Baby Driver

Posted on June 27, 2017 at 9:43 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence and language throughout
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Smoking, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Extended scenes of peril and violence with many characters injured and killed, guns, chases, explosions, many disturbing and graphic images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 28, 2017
Date Released to DVD: September 18, 2017
Copyright 2017 Sony Pictures

Fasten your seatbelts. This one is pedal to the metal all the way home.  “Baby Driver,” written and directed by Edgar Wright, hits you like a jolt of nitrous oxide shot with adrenaline concentrate, Red Bull, electrical current, and rock music.  The first time you see it, it will leave your eyes spinning like pinwheels.  The second time you will begin to appreciate that it is more than a joyride.

Ansel Elgort (“The Fault in Our Stars”) plays Baby, who works for a crime boss named Doc (Kevin Spacey).  Orphaned at age seven when his parents were killed in a car crash that left him with tinnitus, a persistent ringing in his ears, Baby is constantly listening to music via earbuds plugged into an endless collection of mp3 players.  The brilliantly curated playlist we hear is only what he is listening to, and it ranges from the The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion to T Rex, the Beach Boys, Dave Brubeck, David McCallum (that’s either Ilya Kuryakin of “The Man from UNCLE” or Ducky from “NCIS” depending on how old you are), and Beck, to the Simon and Garfunkel song that gives the film its title.

Baby began stealing cars when he was still a child and became beholden to Doc.  Now, he drives the getaway car for the teams Doc brings together for robbery and mayhem.  Doc calls him “Mozart in a Go-Kart.” And Baby is counting down the jobs and the dollars until he and Doc are square and he can go.  But he is just too good for Doc to give up, and once the debt is paid, Doc finds other ways to apply pressure.

Baby seldom speaks to anyone, except for one person who cannot hear, his foster father, Joe (CJ Jones), who is deaf and in a wheelchair.  Their exchanges in sign language are warm and familiar in sharp contrast to his subdued presence with Doc and the criminals.

And then Baby meets Debora (Lily James of “Cinderella”), a waitress at the diner.  And then Doc tells him that their relationship is not over.

Each action sequence is meticulously matched to the songs Baby plays — at one point, when there is a setback he literally stops to rewind because he times the chases to the music.  But each action sequence is also a part of a narrative arc.  With the first, Baby is literally outside the crime, waiting in the car (and bopping along to “Bellbottoms”) as the gang robs a bank.  They come running out and he drives the getaway car so fast that they, well, get away.  The next one gets more intense as he cannot pretend he is not a part of something lethal. Each time, he gets more involved.  The sunglasses he wears all the time get broken and he cannot pretend not to see.  He can drive others to escape the consequences of their actions, but can he do that for himself?

The sizzling all-star cast includes Jon Hamm and Eiza González as a seedy but fearless couple with matching “hers” and “his” tattoos on their necks, Jamie Foxx as the trigger-happy and appropriately named Bats, along with Flea and Jon Bernthal as other members of Doc’s crew.

Wright has the flair of Quentin Tarantino in balancing comedy, romance, action filmed to be both balletic and terrible, and increasingly visceral threats.  But he has more sincerity, more heart. “Baby Driver” is cool as in appearing effortlessly accomplished, but not as in remote or removed.  His moral and unabashedly romantic center is in the driver’s seat.

Parents should know that this is a very violent film with many chases and shoot-outs.  Characters are injured and killed and there are disturbing and graphic images. It also includes very strong language and drug references.

Family discussion: Why was Baby called Baby?  Why did Doc change his mind? Is the ending real or imaginary?

If you like this, try: “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and “The Transporter”

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Elvis & Nixon

Posted on April 21, 2016 at 5:30 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, references to drugs
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 23, 2016
Date Released to DVD: July 18, 2016 ASIN: B01EZ6PZSQ

Copyright 2016 Amazon Studios
Copyright 2016 Amazon Studios
Today it does not seem at all odd to see Beyoncé hanging out with the Obamas or a reality television star as a popular Presidential candidate. But in the before-social media days of 1970, celebrity culture was not as all-encompassing as it is now. Frank Sinatra memorably supported John F. Kennedy in 1960 and just as memorably was not-so-gently pushed aside when his possible ties to organized crime and general inability to follow orders became a problem. Politicians, even today, want the support of celebrity fans but do not want the controversy that sometimes comes with them. And certainly the very serious-minded Richard Nixon would not want to appear frivolous by hanging out with a singer, even the most famous singer in the world. When told that “the king” wanted to see him, he said, “The king of what?” He was used to visits from actual royalty, and prided himself on learning a few pleasantries in their native language to put them at ease. But what could be the native language of a man from Tupelo, Mississippi who was known as “Elvis the Pelvis” for his sexy, hip-swaying performances, and who sang songs of teddy bears and hound dogs that made girls swoon?

Elvis Presley and Richard M. Nixon did meet in the Oval Office. No one knows exactly what they talked about, but this charming film makes a believable case that they had more in common than we might think. As the President points out (he did insist on being briefed on Presley), they both came from humble beginnings and worked hard to rise to the top of their respective fields. They both feel badly treated by the press. They both find the Woodstock-era flower children and Vietnam war protesters disturbing, even seditious. Both are keenly aware of their level of support and power, which will never be enough. They may not be aware, but we are, that their very success has isolated them in a way that leaves them endearingly unaware of some elements of everyday interaction that the rest of us take for granted. Both have daughters they love very much. And both, constantly surrounded by young men somewhere between acolytes, enablers, managers, and favor-seekers, are, somehow, lonely.

The movie is so delightful that its shrewdness sneaks up on you. There is a very funny line about astronaut Buzz Aldrin that makes an insightful point about celebrity, as does a technique Elvis and his “Memphis Mafia” use repeatedly when they are thwarted, to greater comic effect every time. The parallel scenes as two respective entourages brief Elvis and Nixon about the appropriate protocol for the other is well done and the songs — not by Elvis but of his era — are especially well chosen, particularly when Elvis sings along to “Suzy Q.” Director Liza Johnson makes the most of a witty script (“Princess Bride’s” Carey Elwes was a co-author) and maintains a tone that is slightly heightened but just plausible, given the heightened reality of the two men at its center.

Parents should know that this film includes strong language, guns, and smoking.

Family discussion: What did Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon have in common? How did each rely on the young men around them? Why is there no Elvis music in the film?

If you like this, try: “Frost/Nixon” and “Elvis Presley: Thats the Way It Is”

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DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Inspired by a true story

Would President Frank Underwood’s Plan Be Legal?

Posted on March 15, 2015 at 3:24 pm


If you’re watching the new season of “House of Cards,” you may wonder whether the trick now-President Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) to create jobs and boost the economy has up his sleeve would be allowed in real-life politics. Business Insider consulted an expert, Harvard Law School professor and Constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe. The answer? Well….maybe.

“If the deed is done before the courts can get around to ordering the hypothetical President Underwood to cease and desist and put the money back in the federal piggy bank, then any lawsuit over the matter … would become technically moot,” Tribe says. “In practical political terms, if the President’s violation of the Constitution is sufficiently popular, the prospects of impeachment and conviction are obviously slim to none.”

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