Movie review: Atomic Blonde

Movie reviews

Hello!

Accidentally, this week my blog has a theme – alternative (not DC or Marvel) comic book movies. On Tuesday, I reviewed Valerian (based on a French comic book) and today, we are talking about Atomic Blonde!

IMDb summary: An undercover MI6 agent is sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents.

Writing

The movie Atomic Blonde is based on a 2012 graphic novel ‘The Coldest City’ by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart. The screenwriter Kurt Johnstad (writer of the 300 movies) was the one who adapted this property. It was actually quite refreshing to see a film written by a single person rather than a group of screenwriters of varying experiences. And yet, the writing was still a mixed bag. I loved the main narrative and its structure – the story was presented in a flashback with the verbal exposition being given in an interrogation room. So, the plot was both told and shown. The set-up for the story and the decision to start it from almost the very end also helped to establish the main character. In the first seconds of her appearance, we realized her occupation, her relationships, and her vulnerabilities.

The spy-world was also well realized, with some of its details being quite fascinating. I loved how the film spotlighted the way spies deal with their lives, both physically and emotionally (ice baths, drinking, smoking). The historical tie-ins – the TV announcements about the state of Berlin Wall – were cool too and help to ground the movie. The ideas of spies deceiving each other and always having multiple ulterior motives were quite neat as well.

My few gripes with the film were a single logical flaw and the conclusion of the story. The thing that didn’t make much sense was the fact that James McAvoy’s character was trusted by others when he was obviously acting shady. Plus, the picture’s motto was ‘Never Trust Anyone’, so the fact that the characters turned a blind eye to his deceptions was kinda dumb. Secondly, the film’s story had a lot of twists and turns at the end, which were really heavily piled one on top of another. I wish that these reveals would have been given earlier or handled in different a way because it felt like the movie had multiple endings and didn’t know when to stop.

Directing

The longtime stunt coordinator, stuntman, and fight choreographer who recently transitioned into directing – David Leitch – helmed Atomic Blonde. His previous directing credits include the first John Wick (with Chad Stahelski), while his upcoming project is the Deadpool sequel. Not surprisingly, Atomic Blonde has been nicknamed online as the female version of John Wick and, while the comparison is valid, Atomic Blonde is also very much its own thing. It has its own cool action scenes, which were choreographed superbly and showcased fighters using a lot of everyday props rather than guns. The way these fight scenes were modified for someone, who is physically weaker (a female body) was interesting too. I also loved the car chases with all the old, now vintage, cars (no yellow Fast&Furious Lamborghinis here). 

The overall tone of Atomic Blonde was also really cool. I’d describe it as gritty glamor. The gritty part comes from the bloody action and the truthful depiction of the life of spies. The glamor could be seen in the costumes and the hairstyle of its lead – Charlize Theron had an impeccable look with her long, classic coats and platinum blonde hair. The cool color pallet added to the glamor too. The punk influences of 1989/1990s Berlin (the combo of grit and glamor) were also felt in the movie, from the locations of the underground clubs to the visuals of the graffiti on the wall. The soundtrack of the picture also emerged up from this general feel and tone. The composer of John Wick and Guardians of the Galaxy films, Tyler Bates, did a great job on the Atomic Blonde score, by mixing together 90s English and German songs as well as their more modern reworkings.

The director Leitch also did a brilliant job of filming the action in a variety of angles. Every trick in the book was used – from long panning shots and zoom ins/outs to close-ups to handheld shots with and without the cuts. That continuous action sequence in the apartment building was especially amazing. Genre wise, Atomic Blonde certainly felt more like a drama/thriller rather than just an action film. Its pacing wasn’t super fast – the movie didn’t really drag (except maybe the ending) but it never got as exciting as it could have been.

All in all, though I had some problems with the directing of the film, I enjoyed it overall and I still think that Leitch can nail Deadpool 2. We all know that he can deliver a magnificent action sequence, I just wonder whether he can do humor and comedy.

