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Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Granger at the Movies: ‘Baby Driver,’ ‘Okja,’ ‘The Journey’

By Susan Granger

Special to WestportNow

In “Baby Driver,” writer/director Edgar Wright puts the pedal to the metal for a propulsive, music-driven crime caper.

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The titular Baby (Ansel Elgort) is paying off a debt to crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) by working as his rubber-burning getaway driver. Doc is the ruthless, short-tempered mastermind behind a series of robberies in Atlanta.

Baby’s backstory involves a tragic automobile accident in which his parents were killed, leaving him with chronic tinnitus, a “hum in the drum,” as Doc calls it – meaning that Baby functions best when rock music is blaring from one of his many iPods directly into his earbuds.

While Doc employs different thugs for each robbery, his most trusted crew includes coked-up Buddy (Jon Hamm), his wife Darling (Eliza Gonzales), and menacing, trigger-happy Bats (Jamie Foxx).

When he’s not involved in high speed car chases, Baby hangs out at the diner where his mother once worked. That’s where he falls for a dreamy waitress named Debora (Lily James) who just wants “to head west… in a car we can’t afford, with a plan we don’t have,” listening to T. Rex’s “Debora” and Carla Thomas’ “B-A-B-Y.”

Their first date is at the local laundromat where clothes spin around in time with the music.

Propelling this inventive thriller, Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz,” “The World’s End”) synchronizes the symphony of automotive action to the energetic rhythm of what’s playing on Baby’s mixtape, named after a Simon & Garfunkel track on their “Bridge Over Troubled Water” album.

It’s expertly choreographed by Ryan Heffington, best known for his music videos, and cranked up by Bill Pope’s vivid cinematography.

Expressive 23-year-old Ansel Elgort (“The Fault in Our Stars”) personifies the laconic wheelman, tenderly caring for elderly Pops (C.J. Jones), his wheelchair-confined, hearing-impaired foster father. Kevin Spacey is wickedly sly while Jon Hamm gleefully chews the scenery - and the soundtrack’s a killer.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Baby Driver” revs up an adrenaline-propelled 8. It’s a gas!

With “Okja,” inventive director Bong Joon Ho (“Snowpiercer”) has concocted a satirical action-comedy, blended with a controversial, socially-conscious allegorical fable.

The prologue introduces Lucy Mirando (Tilda Switon), the ethically-challenged CEO of a powerful, multi-national, agrochemical corporation, who announces her company will breed a gigantic, new pig-like creature to solve the world’s hunger problem, distributing 26 genetically modified super-piglets to locations around the world to be raised by local farmers within their own “eco-friendly” culture.

Ten years later, on a remote mountaintop in South Korea, orphaned 14-year-old Mija (An Seo Hyun) has bonded with her grandfather’s super-pig, Okja. Now as big as a hippopotamus, Okja is Mija’s constant companion, romping through the tranquil countryside, even saving her life on one harrowing occasion.

Suddenly, an obnoxious celebrity TV veterinarian, Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal), appears at their farm, proclaiming Okja the Super Pig Winner. Which means she’ll be shipped back to the United States, displayed in New York and then dispatched to a blood-soaked slaughterhouse in Paramus, New Jersey.

Unwilling to part with her beloved beast, determined Mija joins idealistic members (Paul Dano, Lily Collins, Steven Yeun) of the ALF (Animal Liberation Front) to rescue Okja. That leads to a zany rampage and chase through an underground Seoul subway mall.

Brashly scripted by Bong Joon Ho and shrewdly adapted into English by Jon Ronson, it was filmed in two languages and three countries (South Korea, Canada and the United States) for about $50 million.

The artistry of cinematographer Darius Khondji blends seamlessly with the astonishing visual effects conceived by conceptual artist Hee Chul Jang and created by Oscar-winner Erik-Jan De Boer.

On the Granger Gauge, “Okja” is an audacious 8, playing in a few select theaters for Oscar consideration and widely available for streaming on Netflix.

Perhaps better suited to the History Channel, “The Journey” imagines a car ride during which Ireland’s sworn enemies, Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall) and Martin McGuiness (Colm Meaney), began to communicate after decades of hostility and violence in Northern Ireland.

In October 2006, while trying to work out what became known as the St. Andrews Agreement, Paisley needed to fly from the famed Scottish golf resort to Belfast to celebrate his golden wedding anniversary with his wife. For security reasons, McGuiness insists on accompanying him.

As various mishaps and delays lengthen the time it takes to make 50-mile trip to the Edinburgh airport, the lifelong adversaries begin to converse for the first time. 

Taking a conciliatory position, garrulous McGuiness, the former Irish Republican Army leader, initiates their interaction.

At first, Paisley, the crusading 80-year-old founder of the Democratic Unionist Party, is overtly confrontational, exuding moral superiority. Eventually, his stern countenance softens, along with his vehemently anti-Catholic rhetoric.

What they don’t realizes is that their young Scots chauffeur (Freddie Highmore) is actually an undercover British agent, charged with monitoring their private conversation which is being watched via a secret camera by MI-boss Harry Patterson (John Hurt) and Prime Minister Tony Blair (Toby Stephens).

Scripted by Colin Bateman and directed by Nick Hamm—with memorable performances from both Spall and Meaney—it provides an imaginative look at the background leading up to the assumption of power by First Minister Ian Paisley and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in 2007.

In reality, Paisley’s wife Eileen was with him at St. Andrews; he and McGuinness did not actually begin to dialogue with one another until six months after the agreement was signed.

On Granger Gauge, “The Journey” is a simplistic 6. It’s like eavesdropping on a historic conversation.


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(Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)

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Posted 07/05/17 at 08:54 AM  Permalink



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