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.

Shaun of the Dead (2004): Subverting the Rom Com, Popular Culture and Zombie Films

Shaun of the Dead

      “Shaun of the Dead” is a film that does a great job satirizing modern society as well as managing to subvert some of the Rom Com tropes as Shaun is a character who most of the time manages to makes situations worse by trying to do right by his relationships. The weakest part of the film is Ed (Nick Frost) who seems to function as one big joke and in a way wasn’t needed for Shaun’s story to be told.

       The film was directed by Edgar Wright who wrote it with Simon Pegg and produced by Nira Park.

      The story involves Shaun (Nick Frost) and Ed (Nick Frost) missing the Zombie apocalypse until it is in their home forcing Shaun to reconcile with his family and ex named Liz (Kate Ashfield) as he becomes the leader of the group and plans to get them to the pub called the Winchester, believing it to be the only safe place in the city.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful (as is the editing) as the soundtrack is beautifully put into the film to reflect the characters and situations. For example when David is working the lights it is like a concert with the zombies moving to the lights and music while Liz and Shaun fight to Queen. David M. Dunlap did a great job.

The Action – The action is great in this and given that these are slow walkers that says something…the Zombies actually manage to be threatening and a force even if most of the problems that happen are caused by Shaun and his own stupidity and the stupidity of his party.

The Characters – The characters are tropes in this but they get enough development that they feel real. I know people like these characters so it manages to actually be compelling in regards to what happens to them.

Pete – Pete is a dick but he also tries to be as open and supportive as he can even though Ed is giving nothing to rent and their life and he only turns on Shaun and Ed after he is bitten and can’t get any sleep because they are drunk and mixing records as Liz had just dumped Shaun that day.

Philip – Bill Nighy plays Shaun’s step-dad who was always hard on him but finally admits he’s loved him all along before he turns. He is a great character as we we gruff man not used to showing feelings finally opening up at the end and in turn revealing Shaun’s tender side too. It was great seeing him again in this too as before I’d only seen him as Davy Jones in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” Trilogy.

Barbara – Penelope Wilton (the Prime Minister from “Doctor Who”) is great in this as the mom who doesn’t want to intrude upon Shaun’s life. She is super sweet and when she dies you feel it as she was someone doing the best she could and living the theme of survival.

David and Dianne – Dianne is an out of work actress but comes up with the brilliant idea of them pretending to be zombies to get into the Winchester. David was always crushing on Liz and Dianne helped him get over it, him ignoring and denying that hurts her a lot and she goes to protect him when he is being devoured alive by zombies leading to her implied death too.

Yvonne and her Party – Yvonne is the one who seeks out the British Army and saves Liz and Shaun who are the only ones in their party who survive the apocalypse. She is always on it and is the only one with a clear head in all the events that go down. Her boyfriend is also played by Martin Freeman and the characters in her party mirror Shaun’s party. The romantic relationship – Martin and Liz as an example.

Subverting the Rom Com – In the Rom Com the man child (Shaun) usually grows up and redeems himself showing that he is a good guy. In this he is the same guy after he just now knows he courageous and has dealt with all his repressed feelings. When he is the leader he isn’t very good at it and he brought them to the Winchester which was an open pub surrounded by Zombies…nothing he does really helps and his friend

We are the Zombies – The way this is shown best is Shaun in his retail job where everyone is repeating the same phrases again and again, his morning routine as the apocalypse unfolds and him not noticing until a zombie is in his home and the television showing the crap reality television shows before and after the apocalypse and how they were essentially still the same.

Okay: Ed – I couldn’t stand this character, which might have been part of the point. He is selfish, lazy and doesn’t do anything for anyone without first measuring how it benefits himself. I think he was meant to be a joke though as he is played as normal after he turns at the end, showing he was a Zombie in a way, all along.

I would actually rate “Hot Fuzz” higher in the Cornetto Trilogy at this point as I found Nick Frost’s Danny a much more compelling character than Ed (who exists in every film of this nature usually played by Seth Rogen or a Sandler actor) and though I consider this film a favorite and found the overall satire hilarious, “Hot Fuzz” had better payoff with the jokes and dialogue. Still, this is one of the best satires, horrors and comedies and without a doubt my favorite zombie film I have ever watched.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Hot Fuzz (2007): A Brilliant Satire of Cop Films with a Compelling Story

Hot Fuzz

      “Hot Fuzz” is amazing, though it is in steep competition to be the best film in Pegg’s and Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy. This is a film that captures the absurdity of both television and film cop dramas, while also shining a light and critiquing small town and city culture at the same time…while giving our stars character arcs! There is a lot that is needed for a comedy to work, and this film manages to achieve that.

