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Atomic Blonde – ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

Atomic Blonde30

I think Atomic Blonde was a little over-hyped, and that was the beginning of its downfall for me.  I thought it was
too stylish, and too concerned with the perfect “cool” shot than advancing the story.  It is entirely possible that I’m a little jaded though.  To me it was built up to be the next great spy film, and the titular Atomic Blonde was to be a “female James Bond”, but it just seemed too artsy to be a great spy film.  It was entertaining, and there were things I enjoyed, but there were things that just frustrated me and kept me from loving this film the way I thought I was told to.

Set in the Cold War against the backdrop of the Berlin Wall, Charlize Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, an undercover MI6 agent sent to investigate the murder of a fellow agent named Gascione and recover a missing list of double agents.  In Berlin she meets up with David Percival (James McAvoy), the lead field agent to try and recover the list of agents, and to discover the mole or double agent (code named “Satchel”) in their midst.  The film is sort of told in reverse, which is a style I don’t really like for these sorts of stories.  We open on Lorraine in London, being brought in for debriefing by MI6 after the mission in Berlin.  After we’re quickly introduced to the principal players, we know that Satchel is going to be A or B, but I did have doubts for a minute that it may have been C….literally “C”, as in Chief “C” played by James Faulkner.  Then we get the debriefing and the main story is told essentially in flashback.  My problem with this style of storytelling for this sort of movie is that we now know Lorraine will not die during the course of the adventure.  Sure, enjoyment can be found in the ride but the element of surprise and suspense is kind of ruined.

For a film that was touted as being a great and revolutionary action film, I didn’t really find it to have that much action.  Sure there were fight scenes and they were fairly realistic; in so much that people got hurt and weren’t invincible; but there were great lulls too and the great action sequences I thought I was promised took far too long to be realized.  There was a “long cut” fight, as those have become really popular all of a sudden, and it was cool, but I couldn’t help but think that it was just there to force the “coolness” and the style of the film.

There were positives and it was entertaining, but there were just too many clichés for me by the time the film ended, like the French spy.  She was way too cliché as the love struck, doe eyed rookie, who’s in over her head. The film did do a decent job with it’s switchero, but it was still a little obvious who Satchel was.  I suppose the worst thing was that the film wasn’t overly original for something that was seemingly being hyped up as a new leader in the genre.  I didn’t really care about Lorraine’s character, partially because she didn’t seem developed or overly interesting, and partially because I knew she’d make to the end of the film.

I don’t know if I’m the only one who does this, but when I get frustrated with a movie I start to look for plot holes and more ways to not the film.  I started to get that way with Atomic Blonde.  My biggest problem was that with this flurry of agents from all sides trying to get the mythical “list” and figure out who Satchel is, they overlook that there are people who know who Satchel is. 
Gascione, Percivale, and Spyglass have all had the list at some point.  Percivale has definitely read it, Spyglass has it memorized, so logically, all three of them know who Satchel is, but none of them call it in?  Anyway, the movie was entertaining, it was actually pretty good, but it wasn’t great like I was led to believe it would have been.

Bottom Line:  The most disgusting part of the movie happens in the very beginning.  Lorraine is soaking her injuries in a bathtub full of ice before going to her debriefing.  She gets out of the tub, pours a drink and adds some icecubes to it before drinking.  THOSE ICECUBES CAME FROM THE DIRTY TUB WATER SHE WAS SOAKING HER BLOODY, DIRTY BRUISES IN!


Kubo and the Two Strings – ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

Kubo and the Two Strings50

Wow.  What an incredible piece of animation, and an incredible story too.

As an infant, Kubo (Art Parkinson) had one of his eyes plucked out by his grandfather, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes).  His mother takes the boy and flees with him from her father and her two evil twin sisters (Rooney Mara) who seek the boy’s other eye.  Not really knowing his past, Kubo grows up in a cave near a seaside Japanese village.  Taking care of his ailing mother by night, by day he visits the town earning money as a street musician telling stories with origami figures.  He tells the same story everyday, but never gets to finish the tale of the brave samurai warrior who battles the Moon King because he has to return home when the evening bell sounds so his witch aunts and grandfather don’t find Kubo and his mother.  One night however, as Kubo had made a lantern for his father at a festival celebrating the deceased he misses the bell, stays out after dark, and is chased by the daughters of the Moon King.  Summoning up the last of her own magic, Kubo’s mother appears and saves him, sacrificing her own life in the process but also imbuing one of Kubo’s toys, a small wooden monkey charm with life to help protect him.  Monkey (Charlize Theron) tells Kubo about three pieces of mystical armour that, if found, would allow Kubo to defeat the Moon King.  Along the way, Kubo and Monkey encounter Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), a forgetful former samurai who thinks he served Kubo’s father and was turned into the beetle by the Moon King for doing so.  Kubo’s own magic grows, as his origami comes to life and saves him several times by creating boats, wings and even creating a miniature samurai who Kubo believes has a link to his father.

This was very much the story of the hero’s quest.  The quest for magical items is a common theme throughout the history of film and literature, as they allow the hero to take a journey and discover himself, and in the case of Kubo and the Two Strings, to discover his family as well.  There were a few surprises along the way, as well as a suitable amount of humour.  I think that sometimes we tend to forget that animated features are primarily aimed at a younger audience.  I enjoyed how when Kubo was selling his stories on the streets at the beginning of the film you didn’t really know if his origami was magical or real and just looked like “magic” for the sake of telling the story to the us as the audience.  I  really enjoyed how everything unfolded (no pun intended)…

Setting aside the story, LAIKA really outdid themselves this time.  The animation was absolutely gorgeous and the scale of the film was incredible.  The animation at times was so perfect that it could have passed for CGI.  Now, don’t forget that there is extensive use of CGI in these films, but the sets are all built, the characters are all “puppets” and physical creations.  The clothing is all sewn, the backgrounds are all hand painted.  The computer work comes in for the lighting and some of the other environmental effects; you can’t stop motion in a snowstorm or rain.  The artwork at the finale was just mind blowing when you consider that it was all physical figures, subtly moved one frame at a time.  On top of the animation, and given the title, music had to be used effectively throughout.  As Kubo summoned his origami creations with his magical shamisen, the sound really became powerful.  Also, I really enjoyed Regina Spektor’s rendition of The Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps that played over the closing credits. I really fell in love with the scope and spectacle of Kubo, which made this one of my favourite movies of the past year.

Bottom Line: Kubo has definitely got my vote for Best Animated Picture at this year’s Oscars.  Disney wins waaaay too often in this category, though I suspect if Kubo doesn’t win Best Animated Feature, it will grab Best Visual Effects, but that’s the award I want Doctor Strange to win!

Mad Max: Fury Road – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Product Details3.5 Stars

Would I describe Mad Max Fury Road as “badass”?  Probably not.  That’s just silly…

The fourth installment of the Mad Max films sees Tom Hardy replacing Mel Gibson as Max Rockatansky, and introduces numerous new characters to the post apocalyptic world first seen in 1979.  Most of these characters are throwaways, mutants and killers and savages, disposable bad guys who are interchangeable with those of any of the previous Mad Max films, and probably 90% of the other “post apocalyptic” films that are out there.  How different is Fury Road‘s Immortan Joe from Road Warrior‘s Lord Humungus really?  The film actually focuses more on Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a leader in Immortan Joe’s army who helps four of the Immortan’s beautiful breeding wives escape with the promise of taking them to “the green” where they can live in peace away from the brutal master.  Along the way she runs into Mad Max, who reluctantly agrees to help them in their plan.  Of course after their escape they have to survive the hardships of the Australian Outback (post apocalyptic style) and avoid the various gangs who chase them, including Immortan Joe’s own “armada”.

You would think in a Mad Max film that Max himself would be the big hero, and have all the plans and action, but really this one was more about Furiosa.  I love seeing strong characters, and I love seeing strong female characters, but I don’t know if this was the right film for this one only because of the title: Mad Max: Fury Road.  Yes, Max does have a fair bit of screen time, with a lot of fighting, a lot of shooting, a lot of driving, but very little dialogue.  Most of the exposition of the story comes from Furiosa, and Max himself at times really just feels like a hitchhiker to the story. It was a bit odd to see the titular character really not be the main character of the film.  Maybe if Max had a more prominent role Furiosa could have spun off into her own film after being introduced here?

Very good effects, excellent stunt work, great costumes and “world building”; Fury Road looked better than all the previous Mad Max films, but still looked like a Mad Max film.  The action was pretty much constant as the first half of the film was a giant chase, and the second half of the film was a giant race.  Hopefully that will satisfy you as a viewer, because there wasn’t really much story to follow or ponder.

Bottom Line: Entertaining, but not “Best Picture” entertaining.  The overly simple story will probably prevent Fury Road from winning anything but technical Oscars this year but that could propel Miller to a Best Director award. **** Okay, it didn’t.  I typed this before the Oscars but clearly I didn’t finish the review until well afterwards.

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