Film review – Baby Driver (Edgar Wright, 2017)

There aren’t many moments in cinema where you start to watch the opening scene and an uncontrollable giddy smile engulfs your face, such is the joy of what is unfolding on the screen. It needs to be a brilliant idea, executed to perfection and in a language that speaks to you.

Baby Driver, Edgar Wright’s latest cinematic masterpiece, achieves just that. But the moment I knew it was a truly great film was when I realised the credits were rolling and my smile hadn’t left.

Oh, Baby!

The titular Baby is played by the young Ansel Elgort, who many will recognise as Caleb Prior from the Divergent film series. Baby is a young man who suffers with tinnitus, a whistling hum in the ear, which he got from an initially mysterious childhood incident. He works as a getaway driver for a heist masterminder named Doc (Kevin Spacey), who counts amongst his rotating team of goons a highly-strung Bats (Jamie Foxx), passionate love birds Buddy (John Hamm) and Darling (Eiza González), Griff (Jon Bernthal) and Eddy No-Nose (Flea). Lily James also stars as a waitress named Deborah.

To drown out the noise, Baby has a series of iPods to suit his moods. These are essentially soundtracking his life with a mixture of classic tunes that also serve as the soundtrack to the film, from Beck to Sam and Dave, The Commodores to The Damned.

It is these playlists that also serve as the film’s soundtrack, with sounds and visuals perfectly in sync with one another. For fans of music, and in particular soundtracks, Baby Driver is an absolute dream. The music is the backbone, catalyst and cherry on the icing, all at the same time. It’s a remarkable achievement.

If the opening sequence seems familiar, Wright used the same scenario in 2003 for the music video he directed for the track ‘Blue Song’ by Mint Royale. This hit the music airwaves mere months prior to his directorial breakthrough Shaun of the Dead, but watching it now you can see he probably had the idea for Baby Driver in his head as a starting point.

One of the best examples of how perfectly it works comes during the opening credits, when the first job has been completed and Baby goes to pick up some coffee from a shop near to their hideout. As Bob and Earl’s ‘Harlem Shuffle’ is played through his earbuds and the backdrop becomes subtly flourished with graffiti, shop names and visual signposts, it was clear that something special was unfolding before my eyes. That this was done as a one-shot makes it all the more beautiful.

The film goes far and beyond being just a glorified music video. The car chases are breathtaking from the get-go, and there’s no let up as the story progresses. They’re believable and easy to follow, with no cheap cuts to hide poor editing and hide continuity – something of an epidemic in cinema in the 21st century.

Many of the actors are a little out of their familiarity zones with their characters, but it’s obvious that the likes of John Hamm and Jamie Foxx are taking great pleasure in being allowed to indulge their acting abilities. Kevin Spacey may be on more familiar ground, but it doesn’t make for poor viewing in the slightest.

I think her name is Debra! Or Deborah…

There’s a great use of the song ‘Debra’ by Beck in a scene that cements Baby’s relationship with Lily James’s waitress. They’re both stuck in a rut and in need of a route out, so their inevitable desire to be together is an expected story arc. Only Edgar Wright would, at this point, think it was a good time to drop in a song about a man wanting to have a threesome with two sisters. It’s a hilariously sweet moment that comes just at the right time in the film, softening up the audience before the rollercoaster second half of the story.

The fact that Elgart spends the opening thirty minutes dressed in an outfit that is very reminiscent of Han Solo shouldn’t be overlooked either. Elgart came close to being cast in Disney’s upcoming problematic Han Solo standalone film, before being overlooked in favour of Alden Ehrenreich. It’s clear that the coolness of Harrison Ford’s character is something Wright was trying to remind the audience of. However, Wright recently denied the connection in a Twitter Q&A, saying that the similarity was purely coincidental.

Similar to Han Solo? Wright is denying any links.

I just can’t be effusive of the film enough. It’s something I could watch time and time again and I’m certain I’ll be getting enjoyment out of it for years to come.

Baby Driver could well be the greatest film of Wright’s illustrious career. If you’ve not been taking notice yet, now’s the time.

Life after Ghibli?

Two new trailers have been released for Mary and the Witch’s Flower, the debut film from Japanese animation company Studio Ponoc.

Watch them first, then read on to find out more.

Trailer #1

Trailer #2

Studio Ponoc is a new Japanese animation house based in Tokyo. The head of the company is Yoshiaki Nishimura, who was lead producer for two Studio Ghibli films: When Marnie Was There and The Tale of Princess Kaguya.

It is clear to see the similarities with the best of Ghibli in the above clips, and it’s not just Nishimura who connects the two studios.

Hiromasa “Maro” Yonebayashi is directing the feature, having also directed Ghibli films The Secret World of Arriety and When Marnie Was There. He also worked as an animator on the likes of Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea. Essentially, he was a key player at Ghibli. 

Maro pens the script alongside Riko Sakaguchi, the screenwriter of The Tale of Princess Kaguya, another excellent Ghibli film released in 2013 to critical acclaim.

Takatsugu Muramatsu returns as film composer, having provided the score for When Marnie Was There.

There is currently no official U.K. release date for Mary and the Witch’s Flower, but it is scheduled to hit cinemas sometime in 2017. Traditionally Ghibli films took around a year to make the transition to English and finally get a release in the U.K., but who knows if the same rules will apply here.

