Atomic Blonde: Movie Man Jackson

How…does it..feel? Cold. As in the Cold War, the year being 1989. In Berlin, the war is winding down, but political unrest is winding up. After a high-ranking secret agent is killed in the streets, the MI6 sends in their best, agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron). Her mission is to track down Bakhtin (Jóhannes Jóhannesson), who not only killed agent Gasciogne (Sam Hargrave), but is in possession of a list that is trouble for everyone who doesn’t have it.

To retrieve it, she’s paired with station agent chief David Percival (James McAvoy). The two must traverse the shady, seedy city of Berlin to prevent major worldly damage from occurring. But in the world of espionage, no one can ever truly be trusted, and everyone knows more than they’re letting on.

There are some movies that earn their keep almost entirely on one scene. In Atomic Blonde, that one scene is an amazing stairwell fight scene that rivals some of the best American action movie scenes in recent memory, namely, John Wick’s red circle club shootout, that movie being co-directed by David Leitch. He’s on his own here, and in this one scene, it’s tightly constructed, highly unpredictable, and impeccably choreographed. Honestly, it along with the production is probably worth the price of admission alone. That doesn’t absolve the rest of the movie from its mild-at-best storytelling and script. But Atomic Blonde brings enough hot aspects to offset them ever so slightly.

Atomic Blonde is bathed in style from the get-go, employing a cool and neon-hued color palette that makes the locale of Berlin and that of its many hotspots pop off the screen. Based on a graphic novel known as The Coldest City, Leitch seems to draw inspiration from that medium in the way some scenes are shot and presented. In addition to the technical achievements, this film features a moody, industrial score by composer Tyler Bates (yet again, another John Wick connection) and an easy-listening, new-wave/synth pop soundtrack. He even manages to craft a central theme that will surely be used in any subsequent sequels.

And yet, Atomic Blonde’s probably closer to being a bad movie than a great one. At least script-wise. The espionage plot can more or less be summarized by “everyone twists everyone.” Even the characters who are rarely seen, if at all, are twisting everything. Leitch uses an interrogation by an unreliable narrator that frames the events of the story. At times this method works, but other times, little is added, or rather, the natural flow of the story is broken. A conventional telling would likely make things more comprehensible.

With multiple watches, it is a possibility that the numerous pieces, curveballs, and turns fit better and make some sense. Problem is with Atomic Blonde, it’s hard to actually want to go back and immerse into this world any deeper than surface-level. Watching an espionage movie already conditions the viewer (or at least, yours truly) to distance themselves from the characters who make up it. If everything is going to be flipped on its head, what’s the point of getting invested into anything or anyone?

Still, there’s a ton of talent on hand in the film that keeps it afloat. Charlize Theron, of course, can do it all. A dangerous and debonair dame, she’s perfectly cast in the role of Lorraine. An ass-kicker, but takes her share of getting her ass kicked, strong, yet vulnerable. Her dynamic with James McAvoy, having mass amounts of fun being a complete wild card, is compelling. Due to the twisty nature of the genre, however, no characters are given much weight; everyone is disposable to some degree. John Goodman and Toby Jones, while nice to see on screen, play roles anyone could play as nothing is asked of them. Outside of Lorraine and Percival and maybe Delphine (Sofia Boutella), all other characters might as well be a jumbled mass of indiscernible people who sound the same with similar-sounding names.

Looking for a brunette or redhead? Go elsewhere. Atomic Blonde is light and ditzy on characterization and solid storytelling, but high on direction and sensory fun. Blondes do have more fun.

C+

Photo credits go to cinemavine.com and landmarkcinemas.com

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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The Fate of the Furious: Movie Man Jackson

Racing may have left the franchise, but bald heads never will. With Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) finally remembering everything, she and husband Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) are spending some much needed R&R time in Cuba, thinking about what the future holds for them in making a family of their own. It would appear that the Dom certainly doesn’t miss the bullets like Brian once did.

Unfortunately, the bullets and high-risk scenarios always seem to find him; this time, via an enigmatic woman known as “Cipher” (Charlize Theron). Cipher, having secret information on Toretto that puts who he loves at risk, forces him to carry out her dangerous plans by using his own team/family to capture a world-altering device…only to take it from them and deliver it into her hands.

Being crossed, Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Letty, Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) are left to pick up the pieces. And that means going after Dom and figuring out why, with an uneasy ally in Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) added into the fray.

If Fast Five was Universal doing Marvel’s The Avengers before that movie happened, the latest in the F&F universe, The Fate of the Furious, feels a little like Captain America: Civil War, or The Avengers 3 or whatever. How so? It manages to bring back almost everyone of note while introducing new characters that are sure to play roles in future offerings, and flips the script a little in making a central character a major antagonist. It definitely lacks the emotional aspect of Furious 7, as well as and the large stakes, character moments, and insane thrill ride that was Fast Five. But, “F8,” though skidding more on the road than past predecessors, doesn’t completely wreck itself.

