Baby Driver, 2017

Directed by: Edgar Wright

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx

IMDb

Edgar Wright is one of the best comedic Writer/Directors working today, and he certainly doesn’t disappoint with his latest film, Baby Driver.

It’s the kind of movie probably best seen with as little knowledge about it as possible, so my very short review is to go see Baby Driver. It’s funny, fast paced and extremely well composed. It also has one of the best incorporations of soundtrack into film that I’ve ever seen.

For those who don’t care about not knowing, I’ll get into a little more detail.

My biggest criticism of Baby Driver is that it’s tonally inconsistent. The three acts are very distinct from one another, and can pretty much be judged individually. I adored the first act, I liked the second, and I really liked the third. I really want to emphasise that at no point did I stop liking it, but I feel like the differences, especially between the first two acts were quite jarring.

The first act is hilarious. It’s packed with everything I love about Wright’s style and is honestly a masterpiece of film composition. I laughed really hard. The stunt work, as well, was pretty damn fantastic.
The second act really slows down into more of a crime/action/drama. While it’s still filled with a lot of excellent film making, it’s undeniable that it’s less fun and therefore less enjoyable than its predecessor. What it lacks in comedy, it makes up for in tension, which to be fair don’t really go hand in hand, but it was just less satisfying. That said, its only real issue was that it followed the first act.
The third act breaks the tension from the second spectacularly, providing one hell of an action packed climax. The stunt driving, action and music use here are particularly excellent, and the ending is pretty satisfying.

If the film stuck to the style shown in the first act, I think it would have ended up my favourite Edgar Wright film. As it stands, it’s probably my number 3, behind Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim. It’s miles better, however, than The World’s End (and Ant-Man).

I’ve mentioned it a couple of times, but the soundtrack use was really excellent, appropriate given the importance of music to the protagonist. I’ve seen plenty of films do similar things, but Baby Driver runs with it and takes it to the nth degree. It’s awesome.

Along with the music, the cinematography and shot composition is also great, distinguishing itself from Wright’s previous films with its use of long takes, but pulls them off excellently, and never excessively. There is still plenty of the dynamic editing I’ve come to love from the director.

All the performances were good, Kevin Spacey was a little typecast I think, but worked effectively anyway. I especially enjoyed the chemistry between Ansel Elgort and Lily James.

Baby Driver is absolutely worth your time. Go see it as soon as it comes out next Thursday.

Get Out, 2017

Directed By: Jordan Peele

Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams

IMDb

Get Out is the best film that I’ve seen this year so far. I highly recommend you go see it. If you were avoiding it because you don’t like horror, rest assured that is more of a thriller, featuring more comedy elements than it does horror.

The characters and writing were great, and I really enjoyed the genuine suspense the plot had me in. I had no idea exactly where the film was going to go until it went there, but it didn’t cheat, there were plenty of clues. I don’t get that experience very often, so it was a real treat.

I also enjoyed the film’s aesthetic, using classic horror-esque techniques in colour palette, soundtrack and cinematography to get the audience on edge. The use of comedy in its first two acts to establish the racial themes in a lighthearted manner, before twisting them into the horrifying reality in the third is freaking brilliant.

Speaking of Comedy, the comic relief character is fantastic, one of the best parts of the movie. It really shows that the writer/director, Jordan Peele, is a comedy veteran. The more intense tones aren’t undercut by the comedy though, the balance is masterful.

Go see Get Out. Please. I want Jordan Peele to make more movies.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, 2017

Directed by: James Gunn

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker

IMDb
I think Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 bares many similarities to Avengers: Age of Ultron. Both films had a lot to live up to, both tried valiantly to outdo their predecessor in every aspect, both are very entertaining movies. Both don’t quite live up to the impossible expectations.

How does one outdo Guardians 1? Apparently the answer is take the aspect most praised and play them up tenfold. As a result, the soundtrack is back and more prominent than ever. The humorous tone was praised, so the sequel was given many more jokes. To be perfectly clear, each of these aspects taken individually make for a really good time. The issue is balance. The first film worked so well because it managed to balance its own quirky style with the typical marvel movie formula. Guardians 2 feels overloaded, unbalanced.

Not helping in the slightest is the story, which I feel is Guardians 2’s biggest shortcoming. Instead of one story, the film opts to tell about three or four, and none of them are really all that original. Honestly, they’re all pretty predictable. The first film wasn’t really anything all that special when it came to story, but what I can give it is that it was one thing, it was pretty tight.

All this said, I really enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. I’m still working on my ability to communicate my feelings towards movies, especially while criticising them. To be as clear as I can: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t even a bad movie that I enjoyed bits of à la Batman V Superman or Suicide Squad. It’s a good movie, that entertained me thoroughly, but I couldn’t help but feel a tad let down. My expectations were a bit too high, and I criticise because I care.

