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.
There surely will be some disagreements, but here are 10 of the films that made movie-going worthwhile in 2015.
10. “The Walk” – Robert Zemeckis’ direction is at its jaw-dropping best with this stunning recreation of French performer Phillipe Petit’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) “artistic coup” – a death-defying wire walk between the void of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. The point-of-view shots on the wire were among the most, if not the most, intense scenes on the big screen this year.
9. “The Martian” – Director Ridley Scott returns to space once again – sans any alien life forms — with one of the most entertaining films of the year in this tale about an astronaut (Matt Damon) who was presumed dead after a vicious storm hits his team’s Mars expedition. True, it’s mostly a one-man show for Damon, but in between, the talented ensemble including Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, Michael Pena, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig and Sean Bean help create an engaging rescue mission filled with as many laughs as there are thrills. It’s a real blast (off).
8. “Legend” – Tom Hardy flawlessly demonstrates why he’s one of the best actors today with a dual
performance as twins Ron and Reggie Kray, a pair of brutal gangsters who ruled the East end of London in the 1960s. Nearly identical in appearance, Hardy immediately establishes the distinct personalities of the Krays, making you quickly forget that what you’re watching are essentially impressive camera tricks. Proceeded by his kick-ass turn in “Mad Max: Fury Road” and followed by his frightening turn in “The Revenant,” 2015 was the year of Tom Hardy.
7. “The Big Short” – Four groups of Wall Street outsiders stick it to the big banks during the housing meltdown of 2008, which feels great until you realize that even after the financial Armageddon, nothing really changes. Director Adam McKay makes an impressive transition from comedy to satire and drama with a film so slickly executed that it hearkens the greatness of Martin Scorsese. Christian Bale is the best of the film’s winning ensemble cast.
6. “Inside Out” – Pixar’s “Up” Oscar-winner Pete Docter is back with this ingenious tale of how five emotions become mixed when an 11-year-old girl struggles with her family’s relocation from Minnesota to San Francisco. Like “Toy Story 3,” “Inside Out” is as much an emotional roller coaster for adults as it is a visual wonder filled with laughs for kids.
5. “Steve Jobs” – Michael Fassbender gives a career performance as the complex, socially-inept co-founder of Apple Computers, ingeniously played out during three pivotal moments of his career. Director Danny Boyle realizes his vision more like a stage play through Aaron Sorkin’s whip smart dialogue, where Jobs’ embattled colleagues (expertly played by Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg and to a lesser degree, Seth Rogen) wrack their brains trying to figure the prickly computer pioneer out.
4.”Cinderella” – Far and away the most beautiful piece of cinema in 2015, this Kenneth Branagh-directed gem is one of the few films this year to deliver on all levels. Sometimes emotional, sometimes funny, and always full of heart, “Cinderella” has everything from stunning performances, awe-inspiring sets, gorgeous costumes, an emotional score and the recalibration of a classic character to reflect the modern age without damaging the classic tale’s integrity. Most of all, the film’s important message, “Have courage and be kind,” is one that will resonate for ages.
3. “Spotlight” – The film’s subject matter is depressing as all hell, but this film about The Boston Globe’s uncovering of the Boston Archdiocese’s priest sex abuse scandal in the early 2000s is so compelling that you can’t help but be gripped by it from beginning to end. The film not only recalls the greatness of “All the President’s Men,” but also serves as a reminder of today’s sad state of investigative journalism (if not journalism as a whole), which has been shot to hell by the Wild West Internet landscape where every media outlet has to have the story first, even if the facts aren’t completely right.
2. “Mad Max: Fury Road” – Writer-director George Miller finally gets the opportunity to make the “Mad Max” film he’s always wanted to make with this hyperkinetic road opus that can’t be described as anything but “batshit crazy.” Tom Hardy wipes the memory slate clean of Mel Gibson with his brooding performance as the title character, and Charlize Theron gives a furious performance of the aptly-titled character Furiosa.
1. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” – Sure, it’s not perfect, but how often can a film match the tone of the original 37 years after its release, and the monstrous expectations that go with it? The Force is back in a big way thanks to the ever-burgeoning creativity of writer-director J.J. Abrams, and this seventh episode in the “Star Wars” saga serves as a big reminder why we love movies in the first place. “Episode VII” can’t come soon enough.
10 honorable mentions: “Ex Machina,” “Black Mass,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” “The Revenant,” “Shaun the Sheep Movie,” “Ant-Man,” “Creed,” “The Good Dinosaur,” “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and “The Peanuts Movie.”
Worst film of 2015:“Sisters” – Tina Fey and Amy Poehler force an uncharacteristic brand of raunchy comedy down our throats that’s dreadfully unfunny and downright embarrassing. How this film got the greenlight to begin with, is one of the great mysteries of 2015. The “Saturday Night Live” alums must know where some bodies are buried.
Theaters had their share of movie hits and misses this summer. Here’s a look at the five best … and the worst.
