Baby Driver

This is going to be a short review because I don’t have much to say about Baby Driver that isn’t positive. I knew that the combination of this movie’s premise with Edgar Wright as the director would most likely result in an experience of profound joy. As someone who considers their first viewing of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive to be one of the closest things to a religious experience that they’ve ever had, I am already on-board with well-made movies about quirky getaway drivers that like listening to music while they work. But the level at which Wright integrates the music into this movie was something I was truly unprepared for.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World demonstrated Wright’s ability to handle musical moments with both songs and fight sequences, but what Baby Driver does isn’t just a rehash of that movie’s technique. The lead character, “Baby”, picks specific songs to drive/work/escape to during heists. And when those songs start, everything, and I mean EVERYTHING that’s happening in the movie is following the trajectory of the song. Every gunshot, every car movement, every background noise. In Baby Driver, the characters don’t burst into song, the world of the movie does. And it is done with just the right balance of cool and ridiculous, and so seamlessly that it never once becomes annoying or overwhelming.

Part of the reason this works so well is Ansel Elgort’s performance as “Baby”. Elgort’s many moments throughout the film where he joyfully sings and dances along to the music that he loves and needs so much instantly win you over from the very first scene. His sweet romance with Lily James’ character, Debora, is highlighted by him performing songs centered on her name in front of his deaf foster father, Joseph (played by CJ Jones), and their first date in a laundromat, where the camera swirls around them like a dance sequence. Their chemistry is charming, and easily sells a romance centered around two people that just want to escape their respective jobs.

All of the supporting turns from Spacey, Hamm, González, and Foxx are equally fun and menacing, providing further balance to Baby Driver‘s tone. These characters are both exactly what you expect and very surprising in certain scenes.

I have missed Edgar Wright so very much, and I am very happy that he is back with a movie as joyful, musical, and exciting as this.

A Surprisingly Fun But Frustrating Mess: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

I used to be a big Harry Potter fan. I was gifted the first book by both my aunt and grandma when I was 6, and some of the few happy memories that I have of my family pre-divorce are of my dad reading the first three books to me. Together with the film adaptations being released every few years, I was in love with this universe. At least until 2007. After the books finished, my enthusiasm for the series waned. The story was over, and I found that I didn’t like David Yates’ entries in the film series.

So when Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was announced, I was completely apathetic to its existence. David Yates was back to direct a Harry Potter prequel that Warner Brothers wanted to become a series. OK, whatever. When the first trailer was in front of a number of movies I saw in theaters, I had the same reaction.

Even the reveal that Grindelwald and Dumbledore would eventually be characters in the series didn’t elicit any interest. As for Johnny Depp’s casting… I’ll get to that in a bit.

When I did go to see Fantastic Beasts, I had heard good things from a couple friends and early reviews. So I managed to have a little curiosity by the time the movie started.

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Getting Freaky: An Appreciation of Batman Returns

I rediscovered Batman Returns sometime in the last few months of 2014. This was around the same time I saw Bride of Frankenstein for the first time. And as with Bride, I went crazy for this movie. Out of the original four Batman movies from the 80s and 90s that I had watched as a kid, Returns was the one I had revisited the least. But I never forgot it.

Opening a movie with attempted filicide, following that with a killer circus troupe, and a woman being brought back to life by cats after being pushed out of a window will have that effect on a viewer. Regardless of your personal opinion of the movie, you can’t deny its audacity.

But the most memorable part to me, the part that I never forgot and never stopped loving even as I forgot other parts, was the following exchange that occurs first between Batman and Catwoman, and later Bruce and Selina:

“Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it.”

“But a kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it.”

There are many many aspects of this movie that I love, but I think this exchange sums up Batman Returns the best. Strange, but beautiful.

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Captain America: Civil War, Surviving Los Angeles, and a Promise

I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I think it’s a miracle that a super-franchise like this exists and is not only respectful of its source material, but also consistently fun to watch. I’ve always been a sucker for serialized storylines, ever since I started watching Lost. While that show has ultimately ended up disappointing me (to the point where it took me six years to realize and accept that its finale was just not that good), the Marvel movies have become a constant event for me to look forward to every few months, similar to how I felt when LostDoctor Who, Gravity Falls, or Hannibal would air a new episode.

