BABY DRIVER (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 53 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence and Language throughout

Directed by: Edgar Wright

Written by: Edgar Wright

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Bernthal, Eiza Gonzalez, Jon Hamm & Jamie Foxx

Since the mid-90s, director/writer Edgar Wright has been imagining BABY DRIVER. This action flick would serve as a passion project for years as he fine-tuned every detail and constructed the plot. In 2017, BABY DRIVER has finally arrived! There’s no other way of putting it: BABY DRIVER is awesome! The blend of music, action, and relentless storytelling that is lovingly placed into every scene, fleshed-out character, and carefully placed song is a wonder to behold. BABY DRIVER has cemented its place as one of my favorite action films and I guarantee that this will go down as a celebrated classic or (at the very least) gain a passionate cult following.

Young tinnitus-stricken getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort) has spent years repaying a substantial debt to mob boss Doc (Kevin Spacey), all while blasting tunes to keep his “hum in the drum” at bay. With his affairs finally caught up, Baby believes that he’s out of the crime-filled lifestyle for good and begins to go legitimate. To further boost Baby’s upbeat look on life, he’s found a loving relationship with waitress Debora (Lily James). Unfortunately for Baby, Doc comes calling and the driver finds himself stuck in a heist that has unexpected, potentially deadly curveballs. As Baby attempts to escape his life and runaway with his girlfriend, bullets fly, engines rev, and music blares. It’s a cinema lover’s dream and will surely please loads of action fans.

Edgar Wright directs the hell out of this film with attention to detail in every frame and a style that perfectly feeds into the fast-paced storytelling. The soundtrack blares, blasts, and plays through the entire movie, making the music an essential ingredient to this adrenaline-pumping cinematic recipe. When Wright occasionally removes the music as certain characters threaten Baby or he drops an iPod in the middle of a chase, tension immediately erupts as the music (and its absence) takes the viewer into reluctant criminal’s head and lets us experience the world as he does. The action choreography and flow of scenes to the music is perfectly matched up, making for one hell of a thrilling, funny, and thoroughly entertaining ride.

To boot, BABY DRIVER’s action sequences are stellar. The car chases will have the viewer hooked as Baby pulls off insane moves and proves himself to be “Mozart in a go-kart.” I’m sure that certain moments were undoubtedly aided by computer generated effects, but these all appeared practical and it wouldn’t surprise me to find that BABY DRIVER had an insane stunt team of adrenaline-junkies who wanted to aid Wright’s action-packed art. The gun fights and heist sequences also have emotional stakes thrown into them as little details come back in big ways. Even when the film integrates well-worn action clichés (you can see certain plot points coming), it does so in a loving manner that fully embraces the genre as opposed to merely using them as lazy developments.

As the titular getaway driver, Ansel Elgort delivers the best performance of his career yet…turning Baby into a charming Steve McQueen type action hero and instantly winning the viewer over. Lily James has fantastic chemistry as Baby’s newfound girlfriend and their relationship seems totally natural on the big screen. As far as villains go, Kevin Spacey brings his usual high-caliber acting as an intimidating mobster who has a sense of humor and a genuine connection towards Baby. Meanwhile, Jamie Foxx is scary as the stone-cold psycho of the bunch. Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez are perfect as a Bonnie and Clyde pair, who are likable in moments and threatening in later scenes as their dark sides come out. It’s also worth noting that Jon Bernthal, Flea (from Red Hot Chili Peppers), and Lanny Joon are all very fun to watch as side thugs who only receive a few minutes of screen time.

To put it simply, BABY DRIVER is an action movie lover’s dream come true and also serves as an adrenaline-pumping masterpiece for cinephiles everywhere. It’s a film that weaves excitement, romance, comedy, and a quasi-musical score into the space of two glorious hours. Edgar Wright’s passion for this project comes through in every second of screen time and you’ll likely be listening to the soundtrack on repeat for days after sitting through this film. I’m gushing over BABY DRIVER, but it really is that amazing. BABY DRIVER is one of 2017’s best movies so far, it might be Edgar Wright’s best film (in a filmography that’s loaded with tough competition), and it’s easily one of the best action pictures that I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting through. See it!

