“Baby Driver”

For those who think “Baby Driver” is a “Drive” rip off, I respectfully say you’re wrong. “Baby Driver” has more in common with “Reservoir Dogs,” “Point Break,” “Heat,” “The Town,” “The Driver,” “The Blues Brothers,” and “La La Land.” I don’t normally call movies cool, but “Baby Driver” is pretty damn cool.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver, who’s the best in the business. He’s a reluctant accomplice who focuses more on his music during robberies than watching his accomplices. Doc (Kevin Spacey) promises him that they’re square after one more job, but what happens when Doc interferes in Baby’s reformed life and romance with the sweet Debora (Lily James)? A frenetic and unpredictable series of robberies, shootouts, chases backed by a killer playlist!

“Baby Driver” is Edgar Wright’s fifth film and he once again demonstrates his auteurship by splicing musical numbers with action sequences. Whether Wright perfectly edits and paces the opening chase sequences to match they rhythm of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms,” or he choreographs gunfire to stay on tempo with Focus’s “Hocus Pocus,” “Baby Driver” is an innovative piece of action filmmaking.

It’s not just the action sequences that are worth watching. There are romantic jukebox musical moments of Baby and Debora rocking out to T. Rex, bromantic moments of Baby and Buddy (Jon Hamm) rocking out to Queen, and one amazing long take of Baby dancing and singing along to “Harlem Shake.” Wright hits all the right notes with his song choices.

Elgort delivers a quiet, expressive, and physically demanding performance as Baby. He’s a well-rounded and empathetic protagonist. All Baby wants to do is enjoy his music and spend time with Debora, but he’s trapped. In the last thirty minutes of the film, Baby turns into an unpredictable force of nature and Elgort displays impressive stunt work and facial expressions in his performance, putting him on par with Ryan Gosling and Tom Hardy.

The supporting cast excels with Spacey, Hamm, and Jamie Foxx as charismatic psychos with surprising depth. Doc is hyped as the main antagonist in the first act, but he’s later humanized and shows surprising concern for Baby. Buddy wants to be everyone’s buddy, but he later turns into a homicidal maniac; Hamm is quite versatile in his performance. Foxx is a scene stealer as the self-proclaimed crazy Bats. Bats is chaotic evil and causes all sorts of problems for the group, but he also acts as a mentor figure to Baby.

Each character in this film acts as a family member to Baby. Doc is Baby’s father figure, Baby, Bats, and Darling (Elsa Gonzalez) are Baby’s dysfunctional siblings. Baby seeks salvation in Debora and she’s the one innocent character. Don’t be fooled! She’s not a damsel-in-distress and makes a great foil to Baby. I loved this narrative because it balances style and substance evenly.

Wright is on fire with “Baby Driver;” he not only has made the best film so far this year or summer, but he’s quite possibly made the best film of his career. I’ve seen it twice now and wouldn’t mind seeing it again.

Grade: A+

 

 

The Classics – “The Cornetto Trilogy”

Welcome back to The Classics! Last time, I reviewed “John Wick” prior to “John Wick: Chapter 2.” Now I’m going to talk about Edgar Wright’s brilliant “Cornetto Trilogy,” leading up to “Baby Driver.”

The trilogy consists of “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz,” and “The World’s End.” All three are buddy comedies spliced with different genres, resulting in three hilarious, wonderful love letters to film.

HUGE SPOILER ALERT FOR ALL THREE MOVIES!!!

“Shaun of the Dead”

Part zombie horror film and part romantic comedy, “Shaun of the Dead” stars Simon Pegg as the 29-year-old slacker Shaun. He’s pushed by his overbearing stepdad Philip (Bill Nighy) and his sweet girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) to take life more seriously, though he would rather play video games with his unemployed best friend Ed (Nick Frost). Things grow worse for Shaun when he finds zombies in his garden, forcing him, Ed, Liz, and their friends to hide in their favorite pub during the zombie breakout.

“Shaun of the Dead” is a brilliant tribute to the zombie genre. Billed as “a romantic comedy with zombies,” the film is exactly that. It’s more about Shaun and Liz trying to reconcile their differences following their breakup. Of course, you have the overbearing parents, an antagonistic romantic rival, and the best friend comic relief. Edgar Wright shows restraint with these characters and they’re depicted as people.

Wright also builds up the zombie scenes with genius subtlety. In the opening act, we see Shaun go through his daily routine. He picks up a soda from a local supermarket, rides the bus to work, heads home, then to the Winchester Pub. As his day progresses, we see some sick people on the bus and brief news reports on background TV’s, and finally a zombie attack outside the Winchester. Wright chooses to feature all of this in the background, forcing the viewers to pay close attention.

