Tag Archives: Kevin Spacey

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

Movie Review: Horrible Bosses 2 (2014)

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I didn’t think much of 2011’s Horrible Bosses despite its lovable main cast of Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day. You can read my full review here, but basically I just didn’t find it funny enough, and it’s always disappointing when a comedy fails to come to close to living up to its potential.

And so it surprises me to say that even though Horrible Bosses 2 is possibly one of the most unnecessary sequels of all time, I actually found it funnier than the original. Call me crazy, or perhaps it was the lowered expectations; maybe I was just in the right mood this time — whatever the reason, I laughed more and was generally less annoyed by the unfunny stuff this time around.

Fed up of being bitches to their horrible old bosses, Bateman, Sudeikis and Day ditch their day jobs to become inventors of a new shower appliance. Their embarrassing appearance on morning television attracts the attention of a wealthy businessman played by dual Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz, and his son, played by Chris Pine. Naturally, being the idiots that they are, the trio get screwed over by father and son, and vow to take matters into their own hands.

Things don’t go according to plan, of course, and soon the movie spirals into a kidnapping farce with plenty of outrageous stupidity. Kevin Spacey and Jennifer Aniston, who played two of the horrible bosses in the first film, manage to make their ways back into the script somehow in smaller roles, and are actually allies to our bumbling heroes.

The jokes are still mainly crass, crude and vulgar, sexually explicit, politically incorrect and (borderline) offensive. The main difference this time, at least for me, is that everyone involved seems more relaxed and less eager to impress, and as a whole, the film doesn’t as hard to be deliberately shocking. As a result, the comedy came across as more free-flowing and less scripted.

The core strength of the film still lies in the three protagonists. As a huge Arrested Development fan, I am glad to say that Bateman’s character definitely channels his inner Michael Bluth — he even says “Come on!” Jason Sudeikis also does that pervy act he does so well, and Charlie Day is basically still the moron from It’s Always Sunny that made him famous. No matter what you think of the film, at least take comfort in the fact that the three actors played to their strengths.

The newcomer, Chris Pine, is also very good here, and adds a wicked vibe and new dynamic to the film. There really aren’t any “horrible bosses” in this sequel, but I suppose he comes closest in terms of the top supporting star.

On the whole, Horrible Bosses 2 is an unnecessary but adequate sequel that might surprise some you if you expect as little of it as I did. It has it’s fair share of misses for sure, though I’m fairly sure I laughed more times watching it than I did watching its predecessor.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Horrible Bosses (2011)

Horrible Bosses is, in many ways, this year’s Couples Retreat — amazing ensemble cast, clever premise, Jason Bateman, tremendous potential…and disappointing result.  To be fair, it’s a lot funnier than Couples Retreat (not difficult), but Horrible Bosses never reaches the heights it could have soared to.

Anyone who has ever worked for a shitty boss can relate to the premise of this film — Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis (Hall Pass) and Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) are friends with horrible bosses: the tormenting maniac Kevin Spacey, the douchebag Colin Farrell and the harassing nympho Jennifer Aniston.  Their lives are hell and they dream of killing their respective bosses, leading them to procure the services of ex-con Jamie Foxx.  The plot starts off being somewhat cookie cutter but to the writers’ credit it went places I didn’t expect it to.

A friend of mine who saw the movie before me found it funny but had problems with the swearing and crudity.  He’s not alone as there have been reports of senior citizens walking out in the middle of the movie.  Jennifer Aniston in particular tries to shed her good girl image with lots of raunchy dialogue.  Personally, I didn’t have a whole lot of problem with the swearing and crudity — what irritated me more was that it wasn’t particularly funny, or at least not enough of it was.  The scenarios were there, the set ups were there, but the jokes lacked the finishing punch.

It’s a shame, because Horrible Bosses has one of the best comedic line ups of the year.  The three main leads play to their strengths.  Bateman is the regular straight-faced, dead-pan character (which works so well for him), Sudeikis is, like he was in Hall Pass, sleazy and a bit of a sexual deviant, and Day is his usual high-pitched, freaking-out self that we know from It’s Always Sunny.  The bosses are indeed horrible and serve their purpose, but aren’t that funny.  Spacey makes you believe he is real (in fact he reminds me of a few real people), Farrell is physically impressive but just okay, and Aniston is not bad, but may be trying too hard at times.  Foxx is probably the highlight despite limited screen time.

I’m not sure what exactly went wrong with Horrible Bosses.  Don’t get me wrong, I laughed a few times and I enjoyed bits and pieces of it.  Dreaming of killing your boss is a deliciously wicked idea, and watching three bumbling idiots trying to get it done is pretty funny.  But at the end of the film I sat there wondering why I didn’t find it funnier.

2.5 stars out of 5

Classic Movie Review: A Time to Kill (1996)

After reading the book of the same name by John Grisham (my review here), several people have recommended that I watch the film adaptation of A Time to Kill, directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Matthew McConaughey (in his breakout role).  It’s one of those films that I really wanted to, but for whatever reason never saw when it was first released in 1996.

For those who don’t know the background, it’s Grisham’s first book but the fourth of his adaptations (behind The Firm, The Pelican Brief and The Client).  It stars McConaughey as a young hotshot lawyer, Jake Brigance, who is tasked with defending a black father who took the law into his own hands after two white drunks raped his little girl.  Due to the racial politics of the time and place (very important to remember when watching), Brigance not only has to fight a seemingly unwinnable case, but also has to deal with the dangers of representing a black man in a racist community.

I quite liked the book, but didn’t think it was anything special.  For me, the film version was a rare improvement on the book that addressed some of the things I felt the book could have done better.

