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TV THROWBACKS – Spectacular Spider-Man: “Survival of the Fittest” Review

TV THROWBACKS – Spectacular Spider-Man: “Survival of the Fittest” Review

Hello, all! Welcome to my latest blog segment, which I would love to dedicate my childhood and my fondest television memories to. This one’s all about past TV shows – specifically those with serialized elements – and how they fared as a series overall. Like most shows I covered, I will be doing single episode reviews with a bit of in-depth analysis wherever I feel is most necessary (sometimes I’ll even do it strictly out of pure passion!), along with some extra thoughts at the end of them from time to time. I hope to branch this out into separate categories of old TV shows, and maybe into more segments related to these classic series. At least for now, however, it’s a nostalgia trip that should be a fun and educational experience for myself, you all as readers, and those who maybe didn’t get a chance to watch the particular show that I’m covering. Anyways: Enjoy!

I still remember the scrutiny and the uncertainty that once swirled around Spectacular Spider-Man at the time of conception. Despite the tantalizing focus on Peter Parker’s high school life juxtaposed with his superhero persona, many feared that the simplified animation and low budget would hurt the series’ chances of winning over loyal fans and uninitiated children alike. In addition, it was taking on a Kids WB viewership that was in steep decline, with the original kids network mantra being renamed into The CW4KIDS amidst an internal transitional phase and the emergence of Saturday morning cable television programming. Even from what you can now (unfortunately) consider pure retrospect, the show was all but doomed regardless of whether or not it subverted expectations.

The great thing about retrospect, however, is that sometimes it’s a wonderful thing to look back on what was instead of lamenting over what could have been. That’s most definitely the case here with Spectacular Spider-Man, as it immediately established itself as a worthy standout title in a sea of depreciating cartoon series. Also, personally, the greatest thing about “Survival of the Fittest” is the retrospect factor it provides through a second viewing. For a first episode in a prematurely axed pot of gold, it almost never gets any better than the deliciously comic book-faithful display we got by director/writer Victor Cook and co-writer Greg Weissman.

Josh Keaton’s turn as the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is the heart of gold that beats incessantly throughout the show’s 2-season run, and right off the bat he absolutely owns the role. Like Tom Holland’s live-action spin on the character in last summer’s Homecoming, Keaton sells the wisecracking, overly-ambitious ego of the superhero with the vulnerability and humanity of the high school super-nerd. Peter’s use of spidey-sense, web-slingling and wall-crawling are all vital tools that helped build up his superhero reputation all summer long – the very first scene in this series is a beautifully-animated romp that exhibits the skills he’s discovered within that time – but he also acknowledges the responsibility that comes with those very same attributes. What Keaton does here that’s so special is make it all incredibly arresting stuff. Peter sneaking in on Aunt May’s disclosed conversation with a neighborhood friend about finances while he fakes his steps downstairs for breakfast, for example, goes a long way toward testing  Keaton’s versatility, and in that instance he immerses the viewer into the protagonist’s plight. He just sounds like Peter Parker here as he thinks to himself how he’ll manage to help provide alongside his guardian, and even for those who have read hundreds of different Spider-Man comics beforehand, it’s simply one of those really cool moments where the show decides to invest in character progression and voice over transparency as much as its overwhelming world-building.

Much of the episode’s title is in reference to Adrian Toomes and his first sinister run on the show as the Vulture. Even here, in merely less than a minute of screentime, do we get an absolutely fantastic bit of both backstory and exposition as Norman Osbourne finesses Toomes out of the picture of his latest flight technology just in time to sweep up all the credits for it. It not only fuels the Toomes revenge story that follows, but also introduces us to the slimy, patronizing figure Osbourne generally represents in the comics. To make things even more exciting, the episode pairs this internal struggle for Peter (since, after all, Harry is both his best friend and Norman’s son) with an underground task force (the Destroyers, if I’m not mistaken) that happens to ambush Spider-Man via helicopter. Vulture’s plot remains in the center of the action, but it also blends nicely with the duality of Peter’s current position: after spending all summer fighting crime, he gets his first true test of responsibility (saving Norman from mere peril) at the same time a hidden villain emerges to “squash the bug”.

