Three of these movies are not actually that old, and you may find any of them in less-selective theaters with 20 screens and needing a way to fill them. However, they’re all genre-related and it’s important to look at the right (and wrong) way to do action, sci-fi, or comic book based movies.
Baby Driver…I was surprised at how much I didn’t like this movie, as I was beyond thrilled to watch a car-chase movie made with actual car chases (crazy, right?). Director Edgar Wright tries to avoid green-screen foolery as much as possible, and the heavily choreographed (to music) stunt driving is pretty impressive. Of course, some of the sequences actually don’t have as much pop as you’d think, and the editing sometimes makes it hard to get a sense that what we’re watching is real. Like a scene where someone does a 180-in a dumpster-strewn alleyway but immediately cuts to a different shot/angle so it looks like BS. And the three car chase sequences (that’s really just two because…well, you’ll see) are just a small-part of an overall movie that includes fine, against-type work by Jamie Foxx and especially Jon Hamm, but the final third is a terrible mess that cheaps out with a Polyanna ending. And too much of it is obvious Wright has no knowledge at all of criminals. Grade: B-
Atomic Blonde…Once again, I can’t figure out exactly why I didn’t like this movie more than I did. It’s got the reliable Charlize Theron in bad-ass mode, a spy plot in 80’s Berlin complete with moody cinematography, and a decent supporting cast in John Goodman, Toby Jones, and the terrific Sofia Boutella (if I could buy stock in this rising star now, I would). Yet something just doesn’t click like it should, and even though the movie is made in the same hyper-violent style as John Wick (directed by one-half of that film’s directing team), it feels oddly sluggish in plotting, pacing, and characterization. By the time we get to the film’s final “twist,” most people felt more like shrugging their shoulders or scratching their foreheads. [Huge spoiler question] [How exactly is James McAvoy the bad-guy again, if the real mole is someone else? And if he wasn’t bad before the movie started, then what the hell was accomplished exactly?] Grade: B
Valerian and the City of 1,000 Planets…At last, a film I didn’t like but can tell you why I didn’t like it. Despite some nice touches—some of the aliens are distinct, Ethan Hawke and Rihanna make lively cameos—this thing is shockingly stiff, and a little awkward, especially considering the noble intention of creating a new type of classic adventure story (note the title’s Ali Baba-like subtext). Cara Delevinge is her typical lifeless self as the female lead, but Dane Dehaan is shockingly miscast as Valerian, a suave, ladies man secret-agent. Maybe I’m mentally typecasting, but the creepy Dehann is only believable as a womanizer if he eventually winds up killing those women, not in a breezy, lighter-than-air Summer throwaway one of the Chrises (Pratt, Pine, Evans, Hemsworth) would more likely star in. If you don’t count Hawke’s brief scene, Rihanna is the best actress in the main cast, and see if you think that makes sense in a mega-budget sci-fi movie that, predictably, flopped at the box office. Grade: C
The Lego Batman Movie…You might think I’d be embarrassed to admit that this animated movie is the best of the bunch and the only one I really enjoyed, but the days of pretending animated films are for kids went out when grown-men were sobbing during the first “Toy Story.” But “The Lego Batman Movie” is something I’ve never quite seen before: a merciless parody of a film studio’s most beloved character and a psychological dissection of exactly how ridiculous he is released in the very same year Warner Bros. also needs people not to laugh at Ben Affleck’s brooding caped crusader in “Justice League.” You’d think they may have been weary of having Will Arnett’s “Lego Movie” Batman be such an asshole, but this film actually cranks up his loner self-absorption. The result is something as slyly subversive as the original “Lego Movie” and a darker tone that explores the loneliness all cool pop culture anti-heroes must feel. Grade: A-