Baby Driver

(USA 2017)

“You’re either hard as nails or scared as shit. Which is it?”

— Griff

“Streisand, now Queen? The fuck, what y’all gonna do, you gonna belt out show tunes on the way to the job?”

— Bats

“Don’t feed me anymore lines from Monsters Inc. It pisses me off.”

— Doc

A movie that starts with a bank robbery while the driver blares Jon Spencer on his headphones can’t be all that bad. And it’s not. Baby Driver calls to mind films like Bonnie & Clyde, Dog Day Afternoon, and my favorite, True Romance, yet it has enough going for it that it stands apart as a contributor rather than a ripoff.

Ansel Elgort is Baby, a young buck constantly plugged into his iPod. He works as the getaway driver for a rotating crew of bank robbers headed by kingpin Doc (Kevin Spacey). He’s paying off a debt, and he wants out as soon as it’s done — like, in one more job. Baby’s plan is to disappear with cutie waitress Debora (Lily James). Unfortunately for him, other plans get in the way — plans he didn’t make.

Frankly, all the hype over this movie led me to expect more. A lot more. Admittedly, my expectations were high — too high. That said, I liked Baby Driver. It’s a little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll. I’d be lying if I denied that my mind wandered at points, but seeing a millennial Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is worth its weight in gold, or at least its weight in Bitcoin. If nothing else, all those hours I spent making mix tapes are now validated.

With Hudson Meek, Jamie Foxx, Eiza González, Jon Bernthal, Flea, Lanny Joon, C.J. Jones, Sky Ferreira, Lance Palmer, Big Boi, Paul Williams, Jon Spencer, Micah Howard, Morgan Brown, Sidney Sewell, Thurman Sewell

Production: TriStar Pictures, Media Rights Capital (MRC), Double Negative (Dneg), Big Talk Productions , Working Title Films

Distribution: Sony Pictures Releasing (International), TriStar Pictures (USA), United International Pictures (UIP), Universal Pictures International (UPI) (Netherlands), Big Picture 2 Films (Portugal), Columbia Pictures (Philippines), Feelgood Entertainment (Greece), Sony Pictures Entertainment, Sony Pictures Filmverleih, Sony Pictures Releasing

112 minutes
Rated R

(iTunes rental) C+

http://www.babydriver-movie.com/discanddigital/

Postcards from the Edge

(USA 1990)

“I’ll rinse these. I have Woolite in my purse. It’s handy for the road.”

— Doris Mann

Postcards from the Edge is, of course, Carrie Fisher’s semi-autobiographical novel about a floundering actress, Suzanne Vale (Meryl Streep), teetering on has-been status as she puts her life back together after a near fatal overdose. For her film adaptation, Fisher shifts the focus from the rehabilitation process to the relationship between Suzanne and her mother, legendary Hollywood superstar Doris Mann (Shirley MacLaine). It’s a good call: as last year’s documentary Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (https://moviebloke.com/tag/bright-lights-starring-carrie-fisher-and-debbie-reynolds/ ) demonstrated, Fisher and Reynolds were a solid and supportive albeit wacky team. Their relationship clearly offers ample fodder for this film.

Ably directed by Mike Nichols, Postcards from the Edge takes on addiction, family relationships, and show biz. In order to continue a film she’s working on, Vale must place herself under the care of a “responsible” adult — strictly for insurance purposes, a producer (Rob Reiner) assures her. That leaves her mother, who’s more than willing to help. In fact, it makes her beam all the more. So, Vale does what she must: she moves into her mother’s mansion in Beverly Hills.

Fisher might embellish a few things or flat out make shit up, like the sleeping pill story and her mother’s closet alcoholism. Maybe not. It doesn’t matter: Streep is excellent here, as is the entire cast. The real fun, though, is watching MacLaine emulate Reynolds. She has every tick and foible down perfectly. The homecoming party Doris throws for Suzanne and the is snarky, hilarious, and illuminating — I have the distinct impression that it really happened exactly the way it plays out here. Genius!

With Dennis Quaid, Gene Hackman, Richard Dreyfuss, Mary Wickes, Conrad Bain, Annette Bening, Simon Callow, Gary Morton, C. C. H. Pounder, Robin Bartlett, Barbara Garrick, Anthony Heald

Production: Columbia Pictures Corporation

Distribution: Columbia Pictures, Columbia TriStar Films

101 minutes
Rated R

(MoviePlex) B

http://www.sonypicturesmuseum.com/collection/719/postcards-from-the-edge

Marie Antoinette

(USA/France 2006)

“This, Madame, is Versailles.”

