Movie Review: Baby Driver

Spoilers in your rear view mirror might be closer than they appear.

Director Edgar Wright has my respects. He had my attention since the moment the film starts. His action movie Baby Driver is solid, engaging and although not flawless, it’s one I enjoyed throughout. I have only issue with two particular things, but they’re not deal breakers. Here’s hoping you saw this in the theatre without knowing what you signed up for. But if you skipped it, I’d strongly advice you go back.

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Wright is known mostly by his Cornetto trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End). You should also remember his Scott Pilgrim vs The World. This time he brings us two of the best things about movies: car chases and a rocking soundtrack. As a matter of fact, the music is so vital and in sync with the tempo in this movie it might as well be the uncredited secret main character.

Not that I’m trying to take anything from Baby himself, Angel Elgort. His role is mostly stoic, a young boy with witnessed his parents’ death in a driving accident. His mother was an actress that dreamed about singing professionally. His father was abusive. Baby suffers from Tinnitus, for which he plays music almost constantly. He also syncs his driving to a particular tune which gives him a very uncanny ability to drive. He’s become a getaway driver for a local kingpin.

The movie asks us to turn on the first suspension of disbelief when it introduces Baby and his driving in which everything, even random improvisation, syncs up to the music. You will be glad you play along, because the payback is the very entertaining car chases that he gets into. As a matter of fact, that very first car chase serves as an introduction via visual, musical and action-packed exposition without words.

Baby goes from crew to crew, all assembled by Doc (Kevin Spacey), the kingpin to wich he owes a debt. He’s getting close to getting his debt paid, something that he believes will end his criminal career. It’s also something we know as a jaded audience will not mean anything of the sort. It’s not a coincidence that certain criminals, such as Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza González) and Bats (Jamie Foxx) leave sort of a mark during their gigs. You’ll see them again.

But as the criminal storyline seems to escalating to something big, things take a turn when Baby falls in love with a waitress named Deborah (Lily James). Here’s the first thing I wasn’t crazy about. The romance is another requested suspension of disbelief, because Deborah does all the flirting. Baby’s only requests are straight out questions for her name and the song she’s listening to. I want to describe this in a different way, but I can’t: Baby doesn’t have game. Not even movie game. There’s little to no awkward quirky exchange. Baby just doesn’t have any way with words. I don’t see charm in him.

I’m not a fan of movie romance.  I don’t go to movies looking for it. It’s just a staple of movies to introduce it at some point, even on action or genre movies, as a way to drive the plot forward. It’s just sometimes movies basically make it appear out of nowhere. In the case of this film, Deborah does all the work. If you’re going to tell me she’s falling for him for his looks, fine. Let’s assume that because he’s given her nothing else to go on.

They do get one more scene in which Baby invites her to a restaurant by the time they’re both in love with each other. This is where his “past” or what he considered past, comes back to haunt him as Doc shows up, requesting him for a job, a huge one.

Since the stakes have now being raised, this job is where the dynamics of Baby’s carefully scripted participation get changed, broken and challenged. On one hand, he’s trying to get away to be with Deborah. On the other hand, he gets reunited with Buddy, Darling and Bats who already know him and are more than willing to put his character to the test. As a result, he’s been knocked out of his comfort zone and he has lost his cool demeanor.

I’m not going to describe the climax of the movie. I will say it’s a reasonably well executed payoff. It does have that usual flaw of not knowing when to be over, but I guess that should be expected. You have to make sure your audience is satisfied.

The conclusion is the other thing that I felt could’ve been done better. I think that when you’re doing a crime film, you have several ways to go. I think I would’ve prefer a shorter conclusion. If your character goes to jail, then that’s where it should end. The story is over at that point. Having an epilogue several years later… Well, there’s a time in which I’d wanted that for other films where characters walk away without ever knowing where they’d end up. But I’ve come to prefer open ended conclusions after the adventure is over. This time, Wright wanted to make sure his characters ended up where he wanted.

Highly recommended. I would usually say with reservations, but I’m going to wave them since the movie does make for an enjoyable experience. It drags a little at the end, since we gotta have one more climax and one epilogue-style ending. That being said, you might just end up caring enough to see the characters for the very last time. You should not miss the starting scene.