Shaun and Ed are unlikely heroes; they want to save everyone, but exacerbate the situation as the movie progresses (there’s even an ongoing joke with the word “exacerbate” and it suits them well). After rewatching the movie, I feel the darkest part was the ending because had Shaun and Ed remained home and waited for the military, everyone would have still been alive.

“Shaun of the Dead” is a terrific horror comedy because of the Easter eggs. Shaun and Ed’s roommate Pete (Peter Serafinowicz) blames Ed for leaving the front door open; however, I recently noticed that Shaun was the one leaving the door open.

“Shaun of the Dead” is a horror comedy that appeals to most movie goers. I have family members and friends who hate both horror movies and violent movies, but they adore “Shaun of the Dead.” After rewatching this, I’m considering revising my top 10 favorite films list.

Grade: A+

“Hot Fuzz”

Highly decorated police officer Nicolas Angel (Simon Pegg) constantly humiliates his department with his high arrest records, resulting in his transfer to the seemingly perfect village, Sanford. He’s bored with the small town life until a series of gory accidents occur; this leads to a bromantic partnership between Angel and fellow officer Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) and an explosive shoot-em-up climax.

“Hot Fuzz” is more energetic and fast-paced than “Shaun of the Dead;” Blink and you’ll miss the sharpest joke and visual gags. “Hot Fuzz” is an effective satire on not only action films, but small town culture. Sanford has a “Twin Peaks” vibe in the sense it’s a seemingly peaceful and quiet town with something sinister.

The twist behind the neighborhood watch killing embarrassing residents is both funny and terrifying. It’s funny since they killed a writer for misspelling their name and disturbing since they’re gaslighting gullible Sanford residents.

Pegg and Frost once again have terrific chemistry as Angel and Danny. Frost is once again the goofy manchild, but he has more heart in “Hot Fuzz” than “Shaun of the Dead.” Pegg pulls off some surprisingly impressive stunt work and action star charisma; why in the hell isn’t he doing more action movies?

Wright shows versatility with his direction in “Hot Fuzz,” directing action scenes with great panache and energy. I was impressed by him using Michael Bay’s cinematographic trademarks and outclassing Bay (not that that’s hard to do). The climax is twenty minutes of firing dual pistols, high speed chases, knife throwing, missile kicking, and grisly uses of steeples and bear traps.

“Hot Fuzz” is another one that gets better every time I watch it. If I had one nit-pick, it’s that Wright’s use of violence is uneven. All gore effects are innovative and insane, but in the first half, it’s easy to mistaken “Hot Fuzz” as a slasher movie. “Hot Fuzz” doesn’t feel like an action movie until the climax. Nonetheless, “Hot Fuzz” is still a total blast.

Grade: A

“The World’s End”

In the most mature installment, alcoholic Gary King (Simon Pegg) lives in the past and manipulates his old high school friends Andrew Knightley (Nick Frost), Oliver “O-Man” Chamberlain (Martin Freeman), Steven Prince (Paddy Considine), and Peter Page (Eddie Marsan) into joining him on an epic pub crawl in their hometown. They have to visit 12 bars and drink 12 pints until they reach The World’s End. Except they don’t remember a robot army inhabiting their hometown.

“The World’s End” is the trilogy’s most experimental installment and it polarized fans upon release. It’s experimental in Pegg and Frost switching roles with Pegg playing the hot mess and Frost the straight man. The film’s narrative structure is clever with an opening flashback that foreshadows the rest of the film. While “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz’s” humor were primarily visual and physical humor, “The World’s End” relies mostly on witty dialogue and fast-paced conversation.

The first act is a slow start, allowing us to get to know Gary and his friends. We see that Gary is the only one who hasn’t gotten his life together while his friends feel sorry for him and instantly regret joining him. That doesn’t mean there’s no shortage of humor (pay attention to a reoccurring joke about selective memory).

The second act is a wild blend of well-choreographed fight scenes, some eerie horror moments reminiscent of “Body Snatchers,” and hilarious drinking sequences that show both the fun and dark sides of drinking. Gary is an alcoholic and has a good time drinking and fighting robots while his friends resent him for it (Gary is the one who exacerbated the situation).

The final act escalates to a frenetic combination of humor, depression, and catastrophe. It’s not a physical climax like the previous films, but entirely verbal as Gary, Andy, and Steven challenge The Network (Bill Nighy) to an epic debate about human nature and free will. It’s an insightful, vulgar, and highly quotable scene (I’ve jokingly yelled, “Fuck off, you big lamp” at bright lights ever since).