 

 

The swift transition to Peter’s high school life introduces a complete flurry of characters I came to love almost on sight. Harry Osbourne and Gwen Stacy are exceptionally well-grounded teenagers who share an amazing chemistry with Peter, and both James Arnold Taylor and Lacey Chabert bring these historical comic book figures to life. The brief moment of introduction for Eddie Brock gives us a world of history between him and Peter with brevity, while the already-deteriorating presence of Dr. Curt Connors is pleasantly teased. We even get to see the surrogate father/son dynamic between Peter and Norman manifest before Norman dumbs down his own son in disgust. Jonah Jameson’s hilarious encounter with Peter also shines as a reminder over the “Park financial struggles” subplot.

Lastly, the animation here, while simplified, looked great at the time and still holds up today. Spectacular Spider-Man easily has some of the best fighting scenes in the history of American comic book cartoons, and we got an early taste of the series’ brilliance with a sprawling finale atop the hefty Manhattan skies. Character models are most certainly exaggerated in comparison to the grittier aesthetic of the comic books, but everyone here still looks true to form, while both Spider-Man and his rogue’s gallery (Vulture for this episode) are given a contemporary touch infused with spirited elements derived from their comic book origins. All in all, this is a very pretty show to watch.

 

The Verdict:

“Survival of the Fittest” is a great debut for any show, but at the time it couldn’t have been more necessary for the legacy of Spectacular Spider-Man. It’s a brisk 23 minutes of entertainment that throws a whole world of comic book lore and origins at you, while somehow maintaining a fast pace and establishing an original story all at once. I was hooked when I first began the series, and I simply can’t wait to watch it all over again.

 

RATING: 9/10 

 

 

 

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The New York Mets, the New York Yankees, and a city not big enough for the two of them

The New York Mets, the New York Yankees, and a city not big enough for the two of them

For a pair of franchises that have both appeared in the potential pennant-clinching Championship playoff series within the last four years, the New York Mets and New York Yankees have very stark differences in perspective. The case for the New York Mets in recent years has generally revolved around their salary. General manager Sandy Alderson admittedly does not have the financial stability present in the salary of his team’s crosstown rival, and has spent the last couple of offseasons seeking affordable players that will make the Mets better. In addition, mid-season fire sales when the team is underperforming or falling out of playoff contention have become more apparent.

The Yankees have the benefit of the Major League’s largest payroll, as demonstrated by their head-turning offseason signing of Giancarlo Stanton. Despite building their farm system back up, spending large sums of money remains the central factor to delivering a competitive team on the field. Also, unlike the business model presented by the Mets, Yankee owner Hal Steinbrenner sternly enforces a harboring need to win championships every season; a mindset his father introduced when he used to run the franchise.

With the 2018 season fast approaching, these varied approaches point toward another championship run for the Yankees, and a cloud of uncertainty regarding the Mets’ level of success. Nevertheless, only one team could return home with a World Series trophy in October.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

Let’s see how much fun we’ll have going over those Super Bowl commercials

Let’s see how much fun we’ll have going over those Super Bowl commercials

I personally think it’s safe to say that the 2018 NFL Super Bowl was unlike any other that came before it, and in some ways that could also be said about the million-dollar advertisements that ran alongside them.

A.V. Club contributor Erik Adams dives deep into the trenches of the best and the worst Super Bowl ads from last night, in an article that practically leaves no stone unturned. This, for me at least, is easily one of the most readable pieces on a typical, post-Super Bowl Monday – particularly because those with critical minds probably need an avenue to express their criticisms over things like these commercials. It’s also a fun read, with a great headliner and various embedded videos spread across Adam’s lengthy piece that go a long way towards refreshing one’s memory.

