Vroom Vroom Land (Cause Cars?), or, Baby Driver

baby-driver-poster

CAR ATTACK

The Inception noise.

The Jaws theme.

The opening bars of L.L. Cool J’s “Deepest Bluest (Shark’s Fin)” as the screen fade’s to black on director Renny Harlin’s 1999 tour-de-force Deep Blue Sea.

Music was an integral part of film even before dialogue. Great music in film can accentuate swagger and heartbreak, punctuate dramatic revelations, and interact and elevate everything from a set to a performance. And yet, the nature of the medium of film and the conventions placed upon it limit just how much interaction the photography and the soundtrack of a film can have with one another.

Rocky doesn’t get to point out how badass his theme is. I assume. I don’t know. I haven’t seen Rocky. Get off my back.

McConaughey doesn’t plug his ears at the aggressive volume of Hans Zimmer’s pipe organ ordnance.

James Bond doesn’t bust out some sweet, sweet air guitar shreddage to John Barry’s classic riff.

If music were a vengeful old deity, bitter for the underappreciated magic it so thanklessly bestows on cinema, writer-director Edgar Wright’s latest film Baby Driver would be a long overdue offering, and it would appease its recipient mightily.

Baby, the titular driver, is a young man with the rest of his life ahead of him, as soon as he works off an old debt by serving as getaway driver to a criminal mastermind and his rotating potpourri of hired guns. Whether he’s buying coffee, busting out sweet donuts and kick-flips and whatever other neat things you do with a car, or hanging out at a diner, Baby is tuned in to his iPod nonstop, the soundtrack he provides his life also serving as the soundtrack to the film.

Baby Driver isn’t a musical, and it isn’t just an action film with a dope soundtrack. It’s a film in which the cinematography, performances and soundtrack seamlessly interlock, forming a sort of Mobius strip in which one informs the other informs the other ad infinitum. The characters in the film acknowledge the music being played even as the music being played acknowledges the actions of the characters. This isn’t an occurrence relegated to a quick gag or a single inspired sequence, this interaction is a constant throughout the entire film.

The interplay between mediums in Baby Driver isn’t done with a wink. The film isn’t breaking the fourth wall. Its setting up elaborately, spectacularly choreographed scenes in which everything at play interlinks organically.

But don’t get the wrong idea. That interplay is no gimmick. Baby Driver is a fun heist film that adeptly sways from thriller, to romance, to comedy, to action. Edgar Wright’s script by no means requires kickass tunes to be interesting and entertaining. Star Ansel Elgort and the rest of the film’s cast, particularly Jon Hamm, deliver great performances and the car chases and action will likely still impress with the film on mute.

Don’t get the wrong idea from Baby Driver.

Probably Darth Vader shouldn’t grab an imperial officer by the ear and point out how badass his theme music is.

Probably Ryan Gosling’s Driver shouldn’t acknowledge how dope his playlist is.

Probably all the booties in Fast and Furious shouldn’t be wagged about in real time to the movie’s soundtrack.

Probably.

But Baby Driver is exciting. It offers new ideas about the interaction between the various pieces at play in a film, and while I’m not chomping at the bit for a million imitators to try and make the next Baby Driver stylistically, philosophically the idea of reinterpreting the conventions of how a film comes together is a living, breathing horse that could definitely stand to take a few more whacks.

 

 

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Call of Duty: Advaned Warfighter, or, Hey Look! It’s Kevin Spacey

CODAW!

CODAW!

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Call of Duty is football. It’s a regularly scheduled bout between two rotating colors with just enough flexibility in its variables to differ from installment to installment. But there’s a reason people watch football. It’s familiar and somehow, someway it manages to evoke excitement in spite of that familiarity. You know what you’re getting with a Call of Duty game and depending on your taste that can be great or horrendous.

I don’t watch football. But man do I look forward to shooting my way through a six hour campaign one and a half times every year. Yeah, yeah, “Call of Duty sucks, it’s the same thing every year.” Well so are you so’s football ya nerd.

That being said, I wasn’t exactly sold on this year’s Call of Duty installment when it was announced, primarily because Call of Duty: Advanced Warfighter is being unapologetically promoted as Call of Duty: Kevin Spacey.

