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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.

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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.

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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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Review: ‘Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping’ Is More than Just a Lonely Island Movie

popstar review

It’s unclear how much the world needed a straightforward lampoon of the pop music industry, that is until you watch Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, a mockumentary starring Andy Samberg and his fellow Lonely Island performers that picks apart Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, TMZ, reality television, and many other staples of late-2000s/early-20teens/and the present.

So if you’ve seen a rock documentary, perhaps even the wonderful This is Spinal Tap, then you can easily imagine the set up and format of the film, which was directed and written by Lonely Island’s Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone (Samberg also shares a writing credit).

The mockumentary centers around Conner Friel (or his stage name, Conner4real), a massively successful pop star who deals with the highs and lows of fame as he prepares to release his sophomore album, claiming he’s a perfectionist because it just has to sell way more than his first album after splitting from his own version of Destiny’s Child, the Style Boyz (there’s obviously a not-so-subtle One Direction jab thrown in here and there).

popstar review

What follows is a series of well-constructed set pieces that consistently top the humor with each scene. Popstar is a viciously funny movie, for Top 40 fans, Justin Bieber fans, Justin Bieber haters, reality TV fans and haters, and pretty much anyone else somewhat clued in on what the jokes are dismantling.

The pacing works well too, always shifting from scripted “fly on the wall” conversations that move the somewhat predictable (but entertaining) plot along, in between hilarious music numbers that range from stage performances to music videos, including one standout that parodies Macklemore’s “Same Love” by having Conner sing a marriage equality rights song where he reminds the viewers that he’s not gay in every other verse.

popstar review

This film has a lot of humorous moments, rivaling this year’s Deadpool even for how many jokes and references you’re likely to miss on the first viewing. But the majority of them land, and even the weaker scenes, mostly in the third act, are kept in balance by the consistently funny commentary aided by real-life music celebrities who offer deadpan reactions to Conner’s latest media disasters.

Though Popstar doesn’t offer anything that will pull in viewers at large who are mostly uninterested in the subject material (or the Lonely Island brand, for that matter), it’s still a competent entry in a genre that has been severely lacking outside of TV sitcoms. And it even has a fair share of ageless jokes that will be sure to crack your smile, even if you’ve never heard of Taylor Swift, Seal, and the peril of Yelp reviews.

Grade: B+

Extra Credits:

  • One criticism I left out of this review was how generic the main story is, concerning Conner’s “solo act” creating a rift between him and his fellow Style Boyz (played by Schaffer and Taccone). And the reason is because I think the story had to be a little familiar for us to appreciate the parody.
  • I didn’t get to mention one of the film’s best supporting actors, Tim Meadows, who plays Conner’s manager. He gets a lot of screen time in this one, and it’s all well-deserved.
  • “Pitchfork can be a little pretentious.”
  • Judd Apatow was a producer on this film, marking this as his first collaboration with Samberg.
  • Stick around the for the mid-credits scene, which features a last-minute send off to one of the film’s best gags.
  • Think of it this way. Popstar is essentially the Zoolander for the pop music industry.

    I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

 

Podcast: Insidious 3, Spy, Movie News This Week

insidious 3 spy

Spy has been getting all of the praise lately, so what does Team Conspiring think about its success? Get ready for some heat, Paul Feig style.

We cover tons of movie news this week (including some comic news), along with some coverage of some recent trailers that just dropped. We also read your comments from the last episode and bring up this week’s topic of discussion.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What is a movie that you hate, even though everyone else loves it?

Enjoy the show! Let us know your answers to this week’s question in the comments. Or just hit us up on Twitter! We’re @NowConspiring. And don’t forget to rate/subscribe us on iTunes or the Stitcher app if you feel like it.

Our Song of the Week is “Beat of My Drum” by up-and-coming band, Powers.

You also heard these songs in this week’s episode:

“Wish You Were Here” – Lee Fields and The Expressions

“Don’t Carry It All” – The Decembrists

The 7 Deleted Songs From “Frozen” That You Haven’t Heard Yet

One of my few complaints about the movie Frozen was that it seemed to be lacking 1, 2 or even 3 music numbers, at least toward the end. So imagine my surprise when I was told that there were SEVEN songs that didn’t make it to the reels.

Fortunately, YouTube exists, so we are able to listen to the songs online and let our imaginations fill the blanks. Let’s listen!

(WARNING: There are some spoilers in this, so don’t keep reading unless you’ve watched the movie!)

1. We Know Better

This first video features the song “We Know Better.” It would have explored more of the background between Anna and Elsa, before Elsa accidentally freezes Anna during the actual first few scenes of the movie.

I like this song because it shows us more of the deep bond the sisters have before Elsa has to become a recluse, making the following song – Do You Want To Build A Snowman – that much more depressing.

