Late reviews of Ingrid Goes West and The Little Hours – two comedies that both feature Aubrey Plaza.
*** (out of 4)
Thanks to films like Saving Private Ryan, the oft-used saying that “war is hell” tends to conjure up images of huge explosions, flying bullets, and injured soldiers writhing in trenches. In Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, however, the hell of war is something both far less flashy and far more insidious: constant apprehension. The movie recounts the story of the “miraculous” Dunkirk evacuation from three perspectives: a soldier (Fionn Heyward) willing to do whatever it takes to board a ship home, a civilian (Mark Rylance) who sails to Dunkirk to pick up soldiers, and a couple of RAF fighters (Jack Lowden, Tom Hardy) chasing Nazi planes over the English Channel. In each storyline, there are indeed plenty of explosions and shoot-outs. Yet such flashes of action prove secondary to the large stretches of time said characters spend sitting, sailing, and flying in silence – quietly waiting for the attack they know is coming, but unsure of when it will happen or how to prepare. This, Nolan suggests, is the most debilitating aspect of war: a permanent, simmering sense of dread, almost like a perpetual state of unsatisfied suspense.
Many war movies play like secondary sources: they provide context on the war and their protagonists’ lives with a slight detachedness that makes you think you’re watching the cinematic adaptation of a biography. The best thing about Dunkirk, however, is that it’s very much a primary source – a loose, almost impressionistic portrayal of various individuals’ struggles to survive that prioritizes direct sensorial experience over exposition, acting, and dialogue.
** (out of 4)
Edgar Wright’s new action flick, Baby Driver, is the latest movie (see Hell or High Water, Rogue One, and Okja for other recent ones) to feature a mistreated individual as its main character. Unlike the characters in the aforementioned three examples, however, the injustice that Baby Driver’s protagonist “Baby” (Ansel Elgort) endures doesn’t come from an overpowering system but the lack of any meaningful adult figures in his life. The movie’s central conflict, after all, arises from the fact that Baby is continually coerced by a crime boss named Doc (Kevin Spacey) into working as a heist getaway driver. The various criminals Baby escorts to safety (Jon Hamm, Eiza González, Jamie Foxx, among others) on these drives, moreover, consistently treat him with a mixture of disdain and indifference. And then you have to remember that he lost his parents in a car accident as a child.
In a sense, Baby is the epitome of helplessness: a loner who’s alternately exploited and neglected by people older than he. Add the fact that he’s always on his iPod – in a testament to the intensity of Baby’s musicophilia, Wright choreographs every getaway drive to whatever music Baby is listening to in the moment – and you’ve got a character who could easily speak for an entire generation of tech-savvy, socially-alienated youth. Unfortunately, however, Wright’s attempt at capturing the millennial zeitgeist ends up flailing because he tries too hard to be cool.