5. “Spy” (R): Unlike the overrated “Trainwreck,” this latest teaming of Melissa McCarthy and her “Bridesmaids”/”The Heat” director Paul Feig was by far the summer’s funniest film. After hitting the wall with her obnoxious performance in “Tammy” last summer, McCarthy returned to a character with dimension – a vulnerable sweetheart who can also talk F-bomb-laced smack with the best of them – reminding moviegoers of the very things that had us fall in love with her in the first place. Having a winning cast including Jude Law, Allison Janney, Rose Byrne and an uncharacteristically funny Jason Statham to back McCarthy up didn’t hurt, either. And who says writing, direction and casting isn’t important to a movie?
4. “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” (PG-13): Tom Cruise continued to ramp up the intensity with more real-life, death-defying stunts in the fifth installment of the “Mission: Impossible” series, which has vastly improved since the underwhelming original. “Rogue Nation” isn’t as good as its predecessor “Ghost Protocol,” but clearly Cruise and writer-director Christopher McQuarrie have enough respect for their audiences to give them a twisty, challenging narrative to compliment the film’s exhilarating action scenes. Relative newcomer
-talks-tom-cruise-mission-impossible-rogue-nation/" target="_blank">Rebecca Ferguson also brings a kick-ass performance and proper air of mystery to her ambiguous female lead, and Simon Pegg gives his funniest “M:I” performance yet as Benji Dunn, Ethan Hunt’s (Cruise) techno-nerd right-hand man.
3. “Love and Mercy” (R): It’s only fitting that the biopic of Beach Boy icon Brian Wilson get a summer release, and one can only hope that it’s not forgotten come awards season in the fall. Director Bill Pohlad expertly tells the riveting story of Wilson during the “Pet Sounds” era (Paul Dano) and later in his career (John Cusack), where the tortured musician endured physical and mental abuse first from his father/manager, Murry (Bill Camp), and in his later years, from manager/psychotherapist Dr. Eugene Landy (a haunting Paul Giamatti). When all is said and done, you can’t help but be affected by the fascinating, behind-the-scenes stories and heartbreaking plight of one of America’s greatest musical geniuses. Dano is brilliant as usual in the role of young Brian, and Cusack gives one of the best performances of his career as the elder composer/musician.
2. “Inside Out” (PG): After a few shaky years for the studio, “Up” Oscar-winning director Pete Docter brings Pixar Animation back to dizzying heights with his ingenious look at the changing emotions of an 11-year-old girl, Riley (voice of Kaitlyn Dias) as she relocates with her family from Minnesota to San Francisco. Docter keys in on five emotions – Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) – and how they become seriously mixed up when they tamper with Riley’s memories. The film works for all ages, although adults – particularly parents – will become weepy when being reminded of their own childhoods and the rites of passage as their own children cross from childhood into adolescence. Beautifully animated with vibrant, iridescent colors, “Inside Out” is Pixar’s best since their 2010 Best Animated Feature Oscar winner “Toy Story 3.”
1. “Mad Max: Fury Road” (R): Thirty years after his last film in the original “Mad Max” trilogy starring Mel Gibson, writer-director George Miller comes screaming back with his hair on fire to make “Fury Road,” which is easily the most energetic, hyperkinetic, visually whacked-out ride to hit the big screen this year. The film is anchored by a charismatic Tom Hardy as the new Max Rocketansky and bolstered by yet another risky, kick-ass performance by Charlize Theron as female warrior aiding him in a showdown with the skeleton-masked leader (a menacing Hugh Keays-Byrne) of a society of post-apocalyptic crazies. “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a brilliant extension of the original “Mad Max” and “Road Warrior” movie experience as it captures the bat-s*** crazy tone that made the original films cult classics. After starting with low budgets with his original films, you can’t help but feel that Miller finally got the chance to realize the vision of the “Mad Max” movie he’s always wanted to make.
And the worst …
“Vacation” (R): While “Tomorrowland” was in the running for the worst movie of the summer with its preachy diatribe about how we’re all to blame for killing our planet, there’s nothing more painful than a smattering of dreadfully unfunny set-ups and pratfalls in a movie that shouldn’t have been remade in the first place. Ed Helms and Christina Applegate, who are generally likable and talented performers, should be embarrassed about ever signing up for this dreck, which feebly attempts to retrace Rusty Griswold’s (Helms) path to Walley World (the famed destination of the classic “National Lampoon’s Vacation” in 1983). Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo sadly show up for cameos near the end of the film, which only make you lament what might have been if maybe they would have been more creatively involved. Any amount would have elevated this “Vacation” out of its comedic hell.
Runners-up for worst summer movie: “Fantastic Four,” “Ted 2” and “Hot Pursuit.”
All engines are not only a go – but completely ablaze – in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” writer-director George Miller’s spectacular update of his original “Mad Max” movie series. In an age of franchise reboots and re-imagined film concepts, Warner Bros. was clearly game to give their full support to Miller to bring his ambitious vision to life; and given the technological resources not available to him 36 years ago with the release of the original film, he takes full advantage of the opportunity. Minus original franchise star Mel Gibson (who’s been replaced by the charismatic and completely capable Tom Hardy), “Fury Road” feels like the “Mad Max” movie Miller has always wanted to make.