Grade: A+

MINIONS (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Action and Rude Humor

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Directed by: Pierre Coffin & Kyle Balda

Written by: Brian Lynch

Voices of: Pierre Coffin, Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Steve Coogan, Geoffrey Rush, Jennifer Saunders & Steve Carell

It seems like you either love the Minions or you hate them. There’s not much middle ground. These goggle-wearing, yellow-skinned, pill-shaped creatures originally showed up in 2010’s DESPICABLE ME and wound up stealing every scene they were in. With DESPICABLE ME 2, they were granted even more screen time and became an integral part of the plot. Naturally, little kids who already loved the Minions proceeded to quote them anytime anywhere, wear clothing featuring a Minion or two, and posting thousands of so-so memes. Personally, I love the Minions…but also believe there can be too much of a good thing. That’s part of the reason that MINIONS, a prequel to DESPICABLE ME, is flawed fun.

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Through a prologue we learn that the Minions have always been around since the beginning of time. As evolution went on, they proceeded to follow the biggest, baddest villains around (including a T-Rex, a Caveman, and Dracula). No matter how big and bad their master was, the Minions seemed to have a knack for screwing things up. After being exiled by Napoleon (yet another master), the Minions found themselves living in snowy isolated caves and forming their own society. As time passes on, it became clear that they absolutely could not function without an evil master. So this leads a trio of Minions (courageous Kevin, absent-minded Stuart, and little Bob) on a quest to find a despicable master to serve. Their search takes them to 1960’s New York where they attend a villain convention (think Comic Con for bad guys) and the trio become henchmen for the biggest, baddest lady around: Scarlet Overkill. You can probably (and accurately) guess how the rest of the film plays out.

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The plot of MINIONS is extremely simple and serves as an excuse for outrageous scenarios and goofy gibberish spoken by the title characters. I can say that there are legitimately funny moments that got a solid laugh or two out of me. The film is remarkably well animated and sports a great soundtrack (The Rolling Stones, Donovan, The Doors, The Who, etc.). Besides awesome songs used throughout, MINIONS has a lot of 60’s references and jokes that only older viewers will understand (including a jab at Nixon, the Beatles, and more). As far as non-Minion characters go, Scarlet Overkill is an enjoyable villainess but really doesn’t receive a ton of screen time. I found her obnoxious husband (voiced by Jon Hamm) to be far funnier than her character ever was. The biggest laughs in the whole film come from Michael Keaton voicing a villainous family man who happens to run across the Minions a couple of times on their journey.

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As funny as it can be and as good-looking as the animation is, MINIONS has a couple of big problems. These mainly come in pacing and certain jokes wearing out their welcome. It’s quite clear that MINIONS is an easy movie to entertain children with, as opposed to a great entertainment that both viewers young and old can enjoy (sort of like the first two DESPICABLE ME movies). There are highly enjoyable moments in MINIONS, but the space between these sequences seems to drag to a noticeably dull effect. It’s not like the movie gets outright boring, but it comes very close to that on more than one occasion. A few montages of jokes seem stretched to give the film a 91-minute running time too. During these scenes, it would be a safe bet that you could dash out of the theater, go to bathroom and return with the montage still playing.

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MINIONS is likely to be one of the highest grossing movies of the year. If children in my screening were any indication, this DESPICABLE ME prequel will be a huge hit among kids. In all fairness, that’s who the movie was always intended for. However, I just feel like they could have tried harder to put more stuff in that both kids and adults could laugh at together. Even with a running time of only 91 minutes, the movie feels a bit too long. If you’re under the age of 10 (good on you for being savvy enough to read this website), you’ll likely love this movie. If you happen to be older than 10 (my realistic demographic of readers), you’ll find a couple of big laughs and lots of chuckles…and that’s about all that MINIONS has to offer.

Grade: B-

THE TEN (2007)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Strong Crude Sexual Content including Dialogue and Nudity, and for Language and some Drug Material

Ten poster

Directed by: David Wain

Written by: David Wain & Ken Marino

Starring: Paul Rudd, Adam Brody, Winona Ryder, Gretchen Mol, Ken Marino, Oliver Platt, Liev Schreiber, Rob Corddry, Michael Ziegfeld & Jessica Alba

THE TEN flaunts a potentially fun concept. The writer/director of WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER and ROLE MODELS crafts an anthology centered around 10 comedic tales that cover the ten commandments. That sounds like a blast. David Wain is known for his weird and totally random sense of humor. His oddball jokes helped fuel a cult following in SUMMER and also supported a hilarious season of the Comedy Central’s bizarre short-lived STELLA. Unfortunately, David Wain isn’t at the top of his game in this messy anthology. THE TEN has some enjoyable segments, but succumbs to downright unfunny and lame skits that feel way too desperate. Paul Rudd serves as a narrator introducing each new commandment and his wooden delivery doesn’t do any favors to the film either. I’ll keep my descriptions of the segments/commandments vague (as some a couple of them last for two minutes tops), but will dive into my criticisms or praise to be found in each.

