Baby Driver Review

Using popular songs in films can be effective in helping to set the scene and reflect the characters’ personalities, but it’s a trope that’s easy to mess up. Done wrong, it can feel like a substitute for creativity and even turn the film into a glorified big-screen music video (see Sucker Punch for an example). An example of this done right can be found in recent release Baby Driver, which writer/director Edgar Wright even described as being “kind of like a musical”.

The titular driver, Baby (Ansel Elgort) was involved in a car accident as a child, which causes a permanent ring throughout his ears. In order to drown out this ringing, he always makes sure to listen to music as he acts as getaway driver for a group of criminals. When he’s listening to a song, the audience listen to it as well; the song gets fainter when he takes one earplug off and stops when both earplugs are removed.

He even listens to the music during the more intense moments of the movie, and the action on screen matches up with the beats of the songs, creating some unique and enjoyable setpieces. This is definitely a film where the music enhances the experience, and even lets us know a bit about our Baby too, as the opening credits see him dancing down the streets mouthing to a song.

There’s plenty of impressive action, including a scene rather reminiscent of this year’s Free Fire, but this is an Edgar Wright film, so there’s plenty of comedy as well. Highlights include a scene where the criminals wear Michael Myers masks, and a quote from, of all things, Monsters Inc.

Baby Driver is a fun and fast-paced films, one that knows how to grab your attention and immerse you in its world. And it’s got good music too.

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Spider-Man Homecoming Review

There was plenty to like about Captain America: Civil War, but one of the biggest highlights was Tom Holland’s performance as Spider-Man, even though his role was a small one. Loveably dorky and awkward was he, and it made several viewers want to see him in his own movie. And here we have it.

Spider-Man has been battling street-level crime using the suit Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr)  gave him, but wishes for a greater challenge. That arrives when he comes across a group of bank-robbers using high-tech weapons supplied to them by Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton). Assisted by his friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), Peter attempts to put an end to Toomes’ operation, even though it might mean Stark losing trust in him.

The film begins with scenes from Civil War, and Stark does play a significant role. He does not, however, dominate the film, and enough is explained that those who haven’t watched previous MCU movies could follow. It’s certainly refreshing to watch after Amazing Spider-Man 2, which seemed only to exist to set up regular movies. There’s no origin shown this time (though mentioned) but this does have all the elements of a good Spider-man film; not only do we have Peter chasing down villains, we have him dealing with teenage angst.

Tom Holland is once again perfectly cast as Spider-Man, making him likeable, funny and sympathetic; possibly the best on-screen Spider-Man yet. The film’s second most memorable performance comes from Michael Keaton, who may not have been as fun as DeFoe’s Green Goblin but is certainly a threatening villain, made even more so by the human elements of his character. A lot is happening in this movie, yet it never feels overpacked or overlong.

2017 has certainly proved itself to be a good year for superhero flicks. Spider-Man: Homecoming is not as funny as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 or as engaging as Wonder Woman, but is still a tonne of fun.

 

Wonder Woman Review

I enjoyed Batman v Superman, but I had to admit at times it did seem like a big fat trailer for DC’s later films. In one way, it did its job; one of the highlights of the film was Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, which made one want to see her star in her own film. Lo and behold, we now have that film, and it’s a pretty damn good one too.

Wonder Woman was born Princess Diana and raised on the idyllic isle of Themyscira, where she trained in combat against her mother’s wishes. One day, a pilot called Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes near Themyscira; he’s fighting in World War I, which Diana believes is the fault of the evil God of War Ares. She joins Steve in his voyage to London to aid in the war and hopefully defeat Ares, and she not only learns about the world outside her island, but some secrets about herself as well.

The film may begin with Diana getting a delivery from Bruce Wayne, but you don’t need to have seen the previous DC films to enjoy this one. The connection to a larger universe is more a bonus here, as this is very much a stand-alone film; an appropriate big-screen debut for the character (if you don’t count her appearances in the Lego movies).

Indeed it is a film worth seeing on the big screen, for it’s certainly the most visually impressive DCEU film so far. Earlier films in the series have been mocked for their murkiness but here murkiness actually works in this film’s favour, creating a contrast between grimy London and majestically-realised Themyscira, and highlighting the horrors of war Diana encounters.

Once again Gal Gadot shines as Wonder Woman, realising a character who is both tough and naïve, and gets some good interactions with Chris Pine. Another good performance comes from secondary villain Dr. Poison (Elena Anaya) who I would have liked to see more of, and the main villain, not to spoil anything, is effectively threatening.

Wonder Woman has fantastic visuals and great performances, makes its runtime whizz by, and actually makes viewers curious about what else this universe has to offer.

The Mummy Review

Universal has planned a “Dark Universe”, a series of interconnected movies about the studio’s famous monsters. It not only feels like an attempt to cash in on Marvel’s success, it feels something of a late entry. There have been so many crossovers of creepy creatures from legend and literature already, Dracula and Frankenstein have met each other in countless books, movies, comics and even cereal adverts. It thus seems unlikely the Dark Universe will have anything really new to bring to the table, especially if The Mummy is any indication.

I actually would hesitate to call this year’s The Mummy a remake of either the 1932 or 1999 films of the same name – the titular mummy here is not Imhotep but Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) – but there isn’t really anything here that hasn’t been done before and better. Not only does it do things the previous Mummy movies did better, it makes use of a technique that was stronger in An American Werewolf in London.

Tom Cruise plays Nick Morten, who accidentally uncovers Ahmanet’s tomb and ends up cursed by her, allowing her to invade his mind. She plans to use him as a vessel to bring the god Set to Earth, yet Mark wasn’t really a character I could care about. 1999’s The Mummy was no less silly but Brendan Fraser was actually likeable and got in some fun banter with the other characters. There’s sadly little of that here.

Boutella’s performance as Ahmanet is actually successfully seductive and sinister, and the film is probably worth a watch for her alone. Another notable performance is Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll (and Mr. Hyde; having both is the only thing this universe has done better than Penny Dreadful so far). It made me want to see him play the role in an actual adaptation of Stevenson’s novel, so that is one area this film made me want to see more.

The Mummy is a flawed film and offers little new, but it’s not a total waste of time.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge Review

Johnny Depp returns as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge, aiding young Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) in finding the legendary Trident of Poseidon, which can break any curse that haunts the seven seas, including a curse put on Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) Henry’s father and Jack’s old acquaintance. Accompanied by astronomer Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), Jack and Henry search for the trident while being hunted by the undead Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), who has a bone to pick with Jack.

As with earlier instalments of the franchise, the best element of Salazar’s Revenge is Captain Jack Sparrow, who gets the best lines and scenes (though sometimes it may remind one of his Mad Hatter). A highlight is his introduction in the film: the safe of a new bank is being opened, and whereas most other pirate movies would have had the safe to be revealed to be completely empty, out of it comes a drunken Jack Sparrow, and there’s even a woman there with him. He’s robbing the bank, and he and his crew literally rob the bank itself by pulling it off its foundations and sending it through the town.

That’s one moment in the movie where going all-out with it works. There are other times, however, where there just seems to be spectacle for spectacle’s sake. Salazar’s ship is indeed a ghost ship, but I don’t think it really needed to be turned into a wooden centipede (something that reminded me of the robot from Wild Wild West) nor did the figurehead need to come to life. This film is supposed to be a blockbuster action film with big setpieces, but those felt unnecessary.

It certainly doesn’t help that Salazar is not that notable an antagonist – not as good a villain as Bardem’s Skyfall character – nor is Henry that interesting, so the film is more or less carried by Sparrow. There is still some fun to be had here, and it does make two hours fly by, but viewers are unlikely to remember it.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review

May include spoilers

What a wonderful surprise Guardians of the Galaxy was! Though prior to the film’s release Rocket Raccoon and Groot were nowhere near as big as Spider-man or the Hulk, it was still massively entertaining and humourous. It showed that the Marvel Universe wasn’t afraid to embrace the sillier aspects of its source material, and now, every grim and gritty product from DC like Batman v Superman and Gotham is met with “Why be so serious? Marvel had a movie with a talking racoon!” (which makes it odd that the new Marvel Studios opening is somewhat reminiscent of the opening credits of 1989’s Batman).

Sure enough, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 maintains a lot of the cheeky humour of the original. The very intro of the film involves a miniature Groot (Vin Diesel) dancing while his friends battle a hideous tentacle monster in the background, we get another cameo of none other than Howard the Duck, and of course, Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) gets several good lines and interactions with his teammates; a highlight is when he gets into an argument with Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and threatens to leave a turd – not necessarily his, either – in Quill’s bed.

The characters say and do funny things, but they are characters we care about as well. Despite Rocket’s sarcasm, Drax’s inappropriate comments and little Groot’s naivete, there is still the sense that this group need each other, and it still does make you care that Peter lost his mother. The main villain is also more interesting than most in the Marvel canon, not to spoil anything.

The film also looks very visually appealing, with characters like Rocket and Groot looking like they belong with the human characters. Some of the alien designs are nothing really that interesting but a planet they spend a good amount time on is beautifully realised. There’s also one hilarious visual where characters’ faces warp and bend when they’re going through portals.

It may not be as good as the first, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is still enjoyable enough to make you smile when the credits promise “The Guardians of the Galaxy will return”.

Beauty and the Beast Review

Spoilers may follow

One interesting thing to note about Disney’s 2017 remake of their Beauty and the Beast is how it addresses the issues people noted about its 1991 predecessor. Everyone has joked and commented on how when the Beast was cursed for his selfish ways, his servants were cursed as well although it was only the Beast who did wrong. That gets a surprisingly dark explanation when it’s revealed the Beast (Dan Stevens) as a child was abused by his father and the servants did nothing about it. We’ve also joked about how the witch is the real villain of the film for apparently cursing an eleven year old, yet here the Beast was an adult when he was cursed, and even laughed at the witch (Hattie Morahan) for wanting shelter, which does make it a little more difficult to feel sorry for him.

That said, though, this film doesn’t feel as unnecessary as some thought it would be, and is actually fairly enjoyable. It’s worth watching for the visuals alone, with the castle looking suitable foreboding yet intriguing and some interesting ways to redesign the furniture; Madame de Garderobe the wardrobe (Audra McDonald) has eyes and teeth made of theatre curtains and Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) is not only a talking candelabra, but what looks a candelabra-human hybrid. Everyone’s favourite songs from the original are back and are staged and sung very well, especially the “Gaston” number. There are a couple of new songs in there, but they aren’t that hummable.

Emma Watson, better known as Hermione in Harry Potter, is well-cast as Belle, honouring the original character while adding her own touch, and Dan Stevens manages to balance scariness and sympathy as the Beast. Luke Evans is a fine Gaston, but not as bombastically and enjoyably egotistical as the original character in the 1991 film. The best performance comes from Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, who gets a few amusing scenes.

Beauty and the Beast is unlikely to erase the original from memory, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a watch.