Atomic Blonde (2017)

Atomic Blonde poster

November, 1989. The Berlin Wall is about to come down, but there are still East Germans desperate to defect. One – codename Spyglass (Eddie Marsan) – has a list of covert operatives to sell for his freedom. French, Russian, American, and British agents descend on the city-in-chaos, all trying to get their hands on the list first.

One such spy is Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), sent to rendezvous with the embedded section head (James McAvoy) and retrieve the body of the colleague who last had the list. However, it seems that someone is spying on the spies – and she’s soon punching, kicking and shooting her way across the city, searching for the list, the defector, and possibly a double agent. As her superiors warn her: trust no one.

The first thing to really love about this movie is Charlize Theron, kicking ass like a demi-goddess. The action is brutal: no punches pulled – pun intended – in showing the reality of being in a fight. No one shrugs off blows to the head as in so many action-lite movies: this is more Bourne than Bond, with a large dash of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Of course, this also means that there’s a fair bit of flinching for the not-so-hardened audience – surprised this is still a 15, and that’s before we get to large amounts of naked flesh!

The music is another big plus. I’m a little weirded out that the era of my childhood is now ripe for ‘period’ settings – ouch, quite frankly! – but the 1980s soundtrack is just brilliant. There’s a mix of original and remixed songs from the era, the latter giving a darker tone to some pop classics, and very appropriate to the piece.

The assembled cast is rather impressive, too, from those already mentioned to Sophia Boutella, John Goodman, Toby Jones, and Bill Skarsgard. My only complaint here would be Theron and McAvoy out-plumming each other with their respective English accents.

And finally, this is another movie that just looks amazing. The colour palette switches between drab, bleached-out misery and eye-popping neon glow, often thrown across the face of a Debbie Harry-esque leading lady.

Alas, for all those positives, there is a large dollop of style over substance here. I really wanted to come away feeling entertained, but was rather more confused and/or a touch disappointed with the somewhat messy plot. As it becomes increasingly convoluted, I did feel attempts at twists were there because they could be, rather than making the story any stronger – or making sense for the character development we don’t quite see.

Still worth a watch, but don’t do what one person did in my screening and run out the first time the screen goes dark! 😉

Released: 9th August 2017
Viewed: 15th August 2017
Running time: 115 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 6.5/10

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Valerian poster

Based on a French comic book, Valerian and Laureline, this movie sees these two Special Agents trying to save the titular City of a Thousand Planets – that is, a space station peacefully hosting hundreds of different alien species – from a mysterious threat.

Reviews have been pretty scathing about Valerian, and I would have to agree with most of them: the plot is both weak and convoluted, the acting is barely adequate, and even the title is insulting, leaving out the other main character who turns out to be probably more kick-ass than her male counterpart. Pfft. And as someone said: removing the painful attempts at ‘romance’ would have made for a far superior movie – it’s borderline creepy at points, tbh.

And yet, it’s still worth the watch. In fact, despite saying all of the above, I’d still go back to see it tomorrow – because it looks gorgeous. So yes, I can put up with a so-so plot and meh characters, and sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

Knowing this comes from Fifth Element director, Luc Besson, perhaps explains some of the visual marvel. I don’t think this is anywhere near as good – mind, I do love FE – but it’s definitely going to be one I leave on when it’s on the telly, purely to look at.

The one part of the movie I did think they nailed absolutely is the opening montage. Perfectly accompanied by the wondrous Space Oddity (David Bowie), we see the next 800 years of human space exploration encapsulated in a series of meet’n’greets aboard the growing ISS. It’s a hugely touching reminder than humanity can be non-jerks, at times.

The rest drifts off a little into a series of semi-random adventures for Valerian (a wooden Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne and her power eyebrows), including a subplot about a dream that feels like it’s from a different draft of the movie. Still, there are some fun alien species along the way, some well-realised (virtual) sets including a marketplace in another dimension (the future of Amazon, perhaps?), and a pretty good score to keep the feet tapping.

Go in – as I did – with low expectations, and have a little fun!

Released: 2nd August 2017
Viewed: 9th August 2017
Running time: 137 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

We’ve had a couple of takes on the Spider-Man movies – first Toby Maguire, then Andrew Garfield – and then last year’s Captain America: Civil War introduced us to Tom Holland’s version, as the rights between Sony and Marvel got a bit (more?) less complicated and the web-slinger was allowed to join the Avengers.

Well, not quite join. In Homecoming, Peter Parker returns from helping Tony Stark aka Iron Man keen to get the call for another mission. However, Tony rightfully sees a 15 year old school kid as having no place out fighting real bad guys (as opposed to stopping misguided good guys!) and instead sets Peter the task of first mastering being a ‘friendly neighbourhood spider’. Of course, teenagers always think they know best…

Spider-Man has never been my favourite hero (and not just because I’m an arachnophobe!), and while I reasonably enjoyed the previous movie versions I wasn’t turned into that big a fan. However, I *am* a huge fan of the Marvel MCU (yes, including the bit where you have to see ALL the movies! 😉 ) so seeing where they could take the character was always going to be intriguing.