Captain America: Civil War represents everything I love about the MCU, good and bad. It’s a very rewarding and thoughtful blockbuster experience, but very dependent on previous entries in the franchise. If you’re not caught up with the MCU, there’s a chance you may be wondering who a lot of these characters are. It would be interesting to hear the opinion of someone who isn’t as familiar with the MCU, to see if the movie holds up well on its own.

Anyway, all of this is a prelude to the reason I’m writing this. I want to talk about why Civil War was one of the most important movie-going experiences of my life.

When I found out the Russo brothers were returning for the next Captain America movie, I was very happy. I had loved what they did with The Winter Soldier. When I found out the premise for Captain America 3 was going to be an adaptation of the Civil War storyline, I was excited. When Spider-Man was announced as a supporting character in the movie and future MCU entries, I was ecstatic. I had hated the last Spider-Man movie so this was a literal dream come true.

Most of these pieces of news and hype leading up to the movie occurred while I was living in Los Angeles.

I was worried about what it would be like to live in LA before I committed to going there for my last semester of college. I was worried the lack of real change in weather would drive me nuts. I was worried that the business that I thought I wanted to be a part of would drain me of my enthusiasm for movies. I was worried it would put a strain on my current relationship.

All of those things happened, and more. Having to drive everywhere in a city full of the absolute worst drivers I have ever seen took away my ability to enjoy a simple car ride. My internship turned out to be little more than unpaid office work that showed me how unpleasant people in the film business could be. One of my classes was centered around stories of unhappy people who lived in LA, and all the reasons not to live there. My other class involved writing for a show that further dealt with unhappy and depressed individuals.

On top of all this, I was sinking. I felt myself getting worse and lower and miserable, and I wasn’t able to deal with it. When the first season of Daredevil came out, I latched onto watching it whenever possible. I started watching Batman: The Brave and the Bold, devouring all 65 episodes in less than a month. I also saw many, many movies in LA theaters to further distract myself from how bad I was getting. (special mentions to Kingsman: The Secret Service, Magic Mike XXL, Creed, and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation for being my favorites out of what I saw)

But what I latched onto most of all, what I built up in my head as my light at the end of the tunnel, was Avengers: Age of Ultron. I had been waiting for this movie since I had seen Whedon’s first Avengers movie at the end of my freshman year of college. It was the only graduation gift that I cared about. I told myself that if I could make it to this movie, I would be ok.

I enjoyed the movie when I saw it, but it was a disappointment that took a while for me to deal with. Because, as you probably know, movies don’t magically fix all your problems. That and Age of Ultron is one of the more inconsistent entries in the MCU.

My problems got worse after that. I struggled to find consistent work to pay for the apartment that my girlfriend and I had just moved into. Eventually, a visit to the ER happened that traumatized us both, leading us both to leave LA. She left a couple months before I did, so there was this strange period of time where I was living alone in our apartment, working at a good, full-time job, and coming home and doing nothing but listen to David Bowie music (he had just passed away) before maybe eating something and going to sleep.

I started seeing a therapist, which helped, but I eventually moved our stuff out of the apartment with my friends’ help, and flew back to the east coast.

I moved back in with my dad and brother and got a part-time job at a bowling/arcade place. I saw my girlfriend when I could as we navigated through a death in her family, long distance, discomfort at our respective living places, and both of our mental health problems.

Throughout all of this, as we were slowly beginning our recovery from LA, I remembered that Captain America: Civil War was in my near future. It came out about a week after my birthday. I was reading very positive reactions to the movie before I saw it. I lost my shit when the Spider-Man costume was revealed.

And I felt myself becoming enthusiastic and hopeful about something again.

The movie didn’t disappoint me. It was everything I wanted it to be. I came out of that theater so happy. Especially after the dumpster fire that was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

I am still trying to navigate through my depression, so I’m not trying to say that this movie magically cured that. Because of course it didn’t.

The reason why Civil War will forever be an important movie to me is that it showed me that I still had the ability to feel happy again.

I rewatched it tonight for the first time in months and it reminded me of all the crap that I’ve gone through since LA (almost two years, holy shit), and how far I’ve come. I still have to figure out how to deal with my depression better, but I also need to allow myself more time to do something else that makes me happy, which is this: writing.

The last time I wrote something was my Star Trek Beyond review in July. And that’s partially because I haven’t seen a movie in a theater since then. But it’s also because I’ve become hyper-focused on things that have taken away time from doing this. I’m not great at it (there is a reason I call myself an amateur), but I love writing about movies.

