Baby Driver

Baby Driver is a 2017 American crime comedy thriller film with musical elements written and directed by Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World director Edgar Wright and starring Ansel Elgort, Lilly James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, and Jamie Foxx. The film follows Baby, a young man and extremely skillful driver who unfortunately became indebted to criminal mastermind “Doc” at a young age. Baby is forced to work off his debt as a getaway driver for various jobs organized by Doc. Baby meets an attractive diner waitress named Deborah and falls for her, hoping to have a normal life after reluctantly working off his debt. Baby is coerced into a series of increasingly high-risk jobs and must balance the criminal part of his life with the life he wants to have with Deborah.

I’m just going to tell you right off the bat, Baby Driver is an amazing movie. Edgar Wright has, quite simply, outdone himself in every imaginable way with this film. This is certainly the very talented writer and director’s magnum opus. I cannot think of a single thing I didn’t like. It’s hard to review this movie because, in my opinion, everything was so good.

Ansel Elgort was an amazing lead, every line he spoke was almost dripping with charm. Kevin Spacey only had about ten minutes of screen time, but he was excellent, as is to be expected. Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm were the perfect mixture of crazy and unstable that made portions of the film wrought with tension and fear, but in a good way. Lilly James was also excellent as Deborah.

I feel now is a good point to mention something I found excellent about the script; there is no dialogue in the film that doesn’t need to be there. Baby as a character is very laconic and Doc is a man of all business, so when they talk, you need to listen. Every word spoken in this film is very important. In fiction, no matter what the medium, everything that is in a scene should be there for a reason. Wright takes this idea to heart. There is not a single breath nor frame of film that is wasted. In so many films, there is a lot of dialogue that doesn’t need to be in there; this is not the case for Baby Driver and it is all that much better for it. Whether dialogue is meant to be sly and comedic or deadly serious, it all serves a purpose. Make no mistake, although this is Wright’s most serious movie so far, there are portions of it that had my friend and I cackling out loud. Such is the true genius of a filmmaker like Edgar Wright.

The best aspect of this film by far is its use of music to inform, and sometimes even propel, the plot. Baby was stricken with a case of tinnitus following a car crash, so he listens to music constantly in order to drown out “the hum in the drum.” As such, the majority of the scenes in this film are given a score of their own. During the opening scene for example, Baby is rocking out to Bellbottoms by Jon Spencer Blues Explosions in the midst of a bank robbery. This musical motif runs throughout the entire film. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, this could be a horrible decision. Thankfully, Wright is as good a DJ as he is a director, turning what could have been the most annoying parts of an otherwise good film, into the most memorable part of an amazing film. It is almost reminiscent of an actual musical without cheesy showtunes or dance numbers. My musichead friend is considering getting this soundtrack on vinyl, and I’ll just say that if there was ever a soundtrack to get on vinyl, it would be this one. It is just great.

The action in this film is also nothing short of a grand achievement. At about the halfway point of the film there is a shootout set to Tequila by Button Down Brass that may very well be my favorite scene of the entire movie, although the opening car chase presents a fierce competition. The car chases are extremely well-done and well-shot, like everything else in this film. I have not seen Bullitt but I can say with certainty that the opening car chase alone outpaces The French Connection. The car chases might not be the best put to film, but they are some of the best that I personally have seen.

Even scenes without action or bare-knuckled chase sequences are masterfully filmed. There are a number of brilliant long takes and deftly edited sequences. There is a three-minute long coffee run set to Harlem Shuffle by Bob & Earl, and thanks to Ansel Elgort’s acting and Edgar Wright’s filmmaking and never-ending supply of style, it is captivating.

To put it simply, Baby Driver will certainly end up being one of my favorite films of the year. It is full of awesome music, amazing acting from all involved, unique and inventive chase sequences, and a well-written script, all masterminded by one of the most underrated directors of my generation. Everything about it is well-done. Even if you are not an action movie fan, there is enough different stuff there, whether it be romance, comedy, or music, to draw you in. It puts every other movie Wright has done to shame, and he has already made some films that might as well define my generation. Baby Driver, especially its soundtrack, will stay with me for a very long time, and I will be telling people to see it as long as I live. It has broken both mine and my friend’s personal Top 10, possibly even Top 5. You should go see it.

