Each January, I make a list of the movies that I want to see that coming year. It’s usually filled with big-budget, over-blown action flicks, because that’s what I like. This year, I had to revise my list a couple of times because I overlooked a few items that should appeal to me. One of those revisions included Baby Driver. At first glance, I wasn’t too sure about the Edgar Wright penned and directed flick but I decided to give it a shot. I’m glad I did.
Ansel Elgort is Baby, the film’s protagonist. A perfectly apropos nickname given his youthful looks, but “Baby” is all audiences know the character by throughout most of the movie. Nicknames are also a recurring trend in the movie, in which a team of thieves are gathered by the mysterious Doc (Kevin Spacey) to pull off complex heists. Think the Avengers, but they steal stuff and don’t have super powers.
The plot of the movie is thin by most standards; Baby is in for “one last job” before leaving his life of crime behind him. Naturally, the plan goes off the rails and all hell breaks loose, leaving Baby to adapt if he wants to survive and live his happily ever after.
Edgar Wright is a director who manages to put his own spin on different film genres. He breathed new life into zombie movies with Shaun of the Dead and made a legitimately fun comic book flick with Scott Pilgrim vs the World. It’s easy to expect Wright to deliver a fast-paced yet super fun heist movie, which he manages to do.
Despite the weak plot, the movie is a blast, mostly because of the characters that Wright has created. We have Baby, deep and mysterious and into a wide range of music to which he has an unnatural attachment. The audience is only allowed brief glimpses into his past, but it’s enough to puzzle together why he is the way he is. We’re also given an expository explanation as to his need for music at all times, which is delivered in a delightfully clever way by Mr. Spacey himself.
Then you have Bats, played by Jamie Foxx. “Bats” is short for “Bat-Shit,” indicating how crazy the character is. We’re given nothing about Bats’s past, yet Foxx’s portrayal of the character intimates just how deep his psychoses run. Foxx is great in this role and makes it really easy for audiences to hate him.
Then there’s John Hamm’s Buddy. An enigma for most of the film, it’s hard to gauge which way Buddy goes. He’s a bank robber, sure, but he’s also the only one who’s ever shown Baby any respect. Hamm imbues Buddy with a dead-eyed stare and cool charisma that makes him look like he was ripped right out of a Tarantino film, which makes him a perfect fit for the world of Baby Driver.
With how much we give credit to Edgar Wright for his direction and the actors for their delivery, we also need to recognize the editors, Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss. I’m sure much of the film kept with Wright’s vision, but Amos and Machliss cut it so that it gels perfectly. A lot of the fun of the movie is within the action sequences, where the gunshots and sound effects sync up with the film’s soundtrack. It’s subtle at first; you almost don’t realize it’s happening but when you do, it adds depth to the scenes.
Speaking of the music, I can’t ignore the soundtrack as it’s an important element of the film. The song selections work brilliantly with the on-screen actions. Similar to the way Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 handled its own musical numbers, Baby Drivers takes innocuous song choices and pairs them with intense, frenetic action. A tire-screeching police chase set to “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion? It works. An explosive gun fight in a dirty warehouse with Button Down Brass’s “Tequila” as the back drop? Flawless. (The soundtrack also features Ducky from NCIS and I never thought I’d type that sentence but here I am.)
There’s more to Baby Driver than just cool characters and an OK plot; it’s a movie that delivers an experience. From the very start, and I mean at the start of the vanity logos, the film includes a low level hum, just like the one Baby hears from his tinnitus. It accompanies almost all of the moments that aren’t occupied by music or explosions and is persistent throughout, making the audience feel just like Baby does. Sometimes it’s noticeable, sometimes it isn’t. Either way, we get a better idea of how Baby hears his world.
Baby Driver isn’t perfect, though. Baby’s world is turned around when he meets a pretty, perky waitress named Debora (Lily James). Debora’s goal is to cut and run out of town, a goal that Baby doesn’t realize he has until he meets her. James is lovely in the role but her part just runs flat. We get some back story into her character but it’s nothing of any significance. She has a whirlwind romance with Baby but she doesn’t actually change him in any way. We’ve already seen that he has a conscience despite what he does for a living; all Debora does is make him want to run away from the life he built in Atlanta.
It’s a weird dynamic, in a way, considering the relationship Wright shows us between Baby and his foster father, Joe (CJ Jones). Joe is deaf and uses a wheelchair, casting Baby in the caregiver role. Their relationship is so natural and authentic that I would find Joe a more believable reason for Baby to escape the world that he’s entrenched in. I guess you just can’t beat a pretty girl when it comes to movie tropes.
