See Tim’s review of “Atomic Blonde” with Adrienne Broaddus on KARE 11.
Atomic Blonde (R)
Charlize Theron mixes a bit of James Bond espionage and a lot of extreme “John Wick”-type action in “Atomic Blonde,” an energizing spy thriller that despite its thrills, still falls short of the wickedness of “Wick” and the intrigue of Daniel Craig’s 007 outings.
“Atomic Blonde” certainly the potential of, at the very least, being another “Wick.” David Leitch, who co-directed the first Keanu Reeves revenge thriller is at the helm of “Atomic Blonde,” and Theron has already well-proven that she has an incredible handle on the action genre with her kick-ass turn as Imperator Furiosa in “Mad Max: Fury Road” and recent turn as the villain in “The Fate of the Furious.”
Set in 1989 in the waning days of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, “Atomic Blonde” stars Theron as MI:6 spy Lorraine Broughton, a no-nonsense field operative whose myriad of skills includes a lethal form of hand-to-hand combat. When one of her fellow MI:6 agents turns up dead in Berlin, Lorraine is dispatched to the city to not only recover his body, but join the city’s top operative (James McAvoy) to ferret out a double agent betraying the agency and most importantly, recover a list that names several undercover agents and vital personal details about them.
The biggest problem with “Atomic Blonde” is in its pacing, since the film is rooted in a debriefing of Lorraine by her MI:6 superior (Toby Jones) and an American CIA authority (John Goodman), and told almost entirely in flashback scenes.
Hear Tim’s review of “Atomic Blonde” with Tom Barnard on “The KQ Morning Show” on KQRS-FM.
Yes, while Theron’s charisma commands your attention every second she’s on film, “Atomic Blonde” suffers as Leitch builds intensity in scenes with pulse-pounding action (usually though encounters of hand-to-hand combat or car chases), only to suck the energy out of the air by continually reverting to the debriefing.
The “Wick” chapters, on the other hand, had linear narratives that escalated in intensity throughout the film, creating burning anticipation for whatever the end game was going to be. The hopping back and forth in “Atomic Blonde” only lends to confusion.
Founded in New Jersey in 1996, the National Entertainment Collectibles Association (NECA) has not only long been associated with excellent product, but lauded for its ingenuity to produce action figures for films that didn’t get a toy line when they were released in theaters.
Currently, NECA is preparing for its annual pilgrimage to the San Diego Comic-Con next week to reveal upcoming products and sell exclusives figures from such licenses as “Coraline,” “Aliens” and “Predator.” In the middle of the madness, NECA’s director of product development, Randy Falk, answered a few questions by email about the company’s vintage offerings and SDCC exclusives.
Tim Lammers: Thanks for your time, Randy. I have to admit, I was so thrilled to hear NECA was going to produce “The Lost Wave” of “Prometheus” figures. What factored into that decision? Was it because of the pending release of “Alien: Covenant” or the continuing success of the your “Alien” line?
Randy Falk: Thank you! For the “Prometheus” Lost Wave, it was little of both, actually. There was continued interest from a small but vocal fan base that five years on still wanted to see these figures happen, and with the release of “Covenant” on the horizon it felt like the right time to do it. This is really a gift for the loyal fans.
TL: Could this signal the beginning of more “lost waves” being produced? Is there another example of something NECA had in the prototype phase that didn’t make it to store shelves, which you would like to see completed now?
RF: I don’t know if I would go that far… the tooling is the biggest expense in manufacturing figures of this kind, and usually if something does not get produced it’s for a good reason, so it’s tough to justify those costs.
t are the chances of the first waves of “Prometheus” figures being reproduced to compliment the “Lost Wave” of figures?
RF: Slim to none, unfortunately. The audience has not grown much since release and as far as the toys are concerned, the sales were never near the level of our “Alien” line.
TL: I think what separates NECA from so many other toy/collectible companies is their commitment to develop figures on vintage licenses whereas other companies concentrate solely on current releases. What drives that mindset to produce vintage licenses?
RF: Honestly, I would be thrilled to work in what I call the golden era/decade of ’77 – ’87 as much as I could. That 10-year period encompasses all the best in film, music, and video games and the nostalgia factor makes these brands successful 30 to 40 years on, not only with the people who grew up with them but the younger audience that has discovered that greatness on video or Netflix or cable. I love the classics and for the most part there isn’t much in modern entertainment that comes close. There is a reason Jason or Freddy or “Alien” or “Predator” still resonate today, or why a 4-year-old loves Gizmo as much as a 40-year-old who saw “Gremlins” in the theater in 1984.
TL: I’m thrilled that you’ve reissued the “Rocky” figure line (and I especially love the “Rocky IV” Apollo Creed). Given that these figures were popular enough to reissue, is there any desire to expand the line to include Mickey, etc?
RF: Thanks, and these are a lot of fun to create. It is unlikely we would do a Mickey or Adrian because of all the new tooling costs involved, added to their limited appeal compared to Rocky, Apollo, Clubber, etc. We do have a fantastic set of maquettes coming, though, based on the puppets used in an old iced tea commercial. These are great versions of Rocky and Mickey.
TL: Perhaps one of the biggest surprises for exclusives being produced by any company for SDCC is the “Coraline” Display and figure. Is that tied into the 10th anniversary of LAIKA, and, is it possible NECA will be reissuing any of its previous “Coraline” figures?
RF: I can’t elaborate too much on this at the moment, but yes, we are definitely celebrating Laika’s 10th anniversary. We love all of their films and are thrilled to be working with them again. “Kubo and the Two Strings” was one of my favorite movies last year, in fact! We have a lot of things in the planning stage now, but for the moment I can only say there will be new figures and more.
