Get wheeled into an intoxicating rhythm; Baby Driver (2017), dir: Edgar Wright

Can you remember the last time you watched a film, got out of the theatre and turned back inside straight away?

That’s what happened to me after Baby Driver; minutes after leaving, I made a 180 degrees turn because I just HAD to experience the whole thing again.  I wanted to imprint every scene in conjunction with its soundtrack in my memory, grasp every detail in the performances, and essentially enjoy myself on repeat. Baby Driver is a fascinating and magically entertaining motion picture that captivates the audience with its caricature characters and stylised micro-settings. Music is employed as a narrative mechanism that is equally a recipe for infectious joy and excitement.

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The first scene is an excellent example of Wright’s incredible directing style: Baby is lip-singing Bellbottoms (performed by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion) while waiting for the gang to wrap up the robbery, get into his red Subaru so that an impressive and thrilling car-chase can start. This particular set-piece is masterfully choreographed and quickly gives away that Baby Driver in a few decades time will be surely enlisted in the classics.

Scenes are not merely dressed with the appropriate songs but they are purposefully designed to match their rhythm and intensity. Wright’s brilliant concept makes his film particularly powerful for everyone; just count the times you’ve attached everyday moments to particular songs and swayed to their melody by improvising scenes that resembled music videos, or the times you replayed memories while enriching them with song that could turn them into perfectly synchronised musical settings.

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Baby Driver is an amalgam of crime, violence, romance, action, thriller, drama, dark comedy, and musical and therefore, it constitutes a genre in itself. The music score is in complete harmony with every movement and sound in the scenes, in a way that music and narrative are inextricably linked.  Instead of being disorienting, Baby Driver’s musical flow bizarrely adds to its structure and storytelling goals. And it is precisely thanks to its fluidity and multi-sensory richness that it makes you crave re-watching the scenes in order to catch things you might have missed the first time.

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Baby Driver is a stylish hybrid dipped into American aesthetics; it reflects modern pop-culture through the lens of cult classics hence, notably resembling Tarantino in the ‘90’s (minus the explicit, blood- infested violence) but at the same time, it feels old-fashioned in its details, by presumably drawing inspiration from the classic Hollywood era (as indicated by the B& W day-dreaming scenes with Baby and Debora).

One of the film’s greatest strengths is the assembly of amazing and memorable supporting characters. They’re all conceived in a way that they fall into stereotypes, yet they gloriously leave their distinctive cinematic print thanks to Wright’s witty dialogues and the cast’s remarkable performances.

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Buddy and Darling represent a more evolved and sexy version of Bonny & Clyde, in that they are partners in life and in crime. Eiza González presents Darling, a seductive and vengeful thief who is also, a jewel and bubble-gum enthusiast and thankfully, doesn’t disappear under a clichéd and decorative depiction of the femme-fatale in crime films. Jon Hamm portrays her other half, Buddy who is a relatively warm, easy-going guy with a distinctive deep voice and sarcastic grim. The plot’s turn in act three gives Hamm the opportunity to branch off the attractive, macho man persona and dive into raging insanity.

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Griff’s (Jon Bernthal) frustration towards Baby’s attitude spurs a comical monologue that balances a humorous teasing against a bleak warning. Jamie Foxx as Bats is intense and funny but transmitting a very unsettling and dangerous vibe though his maniacal and dry gaze. Kevin Spacey stays faithful to a cold, distant and almost robotic portrayal of Doc, only for his unintentional paternal instincts to be revealed towards the film’s epilogue, triggered by his emotional vulnerability towards true love.

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Lily James gives us a Debora that can be easily adored thanks to her evident beauty and graceful personality that is conveniently subtle and discreet enough only to support and trigger Ansel Elgort’s lead performance as Baby (with whom she also has great chemistry). Elgort feels natural and spontaneous on-screen and ticks all the right boxes as he convincingly appears tender (especially when caring for his foster dad), romantic and innocent but also, fearless and brave.

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After the film you might want to watch it again (yeah, it’s that good!), wear your sunglasses all day & night, talk less, make your own playlists that match with specific memories or people, you might seriously consider it’s high time you fell in love (again?), exceed speed limit (and potentially get a speeding fine too), contemplate what kind of illegal activity would suit you best and finally, come up with a cool nickname for your criminal alter-ego.

