Baby Driver (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Unabashedly an exercise of style over substance, Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver” commands an uncanny ability to engage despite a plot with a familiar template. It does so, for the most part, through movement: the way the camera glides over well-choreographed action sequences featuring car smashes, how it switches between faces of people sharing an increasingly tense dialogue, the manner in which it jumps into and out of fantasies and memories. And supporting this technique is the ever-present soundtrack, a delicious stew of genres from artists like Queen, T. Rex, The Commodores, all the way to The Detroit Emeralds and Barry White.
Ansel Elgort has finally found a character that fits his rather limited acting style. He plays Baby, a getaway driver with tinnitus who must constantly listen to music in order to maintain focus on whatever is at hand. Baby does not say much which plays upon the strength of the performer; Elgort has presence even when simply standing in the background. Here, he has found a way to exude a cool aura that makes us want to get to know his character. However, when Elgort is required to speak, there are times when certain words and lines sound a bit mumbled which, I suppose, fits the character because of the relentless ringing in his ears.
Aside from “The Fast and the Furious” installments, modern action pictures involving heists and car crashes tend to look the same: grayish, wet, brooding, characters sporting miserable looks on their faces. But Wright’s picture is the opposite: it is colorful, the sun is shining, characters command their own personalities. Sometimes they end up surprising us. Particularly interesting to me is the revolving crew of robbers (Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Eiza González, Flea, Lanny Joon) led by a well-dressed man named Doc (Kevin Spacey). These big personalities being stuck in a room and having to endure one another’s presence because they have a common goal is like shaking a pop bottle. Keeping in mind that the work is inspired by classic and modern heist flicks, one of them has got to be the central villain. I had fun trying to guess which one it will be.
The picture could have used more heart—and I am not talking about Baby missing his deceased mother or even his romance with a cute waitress (Lily James). A fresh choice would have been to explore the relationship between Baby and his foster father who is mute (CJ Jones). While the two share a few scenes that are almost moving, the writing does not offer enough depth when it comes to this relationship. As a result, scenes meant to tug at the heartstrings later in the picture feel forced at times.
There is a certain swagger, rhythm, and wit to this picture that I wish other filmmakers would notice and draw inspiration from. The scene before the opening credits is so impressive, so jubilant, yet so precise in terms of what it wishes to show the viewers, we recognize right away the kind of picture it is going to be: an unceasing displays of look-what-I-can-do and look-what-I-can-get-away-with.
Adventures of Tintin, The (2011)
★★ / ★★★★
Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell), a journalist with an appetite for adventure, recently purchased a model of The Unicorn, an ill-destined 17th century ship built during the reign of Charles II, for a meager price. It was believed to have been carrying a secret cargo when the ship, led by Sir Francis Haddock, was ambushed by greedy pirates. Unaware that there was a scroll hidden in its mast, Tintin left the model unattended and was purloined by the henchmen of Sakharine (Daniel Craig), a mysterious gentleman convinced that the piece of paper held a clue to the location of great treasures. Based on the comic books by Hergé, the film embraced a high-octane energy similar to the “Indiana Jones” series. The way one action sequence led up to another, guided by John Williams’ uplifting and suspenseful score, felt natural and I was impressed to have been lured each time. I was particularly drawn to the Wire Fox Terrier, Tintin’s best companion named Snowy, and the way the camera glided with him when he was compelled to rescue his master from dangerous situations. The comedy entered the equation when, like most dogs, Snowy was tempted by food instead of focusing on the mission at hand. The style of animation was quite astonishing. Battles occurred on land, air, and sea and each offered something unique relative to the challenges presented depending on the environment, our protagonists’ level of fatigue, and the bad guys’ aptitude for violence. Moreover, it was surprisingly confident in presenting certain realities. At one point, a man who knocked on Tintin’s door to warn him of the danger he was about to be thrusted into was bombarded by about a dozen bullets. For an animated film targeted for kids, I felt somewhat uneasy when it showed the man’s ravaged body hitting the floor, leaving clues using his blood, and gasping for his last breath. I admired that the screenplay by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish made room for some darkness. It elevated the material from what could have been a silly treasure hunt to something with history and gravity. But unlike the “Indiana Jones” series, the picture, directed by Steven Spielberg, did not have great emotional payoffs. While there were emotional peaks like when Tintin and Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), the last descendant of The Unicorn’s captain, struggled to find a way to survive a plane crash, the treasure was exactly as we envisioned. It was too literal and bereft of implications, uncharacteristic of Spielberg’s work. I wanted to be more surprised about the content of the treasure and what it meant not only to acquire it but to keep it. Perchance there was a reason why it remained hidden for so long. After it was revealed, I didn’t feel as though evading bullets, being lost at sea, and almost getting decapitated was worth it. The final scene “The Adventures of Tintin” left more to be desired in a negative way. The journey didn’t feel complete due to a lack of closure. I felt as though the screenwriters wanted to end the story, but they couldn’t find a way to capture the essence in turning the last page of a great adventure.