Review Round-Up: Wonder Woman, The Beguiled, and Baby Driver

Posted: July 7, 2017 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Written by Daniel Simpson

Wonder Woman

wonder woman

Wonder Woman opened to an incredibly enthusiastic response about a month ago and having finally caught up with the film I can say I’m largely on board. This is a really solid blockbuster and it’s also exactly the movie DC needed right now. Taking some of the stronger elements from Snyder’s Superman films, namely the gorgeous visuals and the sense of weight, and adding a lighter and more inspiring tone, director Patty Jenkins has made a film that nicely walks the line of fun escapism but still maintains a certain seriousness. The film is set during World War I and while the presentation is still bound by a PG-13 rating, Jenkins does still manage to convey the horror of war in a way which is felt but not overbearing. This is important for the story too, as Wonder Woman’s arc is built largely around a naive outsider who learns of humanity’s potential for cruelty. This also makes the beacon of hope that is Wonder Woman all the more inspiring, precisely because she shines during a period of darkness. Gal Gadot brings the right mix of innocence and compassion, along with a warrior’s sense of purpose and drive.

The film is somewhat reminiscent of Captain America in how it roots a superhero story in a real war, and it is also comparable to Thor in how it is working with both superheros as well as classic mythology. However, while Thor tried to distance the mythic aspects of the story and see it more as some light science-fiction, Jenkins fully embraces the Greek mythos inherent to Wonder Woman and the way she fuses this with early 20th century history is pretty neat. That alone helps make Wonder Woman feel special, but just as a superhero movie, the film features an engaging adventure plotline, some strong action scenes. The highlight is the trench sequence which eventually leads to a village siege. The scene is not only technically well-executed and exciting, but also inspiring in how Wonder Woman and her comrades save so many. Comparatively, the climax is a little sloppy and dangerously close to being swallowed into a overly computer generated mess, but the emotional weight of the scene is enough to carry one through.

For all of the film’s strong elements, Wonder Woman is held back by a handful of issues. The film could have used a better villain, some of the supporting characters are a little stock, film’s structure is ripped straight from Richard Donner’s Superman, and the aforementioned climax is a bit of a letdown. Still, I can only be so down on Wonder Woman, which does manage to inspire and generally performs quite well as a crowd pleaser.

B+

 

The Beguiled

the beguiled

I’m not as well versed in Sofia Coppola’s filmography as I like to be, but even from afar I can admire how hard she is to pin down as a filmmaker. The common theme of characters who feel detached and alone can be found throughout her work, but the types of movies she makes are often quite different. Still, I would never have expected her follow-up to The Bling Ring would be a Southern Gothic story of revenge and violence that had already been adapted by Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood in 1971. And yet, here we have The Beguiled, and it’s a very good film. The premise is inherently engaging; a union army soldier (Colin Farrell) is wounded and dying in Virginia when he is saved by a young girl and taken to the girls school she attends. As his wounds heal over the soldier’s stay, sexual tensions build between he and the few remaining women and girls, eventually threatening to implode. The Beguiled is indeed all about the slow build. Coppola dedicates a lot of time to slowly establishing the characters and detailing the mundane routine at this school which Farrell is disrupting. Several scenes also show where the various character relationships are going and each compounding detail adds another layer of drama.

Great as the build-up is though, I do think the actual impact when shit hits the fan in the third act is a little lacking. There’s nothing bad in this section per-say, but the stakes don’t quite escalate to their peak level and the remainder of the film plays out somewhat predictably. I would be remiss however to not mention the third act does feature a scene of unrestrained passion which is a definite highlight and there are some moral complications to the third act which are worth pondering. I won’t go into spoilers, but the soldier’s accusations that much of the women are acting out of self-interest and jealousy rather than pure altruism do have some validity. This isn’t to excuse his actions, which are selfish and cruel, but Coppola does not present a simple dynamic of good and evil.

