Baby Driver


Baby and Debora want their Big Mac meals right NOW!!!

(2017) Action Comedy (TriStar) Ansel Elgort, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Lily James, Elza Gonzalez, Micah Howard, Morgan Brown, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Morse Diggs, Flea, CJ Jones, Paul Williams, Big Boi, Killer Mike, Lance Palmer, Sky Ferreira, Lanny Joon, Hudson Meek, Brogan Hall, Richard Marcos Taylor, Viviana Chavez, Hal Whiteside, Brigitte Kali. Directed by Edgar Wright

 

This has been a really good year for quirky action movies and this one is one of the best of the year. British director Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) channels Tarantino through a Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack filter and turns in an absolute gem.

Baby (Elgort) is a getaway driver par excellence. Due to a childhood accident, he suffers from tinnitus – a ringing of the ear that can sometimes be distracting. To combat this, he wears an iPod and ear buds to drown out the white noise with classic rock and roll from such diverse groups as The Damned, Golden Earring, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and T-Rex.

He works for a criminal named Doc (Spacey) who robs banks, although he doesn’t actually do the robbing himself; he puts together the master pan and assembles the crews. The only common denominator is Baby who he considers his “good luck charm” and who besides owes Doc a debt which he pays for with each job. Baby has one more job to go before the debt is paid but Doc doesn’t really want to let him go.

The trouble is from Doc’s standpoint is that Baby has found himself a girlfriend, Debora (James) who waitresses at the diner he frequents. The two are eager to get the heck out of Dodge (or at least Atlanta) and drive west and never stop but Doc has Baby sucked in. Still, Baby has his own plans and he might just be able to outthink the brilliant Doc if he gets a few breaks going his way.

The action sequences which were done practically and without CGI are flat-out amazing. Some of the best car chase sequences since Bullitt populate this film. The backstory and mythology of the piece is riveting and Wright populates this world with a cast of characters that would do the aforementioned Tarantino proud. The dialogue as you would expect from an Edgar Wright film is smart and occasionally brilliant.

Elgort who has not impressed me particularly to this point does so here. He’s done a lot of teen heartthrob films and he is completely wasted in them; this is the kind of movie he was born to do and he makes the most of it. The rest of the cast is uniformly at the top of their games, with Hamm and Foxx particularly noteworthy.

Since allegations of sexual misconduct came out against Spacey a few weeks ago, there are likely many who will want to boycott the film because of his presence in it and yes, he plays a very critical role and takes up a good deal of screen time. I won’t begin to excuse his performance or advise for or against boycotting this film because of it but I will say that while he shows off the best of his abilities here, I can understand why people will want to give this film a miss because of his presence. Again, I won’t judge anyone’s moral compass other than to say that the rest of the cast and crew who made this one of the year’s best movies may deserve your support in this case but again, it is understandable if you choose to withhold it. Nevertheless this is one of the year’s best films.

REASONS TO GO: The action sequences are second to none. Elgort gives the best performance of his career to date and has real chemistry with James. The backstory is not only credible but entertaining. The soundtrack is spot on.
REASONS TO STAY: It’s quite possible that the film is too hip for its own good. The presence of the disgraced Spacey may make it a moral choice whether to support this film or not.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence and profanity throughout the film.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: CJ Jones, who plays Joseph (a deaf character) is himself deaf.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/17/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 86/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Logan Lucky
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Mr. Roosevelt

Halloween II (2009)


Halloween II
You can’t keep a good supernatural serial killer down.

 

 

(Dimension) Scout Taylor-Compton, Tyler Mane, Malcolm McDowell, Danielle Harris, Brad Dourif, Howard Hesseman, Sheri Moon Zombie, Chase Vanek, Margot Kidder. Directed by Rob Zombie

 

Sequels can be very problematic. They’re almost never as good as the original, and when you throw in that it’s the sequel to the reboot of one of the classic horror series of all time, things get even more dicey.

