REVIEW: Baby Driver

12 07 2017

I saw Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver” twice in the span of a month and fixated primarily on how it functioned as a new take on the movie musical. (If you want my full thoughts on that aspect, check out my piece on Little White Lies – I do far more heavy lifting with the film there.) It is that, but like any great movie, it’s so much more.

It’s a kickass action flick where, for once, the terms “balletic” and “choreographed” are not critical hyperbole but apt, justified descriptions. Wright’s tightly edited escapes, whether by car or by foot, fall in lockstep with their musical inspirations as they play diegetically through the headphones of Ansel Elgort’s titular driver. Is this what it felt like to watch the “Ride of the Valkyries” sequence in “Apocalypse Now” back in the 1970s? “Baby Driver” is a giddy rush of cinephilia as Wright treats us to impeccable execution of a bold gambit.

It’s a film about how we relate to culture and to each other. Baby, an archetypal stoic stalwart, suffers from ailments both emotional (still traumatized from being orphaned in a tragic car crash) and physical (tinnitus leaves his ears constantly ringing). As such, he’s never one to communicate in a straightforward fashion. He signs with his deaf foster father. He pulls dialogue from the snippets of movies he sees on TV. He times his vehicular getaways to the music on his iPod (and one with a clickwheel, to boot). He’s more likely to block people out with his headphones and cheap sunglasses than let anyone in – until, of course, he catches a few bars from diner waitress Debra (Lily James).

I could sit here and bang out another few paragraphs trying to convince you of how much “Baby Driver” has to offer. But that might make you feel obliged to sit here and read my words, which will only serve to rob you of the experience of discovering the film’s ecstasy for yourself. There’s probably something you’ll find that did not even occur to me, and the film will motivate you to do so. Wright provides the perfect blend of originality, dazzling technical craft and emotionally invested storytelling to inspire a deeper dive into his movie’s pleasures. A-





REVIEW: Cinderella

12 03 2015

Kenneth Branagh’s biggest cinematic production to date has been “Thor,” but he established a reputation far before taking on a hot Marvel property.  Many consider him the Laurence Olivier of our time, perhaps the preeminent modern interpreter of Shakespeare.  Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he stood at the helm of multiple acclaimed film adaptations of the Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon’s plays.

After delivering a dead-on-arrival reboot of the “Jack Ryan” franchise, Branagh turned back toward a source material that he could more faithfully reproduce: Disney’s “Cinderella.”  He approaches the fabled animated classic with the same tender touch he brings to a Shakespeare text, gingerly re-staging the action with careful attention to its original incarnation.  By not shaking anything up, Branagh ensures that his film will not ruffle the feathers of the die-hards.

But the downside of such a rigid reinterpretation is that his “Cinderella” also does not really excite anyone except the die-hards.  If the animated classic, 65 years later, still enchants children everywhere, why bother to remake it with such obliviousness to the many midnights passed?  (“Maleficent,” warts and all, at least took a stab at reimagining the “Sleeping Beauty” mythology.)  The answer seems simple: merchandising opportunities and brand awareness.

Branagh serves less as a director and more as a cookie-cutter, ensuring that all components of his “Cinderella” meet the pre-established mold.  In everything from the opening line of “once upon a time” to the traditional gender roles and ideology, the film adequately measures up.  The only worthwhile addition 2015 makes to the story is some CGI in the Fairy Godmother’s transformation of Cinderella, her escorts, and her carriage – effects that look quite magical.

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