TV Review 1.8 Pam & Tommy “Seattle” (dir by Gwyneth Horder-Payton)


Pam & Tommy comes to an end, not with a hard bang but instead with a flaccid whimper.

The final episode of Pam & Tommy opened with Seth Rogen’s Rand Gauthier wandering around with a pained expression on his face.  Apparently, this was the one thing that Rand was good at.  Rand has been beating up people who owe Butchie money but it’s starting to trouble him.  Rand believes in karma and thinks that being a glorified mob enforcer will turn karma against him.  Or maybe being a glorified mob enforcer is karma’s way of punishing Rand for stealing a sex tape and trying to sell it online in the first place.  It’s hard to say.  All I know is that there was way too much Rand and way too much karma talk for me.  The show may be based on what Rand claims actually happened to him but the idea of Rand, with his mom jeans and his mullet, becoming a feared debt collector is simply a bit too much.  Perhaps because he was just as sick of listening to Rand whine as the rest of us, Butchie offered to let Rand off the hook if Rand would simply pay him $10,000.  Rand, of course, doesn’t have $10,000, despite being responsible for coming up with the most profitable and lucrative use of the internet ever.  Loser!

Meanwhile, Tommy attempts to make a musical comeback by imitating the 90s Seattle sound while an actual resident of Seattle, Seth Warshovsky (Fred Hechinger), offers to buy the rights to Pam and Tommy’s sex tape.  On the one hand, selling the rights to Warshovsky will allow Warshovsky to sue anyone who is distributing and making money off of bootlegged copies.  On the other hand, it will also lead people to assume that Pam and Tommy were behind the video’s initial release.  Pam wants to do it.  Tommy refuses.  Their marriage starts to crumble.  The episode insinuates that the tape caused Pam to miss out on opportunities to appear in both L.A. Confidential and Austin Powers which …. yeah.  I’m honestly going to say that, as far as Pam not becoming a movie star and losing roles to Kim Basinger and Elizabeth Hurley, there may have been factors in play other than the sex tape and hypocritical American puritanism.  One can sympathize with what Pam went through while also still being honest about the fact that she was never a particularly good actress.  If anything, her talent and persona were perfect for television.

After 8 hours, the finale of Pam & Tommy didn’t add up too much.  We start to see that Pam is getting sick of Tommy’s immaturity and that Tommy can’t control his temper, even around Pam.  But it’s not until the end title cards that we’re informed that Pam and Tommy divorced after Tommy was arrested and did jail time for spousal abuse.  (We’re also told that both Pam and Tommy consider each other but the love of their lives, which is kind of a bold statement to make when neither Pam nor Tommy had anything to do with the production of Pam & Tommy.)  Seth Warshovsky pays Rand a total of $10,000 for the original copy of the sex tape and then goes on to make several million dollars off of it.  Rand considers using the money to settle his debt with Butchie but instead he gives the money to his ex-wife because that’s what karma would want him to do.  (One has to wonder if anyone involved with Pam & Tommy ever watched a little show called My Name Is Earl.)  Those helpful title cards inform us that Rand moved to North California and now works as a marijuana grower and that he still struggles to get people to believe that he’s the man who actually stole the tape.  It doesn’t mention whether he did anything about his hair.

The main problem with Pam & Tommy is that the story itself just wasn’t interesting enough to demand 8 hours of screen time.  The second biggest problem, and this is a problem with a lot of streaming miniseries, is that the show itself never really settled on a consistent tone.  Was it a drama or was it a live action cartoon?  The show couldn’t seem to make up its mind.  Themes were raised and then abandoned, as if the show itself was desperately trying to justify its existence.  Lily James gave a good performance as Pam.  Sebastin Stan has a few good moments as Tommy Lee.  Seth Rogen, Taylor Schilling, Andrew “Dice” Clay, and Nick Offerman all gave their characters one-note interpretations that didn’t add up too much.  Considering the talent involved, it’s all a bit of a shame.