 

Halloween II picks up where Zombie’s reboot left off, with Laurie Strode (Taylor-Compton) being pulled out of the house in an ambulance, while serial killer Michael Myers (Mane) is being carted off to the morgue, courtesy of a gunshot to the face by Miss Strode. However, you can’t keep a good serial killer horror film franchise down and Myers turns out to be not quite dead yet, escaping the ambulance that is transporting him to the county morgue when the unlucky ambulance hits a cow. Hey, Haddonfield is farm country don’tcha know.

 

He shows up back at the hospital where Laurie is being treated – a hospital that seems unrealistically understaffed – and hacks a few people to death, particularly a nurse whom he seems intent on pounding into hamburger. He corners her in a guard shack and – voila! – She wakes up from a dream. Actually, the sequence was an homage to the original Halloween II which took place entirely in a hospital. Zombie serves notice that this isn’t gonna be your pappy’s Michael Myers.

 

It’s two years after the events of the first film (although, strangely, the theatrical release portrayed it as being one year, but what’s a year between fiends) and Laurie is now living with Sheriff Brackett (Dourif) and his daughter Annie (Harris) who was the only other survivor of the Michael Myer’s previous Halloween rampage.

 

Halloween is approaching once again and Laurie has been beset by strange dreams. She confesses to her therapist (Kidder) that she’s concerned for her sanity, but she has no idea what kind of shellacking her sanity’s in for. That’s because Dr. Loomis (McDowell), Michael’s therapist from the first film, is on yet another book tour and in his new book he reveals that Laurie is actually Michael Myers’ sister (and Darth Vader is their father…but that didn’t make it into the movie). Since Laurie wasn’t aware of it, she goes bonkers and storms out of the Brackett’s happy home which is bad news for Laurie but good news for Michael, who is coming out for a family reunion, egged on by the Gothic ghost of his mom (Zombie) and the specter of his younger self (Vanek, taking over from Doug Faerch who had a growth spurt and became literally too big for the role).

 

All of this means there’s going to be mayhem in Haddonfield on Halloween, complete with strippers getting their face jammed into a mirror numerous times, a bouncer getting his head squashed in by Michael’s brogans, a couple of rednecks finding out the hard way why it is a very bad idea to mount antlers on the front of their pickup and a whole mess o’ carnage too disturbing to get into here.

 

There’s no doubt that Zombie is a visionary director – The Devil’s Rejects proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt as one of the best horror movies of the last decade. However, he seems oddly hamstrung here, which might have been due to the incredibly tight filming schedule (something which he mentions in the commentary track) or perhaps due to his own reluctance to do a sequel which he changed his mind about at the last moment, leading to said tight schedule. Either way, the movie doesn’t live up to most of his other work and has to rank as a disappointment.

 

That’s not to say it’s totally without redeeming qualities. For example, the violence here is excessive and realistic. When Michael Myers plunges the blade into a body, it is with full force, punctuated with an animal grunt. While that might make some queasy, it truly does work within the context of the movie and brings a new dimension of realism to the proceedings.

 

Where the movie doesn’t work is in the endless psychobabble that Zombie sees fit to insert, trying to get at the core of what drives Michael Myers. Now while I’m all for attempting to get inside the head of a serial killer, it gets a little too artsy fartsy for my way of thinking, with his mom showing up as a kind of Goth chick ghost in flowing white robes, accompanied by a white horse. It derails the oeuvre of the movie and takes audience right out of the mood.

 

He goes out of his way to make Laurie Strode shrill and unlikable. While this may be a realistic way of depicting someone who’s been through the kind of ordeal she has, what it also serves to do is alienate the audience from identifying with the heroine and that’s just bad juju. If the audience thinks the heroine is a whiny bitch, they’re not going to care what happens to her and if they don’t care what happens to her, there’s no reason to see the movie other than to watch Michael Myers carve up the citizens of Haddonfield and environs.

 

I also have to comment on the set design which is often incomprehensibly busy. Laurie’s room looks like the inside of a mental hospital cell, with a huge poster of Charlie Manson and spray painted graffiti reading “In Charlie We Trust.” This in the home of a town sheriff  mind you. Apparently Rob’s sense of realism and mine differ by quite a bit, so we’ll just leave it at that. In any case, you wind up with sensory overload in quite a few of the scenes, focusing in on the minutiae of the set design that you almost lose track of what the filmmaker’s trying to get you to notice. It kind of works at odds with Zombie’s vision.