Fans are divided on the closing scene, which depicts the world in a post-apocalyptic state and Gary is now a sword-wielding warrior repeating the Golden Mile. I loved this ending personally because even though the world is a living hell, Gary still has a good time. Plus he’s now sober and has come to terms with his demons, so he wins in the end.

I loved “The World’s End” for its darker tone and chances it took. I’m going to rank it as superior to “Hot Fuzz.”

Grade: A+

Thanks for taking the time to read the review of my favorite movie trilogy. Stay tuned for my review of “Baby Driver!”

“Rough Night”

What do “Bridesmaids,” “The Hangover,” “Weekend at Bernie’s,” and “Very Bad Things” all have in common? The new dark comedy “Rough Night” pays homage to all of them… Maybe a little too much.

The engaged and overworked Jess (Scarlett Johansson) reluctantly goes to Miami when her estranged friends host her bachelorette party. We’re then introduced to the eccentric Australian native Pippa (Kate McKinnon), overly dependent Alice (Jillian Bell), social justice warrior Frankie (Illana Glazer), and wealthy single mom Blair (Zoe Kravitz).

The party begins as a cliched party we’ve seen several times as characters snort coke, get drunk, and have a botched dance number. When they head home and order a stripper, things escalate to a dark level after Alice accidentally kills the stripper in morbid fashion. What now?!

“Rough Night” didn’t have the best trailer and I only saw it to get out of the house. “Rough Night” consists of a standard first act, hilarious second act, and an implausible final act. It benefits thanks to the cast’s performances. At least it’s better than the trailer.

Johansson has surprisingly sharp comedic delivery (I want to say it’s her first comedy) as the straight-faced Jess. Her deadpan delivery matches McKinnon and Bell’s absurd banters. McKinnon steals every scene with her impeccable improvising and perfectly timed expressions. Bell, Kravitz, and Glazer were hit and miss for me, but when they hit, I laughed hard.

Demi Moore and Ty Burrell steal one scene as married swingers trying to seduce the protagonists. It begins as a typical crude sexual situation, becomes uncomfortable, then ends in a darkly funny punch line.

The writers take the greatest chances in the second act. Whether we’re watching a character hustle meth for gas money, characters hide a dead body on a swing, or take a pizza break after cleaning their crime scene, I was impressed with how far “Rough Night” went.

END SPOILERS!!!

The final act kills the movie with its implausible and disappointing ending. The characters walk free thanks to a good Samaritan law that likely exists for movie logic. I would have preferred the writers to keep their mean streak and have the characters’ fates go a darker direction, but most movie-goers prefer the happy ending.

Despite the disappointing conclusion, I’m happy to see a comedy take chances. Especially considering I’m still getting over “Baywatch.”

Grade: C+

“The Mummy”

Studios are banking off of the MCU with their own movie universes. First, Warner Bros started the DCEU and then the Monster Universe shortly after. Now Universal has started the Dark Universe with “The Mummy” as their first installment. I’ll stick to the 1999 Brendan Fraser version, thank you.

U.S. Military officer Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), his partner Chris (Jake Johnson), and archeologist Jennifer Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) discover a secret tomb in Iraq. When they bring the mummified corpse of Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) back with them, they unintentionally unleash hell on earth as Ahmanet comes to life and goes on a rampage. Nick, however, discovers he might be the only thing that can stop Ahmanet.

I’m a Tom Cruise fan and was intrigued after learning he was starring in “The Mummy.” Partially because it’s his first horror film (if you can call it horror) and partially because I wanted to see what death-defying stunt Cruise was going to perform next. Aside from a terrific plane crash sequence and an insane bus stunt, the action is lackluster.

“The Mummy” is 107 minutes of Tom Cruise running and screaming, Jake Johnson yelling, “I’m gonna die,” Russell Crowe delivering exposition-fueled monologues, and Annabelle Wallis playing damsel-in-distress. This results in a rather dull summer movie. I wanted to like “The Mummy,” but I found it underwhelming.

Sofia Boutella is a talented actress, but she’s underused in her role as Ahmanet. She isn’t terrifying or menacing (Arnold Vosloo is superior in the 1999 “Mummy”) and has little to do, despite wearing wicked makeup. In terms of villains, Crowe’s Henry Jekyll steals a few scenes.

Watching Cruise and Crowe banter is one of the movie’s few treats. Cruise’s boyish charm perfectly matches Crowe’s stern, deadpan delivery. They both are clearly trying and easily carry the movie, despite the weak script.