Leaving aside the stale plotline and few shallow characters, Baby Driver is a remarkable film. It’s a fun, upbeat romp in a summer overloaded with drab, ennui-filled popcorn flicks.
Five friends walk into a bar. Then another. And another…
The World’s End is a movie about five high school friends who once attempted to drink a pint at each of the twelve bars in their town. This feat is referred to as the golden mile, but they couldn’t quite pull it off. Their fearless leader (Simon Pegg) walks around in a black trench coat, combat boots, and a punk rock attitude about anything and everything. His right hand man (Nick Frost) always has his back. Their three other friends (Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, and Eddie Marsan) and mainly along for the ride. Years pass. They lose touch with one another. Everyone moves on in life except for Gary King (Simon Pegg). So he gets the gang back together to attempt to finish the golden mile, hoping that it will fill the hole that has become his life.
Okay, so we all saw Shaun of the Dead right? What about Hot Fuzz? Some loved the first and weren’t really down with Hot Fuzz. Those people were wrong. Hot Fuzz is great. Taking the formula that worked so well in those two movies, The World’s End decides to flip Nick Frost and Simon Pegg from their usual character roles. This time, Simon Pegg is the bumbling idiot, while Nick Frost plays the level-headed one. The good is that Nick Frost pulls off the role switch with colors, giving an impassioned strength to the character. The bad is that Simon Pegg pulls of the idiot, but can’t quite give him the endearing likeability that Frost normally does.
The first two acts of the movie are tightly weaved, supplying several fun moments. The cinematography is hands down the best of the three, with Edgar Wright’s love of quick-cut, adrenaline fueled expositions showing his experience from the past few movies he’s done come full circle. The choreographer from the past few movies returns as well. Learn her name.
She is wonderful and The World’s End is easily her crowning achievement in choreography, with fight scenes that would fall to pieces in less capable hands.
In fact, The World’s End can be summed up by the choreography and cinematography. Edgar Wright shines as a director. Litza Bixler knocks it out with the choreography. The third act though? Frankly, it was a let down. The final joke gets a bit stretched out and heavy-handed. The time wasted in this scene could have been used to show off more of the rich back story between the five friends. Luckily, there is a fun little epilogue that ties things up without giving the typical “happy ending”.
This is a small complaint and the movie is a good time, but definitely not as powerful as Shaun of the Dead or as thrilling as Hot Fuzz.
I give The World’s End a 7 out of 10.
Although I had planned to write something different leading up to SDCC, complications arose, ensued, were overcome, and I find myself here with that original idea on hold and a general personal plan for the weekend. So here we are.
This is the first year I am attending with zero costumes and it is certainly liberating. My friends are cosplaying each day and I will be following along for a time but I would like to see a few panels, compared to the none I saw last year. Today I am looking forward to the Sherlock panel with Steven Moffatt and Mark Gattiss. I will possibly end up seeing the Hannibal panel this evening with Bryan Fuller, David Slade, and Hugh Dancy, but will have to compare the risks of spoiling the end of the season (which I have yet to finish) or watch the last two episodes this afternoon without my girlfriend/watching partner. We might need to have a talk.
Friday will likely be my first foray into Hall H. The Worlds End with Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright has a panel I need to see as it is my most anticipated movie for the rest of the year. I like you Peter Jackson, but The Hobbit didn’t need to be a trilogy and the Cornetto series did. I’m a huge fan of these guys so I would be happy to see them talk for an hour and not see a second of footage. Later in the same room is the Game of Thrones Panel with too much of the cast to mention but Peter Dinklage is there so I’m sure it’ll be a good time. I haven’t read the books but have been enjoying the show and look forward to whatever they can show or tell me about next season, aside from giving more work to Mark Gatiss.
Saturday and Sunday I have a few off site events in the evening, but will probably wander the floor most of the day. I still love cosplay, even if I’m not dressing up, and since the best costumes come out on the weekend I will want to be on the floor to see those. I haven’t prepped myself much for what to expect in the giant exhibitor hall this year, but I am looking forward to the Assassin’s Creed 4 booth to see if I can get my hands on some gameplay. The naval missions were my favorite from AC3 but this is another developer and I am just hopeful this isn’t another ambitious but disappointing pirate game. Think Geek has booth for the first time this year and I am pretty sure that I will turn into Fry within ten feet of that.
I will very much be going where the river of Comic-Con takes me this year and will give you the entire best recap I can give you at the end of it all. In the meantime, I’ll be posting updates, pictures, thoughts and general musings on my ol’ fashioned Twitter @josefonmovies.
