“Baby Driver”

“Baby Driver” will not give you pause. Rather this Edgar Wright action film will give you musical beats to drum through every car maneuver known to man, all seen before. Centered on the back story of our driver, who lost both parents in a car crash at the age of six, we wonder why fast cars fascinate. In a flashback, we see Baby strapped in the backseat watching his parents argue before mom rams into the back of a tractor trailer.

Besides serial car chases and robbery heists, we have a love at first sight complication as our young driver falls for last year’s Cinderella, Lily James, now decked out in waitress garb including her embroidered name, Debora. The music continues and there is some cute repartee about nomenclature in song. Babe suffers from residual tinnitus since his early accident, and the perpetual ear bud lyrics give him relief and give our movie the beat it needs.

Ansel Elgort plays our everyboy, who owes a debt to Doc (Kevin Spacey). He stole Doc’s Mercedes! But Spacey is the criminal mastermind who never enters a bank and never uses the same crew of wastrels twice, but Babe is his getaway driver, par excellence. A grizzled Jon Hamm and an equally thuggish Jaimie Foxx seem to enjoy their farcical characters while looking occasionally embarrassed.

Our setting is Atlanta, Georgia. Our title taken from a Simon and Garfunkel song. Our car initially a supped up, lipstick-red Subaru. British director and writer Edgar Wright has Baby recording his team’s conversations and then making music from the detritus. My favorite being “He Is Slow”. The driving for these series of brazen heists proves the reverse.

The dialogue is as bad as one would expect, “You get feelings in this job- you die.” intones Bats. (Jaimie Foxx). Bats shoots a store clerk for a few boxes of gum.” Tequila” plays like a music video amid gun shots. Elgort dances, runs, glides, and jumps through the Peachtree Mall after playing parking garage gladiator with Jon Hamm. Babe ends up on a bridge with Debora saying, “You don’t belong in this world” as he tosses his keys. Baby ends up in prison, but will be paroled in five years. Debora sends him tons of postcards, and we see them heading West on Route 66 with the radio blaring. Like I said above, nothing gave me pause in this movie except the 98% approval rate from “Rotten Tomatoes”.

“Elvis and Nixon”

It is comedy and it is history. A photo of Elvis Pressley shaking President Nixon’s hand is the most requested item asked for from the National Archives. Fact is stranger than fiction. Seeing this  quirky film after voting in Indiana ‘s Primary  was especially pleasing. Seeing these two right-wing world-viewers cavort and  then voting for Sanders made me smile. Nixon in one scene asks , “Do you think there would be an Elvis if this land were Communist?” Nixon often refers to himself as ” leader of the free world”.

This  is the second  comedy made about the Oval Office meeting of Elvis Pressley and Nixon. I have not seen the 1997 ” Elvis Meets Nixon” written by Alan Rosen, but I can say that Liza Johnson has directed a marvelous show in the 2016 “Elvis and Nixon”. The introduction is artful with colorful sliding inserts and the music so in sync that you will applaud the detail given to each underscored lyric. This is niche cinema at its best.

Blood, Sweat and Tears’ “Spinning Wheel” with its “Ride a painted pony” is perfect for this carousel ride which teams up Michael Shannon  (Elvis) with Kevin Spacey ( Nixon). Male insecurities and male balancing puffery is both hilarious and a tad moving. Johnson hits a balance that has the viewer enjoying this ” hard to handle” duo.

The sub-story of Jerry Shilling ( Alex Pettyfer), Elvis’ friend and later manager of Billy Joel, is likewise touching. Jerry is asked to proofread Elvis’ handwritten letter to Nixon ( on American Airline stationery) and to take care of Priscilla when she is unhappy with Elvis’ spending. Elvis, in turn, pulls some savvy maneuvers to get Jerry  a seven minute escort to the airport  and back home in time for a pre-engagement dinner with  his intended’s father. Elvis knows how to “snooze”, even praising the marines over the army and navy to ingratiate himself with the “palace guards” outside the White House. But he also knows how to be a friend.

Much of the film is Michael Shannon’s Elvis making headway into the Oval Office. One of my favorite scenes is where he takes a commercial airline and runs into three Elvis impersonators who think he is one of them. One asks, ” Do you do ‘Teddy Bear’ ?” . The real Elvis answers, ” Sometimes” without smirking. Another is when Elvis’s sweet tooth takes him to a donut shop. ” Original, my ass, maple bars” is a line well- delivered twice! The writing of Joey and Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes is top-notch.  The Sagals play minor parts as secretary and  Elvis impersonator. They are good on screen, too.

Shannon and Spacey push and pull when they finally meet. Nixon could use a political boost in the South with the youth vote, and Julie, his daughter wants an  Elvis autograph. Tricia, Nixon’s eldest daughter, prefers The Beach Boys. Nixon doesn’t like his nap hour interrupted. He has a  disciplined routine with M&M’s and Dr. Pepper playing a part. Elvis wants to help with the war against drugs, to be an undercover rock and roller. He really wants a Federal Agent At Large badge. As he cracks his knuckles, he tells the President that he can supply his own firearms.

Kevin Spacey has the Nixon hunched shoulders, arms folded, impersonation down; but,  he is tantamount at showing his “bubble bursts” of defeat. As Nixon expounds about the magnificence of the Capitol Building, in his soft voice, Elvis innocently responses with, ” It looks a little like my place.” When Nixon tells Elvis he may go ahead and touch the moon rock on display, Elvis tosses out that ” Buzz sent me one, too.”  Spacey is the one who ” crumbles like a sand dune.”

This is Elvis’ movie, and we learn a lot about him. His penchant for numerology, his acknowledgement of the masks he is forced to wear, his preening and privilege. Cultural icons are rather silly. Shannon does an admirable job in showing this. He is always onscreen and we follow his every move. We are amused at how in awe many are. No deep psychological studies here, but smiles at behaviors that show glimpses of personhood and of delusion.