Thanks to Sony Screenings for allowing me to see Baby Driver before its release and to Edgar Wright for a great Q&A session afterwards!
A few weeks ago, I was able to attend a really special advanced screening for Edgar Wright‘s latest film, Baby Driver, made special because the director himself was available afterward to answer questions! I’ll go into more detail about the Q&A after I talk about the movie itself (spoiler alert: Jake Tapper moderated!) so let’s get right into it!
Honestly, the reason this movie was on my radar was because I follow Ansel Elgort on Instagram and he promoted the movie. When Ben and I first saw the trailer, I was like “???” and Ben was very interested until the title appeared on the screen, at which point he went, “Aw, what, the title is Baby Driver are you serious I wanted to watch this movie, too…”
Baby Driver is about a getaway driver named… Baby, and he’s played by Ansel Elgort, whose incredible charm I had somehow underestimated despite following him on social media. (The boy has a great smile.) He listens to music on a variety of iPods virtually constantly because the car accident that killed his parents also left him with debilitating tinnitus – the permanent ringing in the ears that, in some people, can drive folks mad. He helps Kevin Spacey‘s Doc drive in his various heists because he owes Doc money from stealing from him in the past. The other members of the heist crews always change, leading Baby to meet characters like Bats (Jamie Foxx), the batsh*t crazy one eager for a fight, Buddy (Jon Hamm), the cool and easy-going one who is in love with Darling (Eiza González), the beautiful and troublemaking member of the lovebird duo.
I’ll just say outright that the story and its progression are just okay, but it is very easy to forgive because this movie is not a movie. It is an incredibly fun, nearly 2-hour-long, beautifully-styled music video.
The movie does not exist without the soundtrack. We listen to whatever Baby is listening to and that frames our experience of the film, just as it frames Baby’s experience. There’s a great one-take long-shot of Baby walking down the street to get coffee while listening to music, but of course, and the sounds in the background begin to sync up with the instrumentals and beat of Bob & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle”. During the Q&A, I actually learned that this scene is a bit of a lyric video, where the lyrics of the song playing can be seen in the background! I hadn’t noticed at all, but there is graffiti that shows the lyrics, and when Baby walks back over, the graffiti has already changed to reflect the new lyrics.
That’s the way the entire movie feels. It is how the movie was written in fact: Edgar Wright listened to The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms” and imagined a car chase scene every time he listened to it, praying for years and years that it wouldn’t be used in a car chase scene by another director before he could use it as the soundtrack for the opening heist scene.
The moments of the movie hit the beats of the songs. High-action moments come with high-action beats, and slower, more intimate moments are accompanied by slower jams.
So don’t get caught up in the dialogue. Don’t get caught up in “why would they do that”? Don’t get caught up in the things that usually break a movie.
This isn’t just a movie. It’s a highly-stylized, super fun series of music videos that tell a large story. And it was so much fun. And it was so well-done.
Baby Driver is in theaters June 28. I’ll talk about the great Q&A session with Edgar Wright and Jake Tapper after the trailer.
[ NOTE: This review is in-progress but my wifi is spotty so I’m putting it up now for you to enjoy. Thank you for your patience and support! ]
Thank you to Hotchka DC for inviting me to view Wonder Woman early and to the Spy Museum for helping me win my 2nd-ever in-person raffle!
At. Long. Last. After actual decades of a Wonder Woman movie being discussed and passed from studio to studio, director to director, actress to actress, we finally have our first-ever live-action Wonder Woman feature film! Can you believe it’s taken so long? It has taken decades of pressure on studios to convince them that yes, a female standalone superhero movie is not even a gamble at the box office. People are interested in the character and her being a woman will not hurt your profit margin. In fact, women, who are also in possession of money to spend at the movie, are eager to buy tickets to see a movie starring a strong female superhero, THE strong female superhero.
TL;DR: Wonder Woman is a pretty standard Marvel movie with Zac Snyder’s visual signature and a female superhero.
