Baby Driver: the musical that wasn’t

Film

Edgar Wright first came to most people’s attention with his Cornetto trilogy: Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007) and The World’s End (2013). In-between, he threw in a career highlight – the utter batshit curveball that was Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010). For lo, it contained a truckload of cool music and a baby-faced lead (Michael Cera), whose character was part of the delightfully named indie band Sex Bob-Omb.

Uber cool, and oh so fun.

He then went off to do Ant-Man and it all went tits up.

But a true measure of a person’s character is how you bounce back and, with Baby Driver, he’s come back blazing – with a crime flick he’s had brewing for quite a few years, and is quite possibly his best work to date.

The movie features a baby-faced getaway driver, Baby (Ansol Elgort), who’s prodigious behind the wheel but wants out of a life of crime. One last job and all that… However, bad boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) has leverage so Baby, for now, must play the game. Not just with Doc, but also his ragtag group of unhinged robbers, in particular Bats (Jamie Foxx) and Buddy (John Hamm) – who both can’t get the measure of Baby and suspect him of not taking this crime stuff seriously.

Hamm and Foxx are blinding casting. They practically steal the film from Elgort. But you’d expect as much. Ansol has to play the straight hero and it’s always the case that the baddest bad guys get to have all the fun.

Bats, like his name, is batty, batshit, a live wire, totally unpredictable and definitely not a team player – which begs the question as to why he’s there. But why not? He’s mad and has skills, which makes robbing banks more fun, no? Buddy, too, starts with the charm (easy for Hamm), doing his Bonnie and Clyde thing with wild wife and partner in crime Darling (Eiza Gonzalez). But he, too, is not a nice guy. Hamm plays him just on the right side of menacing and cartoonish. Close to caricature at times, but events unfold which cause him to turn on Baby in a deliciously evil way – and this arc is some of the best work Hamm’s done in years.

Moreover, inbetween burning rubber for bad guys Baby has another story. Of love, with the impossibly gorgeous Deborah (Lily James), who literally has nothing going on in her life and falls for Baby’s strong and silent shtick straight away (this only happens in the movies).

But first, he’s got bad guy stuff to do before they can run off into the sunset.

Now this may sound like I’m being cynical but I’m just poking fun.

Yeah, Wright steals a lot from loads of movies, but all filmmakers do. As long as you put your own spin on your work it can feel fresh and fun – and this film really does (96% Rotten Tomatoes). It’s also worth saying that not for a long time have I seen a film that weaves music into its fabric quite so effortlessly. It’s balletic at times and almost a musical (although there’s no bursting into song particularly).

Also, with Tarantino off the boil these days (close to retirement?) it’s left to directors like James Gunn and Edgar Wright to fly the flag for music in film in oh so delightful ways. (We can’t have Hans Zimmer do every score now, can we? And Christopher Nolan does seems to monopolise his time anyway.)

But other than music, there’s no real common ground between Guardians of the Galaxy and Baby Driver – except a sense of fun. I mean, the latter probably shares more DNA with Wright’s Scott Pilgrim and plays like the demented lovechild of Heat, The Town, Natural Born Killers and Reservoir Dogs, but hopped up on sugar, coffee and optimism.

Or Drive if it had a sense of humour. Boom.

There’s very little fat either.

Wright wrote the screenplay and it nips along at a decent pace, each character getting their moment. But Wright, smartly, keeps the focus on Baby, who’s in pretty much every scene.

And what casting Elgort is.

At the time of Scott Pilgrim I remember thinking THAT lead came out of leftfield, but turned out to be genius. I mean, who would’ve thought Michael Cera could pull off fight scenes so convincingly? And here, as Baby, Elgort is an inspired choice.

I knew little about him (The Fault in Our Stars fame and was on the shortlist for the young Han Solo movie) before this film, but reading up, he’s as much a musician as an actor. Even took ballet lessons as a kid, which makes sense, given some of the scenes in Baby Driver required, athleticism, shall we say? (And I don’t mean sex, if that’s what you’re thinking.)

His journey is interesting too. A strong and silent getaway driver (Ryan Gosling in Drive?) who connects to his past by listening to old cassette tapes (Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy?) means he’s following in the footsteps of some big actors. But he owns the role. Particularly when he could have been all but swallowed up by the bigger actors like Spacey, Foxx and Hamm swanning about the place.

Wright has talked about a sequel – which would be the first time he’s done that in his career. To me, this film feels fairly complete as a story, but I’d be open to the idea if it was a REALLY good story. The studio is keen, so we’ll see.

But if you were on the fence, go see this film. It’s so much fun. And if you were expecting a Hott Fuzz type affair, this ain’t it. Wright evolves with each film so you can’t really pigeonhole him. I’m excited to see what he does next.

‘American’… what?!

My musings

I blame American Sniper. (Damn you Bradley Cooper.) Maybe this film was the final straw. To explain: over the last few years (or even the last few decades) there’s been a regular slew of films that start with the word ‘American’. Is it a sure fire way to gets bums (at least, American ones) on seats? Or does it simply sound cooler to have that word at the start of a film’s title? I mean, c’mon… French Sniper, British Sniper, German Sniper – they just don’t inspire, do they?

Maybe it’s just simpler.