Oh well.  It’s over now.

TV Review: Pam & Tommy “Destroyer of Worlds” (dir by Lake Bell)


After two blissfully Rand-free episodes of Pam & Tommy, Rand Gauthier (Seth Rogen) returned to dominate this week’s episode.  As soon as things opened with a close-up of Rand looking like someone had just run over his favorite pet, I groaned very loudly.  Rand is such an unlikable character and the show insists on trying to make us feel sorry for this loser.  Even if Seth Rogen wasn’t both miscast and intent on giving the worst performance of his career in the role, Rand would make Pam & Tommy difficult to watch.

Rand (or Reed or whatever his name is supposed to be) was basically upset because he wasn’t making any money off of the Pam and Tommy sex tape.  Instead, the bootleggers were making all the money.  Rand/Reed also got upset because cocaine addict Uncle Miltie (Nick Offerman) turned out to be a bad business partner.  Meanwhile, Butchie (Andrew “Dice” Clay, acting up a storm with little to show for it) wanted his money and demanded that Reed/Rand turn into a debt collector.  “I AM THE DESTROYER OF WORLDS!” a frustrated Rand declared as he collected a debt and seriously, what the heck?  (Folks, I gave up cursing for Lent.  Just go with me here.)  The episode’s best moment was when Rand tried to blackmail Tommy and Tommy reacted by setting the money on fire while Randy Reed watched.  What made this scene so great was that Tommy called Reedy Rand a loser.  Again, I got the feeling that we were supposed to feel bad for Rand but …. eh.  Who cares?  Rand is a loser and the mullet isn’t making him look any better.

If the highlight of the episode was Tommy setting that money on fire while taunting Rand, the show’s second best moment was Pam appearing on The Tonight Show and having to deal with a series of disrespectful and infuriatingly sexist questions from Jay Leno.  The actor playing Leno essentially played him as being the devil, which was kind of amusing.  Watching the scenes with Leno acting like a member of the Spanish Inquisition, I found myself thinking about how Ken Russell probably could have done something amazing with this material.  The scene ended with Pam having to talk Tommy out of beating up Jay Leno, which again was kind of amusing.  Just imagine if Tommy had stormed onto the Tonight Show set and thrown a punch while Jay was introducing Hugh Grant.  That would have been classic television.

As the Tonight Show debacle indicated, the release of Barb Wire was overshadowed by Pam and Tommy’s court case against Penthouse.  The judge ruled that the 1st Amendment gave Penthouse the right to publish still from the tape.  Tommy was too stupid to realize that the judge had ruled against him.  Pam responded with a monologue about how the judge was actually saying that it was okay to exploit her because she wore a swimsuit on Baywatch and she also previously appeared in Playboy.  Pam had a point but, as so often happens on this show, that point was somewhat negated by the fact that the real-life Pamela Anderson never signed off on having her life dramatized in Pam & Tommy and, as a result, the show is itself a bit exploitive.

The show also continues to feel a bit pointless, despite Lily James’s frequently excellent performance as Pam.  Again, it’s hard not to wonder why exactly this story demands the limited series treatment as opposed to the 90-minute movie treatment.  Indeed, by stretching thing out over 8 hours, Pam & Tommy just reminds us of how superficial this story really is.

One final note: early on in the episode, Butchie is shocked to discover that there’s a new coffee company in Seattle that’s called Starbucks.  I’ve noticed this is a joke that’s popped up in a lot of movies about the 90s and it feels rather lazy.  They should have made an AOL joke instead.

TV Review: Pam & Tommy 1.6 “Pamela in Wonderland” (dir by Hannah Fidell)


Yes, I’m still reviewing this.

