“Baby Driver” movie review

Exhilarating! Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is an accelerated non-stop comedic action-thriller that will have you in high-gear the entire drive time. Wildly entertaining! It offers up the best car chases, excellent characters, and displays solid writing in this subgenre of action films. During the golden age of Hollywood cinema, grand getaways, robberies, and car chase movies were a staple. Sony/Tristar, et al, demonstrate that one of the foundational plot types that provided audiences with thrills back then can be effectively resurrected today to embody the engine that drove those motion pictures and install it into a new, sleek body design to mesmerize and impress audiences of today. Certainly, Baby drives to the beat of his own mixtape in this movie, but the film itself goes further and integrates the rhythm of action into the sound design of the motion picture. Not to be left behind on the 80s throwback movies and TV shows bandwagon featuring hipsters and mixtapes, Wright crafts a summer film that rises above the all too cliché CGI robots taking to the sky and pirates swashbuckling across the seas to remind us that little can compare to the squeal of the wheel, love, and the witty turning of phrase. In short, Baby Driver is a self-aware pop-culture film but has the soul of a James Dean motion picture.

Meet Baby (Elgort). Yes, that’s B-A-B-Y Baby. He’s the unparalleled talented getaway driver for Doc’s (Spacey) Atlanta crime ring. With earbuds in place, playing classic rock or his own mixtapes, Baby drives, speeds, and maneuvers to the beat of his tunes. No police force is a match for his ability to evade his would-be captors in order to return Doc’s henchman (and woman) to the secret lair. As chance would have it, Baby meets Debora (James), the girl of his dreams, at his usual diner. All that stands in his way is one more job for Doc, or so he thinks. With payment in full of his debt to Doc on the horizon, Baby sees this as his opportunity to make a clean break and to ditch his shady lifestyle of crime. But when Doc approaches Baby with yet another job, Baby must decide to whom his allegiances lie and protect those he loves.

Any veteran filmmaker will tell you that it’s vitally important to hook the audience within the first three to five minutes of a film. Fail to hook producers at the beginning of the screenplay, and it’s file-thirteen for those 120 pages. As a director, it’s encumbered upon him or her to grab hold of the audience’s attention, creating the urge to want more, to know more. The first scene of Baby Driver is an incredible display of excellence in writing, directing, and the technical elements of motion picture creation. The magic of this scene lies in the ability for Wright to wow the audience, without leaving anyone “out there in the dark” (Sunset Blvd) overly-stimulated or left with the feeling of utter exhaustion. The scene is perfectly stimulating. It sets the bar high for the film, and continues to keep it up there for the entire runtime. Just like the pace of Baby’s driving, the pacing of the film is exquisitely handled and couldn’t be better! The biggest difference between this robbery/getaway film and similar films such as The Fast and the Furious is substance. In addition to the incredible cinematography and sound design paired with out of the world car chases, the film provides heart, soul, and qualitative substance that forms the foundation upon which the more superficial elements are laid.

The cast couldn’t have been more brilliantly selected. One of the hallmarks of an Edgar Wright film is the charismatic leads that display solid chemistry on screen. Just who are our heroes in this film? You’ll just have to watch it and decide for yourself. I love it when films take the more conventional concept of heroes and villains and turns it on its head. For whomever you decide are the heroes, you’ll certainly find yourself actively rooting for their survival and rooting for the villains to meet their demise in shockingly creative ways. When Kevin Spacey isn’t busy being the President of the United States, or more recently, an ex-President, he is the king pin of an Atlanta-based crime syndicate that stages fantastically wild robberies. And Baby is indebted to him and must reluctantly aid and abet as the best getaway driver ever to hit the screens in recent years–think a modern-day James Dean. Jaime Foxx plays the veteran head henchman extremely well and adds his own repulsive, yet comedic charm to his role. It would have been far too easy to play off Spacey and Foxx’s conventional talents to steel focus away from the central plot, but Wright strikes a perfect balance between his leads and the story. Elgort and Spacey’s on-screen chemistry was crafted with strategic precision in order to quickly solidify the frenemy relationship between the two characters. With Elgot increasing in popularity, Wright could have deflated to playing up the attractive bad boy tropes but instead allows Elgot’s Baby to develop organically throughout the film.

