Tag Archives: Jon Hamm

Baby Driver (2017)

Edgar Wright is an awesome filmmaker, but none of his films that I’ve seen — Shaun of the DeadThe World’s End, Scott Pilgrim vs The World — have ever really been at the top of my lists. Very good, funny and wacky, and usually a little different, for sure, but nothing that has truly blown me away. His latest effort, Baby Driver, could be his best movie to date, though it still didn’t quite get there for me — at least not to the extent of the astounding 93% Rotten Tomato rating that it currently holds.

We’ve seen plenty of movies centred around getaway drivers before, with Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (starring Ryan Gosling) being one of my favourite movies of 2011. In a similar vein, Baby Driver revolves around the young eponymous hero of the film, played by Ansel Elgort, who seems to be just a natural at the wheel. He’s not much of a talker and he loves his music (for an interesting reason). Unfortunately, Baby owes a heist mastermind played by the wonderful Kevin Spacey, and is forced to carry out more robberies with a fascinating bunch of characters led by Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx and Jon Bernthal. Things get especially complicated when he gets involved with a pretty waitress at the local diner, played by Lily James.

It sounds like a typical premise and it is, but Wright is able to inject Baby Driver with a really fun, pop-corny vibe that really gets audiences into a groove. I was a little worried at the start when Elgort breaks into a bit of a dance while walking down the street, feeling as though it could be a movie that tries too hard to be “cool” and “hip”. Luckily, Wright prevented the film from straying into trite territory, keeping things light-hearted and slick without tipping over the edge — well, at least not for me.

Of course, there are plenty of car chase scenes and they are all executed marvellously along with a slamming soundtrack that seems to match each beat and shot to perfection (I wish I cared more about music in general though, that would have scored the movie a lot more points for me); however, that’s not what made Baby Driver more than just another typical heist comedy. Despite the cookie-cutter premise, the characters are wonderfully written and performed, with Elgort proving he has what it takes to be a leading man in Hollywood for years and both Hamm and Foxx standing out with a great blend of affability and menace. Lily James was fine, though her character could have offered more in my opinion, while Kevin Spacey always delivers as usual.

Another strong point of the film is the dialogue, which is sharp and snappy, and most of all it brings out the personalities of the characters. There are some great one-liners which made me laugh out loud — the film definitely passes the 6-laugh test for a comedy. There are cliches to put up with, though I felt there were enough surprises to keep the plot from getting stale. For a movie of this type, I also felt it could have been a tad shorter (perhaps 10-15 mins off the 113-minute running time).

In all, I found Baby Driver to be a fun and enjoyable ride fuelled by Wright’s crisp writing and direction and solid performances all around. Is it a little overrated? Probably, if you measure it by the critic metrics available. But that shouldn’t detract from what is undoubtedly an excellent effort that stands as one of the better action-comedies in recent years.

3.75 stars out of 5

Keeping Up with the Joneses (2016)

Think of True Lies, the greatest spy action-comedy every made. Then think of the complete opposite of that. That’s essentially Keeping Up with the Joneses, a film so bland and unfunny that it’s actually baffling.

Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher play the Gaffneys, a couple whose children are away at a camp when an attractive couple (the Joneses) played by Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot move into their close knit neighbourhood. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the Joneses are not who they claim to be, and soon the Gaffneys find themselves thrown into the world of espionage.

Not the most interesting premise, but definitely potential for laughs. And yet, Keeping Up with the Joneses is so low on the humour that I honestly cannot think of another movie I’ve seen this year — not just comedies but any genre — that generated less laughter. I’d probably have to think back to a movie about the holocaust to find anything as unfunny.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying either. I actually like all four of the actors in the film, but none of them could squeeze a drop of decent humour of the movie. The jokes are so lame and uninspiring that I don’t think they even worked on paper. With the exception of one gag about teeth near the end of the second act, I honestly did not chuckle even once. No laughs, no smiles.

Sadly, there are no other redeeming qualities about the film. The action is very tame and uninspiring, and the plot is ridiculously predictable. The only positive things about the movie I can say is that it appears the actors at least tried (well, except for Jon Hamm — he totally mailed it in), and that there’s nothing offensively terrible about it.

So no laughs, crap action and lame plot. No matter how appealing the actors may be, Keeping Up with the Joneses might very well be the worst comedy of the year.

1 star out of 5

Minions (2015)

Minions

Unlike a lot of people, I’m not enamoured with the Minions, the yellow, pill-shaped creatures from the Despicable Me movies. Never have been. I’m not into “cute” cartoon characters anyway and don’t understand why people can obsessively gush over creations so obviously designed to elicit “awww”s from grown-ups.

Still, when a movie makes a billion dollars at the box office even before it is released in all worldwide markets (such as China) there must be something more to it than just cuteness. I was also encouraged by the highly positive review from the BBC’s Mark Kermode, who even placed the film in his top 10 of the year (so far). So I checked it out.

My own reaction to Minions? Meh. Don’t get what the fuss is all about. Granted, it’s not as half-assed as some other spin-offs of popular franchises, but ultimately I just found it kinda repetitive and unable to sustain my interest.

For starters, the film has basically one gag: the Minions are always trying to find an evil master but keep ending up toppling them by accident instead. They are more or less a bunch of Forrest Gumps in yellow pill form — they are dim-witted but have an endless supply of dumb luck that seems to always get them out of a jam. It gets better and more varied when Sandra Bullock’s and Jon Hamm’s characters are introduced, though even then it always comes back to that one gag.

Secondly they speak largely gibberish, so you can’t understand them the vast majority of the time. It’s “cute” at the beginning but gets a little annoying after more than an hour of the same thing. Again, audiences have to be rescued by Bullock and Hamm, who actually reveal themselves to be quite talented voice actors and have surprising voice chemistry. Allison Janney and Michael Keaton aren’t bad either.

