A Bag Girl Double Feature: The Beguiled (2017) and Baby Driver

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The Beguiled is a remake of a 1971 film of the same name starring Clint Eastwood, in turn based on A Painted Devil, a 1966 novel by Thomas P. Cullinan. My dad rented the original film when he read that a remake was in the works. I enjoyed the movie and its 2017 update was on my list of must watch movies of the summer  especially because it had a great cast and I was sold on the idea of blond haired southern belles in pretty, pastel dresses tormenting a helpless man. I was originally hoping to do a double feature of The Beguiled with My Cousin Rachel, as they are both atmospheric period pieces dealing with suspicion and sexual tension.

Corporal John McBurney ( Colin Farrell), a wounded union deserter, finds himself taken in by an isolated girl’s school in Virginia. The smooth talking McBurney proceeds to charm all of the school’s inmates, who are starved for male company, specifically Martha (Nicole Kidman), the school’s tough and icy headmistress, Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), a lonely and lovelorn teacher, and Alicia (Elle Fanning), a sexually curious student. Tensions and suspicions rise as McBurney begins to wear out his welcome. 

Colin Farrell as McBurney is both sleazy and sympathetic; by no means an honorable man but did not intend to cause as much trouble as he did. Nicole Kidman was great as Martha, the strong woman who had been strong for too long.  I was concerned about the casting of Kirsten Dunst as Edwina, believing she was too old (in the original film, Edwina is said to be in her early twenties) but she did well in the part. Elle Fanning is an actress I enjoy but I could not get behind her character Alicia, who is a total little shit. I adored the production design for this movie. All of the women are dressed in pale pastels and the sets are illuminated using mostly natural light or candles  to give the film an eerie, ethereal, gothic feel, which is at the same time sweet and feminine. The Beguiled was written, directed, and produced by Sofia Coppola and I think some of Marie Antoinette’s sugary prettiness made it into this movie.  I would recommend The Beguiled  solely on its production design alone.

The 1971 film version deals in both male fantasy (being the rooster in a hen house) and male nightmare (when said hens turn against you). But Sofia Coppola’s take on the story is firmly on the side of the women; you are rooting for them as they close ranks to protect themselves against a male interloper. This feminist subversion sits well in a summer film reason defined by Wonder Woman.

I started hearing a lot of positive hype about Baby Driver, which is considered one of the best films of the summer. After hearing the details about the movie, I became interested and anxious to see it, since I enjoy gangster flicks. 

Partially deaf after a car accident which killed his parents, Baby (Ansel Elgort) drowns out the world around him with a pair of earbuds and a quiet, stoical demeanor. To pay off a debt, Baby works as a getaway driver for a gang of criminals headed by Doc (Kevin Spacey) but wishes to leave that life for good and run off with a pretty and free spirited waitress, Debora (Lily James). But this proves to be the hardest getaway of Baby’s career. 

Music plays a large role in the movie, as Baby uses his playlists are used to drown out the ringing in his ears due to his partial deafness and as a sort of soundtrack to his life; he is often seen dancing and singing along to whatever song he is listening to and the cuts and choreography of the film are set to the beat of the music. It has often bean said that the film works as a sort of quasi jukebox musical. An interesting detail in the sound design is that a ringing noise is heard whenever music is not playing.

Ansel Elgort as Baby is effortlessly cool and I would not be surprised if young men over the coming decades start copying the character’s style of dress and mannerisms. Kevin Spacey is both funny and intimidating as Doc and armed with a number of hilarious quips. Doc’s gang is filled with a number of colorful characters: Buddy (Jon Hamm), a banker turned bank robber, Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), the Bonnie to his Clyde, and Bats (Jamie Foxx), the gang’s loose canon, who all give stand out performances. Lily James seems to be the go for girl whenever they need someone to be delightfully ditzy, and Debora’s romance with baby is sweet and believable. Another character of note is Joe, Baby’s foster father, who is deaf and in a wheelchair, with whom Baby communicates through sign language. Joe is played by deaf actor CJ Jones.  I appreciate the inclusion of deaf and other differently abled actors and of sign language, which I would like to learn some day.

I am not big on action movies but I enjoyed Baby Driver, and its action sequences are heart pounding. Add in interesting characters, a sweet romance, and a killer soundtrack, and Baby Driver is a great movie.

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