If you are seeking a summer film that clearly demonstrates a movie in which all the creative elements work seamlessly together in the manner in which they were respectively intended, then don’t miss Baby Driver while it’s in theatres. The energy you will feel in this film is nearly unparalleled by any in recent times, and that’s because both the major and minor components work together like a well-oiled machine. You will be at full throttle as you are instantly transported from your auditorium seat to the passenger seat in Baby’s car.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

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“The Divergent Series: Allegiant part 1” movie review

AllegiantPossibly a strong finish for the Divergent Games! Of course, we won’t know just how well it finishes until the second part. Surprisingly, The Divergent Series: Allegiant part 1 provides fans with a good start to a well-executed conclusion. After the weak sequel, it was quite unexpected that the series would begin to complete this YA series on such a high note. Unlike the disappointing conclusion of The Hunger GamesAllegiant brings back your favorite characters you love and love to hate in a very satisfying ending in the dystopian adventure to rescue a people from themselves. At the end of the day, the Divergent series will never be as successful or generate the same fandom as The Hunger Games; but simply comparing the last two films in both franchises, this is clearly the superior finish (or should be). Although Roth’s socio-political themes and subtext were fairly clear, all be it still weak, in the first two films, the message is a little vague and incoherent in Allegiant. Two YA franchises down and one to go. We will just have to see what lies in store for the Maze Runner series. Just like the Divergent series has a week middle, hopefully the weak sequel in The Maze Runner will pave the way for a strong conclusion as well. One thing is for sure, Allegiant contains far more action than the previous films which almost makes the weak and still completely explained plot worth the approximate 2-hour run time.

The first part of the final chapter in the Divergent Series takes us beyond the wall into a desolate wasteland. Follow Beatrice/Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Caleb (Ansel Elgort), Peter (Miles Teller), and Christina (Zoe Kravitz) as they embark on a journey to seek help from the outside in order to stop the civil war in dystopian Chicago (or modern day Detroit). With newly asserted leader of the faction less system Evelyn (Naomi Watts) and Amity turned Allegiant leader Johanna (Octavia Spencer) at odds with one another, war is brewing in the streets and all hell is about to break loose. Barely escaping Evelyn’s security team, Tris and her band are rescued by a team from an organization of pure bloods who oversees the “Chicago Experiment.” This group of researchers and scientists led by David (Jeff Daniels) recruits Tris and her team to develop a plan to save Chicago, or so they think. When Four discovers what is really going on, he must convince Tris and the rest of her band of rebels to make right what is going incredibly wrong.

For me, and I am sure other critics, analyzing this particular series, The Hunger Games, and Maze Runner gets boring. Because, for the most part, they all have the same plot, same fallacies, and similar subtext. They are all extremely socio-political methods to spread the message that only teenagers are special and are capable of saving the world from corrupt adults. Although these movies are aimed at Generation Z (anyone born after 1995), they still attract attention from Y/Millennials (~1982-1994) and Generation Xers (~1965-1981). That is important because Generation Z does not have the spending power that generations X and Y do. In order to maximize the income potential of the films, the studios have to appeal to Generation Zers in such a way that it will also bring their Millennial friends and potentially Generation X parents. Since schools are constantly preaching the message that teenagers are the future, they are special, and uncontaminated by the greed of the world, it makes sense to create films based on books that carry that theme. The negative side effect to this approach is creating a generation(s) that automatically distrust adults and their respective decisions regarding the environment, politics, and society. Just as Allegiant depicts what happens when there is such great division among a people who view the approach to peace so very differently will devolve into a war-like state, it’s entirely possible that reinforcing this division between Generation Z and X/Y could symbolically arrive at the same precipice.

The production value and design in Allegiant definitely outshines the prior two installments. That is important due to the fact that Roth’s political subtext definitely becomes a little muddled in this last chapter. Although there is definitely way too much cheesy CGI, it is far less than the previous film. And other than some of the outlandish technology used in the story, for the most part, the defense, security, and surveillance technology used by the various characters makes sense and is perfectly believable in their universe. There is even a real reference to 21st century earth’s scientists experimenting with the human genome. That helps to create a sense of futuristic realism in the Divergent universe. One of the biggest problems I have with the plot is the still unexplained history of how exactly the Chicago experiment began. Perhaps the director and writers did not feel it was necessary to provide a clear history through character exposition, but I am still a little confused as to how the Pure Bloods and Damaged became so incredibly separate. Another thing, if there are thousands (if not millions) of Pure Bloods in existence, then why use the Chicago Experiment as a method to see if a Pure Blood can be born out of all of it??? I guess that is why it’s not worth overly analyzing films such as this one.

For what it’s worth, Allegiant is an exciting start to the last chapter in the Divergent Series! Far more entertaining than the last one. If you were disappointed by Mockingjay Part 2 than rest assured that you will definitely enjoy the conclusion of this franchise. Not a bad way to spend your Spring Break or an afternoon over the weekend. But, I wouldn’t bother seeing this film in IMAX or 3D. However, I can see some benefit to the experience of this film by watching it in a D-Box auditorium.