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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 30, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 26
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Finding emotional value:

Director Colin Trevorrow navigates the emotional complexities of The Book of Henry
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE BOOK OF HENRY
Now playing


The Book of Henry might end up being the most controversial motion picture of 2017. Gregg Hurwitz's strange, surreal script offers up an empowering family-friendly story of a genius 11-year-old, his cute-as-a-button little brother, their loving mother (who's more of a kid than they are) and the sexual abuse of their next door neighbor. There's also an additional subplot revolving around cancer and overcoming grief, as well as a major bait-and-switch where the person the audience assumes is the protagonist turns out not to be, the main character actually being someone else entirely. Up-and-coming child actors Jaeden Lieberher (Midnight Special), Jacob Tremblay (Room) and Maddie Ziegler ('Dance Moms') portray the kids involved in all this craziness, while Oscar-nominee Naomi Watts headlines things as the boy's adolescently inclined mother.

Director Colin Trevorrow, a filmmaker who made an instant name for himself with 2012's Safety Not Guaranteed and fresh off the international box office success of Jurassic World, captains this particular ship, and for my part I feel like he does a rather nice job navigating through all the melodramatic excess. While not an easy film, the subject matter guarantees that, and those who have disliked the picture doing so with unbridled, venom-laced passion, I still managed to tap into the emotional sensibilities at the center of things. Even if every transition doesn't work, and not all of the narrative constructs fit together comfortably, I was still deeply affected by this story, and by and large I felt like I had a solid grasp of what it was the filmmakers were hoping to accomplish.

I had the opportunity to briefly speak with Trevorrow about The Book of Henry. Here are some of the highlights from that conversation:

Sara Michelle Fetters: I had read that you were fascinated by Greg Hurwitz's script early on, but you had to put the movie on hold to go do Jurassic World. What was it that grabbed you, that made you go, 'No, no. Wait for me. I am coming back to do this.'?

Colin Trevorrow: There is something within [the script] that I just felt reflected our experience in the world right now. The experience of reading the script and watching the movie made me have that same sense of righteousness and a sense of anger because of the shocking, almost bizarrely shocking things that happened on a daily basis. I feel like a child sometimes. I feel like a little kid who's looking out the window and saying, 'Why is the world so terrible, and what can I do to stop it?' It just connected with me, and I felt like this was a fable and a parable that would allow me to tap into some of that anger and recognize ways to deal with it that are also problematic.

Sara Michelle Fetters: For a movie that ultimately is so empowering, you do risk a lot with this film. The subject matter, it ain't easy. How do you balance all that happens in a way that fits the themes and tone you're going for while at the same time, hopefully, not alienating a large segment of the audience?

Colin Trevorrow: Well, very carefully, is the answer. The thing that makes it most dangerous for me as a movie is that I think we've begun to misinterpret the intentions of the characters in films for the intentions of the filmmakers, because we're constantly thinking about the film as a film. It's very difficult to get swept up into something where you're just watching choices that people make, whether they're the right ones or the wrong ones, and not accepting them for what they are.

We have a main character in this movie who doesn't reveal herself to be the main character until well into the movie, and then makes a series of choices from start to finish that go from being irresponsible to certifiably insane. And yet, at the very end, becomes a parent and finds her compass as a human being, as a woman and as a mother of two. I found that to be a path that I couldn't maybe take a hero on, but one I could take a main character on that is closer to life for me, however bizarre that all may feel.

We all make huge mistakes. We can get ourselves in a lot of trouble with the choices that we make, one's that may make sense at the time but are revealed later to be the opposite. Ones where when you think back on them you're sort of like, 'What was I thinking?' And it really moved me, that moment when she says, 'You're only a child.' I have children, and sometimes I feel like they're smarter than me. I know they're smarter than me. You can reach a point where you rely on them a little bit too much and forget that it's our responsibility to be the adults and to make the right choices, to set an example for them because they just haven't been alive as long. And that matters.