Acting

Atomic Blonde had quite a stellar cast. Charlize Theron (The Huntsman, Mad Max, FF8, Kubo) was front and center, demanding all the attention for the best reasons. She was amazing in the role, especially in its physical aspects (she did lots of stunts herself). James McAvoy (X-Men) was cool and creepy in his role. His persona in this film felt like just another personality of his character in SplitSofia Boutella (The Mummy, Star Trek, Kingsman) was also good, though her performance was brief. John Goodman (Kong, Trumbo), Eddie Marsan (Their Finest), and Toby Jones rounded out of the cast.

In short, Atomic Blonde is a very entertaining thriller that has a lot of cool aspects but also some minor flaws. Not a perfect film but definitely worth a watch.

Rate: 3.7/5

Trailer: Atomic Blonde trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Kubo and The Two Strings

Movie reviews

Hello!

Let’s review a possible Best Animated Feature nominee that came out a few months ago – Kubo and The Two Strings.

IMDb summary: A young boy named Kubo must locate a magical suit of armor worn by his late father in order to defeat a vengeful spirit from the past.

  1. 2016 has been a strong year for animation, especially financially: Zootopia and Finding Dory both earned over a million dollars, while The Secret Life of Pets came super close. Kubo might not have been as big of a financial hit as the other animated pictures but it definitely appealed to the critics and the cinephiles.
  2. Kubo and The Two Strings is the latest stop-motion picture from Laika. I’ve always been a fan of this type of animation and of this particular studio and their product. Coraline is still one of my favorite animated films of all time and I also enjoyed 2014’s The Boxtrolls. Kubo is their least financially successful but the best (quality-wise) film. It differs from the other pictures with its Japanese setting. Kubo feels like a blend of Western and Eastern animation – the anime of the West.
  3. Kubo was written by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler. I loved the adventure story that they crafted for the film. The feeling of the deeper underlying mythology was present and enriched the narrative nicely. The themes discussed were serious and universal, like family, love, and memories. I also loved the writing for the main character (his powers were so cool and unique) and the writing for the supporting cast (the choice of animals for the secondary roles was really extraordinary- haven’t seen many beetle and monkey team-ups before). The dialogue was good too: the heartfelt emotional moments mixed well with the funny bickering (and flirting). The super positive ending was also lovely.
  4. The film was directed by Travis Knight, who has worked as an animator on a bunch of stop-motion animated pictures. I loved the atmosphere and the overall look of Kubo: it was eerie and scary but also adorable and really beautiful. The character design was magnificent too:  I loved that the main character appeared to be of ambiguous gender and that the character’s look corresponded with the character’s traits (e.g. the ability to fly came from the kimono top). Kubo actually reminded me a lot of Mulan (and yes, I know one comes from Japan and the other from China). Lastly, touching more on the animation – I loved how origami (the next level origami, while I don’t even remember how to make a swan) – a distinctly Japanese art of folding that is popular globally – was used in a stop-motion animation setting. It was truly a great combination of tecniques and ideas.
  5. The film featured great performances from the A-list voice cast, which included Charlize TheronMatthew McConaughey (Sing), Ralph Fiennes (will voice Alfred in The Lego Batman), and Rooney MaraArt Parkinson (GOT’s Rickon) was great as the titular lead character as well. The movie’s soundtrack by Dario Marianelli was spectacular too.

In short, Kubo and The Two Strings is another great animation of 2016. However, this one is the most unique because of its style, setting, and characters.

Rate: 4,5/5

Trailer: Kubo and The Two Strings trailer

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Movie review: Stars Wars The Force Awakens

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of Star Wars The Force Awakens! I have never thought that I will be able to write about a Star Wars film and a new one, nonetheless. Once again, my review will be from a newcomer’s perspective – I have already explained all of this in my preview, which you can read here. So, without further introduction, let’s celebrate Christmas early and review Episode 7!

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!

IMDb summary: Three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat arises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a rag-tag group of heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.

Atmosphere

Only a few times in my life I have seen the whole cinema cheering and applauding the film even before it has started. That’s exactly what happened in one of the premiere screenings of The Force Awakens in my hometown – as soon as the words ‘A long time ago in the galaxy far far way…’ appeared on screen, the energy of the crowd doubled and it just kept on increasing throughout the whole film. We all said goodbye to this film with another round of applause, of course.

