O WHAT A TANGLED WEB WE WEAVE: Movie Reviews of Baby Driver and Spider-Man: Homecoming by Howard CasnerPosted: July 11, 2017 | Author: Donald | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Ansel Elgort, Baby Driver, Edgar Wright, Eiza Gonzales, Jamie Foxx, Jon Favreau, Jon Hamm, Jon Watts, Laura Harrier, Marisa Tomei, Martin Starr, Michael Keaton, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Stan Lee, Tom Holland, Tyne Daly | Leave a comment »
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I can certainly see why people are so in love with Baby Driver, the new heist film from writer/director Edgar Wright. It’s about as stylish as you can get, and with a stylishness that has a bouncy feel good quality to it that gets you to sit up in your seat, tap your foot and just generally groove out.
It begins with a bank robbery and a car chase orchestrated to a song chosen by the title character (a getaway driver with pouty lips and baby face). It’s followed soon after by a one take with said character bopping down the street to another song, barely dodging people on the street, and backed by some nice gymnastics (this is important because there comes a time when suddenly he’s bumping into people right and left, signaling a sea change within the character).
Everything is calculated and carefully choreographed to be cool and hip. And it is pretty cool. In fact, the movie is not only pretty cool, it’s fully aware as to how cool it is and revels in this coolness to such an extent that it knows that the audience knows that it knows just how cool it is.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is one of those movies where at one of the climaxes (there are a few here, but the one I’m referring to is a scene where two passenger planes are heading toward each other), the hero has four minutes to resolve the disastrous situation and twenty minutes later there is still thirty seconds left on the clock (the writers must be watching too much football).
Of course, I’m not sure I’m being fair. This is a standard trope for action movies and I’ve enjoyed many a one that, well, let’s say played fast and loose with the space time consortium. And this one cheats no more than the best or worst of them.
Beyond that, as far as I’m concerned, on a scale of one to ten, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is less painful than Superman and The Amazing Spider-Man 1, but far, far, far more painful than Iron Man 2 and The Dark Knight Rises. Read the rest of this entry »
About the only positive thing I can say about the rash of apocalyptic movies lately is that most of them have been in the planning for years, which means that they may no longer be reflecting a zeitgeist, and in fact may be a few years behind the times. If this is true, then the new bunch of movie ideas of the future may very well offer a slightly rosier view of our future. We can only hope, because these movies are giving us precious little of it.
World War Z (directed by Marc Forster and written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof, and J. Michael Straczynski) is basically Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, but with a zombie twist. The premise may be pure fantasy, even ridiculous if you like, but there’s just enough realism to the background, to the way such a preposterous event would be handled, that it gets under your skin in a way other apocalyptic movies don’t. Like another recent apocalyptic film with a similar fantasy premise, Battle Los Angeles, the movie is just a tad too real.
In many ways you know the story. A virus breaks out that turns people into rabid beasts that have no other goal than to spread the virus to other hosts. It’s up to our intrepid hero, Gerry Lane (blond, blue eyed Brad Pitt, natch) to save the world, or save it the best it can be saved. To do so, he must travel the globe from New York to Korea to Israel to Spain, with a side stop in…New Jersey (oh, well, no “if it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium” itinerary can be perfect). In fact, this may very well be the first travelogue zombie flick.
Pitt also saves the movie. There is nothing special about his character, or any of the characters. As in Battle Los Angeles, they are all fairly bland with dialog that falls more than a bit flat. But Pitt takes control in the old fashioned way of a John Wayne. If you don’t have a three dimensional hero, you at least have someone incredibly handsome and charismatic to look at.
What’s more, his travels not only help him solve the mystery of the outbreak, it also enables him to meet some of the first rate thespians of other countries. I don’t know who the casting director is, but he or she is worth their weight in gold. As Pitt travels from place to place, he runs into such top notch character actors as Luki Boeken from Israel (who usually only produces film); Peter (The Loop) Capaldi from England; Piefrancesco (Columbus in Night at the Museum) Favino from Italy; Ruth (12 Years a Slave) Negga from Ireland; Moritz (The Baader Meinhof Complex) Bleibtreu from Germany. Perhaps the biggest find of the movie is Daniell Kertez who gives a powerful and touching performance as an Israeli soldier who gets co-opted into the fight. Mireille Enos of The Killing is also along for the ride; she has the embarrassing and thankless task of the “those also serve who sit and wait” role of Pitt’s wife (sigh).