—Comtesse de Noailles

If her take on Marie Antoinette is any clue, Sofia Coppola loves postpunk ’80s British bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Cure, New Order, and New Romantic frontrunners Adam and the Ants and Bow Wow Wow. So do I. This in all likelihood is what drew me to Marie Antoinette: with three Bow Wow Wow songs (two remixed by My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields), big hair, and a real MTV sensibility, its appeal to me is, well, a piece of cake.

All that is only part of the story. What really makes me love Marie Antionette is the sympathetic angle Coppola takes with this infamous character. Based on Antonia Fraser’s biography Marie Antoinette: The Journey, the first half of the movie is about the difficulties Marie (Kirsten Dunst) faces adapting to her new French surroundings and getting her new husband, Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman, Coppola’s cousin), to consummate their marriage. She fails, and of course everyone blames her—even her mother (Marianne Faithfull). When she’s had enough, she says “fuck it” and becomes a full on rock star. This is where things get interesting.

Colorful and elaborate, Marie Antionette is not profound. So what? Lance Acord’s music video cinematography is perfect for what Coppola is going for; bordering on sensory overload, this film is busy, clever, and fun to watch. I know better than to take it as a history lesson.

With Judy Davis, Rip Torn, Rose Byrne, Asia Argento, Molly Shannon, Shirley Henderson, Danny Huston, Mary Nighy, Jamie Dornan, Steve Coogan, Tom Hardy

Production: Pricel, Tohokushinsha Film Corporation (TFC), American Zoetrope, Pathé, Commission du Film France, Commission du Film Île-de-France

Distribution: Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures

123 minutes
Rated PG-13

(iTunes rental) B-

http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/marieantoinette2006feature/

The Tell-Tale Heart

(USA 1953)

I caught The Tell-Tale Heart as an extra at Music Box Theatre’s screening for Reel Film Day. Directed by Ted Parmelee and narrated by English actor James Mason, it’s a nifty modern take on Edgar Allan Poe’s famous 1843 short story about a murderer haunted by his victim’s heartbeat, which he hears from underneath the floorboards where he hid the body. Paul Julian’s design and Pat Matthews’s animation is shadowy and surreal, nicely depicting the horror and the madness of Poe’s classic. Boris Kremenliev’s score adds an eerie Twilight Zone feel.

This short has the distinction of being the first cartoon to earn an ‘X’ rating. However, it appears the rating, assigned by the British Board of Film Censors in the UK, had more to do with religion than obscenity (http://dangerousminds.net/comments/this_moody_1953_animation_of_edgar_allan_poes_the_tell-tale_heart_was_the_f). It had to be the dark occult nature of the story,  as there is nothing remotely sexual here.

In 2001, the United States Library of Congress deemed The Tell-Tale Heart “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).

Production: United Productions of America

Distribution: Columbia Pictures

7 minutes
Not rated (USA)

(Music Box) A

Reel Film Day: A Celebration of 35mm Cinema

Can’t Hardly Wait

(USA 1998)

As teen comedies go, the ’90s were a teenage wasteland. Sure, there were a few classics: Dazed and Confused, Clueless, Election, and American Pie immediately come to mind. That’s really about it. Can’t Hardly Wait, the second film of Chicago International Film Festival’s Totally ’90s series, is a typical specimen from the decade: it has some moments, but overall it’s either bland or reductive. Frankly, I don’t even remember it in theaters, which probably says all I need to know.

The setting is a huge kegger in a Los Angeles suburb the night of graduation. Leading man Preston Meyers (Ethan Embry), a sensitive dork, has longed for class babe Amanda Beckett (Jennifer Love Hewitt) ever since he first laid eyes on her during freshman year: he knew they were destined to be together when he noticed the same strawberry Pop Tarts in her bag that he had in his. She went for Mike Dexter (Peter Facinelli), a jock, instead; they dated all through high school. Word on the street is, Mike dumped Amanda. Intrigued, Preston persuades his snarky and derisive bestie Denise Fleming (Lauren Ambrose), certainly no woo-woo girl, to accompany him.

Meanwhile, class geek William Lichter (Charles R. Korsmo), who looks like a deranged Harry Potter, shows up to exact revenge against Mike, his lifelong nemesis. Mike, who dumped Amanda so he could be free to sleep around all summer, isn’t having fun—he’s preoccupied reconsidering his decision. While Preston chases after Amanda to give her a letter in which he spills his guts, Denise gets locked into a secluded bathroom with wannabe gangsta/raver Kenny Fisher (Seth Green), who wears big sneakers and goggles and thinks he’s a stud but isn’t.