George Lucas

George Lucas is the creator of this universe and he also directed a lot of the Star Wars films. From what I can gather from the Internet (not the most trustworthy source), the fans have this mixed opinion about him: they like him for creating this amazing galaxy but hate him for re-releasing and re-editing the films over and over again. He also doesn’t seem to understand that the fans prefer the practical effects and a great story and not the CGI monsters and walking/sitting/standing exposition. Lastly, the huge difference in quality between the originals and the prequels is also a dividing factor in the fandom and in the image of George Lucas.

My own personal opinion is also mixed. However, I am happy that Lucas was involved and will be involved going forward with the sequel trilogy as creative consultant. It’s his world – let’s let him expand it and make it even cooler. Just don’t give all the power to him.

Directing + Visuals

J.J. Abrams directed the film and he did an amazing job. I was expecting him to nail it and he did not disappoint. The action was great, the establishing shots – breathtaking and the close ups – suspenseful. I loved both the big battles in spaces and the more personal lightsaber fights. The final duel in the woods was wonderful! I hope that Abrams continues to work on the Star Wars films going forward, at least as a producer. He has directed some of my few favorite films (Star Trek and Mission Impossible) and I can’t wait for his next film. BTW, I practically did not notice any lens flares if that bothers you.

Writing + Story + Dialogue

Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt wrote the script for the film with the help of Abrams himself. Kasdan has written Episode 5 and 6 back in the 1980s and is writing the script for the Han Solo spinoff for 2018. Arndt has written a screenplay for Little Miss Sunshine (one of my favorite movies ever) and has worked on a few Pixar films as well as Hunger Games Catching Fire and Oblivion. I really enjoyed the story that they wrote. It was both fresh and familiar. To be fair, quite a few plot points were very similar to the original films – they might have referenced Episodes 4 to 6 a bit too much (especially in the 3rd act), but I still loved every minute of it. I liked how they set up the new characters but were still able to incorporate the old ones. The new characters were just similar enough to the old ones to induce nostalgia, but fresh enough to be interesting. I loved the funny moments as well. They were organic and fit the occasion. My favorite ones were the thumbs up and the reveal of the Millennium Falcon. The revelation of the family relation was not as surprising this time (we were all expecting something similar), but it was amazing nonetheless. In addition, the film left lots of gaps in a story, which the fans can fill in themselves and speculate – that’s part of the fun. The prequels hit the viewers with tons of boring exposition, but the sequels do not seem to be following the same path. Also, on a side note, John Williams’s score was glorious once again.
Acting/Character by character

The new trio:

  • Daisy Ridley as Rey – she is definitely my favorite female character of 2015 (even better than Furiosa, although I really loved Theron in Mad Max). Rey was young and independent, strong and vulnerable, a bad-ass fighter and a good friend. If I ever need a costume for Halloween or if I ever get a chance to go to a comic con, I’m definitely dressing up as her. Lastly, I cannot not speculate – I think she is Kylo’s sister and a Rey Solo – how else could the force be strong with her? However, she also might be a Skywalker or a Kenobi. I guess we will just have to wait and see. Daisy Ridley  has not starred in any big films before but she played an amazing lead. I couldn’t be happier that this actress will be the one taking us on the journey in the galaxy far far way in the near future and I also am excited for her other projects (if she has any time for them).
  • John Boyega as Finn – another amazing lead. I liked how we finally were able to have stormtrooper (or a former one) as a lead. I, personally, have always thought about stormtroopers as soulless tools of the Empire (or the First Order), so it was really nice to be proven wrong. Boyega did a really good job with his action scenes – he was just the right amount of clumsy and funny. Boyega does not have a long list of films on his resume as well, however, I think he has a bright future ahead.
  • Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron – another amazing character who I can’t wait to know more about. He was extremely likable and a really efficient pilot. I hope he gets a bigger character arc in the sequel. I also want more scenes with him and Finn (bromance shippers- the Tumblr is yours). Isaac was the most experienced actor out of the new trio. I have seen a few of his films – Inside Llewyn Davis and Ex Machina – I especially loved the second one. Oscar Isaac will also play Apocalypse in the upcoming X-Men film – I can’t imagine him as a villain and can’t wait to see that film because of that.

