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+

Date Night

(USA 2010)

I love me some Tina Fey, I usually like Steve Carell, and I certainly won’t complain if Mark Wahlberg is shirtless in every scene. Add James Franco, Mila Kunis, Mark Ruffalo, Kristen Wiig, and even Common, and you’d expect to have a winner on your hands. Right? Wrong.

Date Night is a cute adventure film, but it’s certainly not an adventurous undertaking. It’s formulaic, predictable Hollywood milquetoast aimed at married suburban couples—director Shawn Levy’s specialty. Fey and Carell play the Fosters, a normal, middle-aged, overworked New Jersey couple whose longtime marriage has lost its mojo. They do date night periodically to keep things alive—it doesn’t seem to be working. One night, they decide to be adventurous and head to Manhattan. When they learn that the wait for a table at an exclusively hip restaurant will be a few hours because they don’t have a reservation, they pretend to be another couple, the Tripplehorns, to snag theirs. The Fosters end up with way more excitement than either of them bargained for after a pair of mobsters (Common and Jimmi Simpson) confronts them about a jump drive their boss (Ray Liotta) wants.

Fey and Carell have a sort of chemistry, but it’s benign. They do this thing where they imagine the conversations that patrons at other tables are having—it’s cute and very Seinfeldian. The Maitre D’ (Nick Kroll) is funny because he is such an asshole—in a David Spade way. Other than that, the laughs here are far and few between. The problem isn’t the actors—it’s Josh Klausner’s lame script, which plays out like a bland and weird ripoff of After Hours, Adventures in Babysitting, and True Romance. Date Night has a few good lines and a few good scenes, but not enough to make it funny for very long.

88 minutes
Rated PG-13

(TBS) D+

The Big Short

(USA 2015)

I’m no economist, and, well…math is hard. I get that lax lending practices led to the housing market collapse in 2008, but I sure as hell don’t have a firm grasp on what else contributed to the financial meltdown. With The Big Short, writer and director Adam McKay takes on the courageous and potentially suicidal task of explaining it all, Schoolhouse Rock style—only hopped up on Adderall.

Based on the nonfiction exposé The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis, The Big Short follows the intertwined stories of Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a socially inept Metallica-blaring doctor-turned-hedge fund-manager with Asperger’s, a glass eye, and a cyst on his face that bummed me out every time I saw him; douchebag Wall Street trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who doubles as narrator; cynical, boorish, and fictitious Chicken Little hedge fund manager Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his team; newbie investors Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock); and retired banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), who’s got no love for the business. In one way or another, they all aim to profit from mass calamity—and they succeed. The standouts here easily are Gosling and Carell, who have a natural chemistry and seem to have fun with their parts. Pitt, who plays psychos and goofballs better than anyone (e.g., True Romance, 12 Monkeys, Fight Club, Snatch—need I say more?), has a secondary role, but he’s awesome; I didn’t recognize him right away. Bale, on the other hand, is a bit much—to the point of being a downer.

The story involves dry, technical, and boring financial concepts, usually abbreviations: credit default swaps (CDS), collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), NINJA loans—not the stuff that typically generates emotion or drama. McKay uses a number of offbeat but smart gimmicks to explain the basics: celebrity cameos (Selena Gomez and Anthony Bourdain, to name two), demonstrations (a la Jenga), breaking character, songs and graphics. His approach does the trick, and it’s entertaining. Very much so. However, it’s not perfect: the pacing, though not as frenetic as Wolves of Wall Street, still wore me out by the end. Some questions remain in my mind—like how you can bet against something like the economy. It’s also still unclear how it all happened. To quote the movie, though, “[t]he truth is like poetry, and most people fucking hate poetry;” I think that’s the essence. One thing is certain: McKay is outraged; by showing us that the nonsense continues, he wants us to be, too.

(AMC River East) B-


Reservoir Dogs

(USA 1992)

In the grand scheme of all things Quentin Tarantino, Reservoir Dogs is not his best work. Sure, it exhibits his trademark wit, crass, and twisted sense of humor in a few Quent-essential scenes, like the diner analysis of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” (with Sean Penn’s now dead brother Chris sitting there listening but not contributing) and Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) making a Van Gogh out of Officer Marvin Nash (Kirk Baltz) while  blaring Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You.” Tarantino does a great job assembling memorable characters and setting up an uncomplicated plot. Smartly, he focuses on the aftermath instead of the failed heist itself, dropping only breadcrumbs of info about what exactly went down.

The problem is that for all its charm, Reservoir Dogs just doesn’t bring enough energy; the plot and the characters feel sketchy and underdeveloped. Tarantino relies heavily on dialogue that can’t sustain the whole film; the characters– especially Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) and Mr. White (Harvey Keitel)– talk and yell and kvetch an awful lot while not much actually happens. After not seeing it for over a decade, I was surprised at how long it took to get going. As Tarantino’s first directing job– his “lost” 1987 film My Best Friend’s Birthday, which sort of became the script for True Romance, doesn’t count– Reservoir Dogs is most interesting because it shows a pivotal voice still in development.

I loved it when it came out (I was 21 or 22 years old), and Reservoir Dogs is a respectable start– hell, it’s iconic and better than a lot of movies. Hindsight is 20/20, though, and seeing it again demonstrates that Tarantino’s best work was yet to come. Indeed, his very next film, Pulp Fiction, is lightyears ahead in style and substance: it’s tighter, far more cohesive, and has a lot more pizzaz. What a difference two years makes.

(Music Box) B