If the earlier episodes of Pam & Tommy seemed to owe a huge debt to the aesthetic of Ryan Murphy, the latest episode feels more indebted to the style of Aaron Sorkin.  The entire episode centered around Pam testifying at a deposition.  While being asked increasingly intrusive and sexist questions about her career as a model and how she and Tommy came to make the infamous the sex tape, Pam flashed back to her past.  We saw how she was discovered at a Canadian Football game and how she eventually ended up up posing for Playboy.  Hugh Hefner (played by Mike Seely) showed up, wearing his stupid red robe, and puffing away on his pipe.  In typical Sorkin rip-off fashion, the episode featured the attorneys asking a lot of questions and the only person of color to be seen was the unnamed court stenographer whose only line of dialogue was to briefly give Pam some encouragement.

Compared to the other episodes of Pam & Tommy, Pam In Wonderland actually worked fairly well.  It helped that it largely focused on Lily James, whose performance as Pam is probably the strongest thing that this show has going for it.  This is the second episode in a row not to feature the character of Reed Gauthier and the show was definitely better off without his presence and the attempts to somehow convince us that there’s any reason to portray him as being a sympathetic character.  With no Reed and Tommy reduced to appearing in flashbacks, this was the first episode that was fully told from Pam’s point of view and, when the attorneys suggested that Pam was somehow to blame for what had happened because of her past as a model or just the fact that she allowed herself to be filmed in the first place, every woman watching could relate to what Pam was going through because we’ve all heard the same condescending tone and we’ve all been told that somehow, the bad things that happen to us are actually our fault.  Lily James did a wonderful job of portraying Pam’s struggle to keep smiling and just get through the worst day of her life.  I knew what she was going through.  Again, Lily James is the best thing that this show has going for it.

And yet, I have to be honest that I still found myself wondering just what exactly the overall point of the show is.  For all of the episode’s strong points, it’s still hard to see why this story needs to be told as an 8-hour miniseries as opposed to a 90-minute film on FX.  The first three episodes did a good job of fitting this story into the early days of the Internet and the culture of the late 90s.  But the subsequent episodes haven’t added much to that initial impression.  It’s also worth noting that Pam herself has repeatedly distanced herself from the program and said, even before the show started shooting, that she didn’t want anything to do with it.  One could argue that, as a show, Pam & Tommy is as intrusive and exploitive as the attorneys at the disposition.  With each new episode, it become difficult to deny that this is a show that seeks to exploit the very same thing that it claims to be condemning.

One final thought on this episode and culture in general: how did people not realize that Hugh Hefner was creepy as Hell before he died?  Today, of course, A&E is airing an entire TV series dedicated to exploring what an asshole Hugh Hefner actually was.  But, just 11 years ago, Hefner was still being portrayed as some lovable old lothario in a sailor’s cap.  NBC even tried to air a Mad Men-style show about how great life was at The Playboy Club.  Remember that?  Creepy old Hef even provided the narration at the start of the first episode.  Last night’s episode of Pam & Tommy presented Hef as being essentially a benevolent (if manipulative) father figure.  It felt oddly tone deaf, though that may indeed be how Pam herself saw the old man.

Seriously, though …. did no one ever tell him how stupid he looked in those red pajamas?

TV Review: Pam & Tommy 1.4 “The Master Beta” (dir by Lake Bell)


“I’ve made a terrible mistake.”

That was my thought after I published my review of the first three episodes of Pam & Tommy.  Don’t get me wrong.  I stand by everything that I wrote in that review.  The first three episodes were relatively well-made and they captured as specific point in time and Lily James was likably earnest as Pam.

Instead, my concern came from the fact that, by reviewing the first three episodes, I had now committed myself to watching and reviewing the entire series.  And, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there was no way that Pam & Tommy could remain interesting for a total of 8 hours, not unless the show abandoned its Ryan Murphy-lite approach and did something really unexpected with its recreation of the story.  There’s just not enough there.  This is a good 2-hour story but Pam & Tommy is an 8-epiosde miniseries.  That’s 8-plus hours of Pam getting upset, Tommy acting like a dumbass, and Rand being every creepy guy who has ever approached you in a bar and started asking you about the book you’re reading.  (It would, of course, never occur to him that the main reason you’re reading the book is to avoid talking to guys like him.)

