Baby Driver

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is the driver for an ever-changing roster of heist teams, led by Doc (Kevin Spacey). Baby is in debt to Doc, but is just one job away from being square, which makes it a fairly inopportune point in his life to meet and fall in love with Debora (Lily James), a waitress at his local diner. When Doc makes it clear he has no intention of letting Baby, his lucky charm, out of the gang, Baby finds himself in a tricky situation, stuck in a world of criminals including Buddy (Jon Hamm), his wife Darling (Eiza González) and the self-proclaimed crazy guy Bats (Jamie Foxx). Oh, and as a child Baby survived a car accident which killed his parents and left him with permanent tinnitus, something he can only drown out by constantly playing music.
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The Life of David Gale

David Gale (Kevin Spacey) used to have it all. He was the Head of Philosophy at Austin University, an acclaimed writer with a wife and son (with some dinosaur pyjamas I’m more than slightly jealous of), co-director of Death Watch a group against the death penalty, and he had the moral standing to turn down the advances of a nubile young student out for an easy A (Rhona Mitra). Now, however, he’s in jail, about to be condemned with the very punishment he’s spent his life protesting against, having been convicted of the rape and murder of his friend, colleague and fellow protester, Constance Harroway (Laura Linney). Three days before his scheduled execution, Gale requests three interviews with ambitious yet unfortunately named magazine journalist Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet), to whom he tells his story in the hope that she will believe him, and discover whoever is behind his supposed framing for the crime he says he didn’t commit.

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Superman Returns

Superman, the last surviving alien from the planet Krypton with god-like powers, has left the city of Metropolis that he has protected for decades to return to the last known whereabouts of his destroyed planet. Upon discovering nothing to be found where his planet used to be, he returns back to Earth, and re-assumes his alter ego of Clark Kent, a mild-mannered journalist for The Daily Planet. He attempts to rebuild his relationship with Pulitzer-prize winning co-journo Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), but is annoyed to discover that not only is she engaged to their boss’ nephew (James Marsden), but she has a son, Jason (Tristan Lake Leabu). Meanwhile, having recently been released from prison, Superman’s former nemesis Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) is busy hatching a plan involving crystals found in Supe’s mysterious Fortress of Solitude.

I’m not a fan of Superman. There, I said it. I remember half-watching the 1978 Christopher Reeve version when I was younger, but I can tell you literally nothing about it, and I remember watching Superman Returns a few years ago, but I couldn’t remember too much about that either, other than the shot of Bosworth’s Lois ascending in an elevator, Spacey’s Lex Luthor being near water at some point and the shot of Superman being shot in the eye that was in the trailers. To be fair, that viewing was overshadowed by a rather eventful mid-film pee break.
I remember the rest of the day clearly. It was pretty much the first time I’d tried Pick’n’Mix sweets (I was aged 19 I think), and all I’d consumed so far that day was strawberries with orange juice for breakfast, a couple of glasses of Coca Cola, and several fistfuls of Pick’n’Mix. My student days were not necessarily the healthiest of times. About halfway through the film, buoyed by the saccharine high of the tooth-rotting goodies  I’d consumed, I desperately need a wee. So i nipped to the loo, and mid-stream I passed out, and woke up face down on the toilet bowl. This is a very unusual place to regain consciousness, and needless to say, once I re-entered the lounge and joined my housemates watching the film, I didn’t take too much of the rest of the film in, hence why I remembered so little. I promise that I don’t make a habit of passing out during films, although later that day something similar occurred during an advert break in The Long Kiss Goodnight, this times resulting in my collapsing face-up (again mid-urination), still clutching the 2″ thick acrylic shower rail I’d previously been using to steady myself, that had now been sheared from the wall. Don’t worry, other than my recent Looper adventures, the only other time I’ve passed out was last year, again during a period of relieving myself, but was not halfway through a film. It did require the purchasing of a new toilet brush holder, as apparently the one we used to own wasn’t designed to withstand 15 stone of unconscious man falling onto it. 

Anyway, me fainting halfway through the first time I watched the film has nothing to do with whether I like it or not, I just enjoy retelling overly personal stories from my life that are at best tangentially related to the film I’m reviewing. No, what I don’t really like about Superman is that he’s just too powerful. His powers are seemingly beyond limit, with the only things he cannot do being the ones he hasn’t tried yet. He has flight, x-ray vision, super speed, strength, laser-eyes, time-travel, advanced hearing, super-whistling, fucking everything. And he only really has one weakness; Kryptonite; an extremely rare green rock. Which basically means that if people don’t know about this weakness, or there isn’t any of the super-scarce emerald stone around, there’s pretty much nothing in the way of Superman saving the day. I never really got into Smallville, even though I was pretty much slap-bang in the target demographic when it came out, and I can’t even get excited about next year’s Man Of Steel, even with Zack Snyder directing and Christopher Nolan producing. Needless to say, this film was going to have it’s work cut out if I was going to be impressed by the end of the viewing.

