably pleasant foster kid living with a quartet of other girls with Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz, lost from the get-go as a broadly-drawn cartoon), a mean, drunken wannabe superstar who was kicked out of ’90s band C+C Music Factory just before their appearance on Arsenio Hall’s late night talk show. Meanwhile germaphobic cell phone billionaire Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) is running a losing campaign for mayor of New York City. With his trusty assistant Grace (Rose Byrne) and slimy campaign manager Guy (Bobby Cannavale) by his side, he runs into disaster after disaster on the campaign trail, sending his polling numbers lower and lower. It isn’t until a chance meeting where Stacks saves Annie from getting hit by a car that his fortunes turn around, thanks to a bystander catching his heroism on camera and uploading it to YouTube. Seeing how things start going his way after Annie arrived on the scene, Guy suggest Stacks take Annie in to live with him for the duration of the campaign, a scenario that Stacks isn’t 100 percent on board with.

While the modern-day setting makes sense for a film that wants to sell (and wink at) blatant product placement for contemporary things like Target, removing the story from the original ’30s setting causes problems almost immediately. Wallis is fine as Annie, but lacks the plucky, gee-whiz spirit the material really needs. Instead of a fire plug of energy who would turn a distant plutocrat’s world upside down with her shenanigans, this Annie is a sweet, caring, low-key little girl who seems like she would be a dream to have around (the only strange thing about her being that she prefers to sleep on the floor instead of the giant bed she’s given). As Stacks, Foxx is called upon to play a strange mix of bumbling dad, fussy weirdo, and smooth R&B singer, never finding a groove to carry him through the film. And while the signature songs like “Hard Knock Life” and “Tomorrow” are given relatively straightforward arrangements, the rest of the tunes are adapted into strange, stuttering hip-hop beats that all but destroy any entertainment value, especially anything requiring Cameron Diaz to sing. Yikes.

The most enjoyable moments in the film, sadly, come from a Gluck signature: a movie within the movie, this time a bombastic “Twilight” knock off called “MoonQuake Lake” starring Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher and Rihanna, directed by Hollywood golden boys Chris Miller and Phil Lord. The fact that I’d much rather watch that movie says a lot about “Annie.”

Horrible Bosses 2

November 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day
Directed by: Sean Anders (“That’s My Boy”)
Written by: Sean Anders (“Dumb and Dumber To”) and John Morris (“Dumb and Dumber To”)

In an alarming trend that has been documented on this site many, many times, the cornucopia of sequels released every year is becoming absurd. Most of the time, either with a follow up to a financially successful first installment or the fervor of a fanatical fanbase, most sequels have at least some element that is beneficial to the studio. Then you get something like “Horrible Bosses 2.” It made a respectable $117 million domestically (though a far cry from the ridiculous $277 million that the first “Hangover” movie that spawned a franchise) and was a decent enough comedy, but it certainly did not have people clamoring for a sequel. But this is the film landscape we inhabit, and as a result, clueless amateur criminals played by Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day are back for more in this unnecessary follow-up.

After being put in a position to have their new company and invention completely fail, friends Nick (Bateman), Kurt (Sudeikis) and Dale (Day) decide the only thing they can do to keep their business afloat is to kidnap their rich offender’s son and hold him for ransom. But as we know, the trio are far from criminal masterminds and must once again figure out how to get away with a serious crime without screwing up.

In the worst symptom of “sequelitis,” this is where the film, with a shaky premise at best, begins to retrace its steps from the first movie. The film hits repeated comedic beat after repeated comedic beat and tells the same jokes as the first film under slightly different circumstances. They completely botch breaking into places and risk their identities being compromised, only this time, they are somehow dumber than before.

Beyond plot points, the character designs are also extremely similar. Jennifer Anniston is still completely sex crazed, Kevin Spacey’s character is still ruthless and mean and Jamie Foxx’s “Motherfucker Jones” continues to give worthless advice in exchange money or goods. It is here where the jokes start to feel completely stale. The novelty of Aniston’s character, for example, was one of the most memorable things about the first film. Here, it feels obligatory and passé as the novelty of it has completely worn off. As far as peripheral characters, the most notable is the one inhabited by Chris Pine, who is ironically enough rehashing a character type of his own, playing a cleaner and slightly less crazy iteration of his rich character from Joe Carnahan’s “Stretch.” Still, Pine is game here and fits in well with the gang proving himself to be pretty talented at comedy.