 

I’m a big fan of Rob Zombie and the Halloween franchise both, so it is with a great deal of regret that I have to give this a poor review. I really, really wanted to like this movie and I just flat-out didn’t. While there is a third movie in the rebooted franchise slated for release next year, Zombie won’t be a part of it which may well turn out to be a good thing for both Zombie and the producers of Halloween – Zombie took an enormous amount of crap from the horror film fandom for this movie, much of it undeserved (for example, Michael is unmasked for much of the movie which many fanboys found to be sacrilegious) but some of it justified. I’m hoping his next project blows me away. This one didn’t do the job.

 

WHY RENT THIS: Some very effective scares, and a lot of insight into the background of Michael Myers. The violence is brutal and realistic.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The set design is a bit of a mess, often so busy that it distracts from what’s going on onscreen. The plot meanders and gets a little too murky with the symbology.

FAMILY VALUES: The violence here is particularly brutal which works for the movie but may be difficult viewing for sensitive souls. There is also a good deal of crude language, female nudity and much sex. For teens there are scenes of teen drinking and implied drug use. All in all this is not for kids or for most teens.  

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Tyler Mane becomes only the second actor to play Michael Myers in more than one film (George Wilbur is the other one). 

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are six music videos from the fictitious band Captain Clegg and the Night Creatures. There are also some standup comedy performances from Jeff Daniel Phillips, a blooper reel and audition tapes.

 BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $39.3M on a $15M production budget; the movie made money.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Day Four of the Six Days of Darkness

Leave It to the Professionals


            She lay on the cold steel table, wearing nothing but a ball gag in her mouth. Her eyes were full of the fear he had planted there. He smiled to himself, reveling in his power and congratulated himself once again for his cleverness.

            He had been roaming the Midwest for several years now, driving the18-Wheeler that he called the Angel of Death, although only the first part of the name was written on the cab. Most of the time, he hauled freight; that was what he did to pay the bills. This, this was what he did for recreation. This was his vacation.

            It was simple, really. He’d pick a small town somewhere in the Midwest – anywhere from Western Pennsylvania all the way over to the Rocky Mountains, as far North as the Canadian border and as far south as the Oklahoma panhandle (but he never ventured into Texas – they were a bit too itchy on the trigger finger there) hunting his prey.

            Although he had killed men before, he didn’t take as much joy in it. The act of killing itself wasn’t the point; anybody can pull a trigger, or plunge a knife into someone’s heart. No, it took a professional to instill fear so deep that the victim would completely, totally belong to him, and in order to do that, he would need privacy.

            His first few victims had been near his own home town, but he had learned early on that you don’t shit where you sleep. He had roamed farther afield, but the dangerous part was bringing his prey to his workroom where he could do what he did best without interruption. No, the solution was to bring the mountain to Mohammed, as it were.

            He had outfitted a truck with an autopsy table to which he had attached both leather straps and handcuffs. He had a hook on the roof to which he could chain victims to hang by their wrists or, sometimes, by their necks; he also had chains on the wall of the truck where he could chain them standing up. He had drawers and cabinets in which the tools of his trade were neatly stored. The truck was outfitted with extra soundproofing; there was also a false wall so that prying eyes wouldn’t suspect what was going on in the front of the truck. In the back was often cargo; in fact, he often hauled freight while he had a guest in his hidden room. That was a huge thrill for him, the delicious ambrosia that the threat of discovery brought.

            With his truck thus outfitted, he roamed the Midwest, sticking to small towns and rural communities and always scouted out the towns on a three day jaunt, until he found the girl he wanted. They would usually be pretty and usually a bit vulnerable. He generally got girls who were working jobs that had them coming home at night. He would sometimes snatch them off the very streets of their town, subduing them with chloroform before putting them in the truck and driving away. He was very efficient at selecting and acquiring his prey.

            Then they would be his. He would strip them naked – without clothes their vulnerability would increase and they were much easier to control. He would torture them; he tried not to leave any marks but sometimes you had to crack an egg to make an omelet. At first there would be defiance and sometimes even threats. Eventually they would break – they always did.

