Tag Archives: Charlize Theron

Atomic Blond (2017) Movie Review by John Walsh

ATOMIC BLONDE

Director: David Leitch
Writers: Kurt Johnstad (screenplay), Antony Johnston (based on the Oni Press graphic novel series “The Coldest City” written by)
Stars: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman

So when I discovered David Leitch, the man behind John Wick, had a new film out I was naturally intrigued and excited to give it a bash. I absolutely loved John Wick. Admittedly, that was a fairly superficial film too, but a star showing from Keanu Reeves, some insanely good action scenes and a good old fashioned tale of revenge turned what could have been an average affair into a modern cult classic. Atomic Blonde, Leitch’s latest creation, a spy thriller set in the 80s, ultimately falls flat on its face in the plot department. Despite sharing many positive characteristics with the aforementioned John Wick, it becomes needlessly convoluted, difficult to follow and was ultimately underwhelming as a result.

It’s set in 1989 Berlin, a city which at that stage is still very much divided, with murderous Russian KGB members running around with seeming immunity and killing anything that moves. Which is precisely how this film kicks off. MI6 agent, Paul Gascoigne gets himself caught and then executed in brutal fashion, which isn’t the best of news for British intelligence. Why? Well, because he was carrying a stolen list with the whereabouts of every intelligence asset they have. This of course sets alarm bells ringing and they almost immediately try to reclaim the precious item. They deploy the talents of Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), a top MI6 field agent who doesn’t mess around in her feverish attempts to resolve the situation. She teams up with the eccentric, ‘feral’ Berlin station chief, David Percival (James McAvoy), a schemer of a man who appears to have issues with authority, whilst having a propensity for lying.

Now, that sounds pretty simple doesn’t it? If only it could’ve stayed that way. Everything that happens throughout the course of the film is told via an interrogation room with Lorraine reporting her escapades to her superiors. Chief of whom being Emmet Kurzfeld (John Goodman). What troubled me most is that it’s supposed to be a spy thriller and it never once had me on edge, excited for what was happening, nor was their many if any real spy elements within. James Bond female edition it’s not. The film closely follows Lorraine and her growing suspicions of Percival’s role in things. Her original mission of retrieving the list and assassinating ‘Satchel’, a double agent who’s being selling info to the Russians, soon becomes far too complicated and tedious. This isn’t helped with the introduction of Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), a French undercover agent that rather bizarrely and needlessly becomes Broughton’s lover after a mere five or ten minutes on screen.

This film doesn’t do a good enough job of giving any of its characters a backstory or implanting a reasonable logic behind their actions. Broughton’s in particular falls foul of this idiocy. She’s supposed to be undercover but regularly saunters into clubs full of KGB members waiting to kill her. Like I said, she soon suspects Percival of being the leak, pretty much has her suspicions confirmed following an ambush and yet still works with him to try and smuggle Spyglass, a Stasi defector responsible for stealing the list, into West Berlin. This ends exactly as you’d expect and it makes zero sense from a logical perspective. It does lead to the best scene in the entire film however when both Lorraine and Spyglass end up cornered within a building, and she single handedly takes out half a dozen KGB members. That scene was beautifully handled, flowed seamlessly in what looked like one continuous shot and was just tremendous on the eyes.

Most of the choreography was spectacular, as you’d expect from the man that brought you John Wick and the visuals were incredible. I was born in 89 myself, so can’t really speak for what the 80s was like, but this film seems to capture the mood of that decade perfectly, with a fantastic soundtrack and zany, neon heavy visuals. That’s certainly one area of Atomic Blonde that I can’t criticise.

I also can’t really criticise the performances. Charlize Theron was superb as Broughton. She’s an excellent actress and as Mad Max showed, she’s more than capable of excelling in physically exerting, action roles. She’s becoming a bonafide action hero. Much of the film was fixated on her character, often uncomfortably close at times and she carried the film with ease. James McAvoy didn’t have as much screen time comparatively, but the time he did have was used relatively well and he was quite humorous with his frequent bursts of passive aggression and profanity fuelled rants. There was also some darkness in his character, especially towards the end that was excellently conveyed by the Scotsman. Anybody that’s seen Split will attest to how well he pulls that particular trait off. Boutella was fine. She didn’t have much to work with and did all right. John Goodman, likewise, did ok in a relative cameo role. Every other character, including the unmemorable villain Bremovych (Roland Møller), were sideshows.