Though the screenplay cheats once or twice when it comes to the rules (especially a scene on an airplane), and though it has some of the clichés one often sees in genre films like this (a child with asthma, a car that won’t start—though both seem thrown away and used at unimportant points in the story), it is rather intelligent. It does something really clever: it tells us at the beginning to look for clues. And through Pitt’s eyes we do. Because of this, the plot is not just a series of meaningless action sequences in a vacuum. We know it’s going somewhere.
In talking about sic-fi films, the critic Susan Sontag said that “[s]cience fiction films are not about science. They are about disaster”. She also made one another pertinent observation, that one of the continuing themes of these movies it that by giving the world a common enemy, it brought a unity to mankind; all wars and disagreements stopped as all the nations on the earth joined forces as one to defeat this threat to the earth. She was mainly referring to the films of the 1950’s, but in the end, this is the ironic happy ending of this movie as well.
Can Channing Tatum steal a movie? That’s certainly a question I never thought I’d ask. Even stranger, it’s also not a question I’d ever thought I’d answer, “yes” to. But he actually achieves this remarkable feat in the new action film White House Down. Of course, it probably didn’t hurt that he was one of the producers, insuring that the movie would play to his particular strengths. But it must be said, his underplaying naturalness and the stumbling way he says his lines are the primary joy one gets from this action film.
The story revolves around a domestic terrorist plot to take over the White House. It climaxes with the possibility of missiles being launched in which the world as we know it would cease to exist. But since this is a movie directed by Roland Emmerich, that’s not really what’s at stake. Nuclear war could break out; millions could die; the world could become a radioactive wasteland. But for Emmerich and writer James Vanderbilt all that’s irrelevant. In the end, all that really matters is if Channing Tatum’s character Cale can earn back the respect of his young daughter. No, I’m not making this up. Really. And it’s almost as close a call as those launch codes getting into the wrong hands.
How much you enjoy White House Down will probably depend on your tolerance level for silliness on the day you see it (it’s one of those movies, you know the kind, where everyone starts out being a crack shot and then, once the big opening action sequence is over, no one can hit anyone else except when it’s convenient for the plot). I guess, though, if truth be told, I was in a particularly good mood that day, because I kind of got a kick of the sheer lunacy of it at times.
It does have a nice supporting cast, with Richard Jenkins as the Speaker of the house, as well as a welcome appearance by the veteran Michael Murphy as the VPOTUS. Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum have a nice chemistry together (actually, Tatum has a nice chemistry with everyone). And for what it is, Vanderbilt’s screenplay is very well written: stupid, over the top, preposterous, but well crafted where everything that happens has a payoff (sort of a variation on those lines from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall: “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible”, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions”).
If you’re a Republican, see the first half. If you’re a Democrat, see the second.
I’m not sure I know what to make of writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s new spaghetti western/slavery pastiche, Django (as in jango with a hard “j”—the “D” is most pronouncedly silent) Unchained. However, I strongly suspect it may be genius.
Django… is in many ways a mirror image of Tarantino’s last film Inglourious Basterds, which was a giallo take on World War II films (there were times when I jokingly wondered whether Tarantino should consider suing himself for plagiarism). Neither is about what they are about. I mean, really, …Basterds is no more about Nazism and the Holocaust than Django… is about slavery. What they are both about is movies, and how many movies can Tarantino quote and pay homage to, and how brilliant a director Tarantino is, and how he can out post-modern any post-modern filmmaker.
At the same time, as in …Basterds, Tarantino takes his subject matter with a deathly seriousness. He doesn’t turn a blind, aesthetic eye to either Nazism or slavery. In fact, he, in many ways, proves the truth of that phrase, “more Catholic than the Catholics”. His view of slavery is probably the most gruesome, revolting and honest in any movie I may have seen. Though I do think his comments on the landmark TV miniseries Roots a bit too cavalier, in one way he has a point: his view of that institution is far more devastating and much harder to watch.