Having now watched the fourth episode, it’s hard not to feel that I was very much correct in my concerns.  Don’t get me wrong.  The fourth episode had its moments.  It featured an enjoyably intense performance from Don Harvey as the legendary Hollywood private investigator, Anthony Pellicano.  Once Tommy finally discovers that his safe has been stolen and Pam reminds him about the videotape, Pellicano is the man who they approach to track down the perpetrator.  This leads to a scene of Pellicano beating the crap out of Rand and it’s fun to watch.  Some of that is because Don Harvey is a master of portraying urbane menace.  But I have to admit that a lot of it is because Rand himself is such an annoying character.  This episode opened with Seth Rogen, as Rand, wandering around a porn set and trying to reconnect with his estranged wife (Taylor Schilling), who significantly was just trying to read Anne Rice’s latest book when he approached her.  Just the sight of Rand, with his mullet and his sad-sack facial expression, was so annoying that it was actually cathartic to see him get tossed around his apartment.

The problem is that the show wants us to feel some sympathy for Rand but there’s nothing sympathetic about him.  He’s a loser and the fact that he still loves his wife and still wants to take care of her doesn’t make him any less of a loser.  He’s a thief, a guy who accidentally stole a sex tape and then decided to put it online.  The fact that he later feels guilty doesn’t change the fact that he did it.  There’s as scene in the fourth episode where Rand is upset to see someone else selling bootleg copies of the tape.  On the one hand, it’s not a bad scene.  There’s an enjoyable irony to Rand discovering that someone has essentially stolen the tape from him after Rand went through so much trouble to steal the tape from Tommy.  But the show doesn’t seem to be sure whether it wants us to laugh at Rand’s misfortune or to sympathize with him as he realizes that the consequences of his actions are out of his control.  As a character, Rand is not compelling enough for both to be an option.

As for the title characters, both Sebastian Stan and Lily James do their best but I get the feeling that we’ve already learned all the we need to know about them.  There was one good moment that examined Pam and Tommy’s different reactions to the release of the sex tape but otherwise, neither Tommy nor Pam are really that interesting as characters.  I ended the fourth hour of Pam & Tommy very much aware that there were still four more hours to go.  What else, I found myself wondering, could be left to be said?

The Things You Find on Netflix: Rebecca (dir by Ben Wheatley)


Ben Wheatley’s new film, Rebecca, is the second cinematic adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s classic gothic romance.  It was first adapted by David O. Selznick and Alfred Hitchcock in 1940.  That Rebecca was the only Hitchcock film to win the Oscar for Best Picture, though Hitchcock himself reportedly felt that Rebecca was more indicative of Selznick’s style than his own.

Ben Wheatley, as one might expect from the brilliant director of A Field in England, takes his own idiosyncratic approach to the material.  From the start, he gets two things right when he casts Lily James as the second Mrs. de Winter and Armie Hammer as the enigmatic Maxim de Winter.  James and Hammer are ideal for these roles because they’re both so achingly pretty that they seem like they belong on the cover of a gothic romance.  That’s especially true of Armie Hammer, who has never been that interesting of an actor but who still has the type of chiseled screen presence that makes him ideally suited for roles like the one that he plays here.  He’s tall, handsome, a bit dull, and undeniably upper class.  He’s an appealing slab of beef and that makes him perfect for the role of Maxim de Winter.

Directing in vibrant color and taking advantage of the fact that the films stars two of the best-looking people working in the movies today, Wheatley brings an erotic charge to the story that was missing from Hitchcock’s more sedate (and Production code-restricted) version of the story.  When Maxim and the woman who will became the second Mrs. de Winter embark on their whirlwind romance on the French Riviera, there might as well be a title card that announces, “Yeah, they’re fucking.”  There’s nothing subtle about it but, at the same time, it provides a definite contrast to the second part of the film, in which Maxim and Mrs. de Winter return to the grand but chilly mansion of Manderley and Maxim goes from being charming and sensual to being cold and withdrawn.

