Category Archives: Music

“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” 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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“Dunkirk” Movie Review

Holy shit, that was so intense! This highly anticipated war thriller from acclaimed director Christopher Nolan was released internationally on July 21st, 2017, earning back $113 million in its opening five days. It is projected to gross even more than that and has the potential to do so. If the reports are true, Nolan wanted to make this film for many years but waited until he had enough experience in America to confront such a British topic. So in a way, it could be said that his entire career has been leading up to this movie when it finally entered production late in 2015. Based largely on a true story, (a first for the director) Dunkirk is set in World War II in 1940. 400,000 French and British soldiers have been trapped on a beach just 26 miles away from the coast of England. The Nazi army has completely surrounded them and is slowly encroaching on their position from every angle. But a distress call has been given out and now hundreds of pleasure yachts and fishing boats are riding across the English Channel in order to rescue as many of the soldiers as they can before it’s too late. To date, I have loved almost every single film Christopher Nolan has made, with The Dark Knight and Inception being among my all-time favorites. His storytelling is absolutely unparalleled by anyone else in Hollywood and consistently challenges wide audiences. So when I heard that he was making a thriller about one of the greatest miracles in human history, I was naturally excited to see what he would possibly put together. And now, Dunkirk can be added to the echelons of films like Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line of World War II films that can be studied and beloved for a new generation. That’s what this movie is. In fact, I’m convinced that it is a masterpiece. Let me just start off by saying that this film is not what you would call conventional filmmaking. It contains Nolan’s trademark of skipping around a timeline and providing little hints before coming back in a big emotional payoff. It is told through a triptych narrative, meaning that it is shown through three different perspectives. In this case, we get to see the action from the soldiers stuck on land, the destroyers and civilian boats rescuing at sea and the British fighter pilots from the sky. Often, a scene that occurs features a character that was previously seen in a different time of day, and can admittedly get a little confusing if you’re not paying close attention. In a way, it reminded me of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, a plot structure so complicated that it doubles back if you don’t try and process everything. And the film looks and sounds gorgeous. Through the use of 65 mm IMAX cameras, the first-ever ones to be handheld, Nolan and his cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema really captured a wide, almost vérité-style look to it all. The color pallet is an interesting one as the focus on the beach, sky, and ocean creates a unique look at war, with one of my favorite shots being in the nighttime when a vessel is being burned asunder. I saw this movie in 70 mm, which created a bigger anamorphic frame. Much like Interstellar, this is one of those rare features which is perhaps best experienced at the theater rather than at home. Not to mention the incredible sound design. You can literally hear everything in each frame of the film, whether it’s the sound of a gunshot or that ticking clock. Whenever we went back to the beach and the German planes came swooping back in, you could hear them slowly screeching nearby. And unlike any jump scare from any horror movie, it was absolutely and terrifyingly effective. Continuing his long partnership with the director, Hans Zimmer composes the musical score for Dunkirk. And this soundtrack is so unlike any of his other work yet also strangely familiar. Combining electronic synthesizers with orchestral pieces once again, he does a great job at earning emotional responses without having to manipulate the audience. But he also uses diegetic sounds such as a ticking clock on a pocket watch and the waves of a beach. This effectively creates an immersive atmosphere. Much like his previous epics, this film features a large ensemble cast of great actors. Of them all, newcomer Fionn Whitehead is perhaps the one that can be called the lead, even in a cast that includes big names like Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, and Harry Styles. (Who was surprisingly good) But even so, he barely speaks a word of dialogue in the first half of the movie, hell, so do a lot of the other characters. It was intentional that this is almost like a silent film, but in doing so, many have complained about the character development or lack thereof. Nolan did, after all, warn his audience that they weren’t the concern for him, and I agree. This movie is about capturing a moment in time, a zeitgeist if you will. That moment was swift, horrific, terrifying, and almost hopeless. In war, a lot of people will die scared and alone, and do they always get satisfying arcs or a moment to shine or a time to get you emotionally invested in them? Not always. Instead, they do such a great job at immersing you in this moment and making you feel like you could be anyone of these characters. While some other war films have been greater at character development, Dunkirk is an immersive experience into the hell of war, and perhaps the most patriotic British film ever made. This is probably the best movie of the year so far, and now one of my favorite war films out there. Just be sure to manage your expectations.

