Baby Driver

For F*** Magazine

BABY DRIVER 

Director : Edgar Wright
Cast : Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal, CJ Jones, Flea, Lanny Joon
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 52m
Opens : 20 July 2017
Rating : NC16 (Violence and Some Coarse Language)

The director of the Cornetto trilogy and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World takes the driver’s seat, and he has the Wright of way. This action comedy follows Baby (Elgort), a getaway driver who is a veritable prodigy behind the wheel. After surviving an accident in his childhood, Baby suffers from tinnitus, and to drown out the ringing noise, listens to pre-selected music on his iPod. Baby is in the employ of criminal mastermind Doc (Spacey), whose gang of bank-robbers includes miscreants like Buddy (Hamm), Buddy’s wife Darling (González), the violent and unpredictable Bats (Foxx) and the surly Griff (Bernthal). The latter two aren’t especially fond of Baby, but Doc insists on keeping Baby as his getaway driver, even as Baby wants out. Baby fears that his foster father Joseph (Jones) and Debora (James), the diner waitress with whom he strikes up a relationship, are endangered by his criminal activities. While he dreams of hitting the open road with Debora next to him, Baby is kept under Doc’s thumb. He might be the world’s greatest getaway driver, but can he escape from his shadowy employer?

Baby Driver has long been gestating in writer-director Wright’s mind. After first coming up with the idea in 1994, Wright directed a music video for Mint Royale’s “Blue Song”, featuring Noel Fielding as a getaway driver with an affinity for music. Wright has become known for his films’ dynamic, sometimes quirky style, and the comic energy with which he executes them. Baby Driver is supremely entertaining, a funny, romantic thriller crafted with the utmost care. It’s a little like a souped-up version of Carpool Karaoke, in that each action sequence is set to music.

Baby Driver moves with an effortless fluidity; Wright tapping on choreographer Ryan Heffington to help sync the actors’ movements to the soundtrack. Atlanta, Georgia, often doubles for other locations, but in Baby Driver, the city gets to play itself, becoming an ideal backdrop for thrilling, inventive car chases. Baby Driver features such brazen stylistic choices as cutting a gunfight to a drum solo; editors Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos giving the picture a rhythm that matches the vibe of the story Wright is trying to tell to a tee.

With Baby’s personal mix of songs helping him to zone in while he works, while carrying sentimental significance for him, there are traces of Star-Lord’s awesome mix from Guardians of the Galaxy. It turns out that Wright consulted director James Gunn to make sure there wasn’t any overlap between the tracks featured in Baby Driver and those used in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Artistes like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, The Commodores, T. Rex, Beck, Martha and the Vandellas and, of course, Simon and Garfunkel all show up on the soundtrack, making this something of a hybrid jukebox musical action movie. It’s a clever, unique effect.

Elgort’s Baby is one of the more memorable original protagonists in recent memory. There are elements to him we’ve seen before in many a crime thriller: he’s got a tragic past, is embarking on the fabled ‘one last job’, has a parental figure who disapproves of his job, and falls in love with a woman from whom he tries to hide his unlawful ways. Even so, there’s a resonant freshness to the character, as if Wright has remixed said elements. Baby is laconic and withdrawn, existing in his own world created with the assistance of music. ‘Tough’ isn’t the first adjective that springs to mind when describing Elgort, but Baby exudes toughness of a non-traditional sort. The character is roguish, charming and endearing with Elgort having to try too hard at all.

The film’s supporting cast is stacked with talent. James exudes a somewhat old-fashioned girl-next-door sweetness, and while the romance between Baby and Debora unfolds predictably enough, it is still achingly romantic. Emma Stone was initially cast in the role, but left due to scheduling conflicts with La La Land. The character isn’t given the greatest amount of agency, and for most of the film remains an observer, but she plays a crucial role in the movie’s conclusion.

Spacey is Spacey: slyly terrifying and having the time of his life, while displaying commendable restraint. Hamm, Foxx and Bernthal all have their moments, with Foxx being especially easy to dislike as a bank robber who is instantly antipathic towards Baby. The characters who surround Baby are over-the-top, but that never undercuts their capability to be truly terrifying. By the film’s climactic confrontation, Baby Driver dispenses with the humour, and that sequence is intense and brutal. It’s a little jarring, but that turn is mostly well-earned. CJ Jones, who plays Baby’s kindly deaf foster father Joseph, is deaf in real life and is an activist for deaf awareness causes.

Baby Driver is the work of an auteur at the top of his game, with Wright’s stamp on it from beginning to end. The filmmaker makes numerous canny, inspired decisions, and pulls them off with stunning aplomb. Instead of coming off as smug and self-indulgent, it packs in a great deal of heart, feeling polished yet personal. It’s a deliriously good time that’s also deliriously good filmmaking.

