Wright’s Killer Track

In the mind of Edgar Wright, music and movies go hand in hand. The British writer/director has become one of film’s culture most adored auteurs not only for his clever writing, creative comedic directing, and unabashed love for pop culture, but his incredible detail combining the action of scenes with the pumping energy of music. Everything from police paperwork to beating up an elderly zombie can be made special with the right music in Wright’s mind. So of course, an action movie about a getaway driver who only functions by listening to music constantly would be Wright’s passion project for the last 20 years. Most of the high points of his movies have been the musical montages that act as lively interludes to keep scenes going, like mini-music videos that cap off plot points. So why not make a nearly-two hour music video?

 

Baby Driver, Wright’s first feature in four years, takes place on the streets of Atlanta and opens with an excitable young man jamming out to The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion in a suped-up Subaru. Don’t be fooled by the fresh-faced exuberance of Baby (Ansel Elgort), as he’s merely waiting for his crew to run out of the local bank with the loot and drive them through the streets at breakneck speed. His secret weapon: the tinnitus in his ears forces him to listen to music constantly to drown out any high-pitched ringing, but also makes him incredibly proficient at drifting between cop cars and maneuvering through traffic. This makes him the lucky charm of Doc (Kevin Spacey), a local crime boss Baby owes a major debt to. While he’s worked many jobs with Doc’s crew, ranging from the eternally romantic Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) to the hair-triggered nutjob Bats (Jamie Foxx), Baby finds something more when he falls in love with the angel-voiced waitress, Debora (Lily James). But just because Baby wants out of the game doesn’t mean Baby gets to walk away from the game.

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On a surface level, Baby Driver is a very simple story. It’s the classic crime story of the lone rogue who’s never been cool with a life of crime and just wants out. But just when he thinks he’s out, cue Al Pacino in The Godfather: Part III. Usually Wright’s stories aren’t as straight-forward as they seem, there’s always something else going on in the background. Baby Driver is probably one of the more traditional stories of his career, no great plot twist or background commentary throwing the audience for a loop or defying expectations. But like other Wright movies, it’s more about the presentation than the product itself, and Baby Driver is certainly his most ambitious show to date. Somewhere between an inverted jukebox musical and a long-form music video, Baby Driver has nearly every scene perfectly synced-up with the eclectic soundtrack, which ranges from Beck to The Damned to Young MC. When the film rolls out its opening credits to Baby strutting down the street like Gene Kelly dancing to the title of Singin’ in the Rain, the street comes alive accentuating each little pip in Baby’s step. Wright’s editing duo of Jonathan Amos (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and Paul Machliss (The World’s End) cut gunshots, car drifts, and even the mildest head tick to the beat of the drum. It’s a cute gimmick and impressive to see done at near-feature length, though it loses its luster near the end of the movie and it can become disorienting after a while.

 

But even without the gimmick, Baby Driver is still a damn good time. The action set pieces are fantastic thanks to their stripped-down nature. Mixing the cracking soundtrack with driving sequences not overly-cut while remaining fast-paced allows for continuous propulsion throughout the movie. At just under two hours, the movie flies by with almost zero filter distracting from the main story. That’s mostly in part to the great cast fully invested in the need for hammy action-talk and Wright’s typically funny dialogue. For this being Wright’s big American debut (Scott Pilgrim being technically Canadian), some of Hollywood’s best wanted in on the party and don’t disappoint. Jamie Foxx has never been such an impressive combination of menacing and funny before, leagues more impressive than his turn as Electro in the embarrassing Amazing Spider-Man 2. Kevin Spacey is a fine crime boss despite not leaving that much of an impression. The MVPs are the one-two punch of Jon Hamm and Lily James: the former as the smoldering henchman that brings the most charisma to the movie, and the latter being the sultry, 50s-era damsel that woos Baby. In fact, Hamm himself plays somewhat of a grizzly older James Dean wannabe. Oddly enough, the weakest member of the cast is the lead. Elgort certain has the energy and the young baby face (no pun intended), but his own moments of smoldering intensity seem like a joke that the movie isn’t in on. He’s also not bringing enough charisma to be fun to watch and looks like a pouting elementary school kid when he’s trying to be serious. Elgort is in an awkward position where’s he too old to be a cutesy teen heartthrob and yet still has the face of a Degrassi cast member. In his defense, he has some strong chemistry with James that culminates in a rather romantic scene where the two chat in a laundromat connected by Baby’s earbuds.