Co-directors and screenwriters Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan clearly watched a ton of ’70s and ’80s teen flicks. They have good ideas, but I’ve seen them done before and done better. The only storyline that really interested me was the one with Denise and Kenny in the bathroom. And I love Seth Green. Other than that, the situations and the dialogue here lack any snap or punch. It’s all pretty flat.

This is not to say I hated Can’t Hardly Wait; I didn’t. I just didn’t love it. It was merely okay. I consider myself a teen movie aficionado, and this did not move me. The soundtrack is way better.

With Michelle Brookhurst, Alexander Martin, Erik Palladino, Channon Roe, Sean Patrick Thomas, Freddy Rodríguez, Joel Michaely, Jay Paulson, Jason Segel (in his first appearance onscreen), Selma Blair, Jerry O’Connell

Production: Columbia Pictures Corporation, A Tall Trees Production

Distribution: Columbia Pictures

101 minutes
Rated PG-13

(Public Chicago) C

Chicago International Film Festival

Django Unchained

(USA 2012)

“The ‘D’ is silent, hillbilly!”

—Django

If anyone would take a stab at something that sounds as ridiculous and cringeworthy as tackling American slavery in a spaghetti Western, it’s Quentin Tarantino. “I want to do movies that deal with America’s horrible past with slavery and stuff, but do them like spaghetti Westerns, not like big issue movies,” he said, clearly referring to Django Unchained in a 2007 interview—five years before it came out. “I want to do them like they’re genre films, but they deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it’s ashamed of it.” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/starsandstories/3664742/Quentin-Tarantino-Im-proud-of-my-flop.html).

The title here references Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 film Django, an actual spaghetti Western in which the titular hero, a cowboy, is thrust into a row between Southern Klansmen and Mexican revolutionaries. In Django Unchained, the story starts in 1858—just a few years before the American Civil War. Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave separated from his wife, the curiously named Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington), after they were caught trying to escape a plantation. He’s shackled to a group of slaves that the Speck brothers (James Remar and James Russo) are driving on foot to be sold.

Enter traveling dentist Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a genteel German driving a wagon with a big wooden tooth on top of it. Schultz is actually a bounty hunter looking for the Brittle brothers—Big John (M.C. Gainey), Lil Raj (Cooper Huckabee), and Ellis (Doc Duhame)—who happen to be Django and Broomhilda’s former masters. He makes Django an offer he can’t refuse: help him find and kill the brothers, and Schultz will pay him, set him free, and help him find Broomhilda.

Django Unchained is structured in essentially three “episodes.” The first takes place in a one-horse town near El Paso, where Schultz provokes the ire of the townfolk, the sheriff (Don Stroud), and a U.S. Marshall (Tom Wopat). The second takes place on a plantation owned and operated by Spencer “Big Daddy” Bennett (Don Johnson—um, wow!). The last, longest, and most twisted takes place on another plantation in Mississippi, the bountiful Candie-Land, owned by charming but sadistic Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and operated by his shifty Uncle Tom house-slave, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson).

Tarantino actually pulls off what he said he wanted to, and he does it quite well. Django Unchained could have been a really dark film like its immediate successor, The Hateful Eight. The two films have a lot in common. The tension—and there’s lots of it—built into the story is deliberately and profoundly slow in reaching a boil. Django Unchained certainly has Tarantino’s trademark violence, revenge theme, and liberal use of the ‘n’ word—116 times, a record for a film according to IMDB (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1853728/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv). A few scenes are difficult to watch, the “Mandingo fight scene” being the worst for me. Unlike The Hateful Eight, though, the violence here is Tarantino’s typical flagrantly graphic cartoonish gore. He also shows a more conspicuous sense of humor—for example, Django and Broomhilda are ancestors of John Shaft of the Shaft franchise (https://www.google.com/amp/deadline.com/2012/07/django-unchained-a-shaft-prequel-so-says-quentin-tarantino-comic-con-301010/amp/).

Django Unchained is an unlikely and uncomfortable pairing of an ugly part of our collective past with absurdity, but it’s entertaining while still getting its point across: we’re still living with the aftermath. It’s the kind of film you mull over for a long time after you see it.

With Laura Cayouette, Jonah Hill, Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, Dana Gourrier, Nichole Galicia, Miriam F. Glover, Quentin Tarantino, Franco Nero, Russ Tamblyn, Bruce Dern, Misty Upham, Danièle Watts, Robert Carradine

Produced by The Weinstein Company, Columbia Pictures

Distributed by The Weinstein Company (North America), Sony Pictures Releasing (International)

165 minutes
Rated R

(iTunes rental) A-

http://www.unchainedmovie.com