Atomic Blonde – DeaconsDen Review

Charlize Theron stars as Lorraine, an MI6 agent who is assigned to recover a list with the names of other operatives in Cold War Berlin. Theron is proving to become one of Hollywood's biggest action stars, especially after her critically acclaimed performance in 2016's Mad Max Fury Road. How does Atomic Blonde rate as establishing a new action hero?

The one thing Atomic Blonde has going for it is Charlize Theron kicking ass. And she does it well. There is some really visceral and physical fight choreography at work here. It's not stylized a la the John Wick films. There's a lot of punching and kicking going on. This adds to the realism of taking place in the late 1980s as a spy thriller, as opposed to an action extravaganza.

Atomic Blonde also boasts a solid supporting cast. We have another film with a great chameleonic performance by James McAvoy. In addition we have roles filled by John Goodman, Sofia Boutella and Toby Jones. Every actor does a good job in their roles and help add to the historical context of the film.

The film features a soundtrack that is pure 80s as classic songs are used as well as covers of other songs. Combine this with the score by Tyler Bates and we have another element that attempts to immerse viewers in Cold War Berlin in 1989.

Action and atmosphere? Check. Interesting main characters in Theron and McAvoy? Check. So where does Atomic Blonde fall short?

Sadly it falls short in the story category. Despite the historic context that is presented, I just did not care about the main story at all. All I wanted was another action scene with Charlize. The film clocks in just under 2 hours but it isn't very well paced. Once you add the political intrigue which isn't at all, it feels much longer. It's a shame because it was a missed opportunity to bring real world history to the general action movie crowd. The story splintered the film into a spy thriller that wasn't very thriller and some great action.

Atomic Blonde is solid for the most part. I was hoping for more, but the lackluster story only has you wishing for the next action sequence. Great performances by the leads in Theron and McAvoy as well as an 80s atmosphere that immersed me. I just wish the connective tissue would have been more interesting.

Final Rating (3/4)

Dunkirk – DeaconsDen Review

"Dunkirk" is the newest film from Christopher Nolan. After taking a foray into science fiction with 2014's "Interstellar," Nolan decides to tackle the war film genre with this dramatization of the Dunkirk evacuation of World War II. In that event, Allied soldiers were stranded on the beaches and harbor of Dunkirk in the north of France. How does Nolan fare for this reviewer in his first war film effort?

First off I will say, Dunkirk is a masterclass in its technical prowess. As much as I love Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception and The Prestige, Dunkirk just might be the best technical filmmaking he's ever done. The beautiful camerawork, the effect and most particularly the sound design.

From the very first frame of Dunkirk, you are dropped right into the horror of war. However this isn't like Saving Private Ryan where you have a front row seat. In Dunkirk, Nolan puts you there with some of the best sound design I've ever experienced in a film. This is a loud film and I didn't even see it in 70mm IMAX. Every bullet fired. Every mortar screeching and the sounds of the planes flying over preparing to drop ordnance is just as terrifying as anything you would see or hear in a horror film. This sound work is accompanied by a minimalist, but powerful score by the legendary Hans Zimmer. The music underlines the imagery and sound in a way that adds to the pressure and desperation that these men are feeling. It's very impressive.

All of these positives however could not override what was the weakness of the film for me. Character. Or specifically a form of connection to characters. Like previous films by Nolan, the story is told in a nonlinear manner. The film covers 3 different storylines: on land covering one week, on the sea covering one day, and in the air covering one hour. The narrative comes together at the end for the climax of the film. I had no problem with the story being told in this manner, but that there were no characters that I could connect with. This fractured my viewing experience. The only story that I had any sort of interest in was the air battles that stared Tom Hardy simply due to some familiarity. I understand the purpose of Nolan's decision here, but sadly it had no effect on me. This made the journey to the finale a slow one for me despite the film's running time being under 2 hours.