American Sniper. You know what you’re going to get. Job done. Whatever the reason, here are my top 5 (in order) that proudly wear that word loud and proud for all to see.

american-beauty-digital-painting-gabriel-t-toro

Photo courtest of http://gabrielttoroart.com

1. American Beauty (1999)
The debut of Sam Mendes as a director and the introduction (largely) of Kevin Spacey to the moviegoing public. Getting close to two decades old, the film still stands up perfectly today and is immensely watchable. No scene is wasted, every line loaded with meaning. A modern classic which reminds us of all the beauty in the world.

2. American Psycho (2000)
Upon hearing the part of Patrick Bateman had gone to Ewan Mcgregor, Christian Bale allegedly called him and argued (convincingly) that he’d be better for the part. And he really was. Played as a dark comedy, the world was finally introduced to the twisted, mad intensity of the man that would be responsible (along with Nolan) for reinventing Batman.

3. American History X (1998)
Yet another introduction (in a way) to a manly, pumped up and thoroughly volatile Ed Norton. As a modern-day Lieutenant in a right wing neo-Nazi gang, the arc Norton’s character goes through is hugely affecting. A riveting and towering performance that commands your attention in a film which deals with some big and complex issues.

4. American Pie (1999)
I remember explaining this film to my parents. ‘Well, there’s a guy that has sex with an apple pie, it’s full of crude humour yet…. you have to watch it.’ They were skeptical, but watched anyway. My poor description failed to explain that it was a warm, incredibly well-observed, coming-of-age tale about four very likeable lads. Sadly, the magic was never captured again with the franchise that followed.

5. American Hustle (2013)
Bit of a guilty pleasure this one, featuring both Bale and Cooper (again). It will be interesting to see if this movie stands up over time. Ultimately it’s a fairly shallow tale, but a fabulously looking one with an impressive cast. Worth your time for Bale’s combover and beer belly and all the huge hair and power dresses. As well as Bale, both Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence were also on fine form.

americanhustle-bathroom

charlie bronson

Who are the top 20 most intense actors of recent times?

Best Of lists

I do like an intense character and performance when I’m watching a film. Someone who literally rivets and welds you to the screen, look away at your peril. Some people probably like their films bright and breezy. I don’t mind those too, but there’s something about intensity that leaves a lasting impression. You remember those performances.

As such I thought I’d offer a couple of lists of actors and actresses that have had me mesmerised, entranced and – at times – a little frightened. I’ve most likely left off a lot of vintage performances and characters, but this is MY list so I’m allowed. Let me know your thoughts. Who would you have liked to have seen included?

In these lists I’ve put links to clips from some performances you might not have seen before, or maybe just want to revisit. Remember though, best not watch alone though, these lot are intense!

The guys

  1. charlie bronsonDaniel Day Lewis (Bill ‘the Butcher’ Cutting, Gangs of New York; Daniel Plainview, There will be Blood)
  2. Heath Ledger (The Joker, The Dark Knight)
  3. Tom Hardy (Charles Bronson, Bronson)
  4. Christian Bale (Patrick Bateman, American Psycho; Batman, The Batman Trilogy)
  5. Kevin Spacey (John Doe, Seven)
  6. Christopher Walken (Vicenzo Carcotti, True Romance; Frank White, King of New York)
  7. Javier Bardem (Anton Chigurh, No Country for Old Men)
  8. Christopher Waltz (Col. Hans Landa, Inglourious Basterds)
  9. Vincent Cassel (Jacques Mesrine, Mesrine)
  10. Liam Neeson (Bryan Mills, Taken)
  11. Jeremy Renner (Sergeant William James, The Hurt Locker; Jem Coughlin, The Town)
  12. Gary Oldman (Drexel, True Romance)

The gals

  1. helena bonham carter harry potterHelena Bonham Carter (Red Queen, Alice in Wonderland; Bellatrix Lestrange, Harry Potter)
  2. Cate Blanchett (Galadriel, Lord of the Rings)
  3. Marion Cotillard (Mal, Inception)
  4. Angelina Jolie (Lisa Rowe, Girl, Interrupted)
  5. Melanie Laurent (Shosanna Dreyfus, Inglourious Basterds)
  6. Charlize Theron (Aileen Wuornos, Monster)
  7. Famke Janssen (Xena Onotopp, Goldeneye; Jean Grey, Xmen: The Last Stand)
  8. Noomi Rapace (Lisbeth Salander, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)

So, there’s my list. You’ll notice there’s more men than women, I’m not sure why. I think, perhaps, there’s a tendency – particularly in Hollywood – for studios to shy away from films with intense, female leads. I wonder if they are more of a risk commercially? I don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s more to do with a lack of decent scripts for women, ones that don’t play to stereotypes.

One thing I’ve noticed is how top actors portray intensity – for me – it’s in the eyes. I think it’s what separates great actors and actresses from the rest. If you allow yourself to be drawn into their gaze, there’s so much depth there. Depending on the character they’re playing, it can be equally exciting, captivating and terrifying. Watch Pacino in The Godfather, making the decision to kill with his eyes. A lesson in intensity.

Right, I need to go watch some comedy now to level out. It’s all got too much. I’ll finish with artwork of Marion Cotillard, not because it’s intense, but because it’s simply beautiful – and that’s all the reason you need.

Marion Cotillard artwork