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‘Baby Driver’ Fires On More Cylinders Than You May Think

baby driver

Baby Driver is Edgar Wright’s latest love letter to familiar, yet beloved cinema tropes. Now that he’s explored zombies, cop spoofs, and alien invasions, the British writer/director turns his masterful eye toward car chases, bank heists, and even musicals.

The first ten minutes of Baby Driver do well to establish the main beats of the entire film, opening with a stunning car chase through the streets of Atlanta and ending with a scene where the criminals wax poetic on the quirky kid who made it all happen. Though these scenes are somewhat replicated over the course of the film, each one with its own tempo and style of course, none of what happens next feels nearly as formulaic as it probably should.

Baby (played by a stoic Ansel Elgort) is a professional getaway driver for a rotating cartel of manic criminals led by “Doc” (played by a fatherly Kevin Spacey). Due to a car accident from his childhood, Baby has tinnitus, which he drowns out with two earphones and a collection of iPods featuring his favorite music (or Wright’s favorites, we should say). For that reason, the action and even much of the downtime in Baby Driver is choreographed to a wide variety of catchy tunes. Think Guardians of the Galaxy with a bit more of a jukebox feel and the same mother/father issues.

baby driver

Unlike Star-Lord or maybe Burt Reynolds, Baby himself doesn’t talk much, instead opting for the music he chooses to lend context to every scene. It’s a fairly original method for us to get inside Baby’s head without the need of traditional prestige acting. This is fairly important in the second act, when the film turns to its romantic B-side and devotes a large chunk of time to better developing who Baby really is as he connects with Debora (played by an enigmatic Lily James). The relationship itself is equal parts La La Land and just about anything by Wes Anderson, which works well because of how the couple bonds over their love of music, as well as a balancing out of their core strengths as people.

For some viewers, this will be considered the weakest part of the film until it bounces back into the thrilling action, but it’s key to remember that the development in this act (and indeed, this is a five-act story instead of a three-act one, further leaning into the musical aspects) is crucial to setting the exact stakes for a more bombastic and staccato second half.

Baby Driver is a delight across the board and an inventive achievement in stunt-work, editing, frame-by-frame storytelling, and simple taste. It can be easy to resort to the typical “style over substance” complaint, which is usually earned. But here, style is a deliberate function of the plot, just as in Wright’s other triumphant films.

baby driver

On the surface, the story itself is quite simple, which feels more like a saving grace than otherwise. Despite its straightforward characterization, much of the film plays out differently than one might expect. Granted, you’ll see certain twists coming a mile away, but Wright knows this and instead employs unpredictable reactions to keep the story moving.

What pushes Baby Driver above the fold, truly, is the stealth humanization of Baby as a character. Wright pulls off a subtle trick with making the audience believe anything can happen with this character by frequently using his quiet strength to extract wild personalities from the various criminals who want to “get” Baby.

Many scenes allow seemingly cut-and-dry characters played by the likes of Jon Bernthal, Jamie Foxx, Eiza González, and Jon Hamm to project their own personalities and motivations onto this getaway driver they don’t know what to do with. It happens enough times to lure the audience into doing the same thing, and by the end of Baby Driver, there’s a poignant question still lingering around who this character really is and what has made him tick all along.

Certain aspects of Baby Driver aren’t very original, but the movie itself truly is, and it’s a masterwork by one of the most talented directors and writers working today. It’s the kind of film made possible by the fact that auteur directors with the right vision can drift circles around the usual blockbusters.

Grade: A

Extra Credits:

  • I didn’t have time to get to it, but Jon Hamm is one of the film’s best surprises. He’s a fantastic mirror image of the Baby character who erupts into one of the year’s standout characters.
  • Despite the strong parallels to Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s important to point out that Wright has been wanting to make this movie since before he made Shaun of the Dead. In fact, the very premise of an action movie set to choreographed music was used in a music video he directed for Mint Royale years ago. Considering Wright’s relationship with Marvel (ending due to creative differences over Ant-Man), it seems somewhat likely that Guardians could have been directly inspired by an early version of Baby Driver.
  • Despite being a British director, Edgar Wright gets American culture better than many other American directors. This was also his first movie shot in the US.
  • Speaking of which, the choice to use Atlanta as a backdrop instead of LA gets to the root of why Baby Driver feels so remarkably fresh in spite of its clear connections to older films (they even filmed part of the movie in the same area as Fried Green Tomatoes, for example).
  • According to Wright, all of the car chase scenes used practical effects. All of them.
  • My favorite easter egg contains a slight spoiler, so I’ll just say that a very important “number” in the film refers to the release date of The Driver, which is perhaps this film’s most direct influence. Look out for 1978.

Thanks for reading this. To get updates on my theories, books, and giveaways, join my Mailing List.