Speaking of Coppola, the woman continues to show her great talent as a filmmaker. Purely on a visual level, The Beguiled is gorgeous. The film is bathed in beautiful natural light and Coppola makes the most of her Virginian location. The girl’s school is also a strong location and the period clothing feels pretty authentic. The performances however, are the real highlight. Nicole Kidman is great as the strict but fiercely intelligent school headmistress and Coppola seems completely in-tune with her performance. Even Kidman’s early scenes with Farrell have an undercurrent of a power struggle and the glimmers of her unhinged persona are very rewarding. Kirsten Dunst has the opposite challenge as the only remaining teacher Edwina, playing a character who buries much of her feelings beneath a veneer of cold acceptance, though clearly raging with emotion beneath the surface. Dunst wonderfully conveys a sense of sadness and she works as an excellent foil to Kidman. Colin Farrell also walks a fine line between charming, vulnerable, and threatening quite well while Elle Fanning works well as a teen girl facing a burgeoning sexuality. The rest of the cast nicely fill out the girl’s school and generally embody their roles nicely.

Despite some great elements, I can’t say The Beguiled ever truly reaches greatness. The film has a great look, a handful of great performances, and it builds nicely, but the payoff doesn’t really deliver to its full potential, and that’s a fairly substantial problem for a film structured entirely on building tension. Had the third act offered a few more twists and upped the stakes just a little more it might have been something really special. Even so, The Beguiled is still a very good movie and if this review seems harsh it’s only because I want to love it rather than just like it.

B+

 

Baby Driverbaby-driver-poster

I was looking forward to Baby Driver, but I did have some concerns going in. Namely, though Edgar Wright is clearly a very talented filmmaker, I had doubts about his abilities to work without Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as co-writers. Though Scott Pilgrim vs. the World has its charms and is technically well-executed, the film’s emotional and thematic streak does not really work for me nor does the comedy. The film made me realize how much Pegg and Frost brought to the table in terms of not just humour, but also emotional weight. Thankfully, Baby Driver is a substantially better movie than Scott Pilgrim, but I do still miss Pegg and Frost’s touches.

The film revolves around a highly skilled getaway driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort) doing bank robberies for a mysterious employer named Doc (Kevin Spacey), to whom Baby owes a debt. Baby is not one for this life, and yearns to escape with his recently met girlfriend Debora (Lily James), however it is becoming increasingly clear that Doc has no intention of letting Baby leave. Within the first five minutes of the film, it’s pretty clear exactly where the story and characters were gonna go beat for beat and I was mostly right. The characters here are also a little shallow. Baby is a neat protagonist for this sort of movie with some fun quirks, but all the same there isn’t much to him and Debora is even more empty. Lily James makes for a really likable screen presence, but the character is just a little too perfect and their relationship is not quite believable.

In spite of what may seem like stock elements, Baby Driver does manage to feel unique thanks to the style and some fun details. It’s quickly established that Baby is almost always listening to music to drown out is tinnitus and thus Edgar Wright fills the movie with wall-to-wall music from a wide variety of genres. The music used isn’t really my jam, but the song selection is generally pretty cool. Wright is able to stage scenes to music very effectively and the music often taps into the emotion of a moment nicely. Wright also puts together a lot of fun action scenes, mostly car chases, but also a great foot chase and a Michael Mann-esque shoot-out. The supporting cast is also full of solid actors who work really well in their roles. Kevin Spacey and Jon Hamm in particular really stand-out. Neither are doing anything particularly ground-breaking or profound, but they both give fun turns which make good use of their screen presence. The film is a lot less comedic than Wright’s Cornetto trilogy and even Scott Pilgrim, but there is a certain humourous streak to the affair. There are some really witty lines and funny little moments throughout, which add some flavour.

All told, Baby Driver is a very fun movie which certainly reaffirms Wright’s talents as a craftsman. The cinematography is fluid and Wright’s fast editing gives the whole thing a really energetic pace. The film is also an important step in Wright’s filmography, less referential than his previous films and Wright’s general style seems to have been refined and toned down to an extent. And yet, I still see this as a step-down from the Cornetto trilogy, which brings me back to the importance of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. For all of Baby Driver‘s entertainment value, I was never able to connect with the film the same way I am movies like Shaun of the Dead or The World’s End. Those movies have an emotional core thanks to well-drawn characters with relatable problems who we like and want to see overcome their failings. I liked Baby and Debora too, but never really bought either fully and their struggles left me as soon as I left the theater. So, by all means, see Baby Driver. It’s a well-made and entertaining action movie with nuances which provide greater flavour and a fine craftsman at the helm, but this might not be a film to really stick with you.

B

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