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Movie Review: ‘Baby Driver’

WORKING TITLE FILMS

WORKING TITLE FILMS ????? With a star-studded cast, featuring Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx, and the direction of Edgar Wright, the mastermind behind critically acclaimed comedies like “Shaun of the Dead,” “Baby Driver” has all the tools necessary for an incredible heist movie.

With an electrifying soundtrack and flawlessly choreographed action scenes, “Baby Driver” is a high-speed thriller that perfectly encapsulates Wright’s vision of a modern crime film. Unfortunately, poor performances by Elgort and the supporting cast, in addition to the film’s chaotic plotline, prevent “Baby Driver” from succeeding as a classic heist film. Elgort, well-known for his roles in popular teen films like “The Fault in Our Stars” and the “Divergent” series, steps away from his comfort zone as he takes on the titular role of Baby, a young getaway driver.

Baby, who works for a criminal organization that orchestrates bank robberies in Atlanta, is under the control of Doc, a powerful kingpin played by Spacey. Baby wants to leave the criminal business for a simple life with his newly found girlfriend Debora, played by Lily James, but, unfortunately for him, keeps getting pulled back into Doc’s crazy schemes and heist attempts. Despite its immense potential, the film falls flat largely due to its plot, which audiences may find difficult to follow, as well as the surprisingly dull performances by its actors, many of whom are among Hollywood’s elite.

The film’s plot is exciting, but unfortunately, too high-speed — it accelerates almost as quickly as Baby does on the gas pedal. Wright attempts to create a fun and exciting heist film but ultimately devises a plot that is too chaotic and overwhelming to keep up with. Audiences will question whether many of the film’s confusing subplots are in fact necessary additions — in particular, the romantic aspect of the film.

Although the spontaneous relationship between Baby and Debora is entertaining and endearing toward the beginning of the movie, it quickly falls apart as Baby’s heists become increasingly difficult and dangerous. As audiences realize how irrational — and unrealistic — it is for Baby and Debora to stick together, they will care far less about the fate of the couple and the conclusion of the film itself. The romantic storyline is thus one of the movie’s major shortcomings; as the film progresses, the relationship becomes more and more disingenuous.

Not only are parts of the plot contrived, but almost all of the actors’ performances disappoint; they feel forced and uninspired, especially notable disappointments given the renowned cast, which features two Academy Award-winning actors, Spacey and Foxx. Elgort in particular dominates much of the screen time of the film, but he does not quite succeed in playing the part of the reckless getaway driver; he seems better suited to more emotionally driven roles. Furthermore, he and James do not bring much chemistry or believability to their characters’ relationship — perhaps another reason the romantic plotline suffers.

That being said, although the dialogue between characters does not flow naturally, the actors are not solely to blame. Wright’s attempt to produce a clever script falls short, and he fails to integrate well-timed humorous scenes within the fast-paced story. The film, although marketed as an action comedy, is ultimately driven only by its action-packed plot.

On the other hand, the film is very successful in its musical soundtrack and cinematography. To pull off a successful getaway, Baby needs to be listening to music — it strengthens his focus and reflexes. The strong emphasis on incorporating music throughout the film provides a playful and fun viewing experience, as audiences witness Baby’s incredible driving skills on the road accompanied by the songs of Queen, The Button Down Brass, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Beck, The Beach Boys and Blur.

The high-energy jukebox soundtrack perfectly complements the fast-paced chase scenes, but it does well in slowing down and softening the romantic scenes between Debora and Baby. The film’s camerawork is stellar as well. The car chase scenes are pure magic and are shot perfectly in sync with the background music, highlighting the creativity of Wright and his long-time collaborator and cinematographer, Bill Pope — they fuse the film’s auditory and visual elements seamlessly.

Prior to “Baby Driver,” Wright’s most recent work was the science fiction comedy “The World’s End,” released in 2013. The third installment in Wright’s critically acclaimed “Three Flavours Cornetto” trilogy, “The World’s End” was praised for its humor and heart. In 2010, Wright directed “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” a film renowned for its musical soundtracks and eye-catching visual effects.

