Baby Driver

June 29, 2017 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey
Directed by: Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead”)
Written by: Edgar Wright (“Hot Fuzz”)

In a landscape overpopulated with dour and brooding popcorn movies, “Baby Driver” stands out as an optimistic beacon of cinematic bliss. This is moviemaking at its most relentlessly joyful, an intoxicating fusion of music and image guaranteed to make you grin from ear to ear. It’d be easy to say that we need more movies like this, but it’s impossible to duplicate something so special.

Ansel Elgort has always held a strong screen presence, but this will be the movie that makes him a star. He perfectly blends charm and angst, giving us a character that recalls Sinatra, McQueen, Brando, and Kelly, but one that is unarguably entirely his own. Elgort plays Baby, a getaway driver who constantly listens to music to drown out the tinnitus brought about by the car accident that took his parents‘ lives. Increasingly perturbed by the blood-tinged darkness his job attracts, Baby wants nothing more than to leave everything behind him and hit the road with beautiful waitress who works at the local diner.

Writer and director Edgar Wright’s film operates in a well-established genre (a cameo by Walter Hill cements what branch of cinema Edgar Wright is saluting), and he nails all the familiar notes while simultaneously bringing his singular vision to the table. The car chases are thrilling and fresh, taking place during the day to better see the great practical stunt work on display. There’s a warehouse shootout that, like everything else in “Baby Driver,” is choreographed and synced up perfectly in line with a killer soundtrack.

The romance between Baby and Debora (Lily James) has a classic feel to it. The two share a scene in a laundromat that bursts with energy and romance, and little details like talking on a payphone makes their relationship even more intoxicating. There’s a showdown between Baby and a villain at the end of the film, but it doesn’t involve that character you’d expect. In fact, you understand where both parties are coming from and find it hard to root entirely for one character. Even the final moments of the film take an unexpected but completely enthralling turn.

Wright’s script is layered, witty, and hilarious. All of his actors get great material to work with no matter the size of their part. You’ve never seen Jamie Foxx this terrifying, Kevin Spacey this catty, and Jon Hamm so gosh-darned magnetic. Everyone is on their A game here, including people in smaller roles. Mexico City native Eiza Gonzalez is a badass dame. Cast her in stuff, Hollywood. She’s destined for greatness. CJ Jones brings great heart to the table as Baby’s deaf roommate and father figure. There’s even a moment where Brogan Hall steals the show as Kevin Spacey’s son. The masterclass in editing is a crucial character in the film as well. There’s just so much to love and relish here. Before you even know it, “Baby Driver” will have stolen your heart.

The Fault In Our Stars

June 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff
Directed by: Josh Boone (“Stuck In Love”)
Written by: Scott Neustadter (“The Spectacular Now”) and Michael H. Weber (“The Spectacular Now”)

In an adaptation of the wildly popular young adult novel, “The Fault In Our Stars” tells the love story of Hazel Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) a 16-year old with lung cancer who meets Augustus Waters, (Ansel Elgort) who is cancer-free after having a leg amputated, at a cancer support group. It’s a story that by its very nature, could be emotionally manipulative and packed with schmaltz. Instead, a fantastic script and impressive performances navigate it away from pure melodrama.

As a film filled with emotionally taxing circumstances and scenes, “The Fault In Our Stars” provides fertile ground for its actors to show their dramatic chops and they do it in spades. Woodley, who was robbed of an Oscar nomination for her incredible work in “The Descendants,” once again delivers a heartfelt performance that shows dynamic acting range. However, Elgort deserves an equal amount of credit and is a true revelation in the film. This is a kid who displays effortless charisma, natural humor, and a confidence that feels completely genuine. He shows emotional depth and vulnerability in his performance. At times, Augustus seems like the perfect, ideal person, but Elgort is so good in the role that it doesn’t really matter.

In a movie with many great performances, the unsung heroes of the film are definitely screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. Known for their romantically-themed scripts in “(500) Days of Summer” and “The Spectacular Now,” the duo show an incredible amount of balance with “The Fault in Our Stars.” As an example, they do not let the cancer elements overpower the film and make it a complete bummer. Instead, they let the relationship between these two characters be the star of the film. Admittedly, there are also some missteps along the way. There is some smarty dialogue and voice over work and a scene towards the climax that proved to be ill-fitting and a distraction. Still, with such delicate and naturally dramatic subject matter, Neustadter and Weber have almost the perfect delicate touch needed for this type of story.

There are a few moments towards the end of the movie where the film ever so slightly tips into a manipulation of the heart-strings, but the amount of restraint shown by Neustader, Weber and director Josh Boone should not be discounted. “The Fault In Our Stars” is, of course, tailor made for a teen audience and fans of the novel. It is also an impressive and sincere film that transcends its target audience and should be affecting to all, which is encouraging proof that movies directed at young adults and teens don’t have to be vapid and pandering.