            He would also rape them, but that was to assert control more than for any sexual thrill. The actual act of penetration was indeed sexual for him, but not in the same way as for other men; it was the complete ownership of another human being. He didn’t find the sensations of intercourse particularly pleasurable, but as time went on he would force his prey to perform all sorts of lewd acts, from blow jobs to anal intercourse and they would eventually do it.

            He had video cameras as well and he would record their humiliation and their fear. He would force them to masturbate on-camera which was as close to a sexual thrill as he got after the fact. He would also conduct interviews with his victims, force them to say humiliating and degrading things and reveal little intimacies that he knew they were doing in an effort to make him feel something for them.

            All he ever felt was a clinical detachment, the same as any hunter would feel with the prey in their sights. Eventually, when he had done everything he wished to do or when he simply got bored, he would kill them, sometimes slowly or, occasionally in a fit of magnanimity, a quick and clean death. Early on, he had recorded the final moments as well, but he found it curiously unsatisfying to relive them on video; they achieved a greater satisfaction for him in his memory so he had stopped recording that aspect of his work.

            He was in Illinois in a community that was essentially rural. She had worked at a diner; she was pretty enough but was more overweight than most of his victims. She wasn’t grossly obese, but she had soft curves and he liked that. Her lips were round and full, and her auburn hair curly. She had the Midwestern twang tempered with the “golly gee whiz” idioms of a devout upbringing. Even when he was breaking her ankles and she was screaming at the top of her lungs, not a single profanity escaped her lips. He was actually a little impressed by that.

            He’d had her for two days now, and she was essentially broken. She was completely submissive and he had her giving him oral like a hooker now. Even now, as he approached the table and her mouth gagged, he could see the fear in her eyes. She was in the presence of the monster now and she knew it.

            He removed her gag. “M-may I please have some water?” she whispered in a cracked voice. Without hesitation he backhanded her across the face with wicked force. She cried out but composed herself quickly. “M-m-master…how may I serve you?” she said in a whisper. He would have allowed himself a smile but he didn’t want her to see one. That was exactly how he had programmed her to respond. The request for water was not, so she had been punished.

            He’d had dozens of victims in his truck by now over more than seven years. He was careful to never go to the same place twice. Sometimes he would pick up more than one victim in the same town at the same time, but never more than two and that had only happened a few times. The whole cycle of scouting his victim, abducting them, torturing and killing them rarely lasted more than a week, and could last as little as three days. He’d kept one victim in his truck for nearly ten days; one he’d only kept for six hours. This one he liked, so she might go the full week or even longer. He suspected she might be a pastor’s daughter, so goody two-shoes was she. It was a real pleasure to make her do sexual things; he could see how it was eating at her.

            He was also particularly fascinated by her breasts. They were large and had enormous aureoles and nipples. He usually didn’t keep trophies other than the tapes, but he might make a mold of her breasts before she died. For that reason he was careful not to mark her breasts. She had burns, welts, cuts, bruises and scrapes all over her body but her breasts were pristine. They would remain that way – in fact, all of his prey remained that way. Some would be barely recognizable as human beings by the time he was done with them, but he never made a mark on their breasts. He would suckle them, fondle them, squeeze them, twist them, and even bite them a little bit but never enough to make a mark. Call it a personality quirk.

            He had parked the truck in an abandoned barn in an isolated field about six miles outside of town. He had delivered a load of tractor parts to the local John Deere, and found the small town to be charming and isolated – both perfect for his needs. He had arranged to come back several times, sometimes legitimately with his truck, sometimes on the sly in his car or on his bike. He had found the town to be an interesting mix of conservative farmers and sophisticated young people. Most of the young people he found to be arrogant, bored teenagers; too much angst, too much whining. He watched several potential victims but none of them appealed to him completely. Some of them would be too much like shooting fish in a barrel while others seemed to be much more trouble than they would be worth. He liked a good challenge, but his last girl had taken far too long to break and he wanted someone who was a little more pliable, a little easier this time out.