In addition, Adams’ work here is quite informative, as he provides context to the commercials that otherwise may have been missed upon their initial viewings. Personally, I loved this piece – mainly because it retains that passionate, spirited hurling of A.V. Club-style criticism and raves that make the website stand out. I came for the Super Bowl ads, and stayed for the writing. This is a perfect marriage of enticing multimedia journalism and actual hot stove internet discussion.

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

IGN and the Power of Concentrated Multimedia Journalism

IGN and the Power of Concentrated Multimedia Journalism

In one of IGN’s famed TV pieces from 2017, they went in-depth to discuss the future of one of Netflix’s biggest shows, Stranger Things.

Usually, this website attaches various forms of multimedia and drags them up and down various articles; this one is no different. As a fan of Stranger Things and an internet article junkie, this piece popped out to me for those exact reasons. The headliner pulled me in by insinuating a level of intrigue I felt was necessary to satisfy, and luckily the content was – to me – good enough to make the click worthwhile.

What stands out above all else, however, is the presentation. About a third of the way down the IGN article is a photo gallery that looks back at the show’s latest season, providing an adequate level of eye-candy that’s relevant to the topic. Spoiler-filled information that is pertinent to the topic is split up cleanly into brisk, easily-readable paragraphs that make jumping back into the article later an easy thing to do. In addition, David Griffin, the author of this particular article, also goes on to provide a fun little gallery of “all the best 80s references” that offers something extra for readers to talk about after reading.

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

*TV REVIEW* The Deuce finds that seeing is believing in “Show and Prove” 

*TV REVIEW* The Deuce finds that seeing is believing in “Show and Prove” 

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             SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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So, contrary to what we were led to believe in the pilot, Vincent’s deep dive into the dirty intricacies of the mob business is far from over. After slick-haired, sharp-dressed mob capo Rudy Pipilo (Michael Rispoli) cordially invites him into a profitable business venture requiring the efforts of brother-in-law Bobby (Chris Bauer), the fair-mannered Martino brother starts to see the bigger picture behind his recent success story down by the “wrong side of the river”. Rudy wins him over by metaphorically splashing said big picture right in his face during a walk down The Deuce. “Human garbage”, as Rudy so plainly calls it, is everywhere, along with a dreary lack of progress and livelihood; their walk about town manifests into a grand tour of all these things, thanks to Ernest Dickerson’s carefully structured, widely-framed directing. With some time and an increased assortment of resources, Vinnie could very well be on the cusp of something greater than pulling $700 a week at a restaurant he doesn’t even own.

That sort of broad sell is the driving force behind what keeps the cast of The Deucestanding afloat amidst the intangible, stagnant pool of water that pollutes its crowded setting; it’s also the thesis to this week’s episode. In “Show and Prove” the exposition means nothing if the sell carries no weight. Vincent’s won over because Rudy’s artificial sentiment jives with the feeling of stagnation and scumminess he’s just recently escaped from (which, in a way, is one half logical and one half ironic, considering the new set of circumstances he finds himself in). Although we as viewers can already dissect the illegitimacy of Rudy’s stern remarks on West 42nd, Vinnie’s trending upward as a manager seeking opportunities to garner a position worthy of his capabilities. Eventually, you’d imagine that he’ll come to his senses, but for right now he’s got Bobby working the construction chain like a fiddle, and the money’s good.

Others like Ashley are literally selling their bodies to achieve their own desired levels of personal gain. A somewhat heartbreaking arc in the pilot episode, her ambitious attempts to satisfy both herself and C.C. spills over into a network of multiple storylines here. After bearing it all for potential film suitors to see in a provocative photoshoot (one that Shay suggests she shouldn’t have paid for in the first place), she returns to both Shay and Darlene about it, which prompts Darlene to confront Fat Mooney at his bookshop over rightful compensation. Right in line with that sense of worth she was looking for with Louis last week, she (literally) gets her money‘s worth at Fat Mooney’s, confiscating the remaining tapes of her video “sex”capade and later reporting them to Larry.

