Category Archives: Crime

“The Dark Knight Rises” Movie Review

*Discretion: The Aurora, Colorado shooting is one of the most shocking, disturbing, and disgusting acts of violence I’ve ever witnessed against cinema. My heart and prayers go out to the victims and families of those who suffered.

Well, this is odd. Dunkirk has already been released in theaters, so the relevance of my Christopher Nolan film reviews leading up to it have virtually ended. So there’s really no relevance here in this review, but still. I had so much on my mind as I rewatched it recently that I still wanted to talk about it in-depth. Like to a spoiler degree. Consider yourself warned. The final installment of this gritty superhero thriller trilogy was released internationally on July 20th, 2012. Following the massive critical and commercial success of The Dark Knight 4 years earlier, this film went on to gross just over $1 billion worldwide at the box office. Accompanied by a mass viral marketing campaign, anticipation was so high that director Christopher Nolan had to verbally tell the actors the ending of the film to avoid any leaks online. It worked for me because I walked into the theater knowing absolutely nothing about the plot. Set 8 years after Harvey Dent’s murder was covered up for the better, Gotham City has become a quiet metropolis mostly void of crime. Bruce Wayne has been holed up in Wayne Manor, crippled and aimlessly willowing away on a cane with no further goal in life but to be alone with his butler Alfred. But now, a revolutionary called Bane, whose past is connected with Ra’s al Ghul has come in and swears to bring Gotham City to ashes. And now, Wayne must learn to become the Batman again in order to defend his deeply flawed city from burning to the ground. I’m just going to get this out of the way right now: The Dark Knight is one of my favorite films of all time in any genre. It was so much more than a comic book superhero film and became an intriguing crime drama with so much to say about the problems of modern America. So to say that I was eagerly awaiting a potential third film in this franchise would be the understatement of the decade. And fans of the trilogy are deeply divided on this one. Some love it, some hate it, and some just aren’t sure what to think of it. I don’t know how many followers I’m at risk of losing by saying this, by I gotta say I really like The Dark Knight Rises. However, if you find yourself as one of the people who hate this movie, I do understand where you’re coming from. But just hear out why I think it’s worth another look and your appreciation. Most all of the cast members from the first two films reprise their roles again here (R.I.P. Heath Ledger) The three new additions are Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Anne Hathaway. Hathaway is her typical sexy self as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, an antihero who’s not quite sure who’s side she’s pulling for. Gordon-Levitt proves that he has come a long way from appearing in Halloween H20: 20 Years Later. He’s a new, honest cop who’s maybe a little too good at his job and wants to make Gotham a safer place than it already is. Tom Hardy is the real revelation as Bane, a menacing and unpredictable terrorist with an agenda. Carrying on the legacy of Ra’s al Ghul, he lives to see Gotham burned to the ground, even if it costs his own life. Now I’m going to do something I never do. After watching Red Letter Media’s (admittedly unfair) video listing some plot holes in the movie, I worked to find solutions to those problems. And now I’m going to list those problems and how I think they are answered. 1) How could Bruce Wayne get back to Gotham City in time to stop Bane and his army? In Batman Begins, we saw that he was capable of traveling across the world without any money to help him. He could have easily smuggled himself onto a ship or plane heading to the United States, then posed as part of the crew delivering food supplies. 2) How did Bane know exactly where to place the bombs? If you remember, Ra’s al Ghul once said that the League of Shadows has infiltrated every level of Gotham’s infrastructure- which could include people inside Wayne Enterprises. This isn’t a plan Bane cooked up yesterday; he probably spent years figuring out where everything was so meticulously. 3) How did Batman know exactly when to eject from the Bat to avoid the bomb blast? He had a T.V. is his prison, and likely watched the Gotham football game when Bane interrupted it. The scientist present said the blast radius was 6 miles, so that’s covered. 4) How could no one in Italy recognize Bruce at the end of the movie? Well, for one, just because so many people know your name doesn’t they know your face. And odds are, he used the “clean slate” along with Kyle to give himself a fresh start. 5) How could the police fight at the end when they should have been sickly, pale, and malnourished? One word: fiction. At the end of the day, no matter how realistic and gritty it may seem, this trilogy is ultimately based on a comic book series- where he battled mud monsters and ice men. Aside from all of that, you have to understand how deeply emotional this film is. Bruce Wayne may have hung up his cape and cowl, but he never moved on and tried to be a person. He’s stuck there, but can’t learn how to be good again. When Catwoman tells him that he’s given up everything for Gotham, he responds, “Not everything. Not yet.” Even though parts of the plot are questionable, The Dark Knight Rises is a grim but triumphant conclusion to a beloved trilogy. And you know what? You kind of have to turn your brain off to fully enjoy it. Please don’t kill me.