Sara Michelle Fetters: Talking to some fellow critics after the movie, it struck me how many of them just couldn't accept the fact that Henry is a child. Because he is such a genius in the movie, it just seems that some people can't grasp the fact that, yes, he's super smart, he's super intelligent, but he's still 11-years-old. The intuitive leaps that he makes are the intuitive leaps of somebody that's lived 11 years. Am I looking at that correctly?

Colin Trevorrow: No. That's the point of the movie. Absolutely. You can be the smartest kid in the world, but intelligence is also wisdom. Intelligence is also time. I feel oftentimes the person who you feel has said the wisest and smartest things to you will be a grandparent, will be someone who's been on this planet for 80 years, and I think that it's important in a moment when we have so much anger in the world.

There's a generation that's a little younger than me, but I went through it, too. I was out there protesting, and I remember that sense of righteous anger, and I hope that they all recognize that it's only going to get harder. It's only going to get crazier, and the complexities and darkness of the world are only going to become more apparent. I've been here for a little while now. You want to think that with age and with time maybe you find peace. But really what you find is it's just far more complex than the simple black and white, good and evil that you have the serenity of knowing as a child.

Henry could easily have been obnoxious. I don't feel like a child genius is inherently a likable character. Henry had such a high emotional I.Q., right, a high level of emotional understanding of empathy and compassion, things that I think hopefully grow with age and wisdom, and that was the most interesting part of him to me. I don't spend a lot time in the movie focusing on how and why he's so smart. Because, honestly, it's not the plot of the movie. The purpose of it being about a quote-unquote genius is because it makes it that much easier for his parents to rely on him in a way I think that we all rely on our children. It's important to be able to guide her, their mother, Susan Carpenter, toward her final moment in the movie, which reveals, as Henry says, 'This was your story all along.'

Sara Michelle Fetters: And speaking of her story, Naomi has a challenge here. This could have easily been one of the most unlikable mother characters we've seen in ages, and yet she really taps into this woman's humanity, and does so in a very complex way. What's that like for you? Watching her discover that over the course of the film?

Colin Trevorrow: I think it comes from a real place. She has two kids, two boys who are of similar ages, and I know that she connected with this material in the same way that I did and as Jaeden did. She gets it. She's been making movies for a really long time. She knows how much of a tonal gauntlet this was, how much of a narrative gauntlet it was, and she wanted to run it with me. She wanted to tackle it. I understand how someone with her level of experience would be hungry for those kinds of challenges. I would argue that it might behoove me to not be quite so hungry for those kinds of challenges, but I am. I can't change who I am. And however much I love the opportunities that I have and have been given to tell new versions of the stories we love, I also have a real need to tackle something like this.

Sara Michelle Fetters: Well, and that's the question, isn't it? How are you going to balance that going forward? Making these larger-than-life franchise films, like Jurassic World, like Star Wars Episode IX, but also hopefully having the time to make these more personal films? Is that something that is high on your agenda?

Colin Trevorrow: Well, we're approaching something that's different. This movie is the most personal movie I could ever make. This next one is also absolutely the most personal thing I could do in addition to being the largest big-budget thing that I'll likely ever be a part of. I honestly don't have plans after that. I might just give [Star Wars] everything I have and then disappear. I just don't know. But I feel like it requires that focus.

Sara Michelle Fetters: At the end of the day, now that this film is out there and general audiences get their say, what do you want them to take away from The Book of Henry? What do you hope that they're talking about as they exit the theater?

Colin Trevorrow: Well, I think that the movie might take a second with some people to reveal its intentions, its purpose for existence, its value, what it's trying to do and what I think it succeeds at doing. I have been showing the movie all across the country all week, and I've seen the way audiences have been responding. We're talking on a morning where we both read the critical response of this movie, and however much I respect it, I have to acknowledge that the audience reactions to the movie have been vastly different, that they go along with these tonal shifts that happen.