Ashley’s preferred solution is so simple it’s not even glanced at for the remainder of the episode; those chomping at the bit to find out if Bernie Wolf’s underground film producers are interested in her will have to wait patiently until at least next weekend. Darlene’s situation, however, goes beyond what Larry wants and what Darlene needs to keep him happy. Their exchange at the diner once again highlights the leverage and the power represented in the pimps that run The Deuce, and unfortunately for Darlene Larry’s vigorous clutch on her self-worth means her frustration-fueled search for satisfaction won’t get any answers anytime soon.

There is, however, some light at the end of the tunnel for her in “Show and Prove”, when she ventures off to the library to read and check out books. Later on, we see her distance herself from the busy trappings of the bar she’s in, taking a break from whetting the sexual appetites of empty suits with every flip of the page from whatever novel she picked out. Obviously, Larry could give less of a shit, and it’s difficult to imagine that his aggressiveness towards Darlene has ceased to intensify. We continue to watch her try to learn and grow for her own benefit, but what sucks for her so far is that she’s trapped in a relationship designed to dumb her down to a dispensable commodity.

Eileen’s self-worth is also without question, but unlike Darlene it’s also without restraint; far be it for any one of those pimps down at the diner to try and scoop her up. As a result, her arc goes in a completely different direction. Eager to demonstrate a progressive display of independence, she considers Fat Mooney’s monetary exploitation on a trip to the Bronx, filling in for a fellow prostitute on the set of a homemade porno. Her fascination at the shrewd set design and film antics (the Campbell’s soup trick at the end of the production is as interesting as it is hilarious) prompts her to steal some of the pornographers’ work – she’s on to something here.

Before we get there, though, we are once again reminded of the family dynamic she’s involved with back home: an honest one that paints an arresting picture of the type of relationship a woman in her position would have with an exuberant, miss-informed son and a loving – albeit disapproving – mother. And again, Maggie Gyllenhaal is incredible throughout. As the daughter seeking a stable source of contribution for her family, she exhibits an enthusiastic drive that makes me root for her even despite the knowledge that she’s simply going back out to fuck for cash. At the porno scene up in the Bronx, she gives us a calculating, analytic version of Eileen that practically transports us into her thoughts. Without saying a word, she tells us everything she’s thinking when she glances away to the side after being showered with fake jizz; an instance that transitions into a healthy dose of inquisitiveness when Naomi provides her with a clearer understanding of all the materials on set.

The most enthralling half of “Show and Prove”, however, is the one that illustrates the day-to-day workings of the average escort. Police officers Flanagan and Alston from the pilot return to inject more of that nonchalant communal interaction from last week, cheating a street-cleaning system within their precinct by shuttling prostitutes and raiding bookshops with hidden porn tapes. While the latter is relatively straightforward, the true nuance of their excursions this week lie within the former. By treating the ladies they rack up on street corners to Chinese food and harmless conversation (and then later sending them right back out when the coast is clear from fellow lieutenants), they collect a better understanding of the personnel they’re exploiting – while also covering the fact that homicides are occurring at a rapid rate elsewhere. I liked that we got to see Alston sympathize for them and even try to talk some sense into Loretta, and the overall procedure of it all is intriguing in the sense that the police back then seem to have exerted their creativity in all the wrong places.

After this week, C.C. and Lori’s relationship easily springs forward as the most engaging dynamic thus far. The bedroom scene, shown in two separate shots, portrays a gripping accrual of affection as C.C. prides Lori over her appearance before he opens up about his personal insecurities. I can’t help but feel like his “lonely pimp” monologue is straight bullshit – particularly because, you know, he is still a pimp – but the show has already established his work philosophy so it succeeds as a sort of dramatic irony. The man’s sell is so convincing that Lori practically feeds off his rage when she refers to her former pimps back in Minnesota (“I hear you, Daddy”). That level of dominance has her eating up his every word in the movie theater, and later when she’s rescued from an escort gone (horribly) bad.

