Baby Driver: Bad Title, Good Film…

Edgar Wright’s latest project is so good, it makes me overlook the ridiculous title…

I always look forward to Edgar Wright films, but after I heard the plot and title of Baby Driver, I admit I was a little sceptical. The idea of a young car prodigy called Baby, who suffered from tinnitus seemed just a little too weird to me, and I wasn’t a fan of the main actor, Ansel Elgort. I’d only seen him in bland teen dramas like the fault in our stars, and young adult dystopias like Divergent, and he didn’t stand out as particularly interesting. However, I finally saw it a week ago and I am pleased to say my scepticism was entirely misplaced. This film is an absolute blast from start to finish.

By far the best thing about this film is the sound design. Because Baby has tinnitus, he listens to music constantly to drown it out, which the audience can hear. Now, I’m not a music geek so I didn’t recognise a lot of the songs chosen, but for the most part I liked them and what amazed me was the way wright managed to sync up all the actions of the characters and the events of the film with the songs played. In fact, there is even a joke at one point in the film where Baby actually stops his team from carrying on with the heist until the right moment in his song. This is what makes this film unique, and it flavours every scene with an appropriate tone. I especially love the use of a song by Focus called Hocus Pocus (try saying that after you’ve had a few) which is one of the silliest and yet coolest I’ve heard.

The performances are for the most part, extremely well done. Two stand-outs for me were John Hamm and Lily James. John Hamm as Buddy is intense and dark, with a false smile and casual attitude that hides deep anger and resentment, reminiscent of his portrayal of Don Draper from Mad Men. In fact, you can make the argument that his character is really Don Draper, as Buddy comes from a similar background. On the other end of the scale, Lily James plays Deborah, the waitress love interest with a sweet innocence that never comes across as naivete. She has a natural sunny attitude and her relationship with Baby is heart-warming; the two have a good chemistry. She also isn’t played as a damsel, her character takes action into her own hands on more than one occasion, and she is willing to go far. As far as other actors go, Kevin Spacey is always great and although he’s not convincing as an unhinged killer, Jamie Foxx is intimidating as Bats.

Ansel Elgort, though not given much vocally to do, is nonetheless one hell of a physical performer, and scenes in which he dances to music are very charming. His expressions are very well done, and he manages to convey a feeling of cockiness without it seeming arrogant. Elgort can also portray moments of vulnerability and anger with an intensity that almost makes you forget his age, holding a stare with a deranged John Hamm at one point.

The visuals of the film, and the direction in general are exceptional as always with Edgar Wright. With bombastic action shot from very creative angles, and a superb use of lighting and colour to evoke the spirit of ridiculous 80’s action films. One of my favourite sequences is the chase scene in the multi car par, which uses brilliant cinematography, zooming in quickly on the two men in their cars, one lit in blue, the other red. Powerful stuff.

Baby Driver is a film I didn’t think I would enjoy as much as I did. The story is conventional, but the way in which it gets to each convention is surprising and refreshing. Like most of the best films, it takes what has been done before, and does something new with it. The direction, acting and music are splendid, and if I did have one complaint, it’s that the ending can’t help but feel a little anticlimactic. Overall though, I would definitely watch this again!

Making A Scene: The Spoils of War…

Breaking down a truly spectacular Battle…

I was hoping to write another movie review, but I haven’t had a chance to actually get out to the cinema, so none of the films I could review would be very recent. I have on the other hand been keeping up with the latest summer TV, in particular Game of Thrones. The latest episode The Spoils of War was a high point for the entire series and I thoroughly enjoyed the jaw dropping battle sequence. However, since I don’t want to spend forever writing long episode recaps about every episode in a season, I’ve come up with a new segment called “Making a scene” in which I will look at specific scenes from films and television episodes. And this week, I will be looking at the “Field of Fire” sequence from Game of Thrones Season 7 episode 4. As I’ll be talking about a scene from season 7 of Game of Thrones, be warned, there will be spoilers!

This episode has many amazing and well-crafted scenes. It may well be one of the best episodes the series has ever produced, and the gob-smacking ending is what captivated me most. To recap, after spending three episodes holding back, Daenerys Targaryen finally has enough and decides to attack the vulnerable Lannister army as they transport food and supplies to King’s Landing. Caught on the road unready for battle, the Lannisters are decimated by the horde of Dothraki screamers and literally burned to cinders by Drogon’s fire. By the end of the episode the entire army is routed and although Bronn manages to wound the dragon, the day definitely belongs to Daenerys.

The scene is masterfully directed and the director Matt Shakman should be extremely proud. His shots make the battle feel the way it does, and in terms of emotion, if not scale, I would say this sequence eclipses the Battle of the Bastards by miles. To be fair, it was always going to be hard to compete with a dragon. The camera-work is balanced between sweeping views of the action from up high as we fly with Drogon, to claustrophobic shaky cam and tracking shots, as we follow Jaime Lannister and Bronn through the fiery battlefield.

The tracking shots keep us close to the characters, allowing us to see the approaching army as they see it, and it is terrifying. The landscape shots of Drogon let us know what is happening and are immensely beautiful. Fans are calling this scene the Field of Fire after another battle from Westeros history. It’s easy to see why. The fire engulfs soldiers and explodes wagons, creating enough smoke to blot out the sun. the CG work with the dragon and the flames are extraordinary, especially for a TV show, and blend seamlessly with the live action. The practical makeup and props are also incredible, and the shots of men burning alive in agony are enough to make us wonder if Daenerys is really the good guy here!

The pace of the battle is quick and tension building. Rather than the slow slog of the Battle of the Bastards, where two armies pushed at each other until one gave way, this battle is decided fast. The pace keeps us from relaxing, creating tension, especially as we are unsure who to route for here. After all, both sets of characters are important to the viewer. All of this gives us a sense of dread as the Dothraki charge at us, and everything in this scene is tailored to increase that dread. From the moment we first hear the horde coming, we feel awestruck. The thunder of hooves, the eerie shriek of the Dothraki before we see them, and the roar of a dragon all feel bowel-loosening. The stunt work by the horsemen is sheer brilliance; the men stand on the back of the horse and shoot bows. Now we can see why many advise never to face the Dothraki in an open field.

There are many elements that can make part of a battle scene memorable, but rarely do all these elements come together so perfectly. Each aspect of the scene is honed to the highest standard, and I caught myself actually sitting on the edge of my seat as it went on. I can give Matt Shakman no greater praise than that this scene has affected me in a profound way, and it’ll be long while before I see anything so good again.