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.

Men Who Stare at Goats

November 9, 2009 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges
Directed by: Grant Heslov (“Par 6”)
Written by: Peter Straughan (“How to Lose Friends and Alienate People”)

Everything unravels pretty early on in “Goats,” the dry comedy directed by Oscar-nominated screenwriter/producer Grant Heslov (“Good Night, and Good Luck”). In the film, George Clooney, who has done satirical characters well before, plays Lyn Cassady, a psychic spy for the U.S. military who teams up with a reporter (Ewan McGregor) to go on a quirky adventure through Iraq. Based on an actual secret military program, the story behind “Goats” is one of mystifying science fiction that never gets passed the idea that all these characters are just darn so kitschy. It would have been nice to delve deeper into what makes all of them actually tick, but instead screenwriter Peter Straughan (“How to Lose Friends and Alienate People”) and Heslov decide the funniest thing they could do with “Goats” is get McGregor, who played Obi Wan Kenobi in the most recent “Star Wars” prequels, to overkill Jedi jokes while Clooney caricatures the heck out someone that should have been ten times more fun.

Moon

March 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Sam Rockwell, Dominique McElligott, Kevin Spacey (voice)
Directed by: Duncan Jones (debut)
Written by: Nathan Parker (debut)

Reminiscent of early episodes of Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone,” the new science fiction film “Moon” is a refreshing addition to a genre usually reserved these days for million-dollar special effects and overly-scripted premises. With “Moon,” debut feature director Duncan Jones gives us one of the most minimalistic and stimulating narratives since 2002’s underappreciated “Solaris.”

In “Moon,” the same deep emotions are layered throughout the story just like Steven Soderbergh’s remake of seven years ago. It’s not necessarily as haunting of an experience, but Jones is able to pick away at our psyche little by little to keep us intrigued by the eeriness of it all.

The film begins with an introduction to Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), an astronaut who has inhabited a space station for almost three years mining for a much-needed power source for earth. Alone for the entire duration of his mission, Sam get through the days by watching old TV sitcoms, exchanging messages via video feed with his wife and daughter on earth, and talking to the space station’s main computer GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey). Unlike Tom Hanks communicates with his volleyball Wilson in “Castaway,” at least GERTY speaks back.

Coming to the end of his contract with the company that sent him into space, Sam is eager to get back to earth after three long years in solitary confinement. A man can only take so much ping-pong playing with a wall and talking to a mainframe whose emotional outbursts are limited to computer-generated facial expressions.

Sam’s mission is derailed, however, when he mysteriously wakes up in the station’s infirmary after crashing his rover during an excavation on the surface of the moon. When he returns to the crash site to investigate, he discovers something that makes him question his sanity and even his own existence.

Cleverly-written and well-paced, “Moon” is anchored by a top-notch performance by Rockwell, his best since 2002’s “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.” As Sam attempts to piece together what he is experiencing aboard a station, Rockwell slowly unravels his character to his rawest form. Director Duncan magnifies this by giving us thought-provoking scenarios that will have you talking long after you’ve left the theater.

21

March 15, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth
Directed by: Robert Luketic (“Legally Blonde”)
Written by: Peter Steinfeld (“Be Cool”), Allen Loeb (“Things We Lost in the Fire”)

It might be based on a true story, but somewhere in its two hours of drawn out card tricks and casino hopping, “21” gets so unrealistic and immature it busts.

This just might actually be how director Robert Luketic likes to work. He did the same with Reese Witherspoon in “Legally Blonde” and no one can forget the insanely childish and unfunny slapping scene between Jane Fonda and Jennifer Lopez in “Monster-in-Law.” Sure, we might believe that a sorority girl with no law experience could be accepted to Harvard or that an in-law could purposely destroy her son’s relationship out of spite for his detested fiancée, but Luketic always seems to cross the line into lunacy.

He does the same with “21.” Based on the book “Bringing Down the House,” “21” is the story of a group of six MIT geniuses who, with the expertise of their professor, learn how to count cards in blackjack and win millions on the weekends in Las Vegas with just enough time to get back for class Monday morning.

First, we meet the innocent Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), a prospective Harvard Medical School student who has worked his entire life to reach the academic success that could possibly put him on the road to becoming a doctor. The problem is that Ben, despite his $8-an-hour job selling suits at a men’s retail store, cannot come up with the $300,000 tuition to the Ivy League without earning a very competitive scholarship that he probably won’t get.

When he is introduced to the world of counting cards, however, Ben, sees a “means to an end” of his financial situation. With the guidance of Professor Mickey Rosa (Kevin Spacey), he and his new friends, including the pretty Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth), hone their blackjack skills, become “gambling” pros, and set off to Vegas with little to worry about except what they will order from room service in their high-roller suites.

Of course, where there’s money there’s power and when power begins to switch hands within the group, things become testy between Mickey and his minions. Along with the inner turmoil between team members, Cole Williams (Lawrence Fishburne), one of the casino’s security heads has become ever-so suspicious of Ben and his buddies because of the amount of money they are raking in during their weekly visits.

Devoid of any real exciting card playing moments or memorable scenes in Vegas (the girls on the team do stick their heads out of the limo’s moon roof at one point), “21” becomes predictable and cliché from the rise and fall of the main hero to the obvious plot twists and payoff.

Stick to pinochle with your granny on a Sunday afternoon. At least you might get some milk and cookies out of that deal.