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“John Wick Chapter 2” Movie Review

Are you familiar with the phrase, “The sequels are just never as good as the original”? Well, to that, you should remember something: There’s always at least one exception to the rule. This neo-noir actioner was released over Valentine’s Day weekend in 2017. While it faced tough competition against The Lego Batman Movie and (unfortunately) Fifty Shades Darker, it still managed to gross over $171 million, more than twice that of its predecessor. Although David Leitch ultimately ducked out to do Deadpool 2 and Atomic Blonde, former stuntman Chad Stahelski returns to direct this follow-up to the surprise hit of 2014, in a year full of surprise hits. Set only a few days after the events of the original, Wick is contacted by an old acquaintance after hearing of his recent exploits. Bound by a blood oath, he is forced to infiltrate and take out high-ranking members of an international assassins’ guild. His push out of retirement forces him to travel from New York to Rome and embarks on a journey that is best left unspoiled. The primary reason I held off on watching this picture for a while is that I hadn’t yet seen the first one. I’m the kind of person who likes to watch the original before the new one comes out, regardless if there’s any continuity. And in the case these movies, it’s especially important to watch the first one in order to gain a better understanding of the world built here. It jumps right in from the first scene- an exciting car chase through the streets of Manhattan -and never lets up. And from there, not only is Chapter 2 arguably better than the first movie, it’s perhaps the best action movie of 2017. And we’re knee deep in a year full of great ones. Keanu Reeves returns as the titular badass and hasn’t lost an ounce of his charm. One of the most likable movie stars on the planet, the fact that he is still making successful action movies at the age of 52 is really impressive. He also loves performing his own stunts, apparently getting himself into some hectic situations with the filming process. While John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, and Bridget Moynahan reprise their small but crucial roles, there’s a bevy of new characters- specifically villains -worth getting to know. Riccardo Scarmacio is our main antagonist and is pretty despicable. The task he gives Wick is difficult enough, but an action he takes later makes us love to hate him. Ruby Rose is his mute but efficient henchman while rapper Common is a bodyguard with a particular grudge against the main hero. Laurence Fishbourne shows up for about 15 minutes worth of screen time in his first collaboration with Reeves since The Matrix trilogy. Although he isn’t around much, his character is pretty interesting and makes for a nice change of pace with the dialogue. It’s clear that this film had a bigger budget than last time, given all of the lavish locations and glorious set pieces. Whereas last time it felt as though they blew most of their budget on the Red Circle Night Club scene, they had enough money to make as many extravagant sequences as they pleased. This film’s big standout was an escape sequence in the catacombs beneath a colosseum. My jaw was practically on the floor when it happened, and it may be- along with the car chase through the pass in Mad Max: Fury Road -the coolest action scene I’ve witnessed this decade. There’s another scene later on when John Wick is fighting these two hitmen who are after him and kills both of them with a pencil. With a FREAKING PENCIL! As if that story Viggo told us in the last movie wasn’t enough. The film already earned its R rating way early on with plenty of F-bombs and bloody action, but that scene cemented it. The film looks and sounds gorgeous, too. The many corridors provide an interesting backdrop for the action, drenching the characters in dark shadows and echoing footsteps. A film with this kind of gunplay is bound to have great audio, and it is really amazing. You can hear everything from the bullets whizzing by our hero’s head to the grunts from bullet wounds or hand-to-hand wounds. The color pallet is slightly differentiated from last time, but for the most part, it’s still a contrast between red and blue. And of course, the best part about the original John Wick wasn’t even the action scenes, but instead the inventive world-building. The credited screenwriter for this franchise thus far is Derek Kolstad, and he should get more name recognition for films like this. In the first one, he crafted a unique environment with enormous potential for a franchise, waiting for more interest to arise. Thankfully, he allowed this world to blossom in the sequel as we witness assassins not only all over New York City but everywhere in the world. All of the assassins, no matter what region they’re in, know who you are and the things you’ve done. This assassins’ guild, The High Table, may be the thing holding everything together, and there’s so much unexplained history worth exploring. You discover that the Continental Hotel reaches overseas, you see that their society is insistent on honoring codes, regardless of how bad they may be. It’s rare for action movies to build such a cool world while giving us some brilliant action scenes. Although a little less emotionally involving than the first one, John Wick Chapter 2 features incredible gunplay, intriguing world-building, and a badass hero staged at the center. Clocking in at just over 2 hours, it doesn’t ever feel like it drags on or rushes too fast. In short, it does what every sequel should do: doubling down on what the first one great and running with. So much awesomeness to watch over and over.

