Baby Driver (2017)

2017 #89
Edgar Wright | 113 mins | cinema | 2.35:1 | UK & USA / English & American Sign Language | 15 / R

Baby Driver

It felt like half (at least) of the film-loving internet had somehow had a chance to see Baby Driver before its release on Wednesday, but I’m going to throw my two cents into the ring anyhow. Not that it makes a great deal of difference because, like most other folks, I bloody loved it.

Written and directed by Edgar Wright, director of the Cornetto trilogy and not of Ant-Man, the story focuses on getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort), a fundamentally good kid who has ended up suckered into a life of crime, working for robbery kingpin Doc (Kevin Spacey) and a rotating array of criminal compadres. An accident as a kid left Baby with “a hum in the drum” — tinnitus, if you want to get medical about it — meaning he listens to music all the time to drown it out, and also choreographs his daring drives (not to mention his walks down the street, etc) to the music he hears. One day he bumps into Debbie (Lily James) and falls in love, which happily coincides with his “one last job” for Doc. But once you’re in it’s hard to get out, and Baby again finds himself doing one more “one last job”, with a particularly volatile crew…

Baby Driver is a movie about three things: driving, music, and love. As Guillermo del Toro put it, it’s a kind of fable, or fairytale, with Baby as the prince and Debbie as the princess. In this respect it’s a change of pace for Wright, ditching the almost-spoof comedy of his previous successful movies for something more emotionally earnest. Not in a bad way, but in a kind of pure way, like a fairytale. This fairytale world isn’t all castles and dragons, of course — instead it’s full of violent criminals and fast cars; but it’s also a world where you can synchronise your getaway driving to the music on your iPod, so it’s hardly mired in gritty realism.

No little green bags here

There’s a definite edge of Wright’s buddy Quentin Tarantino to this world: a cast of crooks delivering snappy, quotable dialogue to a near-constant soundtrack of deep cuts selected from the director’s music collection (plus a few familiar tunes for good measure) — the style of QT comes to mind more than once while watching. Fortunately Baby Driver’s style is more than homage or copycatting. Although it’s not a straight-up comedy, Wright does bring his own comedic touch (there are several big laughs), and the purity of emotion — that fairytaleness again — isn’t from Tarantino’s wheelhouse either. Plus, visually it presents a brighter and more colourful space than Tarantino normally inhabits. Most of the action takes place in the golden daylight of Atlanta and is filled with popping primary colours. There’s much great work by DP Bill Pope.

Though the soundtrack may have a Tarantino feel in its construction, that’s less prevalent in its usage. Characters communicate through song — not by singing them (most of the time — Baby first notices Debbie because she’s singing “B-A-B-Y”), but by connecting through them (that singing is followed by a discussion of songs featuring her name — both of them). The songs Baby chooses for boogieing around his small apartment, or for dancing down the street on a coffee run (in a title sequence that is marvellously choreographed, with dozens of small details timed perfectly to the track), help illuminate his true character — sweet and romantic — which is hidden by the sullen silence he adopts whenever around criminals.

B-A-B-Y Baby

Some have criticised the film for a lack of character, reckoning Baby’s silence distances him from the viewer so we never build a connection and don’t root for him. Frankly, I’m not sure what film they were watching. No spoilers, but Baby first opens up with something endearing and ingratiating in scene one. Right at the start. It could barely be any closer to the studio logos (and it kinda wouldn’t work if it were). I’m not arguing he’s the most charismatic lead ever to grace the silver screen, but Elgort makes fine fist of selling Baby as both a quiet, focused driver and a sweet, likeable, cheer-on-able hero.

And if you want character in general, the rest of the cast has it in spades, with an array of supporting roles that are as colourful as the cinematography. Recognisable faces like Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, and John Bernthal get to cut loose as crooks who each have their own kooks, while lesser-known names like CJ Jones (as Baby’s foster father) and Eiza González (as the Bonnie to Hamm’s Clyde) make a mark too. Lily James may be placed in a dream-figure damsel role, but that doesn’t mean she can’t hold her own at times too. She’s not Wonder Woman, but she’s not a Manic Pixie Whatever That Phrase Was either.

