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/

The Birdcage

(USA 1996)

“It’s aspirin with the ‘A’ and the ‘S’ scraped off.”

— Agador

Mark Caro’s latest presentation in his “Is It Still Funny?” series, The Birdcage, is director Mike Nichols’s 1996 Americanized remake of Jean Poiret’s classic 1979 French farce La Cage aux Folles. I’m not sure it was intentional, but this presentation coincides with National Drag Day, something I didn’t know existed.

I left the theater with three impressions: one, things have changed quite a bit in two decades; two, The Birdcage is still funny even if it is silly and dated; and three, Robin Williams could do anything well.

Armand Goldman (Williams) owns and operates a drag nightclub, the Birdcage, in South Beach. His flamboyant husband, Albert (Nathan Lane), is the club’s star attraction. Armand’s son, Val (Dan Futterman), announces his engagement to Barbara Keeley (Calista Flockhart), the daughter of right wing Republican senator Kevin Keeley (Gene Hackman). The kids want to — and should — introduce their parents to each other, but the problem is Barbara’s father, who no doubt will not approve.

Val has a solution: Armand can fake being straight — and married to his biological mother, Katherine Archer (Christine Baranski), who didn’t have much to do with him growing up but maybe will do him this one solid. And the Keeleys will be no worse not knowing the truth.

Albert, who’s a gay giveaway, can’t be part of it. He can’t even be around. This puts Armand — and the entire household — in a tricky situation. Albert is delicate at the moment, and this will hurt him. Little does anyone know how important he’ll prove to be in pulling off the ruse.

It’s easy to dismiss The Birdcage as fluff. The whole thing — plot, setting, characters, that dinner — is really, really silly. The humor relies heavily on stereotypes — histrionic Albert, house “boy” Agador (Hank Azaria), and conservative Kevin are the most obvious examples. Madonna dancers Luis Camacho and Kevin Stea have bit parts as…dancers, big shock. There’s a lot of camp and physical humor here, which doesn’t make for sophisticated comedy.

Nonetheless, the actors bring it, particularly Lane, who imbues his role with unexpected tenderness. Elaine May updates and punches up the screenplay with political jabs and cultural witticisms. At the center of the insanity is Williams, who despite a few glimmers of his wacky old self (“You do Fosse, Fosse, Fosse! You do Martha Graham, Martha Graham, Martha Graham! Or Twyla, Twyla, Twyla! Or Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd! Or Madonna, Madonna, Madonna!”), plays the Straight Man — that might sound contradictory considering his character here, but I’m not referring to his orientation. And he does it well. The result is a guilty pleasure.

With Dianne Wiest, Tom McGowan, Grant Heslov, James Lally, Luca Tommassini, André Fuentes, Tony Gonzalez, Dante Lamar Henderson, Scott Kaske, Tim Kelleher, Ann Cusack, Stanley DeSantis, J. Roy Helland, Anthony Giaimo, Lee Delano, David Sage, Michael Kinsley, Tony Snow, Dorothy Constantine

Production: United Artists Pictures

Distribution: United Artists (USA), United International Pictures (UIP), Filmes Lusomundo (Portugal)

117 minutes
Rated R

(Music Box) B-

http://www.mgm.com/#/our-titles/187/The-Birdcage/

Lost Highway

(USA 1997)

I watched David Lynch’s Lost Highway on my iPad on an Amtrak train from Chicago to Rochester. The one thing I strongly recommend is that it be viewed on the big screen, or at the very least on a flatscreen television. Quite simply, the visuals here are far too beautiful to see in an abridged format. And frankly, the visuals—sets, colors, costumes, actors, props—are the best part of the film.

The second thing I recommend is that it be watched under the influence of something—booze, pot, or better yet, prescription drugs.

This begs a question I’ll just answer: Lost Highway is fucked up—thrillingly so. The whole things starts with a videotape of our unlucky hero, saxophonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman), murdering his wife (Patricia Arquette), who in an alternate universe is having an affair with Madison’s younger alterego, Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty). The married couple has no memory of this murder. Neither party seems aware of this wrinkle in time and space, either. The connection lies with two people: demanding gangster Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia) and creepy-ass flour-faced Robert Blake in what must be his most frightening role as The Mystery Man, a pallid ghost straight from a silent movie or a video by The Cure.

