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Josh Reviews Baby Driver!

I have enormous love for all of writer/director Edgar Wright’s collaborations with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, from their fantastic TV show Spaced to their trilogy of films Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End.  Though actually, I have to admit that my absolute favorite Edgar Wright film is his criminally underrated 2010 film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which I adore with all my heart.  That Edgar Wright has not directed a film since that 2010 release is a crime.  And so I was more than a little excited for his new film, Baby Driver.

The film does not disappoint.

The titular Baby Driver is played by Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our Stars).  Baby is a young man who has found himself in the position of being a getaway driver for a cadre of criminals and reprobates.  He has tinnitus and is a great lover of music, so he is almost always listening to music on his ear buds as a way to drown out the ringing in his ears and, perhaps, to keep him safely isolated from the big bad world around him.  Baby’s float-through approach to his life is rattled when he meets and begins to fall in love with a young waitress named Debora (Lily James).  The two young lovebirds hatch a plan to leave town and the lives they hate, but Baby finds it harder than he expected to get out from under the thumb of the big bad men for whom he works.

Oh man did I love this movie!  Edgar Wright has concocted a fiercely entertaining rush of a film, with every instant of screen-time packed to the gills with great music, exciting action sequences, and witty dialogue.

Mr. Wright has assembled an incredible ensemble of actors for his film, and he rewards his cast by giving each one of them a ton of fun stuff to do, allowing them each to create extraordinarily memorable characters in whatever amount of time they have on-screen.

Kevin Spacey plays Doc, the man-with-the-plan who comes up with all the criminal schemes and assembles the team.  It’s a great role for Mr. Spacey, who is terrific at playing loquacious characters with an edge of danger.  Mr. Spacey also allows us a tiny glimpse at the beating heart beneath the polished facade, which only emphasizes Doc’s dangerousness.  Jon Hamm plays Buddy, the confident, smooth-with-the-ladies man of action.  It’s fun (and sort of endearing) to see Mr. Hamm try to play scruffy-looking.  Mr. Hamm’s performance is fun in the first half but really comes alive in the second half when his character is pushed into some tight corners.  Eiza González plays … [continued]

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Catching Up on 2011: Horrible Bosses

Horrible Bosses focuses on three average guys, each of whom is beset by a particularly horrible boss.  There’s Nick (Jason Bateman), an advertising executive who works excruciatingly long hours in search of a promotion, only to be shot down at every turn by his supervisor (Kevin Spacey), who delights in the perks of his position (large salary, a huge office) while gleefully forcing Nick to do all the work.  There’s Kurt (Jason Sudekis) whose happy life at a chemical company is overturned when his friendly boss (Donald Sutherland) dies and the company is taken over by his deceased boss’ drug-addicted, profane, selfish son (Colin Farrell).  Then there is Dale (Charlie Day), a dental assistant whose beautiful boss (Jennifer Anniston) harasses him sexually at every turn, even going so far as to threaten to blackmail him in order to force him to have sex with her.  So, left with no other option, the three put-upon men decide that they have no other option: they must band together and kill their bosses.

Horrible Bosses is not generally the type of comedy I’d rush out to see.  From the premise, it’s clear that this is a comedy without much footing in reality.  That the bosses are so outrageously over-the-top evil, and that the three guys come up with such a scheme to get out from under their heels, means that this movie is clearly a cartoon.  Now, that sort of outrageous fantasy can certainly be funny, but my preference is for comedies where the humor and the characters are slightly more grounded in reality.

But I was intrigued to see the film, primarily because of the phenomenal cast.  As an Arrested Development alum, Jason Bateman has my fandom hooked for life, and all of the accompanying players have proven themselves to be strong comedic forces.  And the film was directed by Seth Gordon, who helmed the superlative 2007 documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters about the sub-culture of people, world-wide, who compete annually for the top score in Donkey Kong.

But ultimately, while there are certainly a lot of laughs in Horrible Bosses, the film never really grabbed me.  Part of this might be personal preference.  As I wrote above, I tend to be less into films where the characters are such caricatures.  Though there are certainly plenty of films that would fit that description, such as Bruno, that I absolutely love.  So maybe there’s more to it than that.  There’s just nothing terribly original or memorable in Horrible Bosses. There are some funny moments and some good laughs, but for me the film faded quickly from my memory.  Even a few days later I had trouble recalling the details … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Se7en (1995)

I saw Se7en on the big screen back in 1995, and it freaked the hell out of me.  I’m not sure what prompted me to go see it in the first place, but I know that I was entirely unprepared for the brutal film that unfolded before my eyes.  It was tough, shocking stuff, and while I really respected the film I never felt any desire to go back and watch it again.

