Oh, What A Girl Can Do!

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Nostalgia comes in great waves today, with all manner of films revisiting classic themes — from Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 to War for the Planet of the Apes, Hollywood is, more accurately, in a nostalgic monsoon, but in the case of this week’s new release, Atomic Blonde, we have said nostalgia tailored for an R-rated audience. This movie belongs to the 80’s kids and their parents, but with the modern sensibility of a commanding female lead who owns the show.

Based on the comic book The Coldest City, the story is set in November 1989, days before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road) plays MI6 Agent Lorraine Broughton, a super-spy at the top of her line, sent on an extraction mission to East Berlin. With the help of ridiculously rogue agent David Percival (James McAvoy, Split), she must locate a stolen list of active operatives in the Secret Service, or it’s game over for the free world.

Let’s not mince words — this film is an audio/visual feast, showing wanton violence with an almost poetic look to it, and yet the action is surprisingly grounded, given director David Leitch’s background with the John Wick movies. The sound is not as invasive as I thought it would be — while bullets fly above your head, you can still hear the dialogue clearly, all set to a litany of 80’s pop songs for much of its soundtrack. All that being said, the script isn’t much to write home about — too many curveballs are thrown into the works; even the viewer begins to doubt what is true or not. There are at least three twist endings, one of which you see coming miles away, so that’s no good.

Despite the handicap of the script, the acting is brilliant — If you expected hammy acting amidst a violent script, you’ll be proven wrong, but anyone expecting a cold-blooded feminist blockbuster tailored for the “reSister” of today will get something wholly other — Theron plays Lorraine more as a femme Timothy Dalton-era James Bond — one who would snap your neck like a twig for Queen and Country, all while wearing a coy smile on her face. She owns the screen on which the movie plays, but in any lesser situation, the requisite male lead would be mere eye candy. Thankfully, such is not the case here — co-star McAvoy brings the perturbing filth one usually sees in the movies he makes across the pond to a mass-market American release, and he owns his character with disgusting pleasure. Notable supporting cast members include John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane), bringing a shot of humor into the film as a bumbling CIA agent, James Faulkner (Downton Abbey) as C, Lorraine’s superior and head of MI6, and Sofia Boutella (The Mummy) in a role that, if I told you, would spoil the movie.

Atomic Blonde is not very good, but it’s no sin to see it — it’s a fun film that, while it won’t quite scratch the itch of those begging for a female 007, is a symphonic example of an action film, embodying the best of Guy Hamilton and Robert Rodriguez, set to the tunes of liberation. That is what we came to see, is it not?

Rating: 3/5

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Keep Calm & Carry On

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Now that he’s done with his The Dark Knight trilogy, Christopher Nolan has been knocking it out of the park with original cinema – Interstellar brought a Kubrick-level odyssey to revitalize the new space race, and with the newly-released Dunkirk, he has brought one of the greatest war epics ever made.

The movie is not dependent on star power or acting in general — true, while English stars like Kenneth Branagh (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Tom Hardy (Bronson), James D’Arcy (Cloud Atlas) and Harry Styles are in this film, they are mere faces in this sprawling landscape, and that’s 100 percent how it should be. This is all about emotions in the heat of escape while the enemy surrounds you like a massive Wolfpack. The script, also written by Christopher Nolan, portrays this accurately, but those fearing it is a drawn-out affair needn’t — this is his second shortest film (next to his debut, Following), running about 1 hour, 47 minutes. Nothing is stretched for dramatic effect; if you were in this moment, this is how those around you would act.

In addition to writing and directing, Nolan proudly shot the film entirely on Kodak 70MM stock, with some shots filmed in IMAX 70MM film, and when seen in either format on a curved screen, the film is engrossing, practically enveloping you in the flying bullets, the rising seawater and the bombs hitting the sand — and they say film is dead! Composer Hans Zimmer (The Lion King) also puts pedal to metal and brings an enthralling score that incorporates sounds akin to airplanes and air raid sirens — he’s leagues above the “bwaaaaaaahm-BWAAAAAAAAAHMMMMMM” of The Dark Knight Rises. Be forewarned, though — you may never hear the ticking of a watch the same way again.

