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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Split: Movie Man Jackson

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If a crazy person tells you something’s real, believe it. Shortly after a party held by one of her high school classmates, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) gets a ride from the party host, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), accompanied by Claire’s best friend Marcia (Jessica Sula). Before even making it out of the parking lot, they are attacked by an unknown assailant.

Upon waking in what appears to be an underground lair, the trio of girls discover that the assailant is Kevin, certainly an off-man simply because he took three girls in broad daylight. But quickly, Casey, Claire, and Marcia realize that Kevin has Dissociative Identity Disorder, and each of his 23 personalities mean a different interaction each time. They’ve been abducted for a reason. A 24th personality, which Kevin’s therapist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) doesn’t believe to exist, could spawn, and this could mean trouble.

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Having back-to-back successes isn’t a streak, but it does point the proverbial arrow up, or at least stabilizes it. With 2015’s The Visit and now Split, it would appear that director M. Night Shyamalan is undergoing a renaissance of sorts, or a “Shymalanaissance” as everyone seems to be calling it. Outside of the awards circuit, Split is a reason to hit the local cinema when typically the month of January doesn’t provide many, if any.

Yes, Split is a film aided by a view in the theater. Much like in the vein of 2016 features like Don’t Breathe and 10 Cloverfield Lanealmost all of the events that take place in the runtime are confined to one location. The feeling of claustrophobia runs at a pretty high level throughout, and Shyamalan captures the various chase scenes and perspectives of his antagonist brilliantly with differing high-low camera angles. Simple things such as conversations take on a higher level of importance here, and the camera fixates itself in extreme close-up mode often to display what characters are thinking, or transitioning into/out of. The score composed by West Dylan Thordson (Joy, Foxcatcher) is rather minimal, but one track in particular becomes etched into the brain and invokes a sense of dread.

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Another reason to simply watch in theaters is the likelihood that the longer one goes without watching opens the chance of the movie being spoiled. This really deserves to be watched without any knowledge of what the major reveal is. With any M. Night movie, obviously, there’s the twist and/or ending. I’m honestly torn on how I feel about it. While being as un-spoilerific as possible, I’ll say I love the execution, but am not so psyched about where the ending strongly suggests things will go.

Regardless on how a person feels about the final moments, Split carries an efficient script. Weak in spots, sure, and not that deep considering the subject matter of Dissociative Identity Disorder, but it holds interest throughout. It is very reminiscent of 2003’s Identity, without the slightly deeper look at DID that movie possessed, but way more engaging and a much less dopey ending.

Split features better acting than that movie had from its leads, however. Can’t really say that James McAvoy carries this, but without his impeccable talent switching, sometimes mid-scene, this would be a feature that would probably split apart at the seams. McAvoy doesn’t get to act out all 24 personalities, but he probably could. The few he does show are all different and feel like full-on characters, He dials up humor when the script needs it, but transitions into menace effortlessly. He’s an obvious standout, but Anya Taylor-Joy and Betty Buckley create a triangle of great performances.

Taylor-Joy’s work takes a little while to appreciate, if only because it takes a while to see how she fits into everything, but she has an amazing arc that provides Split with a real emotional component. With some roles, believability is everything, and from the moment Ms. Buckley appears on screen as a therapist with a wealth of information, she has a way of making the audience believe everything that comes out of her mouth. Unfortunately, the roles of the latter two girls played by Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Lula go nowhere, to the point where one does wonder if the movie could have still been written without them.

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After a long stretch of poorly-received films that could make one believe that a once-promising director could have lost his mind (or at least his passion and skill), I think it is safe to say that with the conlusion of Split, a directorial beast has re-emerged, and his name is M. Night Shyamalan.

B

Photo credits go to movieweb.com, broadwayworld.com, and joblo.com.

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X-Men Apocalypse: Movie Man Jackson

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One can never prepare for the Apocalypse. It just happens. After stopping Bolivar Trask and his sentinel program by way of time travel, the X-Men live in a world where they may not completely be accepted, but they are tolerated. The year is 1983, and Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) still leads his school for the gifted. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) freelances for a living as a mercenary, and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has found new meaning in a quiet life with family.

Mutants, especially those with the strength and skill of Xavier, Mystique, and Magneto, are easily the most powerful beings on the planet. But unknown to everyone, they aren’t the first of their kind. In the pyramids of Egypt, an ancient one, En Sabah Nur (Oscar Issac) rises from his centuries-long slumber. He is the world’s first mutant, with power no one can come close to matching. He doesn’t like what society has evolved into, and takes it upon himself, with help from some chosen mutants, to cleanse it. This is the end of the world as the world knows it.

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Yours truly seemed to be one of the few that had a little more disappointment with Days of Future Past than most. I blame X-Men, not necessarily superhero, fatigue. It’s crazy to think that the X-Men movies have been around for over 15 years, and now, they return with X-Men: Apocalypse. High or low, expectations are a hell of a thing to go into a movie with, and thanks to my indifference to DoFP and a 49% RottenTomatoes rating as of this writing for the latest in the series, my expectations for Apocalypse couldn’t be more grounded. Which is probably why I had a solid time, all things considered.

McAvoy or Stewart? Days of Future Past’s time-traveling storyline was kind of confusing. For better or worse, longtime series director Bryan Singer’s story is much more straighforward this time around. Conventional may be the word thrown around, and it is valid. Yet, it is interesting that in a year of superheroes battling essentially due to ideologies, the one comic book series that has used ideology consistently over its franchise length to pit main characters against each other is sort of absent here. It does appear, but it isn’t a main cog of the story like it has been in prior installments. In an odd way, I found that “refreshing” in an X-Men movie.

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Singer’s never really disappointed from a visual aspect in his X-Men movies. He doesn’t disappoint in Apocalypse, either. It’s obviously more CGI-reliant more than some of its other comic-book counterparts due to its characters’ otherworldly powers, but a treat to behold. Those (read: everyone) who liked Quicksilver and his scene in the previous feature will be excited to know that he’s a more prominent character this go-round, with an equally impressive, if not exceeding, sequence to boot.

In X-Men: Apocalypse, Singer has given the series its first pure villain in Apocalypse, played by Oscar Issac, to much of the Internet’s distaste. Not distaste in Issac, but the baddie’s appearance and motivation. From a sheer aesthetic standpoint, yours truly believes Apocalypse is menacing, the epitome of pure evil with his look and distorted voice. It’s where the other part disappoints; En Sabah Nur’s reason for wrecking havoc is taken out of the Villainy 101 textbook: Because he can and wants to rule the world. What he plans on doing with it, no one knows. He’s dangerous and one wants to see him get defeated, but the question is, why cast Issac for a fairly shallow role that anyone could have played?

The rest of the cast features some reoccurring standouts and some empty space. James McAvoy might be a better Professor X than Stewart at this point, with more character. Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, and Evan Peters are solid lynchpins, with the latter being the most memorable out of the three here. “New” X-Men in Jean Gray, Cyclops, and Nightcrawler are in good future hands with Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, and Kodi Smit-McPhee, respectively. But the scene stealer is still Michael Fassbender, always impressive in any scene he’s in. Sadly, the Four Horseman sans Magneto are duds. Until the final fight, they are more or less relegated to standing idly behind or next to Apocalypse with nary a word said. Easily forgettable.

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The third film always seems to be the worst out of a trilogy to the majority audience. But X-Men: Apocalypse is still the tried and true X-Men, just more conventional and less complex. It’s not the end of the world, or this franchise.

B-

Photo credits go to screenrant.com and comicbookmovie.com.

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