The script suffers from some serious tone inconsistencies. We get some darkly hilarious hallucination sequences reminiscent of “An American Werewolf in London,” but they don’t mash well with lame jump scares or the movie’s adventure tone. Also, it’s insulting that the movie’s six screenwriters don’t trust the viewers enough to figure things out for themselves.

“I drove back to her,” Cruise says as he obviously drives back to Boutella, attempting a getaway.

I’m a fan of the classic Universal monsters, but this is a disappointing start. Hopefully they find their footing in future installments.

Grade: C-

“It Comes at Night”

The apocalyptic horror genre is one of my favorites because it raises moral questions about survival. How far will you go to survive? Can you trust anyone? Can you live with killing someone? “It Comes at Night” asks these questions and the answer from watching this is no. “It Comes at Night” is the most haunting film I’ve seen this year.

An unknown plague has wiped out most of civilization. A family of three lives in a secluded mansion in the woods and consists of father Paul (Joel Edgerton), mother Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and teenaged son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). They offer shelter to a mysterious man named Will (Christopher Abbott) and his wife Kim (Riley Keough) after a brief violent confrontation.

Rules are established, but the two most important ones are don’t go out at night and leave the red door locked at all times. Will someone break the rules? Can Paul trust Will? Why does Travis wonder the house at night?

“It Comes at Night” is an unconventional apocalyptic horror film. Yes, there are gas masks, a nasty human virus, and barbaric standoffs. But there isn’t a known source of the virus, zombies, or a soldier with a false promise. That’s where writer/director Trey Edward Shults excels is his focus on the characters and minimal setting.

The characters stay within the home or its grounds. When they’re together, they have brief conversations and little is known about them, leaving the viewer to analyze them. The ruthless Paul is a former history teacher, so he was likely civilized prior to the virus. Will had various odd jobs before the outbreak and relocated several times during, so he struggles to protect his family.

“It Comes at Night” is told primarily through Travis’s point of view. He witnesses Paul’s survival instincts and realizes he may have to take drastic measures to survive. He has a series of nightmares that risk being cliched, but are ultimately used to reflect Travis’s emotions or foreshadow what’s to come. They’re refreshingly chilling sequences.

“It Comes at Night” will likely polarize audiences since some viewers will love its artistic take on horror while others will compare it unfavorably to “The Walking Dead.” I personally am on board and can’t stop thinking about this masterful study of human nature.

Grade: A

“Wonder Woman”

The DCEU has finally gotten their act together! After their three consecutive misfires (“Man of Steel,” “Batman vs. Superman,” and “Suicide Squad”), they’ve redeemed themselves with “Wonder Woman.”

Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) grows up training to fight Ares, the God of War. She’s trained by her fierce aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) until one day a soldier named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) appears on their beach, informing them of World War I. Diana agrees to help Steve stop a powerful enemy, under the assumption it will end all war. But will it?

“Wonder Woman” is the first DC film since the original “Superman” that paints heroism in a positive light. Diana doesn’t bomb buildings like in Tim Burton’s “Batman” or recklessly destroy buildings and kill thousands of people in a fight like “Man of Steel.” She fights, kills only when provoked, and she saves people (did Superman save anyone in “Man of Steel?”).

Diana’s flaw is often highlighted in key scenes where she has to decide between saving someone in front of her or pursuing the greater evil and save thousands of lives. This sets up some emotionally investing conflicts as she learns the hard way that she can’t save everyone; even if she wins a battle.

Gal Gadot is charismatic as the lead heroine; despite showing off impressive stunt work, I was more impressed with her emotional moments. It’s sweet watching her discover small joys such as babies or ice cream. It’s funny to see her match an outfit with her battle gear. It’s sad watching her mourn the loss of loved ones in battle and learning war has consequences.

Chris Pine brings boyish charm as the sly Trevor. He acts as Diana’s mentor, partner, and lover. I was more invested in their mentor-protege and buddy cop relationships rather than the actual romance. The romance between them is forced, but not annoying.

The main villains could have also used some more development and originality since they are cliched mad scientists; however, “Wonder Woman” is about the hero and not the villain, so I’ll let it pass.

Director Patty Jenkins also pulls off something few indie directors have accomplished: transition from a low-budget film to a big blockbuster and direct both competently. Each action sequence looks like an expressionist painting and are strengthened by Jenkins’s exceptional use of slow motion (a style I’ve resented in recent years).

“Wonder Woman” is arguably the best film so far this summer. And when that guitar solo kicks in during action sequences, it will likely have you quietly saying, “Yes,” like it did for me.

Grade: A-