            Most of the other women were farmer’s wives or farmer’s daughters and quite frankly, few of them were all that attractive and that was important to him. He usually didn’t like to get married ones; those were messes that he didn’t usually like to deal with. He had taken a few wives in his time and there was a different satisfaction in taking another man’s woman, but that thrill was usually overshadowed by their issues that could make his ability to break them either far too easy or far too hard.

            He was sitting in the diner, weighing his options and considering moving on to another town altogether when his waitress came by to freshen his coffee. She was cheerful in that fake waitress way, a big smile with too much lipstick. She was a little chubbier than he usually liked them but her face was pretty enough, even with her hair pulled back and in the decidedly unattractive diner uniform.

            She had potential; enough that I decided to keep an eye on her. She lived alone and didn’t seem to have family in town. She had friends, sure, but they were mostly co-workers. People knew her, but nobody knew her well; if she were to suddenly pack up and leave, she would not be missed. There wouldn’t be much of an effort to look for her, and by the time they found her would be when he was done with her.

            So he waited for her to leave her small rented house one afternoon and after the sun went down, he jimmied the crappy lock to her door and waited inside, his car parked a block away behind a vacant house. Not long after midnight, she came home and he was waiting for her. He heard her pull her ancient Civic into the garage and shut down the engine; a few minutes later she walked in through the garage door. He grabbed her from behind and before she could scream he pressed a handkerchief liberally drenched with chloroform to her nose and mouth. She fought but went out after a surprisingly long struggle.

            Once she was unconscious, he was like clockwork. He picked her up and carried her inert body and loaded her into the trunk of her car. He then grabbed a suitcase and filled it with her clothes, taking a few boxes of her things. Anyone who looked at the home more than superficially would conclude that she had skipped out; the note he wrote in her handwriting (copying handwriting was one of his most useful talents) would remove all doubt.

            He had kept an eye on her neighborhood and knew that the house on one side was vacant; on the other was a stoner who was usually dead to the world by midnight and across the street an elderly man who was asleep by nine. He couldn’t get a better situation if he’d drawn it up himself.

            He opened the garage door, walked quickly to his car, and then drove back to her house. It took him a very short time to hook up her car to his tow bar; he pulled it out of the garage, then pulled the garage door down behind them. He got back into his car and drove into the street and away from her house. The whole operation from the time she’d walked in her garage door was less than twelve minutes.

            He drove on side streets and tried to avoid roads that might have any traffic; a car towing another one would be memorable and he didn’t want to risk being seen. One of the good things about small farming communities like this one was that there weren’t regular patrols; the sheriff would only come if he was called, and if there wasn’t a reason to call him, he wouldn’t have to worry about being pulled over by a suspicious small town Barney Fife.

            Partially by design, partially by luck, he made it to where he’d stashed his truck without being detected. He unhooked her car from his tow bar, and stashed the tow bar in the cab. He backed her car into the trailer and shut the door behind it. She was still unconscious when he opened the trunk; he opened the false door to his workroom, picked her out of the trunk and carried her in. He strapped her down to the table and then injected her with a solution of valium and saline; she would be out for several hours. Humming to himself, he left her in the workroom, closing and locking the door behind her, and then left the trailer and locked up the rig.

            The car he’d been driving was stolen anyway; he intended to leave no trace he was ever in it. He wiped down the car with bleach (he’d worn gloves and latex long johns to prevent any fingerprints, and had shaved every inch of his body to avoid leaving stray hair). He didn’t want to set the car ablaze as he usually did because a burning car in an abandoned farm would attract notice, but there was a small pond that was mostly mud right by where he’d parked. He pushed the car into the pond and watched to make sure it sunk all the way in. It was the end of October and rain was predicted over the next few days which should further erase any traces he’d been there.

            Once the car had been disposed of he got into the cab of his rig and drove off. It was a short drive, only five or six miles but there was a place that there that some truckers used to park their rigs temporarily; he’d rented a space in a small corner of it. Once he parked there, he could concentrate on the more enjoyable aspects of his hobby.

            He kept his cell phone in his glove compartment and checked it regularly just in case a job came in; it would be suspicious if he turned down work without a legitimate reason to. He already had something lined up for next week that would take him to Minot, North Dakota; he had his eye on a nearby community called Kenmare.