But even still: what’s Lori really thinking after C.C. stabbed that fake cop? There’s a certain level of shock there that keeps her quiet when she passes by Ruby and Shay; as if the fantasy and the dreams her pimp provided are fading. She had a rough night, a night that could’ve reached a fatal conclusion, but the man who expects to bred a family with her simply shrugs it off as procedure and trots her back out into the street. Unlike Vincent’s involvement with Rudy, Lori is clearly struggling with the lifestyle presented to her. Sometimes, drinking the kool-aid isn’t as easy as experiencing an educational night around the town.

Before I conclude, here are some extra notes from this week’s episode:

  • Predictably, Abbey dropped out of college this week and moved into a new living space with a bunch of unidentified individuals. Drugs and booze (and possibly some sex) will probably be slung around like candy in the weeks ahead.
  • I highly doubt that Bobby’s role in the construction business is coincidental, considering Chris Bauer played Frank Sobotka in The Wire and that character wrestled with managing the docks and handling the mob that he conspired with.
  • Unfortunately for detective Grossman, his argument for Mike Epstein and his remarkable 1969 season doesn’t quite hold up in retrospect. Despite his culturally-driven impact being compared to Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays here, Epstein managed to only play five more seasons in the Major Leagues, amassing just 78 homeruns in that span (although he was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2004).
  • “Careful with those meat hooks. I’m delicate like a teacup.”
  • Who else got serious The Wire vibes by the roundups that bookended the episode, and Rizzi’s roll-call?
  • I forgot to also mention that Vinnie is Rudy’s latest tenant, and that Rudy has already offered him a dried up gay bar called “Penny Lane”. Besides the lightning-fast rate at which Vinnie’s character arc is moving, I found the fact that I picked up the Beatles reference at the same time Tommy Longo did to be the most standout part of this episode.
  • Sandra, the anthropologist who acknowledges Darlene at the bar, is most likely going to expose the sex trade in Times Square someway, somehow. I just don’t know when or how she’ll manage to do so yet.
  • Also, screw Larry for breaking Sandra down to tears. Man, these pimps are assholes.
  • The shot at the movie theater where C.C. and Lori are centered and the man in the far right corner is openly receiving oral just about sums up the directional quality of the entire installment (which is a very good thing, in case you were wondering).
  • I’m pretty sure we’ll be seeing more of Paul very soon; I guarantee it.


THE VERDICT:

“Show and Prove” wasn’t as much about moving the needle as it was about digging deeper and deeper into the constructs of its setting and character themes, but it definitely proved that the show’s glacial storytelling pace could be much more engaging than you’d think. Between C.C. showing Lori the ins and outs of daily prostitution, to Rudy and Vincent coming up with a promising business agreement, The Deuce picked up right where its pilot left off with a flurry of strong scenes, great performances, and brilliant direction.RATING: 9

 

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The Deuce Leaves 1970s New York Wide Open to Rich Character Study

The Deuce Leaves 1970s New York Wide Open to Rich Character Study

Hey guys! As an avid fan of The Wire and some of David Simon’s other work, I can’t begin to describe how much of a thrill it is to finally be at the forefront of one of Simon’s new television series. I hope that school and work won’t keep me from staying on top of this show on a weekly basis, so I will do what I can to cover The Deuce after the conclusion of each new episode. Hopefully, this will be a fun and exciting venture for both me as a writer and all of you guys as readers!

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                                                            SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!!!!!!

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Here in America, sex sells. It’s everywhere, from television sets and mobile devices to click bait ads and highway billboards. We, as human beings, are so prone to it as an avenue of enjoyment that for some it has emerged as a profitable lifestyle, an essential element of survival and steady income. In The Deuce, David Simon’s latest look at the Dickensian Aspect of human society, that avenue has only just begun to consume the masses.

Set in the unrestrained trappings of 1971 Times Square, The Deuce opens its telling story with a corpulent cast of characters who are all working to stay afloat with the changing times. For some, like James Franco’s double-take in the form of twin brothers Frankie and Vincent Martino, that involves dodging lifelong debts with shady individuals and making an honest living amidst the descent of a family in shambles. For others, like Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Eileen “Candy” Merrell and Dominique Fishback’s Darlene, they’re faced with making enough cash to provide for one’s kindred son or searching for purpose behind the tint of a Jack Conway movie.