Ultimately, the film was let down by poor character development and a less than compelling story, that became murky, overly convoluted and confusing in the middle. Leitch would’ve been much better served going down the trusted John Wick route with this one. I.e. Making it just an enjoyable, simplistic action flick with slick visuals and choreography. I felt like he got caught in between doing that whilst trying to get overly smart with the plot and it just didn’t work for me. It may prove to for others though, so by all means give it a shot. Indeed, it’s been getting very mixed reviews and it certainly wasn’t a complete disaster. There is positives in there, but it feels just a little hollow under the stylish visuals in the end.

Rating: 2.5/5

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) Movie Retro Review by John Walsh

Mad Max Fury Road

Director: George Miller
Writers: George Miller,  Brendan McCarthy
Stars: Tom Hardy,  Charlize Theron,  Nicholas Hoult

Fury Road was my first foray into George Miller’s alluring, apocalyptic world of Mad Max. Oddly enough, my only experience with any of Miller’s other work prior to this came with Babe: Pig in the City when I was much younger. I think it’s fair to say both films are somewhat different  and I think it’s blatantly obvious that this franchise holds a place in his heart hence the prolonged nature of its reincarnation. Now, I’ve read many opinions stating that to really get the most out of this film then you should revisit or watch the original Gibson led trilogy. I ignored this advice in 2015 and it really didn’t lessen my enjoyment at all.

It’s been three decades since the last incarnation hit the silver screens and man the film is beautiful in just about every way. The story is pretty damn simple too, which is one of the big positives for me. It’s essentially a two hour long, prolonged chase scene filled with absolute madness throughout. Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) betrays her screwball boss Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a rather vile looking, mask wearing villain of the film and Max (Tom Hardy) at this stage being used as a blood donor is left with an enviable decision and ends up embroiled within the chaos too. It’s a world suffering from the inhospitable after effects of a nuclear holocaust and there’s several different wacky, looking tribes vying for resources, be it ammunition, water or gasoline.

The aforementioned Immortan Joe is lording it up as a messiah figure at the Citadel, a vast, towering, rock formation that’s swarming with the weird powdered looking ‘War Boys’. It also has a large quantity of water, a precious commodity. The former are foot soldiers that possess devotion heavily inspired by the infamous Japanese, WWII, Kamikaze pilots. With pretty much all of them afflicted by cancerous lymphoma, a direct result of the radioactive nature of the environment, the ‘half-lives’ require frequent blood transfusions to extend their life, hence the need for someone like Max. There’s two other main factions which don’t get anywhere near the level of fleshing out that the Citadel and War Boys receive, but needless to say, our protagonists severely piss off Joe and all three come riding after them.

It’s not for precious commodities that they give chase however. No, it’s the five ‘stolen’ wives of Joe that they’re after. And Furiosa, spurred on with a cherished memory of the ‘green place’ from her childhood decides to save the quintet of beautiful women and take them there far from the clutches of their wretched husband. There’s one fascinating, if not grim, insight into what Joe does with his cast offs when Miller shows a line of overweight women being used for their breast milk. There’s definitely the usual undertones of feminism present in there, but that seems to be prevalent in just about everything nowadays and it fits well with the story in all honesty, never truly drawing attention away from the myriad of events taking place in rapid succession.

Speaking of which, I’ll quickly get into some performances in this film. Charlize Theron is utterly brilliant in Fury Road. She portrays a fiercely strong character that perfectly offsets the gruff Max. Furiosa has the most development in the film and you feel genuinely sorry for her when it becomes apparent that the memories of her childhood have been wiped out. Tom Hardy isn’t given much lines in the film, which is criminal given the distinct, demulcent tones he possesses, but Max is a man of few words and there is some development of the character at least with the flashbacks and his progression away from being a lone wolf. Nicholas Hoult was also very impressive as Nux, who I’ve failed to mention at all, a War Boy that goes through a rollercoaster of emotions and is just really cool character.