Initially I was intrigued by the film, as it has an interesting and somewhat eclectic cast. Kevin Spacey is perfect as Luthor, taking over from Gene Hackman. Spacey is his usual dependable self, and it at his best when in full-on bad guy mode, which is most certainly the case here. Elsewhere, Eva Marie Saint was a nice touch as Martha, Clarke’s adoptive mother, though disappointingly she doesn’t really get a lot to do, as is also the case with Frank Langella’s Perry White, Clarke and Lois’ boss. James Marsden once again plays a man caught on the cold side of a love triangle between the film’s hero and heroine (see also The X-Men trilogy, The Notebook, Enchanted), and Parker Posey is always a welcome addition to any cast, here playing Luthor’s sidekick/partner/main source of annoyance. Oh, and Kal Penn’s there too, but I’m fairly sure he never actually says anything, and [TINY SPOILER] is given a terrible cop out death with Luthor’s other two goons at the end [END OF TINY SPOILER].

Where the casting really falls down though is with the leads. Kate Bosworth, aged 23 when the film was released, looks far too young to play a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, and seems dwarfed even by her own clothes. She also displays practically no likable qualities – she frequently dissolves into childish hissy-fits and strops whenever she (justifiably) doesn’t get her way. Brandon Routh, on the other hand, looks the part of both Superman and his public identity, but whenever he tries to act he appears to be made more of wood than the steel of his nickname. And in the many, many CGI shots of him flying or in danger, the film seems to become a late 90s video game, so terrible are the graphics. Most egregiously, the film’s final shot is one such diabolically bad render. Even in some of the non-CG shots Routh appears to have a plastic-like finish, possibly to make him look more similar to the computer generated bits.

Another part that really bothered me was that the film is clearly set in modern times, with space shuttles, airplanes, videocameras etc. all being integral to the plot, but the architecture and fashions all seem to be stuck in the 1920s, up to the point of large sections seeming like they were shot in sepia. This is none more clear than in Parker Posey’s outfit in the car sequence. Adding the newspaper-room setting reminded me heavily of The Hudsucker Proxy, a film I liked a great deal more than this one, and which inspired me to suggest Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lois, although Amy Adams’ casting is possibly the only thing I approve of for the next film. I can see where director Bryan Singer was coming from with the mix of old and new styles, but it never really worked for me, and I found the whole thing very jarring. The overall plot was mostly just silly too, and various minor plotlines – the one involving Lois’ son for instance – felt unsatisfying and, at times, just plain stupid. The first 60% of the film seemed to drag too, as Lex’s plot is kept a mystery, and there doesn’t seem to be too much for Superman to really fight against. And part of the finale, in which lives hang in the balance of a fax machine’s volume, is not quite dated yet, but will be very soon. And who the hell puts a snooker table on a boat? Seriously.

There were some nice touches though. I approved of the little in-jokes for superhero fans (a news reporter mentions that they’ve received a message from Gotham), and the moment where Clarke pretends to be a bit confused and muddled to but Lois off the scent was good. The shoehorning-in of the “It’s a bird, it’s a plane…” line was clumsy, but still managed to raise a smile from me, even if it was accompanied with an eye-roll. The destruction of a model railway town may not sound like the grandest action set-piece in a film, but for me it was the highlight here, with it being shot in a similar fashion to a Roland Emmerich film. That one short sequence was more entertaining than the entirety of 2012, I can tell you.Elsewhere, some camerawork really disappointed me – a shot heading over a balcony and down, to focus on Lex reading a newspaper felt clunky and jerky – but this was more than made up for by the visually stunning space-set opening.

The viewing of the film was worth it to finally discover the origin of two Adam Carolla Show sound effects (“Wrong!” and “You’re losing your hair,” for fellow regular listeners), but sadly other than this point I was thoroughly underwhelmed by the whole thing. All being well, my low hopes for the upcoming Man of Steel may result in me being pleasantly surprise. Here’s hoping.

Choose life 4/10

Seven

A buddy cop movie with a seasoned old hand so close to retirement they’re already scraping his name off the door and his hotshot, firebrand young replacement, this couldn’t be further from another Lethal Weapon. Yes, one’s a family man and the other’s a loner, one is prone to anger and the other a methodical, careful detective clearly too old for this shit, but where Richard Donner’s 80’s staple is an entertaining, action-packed romp, this is something much darker.After a disturbingly evocative opening credits sequence enriched with depth and meaning on repeated viewings, we meet Morgan Freeman’s detective Somerset, picking up his last case, a sickeningly masterful serial killer with a penchant for the seven deadly sins, the same day as Brad Pitt’s Detective Mills arrives to replace him. That’s as much setup as there is, as we follow the mismatched detectives from crime scene to crime scene, via their headquarters and areas of research, with Somerset whiling a night away poring over books in the library, whilst Mills take a brief glance at the Cliff notes.

