Baby Driver

BDDirector: Edgar Wright

Screenwriter: Edgar Wright

Cast: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal, and Jamie Foxx

Baby, oh baby, I love to call you baby/

Baby, oh baby, I love for you to call me baby.

First, let me just say this damn soundtrack has been on loop in my house, work, head, car, etc. since I saw this film. That alone, makes it worth the price of admission, and if that were all there was to take away from Baby Driver, that would be ok. Fortunately, behind the soundtrack is the first truly excellent film of 2017!

The film opens explosively with the aptly named band Jon Spencer Blues Explosion playing in the earbuds of our protagonist, a young getaway driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort), as he waits in his car for a team of criminals who are robbing a bank. When the song kicks in, so does the action, as Baby shepherds the gang through the streets of Atlanta pursued (hopelessly) by the police. Baby’s a “devil behind the wheel,” and in no time, the team escapes the police, abandons their car and meets up with the kingpin of the operation, a smarmy gangster named Doc (Kevin Spacey) who orchestrates these robberies. Baby’s involvement is out of obligation due to an accidental encounter that ended up costing Doc a lot of money. Baby’s driving skills and subsequent payouts are payback, and once Baby’s debt is paid, he’s out.

That’s the gist. Is it uniquely original? On paper, maybe not so much, but it’s a different story on the screen. It is hard not to discuss Baby Driver in the context of other similar predecessors about getaway drivers and/or villainous lynchpins orchestrating a series of heists. Films like Drive, The Fast and the Furious series, and even the film 21, which also stars Kevin Spacey, all share more than a handful of similarities with Baby Driver in story points. But the execution of Baby Driver is unlike any of those films. On the surface this is a heist film about a getaway driver, but on a larger scale the driving is an instrument to explore music, or more accurately, the act of listening to music.

It’s the music that helps push the narrative. Writer/Director Edgar Wright does a superb job using music, actually the act of listening to music, to drive an otherwise classical narrative structure. This film really invited me to analyze exactly what it is that makes movie narratives work, an analysis I further explored in my commentary piece, “It’s All About Choice.” Like so many classic narratives, we don’t learn much about Baby in the film, or about any of the other characters for that matter. Baby is a man of few words, denied the necessity of choice by Doc, and committed to no real set of values given his almost “island-like” existence. Like I mentioned in “It’s All About Choice,” knowing so very little about Baby actually drives the narrative because he is the ultimate individual who can form his own values and not be labeled or expected to act in any particular way.

But the one characteristic that provides dimension to Baby is his need for an almost uninterrupted stream of music flowing to his ears. It turns out this is not just a personal diversion, but an actual medical necessity as Baby has tinnitus from being in a car accident as a child, and the music drowns out the perpetual ringing. Additionally, the film is edited on several occasions so that the action pulses to the beat of the soundtrack. The use of music to engage the audience, pulsate the action, harbor the mood, develop the tone, and most importantly, develop the character is unlike anything I’ve seen in film, including movie musicals.  The film basically suggests, if the mundane can be made euphoric simply by adding some music…why not add some music?

The arrival of Debra (Lily James) as Baby’s love interest certainly complicates matters, driveand in a good way. Like the way Carey Mulligan impacted another mysterious Driver character, played by Ryan Gosling, in Nicolas Winding Refn’s film Drive, Debra evolves Baby into a character who suddenly is faced with choice, consequences, and fear. The stark contrast in Baby before Debra and Baby after Debra is nicely achieved due to Elgort’s and James’s acting, the music, and the direction. Wright does a fantastic job using authentic sets and stunts along with some crafty camera work to capture the visual feast that is Baby Driver. This is a film not to be missed. A-

Baby Driver is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 52 minutes.

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The Oscars: The People’s Critic Reacts

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Image credit: Oscars.org

Well, I think we all can agree that journalists who were looking for their headline for the Oscars broadcast were handed a gift at the very end. For those of you under a rock for the past several days, let me briefly summarize the events that unfurled for the Best Picture winner at the 2017 Oscars.

