Tag Archives: Charlize Theron

“Atomic Blonde”

LOUISA:  3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

I wanted “Atomic Blonde” to be better than it is, but it is good enough. Just because this movie is a disappointment doesn’t mean it’s bad, but it’s certainly not as great as it wants you to believe. If you’ve seen the trailer, then you’ve seen all of the best parts of the movie, in order. Of course the previews make it look awesome because the studio just showed you the four minute version of the entire film. It’s honest trickery to be sure, but don’t expect any exciting surprises.

The global action thriller, based on Antony Johnston‘s graphic novel series “The Coldest City,” is set in Berlin on the eve of the Wall’s collapse. British spy Lorraine (Charlize Theron) is sent to uncover the identity of a bad guy who’s murdering all the best MI6 agents. Her contact in Germany, David (James McAvoy), may not be as helpful as he seems, and the pair go on a car wrecking, bone crushing sweep through the city.

There’s far too much going on in the confusing plot, and the exceedingly shallow characters don’t help matters. Yes, the fight scenes are strong and the cinematography stylish, but take out the showy elements and you’re left with a garden variety spy thriller that plods along under the weight of its sluggish story. The plot is crammed with too many “gotcha” twists and turns, a lesbian sex scene that feels forced, and standard issue spy thriller twists and turns.

Another problem with the film is that at times it feels like a “Baby Driver” rip-off, complete with stylish action sequences and set pieces set to pop music. Edgar Wright’s breakthrough indie film has cornered the niche market on the use of retro music to choreograph action, and here the booming 80s tunes are distracting and not all that fun. They stick out like a sore thumb and make zero narrative sense. The worst offender being a fight sequence set to George Michael’s “Father Figure,” with a climax that coincides with the ending notes of the song. It’s so hokey that I almost started laughing , something that was definitely an unintended audience reaction.

The pulsating 80s pop soundtrack isn’t even the most annoying storytelling device. This whole project is stylishly smug, with director David Leitch endlessly paying homage to other films (most notably “Inglorious Basterds” and “John Wick”), breaking the fourth wall, inserting silly combat sound effects, and showing off with mood lighting and splashy camera angles. He even inserts a vintage MTV clip of Kurt Loder discussing sampling music (“is it stealing?”) as yet another “hey, look at me!” ego-feeding wink.

Despite these major flaws, audiences will flock to see a female character beat bad guys to a bloody pulp with her bare hands. You’ve most likely heard rave reviews about the hallway scene: it’s good, but not great. The fight scenes overall are strong but hardly as spectacular as the film wants them to be. Sadly, they get super repetitive because the fight choreography is almost identical from scene to scene. If you’re looking for some good fistfights, this won’t disappoint you. It’s also super satisfying to see a woman in her 40s hold her own as a kick-ass action hero.

There’s enough to like about “Atomic Blonde” that it’s not a total disaster, and most scenes the feature McAvoy are wholly entertaining. Theron proves she can carry a badass chick film on her back with enough attitude and toughness to spare. Lower your expectations and it’s an enjoyable enough night at the movies.

“The Fate of the Furious”

LOUISA: 4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

As a car lover and a huge fan girl of the entire franchise, I set the bar almost unfairly high for “The Fate of the Furious.” As started with “Furious 7,” the films have been slowly evolving towards more of an action-packed cyber thriller than a classic parade of drool-worthy dream cars and engine-revving stunt driving.

So what does that mean for you? Well, it means newbies should have no trouble following along with the story or figuring out who’s who, but longtime fans aren’t ignored either. While there aren’t quite as many car-centric scenes as I’d like, the film remains true to its characters in the familial fashion for which the series is known. There are also plenty of fun throwback references to the old films and surprise cameos for die-hards too (you’ll know when they turn up based on the audience cheers and applause).

Initially I was very disappointed in the direction this film takes, fantasizing about how I wanted to grab director F. Gary Gray by the shoulders and shake him while hollering “less tech plot, more cars!” But as the story progressed, I realized something: if you just let go and embrace this movie as more of an action blockbuster than a gearhead race picture, all will be right with the world. If you are expecting heart-stopping stunt driving and racing throughout, you’ll find this installment to be a bit of a letdown. There are nearly as many bullets flying as there is rubber burning.

And that’s where the majority of the criticism I have for this film lies: it NEEDS MORE CARS. If you’re going to make a Fast and Furious movie, you need to have it packed with flashy driving scenes that employ actual stunt drivers. For example: one of the most creative and exciting scenes involves zombie cars that are obviously animated with CGI, which is a far cry from “Furious 7” where the production crew dropped actual vehicles from the cargo bay of a plane — but I’ll let it slide this time because the idea behind it is So. Freaking. COOL!