Mozart in a go-kart

So, the one major thing I’ve only touched on fleetingly thus far is the main thing the film has attracted attention for: the driving. Done for real by stunt drivers with not a lick of CGI, that knowledge means it packs a viscerally real punch. But it’s not just snobbery: this is genuinely breathtaking action, slickly planned, masterfully performed, magnificently shot and edited. It’s this year’s Fury Road — a kinetic action spectacle made with skill rather than hand-waiving fast-cuts. Even more impressively, it’s been choreographed to music, but not in a draw-attention-to-itself dance-routine-y way. Perhaps saying it’s been synced to the music would be more accurate. Either way, it only heightens the effect. This extends beyond the car chases, too, including one marvellously musical shootout, the gunfire serving as percussion. The sound design throughout is exemplary. This is a movie that deserves to be remembered come awards season. Perhaps, again like Fury Road, some love will extend beyond the technical categories, too. Wright seems deserving of Best Director recognition, just like George Miller was.

But such back-patting is for much later in the year. For now, just revel in the gleeful moviemaking verve of a flick that already seems destined to be remembered as one of the greatest car chase movies ever produced.

5 out of 5

Baby Drivers is in cinemas many places right now, but not everywhere. It’ll be worth the wait, guys.

Review Roundup

In today’s round-up:

  • Partners in Crime… (2012)
  • Charlie Bartlett (2007)
  • Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)


    Partners in Crime…
    (2012)

    aka Associés contre le crime… “L’œuf d’Ambroise”

    2016 #189
    Pascal Thomas | 105 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | France / French & Italian | 12

    Partners in Crime…

    André Dussollier and Catherine Frot star as Agatha Christie’s married investigators Tommy and Tuppence (here renamed Bélisaire and Prudence) in this third in a series of French adaptations of Christie stories (best I can tell, the first two aren’t readily available in English-friendly versions).

    Based on the short story The Case of the Missing Lady, it sees Tommy and Tuppence Bélisaire and Prudence investigating the disappearance of a Russian heiress at a suspicious health farm, while also quarrelling about their relationship. It’s very gentle comedy-drama, even by the standard of Christie adaptations, with a thin mystery, thin humour, and thin character drama, which all feels a little stretched over its not-that-long-but-too-long running time. I shan’t be seeking out its two antecedents.

    2 out of 5

    Charlie Bartlett
    (2007)

    2017 #9
    Jon Poll | 97 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

    Charlie Bartlett

    Anton Yelchin is the eponymous rich kid trying to fit in at a regular high school, which he does by becoming an amateur psychiatrist to his classmates, in a comedy-drama that plays as the ’00s answer to Ferris Bueller. It starts out feeling rather formulaic and predictable, running on familiar high school movie characters and tropes, but later develops into something quite emotional. It’s powered by excellent performances from Yelchin and Robert Downey Jr, as the school’s unpopular and unprepared principal.

    4 out of 5

    Florence Foster Jenkins
    (2016)

    2017 #34
    Stephen Frears | 106 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | UK / English | PG / PG-13

    Florence Foster Jenkins

    Try to ignore the fact Meryl Streep nabbed an Oscar nomination away from someone more deserving (for example, Amy Adams. Well, no, definitely Amy Adams), and she gives a good turn as the titular society lady who couldn’t sing for toffee but thought she was fantastic, and used her wealth and influence to launch a concert career. She’s only enabled by her doting… assistant? Lover? Husband? You know, the film blurs that line (deliberately, I think) and I’ve forgotten what he was. Anyway, he’s played by Hugh Grant, who is also good.

    It’s a gently funny comedy, as you’d expect from the subject matter, but one that reveals a surprising amount of heart and depth through Florence’s attitude to life, as well as how her men (who also include The Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg as the third lead; also good) attempt to care for her needs.

    4 out of 5

  • 100 Films @ 10: Most-Played Soundtracks

    For today’s top ten I’ve opened up iTunes, sorted all my songs by play count, and seen which are my most-listened-to cues from film & TV soundtracks. I’m not a great musical connoisseur, really, so because of that and this just being a statistical most-played list, expect lots of exciting action music — especially as this includes plays from when I wrote a blockbuster-style screenplay for one of my university dissertations, so I listened to an awful lot of that kinda stuff then.

    Couple of other points: These are all score cues rather than songs that are on soundtracks, because, well, that’s what I chose to do. However, I have included trailer music, but only when it was composed especially for the trailer — nothing from those generic “music for trailers”-type albums. Finally, I’ve ditched repeats from the same album, because I thought this would basically be the track list for Pirates of the Caribbean otherwise. Turns out that wouldn’t’ve been the case, and instead it removed a track from, of all things, Torchwood.