It’s 12:05 am EST; the natives are getting restless, but it’s been a relatively enjoyable Academy Awards show and while La La Land was nominated for a historic 14 awards, it’s sitting with 6 wins with Best Picture being the only award left to announce. Moonlight, a film that had gained steam all season had won Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay, two big wins. Enter Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway to announce the final award. A Bonnie and Clyde reunion! Only this time La La Land was about to get riddled with bullets. If you haven’t seen the awkwardness that is Envelope-gate, you need to see it immediately. Words fail to express the bazaar episode. Still, here’s my best go at it. Everything is running smoothly until Beatty opens the envelope. It’s not clear something’s wrong necessarily, but it looks like Beatty is trying some shtick. He’s delaying, the audience is laughing, Dunaway is jabbing at him in that, “he’s so incorrigible,” kind of way. Several beats pass though as Beatty just stalls and pauses as he stares at the card, and then he shows it to Dunaway, who just blurts out, “La La Land!”

The place erupts. The La La Land producers take the stage, make their speeches, and a

oops2
Image Credit: Oscars.org

decent population of people probably turn off their televisions and go to sleep. However, what happens next is La La Land producer, Jordan Horowitz takes the stage to reveal that there’s been a mistake. It turns out, the accountants for Pricewaterhouse Coopers who handle the envelopes had mistakenly given Warren Beatty an alternative envelope (#alternativefacts) for Best Actress. This explains why he took so long to read the card; he was staring at Emma Stone’s name. When he showed it to Dunaway, likely in order to get her confirmation that something’s gone awry, she just saw La La Land and blurted it out. Once things were sorted out, Beatty grabs the mic to explain why he made the mistake, saying he was not trying to be funny, but the envelope he had said Emma Stone, La La Land. The true winner was Moonlight, and an obviously stunned group of produces for Moonlight take the stage and commence the most awkward and heartbreaking experience of literally taking Oscar statues away from other people who thought they won.

 

Anyway, this whole thing was bad for La La Land, really bad for PWC, great for Moonlight, and really great for viewers! Other than this, The People’s Critic did a fairly good job of calling the winners. La La Land did steal the show with 6 wins, but the 7th was stolen from them when Moonlight was announced as the real Best Picture winner. I correctly predicted 15 of the 24 categories. I went the wrong way on a few of them, but in a night of several upsets, 15 ain’t bad. I was correct in predicting an upset with Lonergan winning over Chazelle for Screenplay, and my biggest lock, Viola Davis, played out as well. Her speech was highly anticipated given her intensity and her role in introducing Meryl Streep for her Cecil B. Demille Award at the Golden Globes. It was a very inspired speech, but I found a little fault in her claim that acting is, “the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.” I think there are limitless creative outlets in the professional sphere where people can truly understand the value and enormity of living a life without being paid to read dialogue in front of a camera.  And then there’s that whole exhume the bodies from the graveyard thing. Anyway, that hereby ends my rant on pretentious actors saying pretentious things.

Hacksaw Ridge and Arrival did not come up empty as I had predicted; Arrival won the Sound Editing award and Hacksaw Ridge received Sound Mixing and the impressive Film Editing Oscar! I was correct in predicting Lion to leave empty handed, however. As far as the big ones, I got 5 of the big 6 awards right, and in an alternative universe, I got all 6 correct. Check out  my Awards Spotlight page if you want to see all of the results and all of my predictions.

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Image Credit: cnn.com

I thought Jimmy Kimmel did a fantastic job as host. His monologue was political, satirical, but also on point with the tone of this year’s nominees. I give him a lot of credit for not disappearing after the opening monologue like so many hosts do. He took the stage multiple times throughout the show, made plenty of good jokes, and ran some gags including one where an unsuspecting group of tourists was ushered into the Dolby Theater during the Oscars and suddenly found themselves front and center with Hollywood’s finest. I’m always a sucker for Kimmel’s relentless attacks on Matt Damon, and he did not disappoint there whatsoever.