It’s also at Manderley that we meet Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), who is obsessed with preserving the memory of Maxim’s first wife, Rebecca.  Scott Thomas is perfect casting for Mrs. Danvers.  In fact, at first, she seems almost too perfect for the role.  She’s so imperious and passive aggressively hostile when we first meet her that I was worried that Scott Thomas wouldn’t be able to bring much more to the role beyond what she had already shown.  However, as the film progresses, Scott Thomas turns Danvers into a surprisingly vulnerable character, with the film suggesting that she’s as much of a victim of Rebecca’s toxic legacy as anyone else at Maderley.

Wheatley’s Rebecca is all about the journey of the second Mrs. de Winter and her transformation from being meek and somewhat mousey to being someone who refuses to be cast in anyone else’s shadow.  When Maxim says that Mrs. de Winter is no longer the innocent girl that he meet on the Riviera, Maxim is disappointed but Mrs. de Winter is not.  By the end of the film, the de Winters resemble none other than Henry and June Miller, searching the world for their place and casting seductive glances at the audience.

Visually, it’s a stunning film.  The colors are vibrant.  The sets are ornate.  The costumes are to die for.  That said, the film itself is never quite as engaging as it should be.  Despite the strength of the cast, the film still leaves the viewer feelings somewhat detached.  It’s all wonderfully produced by the film still feels more like an intellectual exercise than an emotional one.  Wheatley is a brilliant filmmaker but, when the second Mrs. de Winter announces that everything she’s been through is worth it because she’s found love, you don’t believe her and you don’t get the feeling that, deep down, Wheatley believes her either.  Instead, it’s hard not to feel that this version of Rebecca is a romance that doesn’t believe in love.  It’s interesting but it’s not particularly satisfying.

Here’s The Trailer For Ben Wheatley’s Rebecca!


Ben Wheatley is one of the most interesting directors working today.  As I’ve stated many times, I consider A Field In England to be one of the best films of the last ten years.

Wheatley’s next film is going to be an adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s classic gothic tale, Rebecca!  Alfred Hitchcock adaptation of du Maurier’s novel was named the Best Picture of 1940.  Wheatley’s version has been described as a “modern” updating of the classic story.

Rebecca will be released on Netflix on October 21st and it will star Lily James, Armie Hammer, and Kristin Scott Thomas in the roles that were previously played by Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, and Judith Anderson.  Here’s the trailer:

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Darkest Hour (dir by Joe Wright)


The 2017 best picture nominee, Darkest Hour, opens with Europe at war.

While the United States remains officially neutral, the Nazi war machine marches across Europe.  After years of appeasement, the United Kingdom has finally declared war on Germany but the feeling in Parliament is that Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) is not strong enough to take on Hitler.  When the Opposition demands that Chamberlain resign, Chamberlain does so with the hope that he’ll be replaced by Lord Halifax (Stephen Dillane).  Like Chamberlain, Halifax continues to hold out hope for some sort of negotiated peace with the Germans.  However, Halifax declines, saying that it’s not yet his time.  Instead, Chamberlain’s successor is Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), the only Conservative that the Opposition is willing to accept as Prime Minister.

(This is a bit of invention on the part of the filmmakers.  In reality, the Opposition did demand Chamberlain’s resignation but they did not stipulate that he could only be replaced by Churchill.)

No one is particularly enthusiastic about the idea of Winston Churchill becoming prime minister.  Chamberlain and Halifax both view him as being a war monger who is so determined to prove himself as a military strategist that he’ll sacrifice thousands of British lives just for his own glory.  The King (Ben Mendelsohn) worries that Churchill is an unreliable radical and he still resents Churchill for defending the marriage of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson.  Churchill is regularly described as being a buffoon and an eccentric.  He’s quick-tempered and obsessive about things that many people would consider to be of no importance.  When we first see Churchill, he’s making his new assistant (played by Lily James) cry because he’s discovered that she single-spaced a memo as opposed to double-spacing it.  The only people who seem to like Winston are the member of his family and even his loyal wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) is frequently frustrated with him.