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Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman is a 2017 superheroine action film, based upon the DC Comics character of the same name, directed by Patty Jenkins. It is the fourth film in the DC Extended Universe following Man Of SteelBatman v. Superman, and Suicide Squad., and features a script and story by Allan Heinberg, a comic book writer who spent some time as the lead writer on several DC Comics properties. The film stars former Israeli soldier turned fashion model and actor Gal Gadot as the hero, Diana, Princess of Themyscira, a member of the Amazon people, a society of powerful female warriors, of which she is the only child.

Diana is the daughter of Queen Hippolyta and was given life by Zeus. Diana dreams of one day becoming a warrior like so many other Amazons, but her mother forbids it. She is instead secretly trained by her Aunt Antiope, general of the Amazon Army. It is discovered she possesses impressive powers. In 1918, British intelligence officer and pilot Steve Trevor, played by Chris Pine, is pursued by German forces, crashes on the shores of Themyscira, and is rescued by the Amazons, which results in Antiope’s death. Trevor, the first man Diana has ever seen in person, is understandably fascinated. Suspecting the mastermind behind the war may be Ares, The God of War, who has long been predicted to return after his defeat by Zeus, Diana decides to accompany Trevor to London to assist in the war effort.

The DC Extended Universe, Warner Brothers’ answer to Marvel Studios’ Marvel Cinematic Universe, has been off to a pretty horrible start, I’m not going to lie. Although I got some enjoyment out of Man Of Steel, it certainly wasn’t anything above passable; the following effort, Batman v. Superman, was a complete mess. To be honest, I was going to review Suicide Squad after it was released on video, but I couldn’t even get through the first twenty minutes. I was beginning to wonder if the DCEU would ever produce a legitimately good feature.

Thankfully, Wonder Woman wins the prize of being the only good DCEU feature worth anyone’s time. Patty Jenkins, director of 2003’s Monster, is, in my opinion, the only director DC has hired worth her paycheck; I have long-maintained that Zack Snyder is an overrated director and a huge problem for DC properties in both the long and short run of things, mainly due to his overwhelming focus on style over substance, which I find to be the downfall of the majority of his films. Thankfully, Snyder stayed away from this property and now we have finally been given a film with a cohesive narrative, likable characters, and well-planned action sequences. Though I felt the 2 hour and 21 minute film was slightly overly long, it is ultimately solid entertainment.

I feel the film owes a lot to Heinberg’s script, which finally injects levity into the brooding wormhole that has so far been the DC Extended Universe. There are finally some solid laughs. A veteran of the comics industry, Heinberg is a writer who finally understood Batman should be the only one allowed to brood and mope like a heartless cynic. Indeed, Diana is, dare I say refreshingly, naive and idealistic. I believe I enjoyed this film because it is the only DCEU film I didn’t come out of confused and/or sad, usually both. Wonder Woman, for once, was actually hopeful.

For me, the standout of Wonder Woman was Star Trek’s Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. He has a lot of charisma and hits a lot of the film’s comedic and more lighthearted notes, as well as the more serious, important moments. Gal Gadot is pretty good as Wonder Woman,  but I felt she faltered at points when trying to adequately express emotion, though not so much so that I would count her performance as negative in any way.

There were some confusing plot holes in this film, mainly Aries’ plan to cause the end of humanity with the Armistice, which he pushes for throughout the film. It is never explained why he does this. Also, the film’s climax, the final fight between Diana and Ares, falls into cliche and is uninspired. It could have easily been remedied by Heinberg.

I found it interesting (and good) that the DCEU finally made a mainly self-contained narrative without mentioning Superman, The Justice League, or anything else. The narrative does start out in present day with a picture of Diana and Trevor circa 1918 being delivered to her by Wayne Enterprises on behalf of the man himself, but as it is a larger universe, I can see how that very minor plot point would be a necessity.