Like “Scott Pilgrim,” “Baby Driver” showcases Wright’s strong grasp of the audiovisual elements of film, yet, unlike his past projects, like “The World’s End” and its prequels, does not succeed as a comedy film. Overall, although “Baby Driver” had the potential to be an exciting new take on the classic heist film, its contrived plot and lackluster acting performances are a major distraction from its greatest assets — its fast-paced action scenes that successfully match the thrill of the chase with a dynamic jukebox soundtrack. Unfortunately, there are only 10 minutes of pure excitement throughout the entire two-hour film, which come in the form of the getaway car chase scenes, rather than in the conversations between Baby and Doc, or Debora.

Audiences may be better off turning their cars around and postponing their trips to the theater — “Baby Driver” is simply not worth the trouble.

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Album Review: ‘Memories … Do Not Open’

COLUMBIA RECORDS

COLUMBIA RECORDS ????? The Chainsmokers first earned its claim to fame in 2014 with the notorious hit single “#SELFIE.” Since the track’s viral release, the EDM duo has begun to produce a more radio-friendly sound, releasing a stream of popular summer anthems over the past year.

The Chainsmokers’ first studio album, “Memories … Do Not Open,” was released April 7, giving the duo a chance to continue to develop its upbeat pop sound while exploring more complex musical terrain. Members Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall exhibit newfound sophistication and maturity on certain tracks, projecting a clear artistic vision throughout the album.

The first track, “The One,” opens the album with rich and ethereal female harmonies before launching into Taggart’s gentle vocals. The intimate sound foreshadows a similar style on several following tracks, focusing on vocals and instrumentals rather than electronic drops. Even though the song drags toward the middle, its opening notes establish a promising tone for the rest of the album.

The next song, “Break Up Every Night,” features vocals from The Chainsmokers, which is unique because the duo typically relies on collaborations with other artists. Although this focus on the artists creates a more authentic feel, the track possesses a young, poppy sound that does not quite match the style of the first song. “Bloodstream,” the album’s third track, dials back the energy and slows down the tempo.

Compared to the more lyrically formulaic previous track, “Bloodstream” is more honest and emotionally charged, telling the story of a singer who becomes disillusioned with fame. Although the track might not fit The Chainsmokers’ usual feel-good vibe, it breathes a much-needed sense of vulnerability into the album. It proves that the duo considers “Memories…Do Not Open” an opportunity to display its growth from its most popular single, “Closer,” released in July 2016.

The fourth track, “Don’t Say,” is the first collaboration with another artist on the album. Emily Warren is an American songwriter who has written for The Chainsmokers in the past, as well as for a range of other successful artists such as Shawn Mendes and Melanie Martinez. Despite her impressive experience in the industry, Warren’s airy vocals sound rather bland and ordinary, imitative of mechanical pop.

Without any exciting musical elements to enhance Warren’s vocal force, “Don’t Say” lacks an edge and fails to stand out. With “Something Just Like This,” featuring Coldplay, fans are re-introduced to the single first released in February. Although this collaboration is unexpected considering Coldplay’s classic rock style, it mirrors the recent tendency of traditionally acoustic artists, like Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift, to venture into the pop-electronic arena.

If anything, the track is further evidence of the changing climate of pop music and shifting boundaries between genres. Surprisingly, the tone of lead singer Chris Martin’s voice fits well with the genre, and the track successfully merges two unexpected musical groups into a cohesive unit. “My Type” opens with simple chord progressions on the piano, creating another track with an intimate acoustic intro.

The pre-chorus, however, leads to an electronic build-up that culminates in a heavy drop in true Chainsmokers style. Similarly, “It Won’t Kill Ya” begins with simple chords and a singular isolated voice. Reminiscent of intense dubstep, the drop on the track feels disconnected from the overall lightness of the verses. “Wake Up Alone” continues with this dynamic, developing sharp contrasts between its acoustic and electronic sounds.