Dunkirk is more than one of the best films of the year so far, it’s one of the finest made about World War II, ranking alongside Hacksaw Ridge, They Were Expendable and Schindler’s List. Herein, haste is the order of the day and survival is victory. However, in the hysteria of war, there is a prevailing message the film sends, one of putting service before self. There truly is no hiding from the horrors of war, and as such, I do hope that Dunkirk does well, from this summer to the Oscars. Hell, I say show it to the U.S. Congress!

Rating: 5/5

Up The Water Spout

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Yet another movie from Sony releases this summer that is set in New York and is perfectly content with wasting its cast and crew on a scum-tier script — with six writers (?!) to its name, no less. I am talking about Spider-Man: Homecoming, and it ain’t glowing with praise. First things first; don’t let the title fool you — the movie has jack and squat to do with the fate of the Winter Soldier, last seen cryo-frozen in Wakanda in Captain America: Civil War. This is, instead, an attempt at writing an Marvel Cinematic Universe-style coming-of-age story that feels less like Marvel’s The Breakfast Club and more like their John Tucker Must Die.

I won’t give you the plot here, because if you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve already seen a better movie. Here is usually where I’d like to blame the director wholeheartedly, but I can’t do that in full — Jon Watts, known for work in comedies like the reboot of National Lampoon’s Vacation, directs this sextuplet script with a great eye for action scenes that isn’t usually possible with comedic directors — he brings to mind Peyton Reed’s vision on Ant-Man, which was a stunner. Speaking of the stunning, the lead cast members new to the MCU are terrific, with Tom Holland (The Lost City of Z) finally proving his mettle as both Peter Parker and the titular web-slinger — he is no longer the insufferable teen who looks like Jamie Bell’s stand-in once seen in Civil War. I love him more than I do the movie, and I say the same of the equally spectacular Michael Keaton (Batman Returns) as Adrian Toomes, alias the Vulture. Where his character’s development and dialogue fails (he decides to become evil because he loses a contracting job?), Keaton takes over, making sure to craft a memorable villain in spite of the phoned-in script. Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny) is charming as ever as Peter’s Aunt May, also making the best out of asstastic material (Thai food jokes, guys? You’re bordering on racism.).

Supporting actors are hit-or-miss — hits include relative newcomer Jacob Batalon as Ned Leeds, Peter’s best and only friend who has a bit of a loose tongue. He’s charming and hilarious without a trace of appearing insufferable. Laura Harrier (4th Man Out) is adorable as Liz, Peter’s classmate due for graduation who has a crush on his alter ego. Misses in this movie sadly outnumber the hits — pop star Zendaya plays lonely brainiac classmate Michelle. She claims to have no friends, aces at the academic challenge team and draws — if they gave her a smoking habit, they’d have John Hughes doing the twist in his grave. Tony Revolori (Dope) is too short and scrawny to play Peter’s bully-in-chief, Flash Thompson — I’m serious, he looks like the Wimpy Kid drawing! I eat punks like him for breakfast; here’s hoping he’s recast when the sequel comes ’round, preferably by someone with a six-pack.

The movie’s major offense is in how it portrays the MCU’s returning cast members. I’m sick of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark already; why must he be a total bitch? I hate him as Civil War portrayed him, why would I want to see more of that? He claims that Peter shouldn’t try to do Avenger-level things, but why not, I say? Tony alienated the team, so he needs all the help he can get. Story-wise, this is a giant middle finger down the throat of all who loved these characters since the beginning; I, for one, can’t wait for the Iron Man armor to be worn by another actor playing a different character.

There are few things to love about Spidey’s return to Marvel, but I do hold out hope for a sequel capped at two writers and with no more decimation of what people loved about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If anyone from Marvel is (still) reading, know this — you’re killing the golden goose; in the end, you’ll have the gold but not the brains to keep it laying. More’s the pity if you break its neck.

Rating: 1.5/5