    10
    Suite from X2

    from X-Men 2

    I’ve written before of my fondness for John Ottman’s X-Men theme. As this was the only version of it for years, I listened to it plenty. I guess it’ll be supplanted by the version from X-Men: Apocalypse eventually, because the tracks on that album are less ‘cluttered’ with other bits of the score. (As the confusion about X2’s title continues, let me note this: the UK soundtrack album is called X-Men 2 and this track on it is called Suite from X2; the US soundtrack album is called X2 and this track on it is called Suite from X-Men 2.)

    9
    Wheel of Fortune

    from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

    From the second Pirates movie, this is the cue from the big sword fight climax — which, as you may remember, includes a runaway water wheel, hence the title. For all his production-line type methods, Hans Zimmer can deliver a very effective action cue.

    8
    Closing Credits: “Bolero”

    from Moulin Rouge

    As with much of the music in Baz Luhrmann’s musical, this is a track that suggests a lot of drama, even if it ‘only’ plays over the end credits. I can’t really explain why I like it so much, but I do. For whatever reason I listened to it every day on my way to work when I interned for a summer in New York, which (a) didn’t do its play count any harm, and (b) means I always associate it with riding the Subway, weirdly. As to who wrote it, I’ve got it down as being by the film’s composer, Craig Armstrong, but Wikipedia says Steve Sharples and Allmusic says Simon Standage, so I dunno.

    7
    This is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home

    from Doctor Who: Series 3

    Murray Gold has been composing all of Doctor Who’s music for over a decade now, which is quite an achievement, especially for a show that so regularly changes its style — week to week, in many respects. My favourite piece of his work is probably his theme for the 11th Doctor, created for series five, but I’ve most listened to this elegiac piece for the Doctor’s home planet from the series three finale.

    6
    Mind Heist

    from the Inception trailer

    Braaaam! Christopher Nolan’s film is perhaps most famous for defining trailer music for the next… well, it’s still kinda ongoing, isn’t it? Yet that recognisable cue used in the trailers isn’t actually from the film itself. Heck, it’s not even by the film’s composer, Hans Zimmer (him again!) The story behind it is a mite more complicated, but Zack Hemsey was one of the main people involved in the final trailer, and it was he who put out a track with his version of that work, so here it is.

    5
    The James Bond Theme

    from the Casino Royale trailer

    Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme has been re-worked countless times down the years, but this version struck me as soon as I first heard it for one key reason: voices. The final part of the track has the familiar tune accompanied by a choir, I believe for the first time, and it sounds fantastic. It was created by trailer music outfit Pfeifer Broz. Music specifically for the Casino Royale trailer, so you won’t find it on the soundtrack CD, but, of course, it’s still out there to be found…

    4
    Can You Dig It (Iron Man 3 Main Titles)

    from Iron Man 3

    Despite their continued success, there are criticisms regularly raised against Marvel’s shared universe movies. One is the weak villains. Another is the painfully generic music. That’s precisely why Brian Tyler’s title theme from the third Iron Man stands out so: it accompanies the ’70s-action-show-style credit sequence with a ’70s-action-show-style reworking of the film’s main theme (which I also quite like, but is much more standard “modern blockbuster music” in sound).

    3
    Drink Up Me Hearties

    from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

    More Zimmer Pirates. This is the final cue, accompanying the end credits of the film, and as such is something of a summation of the series’ music. It’s kind of the epitome of modern blockbuster scores, for good or ill.

    2
    The Chase

    from Torchwood

    More Murray Gold, here composing with his Doctor Who orchestrator, Ben Foster. This ticks many of the boxes I mentioned at the start: an action cue from my screenwriting playlist. Gold’s Whoniverse music has most often been in the style of modern blockbuster movies, because that’s the feel the show has gone for, but by distilling the essence of that style he has on occasion produced tracks that exceed its big-budget counterparts for effectiveness. This is one such occasion: as fast-paced action tracks go, this is often one of the fastest and actioniest.

    1
    He’s a Pirate

    from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

    The creation of Pirates of the Caribbean’s soundtrack is a notorious clusterfuck of composers literally competing against each other to produce something for the Disney movie. Reports vary on what exactly went on, but I believe the long and the short of it is Klaus Badelt wrote the most music that was actually used and so got the credit on the CD. Presumably Hans Zimmer didn’t think the film would be all that big and didn’t care — he certainly took the credit for the sequels’ scores, though. Anyway, this recognisable main theme actually has its roots in another Zimmer score, Drop Zone, as you can hear here. Shocking self-plagiarism, ain’t it? Still, this improved version is the one everyone knows now, and it’s wound up my most-played soundtrack track.

