In this web exclusive, the "Sunday Morning" film critic reviews new films for the holiday weekend -- a car-chase thriller, a Civil War-era drama of seduction, and a raunchy comedy about medieval nuns:
We Americans love our cars, so let's burn some fossil fuel (The Earth can handle it, am I right? Don't answer…) and drive to see a great car chase movie this July 4th weekend.
It's a terrifically entertaining heist thriller called "Baby Driver" (Tri-Star Pictures) by the brilliant director Edgar Wright, who's a Brit but he gets us Yanks.
Ansel Elgort is the title character, a teenager in debt to Kevin Spacey's icy crime boss for adolescent indiscretions, now driving getaway cars to settle his tab. Though Baby is quiet and always wears earbuds, he doesn't miss much, including the threat posed by homicidal paranoiacs like the guy played by Jamie Foxx. And his music gives him a soundtrack for his stunts behind the wheel.
Here's why "Baby Driver" is different from the average noisy, bloated modern action movie: It's lean and rather elegant. I don't mean elegant as in holding your teacup with your pinkie up; I mean when the blood hits the fan, the amount of the splatter is just so; I mean that in the first getaway sequence, the car glides in and out of traffic with musical and geometrical genius.
You get wheels, you get guns, you get dreamy teenage romance with Lily James as a waitress who'd rather be driving somewhere better. It's a joyride.
The only sad thing is that there aren't enough drive-ins left to make this an even more quintessentially American experience.
For more info:
- "Baby Driver" (Official site)
To watch a trailer for "Baby Driver" click on the player below.
Less fun, but far more fascinating, is "The Beguiled" (Focus Features), Sofia Coppola's remake of a 1971 Civil War melodrama that starred Clint Eastwood. Now it's Colin Farrell as the badly-wounded Union corporal who finds refuge in a Southern girls' school run by one Miss Martha, played by Nicole Kidman.
She's not happy treating an enemy combatant, but her larger worry, it seems, is the threat this man poses to the fragile equilibrium of the school -- a place of female grace in an ugly male world of chaos and death.
Suddenly her girls are competing for this handsome man's attention, and the corporal is shrewd enough to manipulate each of them in turn, particularly a teacher played by Kirsten Dunst.
What happens is the stuff of nightmares -- male nightmares, in particular: a woman with a knife and a hacksaw. Although the man is culpable in his fate, the story itself resembles a lot of myths about demonic females seething with sexual jealousy.
Sofia Coppola's idea was to take this movie directed by a man from a novel written by a man and tell the story from the female perspective.
It would be interesting to do a side-by-side comparison of the whole thing, but for my purposes it comes down to one character: In the 1971 "The Beguiled," the Method actress Geraldine Page goes rather bonkers. In Coppola's, Nicole Kidman is rigorously rational. In the end, she sees this volatile soldier as a legitimate danger to her girls and her school.
Now something has been lost in Coppola's more measured approach. This "Beguiled" doesn't have the terrifying Southern Gothic overtones of its predecessor. It's rather genteel.
But the movie works anyway -- it's beautifully made and its quiet concentration is unexpectedly powerful. And it's important to remember that Coppola is pushing back against millennia of misogyny, against stories that portray men lured by sirens and helpless before their demonic wrath.
This is important. With the stunning success of "Wonder Woman" -- a superheroine epic directed by a woman, Patti Jenkins -- and more female directors getting their shot, the prospect of women going back to stories that have already been told by men and reframing them, subjecting them to the "female gaze," is terribly exciting. Horror, Western, even car chase movies should be fair game for what I'll never again call "the fairer sex."
For more info:
- "The Beguiled" (Official site)
To watch a trailer for "The Beguiled" click on the player below.
If you're looking for a lighter, funnier movie in which one man is descended upon by ravenous women, I heartily recommend "The Little Hours" (Gunpowder & Sky), a loose adaptation of two stories from Boccaccio's "The Decameron" about sexual hijinks in a medieval Tuscan monastery. You get nuns Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie and Kate Micucci tossing back their habits and throwing themselves on an alternately panicky and delighted Dave Franco.
Irreverent? Maybe. But the characters are such innocents you might find yourself giving thanks to a God who forgives all iniquity.
For more info:
- "The Little Hours" (Official site)
To watch a (heavily bleeped) trailer for "The Little Hours" click on the player below.
And here's a heads-up for the July 7th release of "Spider-Man: Homecoming," which is the lightest, most agreeable Marvel movie in ages, featuring a high-school Peter Parker with none of that trendy superhero angst. He just loves putting on that goofy costume and swinging around saving people. And that love is contagious.
For more info:
- "Spider-Man: Homecoming" (Official site)
To watch a trailer for "Spide-Man: Homecoming" click on the video player below.