Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde

By: Kevin Jordan

Confusion and breasts.

It’s not often that I’m completely confused by my feelings for a movie, but Atomic Blonde is one of those instances.  My immediate reaction at the end of the movie was “I think I liked it?  Maybe?”  It definitely had elements I liked and there weren’t any obvious (at least to me) plot holes, but I wasn’t satisfied by what I had seen.  Very recently, I watched Get Out and my reaction to every reveal in the film was “Oooooohhhh…Whoa!…Oh man!”  Etcetera.  My reactions to the reveals in Atomic Blonde were much more “uuuhhhh…Wait, huh?..But then why…?”  Etcetera.  Of course, Atomic Blonde is a spy thriller, so maybe the confusion was intentional.  Or, my brain is still on strike after being forced to sit through Valerian and the Way Too Long Title last week.

(SPOILER ALERT and do heed this warning.  REVIEW SPOILER ALERT – I think this movie is worth a watch, so look away while you still can.)

I think my first problem with Atomic Blonde is completely subjective.  Like with Baby Driver, it is impossible not to notice the music, but unlike with Baby Driver, the music is not woven into the story or relevant to the scenes.  Atomic Blonde takes place in Berlin in 1989 (a few days before the fall of the Berlin Wall), so most of the music is garbage 80’s pop music (sometimes with German lyrics) that everyone waxes nostalgic about, but secretly hates.  I on the other hand, openly hate that music and it’s basically what I grew up with in my early childhood (I’m currently 38 years old – you do the math).  I did not care for the color palette of the film – which leaned heavily on neons and washed-out blues – nor the spray-painted stencil fonts of the title cards.  If that’s your thing, great, but more importantly, what’s wrong with you?

There is literally no reason for her to pull her collar over her face.

My second problem is I think I need to see this movie again.  The movie takes the saying “oh what a tangled web we weave…” to the extreme.  Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is an MI6 agent tasked with recovering a list of all agents before the Russians get their hands on it.  Plus, there’s a mole/double-agent in the agency.  It’s literally the plot of Mission: Impossible, but with boobs and a much shittier theme song.  You read that right and there’s a scene I won’t spoil for you featuring Charlize Theron doing things you would never think an A-List actress would need to do at this point in her career.  But I will tell you that scene is one of the scenes that never makes sense by the end of the film.

Broughton is supposed to meet up with Berlin Station Chief David Percival (James McAvoy), who was supposed to get the list from his inside man, Spyglass (Eddie Marsan), but which was stolen from the spy Spyglass gave it to who was supposed to give it to Percival.  Got that?  See, I told you.  And that’s the easy part.  Broughton and Percival sorta-kinda work together, but it’s obvious from the start that Percival has his own agenda.  In addition to them, a Russian KGB agent named Aleksander Bremovych (Roland Miller) is also trying to get the list and a French spy named Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella) is there because, well, I’ll have to get back to you on that one.  It’s not clear if Delphine is working on her own or with Percival, but we’re told multiple times that she is a rookie and in over her head so she shows us her boobs to distract us (and presumably Broughton, but also, maybe not).  The film is basically the spy version of Duck, Duck, Goose where everyone is both a duck and a goose and Broughton gets the shit kicked out her.  Except when she’s the goose, that is, and kills every duck that tapped her head.  Still with me after that terrible analogy?

Dude, what happened to your face?

What’s confusing by the end of the film is that many of the character interactions don’t make much sense after all is revealed.  Adding to the confusion (or subterfuge, if you buy what this film is selling), is that nearly everything we see happened in the past.  Broughton is telling the entire story to her boss, Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and CIA agent Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman) while Gray’s boss, C (James Faulkner), looks on.  Director David Leitch pulled this same technique in his only other directing stint (the terribly written, but decently choreographed John Wick), but this time you at least don’t know if Broughton completed her mission (whereas John Wick is a revenge story, so his being alive takes every ounce of suspense out of the film).  So, you are left to wonder who the mole of Atomic Blonde is, if it’s someone in the debriefing room or someone in the story.  But if there’s one thing Leitch is good at, it’s distracting the audience with very good action/fight scenes and naked people.

I’m tempted to lump this film in with Baby Driver as a movie that fails the substance-to-style ratio.  The cynical side of me points to John Wick and wants to dump all over Atomic Blonde, but the optimistic side of me has tied that cynic to a chair and gagged him.  Atomic Blonde’s characters have depth and intrigue and the movie sucks you into their world, even as the music threatens to wrench you right back out of it.  Theron and McAvoy nail their roles and are very convincing in their fight scenes.  I especially like how real the fights seem and how damaged the people are at the end of them.  The makeup people deserve an award for making the beautiful Theron look like an extra from The Walking Dead by the time she ends her story.  The moral of this story is that I’m willing to give this film the benefit of the doubt; that there might be things I missed that explain character connections that don’t appear to add up.  I just don’t know if I can take the music again.

