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“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

Zach Snyder’s Sucker Punch

I’m already giggling picturing the cries of protest that will rise up when I post this review, but the hell with it, I really like Zach Snyder’s Sucker Punch. I never deliberately play the contrarian, I just seem to often gravitate towards films that have been maligned by the masses, and I can’t really help it. Now, in this film’s case, a few of the many and varied negative criticisms are somewhat warranted, yet blown out of proportion when you really take a good look at the story. The film is pure style, and although Zachary might have let his imagination run a little wild and clutter the whole affair with fanboy fantasies and video game visuals, there is a clear and discernible story beneath if one cares to look. Now, the only way that story is entirely comprehended is by watching the extended director’s cut, which includes an absolutely crucial, pivotal scene that’s should have never, ever ended up on the editing room floor for the theatrical version. Seriously, they we’re straight up asking for hostility and confusion by not keeping it in every cut of the film, it’s just common sense. Speaking of story, here we go: the film opens in breathless style and classic patented Snyder slo mo, with young Baby Doll (Emily Browning) trying to save her little sister from their tyrannically abusive stepfather. Outsmarted and shipped off to an austere mental institution, her journey is a sad, surreal and somewhat befuddling one, but there’s a method to the madness that might not be clear with only one viewing of the film. The asylum she is sent to is plagued by a sinister orderly (Oscar Isaac) who is abusing the girls in his care, and as a result, Baby Doll channels such horrors into a grandiose set of fantasy worlds, the base of which rests on a burlesque style brothel where she and others work for volatile pimp Blue (also Isaac). Joined by Amber (Jamie Chung), Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone) and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), she blocks out the reality of what is happening and replaces the details of an elaborate, systematic escape attempt with impossibly epic, highly stylized adventures, each of a different theme or set in a vaguely familiar period of history. Battling medieval dragons, giant samurai golems with mini-guns, WWI zombie hordes in a gaunt, bombed out European landscape, it’s all a detailed rush of sound and fury that hits you like a ton of bricks, and although is far too much for the film to handle and still get its point across, it’s completely dazzling stuff, especially on Blu ray. Guided by a mysterious Wise Man (a kickass, rootin tootin Scott Glenn) who shows up in a different get up each time and mentored by brothel Madam of sorts Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino), each setting holds the key to move along a certain cog in their plan, correlating back down the line of delusions straight to the asylum, if a little tenuously. Now it all hinges on the arrival of the High Roller (Jon Hamm), a rich playboy who has come to the brothel to see Baby Doll dance, and probably more. Here’s where they fucked up royally: The scene I mentioned earlier is a monologue from him that is pretty much one of the most important parts of the film, capping off both realities beautifully, and without it, not only is Hamm relegated to basically a walk on extra, the entire final punch of the climax is rendered lost and neutered, not too mention quite uncomfortable in a sense. Whoever was in charge of that particular piece of the editing should be tarred, feathered and run off the studio lot by teamsters. With the scene left in on the extended version, however, the story is given both point and purpose, feeling like a complete vision with a little weight to go along with it’s Hindenburg sized bag of visual tricks. Not Snyder’s best for sure, but it’s in no way close to the turkey some people will have you believe it is. Whiners. Style over substance? Yes, I’ll definitely concede there’s an imbalance, but don’t try and tell me the whole thing is bereft of substance at all, because that is a lazily researched argument. The soundtrack is a treasure chest, I might add, with beautiful covers of Sweet Dreams and Sing Me To Sleep sung by Browning herself. 

-Nate Hill