Quick confession: I have not been keeping up with the DC Extended Universe movies. I begrudgingly watched Man of Steel and found it as meh as friends’ reviews indicated, and I had almost no interest in watching Batman v Superman or Suicide Squad. So, admittedly, my comments about the rest of the DCEU aren’t entirely fair, since I don’t have firsthand experience of seeing those films.
I say that Wonder Woman felt like a standard Marvel movie because it is very familiar, both with its positive and negative qualities. Even the structure and basic premise is quite familiar: Diana, aka Wonder Woman (although no one calls her that in the movie), is a bad-ass and optimistic character who does not understand the strangeness of our human ways and finds herself fighting in a world war with literal brute force. Many critics are saying that her origin story is like a mix of Thor + Captain America. (My faves! Chris Squared!)
However, I think it has similar pitfalls to many superhero movies now. I’ve complained about it here before and I probably will never stop but I found the villain(s) to be poorly developed and lacking of compelling characterization and motivations. “Because he’s a bad guy” doesn’t cut it anymore as the answer to “Why is the bad guy doing the bad things?” We have several antagonists in this movie and I found myself not knowing very much about them at all. Just some menacing looks and vague ambitions of prolonging World War I in the face of an armistice and for what? Because! (I’ll discuss more of our villain characterization in the spoilers below the trailer.)
One of my favorite, too-short, parts of this movie was the scenes on Themyscira, not least of all because they are uncharacteristically sunny for a DC movie! (Don’t worry, the rest of the film remains very blue-grey with spectacular flashes of yellow+orange for effect.) While the slow-motion that Zac Snyder often gets criticized for now gets tired, I liked watching the Amazons be bad-ass in slow-mo. Themyscira seemed very beautiful, if poorly protected from outsiders. (It’s an island in the middle of the ocean that is always a sunny paradise but around it is dark and cloudy and the seas are rough. Which means that, as per the trailer, a plane can just fly in. But also boats can basically just cruise on through. Whatever, it was refreshing to see a bright and sunny scene in this cinematic universe and all these amazing women doing awesome stunts. (Don’t fret, most of the movie is filmed in the dark or on suspiciously overcast days, as per the other DC films.)
Gal Gadot was a pretty good choice to play Diana, Princess of the Amazons. It goes without saying that she is incredibly beautiful. (My boyfriend and I became fans of hers when Fast Five came out.) She is also very bad-ass, as someone who trained in the Israeli military. While I did find myself wishing she was a little more expressive, she was very good at being naive and finding little pleasures in things like snow and babies. She also pulled off subtle comedic moments quite well. Her chemistry with Chris Pine, who always plays a charming guy with differing levels of douche-baggery (see: Star Trek, Into the Woods), was great. I really have to commend Chris Pine on playing Steve Trevor as a charming hero who recognizes that Diana is amazing and does not go hypermasculine in response to that. (It is unfortunate that this very basic demonstration of decency is commendable, but it is.) I felt that almost every other actor was… underutilized.
Robin Wright gets top billing as the greatest Amazonian warrior of all time, Antiope, but she is so stoic and doesn’t have much depth, as with most of the characters in this movie. She is a general, she fights, she trains. She trains Diana to become an Amazon warrior against her sister, Queen Hippolyta’s, wishes. Why does Hippolyta, played by Connie Nielsen, think that she can get away with just sheltering Diana away forever, anyway? It doesn’t look like Amazons age (and I mean, we know Diana doesn’t age at all between World War I and when she meets Bruce Wayne so I mean…) so trying to just wait it out seems foolish. That is never made very clear and, in the context of the events in the film and the very little circumstantial context we are given, it seems dangerously unreasonable.
