Movie review: Baby Driver

Movie reviews

Hello!

An original movie, in this day and age, is a rarity, and that makes Baby Driver ten times more special than it already is. Let see whether the film can live up to the hype, whether it can prove the worth of original material, and whether it can act as the comeback of Edgar Wright! Plus, can it just be a fun and enjoyable summer movie?

IMDb summary: After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail.

Edgar Wright

Baby Driver was both written and directed by the coveted auteur Edgar Wright (one of the few auteurs working in Hollywood). Wright is best known for creating The Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy and cult classic Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. He also worked on the Marvel project Ant-Man before parting ways with the studio. Even though he left Disney/Marvel, he did live to make another movie and Baby Driver very much proves that his career is far from over. So, on a side note, Lord and Miller situation (them being fired from the Han Solo movie) might also turn out fine.

Writing

I very much enjoyed the writing for Baby Driver. The story was tight and simple, but yet also complex and unique. Let’s begin with the main character of Baby – I don’t think I can name another recent character that was so extraordinary. His love for music and driving, his sense of style (those glasses – brilliant), his relationships with his mother, girlfriend, and the deaf foster dad, and a good heart made him not only a relatable but extremely likable lead. And yet, he also had unexpected qualities (like the idea for that brutal kill or just bravery enough to kill). Also, the fact that the movie acknowledged that there are different ways to enjoy music (by hearing AND feeling it) was so great.

The romantic plotline also actually worked, which it rarely does in an action film. I loved the ending shot in black and white: they looked like a couple of criminals from a 60s movie. All the main criminal characters were amazing too and I loved the fact that all of their arcs had a definitive ending and that they weren’t dropped halfway through the runtime. My only gripe was that I didn’t think that Kevin Spacey’s character’s change of heart fully worked. The film also had wonderful humor, some of my favorite parts were the kid in the post office and the butchery metaphor. Lastly, I loved how Wright paid dues to other movies, by either giving them a shout-out or just showing a clip from them on TV. Baby Driver was, truly, a film written by a movie lover for movie lovers.

Directing

From the trailers, Baby Driver seemed like a super fun movie but I didn’t feel that it had the signature flavor of Wright. I was kinda right – Baby Driver was his lowest energy project yet (although it did dial everything up for the finale) and his most mainstream film so far and that is not really a bad thing. It was basically something different yet familiar. I loved all the action sequences and enjoyed the irony of Baby also having to run rather than drive in one of them. I was also impressed by the long takes, especially the one that followed the opening car chase. The signature close-ups were also neat.

Plus, I liked the fact that they used normal looking cars, not super expensive and super fast ones. Thus, Baby Driver was a celebration of driving – a thing that The Fast and The Furious used to have but lost completely in the later installments. Lastly, I cannot write a review for Baby Driver without mentioning the editing and the soundtrack. This is how you edit the visuals into the music. King Arthur and Suicide Squad should watch and learn.

Acting

Baby Driver’s cast was marvelous: it consisted of both proven actors and some up-and-comers. Ansel Elgort (TFIOS, Divergent) was spectacular, they way he acted into the music/with the music was just thrilling to watch. Lily James (Cinderella) was good as his girlfriend: they looked cute together and had chemistry. The cinema veterans Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Jon Hamm (Keeping Up With The Joneses was actually not bad), Jamie Foxx (Sleepless was the best movie of this January – not much but something), and Jon Bernthal (The Accountant) all brought their A-game and appeared to be having a ton of fun with this picture. Lastly, an unknown (to me) Mexican actress Eiza González was an amazing badass to watch as well.

In short, Baby Driver is the best version of Drive meets American Grafitti. It has great action, funny jokes, cool editing, spectatcular soundtrack and it’s Edgar Wright at his best, even if that ‘best’ is a bit different than we are used to.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Baby Driver trailer

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Movie review: The Hateful Eight

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a movie review of a film that would have made my top 10 list if I had seen it last year. However, since distribution companies have not yet figured out that global day-in-day releases are desired by movie fans worldwide, I was only able to see the 8th film by Quentin TarantinoThe Hateful Eight – in January. So, since I am already late to the party, let’s do not waste any more time and review this motion picture.

