Movie Review

Above, from left, Jamie Foxx and Ansel Elgort star in ‘Baby Driver'. Image courtesy of Tri-Star Pictures

By Kyle Barr

Think of all the songs that use the word “baby.” Think of every time it’s used in a love ballad, a rock song about a girl or close to every country song that comes out over the radio. Baby is mysterious. When we listen to those songs, we create the image for this “baby” in our heads, but we don’t really know much about who it really is.

In Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver,” Baby isn’t the vague object of desire; he’s the main character. The eponymous Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a young man whose head is constantly swimming with music. He doesn’t talk much with his mouth, but he expresses himself in the way he moves and the way he drives.

Lily James and Ansel Elgort in a scene from ‘Baby Driver’

The story takes cues from a host of classic crime movies. Baby is involved in a number of high-profile bank robberies. Things get more complicated as he falls in love with a waitress at the local diner named Deborah (Lily James) who loves music as much as Baby does. As Baby is drawn into one final heist alongside Darling (Eliza González), Buddy (Jon Hamm) and the psychotic Bats (Jamie Foxx), he must find a way to escape with Deborah and drive until its all left behind in the rearview mirror.

Wright, who serves as both director and screenwriter, has always had a knack for soundtracks that apply to both the tone and scene. One well-remembered scene from “Shaun of the Dead,” one of his earlier films, was of a group of heroes pummeling a zombie with pool cues to the ironic sounds of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now.”

In “Baby Driver,” the entire movie takes on this schtick. Baby has tinnitus, an ear injury he received as a child, and he uses music to drown out the hum in his ears. All the music in the movie is diegetic, as in the music is listened to by the characters in the scene. When Baby removes a single earbud from his left ear, the music in the theater is coming from the right-hand speaker.

Ansel Elgort and Kevin Spacey in a scene from ‘Baby Driver’

It’s a brilliant thing to watch when it takes in the whole theater experience of spectacle and sound. Music becomes Baby and it transforms the world around him. It’s hard to tell whether Baby is acting to the beat of the music or the world itself is conforming to the sound.

The action scenes, such as the first car chase playing to “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, take on a new dimension when Baby turns and brakes in time to the song. Yet even the calmer scenes, like when Baby and Deborah bond in a laundromat over music, becoming much more charming even as Baby is incredibly sparing with his words.

It’s no coincidence that the most tense scenes in the movie usually occur when Baby’s earbuds are taken out and the music cuts. The movie is both classic in its heist movie sensibilities and also incredibly dark. Baby matches the audience in his fear and disgust at the death happening around him.

While the dialogue is clearly Wright, it is much more terse than his other films. Doc (Kevin Spacey) has some of the best lines in the film, where exchanges are often short and witty. “I’m looking at some of the country’s finest thugs and of course young Mozart in a go-cart over there.” But while his character is clearly meant to be powerful and frightening, his heel face turn during the movie’s climax comes too much out of left field. The entire climax in that way feels a little too forced, and without any spoilers, some character beats feel a little too forced as well.

But otherwise, “Baby Driver” is an excellent movie on its own, and it is a great way to start off the summer movie season. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself tapping your foot while Baby puts his foot on the gas.

Rated R for language and violence, “Baby Driver” is now playing in local theaters.

Gal Gadot tackles the role of Wonder Woman in Warner Brothers new superhero flick. Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

By Daniel Dunaief

Remember those Mad Libs games? You’d insert an adjective, a noun, a verb, adverb, a command, perhaps, into a premade sentence and then you’d read it back, laughing or pondering the combination of words thrown into the structure of a familiar narrative?

Superhero movies, particularly those about the origin of a character we all know, are like a game of Mad Libs. Few superheroes start out life with a cape, a star or a penchant for helping society and standing up against supervillains. Superheroes start out not knowing their fate, or some secret about themselves, and then have to learn the truth along the way.

