Category Archives: Reviews

Baby Driver (2017) Review

MOZART WITH A GO KART


 

Over the years, director Edgar Wright has produced some very unique and interesting feature films. Starting out as a director for several short-lived British TV series like Asylum, Mash and Peas, Is it Bill Bailey, Spaced, and a few others, Wright eventually graduated to directing theatrical films, beginning in 2004 with the movie Shaun of the Dead. The film, which starred Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, was a British horror-comedy film that riffed on the idea of a zombie apocalypse (zombies was just starting to become noticeable in pop culture). In general, Shaun of the dead was positively received as was considered a commercial success. This then prompted two create two more similar-style films (even using Pegg and Frost as the main characters), with 2007’s Hot Fuzz (an action-comedy parody) and 2013’s The World’s End (a science fiction-comedy satire). These three films were widely accepted by Wright’s fans, gaining a cult following for these movies, which were dubbed under the name Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (or just simply as the Cornetto trilogy. Additionally, in-between Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, Wright also adapted Bryan Lee O’Malley’s popular graphic novel into the 2010 movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. While not as a commercial success as some of his other films, Scott Pilgrim does have a cult following of fans, citing Wright’s usage of video game nuances and its various cast of actors (most of which are now well-known / recognizable in Hollywood in their respective projects). Wright even won the famed title of directing a superhero blockbuster with Marvel’s 2015 film Ant-Man. Unfortunately, due to creative differences, Wright left the project, with director Peyton Reed replacing Wright in Ant-Man’s director chair. Now, almost four years since his last feature, director Edgar Wright along with Sony Pictures (Tri-Star and MRC), presents his return to the big screen with the action-thriller Baby Driver. Does Wright’s newest film make a clean getaway to the top or does it fail to drive its heist premise home?

THE STORY


Suffering from a condition called “tinnitus” and constantly listens to music to drown out the ringing in his ear, Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a talented getaway driver under the employment of notorious Atlanta kingpin Doc (Kevin Spacey) and desire to eventually pay off his debt to his boss and leave the life of crime behind him; searching for something more fulfilling. As a getaway driver, Baby’s days are mostly spent speeding away from heist targets, escorting colorful robbers such as Griff (Jon Bernthal), Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Gonzalez), and Bats (Jamie Foxx) to safety once the jobs are complete. To make everything flow smoothly and avoid danger, Doc never uses the same crew (combination of individuals) more than once, but Baby has been his driver for years and is something of a “lucky charm” to him. As his debt to Doc begins to wind down, Baby comes across a waitress named Debora (Lily James) and the two quickly fall in love with each other, eventually dreaming up the idea of driving out West and never looking back. Unfortunately, Doc isn’t ready to let Baby go so easily, pulling the reluctant youth back into criminal underworld to pull off another job of robbing a post office. While he goes along with the plan, Baby looks for a way to get out, but, as events unfold, his last heist job doesn’t go exactly according to plan.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


Being a movie fan, I’ve seen most of Edgar Wright’s works. Not so much of his early days of directing TV shows, but rather his theatrical feature films. Naturally, I’ve seeing his Cornetto trilogy, finding that the second entry (Hot Fuzz) to be the best in the series. What can I say…. i love action movies and how Wright parodied that, especially during the second-half of the movie, was excellent. However, perhaps my favorite Edgar Wright movie has to be Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Never read the graphic novels (I know of them), but I just love the movie. So many good quotes, great visual “video game” styles, so many familiar faces…. it’s just a great and fun movie to watch. Additionally, because I forgot to mention this in my opening paragraph, Wright is also a producer and writer, co-writing several screenplays for films, including most of the films he directed as well as 2011’s animated feature film The Adventure of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. Also, I do remember hearing about Wright being original attached as director to Marvel’s Ant-Man and, judging by his directing / style of his previous movies, would’ve made a pretty interesting MCU superhero feature. Unfortunately, I guess it wasn’t in the cards for Wright to direct Ant-Man and couldn’t see “eye-to-eye” with Marvel wanted the film to be. It’s a shame as many will always wonder what Wright’s version of Ant-Man would’ve been instead of Reed’s version.