At eight films deep, the Fast and Furious universe has lore. Lots of it, and the eighth installment uses every inch of trunk space it has to accommodate it. In other words, it has continuity…in a way. Thought God’s Eye was just a MacGuffin to never be seen or referred to again? Put to actual good use here! Believed Elena would just slip into the background? Think again. Everyone knows how ridiculous this franchise can be, proudly wearing that ridiculousness as a badge of honor. But credit to where it’s due; writer Chris Morgan continues to draw up new scenarios that give mileage to the universe.

Don’t mistake that praise as complete support for The Fate of the Furious‘ script. It does enough to get by (a poor man’s version of Civil War, even with a bit of The Winter Soldier), with a familiar theme and intriguing reveal. But for some reason, its story holes and matters unexplained actually make one think about them more in a logical way. That’s not supposed to happen with a F&F movie! And as stated before, the continuity generally works, but the end scene (as well as a few others) does betray much of what the prior movie(s) established in the way of character relationships, making it hard to accept that some sins in this world are somehow forgivable.

Director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton, Friday) makes the third new different director in the last three Fast and Furious movies to helm the film’s physics-defying action. Having some experience in action with The Italian Job, Gray, like Wan, mostly impresses. It’s hard not to be impressed with the massive set pieces, in large part done practically. CGI gets a little iffy at times for such a big budget production. Like Wan, however, Gray comes up short compared to Lin on a hand-to-hand combat level. Not quite shaky cam, but the angles used can sometimes be disorienting. Still, he makes a case to direct the next one if need be.

Perhaps Vin should give directing a shot, with the amount of power he seems to be wielding as of late. Performance-wise, Diesel simultaneously serves up a surprising job in spots, as well as an unintentionally funny one, often in the same scenes. Unfortunately, Paul Walker is missed, not necessarily in the action scenes where he more than held his own, but in the slower scenes. He brought an everyman presence that is lacking here, especially as the lengthy movie grinds to a halt in spots.

The real news coming into F8 was the legit beef between Diesel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, with rumors being that Vin wasn’t happy with Dwayne stealing some franchise thunder. After seeing F8, I can see why. Johnson is the clear star of this series now, bringing his trademark energy, dead-eye one-liners, and larger-than-life persona to the Hobbs character. Jason Statham eclipses Vin as well, his dry and rugged Deckard meshing well with Hobbs and generating interest in a future teamup. Out of the newcomers, Charlize Theron is the most menacing villain the franchise has ever had, if only her Cipher wasn’t as vague in her motivations. Scott Eastwood and Helen Mirren add name value, little else, but they’re fun enough. Returnees Ludacris, Tyrese, Michelle Rodriguez, and Kurt Russell get little spots to shine, though ultimately take backseats to Johnson, Diesel, Statham, and Theron.

If the Furious series is a mile represented by 10 movies at 1/10th of a mile each, it’s not inconceivable to think it hit top speed a few movies ago, and is decelerating as it approaches the purported finish line. One thing’s for certain, though. There’s no stopping before that line comes, and every drop of gas will be used before it comes.

C+

Photo credits go to irishexaminer.com, birthmoviesdeath.com, and moviepilot.com.

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The Road: Movie Man Jackson

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Even through the worst of times, the bond between loved ones can provide hope when little exist. Some mysterious disaster has left America a desolate wasteland. It’s assumed that many humans have died, and those that are still around struggle to find food, warmth, and safety.

A “Man” (Viggo Mortensen), and his “Boy” (Kodi Smit-McPhee), wander what’s left of America in search of those vitals. Contending with the harsh environment is terrible enough, but having to be on watch constantly for cannibals only exacerbates matters. Their goal is to get to the coast where warmer weather and a potentially better living exists. But, The Road to it will be fraught with peril.

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Think The Last of Us (that 2013 game inspired by this film) mashed with Fallout (without the Super Mutants), and what you get is The Road, adapted from the novel written by Cormac McCarthy. Like one of his other novels also adopted into film in No Country for Old Men, McCarthy’s stories are generally dark and brooding. The Road is no different, perhaps darker, than NCFOM.

Here, darker is both literal and figurative. Director John Hillcoat does an amazing job with crafting a world that just feels empty and void of anything. There’s nothing to be found but cold greys, rustic browns, and pitch blacks. It’s a depressing, but of course fitting, color palette for a depressing movie.

This is a world that one wouldn’t wish on anyone. Hillcoat delivers some standout scenes that are very uneasy to watch, even on repeated viewings (actually had to turn my head away once or twice on this most recent one). Make no mistake, The Road can be draining to watch, especially as the story, while existent, is awfully skim when examined. By most accounts, according to those who’ve read the novel (as claimed on message boards), this is where the film adaption is a little lacking. Additionally, those looking for some explanation as to what truly happened for the world to become how it is depicted, or why exactly it is so important that our heroes make it to the coast, will not find such a thing. That isn’t the story Hillcoat or McCarthy are trying to tell.