IMDb summary: In the dead of a Wyoming winter, a bounty hunter and his prisoner find shelter in a cabin currently inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters.

SPOILER ALERT

Quentin Tarantino

The Hateful Eight is the 5th Tarantino’s film that I have seen (I still have Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2 (considered to be a single film), Jackie Brown and Death Proof to go). I do not think that I would be able to pick my favorite film of his. I actually cannot even decide if I like his early work – crime thrillers – more than I like his later historical movies. I also really applaud Tarantino for endorsing the work of other creators. For example, he has worked really hard to introduce Western audiences to Asian cinema. One of the directors that he has spoken highly of is Wong Kar-Wai from Hong Kong. I did my midterm essay on his film – Chunking Express. While I did not get that great of a mark (low B), I loved the process of watching the film, doing research and the finally putting my thoughts on paper (the same as I do in here, only in a more formal fashion). One of the sources that I used in my essay was Tarantino’s commentary on that particular film. He did a casual intro for the film’s DVD with zero formalities and a relaxed attitude – as an everyday person talking to his friends about movies.

And that is one of the reasons why I am a fan of his – he is just like us – a movie fan first and a filmmaker second. His knowledge of films and their history is infinite. More importantly, he respects those who came before him and expresses that in his work. Tarantino blends the cinema’s past (70 mm film gauge, narrative’s division into chapters, intermission, overture, manual focus/racking) and his own creativity and signature style (non-linear narrative (flashbacks), bloody and shocking scenes and ideas, one of a kind characters) perfectly. It all just somehow fits together, no questions asked.

Visually, the film looked beautiful. Both the outdoor and indoor mise-en-scenes were wonderful and utilized very well. Character outfits were also memorable and unique (the furs, the hats, the red tie). I also applaud him for doing a nude scene with a male as we have seen enough naked female bodies on screen already. Speaking about the cinematography, the wide shots looked amazing because of the wide film gauge (although I wish I would have seen the film on a bigger screen – my local theater was showing it on the 5th screen, which is middle sized – it would have been more pleasant to see it on the biggest – no.1 – screen).  In addition, Tarantino’s usage of long and steady takes was also wonderful – although there was only a slight movement, present on the screen, the viewers were fully engaged because of the dialogue.

While this film did not have any iconic monologs (Pulp Fiction), it definitely did have some nice lines, which were brought to life by amazing actors and actresses. The subtle humor and irony were also present and done in a cool way. The build up and the opening were a bit slow, but they did an amazing job of setting everything up before the real action and mystery started. I also appreciated the narration by Tarantino itself – it was a bit surprising but an interesting creative choice – it broke the 4th wall but also sucked you into a story more, by explaining the setup but not really telling anything that would ruin the surprise that would come later.

Music

The Hateful Eight’s score was created by Ennio Morricone, and he won a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score for this soundtrack. I especially liked the usage of the song There Won’t Be Many Coming Home by Roy Orbison during the credits, but the whole score was amazing and build tension perfectly.

Acting

The film had a huge bunch of unique characters. I won’t be able to talk about all of them but all the actors deserve highest praises and at least a mention.

The titular eight:

  • Samuel L. Jackson as Major Marquis Warren a.k.a. “The Bounty Hunter” was amazing as always. I don’t think I have ever seen a film where I did not like his character or where Jackson did a poor job and that certainly has never happened in a Tarantino film. I loved the calm face and the sneaky and amused smile he was doing while telling that graphic story. It was a bit disturbing to listen but captivated you nonetheless. His Lincoln letter was not only a unique prop but an interesting story device. Samuel L. Jackson has had a long and rewarding career and I can’t wait to see what he does next. I hope he will re-team with Tarantino once more and if not – I still have MCU movies to look forward to.
  • Kurt Russell as John Ruth a.k.a. “The Hangman” was also another wonderful character and an amazing performance by Russell. His mustache was also on point. His best scenes were the ones with his prisoner – they had amazing chemistry and wonderful back and forth banter.
  • Jennifer Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue a.k.a. “The Prisoner” was also really good in this role. I liked the fact that she was a female prisoner and that nobody cared about that and treated her terribly. I also like the fact that she looked awful by the end of the film – this movie broke every ‘beauty’ standard of Hollywood.
  • Walton Goggins as Sheriff Chris Mannix a.k.a.”The Sheriff”. He was my favorite character. While I did not agree with his racist remarks, I loved his genuine reaction to everything and the infinite excitement. Goggins has worked with Tarantino before back in 2012’s Django Unchained. He was also in last year’s awful action comedy American Ultra – he definitely can do better than that and I am so happy that he was great in this film.
  • Demián Bichir as Bob (Marco the Mexican) a.k.a. “The Mexican” – while nothing really stood out to me about his character or the performance of the actor, I did love the reveal involving him and a sign above the bar.
  • Tim Roth as Oswaldo Mobray (English Pete Hicox) a.k.a. “The Little Man”. Another actor who has worked with Tarantino in the 90s. He was good in the film and I loved the sneaky attitude of his – from the very beginning, you could feel that there was something odd about him.
  • Michael Madsen as Joe Gage (Grouch Douglass) a.k.a. “The Cow Puncher”  the quietest of the bunch – looks can be deceiving and the characters in this film learned that.
  • Bruce Dern as General Sanford “Sandy” Smithers a.k.a. “The Confederate” – a spectator of the action that just happened to be in a wrong place, at a wrong time. The character seemed to be a terrible person but I kinda felt bad for him when he had to endure that story.

Supporting cast:

  • James Parks as O.B. Jackson – the driver of the stagecoach who also had no need to be there and met a sad faith. I loved the tassels on his hat.
  • Channing Tatum as Jody Domergue – I knew that Tatum would be in this film because I was very happy for him when the casting announcement was made public. He was not present in the trailer, so I was hoping that his part would be an important one because it might have been spoiler-y. And that’s exactly what it was. I loved the reveal of his character but I also wish that we could have spent more time with him. Tatum has also had a promising career so far. He has a loyal mainstream fanbase (Step Up, Magic Mike and its sequel, 21 and 22 Jump Street) and an Oscar-nominated film on his resume – 2014’s Foxcatcher. Next year, he will star in the comedy Hail, Caesar! and will also start shooting the new Gambit film – while I am excited about that film and the fact that he got the role, I still think that Taylor Kitsch was a perfectly fine Gambit. I guess we will see if Tatum can do it better.
  • The flashback sequence also included a few nice characters who only had a few scenes each. Their names and the actors who portrayed them deserve to be mentioned: Dana Gourrier as Minnie MinkZoë Bell as Six-Horse JudyLee Horsley as EdGene Jones as Sweet Dave and Belinda Owino as Gemma.

All in all, The Hateful Eight was an amazing film and another great example of the greatness of Tarantino. It was the perfect blend of old and new, known and fresh. It had all the trademarks/cliches of Tarantino but it never got boring or predictable. I would love for it to win or at least get a nomination in the Best Ensemble category at the Academy Awards because all the members of the cast did a stellar job. Well, if they don’t get that nomination, the film will probably/definitely get one in Best Picture category.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: The Hateful Eight trailer

P.S. This has nothing to do with The Hateful Eight (well, not directly at least), but I just can’t shake the idea that a new Adam Sandler movie Ridiculous 6 sounds like a parody of this film. I don’t think it is and I do not plan on watching it, but I just found it funny how both of these names kinda sound similar in my mind and wanted to share my thoughts with you. Bye!

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Movie review: Spectre + a look back

Movie reviews

Hello!!!

The latest (24th!) James Bond film – Spectre – has finally hit theaters in its native UK and this is going to be my review!!

To begin with, as some of you may know, James Bond franchise is one of 2 spy/agent/espionage film series that I adore (other being Mission Impossible). And while MI films only had one interpretation of Ethan Hunt, James Bond has been played by a huge variety of actors and all fans have their favorite one. Mine is Daniel Craig’s Bond, just because it is the one that I’m most familiar with and that I actually grew up watching. In truth, I have seen one or two Pierce Brosnan’s Bond films on TV as a child, but they weren’t that good while Craig’s first outing as Bond in 2006’s Casino Royale was amazing. I would also love to check out the earliest editions of Bond and read the original novels by Ian Fleming someday.