And I think it’s this approach that may be causing some people discomfort. In one way he trivializes his subject matter by making it subservient to his aesthetic approach: this is a post-modern spaghetti western before it is anything else. At the same time, he treats his subject matter with much more seriousness than people who treat it seriously. And it’s this aesthetic conflict that gives his movies their power: he makes highly entertaining movies about subjects that should not be entertaining. And what is worse, from his distracters’ viewpoints, he gets away with it. He not only gets away with it, he’s managed to make himself perhaps the most important and influential American director of his generation. It’s one thing to do something your rivals dislike; it’s another thing to do it better than your rivals. Failure is forgivable, success is not.
There are only two other filmmakers who I can think of who can also get away with what Tarantino does. The first are the Cohen Brothers who have also embraced the post modern approach creating movies which are often more a comment on the genre they are seriously parodying (in the true sense of the word) rather than using a purely straight approach in making their films. The second is Roberto Begnini who, I think I can safely say, is not post modern in any shape, form or matter. But he takes subject matter like organized crime, serial killers, the Holocaust and the American invasion of Iraq and sets them against the backdrop of a romance, usually a rom com.
So first and foremost Django… is a spaghetti western. It may be set against the U.S. south whereas a large number of the Italian ones are set against the Mexican revolution (with an anti-capitalist, pro-communist bent to them), but if it looks like a spaghetti western, sounds like a spaghetti western, and if it was in smellovision, would probably have the odor of a spaghetti western—well, draw your own conclusions. The sets and costumes are not what one would find in the fake West of a John Ford/Howard Hawks, but the fake West of a Sergio Leone/Sergio Corbucci. The music is often overloud and thunderous with a slight tinny sound to it here and there. The opening titles are tackily period. The cinematography betrays a certain cheap look to it at times (tres 1970’s). The only thing missing is the very bad dubbing no Italian film would be complete without.
Django… stars Christoph Waltz as a dentist/bounty hunter; Leonardo Di Caprio as a slow on the uptake slave owner; and Jamie Foxx in the title role, a freed slave who can understandably see the pleasure in killing white people and getting paid for it. Here again we sort of have …Basterds redux with Waltz playing the Brad Pitt role; Di Caprio playing the Waltz role; and Jamie Fox playing the Melanie Laurent role. The cast is filled out with what my friend called “the usual suspects” and I described as Tarantino phoning his casting director and telling him to call up every 1960’s and ‘70’s icon from small and large screen who no longer have a career to speak of and hire them (Don Johnson, Tom Wopat, Russ Tamblyn, Dennis Christopher, Don Stroud, Michael Parks-not quite the approach Spielberg used for Lincoln). There are also some nice turns by Samuel L. Jackson, James Remar, Jonah Hill and Walton, he with the Cheshire Cat smile, Goggins. In addition, keep a look out for the in-joke Franco Nero appearance.
Waltz and Di Caprio give turns that are often called bravura. Waltz savors every moment he has. It’s as if he told Tarantino, I don’t care how many pretentious lines and words you give me to say, I’m going to say each one of them as if I was eating an oyster. Di Caprio relishes his villain role as if to the plantation born. And Foxx does well in a role that is far less showy. The structure is a bit of catch as catch can. There’s an improv feel to it and Tarantino certainly doesn’t push the events as if a meteor was plummeting to earth. This is especially noticeable in an ending that has two climaxes a bit too close together. This same ending also suffers a bit because certain characters are conspicuously missing. But, as in …Basterds, it revels in an ahistoric revisionist revenge fantasy that is dynamite (pun intended). And more important, it’s never boring.
When the movie is over, one wonders what film genre, style, or aesthetic is left for Tarantino to appropriate for his own purposes. Where does he go from here? I believe even he wonders what is left for him and whether he has finally reached the end of his aesthetic sensibility. Personally, I’d love to see what he could do with a Bollywood musical. But only time will tell if post modernism is, in the end, a matter of diminishing returns for him.