Movie Review – Atomic Blonde

I guess blondes have more fun after all.

“Atomic Blonde” is directed by David Leitch and stars Charlize Theron and James McAvoy in an action flick set in the Cold War era (1989). Although, upon watching, this movie has more of an espionage-esque “spy movie” feel to it rather than something like “Die Hard” or anything…okay I’m gonna come clean, I’m a little behind on the action genre (as in I haven’t seen John Wick or Kingsman)…but the point is I watched “Atomic Blonde” anyway and I had fun! Let’s get into details:

Even though it is fairly obvious for these two actors at this point, I feel the need to praise both Theron and McAvoy anyway for being so good at what they do. It’s always harder to play something like a “no nonsense spy/cop” because with most people its just so hard to take seriously, especially if they’re given silly dialogue. Theron and McAvoy were BOTH given some lines I didn’t particularly care for, but I still bought their performances the entire time. Theron’s character of Lorraine Broughton is brutal, intelligent, and ferocious..whereas McAvoy’s character of David Percival is a mystery hiding behind a front he puts up, and this is conveyed pretty well. Great acting always makes movies like this a lot more fun, and I’m glad this casting worked out the way it did.

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The fight scenes are so ridiculously entertaining, and it feels realistic for a few reasons. For one thing, it is so obvious that Theron put in the time, effort, and work in to train for these scenes. She gave us an intensely physical performance and that alone makes this movie worth the watch. Additionally, Theron’s character doesn’t just breeze her way through every fight with multiple armed/trained KGB agent…she gets punched…a lot. It didn’t feel like a “Black Widow” situation to me where she’s almost never in any trouble even when she goes up against aliens, it felt like this really was a woman who’s mastered her craft and that makes her perfectly capable of fighting multiple bigger opponents at the same time.

Despite these great fight scenes, like I mentioned before, this had more of a spy-movie feeling to it, and a rather gritty one at that. There isn’t much color, and I think that works due to the setting being Berlin (before the wall came down). Even with a more “gray” color scheme, the music and sound design are so delightful because it is engineered to go with the action. So the music will be loud and fun, cut out when someone slams a door, cut back in when Theron throws a punch, etc. Whatever vibe they were going for, it ended up being a lot of fun. There were a few moments where the editing was off and it made a fight scene look more choreographed than natural, but it only happened about once or twice.

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The narrative structure of the movie was kind of weird, and I’m not really sure if it worked for me. Agent Broughton is in an interrogation room recalling the mission with her MI6 superiors, and the actual mission is told through flashbacks. The issue I had is that when the story would get good, there would be a flash forward back to the interrogation room where John Goodman got a line in and looked tense about something, and then we’re back to the mission. I’m not quite sure how they could’ve told the story better, but I just know the back-and-forth took me out of it sometimes, especially when I was hyped after a good scene. In the end, there’s nothing too compelling or original about the narrative either. They tried, but that brings me to my next point.

Who’s bright idea was it to “shamalamadingdong” the ending and throw in 3-4 (I lost count) “twists” in the last 10 minutes of run-time? Seriously, this movie’s ending is so weird and I’m quoting the friend I saw it with: “Wait…so what happened?”. It’s not that they were subtle or they were obvious either, they just..existed. I would’ve rather had them beat me over the head with it with more “on the nose” writing and stop after the 2nd twist instead of doing what happened here. Considering that this was the last part of the ride, the landing just didn’t stick and it left me feeling unsatisfied.

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Despite that rather hefty disappointment, I was along for the ride and felt good about it. If you’re looking for some cool secret-agent moments with great acting and well-choreographed fights, check this movie out. As for me, I’m gonna go ahead and give “Atomic Blonde” a 7.5/10

Movie Review – Dunkirk

“Tom Hardy wearing a mask” is the officially the new “Sean Bean’s character dies”.

[THERE WILL BE NO SPOILERS OF MAJOR PLOT DETAILS IN THIS REVIEW]

Wait…can you really spoil a “True Story” though? Eh, whatever. I hope you guys don’t mind, but I wont be using gifs or anything colorful this time, I’m just going to go at it.

“Dunkirk” is the newest film by critically acclaimed and (pretty much) universally loved by film nerds everywhere director, Christopher Nolan. This movie is based on the true story of the Dunkirk Evacuation during WWII, where British (among others) soldiers were stranded on a beach in northern France while being attacked by Germans, and all hope for these 400,000 men seemed to be lost.