It was a fun Oscar night, and of course The People’s Critic’s Oscar dinner did not disappoint either, as we rolled out the red carpet for all of the celebrities, and everyone enjoyed some La La Lamb. Take a look at some of the fun!redcarpet

2017 Oscar Prediction Ballot

oscars2017-1It’s Oscars Week! That’s right, this Sunday, February 26th at 8:30 PM EST, Jimmy Kimmel will host the 89th Academy Awards. This is always an exciting time for The People’s Critic, and as always, I welcome you to join in on the fun by filling out an official People’s Critic Oscar Predictions ballot. I have made my predictions, so now it’s your turn.

The ballot below contains the nominees for all 24 categories! On Oscar night, feel free to review the Summary of responses page for live updates on how your picks are doing, as well as view the live analytics for each category throughout the week!

Also, to make your Oscar night as La La Lavish as possible, feel free to grab a copy of this blank, printable ballot for your Oscar party, and if you’re looking for Fantastic Feasts and Where to Find Them, please enjoy our carefully curated 2017 Oscar dinner menu (printable version). Good luck!

2017 Golden Globe Nominations Ballot

73rd-open-ceremony-golden-globes-awards-2016-live-red-carpetAnother characteristically weird collection of nominees from the Golden Globes. Evan Rachel Wood nominated for Actress in a TV drama, but Thandie Newton nominated in a supporting role on a limited series /made for television movie? How does that even work? It’s the same damn show. I mean, jockeying around categories has always been a trademark of television award shows, but now we have nominees for the same show in different classifications! Anyway, my predictions will be announced closer to the January 8th ceremony, but in the meantime, take a crack at your own predictions on the ballot below!

The People’s Critic’s Top 10 Holiday ACTION Films!

Treeboom.jpgAn annual list of holiday films is a challenging endeavor once you’ve been at it for a while. I mean, sensibilities change slightly from year to year, but not enough to warrant developing a list that is nearly identical to the year’s previous list. Therefore, I have invented a gimmick to allow me to publish an annual holiday film list that is different enough from year to year and also will not damage my journalistic integrity by contradicting original recommendations. If you want to know my quintessential thoughts on the best overall holiday films, please see my 2014 list or my 2015 list.

So what’s the gimmick? Holiday films are themselves a subgenre of the various classic genres of film. In other words, we have holiday comedies, horrors, dramas, classics, tragedies, etc. Therefore, my intention is to offer a list of the best holiday films of a specific genre each year. 2016, for better or for worse, may go down as one of the most tumultuous years in recent memory. While “Tumult” is not a generally accepted genre, Action/Adventure certainly is. Therefore, this year the list is getting an action overhaul to reveal The People’s Critic’s Top Ten Holiday Action films of all time!

 

  1. reindeerReindeer Games – John Frankenheimer’s final film, Reindeer Games, does not generally enter the discussion as one of the director’s best efforts. However, when previous films include, Birdman of Alcatraz, The Manchurian Candidate, Grand Prix, and The French Connection…II (still pretty good though), you buy a little favor as you enter your final act. Reindeer Games does not find its way onto many top 10 lists, so I am honored to have crafted one that it most certainly (just barely) belongs on. Admittedly not a problem free film, Reindeer Games finds Ben Affleck coerced to assist in a Christmas Eve casino heist by Charlize Theron and her brother Gary Sinise.

  1. lethalLethal Weapon – Nothing says, have a holly, jolly Christmas like Mel Gibson, right? Well, the boys may be “getting too old for this shit” now, after four films and a television series, but back in 1987, the buddy duo of Murtaugh and Riggs was a new thing. Right from the start when a naked hooker swan dives out of a hotel room window to her death to the song, “Jingle Bells,” this film has the holiday spirit! A coke bust in a Christmas tree lot is just the icing on the cake. This film is a blast though. While the mismatch, buddy-cops does feel cliché now, this was the film that really put that formula on the map.

