Baby Driver (B-). Hm, I didn’t know until just now that this highly rated movie (Metacritic score 86) was directed by the same fellow (Edgar Wright) who directed Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End. It’s a crazy little movie about a getaway driver savant called Baby (Ansel Elgort, The Fault in Our Stars) who works for a criminal mastermind called Doc (Kevin Spacey, L.A. Confidential). There’s a very good and elaborate car chase at the beginning, and the climactic pursuit at the end seems to go on forever, and in between there’s not too much of note. Lily James (Cinderella) plays the sweet li’l waitress who steals Baby’s heart, and Jamie Foxx (Dreamgirls) plays a crazy gangster named Bats. Jon Hamm (TV’s Mad Men) has a lot of screen time as another gangster, but I’m afraid I will always see Don Draper whenever he’s on screen. Eiza González (Jem and the Holograms) makes an impression as a gangster called Darling. On the whole, an okay and disposable summer movie.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (D). I love Jane Austen and I am pretty fond of zombies, so this seemed like a can’t-miss proposition: Take the characters, setting, and basic plot of Pride & Prejudice, add a liberal helping of brain-hungry undead, and mix well. I was unfamiliar with most of the cast, but I thought having lovely Lily James (Cinderella) play Elizabeth Bennet and an eye-patched Lena Headey (300) play Lady Catherine de Bourgh could only help the cause. I was right, but unfortunately the ladies’ charms can’t rescue this murky, mucky production. The scenes that are lifted more or less intact from the novel are all right, although I found Darcy (Sam Riley, Maleficent) underwhelming. The zombie scenes are uniformly a mess of quick cuts and unintelligible action. The additional plotline involving the zombies made no sense to me. I say skip it. If you’re craving love in the time of zombies, check out Warm Bodies instead.
Cinderella (B+). I managed to catch this latest live-action fairy tale before it disappeared from the theaters, and I’m glad I did. It was charming. But first I should mention that there’s a new Frozen animated short before the show. It was cute. Elsa (that’s the sister with the snow magic, right?) is trying to throw her red-headed sister the perfect birthday party–but she has a head cold that threatens to unleash all sorts of magical mayhem! Then there was the main feature. It felt very faithful to the animated original–so much so that summary is probably superfluous. Lily James (Wrath of the Titans) is a beautiful, kind, and humble Cinderella, and Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) is fine as the nasty stepmother. Helena Bonham Carter (Dark Shadows) makes for an eccentric fairy godmother. Of course, it’s a fairy tale, so the characters are a little two-dimensional. But director Kenneth Branagh (Henry V) delivers lots of gorgeous visuals, and those plus James’s winning performance were enough to make the movie a winner in my book.
Downton Abbey‘s upstairs (Cousin Rose—Lily James in the title role) and downstairs (Daisy the kitchen maid—Sophie McShera as step-sister Drisella) meet in Kenneth Branagh’s live-action and somewhat diverse Cinderella. This visually stunning, mostly traditional telling of the classic fairy tale is a crowd pleaser for young and young at heart. Development of Ella’s back story adds substance to this Disney princess and explains her super power—kindness. Cate Blanchett is the only choice for the wicked step-mother and she delivers beautifully. The King (Derek Jacobi) gives Prince “Kit” Charming (Richard Madden—Game of Thrones) the go-ahead on his deathbed to follow his heart rather than marry for advantage. Helena Bonham Carter is the quintessential Fairy Godmother—if only she had a little more screen time. The Oscar for costume design is in the bag for Sandy Powell. The computer animated transformation of pumpkin and mice to horse-drawn carriage is captivating. The lizards turned footmen are particularly clever. The highly anticipated Frozen short before the movie will delight the Anna–Elsa fans.