Tag Archives: movie reviews

Review: Atomic Blonde (2017)

Happy birthday, Charlize Theron! I got you this review!

I am, generally speaking, a fan of female-led action movies. Admittedly I should probably watch more of them, but I’m a fan in theory, if nothing else. My love for Angelina Jolie has been well-documented, and I’ve enjoyed seeing more and more women show up in the MCU. While we’ve finally gotten our Wonder Woman, we’re still waiting on that Black Widow stand-alone, and there still haven’t been any particularly good action franchises starring a woman. There were high hopes for various Jolie vehicles, but beyond that, women still aren’t kicking ass at the same level as the guys. But, as a surprise to no-one, I’m sure, Charlize Theron is a great addition to the world of women who kick ass.

Lorraine Broughton is an MI6 operative in the midst of the Cold War 80s. She’s sent to Berlin (on the verge of bringing down the Wall) to retrieve the body of another agent and to finish his mission, which was to retrieve a list of all known operatives on all sides. In addition, she is tasked with discovering the identity of Satchel, a double-agent who is also working for the Russians. Her primary contact in Berlin is David Percival (James Mcavoy), an agent who has perhaps gone a bit too far in embedding himself into the culture of the Berlin underground. Naturally, everyone is after this list as well as a Stasi agent named Spyglass (Eddie Marsan) who claims to have fully memorized its contents. Broughton must contend not only with numerous KGB operatives, but also with a French agent (Sofia Boutella) who may or may not be trustworthy. It’s a maze of loyalties and agendas that she must navigate in order to complete her mission and stay alive.

Atomic Blonde is fast and fun. It’s a little sloppy on the details, but those aren’t terribly important when you compare them to a killer 80s soundtrack and intensely stylish set design and cinematography. The movie is based on a graphic novel entitled The Coldest City, and the look and feel truly calls that to mind. While not totally shot in black and white, much of the scenes seem devoid of color except for a pop here and there. Lorraine herself wears an almost entirely black and white wardrobe, and most of the other characters appear in muted colors. The result is something beautiful, sleek, cold. The chill of the Cold War is almost an extra character, enhanced by the lack of warmth from the characters themselves, not to mention Lorraine’s predilection for ice baths and vodka on the rocks.

In addition to the visuals, the film features great performances from Theron and McAvoy. I feel a little ashamed to admit that, despite it being Theron’s movie, McAvoy is actually the standout. He is having a GRAND time as the feral and ambiguous Percival. In contrast, Theron is a little too one-note. While trying to be the standard poker-faced spy, she comes across as being unengaged, and her slipshod accent (which may be purposeful) doesn’t help matters any. Fortunately, she’s fantastic to watch, and the action alone make it all worthwhile. One of the things I particularly appreciated about her fight scenes is that they are not the typical, street/martial arts-style sequences we’re used to. They are brutal. Anything close to hand is used as a deadly weapon (stiletto heel, skateboard, keys, garden hose?). People get their faces beaten into a bloody pulp. Lorraine herself seldom escapes without a scratch – in fact there are more scenes in which opponents are visibly exhausted and barely able to stand, let alone fight, than I think I’ve ever seen before. It’s a welcome (if violent) dose of realism in a genre that often seeks to give its heroes superhuman status.

It’s hard to say too much about the movie without giving away all the twists and turns. I’ve come to realize that I often prefer movies or shows where it is more difficult for me to guess what is going to happen next. In the case of Atomic Blonde, I definitely had a bit of trouble following who was on which side and what was being accomplished as opposed to what had gone wrong. Still, I would say that the audience is ultimately satisfied (if slightly confused) and while we may not root for Lorraine, strictly speaking, we at least have a healthy respect for her methods and abilities. It would be interesting to see how the character of Lorraine Broughton might return to the screen (and actually, according to IMDb a sequel is in development!) and hey: If Tom Cruise is still doing his own stunts well into his fifties, I say we give Theron a shot.