Let’s go over the 3 previous films in a franchise, before moving on to talking about Spectre!

SPOILER WARNING

Casino Royale (2006)

Casino Royale is one of my favorite movies ever made. I still cannot believe that Martin Campbell directed it and did such an amazing job and then moved on to making Green Lantern. Casino Royale was the origin story of 007 and it had amazing action (the parkour chase) and wonderful suspense (the best poker scene ever put to film – made me want to learn poker). It also had amazing callbacks to the lore of Bond: the ordering of Martini, the iconic line to end the film and so forth. It was also the film that pushed the boundaries of violence – the torture/whipping scene was something that I have never seen before. It was really uncomfortable to watch but you could not take your eyes off the screen at the same time. This film also had the best Bond girl  – Vesper played by Eva Green. Vesper was resourceful and strong female character, who also had femininity and softness to her. She was just an overall great, well-developed character. It sad that she had to die for 007 to become the real Bond.

Quantum of Solace (2008)

This sequel to the majority of fans was a bit of a disappointment and I have to agree with them. While I really liked how this film based its story on the things that happened in the first film, it wasn’t up to par with its predecessor on any level.The plot was really messy and hard to follow. Quantum was directed by Marc Forster, who later made World War Z, which a lot of people hated while I kinda liked it.

Skyfall (2012)

Skyfall was the big comeback of this series as well as the commemorative film of Bond’s 50th anniversary. While Casino Royale was the origins of Bond and the Quantum of Solace was the Bond-y Bond, Skyfall was all about the broken Bond. It was great seeing a different side of the character as well as being able to glimpse into his past and his family – a theme which will be very important in Spectre. In addition, this film allowed us to spend more time with Judi Dench’s M and introduced 2 great new characters: Ralph Fiennes’s Mallory and Ben Whishaw’s Q. Lastly, as a new inhabitant of Scotland, I really appreciated the setting of the last part of the film, when I’ve re-watched it only recently: Welcome to Scotland!

Overall, this franchise has great acting and really good villains – in the first and third films to be precise. It also is an internationally set franchise which is always a plus for me. It also has a great soundtrack: my favorite theme song (not counting the original James Bond theme song) is still Adele’s Skyfall, but I do like Sam Smith’s Writing’s on the Wall as well. Chris Cornell’s You Know My Name and Jack White’s and Alicia Keys’s Another Way to Die are also great songs, worth the listen.

SPOILER WARNING FOR SPECTRE

IMDb summary: A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.

Overall, I’ve definitely enjoyed Spectre but not as much as I thought I would. Casino Royale is still the best Bond movie, to my mind, and, sadly, Spectre is not as enjoyable as Skyfall. Quantum of Solace, not surprisingly, takes the last place on the list.

Opening credits

Spectre had my favorite opening credits of the last 4 Bond films. Skyfall had amazing opening as well, but this one had even a better one. I loved how they started with the theme of fire and then played off of the Spectre’s logo – the octopus. I also really enjoyed the references to the previous films (or at least to 1st and 3rd films – everybody wants to forget Quantum): images of Vesper, M, Le Chiffre and Silva appeared in a breaking glass.

Tone

Spectre was probably the funniest Craig’s Bond film. It had a lot of laugh out loud moments and these were set up not only by dialogue punch lines but by action scenes. For example, I loved how Bond fell onto the sofa after that building crashed at the beginning of the film. At the same time, this movie was really dark and conveyed emotions like hopelessness and loneliness perfectly.

Story

The film’s script was written by a group of people: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth. All of them, except Butterworth, have previously worked on other Bond films. Logan has been nominated for an Oscar for writing Gladiator, The Aviator, and Hugo. Purvis and Wade have worked on other films together and Butterworth wrote Edge of Tomorrow and this year’s Black Mass. All of these accomplished writers did an okay job, however, I believe that they could have refined the story a bit more. A few supporting characters could have fared better with some more development and the plot could have made more sense: at times it felt that Bond was going from point A to B to C for no reason. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the dialogue of the film, which was brought to life by amazing performances from the whole cast. The way Spectre’s story tied the whole series together is also worth praising. The theme of modernity versus tradition was an interesting idea to introduce into the Bond franchise as well. Lastly, I do not know about you, but I would definitely not feel safe if I am constantly being watched.

