This Week's Film Reviews (July 28, 2017)

27 Jul 2017

ATOMIC BLONDE, promoted as a female James Bond action flick opens this week.  Another female protagonist film about revenge, LADY MACBETH also opens.  Should men stay home this weekend?


Best Bets of the Week:

Best Film Opening: LADY MACBETH



Best Foreign: GRADUATON

Best Documentary: INTEGRAL MAN

Best Comedy: BABY DRIVER

 To find a review for a past film, type the title of the film in the SEARCH box on the front page of site.



Directed by David Leitch

Advertised as a female James Bond film with Charlize Theron as a top ass-kicking M16 spy,  ATOMIC BLONDE tries its best to assume a British setting though Theron and most of the cast speak with an unchanged American accent.  Who really cares, as the film delivers senseless action with dazzling visual and choreographed fight scenes courtesy of director David Leitch in his first solo directorial debut, himself a stunt coordinator and stuntman for stars like Brad Pitt and Matt Damon.

The film is written by Kurt Johnstad, based on Antony Johnston and Sam Hart's 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City, published by Oni Press.  The film opens with a commentary of how the cold war has ended in 1989 flowing the collapse of the Berlin Wall and then goes on to say that the film is not about this subject.  The film is about the cold war revolving the good guys, the British M16 and the Americans in this case trying to retrieve a list of double agents that if fallen into the wrong hands would…..It does not really matter as Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock says.  The point is that top level female spy, Lorraine Broughton (Theron) has been assigned to aid fellow spy and wild card David Percival (James McAvoy) with this mission.  As it turns out Percival has supposedly got the list from Spyglass, a Starsi agent (Eddie Marsan) and he is to be  escorted out of Berlin. Not so easy, as every Russian and German spy is also out to get the list. 

With the film setting in the 80’s, one can expect a solid 80’s soundtrack.  And the film has a great one at that, and not surprising as the music is by Tyler Bates who has put together similar memorable soundtracks for films like GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 1 and 2 and the two John Wick Films.  The song are also appropriately chosen to fit the plot for example with Depeche Mode’s ‘Behind the Wheel’ during the defection segment and Queen’s ‘Under Pressure’ at the film's climax.

The film’s excellent cast includes McAvoy (SPLIT), always good in portraying crazies.  Eddie Marsan who plays Spyglass steals the show with a dead serious performance amidst the over-the-top action.  German veteran actress Barbara Sukowa has a cameo as the coroner who delivers a key line: “In Germany, we do not make little mistakes.”

The film’s best action sequence lasts a full 10 minutes as Lorraine fights off multiple attackers in ultra-violent hand-to-hand combat on a staircase while protecting Spyglass.  If this is not enough, an exciting car chase follows right after where villains in cars appear out of nowhere to chse the two.  Director Leitch dishes sexiness to the limit with same sex scenes between Lorraine and a French spy (Sofia Boutella).

The plot of ATOMIC BLONDE is quite difficult to follow and there is no use trying as the plot is pointless.  The story’s twist in the end of who is the double agent makes little sense either.  But cold war spy films in the 70’s were often difficult to follow.  ATOMIC BLONDE delivers dazzling senseless action, that is the point of the film and that it succeeds.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nI7HVnZlleo

LADY MACBETH (UK 2016) ***
Directed by William Oldroyd

LADY MACBETH is not based on the Shakespearean play.  It is a 2016 British drama film based on the novel “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District” by Nikolai Leskov. 

The setting is the year 1865 in rural England, when a young woman, Catherine (Florence Pugh), is in a loveless marriage to an older man, Alexander.  They live with Alexander's father, Boris (Christopher Fairbank), and Catherine is forced to maintain a strict schedule and prevented from leaving the house. Boris scolds Catherine for not carrying out her conjugal duties but Alexander (Paul Hilton) shows no physical interest in her.  As Alexander tells Catherine at one point in the film: “My father bought you along with the piece of land not fit for a cow to graze upon.”

