Tag Archives: action

“Your name’s Baby? B-A-B-Y Baby?” – A Review of Baby Driver by Josh Hains

“You’ve never seen anything like Baby Driver before”, the major critics say, and everywhere you look online the average movie goer agrees to the tune of a $30 million dollar opening weekend haul. They’re right you know, you really haven’t seen *anything* (and I do mean a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g) like Baby Driver before. Don’t believe me? Keep reading.

Sure, we’ve all seen countless of westerns and crime thrillers where the main protagonist claims they’re done with that brutal life after the fateful “one last job”, only to get sucked back into that world like Michael Corleone in the Godfather Part III. “Just when I thought I was out…they PULL me back in.” That storyline seems to have been done to near death, hell, even Logan used it earlier this year, and yet here it is once again in a totally refreshed way.

We’ve seen intricate car chases before, like Frank Bullitt roaring down the streets of San Francisco with sly hitmen on his tail, or “Popeye” Doyle weaving through chaotic traffic trying to keep up with a a sniper aboard an elevated train (The French Connection), or Ryan O’Neal’s the Driver outrunning cops in hot pursuit of the thieves in the back seat of his getaway vehicle (The Driver). Don’t worry, I may not mention about a dozen other worthy titles, but they’re here in spirit. We’ve seen plenty of amazing car chases, but have you ever seen one synchronized to a song before? I didn’t think so.

And we’ve seen many an A-list cast deliver snappy dialogue that Quentin Tarantino could bathe in, and the kinds of edgy, tongue planted firmly in cheek performances one might expect from a pulpy neo-noir fantasy conjured up by Tarantino himself. But just when we think we’ve seen it all, someone like Edgar Wright shows us we haven’t. baby_driver_ver15_xxlgBaby Driver follows the titular Baby (Ansel Elgort), a young getaway driver who works for Doc (Kevin Spacey) to pay off a debt he owes him for trying to steal his car years ago. Baby lives in a crappy apartment with his deaf-mute foster father Joseph (CJ Jones) while Doc makes a pretty penny using different crews to rob banks and post offices, including the unpredictable psycho Bats (Jamie Foxx), sexy couple Darling and Buddy (Eiza González and Jon Hamm), and Griff (Jon Bernthal), and Baby is always his lucky charm getaway driver. Baby has severe tinnitus from a childhood car accident which gave him a hum in the drum that he drowns out with an endless barrage of ear-worm inducing catchy songs, from The Commodores’ Easy, Barry White’s Never, Never Gone Give Ya’ Up, to Queen’s Brighton Rock, and yes, even a song or two with Baby in the title. I happen to have no less than six of the songs stuck in my head including Tequila by The Button Down Brass and Golden Earring’s Radar Love, thanks to a viewing of Baby Driver last night. I’m not complaining. Baby meets Deborah (Lily James), a sweet waitress working a cozy diner he frequents, and of course falls head over heels in love with the girl and vice versa. Baby wants out and fast, but alas, dirty work calls and he goes, but before he knows it things have gone south and fast, thrusting Baby into a desperate race to get outta dodge before things go from bad to way, way worse.

To say anything more about the plot would be downright stupid of me for obvious reasons, but especially because Baby Driver is definitely one of those “the less you know, the better” type movies, though not because of plot twists (though there are quite a few, and you probably won’t see all of them coming from a mile away), but because of the way Wright lets the entire movie unfold completely synchronized to that catchy, finger snapping, foot tapping soundtrack. Yes, the visuals timed with the music and how that affects you as a viewer overall is best left to the imagination, the surprise well worth the admission cost. The film opens quite magnificently with a heist that moves to the eclectic beat of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s Bell Bottoms (Spencer himself has a brief cameo), with Baby singing and wildly groovin’ along in the car to the stellar tune before he pedals to the metal for the next several minutes to evade a rather large entourage of cops. It’s a fine example of the synchronicity I’m talking about, the masterfully blended fusion of stylish visuals, raw 100% practical stunts, and perfectly picked songs. It sounds good on paper, but it plays as wonderfully as any musical number in La La Land, and immediately sets the tone for the rest of the movie. A foot and car chase later in the film nearly had my jaw on the floor as I tried to wrap my mind around how Wright had so perfectly choreographed the entire thing. Of course, simply talking about this stuff doesn’t do it any justice, you truly have to see it to believe it. 