Churchill’s enemies are not impressed by his first actions as prime minister.  They listen in disgust as he lies about the prospects of victory in France.  They are shocked by his refusal to even consider a negotiated peace.  They are horrified by his ruthless pragmatism as he willing sacrifice a thousand British soldiers in order to save several thousand more at Dunkirk.  An aristocrat who has been rejected by his peers, Churchill is betrayed by those serving in his government but beloved by the people who ride the Underground and who are being asked to potentially sacrifice everything to defeat Hitler’s war machine.

As directed by Joe Wright, Darkest Hour plays out like a dream, with 1940s Britain recreated in hues of black and gray.  The film’s visual palette is so dark that, at times, Gary Oldman’s Winston Churchill appears to literally emerge out of the shadows, an almost mythical figure who symbolizes a society in transition.  In many ways, Churchill is an old-fashioned Edwardian who nostalgically remembers the glory days of the British Empire.  At the same time, Churchill is enough of a realist to see that the world is changing and, regardless of who wins the war, that it will never be the same.  Churchill is enough of an aristocrat to be unaware of what a backwards V-sign means but also enough of a commoner to laugh uproariously upon learning its meaning.

Churchill spends a good deal of the film bellowing and, at times, it’s easy to see why many initially dismissed him as being a buffoon.  Indeed, in Darkest Hour, Churchill frequently is a buffoon.  But he’s also a pragmatic leader who truly loves his country and its people.  Oldman has a lot of scenes where he’s loud but he also has other scenes in which he reveals Churchill to be a thoughtful man who loves his country and who is determined to win a war that many believe to be unwinnable.  When he’s reduced to calling the United States and has to pathetically beg President Roosevelt to honor a treaty, you feel for Churchill and you share his frustration as he tries to get the flaky FDR to understand the reality of what’s happening in Europe.  When Churchill explains why he’s willing to sacrifice a thousand in order to save 41,000 more, Oldman delivers his lines with a steely certainty.  As played by Oldman, Churchill knows what has to be done, even if no one else has any faith in him.

It’s a good film, even if it ultimately feels more like a showcase for one actor than a cohesive narrative.  The rest of the cast does a good job, especially Ronald Pickup as the haunted and dying Neville Chamberlain.  But ultimately, Darkest Hour is Gary Oldman’s show.  That’s appropriate.  Much as how Churchill dominated British politics, Gary Oldman has dominated British acting.  Not surprisingly, Gary Oldman won his first Oscar for playing Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour.  The film was also nominated for best picture but it lost to Shape of Water.

 

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2019: Yesterday (dir by Danny Boyle)


It’s a bit of an odd film, Yesterday is.

Himesh Patel plays Jack Malik, a singer-songwriter who has struggled to find much success.  The only person who believes in him is his manager, a school teacher named Ellie Appleton (Lily James).  (Given the film’s subject matter, Ellie’s last name is a significant one.)  One night, the entire world is hit by a brief blackout.  Jack misses most of the excitement because he’s in a coma, having been hit by a bus.

When Jack wakes up from his coma, he’s shocked to discover that he’s lost several teeth and now looks kind of silly whenever he speaks, sings, or even smiles.  However, he also eventually discovers that he is now apparently the only person in the world who remembers The Beatles!

Somehow (it’s never explained how), that global blackout changed history.  It’s not that the Beatles ceased to exist as individuals.  In one of the film’s more affecting scenes, Jack drives out to the country and meets John Lennon (Robert Carlyle), who never became a superstar and who, as a result, was never assassinated.  However, in this new world, the Beatles never came together as a group and, as a result, some of the most beloved songs in history were never written.  Only Jack knows the lyrics and music for Eleanor Rigby, Yesterday, The Long and Riding Road, Let It Be, Back in the USSR, and …. well, everything!

