Tag Archives: Crime

Baby Driver (2017): The Unforgettable Soundtrack of a Life

  Edgar Wright is one of my favorite directors at this point. He has created some of my favorite films…from the “Cornetta Trilogy” to “Scott Pilgrim.” Now “Baby Driver” joins those films as one that takes a unique take on a genre (in this case crime thrillers) and adds a whole new presentation of action while giving a powerful message and some of the best written gangsters in cinema. Seriously, I can’t recommend this film enough and as of this point in time, it is my favorite film of the year.

“Baby Driver” was written and directed by Edgar Wright while being produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Nira Park.

The story involves Baby (Ansel Elgort) who is a driver who can only function listening music, who works for Doc’s (Kevin Spacey) crime syndicate. He does one last job to get out of debt and ends up falling in love with Deborah (Lily James) a waitress at a local diner. Things soon go south when after the job all as not as it appears to be and Baby is in over his head.

The Pros: The Art of Soundtrack Intertwined Action – This is a film that is a masterful work of art and so much of that is in the sound editing and use of songs with action. The film kicks off with a heist where there is silence before the pin drop and build up of a song as the getaway occurs. This is just the first example of how the two are interwoven to show rather than tell action. You have scenes with characters with no dialogue is needed and the song and how it is edited with the action tells you all you need to know. Both “Guardians of the Galaxy” did this to some degree (Baby is even a bit like Star-lord with his family issues) but what differs is that here it is down to the details and we are given continuous shots to use a song to it’s fullest degree or whatever sound best serves to show us the action.

Flawed and Compelling, the Art of Character – The characters in this film are compelling and interesting. They are all bad to varying degrees (the exceptions being Deborah and Baby’s foster father) but even the baddies are complex. Each of the characters carry their scars and wounds and we see why some like Bats are so batty and distrust all, because of what they’d had to do, or are driven by a hedonistic love of life and one another (Darling and Buddy) or characters who are driven by a level of trust but also some longing for family connection (Doc) and in all cases this leads them to do bad and good things. These are characters who I wanted to learn more about and who revealed the different aspects of themselves over the course of a film. Even my favorite crime movies like first two “Godfathers,” “Goodfellas,” “Gangs of New York” and “Wolf of Wall Street” all didn’t quite pull off the ensemble exploration. This film does and it is part of what makes it the prefect film of it’s kind.

Letting Go and Redemption – A major theme of the film is letting go and and in turn finding redemption. We see obsession consume certain characters in the final act leading to their destruction, while others have to die to themselves and their dreams in order to care for another and in doing so find peace. I’m being purposely vague because I don’t want to spoil this movie. You really should see it.

Subverting Genre Tropes – Deborah is not a damsel in distress. She is as much an active participant in this crime thriller as Darling, Doc, Bats and Buddy. It is her choices and activeness that keep her from becoming the damsel that love interests so often become in these types of films. The ending also subverts the common tragedy trope that often happens in these types of films. I won’t say how it ends but I’ve never seen a crime thriller end this way.

You should go see this film. If you like great films and want a film that will keep you on the edge of your seat because the action has purpose, the soundtrack is amazing, the characters are compelling and the message is meaningful, than this is the film for you. This is the perfect film in it’s genre and I hope Edgar Wright wins awards for this masterpiece.  To any aspiring directors, take note of Wright’s work, he owns this craft as both a writer and director.

Final Score: 10 / 10. The first perfect film this year.

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Shimmer Lake (2017): A Mystery Told in Reverse

I have yet to see a truly great film that is a Netflix original. Almost always the films go from bad to decent, though this is the first one I’ve seen since “Beats of no Nation” that was truly good. “Shimmer Lake” is very Coenesque in execution but doesn’t quite rise to the farcical comedies that pervades most of the Coen works. It is this lack of humor that really brings it down and keeps it from becoming great, though it is still worth checking out.

The film was directed by Oren Uziel who also wrote the film, while being produced by Adam Saunders and Britton Rizzio.

The story a small town sheriff named Walker who is investigating a bank robbery that involves his brother and two ex-friends. The story is told in reverse.