Ultimately, Wonder Woman is finally a solid film from the DCEU. With a solid script from someone who actually knows what they’re doing, a good director who also knows what they are doing, and good actors, I am very happy to see an actual good DC film, although the fact that it took four tries to actually make a good film is still very worrying to me, maybe the franchise has finally found it’s footing.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a 2010 comedy film with action and romance elements produced, co-written, and directed by Edgar Wright with screenplay assistance by Michael Bacall. The film features an ensemble cast of Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkan, Ellen Wong, The Newsroom’s Allison Pill, Mark Webber, Johnny Simmons, Anna Kendrick, future Captain Marvel Brie Larson, and current Legion and Parks and Rec actress Aubrey Plaza, featuring Captain America Chris Evans, former Superman Brandon Routh, and Jason Schwartzman.

Based upon the comic book of the same name, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World tells the story of 22-year-old Scott Pilgrim. The bass player for Sex Bob-omb, Scott draws ire from nearly everyone for dating 17-year-old Chinese Catholic schoolgirl Knives Chau. Scott likes his relationship with Knives because it is simple; they play video games, eat pizza, and talk. They haven’t even held hands. That all changes when he meets Amazon delivery girl Ramona Flowers. Scott becomes instantly infatuated with Ramona, believing her to be the girl of his dreams. He learns that she has Seven Evil Exes. He must fight through each of the seven in order to date Ramona.

Both in the film and the comic series, for reasons that are never explained within the plot, the world of Scott Pilgrim is hyperstylized and very video game inspired. In most films, this would be explained by Scott having an overactive imagination, but the thing about Scott Pilgrim (and what I think makes it so much fun) is that it’s all happening, and nothing about that is ever explained, because it doesn’t need to be. It just adds to the fun.

The special effects are pretty good, in my opinion. They aren’t amazing, but that isn’t really the point. Scott Pilgrim shines in the fact that the script by Shaun of the Dead’s Edgar Wright is hilarious. This film, as well as his previous works, show that he has a truly keen eye for genuinely hilarious comedy. His direction is also on point as well, as I found this film to be well-paced and quick-moving. I feel like I never stopped laughing (I guess exhaling out of my nose).

There is a lot to be said for the acting in this film, as well. Arrested Development’s Michael Cera was the perfect choice to play Scott Pilgrim. The awkward likability he is known for is in full effect here. I felt he had chemistry with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and it made the film work better as a whole. That being said, I feel like all of the cast did a fine job.

The soundtrack to the film is actually pretty great, as well. A lot of Sex Bob-omb’s songs are empty and meaningless for comedic effect, but they are catchy as well as being entirely stupid. It’s hard to explain, but take my word for it when I say it’s pretty good.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a hilarious comedy film with a fair bit of action thrown in for good measure (I should briefly mention that the fight scenes are actually entertaining). The film excels due to talented directing, writing, acting… pretty much everything, really. It is a hilarious and lighthearted film that I think everyone should check out,

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a 2017 science-fiction action-adventure comedy film written and directed by James Gunn. It is the fifteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and a sequel to 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. The film features the return of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradly Cooper, Vin Disel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillian, and Sean Gunn, and introduces new characters played by The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Night Manager star Elizabeth Debicki, Sylvester Stallone, and Kurt Russell.

Picking up some time shortly after the end of the first film, our protagonists are now renowned across the galaxy for their actions. They are hired by Ayesha, leader of The Sovereign race to protect some valuable batteries from an interdimensional monster. After the crew defeat the monster, Rocket impulsively steals some of the batteries, leading to the “easily offended” Sovereign to want them dead. As a reward for protecting the batteries, the Guardians are given a captive Nebula, Gamora’s amoral and double-crossing sister. After a crash landing, The Guardians meet Star-Lord’s father, a celestial being known as Ego. Wishing to catch up with his son after 34 years, Quill, Gamora, and Drax are invited to his home planet. Meanwhile, The Sovereign hire the disgraced Yondu and his crew to track down the Guardians and deliver them.