Or just say hey on Twitter: @JonNegroni


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‘Ant-Man’ Review — Huge Expectations

ant-man review

Part of the Marvel storytelling rulebook is to take a certain character and spin their weaknesses into massive strengths. Their powers are always paradoxes of who they are, from Iron Man’s sarcasm/mad genius angle to Thor’s power/humility character arc.

So if you like how Marvel has crafted these iconic characters so far, then you’ll probably enjoy Ant-Man, which does more or less the same thing with new faces and situations.

Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang, a master thief who wants to do right by his daughter (oh, but who doesn’t want that?) He teams up with brilliant scientist Hank Pym (ideally cast as Michael Douglas) and his estranged daughter, Hope (also a well-cast Evangeline Lilly) in order to stop a powerful technology from being sold as a weapon. He’s armed with a suit that lets him shrink in scale, but increase in strength, and he must rely on training from Hank and Hope in order to hone his new skills.

Like Guardians of the Galaxy, this film relies a lot on its self-awareness and wit to balance its silly premise. Edgar Wright (who once helmed the project before getting replaced by Peyton Reed) has his fingerprints all over this film, and thankfully so. Ant-Man’s quick edits and impatience with slow moments makes it a fun, breezy film with a lot of great action.

But the true star of the film is Michael Peña, whose hysterical performance makes you yearn for him in every scene he misses.

Grade: B+

While it’s not the best superhero film (or Marvel film) you’ll ever see, it’s definitely a sign of good things to come.

Extra credits:

  • Yes, there’s an after-credits scene, as well as something during the credits. Thanks to Age of Ultron, we actually have to point that out now.
  • Other critics are liking this movie. It currently has a 76% on Rottentomatoes and “Generally Favorable” reviews from Metacritic.
  • No spoilers if you know all of the hidden easter eggs teasing the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We’ll hit some of that on this week’s podcast, Now Conspiring.
  • I’m already a Paul Rudd fan, and this will go down as one of my favorite performances from him. It’s not his best, but it’s absolutely a good time.

ant-man review

Ant-Man stars Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne, and Corey Stoll as Darren Cross. It was directed by Peyton Reed and co-written by Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, and Paul Rudd.

Review: ‘The World’s End’

Is the World's End Worth Watching

The World’s End is the unofficial third entry in a trilogy of (seemingly) unrelated genre-parody movies done by Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. 

Shaun of the Dead gave us a movie that pokes fun at zombie movies, Hot Fuzz obliterated buddy cop movie clichés and we now have The World’s End, which attempts to give current sci-fi a reason to feel embarrassed.

In 1990, Gary King (Simon Pegg) was the leader of a group of rebellious teens who make the cast of Skins look like respectable youths. Fast forward 20 years and King is now an alcoholic who can’t let go of the past.

Meanwhile, King’s group of once-adoring sidekicks have become estranged, settling into adulthood with careers and families. In an effort to reunite them and relive the old days, King manipulates the gang into having one final night out in their hometown of Newton Haven.

The night in question is the completion of “The Golden Mile,” a 12-pub crawl that the group wasn’t able to complete 20 years ago that King now obsesses over finishing. The final pub in that mile is aptly named “The World’s End,” a symbol of the chaotic finale Gary King seems fixated on.

By itself, the first act of the movie would be enough to solidify a great story about a grown man who makes the audience cringe with his increasingly absurd antics. Simon Pegg’s performance as King is his best yet, in my opinion, and is simply fun to watch, especially since this is a bit of a deviation for Pegg as an actor.

Of course, this is Edgar Wright, so the movie takes a turn for the apocalypse by the second act, as the group discovers that their hometown has been invaded by what they hilariously describe as “blue-filled robots.”

In order to keep the “robots” from knowing their discovery, the group decides to finish the Golden Mile anyway. Because of this, the gang gets even more drunk and begins making crazy decisions that would normally make the audience cry plot hole.

Instead, we are treated to a visually fun and frantic comedy that had me laughing wildly throughout.

Though Pegg and Nick Frost steal the screen as the main cast, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the secondary characters who completed what King calls “The Five Musketeers.” Each character in the group was very interesting and had their own complicated personalities, giving me an actual reason to root for them in their plight.

That makes me sad to say that the love interest, Sam (played by Rosamund Pike) was a bit too one-dimensional compared to her counterparts and didn’t contribute enough to the plot in my opinion.

Still, the movie is well-done in terms of dialogue, acting and story. It was refreshing to watch something that took risks and aimed for unpredictability.

If there’s one thing I loved most about this movie, it would be how well they treated the character arc for Gary King, a fictional person with a surprising amount of depth for a comedy. Also, the conclusion of the film is easily my favorite movie ending this year. Seriously, they nailed it.

Is it worth watching?

This is a must-watch for fans of Shaun of the DeadHot Fuzz and even classic sci-fi movies in general. The jokes and mayhem are a bit raunchy, but the R-rating doesn’t include nudity. The humor is deadpan at times, so if you’re not a fan of British entertainment, you may want to go for the rental for this one. 

Otherwise, I have little doubt you will have a good time with this movie.

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