Unfortunately the parts of Dunkirk I didn't gel with outweighed the parts that I did enjoy. If there was a central character or at least a tad bit more compelling characters than what was presented would have allowed me to engage with the narrative more and reconcile the technical excellence with the story being presented. Dunkirk is not a bad movie, nor a mediocre one. It's well made, but for this reviewer, not enjoyably told.

Final Rating (2.5/4)

A Second Chance: Alfred Hitchcock’s TORN CURTAIN

It's been a while since I have given a film a second chance. I've been in a mood for Alfred Hitchcock's work since I signed up for an online class celebrating 50 years of his work. Hitchcock had a very prolific career and sometimes you can overlook a film or overreact to a film that may not be quite on the level of some of the masterworks of a director. I'm going to take this opportunity to talk about my revisiting of the film "Torn Curtain" from 1966.

I first saw "Torn Curtain" around 2009-2010. At the time the only films of Alfred Hitchcock I had seen were "Psycho," "Rear Window" and "Vertigo." Turner Classic Movies (TCM) had been running his films in a marathon throughout the month. I decided to take the time and catch up on the career of this cinematic pioneer. One film I looked forward to was this political thriller that involved a man trying to retrieve a formula from East Germany and bring it back to the United States. That film was "Torn Curtain."

My first and only viewing at the time was filled with boredom as I found the film dense and sparse at the same time. I found nothing compelling about the leads, despite the pedigree of both of them. The plot felt labyrinthine. And there was just too much talking that didn't move things along quick enough for me. This was my first true disappointment with Hitchcock. I had high expectations that were not met.

Then came this course. TCM would again showcase a majority of his films and "Torn Curtain" was among them. I saw that it was online to stream and would expire the next day. So I decided to revisit this film from the later stages of the career of the Master of Suspense.

I judged this film wrong. It's really good. Bordering on great for me.

"Torn Curtain" really engaged with me as a spy thriller. Sure it lacks the extravaganza of the Sean Connery Bond films that were going at the time, but entertaining nonetheless in a Hitchcockian manner. It works in quite a few ways.

Paul Newman and Julie Andrews were not the type of actor that Hitchcock enjoyed working with. He particularly wasn't a fan of Newman's method acting. Despite this, I say it works. I see Michael Armstrong and Sarah Sherman. Not Newman and Andrews. This film, while on a global scale similar to his other films, is not the grand adventure of films like "Saboteur" or "North by Northwest." This didn't need Cary Grant or James Stewart. Hitch needed a new dimension to pull of these roles for this film and this was the right call.

It's also beautifully filmed with some shots that ease you into the tension such as this scene when Newman's character hears footsteps following him.

There's also a great scene that has Armstrong and the Farmer's wife (Carolyn Conwell) have to kill a man, but find out it isn't as easy as you think. It's an underrated gem of suspense filmmaking by Hitchcock.

I don't want to spoil too much of the film or this game I'm describing, but I wonder if part of the plot inspired a key moment in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater?

I was unfair to "Torn Curtain." It's very suspenseful and has all the elements we love to see in Hitchcock's filmography. I actually did not give this film another chance where I did give another chance to his 1969 film "Topaz." I've watched that film 3 times and can safely say I do not like that one. "Torn Curtain" however is a satisfying ride that is not as dense as I originally claimed it was.

Spider-Man: Homecoming – DeaconsDen Review

After a 3 year absence Spidey is back on the big screen in his own film. Spider-Man: Homecoming is the second reboot of the cinematic Spider-Man and his first solo film as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The last time we saw our friendly, neighborhood webhead, was last year's Captain America: Civil War. There we were introduced to this version of the character played by Tom Holland. Although brief, the character and actor were certainly highlights for that film and now we travel to Queens, NY to see the next chapter of Peter Parker's superhero career.


Although Spider-Man: Homecoming takes place early in Peter's time as Spider-Man, it is not covering old ground with his origin. We've gotten that twice with both Sam Raimi's 2002 "Spider-Man" and 2012's "The Amazing Spider-Man" directed by Marc Webb. Here we get a film about Peter learning to be a hero. He's young, excited and eager to help people. He's not that good at it either. He makes mistakes. A few mistakes actually. Other than being enlisted by Tony Stark to take on Captain America, he hasn't had much experience in crime fighting. That's all soon to change however.