“Wonder Woman,” the film version from Warner Brothers Studios based on the DC Comics, provides an enjoyable Mad Libs experience, sticking, for the most part, to a familiar structure. The movie, which has been flying high at the box office despite the lack of an invisible plane, executes on its premise well, while offering a few moments of levity scattered through its mix of high-action battle scenes.

Played by the easy-on-the-eyes Gal Gadot, to whom the movie’s other characters react with the kind of awe and attraction the audience might have if they met her, Wonder Woman tells the tale of Diana, the Amazonian princess of Themyscira. We meet her as a young girl, on a picturesque island full of woman who are forever training to fight a battle against man, who may discover their island some day despite remaining hidden from view.

Diana’s mother Hippolyta, played by Connie Nielsen, doesn’t want her daughter to be a warrior, which, of course, means that Diana’s primary focus is on developing her battle skills.

Enter Steve Trevor, an American spy played by Chris Pine, whose plane penetrates the fog that renders the island invisible. Now grown up, Diana races to save Trevor, who crash lands off shore. Trevor, unfortunately, brings an armada of Germans to the beach, where the first of many battles occurs. Diana is determined to end the War to End All Wars by returning to the outside world and fighting an enemy Trevor doesn’t see. While Pine’s Trevor doesn’t understand much about Diana and the island, Diana, in turn, finds the American warrior confounding and slightly amusing.

The interactions between Diana and Trevor throughout the film are amusing, filled with a blend of Trevor’s humorous awe and Diana’s unrelenting sincerity in her quest to end the war.

Complete with the Mad Libs collection of damaged heart-of-gold band of merry men, which fits conveniently into the superhero plot, Diana, Trevor and company seek out the evil General Ludendorff, played by Danny Huston, who seems bent on using a toxin Dr. Maru, Elena Analya, is creating.

The best parts of the film are when Diana, who is unaware of the broader conflict around her, drives the action. She races out of the trenches to try to save a town held by the Germans, followed by the reluctant heroes-despite-themselves band, including Trevor. Movie aficionados have focused on the glass ceiling shattered by director Patty Jenkins, who set a box office record for a movie directed by a woman. Jenkins has blended character development, high energy and an enjoyable script to create a worthwhile comic book movie. Her direction, with battle scenes alternating with the ongoing quest to end the war, kept the pace of the movie. The interaction among the main characters — friend and villain alike — made this Mad Libs origin story a success.

Now playing at local theaters, “Wonder Woman” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action.

Sophia Boutella is ‘The Mummy’ in Universal Pictures latest venture. Photo from Universal Pictures

By Heidi Sutton

Recently Universal Pictures announced that it will produce a new series of classic monster films, titled “Dark Universe,” of which “The Mummy” is the first to be unwrapped. The studio also plans to remake “The Bride of Frankenstein,” “The Invisible Man,” “Dracula,” “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Dr. Jekyll” as well as a “Wolfman” reboot. “The ‘Dark Universe’ is a continuation of a love affair the studio has had with its classic monsters. It is a Valentine to the genre that is in our DNA,” says Universal domestic distribution president Nick Carpou.

Let me begin by saying I love scary movies. “The Grudge” and “Shutter” are personal favorites. And I’ve always been fascinated with ancient Egypt and the pyramids ever since my father gave me a book about King Tutankhamun as a child. So when given the opportunity to see the big summer reboot of “The Mummy” I was excited. The 1999 version starring Brendan Fraser, who evoked the Indiana Jones character, and Rachel Weisz became a surprise box office hit and was, at times, bone chilling to say the least.

Tom Cruise and Annabelle Wallis in a scene from ‘The Mummy’ Photo from Universal Pictures

Unfortunately, watching the new monster flick play out on the big screen at the Port Jefferson Cinemas last Sunday afternoon, I felt my excitement turn into disappointment as I realized I had set my expectations too high. Tom Cruise stars as Nick Morton, a less than likable character who lurks around war-torn Iraq with his partner in crime, Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) stealing ancient artifacts and selling them on the black market. During an air strike, a missile uncovers the burial chamber of Egyptian Princess Ahmanet, played to the hilt by Algerian actress Sophia Boutella.

