Out on Friday June 30
Edgar Wright’s getaway saga is the coolest film of the summer. Sunao Katabuchi exquisite animation depicts life before wartime. Tupac Shakur receives the biopic treatment.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Baby Driver, All Eyez On Me, In This Corner of the World, Despicable Me 3, Chubby Funny, A Man Called Ove, Kedi, Alone in Berlin, Risk, and The House.
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A love letter from Edgar Wright to crime capers, diner romances and, above all, music, Baby Driver is a heist movie that nabs your heart. Wright’s first solo-scripted outing, it’s a more rounded work than his last venture across the pond, 2010’s enjoyable but scattershot Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. A getaway saga that’s perfectly in sync with its soundtrack, it’s a hugely enjoyable ride from the moment Wright puts pedal to metal.
Set in Atlanta, albeit with the city looking (slightly) nicer than it did in last year’s Triple 9, it centres on ‘Baby’, a near-mute wheelman played by Ansel Elgort at his most, well, baby-faced. He works for Doc (Kevin Spacey), a hardened criminal mastermind who never uses exactly the same crew twice. But thanks to Baby’s prodigious driving skills, and the fact that he owes Doc an unspecified debt, this young gun is constantly on-call.
Baby’s USP is that he spends his days with his earbuds in listening to one of several iPods he carries with him everywhere. Turns out he has tinnitus from a childhood accident, and the music helps drown out the constant ringing in his ears.
But there’s another reason: the tunes act like fuel as he waits with the engine running (an idea Wright already road-tested in his 2003 video for Mint Royale’s ‘Blue Song’, albeit with Noel Fielding playing the getaway driver role for laughs).
The first time we see Baby in action, he’s sitting in his red Subaru, lip-syncing to Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s ‘Bellbottoms’. As his fellow gang members – Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm and Eiza González – return with the swag, Baby careers away seemingly in time to the music. With Baby outwitting police cars at every turn, the stunt driving is fantastic, the editing by Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss peerless. It leaves you breathless.
Wright’s soundtrack choices don’t start and end with the driving scenes, though. With 35 songs on the playlist, the film is wall-to-wall music – Baby’s always listening to something. Even a trip to the local coffee shop to pick up lattes for the gang feels more like a waltz, beautifully choreographed in long takes as Baby weaves in and around pedestrians. Some may find this annoying, but Wright directs with such enthusiasm, it’s hard not to feel swept up.
Gradually, Baby’s backstory is revealed. His late mother was a singer; he now lives with his wheelchair-bound foster father (CJ Jones), who is deaf and speaks to Baby in sign language. There has to be a girl, of course – and when he meets diner waitress Deborah (Lily James), he’s smitten. What’s more, after the next job – this time featuring Jamie Foxx’s unhinged Bats – Baby is finally paid-up with Doc. But, this being the movies, there’s always one last job...
True, Wright isn’t going to win any awards for original plotting here but, in some ways, he’s not trying to. This is about playing with the crime genre and reinvigorating the clichés, which he manages to do with real vigour. Wright gifts his actors with a smart script and they all – without exception – absolutely lap it up. Spacey may reserve most of his villainy for House of Cards these days, but it’s great to see him on form as a big-screen menace again.
Likewise, Hamm and Foxx relish their bad-boy roles and James shines as the girl who turns our hero’s head. (She’s very much Alabama to Elgort’s Clarence, to use a True Romance analogy.) But the real plaudits belong to Elgort. The Fault in Our Stars actor comes of age here; it may not prove to be quite as career-making a turn as Ryan Gosling in Drive, but he sells the character perfectly: a good guy caught in a bad situation.
True, you do miss the killer laughs of Wright’s work with Simon Pegg. But there’s much to compensate; the superbly curated soundtrack – Queen, Simon & Garfunkel, Martha and the Vandellas, The Damned – is worth your ticket price, nachos and bucket of soda alone. It will be the Spotify playlist of the summer, guaranteed.
By the time the film screams into its final act, Wright ramps up the action, throws in the odd curveball and lets the bullets fly. Again, the outcome is all very familiar – and Baby Driver’s tank does start to run dry as the finish line approaches. But mostly it goes like the clappers. Buckle up.