Spider-Man: Homecoming really feels like an issue of the 1960s comic series (obviously set in the here and now). It's exuberant and funny. Thrilling and inspiring. I really associate it best with the animated series "The Spectacular Spider-Man." That show (which I wrote about), gave a split focus to Spider-Man and Peter Parker. Specifically the impact being Spider-Man has on Peter's life at home and school. This film feels most like that. In order for that to work, you have to have a great cast and we certainly get that here.

We have a group of characters that present a believable experience in high school. They go about their lives in the way that high schoolers would. I found it quite sincere. Also I want to give credit to superhero veteran Michael Keaton who gives a very human performance as Vulture. There's a moment in the film between him and Peter that matches any of the big scale set pieces in terms of suspense.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a homecoming indeed. Spidey is back in the overall Marvel film fold with an action packed but also very human adventure where a young man simply wants to prove his worth.

Final Rating (3/4)

47 Meters Down – DeaconsDen Brief Review

Two sisters (Mandy Moore and Claire Holt), on vacation in Mexico, go cage diving to see sharks up close and personal. The cable breaks on the cage which sends them to the ocean floor. Now the two young women must find a way to escape with their air supplies dwindling and great white sharks surrounding them.

47 Meters Down is the second shark related survival horror film in as many years. Last year we had the thriller The Shallows which was one of my top 5 films. This film is directed by Johannes Roberts and written by Roberts and Ernest Riera.


Like The Shallows, 47 Meters Down is another claustrophobic survival thriller. The film’s weakness however comes from the fact that you really don’t sense any fear or dread. The two main leads do admirable jobs, but it’s simply a case of seeing and not experiencing. That’s not to say it doesn’t have any charm and it was entertaining. I just don’t feel it took full advantage of its scenario.


If you are sensitive to the sort of bloody nature that would be in a shark attack film, this is not quite as visceral as The Shallows or even Jaws. Also the film clocks in under 90 minutes so it does move at a brisk pace and wastes no time getting in the water.


My biggest issue comes with the film’s 3rd act. A particular element is introduced but once it’s  followed up on, I wish it hadn’t because I loved everything that came before it. This may or may not bother some, but it did for me.


47 Meters Down is an entertaining enough survivor film, its just not that thrilling. It doesn’t take full advantage of its premise and therefore the illusion of danger isn’t as prevalent and the viewer simply feels like a spectator despite being competently made.

Final Rating (2.0/4.0)

Wonder Woman – DeaconsDen Review


After 75 years of history which includes comics, television (both live-action and animated) and even an animated film, Diana of Themyscira finally has her first theatrical film. Wonder Woman is the fourth installment of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). Patty Jenkins directs Gal Gadot, resuming the role of Diana from 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Also joining the adventure is Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston and Lucy Davis. How does the Amazon fare in her first film?

I absolutely loved this film! There are so many elements that come together to make Wonder Woman a great film experience. There are so many thoughts I can’t write here becuase they would be spoilers. I’ll break down each area.

Direction: 


I have never seen Patty Jenkins other film Monster (which won Charlize Theron an Oscar). Neither have I seen any of her television work so going into this, I was unfamiliar with her directorial stylings. I know one thing, after seeing Wonder Woman, I’d like to see more Patty Jenkins action. This was some of the best directed action I’ve seen in a superhero film. Every moment was clear and concise. There was no hectic camera movements. The slo-mo helped capture the gracefulness of Diana’s movements while still reminding us that she’s a warrior. She captured the brightness of Themyscira and the bleakness of the war in London. Jenkins also got every bit of acting she could from her actors.

Cast:


I really liked Gal Gadot in Batman v Superman. I love her performance in Wonder Woman. She runs the gamut of emotions in this film. Happiness, sadness, curiosity, anger, compassion. She sells you on all of these with great vocal inflections and her beautiful eyes. This becomes more evident throughout the film as she works with her supporting cast who is one of the best I’ve watched in a film. 


