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Archive for June, 2017

“My daddy was the family bassman

My mamma was an engineer

And I was born one dark gray morn

With music coming in my ears

In my ears”

Baby Driver Poster

Back in the mid 90’s I was a student of film, obsessed with every new idea whilst simultaneously being immersed in the movies of the past.  Just to confuse matters I also had one eye looking to the east; I was discovering films from both Europe and Asia in depth for the first time.  It was at this time that I first saw Quentin Tarantino’s first two movies Reservoir Dogs (a couple of years after its original release) and Pulp Fiction (on opening night).  As with many other people at the time I couldn’t decide if I should marvel at the originality or recoil at the plagiarism of Tarantino.  I soon came to realise what Tarantino was doing wasn’t plagiarism, it wasn’t even homage, it went so much deeper than that!  Quentin Tarantino was, and hopefully still is a sponge sucking up all that he comes into contact with; but when you squeeze that sponge, you don’t get what went in, you don’t even get a mixture of what went in, you get the best bits of what went in coloured by Tarantino’s own vision.  Why am I saying this? Because this week I have seen Baby Driver, written and directed by Edgar Wright, the British director I can’t help comparing to Tarantino. 

Yet to be released in the UK or USA, Baby Driver currently has a Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of 100% based with an average rating of 8.5/10; to put it another way, its bloody good!  Is it Edgar Wright’s best film?  That is too subjective to answer, it is certainly his most accomplished, and I think it is my favourite.  For the uninitiated, here is the obligatory synopsis:

baby driver Ansel Elgort

Baby (Ansel Elgort) has been a getaway driver since before he was old enough to drive.  Following a childhood accident we learn about as the narrative unfolds, Baby suffers from tinnitus.  To drown out the hum of his condition he listens to music on his IPod (other fruit and none fruit based devices are available).  Anything beyond this would be a spoiler, the trailer already gives too much away.

Kevin Spacey Baby Driver

What is so good about what on the surface is a genre movie with a thin plot? The answer to that is both obvious and strangely intangible.  The largely recognisable cast (Ansel Elgort, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Bernthal and Jamie Foxx) are all fantastic, particularly a surprisingly understated Kevin Spacey.   His performance is as measured and deadpan as when he appeared in the David Mamet penned Glengarry Glen Ross a quarter of a century ago.  Elgort is a revelation displaying both more subtlety and likeability than in his more teen friendly movies.  Hamm and Foxx are clearly having the most fun with the most character roles.  But the brilliance goes so far beyond just the performances.  The characters anchor the movie but the sublime script keeps the movie ticking along perfectly keeping the audience in the palm of its metaphorical hand.  I wouldn’t go as far as calling the trailer bait and switch, but it is as wonderfully misleading as you would expect in a few subtle ways.

Baby Driver

The aforementioned references to other movies are exactly subtle, but they aren’t heavy-handed either.   I can see Smokey and the Bandit (1977), The Driver (1978), The Blues Brothers (1980), Point Break (1991) and Heat (1995).  There is probably also a bit of Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Drive (2011),not to mention Monsters, Inc. (2001) that is both seen and referenced. I haven’t even mentioned the music yet.  Edgar Wright has described writing a scene for every song used, a feat he really has accomplished.  It’s so easy slip a few classic tracks into a movie, Baby Driver does so much more than that.  The music choices aren’t always obvious, but they are always perfect, and perfectly fit the movie.  There are little moments of brilliance including scenes cut to the rhythm of the song, or rewinding a song to time with the robbery.  There are also moments we hear from Baby’s point of view with the drone of tinnitus.

Ansel Elgort;Lily James

This is Baby’s story so we only get as glimpse or a mention of the other characters when they are not interacting with Baby.  This works well for the film as a whole but does leave Lily James’ Debora a little thinly drawn.  This is a filmmaking choice rather than a mistake.  It actually works to the benefit of the other characters, namely; Doc (Kevin Spacey), Buddy and Darling (Jon Hamm and Eiza González) who we don’t always know what to expect from them.  The Atlanta setting is also key, set in LA, Chicago or Boston it would be a different film (It couldn’t be set in New York traffic) it also gives us marvellous southern accents and evokes the outlaw spirit of films from the 70’s and 80’s.

Fun, funny and charming, Baby Drive manages to be both original and familiar a totally joyous  experience and the perfect antidote to the soulless blockbusters and heavy counterprogramming of the summer.   

 

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A couple of weeks ago I saw King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Guy Ritchie’s cockney geezer take on the legend.  While not as bad as has been reported (I actually enjoyed it) it was all a little pointless.  An over told story that more often than not disappoints on screen.  The worst of the film was trying to shoehorn elements of the legend into the directors vision.  Surely it would have been better to tell a new original dark ages story?  Even better tell a real one. William Marshal coat of arms

The battle of Lincoln (or to be precise the second battle of Lincoln) took place on 20 may 1217 between the forces of Henry III of England (an eleven year old child at the time) and (the future) Louise VIII of France.  The child kings forces were led by his Regent William Marshal.  The 70 year old Marshal was reported to be at the centre of the action and fought fiercely despite his age, this helped cement his reputation as the “best knight that ever lived”, a eulogy originally bestowed by the English Cardinal Stephen Langton.  Marshal’s was successful and set the ensured that Henry reigned for another fifty years and preventing the future king of France from taking the English throne. The battle of Lincoln