I must say that this movie is… not the kind of feminist movie I think I was expecting it to be. There’s a reversal of the male gaze trope where Diana walks in on Steve Trevor emerging from a bath. There really is no reason for him to be naked in this scene, or for him to be naked for as long as he is, but he is naked because nude Chris Pine serves as eye candy, both for the audience and for Diana, who has to ask if the first man she has ever laid eyes upon is “average for his sex”. Even with so many awesome Amazonian women, I feel like maybe there were scenes cut out of the film that would have fleshed some of them out more. For example, at one particularly emotional scene near the beginning of the movie, one of the Amazons runs forward in tears. I have no idea who she is or why she is moved more than the rest of the Amazons? She is visually differentiated from them when she runs forward but I don’t have a clue who she is, she doesn’t even look familiar to me, don’t even ask me to tell you her name. While looking for the movie poster for this post, I wondered if she is the mysterious 4th Amazon woman on some of the posters that feature the powerful women of Themyscira but, again, I just don’t know? And there is a severe dearth of women with depth throughout the movie, aside from Diana. Etta Candy, Steve’s secretary, is sassy and loyal. Doctor Isabel Maru, aka Doctor Poison, is……. uh… she likes poison gas? I don’t know?? It’s a similar problem that we encounter with the villains.
Before I forget, I also was bothered that, while Wonder Woman and Sameer speak a few lines of a few different languages in one scene, the Germans are all speaking English. (Some with German accents…) Steve Trevor does, however, put on a German accent when acting as a spy and talking to Germans. (???!) We know that we aren’t simply suspending disbelief because Steve Trevor remarks that Diana and the other Amazons speak very good English. Not perfect English, as everyone on Themyscira speak with a variation of Gal Gadot’s accent, but very good. I think if that line was left out of the movie, I wouldn’t be as bothered about the language thing but it is what it is.
(Also, I’m not sure I like Wonder Woman’s musical theme. It just doesn’t seem quite in character for her, and it plays several times throughout the movie and is featured prominently in the trailer. Not a fan of it, personally, for Wonder Woman.)
I liked this movie. It was a lot of fun and I think it will send the message that Hollywood can stop avoiding making films with female protagonists and should especially stop making excuses to not make female superhero movies. (How long have we been begging for a standalone Black Widow movie???) It isn’t a perfect movie and I don’t think it deserves all the hype it has been getting. Criticism that the fight scene at the end ruin the tone and pacing of the movie is valid, as is other criticism about what about Diana is actually valued by other characters. (Has she been reduced to a token female? Eye candy? The girl who men want to bang because she acts a bit outside of her gender role?)
Still, this movie is important. It’s so important for young girls to see a character like Diana on the big screen because it’s astoundingly important to see yourself represented in the media. So to see Wonder Woman, a beautiful woman who does not compromise on who she is or the things that make her a woman, a person who does not fully understand why wars happen and the complicated nature of mankind, is extremely powerful. And it will be similarly powerful for movie audiences to use their ticket purchases to show Hollywood that this movie is overdue and that we want more like it.
Wonder Woman is in theaters everywhere today. Discussion of some spoilers after the trailer.
If you mention the first Trainspotting movie, based on the novel of the same name by Irvine Walsh, you’ll hear people tell you things like it is their favorite movie of all time, that they had the “Choose Life” poster in their adolescent bedrooms, that the movie soundtrack turned them onto their favorite artists. It’s a pivotal, cultural icon.
I’ve never seen it. In 1996, when Trainspotting was released, I was a toddler and not particularly interested in a film about Scottish heroine addicts and their trials and tribulations. But I was interested in seeing what the sequel would be like, 20 years later, with the original cast. I know Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, and Kelly MacDonald from their more recent work in film and television, so it’s fun to revisit this film that helped put them on the map so long ago.
TL;DR Even if you haven’t seen the first film, you’ll enjoy T2 Trainspotting for its character development and dynamics, great storytelling and pacing, and fun soundtrack.
Before I talk more about the movie, however, I’d really like to share some tidbits I learned in the awesome Q&A we were able to sit through with director Danny Boyle. If you’re not familiar with his work, you may just not know the breadth of his work. He is best known for films like Slumdog Millionaire (yep, the one and only!), 28 Days Later, Steve Jobs, and 127 Hours, among others.
Danny Boyle was incredibly kind and thoughtful with all of his answers, and I honestly have a greater deal of respect for him as a result of being able to hear him talk about the film. Some insights and stories he gave us included:
The first scene they shot was the one where Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) are yelling and beating their chests in a basement. The cast and crew were a bit apprehensive about what it would be like to have everyone working together again after 20 years, and Jonny and Robert quieted all those fears by just bringing it for the first take on the first scene and really set the tone for the rest of the shoot.