Rating: Ask for half your money back since you’ll have to see it twice.

10 Cloverfield Lane

By: Kevin Jordan

Inception-y horror.

Raise your hand if you knew this movie was coming.  Ok, everyone not involved in the making of this movie, raise your hand.  That’s what I thought; me either, and I know about most movies well before you.  I found out about it maybe two weeks ago when the first trailer was released and my reaction was “wait, when did J.J. Abrams have time to produce another movie while doing Star Wars?”  My next reaction (because I’m a nerd) was “another Cloverfield movie?  Niiiice.”  Then, I watched the trailer and, as is typical with Abrams’ movies, learned just enough to think “Niiiice.”

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There are plenty of things to admire and like about Abrams, but my personal favorite is how good the trailers are for his movies.  Most movie trailers ruin 80% of the film or they completely lie about what the movie is actually about.  Abrams does no such thing, instead, choosing to tease the viewer and raise questions that in the viewer’s mind that must be answered.  In the case of 10 Cloverfield Lane, the trailer shows three people (John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and John Gallagher, Jr.) in a bunker doing trivial things – reading, assembling puzzles, and listening to music.  Then, things start to turn dark with shaking, fires, pointy sticks, handcuffs, and terrified glances.  Finally, Winstead whacks Goodman in the head with a bottle and bolts for the door, getting through the first door (it’s two doors creating a homemade airlock) and locking it before Goodman can reach her.  As she looks out the window, Goodman is screaming at her not to open the door and we see her cover her mouth in horror and…fade to movie title.  Dude.

Now, because we saw Cloverfield (if you didn’t see Cloverfield, what are you doing here?), we have a basic idea why they are in the bunker – rampaging monsters that may or may not be aliens.  After that, nothing.  From the one minute and forty-four second trailer this was what went through my head:

They seem like a family; they’re making the best of a shitty situation; oh there’s John Goodman’s ass dancing in front of a juke box.  (Rumble, rumble) That would be the monsters.  Wait, why does Winstead look terrified of Goodman?  Who’s in the handcuffs?  What’s in the air duct?  FIRE!  Goodman’s little pistol and a sharpened stick are not going to kill those monsters.  Do they have a plan?  Are they all going to die?  Holy shit – she just whacked Goodman with a bottle and made a break for the door?  What the hell is happening here!?  I thought they were a family?  Goodman’s right – don’t go out there!!  Oh my god – what does she see!  (Title screen)  NOOO!! …….. when does this movie open?!?!

Now that is how you make a trailer.  Incidentally, 10 Cloverfield Lane is also how you make a horror movie.  Unlike most horror flicks, 10 Cloverfield Lane doesn’t stoop to cheap tricks like gory deaths or making things jump into the screen.  It uses actual writing and film elements to scare you and make you tense throughout.  It’s a cross between a whole lot of Misery sprinkled with some, well, Cloverfield.  There are genuine moments that shock you because you really weren’t expecting THAT to happen.  In short, it’s a horror movie inside a completely different horror movie.

I’d see any Abrams movie, so I might be a little biased in saying that this movie is definitely worth the price of admission.  But, even if you aren’t an Abrams fan, you almost have to be a John Goodman fan.  Winstead and Gallagher are both good, but Goodman brings his A-game.  As the subplot of “who is he” unfolds, you won’t know what to think.  Is he good, bad, crazy in an innocent way, or crazy in a Hand that Rocks the Cradle kind of way?  Regardless, you will enjoy his character because Goodman was that – uhh – GOOD.

Like the trailer, I’m keeping this short and not giving away too much.  If you’re an Abrams fan and seen his movies, then you know he can’t resist giving you at least a peak at the monster under the bed.  Whether that monster is Goodman or something outside, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back.  Remember this movie when you’re NOT being scared later in the year by movies like The Purge 3.

Love the Coopers

By: Kevin Jordan

Merry effing Christmas (or, a real sausage fest).

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Do you love ensemble movies featuring fourteen different main characters and six stories?  Do you love Christmas movies?  Do you love the thought of attending the annual family Christmas gathering with people you don’t particularly like, but suck it up because you share a few chromosomes with them?  If you answered yes to all three of those questions, then have I got the movie for you – Love the Coopers.  Also, when are you due back at the ward?

The difference between Love the Coopers and other, similar movies (like Love Actually) is that pretty much every character in Love the Coopers is a dick.  Hey – don’t get mad at me, I’m just repeating what Madison, one of the characters in the movie, says.  She may only be six years old, but she’s just telling it like it is.  Let’s go meet these dicks, er, characters, and hear their stories.

First up is Bucky Cooper (Alan Arkin).  He frequents a local diner every day for one reason – Ruby (Amanda Seyfried).  Yes, I said Amanda Seyfried, and I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not like that.  Okay, it’s kind of like that, but it’s much more innocent than a dirty old man stalking a beautiful young woman.  Bucky just misses his dead wife and Ruby reminds her of him.  They joke about the quality of the food, he suggests movies for Ruby to watch, and they have a good time together.  They are two of the nice people in the film, though they do share a moment where they are dicks to each other.