TL: It’s great to see that NECA is offering the Jungle Briefing Dutch as an exclusive at SDCC. Any chance we’ll get Carl Weathers’ Dillon at some point?
RF: We would absolutely love to produce a Dillon figure and have made many attempts to reach an agreement with Carl for the use of his likeness as Dillon. Fox, which holds the license for “Predator,” does not have any of the likeness rights to the actors within the film. We were able to make a separate agreement with Arnold to include Dutch in the line, but that happened around the 7th series in the “Predator” line, so as you can see it can take a while. This year we celebrate “Predator’s” 30th anniversary, so we have some Dutch figures and classic Jungle Hunter Predator figures back out in the market. We would still love to include Dillon and hope that one day it can happen, but that is still to be negotiated with Carl Weathers.
If Laika has taught us one thing during its 10 years of existence as a stop-motion animation studio that’s produced the Oscar-nominated features “Coraline,” “ParaNorman” and “The Boxtrolls,” it’s that they respect the intelligence of the people watching their films. Yes, the visuals they painstakingly produce, frame by frame, are stunning to be sure; but first and foremost, Laika’s films are about story — and the studio’s latest offering, the epic Samurai family adventure, “Kubo and the Two Strings,” is no different.
“Our films really come down to the way we feel about our audience. We don’t view the films that we make as product,” Laika CEO and “Kubo” director Travis Knight said in a phone conversation from New York Thursday. “While what we’re in is show business — it’s show and business, and art and commerce — I think it’s important to not discount the art portion of it. In the end, we are making films and telling stories. We ask ourselves, ‘So who are we telling stories for? Who is the audience for these
movies?’ We have nothing but the utmost respect for the audience of these movies.
“We will not pander, and we respect the intelligence and the sophistication of audience, and we don’t talk down to them. That comes through in our movies,” Knight added. “If you look at a lot of other movies, and that is not the case. That is not the way producers are looking at their audience. But for us, that is how we look at our audience. They are our families, these are our people, these are our children that we are making these films for. We love and respect them, and we want to make something worthy of them. That’s the approach we take to our movies.”
Opening Friday in theaters nationwide in 2D and 3D, “Kubo and the Two Strings” takes place in ancient Japan, where it follows the fantastical adventure of Kubo (voice of Art Parkinson), a humble boy with an ailing mother who accidentally summons spirits from his family’s past that target him to exact an age-old vendetta. His only hope of successfully combating the spirits comes in a quest to obtain three pieces of armor that belonged to his late father, the world’s greatest samurai warrior.
Joined by Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), the magically-gifted Kubo, armed with his stringed musical instrument known as a shamisen, embarks on the quest to face the spirits. But the quest isn’t merely about confronting the malevolent Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and evil twin sisters (Rooney Mara); in the process, Kubo strives to discover the truth behind the loss of his father.
Marking Knight’s directorial debut (he’s also serves as producer and lead animator on the film), “Kubo and the Two Strings” took about five years to produce, a time period much longer than most computer-animated features. However, Knight feels that it’s not the extra time Laika’s artists put into their work that separates them from their computer-animated colleagues, but their ability to put a human imprint, so to speak, on their films.
“There is certainly a timelessness to stop-motion. When you look at a stop-motion film, you see the will and the skill, and the imagination of an artist who’s brought something to life with their hands,” Knight said. “The computer is an extraordinary tool, but there’s no humanity in a tool. It’s all in service of its operators. So, the stuff you see that comes out of comes out of computers is a bunch of ones and zeroes and I think you can do amazing things with a computer — and we’ve seen it with exceptional effects and beautiful films — but it’s just sitting there, waiting to be worked with by its operator.”
On the other hand, it’s about, well, the hands, as well and hearts and minds behind the drive of a stop-motion animator.
“Inherently in stop-motion there’s this hand-crafted quality, which really does give it its humanity,” Knight said. “These objects become alive because of the will and imagination of the animator. It’s magical to me because it almost evokes this primal feeling. My youngest son is 3 years old, and sometimes I watch him from across the room when he’s playing with his action figures, with one in each hand and doing little voices, creating scenarios – I recognize what he’s doing is telling stories. Nobody taught him to do that. That’s just an innate part of who we are as storytellers. That’s just who we are as humans.”
Laika, Knight said, is essentially an extrapolation of that.
“What you see with stop-motion films is that they’re essentially toys,” Knight said. “They’re dolls brought to life as if they have an inner-life and they’re moving around, and living and telling these stories — they’re creatures with their hopes and dreams. I think it really is evocative of imaginative play like when we were kids. Stop-motion taps into an aspect of that that is very primal.”
One of the many keys to the success of “Kubo” is that the story and the way it’s told is strikingly original. True, it is inspired by the such storytelling luminaries as Akira Kurosawa and Joseph Campbell — and to a greater extent how those storytellers influenced “Star Wars” — yet “Kubo” manages to forge its own identity.
“Unfortunately, originality is rare in this business these days,” Knight lamented. “We are in an industry right now where the pendulum has swung in one direction and where old presents are re-wrapped and offered up as new gifts. Old ideas are being dusted off and being regurgitated, but we’re fighting the good fight of trying to tell new and original stories, which has become increasingly difficult in this atmosphere.”
Tim Lammers reviews the Jonah Hill and Miles Teller true-life comedy drama “War Dogs,” as well as Laika animations studios stop-motion fantasy “Kubo and the Two Strings” on “The KQ Morning Show” with Tom Barnard and the crew. Tim, Tom and the crew also weigh in on the latest remake of “Ben Hur” and its box office prospects Hear the segment starting 7 minutes in.
Original Interviews, Reviews & More By Tim Lammers