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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Bridge of Spies: Movie Man Jackson

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“Aren’t you worried” 

“Would it help?”

If yours truly ever gets in big trouble, I want Tom Hanks defending me. The year is 1957, which means the Cold War has just really started to escalate. Spies are deployed by both warring sides, and one KGB spy, Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance), is captured and brought to America for justice. Justice is used in the most loosest of terms; it is of the belief of everyone that no resistance will be sought by his assigned defense.

The man tasked with defending Abel is James Donovan (Tom Hanks), an insurance lawyer from Brooklyn who hasn’t practiced courtroom law since basically undergrad. Though everyone expects Donovan to play along, he’s a honest man. Which means doing his job and giving his defendant a honest chance. While this scenario is an unlikely one that Donovan finds himself in, it is nothing compared to what he is asked to do later: Extract a fellow American pilot being held in enemy Soviet Union territory by swapping one of theirs for ours.

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Historical/biographical movies, especially those that release around Oscar season, can be hit or miss sometimes. At least for yours truly, that is. Part of it could simply be that I am not a history buff; I find it interesting here and there but do not know (or honestly care to know), of every single minutiae of every historical event. Another part could just be that so many of them seem to lack spirit, soul, and the like. Bridge of Spies, at a few times, feels like such. But, it also has the benefit of legends Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, two established commodities who know what they’re doing.

Throw those two in with a script helmed by the Coen Brothers, and BoS absolutely affixes itself in the middle of award season hopefuls. But, as Tom states on his blog over at Digital Shortbread, the multiple superstars create an expectation that is really impossible to reach, even for the most optimistic of viewers. Too many cooks in the kitchen? Not necessarily. To the credit of Spielberg and the Coens, Bridge of Spies never feels like separate visions, but it just lacks in the interest factor in spots.

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This film may not be a riveting watch, but it is far from a complete chore to get through, and does shed light on a man I knew nothing of. Trailers give the idea that the bulk of the runtime is mostly in court, which probably would have made for a slower watch for a film already clocking in at 141 minutes. But, the courtroom drama only makes up a piece of the story, and it is actually a piece of the story that is intriguing. There’s wonder in how morally righteous lawyers are able to defend people who deserve no such defending, and while Bridge of Spies‘ particular character in question actually does prove to be a guy worth defending, Spielberg and the Coens still show the internal struggle of how it would be the easy thing to succumb to what the public believes, it may not be the right thing. It is more about ideals and justice than anticipated.

Mr. Tom Hanks has never been one of my absolute favorite thespians to watch, but the man is absolutely a professional, workmanlike and consistent in just about everything he’s done, and that is no different in Bridge of Spies. And, though it can get a little repetitive always seeing him as a good guy, he’s so damn good at being likable. His Donovan is an upstanding, idealistic individual in a profession that is often crooked and shady. He’s really an embodiment of America and her truest values and tenets, a man that believes that everyone is of equal value no matter their status. While he is a guy driven by value, he’s not oblivious like, say, Emily Blunt’s character in Sicario. Donovan is almost always kept in the dark, but he’s not shocked nor blind to it. He uses his wit, and sometimes humor, to get out of the most dire of situations.

The stirrers of the drink are no doubt Hanks and Spielberg’s directorial style. Most of the rest of the cast is relegated to the background with little to do. But, if there is a garnish to the drink, it is easily Rudolph Abel, played by Mark Rylance. Honestly, it wouldn’t be crazy to consider the stage actor the standout star. His screentime fades as the plot moves along, but his presence remains, thanks to some superb early scenes that open the movie and ultimately get it to the real second half drama. Abel isn’t bold or even all that layered as a character, but he’s sympathetic and just as likable as Donovan.

Brooklyn lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) meets with his client Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a Soviet agent arrested in the U.S. in DreamWorks Pictures/Fox 2000 PIctures' dramatic thriller BRIDGE OF SPIES, directed by Steven Spielberg.

The tandem of Spielberg and Hanks delivers, and should be reason enough for most to take a walk across the Bridge of Spies. Sure, the rewatchability is on the lower end of the spectrum, but as a one-time view, it is a surprisingly interesting and fairly resonant story about what makes America America without being totally preachy.

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to huffingtonpost.com, comongsoon.net, and pop.enquirer.net.

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