Atomic-Blonde-394

Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton in Atomic Blonde.

Advertisements

Review: Ocean’s 8 (2018)

When I came back to the blog recently, it was interesting for me to note that my last post (five years ago) had been about women in movies. These days “women in movies” is a hot topic. Women are coming forward about sexism and sexual harassment in Hollywood, pay disparities are being highlighted (and sometimes corrected), more women are being put behind the camera, and so on. Obviously things have a long way to go before we can declare Hollywood (or anywhere) a truly equitable industry, but the conversations are important in and of themselves. On-screen, too, there’s been movement toward female-led ensemble casts, from Bridesmaids to a Ghostbusters reboot, and now, Ocean’s 8.

I’m not going to go into the premise too much. The original Ocean’s 11 (1960) was a Rat Pack vehicle set in Vegas. The updated Ocean’s Eleven (2001) and its sequels featured an all-star cast led by George Clooney engaging in heists and shenanigans. Nothing too fancy, just solid entertainment. Ocean’s 8 finds us following a complex plan concocted by Danny Ocean (Clooney)’s little sister Debbie (Sandra Bullock) to steal a 6-pound diamond necklace off the neck of a starlet (Anne Hathaway) at the Met Gala. Naturally, she invites a gang of friends along to assist, hijinks ensue, we get a few twists along the way… Nothing too fancy, just solid entertainment. With an all-star, all-FEMALE cast!

Ocean’s 8 is a fun, entertaining movie. The cast (including Cate Blanchett, Sarah Paulson, Mindy Kaling, Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna, and Awkwafina) boasts an absurd amount of talent, and everyone delivers. While the script is not quite as zingy as one might like, there are still plenty of great moments and inside jokes. The formula follows that of the earlier Ocean’s movies with a few winks and nods to fans, including cameos by two of the original gang. There are also a number of fun details for fans of both the fashion and film industries; Anna Wintour being interrupted watching a Roger Federer match, Katie Holmes & Zac Posen seated together at the Gala, the requisite cameos of famous Gala attendees, Sandra Bullock getting to employ her fluency in German. And of course, everyone is wearing fabulous clothes (I personally would very much like to have Blanchett’s entire wardrobe). The movie ticks off all the boxes you’d expect from a summer blockbuster, but with a little something extra.

While there may be complaints like “Why do the girls have to rob the Met Gala?” and “How does Sandra Bullock’s hair look so great in prison?”, the movie is really very aware of itself and the different world its characters occupy by virtue of their sex. Anne Hathaway has been rightfully acknowledged as a stand-out for her slyly funny take on a seemingly stereotypically ditzy, self-obsessed starlet. She’s more than she seems, of course, and Hathaway’s portrayal is clearly designed to acknowledge that as an actress, she herself has been viewed through the lens she’s portraying. Bullock delivers a great line at one point about how she wants the team to be women because women are so often ignored, and that’s what is needed for the plan to work. And there’s no love interest! There’s an oily ex (Richard Armitage) in need of comeuppance, but his place in the proceedings is that of a pawn, rather than a prize to be won.

It is often the case that movies with women need to be doubly good to be successful,  and that they are often more harshly criticized when they fail to live up to the standards set by a more conventional (male-dominated) film. When we think about true equality in movies, what we’re really talking about is the ability for women to star in a mediocre film that is nonetheless successful and is viewed as a working formula. Too much time has likely been spent comparing Ocean’s 8 to Ocean’s Eleven, which doesn’t help anyone. But, if we insist on thinking about it in those terms, it is perhaps not as good as Eleven, but is much better than Twelve –  which means, if we can hope that Hollywood will be consistent in how they bankroll projects –  I look forward to seeing Ocean’s 9 in theaters sometime in the next couple of years.

oceans2

Sarah Paulson, Sandra Bullock, Rihanna in Ocean’s 8 (2018)

 