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By now you’ve noticed I haven’t critiqued Baby Driver in any way, and there’s a good reason for that: I can’t think of a single thing worth complaining about. I’ve run over the entire movie in my mind and there’s not one thing I saw in the movie that would register as a flaw of some magnitude. Nothing, not a single thing. A death sequence felt just a tad bit too silly, but is that a big enough complaint to warrant my bitching about it? Hell no, I forgot that ultra minor quibble while writing this review, so that can’t be that important to me. Does that mean Baby Driver is what you might call a perfect movie? Not necessarily, I know some people wish it allowed a deeper look into the psyche of the totem pole-esque Baby, some dislike the brief screen time of a beloved actor, and I’m sure others have nitpicks I don’t even want to think about…but from where I’m standing I don’t see why it couldn’t be classified “perfect”.  

Support original film making and go see Baby Driver the first chance you get, and don’t forget to buckle up, it’s one helluva wild ride from the very first second until the final frame snaps to black. baby-driver-movie-5.png

Romeo Must Die


Andrzej Bartkowiak’s Romeo Must Die is not a great flick, but I still somehow enjoy it if only for a few stylish scenes and the presence of Aaliyah before her tragic and fateful plane crash, which tugs at the heartstrings. It’s a pseudo Romeo & Juliet tale involving her and Jet Li caught up in Asian/African American gang warfare, but it’s more just a silly showcase for Li’s impressive martial arts prowess and a playground for several well staged shootouts. Bartkowiak is actually responsible for two very similar films of this ilk, Cradle 2 The Grave and Exit Wounds, which all have the same cast members running about and when viewed in succession create some weird holy trinity of kung fu urban crime lore. This one is probably the best I suppose, or at least the most memorable. Aaliyah is reprimanded by her gangster father (Delroy Lindo) and his incompetent lieutenants (Isiaah Washington and Anthony Anderson), while rambunctious Li is supervised by some vague cousin of his (half-asian Russell Wong, definitely the coolest character), and DMX growls out a few lines as a violent club owner also somehow involved. The romance is fleeting, swallowed up by zippy editing and deafening action sequences that come fast and frequent. Li jumps around while the rest of them empty all kinds of firepower all over Vancouver, and so it goes. It ain’t great, but the opener set in DMX’s club during a raid perpetrated by Wong and his crew is the highlight and seems to have been plucked from a far better action film. 

-Nate Hill

The Cinema of the Mind with Kent Hill

 

 

And now for something completely different…

Frequent visitors of this site would be aware that I normally present interviews with industry professionals. This time I’m bringing you creative artists of another kind, but by no means obscure. Beneath the mainstream exists a glowing furnace within which indie artists radiate.

It is a swelling talent pool that, occasionally, the bright lights of the ‘big industry’ illuminate. Still, by and by, these artists go on creating and growing stronger; reaching out through new emerging markets till, eventually, one day they explode onto the main stage with their incredible and fresh storytelling.

These new voices often pay homage to those titans which have preceded them, and whose work has permeated dreams – both theirs and ours, whether it be in a literary way, or cinematically inclined. Whatever fuel it is that is seeing them blaze new trails, these artists are here to stay. In this episode we talk about the influences, the methods and the talents in their arsenal. If you’ve not heard their names or yet discovered their work . . . soon, you shall.

I hope you’ll listen and be as intrigued and inspired as I.

Enjoy…

YOU CAN LISTEN AND MARVEL HERE:

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“I’m gonna do something far worse than kill you”: Remembering Ricochet with Russell Mulcahy by Kent Hill

Among the flurry of big action movies that graced our screens from the late 80’s and into the 90’s, it was easy to see how some lost their way to an audience. But thanks to video, these movies that did not enjoy a successful theatrical release were quickly rediscovered on VHS, and some might say because of it, they have endured long after they could have so easily vanished.

They say all a movie cheerfully needs is a man with a vision, and the talented former music video genius turned Hollywood go-to guy for stunning visuals and artful storytelling was looking for exactly that – another story to tell. Russell Mulcahy had made a name for himself long before he directed a little movie called Highlander, but he had just come off of an unpleasant experience directing that film’s sequel when the script for an action/thriller, Ricochet, came across his desk.