THE VERDICT: Crime, romance, fast cars, hot tunes... slicker than your chrome hubcaps, Baby Driver is the summer’s coolest movie.
Director: Edgar Wright; Starring: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx; Theatrical release: June 28, 2017
All Eyez On Me
Between his radical upbringing, iconic standing, outlaw front and breathtakingly rich recorded output, it’s a wonder the long-gestating Tupac Shakur biopic took so long to arrive. Besides legal conflicts, one answer looks apparent from Benny Boom’s watchable but unwieldy entry in hip-hop cinema’s extended universe: the rapper’s “thug angel” contradictions demand more than a conventional biopic treatment.
Demetrius Shipp Jr. is an uncannily quicksilver 2Pac, whether he’s fixing intense stares on an interviewer from prison, showing his soulful side, or swaggering through some chest-pounding live recreations. He gets terrific support too, notably from The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira as the mother who instilled revolutionary values in Pac.
Scenes of police brutality ram home the significance of her ideals with grim relevance. Yet in tracking 2Pac from youth to fame, film, conscious/gangsta rap, near-death experiences, and death by shooting, Eyez bites off more than it can chew.
Plotting stutters through incidents and walk-ons, and although the climax hits hard, the sketchy build-up clouds fresh insight. Boom strains to pack a lot in: in doing so, he stretches his key beats thin.
THE VERDICT: “It ain’t easy…” cramming 2Pac’s life into one story. Shipp Jr. thrills, but a busy script blurs too many nuances.
Director: Benny Boom; Starring: Demetrius Shipp Jr., Danai Gurira, Kat Graham; Theatrical release: June 30, 2017
In This Corner of the World
It’s set in Hiroshima. It takes place during WW2. But this Japanese anime is not a story of nuclear annihilation. Rather, it’s a tale of survival; of a persevering young housewife, Suzu (voiced by Rena Nounen), who comes of age years before the bomb drops.
Adapted from a noughties manga by Sunao Katabuchi (a former Ghibli animator best known for 2009’s Mai Mai Miracle), it’s a tender, sobering film; a moving portrait of the stress endured by the female homefront. Suzu’s fight is not with the Allies – it’s with meagre rations, as she faces a daily battle to feed three generations of her family.
Katabuchi captures this hardship in a hand-drawn style that’s beguilingly beautiful. There’s a striking contrast between the foreground – all bright greens and gentle blues – and the cold greys of warfare in the distance. When air raids do come, the blacks and oranges are jolting.
The attacks finally break Suzu’s spirit. And when the horror becomes too much, the film ‘breaks’ as well, with white lines dancing across a black canvas, crumbling before they can form concrete shapes. The implication is clear: there’s no easy way to convey this kind of suffering.
THE VERDICT: An exquisite portrait of Hiroshima before the bomb that conjures a powerful sense of what – and who – was lost.
Director: Sunao Katabuchi; Starring: Rena Nounen, Megumi Han; Theatrical release: June 28, 2017
Harry Michell says that Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha was a major (or should that be minor?) inspiration on his loose-change writing and directing debut Chubby Funny, but there’s also a measure of Withnail & I in its mirth ’n’ melancholy tale of two squabbling actors.
All shot within a couple of miles of Michell’s north London home, it follows Oscar (Michell) and best bud Charlie (Augustus Prew) as they co-inhabit a flat so pokey there’s only one bed – that’s OK, they’re close enough to spoon – and set about breaking into showbiz.
As their agent Susan (Alice Lowe) tells them, confident, good-looking Charlie is leading-man material, whereas Oscar is made to play the “chubby, funny” sidekick… or, as it turns out, to sell his soul making nutty adverts dressed as a squirrel.
Shot with an unfussy naturalism and daring to paint Oscar as a petty, envious, narcissistic dick who nonetheless remains likeable and relatable, Chubby Funny mines ambition, friendship and the modern dating game for heart, laughs and sorrow. An easier route would have been to heighten the action and settle for broad cheer – that Michell digs deeper marks him as a talent to watch.