Lost Highway isn’t my favorite David Lynch film. However, it’s intriguing and vague enough to keep me thinking about it. I’m not sure what to make of this one—but I’m also not sure I care enough to do the work to figure it out. Maybe someday, definitely not today. The star cameos are enough for now.

Interesting fact: Lost Highway features the final film performances of Blake, Jack Nance, and Richard Pryor. Who knew?

With Alice Wakefield, John Roselius, Lou Eppolito, Henry Rollins, Mink Stole, Gary Busey, Lucy Butler, Giovanni Ribisi, Marilyn Manson, David Lynch

Production: October Films, CiBy 2000, Asymmetrical Productions, Lost Highway Productions LLC

Distribution: October Films (USA), Polygram Filmed Entertainment (UK), Rialto Film AG (Switzerland), RCV Film Distribution, Cinemussy (Spain), Senator Film (Germany), Atalanta Filmes (Portugal), Edko Films (Hong Kong), NTV-PROFIT (Russia), Artistas Argentinos Asociados (AAA) (Argentina), AmaFilms (Greece), New Star (Greece), Sandrew Film (Sweden), United International Pictures (UIP) (Australia), Warner Brothers (Finland)

134 minutes
Rated R

(iTunes rental) C+

http://www.davidlynch.de

Good Will Hunting

(USA 1997)

“Well, I got her number. How do you like them apples?”

—Will Hunting

Good Will Hunting, the final screening of Chicago International Film Festival’s Totally ’90s series, is not something I associate with its director, Gus Van Sant. Frankly, I didn’t know he directed it until I saw his name in the credits.

No, I associate Good Will Hunting with longtime friends Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who while they were both still relatively unknown turned the former’s drama class project into the script that would become this film (http://www.eonline.com/news/802830/looking-back-at-the-totally-crazy-story-behind-the-making-of-good-will-hunting). The success of Good Will Hunting seemed to come out of nowhere and established both of them as actors—never mind that they snagged the Oscar for Best Screenplay in 1998 (https://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/1998). Damon and Affleck have both written since, but none of their screenplays has been as successful as this one.

Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård), a professor at MIT, is baffled when someone anonymously solves a wicked hahd math problem he posted on a chalkbaord in the hall as a challenge to his students—he expected it to take the entire semester. No one steps up to claim the work. He posts a second problem, one that took his colleagues two years to figure out. He’s amazed when he catches one of the school’s janitors, Will Hunting (Damon), red-handed. Will won’t have anything to do with Lambeau—until he ends up in jail for assault.

Recognizing Will’s gift, Lambeau makes a deal with him: he’ll pay for bail if Will works with him on math and sees a therapist. The problem is, Will doesn’t make it easy to connect. In fact, five different therapists fail. As a last resort, Lambeau calls former classmate Sean Maguire (Robin Williams), who has a similar Southie background as Will and stands up to his crap. Sean sees that Will is deflecting to hide his self-sabotaging tendencies.

Meanwhile, Will meets Skylar (Minnie Driver), who sweeps him off his feet. It all goes well until she tells him she’s going to medical school at Stanford—and asks him to go with her.

The script here is loaded with good ideas and gorgeous details—that story about Sean ditching a Red Sox game to be with a girl he just met in a bar (she would become his wife) is gold. So is Will’s confrontation with a grad student (Scott William Winters) at a dive. Hearing Damon sing “Afternoon Delight” while he’s faking hypnosis is hilarious. The story, though, is predictable. Good Will Hunting excels because of the acting. The casting—by Kerry Barden, Billy Hopkins, and Suzanne Smith—makes all the difference in the world.

With Ben Affleck, Casey Affleck, John Mighton, Rachel Majorowski, Colleen McCauley, Cole Hauser, Rob Lyons, Steven Kozlowski, Jennifer Deathe, Philip Williams, Patrick O’Donnell, Kevin Rushton, Jimmy Flynn, Joe Cannon, Ann Matacunas, George Plimpton, Francesco Clemente

Production: Lawrence Bender Productions, Be Gentlemen Limited Partnership, Miramax Films

Distribution: Miramax Films (USA), Bac Films (France), Buena Vista International (UK), Cecchi Gori Distribuzione (Italy), Filmes Castello Lopes (Portugal), Intersonic (Czech Republic), Laurenfilm (Spain), Lider Films (Argentina), SF Norge A/S (Norway), Scanbox Entertainment (Sweden), Scotia International Filmverleih (Germany), Shochiku-Fuji Company (Japan), Svensk Filmindustri (SF) (Sweden), Svenska Filminstitutet (SFI) (Sweden), United International Pictures (UIP) (Switzerland)

126 minutes
Rated R

(Public Chicago) B

Chicago International Film Festival

https://www.miramax.com/movie/good-will-hunting/

Raw [Grave]

(France/Belgium 2016)

“An animal that has tasted human flesh is not safe.”

