Baby Driver: the musical that wasn’t

Film

Edgar Wright first came to most people’s attention with his Cornetto trilogy: Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007) and The World’s End (2013). In-between, he threw in a career highlight – the utter batshit curveball that was Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010). For lo, it contained a truckload of cool music and a baby-faced lead (Michael Cera), whose character was part of the delightfully named indie band Sex Bob-Omb.

Uber cool, and oh so fun.

He then went off to do Ant-Man and it all went tits up.

But a true measure of a person’s character is how you bounce back and, with Baby Driver, he’s come back blazing – with a crime flick he’s had brewing for quite a few years, and is quite possibly his best work to date.

The movie features a baby-faced getaway driver, Baby (Ansol Elgort), who’s prodigious behind the wheel but wants out of a life of crime. One last job and all that… However, bad boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) has leverage so Baby, for now, must play the game. Not just with Doc, but also his ragtag group of unhinged robbers, in particular Bats (Jamie Foxx) and Buddy (John Hamm) – who both can’t get the measure of Baby and suspect him of not taking this crime stuff seriously.

Hamm and Foxx are blinding casting. They practically steal the film from Elgort. But you’d expect as much. Ansol has to play the straight hero and it’s always the case that the baddest bad guys get to have all the fun.

Bats, like his name, is batty, batshit, a live wire, totally unpredictable and definitely not a team player – which begs the question as to why he’s there. But why not? He’s mad and has skills, which makes robbing banks more fun, no? Buddy, too, starts with the charm (easy for Hamm), doing his Bonnie and Clyde thing with wild wife and partner in crime Darling (Eiza Gonzalez). But he, too, is not a nice guy. Hamm plays him just on the right side of menacing and cartoonish. Close to caricature at times, but events unfold which cause him to turn on Baby in a deliciously evil way – and this arc is some of the best work Hamm’s done in years.

Moreover, inbetween burning rubber for bad guys Baby has another story. Of love, with the impossibly gorgeous Deborah (Lily James), who literally has nothing going on in her life and falls for Baby’s strong and silent shtick straight away (this only happens in the movies).

But first, he’s got bad guy stuff to do before they can run off into the sunset.

Now this may sound like I’m being cynical but I’m just poking fun.

Yeah, Wright steals a lot from loads of movies, but all filmmakers do. As long as you put your own spin on your work it can feel fresh and fun – and this film really does (96% Rotten Tomatoes). It’s also worth saying that not for a long time have I seen a film that weaves music into its fabric quite so effortlessly. It’s balletic at times and almost a musical (although there’s no bursting into song particularly).

Also, with Tarantino off the boil these days (close to retirement?) it’s left to directors like James Gunn and Edgar Wright to fly the flag for music in film in oh so delightful ways. (We can’t have Hans Zimmer do every score now, can we? And Christopher Nolan does seems to monopolise his time anyway.)

But other than music, there’s no real common ground between Guardians of the Galaxy and Baby Driver – except a sense of fun. I mean, the latter probably shares more DNA with Wright’s Scott Pilgrim and plays like the demented lovechild of Heat, The Town, Natural Born Killers and Reservoir Dogs, but hopped up on sugar, coffee and optimism.

Or Drive if it had a sense of humour. Boom.

There’s very little fat either.

Wright wrote the screenplay and it nips along at a decent pace, each character getting their moment. But Wright, smartly, keeps the focus on Baby, who’s in pretty much every scene.

And what casting Elgort is.

At the time of Scott Pilgrim I remember thinking THAT lead came out of leftfield, but turned out to be genius. I mean, who would’ve thought Michael Cera could pull off fight scenes so convincingly? And here, as Baby, Elgort is an inspired choice.

I knew little about him (The Fault in Our Stars fame and was on the shortlist for the young Han Solo movie) before this film, but reading up, he’s as much a musician as an actor. Even took ballet lessons as a kid, which makes sense, given some of the scenes in Baby Driver required, athleticism, shall we say? (And I don’t mean sex, if that’s what you’re thinking.)