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“John Wick” Movie Review

You know, I own a dog myself. A boxer, in fact, and she’s the most adorable thing on the face of this planet. If she was killed by some mobsters in the middle of the night, I would totally go after them and kill anyone standing in my way. This stylish neo-noir action thriller was initially released on October 24, 2014, when it quadrupled its $20 million budget following its premiere at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema’s Fantastic Fest a month prior. The script was reportedly tossed around for a while before Keanu Reeves caught wind of it. After that, he contacted Lionsgate, and now we’re here. Reeves stars as John Wick, a highly efficient and renowned assassin who has recently retired to live a quiet life. A few days after his wife dies, he is left with a dog in her memory, and while out on a road trip of sorts with it, insults some young Russian gangsters. That night, they break into his house, beat him up, steal his car, and kill his dog. Now Wick is on an Apache warpath for revenge, reigning down the wrath of God on the Russian mafia. Whenever Reeves is involved in the production of a film, I’m always cautious. In real life, he’s an extremely nice and likable guy, but his acting chops have been a bit hard to buy. He’s virtually been playing the same character for nearly 20 years since Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. And none of the advertisements really grabbed my attention. It just looked like yet another action film riding on our nostalgia from hits in the 1980’s as well as the 1990’s. But there’s none of that here. Turns out it’s actually a really fun time and feels so modern in so many different ways. For one thing, the action scenes themselves are remarkably constructed and brilliantly helmed. What makes them work is the fact that there is NO shaky-cam and very few cuts, allowing the audience to follow and see everything with ease. The standout moment for me, as it was for a lot of other people as well, was when John infiltrated the Red Circle Night Club and just went to town on every bodyguard centered there. Hands down the best night club sequence since Michael Mann’s Collateral in 2004, this will likely be evaluated as a new benchmark for action filmmaking. The cinematography by Jonathan Sela echoes something of Roger Deakins, as he uses controlled lighting to create harsh shadows and beautiful contrasts in color. Specifically, between a blue teal and light red. And Elizabet Ronalds’ slick editing is nice and doesn’t go all Tak3n on us. Let’s talk about the acting. It’s fine. Not especially impressive, but fine. Reeves plays arguably his best character to date, a morally ambiguous hitman who just wants to lay low. There are some scenes which require him to show off some dramatic feeling, and for the most part, it worked. He virtually has an immunity to bad dialogue and is perhaps the only person who could possibly make this series work. Not to mention, he brings a lot of physicality by performing his own stunts, and you can actually see his face. Michael Nyqvist stars opposite as the leader of the Russian mafia who wants to avoid a conflict with the titular hero. He doesn’t want to take over the world or even fight Wick; he just wants to keep his family business running. Game of Thrones alum Alfie Allen is foolish and cocky as his son who basically sets everything in motion. There are also a surprising number of supporting players, such as Ian McShane as the mysterious owner of an interesting hotel, both Willem Dafoe and Adrianne Palicki as two assassins from John’s past, John Leguizamo as a quirky head of a chop shop, and Bridget Moynahan as Wick’s deceased wife. All of them contribute something interesting to the overall package. The best part about John Wick, by far, is the intriguing world-building. At first glance, it looks just like any other action thriller that you’ve seen. But in reality, it spends time constructing a fascinating heightened version of the world we live in, built specifically for assassins. There’s an actual currency of gold coins, a clean-up crew for nasty jobs, hideout locations for various mobs, and an understanding of law enforcement. The biggest standout is the Continental Hotel, an international housing business that prohibits criminals from carrying out business on their grounds. And now, there’s a planned T.V. show centered on this hotel in development, so I’m definitely surprised by all of it. In a way, it felt kind of like a video game world, but you buy it. Just the creation of this whole world alone is worth repeat viewings to catch all of the intricacies because 1 hour and 41 minutes didn’t quite feel like enough to satisfy. Although it lacks a certain tangible depth for me to recommend for everyone, John Wick is an excellent return-to-form for its star and a really fun thrill ride. You’ll also see a review for the 2017 sequel in a little while, so keep your eyes peeled. In the meantime, you can enjoy this fast-paced action film and have some fun picking up everything in this complex world.