The film did better its predecessor in a few respects, however. Depictions of much of the peripheral cast was much better. I really enjoyed spending more time with Drax, Yandu, and Rocket. Also, in its attempts to out-scope the previous film, it actually succeeded in setting up some awesome scenarios. Overall, the cinematography was also better, some really beautiful shots. The movie was really colourful and was overall really enjoyable to look at.

If you were planning on see Guardians 2, I say go right ahead, you’ll enjoy yourself.

Colossal, 2016

Directed by: Nacho Vigalondo
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis
Colossal came right out of nowhere and really surprised me. Before last week I hadn’t even heard of it, but after seeing it, I think it’s disappointing that it’s gone so under the radar.
 
To those that don’t know, the premise is that a failing alcoholic writer (Anne Hathaway) returns to her small home town after her boyfriend kicks her out. At the same time, a giant monster appears out of nowhere and starts attacking Seoul. After noticing a pattern, she realises she was the monster all along.
Not metaphorically, she is literally the monster. It’s weird, hard to describe, and super original.
 
I have to applaud the movie for its originality, it’s not quite like anything I’ve seen before, plot-wise, which is so rare in hollywood. It also falls into a sub-genre of film which I have a particular affection for: Films with a sci-fi/fantasy element, but are ultimately very human stories set in a real-world environment. Stories that focus on the human condition through the lens of the fantastical element. Notable examples of such films include Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind, Inception, Chronicle and Swiss Army Man. (Almost all of these are among my all time favourite movies btw)
 
Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis both give great performances as the leads, and not to spoil the plot, they develop a very interesting dynamic.
 
The film gives a really satisfying blend of tones, balancing funny, charming, intense and honestly kind of horrifying at points. Not to say it’s without flaws: I didn’t love the side characters, Dan Stevens plays Hathaway’s boyfriend and he’s a bit of a typical controlling, untrusting boyfriend. Also, there were a few points that the film was trying portray horrifying situations, but they came off a bit silly and hard to take seriously. They, however, were only small blemishes on an overall really good product.
 
 
Anyway, if you can catch it before it fades into obscurity, I definitely recommend you go watch it!

The Lego Batman Movie, 2017

Directed by: Chris McKay

Starring: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson

IMDB

I probably set my expectations too high for The Lego Batman Movie. The marketing made it look like a non-stop joke fest, with tonnes of Batman and other pop-culture references, while keeping the super fast pace of The Lego Movie. The movie I actually saw was actually pretty good, but I did feel like it was lacking in a number of respects, unfortunately.
My main criticism would have to be with the characters. They’re set up well and are all likeable, but every single one of them was completely one-note. Batman is arrogant, Alfred is the concerned father figure, Robin was the wide-eyed innocent youth and Barbara Gordon was the responsible police-badass. Batman was given a lesson to learn: learn to let others into his life, but the process of this actually happening happens over the course of about two minutes in the third act via Deus Ex Machina. Watching Batman make the same mistake and continuously not learning from it is much like watching a puppy be confused by his own reflection in the mirror: at first it’s hilarious, but after an hour and a half it’s exhausting, and you start to question the mental health of the puppy.
I also feel like the comedic timing was just slightly off. I feel like they were expecting laughs, so left pauses in so the audience wouldn’t miss the next line. It came off as a little disjointed in the relatively quiet cinema I was in.
One last thing I’d like to address is the use of references. The film uses a copious amount of pop culture references, many of them being completely seperate to Batman (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who etc.) Unfortunately the film falls into the trap of thinking that acknowledging a thing exists counts as a joke. It does not. For examples of other films that fall into this trap, turn to any of the ‘Scary Movie’ or ‘Movie Movie’ franchise. Serial offenders.

Overall, if you’re a child or a nerd, you’ll enjoy The Lego Batman Movie, but it’s not as good as the Lego Movie.

Moana, 2016

Directed by: Ron Clements, Don Hall

Starring:  Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House

IMDb

The fact that I’ve spent nearly two weeks forgetting to write a review about Moana probably says something about the impact it left on me. It was actually pretty good, and I’ve caught myself humming a couple of the songs, but I can’t help but feel a lack of ambition in its production. I suppose it just felt a little ~too~ by the numbers, with its only real stand-out feature being its setting and cast. I mean good on them for going for such a little represented setting and for casting appropriately, but that alone wasn’t really enough to make Moana feel special as a whole.

I know it has excellent ratings, but I’ve always found the current ‘Walt Disney Animation Studios’s films to be a little overrated [i.e. Frozen, Big Hero Six, Zootopia]. The truth is, everything in Moana is enjoyable, but I don’t see myself buying the blu-ray or anything. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s definitely worth seeing at least once. Definitely show it to your kids, they’ll love it. I, however (just like every Disney Princess ever) was left wanting more.