Like the perfect wine and cheese, the strudel with le crème, or the beer with another beer, watching the right two movies back to back can bring out the finer, subtler qualities in both. That’s why I’ve assembled a list of my personal suggestions for possible double-feature nights. For the sake of variety (and because I like to challenge myself) I chose to avoid using direct sequels or deliver a double dose of a writer/director in the same pairing.
Get Down! Get Down Again! The Running Man (1987) / Total Recall (1990)
I avoided pairing movies with the same writers, directors, or lead actors…with this one exception, because I for a time was not sure which movie was which. Yeah, Arnold’s action movies are all chock full of one liners, explosions, “babes” of the day, and silly villains with sillier deaths, but these two both throw Schwarzenegger into man on the run situations so similar and satisfying it really is hard to know where one stops and the other begins.
Which to Watch First? The Running Man has some of the most groan worthy one-liners you will ever hear, like when Maria Conchita Alonso asks Arnold what happened to Buzzsaw, who was just previously bisected with a chain saw, Arnold replies “he had to split” and his fight with hockey-themed stalker named Sub-Zero is a standout. Total Recall, for all its 90’s tropes, is still a Paul Verhoven film and has more to it than the simple exterior suggests. The action matches the fun of Running Man and is guilty of its own terrible lines, but getting those laughs out of the way can help you appreciate the solid qualities in Total Recall. The ambiguity on reality, alone gives it points for giving its audience some thinking room. The Running Man
Even in the Future Nothing Works! – The Fifth Element (1997) / Serenity (2005)
These two are an obvious match. They’re both futuristic, space-based, sci-fi action movies with large, ineffective governments clashing with the little guy and except for only one having aliens, both Besson’s and Whedon’s future visions are very culturally diverse. The stories differ but the archetypes are familiar. I could see Korben and Mal getting a drink while Shepherd Book and Father Cornelius discussed scripture, and River and Leeloo finger-painted or beat up tough guys or did whatever two crazy super powered girls would do.
Which to Watch First? I recommend beginning The Fifth Element, and after all the colorful fun, ‘splosions and 90’s end credits music you can jump straight into Serenity’s dustier adventure through the not so shiny future. Elements of Serenity hit a bit harder as well, so best to save those for last. The Fifth Element
Huzzah for 80’s Fantasy! – The Dark Crystal (1982) / Legend (1985)
It is hard to think of many quality live actions fantasy films from the pre-CG era, but these two always to come to mind first. Unlike more memorable fantasy movies in recent history, both of these movies were original stores and not adaptations from source material. The Dark Crystal highlights Brian Froud’s notable creativity and we are lucky that Jim Henson was there to bring these creations to the screen, and amazingly do so practically. Legend uses a classic stable of fantasy creatures such as goblins, unicorns, witches, and Tim Curry but through the use of academy award worthy makeup and prosthetic effects that make them more than stock creatures.
Which to Watch First? Ironically Legend is the decidedly darker of the two movies, and I feel the opening music and narration of The Dark Crystal is a good gateway. Finishing with Legend’s theatrical ending and original closing song by “Tangerine Dream” is more satisfying that Crystal’s successful but strangely somber ending. The Dark Crystal
You’re not Claustrophobic, Are You? – Alien (1979) / The Descent (2005)
After watching these two back to back, you’ll probably want to roll around in a sunny field full of daisies, because anything darker or more confined will give you waking nightmares. While the subsequent films in the Alien franchise are all action heavy, our first introduction to Ripley and the Xenomorph is a tense, ominous, horror movie: seven crew members and a killer alien trapped on cavernous space ship where “no one can hear you scream.” The Descent is one of the best horror films released in the thousands and traps our leads in a literal cave full of hungry mutated humanoids. The jump scares are typical but predominantly very effective making this a fun one to watch with an audience, but the mental instability of lead Sarah and claustrophobic scenes of spelunking are the most riveting.
Which to Watch First? Starting with Alien will give you an intentionally slow crawl into this pairing, and more enjoyable character time before shit hits the fan. The melancholic ending will transition well to the jolting start of The Descent and again I will recommend the original UK ending, as it is unquestionably better and may even make you rethink the ending of Alien. Alien
Video Games and Real Life Had Twins! – Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010) / Wreck-it Ralph (2012)
These two love letters to video games and arcade nostalgia pair well because they are two answers to the same question. Scott Pilgrim starts off with an 8-bit Universal title and introduces video game elements into the real world of Toronto, and Ralph puts us a world of video games that functions just like real life (sort of). You’ll have to decide if you’d rather have life like a video game or a video game like life, but if The Sims start playing me I’m going to be worried.