As for Baby Driver. To be honest, I actually really didn’t hear much about this movie. It’s true. Not much internet buzz or people put it on there “most anticipated films of 2017” lists. I actually never even saw the movie’s trailers in theaters (and I go to my local theaters at least once or twice a week). So, Baby Driver wasn’t really on my radar for quite some time. It wasn’t until some people started posting early advance reviews of the movie, which most were positive, online roughly around two weeks right before its opening week. Thus, without even glancing at the film’s trailers online, I decided to purchase a ticket to see the new movie (several weeks after it opening week) to see what all the hype was about. So, while I did see the movie, I kept on delaying my review, saying “I’ll do my review for Baby Driver this week” and then push to the following week and so on and so forth. So, here I am now, doing my review for the movie the same week for its home release on DVD / Blu-Ray. I guess it was just one of those things that just fell through the cracks with me. Anyways…. what did I think of the movie? Well, I really liked it. In a nutshell, Baby Driver is an exhilarating musical-filled heist film that’s shines brilliantly due to energy, creativeness, and strong performances.

While his Cornetto trilogy and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World were branded as mixture of comedy and whatever genre they were trying riff on, Wright demonstrates his creative / directional evolution with Baby Driver. Naturally, there are moments of levity (i.e. lines of humor) scattered thought the movie, but Baby Drive is more of a crime heist flick that’s been manage under Wright’s watchful eye. The result is a film that seems both familiar, but somewhat of a breath of fresh air….and that’s a good thing. Given Wright’s talents, the film is presented in a very stylish way, but still keeps the tension high and never skips the dramatic beats. It’s been said that Baby Driver has been a passion project for Wight…and it definitely shows. As the saying goes: the proof is in the pudding. As a whole, Baby Driver is sort of a departure from the typical bank robbery / heist films of the past, making the escapes / getaways from the crime scene more prevalent than the actual robberies. It is within these moments is where the movie truly shines, showcasing Baby’s talents behind the wheel by escaping police with style and hearing Baby’s choice of music, which usually are pretty catchy. Additionally, the film’s script, which is penned by Wright himself, is also quite unique, introducing a protagonist character that literally “dance to the beat of his own drum” (if you catch my meaning) rather than some battle-hardened robber / criminal-turn-good-guy archetype character mold.

The action sequences of the film (i.e. most of the car chase scenes and a few shootouts) are meticulously edited to perfect match up with whatever sang Baby is listening at the current moment, delivering some fun scenes to both watch and see and proves that the movie has some great execution in its timing. So, it comes to know surprise that the film two editor (Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss) must be highly commended for their work on the movie as well as cinematographer Bill Pope for creating some creative sequences. Also, while the film’s score by Steven Price is good, the really musical soundtrack highlight of the feature has to be all the various songs that are shuffled throughout Baby’s iPod. All of them are catchy, unique, and make sure that there’s never a dull moment (audio-wise) in the movie.

There are some minor problems found within Baby Driver, which places the movie right out of reach being truly great. Perhaps the most noticeable is how numb the picture will leave a viewer by the time the credits begin to roll. Wright has built a very well-oiled machine with Baby Driver, crafting a picture that fun, energetic, and something wild, but it can be a bit too much, especially when the movie enters its third act. Additionally, the movie as a few pacing problems to naviagate throughout the movie, including the film’s ending, which is a bit elongated, with Wright creating an epilogue that could’ve been told in a more minimalistic fashion.

The cast in Baby Driver is also another highlight of the feature, with the youthful Ansel Elgort leading the charge as the film’s main protagonist character Baby (yes…B-A-B-Y). Elgort, known for his roles in The Fault in Our Stars, the Divergent movies, and Money, Women, & Children, makes for a very likeable and kind-hearted main lead, giving Baby the right amount of youthful innocence to make him quite endearing and easy to root for throughout the movie. Additionally, while his character isn’t the movie talkative character in Baby Driver, Elgort can easily change (or rather “shift gears”) to be serious no-nonsense persona when he’s “on the job” with his criminal associates. When he’s not behind the wheel or listening to tunes, Wright gives enough time for the young driver to have some touching relationship building moments with several of his supporting characters, including his elderly foster parent Joe, who is played by CJ Jones (What are you…. deaf? and White Space), and his romantic ties to the waitress Debora, who is played by Lily James (Downton Abbey and Cinderella)/ Another good thing about Elgort is that he and James have chemistry with each other, making their on-screen relationship work and believable. Again, it’s nothing groundbreaking or new, but they definitely have that “young love” look and appeal when their together.

