Atomic Blonde

ABDirector: David Leitch

Screenwriter: Kurt Johnstad

Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella, and Eddie Marsan

Maybe a movie like this could have flown before Netflix, before John Wick, or before Mission: Impossible, but not anymore. Atomic Blonde, based on Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s graphic novel series, The Coldest City, plays like a Cold War action movie, but it tries too hard to be anything else.

Set in 1989, at the peak of the Cold War, British agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is sent to investigate the death of a fellow agent in Berlin. Cue all the tropes you associate with this genre: mistaken identity, betrayal, secret list of undercover operatives, and so on and so forth. It even does the very thing this clip from The Other Guys is making fun of; it starts at the end, then goes to the beginning, periodically returning to the end, giving various characters’ perspectives. Ridiculous.

The other characters? Hardly worth mentioning, but Broughton is teamed up with another agent named David Percival (James McAvoy) who may or may not be up to something. She also encounters a rookie French agent named Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), who Broughton finds much more amusing than Percival.

Does it matter that this movie paints by numbers? It certainly doesn’t have to matter. Movies like Mission: Impossible and John Wick have very little going on upstairs, but what they do have is unrelenting spectacular action sequences! Atomic Blonde has one of those, and while it may be one of the best examples of an action spectacle in a long, long time, it doesn’t do enough to hold the other 90 minutes of the movie afloat.

Atomic Blonde the film wisely immerses us in the music of the times. The best part about Atomic Blonde is its selection and execution of the New Wave/Punk music of the time. Like Baby Driver, none of this music is original; the art is not in the music but rather the selections, arrangement, and placement. I have an even deeper appreciation of David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” now.

So what do we have here? Do we have the “female James Bond,” as some publicized this film to be? No. We have middle of the road espionage, set in a provocative time period with good music and one great action scene. That’s just enough to recommend it, but not without the caveat that it comes with a high risk of disappointment. C+

Atomic Blonde is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 55 minutes.

The Hangover Part III

ImageI’m not sure what critics were expecting to see when they went to see The Hangover Part III, but clearly they didn’t see it. Words like ‘deplorable,’ ‘tasteless,’ ‘unfunny,’ and ‘indecent’ have been used to describe the film, not to mention the all too repeated yet inevitable phrase ‘what happened in Vegas, should have stayed in Vegas.’ I, on the other hand, must profoundly disagree with this vastly baffling majority. The Hangover Part III is a fitting final chapter that is far from ‘tasteless,’ and in fact even expresses some rather poignant truths about friendship.

The Hangover Part III wisely turns its back on the “what happened last night?” premise, and freshens things up with a new conflict, although it still involves looking for Doug. This time the Wolfpack assembles for an intervention for Allen (Zack Galifianakis) following the sudden death of his father (Jeffery Tambor) and a terribly public mishap with a giraffe. While enroute to a mental rehabilitation facility, Allen, Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Doug (Justin Bartha) are abducted by mobster, Marshall (John Goodman). Marshall orders Phil, Stu, and Allen to track down Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) who stole $21 million in gold from him or he’ll kill Doug. It seems oddly hypocritical that series like the Harry Potter films are allowed to break with formula and get significantly darker over time, yet when a film like The Hangover Part III does the same, there is an uproar. Nonetheless, this new direction allows the characters more room to breathe as they commence an enjoyable manhunt that takes them to California, to Tiajuana, and of course, to Vegas!

Various nods to the previous two films are sprinkled throughout in enjoyable ways and even the Marshall character is fittingly introduced. Jeong’s role is substantially larger in this installment, and while his presence felt far too forced and substantial in the second film, he shines in Part III. It is true that there are not as many laughs in The Hangover Part III as there were in the original, but it also has a different tone where laughs are sacrificed for occasional moments of intensity. Nonetheless, the film is still a comedy, and the laughs that happen are strong and surpass the lazy unoriginal ones from Part II. In fact, this film minimizes its references to Part II to such a degree that this film could be considered Part II, and Part II could be a sort of appendix or something.

The argument for whether Part III (or Part II) was necessary is a larger issue that does not only apply to this set of films but to all part II’s and part III’s. Thus, on the merits of what is presented, The Hangover Part III is a successful and entertaining film. It devises a reasonable premise, offers a clever plot-twist or two, and even provides some insight on friendship. The latter part is perhaps the film’s least successful endeavor, as it pounds the audience over the head with various versions of Trent Reznor’s song “Hurt;” however, a scene towards the end utilizing that song does have a ring of truth to it.

Director Todd Phillips listened to his critics and detractors after Part II and gave them exactly what they wanted in Part III, yet his new vision is not being embraced. While the franchise has seemingly run out of steam, and a Hangover Part IV is incredibly unlikely and ill-advised, Part III is a perfectly good send off to these characters that deserves to be seen even if the “hang” is “over.” B

The Hangover Part III is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes. While there is no stinger after the credits, definitely make sure you stick around for about a minute after the credits begin rolling.

Flight

Director Robert Zemeckis has given us the latest “disaster” movie. In the case of Flight however, Zemeckis’ first live-action film since 2000’s Cast Away, this is less the Die Hard kind of “disaster” and more the Leaving Las Vegas type. Zemeckis is a well-known director, whose films have peppered the pop-culture lexicon for the past 35 years. He is a pioneer who took Marty McFly Back to the Future, taught Forrest to run in Forrest Gump, and broke new ground in live-action/animation film making with films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Beowulf, The Polar Express, and A Christmas Carol. This year, Zemeckis showcases his craft with a strong character study of a disturbed pilot in Flight.

The intensity and effectiveness of Flight rests on the shoulders of its star, Denzel Washington, and it turns out Denzel Washington has some pretty strong shoulders. Washington dives head first into the character of pilot Whip Whitaker (a classic “pilot” name). Whitaker is a closeted addict, shrouded in denial. He routinely drinks to excess and uses stimulants to even out before flights. His lifestyle has cost him virtually any relationship or contact with his wife and son and has led him down the path of womanizing and heavy substance abuse as a desperate form of distraction.

Flight sets out to tell a story of moral ambiguity. Its protagonist is one who tests the ethical boundaries of the audience where at one moment we are rooting for him and the next, we are disgusted by him. This ambiguity fuels the pace and power of the film, and makes its 138 minute running time literally “fly” by. Washington is excellent, but Zemeckis is precise in his style, editing, and (yes, Pam and Eric) in his cinematography. Washington makes us see Whitaker’s struggle, but Zemeckis makes us feel it with expert use of camera movements, showing us a static sober Whitaker and a flowing, frantic intoxicated Whitaker. The crash sequence is compelling and exceeds expectations, regardless of its assumed predictability. These nuanced touches make Flight deeply engaging and provide for some harrowingly primal audience reaction.

Furthermore, Washington’s stellar performance is complemented at every turn with a pitch perfect supporting cast including Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, Melissa Leo, and John Goodman (who is 2 for 2 with electric supporting roles this year with Flight and Argo). While the performances and the story are excellent, Flight does not accomplish all it is trying to do. A motif of religious purpose and providence feels crow barred in. Also, while excellent, the soundtrack is a bit heavy-handed in its relevance to what’s happening on the screen, which can be distracting. However, these are minor quibbles. Overall, Flight is an excellent narrative that explores the dangers of addiction in an impressively unique way. This is a strong film that expertly demonstrates the talent of its cast and director. A-

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