In this edition, we’re taking a look at Baby Driver, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, and Kingsman: The Golden Circle.
Edgar Wright has always been known for his auteurship — the quick cuts, witty writing, and visual flair have defined his films over the past 15+ years. Watching Baby Driver, you know you’re watching an Edgar Wright film. The entire movie has a sense of flair to it, like the characters involved know they’re in a movie so they’re trying to make things as fun and crazy as possible. And his visual style is consistent — Wright has a penchant for showing the passage of time or delivering narrative through jump cuts and sliding from object to object on screen. This technique has always been effective for me, and it works in the world of Baby Driver.
Another thing I liked about the movie was its use of music. Ansel Elgort’s Baby suffers from a constant ringing in his ears that he covers up by constantly listening to music. Thankfully, he has good taste. Honestly, I think Elgort is the weak link in the film, but that’s a small insult considering how well just about everything else works. He pulls off the stoic nature of his character well, but it’s the “fun” moments where I don’t totally buy him. He doesn’t look 100% comfortable. But he’s still a compelling hero that does everything Wright asks of him.
The opening sequence helps establish his character and personality, and the ensuing chase sequence builds on the more badass side of him. He also has great chemistry with Lily James, who plays the female lead. She doesn’t amount to much more than the “girlfriend,” but she at least gets some character development and an opportunity to participate in the action. The rest of the cast is fantastic, as well. Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, Jon Bernthal, and Kevin Spacey really round out the “bad guy” archetypes. Bernthal is the jerk, Foxx is the psycho, Hamm and González are the lovers, and Spacey is the ringleader with a soft spot for our hero.
Things definitely come to a head in the wild ride that is the third act, and the movie goes farther into crazy territory than I would have guessed. It never feels completely unbelievable, but in a movie with tons of violence and car chases, the climax still had me saying “I mean, damn!”
Wright delivers yet another stylish genre pick, but one with more heart and character development than what we saw in the Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy. I was expecting a fun action movie, and while Baby Driver certainly delivers on that, it rises to become something even better through its unique style, use of music, incredible action sequences, and interesting characters.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
I’ll be honest and say that I watched The Meyerowitz Stories on a Saturday afternoon because I was bored and it was the first thing I saw available on Netflix. Because of its premise, it’s the kind of film that you need to be in the mood to watch. It’s really a look at family life and growing up in New York City under artistic parents that don’t express love very well. Those are specific experiences I didn’t have growing up, but taken in a larger context, it’s also a film about how our parents have a huge impact on who we become as adults — despite their or our best intentions.
I told a friend of mine that this was a serio-comedy starring Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller, and he immediately lost interest. But for me, I tend to enjoy their recent serious stuff more than their comedic films. With that said, I was blown away by the character acting in this one, as well as the writing. Sandler and Elizabeth Marvel play siblings, with Stiller being their younger half-brother. They share a father, played by Dustin Hoffman. All four of them bring so many levels to their performances that it was truly a treat to watch. And I mean “treat” very figuratively, because man would it suck to be any of these people.
Hoffman’s character is the patriarch, a sculptor that never reached the fame and success of some of his peers. His eldest son, Sandler, was always seen as a disappointment. he went into music but never really made anything of himself, either. Elizabeth Marvel is given short shrift in the character development department, which is a shame. I would have loved to learn more about her sister perspective on things. But I think this move is also intentional, because she’s sort of the forgotten child in the eyes of her father. Stiller is the youngest — and most loved — son, who is a disappointment not because he didn’t find success in life, but because he did it outside of the art community.
The whole film hinges around these kids visiting their father for various reasons, and they all come together when he gets sick. There’s a fascinating discussion on how we bitch and moan about family until the time comes when they truly need our help — then we’re there, no questions asked. There aren’t many “twists” in the film, per se, but there are enough character moments that I’d hate to spoil something here.
The only knock against the film that I can bring is that in its efforts to feel like a compilation of short stories, some of the editing is inconsistent. Sometimes, characters will be cut off mid-sentence to jump to another scenario, but that happens infrequently enough that it almost feels like a mistake. More consistency in the editing, style, and tone would have brought this whole thing together, but I still think The Meyerowitz Stories is a shoe-in for some nominations come awards season.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
If you’re anticipating me lambasting Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets as a mess of a film, then you might be surprised by this review. I don’t think the whole thing measures up to the sum of its parts, but with a few small changes, this could have been more than a b-tier sci-fi film.
My biggest — and most important — complaint is regarding our leads. Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne have zero chemistry together, and even apart, there isn’t a compelling moment from either one. It’s a shame because the story of Valerian isn’t terrible, and there’s definitely some visual splendor to behold. Seriously, Luc Besson and the art team do a phenomenal job building this universe. From the creature designs to the differing cultures to the planet Alpha itself (the main hub world and “city of a thousand planets” named in the title), Valerian is a film that goes big in the visuals department. The world feels satisfyingly lived in, and the montage of it expanding is pretty fun.
There’s a decent effort for humor throughout, but again, it mostly comes down to the main performers and they don’t successfully deliver anything. I really can’t even describe how disappointed I was with their performances, because Valerian really is still sort of fun in spite of them.
I will say that the dialogue doesn’t do them any favors — it’s mostly sci-fi junk. The relationship of our leads isn’t set up well, either. From the get-go, the movie beats you over the head with the fact that Valerian (DeHaan) is in love with Laureline (Delevingne), and it never lets up. He wants to marry her but she resents him for being a womanizer. I think he asks her to marry him like 12 times in this movie. It isn’t cute or endearing, it’s annoying. I don’t have a problem with their relationship if that’s how it builds, but when their first interaction is him asking her to get married before I even get to know the characters, that becomes the only thing I know them for. It’s just bad character development.
But it’s worth repeating, I didn’t hate my time with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. I imagine hardcore fans of the comic were disappointed with the character portrayals, but Besson successfully builds a universe that I wouldn’t mind exploring again — just with different lead actors.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle
I mostly enjoyed the first film in the Kingsman series — with some caveats. The Golden Circle takes place shortly following the events of The Secret Service, with our hero settling into his life as a Kingsman agent. Then shit hits the fan.
I was kind of surprised to see how readily Matthew Vaugh was willing to just kill off major characters at the opening of this film — it’s like he didn’t get along with some of the actors and decided to kill them off “just because.” But, all things considered, I’m glad the cast was trimmed a bit, because a whole new U.S. crew fills out the support system and they certainly come across as if a non-American wrote them. That is to say — they’re caricatures.
Channing Tatum is in this movie, and if you’ve read my stuff before, you know I’m going to take this opportunity to again say that I think he’s one of the worst working actors in Hollywood. Thankfully, he’s in the movie less than the trailers would have you believe, but man his southern accent is just embarrassing in this.
The rest of the cast is solid, as long as you can accept the over the top nature of the world. Julianne Moore plays the villain this time around, and she’s perfect as the psychopathic yet motherly yet sexy drug cartel leader. Her plan for world domination is definitely stupid, but that’s intentional. This is a fun comic book take on James Bond, so you just kind of have to roll with the insanity.
Matthew Vaughn again nails the action sequences. He uses perspective to great effect to sell a punch or flip or explosion. Similar to the first entry, if you’re willing to turn off your brain a bit, there’s a lot to like in The Golden Circle. It won’t win any awards for acting or writing, but it’s AAA action schlock at its best, and certainly has personality to spare.
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