    Tomorrow: never-ending stories.

    The Riddle of the Monthly Update for January 2017

    How is it February already?!

    OK, how about we stave off the inevitable just a little longer and take a look back at January…


    #1 Green Room (2015)
    #2 Anomalisa (2015)
    #3 Ninja Scroll (1993), Jūbē Ninpūchō
    #4 Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
    #5 Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
    #6 Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie (2016)
    #7 Into the Wild (2007)
    #8 Eye in the Sky (2015)
    #9 Charlie Bartlett (2007)
    #10 The Conversation (1974)
    #11 iBoy (2017)
    #12 Under the Shadow (2016)
    #13 Sing Street (2016)
    #14 London Has Fallen (2016)
    #15 Another Earth (2011)
    Hunt for the Wilderpeople

    Kubo and the Two Strings

    .


    • 2017 gets underway with 15 new films. (I’ll talk about my Rewatchathon in a bit.)
    • That’s the 32nd consecutive month with ten or more films.
    • It’s just shy of the 2016 average (16.25), and makes the average for the last 12 months 15.83.
    • It does beat the January average of 11, though. However, it’s the lowest January since 2014; but it’s also the third largest January ever. Swings and roundabouts, eh?
    • This month’s Blindspot viewing: Francis Ford Coppola’s great ’70s paranoid surveillance thriller, The Conversation.
    • This month’s WDYMYHS viewing: getting the film I had least interest in out of the way, Sean Penn’s Into the Wild. And I was right, it was a mess.



    The 20th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    Multiple films snagged full marks this month, and several I’d say are already hot favourites for my best-of-year list in 11 months’ time, which makes this a particularly tricky choice. On balance, however, I’m going to say charming Kiwi comedy is trumped (on this occasion) by the fantastical world conjured through the incredible artistry of Kubo and the Two Strings.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    For all its faults, London Has Fallen was pretty much what I expected it to be. Into the Wild, on the other hand, is misguided and overrated.

    Best Original Song of the Month
    I’m sure La La Land is great ‘n’ all, but the lack of Oscar recognition for Sing Street’s music is disappointing. My personal pick would be The Riddle of the Model, but there’s a lot to be said for Drive It Like You Stole It too — especially considering…

    Best Dance Routine of the Month
    You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Littlefinger do a steering wheel-inspired dance move to Drive It Like You Stole It.

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    As we know, statistics are The Best Thing Ever, which surely explains why my 2016: The Full List post was by far the most-read in January. Lists are almost as good, which surely explains why my Best & Worst of 2016 came second.



    My goal to rewatch 52 movies this year got off to a weak start, as you don’t have to scroll very far to see.

    #1 Enemy of the State (1998)

    Yeah, that’s it. I watched it after The Conversation, because of the theory about Gene Hackman’s characters being the same guy. I can see where the idea came from, but it does not hold up.

    Anyway, only rewatching one thing is OK — although my goal of 52 films was inspired by the principle of watching one per week, I never intended to stick to that slavishly; especially as I had Netflix this month, which led me to focus on newer stuff available there while I had it. I’ll make it up later.


    It’s about time for an update to my director’s page header image, which features the 20 directors who have the most films covered on this blog. My 100 Favourites series created a bit of a shake-up in this area, with the main beneficiary being Steven Spielberg. I also watched a fair few of his films that I hadn’t got round to in 2016, so all told he was catapulted from six films at the end of 2015, to 17 at the end of 2016. But he’d already made it onto the header last year, so his newfound abundance doesn’t actually affect that.

    As for what has changed, then, six directors drop out: Danny Boyle, Marc Forster, Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, Vincente Minnelli, and George A. Romero. In their place we have (in descending order of number of movies): Peter Jackson, Bryan Singer, John Carpenter, Tony Scott, Robert Zemeckis, and Michael Bay.

    Wait… Michael Bay? Yeah, I can’t stand for that. No Bay; Hitchcock stays.


    It’s the official 10th birthday of 100 Films at the end of February, for which I’m working on a whole host o’ posts.