The very thing that you mentioned of not believing Henry as a child, I have found that the audience doesn't have that response, and I don't think it's because I'm there and they're kissing up to me. Seems like a lot of critics haven't been able to do the same. Obviously, I would love to please everybody, that would be the greatest victory, and that's certainly a requirement of my next job, to make this work on both of those levels. But at the end of the day, if I had to choose, however painful it may be, to not receive the critical acknowledgements that I would like but still garner audience approval, I'd go with the latter. This movie is affecting audiences very deeply; it's moving them. It's something new for them that they're really appreciating and loving. That has value to me.


Indescribable Henry sure to provoke a wide range of emotional reactions
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE BOOK OF HENRY
Now playing


The Book of Henry will not work for everyone. More, those that do not respond to the film are likely to hate it with every fiber of their being. Gregg Hurwitz's script is a dangerous balancing act featuring a number of elements that make the skin crawl, including a central plot strand revolving around child sexual abuse involving a parental figure. That alone would make some potential viewers pause where it comes to buying a ticket. But director Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World, Safety Not Guaranteed) is also attempting to emulate the tone of pictures like The Goonies, Radio Flyer and Stand By Me while also mixing in more elements that are as equally upsetting, making this one of the more unusual feel-good tales of self-discovery and familial empowerment to ever see the light of day.

Henry Carpenter (Jaeden Lieberher) is 11-years-old. He is caring, empathetic and goes out of his way to stand up for others whenever he can. He is also a certifiable genius, a child prodigy who carefully engineers astonishing mechanical inventions while also planning his entire family's financial futures. He's more of an adult than his single mother Susan (Naomi Watts), little brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay) watching in wide-eyed rapture as Henry does one extraordinary thing after another.

Living next door to the Carpenters is Christina Sickleman (Maddie Ziegler) and her stepfather George (Dean Norris). He's the trusted chief of police for their small suburban town, and Susan feels drawn to him in friendship while also paying special attention to his talented dancer daughter. But even she doesn't notice what Henry does, the level of pain and suffering happening inside the Sickleman house when the lights go down when it appears no one is watching. Christina is in a bad place, and she needs help, but because of George's position no one is going to believe an 11-year-old no matter how high his I.Q., so if something is going to be done to remedy the situation then he is the one who is going to have to do it.

So there's a lot to unpack just from that short synopsis alone. But most of that is really only the setup. About halfway through the story things turn again, and instead of Henry being the star of the show it turns out this has been Susan's saga all along. She is the one that must learn to control her grief. She is the one that must find a way to be a parent in the most unimaginable of situations. She's the one that goes off the deep end, following the instructions of an exceedingly smart adolescent, forgetting that, for all his intelligence, his life experience is barely a decade old. This single mother must find an inner strength she didn't know was there, and in the process become the type of parent both of her children believed she could always be.

There are major parts of Hurwitz's screenplay that make me sick to my stomach. The melodramatic elements that he assembles together are close to oppressive. More, they could be construed as offensive; especially in the manner in which complex, highly adult subject matter is utilized in a fashion more akin to a Steven Spielberg, Richard Donner or Chris Columbus '80s opus than a thought-provoking adult drama. If looked at straight on it's all rather risible, there's no denying that, and the cumulative volume of all of the punches to the gut and slaps to the face that Hurwitz's scenario offers up incredibly difficult to get beyond. In other words, something like 2006's Little Children this motion picture certainly is not.

Maybe I'm strange. Maybe I could tap into the mindset of the three main characters Henry, Peter and Susan in ways some will find bizarre. Maybe I'm just okay with melodramatic coincidences and contrivances while at the same time like to applaud a movie that takes major chances and isn't worried about presenting difficult subject matter in a PG-13, mass audience way. But the truth is that I actually liked The Book of Henry. I was affected by what it was Trevorrow and Hurwitz were trying to do, aspects of the story that are beyond abhorrent working for me in a manner that I understand many will struggle to comprehend.

At least, it all worked for me during the first hour. Trevorrow does a fine job of juggling a number of distasteful plots and subplots, merging them together in a human and honest fashion even if the characters taking part in all this craziness were undeniably fanciful in an early Spielberg sort of way. He also gets two extraordinary performances from Lieberher and Tremblay, the duo showing that their strong work in efforts like St. Vincent, Midnight Special and Room was nothing close to a fluke. They have a naturalistic camaraderie that's endearing, the intimate nature of their brotherly connection entirely sincere. A scene between them in a hospital room is flabbergasting, Tremblay particularly outstanding as he navigates a number of emotional complexities that caught me entirely off guard.