Which to Watch First? Another case in which I will leave it to your taste. I would watch the family film first, and then the one made for grown-ups but they’re similar in tone, pace, and length to not make much difference. Though SP has better music. What you should actually watch first is “Raiders of the Lost Arcade” segment from “Futurama.”
Band On the Road – The Blues Brothers (1980) / O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
Twenty years apart in the making, and over forty in the setting these two films are incredibly different stylistically, but both have a group of musical criminals (or criminally inclined musicians) on the quest for charity and redemption, evading the law and various other colorful enemies they meet along the way. Neither are traditional musicals, but both are driven by a vast array of diegetic performances evocative of the locales the bands go through. They have very different senses of humor, which is why you won’t find Animal House paired with Fargo on this list, but these two form a pair of fun musical episodic adventures.
Which to Watch First? Here I’m really going to say it comes down to taste. Blues Brothers is the more farcical comedy with an upbeat soundtrack and O Brother is a retelling of “The Odyssey” through the music of the Depression-era American South. I’d prefer starting with Blues Brothers, but that’s just me. Tie
Creature Features with Likeable Bait – Jaws (1975) / Lake Placid (1999)
I’m not a huge fan of the run of the mill giant thing wants to eat you type creature features, but Jaws is the oft imitated, never duplicated template that set the bar for the whole genre. One reason Jaws still holds up, while most others do not, is that the human characters and the creature feel like equals and do not overshadow the other. Of course the shark is the anti-hero of the movie, getting his own POV kills before we even meet our full cast but by the time Brody, Quint, and Hoop-ah! set out to get him we know we’re in for a fight. It’s like Rocky II. Lake Placid plays out more like Home Alone 2, if Kevin was played by Bill Pullman, Brendan Gleeson, Oliver Platt, and Bridget Fonda, and the burglars and hotel staff were a giant alligator. And Betty White is the pigeon lady. That cast alone elevates a surprisingly clever script of what I think is an underappreciated, solid creature feature.
Which to Watch First? It’ll be interesting either way, but seeing Jaws begin so many clichés for its genre and then seeing the next generation’s homage garners more appreciation for the tropes than rehashing them because they ought to. You also don’t want to go backwards from the impressive animatronic and CG alligator to the barely functional Bruce. Jaws
The Black and White of Neo Noir – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) / Brick (2006)
Tonally these movies could not be more different, but they have their roots in similar pulp, noir, detective material and are both revolve around a murder mystery. They are also both products of a sole writer/director on the project, and I find movies like that tend make more of an impression; in this case KKBB and Brick show how differently Shane Black and Rian Johnson can interpret similar source material, while pulling fantastic performances from Robert Downey, Jr. and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Which to Watch First? Brick. No question that while Brick is a heavy, gritty movie, you will rather take a walk through those grimy streets first to wind up at a Hollywood party with gay Val Kilmer than the other way around. Brick
Pleasing Your Eye Holes – The Fall (2006) / Pan’s Labyrinth/“El Laberinto del Fauno” (2006)
Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is the more well known of these two, and even though they came out the same year and had many similarities, Tarsem Singh’s The Fall remains largely unknown to people who aren’t Lee Pace fangirls. Both of these films use the imaginations of young, traumatized girls as gateways to strikingly visual fantasy worlds. Putting these two films from foreign auteurs together is like matching The Wizard of Oz with Alice in Wonderland with more whimsy in the setting than the words.
Which to Watch First? Most people have already seen Pan’s Labyrinth and even though it is subtitled, while The Fall is in English, del Toro’s narrative is easier to follow and the world is more instantly engrossing. Pan’s Labyrinth / El Laberinto del Fauno
Non-American Love for American Action Movies – Hot Fuzz (2007) / Seven Psychopaths (2012)
It can be said that if you’ve seen one action movie you’ve seen them all, but that’s because for a lot of movie buffs they literally have. I wouldn’t call either of these movies parodies but Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz and Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths have a lot of laughs and fun with honest appreciation for all the good and bad action movies so influential to their careers. Hot Fuzz calls out its targets by name and is an Easter egg hunt of direct references, while Psychopaths is a more meta deconstruction of the genre and the writing process, but still with lots and lots of violence. To quote Sam Rockwell’s character, “Life-affirming, schmife-affirming. It’s called Seven fucking Psychopaths!”
Which to Watch First? Seven Psychopaths’ opening scene comparing the deaths of movie mobsters with real mobsters, delivered by Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg of Boardwalk Empire (a show about mobsters), so quickly sets the course for this movie’s take on reality that I was on board from the first few lines. While not as dark as McDonagh’s previous film, In Bruges, Psychopaths is big on the death, but the critiques it makes on the genre will be appreciated when revisited in the overall funnier Hot Fuzz. Seven Psychopaths