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“War for the Planet of the Apes” Movie Review

Isn’t it just the weirdest thing to be rooting against your own species in a conflict for the future of our planet? Is no one else feeling that right now? Just me? Okay. This science-fiction action drama was released worldwide on July 14th, 2017, earning back its large $150 million budget in no time. The third and (supposedly) final entry in the rebooted franchise and the ninth overall entry of the series that began all the way back in 1968 with Charleton Heston, Matt Reeves returns to direct this picture after his outing with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 3 years ago. Two years after the events of Dawn, the highly intelligent and respected ape Caesar leads his people into a new conflict with the surviving humans. When a ruthless Colonel McCullough shatters his doorstep and threatens everything he’s built, Caesar must wrestle with protecting his people, controlling his darker self, and seeing a way for the future to hold hope… for either species. I vividly remember seeing the original Rise of the Planet of the Apes and thinking that it was going to be a piece of crap blockbuster that happened to star James Franco. To the universe, I was wrong and so I apologize. And then in 2014, a mere month or so after I began my blog, I was blown away by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, one of the few sequels that manage to outshine the original in almost all departments. So naturally, I was very excited to see what would happen with War, once again directed by Reeves. But I clearly didn’t know what to prepare for because when it was over, so many people walked out of the theater speechless. And after pondering on it for a few days, I’m ready to share my thoughts: go see and support this movie right now. The thing that the original film from 1968 was most famous for, aside from its iconic twist ending, was the convincing and groundbreaking prosthetic makeup. On a similar note, the reboot series has been famous for its astounding and realistic motion-capture photography. For those unaware, motion-capture is when an actor or actress is covered in computer animation but their voice, movements, and emotive responses are all their own. The results can be hit or miss, but whenever Andy Serkis is involved, it is almost instantly the former. The apes in this movie may just be the best motion-capture work I’ve ever seen in a feature film. At a point, I actually thought that the production crew had brought real apes on board to film the various scenes. Not only that but the environments of the San Francisco Red Forest and snowy winter terrain of a base look gorgeous with or without CGI, thanks to cinematographer Michael Seresin. Andy Serkis returns for the third time as the ape Caesar and gives perhaps his best performance to date. The man revolutionized how acting could be seen with the lens, with Gollum from The Lord of the Rings being arguably his most famous work still. But here, he gives Caesar a few tragic dimensions that just make you respect and understand him. He never asked for this war, hell, he didn’t even ask to be the leader of the apes. But he’s been thrown into this situation and has to deal with it and face his past demons, including the traitorous Koba. Comedian Steve Zahn joins the simians as Bad Ape, a hermit from a zoo in California. Putting a character as comic relief in a film like this was a huge risk and could have easily become a gimmicky misfire. But it paid off, and it got some genuine laughs out of the audience. Meanwhile, Woody Harrelson is appropriately villainous and unstable as the Colonel, almost the complete opposite from his character in Zombieland. During one lengthy monolog scene, (The ONLY ONE in the entire movie) he gives an emotionally distant story concerning his son and the lengths he’s willing to go to in order to save humanity from extinction. The increasingly prolific Michael Giacchino composes his 6th film score in just over 12 months. And yet, this might be one of his best, next to The Incredibles and Up. Several of the tracks seem to pay homage to legends like Ennio Morricone, mostly consisting of mellow piano and strings and a haunting choir. The opening titles even feature an inventive all-drums version of the 20th Century Fox fanfare, establishing the truly bananas feeling of everything. But it also allows certain scenes to breathe with long takes of verbal silence and sign language between the apes elevated by faint piano melodies driving the characters. I do feel the need to give the disclaimer that, despite its title, War for the Planet of the Apes is not an action movie. While it does open up with a fantastic sequence in the woods and some other moments that occur later on, this is a bleak and mature exploration of dark themes. The necessity and desire for violence, torture, obligations to your species versus obligations to your loved ones, prejudice and hatred. Never flinching and sometimes hard to watch, the film pulls zero punches in regards to subject matter like this. And the characters almost never get the easy way out in the story. But because this is the end of a trilogy, you have to watch Rise and Dawn in order first since jumping right in wouldn’t give you that emotional oomph. And that oomph hits hard and moved me almost to tears. It’s extremely rare for a franchise to move through nine films and have a rebooted trilogy. Even rarer is for that one to be the best out of all of them. But War for the Planet of the Apes is one of the best final installments ever and a deeply, emotionally satisfying conclusion to one of the best trilogies in recent memory. Up there with The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and The Bourne Ultimatum.