This was a very experimental project, even for Nolan, as nothing about this movie screams “traditional” to me. Personally, Nolan has made two movies that are probably in my top 10 of all time (“The Prestige” and “The Dark Knight”). I admire how much passion he puts in to the things he creates and I was very excited to see this in 70mm IMAX. I feel the need to put this disclaimer in here before the review starts, but I don’t think this is Nolan’s best work despite the hype when reviews first came out. I think at the end of the day, how you feel about this movie depends on why you go watch movies, and being objective is a little tougher than one would imagine. With that, lets get in to details.

To get the obvious out of the way, WOW. This is nothing short of a beautiful visual spectacle, and some of these shots are so realistic and jaw-dropping. If you are interested in this movie at all, don’t wait for the blu-ray. Go see this gorgeous piece of cinematic art in the best format (70mm IMAX or bust). You wont only be doing your eyes a favor…but your ears as well because this is some of the best use of sound in a film I’ve heard. Hans Zimmer…my man…well done, yet again. Everything I’m about to say about the narrative and the tone of the movie is supplemented by the film-making and it adds to the psychological effects that Nolan wanted his audience to feel. Its absolutely breathtaking and heard-pounding..and due to the nature of the film, very nerve-wracking.

So because the narrative has multiple parts to it, the story is structured in a way that it is told via three different viewpoints: the Mole, the Sea, and the Air. I was actually a huge fan of this because we got to see a lot of variation in the toll that the conflict took on these characters in the different scenarios. It really drives home the point that war effects everyone somehow and that despite the same goal, there are different objectives. I personally really enjoyed the parts on the Sea, due to Cillian Murphy’s brilliant acting and the character played by Sir Mark Rylance. There’s even a moment on the sea with a younger character and Cillian Murphy which tore me apart inside, among all the other heavier moments in this movie.

The “villain” in this movie isn’t the Germans, as you would expect in a traditional WWII movie…the antagonist is the feeling of anxiety itself. Once this movie picks up, it doesn’t stop at all, and you’re constantly on the edge of your seat. You’re spending the whole time wondering how/if these guys are going to survive that you forget for a second that you’re watching a movie and not just experiencing panic yourself. Unfortunately, that brings me to the point where the movie lost me, and the reason I’m probably going to hear some backlash.

I understand that in a war situation, especially a suicide mission-esque scenario, that no one’s going to sit around a campfire and say they’ve got a wife waiting at home for them or something, its unrealistic to expect that. However, as real as this movie was trying to be, the story is still being told through the medium of “film”, and film requires characters to latch on to that can reel you in to the story. I can’t remember the name of a single character in this film, much less the kid on the actual poster. That’s an issue for me, because while I love feeling a scenario and a well-structured narrative…movies are about the characters for me. Most, if not all, of my favorite movies have amazing character development and someone I can look at and say “I empathize/sympathize with them” because of what I have learned about their character throughout the film.

However, admittedly, I understand that character arcs weren’t the point of this movie. I said earlier that the villain of this movie is anxiety, and that anxiety stems from the fear that these people aren’t going to survive. I had to sit down, sleep on it, talk to some friends about it…and it doesn’t help that I wasn’t in the best of moods when I saw it. But Nolan wanted to tell a story and make his audience feel a part of it, and I feel like he accomplished this. Even if for some reason he couldn’t, the risks this project took and the originality of it (despite it being another WWII movie) is something to admire. I have a personal preference for good characters in the movies I watch, but this is one of the rare cases where what the director wants goes beyond what I want, and I feel like I must acknowledge that despite the fact that I wouldn’t jump at the chance to watch this movie again.

At the end of the day, “Dunkirk” is extremely thrilling and ambitious. I said at the start that how you receive this movie depends on what you go to movies for, and I hope by now that my audience knows what I look for, but that I do my best to be objective despite personal taste. With that being said, I’m giving “Dunkirk” an 8.5/10.

Go see this one with an open-mind in the best theater you can find, you won’t regret it.

Guest Post – Movie Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

If you weren’t hyped over a Matt Reeves Batman film…well you should be now.