Let me start out by saying I feel as though Vol. 2 fails as a sequel. That is not to say the film is bad, as I found it to be quite good. Sequels, though, are meant to be an improvement upon the original film, much like John Wick: Chapter 2 improved upon the original. Vol. 2, in my opinion, failed to meet that requirement. Instead of improving upon the original and presenting a plotline more expansive than the original film, much of Vol. 2 remains exactly the same in terms of scale, and I was hoping it would be more enterprising than it was. However, as I had stated previously, I did find Vol. 2 to be a satisfying and entertaining film.

Vol. 2 treats us with expanded roles for returning cast members Michael Rooker, Sean Gunn, and Karen Gillian. Yondu and Nebula’s roles in the first film were as supporting characters who were rather one-dimensional, as supporting characters often are. Here, the underrated former The Walking Dead actor is able to stretch his acting muscles more and evolve into a three-dimensional character you end up caring about. Same goes for former Doctor Who star Karen Gillian as Nebula. Sean Gunn, brother of director James Gunn, had an extremely minor role as a Yondu’s right-hand man Kraglin. In Vol. 2, Kraglin is given an expanded role and acts as one of the film’s many comic reliefs while also being an empathetic character.

As is to be expected, the rest of the main cast gives great performances. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and Bradley Cooper all continue to be awesome, while Vin Disel’s Baby Groot is as cute as ever. The legendary Kurt Russell’s performance as Ego is very good, and one of the better performances from an MCU villain so far. The special effects are all very good, as to be expected in a Marvel Studios film. I must also tip my hat to whomever is in charge of the makeup department, because Karen Gillian and Elizabeth Debicki are unrecognizable in their roles, in a very good way.

As with the first film, the soundtrack fused with 1970’s pop and rock ballads is as catchy as ever, and captures the character of Star-Lord, as well as the feel of the characters and the film, rather perfectly.

To conclude, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, though it fails to improve upon the original film, is still a fun movie with hilarious moments, great acting, great effects, great characters, a brilliant soundtrack, and a decent plot.

The Guardians are to return in Avengers: Infinity War in 2018, fighting alongside The Avengers and Doctor Strange against Thanos, as well as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 sometime in the future.

Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy is a 2014 science-fiction action comedy film directed and co-written by James Gunn. It is the tenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is based upon the comic book team of the same name as reintroduced in 2008 by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning.  The film stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Disel, Dave Bautista, and Lee Pace, and features Michael Rooker, Glenn Close, Jon C. Riley, and Benicio del Toro.

Guardians of the Galaxy follows Peter Quill. In 1988, immediately following his mother’s death from cancer, Peter is abducted by a group of criminal space aliens known as the Ravagers, led by Yondu, and grows up to be a charismatic and talented thief going by the nickname Star-Lord. After stealing an orb containing one of the Infinity Stones, Thanos, the soon-to-be primary antagonist of the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War who was first teased at the end of the first Avengers film, played here and in the future by Josh Brolin, commissions the fanatical Ronan the Accuser to retrieve the orb. Meanwhile, Yondu discovers Quill’s theft. Displeased, he issues a large bounty for Quill’s capture. Two bounty hunters, an anthropomorphic raccoon named Rocket and his partner, a giant walking, talking tree named Groot who can only say variations of “I am Groot,” attempt to capture him and, in doing so, run afoul of Gamora, one of Thanos’ “adopted daughters,” genetically modified to be the perfect killing machine, sent after the orb by Ronan. It is revealed she refuses to let Thanos use the orb and its power to destroy entire planets, and instead plans to sell the orb to the powerful and mysterious Collector.

The four end up in prison and meet Drax, who wishes to kill Gamora due to her association with the Ronan, who previously killed Drax’s entire family. After convincing the ultra-serious Drax to not do such a thing, the band of misfits begrudgingly agree that they are going to have to band together to escape the prison.

After escaping the prison, the group must evade minions of Ronan, Thanos, and Yondu and protect the orb and the stone, such as to prevent the annihilation of the entire galaxy.