Whatever happens, there will be a huge amount of interest in the film when it surfaces.

Film review – Jackie (Pablo Larraín, 2016)

One of the most shocking moments of the 20th Century was the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy on 22nd November 1963. Driving along Dealy Plaza in the early afternoon, two shots were fired by a single assassin. The enduring image is that of his wife, First Lady Jackie Kennedy, as she scrambles to protect her husband, head in lap, striving to comprehend what had just happened to her. It was a tragedy.

Portman delivers a stunning performance


Central to Pablo Larraín’s biopic of Jackie Kennedy is a stunningly affecting performance from Natalie Portman. She’s capable of being both isolating and isolated within moments, in one of the most complex performances you could ever wish to take on as an actor. Portman doesn’t need to remind us of her capabilities, which we’ve known about since her debut as a 13-year-old in Luc Besson’s Léon: The Professional. 

The film is delivered in the form of Jackie Kennedy in an open interview to a nameless Time Magazine reporter (Billy Crudup). She reminisces about her television programme “Inside the White House with Mrs John F. Kennedy”, in which she effused about her collection of presidential memorabilia (as well as her abilities as an interior designer) though the story predominantly focuses on the fateful day in Dallas and the immediate aftermath as she reinvents herself as the director of her husband’s funeral, an event she hopes will rival – or at least evoke the memory of – Abraham Lincoln.

There are some solid supporting roles from the likes of Richard E. Grant, Peter Sarsgaard and the late John Hurt. Greta Gerwig also appears, though I can’t say she is in the same category.

One jarring aspect of the film is the unusual score, provided by the usually brilliant Mica Levi. It’s surprisingly sinister and usually doesn’t match the onscreen visuals, tonally or stylistically. This isn’t Levi’s fault. She’s just doing what she does best (see Under the Skin for her best scoring work). It’s jarring and made me long for something a little more conforming. I’m amazed that it has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Score.

Portman, though, is very much deserving of her nomination. It’s a strong year of competition, but she has every chance of taking home her second statue at the 89th Academy Awards.

A must see.

New Rogue One poster and trailer!

Last night, The Star Wars Show revealed a brand new Rogue One poster that may well be the best one yet.

Latest Rogue One poster!!

The ominous inclusion of a foreboding looking Darth Vader is a welcome inclusion. The features underneath the logo of the Shoretroopers walking through the ocean (filmed in The Maldives) will please those wanting something new, whilst fans of the original series will note the Tie Fighters and AT-ATs.

The trailer will drop later this morning. Stay tuned for more info!

Film review – Ghostbusters (Paul Feig, 2016)

Coming off the back of the unprecidented success of Bridesmaids, Feig looked to have carved a path as the director of female-led lighthearted comedies, following as he did with The Heat and Spy (both of which were well-received by both audiences and critics).  The safe move would have been to deliver more of the same until either the audiences or the actresses got bored, cashing the cheques as they exited stage right.

Rebooting the Ghostbusters franchise with women taking the lead roles, therefore, seemed like an unnecessarily bold move. Taking on the beloved franchise of an entire generation of cult film cinephiles has fallen flat many, many times recently. Total Recall. Robocop. the Terminator sequels. Vacation. The Karate Kid. A Nightmare on Elm Street. Conan the Barbarian. Oldboy. Please stop ruining our childhoods!

Fortunately, this time there’s enough talent involved to ensure that Ghostbusters is a success. It isn’t a remake so much as a reboot. There are some knowing nods back to the originals, but this is a film that stands on its own two feet and comes out with its head held high.

Ghostbusters2016

Busting makes ’em feel good!

Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy are both on fine form as the childhood friends turned ghost-hunters Dr. Erin Gilbert and Dr. Abby Yates, but it is Kate McKinnon as scientist and pyrotechnics enthusiast Dr. Jillian Holtzmann that is the real success story here. This should serve as a starting point for her career to truly take off. Another SNL-favourite, Leslie Jones, completes the cast as Patty Tolan, a New York subway clerk who knows her way around the city.

Sadly, it doesn’t sail through without disappointing from time to time. The ham-fisted cameos of the original actors were completely unnecessary and would have meant nothing to newcomers to the story. They just weren’t worked well and I can imagine younger audience members wondering why so much attention was given to the taxi driver as the pace of the film took a minor detour.

The casting of Leslie Jones attracted criticism in the run up to the release of the film from some who suggested that the portrayal of a street-smart African-American amongst three white scientists bordered on racism. This wasn’t something I particularly picked up on during the film – she was well cast in a role that suited her and had good chemistry with her SNL cohorts.

Fortunately, the ones most disappointed with this film will be the ones who had written it off before it had even started. The trailer was one of the most disliked in YouTube history, which serves only to underline how collectively vindictive some sections of the Internet can be. The only shame is that they probably won’t give this film a chance and as a result they will be missing one of the funniest summer blockbusters of the year.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – All the trailers

At Star Wars Celebration, a whole host of new trailers were released for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

In case you missed them, here they are in full.

Celebration Reel – Behind the Scenes

Opening Crawl Trailer

Official Teaser Trailer

Not a new one, but worth re-watching.