2. Spring Pageant

The next song is “Spring Pageant,” which was deleted for a pretty good reason. It turns out that an early version of the movie featured a prophecy surrounding the main characters. I would have liked something like this to explain more of why Elsa has powers – which the movie doesn’t elaborate on – so excluding this song from the final version makes sense.

But it’s still pretty great.

3. More Than Just a Spare

This next song was meant to help us get an idea of what it’s like to be Anna, the “spare” princess. Because she isn’t the heir – Elsa is – to the throne, she feels deep down like a spare.

“More Than Just a Spare” was probably removed because it would have added an extra plotline that doesn’t really get answered later on. That said, it would still make a great plot device to explore in a possible sequel.

4. You’re You

This was originally the predecessor to “Love is An Open Door,” which is the moment that was meant to establish the romantic relationship between Anna and Hans.

Though I don’t prefer it, it does make a deranged bit of sense to hear Hans saying somewhat mean things about Anna that are actually revealing about his true intentions…

If they did keep it, the song would have probably fit in better when Anna said goodbye to Hans before embarking on her journey to save Elsa.

5. Life’s Too Short

I really wish this song had made it to the movie, as it is a far more dramatic representation of the conflict between Elsa and Anna before Elsa accidentally freezes Anna’s heart. In my opinion, it makes Anna and Elsa’s later act of love feel vastly more meaningful.

What especially caught my attention is how Anna tries to get Elsa to put her gloves back on, which makes Elsa flip out “Let it Go” style.

6. Life’s Too Short – Reprise

This next one is the reprise of “Life’s Too Short,” which is clearly the sadder version compared to the upbeat one we just heard. It’s supposed to take place while Anna is freezing and Elsa is in prison.

In my opinion, this is exactly the kind of song that was missing during the final act.

7. Reindeers Remix

Finally, we have the song that was meant to be the movie’s final song, featuring the under-utilized Jonathan Groff. I love it because it would have left the movie on a funny note that captured the fun of the song Groff sings earlier about Sven.

And that’s it! If we’re lucky, these songs will appear in High School plays all over the world for years to come.

Thanks for Reading! You can subscribe to this blog by email via the prompt on the sidebar. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@JonNegroni). I’ll follow you back if you say something witty and awesome.

The Best Times To Listen To Music – According to Genre

Each Jonre is different. Sorry, genre. Certain types of music (genres again) are best to listen to in the morning, at night, and even when you’re driving.

In other words, your mood is heavily influenced by the time of day, music heavily influences your mood, so picking the right music for the time of day is probably important. Here’s my personal list according to decade, artist, and genre (They don’t necessarily relate with each other).

music

Early Morning (6am to 9am): 

Best Decade: 60’s Music

Best Artist: Chopin

Best Genre: Soft Rock

 

Mid Morning (9am to Noon):

Best Decade: 2000’s

Best Artist: Ben Folds

Best Genre: Punk

 

Lunchtime:

Best Decade: 80’s Music

Best Artist: OneRepublic

Best Genre: Pop

 

Afternoon (1pm to 5pm):

Best Decade: 70’s Music

Best Artist: Decembrists

Best Genre: Rock

 

Evening (5pm to 8pm):

Best Decade: 90’s Music

Best Artist: Adele

Best Genre: Folk

 

Late Evening (8pm to Midnight):

Best Decade: 2010’s

Best Artist: Mumford and Sons

Best Genre: Hip-Hop

 

You Should Really Be Sleeping at this Point:

Best Decade: 20’s, 40’s, and 50’s

Best Artist: Fun.

Best Genre: Jazz

Agree? Disagree? Hate me? Well, instead of all that, just add your own suggestions!

Thanks for reading! You can subscribe to this blog by email via the prompt on the sidebar. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@JonNegroni). I’ll follow you back if you say something witty and awesome.

 

Listen to Music That Will Make You More Productive with Focus@will

Screen shot 2013-06-05 at 10.12.15 AM

Focus@will  is a “DJ in the sky” app that works to accomplish one goal for you: providing music that makes it easier for you to focus. 

Go on…Listen to Music That Will Make You More Productive with Focus@will

Top 10 Fun. Songs

Like Fun.? So do I. I’m such a big fan, actually, I wrote an entire screenplay based on their music.

Don’t worry, I’ll rewrite it about 100 times after it gets rejected, but expect to see my Fun. musical hitting the market within the decade.

Anyways, we all love lists and using opinion to dictate interest, so I thought I’d make another Top 10 list for one of my favorite bands yet again.

Keep in mind that I’ll be leaving The Format (the band’s predecessor) off of this list to keep things simple. Also, this is just my opinion, not a feign attempt at being objective. The point of this list is not to say one song is better than another. Instead, use this list as a way to either discover or rediscover some great Fun. songs that happen to be my favorites.