The roster of Baby Driver’s supporting characters is terrific. Assembled from someone well-known / recognizable faces, this ensemble makes the most of the screen-time, with each one bringing their own certain charm to their respective roles, with Wright placing them in the right scenario (be action oriented scene or simply conversation dialogue to make them standout. Perhaps the biggest standout of this group has to be Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained and Ray) as the impulsive and violent Bats. Foxx brings his charisma to the roll and makes him truly memorable as the unhinged Bats. Basically, you hate him in the movie, but it’s a love-hate and Foxx’s is great at it. The next big standout character has to be Kevin Spacey (House of Cards and American Beauty) as the big-time kingpin criminal boss Doc, showcasing Spacey’s classic attributes of his dry wit and unshakeable demeanor. It’s not really a game changer role in the crime heist movies, but Spacey never makes Doc feel as stereotypical crime boss. Additionally, despite their limited time for characterization, actor Jon Hamm (Mad Men and Million Dollar Arm) and actress Elza Gonzalez (From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series and True Love), but are still great side character due to their performances as Doc hired bank robbers Buddy and Darling, especially Hamm’s Buddy towards the end of the film.

The only supporting character that seems a wonky is the character of Griff, who is played by actor Joe Bernthal (The Accountant and The Punisher). While there’s nothing wrong with Bernthal’s acting ability (I do like him as an actor), but, due to his very limited screen (he’s only in the beginning part of the film), there’s really not much to the character. Thus, it sort of begs the question on why was he brought into the film to begin with, especially when Bernthal’s name is so easily attached with the rest of the actors in Baby Driver. It’s like Jonah Hill in the 2016 movie Hail, Caesar!, who’s name was attached with the rest of the big named actors and actresses, but was only in one scene. It’s sort of like that with Bernthal’s Griff and it just seems kind of odd.

FINAL THOUGHTS


Speed, heists, getaways, and the love of music are instrumental beats found within the movie Baby Driver. Director Edgar Wright’s newest film finds the director racing back onto the big-screen with a high-energy heist adventure, finding Wright effectively tweak the classic scenario to his style of filmmaking. While there are some minor bumps along the way, movie’s overall end result is fantastical, especially thanks to Wright’s direction, editing, musical nuances, and a group of talented actors who play some interesting and colorful characters. Personally, I liked this movie. Like I said, I had really no clue of what I was getting into when I saw this movie and I was quite surprised at how much I love this movie. While not original, but Wright certainly does infuse his own creativity into this project, which makes the journey all the worthwhile for everyone, including us (the viewers) and its cast of characters. Thus, I’m would definitely give Baby Driver my “highly recommended” stamp of approval. In an age of bloated blockbusters, disappointing sequels, and a ton of “page-to-screen” films, Baby Driver is indeed a breath of fresh air, representing that the creative juices of Hollywood are still alive and are capable of crafting a moviegoing experience. So, just sit back and enjoy Baby’s musical tunes and get prepare for a fun cinematic ride.

4.4 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)

 

Released On: June 28th, 2017
Reviewed On: October 13th, 2017

Baby Driver  is 112 minutes long and is rated R for violence and language throughout

The LEGO Ninjago Movie (2017) Review

A FORMULAIC LEGO BRICK TOO FAR


 

Back in 2014, Warner. Bros. Pictures (under the name of Warner Bros. Animation Group) produced a surprising smash with The LEGO Movie. Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the duo behind 21 Jump Street (and its 22 Jump Street sequel), The LEGO Movie dropped viewers into an imaginary cinematic constructed world of LEGOs, telling a creative tale that was full of humor, talented voice-actors, dazzling animation, and some heartwarming drama. Surprisingly, The LEGO Movie was met with overwhelming positive reviews from fans and critics, garnishing nearly $470 million at the box office against its $60 million production budget. The success of The LEGO Movie fueled Warner Bros. with the idea that a cinematic universe could be formed around the property idea of the popular toy brand. Earlier this year, that very same idea was debuted in the form in the first spin-off LEGO Movie titled The LEGO Batman Movie. Directed by Chris McKay, this spin-off adventure continued The LEGO Movie formula, but also introduced new elements such as rifting / playing on the lore of the “cape crusader” and his many foes that he’s come across over the years. Like its predecessor, The LEGO Batman Movie was met with huge success and, while it didn’t surpass The LEGO Movie at the box office (the film grossed $312 million) still received critical praise from critics and its viewers; proving this franchise can go beyond its original toy brand form and have some lasting effect in today’s current movie world. Now, only a few months after the release on The LEGO Batman Movie, Warner Bros. Animation Group and directors Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, and Bob Logan present the second spin-off film to The LEGO Movie with the animated film The LEGO Ninjago Movie. Is it “third time’s a charm” for this movie franchise or has that certain “magic” of the previous two films gone out with Ninjago? Read more