Next up is Hank Cooper (Ed Helms).  He is divorced with three kids, Charlie, Bo, and Madison (Timothee Chalamet, Maxwell Simkins, and Blake Baumgartner, respectively).  He and his ex-wife, Angie (Alex Borstein), hate each other and he is trying to get a new job, but is lying to Angie about still having one.  They are serious dicks to each other, though most of the blame lies on Angie since she is a dick all of the time and Hank is only a dick when Angie brings it out of him.

This leads us to Hank’s kids.  Madison spends time with her grandparents, Hank’s parents, Sam and Charlotte.  You know her story already – she owns the catch phrase of the film.  On the other hand, Charlie and Bo are hanging out the mall.  Bo is looking for the perfect gift for Charlie while Charlie is trying to flirt with his crush, Lauren.  Surprisingly, none of these kids are dicks, which is a nice change for a movie involving teenagers.  In fact, they provide the best part of the movie – a French kissing scene between Charlie and Lauren in which they manage to not touch lips.  Imagine the way two golden retrievers would look if they were making out and you’ve got the idea.

Coincidentally, Emma Cooper (Marisa Tomei) is also at the mall, but not for very long.  She has serious issues with Charlotte (her sister), shoplifting, and lying and spends most of the movie in the back of Officer Percy Williams’ (Anthony Mackie) police car.  In an attempt to not go to jail, Emma decides to use her social worker skills to provide Percy some therapy to help him come to grips with his lack of emotions (due to an abusive mother).  On one hand, I feel bad for Percy because he has to sit and listen to Emma dole out unsolicited advice, but on the other hand – where the hell is the police station?  They drive around for hours, so either he’s lost or he really hates his mom.

Sam (John Goodman) and Charlotte (Diane Keaton) are a whole different story.  Charlotte is a Cooper by birth (Bucky’s daughter) and is the mother-in-law (or mother) that every stereotype was born from.  Everything is always about her, which drives her two kids – Hank and Eleanor – crazy.  Be it Hank’s inability to keep a wife or job or Eleanor’s affair with a married man, Charlotte always wants to know “was it something I did?”  After forty years of marriage, a continuing, unhealthy obsession with her kids, and an untold number of broken promises (including a 35-year delayed trip to Africa), Sam is at the end of his rope.  He doesn’t want to give up, but Charlotte devoted everything to her kids and Sam waited decades for her to devote some time to him.  It’s tough to blame a guy for wanting to have a little happiness before he dies after forty years of being little more than a prop.  And, you would want to leave too if your wife (or husband) insisted on elaborate Christmas gatherings including forcing everyone to say what they are thankful for around the dinner table and sing Christmas carols in the living room as a group.  Dicks like Charlotte are a special breed.

Finally, we have Eleanor Cooper (Olivia Wilde).  She is hanging around the airport after having arrived in town, stalling as much as she can before heading to the big gathering, when she meets Joe (Jake Lacy).  The two of them are as opposite of each other as two people can be, but they are easily the most interesting people in the movie.  They are also the obvious love story of the film, but what makes them interesting is that they are caricatures of the two sides of our political system.  Eleanor is an insufferable, liberal democrat who feels the need to lecture Joe about everything he’s “wrong” about.  Joe is a religious, conservative republican who looks down his nose at Eleanor’s beliefs and judges her on everything.  Also, he’s an Army soldier, just to complete the stereotype.  Joe’s flight is cancelled (which is why they’re both still in the airport) and after several cutesy moments and misunderstandings, Emma convinces him to pretend to be her boyfriend and accompany her to the family gathering.  These two people are not good humans, but they are entertaining.  They also provide the best exchange I’ve heard in a long time:

Eleanor – “You probably don’t even believe in evolution.”

Joe – “If we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?”

Eleanor – “That’s funny; my dog asked me the same thing about wolves.”

I sincerely hope I get to use that last retort in real life because it (and the French kiss scene) made this entire movie worth watching.

By the time the movie gets to the big Christmas dinner, you will be so thoroughly depressed (or disgusted) at either the characters or their lives that you won’t really care if they forgive each other by the end of the film.  This, in a nutshell, is why the vast majority of critics did not like this movie.  There’s no plot to speak of; just a bunch of related people winding their depressing stories toward the inevitable dinner explosion between some, if not all, of them.  And, despite all of that, I found myself not hating this movie.  As much as I didn’t care about any story save Joe and Eleanor, I never once thought I should get up and leave the theater.  Maybe that’s the real power of Christmas – it allows you to see the entertainment value in the numerous dicks in life, rather than just getting angry about them.  You’re looking forward to Christmas dinner now, aren’t you?

Rating: That sloppy kiss and evolution quote are worth the price of admission…if the price of admission was half of what it is today.