Monday, August 7, 2017

Movie Review - "Atomic Blonde" (2017)

I do not think most spy movies are very effective forms of storytelling. They are, at best, vehicles for well-shot and choreographed action sequences, normally in close-quarters or in chase sequences, but most of the time fail at telling an emotionally impactful narrative. This mostly comes back to our lead character, who is more often than not stoic and immune to the events that are happening around him and comes across as emotionally detatched or uncaring about the world around them.

He'll save the world and look cool while doing it, but if he doesn't give a damn about anything then why should we care about what he does?

That's not to say all spy movies are terrible, since films like "Skyfall" and "Goldfinger" are wonderful, while others like Paul Feig's "Spy" and Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" flipped the spy genre on its head and played it mostly for laughs. But when I watch most spy movies, by the time we reach the end of the second act and everything starts to get tense, I often find myself uninterested in what had come before and what is about to come. I will often remember the action sequences, but find it hard to remember how or why these bits of drama happened in the first place.

David Leitch's "Atomic Blonde" is a perfect example of why I don't care for the spy genre. While the film has stunning visuals and great use of color, which is very reminiscent of Leitch's previous film "John Wick," and some brutal action sequences, the story and characters leave a lot to be desired and ultimately made the experience feel a bit hollow.

Set in 1989 on the eve of the Berlin Wall collapsing, MI6 agent James Gasciogne is killed by KGB agent Yuri Bakhtin for a wristwatch that contains a piece of microfilm that has the names and activity of every active KGB agent in the field, which Yuri plans to sell on the black market to the highest bidder. MI6 sends in their top operative, agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), to find the watch and kill the agent that ousted Gasciogne, known as Agent Satchel. Lorraine also meets with agent David Percival (James McAvoy) who has gone native, but maybe her only way of getting around Berlin.

I'll give "Atomic Blonde" this much - it perfectly captures the feel of the 1980s. From the neon clothing, to the rock music, to the rampant experimental drugs, this film screams of the 80s. This film eats grittiness for breakfast and neon lights for dinner. There's a certain zeitgeist to every decade and "Atomic Blonde" nails what it fells like to live during the 1980s, capped off by a boisterous soundtrack.

The action sequences in "Atomic Blonde" are quite different from what I expected. There are some longer fight sequences that use long takes, and many of them show fatigue and exhaustion in our characters, like they're always fighting with everything they've got. I don't remember many fight scenes where the hero gets tired, but this was a nice change of pace. Watching Charlize Theron trying to catch her breath in the middle of a fight was refreshing and honest.

However, the end result "Atomic Blonde" wants to go for is unsatisfying. This is because Lorraine feels so detached and emotionless from her job. She has the same emotion taking someone's life that you or I would have from going to grocery store to get milk. This works for first two-thirds of the film when she is putting all the pieces together, but once she thinks everything is solved and has to act upon it is when the film starts to fall apart.

This could be less of a problem with "Atomic Blonde" and more of a problem with the narrative style of the spy genre in general. This film could just be following the tropes of James Bond movies by having a protagonist that only cares about finishing the mission. But in any case, this is a trope I wish to see less of.

Overall, "Atomic Blonde" is fun at points, but uninterested at others. The film has a unique feel when it comes to atmosphere and fighting style, with some great cinematography during the action. But the story is dull and the characters are even more bland. If you're going to watch "Atomic Blonde," I would say take its style over substance.

Final Grade: C

Movie Review - "Colossal" (2017)

I missed this monster movie when it was out in theaters, and now I'm glad that I did not spend more than a couple of bucks on this film.

The plot of "Colossal" revolves around Gloria (Anne Hathaway), an unemployed writer and a drunk who moves from New York back to her home town, where she meets up with an old classmate, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). But shortly after she moves back, she learns of a giant monster that attacked Seoul, South Korea, but finds out that it did some very strange movements. After rewatching some footage she finds out the truth - Gloria is in control of that monster.