SUMMARY: Edgar Wright fires on all cylinders, creating a superb slice of entertainment that’s a visual and aural delight. Baby Driver is also the best showcase for Ansel Elgort’s star power yet.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Nine Lives

For F*** Magazine

NINE LIVES

Director : Barry Sonnenfeld
Cast : Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Garner, Malina Weissman, Robbie Amell, Christopher Walken, Mark Consuelos, Cheryl Hines
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 1 hr 27 mins
Opens : 5 August 2016
Rating : PG

Nine Lives posterTo paraphrase Brad Pitt’s David Mills in Se7en, “aww, what’s in the litterbox?” Kevin Spacey is forced to embrace his feline side in this family comedy. Spacey plays Tom Brand, the owner of the multi-billion-dollar corporation Firebrand. The company is on the verge of unveiling its new headquarters in New York, set to be the tallest skyscraper in the Northern Hemisphere. Preoccupied with beating a competing high-rise being constructed in Chicago, Tom neglects his wife Lara (Garner) and young daughter Rebecca (Weissman). He also refuses to give David (Amell), his son from his first marriage who is also a Firebrand employee, the time of day. Rebecca wants a cat for her birthday, so Tom begrudgingly heads to a pet store to get her one. Felix Grant (Walken), the proprietor of a pet store named ‘Purrkins’, sells Tom a Norwegian Forest cat dubbed ‘Mr. Fuzzypants’. After an accident leaves Tom in a coma, his spirit is transferred into Mr. Fuzzypants. The cat has to convince Lara and Rebecca that he actually is Tom, while Firebrand exec Ian (Consuelos) threatens to take over the company.

Nine Lives Malina Weissman, Kevin Spacey and Christopher Walken

There’s something fishy going on here, and it’s quite possible that the story behind the making of Nine Lives is a fascinating showbiz farce involving lost bets and blackmail. We can’t prove this, of course, so we would like the EuropaCorp lawyers to hold off. Yes, this comes from Luc Besson’s production company, stars Kevin Spacey and is directed by Barry Sonnenfeld of Men in Black fame. It’s a weird set of people to be collaborating on a family movie which would be right at home on the Disney Channel. And it’s so obvious we shouldn’t need to point it out, but yes, this is a wholesale rip-off of Disney’s own The Shaggy Dog – a rip-off that required a staggering five screenwriters to assemble. Even weirder, Sonnenfeld has a self-professed dislike for cats and is allergic to them. “Dogs can be trained, but dogs work for love and food,” he said in an interview “Cats don’t care about love and really don’t care that much about food, either.” This total lack of a desire to be there does show in the work.

Nine Lives Malina Weissman

“I’ve got a wife, an ex-wife and two kids. I don’t need another thing to feed,” Tom scoffs early on in the movie. It’s a cliché through and through – the ambitious businessman consumed by his job, placing no value on human connections, who has to be taught a lesson by way of some magical realism. It’s never exactly explained what products or services Firebrand offers, though Tom’s face on the cover of Wired magazine implies it’s some sort of tech juggernaut. It’s hard to imagine that Spacey is aching for cash, what with insiders speculating that his per-episode salary on House of Cards is $1 million. Still, he isn’t exactly phoning it in, and for the bulk of the movie he’s performing Mr. Fuzzypant’s inner monologue (so no CGI mouths grafted onto actual cats). The deadpan delivery makes the lines a fair bit funnier than they have any right to be. And it’s not like it’s possible for a performer like Spacey to make material like this worse. Norwegian Forest cats Jean, Philmon, Connery, Roxy and Yuri are credited as playing Mr. Fuzzypants – they may not be Oscar winners like Spacey is, but credit where credit is due.

Nine Lives Jennifer Garner and Malina Weissman

Garner’s recent filmography features a significant proportion of safe family comedies, and there’s not too much to say about her performance here. Weissman, whom some might recognise as young Kara on Supergirl, is sufficiently likeable as a daughter yearning for her father’s care and attention. Cheryl Hines is reasonably funny as Tom’s catty ex-wife, and the hunky Amell is believably earnest as a son seeking his father’s approval. Walken is basically reprising his role from Click as the mystical store-owner who gives our protagonist a dose of self-reflection. Walken is a reliable ‘one scene wonder’, but his scene-stealing prowess is not on display here.

Nine Lives Robbie Amell

If you’re a cat-lover, there are plenty of adorable shenanigans performed by both animal actors and computer-generated felines to take in. However, a stiltedness and insincerity permeates Nine Lives. There really aren’t too many wildly inappropriate jokes beyond the standard “cats peeing/getting neutered” chestnuts, but one has to question the decision of having a company’s Initial Public Offering be a crucial plot point in a family film. The movie’s climax also takes an unexpectedly dark turn. The visual effects work is conspicuous, but not laughably terrible. On the level of a “so bad it’s good” curiosity, Nine Lives is fodder for a drunken movie night with friends and there’s a degree of enjoyment in seeing Spacey muse about urinating in a handbag. That said, it’s hard to recommend spending even one dollar on Nine Lives.

Summary: Director Barry Sonnenfeld coughs up quite the cinematic hairball. We’re still very curious about what made Kevin Spacey say yes to this one.

RATING: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong