Review: Baby Driver

When people start talking about a movie, particularly a movie that is getting a lot of praise, I feel compelled to look into it myself to see if it is worth all that it is receiving. That is the case this week since Edgar Wright’s new film has rolled into theaters and I managed to attend a screening of this film about a boy in the fast lane, slowed down by a pretty face, steered onto a rough road by shady characters and racing towards a sunset. Here’s a quick look at what Baby Driver has to offer.

That’s right! A heist thrill ride with a sharp cast, savvy writing, bold execution, killer chase sequences, driven by a sweet sense of rhythm and swagger with an eclectic soundtrack as its engine. Edgar Wright is in the driver’s seat of one of the most original and entertaining flicks of 2017!

Baby Driver stars Ansel Elgort as Baby, the best getaway driver in the ATL who rides blaring his own playlist and drives in the services a crime boss named Doc, whom he owes a debt. Baby is set to get out of the life when he meets a sweet waitress named Deborah and they make plans to ride out of the lives they know and never look back but Baby is compelled by Doc to pull off one last job before he makes his getaway.

From the starting line to the finish line, Baby Driver is a slick flick with great characters, a story with plenty of twists and turns, and impeccable attention to detail! This movie held my attention throughout and I couldn’t have been more impressed by it!

This is a standout cast of actors playing very cool characters. Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal, Eiza González, Lily James, CJ Jones, Lanny Joon and Flea round out one of the best acting ensembles I’ve seen in the movies this year!

The music by Steven Price and the soundtrack steal the show! Almost every frame had a song in the background that just fit the moment to a tee! Whether it was “Easy,” “Nowhere to Run,” “Brighton Rock,” “Tequila,” “Debra,” “Egyptian Reggae,” or “Bellbottoms” when there was action or a scene or sequel that was pivotal to the plot, the right song gave the film a great sense of atmosphere for that moment and I’ve never seen anything like that before in a motion picture.

The camerawork and cinematography by Bill Pope was stellar and the editing by Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss was dynamic and precise to the point of picture perfect! Visually, nothing felt lost or out of step in this movie!

I also give credit to Marcus Rowland and his production design, Nigel Churcher and Justin O’Neal Miller and their art direction, Lance Totten and his set decoration and Courtney Hoffman and her costume design. More importantly, I must give credit where credit is due and that must go to the writer and director of this wild, original and masterfully executed thriller. Edgar Wright delivered a masterpiece!

I didn’t go into Baby Driver with much of anything but after bearing witness to everything it had to offer, I came out pleased! This is perhaps, the best film I’ve seen so far this year!

Review: The Mummy

I bet there was a time or two in your life when you and your family made an excursion to your local museum, paid the price of admission to get in, passed through the Ancient Egypt exhibit and saw an actual mummy in a sarcophagus encased in an airtight encasing. I’m also willing to wager, that while you were gawking at the decomposing dead person and his/her fancy-schmancy coffin, you were probably thinking “wow. A dead person. What fun!” in the most sarcastic manner while you were on looking.

This reboot of The Mummy is as exciting as looking at a mummy, in its coffin, gathering dust, in a glass case at a museum. Director Alex Kurtzman takes audiences on an expedition across three countries in the span of thousands of years centering on two individuals from different eras bound together by a sinister plot to bring the ultimate evil on Earth.

Tom Cruise is Nick Morton, the unsuspected and unfortunate fool who unearthed Princess Ahmenet, played by Sofia Boutella, a disgraced Egyptian princess who was eager to get into bed with the god of death in order to assume the mantle of Pharaoh in her time but she was stopped before her designs were set into motion. When Ahmenet is freed, she binds Morton to her with a curse in order for him to do her bidding and complete her plans.

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Image by Universal Pictures

If this movie were made maybe 30 years ago, it may have had a higher impact on audiences but this new mummy is so old-fashioned its practically dead on arrival, emphasis on dead!

Writers David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman did their hardest to incorporate some old-fashioned monster movie nostalgia in a modern-day setting to jumpstart what Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll calls “A new world of gods and monsters” but with the clichés, flimsy characters, ridiculous plot holes and straining story, this “new world” in this “Dark Universe” looks very bleak.

I’m not exactly a fan of Tom Cruise as it is, but he certainly didn’t do any favors himself in this movie. He’s a reputable action star but he just doesn’t excite me as a leading man and his character is just so poorly constituted as well.

Some players never really had a chance to flex their chops in this movie themselves such as Courtney B. Vance, while others were left at the mercy of bad writing and execution like Crowe, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson and Marwan Kenzari. The only actor who actually held interest for me while watching this flop was Boutella.

Ben Seresin’s cinematography was mediocre, the editing of Paul and Gina Hirsch and Andrew Mondshein was all over the place, Bryan Tyler’s score was unspectacular, the visual effects were so cheesy, it hindered whatever appeal this film had going for it, I didn’t mind the production design courtesy of Jon Hutman and Dominic Waktins, and I especially liked the make-up applied to Boutella’s character.

To say that I was unimpressed by this film is an understatement. The Mummy was better off in its sarcophagus and left beneath the sands.

Review: Wonder Woman

I’ve had a good reason to be hard on the efforts of the DC Extended Universe over the past few years; especially last year considering my thoughts on their previous two pictures: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. This year, the producers of the DC Extended Universe look to turn the page on last year and seek to do so with their first superhero adventure starring Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.

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Image by Warner Bros. and DC Comics

The film opens with Gadot as Diana Prince who receives a parcel from a new friend that compels her to reminisce on her earlier years. From her upbringing on the island of Themiscyra, home to the Amazons, where she was raised by her mother Queen Hippolyta, trained by her aunt Antiope, and encountered a man named Steve Trevor, who would guide her to the world of man on a journey that would change her life and the world at large forever.

To reiterate: I’ve been hard on the DC Extended Universe and I had good reason to be so. Their previous films have compelled me to set the bar low on their films going forward and I had to go into Wonder Woman with a low set of expectations. That being said, I must be blunt: THIS. MOVIE. IS. GOOD!

I must give credit where credit is due. Producers Geoff Johns, Zack Snyder, Deborah Snyder, Charles Roven, director Patty Jenkins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg crafted a solid origin story with coming-of-age themes that culminated in a very engaging, charming and the most entertaining DC movie to come out in years! I was satisfied with how they handled this movie; it wasn’t perfect but this was a great effort that really paid off!

I thought that the strength of this movie lied solely with Gadot’s performance meshed with Heinberg’s script and Jenkins’ execution. Wonder Woman is basically looking at the outside world with the perspective of childlike innocence, guided by a man who exposes her to the good and bad that a world at war has to offer someone who doesn’t exactly need to help.

If Gadot’s introduction in Batman v. Superman didn’t sell you on her ability to embody this iconic character, than this movie will most assuredly convince you! It was a treat watching her carry this movie and her on-screen chemistry with Chris Pine is splendid! Whether Diana is trying ice cream for the first time or feels concern or sympathy for the wounded soldiers on No Man’s Land, she just embodies the strength, compassion and innocence in this iconic character and she is relatable to audiences.

While I enjoyed watching this film, I only wish that the film could have done more with the supporting characters such as Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremmer, Eugene Brave Rock, Lucy Davis, Elena Anaya, Danny Huston and David Thewlis. I also hoped that the film would take more time to explore and examine Themiscyra, the Amazons and their cultures.

The cinematography of Matthew Jensen was solid, Rupert Gregson-Williams’ music was satisfactory, Martin Walsh’s editing was solid, the production design of Aline Bonetto was good, Lindy Hemming’s costumes were very good, the visual effects were to my liking and technically Wonder Woman was very well put-together to give this character the strength to stand on her own.

Wonder Woman clearly raised the bar for films coming from the DC Extended Universe because what separates this movie from the films that came before it: fun! This movie allowed itself to have its own natural fun and that allowed the audience to have fun watching it; this is leaps and bounds better than any DC film that came before it!

Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Captain Jack Sparrow has led a very colorful life pilfering and plundering his way through the high seas and seedy ports around the world. There was a time when the world wanted to know what this practically peculiar privateer would do next after a grand adventure but now, it is evident that that time has washed away with the tides.

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Image by Disney

In the fifth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean saga, titled Dead Men Tell No Tales, Captain Jack has run afoul of some very harsh misfortune. Meaning, he’s broke, he hardly has a crew anymore and he still hasn’t managed to get his beloved Black Pearl out of that bottle from the last movie. To make matters worse, Jack’s reckless actions have awakened an army of ghosts, led by a Spanish pirate-hunter named Salazar, hell-bent on casting every buccaneer, marauder and freebooter to Davy Jones’ locker-or is it Will Turner’s locker since Davy Jones is dead and Will has replaced him? Who knows!

Anyway, Captain Jack’s only hope to save himself? He must ally with Henry Turner, the adult son of Will and Elizabeth, and the beautiful and headstrong woman of science Carina Smith to find the Trident of Poseidon, a powerful artifact that will endow upon its holder total command of the seas.

When the end credits started rolling on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, someone tried to gauge my thoughts on the film and all I could tell them was: “Listen, I’m just thankful it’s over!” I want to let you know that this is not my official reflection of the film, but the franchise in general since this is supposed to be the final adventure of the series.

Officially, I found this movie drudgingly unnecessary and mildly mediocre. I will admit that it was nice seeing Captain Jack, Gibbs and Barbossa again and I was willing for this franchise to shanghai me aboard for one last adventure on the high seas but while I was watching this, it dawned on me that I just outgrew this franchise; the magic and the appeal had waned; also I found it convenient that this movie had ghost sharks because with this movie this franchise definitely jumped over them!

I thought this movie had continuity errors, had a lack of balance in the subplots between the characters, had twists that strained credulity and what’s more it had me asking why didn’t anyone come up with this “Trident” concept two movies ago? Why couldn’t they just leave the franchise with the ending from the third movie where everything was just full circle and tied everything together nicely rather than force this happy ending from this installment upon audiences? I just couldn’t comprehend why the producers of this movie couldn’t leave well enough alone?!

Johnny Depp is business as usual as Captain Jack Sparrow, Geoffrey Rush as a well-to-do Barbossa was okay, Kevin McNally, Martin Klebba, Stephen Graham were faces I didn’t mind seeing again and it was cool that they brought Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley back. As for the newcomers to the story Javier Bardem steps into the CGI-aided role of Salazar and even though he has a reputation of playing a damn good villain, I feel as though he phones it in due to poor writing courtesy of Jeff Nathanson. Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario and Golshifteh Farahani did alright as well. Even Sir Paul McCartney snuck aboard! That was a hoot for a minute.

Directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg’s efforts to try and put wind back into the sails of this franchise were wasted. Paul Cameron’s cinematography, Roger Barton and Leigh Folsom Boyd’s editing, Geoff Zanelli’s score, Nigel Phelps’ production design, Penny Rose’s costumes, the art direction, the visual effects; everything technical is just more of what you’ve seen before.

I for one hope that Dead Men Tell No Tales is the farewell voyage of the Pirates of the Caribbean saga even though it had some post-credits scene I didn’t bother to stick around to see! The era of Captain Jack has come and gone; he has the Pearl back and I pray that Disney will leave him be from this day forward!

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

As entertaining as Guardians of the Galaxy was, writer and director James Gunn left a very important question in the film unanswered: who is Star-Lord’s father? In the comics Peter Quill is the son of the Spartoi monarch named J’son, who would go on to become the villain Mister Knife, but Gunn wanted to take Star-Lord’s parentage in an entirely new direction and dedicated a significant amount of the plot to exploring this subject in the highly anticipated Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

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Image by Marvel Studios

Essentially, Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and Baby Groot finally discover the truth about the heritage of their leader when they encounter a man named Ego, who saved them from retaliation after one of their own slighted and stole from Ayesha, the high-priestess of a very pompous and arrogant race of beings called The Sovereign. Ego happens to be much more than a man; he’s an actual sentient planet. Yes, you read that correctly.

Throughout the film, the Guardians of the Galaxy find answers to questions and delve into some deep issues about themselves and each other. Suffice to say, the first film introduced who these characters are but this sequel explores who these characters are and what makes them tick; the film takes the initiative to delve into Star-Lord’s issues of resentment toward Ego’s absence in his life and his upbringing by Yondu, Gamora and his sister issues with Nebula, Drax’s…um…”forthcomingness” and his new “friendship” with Ego’s empathic aid Mantis, Rocket “raising” Baby Groot and his new kinship with Yondu and it all leads to some very dark revelations about Ego and what his plans for his son hold.

I found Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to be a thrill ride! There was laughter, depth, dazzle, emotion; this movie was a quality blockbuster brilliantly orchestrated by James Gunn and I dare say that this was the most fun I’ve ever had watching a Marvel Studios motion picture.

Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, Sean Gunn with the voices of Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper were simply on point from start to finish and the newcomers including Kurt Russell, Elizabeth Debicki, Sylvester Stallone, Pom Klementieff, Chris Sullivan and Tommy Flanagan, their contributions only bolstered the appeal of this film for me. Everyone involved in the performance aspects in this movie, I could feel the fun they had with this picture and that only made me enjoy this more.

Tyler Bates’ music, Henry Braham’s cinematography, Fred Raskin and Craig Wood’s editing, Scott Chambliss’ production design, the art direction, the make-up, Judianna Makovsky’s costumes and the outstanding visual effects, everything I saw in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was pure eye-candy and sensory bliss!

If I had to zone in on one particular flaw it’s that it felt like the film was juggling the subplots of the picture for most of the second act, particularly because the majors players of the film were separated for most of the picture but when they are finally united in the face of Ego’s grand design, it’s a satisfying payoff.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 is bigger, bolder, brighter and braver than it’s predecessor and I believe that it did enough to set the stage for the galaxy’s band of a**holes outlaws for what is to come in Vol. 3. This is a must see movie IMO.

Review: Free Fire

It has most certainly been a while since my last review but I had a good reason for not writing one: there was nothing of interest for me to see lately, so I passed the time by posting news articles. On Friday, I managed to see something interesting in theaters and I thought I think this might be worth a review, so let’s jump right into Free Fire shall we?

From director Ben Wheatley, who wrote this with Amy Jump, Free Fire is a rousing, absurd but moderately entertaining shoot-em-up set in 1978 Boston, where a transaction to procure firearms between two criminal organizations goes horribly, horribly wrong!

Basically, you take a collection of good actors in Arnie Hammer, Sharlto Copely, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Enzo Cilenti, Michael Smiley, Babou Cessay, Sam Riley, Jack Reynor, Noah Taylor, Patrick Bergen and Mark Monero, put them in a very volatile situation, put a gun in each of their hands, douse the situation with proverbial gasoline and have one gun go off to light the situation up. Then just sit back and revel in the carnage and let this one thought occupy your mind as you watch the bullets fly: “These people are the worst shots EVER!”

Free Fire won’t make a lot of critical noise, but it certainly isn’t a quiet picture because Wheatley allows the action and pacing of the simple plot to take center stage and the action is enough to keep its audience satisfied. These characters are all shooting at each other, getting shot, squirming around on the ground covered in glass, debris and one guy who is crawling around on the ground gets stuck with a used syringe at one point, but what’s happening and what develops is stimulating enough to keep you engaged with the picture.

I think Ben Wheatley made a very rugged and respectable film. The action is simple but welcome and the pacing of the film is also commendable. The writing is also very refreshing; this was my first time sampling something from Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley and I like what I experienced.

This isn’t exactly a movie to evaluate the actors since no one performance stands apart from the rest but the cast is definitely fun to watch.

Laurie Rose’s cinematography definitely lets you feel like you are in the middle of the action, the editing of Jump and Wheatley are precise; they don’t use any cut or jump to waste a moment, Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury’s music takes something of a backseat to the picture but the use of John Denver music is cool, Emma Fryer’s costumes are on point, Paki Smith’s production, Paul Frost and Nigel Pollock’s art decoration and Liz Griffiths’ set decoration all add to the rich mise-en-scene of the film.

Free Fire may be a low-budget movie, but the action is top-shelf and its overall value is worth the price of admission. I had fun watching Free Fire, and if you have an afternoon to kill and would like to see something silly and surprising, I’d recommend Free Fire to change your pace.

Review: Kong: Skull Island

For the fourth time in the history of American filmmaking, one of the all time great movie monsters bows into theaters to pound his chest, roar and reign supreme over an island not meant for man to tread. It’s director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ turn to give life to a beast some have dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World in Kong: Skull Island.

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Image by Legendary Entertainment and Warner Bros.

Fair warning: the plot for the film will be familiar if one is familiar with the mythos of Kong from the past. In in the early 1970s, a scientific expedition to an uncharted island in the South Pacific goes horribly awry, when a team led by Colonel Preston Packard, decommissioned SAS Captain James Conrad and researcher Bill Randa run afoul of Kong, the mammoth ape protector of Skull Island. Their first encounter with the beast results in seven soldiers dead and the research team separated and every single soul on the island is in grave peril, but not from Kong; the truth is that Kong is the island’s deterrent to creatures far more frightening.

I won’t go out of my way to tell you that Kong: Skull Island is a blockbuster worthy of a king or it should be rightfully crowned. I found the picture rather tame with a few original twists but I suppose I was just unsatisfied with the final result.

If Kong: Skull Island had any selling points, it would be that I thought Vogt-Roberts and the writing team of Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connelly did a nice job in adhering to Kong’s origins and island life/persona: a fearsome protector to those in need, always ready to aid a damsel, worshipped as a god on Skull Island. I felt that they recognized the scope and grandeur of the title character and did what they could to make him as big as possible but the film itself just couldn’t measure up to the enormity of Kong’s reputation. Seriously, take the giant ape out of the picture and what are you left with?

For starters you have a movie that is weighed down to the anchored to the homages paid to Apocalypse Now, which is excessive to the point of over-the-top. This movie could have occurred in any time period so, why at the end of the Vietnam War?

You also have a movie that simply wastes a lot of star power. Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Toby Kebbell, Jason Mitchell, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz, Shea Whigham, Tian Jing, Thomas Mann, Will Britain, Richard Jenkins; there are many good actors in this movie and this cast tries to deliver good performances where they can but like Godzilla, they’re not why audiences show up! Whatever contributions they do make, go to waste because the material they are working with is shallow and the visual effects steals the show.

Larry Fong’s cinematography aims to be strong but reeks of inconsistency and the editing Richard Pearson follows suit, which is unfortunate. Stefan DeChant’s production design is striking, the art direction is commendable, the set decoration by Cynthia La Jeunesse is fine, Mary E. Vogt’s costumes aimed for authenticity; technically there was a lot to respect with this film and what did you didn’t like, you forgot.

Maybe I subconsciously compared Kong: Skull Island to its 2005 predecessor by Peter Jackson, even though I didn’t want to, but ultimately I couldn’t help but notice that Jackson’s Kong had the girth and dimensions to bring Kong to its Kingly status while this film felt cartoonish. Kong: Skull Island is fun, in it’s own way, but lacking.