And so, yes, we get something that is much closer to being an Avengers movie – good. But we also have a John Hughes-influenced highschool story going on, which is… less good. Fine, but, well, y’know. I’m old now, okay?! 😉 And suddenly it makes a bit more sense why I was never the biggest fan of the character.

I did like the pick of Vulture (no, I’d never heard of him before either!) as the baddie: a working class guy bitter at the rich guys having all the luck and power, using salvaged alien technology to steal more. So, no radiation or experiments or innate superpowers. It’s actually quite a clever reflection of Tony Stark, one set either side of Spider-Man. And the character, played by Michael Keaton (surely something in there about Birdman, referencing Batman…!), gets both a hint of pantomime baddy but also a surprising underlying set of morals. One of the better villains, if a little less flashy.

I was very pleased that we skipped the whole origin story again – this Peter has been putting on the mask for quite a while before Stark finds him – but there’s still a feeling of setting things up a bit here (there’s a whole ‘thing’ near the end that you should google for after seeing the movie – it went right over my head, tbh) while at the same time expecting you to know a bit about the character already.

So overall we end up with a perfectly reasonable installment in one ongoing franchise, if a slightly less satisfying set up of a new branch of it, and actually no you probably don’t need to have seen many/any of the others. There are a few clips of the big Civil War fight to let you know that happened, but Spidey didn’t get so involved that it really matters too much. And while I’m not a huge fan of teenage crushes and school woes and all that, it was appropriate to the character, and nice to see him being played by an actual (just!) teenager instead of a 30-year-old 😉

Released: 5th July 2017
Viewed: 7th July 2017
Running time: 133 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10

Baby Driver (2017)

Coerced into being the getaway driver for a crime boss (Kevin Spacey) and a revolving set of thieves (including Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, and Jon Bernthal), Baby (Ansel Elgort) dreams of the day his debt is paid off and he can walk away. Oh, if only things were so simple! Unfortunately, Baby is too good to let go – but it’s not long before his yearning to escape starts causing things to go a bit wrong…

There’s not a great deal of plot here, but that doesn’t matter in the slightest. It’s not about the plot – which is absolutely fine and solid – but the style in which it is told. And what style! Imagine the scene from Shawn of the Dead, with the zombies being beaten with pool cues to the beat of Don’t Stop Me Now – but take that ethic and apply it to a whole movie of car chases!

This isn’t a musical, don’t worry, but Baby’s ‘hum in the drum’ tinnitus leads him to listen to music all the time – and so the viewer also gets to hear the songs, cleverly choreographed with the action. Look, too, for an early scene of Baby using his soundtrack to enliven his coffee run, and the background graffiti, etc is tied in with it all.

While I enjoyed all of the music and the action and even the simple story a great deal, I felt just a tiny bit ‘meh’ about both the ending and the romance plot line – the latter down to me not liking Lily James much, and finding the character far too drippy. But overall it was still a LOT of fun, and highly recommended!

Released: 28th June 2017
Viewed: 30th June 2017
Running time: 113 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 8/10

The Mummy (2017)

Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) is not a very nice guy, using his role as army reconnaissance as an excuse to loot antiquities from warzones. However, he’s about to get his comeuppance when a mission goes a little awry, and he ends up uncovering the prison-tomb of a cursed Egyptian princess with a dark thirst for power and death.

This new version of The Mummy (with absolutely nothing to do with the Brendan Fraser/Arnold Vosloo version) is the first in an intriguing new ‘Dark Universe’ series, supposedly bringing all those old Universal monster movies back to a new audience. Based on this, though, I’m not going to hold my breath that we’ll see any more of the series…

Because, yes, the reviews were right and this movie is quite a bit of a mess. It’s not unwatchable, in the right frame of mind, but it’s got very little to recommend the effort, tbh.

First off, the plot: it’s not very different from the previous version(s), in that an ancient evil is awoken (through greed, mainly), and starts stalking the person/people responsible in an effort to regain power and facial tissue and generally take over the world or something. Other mummies are raised as minions (not actual Minions, which would be hilarious, just small-m-minions to do all the legwork) whilst the big bad does a Terminator-esque slow march towards folk, whining about something or other before sucking faces off. Does anything else happen? Urm, not so much.

There is that element of ‘shared universe’, which adds a clunky layer of exposition to the movie. Here is a group tackling evil. I think. Something like that. Did I care? Hmm.