Cashing in on the actor’s recent critical praise from the Netflix series House of Cards, Advanced Warfighter somehow managed to get Kevin Spacey, and neither the promotional materials not the game itself will ever let you forget it. In pre-mission briefings, rather than showing you a snapshot of Kevin Spacey, you’ll get an entire collage of snapshots of Kevin Spacey, as if the game is bragging over having the rights to use the actor’s likeness.

Rollo Tomasi.

Rollo Tomasi.

It seemed really, really dumb. It seemed gimmicky. It seemed like a desperate attempt to feign relevance by plastering a recognizable face over tired gameplay. Like I said, I wasn’t exactly sold on Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. But as I do every year I quickly found an excuse to get it: I just got a PS4 and I wanted something to look pretty on it.

Graphically and conceptually Advanced Warfighter is not for this generation of gaming what Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was for the last. The cutscenes look nice but the graphics fall short under even minor scrutiny. The newly introduced exosuits let you hop around like a bunny, which is fun, but the set pieces and action movie tropes I hopped through were never exactly jaw-dropping.

For all intents and purposes Advanced Warfighter is just another football game. Maybe an arena football game, but even that would be a stretch. That’s not to say it was bad or that I didn’t like it, but this year’s Call of Duty is essentially more of the same.

Except this year’s Call of Duty has Kevin Spacey.

It seemed dumb. It seemed so, so dumb. I don’t even watch House of Cards. But hot damn, two-time Academy Award winning actor Kevin Spacey provides a compelling and thought-provoking performance in a video game in which I used magnet gloves to ride on the top of a bus like it was a skateboard while chasing a terrorist with an unironic Mohawk.

In the words of Kevin Spacey’s Christopher Walken impression, “Wow, that’s crazy.”

Some spoilers for the first act of Advanced Warfighter follow.

Spacey plays Jonathan Irons, the owner of Atlas, a private military that, by 2060 or so, has become the largest standing military force on the planet. Countries across the globe call upon Atlas to prop up (get it?) their governments and provide infrastructure, which is all well and good until Irons and Atlas go rogue.

Pretty by the numbers, yeah? I mean I put a spoiler warning above but I imagine few even considered Spacey wasn’t going to wind up the villain in this installment. But his performance in this Advanced Warfighter highlights a deficiency in all of the series’ previous entries: villainy.

The villain in the last game was, like, your dad’s friend or whatever? And before that it was a Russian guy? And there was another Russian guy? And an older guy? And Fidel Castro? And another other Russian guy?

Call of Duty villains suck.

Until now.

Not only does Kevin Spacey bring an undeniable gravitas to Irons, Irons is an inherently interesting villain.

Spacey Vader

Spacey Vader

Jonathan Irons is a villain who is legitimately relatable. He wants to get stuff done, to make a better world, and he sees the government as standing in the way of progress, going so far as to deem the very concept of the nation outdated.

It’s telling that while the protagonists in Advaced Warfighter obviously oppose Irons’ villainous plot, no one ever provides a counterpoint to his underlying argument. At no point does Irons have a moment of grand realization in which he grows to understand that his premise was flawed and misguided. Because it isn’t.

Jonathan Irons is a man infuriated by bureaucratic gridlock, and in the midst of fiscal cliffs and government shutdowns who among us can’t relate to that? But Irons isn’t just an infuriated citizen, he’s an infuriated citizen who commands an expansive private military which he utilizes to live out a power trip fantasy many of us have probably had while reading one news story or another.

Jonathan Irons is a man disgusted by the likes of Frank Underwood.

I had a jolly old time shooting his minions to death.

I suspect every football game has some little flourish that makes it distinctive and exciting for ball fans. Maybe someone kicks a three-pointer or grand slams into the touchdown. Call of Duty is no different. Last year there was a dog. The year before that there were divergent endings. One of them had an airplane level. Another one had Russian roulette. One had Jack Bauer. And who could forget the one that leaned in to our collective cultural phobia of a second 9/11?

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfighter is still a football game, but Kevin Spacey is one hell of a quarterback.

Pony Tricks Comic Cast Episode 50, or, I Can Admit When I’m Wrong

Here I grapple with the hardship of having a Wednesday for a Monday.

This week: Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers vs X-Men: Axis, Detective Comics, Superman Unchained, Swamp Thing