Tag Archives: cold war

Atomic Blonde – Review

2 Aug

In 2012, a graphic novel was released called The Coldest City, which tells the story of a spy operating in Germany during the events that lead up to the fall of the Berlin Wall. I have to be honest, up until recently, I’ve never heard of it, but it’s now been brought to my attention with its new big screen adaptation titled Atomic Blonde. I’ve been looking forward to this movie for quite a while, but I knew that it could really go either way, so I’d like to say I had my expectations in check. After seeing it, I have to say that I’m pretty surprised at a few things. First off, it’s a better movie than I thought it was going to be, which is pretty cool. Secondly, the marketing for this movie is completely off and it’s really not at all what the trailers make it out to be.

The year is 1989 and the Berlin Wall is close to falling which will bring together people on either side for the first time in years. Meanwhile, amidst the government turmoil, MI6 agent James Gasciogne (Sam Hargrave) is killed by a KGB agent and the microfilm containing the names and actions of every agent in operation is stolen from him. This concerns a lot of people and only the best of the best can be trusted to go in and retrieve this information before it is sold to the highest bidder. Enter Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), a top level MI6 agent with a very special connection to the deceased. Her mission is to not only retrieve the microfilm, but also hunt down and assassinate a traitor known only as Satchel, who’s been selling information to different sources including a KGB associate and arms dealer named Bremovych (Roland Møller). Upon arriving in Berlin, Broughton meets with another agent, David Percival (James McAvoy) who’s been operating in Berlin for a long time, but as she spends more time with Percival and his associates, it becomes clear that no one can be trusted and people can be bought and sold no matter their previous allegiances.

The trailers for this movie made it seem like Atomic Blonde was going to be a non stop, kinetic thrill ride of a movie that relentlessly jumps off the screen and attacks the senses of the viewer. That’s not really what the movie was and after I adjusted to this realization I started to really enjoy the movie for what it was. Sure, there’s action in it, but this is more of a spy movie than anything else, that just so happens to be infused with the style and sensibilities of a graphic novel. It does feel over the top in terms of its characters and certain plot elements but it also feels down to earth at other moments. This is a really layered story, and covering anything in a paragraph long summary is just impossible. What really is done right with this movie is a sense of blurred motivations and it’s appropriate that this line of work is constantly referred to as “the game” because the film makers have turned this area of Berlin into something resembling a game board. The characters move about in certain areas as clandestine as possible while trying to weed out the actions of the other characters. It’s a web of deceit and lies that holds up until the very last frame of the movie and this tale of suspense and turncoats works just as well as the action sequences.

Over the past few years, Charlize Theron has proven that she can perform just as well as the other modern day action movie titans. She was great in Mad Max: Fury Road, but her performance in Atomic Blonde takes her skills to the next level. When the movie does shift gears into pure action mode, it gets nuts. There’s a few major action sequences throughout the film, and the wait building up to each of them is worth it with the payoff. Theron owns the screen in these sequences and the choreography of each of these scenes are unique and memorable. It’s also all shot very well so the action can be seen in full. A while into the movie, one of these sequences starts and appears to not break action for at least 10 or 15 minutes. This is one of the greatest action sequences I have ever seen, and despite the fact that it is edited together, the illusion is strong and I didn’t have a hard time believing it was one continuous shot. Major kudos goes to director David Leitch. This being his first full feature film, I am really surprised by his skill behind the camera and I can’t wait to see what else he has in store for us.

While Atomic Blonde does very well in most areas, I do have to touch on some problems that I had with the movie. The pacing of this movie does have a hard time at some points. There will be a hard hitting action sequence, but then it will feel like the plot hits a brick wall. This kind of stop and go narrative is jarring and there’s a whole plot line with a certain character that could have been left out all together. The movie is a good length but it would have worked better if the screen time with this particular character was spent building on something else. There’s also a bit of a weird clash of style and story. This is a very stylistic movie, but it also tells a very down to earth and real story. It often felt like the style and the substance were contradicting each other, which shows that Leitch does have some growing to do in how he presents his stories.

Atomic Blonde is not a perfect movie but it is a more than competent action/spy thriller that has a whole lot of style and some really great film making. As a debut feature film, it’s really impressive and I want to see David Leitch grow as a film maker. While he shoots action very well, he needs to work on elements of his story telling and his style before he can create a movie as hard hitting as I think he wanted Atomic Blonde to be. Still, this is a very entertaining movie with a great sense of location and plenty of suspense and action to keep audiences on the edges of their seats.