—Father

To borrow a phrase from Morrissey, meat is murder, which is a lesson that goody-two-shoes strict vegan Justine (Garance Marillier) learns the hard way when she goes away to join her older sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf), at veterinary college. Like a lot of young people away from home for the first time, Justine is lost and wants to fit in. She’s she’s got her work cut out for her: she’s nerdy, sheltered, and a total virgin.

Like a lot of other schools, the upperclassmen at this one have a hazing ritual to break in newbies. It’s pretty aggressive. Prompted by her sister, Justine goes along with it without objection—that is, until she’s pushed to eat raw rabbit kidney (never mind the blood splattered all over her and her “fresh meat” first year classmates). Alexia is the one who ultimately cajoles her to eat it; it’s nasty and it makes Justine sick. Not long after, she develops a gross and severely itchy rash brought on from food poisoning.

Soon, Justine finds herself craving meat. Her impulses are irresistible. First, she eats raw chicken. Then her own hair. Eventually, she works up to human flesh—after developing a fetish for car crashes, of course. As she gives in to her carnivorous urges, her lust for her cute and easygoing gay roommate, Adrien (Rabah Naït Oufella), gets stronger—and Alexia appears to be turning into a greater and greater adversary.

Screenwriter/director Julia Ducournau has a lot on her mind here: peer pressure, body image, sexuality, sibling rivalry, the food we eat. She’s gutsy, and for the most part her risks pay off. It’s not the same story, but Raw has something in common with Goat (https://moviebloke.com/2016/09/24/goat/), another histrionic college drama that gets at kids, tribalism, and cruelty. Raw is very Lord of the Flies. Ducournau paces the story well and picks interesting things—a bikini wax, a horse being sedated—to make us squirm.

I love Ducournau’s sense of humor: it’s dry, icky, and sadistic. The indignation of Justine’s parents over a piece of sausage in her mashed potatoes when they’re eating in a cafeteria as the film begins brilliantly sets up what follows. Marillier seems to have some fun with her role, playing Justine as a creepy, awkward junkie who maybe bites off more than she can chew. Rumpf has fun with her role, too, playing Alexia as a Heathers-like mean girl. They do a nice job working the love and the hate in their relationship. Smartly, they’re both restrained, carefully steering clear of camp.

Visually, Raw reminds me a lot of David Cronenberg and David Lynch, but it still has its own unique look and feel. There are a lot well done scenes here—one under Justine’s sheets, another on a campus plaza with a horde of students moving like zombies, and another at a rave in a morgue all stand out in my mind. Cinematographer Ruben Impens uses lots of bright colors that work nicely with all the dim light to make the school look like a nightmare or a drug trip. There’s a definite sense of this not being real.

Raw is bloody and gory, but nothing here made me want to pass out or call an ambulance  (http://www.indiewire.com/2016/09/raw-tiff-2016-toronto-film-festival-pass-out-cannibal-julia-ducournau-1201726575/). I liked it, but I have one beef: I wish it was a little less predictable.

With Laurent Lucas, Joana Preiss, Bouli Lanners, Marion Vernoux, Thomas Mustin, Jean-Louis Sbille

Production: Frakas Productions, Petit Film, Rouge International, Wild Bunch, Canal+, Ciné+, Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC), La Wallonie, Bruxelles Capitale, Centre du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, Radio Télévision Belge Francophone (RTBF), VOO, BE TV, Arte/Cofinova 12, Torino Film Lab

Distribution: Wild Bunch (France), O’Brother Distribution (Belgium), Focus World (international), Canibal Networks (Mexico), Cinemien (Netherlands), Seven Films (Greece), United International Pictures (UIP) (Singapore), Universal Pictures International (UPI) (UK), Monster Pictures (Australia)

99 Minutes
Rated R

(Music Box) B-

http://focusfeatures.com/raw

http://www.rawthefilm.co.uk