REVIEW: Atomic Blonde

26 07 2017

Pick some earwax and you’ll miss it, but a news anchor in the background of David Leitch’s “Atomic Blonde” makes a telling remark as he pivots away from the Berlin Wall’s collapse toward entertainment news. “Sampling,” he asks, “is it art, or is it just plagiarism?” It’s an amusing pop culture callback that functions, likely unwittingly, as a moment of self-interrogation.

“Atomic Blonde” careens back and forth between pastiche, homage and outright theft in its late-’80s espionage romp through a divided Berlin. There’s value in having the agent behind these actions be an unapologetically badass Charlize Theron, a spy who knows few boundaries be they legal, moral or sexual. Also, her first hit to her (primarily) male assailants is typically in the groin region.

But why, oh why, is her opening credits strut set to David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out the Fire)?” That song is now clearly associated with Shoshanna’s empowerment montage in “Inglourious Basterds?” The film boasts a soundtrack full of Reagan-era rock touchstones, and finding another one that did not so immediately recall the work of a superior filmmaker would not be hard.

Screenwriter Kurt Johnstad also insists on a “True Detective” Season 1 style framing device with Theron’s Lorraine Braughton, beaten and bruised, recounting her story in a dark room to two interrogators. It’s a stark contrast to the film’s otherwise blue and pink neon-soaked action, so fluorescent you can’t help but wonder if Nicolas Winding Refn is lurking in some corner offscreen silently brooding. The one exception to the otherwise humdrum proceedings is an ornate combat and escape sequence meant to look like one take (but look closely and you’ll see plenty of cheat cuts masked by whip pans). It’s not a crime to be unoriginal; heck, plenty of other summer 2017 release would be in movie jail if so. But “Atomic Blonde” manages to be that as well as uninspired. C

REVIEW: The Man Who Knew Infinity

11 05 2016

The Man Who Knew InfinityStop me if you think you’ve heard this one before…

A bright man enters a new space as outsider, establishes his genius as a mathematician but then comes undone by some kind of illness. Did I just describe the plot of “A Beautiful Mind,” “The Imitation Game,” or “The Man Who Knew Infinity?” Not so trick question: it was all three. I guess it makes sense that these mathematician-based films all follow formulas – what other class has you memorize them?

To fill in some of the mathematician Mad Libs of the plot, Dev Patel stars as Srinivasa Ramanujan, a brilliant Indian student who overcomes adversity and lands a spot to study at Cambridge University during World War I. Hey, could you guess this story involved British racists? We get a derisive dismissal of him as “you people” within the first THREE minutes!

Ramanujan bonds with his mentor, Jeremy Irons’ Hardy, over their outsider status in the elite university environment and eventually share profound conversations about the immovable mover. In other words, Hardy is just like the Keira Knightley character in “The Imitation Game!”

At least for that film, I had 13 years to slowly forget the details of its comparable predecessor. “The Man Who Knew Infinity” arrives less than two years after “The Imitation Game” and cannot even hurdle the lowest bar that film set. No matter how hard Patel and Irons try, they can never elevate the material. It’s like they are punching a long equation into the calculator, and we see a “divide by zero” almost immediately. At that point, you know this will not turn out well. C2stars

REVIEW: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

19 03 2012

The impressive accomplishments in Tomas Alfredson’s “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” are manifold.  The first, and perhaps what will stick with me the most, is how immaculately crafted the movie is.  Every aspect below the line is crisp and precise, be it Alberto Iglesias’ subtle score, Hoyte van Hoytema’s swift camerawork, Maria Djurkovic’s richly detailed sets, or the unbelievably meticulous control over sound and silence.  “Hugo” may have been the Academy’s technical darling of 2011, but this movie can rival its excellence in all those categories (except maybe visual effects).

The second is Gary Oldman’s performance as George Smiley, one of his finest on-screen roles yet.  Much was made of how criminal it was that the lauded character actor had not received an Oscar nomination before “Tinker Tailor,” and thankfully now that has been corrected.  But there is much more to this work than merely endowing Oldman with the epithet “Academy Award nominee.”

Oldman shows his mastery of understatement playing Smiley, a man of few words.  When he’s not speaking, we never have a doubt that Oldman is totally within his character’s mind, never moving a pore without purpose.  When he is speaking, Oldman is forceful and commanding, owning the screen that includes one of the largest casts of acclaimed British actors outside the “Harry Potter” series.  It’s an acting master class from one of the industry’s best and brightest, definitely one Hollywood could learn a lesson or two from as well.

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