    Josie and the Pussycats (2001)

    100 Films’ 100 Favourites #46

    Here kitty, kitty, kitty…

    Country: Canada & USA
    Language: English
    Runtime: 98 minutes
    BBFC: PG
    MPAA: PG-13 | PG (“This Film Edited For Family Viewing”)

    Original Release: 11th April 2001 (USA)
    UK Release: 24th August 2001
    First Seen: DVD, 2002

    Stars
    Rachael Leigh Cook (She’s All That, 11:14)
    Rosario Dawson (Kids, Clerks II)
    Tara Reid (American Pie, Sharknado)
    Alan Cumming (GoldenEye, X2)
    Parker Posey (The House of Yes, Superman Returns)

    Directors
    Harry Elfont & Deborah Kaplan (Can’t Hardly Wait)

    Screenwriters
    Harry Elfont (A Very Brady Sequel, Made of Honour)
    Deborah Kaplan (The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, Leap Year)

    Based on
    Josie and the Pussycats, a comic book created by Dan DeCarlo.

    Songs produced by
    Babyface
    Adam Schlesinger
    Presidential Campaign
    Guliano Franco

    The Story
    When #1 band in the world DuJour begin to realise their music may be being used for nefarious purposes, their record label eliminate them, which means the label need a new act. Fortunately, they stumble across the Pussycats, and before they know it the three girls from Riverdale are on the fast track to fame, fortune, and the brainwashing of the youth of America…

    Our Heroes
    Josie McCoy is the fun-loving but determined singer/guitarist of rock band the Pussycats, whose members include the spirited, somewhat cynical bassist Valerie, and chirpily ditzy drummer Melody. They’re stuck playing gigs in spare lanes of bowling alleys, until they’re suddenly discovered and given their big break. But all may not be as it seems…

    Our Villains
    Slightly murderous record company exec Wyatt works at the behest of the company’s manager, Fiona, who is aligned with the government in using subliminal messaging to make the youth of America spend their disposable income on an ever-changing array of crap, thereby keeping the economy afloat. It’s funny because you could almost believe it.

    Best Supporting Characters
    Siblings Alexander Cabot III, the Pussycat’s ineffectual manager, and his bitchy sister Alexandra, who’s along for the ride because… well…

    Memorable Quote
    Alexander Cabot: “You know what? I still don’t understand why you’re here.”
    Alexandra Cabot: “I’m here because I was in the comic book.”
    Alexander Cabot: “What?”
    Alexandra Cabot: “Nothing.”

    Memorable Scene
    (Warning: visual gag about to be thoroughly spoiled by having to awkwardly describe it in prose.) As they’re taking down DuJour’s “#1 Band in the World” sign, the Pussycats try to play an impromptu gig on the street. Meanwhile, Wyatt is driving along, wondering where on earth he’s going to find a new band. A shop owner scares Josie & co off, and they run away into the road. Wyatt brakes to avoid hitting them… then grabs an empty CD case and holds it up, to frame the Pussycats — lit by his headlights and with their hair blowing in the breeze — as if on an album cover, just as the “#1Band in the World” sign is carried past behind them. (See also: the header image of this post.)

    Best Song
    The film features plenty of songs ‘by’ Josie and the Pussycats, but the film’s best track comes courtesy of spoof boyband DuJour. Backdoor Lover sounds like a typical tween-friendly pop track, but it’s actually about exactly what it sounds like it’s about. Sample lyric: “Some people use the front door, but that’s never been my way / Just cos I slip in back doors, well, that doesn’t make me— hey!” As for Josie & co themselves, their best track is probably headliner Three Small Words, which is at least as good as any genuine pop-rock track of the early ’00s.

    Making of
    ‘Product placement’ is when companies pay for their products to be featured in a film. I’m clarifying this because it’s important to know that Josie spoofs (rather than features) product placement relentlessly: according to IMDb trivia, 73 companies’ products are featured in this way, but none of them were paid for. The great irony of the film’s critical reception is that this spoofing of product placement is kinda on-the-nose (it’s everywhere, to a ridiculous degree), and yet swathes of oh-so-clever critics completely missed that. Rotten Tomatoes even use half of their Critical Consensus summary to say that “the constant appearance of product placement seems rather hypocritical.” Point, missed.

    Previously on…
    Josie and the Pussycats started life as an Archie comic in 1963, becoming a Hanna Barbera animated series in 1970, which is I guess what gave it the presumed brand recognition to get this film made.