Almost a decade and a half later, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and The Social Network have cemented my opinion of David Fincher as one of the finest American directors working today.  With the release of Se7en on blu-ray, I thought it would be interesting to give the film another look.

Even so many years later, Se7en remains as punishing a movie-watching experience as it was back in 1995.  There is some truly vile, stomach-turning stuff on display in the film.  Some of which we see on-screen (I remember my first glimpse of that horribly obsese corpse — the first murder victim discovered at the start of the movie — from 1995, and I found it just as unsettling the second time around), and some of which is just discussed (such as the terrible fate of the prostitute).  But the two blend together into an almost unrelenting parade of horrors, from the first frame to the very last.

All of which, of course, was certainly the intention of David Fincher and his collaborators.  Watching the film, today, I can step back a bit from what I’m watching on-screen to recognize the extraordinary skill on display by the filmmakers.  On crisp blu-ray, Se7en is absolutely beautiful in its unremitting ugliness.  The filmmakers have created a word of unending gloom, from the seemingly never-ending rain in the unnamed city in which the action takes place to the sickly yellow light of Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman)’s refrigerator.  The oppressive urban decay and the constant rain remind me distinctly of Blade Runner, and there’s even a great shot of Brad Pitt running across a street and jumping over cars, his weapon drawn, while the rain continues to pour down, that is a direct quotation of an iconic shot of Harrison Ford from that film.  But Mr. Fincher and his team have gone beyond homage to create a distinctly real, potent environment that is unique to this film.  This city breathes and sweats, and we (and the film’s characters) feel it as an oppressive force.  In Se7en, the city is as much the enemy as the serial-murdering John Doe.

Mr. Fincher has come to be well-known for his meticulous attention to detail, and that is on fine display throughout … [continued]

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2009 Catch-Up: Josh Reviews Moon

Though 2009 is well in the past, I’m still trying to find time to watch those 2009 films that I missed (some of which I listed when writing my Best Films of 2009 list).  At the top of my I-really-wanted-to-see-it-but-never-did list from 2009 was Duncan Jones’ little sci-fi film, Moon.

When I say “little,” I am referring only to the budget (5 million dollars).  Because in no other way is Moon a “little” film.  No, Moon is a phenomenal achievement, and it surely would have made my Best Films of the Year list had I seen it in time.

It’s the near future, and the great Sam Rockwell (Galaxy Quest, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Frost/Nixon) plays Sam Bell, working alone in a small helium-3 mining station on the moon.  His only companion is the station’s computer, Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey, perfectly cast).  Sam is nearing the end of his three-year contract and is anticipating his return to Earth and to his family.  Of course, it’s not going to be that simple.

I’ve barely said anything about the film’s story, but I really think that’s for the best.  This is a film best appreciated going in cold, without knowing any of the plot twists.  Suffice it to say, when a distracted Sam crashes one of the station’s small rovers, he unwittingly sets into motion a chain of events that leads to things quickly going more and more awry in his once-efficient little moon station.

Moon is an acting tour-de-force for Sam Rockwell.  With the exception of a few other people glimpsed briefly on computer monitors, Sam is the only character on screen for the entire film.  But he dominates the screen so thoroughly that I didn’t even really consider that fact until well after the film had ended.  Mr. Rockwell has always been known for bringing a particularly idiosyncratic brand of humanity to the flawed array of characters he has portrayed on screen, and his Sam Bell in this film is a spectacular example.  Once the plot gets going, Sam’s ordered life starts to fall down around his ears, and the way Mr. Rockwell brings to life his increasing desperation, and also his surprising inner reservoirs of strength, is wonderful.  Shame on the Academy for not nominating this spectacular acting performance!!

Writer/director Duncan Jones jokes in the DVD’s special features that the most recent example of an “indie” sci-fi movie that he can think of is Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, which was made for around 50 million dollars. Moon was made for 5 million.  To say that my jaw was on the floor when I learned that this movie was made for such a miniscule … [continued]

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Third Prize is You’re Fired: The Films of David Mamet

As I’ve mentioned once or twice in recent posts, over the past few weeks I’ve been making my way through a whole slew of films by one of the best writers working in the film industry today: David Mamet.  Mamet’s works are always known for their intricate plots — many of his films revolve around some sort of con.  He is also known for the distinct style of his dialogue — a fast-paced back-and-forth, rat-a-tat rhythm that, in the hands of a talented actor, is pure gold.