Watts is also marvelous, but she has an almost impossible task as far as her character's evolutions are concerned. About the halfway point she becomes the focus of everything that is happening, and Hurwitz's script doesn't always know to keep these transitions from reeking of idiosyncratic convenience. Yet the actress anchors Susan with a conviction I found genuine, and as such I didn't have that big a problem with her following the somewhat crazy ideas put forth by her 11-year-old son mainly because the ocean of grief they're birthed from is palpably frank.

Look, I do not think the last third of the movie works. The pieces don't fit together and the outcome, even in a modern dark fairy tale fantasy like this one, isn't even slightly believable. It's just too cute, too tidy, the tactics Susan and Henry initially utilize to help Christina out of her impossible situation ludicrously implausible. But it is more what transpires, the ugliness of it, not how it is all dealt with that will rub many the wrong way, that by planting these elements in a story such of this Trevorrow and Hurwitz have crossed some sort of moralistic line that's beyond the pale.

I don't buy that. I think Trevorrow actually handles this madness in a manner that is cathartically eye-opening, that feed the inner journeys the core group of characters all find themselves inexplicably on whether they realize it or not. There is something daring and crafty about this that forces the viewer to reassess how they look at themselves and the world at large, the darkness lurking underneath the surface sitting closer to home than most will find comfortable. The Book of Henry has issues, big ones, but subject matter I do not believe is one of them, the emotional richness flowing through these intergenerational familial revelations ones I continually responded to no matter how upsetting and uncomfortable the story itself might oftentimes be.


Loach's Daniel Blake refuses to mince words
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

I, DANIEL BLAKE
Now playing


Ken Loach does not mince words. His films, works like Kes, Raining Stones, The Wind That Shakes the Barley and Jimmy's Hall, are spotlights zeroing in on hard truths and even more uncomfortable realities, his numerous forays into British working class realities past, present and future eviscerating in their pursuit of intimate authenticity.

Loach's latest, the Palme d'Or-winning drama I, Daniel Blake, written by frequent collaborator Paul Laverty (The Angels' Share), is both inspiring and infuriating, oftentimes both at once, events building to a debilitating conclusion that had me choking back a tsunami of tears. A story depicting what life is like for those eking out an existence day-to-day as best they can, even when society at large seems to be against their very existence, the movie builds with diligent majesty, saving its most savage critiques for the very end.

Daniel Blake (David Johns) is recovering from a serious heart attack. A seasoned carpenter and construction worker, he's got over 40 years of experience getting things done with his hands. But, right now, his doctors will not let him go back to work, and as such he's forced to live via government assistance in order to pay his bills, keep his cupboards filled with food and make sure a roof stays over his head.

After some sort of bureaucratic error by his medical provider, Daniel's benefits are cut off and are put under some sort of official review. When he goes to the resource center for clarification, he's initially given the cold shoulder followed by the pencil-pushing runaround. Worse, when Daniel does finally get help, it's to tell him he needs to be out looking for work in order to keep receiving benefits, even though doing so clearly goes against his doctor's orders.

It's easy to see where this is going, but Loach and Laverty still manage to make it feel surprising, as if every obstacle that arises is coming out of left field even if they all are foregone to the point of being a cliché. Daniel wants to work but can't because of his heart, yet he still must go out and pass his resume to potential employers even if he cannot accept a position if one ends up being offered him because he isn't medically cleared to do so. It's a series of catch-22's only made worse by the man's age, the patronizing indifference he gets from those at the resource center and his own stubborn pride. There's virtually no way for him to win, and Daniel cannot help but feel like this red tape boondoggle is designed expressly to make sure none of those in need ever receive a single dime in assistance.