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THOU SHALT NOT WORSHIP NO GOD BEFORE ME: After falling out of an airplane, a man becomes an unexpected celebrity and this newfound fame consumes him. This short plays out like a joke with no punchline. Though there are two brief chuckles, the best I can say about this segment is that it’s very brief (five minutes). The first commandment feels like a throwaway joke that was stretched on for five minutes. D

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THOU SHALT NOT TAKE THE LORD’S NAME IN VAIN: A virginal librarian has a fling with a mysterious man in Mexico that produces an unexpected revelation. This short had some potential in its execution, but mostly plays out like a one-note joke. Again, it made me chuckle a couple of times, but that’s about all the reaction it got out of me. This is slightly worse than first segment, which doesn’t exactly kick off the comedic anthology on a strong note. D-

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THOU SHALT NOT MURDER: A doctor pulls a prank that has deadly consequences for his patient and dire ones for himself. This segment felt like a decent College Humor skit made its way into this film. I was amused, even if the laughs ranged on moronic. The short also sets up characters in two of the better segments down the line. B-

HONOR THY MOTHER AND THY FATHER: Two black children demand to know the identity of their biological father and their white mother goes to extreme lengths to give them the answer. This segment felt so awkward, stupid, and bad that it just stuck out like a sore thumb as easily the worst of the 10 shorts here. F

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THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR’S GOODS: A pompous asshole (played wonderfully by Liev Schreiber) competes with his neighbor after an impromptu CAT scan machine purchase. The situation spirals out of control. I was cracking up during multiple parts of this segment and wish that the rest of the commandments were as entertaining. Easily the best tale of the bunch. A-

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THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR’S WIFE: The doctor from the third segment finds himself in prison. He’s cell mates with an abusive rapist but falls in love another prisoner (Rob Corddry). Though I can see most folks not enjoying this segment, Rob Corddry usually brings up the quality of any project he’s in. The dead-pan seriousness that this “romance” plays out in is also quite funny. B-

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THOU SHALT NOT STEAL: The seventh commandment is very hit or miss. A woman (introduced in the first segment) falls in love with a ventriloquist dummy. The serious execution of this unconventional romance bring most of the successful jokes, but there are almost an equal number of misses. The sheer stupidity of the tale will turn people off, but I enjoyed it as a bit of a guilty pleasure. C+

THOU SHALT NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS: A heroin addict asks about the origin of a special brand of heroin. This leads into an impromptu piece of animation that aims for shock value and forgets any laughs to be had. This really felt like the turning point in which the movie (which already wasn’t great by any means) decided to throw everything at the wall and see what stuck. Unfortunately, nothing stuck at all. F

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THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY: Paul Rudd, already acting as a lifeless narrator in the wraparound, gets him time to shine here and the writing doesn’t do him any favors. Rudd would go on to be hilarious in later efforts (he’s arguably the funniest part of KNOCKED UP), but there’s no effort put into this brief segment from either Rudd or Wain. F

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REMEMBER THE SABBATH AND KEEP IT HOLY: The tenth commandment centers a man who would rather be naked at home on a Sunday than at church with his family. His newfound nudity gains popularity among his friends. Though this final segment may have gotten a brief chuckle out of me, it feels like this was a potentially funny joke that might have made for a small scene in a narrative feature, but gets stretched out to an excruciatingly long 10 minutes. It’s an ever so slight improvement above the last two tales, but sends the overall jumbled anthology out on a sour note. D-

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THE TEN has a cool premise, but doesn’t fully utilize it. The only commandment that I out-and-out loved was “Coveting Thy Neighbor’s Goods” as the dark sense of humor and Schreiber delivered solid laughs. There are also three that range between are okay (Shalt Not Murder, Covet Thy Neighbor’s Wife, and Shalt Not Steal). The rest of the stories feel like a simple jokes stretched to their unfunny breaking points or phoned in attempts at shock value. In the end, I can’t recommend THE TEN. I’m sure somebody’s already said this before, but Thou Shalt Not See This Movie!

Grade: D+

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