    Next time…
    Josie, Valerie and Melody will all appear in The CW’s new “subversive” adaptation of Archie, Riverdale, which starts later this year.

    Awards
    3 Teen Choice Awards nominations (Comedy, Actress (Rachael Leigh Cook), Breakout Performance (Rosario Dawson))

    What the Critics Said
    “This is one sharp pussycat. Sensationally exuberant, imaginatively crafted and intoxicatingly clever, Josie and the Pussycats shrewdly recycles a trifling curio of 1970s pop-culture kitsch as the linchpin for a freewheeling, candy-colored swirl of comicbook adventure, girl-power hijinks and prickly satirical barbs. Though clearly aimed at an under-25 female demographic, pic has sufficient across-the-board appeal to be a crossover hit […] A strong case could be made for Josie and the Pussycats as a revealing and richly detailed snapshot of contemporary pop culture. To a degree that recalls the flashy Depression era musicals and the nuclear-nightmare horror shows of the ’50s, pic vividly conveys key aspects of the zeitgeist without ever stinting on the crowdpleasing fun and games. It’s made for the megaplexes, but it’s also one for the time capsule.” — Joe Leydon, Variety

    Score: 53%

    What the Public Say
    “This made for a great double-feature with Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Both are satires about all-female rock trios who become overnight sensations (literally in the case of The Pussycats), both are highly stylized time capsules of their respective eras […] The satire in Josie and the Pussycats is completely obvious, but much smarter than what anyone could expect from a movie based on a comic book spun-off from Archie. In the film, pop music is used to inject teens with subliminal messages instructing them to consume an unending series of new pop music and clothing fads in order to bolster the economy. Not really your typical teen movie plot. Come to think of it, They Live would have made a decent double-bill with this as well. Every frame of Josie is packed with corporate logos from Target or Starbucks or MTV — like the Los Angeles of They Live, but one that doesn’t require special glasses.” — Jeff @ Letterboxd

    Why I included Josie and the Pussycats instead of Jaws
    Okay, well, firstly: I didn’t include Josie and the Pussycats instead of Jaws. Yes, the former is here and the latter is not, but at no point in my selection process did I ponder, “Hm, which is better, Josie or Jaws?” Maybe I should have. But I didn’t. And I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Jaws is one of the biggest omissions from my list, so now seemed as good a time as any to say a couple of words on my selection process that will, in a way, explain some of my more idiosyncratic picks. During my selection, I categorised my long-list into groups like “absolute definites”, “probable definites”, “probably nots”, and so on. Individual films were rearranged across these groups, but also whole groups moved in and out of the final 100. Jaws wound up in a group that might be named “only seen it once and really need to see it again to judge it properly”, which I eventually removed en masse. Other films (that I’ve alphabetically passed already) in that group include The Adventures of Robin Hood, Battle Royale, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Collateral, and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. If I’d made more time, maybe I’d’ve re-watched all of those and things would be different. But I’d wager Josie would still be here. Why? Well, that’s what the next section is for…

    Verdict

    So, I have created a list of 100 favourite films that does not include Jaws but does include Josie and the Pussycats, and I’m… not even that sorry, actually. Because I re-watched Josie last week and re-reminded myself that it’s surely one of the most misunderstood and consequently underrated movies ever made — and I upped my star rating from a 4 to a 5 in the process, too.

    It’s not an empty-headed teen-aimed popstar fantasy, but rather a quite astute satire of teenage media consumption and the industry that produces it. Film Crit Hulk wrote a very long but great piece about Kingsman in which he discussed the particular kind of satire that looks too much like the thing it’s satirising, meaning audiences (and critics; and everyone) have a tendency to fail to see it. Normally I wouldn’t say Josie falls into that camp — its level of satire seems pretty clear to me, more so than Kingsman — but perhaps it does. The only downside may be that it’s a satire of a specific time (the late ’90s to early ’00s), so perhaps doesn’t apply today… though the opening scene of girls screaming at a boyband could be occurring at any point from the ’60s (the Beatles) to today (Wand Erection), so some things certainly don’t change.

    Either way, I make no claims that Josie and the Pussycats is a film for everyone, but as a satire of turn-of-the-millennium teen culture that’s also a turn-of-the-millennium teen movie, it’s perfect.

    Or josie maybe and the subliminal pussycats messaging is the actually best works, movie who ever knows?