He shared a great anecdote about how he was really taken by the thriller Don’t Breathe, and how even though British people are accurately known for being quite reserved, including at the cinema, his theater for that film was yelling and shouting. It was nice to hear how much he appreciated the pacing and storytelling of this film (he brought it up again twice during the Q&A) and be able to poke fun at British-ness.
While the US release of the first movie had re-recorded dialogue because the original accents were too difficult to understand for American audiences, T2 made use of some fun typography to help fill in gaps in understanding for the 2 speaking characters who start the film who happen to have the heaviest Scottish accents in the film.
This was actually an answer to a question I asked! I wanted to ask about if American audiences take away something different because we don’t have the same cultural context for the film, and I tried to contextualize it in terms of the accents and the dialogue, but he only answered about the dialogue. That’s what I get for asking a 2-part question!
The change in narrator and voiceover for this film was very intentional, as the first film focused on Mark (Ewan McGregor), who is essentially silent for T2 even though he is the catalyst and center of the events 20 years later. Instead, Spud (Ewen Bremner), who is kind of a tragic character, is the voice telling us the story of what happened then and what is happening now.
Danny Boyle actually said that he hopes people in the future will watch T2 first and then watch the original, because of how referential it is and how it changes the relationship with the first movie. Glad I could oblige by watching T2 first!
Basically, Danny Boyle was a complete sweetheart, introducing himself “Hi, I’m Danny” when I asked to get a photo with him. He was just so considerate with his time and his answers, we didn’t feel rushed at any point and he really gave full thought and consideration for each question that he got. It was fantastic.
BACK TO THE FILM.
It was a lot of fun to watch. It’s very nostalgic, so if you loved the first film, I think you’ll appreciate that this one picks up 20 years after the events of Trainspotting. It’s about consequences. And it knows it’s nostalgic; there’s a meta scene where Simon is yelling about how nostalgic Mark is being, living in the past when it’s nothing to be glorified and, instead, something to be left behind and forgotten.
But it’s fun to be nostalgic about Trainspotting. We see clips of the first film sprinkled throughout, and there’s a great moment where, when Mark returns to his parents’ home at the beginning of the film, and he begins playing the Iggy Pop record and “Lust for Life” starts, he isn’t quite able to bring himself to listen. But by the end, he is. And juxtaposed with a clip of young Ewan McGregor from the first film and… it’s really great.
Plus, the entire film is framed by Spud telling the stories that make up the first Trainspotting, with him turning to writing to beat heroin addiction and those written stories later comprising… the original Trainspotting novel.
Thanks to BrightestYoungThings for hosting this screening and Q&A!
More thoughts and spoilers after the trailer. T2 Trainspotting sees its US wide release on March 31.
Thanks to Fox Searchlight Screenings, I was able to attend an early viewing of the latest comedy feature from the Duplass brothers, Table 19.
The premise of the movie is the Eloise (played by always-lovable Anna Kendrick) was the maid of honor for her friend’s wedding until her boyfriend, Teddy, who is the bride’s brother and the best man, dumps her via text. She drops out of the bridal party 2 months before the wedding and is relegated to Table 19, the rejects table where the obligatory invites who weren’t gracious enough to RSVP no are sitting. Her tablemates are Bina and Jerry Kepp (Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson), a married couple that owns a diner, Nanny Jo (June Squibb), the bride’s (and Eloise’s ex’s) elderly childhood nanny, Walter (Stephen Merchant), the cousin of the bride who got leave from his prison sentence to attend the wedding, and Renzo (Tony Revolori), the teenage boy skipping his junior prom in the hopes of having better luck with getting lucky at a wedding.
It’s a table of weirdos, yes.
TL;DR I found the movie mildly charming and fairly funny, but ultimately I found it a little too indie-comedy in that the pacing and storytelling were strange and off. The audience is left scratching its head at a lot of what is happening, strange personalities aside, because not enough time is spent developing motivations and plot points and, instead, spent on quirkier sequences that don’t add as much to the story. I can’t highly recommend the movie, but it’s not a bad way to pass the time at the movies.