And of course, the cast. Cruise is at least trying to break the mold a little, and spends half the movie in a concussed, confused, vaguely drunk kind of a state – urm, okay… At least it’s better than Annabelle Wallis as the brains of the piece, who brings a strangled, mouth-full-of-marbles quality to a truly dreadfully written role. The pair share less chemistry than… than… well, than the rest of the movie, which is entirely chemistry free o_O

On the plus-ish side, Sofia Boutella does reasonably well as the Mummy, particularly with the physical demands, although the character is hardly well rounded. Jake Johnson gets to have a good time as the comic relief buddy, but tonally it’s all just a little off – and that’s half the problem, nothing entirely seems to fit within this movie.

The other half of the problem is the awful dialogue. I shall say no more – and wish the scriptwriters had thought of that!! o_O

So. No, don’t bother. The action levels could be vaguely fun (I do get the impression the rest of the movie was just an excuse for the airplane crash), but just so disappointing and uneven that I’m sure there are many, many better options for your cinema bucks.

Released: 9th June 2017
Viewed: 23rd June 2017
Running time: 110 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 5/10 and that might be generous

Baywatch (2017)

Head lifeguard, Mitch Buchanan (Dwayne Johnson), takes an instant dislike to cocky newcomer, Matt Brody (Zac Efron), a disgraced former Olympic champion who thinks his gold medals will let him walk onto the lifeguard team. The two continue to butt heads in rather a fun way as the team starts to investigate a series of possibly drug-related deaths in the bay.

There’s not a great deal to say about this movie, to be honest, other than it’s very very daft and – if you’re in the right frame of mind – quite a lot of fun. Gross out, beyond silly, micky-taking fun.

The highlights for me were the confrontations between the two leads. Mitch never refers to Matt by name, going through a series of appropriately daft and demeaning nicknames, from ‘Bieber’ to ‘High School Musical’ (which, of course, Zac Efron starred in). If that sounds like a slight thing to be the highlight you’re absolutely spot on!

The plot and even more so the subplots (loser recruit getting a chance to show having a heart in the right place is more important than, y’know, actually being able to do your job or anything; corrupt government officials; unlikely and/or predictable hook ups) are well-worn and clearly not the point. The characters are… not exactly well-rounded? But on the other hand, the nods towards the original series are vaguely fun, taking the mickey but not descending into out-and-out spoof.

Still, with just a little more care, this could have been a lot more fun than just dick jokes. I was in the mood for daft, and since I get into these things for ‘free’ (all-you-can-watch cinema pass) I rather enjoyed. But on your own head be it if you pay the going cinema rates for this bit of butt-fluff, tbh! 😉

Released: 29th May 2017
Viewed: 7th June 2017
Running time: 116 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 5/10 – it’s not a good movie, but it was fun

Wonder Woman (2017)

The one shining light in the utter mess that was Batman vs Superman (2016) was the brief appearance of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). And with this release, she not only gets her own backstory, but also makes a bit of history with the first female-led superhero movie.

Usually I’m all about the entertainment, the story, the visuals, but I think it’s really quite important to see this movie as a bit of a Big Deal. Female superhero lead, female director – and if you think that’s not important (I just don’t think that it should be) then you only have to scratch the surface very gently to see what a difference it actually makes.

You might come away from a viewing with a sense that it was a bit different from every other action pic – not in terms of story, which is fairly run of the mill and predictable, but when you stop to ponder (or, just read any of the numerous reviews) then there is a shocking “why is this still a big deal?” feeling. Yes, 21st century, and this is possibly the first movie where the woman gets to be the hero full stop – she’s not there to be a token, she doesn’t pose with her butt facing the camera. The other Amazons are amazingly kick ass – and oh, they might actually be over 30, shock horror. It was a AMAZING!!

Now, I must admit it’s taken me a while to understand this. I came out of the cinema thinking, “Well, yes, easily the best thing DC has managed, but that was a low bar.” The lack of a ‘new’ storyline left me a little ‘meh’, but it was still rolicking good fun.

But then I started reading some of the opinion pieces. And my view changed from, “C’mon, it’s just a superhero movie!” to “Oh my god, why did I not see how much we needed this take on this flipped version of this story!?”. A woman being strong but real. Why the hell is that still such a big deal to see on screen?

Anyway. You don’t have to feel or think about any of this to enjoy the movie. It’s about an Amazon princess, Diana, getting her first glimpse of the outside world and refusing to let the injustice continue without trying to fix things. There are some brilliant action scenes. The opening location of Themyscira is something very different to what we’ve been given in these kind of movies before, which is ace.

You also don’t need to wade through the dull Superman, BvS, or Suicide Squad to see this one – a huge plus. The only link is the photo Diana is sent right at the beginning, which was used in BvS to show Bruce Wayne that Wonder Woman had been around, kicking butt, for longer than he had. The tone here is much lighter, if still not Marvel-funny, but all in all a very very welcome change, in so many respects. Absolutely recommended.

Released: 1st June 2017
Viewed: 3rd June 2017
Running time: 141 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 9/10 – I can’t rave all of that above and not give it an extra point for cultural significance. From a freakin’ comic book movie o_O