THE VERDICT: A low-budget relationship drama with high aspirations. Makes for a self-assured and pleasingly down-to-earth debut from one-to-watch Michell.
Director: Harry Michell; Starring: Harry Michell, Augustus Prew, Isabella Laughland; Theatrical release: June 30, 2017
Despicable Me 3
“I miss the Minions!” mutters reformed super-villain Gru (Steve Carell) midway through an attempt to retrieve a stolen diamond from the hide-out of actual super-villain Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker). The reason for his frustration lies in bumbling twin brother Dru (Carell again), a sibling Gru never knew he had and one he’d rather not have getting in the way of his efforts to recover the job he’s lost with the Anti-Villain League.
Yet he’s also inadvertently speaking for the audience, who will probably be wondering why there’s twice as much Carell this time around and so much less of the scene-stealing yellow helpers who, despite landing a spin-off in 2015, spend the majority of this film inexplicably sidelined.
If the plan was to reconfirm Carell as the lynch-pin of the Despicable franchise, it’s one that backfires pretty much the moment the ingratiating, ebullient and never particularly funny Dru enters the picture.
It’s calls like this that enable Parker’s ’80s-fixated fruitloop to moonwalk away with the movie – a larceny admittedly made easier for him by Kristen Wiig’s demotion from the accomplished secret agent she played in DM2 to a dithery stepmom obsessed with getting Gru’s three adopted daughters to like her.
THE VERDICT: An only moderately entertaining threequel that assumes a double dose of Carell will make up for missing Minions. It doesn’t.
Directors: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin; Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker; Theatrical release: June 30, 2017
Cat lovers everywhere will get a kick out of this Turkish doc, which follows Istanbul’s multitudes of street cats. From fights to food-filching to flinging themselves into trees, the kitty footage is enchanting.
Touching stories include one about a man soothed from a nervous breakdown by feeding the strays. While director Ceyda Torun lets the focus meander too much, it’ll leave you, ahem, feline good.
Director: Ceyda Torun; Theatrical release: June 30, 2017
Alone in Berlin
The true story of a German couple who protested against Hitler by dropping accusatory postcards around Berlin has already generated four screen treatments.
The fifth has star power (Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson), and some handsome visuals, but is otherwise too solemn to keep us invested in its heroes’ mission or fate. A subplot involving a Jewish neighbour feels similarly underpowered.
Director: Vincent Perez; Starring: Emma Thompson, Brendan Gleeson, Daniel Bruhl; Theatrical release: June 30, 2017
A Man Called Ove
Adapted from Fredrik Backman’s bestseller, this Swedish tale of a suicidal widower (Rolf Lassgård) who finds unlikely friendship with his new neighbours was nominated for two Oscars this year.
Certainly the nod for Make-Up was merited, but Best Foreign Language Film? Despite winning work from the lead, it’s a tame, feelgood effort from writer-director Hannes Holm. Academy bait.
Director: Hannes Holm; Starring: Rolf Lassgard, Bahar Pars, Filip Berg, Ida Engvoll, Catharina Larsson; Theatrical release: June 30, 2017
A critical docu-portrait of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, shot over a six-year period in which he was under house arrest in Norfolk and then holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy following sexual assault allegations.
Director Laura Poitras (Citizenfour) charts her own feelings towards her subject, yet unanswered questions abound surrounding WikiLeaks’ alleged connections to Donald Trump’s campaign.
Director: Laura Poitras; Theatrical release: June 30, 2017
If you only see one Will Ferrell/Amy Poehler movie... make sure it’s Blades Of Glory, and not this promising-on-paper, soggy-on-screen comedy about cash-strapped parents starting a basement casino to replenish their daughter’s college fund. A role-reversed Risky Business? No chance.
Strained, shrieky and lacking likeable characters, it bizarrely forgoes any insight into parenting, gambling, or the cost of education for Grand Guignol limb-lopping. Buckets of blood, but not a drop of hilarity.
Director: Andrew Jay Cohen; Starring: Amy Poehler, Will Ferrell, Jason Mantzoukas; Theatrical release: June 30, 2017