The car scenes unfortunately feel more like bookends than a fundamental core of the movie. It starts out with a spectacularly boisterous nitrous-fueled drag race through the streets of Havana and ends with a not-long-enough car chase across a frozen lake involving a hijacked Russian nuclear submarine, a million dollar neon orange Lamborghini Murcielago, and heat seeking missiles. Both scenes had me sitting up in my seat and whooping with glee, making me forget all of the plot filler that is stuffed in the middle. There are several truly amusing sequences sprinkled throughout though, from an entertaining as hell (yet oddly bloodless) prison riot to a baby-juggling fistfight on an airplane. What is truly incredible is that while it’s undeniably over the top, none of this feels THAT ridiculous.

The acting is mildly hammy but fun (with Michelle Rodriguez once again delivering the standout performance as Letty). The majority of the dialogue consists of musclehead rivals Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) hurling insults at each other while Tej (Ludacris) and everyone’s favorite alpha-male Roman (Tyrese Gibson) exchange their trademark barbs for comic relief. Dom (Vin Diesel) doesn’t have all that much to do in this installment and for the first half it’s the Statham and Johnson show. Charlize Theron is a welcome addition as cyberterrorist Cipher, and both Kurt Russell and Nathalie Emmanuel reprise their roles as government agent Mr. Nobody and hacker Ramsey. One new casting choice that rubbed me the wrong way was the addition of Scott Eastwood as agent Little Nobody who (obviously) is also an expert driver. He is likable enough, but it really, really felt like he was brought in as an attempt to replace Brian (Paul Walker). I just wish the series would address that Brian is gone for good and retire his character in an honest and respectful way. I know it hurts (I was crying like a blubbering baby after Walker’s untimely death), but Brian needs to be killed off.

The plot has a few trademark surprise revelations (which I won’t spoil here), including a twist that creates an opening for a beloved character come back in future installments (fingers crossed)! But don’t stick around after the movie ends, as there’s no post-credit sequence.

What anchors this franchise is the exceptional chemistry from its cast, who have an overwhelming sincerity and loyalty to their onscreen personas as well as to each other in real life. The fact that these guys all truly love each other (with the exception of Johnson and Diesel, who famously had a big fight on set) leaps off the screen. The films are thrilling but they are also all about family, and you can’t help but smile, buckle in, and hang on for the next ride.

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“Kubo and the Two Strings”

LOUISA:  4 STARS MATT: 4.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Move over, Pixar: there’s a new game in town. “Kubo and the Two Strings” is the latest big screen effort from Laika, an animation studio that has had its own ups and downs over the years, but reaches a new level in quality and storytelling with this gorgeous, haunting film. The sheer artistry on display here is overwhelming, from the richness and scope of the animation to the imaginative fable that incorporates Japanese samurai mythology.

Laika’s signature animation style is loved by some and loathed by others (I’m in the former camp). Since it’s stop-motion yet still computer animated, the characters move in a very specific way, which really adds to the feel of the film. There’s a great deal of depth and complexity in the animation that mirrors the story’s narrative. The overall themes of kindness, remembrance, redemption and discovering your own bravery are decidedly adult. It’s hard not to love and be inspired by Kubo’s heroic nature.

In the story, young one-eyed boy Kubo (Art Parkinson) accidentally summons a spiteful, vengeful spirit. Guided by his late father (who appears as a silent origami warrior), Kubo goes on a great quest with Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) and Monkey (Charlize Theron) to solve a mystery involving his dad’s armor. Kubo must eventually face his grandfather, the evil Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), to take a stand against his blindness to humanity. Kubo does so with his magical musical instrument as his only weapon.

The voice talent reaches perfection across the board. McConaughey adds comic relief but in a sincere, honest way. Theron gives a heartbreaking, quietly ferocious performance too, and Fiennes finds the perfect balance that mixes sinister with kindness.

Make no mistake, this is a very sophisticated film in both style and tone (and in my opinion shouldn’t be marketed to family audiences). There are more than a few very frightening scenes that are certain to scare delicate kiddos. I would recommend this film for mature, thoughtful kids ages 11 and up. A good litmus test for parents is whether or not your kid could handle “Frankenweenie,” “ParaNorman” and “Coraline.” If they sailed through those without incident, then “Kubo” will be suitable for them.

What a true pleasure it is to see a smart animated film with such a fully realized scope. “Kubo and the Two Strings” is touching, magical, masterful and a must-see.

MATT SAYS:

Beautifully animated by the studio Laika, “Kubo and the Two Strings” is a well-written story of a brave young boy who must set out on a epic quest following the death of his parents. It is easily one of my favorite animated movies of the past several years and proves the point of how an art form using drawings, clay figurines, and computers can be used to express emotions in a way that can be even more evocative than using live actors.

Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a young boy living in a village with his mother. When vengeful supernatural spirits come looking for him, he is forced to venture out in search of a magical suit of armor that can help protect him against his evil grandfather (Ralph Fiennes). Along the way, he is helped by his guardians Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey).