  1. majestyOn Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Not only the best Bond movie, but Diana Rigg is hands down the best Bond girl as well! George Lazenby’s sole entry as Bond sees 007 off to Switzerland in pursuit of that nasty Blofeld who threatens to release a lethal virus upon the world unless he receives a pardon for all of his previous crimes (perhaps this film would have been more aptly named, ‘Lethal Weapon’ than #9). The film is set around the holidays. They don’t play a major role, but there is a lot of snow everywhere, some dangerous Christmas gifts, and perhaps the worst Christmas song you’ve ever heard.

  1. imIron Man 3 – Occasionally I hear people ask, why hasn’t Marvel made a Christmas movie yet? Well, guess what? They did, and it was Iron Man 3.  Sure it was released in the month of May, but this one truly has a May/December relationship.  The holidays play a pivotal role here, whether it’s a scene at a 1999 New Years Eve party or a scene where Tony Stark tests out his new Iron Man suit to a funky rendition of “Jingle Bells” – the holiday spirit is there.  Iron Man 3 is a very smartly made film, and while it still addresses comic book staple themes like good/evil, identity, revenge, and freedom, an emergent theme can also be extracted from it – learning from mistakes.  This installment is Downey Jr.’s best as he tactfully and authentically balances humor, intensity, and sentimentality without ever missing a beat.

  1. batmanBatman Returns – A Tim Burton Christmas is always a good time. Add Batman and you have something really special. Megalomaniac and billionaire (sound eerily familiar?) Max Shreck (played by Christopher Walken) and Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot (Danny DeVito) join forces in corrupt quest to take control of Gotham City. Another moody masterpiece from Burton using the holiday backdrop as a stark contrast to create a macabre, surreal experience for the viewer. Christmas imagery is turned on its head where ornaments and even trees are charismatic weaponry, rather than fun decorations.

  1. rockyRocky IV – Granted, this film probably has the least to do with the holidays than any of the others on this list. Still the climactic fight happens to be on Christmas, which qualifies it for the list. This is pure guilty pleasure watching as all of the tropes of the fighting genre are on full display. The epic battle between underdog Balboa and the superhuman Draggo (played by Dolph Lundgren) is worth the set-up though.

  1. gremGremlins – “No bright light, don’t’ get him wet, and whatever you do – don’t ever feed him after midnight.”  These are the three rules that are sure to be broken when Randall Peltzer brings his son Billy home a strange new pet for Christmas!  In no time Gremlins are unleashed on Kingston Falls. This film dances the line between horror/action and comedy with great results.

  1. prisoners2Prisoners – Hugh Jackman plays Keller Dover, a construction worker who lives in a quiet New England suburb with his wife, teenage son, and six year old daughter. While spending Thanksgiving with the family of his life-long friend and neighbor, Franklin Birch (Terrance Howard), Keller and Franklin discover that both of their daughters are suddenly missing. With the help of Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) and the police, they are able to track down the RV and apprehend a suspect (Paul Dano), but due to his mental incapacity and lack of evidence, he is released. This sends Prisoners in a harrowing new direction as Keller and Franklin wade through some ethically murky waters in the search for their daughters. This is an intense one, and while not a traditional holiday film nor a traditional action film, it has both and is outstanding!

  1. jurassic-worldJurassic WorldHow will you spend your Christmas vacation? Why not at the same Costa Rican island where just 22 years prior, dinosaurs ran wild killing everyone in their path? That’s the premise of this blockbuster sequel whose cold-blooded characters heighten our warm blooded heartrates with more action and more “chaos.” Grab a cup of cocoa and hitch a ride on a raptor for this year’s number two holiday action film!

  1. dieDie Hard – Perhaps the film that made the holiday action film subgenre possible, Die Hard is a classic. That nasty Hans Gruber (played expertly by the great Alan Rickman, whom we lost earlier this year) takes control of the very office building where NYC cop John McClane’s wife, Holly, works. With all of the building inhabitants except John McClane now held hostage by Gruber and his band of terrorists, McClane finds himself the only one who can save Christmas…and the lives of his wife and her coworkers! Rickman makes “snarky, German terrorist” an art form and the action and the tone in this film are perfect. There’s just no topping this one.

