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.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

I never planned on getting into Guardians of the Galaxy. I know essentially nothing about this thing called the “Marvel Universe.” (Are there stars in it? Planets?) I’m not sure I’m really into any of it now, honestly, even after seeing the second film in James Gunn’s blockbuster franchise, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. But I sure am enjoying the hell out of dipping my toe in the comic waters.

I saw the first installation in the middle of the day in July, 2014. I’d stayed home from work (it was a Wednesday, I believe) because I’d just received news that my grandfather had passed away early that morning, and I was in no shape to go into the office. Far from home and far from family, after the initial shock wore off, I didn’t really know what to do with myself.

So I took myself to the movies. I took myself to see the only thing I knew I couldn’t care less about: a big, blustery summer superhero flick. It was one in the afternoon and there were maybe three other people in the theater. And it did exactly what I needed it to do: it completely transported me away from the world outside that cinema.

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Review: The Zookeeper’s Wife

Jessica Chastain came out of nowhere. At least, that’s what it seemed like in 2011. The film-release stars aligned and no fewer than six films open that year featuring this fresh new face who, as anyone who understands how these things work, knows had actually been working for years. Most notably, that year she was featured in Take Shelter, Coriolanus, The Tree of Life, and The Help (for which she was nominated for an Oscar). That’s one way to launch a career.

From there, like a sprinter at the starting line when the gun goes off, she hit the ground running. After several years and more success in big-budget brainteasers (Interstellar) and indie darlings (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby), it’s her most recent releases that see her top-lining the marquee. The underrated Miss Sloane was good, but not good enough to break through the awards hustle around its December release at the end of last year.

Now, The Zookeeper’s Wife gets a late-March release that all but removes it from any awards conversation for 2018 (understandably so, honestly). But no matter. Chastain is talented enough that, though it won’t be for Zookeeper, it’s just a matter of time before she gets the recognition she deserves.

In the end, it’s mostly thanks to Chastain’s unwavering conviction in the title role that The Zookeeper’s Wife, the film adaptation of Diane Ackerman’s book (which itself is based on a true story), avoids falling entirely into caricature territory. The glossy, polished Holocaust drama is at times moving (and, as most Holocaust films are, difficult to watch), but it’s a far cry from the life-changing impact of films like Schindler’s List, Son of Saul and Life is Beautiful.

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