It would be unfair to say that “Horrible Bosses 2” is completely humorless. The sheer talent of the three leads and their undeniable chemistry allows the film to be occasionally funny, mostly at one-liners rather than its bigger, broader moments. Like the first film, Day probably garners the most consistent laughs, but everyone here is clearly having fun. But even though there are some laughs to be had, it doesn’t change the fact that “Horrible Bosses 2” has no real reason to exist and is less funny and inferior in every way to its predecessor. It’s almost as if they played “Mad Libs” with the beats and inserted a new crime. What a waste of a fantastic comedy trio.

White House Down

June 28, 2013 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, James Woods
Directed by: Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day”)
Written by: James Vanderbilt (“The Amazing Spider-Man”)

From the get-go, “White House Down” has to overcome the fact that 2013 has already seen a movie with pretty much the exact same plot. Just three months ago, “Olympus Has Fallen” hit theaters with Gerard Butler as a disgraced Secret Service agent who find himself as the lone good guy inside the White House after it has been taken over by terrorists. As an R-rated macho cheese fest, “Olympus” was a stupid, fun ride with ham-sandwich performances from the likes of Morgan Freeman and Melissa Leo paired with the sheer glee of seeing Butler stab terrorist after terrorist in the brain.

“White House Down” ups the ante with a better lead actor in Channing Tatum and more of a buddy-cop vibe, teaming Tatum’s wannabe Secret Service agent with Jamie Foxx’s Obama-ish president for some executive branch ass-kicking. The thing is, we’ve seen it all before…and it was more fun the first time around.

Tatum stars as John Cale, a Capitol police officer with dreams of becoming a Secret Service agent. His current post involves escorting the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins) to and from his home, as well as keeping squirrels out of the Speaker’s bird feeder. Cashing in a favor, Cale scores a job interview with the Secret Service inside the White House. Looking for a chance to connect with his politically nerdy daughter Emily (Joey King), Cale brings her along. After bombing his interview with Agent Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Cale and Emily take a tour of the White House where a chance encounter with President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) leaves Emily starstruck. During this tour, however, a bomb destroys the dome at the Capitol Building, sending Washington and the nation into a panic. It’s just a diversion, however, as the real goal of the terrorists behind the attack is taking over the White House.

Directed by Roland Emmerich (the director behind “Independence Day,” a film that gets a groan-worthy name-check in this film), “White House Down” sputters out of the gate, taking too long setting up Tatum as a failed family man and cop instead of just getting straight to the explosions. Tatum regresses slightly into the bland beefcake he spent all of “Magic Mike” and “21 Jump Street” moving away from last year, while Foxx isn’t as miscast as the President of the United States as you might think (Garcelle Beauvais, who played Foxx’s love interest on the sitcom “The Jamie Foxx Show,” plays the First Lady here…a distraction to the maybe three people who will make that connection). Still, neither is given much to work with. Plot points hinge on played-out things like launch codes and genius hackers and not killing the good guys/bad guys when you have a chance early in the film’s running time. The PG-13 rating also keeps the action and violence relatively tame. There are flashes of fun, however, like a chase across the White House lawn in presidential limousines that features the president firing a rocket launcher. Those moments are all too rare, though – as rare as the opportunity to say, “You know, that Gerard Butler movie did it better.”

Valentine’s Day

February 12, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Jennifer Garner, Jamie Foxx
Directed by: Garry Marshall (“Georgia Rule”)
Written by: Katherine Fugate (“The Prince and Me”)

Doing a shameless impersonation of director/writer Richard Curtis’ 2003 witty and warm romantic comedy “Love Actually,” the Hollywood-star-laden “Valentine’s Day” is a movie that’s all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Flashing an attractive cast of audience favorites including Julia Roberts (“Duplicity”), Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover”), and Taylor Lautner (“New Moon”) – among a laundry list of others – director Garry Marshall (“Georgia Rule”) takes a poorly-written multi-narrative penned by Katherine Fugate (“The Prince and Me”) and hauls it through the same cliché and predictable plot points usually reserved for this type of cinematic fluff. It’s no wonder sensitive women everywhere have to drag their significant others to the movies for date night. When a feature is as contrived as “Valentine’s Day,” not even a pajama party with Jessica Alba, Jennifer Garner, and Jessica Biel is reason enough for anyone to endure over two hours (and yes, it feels like it) of unbearable schmaltz.