Final Grade: B

The Right Stuff – Review

8 Mar

To me, the idea of going into space is like the worst thing ever. I’m quite comfortable staying down here on good old planet Earth for the rest of my life. For some people however, that just isn’t enough. Take for example the Mercury Seven, the American astronauts that were some of the first people to go to space, and the very first people to orbit the Earth. This is the story of The Right Stuff, a movie by Philip Kaufman based off of the book by Tom Wolfe. It’s a very interesting and adventurous movie that tells the stories of these astronauts very well, and for that I applaud it. On the other hand, this movie is goes on for what seems like forever and could have been either trimmed down or made into two separate movies.

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The story begins back in 1947 when there was a belief that it was impossible that it was impossible to reach the speed needed to surpass Mach 1 and break the sound barrier. That is until UNSAF pilot Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) stood up to the challenge and pushed the Bell X-1 jet faster than any before it and broke the sound barrier. This opens up many doors for scientific aeronautic progression for the United States, and pressure begins building as the United States enters the space race with the Soviet Union. The rest of the film follows the Mercury 7 astronauts (Dennis Quaid, Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Lance Henriksen, Scott Paulin, Fred Ward, and Charles Frank) and their different experiences training, finally going into space, and the effect it has on their social status and families.

No one can really deny that the story of The Right Stuff may be one of the greatest stories ever told. In all aspects, it’s a story of bravery, camaraderie, and love all woven together by historical truths and the knowledge that most of what we see really happened. The events shown in this movie are crucial scientific breakthroughs, and that being said, I wish this was a longer movie. Well, sort of. Watching this film in one sitting was pretty daunting, and by the end I was ready for it to be over. What I mean is that this is another one of those movies that would’ve have been a lot better if it was turned into a mini series. There’s so much history in The Right Stuff that sometimes feels glazed right over. Despite it’s run time of three hours and fifteen minutes, I still felt that there was more of a story to tell.

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The Right Stuff got its limited release in October of 1983, while Return of the Jedi got released in May of that same year. I’m saying this because I want everyone to have an idea of what sort of special effects could be accomplished at that time. For 1983, The Right Stuff had some pretty incredible special effects that still hold up today. Using practical effects like models, stock footage, and other unique effects, the effects in this movie gave it a very authentic feel. I also have to mention Caleb Deschanel’s beautiful cinematography that helps bridge the gap between authentic and cinematic.

It’s impossible to talk about The Right Stuff without mentioning its truly all star cast. Not only is it a very large cast, but its a cast that does their jobs very well. My personal favorite performances come from Ed Harris as John Glenn and Dennis Quaid as Gordon Cooper, although Scott Glenn’s portrayal of Alan Shepard is also memorable. They’re all just so into their characters, and Ed Harris especially could be John Glenn’s doppelgänger. The only person I feel is underused is Lance Henriksen. I’m a big fan of Henriksen, so the more I see of him the better.

The Right Stuff may feel like it goes on forever and it may get kind of cheesy with its over the top patriotism, but it is still one hell of a movie. The special effects, performances, music, and cinematography are all top notch and it tells a really great story, even if some of it isn’t all too accurate. While it wasn’t met with much attention when it was released, The Right Stuff is now regarded as a landmark film of the 1980s, and I can certainly understand why and wholeheartedly agree.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. – Review

31 Aug

Hollywood seems to be in a very nostalgic mood these past few years, what with all the remakes and reboots of movies and shows that newer generations may have never seen or heard of. It’s a nice idea, but it’s kind of being overloaded. Probably the strangest choice I’ve seen recently is Guy Ritchie’s newest film The Man From U.N.C.L.E. I say this because it was a show that was deeply rooted in the Cold War paranoia of the 1960s, even though it was a very light hearted, tongue in cheek kind of show. Of course, I trusted Ritchie’s skill with making this movie, and while it is far from being his best, it’s still an entertaining ride that breathes some colorful life during the end of the summer blockbuster season.

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The movie wastes no time getting started with American spy Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) on a mission in East Berlin to extract a woman named Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) and bring her over the Berlin Wall. During the mission, and unbeknownst to him, a KGB agent, Ilya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) is hot in his heels to stop him. What the two soon realize, is that they are being set up by their respective governments and soon Solo and Kuryakin are teamed up to stop an even bigger threat to both the Soviets and the Americans. This threat is a nuclear bomb being manufactured for a family of Nazi sympathizers, and the physicist building the bomb is Gaby’s estranged father. Now it’s up to Solo, Kuryakin, and Teller to gather all the information on this family as they can and stop them before they do serious damage to the world, and possibly start a war.

In 1963 when the television show was aired, it was pretty crazy to have an American and Soviet spy working together. It’s actually a really cool idea and made the stories seem more global. That being said, the show is incredibly dated, and while it is a lot of fun, it can be just as silly. What is really cool about this new adaptation of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is that Guy Ritchie doesn’t try to make this a dark story with life ending drama and suspense that is almost too sharp. Negative. This film actually feels like a 2 hour long episode, but with different people of course. That may be a problem for some people who want to have something deeper to watch, but that’s just not going to be found here. This is light hearted summer fun.