The script is dotted with well balanced moments of humour – Somerset having dinner with Mills and his wife Tracey (Gwyneth Paltrow) – and some deep black humour: “this guy’s sat in his own piss and shit; if he wasn’t dead he’d’ve stood up by now,” plus R. Lee Ermey’s belligerent, furious Police Captain (“This is not even my desk” is one of my favourite film quotes, ever).

Crucially, we see none of the killer’s murders onscreen, merely their gruesome aftermaths. It’s not as gory as you might remember, but it evokes imagery and feelings that some may find disturbing, not least what happens to Leland Orser’s character, who probably has the worst memories of those who survive. It could be argues that this is a precursor to the Saw franchise, punishing those that seem to deserve it in creative, torturous ways, but at least here we are saved the nightmarish spectacles of witnessing the deaths.

At times the film feels a bit predictable, like a police procedural itself, but whenever this is about to happen the plot shifts direction, taking an unexpected twist to shake things up again. The colour palette of muted greys and browns, interspersed with deep reds amongst the incessant torrential downpour of the nameless city only adds to the feelings of despair.

There’s small roles for John C. McGinley and Richard Schiff in there as well, a nice surprise for me in the opening credits, but unfortunately at times the acting, especially Pitt during the final scenes, leaves something to be desired. The ending has become the stuff of legend, but I won’t reveal it just in case, save that Pitt’s gurning and crying are a bit over the top and take you out of the scene. This is another one of those films where knowing your actors may ruin the film too, as recognising a voice could cause annoyances later on, but not too badly.

Overall this is director David Fincher’s defining film (better than Fight Club in my opinion, though it’s been a while). The gritty tone is perfectly realised through every medium possible, the plot is gripping, the twists hold up and, though far from an enjoyable experience, it remains worthwhile.

Choose film 10/10

L.A. Confidential

In 1950s Los Angeles, mob boss Mickey Cohen has been put away, and rival crime factions are warring for his place. Against this backdrop, three very different cops are following three very different cases; brutish Bud White (Russell Crowe) despises wife beaters and is more than willing to frame a suspect in the name of justice as he works as hardman for James Cromwell’s kindly police chief. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is the straight-laced, ambitious son of a deceased police hero, investigating a multiple homicide at greasy spoon the Nite Owl, whilst Kevin Spacey’s smooth headline-hunting NARC Jack Vincennes traces a lead found on a drugs bust, uncovering a ring of hookers cut to look like movie stars. Throw into the mix Danny DeVito’s sleazy journo, David Straithairn’s oily businessman and Kim Basinger’s high class whore with a strong resemblance to Veronica Lake and you’ve got a top notch cast all bringing their A-game in a stunning film with tight script and direction. Spacey especially is sublime, stealing every scene in a movie full of memorable ones. The little moments are the finishing touches – Exley removing his oversized glasses and pouting for a photographer, Vincennes bumping into a man he put away on the set of TV show Badge of Honor where he acts as technical adviser, but the big scenes – the masterful interrogation of 3 suspects, several showdowns and a final act with all guns blazing are the parts best remembered. Credit of the month: Ginger Slaughter.

Choose film 10/10

The Usual Suspects

 Is it OK to ruin the Usual Suspects yet? Doesn’t anyone who cares who the ending already? Its 16 years old! Is it not another Sixth Sense or Empire Strikes Back, where the big reveal has either been witnessed firsthand or spoiled by someone else? Miraculously, my film watching companion had not seen or heard the ending to Bryan Singer’s sophomore film, and he’d have throttled me had I revealed it (Marcos hates spoilers, and will punch you in the head) so no, it would seem there are some out there yet to discover the fate of the five criminals bought in for a line-up, nor do they know the identity of their tormentor, the mythical Keyser Soze, so I’ll try and tread carefully. The cons in question – Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Pollak, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio del Toro and a career-launching, Oscar winning Kevin Spacey – have been brought together on a bogus line-up, and use their time in incarceration to plan a robbery, bus is it all a part of a bigger plan?
Told in flashback by Spacey’s weaselly over talkative ‘Verbal’ Kint, the tale begins with the death of Byrne’s Keaton, a crooked cop gone straight and the closest the gang has to a leader, after what appears to be a drug deal gone wrong. Chazz Palminteri, the cop to whom Kint tells his story, has his own theories as to what went wrong, but his opinions, and those of the viewer, get in the way of seeing the truth, ably assisted by Christopher McQuarrie’s deservedly Oscar winning ever twisting screenplay.
The cast are exceptional, particularly the scene stealing del Toro and Pete Postlethwaite at stoic lawyer Kobayashi, but it is the fine balance between tightly plotted twists and turns and sporadic bursts of action and violence that plants this firmly on the choose film list, regardless of whether you know the ending.
Choose film 9/10