Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Baby Driver (2017)

A summer film so cool that air-con is optional.  

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Sorry for the lack of posts folks…. with a holiday in sunny Portugal, I’ve not been to the pics for weeks! 

There’s something inherently appealing about the concept of a getaway driver.  A skillful ‘bad-boy’, but not normally bad enough to actually DO the nasty crime stuff…. merely be an active accomplice to it.  As a result, it’s a subject that the movies have returned to time after time.  I’m old and crusty enough to remember being wowed at seeing Ryan O’Neal in Walter Hill’s “Driver” on the big screen in 1978. And well before that, as a kid, my poor departed mother used to be driven crazy by me begging her to take me to see “The Italian Job” (the original 1969 version) YET again… probably the greatest getaway chase in movie history: I must have seen that film at least 20 times in the cinema. Of course more recently we’ve also had Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan in “Drive” on the same theme. Any I’ve forgotten?

But with Edgar Wright at the helm, a big name cast and an enticing trailer, I had high expectations for “Baby Driver” – and boy was I happy! This is such a seriously cool film on so many levels.

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Heist Baby; heist heist Baby.

Opening with a bank heist followed by a kick-ass car chase, we follow ‘Baby’ (Ansel Elgort, “Allegiant”, “The Fault in our Stars”) as a tinnitus-suffering, music-infused getaway driver under the thumb of the criminal overlord Doc (Kevin Spacey, in icy Frank Underwood mode). Doc recruits an ever-changing mix-tape of villains for each job, including the psychopathic and appropriately named ‘Bats’ (Jamie Foxx, “Sleepless”), the chillingly dangerous Buddy (Jon Hamm, “Mad Men”, “Keeping Up With The Joneses”) and his “Bonnie-style” wife ‘Darling’ (Eiza González) and the moderately incompetent JD (Lanny Joon) (who changed his neck tattoo of “HATE” to “HAT” since it improved his job prospects… LOL…. “everybody loves a hat”!).

Baby’s life gets more complicated when the hoods become aware of his fledgling relationship with fellow-orphan Debora (Lily James) a waitress in a diner and another lever to keep Baby locked into the job that he is just so, so good at.

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A rum bunch: Ansel Elgort, Jamie Foxx, Eiza González and Jon Hamm.

On the surface this might be perceived as being just another good excuse for a lot of CGI-driven car stunts in the style of “The Fate of the Furious”. But no. Firstly, as Edgar Wright declared before the special screening I saw, all of the car stunts were actually performed for real on the mean streets of Atlanta (and hats off to the film’s stunt coordinator Robert Nagle and his team for these).  And secondly, the car scenes are almost secondary to the fabulous story and character development in the film. The script (also by Edgar Wright) is just brilliant. There are genuinely laugh-out loud moments in the movie, with one of the highlights for me being JD tasked with procuring Michael Myers “Halloween” masks for a heist. If you don’t find this scene hilarious, you are not human – official.

The only misstep for me in the script was an unbelievable event (both in terms of likelihood and – particularly – timing) during a closing car park fight***.

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“But Greedo shot first – honest” – Elgort channelling his best young Solo.

Elgort is really strong in the lead role, and suggested to me that if the role of the young Han Solo in the upcoming Star Wars spin-off hadn’t already gone to Alden Ehrenreich, then here was a very strong contender.  All of the supporting roles are strong (as you would expect from such a stellar cast) with Jon Hamm being a standout, appearing truly demonic in the closing scenes.  The one role I was less sure about in the film was that of Lily James, whose performance as the ‘sweet as apple pie’ waitress seemed a little too “animated” for the big screen in the early scenes – I remember an acting class by Michael Caine where he advised that given the size of movie screens it’s often the case that “stillness is good”. What works well on the small screen (I am a big fan of her roles in historical TV dramas like “Downton Abbey” and the impeccable “War and Peace”) perhaps sometimes needs modifying for the wide-screen experience. I greatly warmed to her portrayal in the action sequences later on though: she’s a great actress and one that this film can hopefully now propel into the higher echelons in Hollywood.

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Diner romance. Lily James and Ansel Elgort forming a bond over a coffee.