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“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” Movie Review

Director Luc Besson has given us a pretty kick-ass sci-fi space opera for a modern generation… called The Fifth Element, 20 years ago. And now, we are here. Let’s deal with it. This ambitious science-fiction action-adventure was released on July 21st, 2017. Estimates say that at a budget of nearly $200 million, almost all of it crowdsourced, this is the most expensive European film and the most expensive “independent” film ever made. This proved to be a disadvantage for the film, as it has yet to break just $50 million worldwide and will likely experience losses in the hundred million range. Based off the influential French comic book series Valérian and Laureline by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières, the PG-13 rated story follows Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne as Valerian and Laureline, two space-traveling agents who are in charge of fixing problems for the United Human Federation. They visit the intergalactic space station Alpha, which houses thousands of races and cultures from all over the universe. One of these races is an endangered kind that begins a series of pseudo-terror attacks and it’s up to Valerian and Laureline to figure out what exactly they want. Now when I say that the graphic novel was influential, I really mean it. So many iconic space operas, from Star Wars to Babylon 5, have taken visual inspiration from it. Just the way the technology looked as well as some of the alien designs paid homage to this series. In an ironic twist, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets the adaptation seems to want to pay homage to the early birds of that genre which itself highly influenced. Even Luc Besson’s cult classic The Fifth Element took inspiration, and that was a really enjoyable sci-fi. But Valerian is not enjoyable at all; in fact, it’s one of the worst movies of the year. Dane DeHaan is an undeniably great actor, I’ve seen it in The Place Beyond the Pines and Chronicle. But here, his character is supposed to be like Han Solo, in that he’s the most badass human being in the universe. And it’s really hard to buy him as it, considering that the titular character is a bit of a conceded prick for most of the runtime. Cara Delevingne, however, may just be a lost cause for the acting world. Her performance in Suicide Squad was a mixed bag for me, and now she tries to come off as a sexy gun-wielding savior of the universe. She is definitely sexy, but her scenes of action turned me off. The supporting cast is filled with a surprising amount of big names. Clive Owen shows up for the first movie I’ve seen in awhile and was pretty good in his own role. Though I have to say, it was fairly easy to see where his arc was going in this one. Singer Rihanna tries her hand at acting for about a 20-30 minute stretch of the film and does a surprisingly nice job. Her character was relatively interesting, even if it tried to ham-fist social commentary into the story. Meanwhile, John Goodman, Rutger Hauer, Ethan Hawke, and Herbie Hancock… are all given so little to say and do that it’s downright criminal, and ultimately feel more like glorified cameos. Hawke was particularly annoying, reminding me too much of Chris Tucker from The Fifth Element. In many ways, Luc Besson is like this generation’s version of George Lucas. By that, I mean that he has an incredible imagination and sense of creativity but these ideas are not always executed in the best way possible. There are some really neat concepts and ideas in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets to be savored. One of the races in the movie is based on beach-like terrain and uses sea pearls to fertilize everything. After the opening scene, our heroes arrive on a seemingly barren planet. But as soon as they put on special glasses, they see hundreds of markets, bizarre style, in an alternate dimension. But perhaps the coolest thing was the technology. Being a big sci-fi nerd, I love to see what kind of tech the world is able to offer. And one exhilarating chase sequence sees Valerian running through a wall and then shooting his gun to be able to walk on air. On the technical side of things, it’s a reasonably competent production. Alexandre Desplat’s score is an engaging, if not quite a memorable one. But the biggest thing this has going for it, by far, are the special effects. Utilizing 2,734 visual shots overall, the CGI is pretty impressive and sometimes just gorgeous. However, many scenes required some extensive green screen work and it didn’t always look convincing. But for the most part, it did look pretty. But it just comes down to the fact that this movie is detrimentally overstuffed with pointless characters and unnecessary subplots. Besson gives Marvel Studios a run for their money on how much you can pack into one movie. The romance aspect between Valerian and Lauraline is present in the film just as it is in the comics. But Develingne and DeHaan do not share good chemistry, so their hard-to-get relationship came off as forced and stupid. That whole thing occupied roughly 30 minutes of the movie. It’s already 2 hours and 17 minutes long, so if they just shaved that whole thing, it would be much better. While it’s undeniably ambitious in the scope, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a beautiful but insufferable mess with hollow characters. It’s a mystery movie without any suspense, it’s a romance without any chemistry or friction, and it’s a space opera with not much charisma. I was actually looking forward to it, but now I can safely say I saw it. At least I can say that much.