Why Him? 2016

Directed by: John Hamburg 

Starring: Zoey Deutch, James Franco, Tangie Ambrose, Bryan Cranston

IMDb

Why Him? was really funny. The story and editing are about as stock as they come, bringing pretty much nothing new and/or special to the table, but they’re not the focus. The focus is on the comedy and giving the audience a good time, which I think it succeeds at (for the most part. There are a few painful scenes to sit through.) It’s one of those movies where you know literally every story beat from start to finish, but you likely won’t care because you’re having a good time. If it sounds like your jam, go see it, have a laugh and enjoy.

La La Land – Part 2, 2016

Directed by: Damien Chazelle

Starring:  Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt

IMDb

Read Part 1 here.

So I saw La La Land again and I’ve been inspired to go a little more in depth and analyse it a bit. If you haven’t seen the movie yet (fix that), you probably shouldn’t read this, as I’m going to be going in-depth on specific scenes and songs. You’ve been warned.

In my review I called the film ‘a love letter to all performing arts, encouraging the love of music and art and leading a life worth living’. I’d like to amend that slightly, to ‘a love letter to those passionate enough to follow their dreams and pursue the performing arts’. I make the distinction because while the film certainly adores the performing arts, it makes a point of spotlighting the artists who make it all happen. In essence, the art forms are entirely reliant on people passionate enough to put everything on the line to bring them to life.

This shoutout to the passionate is most clearly depicted in the song ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream)’; Mia’s audition at the end of the film, where she tells the story of her aunt who jumped in to the freezing river in Paris just for the thrill of it.

“She smiled,

Leapt, without looking

And She tumbled into the Seine!

The water was freezing

she spent a month sneezing

but said she would do it, again.”

The act of jumping into the river can be seen as an allegory for artists putting everything on the line for pursuing the risky world of the arts, and doing it with a genuine joy without regrets. The song goes on to encourage this with its chorus:

“Here’s to the ones who dream

Foolish, as they may seem

Here’s to the hearts that ache

Here’s to the mess we make”.

The idea of risks associated with an artist’s life is pretty perfectly encapsulated in a tiny scene where Mia is on the phone to her mother, Seb casually listening in another room. My memory isn’t good enough to quote the scene exactly, but she says things to the effect of “It’s a one-woman-show…… no, I’m paying to do it” and “He’s great, he’s going to start his own club. No he hasn’t opened it yet. He’s saving, I think.” The whole film up to this point has been very romantic and idealistic about pursuing the arts, not showing the realistic financial hazards, so relatively subtle shifts in dialogue and expression in Gosling’s performance indicate to the audience his second thoughts about blindly following his dreams, setting in motion his career in John Legend’s band. (by the way, I appreciate the sparing use of John Legend, any more of him and his lack of acting experience would really begin to show). It was a simple scene, but I appreciated the subtlety and visuality of how this shift was portrayed.

Diverting from strict analysis for a second, something the film did really excellent was visual storytelling. The film has a lot of time skips, and following each the film is able to communicate exactly what changes the characters have gone through without a single line of exposition. The best example of this is at the end of the film. [[[MAJOR SPOILERS]]] by the way; don’t read this bit until you’ve seen the movie. [[[The first thing we see is a recreation of an earlier scene where a big celebrity orders coffee at the WB lot, only Mia is now ordering. Immediately we know that she’s made it as an actress in a way that’s super satisfying for the audience, having seen her so close to giving up just a few scenes earlier. We then see her walk into a big house with a fancy breakfast finished, but not cleaned up on the table, a card on a shelf with ‘congratulations’ written on it and flowers. From this mise en scene we can understand just how successful she’s become instantly, yet how humble she has remained. There are tonnes of similar examples through the rest of the film.]]]

At this point I could continue to give examples that prove what I think the film is really about, but the more I write the more I want to just gush about the bits that I really like. The way I look at it, this piece is much more for me than it is for anyone else, so fuck it, I say!

I ADORE the first two numbers. If any of the musical numbers could be considered gratuitous, ‘Another Day of Sun’ would be the most obvious candidate, not featuring any characters from the film nor progressing the story. What it does, however, is establish the films narrative tone and basic themes:

“Summer Sunday nights

We’d sink into our seats

Right as they dimmed out all the lights

A Technicolor world made out of music and machine

It called me to be on that screen

And live inside each scene”

Despite not being sung by her, this could easily be seen as Mia’s backstory. I’m not sure if that was the intention, but I buy it. It certainly features the same attitude that she does. Anyhow, that’s not really the reason I like the scene. I like it because it’s fun, catchy, and a god damn spectacle. The choreography, colour, movement and camerawork in this number are all absolutely phenomenal and hook you straight into the film from the word go with its infectious energy. I simply can’t believe the amount of tremendous coordination that number must have taken to put together, and it absolutely pays off.

