Tag Archives: Lily James

Baby Driver (2017)

Edgar Wright is an awesome filmmaker, but none of his films that I’ve seen — Shaun of the DeadThe World’s End, Scott Pilgrim vs The World — have ever really been at the top of my lists. Very good, funny and wacky, and usually a little different, for sure, but nothing that has truly blown me away. His latest effort, Baby Driver, could be his best movie to date, though it still didn’t quite get there for me — at least not to the extent of the astounding 93% Rotten Tomato rating that it currently holds.

We’ve seen plenty of movies centred around getaway drivers before, with Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (starring Ryan Gosling) being one of my favourite movies of 2011. In a similar vein, Baby Driver revolves around the young eponymous hero of the film, played by Ansel Elgort, who seems to be just a natural at the wheel. He’s not much of a talker and he loves his music (for an interesting reason). Unfortunately, Baby owes a heist mastermind played by the wonderful Kevin Spacey, and is forced to carry out more robberies with a fascinating bunch of characters led by Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx and Jon Bernthal. Things get especially complicated when he gets involved with a pretty waitress at the local diner, played by Lily James.

It sounds like a typical premise and it is, but Wright is able to inject Baby Driver with a really fun, pop-corny vibe that really gets audiences into a groove. I was a little worried at the start when Elgort breaks into a bit of a dance while walking down the street, feeling as though it could be a movie that tries too hard to be “cool” and “hip”. Luckily, Wright prevented the film from straying into trite territory, keeping things light-hearted and slick without tipping over the edge — well, at least not for me.

Of course, there are plenty of car chase scenes and they are all executed marvellously along with a slamming soundtrack that seems to match each beat and shot to perfection (I wish I cared more about music in general though, that would have scored the movie a lot more points for me); however, that’s not what made Baby Driver more than just another typical heist comedy. Despite the cookie-cutter premise, the characters are wonderfully written and performed, with Elgort proving he has what it takes to be a leading man in Hollywood for years and both Hamm and Foxx standing out with a great blend of affability and menace. Lily James was fine, though her character could have offered more in my opinion, while Kevin Spacey always delivers as usual.

Another strong point of the film is the dialogue, which is sharp and snappy, and most of all it brings out the personalities of the characters. There are some great one-liners which made me laugh out loud — the film definitely passes the 6-laugh test for a comedy. There are cliches to put up with, though I felt there were enough surprises to keep the plot from getting stale. For a movie of this type, I also felt it could have been a tad shorter (perhaps 10-15 mins off the 113-minute running time).

In all, I found Baby Driver to be a fun and enjoyable ride fuelled by Wright’s crisp writing and direction and solid performances all around. Is it a little overrated? Probably, if you measure it by the critic metrics available. But that shouldn’t detract from what is undoubtedly an excellent effort that stands as one of the better action-comedies in recent years.

3.75 stars out of 5

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

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I rolled my eyes when I first heard years ago that Hollywood was adapting Seth Grahame-Smith’s zombie mash-up of Jane Austen’s classic novel. I rolled my eyes back to centre when I found out Natalie Portman was going to play the lead role, and then I completely forgot about it as the film steered off into production hell.

Then out of nowhere, the film was done. Portman is now an Oscar winner (Black Swan, 2011) and only a producer on the film, with rising star Lily James replacing her as heroine Elizabeth Bennet. I still wasn’t too interested in the film, though I was willing to give it more of a chance because I was one of the six people in the world who actually liked a similar film — at least conceptually — Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (which came out in 2012). Still, I thought the book was a gimmicky idea and the film was going to be the same.

Now that I’ve watched it, I can say that my reservations about it being gimmicky were largely misplaced. Grahame-Smith’s book basically took the original Pride and Prejudice (which is no longer protected by copyright) and added his own bits and pieces (pun intended) about zombies, so the basic structure of Austen’s novel is still there. The film version, accordingly, is the same. You still have the core plot and the same characters. The main difference is that they now live in a world of zombies and the Bennet family and the lovely Mr Darcy are all kick-ass zombie killers.

It sounds stupid and it is, though credit to director Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down) for finding the right tone — one that doesn’t take itself very seriously but also controlled enough so that it doesn’t spiral into a complete farce. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is more or less what you’d expect — lots of crazy zombie killing action and some light horror-comedy — except it’s surprisingly well-executed enough to not overdo it, so you don’t get tired of the zombie angle quickly or get bored by the period drama romance at the heart of the story.

