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Friday, July 28, 2017

Review: ATOMIC BLONDE Is Beautiful, Brutal, and Brainless

Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is one of MI6's top spies during the Cold War, a relentless British agent with a gift for recognizing a trap - and the means to fight her way out of it. Days before the fall of the Berlin Wall, she's sent to the divided city to track down 'the List', an extensive record of British spies... that also includes the identity of a mole secretly feeding intelligence to the Russians. There, she meets her contact, a Glasgow spy gone native in Berlin (James McAvoy), a novice French agent (Sofia Boutella) who seems drawn to her, and a number of enemies bent on getting the List before she can. But Berlin is in chaos, and Broughton is made by the KGB as soon as her plane lands, complicating her mission -- and the presence of the mole in the city means she can't trust anyone.

Directed by John Wick's David Leitch and given an ass-kicking, action-packed trailer, my assumption going in was that this would be a straight up action movie, particularly given all promotion around Theron's training and stunt regimen. There's one fight scene, the beginning of which has figured prominently in the film's marketing, that is truly spectacular, a long-take action scene that, to me, was the highlight of the film. It plays to one of Leitch's (and Stahelski's in Wick) seeming signature moves, in which a beautifully choreographed fight scene actively plays with the idea of combatants getting tired and wounded, slowing down and getting sloppy. It's a way to humanize action that is refreshing in the age of the invulnerable protagonist, and it adds a ton of tension to the fight and humanity to Broughton and her foes.

But much of the movie is actually a fairly traditional spy thriller, as characters try to tail one another, plant bugs without being noticed, and generally control who knows what and when. And look, a good spy story is hard. By far the most common mistake I see made is one in which the author leans too hard into the 'trust no one' trope and applying it to the main character as well; a fundamental force of drama depends on knowing what the main character wants, after all. Atomic Blonde doesn't just make this mistake, but rather it leans into it so wholeheartedly it warps the structure of the film around it, introducing unnecessary flashbacks trying to disguise something most viewers will guess pretty early on. Upon the conclusion of the movie and its final, terrible twist - going for The Usual Suspects' Kaiser Soze, ending up with Star Trek Into Darkness' John Harrison - most of my reaction boils down to... "Wait, what? Literally nothing I just watched makes sense."

Atomic Blonde is a movie of visceral and immense surface pleasure, from its phenomenal soundtrack and fashion to some lovingly choreographed bone-breaking action. Theron manages the almost-impossible task of playing dead-behind-the-eyes weariness with immense charisma, playing Broughton with a style I legitimately don't think anyone else working today could pull off. Sofia Boutella continues to impress in too-small parts, though her character here is tragically stereotypical. And James McAvoy is a true standout, bringing an appropriately sleazy charm to his punk rock spy that plays on McAvoy's bent sense of humor and scrawny vulnerability in some smart ways. The movie's most interesting and effective bits of spy flick twistiness come when these three, ostensibly allies, are trying to protect themselves from each other and try to screw each other over while still working towards roughly the same goal. But, what goal are they working towards?

The pieces for an excellent movie are all there... and they are often plenty of fun. But the film can't overcome a script that veers from gibberish to nonsense even in its finest moments. Leitch's previous film, John Wick, was criticized by some for its overly simplistic plot, but... I don't know, simple isn't inherently bad, just like complex isn't inherently good. At no point during John Wick was I confused as to what any single character wanted, and the bloody car crash that followed was thus something I could understand and empathize with; I could see it coming, wish it wouldn't come, and understand that it must. With Atomic Blonde, even having seen the movie through its silly final twist, I actually couldn't tell you a single thing about Lorraine Broughton, and the lack of humanity Leitch and writer Kurt Johnstad give her character outside of the way Theron moves is the film's greatest mistake.

Atomic Blonde has plenty to recommend it. Its performances are strong, particularly Theron's relentless physicality, and the movie has style to spare, its faux-anarchic blood-soaked neon capturing the feeling of a certain late-80s subculture. But, much as I love Theron, the film ultimately left me hollow. It's not just that the story made no sense - though it didn't - but that the reason it made no sense was because the filmmakers decided to hide key information from the audience for little reason beyond the temporary thrill of a twist. This ethos, the dedication to aping the surface elements of a spy story without concern for how the pieces fit together, offers some quick surprises but few truly lasting moments. Any decent spy knows the importance of playing the long game.

Atomic Blonde is out now in theaters across the nation. Directed by David Leitch and written by Kurt Johnstad adapting the Antony Johnston and Sam Hart's graphic novel, The Coldest City, Atomic Blonde stars Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, and Sofia Boutella.
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Thursday, July 27, 2017

The new IT trailer provides hope that we'll get a good King adaptation this year

In the realm of King adaptations, we have two options over the next couple of months...the upcoming The Dark Tower, which I was very excited about at one point in time continues to lose its luster with each passing day (I'll be seeing it early next week, so I'll be able to lay firm judgement on it from there). And the new take on IT, a movie I was pretty dubious about, is looking rather great.

How about that?

I've long maintained that the scary clown genre is way under-utilized in modern horror, and given that IT is primed to take advantage of the current Stranger Things/kids fighting monsters craze, the film's timing couldn't be better.

Here's the new trailer:

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

REVIEW: It Stains the Sands Red

The initial concept of Colin Minihan's It Stains the Sands Red is pretty brilliant: Molly (Brittany Allen) gets stranded in the middle of the desert after she and her boyfriend get attacked by a single zombie as they try to make it to an airfield to escape the zombie apocalypse. In addition to the realities of surviving a 40-mile walk through the desert, she is doggedly pursued by the zombie, who slowly but surely keeps up with her. It's a unique, smart twist on the genre, adding a heavy dose of It Follows' fear of a relentless, never-stopping enemy into the mix.