Visually, it just doesn’t get any better than this for me. This film is just unbelievably beautiful in every way. The incredible wide shots, the mesmerising CG, the blisteringly paced and choreographed action sequences and the amazing costume and prop designs. It’s supposed to be a world that’s feels lived in, much like the original Star Wars trilogy, and it absolutely excels in capturing that feel. I don’t think I can praise John Seale enough for what he accomplished with Fury Road. It’s criminal that this film didn’t win the Oscar for cinematography or visual effects. The weird and wacky vehicles looked like something out of a 80s action film, but in a positive way, whilst the sandstorm scene, complete with lightning and tornadoes tearing past the War Rig was perhaps my favourite of the film.

The one minor niggle I had with the film and I must stress it’s a MINOR niggle was the lack of justification or explanation for Furiosa agreeing to smuggle the wives away. I could understand her deciding to head back to her youthful shangri-la and stumbling across Max on the way, but the whole wife thing was a slight stretch. Max too never really explains his motivation for helping out apart from the urgent need to escape the blood thirsty War Boys and his high value status as a universal donor. Thankfully though, the action is so enjoyable to watch that it’s never really an issue, something more than likely helped by the lightning quick pacing of the story for the better part of two hours. I absolutely recommend this if you have t seen it already. Me personally, I’ve seen it about half a dozen times now and can never get tired of it.

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) Movie Review by John Walsh

KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS

Director: Travis Knight
Writers: Marc Haimes (screenplay), Chris Butler (screenplay)
Stars: Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Matthew McConaughey

Kubo and the Two Strings is the latest film from talented stop-motion animators, Laika studios. It follows the story of a young boy who is forced to flee his evil grandfather with his mother, after having his left eye vengefully taken out. Able to weave magic by plucking away at the strings on his shamisen, he endures a journey full of hardship, loneliness and familial ghosts from his past. Never complaining, however, he shows a wisdom way beyond his years, leaning on his memories and love to guide him through.

It begins with Kubo (Art Parkinson) and his mother fleeing their evil family on a small boat, caught in a choppy and dangerous storm. “If you must blink, do it now” our protagonist narrates as the pair encounter trouble, both being flung into the water before ending washed up on a beach. Kubo’s small form is seen beneath a blanket, his mother quickly rushing to comfort him, before the film cuts to the present.

The two of them are next seen living an isolated existence in a small cave, high upon a large, jutting rock formation, near the shore. Kubo’s mother by this point is a pale shadow of her former self and looking frail, exhausted and extremely forgetful. Kubo’s loneliness is palpable in these early stages, which perhaps explains his regular jaunts to the nearby village. On the first visit we see him make, he puts on a magical show for the residents, using his shamisen (a lute like instrument) to bring wonderful, complex, little, origami characters to life, as he displays quite the talent for storytelling. Time eases by rather quickly, as the travails of the small warrior play out, until finally darkness approaches, forcing Kubo to suddenly end the show and make a quick exit, much to the chagrin of the villagers. Returning to his mother, we are given a small insight into their backstory through her sad stories of his late father, Hanzo, a brave samurai warrior. She then provides a gentle warning to her son not to remain out too late in the darkness or his grandfather, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), will come for his other eye.

Kubo then returns to the village, presumably at some point in the near future and speaks with the same kindhearted, old lady, seen previously. He is encouraged to stay later to enjoy the firework shows and other festivities taking places during the celebrations. Ignoring the previous warning from his mother, Kubo becomes distracted, emotional and quickly frustrated at his failed attempts to communicate with his dad. He loses track of time, as he forlornly watches the other villagers lanterns fill with light after seemingly successful contacts are made with their loved ones. Looking up he quickly realises his error as the light within the lanterns extinguish and the cold, shrill, laughs from the Sisters, his two aunts, echo through the wood. A quick chase takes place before his mother makes a intervention and uses the last of her magic to save him, sacrificing herself in the process.

When Kubo awakes, the sight of a snowy tundra meets his eyes and before him is a talking monkey, brought to life from the small token he carried everywhere, who goes by the name of Monkey (Charlize Theron), who’d have guessed it? She tells with him to hurry and follow her or risk being discovered again by his aunts and grandfather. Seeking refuge within a cave, the pair eat, whilst the now inquisitive Kubo is given three questions to be answered by his new guardian. Echoing his mothers last words, he is told that he must find three pieces of Hanzo’s armour in order to defeat the Moon King. These being; The Sword Unbreakable, The Armour Impenetrable and The Helmet Invulnerable. Heading out on their quest, guided by an origami samurai come compass, it doesn’t take long for them to cross paths with the clumsy, multi-talented, forgetful and also extremely likeable half-man/half-beetle creature, known as Beetle (Matthew McConaughey). Sharing a vague connection to Hanzo himself, he’s extremely keen to join in on the whole adventure business.