    #47 will be… an adventure 65 million years in the making.

    Begin Again (2013)

    2015 #188
    John Carney | 104 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

    Once’s writer-director returns with a film that could’ve been dubbed Once 2: New York.

    Mark Ruffalo’s out-of-favour record exec discovers Keira Knightley’s singer-songwriter, stranded after her ex became a hit. Convinced she could salvage his career, he persuades her to record an album. They bond; will there be romance?

    The songs aren’t as catchy (though some are decent) and the shape of the story is overfamiliar, but likeable performances from the stars, plus James Corden and Hailee Seinfeld, keep Begin Again a pleasant experience — albeit one that occurs more in the imagination of dreamy creative types than the real world.

    4 out of 5

    Dreamgirls (2006)

    2015 #195
    Bill Condon | 130 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

    Oscar-winning adaptation of the stage musical that doesn’t tell the story of the Supremes in fictionalised form, no sir.

    Jamie Foxx is the ambitious car salesman who transforms a trio of black soul singers into a crossover hit by replacing chunky lead Jennifer Hudson with sexy Beyoncé Knowles. Personal issues dog the girls’ career, as Foxx becomes megalomaniacal, leaving early successes like R&B star Eddie Murphy in his wake.

    Despite oddities, like diegetic performances being replaced part way by characters breaking into song, and questions over the story’s adherence to fact, the film is a compelling (if heightened) character drama.

    4 out of 5

    Lady of Burlesque (1943)

    2016 #5
    William A. Wellman | 89 mins | streaming | 4:3 | USA / English | PG

    Based on the novel The G-String Murders by Gypsy Rose Lee (as in Gypsy), Lady of Burlesque stars Barbara Stanwyck as Gypsy surrogate Dixie Daisy, a performer in a burlesque show in New York where the backstage arguments turn murderous.

    The story unfurls in the traditional Christie-esque shape of a murder mystery: we find out all the different reasons why everyone hates a particular character, then that person dies and they all have motive. For set dressing, instead of the English country houses and other upper-middle-class establishments of Christie, we have the slightly seedy, slightly risqué world of ’40s burlesque… tempered by the strictures of the production code, of course. Stanwyck may get out on stage and wiggle around, but she’s largely shot from the waist up; and it may’ve been released as Striptease Lady in the UK (allegedly), but the clothes remain on (I can’t imagine anyone expected anything else, then or now).

    Nonetheless, the world of the story adds some sparkle to proceedings. The investigations are largely confined to a couple of lengthy scenes when the cops turn up, led by Charles Dingle’s meticulous Inspector Harrigan (“This is my first experience with burlesque. It’s a surprising profession.”), and question everyone in one room. These bits have their moments, but feel a little heavy-handed. Around them, the world of burlesque, and the relationships between its performers, rolls on.

    Stanwyck carries the film, both on stage and off. Her “will they/won’t they (of course they will)” romance with Michael O’Shea’s comic is kept aloft by her biting ripostes to his advances, and when a comedy sketch is interrupted by backstage noises she saves the day by breaking into song, doing the splits, a cartwheel, and the Cossack dance in quick succession. Not bad for a 36-year-old!

    Ostensibly a murder mystery, in practice Lady of Burlesque plays as all-round entertainment with a bit of everything: comedy, romance, songs, shoot-outs, and, yes, both mystery and murders. It’s not the kind of film that will linger long in the memory (apart from Stanwyck’s gymnastics, that is), but it’s entertaining while it lasts.

    3 out of 5

    This review is part of the Remembering Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon. Be sure to check out the many other fantastic contributions collated by host In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.

    An inside out pair of shorts

    Pixar’s latest opus, Inside Out, was naturally accompanied by a short film in cinemas. On Blu-ray (out today in the UK), it’s accompanied by two. These are they, reviewed in nice quick drabbles.


    Riley’s First Date?
    2015 #179a
    Josh Cooley | 5 mins | Blu-ray | 1.78:1 | USA / English | U / G

    In this ‘sequel’ to Inside Out, Riley is going to hang out with a friend… who turns out to be a boy, which sends her mum and dad — and their anthropomorphised emotions — into paroxysms of worry. Is this the 12-year-old’s first date?

    The straightforward story is built on clichés of male and female parental reactions to their kid growing up and encountering the opposite sex (mum tries to be cool, dad gets protective), but then it’s only got four minutes so needs that shorthand. Nonetheless, it manages roughly as many laughs as the feature, even if they are easy targets.