“Fury Road” works on almost every level, apart from the occasional garbled dialogue consumed by the fast and furious sights and sounds that surround it. Thankfully, the premise of “Fury Road” is not an complex one – it’s a survival story at its core – so the narrative isn’t entirely difficult to grasp despite its roadblocks.
The set up for “Fury Road” is pretty simple: Max Rocketansky (Hardy), a road-hardened warrior wandering alone through the stark, post-apocalyptic desert landscape while plagued by frightening images of his dead daughter, is captured and enslaved by the vicious thugs serving Immortan Joe (a menacing Hugh Keays-Byrne). A skeleton-masked tyrant who rules with an iron fist over a desert canyon community called the Citadel, Joe who holds sway over people desperate for the precious commodity of water.
Eventually wrangling loose from Joe’s sadistic imprisonment devices and managing an escape, Max reluctantly joins forces with Imperator Furiosa (a bald and beautiful Charlize Theron), who’s just boosted a “War Rig,” a tanker loaded with weapons, from the Citadel. More importantly, Furiosa has stored aboard the rig Joe’s beautiful and precious harem of “breeders,” whom he impregnates to help populate his empire of madness – all in the hopes of finding the promised land Furiosa was torn from as a child.
On the run from Joe and his band of maniacal mercenaries, Max and Furiosa – along with the help of one of Joe’s “warrior boys,” Nux (Nicholas Hoult) – try to defy the harsh desert and other deadly elements until they decide to turn the table on their hunters.
Anchored by Hardy and bolstered by yet another risky, kick-ass performance by Theron, “Mad Max: Fury Road” fits snuggly within the “Mad Max” and “Road Warrior” movie experience and easily captures the tone that made the films cult classics. Probably best considered a pseudo-sequel to the first two “Mad Max” films, “Fury Road” contains everything “Mad Max” films could hope for.
Like the “Mad Max” films before it, “Fury Road” takes place in a surreal setting, involves a dizzying road chase by the freaky masked villain and his bizarre soldiers, and has lots of visual pyrotechnics – yet everything is amped up to the nth degree. The great thing is, you don’t necessarily have to be a fan of the original movies as “Fury Road” works great as a stand-alone picture.
While diehard fans may have trouble adjusting to a new actor in the role of Max, there’s no question they’ll love the rebirth of Miller’s overall vision: Hyperkinetic throughout, “Fury Road” is, for the lack of better words, bat-s*** crazy, thanks to its breakneck pacing and non-stop action, whacked-out vehicles commandeered by whacked-out characters, acrobatic stunts, a visually arresting landscape, and bombastic, operatic score.
Ultimately, the key to the success of the “Fury Road” – unlike the last “Mad Max” entry, 1985’s PG-13-rated, “Beyond Thunderdome” (starring Gibson and Tina Turner) – is that it disposes of the silly effort to rope in a younger demographic and employs a hard R rating to recapture the ultraviolent murder and mayhem that helped define the first two “Mad Max” films. Forget about crazy-good: “Fury Road” is crazy-great.
“Pitch Perfect 2” (PG-13) 3 stars (out of four)
While it falls far short of the perfection of its 2012 predecessor, “Pitch Perfect 2” still manages to find its groove. Despite all its faults, the movie is still very likable, stacked again with winning cappella performances from the Barden Bellas and several other groups. What “Pitch Perfect 2” lacks in story execution, it definitely makes it up with heart.
“Pitch Perfect 2” begins with the a cappella collegiate champions the Barden Bellas performing in front of President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama (in what is clearly stock footage), when, suddenly, a perfect performance is ripped to shreds, literally, as Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) has revealing wardrobe malfunction in front of president. Embarrassed by the coverage of the incident, the school’s administration suspends the group from further collegiate competition; and the only thing that can make the singers eligible again is if they win the world a cappella championship.
Featuring the directorial debut of actress Elizabeth Banks, the biggest issue facing “Pitch Perfect 2” is the lack of clear direction. In fragments, Banks puts together some pretty dazzling and funny sequences, but instead of focusing on the world championship, the movie spins off into several different directions. On one hand it tracks Becca’s (Anna Kendrick) attempt to break free of the Bellas because college is coming to an end and everybody has to move on; and another we’re treated to the hilarious courtship of Fat Amy and Bumper (Adam Devine).
The movie also introduces Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit,” “Begin Again”) as a legacy member of the Bellas who wants to perform her original songs, which comes into play when Becca suffers a pre-career crisis.
Of course, “Pitch Perfect 2” works best when its actors are singing, whether it’s the sharp performances of the Bellas, or the knock-out numbers performed by the group’s rivals from Germany as the movie heads toward its conclusion. All in all, “Pitch Perfect 2” is an admirable feat considering the monstrous expectations the sleeper success of the first film created. Perhaps the only performers exceeding expectations are Banks and John Michael Higgins, who top their turns in the original “Pitch Perfect” as a pair of misinformed a cappella commentators. Apart from Wilson and Devine, they turn the movie’s most hilarious performances.
Tim Lammers is a veteran entertainment reporter and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films for “KARE 11 News at 11”and various Minnesota radio stations.
Original Interviews, Reviews & More By Tim Lammers