The Pros: The Premise – The idea of a small town bank robbery that turns into something bigger (being told from when the crime is done and the outcome to how it came about) is really cool. The setup was a large part of what kept me watching because I was waiting to learn more the different characters and their relationships. Rainn Wilson has so much charisma and I think having him be one of the first characters we meet who is so connected to the incident really strengthened the film.

The Cons: The Point of the Characters – This is a story full of betrayal and reveals, and at times does have comedy and even real drama between characters before many of them go full evil. It is this full range of character actions and types that fail to be a theme that are the largest con of the film. This film needed a focus for the mystery to truly be more than simply good.

I wish there was more to say about this film, but this is a film that doesn’t really have a larger point. It is a thriller and mystery where the catch is how the story is told (mystery in reverse) versus the point and themes of the story. I’m avoiding spoilers since the reveal is one of the few reasons to see this film but I also found that because it lacked a larger farcical bent or any major theme that was consistent across the board makes it a story that I will recommend but do not consider great. This film strives to be a Coen film when it should have sought more of it’s own voice.

Final Score: 8 / 10 A solid mystery.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 4, Episodes 15-18 – “The Obi-Wan Undercover Arc” – Plots and Trust

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     This arc was great at exploring the ends the Jedi will go to meet their ends and how Anakin is growing apart from them and the council and closer to Palpatine. We also get to see Dooku being a great threat again and Cad Bane at work. It was a very great arc that managed to give a fair amount of showing rather than telling. The antagonists were wonderful and seeing Obi-Wan in action was also great.

    “Deception” was directed by Kyle Dunlevy and written by Brent Friedman who also wrote the other 3 episodes in the arc. “Friends and Enemies” was directed by Bosco Ng, “The Box” was directed by Brian Kalin O’Connell and “Crisis on Naboo” was directed by Danny Keller.

    The story involves Obi-Wan faking his own death and taking the identity of his supposed killer Rako Hardeen. Things get complicated when Anakin is seeking revenge against Hardeen and the Jedi Council must be honest to both of them as Dooku’s plot unfolds and Obi-Wan is pulled deeper into the criminal underworld.

The Pros: Going Undercover – The operation of Obi-Wan becoming Hardeen is really well done, as well as his gaining the trust of Moralo Eval who is the main guy behind the plot being used by Dooku. His gaining his and Bane’s trust takes time and he saves them multiple times. It’s very well done and we see him change his face and voice too to fully become the character.

“The Box” – this is what Moralo invents to create the best Bounty Hunters and it helps them form a bond and how they work together. It also shows that Bane is the best as he will go to any means to achieve the mission with Obi-Wan coming in second because of mercy. We also see the coolest Bounty Hunters who survive, such as Embo who is the Samurai alien we’ve met before, Twazzi who is quick and the calmest of the group and Derrown who looks like a three eyed mushroom with tentacles whose tentacles are electric. He is really cool too and of course Eval, Obi-Wan and Bane.

Anakin – We see a lot of Anakin’s anger in this as Obi-Wan’s funeral has him in Dark Side mode and later we see him going his own way and working behind the Council’s back to try and stop Hardeen as we see his loyalty is primarily to Palpatine who listens to him and not the Jedi Council. There are some great character moments because of this.

Cad Bane and the Bounty Hunters – Bane brake Moralo Eval out of prison and helps them escape the Hutt Homeworld as well. It is great in that among the Bounty Hunters, but especially Eval, Obi-Wan and Bane there is always a power struggle going on which creates some great dynamics as Bane is the best of them but Obi-Wan does a great job at pretend. Cad Bane would have won too if not for Obi-Wan but him getting arrested isn’t a big deal as he has escaped multiple times and is the reason Moralo is able to break out in the first place. Bane is one of my favorite characters for a reason.

Palpatine – Palpatine feeds Anakin’s ego in this and we see how smart he is too, from feeding Naboo pride and Nationalism and showing being apart of all of the situation in the first place as it feeds Anakin’s hatred and anger and distrust of the Jedi. It is very well done and we see how good he is at showing rather than telling and how sympathetic he comes off as.

The Naboo Operation and Duel – The Operation was really cool and we see that the only reason Bane doesn’t succeed and Dooku doesn’t win are due to Obi-Wan pulling off his undercover operation so well. The Duel really stands out as we see Anakin’s anger and hate grow as Dooku continues to just beat him over and over again and his anger growing in the process before Obi-Wan arrival changes everything. Bane also holds his own in every fight he is in.