His journey is interesting too. A strong and silent getaway driver (Ryan Gosling in Drive?) who connects to his past by listening to old cassette tapes (Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy?) means he’s following in the footsteps of some big actors. But he owns the role. Particularly when he could have been all but swallowed up by the bigger actors like Spacey, Foxx and Hamm swanning about the place.

Wright has talked about a sequel – which would be the first time he’s done that in his career. To me, this film feels fairly complete as a story, but I’d be open to the idea if it was a REALLY good story. The studio is keen, so we’ll see.

But if you were on the fence, go see this film. It’s so much fun. And if you were expecting a Hott Fuzz type affair, this ain’t it. Wright evolves with each film so you can’t really pigeonhole him. I’m excited to see what he does next.

The World’s End and a marmalade sandwich

Film

Just one Cornettoooo, give it to meeee! Is what I imagine fans have been singing outside Edgar Wright’s door for the last six years, demanding the final chapter of the Cornetto trilogy. God, has it been that long?

worlds-end-new-trailerWe had a mere three years between Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007), yet it’s been twice that wait for the final instalment. Was it worth it? Largely…yes. I consider that a definitive answer. More than my usual balanced, sitting-on-the-fence reviews anyway. I’ll explain why but first, a quick run down of the plot.

Now, for those not in-the-know, me referring to The World’s End as the final of a trilogy can be somewhat confusing.

What links them?

Maybe unofficial trilogy is more accurate. Essentially, in-jokes, small telling references and the core team of Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright and Nick Frost. Plus the very British tone and setting of each film. Oh – and actual Cornettos. Other than that, you’ve got a zombie comedy (Shaun essentially coined the term ‘zom-com’), a playful poke at ’80s action buddy cop movies, and now a sort of warped, apocalyptic, alien sci-fi.

It all begins with Garry King (Pegg) at an AA meeting, recounting the best night of his life; a pub crawl round his home town during his teens with childhood pals. 12 pubs, 12 pints.worlds-end-set-photo However, they never finish the crawl. A plan forms. Reunite the old gang and finish what they started. The crawl begins innocently enough, however they quickly realise the sleepy town is not what it once was, having quite possibly been taken over by aliens…or robots. They can’t quite decide as they’re drunk.

The issue I have is I’m guilty of comparing this to their past work. Ultimately you should judge a film on its own merits. It should stand on its own two feet. Unless of course, it is part of a true trilogy. As this isn’t I feel slightly torn comparing it to Shaun and Hot Fuzz. The former a comedy classic, the latter not far behind and improving with every viewing. This outing is a familiar, yet noticeably different beast.

Largely, The World’s End feels more epic in scope, the characters more layered and complex, and Wright’s direction feels more assured and technically accomplished (he’s clearly learnt how to direct good fight scenes from Scott Pilgrim). 48-the-worlds-end-filmAn interesting twist has Frost playing against type as the straight one for much of the film, as lawyer Andrew Knightley. Pegg’s Gary King is the loose, cavalier wildcard – brilliantly described by one reviewer as a cross between Neo and David Brent. As Mark Kermode says, ‘Damn, I wish I’d said that first!’

If you were to judge this as the final part of a trilogy, I’d say you can see clear progression. Shaun felt like a youthful, exuberant romp with zombies as a backdrop. Hot Fuzz offered a little more of the same, yet felt a shade more developed in terms of storytelling, comedy and action set pieces. The natural, easy chemistry between Pegg and Frost has also grown. The World’s End feels like the natural conclusion – easily the most grown up of the three. A comedy, but with more to say and more complex yet subtle ways of saying it.

That’s not to say it’s not free flowing and a barrel of laughs. Pegg and Frost – in some ways – feel like they picked up where they left off in Hot Fuzz and, whilst (sort of) new additions (Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan and Rosamund Pike) all get some juicy lines to sink their teeth into, it is and always will be the Pegg and Frost show – and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

Oh, and the title of this piece refers to a redhead flanked by two blondes. If you’ve not seen the film yet, pay close attention to the fate of the marmalade/redhead, administered with gusto by Frost’s character. Gives new meaning to the phrase, ‘Until death do us part.’

On that note…the-worlds-end1