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“The Void” Movie Review

With high-quality horror movies like Get Out earlier this year and total shitfests like Wish Upon infecting this summer, this movie got a bit lost in the shuffle. Now that it’s been released on Netflix, I’m here to tell you whether or not it’s worth your time. This independent horror thriller from Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski premiered at the Alamo Drafthouse’s Fantastic Fest before getting a small release of only 50 theaters on April 7th, 2017, doubling its tiny $82,000 budget. The film was a passion project for the directors on Indiegogo where they raised all of the funds. Eventually, Jonathan Bronfman, one of the executive producers for the film The VVitch, discovered it and brought it to DFilms to be distributed. The 90-minute plot follows a policeman who brings a dying man into a secluded hospital in the middle of the night. The staff and patients inside soon realize that they are surrounded by a group of hooded cultists who will not let them leave. Couple that with some truly weird creatures hidden within the hospital itself, and now we have ourselves a big thrill ride. This is clearly an homage to horror films from the 1980’s, specifically the filmography of John Carpenter, Wes Craven, and David Cronenberg. And honestly, that is my favorite decade of horror movies, as each one that came out was perfect in just about every aspect. It also seems to take some inspiration from the works of H.P. Lovecraft. In an era where so many horror directors base their films off of something that came out recently, it’s refreshing to see a pair of people who understand modern horror’s roots. David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows from 2015 proved as much. But while The Void starts off strong and promising, it fails to leave any lasting impact or impression. The most obvious way that it pays homage to the masters of the genre is that Gillespie and Kostanski had a big itch for using practical effects. They specifically avoided the use of CGI, and instead decided to rely heavily on practical effects and makeup. The hooded cultists are wearing real robes with triangles painted on them. The characters are confined in real hallways at night time. The monsters they encounter are fused together with makeup and real prosthetics. So much of the movie feels real and gives it this lived-in element. Another way in which the directors pay tribute is through the otherworldly soundtrack by the Canadian band Blitz/Berlin. The tracks are synthesized beats and ambient noise designed to create the tension of a scene. No single track is really that memorable, but it felt right at the moment and pretty fun to listen to. It definitely added to a dripping atmosphere that was so creepy and suspenseful to be sucked into. As far as characters go, they’re all pretty much exactly what you would expect them to be. The only person in the cast with any real work to their name is Ellen Wong, and she had a pretty minor role. No, the real star is Aaron Poole as the everyman cop. He’s the one who’s constantly trying to keep order in this increasingly chaotic situation. You see everything from his point-of-view from the beginning to the twisted conclusion. So you immediately empathize with him, as well as some of the other people stuck in that hospital. But where the film falters is that there is a huge gaping pit in information regarding much of the film’s lore. Where did these hooded cultists come from? What do they truly want out of our protagonists? How long have the monsters been around in our world? The ending doesn’t offer us much help either, as it kind of convolutes these questions into oblivion. “But dude, not everything has to be explained to us. Some things are best left to interpretation by the beholder.” I agree with that sentiment, my fellow cinephiles. But there is a distinct difference between giving us hints of an answer and withholding information to a point where the story begins to make no sense. Both leave people wanting more, but only one of them is actually satisfying. I thought The Maze Runner taught us that already. I will say that it’s nice to know there are still young fans of old-school horror movies and even take inspiration from them. And even though it’s not original by any stretch, it did feel much fresher and fun than a lot of contemporaries in the genre today. But still, The Void is an empty practice in nostalgia-inducing aesthetic and practical special effects. It’s great to watch with your friends at night on the couch at home, but not really worth much of a second viewing. Much less $10-12 in paying a ticket to see it theatrically.

