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Turning Wheels

Car chases and machinations

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BABY DRIVER. Writer/director Edgar Wright — like Tarantino before him and Scorsese before him — has managed to make a successful career of being a tremendous movie nerd. Unashamed of his influences and unafraid to reveal them (Hot Fuzz, 2007 being a particularly pointed example), Wright synthesizes those myriad influences into colorful, comic creations that are at once unmistakably his own and also direct descendants of all that good stuff that preceded it. Filtering genres through the sensibility of a British kid who just can't get enough of them has produced a body of work that both encapsulates and expands the genres of influence, while also parodying them in a careful, reverent way. He's done it (often collaborating with writer/actor Simon Pegg) with zombies, buddy cops, comic books and body snatchers, to name a few. And now, with Baby Driver, Wright narrows his focus even more, with a tribute to the gritty American crime and car chase pictures of the 1970s. The result is tightly controlled, impeccably detailed, hyper-kinetic and, despite some obvious ties to its predecessors (even the title is a fun riff on Walter Hill's 1978 brooding arthouse experiment The Driver), fresh-feeling and original. More so than any of Wright's previous work (all of which I love, incidentally), Baby Driver succeeds as a new invention, a product of imagination that references its influences without tipping them overtly.

And, if we're being honest, it's a car chase movie with an impossibly rocking soundtrack, so I'm predisposed to love it.

Baby (Ansel Elgort), a kind of goofball, hot-shoe savant with chronic tinnitus and a music jones, finds himself indentured to Doc (Kevin Spacey) after brazenly boosting the wrong Mercedes. Doc, with a constantly rotating cast of strong-arm crews, engineers a series of broad-daylight bank robberies in downtown Atlanta. Baby serves as his go-to wheelman, working off his debt. Just as he's nearing completion of that task, though, things start to go sideways. Baby falls for a charming diner waitress named Debora (Lily James), while his high-profile highway hijinks attract increasing attention. Tensions within Doc's organization run ever higher, with Baby at the intersection of dangerously violent paranoia and infighting.

Elgort finds just the right balance here, playing Baby as charming and capable but also painfully awkward, even dorky. He's haunted by the car crash that killed his parents and wrecked his hearing, but has within him the courage and resilience to do terrible things if called upon. He's a fully formed character, in other words, a type beyond stereotype or archetype — a heightened combination of traits observable in everyday life. The same holds true for the rest of the cast of characters: Spacey, deploying his clipped cadence and wry humor to great effect, infuses Doc with a balance of cruelty and compassion; Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx go toe to toe as equally hair-triggered bank robbers with irreconcilable differences; Debora transcends the tropes of the beautiful girl next door, somehow carrying off doe-eyed innocence with a knowing wink.

Stylistically, Baby Driver is very much its own thing. Wright has pop songs wall to wall on the soundtrack, many of them emanating from Baby's ever-present iPod. That soundtrack, as a result, becomes much more a part of the movie than background. Characters sing and dance along, drivers execute alternately balletic and brutal chases and stunts in time, the camera moves and cuts work together with the songs to create a feeling of constant motion, a buoyant, energizing effect that sets up and serves as counterpoint to the rather extreme violence and darkness of the movie's third act. Wright and his director of photography Bill Pope even manage to nail a nostalgic look to the piece without it feeling like a throwback. The light and space of the movie, particularly in the nighttime sequences, call back to the dirty glory of the '70s, where the arthouse and the grindhouse sometimes sat on the same foundation. But, as I mentioned, Baby Driver may be the most original of Wright's work, both because and in spite of its distinct genre connections. R. 113m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

THE BEGUILED. I must bashfully admit to never having seen Don Siegel's 1971 version, but that may be all for the better. Remakes (reboots, whatever) frustrate me more often than not and I find it best to approach each work as its own, unshaded by preconceived notions. Here, writer/director Sofia Coppola, working both from the earlier screenplay by Grimes Grice and John B. Sherry and the source novel by Thomas Cullinan, creates a gorgeously atmospheric Southern gothic thriller suffused with suppressed desire, xenophobia and distrust.