(Oddly enough, the Beatles no longer existing has also led to several other things no longer existing.  It’s impossible not to laugh when Jack discovers that, without the Beatles, there was never an Oasis.  At the same time, there’s also no Coke or Harry Potter books.  I guess the Beatles weren’t around to inspire J.K. Rowling but why Coke would vanish is a bit more confusing.  Since Coke predates the Beatles by a century, perhaps the the film is less about how strange the world is without Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and instead about how we owe everything good in the world to John Pemberton.)

Needless to say, this leads to Jack becoming a huge star.  He’s soon touring with Ed Sheeran and recording his debut album.  And yet, through it all, Jack is haunted by the fact that the music isn’t truly his.  Will Jack continue to plagiarize his way to stardom?  And will Jack and Ellie ever realize that they’re in love and totally meant to be together?  Watch to find out, I suppose!

As I said at the start of this review, Yesterday is a bit of an odd film.  Directed by Danny Boyle and written by Richard Curtis, it’s a meeting of two talents that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to compliment each other.  Surprisingly enough, though, the mix of Curtis’s sentimentality and Boyle’s more subversive instincts works well.  This is to especially be found in the scene where Jack meets John Lennon.  On paper, the scene shouldn’t work but it does work because Boyle is enough of a contrarian to direct his actors to play the scene with a wistful sadness.  The script may have intended the scene to prove that Lennon would have found happiness no matter what but Boyle directs it as if to say, “It probably would have been better for John if the Beatles has never existed….”  Stylistically, Boyle is too much of a cheerful anarchist to fully embrace Curtis’s romcom-style love of the Beatles.  At the same time, Curtis’s more earnest dialogue often undercuts Boyle’s more excessive instincts.  The end result is a sweet-natured movie with an edge.

Making his feature film debut, Himsh Patel is likable as Jack, even if he doesn’t quite have rock star charisma.  (Then again, that’s also a part of the film’s humor.  On his own, Jack is destined to forever be the opening act, the acceptable performer who is forgotten as soon as the headliners show up.  It’s only after the Beatles are wiped from everyone’s memory that Jack is able to become a star.)  Lily James does her best with an underwritten role and Ed Sheeran plays a hilariously vapid version of himself.

Yesterday is a good-natured tribute to the power of music and one band in particular.

Film Review: Baby Driver (dir by Edgar Wright)


Baby Driver, the new film from director Edgar Wright, is awesome!

That’s the succinct way of putting it and, if you really want to fully enjoy this film, I suggest that you stop reading this review now. There’s no way that a review cannot, to a certain extent, spoil a movie.  Baby Driver is a kinetic blend of action, comedy, romance, and music and it is a movie that you should see without any preconceived notions and expectations.  It’s a movie that earns the right to surprise you with just how good and entertaining it is.  It’s a movie that you should experience fresh.

So, go see the movie.  Seriously, go right now.  GET OUT OF HERE AND SEE THE MOVIE!  This review will still be waiting for you when you get back.  Who knows?  Maybe, while you’re watching the movie, I’ll actually correct some of the typos.  Or maybe not.

Anyway, go away.  I’ll wait for you to return.

la dee da la dee da…

Okay, did you see the movie?  It’s really great, isn’t it?

As a result of the childhood car accident that killed his parents, Baby (Ansel Elgort) has been left with a permanent case of tinnitus.  He uses music to drown out the constant ringing in his ears.  There’s almost never a time that Baby isn’t listening to his ipod.  When we first see Baby, he’s sitting behind the wheel of a car, singing along with Jon Spencer and the Blues Explosion.  The second time that we see him, he’s getting coffee while listening to Harlem Shuffle.  In a delirious homage to Singin’ In The Rain (and in a scene that puts the opening traffic jam of La La Land to shame), Baby literally dances across the streets of Los Angeles.  For Baby, every day is a musical.

