Baby Driver (2017)

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Ansel Elgort is the super speedy getaway driver with tinnitus and a soundtrack to beat the band as he works his way through a debt to heist mastermind Kevin Spacey and there’s the One Last Job that must be carried out. How much you like this depends on your identification with the leading man (it took me a while since I don’t like the actor);  your tolerance for minimal characterisation but some snappy one-liners (even if you can’t comprehend the poor delivery of one Jamie Foxx); the use of a sub-Freudian scenario (aspiring singer Mom was killed in a car crash and love interest Debora sings B-a-b-y when he first sees her in a diner);  and your capacity to take a story that more or less falls apart in a big-budget Kenneth Anger dream blowout (weelllllll……!!!) at the conclusion. Jon Hamm is the psycho banker turned Satanic cokehead robber but that’s as much development as you’ll find here in this fabulously OTT car chase of a movie from Edgar Wright who’s finally almost living up to expectations and even aspires to doing a Jacques Demy in those street scenes in this musical wannabe. Makes me want to see The Driver all over again and you can’t say fairer than that.

  1. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – ‘Bellbottoms’
  2. Bob & Earl – ‘Harlem Shuffle’
  3. Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – ‘Egyptian Reggae’
  4. Googie Rene – ‘Smokey Joe’s La La’
  5. The Beach Boys – ‘Let’s Go Away For Awhile’
  6. Carla Thomas – ‘B-A-B-Y’
  7. Kashmere Stage Band – ‘Kashmere’
  8. Dave Brubeck – ‘Unsquare Dance’
  9. The Damned – ‘Neat Neat Neat’
  10. The Commodores – ‘Easy (Single Version)’
  11. T. Rex – ‘Debora’
  12. Beck – ‘Debra’
  13. Incredible Bongo Band – ‘Bongolia’
  14. The Detroit Emeralds – ‘Baby Let Me Take You (in My Arms)’
  15. Alexis Korner – ‘Early In The Morning’
  16. David McCallum – ‘The Edge’
  17. Martha and the Vandellas – ‘Nowhere To Run’
  18. The Button Down Brass – ‘Tequila’
  19. Sam & Dave – ‘When Something Is Wrong With My Baby’
  20. Brenda Holloway – ‘Every Little Bit Hurts’
  21. Blur – ‘Intermission’
  22. Focus – ‘Hocus Pocus (Original Single Version)’
  23. Golden Earring – ‘Radar Love (1973 Single Edit)’
  24. Barry White – ‘Never, Never Gone Give Ya Up’
  25. Young MC – ‘Know How’
  26. Queen – ‘Brighton Rock’
  27. Sky Ferreira – ‘Easy’
  28. Simon & Garfunkel – ‘Baby Driver’
  29. Kid Koala – ‘Was He Slow (Credit Roll Version)’
  30. Danger Mouse (featuring Run The Jewels and Big Boi) – ‘Chase Me’
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Hell or High Water (2016)

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Call it white man’s intuition.  Taylor (Sicario) Sheridan writes a great screenplay so this was bound to be thrilling one way or another. Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) are brothers carrying out bank heists in west Texas to retrieve the family land, in foreclosure by the local bank two weeks after their Mom’s death. Tanner’s not long out of prison, Toby is divorced and wanting to do right by his sons:  he’s found oil on the property so he knows it’s crucial to get the ownership in order and there’s no way out now he’s lost his job and is behind in child support. Tanner carries out a third robbery after Toby is befriended by a waitress in a nearby diner and it’s the first bank to have CCTV that works. Texas Ranger Marcus (Jeff Bridges) who’s mere weeks from retirement gets the bit between his teeth and decides to take them down if he can figure out who they are by a simple method of deduction as the brothers rob the remaining banks in the chain – to repay the same bank  … Crafty, wise, mordantly funny and unbearably tense, this has two parallel male friendships – Marcus’s partner Indian-Mexican Alberto (Gil Birmingham) is the target of his ongoing race jokes –  winding around each other like DNA. This contemporary western has a great socio-political background (mass repossessions after the 2008 crash) and a wonderful setting:  look at those empty roads and desert and big skies. All four are convincing in their acutely interesting roles, everyone with something to lose and clearly defined by both action and dialogue. It reminds me of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, another outing with Bridges but with him on the other side of the law four decades later. It asks questions about right and wrong and family and friendship and being a western it must have a logical conclusion – with a shootout. And then some. Brilliantly balanced storytelling that’s really well directed by David (Starred Up) Mackenzie, a Brit who clearly relished being let loose in all that big scenery.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017)