Table 19 is in theaters this weekend. (Discussion with spoilers after the trailer.)
There were a lot of expectations coming into Rogue One. It is a prequel to the original Star Wars trilogy and it is a standalone film; it is not part of the sequential story and is the first standalone Star Wars movie. It is not Episode VIII; if you’ve been eagerly awaiting the next installment in the story that is ongoing, you’ll have to wait one more year.
Here’s what I knew going into this movie:
The events of Rogue One immediately precede the events of the first Star Wars film: A New Hope.
It provides the backstory that gives a reasonable explanation for the long-persistent fan question: Why was the Death Star so easy to destroy?
This was the most ethnically diverse main cast of any Star wars film, with specific actors being the main draw for me to go see it, as a more casual and recent Star Wars fan.
The main protagonist is a female lead.
The basic premise of the movie is this: At the end of Episode IV: A New Hope, Luke Skywalker destroys the Death Star, a hyper-advanced weapon capable of annihilating entire planets, by blowing up the reactor via the thermal exhaust port. It’s a tight shot, but even so, many fans wondered why such a powerful weapon would have such a fatal flaw. Rogue One seeks to answer that question while sort of almost bringing in the backstory for the line, “Many Bothans died to bring us this information.” (Just minus the Bothans… I do not recall seeing many Bothans at all in Rogue One.) There is no opening crawl after “In a galaxy far, far away…” because the events that take place in Rogue One ARE the events that are described in these opening crawls.
The most accurate summary of Rogue One I read in the weeks leading up to the movie’s release was that Rogue One puts the “war” in Star Wars. We don’t really get a feel for the sheer personal cost of war in the original trilogy. (I have heard that the prequels is a lot of politicking, but the war between the Empire and the Rebels has not begun at that point.)
War is ugly.
War is senseless.
War is devastating.
Rogue One isn’t just a space opera; it’s a war movie. Let me warn you now about getting attached to some of the characters: War doesn’t discriminate and people die.
And I appreciate that Rogue One doesn’t really sugarcoat it. Characters die. Even if they’re likeable?! Yes. Even if they’re not bad guys? Yes. Even if they’re on the movie poster? Why should that mean they survive? In fact, I think the only thing I found a little hard to swallow was how one of the villains survived as long as he did in the movie.
I really enjoyed the new cities and planets we were able to explore with Rogue One. Star Wars has been a successful franchise largely because of the fantastic world-building, and I think Rogue One continued to expand the Star Wars universe with places like Jedha, a sandy desert planet that Anakin would have hated with a holy city, and Scarif, a tropical planet that is the scene of a beachfront battle at the climax of the movie.
The new characters were also pretty good. Everyone really loved K-2SO, the former Imperial droid voiced by the inimitable Alan Tudyk. In contrast to droids like R2-D2 and BB-8, who only communicate in beeps and whirs, and C3-PO, who is uptight and not particularly hands-on, K2 has a much more direct flavor of sass and proves himself (itself?) to be a doer.
And yes, of course, I was excited to see Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen in their roles in this movie. Donnie Yen is a huge star (you might know him from Ip Man, if you are into international martial arts film hits) so I’m always happy to see Hollywood embracing Asian talent. Plus, their characters played off each other very nicely.
After seeing the movie and the trailers, I’m left to wonder how hastily they had to do rewrites and reshoots. There are a lot of discrepancies (spoilers in this link) as far as scenes that are in the trailers that not only don’t make it into the movie (iconic trailer lines like “This is a rebellion isn’t it? I rebel“) but don’t make sense with the progression of the story (characters being in settings that they don’t survive to see in the movie). I was a little bit disappointed with the development of the new characters, and I wonder if that is a result of the reshoots or just more poor planning and screenwriting or decision-making as far as what to keep and what to cut. I know that this is a standalone movie and, in the grand scheme of the entire saga, these characters don’t really matter since they don’t appear in any of the core story movies. There were a lot of I did feel that they wasted a lot of talent by doing such a disservice to these characters. Some specific issues I took:
Diego Luna as Andor Cassian was supposed to have some kind of dark, brooding past. I got the impression that I was supposed to know he knows the things he did for the Rebellion don’t really differentiate him from the Empire, but I didn’t get a good sense of that at all. I just saw Diego Luna, a great actor who I haven’t seen in a while, scowling through most of the movie. Obviously, war doesn’t breed many smiles, but he just seemed to be trying to be a character carrying a heavy emotional burden… that he doesn’t know what it is. There is a line that Donnie Yen’s character Chirrut Îmwe says to Andor: (paraphrasing because I don’t have the exact line)
“I’ve been in cages worse than this one. You carry yours in your heart.”