 

Tunes, feelings and colours; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 (2017), dir: James Gunn

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One thing’s for sure; James Gunn knows how to capture our fantasy and engage us with laughs and effortless cuteness right from the opening credits. Baby Groot’s dance number is performed in a CGI celebration of colour, humour and music, and sets you in the right mood for the adventure you’re about to witness.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 is great fun thanks to the striking visuals, the chemistry among  the  cast and  also, because the action plays on character development by taking advantage of everyone and splitting screen time almost equally. And so the diverse gang that protects the Galaxy returned with Vol.2 to bring a spectacle of robust CGI scenes, a breadth of feelings and clever, well-written dialogues that respect the characters evolution. Needless to say I loved the film because in its plot’s simplicity and predictability, it’s a fun ride to yet another strange and fun Marvel Universe.

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Michael Rooker delivers a memorable performance as the blue-skinned buccaneer Yondu. He is a man of multiple layers and that makes him incredibly relatable and likeable. Yondu’s biggest mistake was to betray the trust of his fellow Ravagers which leaves him exiled by their community and utterly hurt, regretful and tormented. Nothing compares to the effect on the audience when a crude and shielded character unveils his emotions and unspoken truths, by revealing where his heart truly lies and by seeking redemption by all costs.

Mantis (Pom Klementieff), the empathic sole companion/habitat of Ego is fresh, funny, sweat and surprisingly strong. Her flourishing friendship with Drax is heart-warming and amusing. Bradley Cooper does once more great voice work with Rocket, the piece-of-work modified raccoon whose wild nature and bad temper tries the patience of his friends. The scene where Yondu confronts his trouble-making nature and pushes him to admit his vulnerabilities is impactful and memorable.

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The film has weaknesses like any other; every time Chris Pratt, the Star-Lord himself delivers a line on a dramatic tone, I find it funny, I can almost see him smile while yelling at his Ego-maniac father, or blaming Gamora for not being a supportive friend, or freaking out over Rocket’s theft… I simply can’t take him seriously. Although, I understand the rationale behind casting him as Peter Quill, I believe he is a comedy actor who fails drama, as it was recently proved in Passengers (2016). In addition, Guardians Vol.2 doesn’t achieve the laughs of its predecessor, with sarcastic hints and jokes that are dragged for too long and were not that funny to begin with, e.g. the Taserface teasing that had the whole crew bursting in tears of laughter (?), Drax’s share of funny comments (nope…), etc.

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Speaking of striking scenes, I believe the film gives one of the most colourful and heart-breaking funerals in cinema. Baby Groot’s torture and subsequent mission serves laughter upon tears, Yondu’s revenge is diabolically satisfying, Nebula (Karen Gillan) sharing her plans with Kraglin (Sean Gunn) is oddly devastating and funny and finally, Yondu’s ascend to space with Peter in his arms draw the simplicity of love and silence. Also, Groot (Vin Diesel) is the most adorable, one-sentence speaking, constantly teary-eyed wooden baby ever created and I feel constantly manipulated by how this little cute twig makes me feel…

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Guardian’s USP consists of the stunning spectacle of colourful visuals along with incredible 70’s mixed tapes that mark the action and inner dialogues. The film also emphasises the absolute need for respect to diversity and explores the concept of family, by placing friends as surrogates in the absence or incompetence demonstrated by blood-relations.

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After the film you might listen to Fleetwood Mac’s anthology, put on your most colourful outfits, think how cool it would be to be blue, green or purple (or any other skin tone of crazy colours and shapes you can imagine), try to imitate the way Mantis and Yondu talk and finally, think of the “crazy shit” you would built if you were a half-Celestial.

 

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales/ Salazar’s Revenge (2017), dir: Rønning and Sandberg

 

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Low expectations had already infested my mind when I entered the theatre to watch the fifth film of one my most beloved franchises. I fell in love with the first film in 2003, watched it countless time and dreamed of white shores, boats, rum and crazy, lowlife companions. I liked the second and third but they didn’t quite live up to the fun and the thrills of the original. As to the fourth film, we can all pretend it never happened. Coming now to the fifth time that Jack Sparrow’s adventures are brought to the big screen, I have to tell you it’s a film worth watching if like me, you follow the characters since the beginning. Being a loyal fan, you will be able to experience all the breadth of emotions, laughs and victories with the characters along the way. 