Why is an Egyptian burial chamber in the Persian Gulf? A flashback to 5,000 years ago tells the story of how the princess is next in line to succeed her father, Pharaoh Menehptre. When her father’s second wife gives birth to a son, the enraged princess sells her soul to the Egyptian god of death, Set, who gives her a special dagger to murder her family.

As she attempts to sacrifice her lover so that Set may appear in a physical form, Ahmanet’s plan is thwarted by the priests and mummified alive for her sins (sound familiar?). Her sarcophagus is carried to Mesopetamia and buried in a tomb filled with mercury, “a fate worse than death” and a curse is placed upon it. When Nick finds a way to remove the coffin, he unknowingly awakens the princess from her “prison” and is forever cursed as the chosen one who must be sacrificed.

In the succeeding scenes the mummy chases Nick around London unleashing an evil energy wherever she goes, all the while searching for the special dagger that was stolen by knights fighting in the Crusades in Egypt in 1100 A.D. and taken back to England to bury with their dead. Sounds interesting enough, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it only gets more complicated from then on.

Directed by Alex Kurtzman, and written by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman, with story by Kurtzman, Jon Spaihts and Jenny Lumete, the film also stars Annabelle Wallis who plays Jenny Halsey, an archeologist and friend of Morton, and Russell Crowe who plays the role of Dr. Jekyll (Yes, Mr. Hyde does make an appearance) intent on capturing the mummy to disect her, an obvious introduction of what is yet to come in the “Dark Universe” series.

While the special effects and stunts are top notch, especially the scene where the transport plane carrying the sarcophagus crashes, and the flashbacks of Egpyt in the New Kingdom are visually stunning, it is not enough to hold the story together as the actors are left to work with a poorly written script that seems to jump all over the place with no focus. When it tries to be funny it is corny; when it tries to frighten, it is funny. It’s also not very scary — creepy, yes — but not scary. And in hindsight, maybe 54-year-old Tom Cruise was not the best choice in the lead — he’s certainly no Brendan Fraser!

“There are worse fates than death,” says the mummy to Tom Cruise’s character. Yes, like having to sit through “The Mummy!” I’ll take Rick and Evie and Jonathan and even Benny anytime!

Now playing in local theaters, “The Mummy” is rated PG-13 for violence, action and scary images and for some suggestive content and partial nudity.

Above, a scene from ‘Sour Grapes’ Photo courtesy of PJDS

The Long Island Museum, located at 1200 Route 25A in Stony Brook, along with the Port Jefferson Documentary Series, will host the 2nd Summer Thursday event on Thursday, July 6, with a film screening of the 2016 documentary “Sour Grapes,” followed by a Q-and-A with the film’s co-director and free admission to the Long Island Museum’s newest exhibition, Midnight Rum: Long Island and Prohibition. The festivities begin at 4:30 p.m.

Set in the super-fast, super-rich world of LA and New York during the financial boom of the early 2000s, in the lead up to the 2008 financial crash, and featuring the obsessive collectors, outraged wine producers, suspect auction houses and specialist FBI sleuths, “Sour Grapes” is an “Emperor’s New Clothes” fable for the modern age.

The film traces the story of the millions of dollars made from the sale of fake vintage wine, which flooded a susceptible luxury market with counterfeits that still lie undetected in cellars across the world. The film was awarded Winner of Best Documentary at the Key West Film Festival. Critics have called the film “highly entertaining” (The Guardian) and “real-life comic mystery fit for Hercule Poirot” (Variety).

In addition to the film, there will be a wine reception (courtesy of Pindar Vineyards Port Jefferson Wine Shop) and a chance to meet Reuben Atlas, who co-directed the film, from 5 to 6 p.m. Advance tickets to the film and reception, which are selling out fast, are available for $12 at www.portjeffdocumentaryseries.com through July 5. Tickets for the film only will be available at the door for $7 (no credit cards please). Ticket holders will receive complimentary admission to the Midnight Rum exhibition from 4:30 to 6 p.m. in the Visitors Center. The reception begins at 5 p.m. in the Carriage Museum’s Gillespie Room and the film begins at 6 p.m.