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“Inception” Movie Review

Ever wondered what it would be like if a traditional Hollywood blockbuster were to be combined with avant-garde or art-house movies? This movie should hopefully satisfy your search. Christopher Nolan’s complex science-fiction heist thriller debuted in late July of 2010, earning excellent reviews and over $825 million worldwide. This was probably due to the serious lack of entertaining movies that summer. The script, initially a treatment for a horror film, floated and developed around the film industry as early as 2002, with many tweaks and adjustments added over the years. The plot centers on Dom Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, a thief who specializes in corporate espionage of the mind. He and his associates use advanced technology to enter the subconscious of their targets to extract an idea and give it to whoever hired them. But now, in order to clear his criminal record and return home to his family, Cobb must perform “inception”; going deep into the subconscious to plant an idea in someone’s brain. That already sounds like a mouthful, but trust me. The story is much thicker and more nuanced than that. And while I’m honestly tempted to spend this whole post explaining every nook and cranny of this film’s lore, I’ll just skip right ahead and tell something you should have already guessed. Inception is a brilliant, downright amazing movie that every film fan should see. In fact, this may be an unpopular opinion, but I believe that this film is Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus. You could argue for days on Memento or The Dark Knight, and both are fantastic in their own right. But those films were based on pre-existing material, Memento being a short story written by his brother Jonathan and The Dark Knight an adaptation of the DC Comics character. This, however, is a wholly original film with no ties to any other franchise materials and only takes mere influences from previous classics of the genre. That is SO rare in Hollywood; if you can make a big-budget feature as original as Inception, consider yourself having taken the right path. Leonardo DiCaprio leads an all-star cast with some fine charisma and physicality. But he brings even more to the dramatic scenes, where his past life is slowly revealed. Like Nolan’s previous protagonists, this is an emotionally tormented man who struggles to move on from his past, which is almost suffocating him. The ensemble cast includes A-List talent such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page as the vocal reminders for Cobb to retain his humanity, Michael Caine as yet another elderly mentor, Ken Watanabe as the benefactor of this entire heist, Cillian Murphy and Peter Postlewaite as the targets of the mental infiltration, and Marion Cotillard as Cobb’s mysterious deceased wife obsessed with haunting him on the job. But let’s be real; the real show-stealer, here, is Tom Hardy as Eames. The British man is a straight-up action hero in this film and his lines of dialogue provided some great moments of humor. That being said, much of the dialogue early on is reserved almost exclusively for exposition. For the first half, practically everything to know about this universe is told to us through character interactions. It doesn’t quite feel forced, but it does require the audience to pay close attention to everything that is spoken. It can almost be exhausting. But in the latter half, as we now understand almost everything about the movie, it truly reveals itself as a slick mix of both heist crime thriller and science-fiction spectacle. The incredible production design and editing by Lee Smith create dreams that are both very elaborate and yet still grounded and believable. One of the most thrilling sequences in the whole movie comes when Joseph Gordon-Levitt is fighting antagonistic projections in a hallway that keeps on turning and changing gravity. There’s no CGI or greenscreen whatsoever in this segment, hell not even wires. Instead, it was on an actual rotating set that took nearly two weeks to film. And several more of the action scenes are extremely well thought out and mix gritty realism with creativity. You want to get a large gun in the middle of a shootout? All it takes is your imagination. Hans Zimmer composes the music for Inception as part of the third collaboration between him and the director. Robbed of an Academy Award, the score is a unique mixture of orchestral and electronic sounds. Many of the tracks feature a steady guitar, reminiscent of the films of Ennio Morricone. The final track “Time,” in particular, is one of the most beautiful and haunting pieces of film score ever written, perfectly capturing a balance between heartbreak and nostalgia. And then there’s that ending. Holy crap, THAT ENDING. One of the most ambiguous final scenes in recent cinema, up there with films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner. I refuse to discuss it and spoil it on the off-chance that you haven’t seen this movie. But keeping it vague, it uses a certain device in the plot that we are familiar with by that point and leaves off on a big tease if ever I’ve seen one. Even though it’s been nearly 7 years since the movie was released, this ending is still intensely debated among film buffs to this day, with some creating their own alternative fan theories explaining everything. I don’t mean to disarm you with this, though. Inception is a stimulating labyrinth of ideas and action that is startlingly original and captivating. Touching on some existential and philosophical themes, this is a modern classic, one of my all-time favorites, and the best movie this decade has offered so far. You have to see it to believe it.