What do you think?  Did I get it right or did I miss your favorite holiday film?  Let me know!

Sausage Party

Capturing the shock, awe, and absurdity of a movie such as Sausage Party requires a delicate touch. That is why I decided to not add one more sausage to the party by giving another masculine perspective on a movie so obviously aimed at the male gender. That’s right, the sometimes brilliant, always progressive People’s Critic is both honored and pleased to introduce this month’s guest reviewer, Pamela Kuczewski. Pamela was generous enough to attend a screening of the raunch-fest that is JasonSausage Party and serve up her perspective on the culinary Caligula.

Enjoy!

-The People’s Critic

 

SPDirectors: Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon

Screenwriters: Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Seth Rogan, and Evan Goldberg

Cast: Seth Rogan, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader, Nick Kroll, and James Franco

What happens when you combine loveable stoners, animation, and a lot of penis jokes? Surprisingly, a lot more than I was expecting. As a woman who grew up with an older brother, I was exposed early on to foul language and humor; this upbringing has helped me appreciate what I refer to as “guy movies.” This film most likely falls beneath this category, however it has much more to offer than what “meats” the eye, even for the ladies.

This newest film from buddy writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg explores faith, hope, friendship, and a filling dose of filth, all with an incredible cast of comedians and serious actors alike. The movie opens at a grocery store on a bright morning with food and produce singing their joyful praises to shoppers, or Gods. The song entitled “The Great Beyond,” sets the stage for a fanciful musical number, much like something you’d see in a Disney movie. Picture “Be Our Guest” with more f-bombs. What was more surprising than a jubilant yet inappropriate musical number was that it was composed by Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken, of Disney’s The Little Mermaid and Aladdin fame. Impressive – I would never have matched Alan Menken music with Seth Rogen lyrics but it absolutely worked. The song represents the foods’ faith and hope in the Gods and that they will be the chosen ones. Little do they know what is really in store for them in The Great Beyond.

Our phallic hero, Frank (Seth Rogen), is introduced with the rest of his horny hot dog friends (Jonah Hill and Anders Holm). Brenda (Kristin Wiig), a hot dog bun, is of course Frank’s curvaceous girlfriend. Already, the language is vulgar and I either can’t stop laughing or am too astounded to laugh. Some food is “chosen” but there’s a tragic accident involving a janky shopping cart wheel, causing the food to capsize out of the cart along with a bag of flour. What follows is a smoky scene that mimics the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, only with food. I’m sure you can imagine. A villain is introduced after this accident – a douche (Nick Kroll) – who feels screwed out of his disgusting destiny and blames Frank and Brenda for the whole thing. Our heroes spend much of the movie being chased by a vengeful douche. Yeah, a douche. This was one of those jokes that should have maybe died early on in the film, but every hero needs an antihero.

What follows the accident is a quest for truth about what really lies in The Great Beyond. Frank’s faith is tested and he learns the truth from Firewater (Bill Hader) a pot-smoking Native American bottle of booze. He discusses the need to inform the others with Brenda, but she can’t see past her blind faith. The truth is confirmed by deformed wiener Barry (Michael Cera) who makes it out of the grocery store and witnesses the horrific cooking and eating of his friends. Somehow, with the help of some misfit food (including an odd Stephen Hawking-esque Gum character), Barry returns to the store to help Frank lead an all-out attack on the Gods.

While the constant hot dog/penis jokes are plentiful – you could say the movie is engorged with them – what lies beneath is a story about faith. Like many people, the silly yet relatable characters wonder what’s real, what’s their purpose, and if seeing is believing. This religious theme, or the “Why are we here?” question, is woven deep into the film and quite well.