Blade Runner 2049 (2017) Review

MORE HUMAN THAN HUMAN


 

In 1982, moviegoers everywhere were introduced the sci-fi / neo-noir film Blade Runner. Loosely based on the 1968 novel “Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep” by Phillip K. Dick, the film, which was directed by Ridley Scott and starred Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, and Daryl Hannah, follows the story of Rick Deckard, a LA cop who happens to be a “Blade Runner” (a special enforcer who is assigned to hunt down synthetic / bioengineered humans known as replicants) who undergoes one last assignment of hunting replicants, which causes the burn-out cop to question his mission and moral judgement. During its initial release, Blade Runner was met with mixed feelings as some praised the film for its futuristic neo-noir storytelling, visual design and thematic complexity, while others were criticized the unconventional pacing and plot. Thus, the film underperformed during its release and was considered a box office disappointment. Over the years, however, the film has gained an immense cult following, with many regarding the 1982 film as one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time (by both fans and critics). Looking beyond the movie, Blade Runner even went on to become highly influential in other science fiction mediums, including various films, amines, video games, and television series. It’s been roughly 35 years since the original theatrical version of Blade Runner was released and now Warner Bros. Pictures and director Denis Villeneuve gear up for a whole new adventure within this cinematic world with the film Blade Runner 2049. Does this long-awaited sequel find sci-fi greatness within its new tale or was it a bad idea to “replicate” such a tremendous science fiction masterpiece? Read more

Our Souls at Night (MovieMan Dan’s Guest Review)

A LIGHT-HEARTED

AND REALLY SWEET DRAMA


 

Our Souls at Night” had its World Premiere at the Venice Film Festival back on September 1 – Now, mere weeks later, the folks at Netflix have released the film on select NY/LA screens for an Oscar Qualifying Run and on its streaming service for at home viewing for all of their subscribers.  I got my chance to check the film out recently and so here I am to share my thoughts. Read more

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017) Review

REYNOLDS AND JACKSON SHINE

IN THIS OTHERWISE DULL MOVIE


 

The “buddy cop” genre of films has been awhile for quite some time. While it doesn’t redefine the main staple genres of motion pictures (i.e. action, comedy, drama, fantasy, sci-fi, horror, etc.), this subgenre category of films was popular during the mid to late 80s and early 90s, with such films like Die Hard, Point Break, Lethal Weapon, and Beverly Hills Cops amongst many others. Eventually, the genre, which was heavily focused on more grittier action and drama, switched to a comedic side, producing raunchier R-rated comedies pieces like The Heat, 21 Jump Street, Ride Along, and Hot Pursuit, and CHiPs. Now, Millennial Films, Lionsgate Films, and director Patrick Hughes present the newest iteration of the buddy cop genre with the movie The Hitman’s Bodyguard. Does this film rise to the challenge and change up the status quo of these particular motion pictures or does it fall into formulaic pit of predictability? Read more

American Made (2017) Review

THE PRICE OF THE AMERICAN DREAM


 

Back in 2014, actor Tom Cruise and director Doug Liman teamed up together for the successful sci-fi action film Edge of Tomorrow. Set sometime in the near distant future, the film (sometimes called Live, Die, Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow by some), which starred Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, and Brendan Gleeson, tells the story of William “Bill” Cage, a major in the United Defense Force (UDF), who is forced against his will to participate in a combat battle against an advanced alien race called Mimics. Unfortunately, Cage is exposed something peculiar, with him dying on the field of battle and waking up several hours prior to the invasion; forcing himself to relive the day’s events in an endless “looped” cycle. This sci-fi take on the “Groundhog Day” effect was somewhat unconventional for the genre (and for movies currently running in 2014), which made Edge of Tomorrow a very unique and entertaining film to watch. The film, which grossed roughly $370 million worldwide, was critically praised by critics and moviegoers for its concept, humor, visual alien (Mimic) design, and of Cruise’s performance as well as Blunt’s performance. Now, three years later, Universal Pictures reunites the pair (Cruise and Liman) for an examination at the illegal dark side of the “American Dream” in the film American Made. Does this movie find truth in this “based on a true story” feature or does it fail to produce a substance within its crime drama? Read more