Somewhere in Virginia in 1864, Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) continues to operate her rural school for girls, albeit in a much diminished capacity. As artillery thuds continually in the distance, she and Miss Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) continue to teach and care for their five remaining pupils, those without homes to return to as the conflict intensified. Into their midst comes Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell), a wounded Union soldier fleeing the war. His presence creates immediate tension, sexual, political and otherwise. Miss Martha chooses to nurse the soldier back to health, thereby postponing the more difficult decision of whether or not to turn him over to their own Confederate troops. As days go by, it becomes ever clearer that the situation is untenable.

Beautifully photographed by Philippe Le Sourd, impeccably acted (the young women in the cast give performances every bit as full and challenging as their more experienced counterparts), lugubrious and painstakingly concise, The Beguiled creates a deliciously rich and disturbing effect that lingers long after the end credits. R. 94m. BROADWAY, MINOR.

— John J. Bennett

Due to the July 4 holiday, updated listings for Broadway and Mill Creek were not available at press time. For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.

Previews

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING. Tom Holland stars as the smart-mouthed web slinger in a post Captain America: Civil War battle with the Vulture (Michael Keaton). With Marisa Tomei as a smokin' Aunt May because Jesus, we are all getting old. PG13. 133m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

THE SANDLOT (1993). You're killing me, Smalls. PG. 101m. BROADWAY.

Continuing

47 METERS DOWN. Mandy Moore, Claire Holt and Matthew Modine star in a solid genre piece that wrings suspense from a bevy of fears: claustrophobia, suffocation, darkness, monsters, abandonment and a ticking clock. PG13. 89m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

ALL EYEZ ON ME. Demetrius Shipp Jr. stars as iconic rap artist Tupac Shakur in this biopic directed by Benny Boom. With Danai Gurira and Kat Graham. R. 140m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

THE BAD BATCH. Director Ana Lily Amirpour's grim post-apocalyptic cannibalism drama stars Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa and Keanu Reeves. R. 118m. MINOR.

BEATRIZ AT DINNER. Salma Hayek and John Lithgow have an uncomfortable evening as an immigrant holistic healer and a blowhard one percenter. R. 142m. MINOR.

CARS 3. Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) goes up against younger, faster cars in the race for the Piston Cup in this Pixar sequel. With Larry the Cable Guy and Cristela Alonzo. G. 109m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

DESPICABLE ME 3. An out of work Gru (Steve Carell) returns to a life of crime, meets his long-lost twin and battles a villain stuck in the '80s (Trey Parker). With Kristen Wiig. PG. 156m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2. This buoyant, funny follow-up to Marvel's trip to space with a motley crew of outlaws and misfits is surprisingly heartfelt — like a love-letter from writer-director James Gunn to the material and its fans. PG13. 136m. BROADWAY.

THE HOUSE. Broke parents (Amy Poehler and Will Ferrell) get in over their heads setting up an illegal casino to pay for college tuition. R. 128m. With Jason Mantzoukas. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

LETTERS FROM BAGHDAD. Documentary about Gertrude Bell, a powerful British woman in post-World War I Iraq. Starring Ammar Haj Ahmad, Adam Astill and Tom Chadbon. NR. 95m. MINIPLEX.

THE MUMMY. This action-horror Tom Cruise vehicle brings back some classic movie style and much-needed humor, but suffers from over-slickness, under-writing and not enough for the mummy (Sofia Boutella) to do. With Jake Johnson and Russell Crowe. PG13. 110m. BROADWAY.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES. Johnny Depp returns to the waterlogged franchise with an excellent Javier Bardem as Captain Salazar, the cursed captain of the month and the only saving grace of the movie. PG13. 129m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT. I don't know, man. Maybe we should just let the robots take over and see how that goes. Give it a chance or whatever. PG13. 150m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

WONDER WOMAN. Director Patty Jenkins and company handle the seriousness of justice and love overcoming prejudice and hate without turning pompous, and still entertain with outsized battle sequences in this fine DC adaptation. Starring Gal Gadot and Chris Pine. PG13. 141m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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