William Marshal, grew up during The Anarchy in the 12th century, and was held hostage by King Steven to help ensure the loyalty of his farther John Marshal.  He went on to spend his adolescence in Normandy in the household of William de Tancarville.  In 1168 while in his early 20’s he earned Royal Favour, he was involved in and ultimately injured and captured in a skirmish following an ambush.  Before injury and capture he fought fierce rearguard action allowing the escape of some of the party. His bravery help earn him favour with his captors who fed him and dressed his would.   His ransom was paid by Eleanor of Aquitaine (Queen consort of Henry II of England) resulting in him rejoining the court of King Henry II. heath ledger a knight's tale

He went on to receive the title of Earl of Pembroke through marriage.  He spent many years as champion tournament competitor, and was an inspiration for Heath Ledger’s character, William Thatcher, in the movie A Knight’s Tale.tomb of William Marshal

In 1216, he was appointed Regent and protector for the nine-year-old Henry III, and regent of the kingdom.  He continued in the role until his death three years later.  He was invested into the order of the Knights Templar on his deathbed and was subsequently buried in the Temple Church in London, his tomb remains there to this day.

This is a brief snapshot of an incredible life, and surely one that deserves a movie. 

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“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy, Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high”

That’s right, spring is giving way to some and with it the multiplexes are filling with a shit mix of blockbuster sequels and kids movies.  Interesting movies are being released but less and less of them are finding their way to the big cinema chains.  My cinema attendance has already begun to tail off, but don’t worry, there are still one or two gems still coming out:  

Lady MacBeth – Don’t be confused by the title, this isn’t about the wife of the eponymous antihero of the Scottish play.  William Oldroyd’s fierce feature debut is based on Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, this in turn was inspired by Shakespeare’s play.  Transposed to nineteenth century England it has been referred to as Victorian noir.  Florence Pugh who impressed a couple of years ago with a supporting  role in the excelled The Falling is front and centre and in just about every scene, she doesn’t disappoint, neither does the film. Gripping and beautiful and directed with as confidence that belies the directors inexperience. Lady MacBeth

Lowriders – A family drama set against a backdrop of street art and the lowrider car culture in East Los Angeles.  Some of the dialogue is a little clunky and the acting a little wooden, but the family drama is compelling and the story is solid.  Lowriders

Sleepless – Scoot McNairy, Michelle Monaghan and Dermot Mulroney are all good in supporting roles.  The normally reliable Jamie Foxx is terrible in the lead, it as if you can see him acting like a poor salesman selling a lie.  The plot is filled with endless twists, turns and reveals, everyone you see coming.  The concept isn’t bad, maybe with a better director it could have been OK. Sleepless

Unlocked – You may as well cut and paste the review above.  Like Sleepless, this movie has a good cast: Noomi Rapace, Toni Collette, Michael Douglas, John Malkovich who are all OK, and a weak link, in this case Orlando Bloom.  Bloom has a London accent to rival  Dick Van Dyke, this is more concerning considering Bloom was born about fifty miles outside London unlike the Missouri born American.  In case you are wondering, there are just as many twists and turns as above, and you will see them coming! Rapace deserves so much more. Unlocked

Miss Sloane – Having seemed to come out of nowhere less than a decade ago, Jessica Chastain has become just about the best actress of her generation.  This criminally overlooked film is one of her best performances.  The direction is taught with the two and bit hour runtime flying by.  The supporting cast are excellent, particularly Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mark Strong. Miss Sloane

Alien: Covanant – Have you ever seen a great film, where a weaker writer/director has devalued the original art?  There are many examples, Alien: Covanant is something far worse.  Alien director Ridley Scott hasn’t made a pointless pondering mess of a prequel Alien, he has made two.  I am sad to report this is as bad as Prometheus.  One positive, Michael Fassbender is good.Alien Covanant

Colossal – I am not going to say anything about the plot to this movie, just watch it and if you can do so without reading anything about it or seeing the trailer even better.  Not the film I was expecting but excellent none the less.  Anne Hathaway’s best performance since the brilliant Rachel Getting Married. Colossal

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – Guy Ritchie’s cockney geezer take on the legend of King Arthur is surprisingly not bad. Charlie Hunnam is pretty good in the leading role, the rest of the cast are also solid.  The modern street dialogue isn’t as annoying as I thought it would be, Richie’s style as seen on the Sherlock Homes movies serves the action quite well, the week CGI and ridicules set pieces don’t.  It’s a mess but it has some good moments and it isn’t boring.  King Arthur Legend of the Sword

I have two contenders for Movie of the Month in what is probably the toughest choice I have ever had to make for this segment.  I don’t always pick the best movie, the first movie of the month went to one that presently surpassed me as I liked it after expecting to hate it.  When I can’t make a choice I tend to go with one of, or a combination of two philosophies: which am I most looking forward to seeing again, and which exceeded my expectations the most?  This doesn’t work here: I want to see them both again and they both exceeded my expectations, one had mixed reviews and the other I knew little about.  For that reason, I think for the first time, I am going to drop the Highlander tagline and pick two movies of the month: Lady MacBeth and Miss Sloane. Movie of the month may 2017

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