Baby Driver

Crank up the volume. “Baby Driver” is Edgar Wright’s masterpiece.

Baby Driver PosterYou know that feeling when you get behind the wheel and YOUR song comes on? That song belongs to you and no one else, and it makes you feel like you can do anything, like you can tear up the road, and like you’ve never felt an emotion this strongly before. As you tap on the steering wheel and sing along to the lyrics, someone on the outside looking in might think you look pretty stupid. And you know what? You do, and you kind of know it. What crazy song is that you’re listening to anyways?

Edgar Wright knows that feeling. “Baby Driver” is that feeling. You could be listening to some ‘50s soul song that would be humiliating if anyone knew what you were jamming. Your name could be something silly like “Ansel Elgort,” and you could be wearing a cheap pair of drug store sunglasses as you strut down the road awkwardly avoiding foot and street traffic. But you are in that perfect moment. No one looks cooler. You’ve never felt more confident, inspired or uplifted. This feels awesome.

“Baby Driver” is in love with itself, with its style, its soundtrack and its energy. But Wright gets that to some degree this is just a little lame. If it was trying to be cool he would’ve filled it with Top 40 bangers and jukebox favorites. Instead he picked the deep cuts you dance to when no one is watching. “Baby Driver” is a heist and action movie with the volume turned up to 11, but Wright has selected a soundtrack so in tune with the movie he’s always wanted to make that it feels like a deeply personal statement. Continue reading “Baby Driver”

Margin Call

The Occupy Wall Street Protestors should watch “Margin Call.”

In fact, let the whole 99 percent watch it, as this intricate and cerebral character drama is not only an engaging dramatization of the start of the 2008 credit crisis but is also the finest 21st Century movie of the year.

It is possibly the finest fictional film yet made about the current financial crisis, and it is so because “Margin Call” makes out to humanize the 1 percenters that got us into this mess. It does not view these people as evil nor as idiotic, but as flawed, misguided and ultimately trapped people struggling like the rest of us.

As we attain pity for their sins, it has the power to educate us and immerse us in a realistic re-imagining of how this mess started.

The film focuses on a fictional investment-banking firm in a 24-hour period just as the markets began to collapse. Not afraid to spew jargon, “Margin Call” explains how the volatile derivative formulas that virtually no one in the firm can actually understand and yet governed the whole market ideology, proved to be completely wrong. It left the banks with bad mortgages and investments that had been bundled together and bought and sold globally to create a big housing and market bubble. Rather than simply tank and instantly bankrupt the entire company to ensue mass havoc, the banks disposed of all their bad investments in a fire sale, ruining everyone else in the process. Sorry to spoil that ending.

“Margin Call” views this action as a last ditch effort of these powerful people who now realize they have made a fatal mistake just to stay alive, even if it means compromising moral integrity and rational future business plans. And the film’s moral ambiguity coupled with its awareness of the inevitable fate in the future makes the film wonderfully compelling and poignant.

This is a strict dramatization, but one would like to think these ideas actually bounced around boardrooms. There are sinister ideas, but also feelings of remorse, panic and concern that make this screenplay by first time director and writer J.C. Chandor convincingly multi-dimensional.

What’s fascinating about “Margin Call” is how theatrical it is. You will not see graphs or numbers of any kind watching this film. At times the execs seem to understand as little as you do about the financial mumbo jumbo.

And everything about the film is calmly and carefully constructed drama befitting a play. Millions are being lost in seconds, and the movie does not devolve into mass panic and melodrama of bulls, bears, bells and whistles.

“Margin Call’s” star and producer Zachary Quinto is far from the young, hyper business student stock broker rattling off words at a mile a minute. He’s a cool and collected key in a marvelous, weakness free cast.

Jeremy Irons as the firm’s CEO is as commanding as he’s been on screen in years. Kevin Spacey is in full “Glengarry Glen Ross” mode. Simon Baker is a riveting Wall Street mogul that would give Gordon Gekko a run for his money and yet never feels too similar to that now cliché stereotype. Paul Bettany has two of the most memorable and poignant monologues together in one film this year. And Stanley Tucci is the most relatable of all as a manager who has just been laid off in a scene reminiscent of “Up in the Air.”

“Margin Call” is well aware of the now bleak economic future we live in, but in that way it is more relevant than ever. It provides the rationality that we have always and will always prosper and ruin ourselves in an endless cycle of capitalism.

As Kevin Spacey’s character does as the movie closes, the only thing left for us to do when it comes to expecting change in the market is to start digging our own graves.

4 stars


Horrible Bosses

Sometimes I wonder how anyone actually writes a comedy like “Horrible Bosses.” Who has the thesaurus that helps find smutty replacements for perfectly normal words? Sometimes the unrealistically raunchy factor in a movie like this serves as a disconnect from the otherwise witty and creative screenplay at hand.

At times, “Horrible Bosses” seems dirty for the sake of achieving an R-rating. Despite being about three guys plotting a way to kill their boss, the gratuitous language and casual discussion of rape make the material mature. For instance, somehow I question the ability of the word “dickswath” to come up in conversation naturally, and it makes me realize how contrived the rest of their dialogue appears.

It all subtracts from an otherwise darkly clever revenge comedy. Nick, Dale and Kurt (Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis) each have sadistic bosses controlling and ruining their lives. For Nick, he’s worked to the bone and denied a corner office promotion by his boss Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey). Kurt is left at the mercy of an uncaring coke addict Bobby Pellitt (Colin Farrell). And Dale is sexually harassed by his boss in the dentist office Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston), although only Dale really sees her as a problem. Continue reading “Horrible Bosses”

Rapid Response: L.A. Confidential

I’ve been playing the video game “L.A. Noire” for the last few weeks, and a game critic I admire said the game’s story borrowed heavily from the 1997 “L.A. Confidential.” I had seen the film before, but hadn’t remembered it for whatever reason. And the two stories do have their similarities, but the film’s rich characterization, stark yet colorful cinematography and gritty action sequences just can’t be beat by a video game.

It’s a story of the corrupt and broken Los Angeles police department in the 1950s when the actions of the police could still be brushed under the rug and their image manipulated within the press and how three completely different cops respond to that environment. Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce are the three cops, each of them giving great performances and giving the film more memorable moments than almost any noir made in the ‘40s.

That’s not to say “L.A. Confidential” is the best noir of all time, but the reason it stands out as a unique example of a noir is because while it has the complexity of “The Big Sleep” and the sleazy characters of “Double Indemnity,” it also has the modern vigor and intensity of other ‘90s action films. Continue reading “Rapid Response: L.A. Confidential”