For more information and to purchase tickets, please call 631-473-5220.

From left, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe in a scene from ‘Some Like it Hot'. Photo courtesy of Fathom Events

The film that holds the top spot on the American Film Institute’s list of the funniest American movies of all time will return to select cinemas nationwide for two days only on Sunday, June 11, and Wednesday, June 14, at 2 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events will present the screenings of “Some Like It Hot” (1959) along with specially produced commentary from TCM host Tiffany Vazquez before and after the film.

Billy Wilder’s beloved comedy is about two jazz musicians (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) who find themselves on the run after they inadvertently witness a gangland murder. With no money and nowhere to hide, the two masquerade as members of an all-girl band, leading to a number of romantic complications when one falls for the band’s lead singer played by Marilyn Monroe in one of her most iconic roles.

Participating theaters in our neck of the woods include AMC Loews Stony Brook 17, Farmingdale Multiplex Cinemas and Island 16 Cinema de Lux in Holtsville. For more information or to purchase your tickets in advance, visit www.fathomevents.com.

Marlon Brando stars in 'The Godfather'. Photo courtesy of Fathom Events

Here’s an offer you can’t refuse. In celebration of its 45th anniversary, “The Godfather” (1972) will be screened at over 700 select cinemas nationwide on Sunday, June 4, and Wednesday, June 7, courtesy of Fathom Events,Turner Classic Movies and Paramount Pictures, giving both longtime fans and a new generation a chance to see one of the most influential films ever made back on the big screen.

Al Pacino in a scene from ‘The Godfather’. Photo courtesy of Fathom Events

In the 45 years since its first release, Francis Ford Coppola’s American epic has become part of the American mythology. Ranked second on the American Film Institute’s list of the greatest American films, it remains captivating … and almost shockingly relevant, a dark mirror held up to an American fascination with power, wealth and privilege.

Director Coppola paints a chilling portrait of the Sicilian clan’s rise and near fall from power in America, masterfully balancing the story between the Corleones family life and the ugly crime business in which they are engaged. Based on Mario Puzo’s best-selling novel and starring Marlon Brando as the patriarch of the Corleone family, along with Al Pacino, James Cann and Robert Duvall, this searing and brilliant film garnered 10 Academy Award nominations and won three, including Best Picture.

Relive the wedding of Connie Corleone as ‘The Godfather’ returns to local theaters. Photo courtesy of Fathom Events

The two-day event will also feature an exclusive commentary from TCM Host Ben Mankiewicz who will give insight into this classic film.

Participating movie theaters in our neck of the woods include AMC Loews Stony Brook 17, 2196 Nesconset Highway, Stony Brook (at 2 and 7 p.m. on both days), Farmingdale Multiplex Cinemas, 1001 Broadhollow Road, Farmingdale (on June 4 at 2 p.m., June 7 at 2 and 7 p.m.) and Island 16 Cinema de Lux, 185 Morris Ave., Holtsville (on June 4 at 2 p.m., June 7 at 2 and 7 p.m.). For more information or to purchase your ticket in advance, visit www.fathomevents.com.

Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich star in ‘The Fifth Element.’ Photo courtesy of Fathom Events

Calling all sci-fi fans! In celebration of the 20th anniversary of “The Fifth Element,” Sony Pictures will bring the cult classic back in a new 4K restoration to select cinemas nationwide on Sunday, May 14 and Wednesday, May 17.

Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich and Gary Oldman star in acclaimed director Luc Besson’s outrageous sci-fi adventure. With story by Luc Besson and screenplay by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, this is an extravagantly styled tale of good against evil set in an unbelievable 23rd-century world. The film will be paired with a preview of what promises to be Besson’s spiritual follow-up “The Fifth Element, Valerian,” which focuses on a pair of special operatives on a mission to save Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand planets.

