Atomic Blonde

Posted on July 27, 2017 at 5:54 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, pills, and cigarettes
Violence/ Scariness: Constant peril and violence with stabbing, strangling, guns, explosions, murder, torture, and very disturbing images, many characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 28, 2017

Copyright 2017 Focus Features
Unlike its title character, “Atomic Blonde” keeps missing the mark. It tries for both the style of “John Wick” and the substance of the Bourne series, but each takes away from the other, with a story that is too familiar and too empty, punctuated by achingly obvious “Hey, remember the 80’s?” songs. Like “I Ran” for a chase scene, get it? Oh, and someone plays Tetris!

The film is based on Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City. Charlize Theron plays Lorraine, a British spy sent to Berlin in 1989, just as the Wall is about to come down. We see Ronald Reagan’s iconic “Tear down that wall!” moment and are told via title cards about the flowering of democracy in the Soviet bloc, then warned, “This is not that story.”

Most of the film is a flashback, as a badly bruised Theron cooly debriefs her MI6 boss (James Faulkner) and a representative from the CIA (John Goodman). A spy named James Gasciogne (Sam Hargrave) has been movie-killed during the opening credit sequence, meaning that he is handsome and has a chance to say some dashing spy stuff between being hit by a car and shot in the head.
Then we see Lorraine getting out of an ice bath, giving us a chance to see her bruises and her tush before going in for the debriefing, where she asks the CIA guy to leave, and he responds, “If it would make you more comfortable, I could stand behind the mirror but it’s a little crowded back there.”

She is sent to Berlin, her cover to pick up Gascoigne’s body (she cleverly inserts an error in the paperwork, knowing that will delay her return). Her contact there is a libertine named David Percival (James McAvoy). We know he’s a libertine because he looks scuzzy, plies people with expensive liquor from the west, and wakes up bleary with two naked women in his bed. And we know he can’t be trusted because Lorraine has been sent off with the stunningly original, “Don’t trust anyone.” And yet, on arrival she gets into a car with a guy who tells her that David sent him, but guess what? He turns out to be a bad guy, which gives Lorraine a chance to show us how the term stiletto heel can be literal. And everyone is after the movies’ most overused McGuffin, the crucial master list of spy names. Zzzzzzzzz. Why don’t they just stop compiling them?

The action scenes are well staged, as you might expect from a director who used to be a stunt man. But they are undermined by the lack of control of the movie’s tone and the relentless plodding through every spy movie convention, from the “You don’t know who you’re dealing with” speech and the “Who are you to judge me?” speech, to the stop everything to get all dressed up to go clubbing and sex with someone who is either there to betray you or to be killed because you were getting too close. Bill Skarsgård is a bright spot (can every movie please have a Skarsgård?). But the ultimate revelations about who is and is not to be trusted are unsurprising and unilluminating. Mostly, this film is a lot of smoking, strangling, shooting, and stabbing, with Charlize looking great and fighting like a badass. Because it tries to be more, instead of a stylish thriller it becomes a soggy mess.

Parents should know that this film has constant extremely graphic violence, stabbing, choking, shooting, punching, many characters injured and killed, many disturbing images and sounds, very strong and crude language, sexual references and explicit situation, nudity, and themes of betrayal.

Family discussion: Who is the most honest character in the movie? Do you agree with Lorraine’s decision about David?

If you like this, try: The “Bourne” movies, “John Wick,” and “Hanna”

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Patriots Day

Posted on January 12, 2017 at 5:28 pm

Copyright 2016 CBS Films

Writer/director Peter Berg and actor/producer Mark Wahlberg have now made their third film in a row on the same theme: real life stories of everyday people showing exceptional courage and dedication in the direst and most tragic circumstances. “Lone Survivor” was the story of a disastrous Navy SEAL operation. “Deepwater Horizon” was the story of the BP oil rig explosion. Now “Patriots Day” is the story of law enforcement from the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon to the killing and capture of the brothers responsible.