Together this unlikely trio set about collecting each armour piece, enduring several battles along the way towards the climatic finale. Whether it be fighting a gargantuan skeleton, whilst Kubo tries to find the Sword Unbreakable lodged in its skull or the duel fight in the Long Lake between Kubo, Beetle and an ensnaring underwater creature whilst Monkey battles one of the aunts on a magical leaf boat above the surface. Managing to collect the first two parts, Kubo is tricked by his grandfather within a dream into travelling to his fathers former fortress, believing the final piece, the helmet is there. This in fact turns out to be a trap, with the remaining aunt lying in wait for them. There’s a few good twists at this point, which I’d prefer to not to discuss in the review. But needless to say, afterwards, a lonesome Kubo, filled with more determination than ever and now aware of the actual location of the Helmet Invulnerable, thanks to his origami compass friend, heads back to the village to claim it and set up one last battle with his grandfather.

The Moon King, aka Kubo’s grandfather, predictably appears at the village, trying to smooth talk his grandson into giving up without a fight. When it becomes apparent that this won’t happen, his veil of friendliness soon slips, leading to a thunderous battle between the pair. The Moon King, transforming into a giant serpent, initially has the upper hand, before Kubo decides to ditch the armour and return to his trusted shamisen, now strung with one of his mothers hair strands. He utilises the magic of love and memories of his family within him and his fellow villagers to finally come out victorious. His grandfather doesn’t die however, but merely becomes a mortal man once again, appearing forgetful and frail, much like his mother at the beginning. The villagers decide to forgive him, rewriting an alternate background for the now apparent amnesiac. There’s just one final, poignant scene, involving Kubo returning to the river with a lantern, this time it successfully lights and he’s once again reunited with his parents.

There’s some cracking performances in this film. Art Parkinson does a wonderful job as Kubo, injecting some real emotional gravitas into the character to the extent where you can’t help but bond with him over the course of his journey. Charlize Theron is a real standout as Monkey, the no nonsense, voice of reason within the trio of heroes, whilst McConaughey portrayal of the hapless, good intentioned Beetle, helps to inject just the right amount of humour into what is at times a fairly somber affair. Ralph Fiennes is flawless in his relatively short cameo as the Moon King. He’s proven that he can nail the villain roles numerous time before and this is no different. Speaking of villains. Rooney Mara does a great job doing double duty as the Sisters. And an honourable mention to George Takei who plays a mere villager, which should help give a sense of the overall roundedness of the cast.

I can’t do a review on this film without discussing the visuals. My god the visuals on this film are tremendous. I mean really. Major kudos to Laika studios for the unbelievable attention to detail in the characters, the buildings and the creatures, especially the giant skeleton. The leaves boat that Kubo built using his magic was astonishingly beautiful looking. I really can’t praise the visuals enough here. There’s times when you forget it’s stop-motion, and the brain tricks you into believing it’s CG. I actually read there was 27 separate people working on individual scenes with a weeks work encompassing 3-4 seconds of footage, which just blew my mind.

The score is also extremely good in this film. Oscar-winning composer, Dario Marianelli, does an impressive job of building the score around the shamisen parts played by Kubo, expanding these simple little melodic lines out into a full blown orchestral score. There’s obviously a real Japanese theme, which given the films setting shouldn’t be much of a surprise, but it’s all blended together beautifully and helps add a real emotional layer to the film. As a massive Beatles fan, I have to give a shout out to the While My Guitar Gently Weeps cover by Regina Spector at the end too, which was a cool version.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching this film. I was always a fan of stop-motion stuff when I was younger, with James and the Giant Peach and the Wallace and Gromit tv series in particular being firm favourites. Admittedly, animation isn’t a genre I’ve kept up with in my adult years, though I have nothing but respect for the dedication it takes to make this style possible. It’s not just the visuals, however, it’s got a great, little story and features some brilliant performances. I’d highly recommend giving this a watch if you haven’t already.