     The film was directed by Edgar Wright who also wrote it with Simon Pegg while being produced by Nira Park, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner.

SPOILERS ahead

      The story involves Sgt, Nick Angel (Simon Pegg) the best cop in London being sent to the village of Sandford since his stats are making his fellow cops look bad on the force. In Sandford he soon learns all is not as it appears to be as mysterious deaths continue to pop around town accompanied by hooded figures running from the scenes of the crimes. He must work with the Police Chief in Sandford’s son PC Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) in order to solve the case and the dark side of the village.

The Pros: The London Police Authorities – Martin Freeman appears as Nick Angel’s higher up as do two other actors but Freeman was the most memorable as the one trying to make the demotion look like a promotion. By the time the highest one is reached he tells Angel that he being sent away because he is too good and makes them all look bad. It’s a really hilarious joke and critique of the City.

The Cinematography – Jess Hall did a fantastic job on the cinematography. The film is polished and looks like a modern day cop drama as it emphasizes eyes, guns and loss whenever someone gets shot. It’s really good work and we see the use of darkness used to build tension.

The Writing – The writing is hilarious. Wright and Pegg are a great pair and know their comedy well, and not just comedy…they give their characters arc. Nick Angel and Danny Butterman are not static characters, events and circumstances change them and help them to grow into better people than they were before.

Callback Jokes – The callback jokes are wonderful! At one point they run into an old man named Webler (played by David Bradley) who has a whole bunch of guns and a water mine which doesn’t work…Nick and Danny later use the guns to attack the NWA and the mine is used to kill the last one who tries to kill Nick at the end before the mine destroys the Station.

The Satire – The Satire is brilliant! From the NWA being so concerned with appearances that they murder for it, Danny being obsessed with cop films and doing events from said films (“Point Break” and “Bad Boys” as an example) and Angel rejecting it not realizing he is the trope before he finally embraces at the end, and with it all the paperwork.

Sandford – Sandford is an idyllic small town, it is mostly farms with a few stores and we see that everyone knows everyone. All the small town tropes exist here, from the village gossip, the crappy journalist and the overbearing Police Chief in a town obsessed with conformity.

Simon Skinner – Timothy Dalton does a good job as the CEO of the convenience store who is set up to be the big bad but is only one of the many members of the NWA responsible for the murders. He is good at being creepy and overbearing to everyone around him as he only speaks in threats.

The Sandford Police Force – The Sandford Police Force is wonderful, Olivia Colman plays the only woman on the police force and there are two mustached guys and one nervous guy who does whatever Nick says but is also a good strategist…they all break and embrace the tropes they were written into leading to a great faceoff in Skinner’s store at the end.

Frank Butterman – Jim Broadbent is wonderful as the likable but for appearance of useless Police Commissioner who is all about village appearances. He is a good antagonist as we see he is the way he is after his wife killed herself since she was so obsessed with winning the competition. He is good at leading Nick Angel on false leads and he is the unspoken leader of the NWA.

PC Danny Butterman – Danny’s arc is realizing how serious it is to be a cop and dealing with the truth of his father…after he does he is able to turn the police force against his dad and help take out the NWA with Nick as we see that they now compliment each other as Danny’s socialness is what helps Nick Angel get outside of his obsession with the job as Nick’s obsession rubs off on Danny and helps Danny to become a hero and good cop.

Sgt. Nick Angel – Nick is man obsessed with being the best cop to the point that he lost his relationship and is alone with his plant. It takes Danny (who he arrests when he first arrives in Sandford) slowly getting him out of his shell and helping him open up that we see him mellow out and become not just a good cop in doing the right things to catch the bad guys, but also in how he treats others…this arc is completed in him choosing to stay in Sandford at the end, rather than returning to London when Freeman’s character offers him the chance (since things have gotten so bad after him leaving). Simon Pegg is brilliant and the best part of the film.

Okay/Cons – Pacing – There are a few moments where the film drags, this is partially due to the film being very quick in it’s action. This is the only real con outside of a plot hole I’ll list in the next one.

The Cons: Where are the Families of the Missing People – The Neighborhood Watch Alliance and Associates (NWA) kills anyone who makes the town look bad (the hoodies, the kids who were drinking in the pub) so that they continue to win town of the year…where were the families of the people killed? My theory was that they were living in fear of the NWA but we never have conformation of this, so that was a small thing that bothered me in the film.