As much as I like Chris Pine as James Kirk, I think his performance as Steve Trevor ranks with some of his better acting efforts. And yes that includes Hell or High Water. As Trevor, Pine encapsulates a man who not only wants to do everything he can to prevent mass catastrophe, but also play the role of a man who basically has to serve as an avatar for all mankind to this woman who is an outsider. The chemistry Pine and Gadot give off is electric. 

Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright also have some great moments as Queen Hippolyta and General Antiope, Diana’s mother and aunt respectively. Lucy Davis shines as Etta Candy. Danny Huston as General Ludendorff doesn’t really do too much for me. He isn’t bad by any means, but nothing special in his performance. Special mention also go to Said Taghmaoui as Sameer, Ewen Bremner as Charlie and Eugene Brave-Rock as Chief, comrades of Steve.

Story:


The story is your basic superhero origin story. If you are familiar with the origin of Wonder Woman you know what to expect. The meat comes in connections that Diana makes throughout the adventure. Even though there is plenty of action, Jenkins allows the characters to breathe and it’s in these moments where Diana interacts with everyone else, especially Steve’s allies, what makes her Wonder Woman. 

Conclusion: 

Wonder Woman tells a complete origin story with some fantastic action and dynamic direction by Patty Jenkins and solidifies Gal Gadot as Diana with compassion, charisma and earnestness. Even though she has been around for 3 quarter-centuries, this movie works almost on a meta level as well, revealing Wonder Woman to the whole world and not just in terms of a film universe with DC characters. This was a great experience.

Final Rating (4/4)

Enjoy some these beautiful movie posters for the film. 




Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 – DeaconsDen Review 

The a-holes are back for another trip through the cosmos. In 2014 we were introduced to Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and Groot in a very enjoyable space adventure that occupied another corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Will director James Gunn repeat the success he helmed 3 years ago? Or would this film suffer the same fate as many sequels?

The adventure picks up mere months after the film and the Guardians are doing what they do best, taking care of business for others. After the film opens with another fun musical selection (Come and Get You Love opening the original is still on of my favorite theater experiences) the team is on the run after Rocket steals some powerful batteries from the same client who hired them to retrieve them. After a pursuit, the Guardians are stranded and from this point on we are treated to a new adventure which involves the mystery of Peter Quill’s heritage.

All the elements that made Guardians of the Galaxy a great film are still present in Vol 2. A core group of quirky characters, humorous situations, a splashy sci-fi backdrop, a banging soundtrack, great dialogue and some really nice earnest moments. However this time we get all of that and more, as Vol 2 gives us some fantastic side stories involving characters who didn’t get as much shine in the prior film. If I were to relate this to video games, I would compare it with Bioware’s Mass Effect games. the original Mass Effect was a great introduction to the series, but it was Mass Effect 2 that raised the bar with expanding the world and giving us development with characters outside of the main focus.

About 1/3rd of the way through the film our  heroes split up. I liked the story taking this route becuase it allowed for some breathing room with the characters. The focus of the first film was to bring these people together so taking the time to have some time apart did wonders for the character growth.

We get some great side stories involving Gamora and Nebula, Yondu and Rocket, and also some moments with Drax and Mantis that were actually more interesting for me than Peter’s individual storyline. And that’s not a slight becuase there were some great moments there as well. There were a couple of lines that straight up gut-punched me with their sincerity. A lot of sequels have issues with expanding while giving us more of what we love and Vol 2 gives us new layers to characters we already knew. It’s a great balance with the material we already expect from a Guardians film and the MCU. Even the film’s villain has a story that has you in his shoes despite the path that he’s going to eventually take. I actually find it the gem of this story that focuses on the fact that blood isn’t always family. 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is an awesome continuation of the adventures of the ragtag group. Everything that people loved is still there plus more with great character moments for almost everyone while maintaining its balance and never feeling overstuffed or overlong.

Final Rating: 3.5/4