Written and directed by Edgar Wright who is best known for 2004’s Shaun of the Dead and 2007’s Hot Fuzz, Baby Driver is a fun and exciting action film that is complemented by high-octane car chases, a terrifically eclectic and energetic soundtrack, and quality acting performances. We first meet the protagonist Baby, played by the baby-faced Ansel Elgort, in the middle of a bank heist in which he is the extremely talented getaway driver in Atlanta. Later, we learn that the young Baby works for the criminal mastermind Doc, played by the always terrific and devious Kevin Spacey, who organizes various armed robberies with different crews but always with Baby as the driver. Baby is very much ready to stop being a criminal and is told by Doc that he only has to participate in one more heist in order to pay off his debt to Doc. Somewhat of a loner whose only true passion is music after developing tinnitus as a child from a car accident that killed both of his parents, he eventually meets a young and beautiful waitress named Debora, played by Lily James of Downton Abbey fame, who works at a diner where he is a regular. His life finally appears to be back on track, and he begins dating Debora and planning a crime-free life. However, things become complicated after Doc threatens Baby to do one more armed robbery, and Baby must work with the wild Buddy, played by Jon Hamm, Buddy’s beautiful wife Darling, and the gung-ho and out-of-control Bats, played by Jamie Foxx. The planned post office heist goes awry after Bats impulsively shoots several police officers and later murders a security guard. At the same time, never really wanting to be part of the criminal underworld in the first place, Baby secretly plans an escape with his love interest Debora in addition to making sure his deaf foster parent is safe. Overall, unlike most big-budget Hollywood action blockbusters, the movie feels more like a nuanced indie that takes a wholly unique spin on the car chase thriller and makes for an exhilarating and satisfying cinematic experience. What really defines the film is the carefully crafted soundtrack with songs that fit perfectly with each and every scene, whether it be action or romantic, and contributes so much so that it feels like a character of its own.
Based on the true story of one of the most famous rappers, All Eyez on Me is a mediocre biopic that tells the story of revolutionary rap star Tupac Shakur through his struggles as a poor black youth living in the projects to his eventual rise to fame. Played by newcomer Demetrius Shipp Jr. who has an uncanny resemblance to the real Tupac, Tupac bounces around public housing in New York, Baltimore, and Oakland with his siblings and single mother who was a prominent member of the Black Panthers. After writing lyrics for himself, he debuts as a nationally recognized rapper in the early 1990’s, especially after signing and releasing his first albums with Interscope Records. Eventually, he joins Death Row Records run by controversial rap mogul Suge Knight who helped kickstart the massively popular group N.W.A. At the time, he is hailed as the next great gangsta rap star and rapidly becomes rich while also becoming the target of rival rappers, particularly the East Coast-based The Notorious B.I.G. Despite his success, he runs into legal trouble several times and is shot on one occasion at least five times before his early death. Tragically, in September 1996 at the age of 25, he is gunned down in the streets of Las Vegas in a car driven by Suge Knight. To this day, his murder remains unsolved. Even after his untimely death, his estate has released at least five posthumous albums, and he has sold over 75 million albums as of 2007, ranking him as the second best-selling rap and hip-hop artist in history. Overall, I found the movie to take an occasionally interesting look at arguably the greatest rap icon, but I came away disappointed in the overly confusing and rushed plot line that did not really delve deep into Tupac’s fascinating life story. Although lacking the high-quality script and powerful acting performances, the movie reminded me of the terrific 2015 film Straight Outta Compton about N.W.A. with its biographical depiction of an equally significant rap group and their rise to fame.
Produced by Judd Apatow, Popstar is surprisingly an often hilarious comedy that can be best described as This Is Spinal Tap for the modern generation. Like This Is Spinal and Christopher Guest films, the movie is a mockumentary following behind the scenes of a world famous popstar. The intent is to parody the music and entertainment industries. The film is the brainchild of comedy trio The Lonely Island whose satirical music videos have been featured as digital shorts on Saturday Night Live. Andy Samberg, the group’s leading member and a Saturday Night Live alumnus, plays a popstar going by the ridiculous stage name Connor4Real. Connor is about to release the second album of his solo career after leaving the pop group formed with his childhood friends known as Style Boyz. Samberg’s over-the-top character is an exaggerated combination of Justin Bieber’s recklessness, Justin Timberlake’s stardom, and Kanye West’s egotism. Giving it a feel of a real documentary, several famous musicians, music producers, and other celebrities discuss Connor’s music career in a very much tongue-in-cheek fashion. There is even a cameo from Justin Timberlake who is mercilessly parodied throughout the film. Through a series of scenes resembling comic sketches, Connor and his entourage are involved in very silly and preposterous antics. The lyrics and dance moves for the songs are incoherently ridiculous, obvious allusions to hyper-sexualized language, twerking, and other aspects of contemporary pop music. The plot also follows a very formulaic story arc: a star rises from obscurity with his childhood bandmates, enjoys fame and success with the band, goes on a solo career with mixed results, and finally redeems himself. Despite my rather low expectations, the movie is a very funny guilty pleasure that successfully employs the mockumentary format to poke fun at the entertainment industry and our preoccupation with fame.
Following the exploits of Miles Davis as he tries to recover a stolen sessions tape, Miles Ahead provides a glimpse into the life of a tortured genius. We meet the legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis in 1979 in the midst of his five-year break from the music, a period marked by heavy drinking and drug abuse. The film is anchored by an exceptional performance from Don Cheadle who portrays Davis as he dives into moments of sheer madness, including several scenes involving gunfire, while being informally interviewed by a Rolling Stone writer played by Ewan McGregor. It is not a typical biopic but rather a mishmash of flashbacks to the relatively sane years when he was at the top of his fame and alternating with his chaotic adventure to reclaim his music. Miles Ahead is a film brimming with energy reflected by Miles Davis’s musical brilliance despite his personal demons and Don Cheadle’s nuanced depiction of a truly larger-than-life jazz legend.