To its credit, Minions is about as fast and furious as you can get without the presence of Vin Diesel. The gags, while repetitive and hit-and-miss, just keep coming and coming for the entire 91-minute running time. So eventually there will be a few that stick. If you enjoy this style of humour then you’ll probably be laughing non-stop. On the other hand if the jokes elicit not much more than the odd chuckle, then you’ll probably fall in my boat and just find the experience underwhelmingly average.

In some ways you can compare the craziness and zaniness of the film to last year’s The Lego Movie. Both are super-paced and constantly throw jokes at you from all angles, often with uneven results. But I found The Lego Movie a lot funnier — even though it was probably more all over the place — because there was more variety and more shades in the humour. Some of it was random, some of it was deadpan, some of it was dark. By contrast, Minions was more of a one-key affair.

At the end of the day, I still see Minions as a spin-off, and most spin-offs fail to branch out fully on their own. There’s not much that I disliked about the film — it’s more that they just didn’t do much for me despite the occasional chuckle here and there. The characters may be adorable and hilarious  in small spurts, like they are in Despicable Me, though when they are asked to carry a film from start to finish they can’t maintain their charm all the way through, and instead I find that their likability becomes a lot thinner as it is stretched across the longer screen time.

2.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Million Dollar Arm (2014)

MillionDollarArm_Banner

As a fan of baseball, cricket, true stories and Hollywood movies, I was naturally attracted to Million Dollar Arm, the biographical sports drama about the discovery of Indian baseball pitchers Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel by sports agent JB Bernstein via a reality TV program.

The true story is out there for people who want to learn about their incredible journey, but for the sake of those interested in watching the movie I will keep spoilers — including whether they actually succeeded or not — far far away.

The film stars Mad Men’s Jon Hamm as Bernstein and comedian Aasif Mandvi as his business partner, with Life of Pi‘s Suraj Sharma playing Singh and Lake Bell playing Bernstein’s love interest. Alan Arkin co-stars as an ancient baseball scout, while Bill Paxton plays real-life pitching coach Tom House.

The premise is that Bernstein comes up with the idea of finding baseball pitchers in the world’s last untapped talent market — India — and convinces a financier to create a reality TV show that can help the winner rake in potential prize money of up to a million US dollars (hence the title). After a long and arduous search, he finds Singh and Patel, and brings them back to the States to train, with the aim of having them participate in a Major League tryout within a year.

What should be noted upfront is that Million Dollar Arm is a Disney production, meaning it’s very pleasant, family-friendly, safe and sappy, with some bits of light humour that won’t risk offending anyone. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but this is not where you will find gritty, hard-hitting drama that pushes the envelope. This is one true story that feels pretty made up.

In some ways, Million Dollar Arm is like a Disney version of Jerry Maguire, where a down-and-out sports agent tries to revive his career with a potential star(s), except he kind of loses his way along the journey and must find himself before it’s too late.

The entire ensemble cast is very good, though there is nothing particularly special about the script or the direction of Craig Gillespie (Aussie director of the 2011 remake of Fright Night), which treads on the safe side in delivering themes and an overall trajectory that will feel eerily familiar if you’ve ever seen any American sports movies.

I found it interesting that the film change the backgrounds of Singh and Patel to make them cricket players, when in real life they were javelin throwers. Perhaps it was a marketing decision to appeal to all the cricket fans in India. Those who want to know just how faithful the film is to real events can check out this very informative link.

Anyway, Million Dollar Arm is what it is — a Disney-fied inspirational true story with likable actors that will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  Despite the overlong running time of 124 minutes, this is definitely a fastball right down the middle of the pitch for those don’t mind the family-friendly feel and the typical sports drama manipulation.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Town (2010)

I finally got to see The Town, the Boston crime drama/thriller co-written and directed by Ben Affleck.  I had heard some good things about it, but I certainly did not expect The Town to be one of the best films I’ve seen this year.

There’s nothing terribly original or groundbreaking about the premise of ‘The Town’, ie Charlestown, a small neighbourhood that boasts the highest number of bank robbers in Boston.  Affleck plays Doug MacCray, a local crook with a shady family history and a hot-headed best friend, James Coughlin, played by Jeremy Renner (from The Hurt Locker).  An introductory heist introduces two key characters — Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), a pretty bank manager, and Adam Fawley (Jon Hamm from Mad Men), an FBI agent hunting them down.

The Town is an intense, emotional and explosive roller coaster ride that’s gripping from the very beginning until the final scene.  It’s incredibly sharp, well written, has a great cast, and the heist sequences are some of the best I’ve ever seen.  Affleck, who has never been the greatest actor in my opinion, has established himself as one heck of a director, and I certainly hope there will be plenty more to come from him in the future.

Affleck, Hall and Hamm are all solid — but for me it’s the brilliant Jeremy Renner who steals the show as the impulsive, reckless, but extremely loyal friend.  The guy exudes screen presence and put me on edge every time he appeared.  He was terrific in The Hurt Locker, where he was the ‘good guy’, but he’s probably even more effective here as a villain of sorts.  I was surprised the film didn’t get more love from the voters on the Golden Globes, but I’m pleased to see that Renner got the nod for a best supporting actor nomination (the film’s only nomination).

Another pleasant surprise was Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively, who has a small but important role as the local skank.  Lively has a tendency to annoy me on Gossip Girl, but I can’t deny she was amazing in this.  Well done.

There’s nothing I didn’t like about this film.  I’ve heard that critics are comparing The Town to the classic 1995 De Niro/Pacino film Heat. I was too young to remember the latter film favourably, but I am so impressed with The Town that I will definitely go check it out.

4.5 stars out of 5!