There are a couple of key subplots, the most important being the blossoming friendship between Daniel and Katie (Hayley Squires), a single mother of two recently relocated from London by the government who is finding it frustratingly difficult to get her life in order and to do right for both her kids. What's great about this part of the story is how playful it can be, how light on its feet, even when things are at their absolute worst. Humor and heartache constantly intermingle, Laverty's screenplay fearlessly asking the audience to smile while at the same second they are reaching for a tissue.

One sequence in particular stands out. Daniel and Katie head to a food bank in order for her to get some help. What transpires is heartbreaking in its destructive authenticity. Yet it is also inspiring, showing the best of the human experience as kindness and support beautifully take the place of suffering and regret. Darkness and light fill the screen in equal measure, making this an unforgettable moment that placed my emotions right atop the razor's edge, perilously leaving them there for the remainder of the motion picture.

The raging clinical heartlessness on the part of the majority of the government workers that Daniel interacts with is a little over the top, as are a couple of extended sequences of his attempting to use a computer in order to fill out forms required for his appeal. As for the gag of being put on hold for an extended period of time only to speak with monotone drones who refuse to offer up any sort of practical help, that's pretty tired material, and as true as these sequences might be it still felt like I'd seen them all so many times before they couldn't help but fall a little flat. Yet, as obvious as these moments might be, Loach finds a way to make them resonate with more tenacity and vitriol than expected, their familiarity not dulling the overall cumulative emotional impact whatsoever.

Performances are uniformly excellent, and I adored newcomer Squires during a key scene at the very end where she makes certain Daniel gets the final word. There's also a quietly impactful turn by Briana Shann as Katie's eldest daughter, Daisy, the youngster having a handful of electrifying moments that took my breath away, her naturalistic delivery something special and ebulliently hint at the greatness to come as she continues to mature as an actress.

But, as one would expect, the success of the film rises and falls with Johns, his performance a thing of poetical genius. Raw, unvarnished, the actor brings Daniel to life with grace and dignity. The pride he feels in a job well done, the shame he is crippled by when someone mistakenly believes he wants nothing more than a handout and not just a tiny bit of help in order to get back on his feet, Johns makes it all come alive. More so, the warm humanity he exudes throughout is marvelous, making the eventual turns the plot itself ultimately takes all the more debilitating and affecting as they are unleashed upon the viewer.

Loach makes his point, this cinematic lecture on the social and political bureaucratic ills that afflict the British working class hardly understated. Yet, like the gifted auteur he is, the director finds a way to make this sermonizing not just palatable, but also entertaining. I, Daniel Blake is an important story, perfect for today's world, Loach once again proving that, even at 80 years of age, he's not done telling it as it is, and that's a wondrous thing indeed.


Quietly personal Hero an emotional triumph for Elliott
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE HERO
Now playing


Quiet, personal and refreshingly introspective, The Hero is an old fashioned drama filled with heart and emotional nuance that also happens to offer the great Sam Elliott one of the best opportunities of his 48-year career. It's one of the finest performances the veteran screen icon has ever given, co-writer and direct Brett Haley gifting him a role that allows the actor to go places he's rarely been given the opportunity to travel to before. Watching him is as true a joy as anything 2017 has offered up to this point, this man of the gravely, instantly recognizable voice, who has been in everything from Frogs, to Lifeguard, to Mask, to Road House, to The Big Lebowski, to We Were Soldiers, delivering in ways that held me spellbound for every second of this film's leisurely paced 93 minutes.

Cinematic Western legend Lee Hayden (Elliott) hasn't had a decent role since the 1970s. Stranded doing voiceovers for radio and television BBQ sauce commercials, spending long portions of his day lounging at fellow thespian Jeremy Frost's (Nick Offerman) apartment smoking pot, estranged from his daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter) and on coldly cordial speaking terms with his ex-wife Valarie (Katharine Ross), life has slowed down considerably for the aging actor. But after his appearance with young comedian Charlotte Dylan (Laura Prepon) at an awards banquet being held in his honor goes viral, the opportunity for Lee to cement his legacy with one final signature role drops right into his lap, the only thing holding him back decades of insecurities born from his being a rather poor father and an inattentive husband.