Of course, Baby doesn’t just use music to block out the ringing.  He also uses the music (and an ever-present pair of sunglasses) to keep the world out.  He rarely speaks or even makes eye contact and, as long as he’s listening to his ipod, he has an excuse not to interact.  He doesn’t have to explain the small scars around his eyes or how he makes his money.  The few times that he does speak to people, it’s to record their voices, which he then turns into music.  Music and the driving are the only two ways this orphan can express his feelings.

When the movie begins, Baby appears to be close to only two men.  One is his deaf foster father, Joseph (CJ Jones).  Baby lives with Joseph, in an apartment where Baby regularly stashes thousands of dollars.  Joseph always watches in disapproval as Baby hides the money under the floorboards.  Joseph signs at Baby that he deserves better than the life he’s leading.  Baby always signs back that he’s only a few jobs away from being done.

Baby’s other father figure is Doc (Kevin Spacey).  Doc is a rich and connected man.  At times, he seems to sincerely care about Baby but there are other times when Doc is just as quick to threaten to kill him and everyone that he loves.  Doc plans bank robberies for a living.  Doc may change associates from robbery to robbery but one thing always remains consistent.  Baby is always his driver because Baby is the best.  As Doc explains it, the first time he saw Baby, he was stealing Doc’s Mercedes.  Baby drives for Doc as a way of paying off his debt to the older man but you still believe Baby’s sincerity when he tells Doc, “We’re a team.”  (One the film’s best throw-away jokes is the line where Doc reveals that he knows where Baby got the idea to say that.)

Things start to change for Baby when he meets Debora (Lily James), a waitress who appears to love music just as much he does.  For Baby and Debora, it’s love at first sight but Doc has one more job that he needs Baby for.  It’s their most dangerous job yet and, making thing even more complicated, are the three people who Doc has recruited to work with Baby.  Buddy (Jon Hamm) is a former wall street banker who is eager to prove what a badass he is.  Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) is his wife, who enjoys talking about how many of their former partners have died.  And finally, there’s Bats (Jamie Foxx), a complete and total psycho who brags about never telling a single story that doesn’t end with someone getting killed.

Baby Driver is a propulsive blast of pure adrenaline, perhaps the closest that we will ever get to a genuine pulp musical.  The action scenes left me literally breathless.  I saw the movie at the Alamo Drafthouse and, before the film started, there was a clip of Edgar Wright listing his favorite car chases.  He listed all of the usual suspects, Bullitt, The French Connection, Mad Max: Thunder Road.  The chases scenes in Baby Driver can proudly be listed next to all of those scenes.  This is genuinely exciting crime film, featuring wonderfully over-the-top turns from Foxx, Hamm, and especially Spacey.

But you know what?  Baby Driver may be a great action film but what makes it special is that it’s also a film with a heart.  Rather bravely, Edgar Wright has not only made an action musical but he’s also mixed in a very sincere and unabashedly sentimental love story.  You never doubt for a second that Baby would give up everything — music, driving, even his life — for Debora.  The scenes between Baby and Debora are almost deliriously romantic.  Ansel Elgort and Lily James both share a very likable and very real chemistry.  You want things to work out for Debora and Baby.  You feel like they belong together and, when it looks like either Baby or Debora might be in danger, you worry for both of them.  As exciting as the film’s action sequences were, it was the ending that brought tears to my eyes and that was almost totally due to the performances of Elgort and James.

Baby Driver is one of the best films that I’ve seen so far this year.  See it this weekend!  If you’ve already seen it, see it again!  This film deserves to be rewarded.

 

 

Horror Trailer: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies


PrideAndPrejudiceAndZombies

It looks like they’ve actually gone ahead and made the damn thing. I remember writing about news of the Seth Grahame-Smith horror mash-up novel being green-lit for the big-screen all the way back in 2010. Yet, nothing much ever came of it. Directors were hired and the cast was set, but each passing year something would derail the project and things would go back to square one.

Now, over five years since that initial announcement back in 2011 we finally have proof that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has actually completed filming and will soon be up on the big-screen this February 16, 2016.