Salazar’s Revenge is directed by the Norwegians Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, known for their Academy Award-nominated high sea film Kon-Tiki who managed to bring back some of our favourite elements of the first films, mostly their simplicity and humour. There were also many artful shots that reflected their expertise in using water as the perfect setting for creating engaging visuals.

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The plot lacks twists, the alliances formed are easily-followed and the ending although predictable is source of pure joy for fans. There is a new ‘couple’ of course, Elizabeth’s and Will’s son, Henry Turner, played by Brenton Thwaites and the accused-of-being-a-witch astronomer Carina Smyth, portrayed by Kaya Scodelario both of whom do a great job, being fresh, witty, and convincing by setting the right tone of romance, friendship and rivalry. 

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Captain Hector Barbossa, my personal favourite, is in a fantastic state of wealth and sea-domination when Jack’s past sins take a toll on him too, being a pirate and all… Geoffrey Rush is once more an absolute master of the art, and revives a character that has shown multiple layers through the series. In Dead Men, his devotion and protecting nature emerges once more and not only for his beloved Black Pearl. His signature laughter and scornful grimace can rightfully compete with Depp’s zigzaggy and rock n’roll persona. 

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Speaking of which, if there was one thing I didn’t feel as familiar here that was Jack Sparrow! Bizzarely, he felt heavy and tired, as if he was reluctantly awaken in the middle of a good dream and went along with the action only because there was no other choice (just like in his actual opening scene in the film). What I mean is that there wasn’t much passion in the performance that the teasing and cunning look he delivered every sentence with in the past is missing here. Perhaps it was intentional, as part of the character’s development and in order to reflect his downfall given that he hits bottom when in the absence of the Pearl, his crew and his rum, he trades his once most precious possession after his ship, his magic compass. 

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Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem) is a dark, tormented and merciless figure that has been consumed by hate all his life and all his death! Salazar and his crew, who have fallen victims of a curse – just like Barbossa and his own in the Curse of the Black Pearl – that turned them into ghosts and kept them trapped in the Devil’s Triangle and we all guess who was the culprit… Having read reviews that accused the film of being overly surrealistic, I expected outrageous additions to the Pirates’ universe however; I found more similarities to the first film than contradictions. If surrealism and fantasy is not your cup of tea and you expect an accurate depiction of pirate life then I suggest you not to watch it or if you do, to not criticise the film for not being something that it has never pretended to be! The whole franchise is based on mythology, magic, curses and monsters. In my case, it was only the fish-like crew of the Flying Dutchman that seriously challenged my aesthetics and posed a threat to identification with the character of David Jones, as it was simply too hard to see the man beneath the mollusc. However, it didn’t feel far-fetched because I’ve embarked on the adventure with the Pirates on a ship of skeleton-looking fellas under the moonlight, admitting there were supernatural creatures in the unknown sea…

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Salazar’s Revenge is an entertaining vision with memorable bits, including the bank robbery attempt, finding the stunningly sparkly island where Poseidon’s trident lies, hearing the tale from Salazar’s mouth and all the ending scenes basically (yes I cried, so what?!). It is also rich in funny moments, like when Jack encounters the very French guillotine, when Carina is trying to explain to pirates that she is an astronomer and a horologist, when Jack is brought into a horrifying marital engagement etc. 

Love of many kinds is touched upon again in the franchise: the father – son/daughter bond and sacrificial nature of the relationship, friendship, romance, and of course the love for the sea/freedom and for the beauty that captured both Jack’s and Hector’s heart, the Black Pearl. 

The ending brought me tears because I’m soft, a sucker for romance, sacrifices, reunions, and that signature score of the Pirates of the Caribbean that is embedded in my brain and brings about strong emotions every single time it touched my ears without fail. 

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After the film, you might want to watch once more your favourite Pirates of the Caribbean film (chances are it’s The Curse of Black Pearl), start counting the stars, you might develop an interest about astronomy, have a drink with rum, say “hombre” with unprovoked hostility, call your dad to declare your love for him and fantasise that your next holiday will involve a boat.