   This might be my film in the Cornetto Trilogy, though “Shaun of the Dead” is hard to beat and may still be better. Regardless, this is a film I’d highly recommend. If you like a great satire, comedy and film that celebrates Cop Dramas while at the same time celebrating aspects of them and the tropes they invented, you will like this film. It’s one of my favorites and one I will no doubt watch again in the future.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010): A Hilarious and Amazing Story of Growing Up and Nostalgia

Scott Pilgrim vs the World poster        We end the First Comedy Week with “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” I am glad I ended Comedy Week with this film as it was one of my favorite prior and it still holds up, though I did notice problems that I hadn’t before…and gained an appreciation for things that I hadn’t noticed when watching it the first time. It is definitely a cult classic for a reason.

“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” was directed by Edgar Wright who also co-wrote the screenplay and was one of the producers on the film. The other writer was Michael Bacall and produced by Mark Platt, Eric Gitter and Nira Park. The film is based on the graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley.

The premise of the story is that Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a guy in a band called Sex Bob-omb who is getting out of a bad breakup and is dating a high schooler named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) to deal. Things change when he falls for Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) though and he soon finds himself pulled into events out of his control as Ramona’s 7 Evil Exes fight him to be with her.

The Pros: The Cinematography – “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is a very stylistic film and made all the more enjoyable because of it. It creates the feel of a fighting game in certain situations where Scott is facing Ramona’s exes and the visual style of different areas looks like the levels on a videogame. It is really well done and Bill Pope did an amazing job.

The Soundtrack – The indie rock music of this soundtrack is something I could not tire of. There is a lot of variety  and some great covers of songs like Envy Adams’s cover of “Black Sheep” that was originally by Metric. The music is so much fun and adds to the comedic fun and great action of the film. Nigel Godrich did a fantastic job!

The Fights – There are so many great fights in this film. From the first ex who flies into the Battle of the Bands to challenge Scott Pilgrim in which they fight each other Street Fight style as the ex Matthew can shoot fireballs out of his hands. There is Lucas Lee who fights Scott in the style of “Beat um Up” as he’s an action star (played by Chris Evans hilariously), there is a weapons fight done “Soul Edge” style between Ramona (who has  giant hammer) and her ex Roxy who has a chain whip, there is the vegan ex named Todd who has telekinetic powers and has a Bass fight with Scott, the Twins versus Sex Bob-omb who create monsters with their music that fight and the final battle where Knives and Scott face off against Gideon, the final boss who they are only able to take on after being upgraded.

The Comedy – The comedy in this film is solid. Every character is sarcastic or oblivious in some way which creates some create contextual humor or awkward scenes…like the moments Scott is done fighting but the exes aren’t and keep forcing him to act and his extreme annoyance at all and any scene with his gay roommate Wallace is hilarious as he is not interested at all in Scott’s women problems and is there holding him accountable the entire time. The exes all have very distinct personalities too, as due all the members of Sex Bob-omb.

The Characters – This is a great character film as it explores so many characters and most of them get exploration and have personality, except for the Japanese twins sadly, but everyone else is really interesting and complicated.

Envy Adams – Envy Adams is an interesting character as we never know if she got over Scott as she’s never able to connect with him and seems jealous when he is dating Ramona. She does care about her current boyfriend Todd though, even with him being an ex of Ramona’s and wanting to be with Ramona. Her and Scott resolve some of their baggage with each other after the fight with Todd though as they recognize how they hurt each other. Brie Larson is fantastic.

Stacey Pilgrim – Anna Kendrick does a wonderful job as Scott’s sister who has a much clearer head than Scott, though all the boys she dates end up falling for Wallace instead. Her and Wallace are super close and text each other everything. She is also there at the end to remind Scott of why he is fighting which leads to the final boss battle against Gideon as she reminds Scott that he clearly cares about Ramona and has been fighting for this entire time.

Wallace Wells – Wallace is the funniest character in the film and has a bunch of different partners through the film. He also speaks the most bluntly to Scott and keeps him accountable and has his back when Gideon calls Scott to gloat leading to the final fight. Kieran Culkin does a good job in the role.

Sex Bob-omb – The interaction between band members is hilarious and they all have distinct personalities which leads to some great moments of conflict that are both big and small…mostly related to Scott.

Stephen Sills – Stephen is the reason the band exists in the first place and the singer of the band who sets them up with concerts. He is an interesting character as his drive is to make the band famous as it his life. At times this is greater than his support of Scott which adds for interesting drama and to Young Neil eventually replacing Scott as the bassist. Mark Webber is great in this role.

Young Neil – Young Neil is a quiet character who is talented and is quiet shy but is a good friend still and ends up becoming the new bassist in Sex Bob-omb.