Haley's movie, much like with his winning 2015 drama I'll See You in My Dreams starring a superlative Blythe Danner and featuring Elliott in a crucial supporting role, doesn't break a lot in the way of new ground. When a cancer diagnosis gets thrown into the equation, I can't say the revelation came as a shock. Same with how the May-December romance between Lee and Charlotte hits a roadblock, the items causing friction developing between the two of them predictably simplistic. It's all fairly straightforward, Haley and his frequent screenwriting collaborator Marc Basch not exactly reinventing the wheel as far as this specific journey is concerned.

And all of that ends up being perfectly okay. Haley and Basch don't need to subvert convention; they don't need to throw in any weird obnoxious twists. Instead, they've focused on writing a strong, three-dimensional character whose life experiences and choices make him a captivating figure worthy of the audience's emotional investment. Lee is a real guy. He's made real decisions. He's dealing with the real repercussions, both positive and negative, that have been generated by them. While Lee is a celebrity, while his voice is known by just about everyone he encounters, he's still a regular guy easy to relate with and understand. As such, his story has actual weight and even more substantive meaning, allowing the lyrical ins and outs of his trek to hit home in a beautifully profound way that brought a couple of honest tears to my eyes by the time things moseyed to their gently cozy conclusion.

Elliott is magnificent. As wonderful as he was in I'll See You in My Dreams, as borderline Oscar-worthy as his small supporting turn in Grandma proved to be, this performance aches with a tender naturalism that's frankly stunning. It's been ages since the actor has been asked to mine emotions this complex, probably since 1989's underrated Christmas-themed gem Prancer, and as memorable as he's been in a variety of features traversing any number of genres, little prepared me for just how amazing he was here. Whether having a brief heart-to-heart with his ex-wife at an art gallery or delivering an impromptu acceptance speech at an awards gala where he makes one lifelong fan's dreams come true in ways she never could have imagined, Elliott nails every scene. It's a superlative turn, and I'm hard-pressed to think of another actor who could have brought the same sort of lived-in gravitas to the role.

Case in point, after making a splash with his acceptance speech Lee is sent a script for a new big budget fantasy-adventure where he'll play a supporting part that reads like it was written exclusively for him. The scene is played all the way through twice, once inside Jeremy's apartment and a second time during an audition for the film's excited director. Elliott makes both of these moments come ferociously alive, each in a mesmerizingly different way. Both of these scenes are devastating but for vastly different reasons, and where one reading is euphorically cathartic the other is poignantly heartbreaking. Elliott traverses this emotional minefield with skillful exactitude, lighting up the screen with a magnetic grace that left me breathlessly astonished in the process.

If The Hero isn't quite as wondrous as Haley's I'll See You in My Dreams proved to be, it is still a fairly sensational Yin to that previous effort's Yang. While what this story has to say isn't original, it still makes its points with a pointedly minimalistic passion that affected me deeply. At the center of it all, in virtually every scene, Elliott turns in a performance for the ages, his triumphant inhabiting of the character one that all of us who witness it are almost guaranteed to be talking about for some time to come.


Wright's Driver a violent Busby Berkeley vehicular love story
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

BABY DRIVER
Now playing


Give Edgar Wright credit; he's not one for genre convention. Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The World's End, the filmmaker subverts expectation whenever he can, not seeming to care a lick if drama invades his comedy, romance crashes his horror or tragedy finds its way inside his science fiction or action. He loves to keep the audience guessing, paying deft homage to his favorite films with a delicate affection that's as endearing as it is subtle. The joy he takes in making cinematic spectacles of varying types can be felt in every frame of film he shoots, and I find it difficult not to get a little excited whenever he has a new effort on the verge of hitting theatres.