Another star of the film is the fabulous soundtrack coordinated by Oscar-winner Steven Price (“Gravity“) featuring (amongst many other classics) Queen’s “Brighton Rock”, Golden Earring’s “Radar Love”, the Simon and Garfunkel classic (obviously) and Bob & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle”, all used to brilliant effect.  This latter track leads me on to some early Oscar predictions:  if this film doesn’t get nominated this year for Oscars for Best Editing (Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss, “Scott Pilgrim vs the World”) and Best Sound Editing (Julian Slater), then there is no God! The “Harlem Shuffle” coffee run sequence is a masterclass in editing and direction.  Starting off with what I thought might turn into a tribute to “Saturday Night Fever”, the scene neatly takes on a style all of its own. It’s use of – erm – “subtitles” is just brilliant.

The often subtle, and occasionally not so subtle, edits between scenes are also truly masterful, making this moviegoer laugh-out-loud with delight periodically at the movie-making skill on display.

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The spider at the centre of the web: Kevin Spacey as Doc.

All of this is orchestrated by Edgar Wright as director who – for me – has been a little inconsistent over the years (loved, loved, loved “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”;  “The World’s End” – not so much). Here, he delivers in spades and this film rockets immediately into my Films of the Year list for 2017.  Awe inspiring.  

Beg, steal, borrow, rob a bank – – do what you have to, but make sure you catch this film on the big screen.

Fad Rating:  FFFFF.

*** I take this comment back… having watched the film a second time, there is a subliminal couple of frames (I must have blinked) that explain what happened here. 

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Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Allegiant (2016)

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Shailene Woodley is one of my favourite young actresses.  Ever since she did that dramatic ‘crying-underwater’ scene in “The Descendents” she’s been someone to watch.  And, while it was another “Hunger Games” wannabe – “Divergent” was a good story, well acted and with good visual effects. 

Unfortunately the series has progressively gone downhill: “Insurgent” was poor but coherent; and now “Allegiant” is both poor and mind-numbing.

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Superman and Batman had done the usual with the city’s skyscrapers, but glazing contractor Four has time for one last snog before getting back to work.

After the revelations at the end of “Insurgent” Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Christina (Zoë Kravitz), Peter (Miles Teller), Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and Tori (Maggie Q) defy Chicago leader Evelyn (Naomi Watts) and make a dash for escape beyond the Chicago walls to find those living beyond in the alleged wilderness. There they meet ‘Pure’ leader David (the ever-busy Jeff Daniels) and his acolytes. According to David, Tris is key to the world’s recovery.  But can he be trusted?  

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Tris and Four were keen on practising safe sex, but it was difficult to see how the extra safe condoms were ever going to work.

It is telling that every screenwriter in this series has been different, and this time Noah Oppenheim (from the similar “Maze Runner”) with Adam Cooper and Bill Collage (from “Exodus: God and Kings”) have the pen, but do little positive with it. Much of the dialog clunks onto the ground much like the leaden transports featured in the film. And some of the plot points are obvious beyond belief. No real spoilers here, but when one of the lead characters gets shot it was so blindingly obvious that it was about to happen that I audibly groaned with disbelief that the writers had so little respect for the audience.

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The dynamic team O’Haring it out of Chicago (geddit?).

As another example of bone-headed writing a nerve gas used in the film is so much heavier than air that it sits on the floor for minutes at a time. How will they ever escape in Chicago?  (Erm – climb up to a second floor perhaps?). Presumably everyone was OK since they only got a small dose… so were just ‘a bit’ brain damaged?  

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Miles Teller as the ever-reliable Peter.

The special effects are pretty ropey in places. Some of the green screen work (an early shot with Miles Teller in particular) is really poor. Just about nothing looks real.

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They’d been walking down Weston-Super-Mare beach for three days now but had still not reached the sea.

The director is Robert Schwentke (“Insurgent”; “Flightplan”; “The Time Traveller’s Wife”) but this doesn’t extend his reputation (apart from presumably with the studios, since poor as it is it’ll no doubt still attract an audience).

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Eyes down gents for a gratuitous cleavage shot. Fans of the shapely Woodley will be pleased to hear she has her own Ursula Andress/Dr No detox scene to enjoy.

Shailene Woodley does herself credit with the material she has and has chemistry with the hunk of the piece, Oxford-born Theo James. But she is far better than this stuff. Unfortunately, this series doesn’t end as a trilogy: she will be back again as Tris is “Ascendent” in 2017. But before then she has a starring role in Oliver Stone’s Edward Snowden biopic, so hopefully can prove herself there.

Fad Rating: FF.