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The story that is being told is a basic one, that of a father and son’s love for one another, one of the only few good and pure things in an otherwise bad world. This post-apocalyptic tale boats a strong cast, with names like Charlize Theron, Michael K. Williams, Guy Pearce, and Robert Duvall. They are all great, but can be seen as extended cameos; I don’t believe that any of their characters has more than five minutes of screentime.

The Road belongs to Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee. The two are realistic together and make the movie work, even in its super slow moments, because they are so good. Mortensen in particular does a wonderful job of just being a dad who wants to protect his son, in the best way possible. Many kids in the role Smit-Mcphee plays could come off as annoying or worthless, but McPhee stands alongside Mortensen comfortably. At the heart of it, at least to yours truly, neither character is all that fleshed out. But, The Boy has some real powerful moments in which he’s trying to make sense of a hellish scenario, and why his father does what he does.

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The Road (to Hell) is paved with people with bad intentions. The grim nature of everything will be too much for some, and it can at times feel somewhat aimless, like walking around with no direction. But with two anchoring lead performances and a sound direction, there is good to be found, even if it takes a long while to show.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to imdb.com, aceshowbiz.com, comingsoon.net, and superiorpics.com.

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Mad Max: Fury Road: Movie Man Jackson

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“If you can’t fix what’s broken, you’ll go insane.”

If everyone’s mad, who is the closest to being sane? Probably the people who are aware of being mad. If that is the case, that doesn’t make them all that mad, does it? A future exists in Mad Max: Fury Road, but in the form of a desolate and wretched desert wasteland. Humanity, or the scraps that are left of it, are strewn around here. The ruler of the wasteland is Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a tyrant who brainwashes minions, enslaves women for childbearing, and is extremely stingy with the most valuable resource: Water.

Former cop Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is a broken man, living but not really after the loss of his loved ones. Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) makes a “living” collecting gasoline and supplies for Joe, but her true desire is returning to her homeland to start a new life. As fate would have it, the paths of these two will cross, and together, they may be able to change the shape of this desert dystopia. However, it is going to take an extremely long and treacherous ride across the terrain to do so.

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Mad Max: Fury Road marks the first foray into the Mad Max franchise for yours truly. That is not to say I don’t know what the movies are about, or not aware of their impact on other movies or pop culture, it is just that I’ve never watched one. Maybe one day, but on this day, Fury Road is the subject. MMFR may fall short in a few places, but as an action summer blockbuster, it is damn spectacular.

The nice thing about this MMFR is that, for the most part, no prior history/knowledge of past installments is needed, I think. Certainly, more references and call backs to the earlier films will be caught with existing knowledge, but director George Miller, returning to helm the franchise he created, has made something that stands well enough on its own. It never feels like the uninitiated one is punished for not being familiar with this world.

To be honest though, part of the reason why it is so easy to hop right in is because of an underdeveloped plot. Here, perhaps having some previous exposure to this franchise would have worked wonders for yours truly, if there is backstory in those that could have been applied to this one. As for what exists though, there is some intriguing mystery that this wasteland carries, but also unanswered questions after a well-done story setup before the title sequence. More fleshing out of characters and plot could have made MMFR very well-rounded (could some additional Hardy narration have done the trick?), but alas, it is in essence a point A to point B and back to point A procedure.

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While more of a story would be appreciated and could have easily been worked in, about a third of the way in I stopped looking for one and just started appreciating this for what it does amazingly well: Feverish, frantic, jaw-dropping action. The trailers offer a hint, but do not do this film justice. When the action occurs, they aren’t quick and brief moments; they are extended and really prolonged sequences of mesmerizing madness, full of unpredictability.

For the impressiveness of the first two thirds action-wise, the final third is unforgettable. Where so many other movies run out of steam in the last act, MMFR powers through it. And the majority of it is done practically, with the desert serving as a great backdrop for the mayhem. Simply put, the directing, cinematography, and entire production here is brilliant, from these aforementioned action sequences, to a score by Junkie XL that emphasizes them, and even just the way Miller uses his fade-to-black transitions to set up the next scene.

It helps to have legit, proven movie stars in your movie, especially in a big movie like this. Tom Hardy is one of the better actors today, but as Max he is more of a screen presence than anything. He seizes attention, yet also shares it with Charlize Theron as Furiosa, the talking point of Fury Road for positive, as well as negative and laughable reasons. Her performance here is nothing but positive though, and is a reminder that when she wants to, as described by Grantland’s Wesley Morris and Chris Connelly, she has a cape that she can put on when she wants to be a big movie star. Doesn’t put it on all the time, but the cape is there when she needs it.

The supporting character of Nux is played by rising actor Nicholas Hoult, and gets to do more than be just a crazy person like believed to be in the trailers. As for the big bad played by Keays-Byrne, who also played a villain in the original Mad Max, there’s nothing that really stands out aside from his visual appearance, but he does a solid and somewhat campy job.

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Light on story but worthy of acclaim in just about everything else, Mad Max: Fury Road is a wild blockbuster that will likely be different than most. This film is madness, in a pretty good way.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to screencrush.com, screenslam.com, and newsnyork.com.

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