While these songs illustrate the duo’s experimentation with a new electronic sound , their beating style clashes with some of the track’s softer vocals. “Memories…Do Not Open” also includes hit song “Paris,” another single released at the beginning of the year as a preview of the full-length album. The overwhelming success of the song speaks for itself.

Immediately picked up by mainstream radio, the track accumulated over 60 million views on YouTube and reached the top of the charts. The positive reception of “Paris” demonstrates the fan’s desire for songs highlighting the duo’s talents, rather than the added vocals of other artists. The track’s soft synths, echoing vocals and catchy hook establish it as a trademark Chainsmokers hit, but its introspective lyrics make it more memorable than most, as the singers repeat, “We were staying in Paris/To get away from your parents/You look so proud/Standing there with a frown and a cigarette/Posting pictures of yourself on the internet.”

“Honest” and “Young” each contain remarkable elements that make them immediately stand out. “Honest” begins as a spoken track, with a voice offering a sage monologue about the complexities of the human heart. As the music builds up in the background, Taggart and Pall bring in bright, rich harmonies. In “Young,” the root instrumentals on the intro feature guitar rather than piano, offering a new sound that distinguishes the track from the rest of the album.

The album’s last song, “Last Day Alive,” offers another unexpected collaboration, this time with country group Florida Georgia Line. Although the southern band is not known for venturing outside the conventions of country music, its partnership with an electronic duo still served as a surprise. Despite the bold collaboration, The Chainsmokers stick to a style of heavy electronic backing and dull vocals.

It is a disappointing execution of a potentially captivating fusion of genres. “Memories…Do Not Open” is a mix of tracks. Some of the songs might go unnoticed, while others will ride their wave to the top of the charts.

Despite this, Taggart and Pall of The Chainsmokers are gradually solidifying their distinctive style as musicians and producers with an increased emphasis on their own vocal talents and mixing skills. With the exception of “Something Just Like This,” which creates an exciting blend of genres, it appears that the most successful tracks on the album are those featuring only the duo. Perhaps The Chainsmokers’ key to success is harnessing its undeniable value as a duo without the dissonant influence of other artists.

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References

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Review | Caz9 – Phase II – the Last Mixed Tape

caz9-photo-by-ruth-medjber The Last Mixed Tape reviews Phase II, the debut extended play from electronic artist Caz9. ‘Running’ delivers a serene intro to Phase II, and ultimately sets the tone for the record in the strong contrast between the soft-synth/soulful vocal combo set against the bolder beats that occupy the backdrop.

In terms of the E.P, the best use of this contrast dynamically comes from the closing track ‘Boss Lady’. However, the gentle movement and slight scatter-shot beat of ‘Want to Wake’ provides Phase II’s high-water mark. Moody and atmospheric, the song stands-out with a more definite sense of identity and thus gives the E.P. as a whole a feeling of sonic individuality, whilst also giving us a more defined glimpse into Caz9’s music.

There can be little denying that Phase II is a well-made debut outing from Caz9. The production is rightly cast against the electro-pop leanings of the songwriting, while the music itself constantly moves forward and changes over the course of the E.P’s six-track running order. And while there are moments were the record feels like it’s lacking in energy or purpose (tracks like ‘Work With’ feel a little long), Phase II does deliver on what it sets out to do, and that is to introduce Caz9 as an artist.

All the elements are there on Phase II, the weighty synth heavy production and slow beats of Caz9’s debut really do flicker with some truly great moments, especially seen in the aforementioned ‘Want to Wake’.How Caz9 broadens these sounds in future will be what eventually sets her apart. Rating: 8/10[1] Phase II[2] by Caz9 is out now.

Photo credit: Ruth Medjber.

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The Last Mixed Tape: Irish-indie blog run by music critic Stephen White.

References

  1. ^ Rating: 8/10 (thelastmixedtape.com)
  2. ^ Phase II (caz9.com)
  3. ^ 23 mins ago (thelastmixedtape.com)
  4. ^ Stephen White (thelastmixedtape.com)
  5. ^ EP Reviews (thelastmixedtape.com)
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