After purchasing Redbelt on DVD, I decided to go back and revisit several earlier Mamet works.  This is in no way a complete trip through Mamet’s work.  In fact, let me first start by telling you a bit about two films which I didn’t re-watch this past month.  Not because I didn’t care for them — quite the opposite.  These are two of my favorite films, and they’ve been in my DVD collection for years.

Glengarry Glenn Ross (1992) — Unlike all the other movies that I’m about to list, this film was written by Mamet but directed by someone else: James Foley.  But like all the Mamet-directed films, the appeal is not due to the directing.  Its the acting, and the beautiful, beautiful words.  (Can you believe I’ve just described as beautiful the incredibly curse-laden dialogue in this film??)  Take a gander at this cast:  Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, and let’s not forget Alec Baldwin.  Baldwin is in only one scene, but he gives possibly the greatest movie monologue of all time.  There are more memorable lines in his one scene than there are in most entire films.  (One of my favorites: “Only one thing counts in this world: get them to sign on the line that is dotted.”  And, of course, there’s the title of this piece.)  The film follows one night and one morning in the lives of a group of real-estate con men.  Many have described it as a modern Death of a Salesman, and I’m not one to disagree.  Jack Lemmon’s sad-sack Shelley “the machine” Levine is such an iconic character he’s even been written into The Simpsons (as the hapless loser Gil).  Al Pacino is the man that Shelley was twenty years ago — a young, slick salesman at the top of his game.  (“You ever take a dump made you feel like you’d just slept for twelve hours?”)  Ed Harris is the angry and profane Dave Moss.  (“What is this, courtesy class?”)  Alan Arkin is the quietly despairing George Aaronow.  (Are we just talking about this or are we talking about this?”)  And Kevin Spacey is the man in … [continued]

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DVD Shelf

Here are some of the DVDs that have been spinning recently in the Edelglass abode:

Recount — This HBO film chronicles the tumultuous 36 days that followed the contested 2000 Presidential election.  The cast is stupendous across the board:  Kevin Spacey plays Ron Klain, Bob Balaban is Ben Ginsberg, Ed Begley Jr. is David Boies, Laura Dern is Katherine Harris, John Hurt is Warren Christopher, Dennis Leary is Michael Whouley, Tom Wilkinson is James Baker, and Mitch Pileggi (A.D. Skinner!!) is Bill Daley.  For those of you out there who followed every minute of this political morass, most of those names are probably very familiar to you.  I’ll also add that Derek Cecil (Push, Nevada) plays Democratic lawyer and my former camp counselor, Jeremy Bash.  Although the film is at times heartbreaking to watch for a Democrat like myself, it is a terrifically well-told tale.  There’s a lot of very detailed information covered in its under two hour run-time, but the film never becomes a boring talking-heads history class.  Its dramatic and extraordinarily well-paced, bouncing back and forth between the Democratic and Republican camps trying to bring home the election for their candidate.

The Band’s Visit — An Egyptian band (the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra) arrives in Israel to play at a cultural event, but find themselves stranded in the tiny Israeli town of Petach Tikvah.  Stuck there for the night, the film follows the different members of the band as they interact (or don’t interact) with the local Jews, and vice versa.  This is a quiet film.  There is no great action — nor is there loud conflict or histrionics.  Instead, its a small, personal story about a group of Egyptians and a group of Israelis, each with their own problems and demons, and their efforts to find common ground for one lonely night.  Nobody LEARNS A BIG LESSON or FALLS MADLY IN LOVE and I respect the film for that.  This is a movie about ordinary people leading ordinary lives.  Occasionally it might be a little TOO slow for some tastes, but its worth a viewing.

The Good German — My wife Steph recently read the book (by Joseph Kanon), so we decided to check out the film.  I’d wanted to see the movie when it came out in 2007, but never got to it, so I was excited to give it a try.  Unfortunately, it was a disappointment.  The film boasts a top-notch cast that includes George Clooney, Tobey Maguire, and Cate Blanchett, but I never engaged with the story being told.  Part of the reason for that may be that the film has been molded to the style of a 1940’s film like … [continued]