‘Someone in the Crowd’ functions similarly to ‘Another Day of Sun’ in terms of establishing the tone of the film only this time, inserting Mia and her story to the mix. It starts fun and exciting, representing how it is to be in LA and reaching for her dreams. The number includes very extravagant imagery, including a champagne glass overflowing, evoking the hedonistic ‘roaring 20s’. It then drops into silence and focuses on her loneliness in a sea of people, seeing that she is indeed struggling with the whole experience, only to end in fireworks, also evoking the 20s, symbolising her world’s indifference to her. Again, the colour, blocking and camerawork all give this number a great infectious energy and it’s just fun. No way around it.

Something I didn’t notice the first time I saw the film is that every number is appear to be one take, or actually is done one take. I feel this is important for two reasons. 1. It evokes the feeling of a stage musical, and takes advantage of their quality of sweeping you off your feet and keeping you there. 2. It only adds to the spectacle. It simply makes the numbers much more impressive and enjoyable to experience.

The third big number ‘A Lovely Night’ is 100% an allusion to Broadway musicals of the early 20th century. The LA sunset backdrop evokes heavily the kind of set that might be set up for that type of production, right down to the placement of a bench, to do sitting tap on. Not to mention the full blown Gene Kelly style tap number. I don’t have tonnes to say about this one, I just really enjoyed it. This is the number that really nails the chemistry between Seb and Mia, which maintains excellence through the film.

Speaking of evoking a different medium, the entire sequence inside the planetarium was very clearly meant to evoke silent cinema right from its music and visual style to the fact that they don’t speak for the entire sequence. Here are my favourite little allusions to early cinema in that scene. 1. The whole situation: breaking into somewhere you shouldn’t be for a private romantic moment is such a classic romantic trope in terms of early cinema. 2. The moment where Seb polishes the handle before Mia pulls it: this was the moment where I properly realised what the film was doing, such a typical little moment that you could absolutely see Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton doing. 3. The moment when they are dancing through the stars. In my review I mentioned the film incorporating a fusion of modern film-making and classic forms of performance art. This is the moment I was referring to. It’s absolutely stunning and I think it looks phenomenal. It’s one of those film moments that you just wish you could live, it’s really beautiful. 4. The big finish on them kissing (for the first time in the film, it having been teased multiple times) with the “that’s all folks” circle closing in on them (I have no idea what that technique is called). Classic early cinema. I love that it almost convinces you that the film is over just on that scene.

A scene I want to draw attention to is where Seb and Mia fight. I just want to point out that it’s probably the most believable fight I’ve ever seen in a film. It builds really slowly, every point brought up is completely in character and the performances are pitch perfect. Gosling and Stone really are excellent choices and are both phenomenal actors. I don’t have anything else to say about it, but I thought it was really great. Another aspect of the film I really appreciated was the lighting. The whole endeavour was done flawlessly, especially in the one-take numbers, but the points I appreciated most were the moments of spotlight. Not only do they look fantastic, but each characters’ spotlights are distinct from one another. Mia’s spotlights envelop her body and leave her glowing, while the rest of her surroundings are completely shrouded in darkness, much like the effect that is aimed for in theatre, as she is an actress. Seb’s spotlights have a visible cone of light surrounding him from the source to the ground, much like any musician on stage would receive. It’s a small detail, but I think it adds a lot of personality and depth to the film.

More Spoilers: [[[The final sequence was one of my favourite in the whole movie. Damien Chazelle clearly knows how to end a movie, as Whiplash’s ending was also really excellent. I interpret the whole sequence as two things. 1. It was a representation of what Mia and Seb’s relationship/lives could have been in a more romantic and idealistic world, clearly what they’re both imagining. And 2. How the film may have played in early romance cinema. It’s jam packed with tropes and techniques classic to early film (silhouette, overemphasised performance, literally filming a globe with a plane over it to convey travel, painted sets and backdrops and one part literally has them on an old projector playing out the birth of their child). The thing that really hits me hard about the end of the movie is how bittersweet it is. Both Seb and Mia achieved their dreams, the main theme of the entire film, but both reminisce on what could have been, the lack of the final note in the music symbolising the unsatisfying ending to their relationship. The moment right before Seb starts playing the piano tears me to shreds. The emotion pouring out of both protagonists as they see each other for the first time in five years is overwhelming and when you see Seb hovering over the piano you know exactly what he’s going to play, and it’s just heartbreaking. The whole film uses this musical motif to remind the audience of the various points of emotion prior where it was played and holy hell did it work, if simply anticipating its being played set off the waterworks.]]]

At approximately 2000 words, I think I’ve run out of things I want to say about La La Land right now. Like I said about half way through, this was mainly for me. I need to express myself about this movie, it really breathed life into me. If anyone actually makes it all the way through, let me know what you think of my opinions and start a discussion in the comments, I could talk about this movie for days, it truly blew me away.