Monday 20 November 2017

Baby Driver, Dark Night, Office Christmas Party: Your Week In Film (November 20-26)

Wheel deal? Edgar Wright's Baby Driver never quite hits top gear

The best and worst of the week's UK home entertainment releases on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD. All the films mentioned are available to buy, rent and/or stream now, unless otherwise stated. Apologies for this column's enforced hiatus last week - to make up for it, there will be TWO instalments this week...

Ratings guide:  WWWW - Wonderful  WWW - Worthwhile  WW - Watchable  W - Woeful 

You have to feel sorry for Edgar Wright. His fifth film Baby Driver (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WW½ was a bonafide box-office smash back in the summer, with critics falling over themselves to hurl four and five-star reviews in its direction. And then, just before its home entertainment release, the whole Kevin Spacey scandal blew up in the director's face. Your screen bad guy turns out to be a pretty shitty operator in real life too, and suddenly, that groovy heist movie everyone was so in love with a few months ago somehow seems a little less appealing, although probably more so than being stuck in a lift with Sex Luthor himself.

Seeing as how Wright didn't have time to digitally swap the former Keyser Söze for Christopher Plummer (as Ridley Scott is doing for All The Money In The World), Baby Driver will just have to do as it is – stylish, fast-paced and entertaining enough, albeit not a patch on Wright's best work (Shaun Of The Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World). Ansel Elgort is the titular Baby, a hearing-impaired and decidedly reluctant getaway driver for Spacey's crime boss, Doc. When Baby meets, and falls for, bored diner waitress Debora (Lily James), he recognises a kindred spirit and decides his life of crime is over. But slipping out of Doc's clutches – as well as those of his criminal gang, which includes Jamie Foxx and John Hamm – might be a getaway beyond even Baby's abilities.

The idea of flipping the script on classic driving films (The Driver, Drive, Vanishing Point) by putting a young, tinnitus-afflicted music nerd front and centre, rather than the usual glowering, charismatic maverick, is a good one. Setting the whole thing to a glorious, uplifting soundtrack, which includes T.Rex, Jonathan Richman, and The Damned, is even better. But somehow Baby Driver never quite hits top gear. James is wasted as little more than a damsel in distress, the driving stunts have been done better elsewhere (although kudos to Wright for eschewing the use of CGI), and Baby himself is an oddly unlovable titular character. Style over substance can be enormous fun, and this certainly has some moves, but there's a distinct "is that all there is?" feel here that sets in about halfway through and is hard to shake. 

Lawless: Hearing-impaired Baby is desperate to escape his life of crime

The 2012 Aurora, Colorado cinema mass shooting, in which 12 people died at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, provides the inspiration for low-key indie oddity Dark Night (DVD and VOD) WW. Over the course of 80 or so minutes, we see half-a-dozen strangers – most of them young, all of them fictitious (this is no documentary or recreation) – going about the minutiae of everyday life, whether it's skateboarding, hanging out with loved ones, endless selfie-taking or working out, before heading off to see the titular movie, where most will face almost certain death or horrific injury.

Writer/director Tim Sutton doesn't over-dramatise these people's existences or even strive to make them especially interesting. He focuses on small moments, and there are a great many of them, as there would be for any one of us. The only real suspense comes early on when you are trying to work out which of the main characters is going to be the shooter – the former army veteran (Eddie Cacciola), the gun nut with the scary eyes (Robert Jumper), or the discomfiting loner (Aaron Purvis), being interviewed on camera with his mum, for reasons which are never made clear (I even wondered if his sequences were set AFTER the shooting, which would be a smart twist).

Dark Night does a fine job of showing how horror and tragedy can strike anywhere, at any time, and is keen to deviate from the usual drama template – these characters do not die heroic, meaningful deaths, they're gunned down by an evil fuck with too many weapons and a grudge against the world. They don't get a chance to say goodbye to loved ones, fulfil their promise, or even finish that novel or video game. If Sutton's film is about anything, it's life's terrible impermanence, a reflectiveness it shares with A Ghost Story and Marjorie Prime, both also released this year.

If there's a problem, it's that most of the director's characters are too thinly drawn to truly care about, the couple of exceptions difficult to empathise with. That said, some scenes pack a punch, particularly one in which our would-be killer puts his gun to an ex-girlfriend's window, while she is conducting a guitar lesson. Teacher and student are totally oblivious to the fact they are only the squeeze of a trigger from death. The rest of the film doesn't quite live up to this moment of heart-stopping menace, although Sutton's haunting third feature sticks around in your head for a few days after you first see it. In fact, the more you think about Dark Night, the better it becomes, pretty much the exact opposite of the horror that inspired it then.

Under the gun: Dark Night is a haunting and low-key indie drama

Like a lot of modern Hollywood comedies, Office Christmas Party (DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD) WW gets by on sheer likeability and a modicum of irascible charm. TJ Miller (formerly of Silicon Valley) is Clay Vanstone, a benevolent boss battling to keep the Chicago branch of his late father's tech company open, despite his venomous CEO sister (Jennifer Aniston) doing everything in her power to close it down. It's good capitalist versus bad capitalist, with a workforce including Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, and Kate McKinnon caught in the crossfire.

In one last desperate bid to save their jobs, Miller and Co throw a Christmas party for a prospective client with pockets deep enough to keep the branch afloat. Things, of course, get out of hand, and it isn't long before a drugs, booze and sex-filled bacchanalia is in full swing, with wanton vandalism and extensive property damage thrown in for good measure.

The first hour, where it's all about the party shenanigans, is good fun, before boring old plot considerations take us out of the office and straight off a bridge (quite literally). You'll be unsurprised to hear Saturday Night Live's McKinnon, as the company's uptight head of HR, steals the show. I'd watch a sequel with her as its star in a heartbeat.

Snow fool: TJ Miller brings the chaos in Office Christmas Party

What I shall be watching this week: Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool, Paddington 2, and Justice League.

The UK's Top 10 best-selling DVDs/Blu-rays (films only)
1. Despicable Me 3
2. Cars 3
3. Baby Driver
4. Paddington
5. Beauty And The Beast
6. Transformers: The Last Knight
7. Moana
8. Fast & Furious 8
9. The Mummy
10. Wonder Woman

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