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With Snatch and the Sherlock Holmes movies and the rest of Ritchie’s filmography, there’s one thing that is always present in every single one of his movies. Style. Lots and lots and lots of style. Then some more style, probably enough for three movies. Really, who best to mush together the vibes of the swingin’ sixties and the paranoia and fear of the Cold War? The colors in this movie really pop, but never does it feel like an exaggeration. There are certain scenes, however, where the style is exaggerated. The camera flies all over the place, the pictures spin and blend together, there’s split screen shots, and all of this combined with the music that any Guy Ritchie fan knows all too well.

Now, while this is a spy movie, it’s also a comedy. Cavill’s and Hammer’s chemistry is great, and it’s fun to see the two start their mission hating each other and grow closer to the spies that were scene in the original television show. The actors also have their characters down perfectly. Solo is pompous and snide, but also certainly likable while Kuryakin is a tough as nails Russian who’s weaknesses are revealed throughout the course of the movie. Seeing both of these people in scenes where they’re out of their element provides some of the most enjoyable parts of the film, even though some of the more straightforward jokes fall flat.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. feels like a much smaller blockbuster than most of the other movies to come out this summer, but it still provides a few hours of serious fun and a lot of laughs. Compared to SnatchSherlock Holmes, and even Rock ‘n’ Rolla, this film feels like one of the weaker movies made by Guy Ritchie, but that’s not to say that it isn’t quite good. It’s not necessarily action packed or thrilling, but it’s a fun ride into the vintage world of Cold War espionage, and one that doesn’t take itself to seriously.

The Good Shepherd – Review

13 Dec

There’s been a lot of movies about the CIA and spies, but I don’t think I’ve ever watched one quite like The Good Shepherd. It’s more than just a cloak and dagger spy film. It’s also a story about relationships that should not exist, paranoia, and missed opportunities. It’s also almost three hours long. To some, this length will be a positive, to others it will be a major hindrance.

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In the early days of the CIA, Edward Wilson (Matt Damon) devotes his life to the agency and constantly surrounds himself with a collage of friends and enemies. The twist is that he doesn’t know who are his friends and who are his enemies. While he covertly fights for America, his home life becomes a nuisance, constantly interfering with his work. With the Bay of Pigs Invasion proving to be a failure, Wilson begins to question his position in life and whether or not he chose the right path.

Throughout the entirety of The Good Shepherd, the viewer sits through all sorts of historical events. There’s the Blitz of World War II and growing conflict with Russia, all the way up to the Bay of Pigs. Needless to say, a lot happens. In a way, this could make the plot unbelievably confusing, as is the case with a lot of films like this. What makes the story easy to get a grasp on is the fact that all of the espionage isn’t really the focal point of the story. Sure, it’s an important part but what is the crucial plot point is the stability of the characters. This could be through relationship, physical, or mental.

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There are so many great performers giving excellent performances. Matt Damon is the star of the show, and makes it really easy for the viewer to both dislike but also sympathize with his character. Angelina Jolie gives a strong performance, and speaking of strong performances, John Turturro gives an outstanding performance even though he doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time. Other stars include Alec Baldwin, John Hurt, Robert De Niro (who also directs), and Billy Crudup. The aforementioned actors have the least amount of screen time, although they make the most of the their roles.

Now, as I said before, this is a very long movie clocking in at two hours and forty five minutes. Personally, I love long movies because I feel like it’s a grand story with a lot to say. That being said, this definitely could have been trimmed down, at least a little bit. Or, even better, it could have made a great miniseries. That’s really what this movie felt like: and HBO miniseries. There’s so much that happens throughout the years of this movie that go by so quickly because of time. It also has moments where the plot slows down and it gets really boring, which just reaffirms the fact that The Good Shepherd would have been a better miniseries.

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I’d like to briefly touch on how amazing the movie looks. The costumes and the sets all look fantastic and very believable. Selling a movie like this would be very difficult unless everything is spot on. Styles and technology changes, and we all get to see that happen as the movie progresses. It’s very interesting and done very well.

I read a review that said said something along the lines of: “It is easier to respect that like The Good Shepherd.” I can see how some critics and viewers could see that, and I couldn’t really argue with that. My opinion is that this is one of the best spy films I have ever seen. It’s not particularly violent and there isn’t too much suspense, but I will say that it is very real, and that’s why I liked it so much. Sure, it can be dry and it is very long, but it’s expertly crafted and surprisingly easy to follow. If you have a free afternoon, you may want to check out The Good Shepherd.