That will do for now.

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Late Fantasia Film Review: Atomic Blonde

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If you’ve been waiting for Charlize Theron to follow up her action movie star creds earned in Mad Max: Fury Road, you’ve probably had your sights in Atomic Blonde for a while now. Directed by David Leitch, the feature has drawn comparisons to the Bourne films although I found the film closer in fighting style to John Wick. Granted, there’s less gun play, but here’s where the movie breaks a female action taboo: our heroine gets hurt and bruised.

Perhaps hurt is the most outstanding thing about Lorraine Broughton. She can look like a million bucks, but she’s not doing the catwoman-in-leather thing. She goes physical and gets attacked right back. She gets hurt, she gets punched, she kicks back and it shows. Bruises are left over from one scene to another. Her fights are not damsel fights, they’re rough and physically tiresome. The combatants are not elegant and not every punch connects. Lorraine doesn’t land on her feet every time. She still looks very much like she’s kicking everyone’s ass from here to the moon though.

The music is very much her co-star, I’d dare say even more than James McAvoy who plays David Percival. The Berlin station chief and Lorraine’s contact in the communist city is another bigger-than-life character, running cons left and right and selling jeans in East Berlin. The 80’s soundtrack is just a notch above him, complementing every scene and nostalgically setting us up in the good/bad ol’ years of the Cold War with the music scene of the 80’s (Nena’s 99 Luftballoons was expected and didn’t disappoint).

The plot does get a little contrived, to the point that I felt like just drowning it out. The spectacle is visual, musical but you’re going to the wrong movie to seek out a fully logical explanation. That being said, it is still a spy movie through and through as alliances are made, deals are broken, and there’s an ubiquitous list of spies that must not fall in the wrong hands somewhere around there.

Highly recommended for action film enthusiasts. Don’t expect an art film and don’t expect Bond. But do expect a new standard for the anti-hero who happens to be female. The movie is elegant where it wants to be and brutal where it needs to. In a day and age where some spies just brush off dust and join the party, Atomic breaks open the door and goes for the jugular. Beautiful but damaged, elegant but savage, the movie looks and sounds a lot like its main lead. She will break your heart. And your arms. And your legs.

That will do for now.

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Late Movie Review: I Am a Hero (2015)

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Hideo Suzuki (Yo Oizumi) is ironically named. His name means “hero” in kanji. He’s anything but that. He works as a mangaka, creating manga for his boss. He dreams of being the idealistic hero but he’s more often than not, the one who fails. He tells his girlfriend he will try harder next time. She doesn’t want to hear it. She just wants him to sell his skeet rifle, the one object he treasures, along with his official permit.

Director Shinsuke Sato directs the live adaptation of I am Hero, based on the manga by Kengo Hanazawa. The result is a gory horror comedy where our would-be-hero wants nothing to do with his role. Strangely enough, he’s got one very desirable shotgun on him in a country with gun laws so strict, he’s the only with a firearm. That makes him a target for the living as well.

So when shit hits the fan, we learn what variety of zombies we’re dealing with. The scary, spasmodic, walk on all fours kind, with dead eyes and droopy heads. Worst of all, these zombies repeat the actions and the phrases of the things that defined them in life. Hideo is running to find a safe haven, and he’s not alone. Hirumi (Kazumi Arimura), a young schoolgirl, ends up following him. However, she’s been bitten by a baby. That causes a rather singular infection, where she’s still able to recognize him somewhat.

Salvation seems to be altitude, so Hideo and a rather out-of-it Hirumi head to Mt. Fuji. They’ll soon run into a survivors group. Hideo must hide Hirumi’s infection while all eyes covet his rifle. With provisions running scarce and a revolt forming within the ranks, Hideo is going to be outnumbered by threats both alive and dead. His only ally is Tsugumi Oda (Masami Nagasawa), a nurse that believes in him.

Highly recommended for fans of the zombie genre. It’s both serious horror and comedy flick at the same time. Filled with gory special effects and the scariest zombies you’ll see, it rivals a lot of current entries in the genre. How this film didn’t end up as part of Fantasia, I’m not sure. It’s definitely worth a watch.

That will do for now.

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