In all three films, Berg takes a story we know — or think we do — and creates a gripping, tense drama centered on a man who exemplifies American values of decency and integrity and shows exceptional ability to rise to the occasion. Wahlberg is a perfect choice to play those roles, and here he gives grace and dignity to the role of Tommy Saunders, a composite character based on the Boston cops who were on the ground when the bombs exploded, oversaw triage to manage the crowd and oversee emergency services and then tracked down the people responsible in just 19 hours.

And as in the earlier films, Berg’s focus is not on the people making the big policy decisions but on the people who are dealing with the consequences. He begins a brief but vivid chance to get invested in some of the key players just before Boston’s annual Patriots Day race, including some of the participants who will later be injured and Saunders, unhappy about being assigned to the race and struggling with a bad knee. Everything is the usual benign chaos until suddenly it becomes terrifying and catastrophic as the bombs explode near the finish line and no one knows what happened, who caused it, or whether more attacks are coming, with an anxious score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, as Saunders and the other cops have to try to figure out what is going on, surrounded by severely injured people and panicked crowds — and, probably, somewhere, the bombers.

The minute-by-minute procedural section is engrossing, with territorial squabbles and conflicting priorities involving the police force and the FBI. The injured people may have crucial information the cops need right away but they also have injuries that need treatment right away, treatment that could make it difficult or impossible for them to talk or remember. The press insists on releasing photos of possible suspects despite law enforcement’s concerns that it could impair the investigation. And what do you do when a key witness insists on a lawyer, or decides to leave the police station? One of the most powerful scenes in the film is the interrogation by a hijab-wearing FBI agent of the wife of one of the suspects, an incendiary performance by “Supergirls” Melissa Benoist. The film does not take a position on the abandonment of Constitutional rights in an emergency with perhaps hundreds of life at stake; it just presents it as the immensely complex problem with no right answer that it is.

And then, with ultimate respect, it concludes with footage of some of the real heroes. That’s the crying part, as it should be.

Parents should know that the theme of the film is a real-life terrorist attack with many characters injured and killed and some graphic and disturbing images of bodies and wounds; also very strong language, some bigotry, and some drug use.

Family discussion; How did social media affect the way this attack was investigated? What does this movie have in common with the two other fact-based stories from the same director and star?

If you like this, try: “Lone Survivor” and “Deepwater Horizon”

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Based on a true story Drama


Posted on November 12, 2015 at 5:29 pm

Copyright 2015 Bleeker Street
Copyright 2015 Bleeker Street
The post-WWII era was one of great relief and great fear. The Nazis had been defeated, but at the cost of bringing into the world the horror of atomic weapons. It was a certainty that the next war would be the last. The US could not last as the only superpower. The communists would do anything to get the bomb, and once they had it, no one was safe.

And that is why, just after the United States fought to preserve liberty and freedom of speech, those very ideals began to seem like a threat to our safety. And when there is a threat, there will be demagogues who prey on people’s fears to make themselves more powerful. That was the case in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s when Americans became so terrified of communism that the very idea someone might have been or known a communist was enough to get them fired and blacklisted — unless they were willing to “name names” and give investigators a list of other people to investigate. It was a kind of perverse pyramid scheme.

That is what happened to Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), one of Hollywood’s most successful and highest paid screenwriters. He was also a member of the Communist Party. The idea that somehow screenwriters would brainwash moviegoers into becoming communists was such a threat that he and nine other writers who refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee were blacklisted (not allowed to work in Hollywood anymore). Trumbo was sent to prison for contempt (refusal to cooperate).

When he came out, he managed to find work by getting other writers to put their names on the scripts he created (including two Oscar-winners) and by writing scripts at a fraction of his previous salary for a schlock producer (hilariously played by John Goodman).

Director Jay Roach creates the world of Trumbo, fiercely intelligent and committed. Cranston is excellent as Trumbo, every line of his posture and every gesture showing us the the active intelligence of the man who took his own struggle for freedom and turned it into one of the greatest lines in movie history: “I am Spartacus!” As he types madly away from his bathtub (to ease his back pain) and fights to find work for the other blacklisted writers, he never loses his sense of amusement at the folly around him. He is skeptical, even cynical at times but never loses his sense of optimism that even something good can be made better.