Laika’s stop-motion animation style is well-suited for Kubo’s story; the world of “Kubo and the Two Strings” is fully realized. The backgrounds are subtly textured and the paper and clay models lifelike and expressive. The principal voice actors turn in strong performances; even though there are a number of recognizable names in the cast (which, in animated features, is usually all about stunt casting to increase box office draw), they each do a good job of imbuing their characters with a distinct and authentic personality. There are no false notes here; the studio does a great job of building on their strong past (which includes the gems “Coraline” and “ParaNorman”) by taking as much time to get the script right as the animation.

A word of warning: although it’s animated, “Kubo and the Two Strings” is not the right choice for children of all ages. Although the main character is a child, many of the themes are more adult in nature. It’s full of dark material that will frighten younger kids. For older kids and adults seeking a timeless tale of good versus evil in a land of magic and magical creatures where friends, family, and loyalty will help to win the day, it’s a great choice.

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“The Huntsman: Winter’s War”

LOUISA:   3.5 STARS    MATT:   4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” is a much better movie than it should be. In this sequel (and prequel) to 2012’s also enjoyable “Snow White and the Huntsman,” the classic fairy tale is given a modern storytelling spin. It’s like a grown up, real life version of Disney’s animated “Frozen.”

Emily Blunt plays Freya the ice queen and Charlize Theron is back as her sister, the wicked evil queen Ravenna. There’s a rivalry between the two but thank goodness Eric the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) returns to save the day and sets off to track down the famed mirror mirror on the wall. The hunky huntsman isn’t alone in his heroic quest this time around: allied with him is fellow warrior Sara (Jessica Chastain) and a quartet of sarcastically witty dwarves (Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith and Alexandra Roach). There’s no Kristen Stewart as Snow White this time, but I really didn’t miss her too much.

Before you dismiss this as another ‘damsel in distress’ film, let me assure you it’s not. This is an ass-kicking feminist fantasy action / adventure film, and it works. The cast has great chemistry across the board. The lively fight sequences are well choreographed. There’s just the right mix of slightly suggestive humor (and it’s where the film mostly earns its PG-13 rating). Yes, there’s a love story (and it’s a good one too, sure to appeal to those who love sappy romantic films), but the female-centric fable drives the plot and action. The convoluted and ridiculous plot isn’t the star of the film, but instead this movie is all about the larger-than-life performances, splashy costumes, lavish makeup and dazzling visual effects.

I am not a fan of films that rely heavily on computer generated animation, but only if that animation isn’t competently executed. The effects here are flawless, impressive and extremely well done. Icy walls, black tar daggers, shattered golden mirrors, wisecracking dwarves and more totally immersed me in the imagined world. (Okay, the CGI goblins were a bit of a turnoff but one stinker out of thousands of visuals isn’t too bad).

Fans of costumes will no doubt take great delight in the wardrobing. I found myself gasping at some of the outfits,  especially Ravenna’s ensembles and makeup (her crown, her hair, her accessories, the gold feathered eye makeup…WOW!!!). The show-stopping costumes coupled with the accomplished animated effects make the film a visual feast.

If you want to escape to a fantasy world for a couple of hours and enjoy talented actors, beautiful costumes, a few laughs and some of the best visual effects in recent memory, go see this movie.

MATT SAYS:

This sequel to 2012’s “Snow White and the Huntsman” is surprisingly good and an entertaining watch.

The story is part-sequel, part-prequel, starting with the origin story of Eric the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain), who were trained to fight in the army of Queen Freya (Emily Blunt). After a gap of several years (during which the events of the previous movie took place), the movie finds Eric living in Snow White’s kingdom. After the magic mirror that belonged to evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) goes missing, Eric is sent by Snow White to seek out and retrieve the mirror along with his dwarf sidekicks, Nion (Nick Frost) and Gryff (Rob Brydon).

One of the problems with going to the movies all of the time is that by the time I see a movie in the theater, I’ve almost always seen the trailer for the movie several times (in the case of “Captain America: Civil War,” I’ve probably seen that trailer 20 plus times). As I’m watching the film, I frequently say to myself — “oh, this must be the scene from the trailer where X happens.” Add that together with the fact that most big-budget pictures are almost always intensely predictable, and I find that it’s only in rare instances where I really don’t know exactly where the story is going.

In “The Huntsman: Winter’s War,” I found myself pleasantly surprised, particularly during the critical second act when Hemsworth and Chastain carry the story. Hemsworth is intensely likeable and sympathetic as Eric, and he has an easy chemistry with Chastain that provides a solid foundation for the story. Add in the dependable Blunt and Theron as the two sister queens, and you have a better-than-average big budget movie.

Key negatives are that the battle scenes are filled with the all-too-familiar fast cutting that makes it difficult to follow the action (and is particularly effective at masking lazy fight choreography), and that the resolution of the fight at the film’s climax is a foregone conclusion that lacks dramatic tension. We know what’s going to happen, and watching the characters get there as the final minutes unfold isn’t particularly exciting.

The Hollywood prognosticators have been quick to condemn “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” as the first big flop of 2016. And financially it may be that, but a lack of box office success doesn’t indicate a lack of quality. This movie is good. If you like these actors, it’s worth watching.