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Aka Pirates of the Caribbean:  Dead Men Tell No Tales. Thanks to the Australian government’s tax incentives, that Pirates-shaped gap in my life has finally been plugged with a new instalment in the delayed series. I love these films, and all pirate films, and have had to sate myself with the genius Black Sails in the interim (I have one series to go, so no spoilers please! I’m still not over Charles Vane’s execution!). This is number 5 in the franchise and it operates as a kind of unofficial reboot because it has been (gasp) 14 long years since the first film, Curse of the Black Pearl, was released. And it’s aptly returned to this for most of the bones in terms of story, character and structure, even if this has way more shaggy-dogness about it in an untidy set of plot mechanics. Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann vows to find Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) to right the wrong on his father who’s abiding in a watery limbo on the Flying Dutchman. He knows that the Trident of Poseidon will break the curse. Death meanwhile lurks on the high seas in the form of Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his ghostly crew who cannot set foot on dry land – also condemned and cursed by Sparrow’s antics. An astronomer Carina Smith (Kaya Scodelario) is being executed as a witch in St Martin where a bank is being opened – and this is where Captain Jack makes his spectacular reappearance with his unruly and disgruntled crew led by Kevin McNally, with their awful ship in dry dock where they’re all broke. Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) is summoned by Henry to help out and he is ironically reunited with a daughter who doesn’t know the provenance of the map she seeks … Colourful, silly, not entirely logical and definitely rehashing plot points from the earlier films particularly the first one, this is handled pretty well by Norwegian directing duo Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg working from a screenplay by Jeff Nathanson, with a story by Nathanson and Terry Rossio.  The young lovers story gets a run-through, the Barbossa plot gets a very fitting conclusion, there’s a fascinating flashback (I want one to give me skin like that in real life) and there are homages here and there to make you smile – the zombie sharks being a reference to the original summer blockbuster granddaddy of them all, the ghost crew a nod to the original’s skeleton crew, Depp taking his Robert Newton/Keith impersonation to new heights of pantomime, a great Paul McCartney cameo and a bank robbery like no other. Some of the lines could have done with a rewrite – especially the jokes which are heavy on the misogyny; and there’s no real mad surrealism which has graced previous episodes (is there anything as wild as the hallucination of the ship on dry land and the multiple Jacks?!). While most of the legendary tropes are present bar a real Brit villain the last action sequence is so darned complex I genuinely forgot what it was about. But it’s full of fun and wild adventure and I for one love this series even if number 4 fell far short of expectations. Thwaites and Scodelario make a pretty useful couple to base the next set of films, kicking some new plotlines into touch. What do you want – live action Space Mountain?! Hoist the mainbrace! Wahey me hearties! More!

Rancho Notorious (1952)

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From a story (‘Gunsight Whitman’) by Silvia Richards, Daniel Taradash’s screenplay exposes the themes of hatred, murder and revenge, as the title song tells us. Actually, the title song is The Legend of Chuck-a-Luck but then studio head Howard Hughes wasn’t having it and insisted it be renamed. (The lyric also includes the phrase ‘man of steel,’ of trivia significance because of the presence of future TV Superman George Reeves a little down the cast list…) The fiancee of cowboy Vern (Arthur Kennedy) is raped and murdered in a raid on the general store and he swears to catch her killer. Altar Keane (Marlene Dietrich) gets the big buildup here – everyone has a story about her before we meet her properly and the first anecdote gives director Fritz Lang the opportunity to introduce her in a surreal saloon scene, piggybacking as ‘jockey’ to her ‘horse’ – a must-see if you’re a Dietrich aficionado. But that was years ago, it seems. And now? Kennedy contrives to get introduced to her associate, Frenchy (Mel Ferrer) as a means of getting to her and to the man who inflicted such hardship on him. Forced to take part in her gang’s bank robbery, he brings Altar her share of the proceeds and she admits where she got the brooch he recognises … Dietrich’s role as a woman in the western genre reaches a kind of apotheosis here and Lang is of course one of the essential directors. Taut, with Lang’s typical flourishes and a robust song track. Another piece of trivia:  it’s mentioned by Michel Piccoli in Le Mepris/Contempt in which Lang plays ‘Fritz Lang,’ the director of The Odyssey.