High praise goes to the animators and voice actors for giving personality to food. Most every culture and ethnicity is captured exactly how you would envision it: a Jewish bagel (Edward Norton) bickers with a pita bread (David Krumholtz). A taco has the sultry voice of Salma Hayek. Of course the tequila sounds like a drunk Mexican and Mr. Grits is an obvious African American character. The stereotypes may be the least offensive aspect of this movie. If you were offended by the marionette sex in Team America – or enthralled – then prepare for the supermarket orgy. It’s safe to say the orgy gave the movie its name. Honestly, the level of creativity was incredible. Being an R-rated movie, it was interesting to see how much the writers were able to get away with. If my goal in life was to see a hot dog pull anal beads out of a bun, then consider my goal completed.

Sausage Party delivers with laughs, action, romance, faith, and friendship. While raunchy and at times a little too over the top for this chick, it’s not without its “tip-touching” moments. B+

 PamnPamela Kuczewski is both a technical writer and a writer, technically.  Hailing from the great state of Michigan, Pamela developed her love for the written word at Western Michigan University. Winona Ryder is her best friend (or so she wishes), and she now lives with the man of her dreams and writes movie reviews for The People’s Critic when she’s not wasting time working 40 hours a week or watching Johnny Depp movies.  Follow Pamela on Twitter @prlawrie.

Jason Bourne

JBDirector: Paul Greengrass

Screenwriters: Paul Greengrass and Christopher Rouse

Cast: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles, and Riz Ahmed

It’s been 9 years since Matt Damon last appeared as Jason Bourne.  An expansion of the franchise called The Bourne Legacy was released in 2012 starring Jeremy Renner, but Damon’s future playing the iconic action hero was on some shaky ground.  That is until Paul Greengrass agreed to helm his third Bourne movie, leading Damon to sign on as well.  Damon had been rather vocal over the years explaining that his decision to do another Bourne movie rested with Greengrass agreeing to do the same.  So here we are in 2016 with Jason Bourne. The partnership resurrected, and from the look of things, we still may not have seen the end of this collaboration just yet.

Jason Bourne opens with Bourne (Damon) seemingly at his low point. Off the grid and participating in underground bare-knuckle boxing matches, Bourne is out of the game and just trying to remain unnoticed.  That is until he is located by ex-CIA agent Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who has been working as a hacker in Iceland and is looking to blow the lid off of the CIA’s latest secret programs. Her angle for getting Bourne to help her is the promise that she has discovered some major revelations about his past.  She has also discovered the latest CIA conspiratorial program, code named Iron Hand, which involves a collaboration between the CIA and a massive social networking platform called Deep Dream.  Parsons’s trudging around in CIA secret servers quickly gets the attention of new CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and his protégé Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander). Subsequently, when Bourne suddenly surfaces in conjunction to Parsons’s hacking, Dewey and Lee start a no-holds-barred man-hunt to capture Bourne once and for all.  Dewey’s old-school mission is to eliminate Bourne using his trusted “asset” (Vincent Cassel) to do the job.  Lee, however has a new-school ambition based on a psyche profile on Bourne that she discovered.  She believes Bourne can be brought back into the CIA as an agent once again.  Regardless, Bourne is back on the grid and back on the run as he continues his search to uncover his past as well as to prevent Dewey from exploiting his power for personal gain.

Jason Bourne is basically everything you expect and want in a Bourne movie. There’s nothing entirely new going on here, but if you liked the previous films, you will like this one.  There is a moderately successful attempt at exploring some contemporary issues regarding privacy and responsibility on the side of technology companies.  This feels very fresh in light of the FBI’s recent lawsuit against Apple regarding assistance for unlocking the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone back in February of 2016.  Otherwise, the film is traditional action faire with some good acting (Vikander), some adequate acting (Damon/Jones), and some terrible acting (Stiles, seriously – Razzie nominee potential here).

Overall, Jason Bourne is another step forward for the franchise and leaves things in a potentially compelling position to move in a different and fascinating direction.  It’s not the best Bourne and it’s not the worst Bourne; it’s just Bourne.

Jason Bourne is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 3 minutes.