Directing

Skyfall’s Sam Mendes returned as a director for Spectre. He did an amazing job in 2012 and did not disappoint this year as well. I loved the opening crowd chase scene in Mexico as well as the car chase in Rome. I also liked how the ending of the film was set in Bond’s home – London. It was nice seeing the old MI6 base. Speaking about Mendes’s other films, I really want to watch American Beauty, which earned him an Academy Award for best director.

In addition, not only the action scenes were exciting, but the whole film was visually appealing, glamorous, luxurious and elegant. Praises for this go to cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema.

Acting

  • Daniel Craig as James Bond, agent 007. This was Craig’s 4th time playing Bond and it was yet again a different side of Bond. If Skyfall showed us a physically broken Bond, Spectre gave us an emotionally damaged one. It also showed that even though he is a stone cold assassin, he would like to change his way and find his ‘happy ending’. I’m sure that that ‘ happy ending’ won’t last long since Craig’s contract states that he has one more movie left (at least according to the Internet). However, there has been some rumors that Craig will refuse to play Bond moving forward, so I guess we will see what happens.
  • Christoph Waltz as Ernst Stavro Blofeld was a good villain, who could have been great if we just have spent more time with him. I believe that it was a wasted opportunity not to put more of C. Waltz in the film because he is amazing in villainous roles. Just watch Inglorious Basterds if you don’t believe me. Check out Django Unchained as well if you want to marvel at how great of an actor Waltz is.
  • Léa Seydoux as Dr. Madeleine Swann. Finally, a Bond girl (well, not really) who challenges Bond and who was actually as good as Vesper! I loved her character and would have wanted to spend more time with her as well. Seydoux is an accomplished French actress with films like the aforementioned Inglorious Basterds, Midnight in Paris, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Blue is the Warmest Color and The Grand Budapest Hotel on her resume.
  • Ben Whishaw as Q. I loved how Q’s abilities were crucial to the plot of Spectre and I, once again, wish that we could have spent more time with him. I have talked more about him in my Suffragette review.
  • Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny. I quite liked the brother-sister relationship that she and Bond have. However, her character was kinda wasted in this film – it is a shame that they didn’t give more things for her to do.
  • Monica Bellucci as Lucia Sciarra. I have always been skeptical about Bellucci as an actress and never really paid any attention to her. However, she was perfectly fine in this film as the sex toy-Bond Girl. You see there are different types of Bond girls and she played the most stereotypical one.
  • Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory aka the new M. As much as I like Fiennes as an actor, my favorite M will always be Judi Dench. Having said that, Fiennes did a nice job in the role and I did love his serious facial expression.
  • Andrew Scott as Max Denbigh – C. He was a really unlikable character even before it was revealed that he was working for Spectre. You could sense his douchebagness from miles away, so the twist was not that surprising.
  • Jesper Christensen came back as Mr. White and I really liked the fact that his comeback was meaningful and not just a random cameo to please the fans.
  • Dave Bautista as Mr. Hinx – the assassin of Spectre. He was not really developed as a character but, not surprisingly, did an amazing job in the fight/action scenes as in Guardians of the Galaxy.
  • Lastly, it turns out that a Lithuanian actor (I’m Lithuanian also) Gediminas Adomaitis, who I have never heard before, was one of Oberhauser’s Right Hand Man, according to IMDb. That’s pretty cool.

All in all, Spectre was definitely an enjoyable film, however, it could have been and should have been so much better. I don’t know whether my expectations were too high and that’s why I am so harsh on this film. Still, I firmly believe that the film’s script was its weakest part. While I loved the tone and the dialogue, the plot could have used another revision. Nevertheless, the acting and the visuals, both in the opening and in the actual film, were splendid.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Spectre trailer

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