For starters, Brigance is a much more likeable character in the film than the book, where he was more egocentric, obnoxious, and cared far too much about publicity.  In the film they really toned it down and made him more of a ‘hero’, which works well because the audience really needed to connect with him.

The second big alteration is that Ellen Roark, the brilliant college student played by Sandra Bullock, is given a much bigger role in the film than the book.  In the book, Roark doesn’t appear until halfway through, but in the film she’s there almost right from the beginning.  In fact, Bullock received top billing even though she was a secondary character — most probably because she was coming of the phenomenal success of Speed and The Net and was a huge cash cow at the time.  Nevertheless, I liked Roark’s expanded role because I always felt she was one of the more interesting characters in the book.

Plenty of scenes, characters and subplots were condensed or removed in the film version, which I personally thought was welcoming because they clogged up the central narrative and slowed the pace.  When I read the book I always felt there was something not quite right in the structure and the development of the plot, as though Grisham couldn’t figure out what was important to the story and what wasn’t.  In the film, they were able to adjust the equilibrium to create a smoother, less stilted delivery.  For instance, I was glad to see the actual trial commence relatively early, unlike the book, which waited until the final 100 pages or so.  The final climax, in particular, was reformulated to make it more about Brigance’s ability than luck, which made for much better cinema.

The most pleasant surprise for me was the number of stars or would-be stars in this film and outstanding performances they delivered.  Of course, McConaughey went on to be a big star after this film, and even though I’ve paid him out ever since Contact (‘By doing this, you’re willing to give your life, you’re willing to die for it. Whyyyyyyy?!!’), I must admit he was excellent here as Brigance.  It also made his solid performance in the more recent Lincoln Lawyer easier to comprehend.

I already mentioned Sandra Bullock as the top-billed star of the film, and she was probably at the height of her stardom at the time (some may say she was ‘bigger’ when she won the Oscar, but I disagree), just before Speed 2: Cruise Control knocked her down a few notches.

Of course, there was also Samuel L Jackson, one of my favourite actors in one of the best performances of his career as the father, Carl Lee Hailey (I’d still say Pulp Fiction was his greatest achievement, but others might say Snakes on a Plane or Deep Blue Sea or perhaps The Search for One-eye Jimmy).  In 1996, Jackson was coming off a string of less than impressive films (with the exception of Die Hard with a Vengeance) and this film helped boost him back up to where he belonged, as he would then go on to appear in a number of blockbusters/hits over the next couple of years, such as  Jackie Brown, Sphere, The Negotiator and Out of Sight.

The list of goes on.  There’s Kevin Spacey as the snooty DA, Rufus Buckley, who was, as usual, marvellous, and one of the highlights of the film.  He brought out the essence of Buckley without overdoing it, making him less of a caricature than he was in the novel.  Remember, in 1996 Spacey was coming off his masterful performances in Seven and The Usual Suspects,  and would go on to appear in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, LA Confidential and The Negotiator, right before his career defining performance in American Beauty in 1999 (personally, Verbal Kint is still my favourite).

What about the always-good-to-have-around Oliver Platt, who plays Brigance’s best buddy Harry Rex, or Donald Sutherland, who plays Brigance’s mentor Lucien Wilbanks?  What about veteran actor Chris Cooper as poor officer Dwayne Looney, before he rose to prominence in films like American Beauty, The Bourne Identity and Adaptation?  Or Ashley Judd as wife Carly, at the start of her strong career, before she broke out in films such as Kiss the Girls, Double Jeopardy and Eye of the Beholder?  Heck, there was even Mr Jack Bauer himself, Kiefer Sutherland, as a KKK redneck, before he became the butt-kicking CTU agent in 24.  I knew the film starred McConaughey, Bullock and Jackson, but it was a pleasant surprise to see just how much star power this film had.

In all, I enjoyed A Time to Kill (the film) a lot more than I thought I would.  Yes, it is a little self-righteous, melodramatic and contrived at times, but for the most part it was still an entertaining, thrilling, thought-provoking courtroom drama that was boosted by its awesome star power.

4 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)

The Men Who Stare at Goats is one of those light, quirky, darkly amusing comedies very loosely based on real events.  It features an all-star cast including George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey.  It’s enjoyable, fascinating, and in no way meant to be taken seriously.  It’s not memorable, and is unlikely to win any awards, but it’ll give you a laugh and a good time for 94 minutes.

The film is told through the eyes of Ewan McGregor’s Bob Wilton, a journalist who ends up stumbling across the story of a lifetime – the US army’s attempts to develop psychic spies with super powers.  Yes, the US military actually tried to do this (and who knows, may still be trying to do this)!

You could be forgiven for thinking that The Men Who Stare at Goats is a Coen brothers movie in the vein of The Big Lebowski and Burn After Reading.  It has that quirky feel from start to finish; you wonder what the heck is happening and what might happen next.  Every character Bob Wilton comes across is fascinating and hilarious, especially Lyn Cassady, perfectly played by the “so serious it’s funny” George Clooney.

But actually, The Men Who Stare at Goats is written by Peter Straughan (How to Lose Friends and Alienate People), loosely based on the book of the same name by Jon Ronson.  It’s directed by Grant Helsov, who hasn’t done much directing and is more of an actor.  Hopefully Helsov will have more opportunities to direct after this film.

Anyway, there’s nothing particularly outstanding about the film.  It’s constantly amusing, but the big laughs are less frequent.  That said, it is clever, and somehow manages to stand on the fence when it comes to psychics.  The movie doesn’t endorse them as genuine, but it doesn’t exactly ridicule them as frauds either.  It does, however, suggest they may all be crazy!  My favourite thing about the whole film is that it makes constant references to Star Wars, especially because it stars young Obi-Wan Kenobi himself!

3.5 stars out of 5!

[PS: and yes, goats are stared at in this movie]