This Piece is written and contributed by one of my best friends, Andrew Park! Andrew currently works as an account executive for the Ontario Fury, a professional indoor soccer team in southern California. Passionate for all things sports, Andrew aspires to turn that passion into a profession of writing for websites such as The Ringer. He graduated from Cornell University with a Bachelor’s in industrial and labor relations, and currently writes for his own blog and podcasts occasionally. Show him some love by clicking here!

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The highly-anticipated third act of the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise, director Matt Reeves returns from his success after being brought on for the same role in the second installment, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. A franchise which traces its origins to the novel, La Planète des Singes (translated to Planet of the Apes), by French author Pierre Boulles, the Planet of the Apes, has experienced its most successful stretch of movies in its history. Having been a fan of the first two installments of the reboot franchise, I came into the movie with fairly high expectations, and left — for the most part — satisfied.

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For the uninitiated, the Apes (note: will refer to the franchise as this from now on) premise is that apes of all kinds around the world have gained a heightened level of intelligence due to the spread of an Alzheimer’s cure gone bad, which has turned into what is known as the “Simian Flu”. Humans have had a fairly negative effect from the virus — death. Heading into War (shortening this too for convenience sake), we find that the humans have decreased even more in number, and are shown as a military faction Alpha-Omega, lead by the mysterious Colonel (Woody Harrelson). The main protagonist of the trilogy, the chimpanzee leader Caesar (Andy Serkis), is joined by the clan of sentient apes he leads, as well as returning characters such as Rocket (chimpanzee) and Maurice (Bornean orangutan). The movie follows Caesar’s journey that hopefully bring two main goals: closure and survival.

As with the previous two installments of the rebooted franchise, War boasts of absolutely incredible CGI and visuals. The movie takes place in wilderness of northern California — Muir Woods to be exact — amidst a very snowy winter. With a movie like Apes, where the movie centers around sentient primates, one would have to assume that the actual apes would not be simply actors in mere costumes, but enhanced with the technology of CGI. The closeups of the faces of characters such as Caesar and Maurice are able to show the subtle changes of emotion where — for lack of a better word — they are certainly “humanlike”. It’s absolutely incredible where cinematic technology has gone, and this movie is the most recent poster child of said technology. The part I was the most blown away was that at times, I felt that Maurice — a completely computer-generated character — felt more realistic than Serkis as Caesar. That’s how amazing the CGI was for this film.

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Yes, that’s all CGI. Incredible.

Speaking of Serkis, ever since his performance as Gollum/Smeagol in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it seems that his main calling card has been these CGI roles — one that he does not seem to get enough credit for. Serkis again delivers a masterful performance, further showing that CGI’d (if that is even a word…it is now) actors have as much impact on movies as regular actors. Even as Caesar, who at this point can speak English in full sentences, the list of lines pales in comparison in terms of pure volume as that of a traditional role. But Serkis shows that less is more, and is able to show a leader who is constantly haunted by his checkered past, but still has to maintain an air of confidence as the undisputed and beloved leader of his species.

War brings the “quality over quantity” aspect of screenplay to the table, as the few lines that are uttered by Caesar or acted out via sign language from one of his cohorts still have hard-hitting impact. With the least amount of humans on-screen, despite having the least amount of dialogue of the trilogy by far, it holds up as the most thought-provoking.

This all goes to say that this film definitely has its own flaws that keep it from becoming an absolute masterpiece. Because of the sparse dialogue and frequent subtitle-aided sign language, a more casual viewer is likely to miss certain lines communicated between the apes, as well as the pure facial expressions. The lack of lines places heavy emphasis on the actions of the characters, which does have an effect of drawing out certain sections of the movie. The film ended in a fairly abrupt and convenient manner, which is always a disappointing result to have after such beautiful build-up to the climax.

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Ultimately, I had a great time watching this — especially having invested time in the two previous installments — and would ultimately recommend this to others who have done the same. Some of the best CGI I have ever seen on the big screen, with some of the best lines and moments of the film delivered without a single word being spoken.

I give War for the Planet of the Apes an 8.5/10.

Movie Review – Baby Driver

Nobody puts Baby in a corner…what? Wrong movie?

[THERE WILL BE NO SPOILERS OF MAJOR PLOT DETAILS IN THIS REVIEW]

“Baby Driver” is written and directed by the talented Edgar Wright and stars Ansel Elgort as Baby, a partially-deaf getaway driver for a crime boss played by Kevin Spacey. The film also stars Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez, and Jamie Foxx as a few of the interesting criminals that Baby has to work with on these jobs for Kevin Spacey.