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“Jaws” Movie Review

So it occurs to me that I can make a blog post about whatever I want, no matter how irrelevant it may seem. But I recently rewatched Jaws for the first time in many years on a format unlike any other out there. So let’s talk about it. This iconic action-horror-thriller was initially released on June 20th, 1975, where it grossed over $470 million worldwide against a small budget of $9 million. This made it the highest grossing movie of all time in the U.S. until George Lucas showed up 2 years later with Star Wars. Based on the Peter Benchley novel of the same name, which was said to be loosely inspired by real events, the story stars Roy Scheider as Martin Brody, the newly appointed police chief of an island town. During the town’s most lucrative time frame, the 4th of July weekend, they find themselves being terrorized and harassed by a great white shark intent on munching down on all of them. Brody, with the help of oceanographer Matt Hooper and local shark hunter Captain Quint, sets out on a quest to stop the sea creature once and for all. What is it about Jaws that it so well-respected and acclaimed from scholars and fans? Well, for one, it began the term “blockbuster” because, at the time of its release, there were so many people lined up around the street corners under the hot summer sun just so they could see it. It also became infamous for starting the trend of “high-concept” films, which allowed for big-budget Hollywood affairs with a simple premise that was easy to market and didn’t retain much below the surface. However, what sets this film apart from so many others is that there is so much to appreciate beneath simply what you see; because it’s often what you don’t see. One of the most celebrated aspects of Jaws is the fact that the young director Steven Spielberg chose not to show the shark Bruce, which was nicknamed after his lawyer. Adopting the “less is more” mindset from Alfred Hitchcock, he works with his cinematographer Bill Butler to create off-kilter camera angles from both underwater and above the surface. The Master of Suspense even praised the film for paying homage to his style. Even though the shark is known to be the threat of the movie and makes an impact on the characters, it doesn’t even make an appearance until nearly two-thirds into the 124 minute-long running time. In their defense, the shark itself did look pretty fake, but it did produce one of my favorite reaction scenes ever, when Brody quietly tells the Captain the iconic catchphrase, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” But the reason why the big bad beast is sparsely seen is that the production was hard for all parties involved. In fact, all accounts say that Jaws was a NIGHTMARE to make. The cast had a really contentious relationship with one another, probably due to the lack of a finished script. Meanwhile, the shark was initially supposed to appear more often but before filming began, the wiring and mechanisms broke. The lesson from all of this? It is extremely hard to shoot a movie out on the water. But it also teaches us that sometimes, similar to the original Star Wars, a movie will come out best when the odds are seemingly stacked against you. Of course, one cannot simply talk about Jaws without talking about the Oscar-winning score. Before Star Wars, Indiana Jones, E.T., or Schindler’s List, John Williams composed the music for this monster movie and became endlessly iconic. During the more suspenseful moments, he’ll resort to low toned horns and strings repeating two notes. As the tension grows, the notes will be faster and faster and gain more volume as the climax reaches. Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider, and Robert Shaw portray the three men on the boat in the final act of the movie. They do a terrific job with excellent chemistry and surprisingly engaging dialogue that keeps their characters relatively grounded. They needed to work well together, otherwise, this implausible story would sink like a rock. Luckily, they spearhead the rest of the cast and provide a certain humanity missing from most movies in the genre. But let’s face it; there’s no shark that would ever rationally behave like Bruce. This movie could probably never happen in real life, and the events that the book was based were likely exaggerated in order to create more drama. But still, I have not one single problem with this movie. Jaws is a magnificent and compelling thriller that catapulted the Hollywood blockbuster to fame. I saw this again at the “Jaws on the Water” special event hosted by the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, and it was a total blast. If it’s available, I encourage you to see the movie this way, no matter how scary it may seem. But no matter what, just see it at twice in your life.

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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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