Now, you'd think this would be a great premise for a comedic giant monster movie, especially with the actors involved in the movie. A drunk that controls the movements of a giant Godzilla-like monster and she knows that has this power. How can you mess that up?

Well, "Colossal" really screws it up quickly.

Let's ignore the ludicrous explanation used to show why Gloria has this power (she has to be at this children's playground at exactly 8:05 a.m. and only has control while she's in the confines of the park) or that Oscar also gets his own robot monster by the same method. We only ever see the monsters through television or computer screens, never getting a full detailed look at the monsters. There are even scenes where monsters fight, but we hardly ever get to see them fighting, just Gloria and Oscar rolling around the ground.

On top of that, I do not ever recall laughing at anything in "Colossal." The film was billed as a comedy, and these is some of the most depressing characters I've seen in a long time. After a while, the film seems to give up on comedy and focuses on an entirely different aspect - that Oscar has been stalking Gloria for years.

Admittedly, "Colossal" gets a bit better when we learn Oscar's true nature - that he feels his life will never amount to anything and this is his way of lashing out on the world. Still, it takes a long time to get to that point, and we first have to watch bland monster sequences, unfunny scenes and witness Anne Hathaway get beat up.

"Colossal" was a chore to get through. As a monster movie, it leaves the audience hanging on those important sequence. As a comedy, there is no life or joy to found here. If you are going to rent or buy a monster movie that just came to DVD or Blu-Ray, go with "Shin Godzilla" before turning to "Colossal" and save yourself a headache.

Final Grade: D

Movie Review - "The Lion in Winter" (1968)

If words could kill, "The Lion in Winter" would be the most brutal film ever made.

Imagine if "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" was set during mediveal times and concerned a "King Lear" type story. That should give you an idea of how uncomfortable "The Lion in Winter" can be, while still being a wordsmith like William Shakespeare. Every word uttered in this film is carefully calculated to be an emotional dagger right into our characters' hearts, as every one of them is overcome with a lust for greed and power.

In the age of King Henry II (Peter O'Toole), he has now become an old man and still has not choosen who will be the next King. So for Christmas, Henry invites his whole family for the holiday, including his estranged sons, the rough and selfish Richard (Anthony Hopkins), the cold and calculating Geoffrey (John Castle), and the inexperienced and naive John (Nigel Terry), as well as his wife Eleanor (Katharine Hepburn), who Henry has imprisoned for the last few years. Henry also invites the young king of France (Timothy Dalton). Henry says he will use this time to decide who will be the next king, mostly leaning towards John since he's the only one Henry likes even if he would be terrible king, while he also tries to make amends for his past sins, all while abusing his power as king over all of them.

"The Lion in Winter" is mostly a game of chess played through words and subtle manipulations of others, played by King Henry and Eleanor. They both have much larger schemes than either wants to show, especially Eleanor who takes every opportunity to goad Henry and show him that he is not as powerful or as perfect as he thinks. Both take absolute delight in knocking the other down a peg, while both scream at the top of their lungs to see who is the loudest.

This is done masterfully through Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn's performances, as they show the deeper parts of Henry and Eleanor's love-hate relationship as well as how much they need each other. These are both cruel, greedy people who want the other acknowledge their brilliance, yet they adore one another because they force the best out of each other. This comes during their quieter moments when the two reflect on when they first met and how their love and need for each other has evolved over the years. Tormenting each other with power plays and mind games has changed their relationship into a furious struggle to maintain dominance, and they would not have it any other way.

Overall, "The Lion in Winter" is a lot of fun, if only for the wordplay, devestating insults and the relationship between Henry and Eleanor. This feels like a medival tragedy only Shakespeare could have written, so it is amazing that writer James Goldman could create such a fascinating screenplay. The pacing is a bit slow at times, but the tension during the final act is absolutley worth it.

Final Grade: B+