Parents should know that this film includes strong language, some crude references, brief non-sexual nudity, drinking, smoking, and drug use, and some tense and disturbing scenes.

Family discussion: What themes of this film are particularly relevant today? What should Trumbo have done? How did his experience influence his films? Why was it important to pay back the money?

If you like this, try: Trumbo’s films, including “Spartacus,” “Roman Holiday,” and “Lonely Are the Brave” and other films about this ear like “The Front” and “Goodnight and Good Luck”

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The Monuments Men

Posted on February 6, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some images of war violence and historical smoking
Profanity: Some mild language ("SOB," etc.)
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, references to drinking problem
Violence/ Scariness: Wartime violence, peril, guns, explosions, characters injured and killed, some disturbing images
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: February 7, 2014
Date Released to DVD: May 19, 2014 ASIN: B00DL48CN4

monuments menMany years ago, my husband and I attended an art auction at which one item was a pencil drawing of a peaceful river setting, made by an Austrian art student in the early 20th century: Adolf Hitler.  The bidding opened at $10. There were no takers.  Hitler retained his appreciation for art as he became a dictator and the man responsible for the most devastating war in world history and the Holocaust that killed six million Jews and hundreds of thousands of Slavs, Romany, gays, and disabled people.  A part of his plan to take over the world and remake according to his dream of a Thousand Year Reich was to own the greatest art masterworks of all time, many to be displayed in a “Furher Museum” in his own honor.  He ordered his army to take art from Jewish collectors, from churches, and from museums, and he hid them until they could be retrieved at the end of the war.  When it appeared that he was going to lose the war, he ordered many of them to be destroyed.

In a little-known part of the Allied war effort, an international group of 345 art historians, scholars, curators, and architects served in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section, to seek out the missing art treasures and, where possible, to prevent the battles going on in Europe from collateral damage of historic buildings and artworks.  Writer-director-star George Clooney has turned this story into an exciting and entertaining film, but by no means a great one.  At times it feels like “Oceans 11 Goes to War.”  In fact, Clooney not only gave himself the same line he has in “Oceans 11,” he gives it the same line reading. It is one thing to make a heist film set in Las Vegas cuddly, with a bunch of pretend adorable crooks.  It is another to try to make that work in the midst of a devastating real war, especially when every one of the clearly fictionalized and composite characters is always the essence of dignity, courage, honor, dedication, and dashing gallantry, quips included.

In this Hollywood-ized version, there are six primary operatives: Clooney plays the leader, Frank Stokes, who rounds up his non-dirty half-dozen, including recovering alcoholic Brit Donald Jeffries (“Downton Abbey’s” Hugh Bonneville), dashing Frenchman Jean Claude Clement (“The Artist’s” Jean Dujardin), MMoA curator James Granger (Damon), sculptor Walter Garfield (John Goodman), architect Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), and Preston Savitz (Christopher Guest regular Bob Balaban).  Cate Blanchett is sincere but misused as a French woman working for the Germans who are taking paintings from Paris so she can give information to the Resistance.

Clooney can do better (“Goodnight and Good Luck”) than this script, which feels like a Robert McKee formula special, all the beats and plot points laid out according to the formula.  As a result, it works.  The sad casualties are balanced with the sentimental pauses (a nice moment when a character gets a recorded message from home is clumsily juxtaposed with a soldier dying on a table in the medical tent) and the bro-banter.  But the breadth and brutality of the crimes and the humility and devotion of the heroes cannot help but move us and, I hope, inspire us to treasure the masterworks they saved and the heroes who saved them.

Parents should know that this film includes wartime peril and violence, with characters injured and killed, some graphic and disturbing images, sad deaths, explosions, shooting, land mine, constant smoking, some drinking and references to a drinking problem, and mild references to adultery.

Family discussion:  Should people risk their lives to save art?  Who should decide?

If you like this, try: “Is Paris Burning?” and The Train and the documentary about Nazi art theft, The Rape of Europa — and look into the history of some of your favorite artworks

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Based on a book Based on a true story Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Epic/Historical War
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