One day both Boris and Alexander have to leave the estate for separate business matters, and Catherine is left alone with the housemaid, Anna (Naomi Ackie), and is free to explore the area to alleviate her boredom. One day she discovers Anna being suspended from the ground in an outhouse by the men who work on the land. She is attracted to one of them, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), and the next day deliberately encounters him on the land.  The affair that begins causes Catherine to take matters into her own hands for her own good.

The idea of mistreated wife, especially by her in-laws during an arranged marriage has always been favourite film fodder, (my fondest film on the subject being Deepa Metha’s HEAVEN ON EARTH).  In LADY MACBETH, matters are made worse when she 

falls in love with one of her husband’s workers at the estate and the father-in-law finds out.

One of the most satisfying things about the film is watching Catherine’s personality change from tied abused wife to Lady of the House to the ultimate devil.  Once her husband and father-in-law are away and she left alone, her true nature slowly emerges.  The scene where this occurs when she makes her stance against her workers shirking their duties is one of the film’s best segments.  But the film is not without other prized set-ups. 

Cruelty prevails in the rich estate in rural England.  Catherine’s lover is flogged and locked up.  Class structure is prevalent.  Catherine is bound by duty and class.  Only when her sexual desires are aroused that she is able to break free from the imposed prison set up by the society and structure of the times.

Director is playful with the relationship between Catherine and her black maid.  When brushing her hair, the maid Anna does in extremely hard causing Catherine pain, as Anna also does when pulling her girdle tight or scrubbing her back in the bath.  What are Anna’s motives?  Is Anna getting back at her mistress or is she somehow trying to show some power over her mistress?  At times, Anna smiles kindly at her mistress and at other times, Catherine has to ask her: “What is wrong with you?”

LADY MACBETH premiered last year at the Toronto International Film Festival.  It has so far garnered favourable reviews, this one included.  A deliciously enjoyable wicked period piece that even males will enjoy when watching the fairer sex dominate.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Z0N8ULhuUA


Directed by Justin Barber

PHOENIX FORGOTTEN arrives with the hype that it comes from not only the same producers as the blockbuster hits 300 and THE MARTIAN but also with Ridley Scott’s name attached to the producer credits.  Of course this might not mean much, but at least one can be assured that at least the concept of the film must have been worth something.

Which it does, judging from the film’s opening scene that provides the film some promise.  From the point of view of a home made video, the audience sees  a jittery framework of footage of a family birthday party for young Sophie, bespectacled and looking all puzzled while everyone else talks to the camera.  The something weird occurs.  The roof of the house is almost taken down by what seems to be low hovering UFO’s apparently caught on the video camera as well.  Voiceover on the footage claims that this was the last time a picture was taken of the family all together.  A good quirky start for a movie that then moves to the present time.

The film takes its cue from the spring of 1997 when several residents of Phoenix, Arizona  claimed to have witnessed mysterious lights in the sky.  This phenomenon, which became known as "The Phoenix Lights," remains the most famous UFO sighting in American history.   

The film’s premise continues that on July 23, 1997, three high school student filmmakers went missing while camping in the desert outside Phoenix.  The purpose of their trip was to document their investigation into the Phoenix Lights.  They were never seen again. Twenty years later, Sophie (Florence Hartigan), a documentary filmmaker and younger sibling of one of the missing, returns to Phoenix to delve into the their disappearances and the emotional trauma left on those that knew them.  Sophie being a documentarist is the excuse of the found footage style for story telling,  But it is hard to believe later on in the film, that the three are continuing their filming when they are running for dear life.

The problem of this movie is that one can guess that the three are going to be abducted and the found footage would indicate that.  This results in a very dull middle section of the film. 

The found footage horror sci-fi flick has the same look and feel as THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and inevitably PHOENIX FORGOTTEN will be compared to that film.  For one the found footage technique has been used already not once too often and always in this kind of low budget film.  So, the novelty is gone and director Barber might as well do this horror story in the conventional way.  No real advantage can be seen in having the film done in the found footage way, except to give the audience a sense of false authenticity of the proceedings.

PHOENIX FORGOTTEN is now available on iTunes! It will hit VOD and DVD/Blu-Ray on August 1st.  Clearly not the best film of the year but it is available quite cheap for all that it is worth.

Trailer: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/15d5b8398300bde2?projector=1

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