“Baby Driver”–For Millennials

Baby Driver movie review[Originally published for Blog Critics, July 3, 2017]

The highly praised feature film Baby Driver, starring newcomer Ansel Elgort as Baby, tells the story of a millenial car driver getting in and out of trouble while trying to capture the love of his life. Baby drives fast and furiously, shifting gears and tapping tunes he hears on this iPod (yes, an iPod) on his steering wheel while waitng for the criminal types he chauffeurs around to complete their heists–robbing banks and the post office.

Baby’s boss, Doc, (the incomparable Kevin Spacey in a role not deserving of his talent) is owed a debt from Baby, providing the motivation for the young getaway driver’s awful choices in job options and companions. One of the criminals, Buddy, (played by Jon Hamm, again, a waste of this actor’s abilities), seems to empathize with Baby at times, instead of humiliating him. A psychopathological maniac, Bats (Jamie Foxx, what were you thinking?), provides much of the gratuitous gore. A kindly foster father (played by C J Jones) offers one of the only heartbeats indicating humanity.

Baby Driver is first and foremost, about, sensational car chases and these are some of the most choreographed this viewer has ever seen. The cars rev up to mostly 70’s music with preposterous outcomes and perfect timing for comic effect. Furthermore, Baby has tinnitus, which he drowns out with his iPod, providing killer timing and the graceful rhythms his body dances to while walking, weaving in and out of the crowd as if driving on the streets of Atlanta.

A car-centric crime drama, with the actors timing their movements to the soundtrack, Baby Driver features constant, often glamorized violence. There are several mass shootings, with machine-gun deaths choreographed to music. You’ll also see several car accidents with splintering glass and bloody dead bodies, sudden deaths, blood, and gore. Many of the characters eventually die sudden, terrible deaths. Female characters are stereotypes, ogled by both the characters and the camera.

While this movie will continue to receive accolades and become a box office hit (released June 28), its target demographic–millennial guys–may be sufficient to gather some award nominations. The main actor, Ansel Elgort, holds the viewer’s attention, a babyfaced Patrick Swayze, who will almost certainly have more challenging roles offered in the future. Similar to “Drive”, Baby Driver has less story and convincing dialog. I would not recommend this one to non-millennial viewers. We are the wrong demographic.

 

“House of Cards”, Season 4: Still Stacks Up

House of CardsReleased on Netflix on March 4, “House of Cards: Season 4” grabs viewers yet again—primarily because of the spectacular rise of Claire Underwood (the incomparable Robin Wright). Equal to her husband Frank as a partner in crime (Kevin Spacey at his best), Claire’s rapid and ruthless ascension to power left this viewer breathless. For better or worse, this is a marriage like no other portrayed on television.

Season 4 weaves in past stories, corpses, ex-lovers, and accomplices at lightning speed, to remind us that what Claire wants most in life is to be significant: to be recognized for the power she has, with or without her husband. All of Claire’s hunger and dissatisfaction arise in fury as the woman scorned.

This season revels in the seesawing of the Underwoods: pulling together, then ripping apart. separating and reuniting, as the ultimate power couple realizes they are an inseparable force.   Formidable beyond measure, stronger when united, the Underwoods are nothing less than a molecular structure whose chemical bond creates a new element.

For the first time  Claire’s backstory helps us understand why she had become the person she is. A brilliant narcissistic mother (played by the elegant Ellen Burstyn) reveals the fractured relationship between mother and daughter, which has damaged Claire. Far more than the one-dimensional ice queen, Claire compartmentalizes her life in order to maintain control. For both of the Underwoods—as revealed in their backstories—power is their identity, in the absence of family love and acceptance.

As Claire, Robin Wright smoothly and with little affect cuts through their path to survival with increasingly more perilous Macchiavellian strategies . They have merged into a singular, ruthless force determined to be unstoppable.

In the final two lines of Season 4 we have a jaw-dropping moment, demonstrating Claire’s shift in strength, resilience, and as a catalyst for Frank. Two terse sentences uttered by Frank, but equally imaginable as spoken by Claire, frightened and stunned this viewer..   The paradigm and plot have shifted radically in Beau Willemon’s continued brilliance as a screenwriter. The newest season of House of Cards is indeed binge-worthy.

 

 

 

 

“House of Cards” –On the verge of collapse

House of Cards Season 3

In Season 3 of Netflix’s award-winning series, “House of Cards”, the Beltway game is passing Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) by and only he seems not to know it. This season is wife Claire Underwood’s story. Whatever the subplots and character arcs, this series continues to hinge upon the tortuous dynamics between Frank and Claire Underwood. They’ve been combustible before, but never quite like this. And now it is Claire’s turn to get center stage.

All thirteen episodes again are ready for binge-viewing and, are made for devouring before catching your breath and dissecting the scenes. Claire (Robin Wright), equally matched in jugular-jabbing duplicity to her husband, still stands by her man, but unlike Alicia Florrick in “The Good Wife”, Claire has yet to bloom. Her impending blossoming will be her husband’s undoing.

Showing hints of vulnerability — mainly through the voice and eyes of newly hired presidential biographer Thomas Yates (Paul Sparks), Francis isn’t about to become anyone’s target. At turns revealing and concealing, Francis takes us on a journey to his inner hell. And author Yates is the catalyst for undoing the Underwood marriage and encouraging Claire to assert herself.

In an early episode, after first telling the camera that visiting his father’s grave makes him seem more human, Francis nonchalantly and joyfully urinates on the gravestone. In episode four he desecrates a crucifix while purportedly going to the cathedral for spiritual guidance.

“We’re murderers, Francis,” Claire tells him. “No we’re not,” her husband replies without affect. “We’re survivors.” Whatever it takes to survive is the only lesson worth mastering.

House of Cards 3

“House of Cards” is still playing with a full deck but the scabrous King and Queen are ready to collapse on each other, their marriage growing more wobbly in each succeeding scene. Spacey and Wright’s performances remain assured and extraordinary.

That Claire must ask her husband as a supplicant in her own eyes makes her vomit, and her growing popularity with voters is what Frank desperately needs at the same time he fears her influence. In a pivotal scene with an American radical imprisoned for his homosexuality, Claire sees the life she could have had, underscored later on by the presidential biographer Yates.

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The narrative’s dedication to Claire’s complex, perhaps inevitable, revolt against Frank keeps the series fascinating and surprising. This may just be the most well-written political drama ever produced for television or film by the incomparable Beau Willimon (of “Ides of March” fame).

Binge view if you can!

Note:  For my reviews of “House of Cards” season 1 and season 2, see February 11, 2013 (Season 1) and March 12, 2014 (Season 2).