The Deuce‘s bread and butter is its power to speak volumes in its character moments.”

In-between the various bits of pertinent character exposition such as these are the sprawling moments of dialogue where The Deuce assures that the disco-laden background is little more than window-dressing. Don’t get me wrong, here: there is much, much personality injected into both the direction and cinematography in the pilot episode.The Deuce’s bread and butter, however, is its power to speak volumes in its character moments.

Following the funky, colorful intro (a huge “Yes!” moment for fans of The Wire‘s classic minute-long opening sequences, I’m sure), we are instantly treated to an abundance of them. For example: Gary Carr’s C.C. steals the show right away with his pinstriped suit and womanizing inducement. That power he holds over unsuspecting Minnesotan Lori (Emily Leade) segues into a potent diner scene where we are introduced to the rest of C.C.’s “employees”. Both scenes are practically an endowment of the show’s current sex climate, from the immediate stripping of Lori’s innocence, to the whisked away passion illustrated deep within the pupils of Ashley’s eyes. The firm grasp that a man in C.C.’s position over the pliable hearts of his ladies of the night is ever-present, and is a shadowy feeling that carries over into the work presented by his other colleagues like Gbenga Akinnagbe’s Larry Brown and Method Man’s Rodney.

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It helps that The Deuce is so well-casted and acted – I’ve seen this pilot twice, and could not for the life of me pick out a single negative exception – but the show’s marriage of actor and script help transcend its dizzying array of character beats. The pimps run their half of Times Square not only because they’re resourceful and good with singling out women with daddy issues; they have a necessary rapport with the beat cops, which is decorated beautifully in one of the episode’s most grounded, “1970s era New York” moments. Maggie Gyllenhaal predictably runs away with her material, dishing out tough love to a lucky teen on his birthday in one scene and looking worn out over voice messages and excursions from the night before in another; she’s easily the most compelling individual to watch here.

Other well done interactions and dynamics involve Abigail’s (Margarita Levieva) brief run-in with Officer Flanagan, and Vincent’s withdrawal from his disloyal wife and her mob-ridden family. Both their arcs take off as the episode thrusts them into separate bursts of enlightenment, and it’s impossible not to assume that a major seed has been planted with Abby shoo-ing off Flanagan to chat it up with Vincent a little while longer. That scene in particular is one of the few instances in The Deuce where the wheels are spinning towards something bigger – the origins of Times Square’s porn industry boon, perhaps? – but the human interaction is so nuanced that the viewer could easily acknowledge that without the writing being on the wall.

“The show’s marriage of actor and script help transcend its dizzying array of character beats.”

The Deuce also seems confident that, in time, its community approach will become a discernible factor that helps it stand out amongst its peers, and the pilot does right by this level of ambition. There’s so much to consider when C.C. passes by Vincent in a quiet apartment hallway and acknowledges him by name, or when a cautiously eager Lori learns the tools of the sex business trade from Eileen on one of her first nights working corners. Worlds are bound to collide as the season goes on, and that’s made an exciting prospect by just how profound and matter-of-fact the show projects these engagements.

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1970s Times Square has probably never looked or sounded both so beautiful and so ugly in a television series. Shot with the same level of gritty filtering that easily separated The Wire from just about everything else at the time, The Deuce is a cacophony of authentic atmosphere, careful lighting, immersive audio cues, and subtle visuals. This episode is one of the most faithful re-imaginings of any time period I’ve seen in a TV show, from C.C.’s tricked out Cadillac and the voluptuous outfits of the city’s prostitutes, to the lines of garbage on street corners and trails of marquees darting down for city blocks. Even the drowning state of blaring horns raging down Times Square is edited with a grin-inducing practicality. This elevates some scenes in ways that are difficult to describe, but I was consistently blown away by the level of accuracy on display here.