I had only heard small things about the premise of this movie before actually sitting down and watching it, although I instantly became a fan of Edgar Wright after watching “Scott Pilgrim vs The World” to the point where I tried to flag some of the scenes he may have been responsible for before leaving while I was watching “Ant-Man”. I very much enjoy what Wright does in his films in terms of cinematography and direction.

The gimmick that Wright goes for in this movie involves something everybody can relate to: music. Baby drowns out the perpetual ringing in his ear by listening to music, and Wright exploits this to make some of the most riveting and breathtaking sequences I’ve seen in a movie. You could argue that this movie IS a musical because of how important the tunes are to this movie, and this is what piqued my interest initially.

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Like pretty much everyone even mildly interesting, music has played a giant role in my life. Many may not know this about me (its something I don’t talk about much anymore) but I actually used to be a dancer on a collegiate team that participated in competitions. I wasn’t the most technically gifted, in fact I had to learn most things multiple times before it sank, but my favorite part of dancing was really listening to music and finding things I wouldn’t have heard normally, like a little off-beat, bass, or an instrument that’s tucked away in the back. Dancing forever changed the way I listened to music, and that hasn’t changed regardless of me not continuing to practice. Because of this, I’ve got to say…from the first 10 minutes of “Baby Driver”, I was instantly hooked.

Edgar Wright unleashed a volley of originality and creativity with the incorporation of the soundtrack into his direction here. So many times I found myself tapping my foot along with what I was hearing and seeing, only to have Wright catch me off guard with a subtle sound effect from a prop used by a character (gun, car door, etc.). Seriously, these sequences are visually stunning and are literally (and figuratively) music to your ears that leaves you with a feeling of satisfaction and wonderment.

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Initially I was a little worried about Elgort being able to carry his own movie alongside actors like Spacey and Foxx, but I definitely ate my words because Elgort really sends a message with this introverted, confident, and empathetic character he plays. If I’m remembering correctly, Baby doesn’t even have much dialogue compared to the other characters, but he’s a surprisingly real character. To go deeper in to the acting part of it, particularly with Spacey, Foxx, and Hamm…pay attention to the first time you see their characters and the last, because Wright does some flips on us if you see things from Baby’s perspective (tough to explain without spoilers), which shouldn’t be difficult considering that the movie really explores what this kid is going through and the things he notices. Lily James is also in this movie as Debora, Baby’s eventual love interest…and despite being an English actress, she really made me believe she was an innocent, sweet southern girl for the entire movie.

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Even with how much I’m gushing over this movie so far, I do NOT think it’s perfect. Edgar Wright is often criticized for being “style over substance”, obviously not as much as someone like Snyder, but it still is something you hear about him. Because his style is so unique and is sure to make people smile, I don’t exactly mind…but if you’ve been reading Soggz-Blogs for a while now, you know how much I love characterization. Unfortunately, aside from the character of Baby, this movie lacks a bit in that department. It is there if you look, but often times it is rushed or glossed over to make the film more compact or use the time for the admittedly awesome action…which aren’t necessarily bad things, but it did make me feel “cut-off” in a sense. The best example I can think of is actually the character of Debora: Wright spends the time to make this blossoming love between Baby and Debora so important…that at some point you ask “Why exactly is she so quick to rush to Baby’s side, even when it poses a threat to her?”. Even with the criminal characters…at the end of the day I refer to them as “Jon Hamm” or “Jamie Foxx” rather than how I refer to Elgort as “Baby”. I guess that’s the biggest difference…the characterization for Baby was really good, but everyone else seemed to be there or be the way they are because “reasons”. Additionally, the ending of the movie felt very rushed and abrupt. It wasn’t like “Mass Effect 3” levels of unsatisfying, but it still was confusing enough for me to mention it. Despite this, I think the actors themselves and how entertaining they all are make up a little bit for the missing characterization I was looking for and still made “Baby Driver” an awesome experience for me.

This is in my top 3 movies of the year so far, along with “Get Out” and “Logan”. Go see this movie, everyone. “Baby Driver” gets a 9/10.

I had a lot of people telling me to see this one, and I don’t regret it at all. If you have something coming out this summer that you’d like me to review, let me know!