Beach Rats (MovieMan Dan’s Guest Review)

A QUIET YET EFFECTIVE

COMING OF AGE DRAMA


 

Intro: Well, it’s hard to believe, but in just over one week I’ll be back in Halifax, NS for the 37th edition of the Atlantic International Film Festival…

I will be seeing 20+ films during my time at the festival this year and I simply can’t wait to be back in Halifax for another week of great films. There are some incredible looking movies in the lineup this year and I can’t wait to begin watching. Before I arrive though, I have a couple festival selections/titles to review beforehand.  These reviews will be for films that I have scheduling conflicts with and for films that some distributors and PR agents were kind enough to provide me with so that I could see more festival titles and provide more coverage this year. First up is “Beach Rats” but before I dive in, let’s first talk plot… Read more

American Assassin (2017) Review

NOT DEADLY OR LETHAL ENOUGH


 

Best-selling author Vince Flynn is known for political thriller of the character of Mitch Rapp. While his earlier career is a bit unorthodox (working for Kraft foods, a brief stint in training to be an aviator in the US Marine Corp, and then as a bartender), his passion came from reading and writing and, overcome his dyslexia, was able to self-publish his first novel titled Term Limits in 1997; a novel that was set in his forthcoming Mitch Rapp series (i.e. the same universe), but a part of that particular series. After that, Flynn began to write a political thriller series, starting with the book Transfers of Power in 1999. The series followed the exploits of fictional character Mitch Rapp, an undercover CIA counter-terrorism agent whose primary objective is thwarting terrorist attacks on the United States and portrayed with having an aggressive stance (aka no non-sense) attitude as he takes measures that are more extreme than many might consider commonly acceptable. The series, dubbed the “Mitch Rapp” series was generally favored by readers, with Flynn’s growing popularity grown with each new book, which, as of 2017, has sixteen novels within the series. Unfortunately, in 2011, Flynn announced (via a fan newsletter) that he was being treated for advance Stage III prostate cancer, which (sadly), he succumbed to, passing away in June of 2013. Despite his death, Flynn’s legacy of his beloved Mitch Rapp continued onward, with several authors co-writing his unwritten manuscripts and publish new novels, with the newest one titled Enemy of the State being released in September of 2017. Now, expanding Flynn’s iconic character to the big screen, Lionsgate, CBS Films, and director Michael Cuesta present the movie American Assassin, which is based on Flynn’s first Mitch Rapp novel. Does this finding its footing (and its target) or does it only shoot blanks and fail the mission? Read more

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) Review

 A SOLID SEQUEL THAT SHINES

(NOT BURNS)


 

Back in 2015, moviegoers everywhere were introduced to director Matthew Vaughan’s visual spy action film Kingsman: The Secret Service. Adapted from the graphic novel Kingsman by Mark Millar (writer) and Dave Gibbons (artist), the film, which starred Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Samuel L. Jackson, and Michael Caine, follows the journey of troubled youth Gary “Eggsy” Urwin as he gets recruited into the Kingsman, a British secret agent organization, and joins a mission to stop a global threat from the nefarious megalomaniac Richmond Valentine. Deriving from its comic book source material and Vaughan’s overall direction, Kingsman: The Secret Service was presented as a 007 spy satire, offering up a visual action-spy feature film with a splash of stylized violence. This mixture seemed does seem like an odd choice, but the film benefitted, with the movie getting praised from critics and casual moviegoers as Kingsman: The Secret Service grossed over $400 million worldwide ($411 million to be exact) against its production budget of $94 million. With its success, it was inevitable that a sequel would soon followed. Now, after two years since its released, 205h Century Fox and director Matthew Vaughan return to the Kingsman world with its sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Does this next chapter proved to be a worthy sequel to its predecessor or it’s a overstuffed and unnecessary continuation? Read more

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