Thursday, July 27, 2017

Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003)

There's no shortage of things to talk about with DreamWorks Animation. Sinbad is a lean 80 minutes brought down by a mean title character who leaves the strengths of his film elsewhere. Sinbad's (Brad Pitt) journey is to return The Book of Peace, from Eris The God of Chaos (Michelle Pfeiffer). This is so Sinbad's friend Proteus (Joseph Fiennes), this film's "Socrates," and that's actually meant with complete sincerity, won't take his place in his death sentence.

First of all, this friendship is based in exposition, and not the fun, improvised exposition from The Road to El Dorado. Second of all, Sinbad's actually starts on this mission because Proteus's fiancee, Marina (Catherine Zeta Jones) is keeping an eye on him. The film goes out of its way to make him unlikeable and even further to never give us a good backstory on why. It's basically because...it's expected of pirates, even though the rest of his crew seems like a stand-up bunch. If he had a few better, wittier lines, all of which are at least well-performed, he'd be acceptable.

The humor's actually pretty funny, when it's not blended with the action, forced, homophobic (albeit, it was a different time). DreamWork's trademark adult humor lands pretty well. There's even a silly nipple joke that's reminiscent of a classic episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The jokes generally just aren't sharp enough, and it's easy to assume that script needed a polish in that area.

Jumping back to the action, it's very solid. The camera and editing quickly draw viewers in with attention-grabbing, but not distracting movement early on. The cgi backgrounds and creatures that back the set-pieces up haven't aged well, but they're also a product of the time, and some beginning animators may find the models endearing. (Personally, as a failed animator, I do).

The action also has a certain restraint that I noted was in the entire final act of The Road to El Dorado. Please watch this film's siren-song scene and compare it with Ice Age Four's. This one is actually creative with how the crew reacts to the creatures, as it's a slow burn to their potential demise and not being instantly lust-struck. The creatures themselves, liquid beings, are actually alluring and good vocalists.

Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas is great for making comparisons, but when a road movie, it's not much of one, but it is one, doesn't tell the audience how close the characters are to the destination, and then rushes back to the starting point, the script needs to be started from scratch. While the ending of the film doesn't make these issues worse, and are a bit redemptive, Sinbad could've started stronger. This would be DreamWorks last 2d film, so they should've ended on a high note.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Baby Driver (2017)

Edgar Wright has officially made his mark with Baby Driver, and by that I mean, he's turning a would-be cult-classic into a smash-hit at this very moment. And I don't believe, for a single second, that he had to compromise anything in this film to do it. So, what does that give us?

Baby Driver is the heist film for the new millennium (not "for the millennial," don't start thinking that), following the getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort) on his last few jobs as he tries to get out of the business and settle into the quieter life. He's earned it, as demonstrated by the break-neck opening getaway.

Wright's chases aren't just fast, they're smart, properly paced, and take risks. Baby uses every (realistic) trick in the book, everything we dreamed while stuck in traffic, running late, and/or just cruising. The only difference between him and everyone else in the driver's seat is he goes for it, and will run through the guardrails or down those hills to get off the highway. (Seriously, why don't we plant more trees in those open areas?)

If this doesn't sound like everyone else in the world, does jamming in the car and blasting music at least sound close because not only does he do that, but Elgort makes it a cornerstone of his performance. Roughly 80-percent of his work is non-verbal and synched to a track, and that track was specially crafted, not just selected, to the film. It may sound like Baby's got his own Awesome Mix, but Wright either thought ahead or was quick-to-adapt because he sets himself apart from that by miles. A cassette player gives Guardians support, whereas an old iPod gives Baby Driver everything, but without the film living or dying based on the specific tunes (which are top-notch anyway).

Rounding out the cast, Lily James is the perfect partner for Elgort, and luckily given much more to do in this than in Cinderella. Her character, Deborah, plays a the perfect partner in crime for him, but not in the typical her crazy matches his crazy way. They're not crazy, just their circumstances are, thanks to the rest of the cast.

Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal, Jamie Foxx, and Eiza González are their own little ensemble in Baby Driver, and if we were to follow any of them instead, we'd apply that last sentence to them as well. Wright takes it to heart that "we're the good guys" is a relative term, at least to a point.

There is a point where Baby Driver does shift into a different gear (sorry for that one), and you may not completely be onboard with that, but the consistency is with the characters. Stick with them, and the movie will stick with you in return. If you find yourself home alone at the end of the night, it's a guarantee that your speakers will be getting a workout, and you will too.