The old trio – it was amazing to see all of them coming back for this film – and they actually had some stuff to do and weren’t just there for emotional purposes (although, for that also).

  • Harrison Ford as Han Solo – I liked Ford’s take on Solo one last time. He played an older, wiser Han, however, he was still the smuggler that we all knew and loved. The scene on that bridge broke my heart and I think I wasn’t the only one weeping in the cinema.
  • Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker – while he personally didn’t have much to do, he was the thing driving the plot. His meeting with Rey at the end of the film was really great – it had no dialogue but was still very powerful. I hope he comes back for another film (he probably will and will have a much bigger part in it).
  • Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa – while Fisher is known online for being a tough actress to work with, I still love her as Leia. She also played a different kind of Leia – Leia in her next stage of life. Fisher’s and Ford’s scenes together were as amazing as 30 years before – they haven’t lost any chemistry.

Villains:

  • Adam Driver as Kylo Ren was a really good antagonist. He received a lot of development and had lots of emotional depth. He has defeated his father and I can’t wait to see his confrontation with his uncle and a former teacher. I was really surprised that they  allowed Kylo Ren to take his mask off in the first film – I was expecting them to keep this reveal for at least the sequel. Speaking about the actor portraying Kylo – I am not really familiar with his work but can see him getting lots of work after this movie.
  • Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke – the king of motion capture captures not only motion but our attention once more. I think he will be a great ‘big bad’ for the sequel trilogy. I am also really looking forward to other motion capture roles by Serkis – the 3rd Planet of the Apes film and Jungle Book.
  • Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux – was a surprisingly big character. I think Gleeson did a really nice job, although, I don’t see his character surviving till the last film. I have seen a few of Gleeson’s films and liked all of them (mainly Anna Karenina and Unbroken). He has also starred in Brooklyn this year and will also be seen in The Revenant.
  • Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma – the only disappointment of the whole film. I was expecting her to have a bigger part but she had like 3 lines and a few insignificant scenes. I hope they fix her character in the sequel. This is the 2nd time that I expect Christie to have a proper role in the film and am left only with disappointment – the first time was Mockingjay Part 2.

Supporting cast:

  • Lupita Nyong’o as Maz Kanata, a pirate – although there have been rumors floating around that Nyong’o was almost cut from the film, because her motion capture skills were not good enough, I believe that she did an amazing job. I really like the design of the character, especially the eyes and the goggles, but even the most amazing visual design would have been worth nothing without the amazing acting of Lupita. I hope we get a chance to visit Maz in the other movies going forward. Next year, we will hear Lupita in The Jungle Book.
  • Also, I really liked the new droid – BB-8 – it was so cute. In addition, I liked seeing the familiar faces of R2-D2 and C-3PO. Lastly, I am not that familiar with biology or anatomy of the Wookiees, but Chewbacca has not aged a day – could you imagine Chewie with gray hair – I mean all of it…

Future

In 2016,  we will be getting the first standalone/spin-off film – Rogue One and a year after that Episode 8 will reach theaters. While I am definitely happy that Star Wars franchise is back, I am a bit worried that if the market gets over-saturated with Star Wars films, they quality will diminish once more and that they will become a less special event – just an ordinary sci-fi film. However, I want to keep an open mind and hope for the best.

All in all, Star Wars The Force Awakens was a great film. I felt included in the experience of watching it, although I didn’t have any nostalgic connections with the previous films. I still can’t believe that it’s Star Wars and it’s back! Everything – the story, the visuals and the characters were just the right amount of familiar and newly exciting. If you have any worries that this film won’t be good, just drop them and go to see it with a calm heart and mind. It is amazing and is definitely worthy of breaking all the box office records.

Trailer: Star Wars The Force Awakens trailer

Rate: 5/5

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