Without going into too much detail with the storylines – which all somehow connect in the most absurd ways – “Valentine’s Day” spends much of its runtime with Ashton Kutcher on screen as Reed Bennett, the owner of a popular flower shop in L.A. who has just proposed to his girlfriend Morley (Alba) and is ready to settle down and start a family. But like all these sad-sack characters, love is not in the air for Reed and he is left all alone with only his employee (George Lopez) to help mend his broken heart.

More lovesick vignettes follow that are just as sparse on romance and narrative appeal. Jamie Foxx plays a sportscaster who hates V-Day, but is assigned to produce a story by his boss (Kathy Bates); Biel plays a publicist whose client (Eric Dane) is contemplating retirement from pro-football; Patrick Dempsey flexes his acting range to play a cheating cardiologist having an affair with Garner; Cooper and Roberts play strangers who meet on an airplane and make small talk; Bryce Robinson plays a kid in love; Emma Roberts and Carter Jenkins play teens in love; Topher Grace and Anne Hathaway play young adults in love; Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine play old people in love; and Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift dole out so much cuteness, you don’t know how the word “cute” even existed before this movie.

The “aww” moments are aplenty for moviegoers who don’t necessarily care about story, character or genuine heartfelt moments that don’t feel like they were mass produced like overstuffed Build-A-Bears. Like an open box of Walgreen’s chocolates in an office break room, gluttons for this type of cheap, faux-holiday filler will eat it up without much thought. For those who want their rom coms to have a bit more taste, it’s easy to pass on the flavorless eye candy.

Law Abiding Citizen

October 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Bruce McGill
Directed by: F. Gary Gray (“Be Cool”)
Written by: Kurt Wimmer (“Street Kings”)

It’s evident in the opening scene of “Law Abiding Citizen” that director F. Gary Gray (“Be Cool”) wants to move the film along at a fairly quick pace. It would have been beneficial, however, if he and screenwriter Kurt Wimmer (“Street Kings”) actually looked before they leaped into a story buried in illogical scenarios and faux moral empathy. Instead, the two lunge forward without haste and end up turning an interesting idea into an absurd revenge flick mismatched with psychological mayhem.

Ten years after the brutal murders of his wife and daughter, Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) resurfaces to avenge their deaths by bringing down not only the two men who committed the crimes, but also the judicial system that failed to bring any closure to his personal tragedy.

When one of the killers agrees to testify against his accomplice, Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) cuts a deal that sends one man to death row and the other to prison for a short stay because of his testimony.

“Some justice is better than no justice at all,” Nick explains.

The loophole in the system doesn’t sit well with Clyde who, after a decade, comes out of mourning just in time to violently punish his family’s murderers. But that’s not nearly enough payback for Nick. He is also seeking vengeance against everyone involved in the case including the defending lawyer, the presiding judge, and the entire District Attorney’s Office. If that’s not daring enough, Clyde has chosen to pull all this off in the confines of a prison cell.

As he mysteriously carries out vengeful death after vengeful death behind bars, Clyde continues to be an enigma for Nick who can’t figure out how he is methodically picking off his colleagues and friends. More important than the kills themselves is whether or not Clyde’s tactical marathon of death will makes much sense once his means are revealed.

Sadly, when that moment comes, the twist in the story is rather lame. While the build-up is sometimes entertaining in short spurts, there’s nothing remotely believable in the payoff. Even when an explanation for Clyde’s talents is exposed, it’s washed over as if screenwriter Wimmer was embarrassed of his own plot choices.

And well he should be. “Law Abiding Citizen” isn’t ashamed to profess its desire to be as intelligent of a crime thriller as “Seven” or “Silence of the Lambs,” but with a loosey-goosey script and a laughable take on social issues the movie ends up stuck in wannabe status without any chance of parole.