Kim Pine – Kim is the best character in the band who was burned by Scott once so is blunt with him when he is a dick to others and selfish. There is eventually healing there as Scott apologizes in regards to how he hurt her before which leads to her using the band to help in the fight against Gideon. Alison Pill is hilarious in this role with her sarcastic way of speaking.

5 of the 7 Evil Exes – 5 of the 7 exes have stark personalities that make them fun to watch as they are all sociopathic in different ways and clearly deserve the evil label that they chose.

Matthew Patel – The guy is the fist ex we meet and introduces their theme of being overdramatic. He is also magical as he studied magic and can cast fire balls and has an army of hipster demons with him. His stereotype is the hipster but he is able to get beyond it in his study of magic and the fact that he actually cares and fights pretty hard even though Scott outmatches him. Satya Bahbha is really funny in this role.

Lucas Lee – Chris Evans (Captain America) plays an evil ex. The last time I saw this was before “Winter Soldier” so realizing it was him this time gave me so much appreciation for his acting range. In this he is a Captain Hammer type character who is an action hero in film and sets his stunt team on Scott. He eventually is beaten though, though he puts up one of the best fights.

Todd Ingram – Todd is the vegan who is beaten when he is tricked into drinking coffee with half and half rather than Soy as Scott thinks really hard about putting Soy in the one he gives him. His character is the weakest of the best of the exes since he is mostly there for Envy and Scott to reach some sort of resolution. Brandon Routh is still fun though.

Roxy Richter – Roxy is the passionate lesbian who fights Scott on two occasions. In the end she is defeated by the two of them when her anger consumers her and she wants no one to have Ramona. She has one of the best battles as she uses this awesome chain whip in all of her fights. Mae Whitman is fantastic!

Gideon Graves – Gideon is the mad scientist of the group and also the G-Man who owns the record label that buys out Sex Bob-omb. He is kind on the outside but the most cruel as he only cares about Ramona after she leaves and after only likes her cause he can fully control her with a chip he created. He is the most difficult of the bosses and kills Scott, forcing Scott to use an extra life. It also takes Scott, Ramona and Knives together to defeat him. Jason Schwartzman is wonderful in this role.

Ramona Flowers – Ramona is a character I wish had more agency. She did dump all the exes but in the end it doesn’t matter as they can still be with her and still control her to a degree and that makes it so she can’t communicate all that well. She is a good character though and you get her mystery as she’s been burned a lot by past relationships and the outsider in every place she’s lived. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is great.

Scott Pilgrim – This is my favorite role I’ve seen Michael Cera play…he starts out as a major dick (cheating on Knives and Ramona) but eventually becomes a decent guy and even makes friends with Dark Scott who is the final boss showing that he is at peace with himself and no longer insecure. His insecurity throughout the film leads to him being just as destructive as Ramona towards the people around him.

Knives  Chau – Knives is the 17 year old who Scott is dating who in the end is probably the most mature person in the film as she notices that Scott has been fighting for Ramona the entire time and knows he doesn’t like her the same way. This leads them both moving on peacefully and remaining friends. She’s also badass and is a big reason that Gideon gets defeated in the final battle. Ellen Wong is really talented.

The Message – The message is personal accountability and to fight for what you value. We see this in how Scott grows up and in the ending when he fights to be with Ramona by starting over again with her as they leave Toronto together. I wish this could have been explored more though as the exes could have better represented that lack of accountability rather than simple narcissism and ego.

Okay: Ramona’s Agency – One thing that bothered me in the film is how the exes are seeking to take away Ramona’s agency and how that is never dealt with…the only times I saw it as actually being faced is when Ramona faces Roxy (but she can’t beat her because the rules of the game don’t let her) and at the very end when she puts the chip that was controlling her onto Gideon. She never gets the chance to fully stand up to him though as Knives and Scott fight the battle that she should have been a bigger part of (since we know she can fight, we saw it with Roxy). I also hated how excuses were made for the exes and for Scott’s bad behavior.

The Cons: The Twins – They don’t speak, they have no personality and the most that can be said is they make good music and created dragons. This isn’t a pro, since they don’t function as characters, just as point boost for Scott Pilgrim.

Even with the problem of the twins development and the matter of Ramona’s agency this film is by far one of the best comedies I have seen. It’s hilarious, the action is great and it has a point as the message is one of personal responsibility and growing up. Edgar Wright put a lot of love into this film and he is a great comedic director as seen by his past work “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead.” If anything this film just made me want to see more of his work. If you ever liked videogames, especially the old beat um up games, fighting games or Nintendo games…chances are you will love this film. It’s one I highly recommend and a perfect end to the First Comedy Week.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10.