 

The Verdict:

Some of the greatest stories ever told take time before they truly take off, and although The Deuce still needs to prove itself in the coming weeks, I’m already sold after its markedly impressive debut. Covering dozens of characters, a multitude of story arcs and only a portion of a city that appears larger than life, The Deuce finds an immediate strength in being a character study heavily reliant on realism and careful observation from the viewer. Like its spirited, critically-acclaimed predecessor, it prefers to put its puzzle pieces together methodically, but understands the need to give enough substance and meaning to them for the experience to be worth revisiting. If Simon’s previous works are any indication, it’s going to take a while before we see the porn industry make a notable presence here – but if the build up is this good, this flavorful, I’m more than willing to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

 

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THE DEUCE – TV REVIEW: “PILOT”

RATING: 9.4

+ Performances

+ Script

+ Absolutely nails the time period from an aesthetic standpoint

+ Dripping with various themes, memorable interactions, and character development

 

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*MOVIE REVIEW* – “Baby Driver” Is The Best Parts of Guardians of the Galaxy, Drive, and La La Land All Wrapped Into One

*MOVIE REVIEW* – “Baby Driver” Is The Best Parts of Guardians of the Galaxy, Drive, and La La Land All Wrapped Into One

Baby Driver, in all of the best ways, emulates the joy and euphoria I used to indulge myself in over long, restless nights of playing 2010’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Cruising down long, winding roads, swerving through traffic at blazing speeds, and creatively finessing my way around squads of relentless police vehicles behind a personalized soundtrack tailored to the ebb and flow of the chaos before me were virtual thrills that constantly came to mind during the wide assortment of action sequences that pepper the film’s 113-minute running time. But Baby Driver doesn’t only work as a car enthusiast’s adrenaline-fueled wet dream come to life; it establishes itself as a one-of-a-kind experience with a remarkable personality all its own. What starts as a music-timed sequence of j-turns and powerslides evolves into an engaging story with a brisk pace, a colorful cast, and a dynamic lead that perfectly embodies the spirit and ambitions that director Edgar Wright sought after here.

 

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Ansel Elgort is Baby, a wheelman with a heart of gold (and a cassette tape collection that would make Peter Quill blush) who’s stuck in a lifestyle he can’t seem to escape. Suffering from Tinnitus – a direct result of a fatal incident he was involved in as a child – he sounds out the drumming in his ears with iPods aplenty, and music for days. It helps him find his own rhythm in the world, and somewhat augments his capabilities as a getaway driver. Like the condition he lives with for the rest of his life, however, his elite prowess behind the wheel lingers with him wherever he goes. After coming square with an arrangement he has with Doc (Kevin Spacey), Baby considers his future; one that is highlighted by the effervescent presence of diner waitress, Debora (Lily James). Doc has other ideas, and before you know it one refreshingly clever reference to another movie (*cough cough, Scorcese, *cough cough) foreshadows what those other ideas may lead to. The film presents the tone of Baby’s relationships to both Doc and Debora through his music: a staying force that both channels the fantasy and bewilderment that encourages people to strut down the block with swagger and dance feverishly when they’re in love, and frames the blood-soaking grit and realism that provides the viewer with a pertinent emotional connection to Baby and his plight.

 

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Baby is a central component to everything that goes on in Baby Driver – from the successful bank heists, to the swirling black hole of chaos that shortly follows. Edgar Wright makes this apparent through two wonderfully constructed elements: the film’s soundtrack, and its direction. The action here is breathtaking in more ways than one, gracefully capturing the video game-esque fluidity of Baby’s driving skills and the various amount of ways he manages to slip through the fingers of the authorities. What heightens these moments of frenetic bliss is how the music coincides with their rhythm. Car doors slam in unison to thumping kick drums and bangs of drum hats. Bullets fly in sync with guitar riffs. Abrupt cutoffs in the music being played are timed with bodies falling onto the hoods of vehicles and sudden car crashes. Hell, even the little things like fingers slapping through stacks of cash, toe taps and hazard light sounds match the beat of whatever’s playing in the background.