First announced in Summer 2011, everyone knew Guardians of the Galaxy was going to be a massive gamble. This was a group of characters nobody outside of the hardcore comic book nerds had ever even heard of, and that includes me. Add on top of that a talking raccoon and an anthropomorphic tree, which admittedly sound ridiculous out loud, and you have a recipe for uncertainty.

James Gunn first came onto the Hollywood scene as a screenwriter for both of the live-action Scooby-Doo films and the Dawn of the Dead remake. Since then he has written and directed the cult horror comedy Slither and the comedy web series James Gunn’s PG Porna spoof of pornographic films with the tagline “For people who love everything about porn… except the sex.” These very well-done comedic projects earned Gunn a cult following. Guardians of the Galaxy proved to be the perfect project for him, further solidifying his status as a fan-favorite director. The film is well-organized and never takes itself too seriously, with a consistently lighthearted tone, excellent special effects, and the one of the catchiest and most effective soundtracks in film, in my opinion.

Full disclosure, I have an unabashed and shameless man crush on Chris Pratt. The former Parks and Rec star (who might I mention is pretty freaking jacked now) oozes charm and charisma, especially here. Of course, his use of the Star-Lord costume to visit hospitals as the character without the express approval of Marvel Studios (meaning it isn’t just a publicity stunt; he also has a kid with CP) may have me a little biased, but still, the combination of the man’s comedic acting and improv abilities, along with James Gunn’s technical prowess, turn Guardians of the Galaxy from an uncertain gamble to a surefire hit. This wonderful melding of minds can be seen throughout the entire film, even in its opening few moments.

Of course, Pratt is not the only one given hilarious comedic moments. Almost the entire cast, with the exception of Thanos, cracks a joke every once in a while. From Gamora not understanding Footloose or music, to Drax taking everything super literally, to almost everything featuring Rocket and Groot, Guardians of the Galaxy may be the funniest, and also the funnest movie Marvel Studios has created so far. (I have yet to see the sequel.)

Guardians of the Galaxy, with the help of a talented director and writer, marvelous stylistic choices, and excellent acting from all involved, turned a weird, little-known franchise from the far reaches of comicbookdom, and turned it into one of their most profitable, well-known, and critically-acclaimed properties. Guardians remains my favorite MCU film behind Captain America: Civil War, and I can’t wait to see where the property goes next.

Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange is a 2016 American superhero film directed and co-written by Scott Derrickson. The film was also co-written by C. Robert Cargill and Jon Spaihts. It is the fourteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, taking place around the same time as the preceding entry, Captain America: Civil War, and serves as the introduction of the character of the same name into the MCU. The film stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins, Mads Mikkelsen, and Tilda Swinton.

Dr. Stephen Vincent Strange is a brilliant, supremely talented, intelligent, but arrogant neurosurgeon who looses the use of his hands in a car accident. His former lover and colleague Dr. Christine Palmer attempts to help him move on with his life. Strange instead seeks out experimental surgeries and procedures, which leads him to a paraplegic who mysteriously regained the use of his legs. Strange is further directed to Kamar-Tag, where he is taken in by The Masters of the Mystic Arts, led by a woman known as The Ancient One. Strange is trained in the mystical arts, learning to harness the power of the universe and transport himself along the astral plane, which connects this universe to the infinite number of universes in existence. Strange, after learning remarkably quickly and becoming The Ancient One’s most gifted student, comes into conflict with Kaecilius, a powerful former student of The Ancient One who wishes for eternal life by any means necessary.

Doctor Strange is Marvel Studios’ introduction to the mystical and magical, and it is aided talented direction from Scott Derrickson, known for films such as Sinister and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Given the mystical and reality-bending nature of the material, Derrickson was a good choice to lead a project like Doctor Strange, and it works well, thanks in major part to his abilities as a director.

The special effects featured in the film are, in my opinion, extremely well done. Bending the laws of time, physics, and nature, as well as transporting dimensions seem like difficult things to accurately portray on screen, even in 2016, but the visual effects of Doctor Strange netted the film an Academy Award nomination for best visual effects, a nomination that I find well-deserved.