The film survives from a disastrous collapse because they actually cast solid dramatic actors across the board. Lily James is excellent as Elizabeth Bennet, while Sam Riley (On the Road) makes a decent Mr Darcy. Throw in the likes of Jack Huston and Lena Headey, as well as young up-and-comers like Aussie Bella Heathcote and Douglas Booth (Noah), and you have yourself a nice ensemble cast who can carry their dramatic scenes well enough when there is no carnage on screen. The standout, however, has to be Dr Who himself, Matt Smith, who plays a hilarious version of Mr Collins.

The problem with P&P&Z is that it doesn’t do any particular thing well. It’s got comedy, but it’s more likely to put a brief smile on your face than elicit genuine laughs. It’s got horror, but there’s nothing that will make your hairs stand, give you the chills or make you jump in your seat. It’s got drama and romance, but if you wanted to watch that you’d just watch any of the many other P&P adaptations out there. And it’s got action, but it’s neither very stylish and exciting  (like say Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), nor is it very witty and creative (like say Shaun of the Dead).

So what we end up with is a surprisingly acceptable movie that’s enjoyable enough for killing 108 minutes of your spare time, but with no elements you haven’t already seen — and done better — in other genre films. It’s neither the total disaster I thought it might be nor the kind of genre-bending fun thrill ride it could have been.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Cinderella (2015)

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There have been a lot — some would say too many — fairytale reimaginings over the last few years. Snow White and the Huntsman, Mirror Mirror, Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Beastly, Jack the Giant Slayer, Maleficent, just to name a few.

Kenneth Brannagh’s Cinderella, I’m glad to say, is not like any of those movies. It’s a return to roots; a reminder that such stories don’t necessarily need a makeover, and that perhaps keeping them the way they are might be for the best. It’s basically the studio reminding us — and let’s face it, they’re right — that reimaginings might not be as good the originals.

That’s not to say Cinderella is merely a lazy live-action remake of the old 1950s Disney animated film. Brannagh and writer Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass, About a Boy, and soon, Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One) manage to inject new life into the story with some subtle but welcome variations while maintaining the overall structure and spirit or the original tale. The humour is light and Brannagh-ish, and the special effects and costumes are pretty but not overwhelming. Fuelled by solid performances, this is an authentic and charming adaptation. Notwithstanding how straightforward it is, the results are surprisingly effective and strangely refreshing.

You know the story already so there’s no point in giving a proper overview. Skinny-waisted Lily James from Downton Abbey plays the titular heroine, who is left to the mercy of her stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and two stepsisters (Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger) after her parents (Hayley Atwell and Ben Chaplin) pass away. Richard Madden (holy crap I just realised he’s Robb Stark!!!) plays the Prince, Derek Jacobi plays his father the King, Stellan Skarsgard plays the Grand Duke, and Helena Bonham Carter is of course the Fairy Godmother.

However, rather than just being about a pretty girl who falls for and gets rescued from poverty and slavery by a stud muffin — with the help of some magic — this adaptation tries to add some workable dimensions and cover up flaws of the original story.

Cate Blanchett’s stepmother character, for instance, isn’t just evil for the sake of being evil. We’re given glimpses of her genuine concerns, which helps us understand why she has become the way she is. Plus Blanchett is really good in the role, as she seems to be relishing the opportunity to play a devilish, multi-faceted villain.

Recurring themes include kindness and forgiveness, duty and love, and a lot is said about economic and social status. Bear in mind most of it is just on the surface, but kudos to Brannagh for at least trying to insert some layers and depth into what is still ultimately a fairytale. I don’t agree with criticisms that it’s not “feminist enough.” This Cinderella is progressive; not every woman wants to go full Joan of Arc like Kristen Stewart in Snow White and the Huntsman.

Despite Brannagh’s efforts, there are still some things that a live-action movie adaptation of a flawed story cannot work around. The whole glass slipper thing — you know, getting every girl in the kingdom to try it out when they know what she looks like — still makes no sense.

Quibbles notwithstanding, Cinderella is a strong film, one that is suitable for children and adults alike. Humour, romance, magic and a good lesson or two, it’s a feel-good experience the whole family can enjoy. I’d rank it just behind my second-favourite Cinderella film, Ever After, and there’s no shame in that.

3.75 stars out of 5