Review: Baby Driver

In the opening credits of Baby Driver, the latest from filmmaker Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim v. the World) there’s a choreographer acknowledged among the various producers and crew. After a spectacular opening heist scene – a three-man bank robbery and a getaway of masterful stunt driving through downtown Atlanta (and nary a tap shoe in sight) – might seem a bit odd. But so carefully crafted is Wright’s original screenplay about a music-obsessed getaway car driver and his attempt to go straight that enlisting the same guy who choreographed Sia’s best videos makes perfect sense.

Immediately after the opening credits, that choreography is beautifully and immediately apparent in an uninterrupted long shot that takes us on a post-heist coffee run with our protagonist, Baby (Ansel Elgort). Just ten minutes in and we’re watching the camera follow Baby seamlessly down the street, into the shop and back to the warehouse where his heist crew and boss split their take from the recent job. Along the way, extras pop in and out of perfectly framed shots, the film’s soundtrack aligns directly with each movement and there’s even a bit of foreshadowing as Baby notices a blonde outside the coffee shop (on a music swell, no less). It’s a dance as skilled as any of Gene Kelly’s, and from the get go, it’s obvious: this is a filmmaker who loves making movies, and he’s not afraid to show off.

Wright started drafting this film back in 1995, but it only made its way into the world earlier this year at SXSW, where it was met with raucous fan-boy adulation, such is Wright’s genre (and one assumes largely male) fan base. As it opens in theaters this week, the positive buzz is sure to continue to the tune of a nice big box office. It’s that rare accomplishment of original filmmaking that checks nearly ever box. Solid, high-stakes story: check. Great soundtrack: check. Impressive action scenes: check. Love story: check. Though it gets a bit muddled by the end as Wright rushes through wrapping up various loose ends, he’s more than made up for it with his meticulous attention to detail and sheer enthusiasm that jumps off the screen.

Continue reading “Review: Baby Driver”

Review: Band Aid

I don’t remember exactly when I became a fan of Zoe Lister-Jones, but it happened at some point, because now I follow her on Instagram. Last July, she posted a headline that she’d be making her directorial debut with Band Aid, a feature she also wrote and would produce and star in.

By January, that little feature was not only shot and picture locked, but it enjoyed a premiere at Sundance. In May, it screened as part of the Chicago Critics Film Festival, where I was able to catch it during a week jam-packed with great films.

In a matter of months, I’d seen a film go from announcement to festivals and then to theaters. A rapid timeline by anyone’s standards! And something about this one – an original script by an already successful actress – made it particularly intriguing. This is creating, this is making art, making something from nothing.

It’s not a dig against it to say the movie isn’t anything monumental. Nothing explodes, there’s no big special effects. Instead, it’s a modern, original relationship comedy, one that finds its stride in the chemistry between Lister-Jones and Adam Pally as a married couple on the rocks who decide to turn their fights into songs for their new band.  Continue reading “Review: Band Aid”

Preview: Chicago Critics Film Festival

Though the heyday of Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel has passed, Chicago boasts a strong showing in film criticism these days. The guys (because it’s mainly guys) who make up the Chicago Film Critics Association work hard across outlets to cover film releases and happenings around the city.

On Friday, their fifth annual Chicago Critics Film Festival kicks off a week of screenings at Chicago’s classic Music Box Theater. A small festival by any measure – no galas, no panels, no frills – it’s big where it matters: the movies. More than twenty features will screen over the course of a week, and for those of us keeping track of these kinds of things, they’re two dozen great films.

With such a fantastic line-up heading to a theater within walking distance (a long walk, but still), my plans include at least one film a day (and one day with three!). Here’s what I’ll be seeing: Continue reading “Preview: Chicago Critics Film Festival”