La La Land‘s penchant for mixing music with the sounds of daily activity scream throughout the action in Baby Driver in the sense that the effects of it here transcend past superficial swagger; we get a genuine sense of who Baby is as a person. His soundtrack is his temple, quieting out the deficiency that’s scarred him eternally, but it’s also his link to the past and the youthful exuberance that’s carried over into adulthood. As an orphan and an aspiring DJ, his careful curation of 60s soul, 70s classic rock, 80s hip-hop and 90s indie pop all translate into his love for others and the innocence he tries valiantly to retain throughout the course of the movie. Thanks to a rock solid performance by the lead man, Elgort makes his shoes easy for us to fit into. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I smiled over watching Baby express himself to his deaf foster father (played brilliantly by actually deaf comedian CJ Jones) and flirt helplessly with Debora over coffee; it’s impossible to not be able to relate to him.

 

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Baby Driver does well for itself by seeking out quality in quantity with its cast. Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx and Eiza Gonzalez among others round out the film’s delicate grouping of characters with spirited performances. This movie quickly acknowledges the impact the actual robbers could have on the message Wright methodically exposes, and does right by the various slate of partners Baby’s assigned to by making each one unique and compelling. It also helps that their backstories are peeled away slowly, and the ambiguity behind their personalities isn’t compromised in the process. The second half of Baby Driver nosedives out of its more lighthearted trappings to elicit a sort of trigger-happy thriller, and while the transition lacks some of the magic that makes the first half so special, it manages to work because of the tonal shift provided by the intensifying heist squad dynamic – and the flexible soundtrack, too.

Along with directing the film, Wright was also directly involved in the screenplay, and it shows with the way he plays to the strengths of each and every actor and actress involved. Foxx is unapologetically belligerent, Hamm ranges from cool and collected to reckless and deranged, and Jon Bernthal practically revises his role as Shane from The Walking Dead. Sign language-laden dialogue between Baby and Joseph provide bountiful comedic relief while failing to stray from its strong emotional context. Then there’s Kevin Spacey, who’s cold, calculating delivery is basically authentic at this point. He commands his screentime in just about every scene, registering as a sort of surrogate father for Baby as he holds a firm hold over his team. The script overall is consistently grin-inducing, with plenty of  humorous remarks and metaphors that both stand out on their own and keep the upbeat spirit of the film pacing through it like blood to veins.

 

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Again, Baby Driver rests its laurels squarely on its main character, and its thematic scope never interferes with its narrative focus. Although the cast generally gets enough time to be fleshed out, Wright manages to find key connections to Baby as he struggles with keeping his hands clean and his conscience on a virtuous path. The film’s gradual descent into darker territory is handled carefully, and the push/pull that Baby constantly wrestles with gets rightfully brushed up to the forefront in the film’s climax. In a way, Baby Driver becomes a much different movie here, but the energy and immediacy of its action – along with its beautiful marriage of particle effects and musical cues – cease to waver. Very rarely can an action film provide such a broad spectrum of emotions and moods yet still maintain the essential components that arrested the viewer in the first place.

 

 

The Verdict:

The sole purpose of a summer flick is to provide popcorn entertain for all to enjoy, but Baby Driver‘s ambitions drive it (pun intended) way past conventions in all the best ways. It’s got the musical dexterity of a personalized iPod spanning decades of greatest hits, matched with a creative focus that molds both ingredients into a final product we’ve never quite seen before. The uniqueness of the film’s approach wins over in so many ways that it’s immensely difficult to find an area where it’s at fault. From colorful characters and a clever sense of humor, to masterfully-orchestrated set-pieces and a brilliantly-used soundtrack you’ll be rushing to research soon after the credits roll, Baby Driver emerges out into the hot summer sun as one of the very best films you’ll see this season. It’s already a personal favorite of mine.

 

 

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RATING: 9.5

+ Ansel Elgort and Co. deliver on all fronts

+ Loving marriage of music and technical/sound effects create an atmosphere dipped in rhythm and swagger

+ Brisk pace and compelling story/character development

+ Fantastic set-pieces galore

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2017 in Action Movies, Baby Driver, Movies, Uncategorized

 

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