Gunfight at Comanche Creek (1963)

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Audie plays a lawman with the National Detective Agency who’s fond of the ladies. The first time we see him he’s in the arms of a showgirl whose jealous beau turns up and winds up head first out a window. Business must however, so he’s off to infiltrate a bad gang who have busted a convict out of jail to commit robberies on their behalf. And then his cover might be blown while in their lair. Can he trust the youngest of them with his secret and turn him back to righteousness? He has to watch his best friend get murdered and find out who’s really behind the crime spree. Colleen Miller provides the sweet stuff as the saloon proprietress, there’s a Voice of God narration but it all looks like a TV episode even with DeForest Kelley as the gang leader. Shame.

The Fastest Gun Alive (1956)

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An oddity in the career of everyone concerned, really. A peacekeeping shopkeeper is riled by women wanting different coloured dresses to the ones they ordered and kids dipping their fingers in candy jars. He’s been hiding his talent under a bushel and ignores his wife’s pleas not to drink or handle a gun. Because … that way trouble lies. And there’s a bluff fat man who’s got a point to prove as well as banks to rob … And he rides into town, a posse on his tail and he wants to prove HE’S the fastest gun alive. Glenn Ford is the sharpshooting drunk who goes to church to hand over his weapon so as not to lose his wife but then the robber arrives and the town’s big-mouth kid gives the game away. And Ford has to own his past.  (I know this sounds like how A History of Violence begins, but … this goes somewhere else entirely.) This is moralistic hokum, very stagey (written by the latterly acclaimed playwright Frank Gilroy who died last year aged 89, with a hand from director Russell Rouse) and committed to the ideals of community, church and the united front. Broderick Crawford is cast to villainous type and you’ll recognise the chipmunk-faced kid Chris Olsen from The Man Who Knew Too Much and Bigger Than Life. Talky, strange and possibly a crime against monochrome given its horrible colour-coded makeover. But at least that means you can enjoy Russ (Rusty!) Tamblyn’s hair as it was meant while he performs the Shovel Dance. I am not kidding. Take me to church, indeed.

Point Break (1991)

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Roger Ebert was right about pretty much every film he reviewed. He said of this that it was about ‘men of thought who choose action as a way of expressing their beliefs.’ It is a sensational film in the best sense – a film about sensation and visceral feeling and action and doing and excitement and adrenaline. Quarterback Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) is enjoined by FBI colleague Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey) to infiltrate a surfer gang he suspects of masterminding a series of bank heists, calling themselves The Ex-Presidents. They are led by the charismatic Bodhi Zapha (Patrick Swayze) whose ex Tyler (Lori Petty) proves the necessary introduction, rescuing Johnny from drowning then teaching him to surf. Bodhi’s belief system and bucking the establishment becomes a very attractive philosophy and Johnny is drawn in. This is one of the great Nineties films, directed at warp speed by the wonderful Kathryn Bigelow from a screenplay by W. Peter Iliff (sharing a story credit with Rick King) and it’s a total rush, from start to heartbreaking finish with an ending out of Dirty Harry. One of the great theatrical experiences. Not so much a film as a way of life. Surf’s up.

Loot (1970)

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The radical playwright and humorist Joe Orton was already dead by the time this was brought to the screen by writers Galton and Simpson (best known for TV’s Hancock) and they effectively flattened out his style to the point where it was basically unrecognisable. Silvio Narizzano, who had previously directed the marvellous Georgy Girl, is on duty here with a cast including Richard Attenborough and Lee Remick with Dick Emery further down the ensemble. Two mates rob a bank and one of them hides the loot in a coffin in the funeral parlour where he works. A gold-digging nurse sniffs an opportunity and there’s a detective (Attenborough) on their trail … Orton was dead even before Entertaining Mr Sloane had been adapted for ITV before its big screen version – murdered by his insanely jealous older lover, who bludgeoned him to death and then took an overdose. He died first because Orton was still warm when their bodies were discovered. To quote Harold Pinter’s eulogy for Orton, “He was a bloody marvellous writer.” But you wouldn’t necessarily know that from this film. Pity.