  This was a great arc where even the minor characters like the Bounty Hunters got explored. We also see that Count Dooku is a major threat once more and that he has a deep respect for Obi-Wan who is responsible for both his failure in capturing Palpatine and the capture of Cad Bane. Suffice to say, I recommend this arc.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

City of God (2002): A Tragedy of Politics, War and Corruption

City of God Poster

    I was asked recently how what I consider the perfect film by one of my closest friends and mentors. My reply was a movie without any cons at its core but that it’s also a bit contextual too. “City of God” is a film I’ve seen twice and when I first saw it in High School it was a little traumatizing, the second time watching it though, this is a film that does everything right. There is a diverse range of characters and everyone you get to know has fascinating motivations and the fact that this is a movie with consequences.

   “City of God” was directed by Fernando Meirelles and co-directed by Katia Lund and written by Bráulio Mantovani based off the book by Paulo Lins and produced by Andrea Barata Ribeiro, Mauricio Andrade Ramos, Elisa Tolomelli and Walter Salles.

    The story is around those in the life of Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) as he recounts how he ended up in the middle of a standoff between Lil’Ze (Leandro Firmino) and his gang and the police, as a recounts as a journalist who has reentered the city from his childhood, the “City of God.” From here the past is recounted from “The Tender Trio” one of whom was his older brother, to the rise of Lil’Ze to becoming boss of the “City of God” and his eventual fall and all the connections between the major players in the “City of God.”

The Pros: Writing – The writing is sharp and I love how it is broken up into chapters. We get the story of Rockets path and his brothers story in the “Tender Trio,” “Knockout Ned’s Story” “Rise of Lil’Ze” and others. All aspects of the “City of God” are explored. There was a reason it won best screenplay.

Editing – The editing is sharp and so much is portrayed when so little is shown. Be it Rocket running and us seeing through the lens of the camera or a rape scene that is only shadow and screams…it’s horrifying and you get the horror in as little time as possible. The point is made and you see just how much of a monster Lil’Ze is and what Knockout Ned and his wife felt in those moments. It deserved the awards it won for editing.

Cinematography – César Charlone did an amazing job on the cinematography! Rio is shot in bright sun or darkness with layers of light. It feels like a city on the edge and you can see the desperation of the city. We see how lived in the city is and the desperation of the people. So much is potrayed in so little and this why Charlone won an award for what he did with the cinematography.

The Characters – Most of the characters are complex, and all of them have motivations. It is that that makes a character. No one stays the same and the events that happen change the characters and make them softer (Benny falling in love) or harder (Benny’s death and Lil’Ze cruelty growing) that you can’t help but be drawn in, even if some like Lil’Ze aren’t sympathetic.

“The Tender Trio” – Shaggy (leader who is killed by the cops after he falls in love and tries to escape), Goose (Rocket’s brother who tries to get out but is killed by Lil’Ze when he says he’ll tell and is done with crime after the snitch kills the wife that Goose was sleeping with) and Clipper who joins the church after an injury and the massacre that Lil’Ze commits in the Love Motel.

Carrot – Matheus Nachtergaele is wonderful as Carrot, one of the lower level drug lords who is friends with Benny and pretty calm. He never tries to kill Lil’Ze unless Blacky was trying to kill him under orders but due to him killing Blacky I think he was counting on negotiation until Knockout Ned becomes his partner against Lil’Ze and he finally has a chance against Lil’Ze and his control of the city. He is eventually caught by the cops in the final standoff.

Angélica – Angélica is Benny’s love interest and Rocket’s friend. She also has awareness too and sees how bad things are in the city even if things are stable under Lil’Ze’s tyranny. Alice Braga is wonderful in this role. It is her compassion that changes Angélica and she is the motivation for Rocket to become a photographer and how he gets involved in the gangs to get her drugs early on.

Benny – Phellipe Haagensen plays Benny who is Lil’Ze’s childhood friend and partner in crime who eventually becomes a hippy and is loved by all in the “City of God.” He is the one person Lil’Ze cares for and that is because Benny cares. Benny always uses diplomacy and after he falls in love with the woman that Rocket loved named Angélica. His final scene is fighting with Lil’Ze over the camera to give Rocket before he is shot by Blacky. He goes from the most selfish character to the most selfless character, his arc is opposite of Knockout Ned as he becomes the pacifist while Ned becomes the conqueror.