The film was being produced by the legendary, machine gun-mouthed Joel Silver and was fixed by the man, Steven E. de Souza, who would eventually pen Die Hard. It would be headlined by the talented John Lithgow and future Academy Award winner Denzel Washington.

Washington plays Nick Styles, a cop on the L.A.P.D. At a carnival, criminal Earl Talbot (Lithgow) takes a hostage after a botched drug deal. Styles and Blake confront each other, during which Blake is wounded by Styles and is  imprisoned. Seven years later, Blake escapes and begins to carry out his revenge against Styles, which centers predominantly around destroying his life and career.

It’s a fast-paced, fun ride as Lithgow turns Washington’s world upside down. It is also a film of excellent performances from the whole cast. Lithgow is such a delicious villain and the ever solid Washington exudes the charisma which would see his career skyrocket over the following years.

Russell’s direction, as ever, is stunning, fluid, and he captures action like few other directors. It was really cool to sit down and have a chat with him while taking a break from working on his new film here, in the great down under; and, I’m happy to report, like most of the cool filmmakers I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to, you always get more than you hoped for. Russell told me about an upcoming re-release of his debut feature Razorback and it’s hard not to touch on the subject of his cult classic Highlander. You’ve probably heard all the stories by now – but it is a far different experience when they are recalled for you by the man himself.

I really love Ricochet and I always enjoy talking to Russell, so this one was a real pleasure to bring to you. If you’ve not seen Ricochet then go to it, you won’t be disappointed. It is out there on DVD, but if you can, check out the Blu-Ray for the film in all its true visual splendor.

Mulcahy on Ricochet. Press Play…

Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado 

Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado is the original south of the border shoot em up bloodbath, bar none. I’m aware it’s a sequel/remake of Robert’s breakout debut El Mariachi, but the now legendary style and brutality he cultivated started to blossom here in the Mexican desert with scowling Antonio Banderas and his guitar case packed with heavy artillery. The aesthetic coalesced into something measurable here, whilst in Mariachi we only saw fits and starts. Here the tone is solidified and paves the way for the magnum opus that is Once Upon A Time In Mexico, my favourite Rodriguez flick. It all starts with the image of Banderas sauntering into a scumbucket cantina, full of sweaty machismo and smouldering angst, laying waste to the place with more phallic firepower than the entire wild Bunch. It’s a time capsule worthy sequence that demonstrates the pure viscerally intoxicating effect that the action film has on a viewer, when done as well as it is here. Narrated by wisecracking sidekick Buscemi (Steve Buscemi, naturally), Banderas positively perforates the place, fuelled by the internal furnace of revenge, shrouded in the acrid scent of gunpowder and awash in tequila delirium. As soon as this sequence blows past, the credits roll up and we’re treated to a Mariachi ballad sung by Antonio himself, belted out with his band to ring in this hell-beast of a movie. Together, those two scenes are some of the very, very best opening sequences you can find out there, timelessly re-watchable. The rest of the film pulls no punches either, as we see El leave a wanton gash of carnage in his wake across Mexico, on a vision quest of violence as he works his way up the ranks of organized crime, starting with slimy dive bar owner Cheech Marin. Quentin Tarantino has a spitfire cameo, rattling off a ridiculous joke before El steps into yet another bar and the shit (as well as the blood) hits the fan. His endgame target is crime boss Bucho, played with terrifying ferocity by Joaquim De Almeida. It’s hard to picture an angrier performance than Banderas’s before Almeida shows up, but this guy is a violent livewire who’s not above capping off his own henchman like ducks in a row, puffing on a giant cigar and casually blowing the smoke in his concubine’s face mid coitus. El has a love interest of his own too, in the form of ravishing, full bodied Carolina (Salma Hayek). Hayek is a babe of the highest order, and their steamy candle lit sex scene is one of the most full on ‘jizz your pants’ rolls in the hay that 90’s cinema has to offer. This is an action film to the bone though, and they’ve scarcely mopped up and caught their breath before he’s forced to dispatch another horde of Bucho’s degenerates in high style. One has to laugh a bit when a guitar case becomes a full on rocket launcher during the earth shattering finale, but such are the stylistic dreams of Rodriguez, a filmmaker who is never anything short of extreme in his work. As if the guns weren’t enough, Danny Trejo shows up as a mute assassin who like to hurl throwing knives at anything that moves, and it’s this Baby Groot version of his Machete character years later that comes the closest to punching El’s ticket. The stunt work is jaw dropping as well, a tactile ballet of broad movements, squib armies that light up the screen, accompanied by gallons of blood that follows the thunder clap of each gunshot wound like crimson lightning. It’s a perfect package for any lover of action, romance, action, darkest of humour, action, oh and action too. When discussing films that have held up in years or decades since release, this one is not only a notable mention, it’s a glowing example and a classic that has just aged gorgeously.

