47 Meters Down (2017) (PG-13)

It feels almost fruitless to examine "47 Meters Down" with any severity or critical eye since it's obviously not a movie that was made with any regard to "art". This is a cheap blockbuster, hearkening back to the original summer hit "Jaws" but without the budget or any real compelling characters or story. Really, the only thing is has in common with "Jaws" is that both films were made on Earth.

Lisa and Kate (Mandy Moore and Claire Holt) are sisters taking a vacation in Mexico. The film drops us in on their first few nights where they lounge by the beach, check out guys, and cry over Lisa's ex. That's why they're in Mexico, as is explained by Lisa in the first five minutes by firelight as she cries. It's because Stuart (the ex) said she was boring and left her. So she decided to call her adventure-ready sister and off they go to Mexico.

This new revelation of Lisa's love life is exactly the juicy bit of emotional blackmail that Kate needs to hold over her head to make her do things out of her comfort zone for the sake of social media ("think of how the pictures will look" she often says to Lisa). This is how they end up going out at night and meeting two men who offer to take them out to cage dive with great white sharks. Of course, it's a little off the books and slightly illegal; but Kate is gung-ho about the prospect and drags Lisa along. So they pop onto a boat and not even twenty minutes into the film, we have the set up firmly in place.

Naturally, things start going wrong. They're chumming the water, Lisa starts freaking out (though you couldn't tell from Mandy Moore's acting), and the men seem to be a little too eager to get the ladies into the ocean. But Lisa is determined to get a better Instagram profile, so she gets in the cage and they go down a few meters and then *duh* the cable breaks and they go to the bottom which is, you guessed it, 47 meters down.

The movie would like to pat itself on the back here for making an "Alien" like answer to the haunted house paradox. If you are in an old house with ghosts you can always just walk out; but if you're in space in the sea trapped in a cage almost 50 meters down, you can't just walk out. Separating the girls from the surface are the sharks, as billed on the posted "the world's greatest predator". In reality, the cleverness of the film is non-existent. This is a poorly budgeted Shark Week special. Anyone could create this problem, but it takes someone smarter to make it interesting.

There are glimpses of intelligence in the film, notably the determination to make some characters bilingual and use Spanish as much as possible. You'll get more jokes if you're more familiar with the language. This is perhaps the only good thing the movie has going for it, that and the beauty of the ocean and beach that doesn't last long as our heroines plunge beneath the surface.

One thing remains: get to the surface in one piece. Naturally, Lisa freaks out and here we see that Mandy Moore is just a terrible actress. Her crying and emotional scenes regrettably sound like something more out of an adult film than a wide release thriller. She is annoying as a lead and clearly the largest problem with the film.

With over an hour left in the movie and only way to go but up, somehow the film's writers manage to sink it even further. Directed and co-written by Johannes Roberts, a name of no current consequence in the film world, "47 Meters Down" attempts to stretch the running time. But it shatters quickly and the result is a messy finale.

"47 Meters Down" once again gives sharks the unfortunate rap of being killing machines that just want to eat people. While I might want them to make an exception for Lisa and Kate, they really don't deserve this movie against them.

The film is a mess; but sometimes that's exactly what you need. I laughed my way through it in an empty theater with one of my friends. It was grand; but know what you're getting yourself into. "47 Meters Down" implies depth; but the film is only surface level.

Score: ★★

Baby Driver (2017) (R)

This review contains SPOILERS!
To be in crime, we are told by hardened, trigger-happy robber Bats near the beginning of "Baby Driver", demands one be, in some part, a criminal.

"Baby Driver" is a movie about characters and choreography. It's a film composed around music, dedicated to rhythm, and centered around driving. The entire movie allows the audience to be a passenger of Edgar Wright's mammoth vehicle, whose calculated course is both unexpectedly deep and sensationally entertaining. Though "Baby Driver" features many set pieces and sequences that are spectacular and intense, its true strengths lie in its writing and its people.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is the driver. He works for a crime boss named Doc (Kevin Spacey) who sets up heists and robberies with small teams of notable criminals. Each job gets a new group of faces...except for Baby. He's always the driver. The lucky charm of the operation. With each new iteration the hardened criminals size him up and question him and his antics. The sunglasses, the silence, the earbuds. Each of these have their reasons and for each explanation the audience is given the ambient noise of the film is fleshed out even more. This is a film deeply committed to its sound, its rhythm, and its heart.

I know it sounds cliche. But a movie without a little dollop of sentimentality is a cold magic show, something akin to "Birdman". Yet with its heart,"Baby Driver" proves that it is much more than a flashy puzzle box or a movie built around its chase sequences.

Baby wants out. He's been working off a debt to Doc for a long time; but his time is coming to an end. He is told that after one last job, he will be done. This is perfect for him because he meets a lovely waitress at a local diner named Debora (Lily James). She's quirky and confident and the two make an immediate connection over their love of music.

A few cold characters stand in the way. One of them is Bats (Jaime Foxx). This is a man obsessed with the idea of himself. He is flashy in a way that is both dangerous and annoying. He says exactly what he thinks, or what he thinks the toughest version of himself would say. But he does not lack the muscle to back up his threats. He is one of the many that is skeptical of Baby's ability, which is shown first to the audience in the opening scene.

These chase sequences are more dances than elaborate "Bourne" moments. These are orchestrated chaos and impeccably precise. Every crash, gunshot, and siren is on beat. Baby's encompassing songs fill not only the audience's ears, but every facet of the film itself.

For a movie so impossible to separate from its rhythm and sound, it catches the audience by surprise to see a deaf man, Baby's foster father (CJ Jones), so close to the center of the movie. It's unexpected writing and it exemplifies what makes Edgar Wright such a powerful director. Because, after the movie is finished, it makes perfect sense and the idea of removing such a character would leave "Baby Driver" incomplete.

"Baby Driver" is filled with near perfect performances. Jaime Foxx is wily and dangerous. Kevin Spacey is cool and commanding. A most surprising Jon Hamm delivers an incredible performance and Lily James is charming and likable. The movie, as it should, belongs to Ansel Elgort as Baby. He's the perfect choice for the role and leaves behind all his teenage heartthrob cliches from "The Fault in Our Stars". This is the emergence of a "credible" artist, at least in the critical sphere.

Edgar Wright owes a lot to Martin Scorsese and pays homage to many of the director's trademark surprises and more importantly, his soundtracks. Even the name "Baby Driver" seems too similar to "Taxi Driver" to ignore; yet if anything "Baby Driver" is Wright's answer to "Drive". Nicolas Winding Refn's film touches on the same subject matter in some of the same ways (notably the idea of crime and the criminal as delivered by Bats) yet here Wright is far more clever and far more controlled on his approach.

Previously Edgar Wright was only known for comedies; but here he shows that he is one of the directors to watch. "Baby Driver" is brilliantly crafted, nuanced, and just a hell of a good movie. You should watch this on the big screen.

Score: ★★★★