Knockout Ned – Knockout Ned is played by Seu Jorge and is one of my favorite characters. He is a peaceful man and doesn’t even want to do violence against Lil’Ze after Lil’Ze has him strip naked during Benny’s Farewell. It is only after Lil’Ze kills members of his family and rapes his wife that he becomes the paladin and seeks revenge against Lil’Ze. He starts out not wanting to kill innocents but eventually that becomes the exception as he gets fully invested in becoming a hood and feeding the war against Lil’Ze. This eventually leads to him getting shot as the kid whose father he kills in a holdup shoots him.

The Runts Gang – The Runts gang act as a unit and are loyal to each other. This leads to them turning on Lil’Ze for killing one of their own after Lil’Ze loses everything and the price Lil’Ze paid for shooting him in the foot and killing another of them. They are all sociopathic and live for chaos and anarchy and are the ultimate symbol and reality of the desperate, armed orphans.

Lil’Ze – Leandro Firmino plays adult Lil’Ze and a different actor plays the broken kid who is a bit of sociopath since the beginning as he shoots up a love motel and from there makes his start with Benny robbing from others. From here he gets into the drug trade and becomes the most successful drug lord in the “City of God.” Eventually his selfishness devours him as he rapes Ned’s wife leading Knockout Ned’s war to lead to his end and his killing by the Runts as he killed one of theirs. He dies with nothing and in the end couldn’t even support his friend Benny leaving, the only one he truly cared about.

Rocket – Alexandre Rodrigues plays adult Rocket who is a photographer working for the paper in the “City of God.” The story is told from his perspective and is based on the events in his life. He is a great character as we see he is too kind to be a hood. In the chapter “Flirting With Crime” he helps all the people he meant to hurt and eventually becomes a journalist. Part of him being put on the right path was his brother Goose warning him against a life of crime since he knew it was empty and usually short, even if it paid. Rocket’s arc as a whole is growing up he wants to get with Angélica which connects him with Blacky and later once again Lil’Ze and Benny and his becoming a photographer leads to Lil’Ze respecting him and his sweet nature is why Benny likes him. He is the character who is the observer and documenter of everything and his ending is documenting Lil’Ze’s murder and the corruption among the cops when they shakedown Lil’Ze for his money. His story shows everything he cares about how so much of his motivation isn’t just to live, but his love for the city he comes from, “The City of God.”

Consequences – Everything has consequences, Lil’Ze failure to pay the gun merchant leads the police to turning on him and shaking him down for all his money, Knockout Ned’s killing of a police offer leads to the boy’s son killing him and others we see before like Rocket’s first camera and the camera that Benny was going to give him eventually leading to Lil’Ze treating him with respect and having him take pictures of his gang for his publicity for the gang war. It’s wonderful and we see things carry over when the Runts kill Lil’Ze since he had killed one of their to try and scare them. Consequences are what make the film beautiful and matter since reality has consequences.

The Themes – The themes are those of consequences, the cycle of revenge is a never ending one, how desperation leads to crime and that there will be people who take advantage of that desperation to their own ends (Carrot and Lil’Ze, and the Police).

The Message – The message is that you do have a choice and that choices have consequences. Rocket stays out of crime and from it is eventually able to get out, but the choices made by corrupt cops fed the cycle of violence and random innocents are killed on multiple occasions by the gangs and police which breeds the ongoing cycle of violence.

   This film did so much right and even though it is long it never felt long. The action is constant and characters are always changing and relating to one another. We see the choice of not going into crime makes Rocket a good guy and how the attempt to kill Lil’Ze lead to Lil’Ze total downfall when he lost his conscience he had in Benny. No character stays the same and the message of how revenge always comes back in the end and how the cycle of corruption continues and may exist for a reason (lack of opportunities, stability when a single gang lord is in control). The fact that it is based off real events also lends power to the story and you can this is reflected in the cinematography and editing where you are in the world and feel for everyone, even the Monsters like Lil’Ze.

Final Score: 10 / 10. The perfect film from “Foreign Film Week.”