So this is me making a promise. From now on, I am publishing a review once a week. Good or bad. But preferably good.

If you’ve read all of this or any of my other writing, thank you. I’m sorry if I’ve let you down, but I’m going to do my best to make up for it.

Starting with Doctor Strange next week 🙂

Thank you.

 

My Favorite Film Scores

When I was younger, songs from Disney movies were my gateway to soundtracks, but the earliest film scores that I remember noticing and wanting to own were John Williams’ score for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Michael Giacchino’s score for The Incredibles.

The first time I heard Hedwig’s Theme during the first teaser trailer for Sorcerer’s Stone, I was instantly transported to a world I had only been able to imagine while reading.

A few years later, by the time the end credits of The Incredibles began, I was grinning with delight not just because of the movie I’d just watched, but because I was so happy that I was getting to hear more of the movie’s music.

My love of film scores has kind of spiraled since then. I began regularly buying scores from almost every movie I saw and liked. Over the past few years, I discovered the amazing soundtrack releases of La-La Land Records and Intrada, and my bank account has continually suffered for it. (the latest title on my wish list is the complete 15-disc score collection for Star Trek: The Original Series)

While there are plenty of well-known movie themes and film scores (most of John Williams’ work, the James Bond theme, Back to the Future, etc.), there are plenty of other scores I’ve fallen in love with that, while not necessarily obscure, I want to share with people.

There’s one in particular that hasn’t been released yet, which I desperately want to own someday, so I also hope maybe this will get it noticed by others. (UPDATE: THIS SCORE WAS FINALLY RELEASED IN ITS ENTIRETY BY THE AMAZING LABEL, INTRADA I AM SO HAPPY)

Anyway, these are my favorite film scores, alphabetically.

  1. The Amazing Spider-Man by James Horner
  2. Atlantis: The Lost Empire by James Newton Howard
  3. Batman Returns by Danny Elfman
  4. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm by Shirley Walker
  5. Black Swan by Clint Mansell
  6. The Bride of Frankenstein by Franz Waxman
  7. Casino Royale by David Arnold
  8. Catch Me If You Can by John Williams
  9. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Danny Elfman
  10. A Christmas Carol by Alan Silvestri
  11. Creed by Ludwig Göransson
  12. Dick Tracy by Danny Elfman
  13. Faust by Timothy Brock
  14. The Great Gatsby by Craig Armstrong
  15. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by John Williams
  16. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by Patrick Doyle
  17. The Haunted Mansion by Mark Mancina
  18. Hellboy by Marco Beltrami
  19. Hook by John Williams
  20. The Incredible Hulk by Craig Armstrong
  21. The Incredibles by Michael Giacchino
  22. Jack the Giant Slayer by John Ottman
  23. John Carter by Michael Giacchino
  24. Jumanji by James Horner
  25. King Kong by James Newton Howard
  26. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang by John Ottman
  27. Lady in the Water by James Newton Howard
  28. Let Me In by Michael Giacchino
  29. The Mask of Zorro by James Horner
  30. Men in Black by Danny Elfman
  31. Metropolis by Gottfried Huppertz
  32. Miracle on 34th Street by Bruce Broughton
  33. The Mummy by Jerry Goldsmith
  34. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service by John Barry
  35. Peter Pan by James Newton Howard
  36. Quantum of Solace by David Arnold
  37. Return to Oz by David Shire
  38. The Shadow by Jerry Goldsmith
  39. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow by Edward Shearmur
  40. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Georges Delerue
  41. Speed Racer by Michael Giacchino
  42. Spider-Man 2 by Danny Elfman
  43. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock by James Horner
  44. Star Trek: Insurrection by Jerry Goldsmith
  45. Stargate by David Arnold
  46. Super 8 by Michael Giacchino
  47. Superman by John Williams
  48. Superman Returns by John Ottman
  49. The Terminal by John Williams
  50. Thor by Patrick Doyle
  51. Thunderball by John Barry
  52. Tomorrow Never Dies by David Arnold
  53. Tomorrowland by Michael Giacchino
  54. Tron: Legacy by Daft Punk
  55. The Wolfman by Danny Elfman
  56. The World is Not Enough by David Arnold
  57. X2 by John Ottman