            Once he had gotten situated, he went to work on her. He awakened her with smelling salts and then hobbled her, breaking both her ankles. He injected her with a unique cocktail of painkillers and inhibition inhibitors that would make her more pliable and keep her pain from becoming her focus. Then, he raped her for the first time. He made sure he told her the rules and that she understood them. If she deviated by even a little bit, he would find some way to cause her pain.

            When she refused to co-operate, he pulled out a toenail. She had none left on her left foot by the time she finally got the message. By dawn she was doing pretty much whatever he told her to do. He decided to test her by urinating on her, then ordering her to lick the liquid off her breasts. When she refused, he used a taser on her. Even after she had slurped off his piss, he continued to tase her off and on between bouts of sexual humiliation and torture.

            If you asked him why he was doing this to another human being, chances are he wouldn’t have given you an answer you could understand. The truth was that he didn’t really know what was driving him and that whatever explanations he would give were merely a means of justifying the cruelty and viciousness within him. By the end of the first day she was completely submissive, which was about the time he was looking for. By the end of the second, he was really starting to have fun.

            There was a job that came through on his cell phone earlier that day, but it was too far for him to drive for what they proposed to pay him so he declined. He wasn’t too worried about getting an additional job if one didn’t present itself; the Minot job would pay him well enough to make up for being idle a week if that turned out to be the case.

            He had used to run regular routes and would still fill in for other truckers when they needed it, but he had chosen to be his own boss; regular routes usually meant working for a boss which meant more scrutiny, more supervision and less time to pursue his hobby. He made enough to meet his needs, which were few, and support his hobby which was considerably more expensive.

            He made her suck his cock mainly because he didn’t want to hear her voice just then. He had a few plans for her today; he thought he might start using some of his blades on her later on. When she was done – or rather, when he was done – rather than keep at her he decided to go out and get some air.

            Something had been nagging at him lately, something he couldn’t really put a finger on. Something familiar, something that made him a little disquieted. It had started even before he had finished parking in the storage place; he almost changed his mind and drove to another place he knew in Indiana, but decided against it because he was too tired. It had begun to distract him yesterday and today he couldn’t really get his full enjoyment of her humiliation and pain. Even the thought of cutting strips of flesh from her body didn’t bring the excitement it usually did.

            He decided he needed to think. His instincts were usually good and he needed to trust them. He checked his watch; just a little bit past midnight. October 30th. Halloween was tomorrow. Halloween. Halloween.

            The tumblers unlocked in his head and the truth just about knocked him off his feet. Halloween in a small farming community in Illinois, a town called Haddonfield. This was the hunting ground of another, and the first rule among serial killers is that you never poached on another man’s territory, and compared to this predator, he was small potatoes, petty evil. He had to get the hell out of town immediately. He could finish with the bitch in the back whenever he wanted to.

            He opened the back of the truck and peered out. Nobody seemed to be around. He had a blade with him, one he kept in a hidden compartment. He could at least defend himself. He stepped out of the back of his truck, looking in every direction, all his nerves alive with anxiety. He shut the back right away; the rig was ready to drive away at a moment’s notice, he always kept it that way. Peering around the corner and seeing nobody, he crept towards the cab, looking all around him, and feeling in every bone of his body that he was in mortal danger.

            He should have looked down. When he felt himself being yanked off of his feet by powerful arms, he knew that he was a dead man. Still he fought viciously like a cornered animal, but the man in the mask was far too powerful, far more vicious than he could ever hope to be, the ultimate predator. He never had a chance.

            When the masked man emerged from underneath the truck, his white mask was splashed with bright arterial blood. A little of it trickled down the mask and he licked it somewhat absently. Walking deliberately, he went to the back of the truck and opened the back door, then unerringly walked to the false door where the waitress was captive. Having lived in Haddonfield for some time, she knew exactly who the man was and knew that this wasn’t rescue. She knew her situation had just gotten worse.

            She began to scream, but he paid no attention; instead, he looked at all the toys available for his use and contemplated which one he was going to play with. It was an impressive set-up and a fairly complete array of tools, but the late truck driver should have left this kind of work to the professionals, and it was time for a true professional to go to work.