Participating theaters in our neck of the woods include AMC Loews Stony Brook 17, 2196 Nesconset Highway, Stony Brook (at 2 and 7 p.m. on both days), Ronkonkoma Cinema 9, 565 Portion Road, Ronkonkoma (at 2 and 7 p.m. both days) and Island 16 Cinema de Lux in Holtsville, 185 Morris Ave., Holtsville (on May 14 at 2 p.m., May 17 at 7 p.m.). For more information or to purchase your tickets in advance, visit www.fathomevents.com.

A scene from ‘Saturday Night Fever’. Photo courtesy of Fathom Events

You should be dancin’, yeah! Paramount Pictures will bring “Saturday Night Fever” to select cinemas nationwide on Sunday, May 7, and Wednesday, May 10. The all-new Director’s Cut celebrates the 40th anniversary of the iconic film that catapulted John Travolta to superstardom, garnered him an Oscar nomination and captivated audiences the world over.

When it premiered in 1977, the movie was an instant sensation, propelling Travolta from “Welcome Back, Kotter” star to international celebrity. It also gave the Bee Gees a new lease on life as a disco band. Both the sensational dancing and moving story are driven by the timeless music soundtrack that will forever define its era.

The two-day event will also include an exclusive introduction to the film from legendary hall-of-fame radio personality Scott Shannon. Plus, take a look back at the legacy of “Saturday Night Fever” with interviews from the director and cast of this groundbreaking motion picture.

Participating movie theaters in our neck of the woods include AMC Loews Stony Brook 17 (at 2 and 7 p.m. on both days), Farmingdale Multiplex Cinemas (on May 7 at 2 p.m., May 10 at 7 p.m.) and Island 16 Cinema de Lux in Holtsville (on May 7 at 2 p.m., May 10 at 7 p.m.). For more information or to purchase your ticket in advance, visit www.fathomevents.com.

'Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me, aren't you?' Photo from Fathom Events

In celebration of its 50th anniversary, “The Graduate” (1967) will be screened at over 700 select cinemas nationwide on Sunday, April 23, and Wednesday, April 26, courtesy of Fathom Events and TCM Big Screen Classics. Adrift after college, young Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) is seduced by much-older friend-of-the-family Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). The movie, with a knockout Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack, defined a generation, made Hoffman a superstar and garnered six Oscar nominations, including a win for director Mike Nichols.

Dustin Hoffman stars in “The Graduate.’ Photo courtesy of Fathom Events

The two-day event will also feature an exclusive commentary from TCM Host Ben Mankiewicz who will give insight into this classic film. Participating movie theaters in our neck of the woods include AMC Loews Stony Brook 17 (at 2 and 7 p.m. on both days), Farmingdale Multiplex Cinemas (on April 23 at 2 p.m., April 26 at 2 and 7 p.m.) and Island 16 Cinema de Lux in Holtsville (on April 23 at 2 p.m., April 26 at 2 and 7 p.m.). For more information or to purchase your ticket in advance, visit www.fathomevents.com.

Cary Grant in a scene from ‘North by Northwest’. Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Inc.

Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense-filled action-adventure “North by Northwest” (1959) will return to more than 700 select movie theaters nationwise on April 2 and 5, courtesy of Fathom Events, Turner Classic Movies and Warner Bros. The star-studded cast includes Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Martin Landau and Jessie Royce Landis. Audiences will also enjoy specially produced commentary by Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz before and after the feature.

Participating theaters in our neck of the woods include AMC Loews Stony Brook 17 (at 2 and 7 p.m. on both days), Farmingdale Multiplex Cinemas (on April 2 at 2 p.m., April 5 at 2 and 7 p.m.) and Island 16 Cinema de Lux in Holtsville (on April 2 at 2 p.m., April 5 at 2 and 7 p.m.). For more information or to purchase your tickets in advance, visit www.fathomevents.com.