In addition to good directing and very good visual effects, Doctor Strange also includes excellent acting from all involved. Benedict Cumberbatch is, as always, excellent. The character of Stephen Strange is, in fact, very similar, in my eyes, to Tony Stark as played by Robert Downey Jr, the man who arguably paved the way for Doctor Strange all the way back in the infancy of the MCU back in 2008. Strange is arrogant, brash, egotistical, but supremely intelligent, and Cumberbatch has made a career off of playing a very famous character of a similar nature; the character of Stephen Strange plays right into his strengths. My homie Mads Mikkelsen, although his part as Kaecilius is admittedly rather small, is great here. I have loved him as an actor since I first saw him as Le Chiffre in 2006’s Casino Royale and then again in the excellent television adaptation of Hannibal Lecter, Hannibal on NBC. Tilda Swinton is marvelous as The Ancient One, and Chiwetel Ejiofor is very good as Baron Mordo.

Doctor Strange also, as with most movies in the MCU, contains some funny and lighthearted moments. These comedic beats work very well, to the film’s advantage. The center of this comedy focuses on the character of Wong, ironically played by Benedict Wong.

Ultimately, Doctor Strange is an excellent introduction of a little-known character into the MCU in a big way. With excellent acting, directing, and visual effects, the film takes a character who’s parody was probably more well-known than he was, and turned him into what I’m sure will continue to be an essential part of the MCU going forward.

Insomnia

Insomnia is a 2002 psychological thriller mystery film directed by Christopher Nolan and written by Hillary Seitz. It is a remake of the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name. The film stars Al Pacino, Hilary Swank, Robin Williams, and Martin Donovan. Insomnia is the only work in Nolan’s filmography so far in which he does have at least a co-writing credit, although he did write the final draft of the script.

Pacino stars as Detective Will Dormer, a reputable Los Angeles homicide detective who, while under an intense investigation by Internal Affairs, is requested to travel to the small Alaskan town of Nightmute to solve the murder of a 17-year-old girl. Nightmute’s chief of police is an old friend of Dormer’s, and it is implied that he requested Dormer and his partner Hap Eckhart to get the heat off of them for a while. While conducting the initial investigation, Eckhart informs his partner that he feels he must testify on behalf of Internal Affairs, who offered him a more lenient sentence for cooperation. This angers Dormer immensely.

While setting an ambush for the killer, Dormer, lost in fog and disoriented, shoots Eckhart and kills him. While dying, his partner accuses him of killing him to thwart his impending I.A. testimony. Dormer, knowing it will look highly suspicious, covers up the friendly fire incident. Plagued with guilt over his partner’s death, Dormer begins experiencing insomnia, further exacerbated by the perpetual daylight. He is also taunted with phone calls from the suspect, who witnessed the shooting of Eckhart.

The focus of Insomnia is not the mystery of who killed Kay Connell. That aspect of the film is actually very straightforward. Insomnia is rather the effects of guilt on a person’s psyche. Anchored with talented performances by Pacino and a surprisingly menacing Robin Williams, Insomnia also features a very tight and focused script by Seitz that is very effective in getting at the deeper themes of the story. Featuring brilliant cinematography from longtime Nolan mainstay Wally Pfister and a fittingly dark score by David Julyan, everything about Insomnia is effectively focused on portraying a man plagued by guilt over his actions and paranoid that the web of lies he spun to hide them will be broken at any given moment.

As Nolan’s first big-budget feature following Following (ha!) and MomentoInsomnia is another demonstration of the British auter’s talent and prowess concerning stories of a deeply personal and emotional nature, which is most likely the reason he was given the duty of reinventing (and rehabilitating, thanks to the laughingstock that was Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin in 1997) Batman with 2005’s Batman Begins, the launch of the trilogy that not only re-introduced Batman to a new generation and gave us the best imagining of The Joker to date, but also cemented Nolan’s status as one of the most popular filmmakers of the last ten years.