But I just don’t believe it. It felt like the screenplay really didn’t give Diego Luna much depth, other than his brief moment of indecision as to whether he should assassinate someone. And then it was over, and his character’s depth taken away.
Forest Whitaker as Saw Guerrera was also a wasted talent. Although his role in the trailer was fairly prominent, he only has a few brief moments of screentime. Although Mon Mothma talks about how Saw is an extremist who is a source of concern for the Rebel Alliance, we don’t really see any evidence of that other than his rough treatment, fueled by paranoia, towards the defector Imperial pilot. He is just… old… and raspy… and justifiably worried about the Empire sending assassins to take out one of their biggest threats. His relationship with Jyn is also explored within the span of a 1-minute conversation and that’s it? And after all the fighting he supposedly does, he puts up very little fight by his last scene, which came much sooner in the film than I thought. I just had no sense of what his character… was? What he stood for? What motivated him? Who he was in any sense. It was very disappointing.
Mads Mikkelsen as Galen Erso, who is the architect that designs the Death Star and its fatal flaw, is a small role but, again… underutilized. I don’t mind seeing Mads play a non-villain for once, but I felt like the movie wanted us to make assumptions about his character that they didn’t give us the grounds for making. Everyone seems a little unsure about whether or not they could trust Galen Erso, who is a hostage of the Empire but has, in fact, built this terrible weapon. We are told that it’s difficult to know where he really stands, but we are not shown that.
Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook, the defector cargo pilot, was so underutilized. Riz has a Golden Globe nomination for his amazing work in The Night Of and I just don’t understand how his character was just this nervous guy. That is the defining characteristic of Bodhi: nervous. As happy as I am about the South Asian representation in this movie, with a South Asian character playing a crucial role in defeating the Empire, we still have a bit of a ways to go. (See: the Asian guy playing a mystical monk.)
IN FACT, that is one of my biggest criticisms of this movie: Rogue One tells you things that it should show you, that it should let you learn on your own. One of my least favorite exchanges in the movie goes:
Jyn: “I’ve never had anyone come back for me before.”
Andor: “Welcome home.”
Ugh. I get it, Jyn is forced into exile when her father is taken hostage and he never makes it back to her, Saw takes her in but one day leaves her behind. She hasn’t had a home or something/someone to fight for since the last time she saw her parents. Okay, sure. I actually do buy that.
But show us, don’t tell us with this cringe-worthy cheese-ball dialogue. You don’t have to spoon-feed your audience. This is something that should be in the liner notes for the character in this scene: Jyn looks around at the Rebel fighters and back at Andor, smiling. No one has ever come back for her before. He smiles back and she knows that she has finally found home. This is not something that has to be spelled out and it takes away from this small but significant emotional moment for Jyn.
This is a common problem in a lot of movies: it’s easier to have characters do story exposition through dialogue and to say things that maybe viewers wouldn’t pick up on otherwise. But I rolled my eyes at that scene, not least of all because it began to hint at a wholly unnecessary romantic subplot between Jyn and Andor. I’ve said it a hundred times and I will continue to say it: Romantic subplots are not necessary to make a story more compelling or emotional and, in fact, they often distract from a very compelling and emotional story. Stopromanticsubplots.
I have a lot more to say about Rogue One, but I’ll let you go before the spoilers start, below the jump after the trailer. TL;DR I enjoyed the movie, its more honest portrayal of war, and the great Easter eggs showing how it fits into the existing Star Wars universe and films, but I was disappointed by the underutilization of great actors.
This is the post-reshoots trailer, so these are scenes you will see in Rogue One.