Capsule reviews

Last weekend, quite by accident, we ended up with an 80s movie extravaganza! There’s something about movies from that decade … they’re kind of unmistakable. The look and feel is similar no matter what you’re watching. In addition, I admit that I’m no film historian, but it seems to me that an awful lot of movies were made during the 80s, which means that the quality overall may have suffered a little. I know that most of us have a lot of fond memories of the decade, but I guess nostalgia is not a movie critic. Having said that …

Top Gun (1986)
Now, I know many of you are not going to like this very much, but it has to be said: Top Gun is not a good movie. It’s got some spiffy airplane scenes, and a totally rockin’ eighties soundtrack, sure. It also has next to no plot, mostly really lousy acting, and zero chemistry between its leads (I’m talking Cruise and McGillis, here. We won’t be getting into the overtones today). I know, I know, it’s a modern “classic” and all that. I think that is because it really did create a lot of cliches (my husband was surprised by how many lines he already knew, even though he’d never seen the movie before), and because it really embodies the spirit of the country during that decade. It’s all big and brash and loud and shallow and full of swagger.

I do actually think that Tom Cruise can deliver fine performances on occasion, but even the really good actors (ok, I’m mostly just referring to Val Kilmer) don’t seem to have very much to do here. Ultimately, I think what bothers me most about it is that it seriously has no plot. Again, it follows all of the tropes: talented but undisciplined lead gets his big shot, gets a training montage, gets taken down a peg, ends up a winner! But that’s not really a plot, people. That’s a theme that should be built into an actual story, but in the case of Top Gun, I think they forgot something. Sorry. You can go ahead and hate me now.

Chances Are (1989)
Another thing the eighties seem to have done a lot of is rom-coms. Again, the more of something you have, the more the quality overall is likely to suffer. A lot of the time, you just end up with a movie that’s really weird. See: Chances Are.

Alex Finch (Robert Downey, Jr.) doesn’t know it, but he’s actually carrying around the departed soul of Louie Jeffries (Christopher McDonald), a young up-and-comer who is on top of the world when he gets hit by a car. He gets “reborn” immediately, but lies dormant for the next 23 years while Alex grows up, graduates from Yale, and heads to Washington, D.C. with dreams of being a journalist. Through an extremely coincidental set of circumstances, he finds himself on Louie’s doorstep, taken in by Louie’s best friend Phil (Ryan O’Neal), his widow Corinne (Cybill Shepherd), and his daughter, Miranda (Mary Stuart Masterson), with whom Alex had a brief flirtation back at Yale only a day or two prior. Being “home” reawakens Louie’s spirit, and a comedy of errors ensues. Miranda is interested in Alex, but as soon as Louie takes over, he rebuffs his “daughter’s” advances and tries to convince his still-grieving widow that he’s returned to her. At the same time, Phil has been in love with Corinne this whole time, essentially helping her to raise Miranda, but has never revealed his feelings. Obviously, the mess has to be sorted out so that everyone can live happily ever after, or something.

Oy. Did you get all that? Seriously, this movie, while reasonably funny and charming, is mostly just strange, and sometimes a little bit squicky, given that while Downey and Shepherd have pretty good chemistry, there’s enough of an age difference to make their “romance” plenty awkward. Despite that, all of the actors acquit themselves admirably, and Downey gives us a solid performance, relying on his considerable charm and charisma to make Alex/Louie a sympathetic character. Additionally, the comedic aspects of the movie allow him to showcase his physical abilities, which I think often get overlooked. Other than that, the eighties fashions are awesomely retro, and even though you know how the story’s got to end, it’s interesting to watch them get there. I would definitely recommend this if you’re a fan of Robert Downey, Jr. and are interested in his earlier work, but other than that, there are probably better romantic comedies (even from the 80s) out there.

So, what did you watch this weekend? Any plans coming up? We’re hoping/planning to actually get out and see Moneyball soon, and have the next AFI film to look forward to as well. Wish us luck!