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“Baby Driver” Movie Review

Alright, hands up if your jaw was dropped at those incredible car stunts throughout. Now put your hand back down if you were thinking that I’m at least two weeks late on this review. That should account for both of us, and I apologize. This stylish crime comedy-drama from writer-director Edgar Wright opened worldwide on June 28th, 2017, following its critically acclaimed premiere at South By Southwest. It has since grossed over $72 million at the box office, becoming one of Wright’s highest-grossing projects to date. After his unexpected exit from Ant-Man, he went ahead with his second American production to date, his first one being 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. The plot stars Ansel Elgort as Baby, the greatest getaway driver in the world who loves listening to music. The mob boss he works for, Kevin Spacey, organizes new crews and bank robbery jobs every week, with one more before Baby can escape from this criminal life. His passion for leaving is only fueled when he falls in love with a diner waitress named Debora, which attracts the unwanted ire of some of the bank robbers. Getting it out of the way right now, I love Wright’s work, especially his Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy. Hot Fuzz, in particular, is one of my all-time favorite comedies and made me start to love British humor. But this is definitely an American movie, with several jokes poking fun at its infrastructure and culture. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t any less welcome. Quite the opposite, in fact; Baby Driver is one of the best works of his career. In particular, the entire first act of this picture is essentially perfection from both a filmmaking and enjoyment standpoint. The trademarks of his filmography are all there, not the least of which is the kinetic camerawork of Bill Pope. After the brilliant cold open, the beginning scene consists of a single tracking shot of Baby walking around the streets of Atlanta. Getting some coffee, jamming out to songs on his iPod, interacting with some street folk. It’s actually quite inspired. What’s more inspired is the equally kinetic editing job of Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos, which brings some really swift cuts of fast-paced scenes. This is common in many Hollywood productions, but the difference is that you can actually track everything in the action perfectly here. Ansel Elgort is endearing as the titular protagonist, keeping his wits and dignity about him. Although I was initially cautious with him when I saw him in both The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent, he shows here that he can truly act and make the audience empathize with him. Kevin Spacey may be the obvious choice to play an elderly but powerful man with a firm grip over everyone, but damn if he isn’t great at it. He exhibits all the greed of Frank Underwood in House of Cards, but still brings enough humor and care to make him a complete human. “Don’t feed me anymore lines from Monsters Inc. It pisses me off!” he says after getting tired of excuses. Jamie Foxx, Elza Gonzalez, Jon Bernthal, and Jon Hamm play the quirky gang of bank robbers, and each contributes a bit of something unique. Hamm particularly surprises as a violent criminal bent on killing those who get in his path. Meanwhile, Lily James as Debora has been the biggest point of contention for many reviewers that makes or breaks the film. Some say she was a great addition, others felt she was totally unnecessary. I’m somewhere in the middle of it all. While I did think the love story between her and Baby was sweet, it definitely felt forced and tacked on, especially near the end of the movie. If they had decided to cut her out of the movie entirely, I don’t think the plot would have changed too much. But rest assured, the whole rest of Baby Driver is absolutely awesome. One of Wright’s biggest things is how much he loves older films and even integrates elements of them into his movies. Whereas Hot Fuzz was a tribute to old action movies, this is clearly an homage to old-school heist movies like The Italian Job. But he packs in so much energy and charisma that it still feels fresh and original. And of course, what’s there to talk about this movie without the much talked-about soundtrack? They must have meticulously planned every song because they all fit so perfectly into each scene that is appropriate. In fact, most of the action sequences are tuned to the beat of a particular track. One such scene involves a shootout in which “Tequila” by The Button Down Brass is playing in perfect form, and many notes are topped by shots of gunfire. This was absolutely brilliant. (Appropriate use since the director is British) However, I do want to say that you shouldn’t walk into the movie expecting only a bunch of stomach-hurting humor. This is not a total laughing riot like his previous films and is instead arguably the most serious and grounded entry from his filmography. But it doesn’t take itself seriously just enough for it to still be a great blast. Expertly helmed but maybe 10 minutes too long, Baby Driver is a stylized opera of music and guns that is gloriously entertaining. This is by far Edgar Wright’s best American movie, and one I will have no trouble coming back to on multiple repeat viewings.

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