10. Take Your Time (Coming Home)

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From the album, Aim and Ignite, this 7 minute track captures one of Fun.‘s best traits. The feels. It’s not a slow song by any means, but it manages to crescendo spastically without losing effect, and Nate Ruess (the lead singer) shows off some real vocal range here I haven’t appreciated since Freddie Mercury. There’s a shorter, acoustic version on the deluxe album, but the full version here is easily my favorite between the two.

Favorite line: It’s a beautiful thing when you love somebody, and I love somebody. Yeah I love somebody.

9. Carry On

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I’ve noticed this track from Some Nights has been getting a little more popular lately, so I’d be remiss to leave it out. When I first bought this album, “Carry On” popped up on the playlist four songs in, and I just remember fully appreciating the lyrics and tone the very first time I heard it. The song is about recognizing our fatal flaws and moving past them. As Nate sings it, we are still “shining stars” and “invincible” even on our “darkest day.” Great advice to live by.

Favorite line: But I like to think I can cheat it all, to make up for the times I’ve been cheated on.

8. At Least I’m Not As Sad (As I Used To Be)

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Okay, it’s easy to kind of interpret this song as looking down on people who haven’t “grown up.” The whole track is basically Nate running into old friends who are still living a crazy lifestyle past their prime. It’s a little harsh, but most of us can absolutely relate. Also, this is a ridiculously catchy song, so there’s that too.

Favorite line: I don’t keep friends, I keep acquainted. I’m not a prophet, But I’m here to profit.

7. Walking The Dog/ Walking The Dog II

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Early in the album, the first version of this song, “Walking The Dog,” is an upbeat and positive song about getting over someone. Then “Walking The Dog II” comes on, which is the exact same song slowed down to a somber melody, reflecting how easy it is for us to fake a positive attitude after a breakup. Powerful songwriting, and my favorite “slow” song from Aim and Ignite.

Favorite Line: I wish you could see me, whoever I am. It’s not like a movie. It’s not all skin and bones.

6. Some Nights

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This is definitely one of the more recognizable Fun. songs, and for good reason. It’s loud, catchy, and well, fun. There are probably a million ways to interpret this song, but my favorite is how the song seems to really capture the band’s career over the past decade. Also, there is probably no better song on this album to display its namesake.

Favorite Line: The other night, you wouldn’t believe the dream I just had about you and me. I called you up, but we’d both agree, it’s for the best you didn’t listen.

5. All Alright

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Where to begin? This one is definitely a little more depressing, capturing the awkward tension between two people who have drifted apart. It reminds me of all the past friendships and relationships I’ve lost over the years and how we tend to say that everything is “alright,” even though it’s really not. Odd detail: there’s cheering at the very end. Weird end to a somewhat down song.

Favorite Line: And now I’ve given everyone I know a good reason to go, but I came back with the belief that everyone I love is gonna leave me.

4. Be Calm

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The first song in any album should, in my opinion, hit it out of the park. Fun. gets this and manages to deliver on both of their albums, giving us upbeat tracks without fooling us into thinking we’re about to listen to a bunch of light, pop music. “Be Calm” is an inner monologue that both inspires and provokes laughter with its scattered lyrics. There really is no better way to write a song about our chaotic (and insane) thoughts that manage to almost, probably make sense.

Favorite Line: Take it from me, I’ve been there a thousand times. You hate your pulse because it thinks you’re still alive.

3. We Are Young (feat. Janelle Monae)

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The first song from Fun. I ever heard, “We Are Young” resonated with me and my friends immediately. I like to think that the band made this song difficult to sing (the chorus hits a really high note) because they knew it would get popular, so they wanted a chorus that people would embarrass themselves by singing. I really hope that’s the reason…

Favorite Line: Now I know that I’m not all that you’ve got. I guess that I…I just thought…maybe we could find new ways to fall apart.

2. Why Am I The one

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It’s easy to miss this song, as its buried in the album and not given as much hype as “Carry On.” Still, this one always stuck out to me, especially when I left my hometown to start a new life. I guess I needed an introspective song like this to get me through the major life changes that occurred during my first year out of college. And the music video is flawless.

Favorite Line: For once, for once, for once, I get the feeling that I’m right where I belong. Why am I the one always packin’ up my stuff?

1. Some Nights (Intro)

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People always ask me why this is my favorite Fun. song. It’s not very long, and the lyrics are kind of confusing to be honest. But there is just something about how this song is first on the album and transitions us perfectly into Some Nights. This is definitely my favorite album intro of all time, mostly because of how it manages to be perfectly simple and yet perfectly complex at the same time. It’s a fun-sized “Be Calm” that manages to accomplish the same thing in just 2 minutes.

Favorite Line: There are some nights I wait for someone to save us, but I never look inward, try not to look upward. Some nights, I pray that a sign is gonna come to me, but usually, I’m just trying to get some sleep.

Like what you read? Connect with me further via twitter @JonNegroni. I’ll follow back if you seem like a real person. You can also subscribe to this blog by clicking the “follow” button in the top-left corner.

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