It’s tempting to call Baby Driver Edgar Wright’s worst film, and yet it’s all the more shocking that it’s still a great movie. While it may be missing Wright’s quick-witted British humor and wackier plot elements, it’s still another showcase for one of Hollywood’s best directors alive. The technical prowess and attention to detail that Wright exudes is on display now more than ever, it’s almost the central focus of the movie. It’s certainly a film that requires repeated viewings to repeat every detail for film fans, along with being a breath of fresh air for summer action audiences. Wright has officially arrived in America, and his future is as open as the road Baby and Debora dream for themselves.

3.5/4 

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Despicable Marketing

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Give credit where credit is due: a whole movie centered around living yellow pill capsules that don’t speak english seemed impossible, but Illumination Entertainment needs to make money somehow. So since they can’t make Despicable Me 3 any faster, they’ve giving the backstory of those adorable little henchmen of Gru and how they came to work for the most dastardly villains of the world. Why? BECAUSE IT’S IMPORTANT, DAMMIT (also because Minions make great toys for little kids).

According to Minions, the little yellow creatures have existed since the dawn of time. From single-celled organisms cruising through the ocean, rolling with the dinosaurs, helping build pyramids with the pharos of Egypt and charging with Napoleon into battle, the Minions have been around forever. But in 1968, many years had passed and the Minions haven’t had a villain to call their master in a while. After being stranded in an ice cave, three minions step up and set out to find a new master. Kevin leads the trio, Stuart plays guitar and Bob is the young one scared of the new world. They wind up meeting Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), the world’s most infamous villain, who wants to steal the Queen of England’s crown. The minions impress Scarlet and her husband Herb (Jon Hamm), who bring the minions into their fold and on board with their plan for world domination. Naturally, hijinks ensue.

One might think Minions is just another $10 distraction for little kids, and they’d mostly be right. Minions doesn’t give a crap about an interesting plot or character development. It’s not here to teach a lesson, just make you laugh. To its credit, the movie does know how to work zany humor and physical comedy. It’s like a really dumb Looney Tunes cartoon that, when it cracks wise, doesn’t wink at the camera like Bugs Bunny, but instead hurls the punchline at the audience like a pie in the face. Sometimes it works (the minions evading royal army guards and torture), other times it’s annoying (Stuart thinking yellow fire hydrants are hot girls). The minions’ gibberish talk, consisting of broken Spanish, French and other European languages, gets old after a while as well. On the flip side, the creators of the movie throw in some solid physical comedy.

They’ve also got some great voice actors for support. Sandra Bullock as Scarlet Overkill is pretty funny as the vein and self-absorbed Scarlet. She’s like that little girl who always wanted to be a princess and would throw a hissy fit if she didn’t get her way. She’s got great, hammy (no pun intended) support in Jon Hamm. He sounds like a Bond villain playing for the back row. There’s also a good bit with the minions riding from New York to Orlando with a family of crooks, with the mother played by Allison Janney and Michael Keaton. As far as animation goes, Illumination Entertainment may be the most kid-friendly form in Hollywood. Before anyone kills me in the comments, I’m talking strictly animation. Everything is so bright and sunny, never darkening the mood or making anything somber. Even in the moments where the minions are running for their lives, it’s animated in a colorful romp and not an escape from death. There’s no complexity or difficult emotions to process, it’s just sunshine and silliness.

That’s actually Minions in a nutshell, and it can be viewed as either a good thing or a bad thing. If one has the stomach for just nonsensical zaniness and are looking to keep your young (emphasis on YOUNG) quiet for 90 minutes, one could do worse than Minions. However, Minions is probably one of the most forgettable animated movies I’ve seen, especially one based off of better material. There’s no reason for this movie other than something to occupy audiences (and to keep Disney at bay). It’s a fine bit of fun, but is anyone going to remember this movie at the end of the year? What’s going to be so different about the minion plush toy from Minions compared to the minion plush toy from Despicable Me?
Final Verdict: 2.5 out of 4 stars