-Nate Hill

Ariel Vroman’s Criminal 


Ariel Vroman’s Criminal does its best to pay homage to beloved pseudo science fiction genre films of the nineties like Face/Off or Eraser, and for the most part it succeeds. All the elements are in place: padded, eclectic cast, implausibly sketchy high concept brain tampering, slick anti-terrorist war games, a brash arch-villain and adorably clunky emotional interludes. When a deep cover agent (Ryan Reynolds, weirdly uncredited) is killed in London, his FBI handler (Gary Oldman), has a shit fit at the lost secrets he knew and commissions Dr. Tommy Lee Jones to use sketchy cutting edge science and transfer Reynold’s memories into another man’s cerebrum. Of course they choose some violent, irreparably damaged convict, namely Jericho Stuart, played with growling, feral panache by Kevin Costner. “You hurt me, I hurt you back worse”, is this deeply sociopathic dude’s mantra, and it’s expectedly hilarious that the bureau shoots themselves in the foot by picking such a wild card for the program, but there you have it. With new memories, Jericho’s basic primal instinct is diluted with emotional scar tissue from Reynolds, haunted by his former wife (Gal Gadot, terrific), as well as a host of clandestine secrets from Ryan’s noggin that propel him on a globetrotting (well, London trotting, really) excursion to bring down a radical cyber criminal (Jordi Molla, the Spanish Gary Oldman, coincidentally sharing the screen with his counterpart). This is the Kevin Costner show all the way, it’s really the best work I’ve seen from him in years. He would have been way better taking the antagonist route with his career, as showcased here. Jericho is a bitter, psychotic outsider and Kevin plays it up royally, dishing out bone smashing beatdowns on random pedestrians and calling anyone he sees a ‘fucker’. Oldman yells at everything, and I mean everything. It’s like there were cue notes next to his lines that said ‘just scream your lines the whole way through’, but he’s fun too, that early career intensity showing through his weathered gaze. Michael Pitt also shows up with a hysterical Dutch accent, doing the boy with the dragon tattoo hacker shtick, looking pale and sullen. The cloak and dagger stuff is uproariously silly, as it should be, the emotional core appropriately sappy too. Smart move in keeping the hard R action movie alive, unlike some movies we know (I’m casting a disgusted look over at Expendable 3), and indeed Kevin gets some overly bloody kills in that fulfill the carnage quota and then some. He kicks ass, Oldman hollers, Reynolds cameos, Gadot cries, Jones looks weary, and so it goes. Not a total slam dunk, but it will make you feel nostalgic for those good old Sly/Armie/Van Damme blitzkriegs of yore. 

-Nate Hill

Lunch with the Equalizer: A Conversation with Richard Norton by Kent Hill

Richard was a young lad from Melbourne, Australia plagued by asthma who loved martial arts.

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As he grew in skill, he would eventually catch the eye of the legendary Chuck Norris, who extended an invitation to the young Norton to come and train with him. It was while working as a celebrity bodyguard that he finally found his way round to the home of Norris, and from there he was offered a part in The Octagon as the masked ninja, Kyo.

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This would be the first of more than sixty screen appearances for the action film star, stuntman, stunt/fight coordinator/choreographer and martial arts trainer. He has worked on fights for “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, joined Suicide Squads, trained Scarlett Johansson  for the Manga turned motion picture Ghost in the Shell. He even braved the heat, dust and high-octane insanity on George Miller’s Fury Road.

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As a respected member of the martial arts community, Norton has remained close friends and has shared the screen with fellow industry luminaries such as Jackie Chan, Don “The Dragon”  Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock.

When I spoke with him, Richard was on his way to train the X-Men for another big screen outing, so there is no sign that the humble 67 year old from Melbourne is slowing down.

Richard Norton is a man who remembers well his origins and what it took to climb the mountain of success, upon which he stands, victorious. It was really cool to chat with him. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

So, here he is folks, the ‘real’ action man . . .  Richard Norton.

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