“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+

 

 

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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!”

“Ant-Man”

I wish the brilliant Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead” (2004) and “Hot Fuzz” (2007)) stuck around to direct his version of “Ant-Man”. Given that Simon Pegg and Joss Whedon both called Wright’s screenplay one of the best Marvel scripts they ever read, I wonder what that version would have been like, compared to the final product.

Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang, an ex-con who finds himself in a predicament when he steals a suit that can shrink the person wearing it into the size of an ant. He’s then approached by Hank Pym (Michael Douglas returning to form) to use that suit to, “break into a place and steal some shit,” though Scott wants to go straight. But this heist is for the greater good and Scott is an expendable choice, much to Hank’s daughter Hope’s (Evangeline Lilly) chagrin.

The best moments in “Ant-Man” are the comedic moments. This movie is perhaps the funniest movie Marvel’s produced to date (yes, funnier than “Guardians of the Galaxy”). Rudd delivers a charming performance packed with deadpan delivery. The best performances in “Ant-Man” go to Michael Pena (“End of Watch” (2012), “Shooter” (2007)) as Scott’s crime partner and Douglas. Pena is brilliant comedic relief while Douglas brings fierce attitude and sharp humor to Pym.

The action sequences get a tad redundant after a while, as Ant-Man shrinks, punches, shrinks again, and punches again, but there are some amazing ones involving an enlarged Thomas train and a fight inside a briefcase thrown out a helicopter. These wacky and innovative sequences must have been Wright’s!

And this is where “Ant-Man” is flawed; there are four credited screenwriters here. We have Wright, Rudd, Joe Cornish (2011’s awesome “Attack the Block”), and Adam McKay (“Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” (2004)). Wright and Cornish wrote the original script while McKay and Rudd heavily rewrote it before production.

Wright and Cornish’s genius shows in certain action sequences and comedic moments (particularly Pena’s narration scenes). However, it seems the script relies a lot on the superhero origin formula and heist movie cliches. How many times do we need to see a heist movie with the, “We can’t do this! Yes we can,” banter? Makes me believe these moments were McKay and Rudd’s.

Look, I’m not saying “Ant-Man” is a bad movie. I enjoyed it overall and would recommend it. It’s just not Marvel’s best and the rewrites in this movie are clearly visible. Maybe Rudd and McKay will grow as they work on “Ant-Man 2”.

Grade: B