    4 out of 5


    Lava
    2015 #179b
    James Ford Murphy | 7 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | USA / English | U / G

    The short that accompanied Inside Out in cinemas is essentially a music video for a folksy ballad about a pair of volcanoes who are in ‘lava’ (read: love) with each other.

    It’s quite beautifully animated, with realistic CGI (apart from, you know, singing volcanoes) that eschews stylisation without giving in to the urge to shallowly emphasise its photorealism, but other than that I didn’t much care for it. The story and song — inspired by an underwater volcano that will one day merge with Hawaii — are a little too twee. It’s not really sweet, nor sickly, just kind of uninspiringly quaint.

    3 out of 5

    Whiplash (2014)

    2015 #84
    Damien Chazelle | 107 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

    Oscar statue
    2015 Academy Awards
    5 nominations — 3 wins

    Winner: Best Supporting Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing.
    Nominated: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay.



    WhiplashMr Fantastic dates Supergirl and is taught the drums by J. Jonah Jameson in writer-director Damien Chazelle’s Oscar-winning music drama.

    In reality, the story concerns Andrew (Miles Teller of 2015’s Fantastic Four reboot), a drumming student at a prestigious music college where everyone wants to be in the ensemble run by Fletcher (J.K. Simmons of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy). When Andrew makes it in, he soon discovers what a hard taskmaster Fletcher is; some would say abusive. Is Andrew prepared to give up everything, including his burgeoning relationship with Nicole (Melissa Benoist of the forthcoming Supergirl series), to impress? How far will he go to be the best?

    Chazelle’s screenplay is admirable in its psychological complexity here, particularly as it’s contained in a straightforward-seeming master/pupil, abuser/abusee drama that also functions as a surface-level dramatic thriller. The extra levels come from these exact characters and their exact relationship. Fletcher is striving for true excellence, which means he has to push his students… but is he pushing them too far? Andrew wants to be truly excellent, which means a certain amount of dedication… but is he investing too much? Is the relationship that grows between them mutually beneficial, or mutually destructive… or only destructive to Andrew? Whiplash may look like a drama about a music student, but the twists and turns grip more like a thriller, while the questions it raises are not given easy answers. The ending in particular is deliberately ambiguous, and different people have certainly made different assumptions about its intended meaning.

    Not a happy chappySimmons’ Oscar is well earnt as the unpredictable Fletcher. If you’ve seen clips and trailers you might imagine it’s a fairly one-note turn, the Angry Teacher who possibly reveals a Heart Of Gold either just in time for the third act or at the very end. But no, there’s more to it than that, and Simmons negotiates every facet and nuance with the expertise of an experienced character actor. Commendations to both Chazelle and Simmons for wrong-footing me on what was actually going on with him more than once.

    If the rest of the cast exist in his shadow, it’s because everyone’s giving appropriately restrained performances. Teller actually offers a very strong turn as the lead, who we are of course invited to like and identify with at the start, but who goes so far that it distances the viewer. This is a tricky feat to pull off — many a film has faced accusations of failure because our relationship with the hero was severed when they did something the viewer disapproved of. Andrew isn’t the hero, though; not exactly. He’s the main character, certainly, and we are following his journey and the battle for his future — his soul, if you want to be poetic about it — but that doesn’t mean we like everywhere he goes, or will approve of his eventual destination.

    Really, the film is about Andrew and Fletcher. If there’s one serious criticism that could be levelled at the film, it’s that the Nicole subplot is slightly underdeveloped. Personally, I'd choose Melissa Benoist over J.K. Simmons any dayThat thread could do with a boost in the middle, to give their relationship a little more weight when we reach the decisions Andrew must make about it later on. (Personally, I’d choose Melissa Benoist over J.K. Simmons any day, but I don’t think that’s the point…) The same could be said of Andrew’s relationship with his father (Paul Reiser), though that’s actually given more screen time and is consequently more impactful.

    These are mere niggles, though, in a film that appears quite simple but actually contains quite a lot of power. It’s certainly more thrilling than you might expect from a character drama about someone learning to play drums, as well as more psychologically complex, and definitely more thought-provoking. There are no easy answers here, just real life; but, unlike most films you’d say that about, Whiplash thoroughly entertains.

    5 out of 5

    The aforementioned Fantastic Four is in cinemas from Thursday.