When the movie is at its best, it's inventive and genuinely frightening as it explores that central idea. It creates a stronger sense of survival when avoiding dehydration and making it to the airfield before the pilot leaves without her are added to the usual fears of being bitten by the undead. It forces Molly (and the filmmakers) to get creative as she finds ways to keep the zombie at bay temporarily so she can sleep, or even comes up with ways to make him useful during the long trek through the sands. Starting the film with the zombie apocalypse already well underway with characters who understand the rules is also a clever and refreshing twist on the tired tropes of the genre.

The only issue with this is that the movie abandons this concept barely over halfway through; without spoiling the fate of the zombie, lets say he's not so important after Molly arrives at the airfield. The film takes what feels like a left turn there, becoming a film about personal growth and family drama. Thematically, it makes sense: she goes from being totally dependent on men and pursued by a monstrous version of a man because she's on her period to an extremely competent survivalist whose motherhood only makes her stronger. On an intellectual level it works pretty well, but from a visual and narrative level it left me wanting more from the brilliant initial concept.

In addition, there's also some pretty bizarre and seemingly amateur editing mistakes throughout the first two acts. Every movie sets up its own visual and auditory rules, and It Stains the Sands Red breaks its own rules frequently, suddenly utilizing effects and editing techniques that make it feel as if the film turns into a cheesily stylized music video at times with out of place color filters and time-lapsed backgrounds. The opening act feels overly composed, as if they shot it poorly and instead of redoing it, just added an overwhelming amount of color grading and After Effects star fields in the background.

There are two smart movies inside It Stains the Sands Red: one, a clever twist on the tropes and settings of the zombie film, and another, a redemption story of a woman turning her femininity from victimhood into power. Unfortunately, those two stories don't mesh entirely well, and I found myself wishing the film had dug more deeply into either one. It's an admirable effort, and outside of some brief but baffling stylistic choices, it firmly draws a line in the sand for the progression of Minihan's abilities as a director.

It Stains the Sands Red is directed by Colin Minihan and stars Brittany Allen and Juan Riedinger. It opens to a limited theatrical release and VOD platforms on July 28th.
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Monday, July 24, 2017

Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 188

 Beautiful Canvas #2
by Sami Kivela

Again, this series continues with a really striking cover image, this time with a blotchy background that has hints of a dragon, but also (combined with the radial cracks at the top) look a bit like continents on some strange globe.

Black Hammer #11
by Jeff Lemire

Although Lemire doesn't draw this book himself (and I adore Ormston's work on it), it's clear that he has great passion for and knowledge of the pulp era in his wonderful variant covers for Black Hammer!

Doom Patrol #6
by Mike Allred

Doom Patrol really is the perfect project for Allred and his quirky pop art sensibility. I love the weird sense of perspective that the black holes provide here, and the black and white background really makes the characters pop off the page!

Mother Panic #9
by Tommy Lee Edwards

I really dig how much is going on in this cover, from the creepy news desk crime scene in the bottom half to the noir-ish upper half and the dead signal themed colors of the title.

 Namwolf #4
by Alexis Ziritt

Ziritt's neon cosmic style is pretty gorgeous when applied to a supernatural war setting. Love it!

Saga #45
by Fiona Staples

It's been a while since I've featured one of Staples' Saga covers, but not because they're not great! Her sense of dramatic composition, depth of color, and character body language continue to be top of the line.

That's it for this week. What did I miss? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook!
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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

See James Franco channel Tommy Wiseau in the first teaser for THE DISASTER ARTIST

Every once in a while, all our friends get together and we watch Tommy Wiseau's The Room. I can tell you right now, it never fails to turn the room inside with laughter. From all the stuff you've seen on Youtube, to the things you probably don't remember (Wiseau's strange monologue about staying at a YMCA) to the things that were cut from the film that you can talk about later (his character was also a vampire??) - it's one of the greatest shared movie-watching experiences of my life.

And now James Franco is bringing to life the true story of the making of Wiseau's "masterpiece", based on the book by that film's co-star Greg Sestero; here's the first teaser for The Disaster Artist:

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Monday, July 17, 2017

Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 187

 Batwoman #5
by Michael Cho

Damn, Cho is so good! A beautiful design, lovely colors, and still a dynamic-yet-retro image. Love it!

 Bettie Page #1
by Scott Chantler

I love the style here, from the excellent cartooning to the canted angle to the great characters in the background.

 Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #10
by Benjamin Dewey

I guess it's retro week here at GeekRex! This one just bleeds pulp sci-fi and I absolutely love it. It perfectly encapsulates "Weird" comics.

 Green Arrow #27
by Esad Ribic

Although I didn't know it until I saw this cover, I'm going to need Ribic to draw an axe-wielding Wonder Woman book in the style of Thor: God of Thunder ASAP.

Magnus #2
by Jorge Fornes

Wonderful design and detail and a great color contrast really bring this dramatic cover to life.

That's it for this week. What did I miss? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook!
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The latest BLADE RUNNER 2049 trailer is here, and it's pretty rad

There's a few films I'm very excited about the rest of this year. Tonight's Dunkirk screening, Thor: Ragnarok, Rian Johnson's Star Wars, the latest Paul Thomas Anderson film, but nothing comes close to my anticipation for the sequel to Blade Runner - perhaps my favorite movie of all time.

We might argue about the lack of any need for a sequel to an already perfect film, but on the strength of Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins alone, this would be worth watching, even with the sound off.

So I'm there, no doubt about it, I hope you are too. Here's the newest trailer for Blade Runner 2049. Gorgeous, gorgeous stuff.

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