Wright's latest high-octane motion picture, Baby Driver, is a foul-mouthed, ultra-violent spin on the heist thriller, the whole thing playing like some sort of whimsical hybrid of Walter Hill's The Driver, Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly's Singin' in the Rain and Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. It's a bizarre little lark filled with fast cars, angry thugs, narrow escapes, romantic innocence and sincere self-sacrifice, all of it bouncing along to a one-of-a-kind musical cadence that's glorious. The film is an anarchic bit of amorous mayhem that's a heck of a lot of fun, the smashing spectacle of squealing tires, hairpin turns and goodhearted youngsters opening themselves up to love no matter what the consequences more than enough to warrant the price of a matinee ticket.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is the best getaway driver in town. He's the only constant in any of the crews verbose crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) assembles for any of the various heists he masterminds. Baby has driven for a variety of thugs, including sadistically respectful lovebirds Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza González), belligerent know-it-all Griff (Jon Bernthal) and unhinged maniac Bats (Jamie Foxx). Thanks to a childhood trauma that resulted in a chronic hearing condition that can keep him from focusing, the young wheelman drowns out the noise with a playlist of hits by the likes Queen, Martha & The Vandellas, T. Rex, Young MC, Beck and countless additional artists who span the musical spectrum.

But Baby wants out, and after one more job he's hoping Doc will let him go. He wants to properly take care of his deaf, wheelchair-bound adoptive father Joseph (CJ Jones) without the threat of jail hanging over his head. He wants to avoid hanging out with killers and reprobates on a semi-regular basis. He wants to get a real job, preferably one where he can continue to drive his car fast and listen to whatever tunes his little aching heart desires. Most of all, Baby wants to romance 24-hour diner waitress Debora (Lily James) in relative peace and quiet, the two sharing an instant connection the likes of which deserves to have a love song all its own written about it.

Baby Driver grooves to its own eccentric beat, bobbing and weaving its way along as Baby figures out how to get himself out from underneath Doc's thumb while at the same time ensuring Debora doesn't end up being collateral damage. It's a Busby Berkeley musical crossed with the raucous adrenaline-fueled carnage of a John Frankenheimer car chase, a rather sensitively chaste love story sitting at the center of all the intensely choreographed chaos. Wright centers his focus directly upon Baby, the character's maturation and growth the central dynamic that makes all this superficially foul-mouthed and gruesomely violent silliness worth emotionally investing in.

Yet, I still cannot say I'm completely head over heels for the director's latest genre mash-up. For a film that is in constant motion, Wright has a little trouble maintaining dramatic momentum. He lets the energy lag at the strangest times, most notably during the story's second heist involving an armored car robbery gone awry. The director also gets needlessly cruel at times, almost as if he's trying to supply some sort of commentary in regards to the cost of the violent lives his characters lead while at the same time going out of his way to revel in every gruesome, bloody demise innocent and guilty alike oftentimes meet. There's also not a lot in the way of character development for any of the secondary players, and other than a terrifically multifaceted Hamm none of the game supporting cast, including Spacey and Foxx, makes much of a lasting impression.

But Wright stages the central car chases with glorious precision, his adoration for motorized vehicular mayhem readily apparent. He also grants Elgort plenty of room to blossom, the young The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent heartthrob a mesmerizingly seductive presence throughout. His chemistry with an equally luminous James is off the charts, the pair achieving a Gene Kelly meets Leslie Caron old school elegance that's divine. Watching them together brought a smile to my face I couldn't have wiped away had I wanted to try, and if these two want to go on and make more movies together here's my vote they do just that as soon as humanly possible. Baby Driver might not live entirely up to the hype, but that doesn't make it any less wonderful, Wright once again showing he's a fearless genre-busting directorial wunderkind whose creative gas tank overflows in originality.


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Nellie McKay brings show devoted to transgender artist Billy Tipton to the Jazz Alley
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Concert for America coming to Seattle
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Latest Transformers flips the audience the bird
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Letters
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Edmonds Center for the Arts, Out to Lunch and Concerts at the Mural announce upcoming series
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Finding emotional value:

Director Colin Trevorrow navigates the emotional complexities of The Book of Henry

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Indescribable Henry sure to provoke a wide range of emotional reactions
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Loach's Daniel Blake refuses to mince words
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Quietly personal Hero an emotional triumph for Elliott
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