BARE BONES: ATOMIC BLONDE (2017)

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ATOMIC BLONDE (2017)

Action-fueled spy thriller takes place in 1989 in an unstable East Berlin as MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is interrogated by her superiors over the events of the past few days. Her mission was to retrieve a list of all agents active in the area, including the traitorous Satchel, who was to be eliminated. As she relates her failure to capture this list, we go back and relive her problematic mission.

Neon drenched flick is directed by David Leitch from a script by Kurt Johnstad, that is based on a graphic novel called The Coldest City by by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart. Despite a lot of intense and vicious fight scenes in which Theron gets to play a lethal bad-ass, the film is a bit dull and struggles to hold one’s interest. It’s also a flick that is trying way too hard to be hip and even overdoes it with it’s 80s soundtrack, which is almost impossible. Aside from the bone breaking action, the plot is extremely routine spy stuff and fails to really involve you when Theron isn’t snapping arms or breaking faces. A fairly forgettable movie despite a strong characterization by vet Theron and some very effective action sequences, which in themselves are worth watching. Also stars James McAvoy as her eccentric, Berlin MI6 contact and Sofia Boutella as a French agent and Theron’s love interest.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: SPLIT (2016)

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SPLIT (2016)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

With The Visit, M. Night Shyamalan had started to show a bit of a return to form after a string of disappointments lasting over a decade of his career. Now with Split, he seems to have hit his stride again with this intense and disturbing thriller.

The film tells the story of Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a man diagnosed with over 23 different personalties. His therapist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) is using Kevin to prove her theory that the belief in a personality can effect the physiology of the subject while under the influence of that personality. But unknown to Fletcher, Kevin’s alter egos have kidnaped 3 young girls, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy from The Witch and Morgan), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson from The Last Survivors and The Edge Of Seventeen) and Marcia (Jessica Sula). His alternates say they are to be used as sacrifice for a new personality…called The Beast. Can these three young girls escape before The Beast is unleashed?

Written and directed by Shyamalan, this is an intense and suspenseful thriller that is his best work in well over a decade. It has some interesting ideas, such as strong personality disorders developing physical changes within certain personalities, for example, Dr. Fletcher’s citing of a blind woman who gained sight under the influence of one of her alternate personalities. This does not bode well when Kevin’s alternates like Patricia, Barry and Dennis keep heralding something called The Beast. We also like the three captive girls and their refusal to give up trying to escape and it certainly makes us fear what’s in store for them. Shyamalan plays this out in the confined space of Kevin’s lair, only briefly going outside to Fletcher’s office during Kevin’s sessions. This keeps things isolated and claustrophobic which adds to the overall atmosphere. Of course the last act delivers the goods and without giving any details, it is a very intense and effective ride as ‘guess who’ finally arrives. As usual with his best work, Shyamalan also gives us some solid surprises and fans of his films will be thrilled as to how this one closes out. I’d go more in depth, but this is a film that is best seen knowing as little as possible.

James McAvoy is simply brilliant as the multi-personality Kevin and a number of his alternates. He plays each one as a separate person and gives each alternate a full personality, complete with facial expressions and their own body language. If there is any minor complaint, it’s that we only see about four or five of the personalities and McAvoy’s performance begs us to want to see more of the supposed 23. The girls are all good. Taylor-Joy plays the loner and social outcast and she is not only likable, but strong, resilient and may have some things in common with her captor. Richardson’s Claire is also resilient and is the one who is the most vocal and steadfast about escaping their captivity. She and Casey butt heads sometimes as to how to proceed in their efforts, as Claire sees Casey’s waiting for the right moment as more of an excuse to not try. Sula’s Marcia is the quietest and most timid of the three basically doing what she is told and seems to be the most frightened. Rounding out is a very solid Betty Buckley as Dr. Fletcher, a woman who is too fascinated by her subject to see how dangerous he really is. A very good cast who make this film work so well, especially lead McAvoy and his stunning performance.

This was definitely the Shyamalan of old with some truly suspenseful moments, an unusual, but well written story and some legitimate scares and intensity. He is aided by the perfectly cast James McAvoy who gives many of the film’s chills and a solid supporting cast in those playing his three hostages and therapist. The film has a fantastically nerve-wracking last act and a final scene that will have fans on their feet. Welcome back, M. Night!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 alternate personalities.

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REVIEW: X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (2016)

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X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (2016)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

While X-Men: Apocalypse is not the worst of this series, it may be the dullest. The film opens in ancient Egypt where a powerful being, En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) is about to transfer his consciousness into another body when he is betrayed and buried beneath the ruins of a great pyramid. We then cut to 1983 where he is dug up by a cult of mutant worshipers and set free to resume his plan of…you guessed it…world destruction and domination. Now Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and rebel hero Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) must somehow stop the first and most powerful mutant with only a group of young students and CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) at their sides. Worse still, En Sabah Nur has gathered a strike force of his own, Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and only needs one more piece to carry out his apocalyptic plan…Charles Xavier.

As this is the fourth X-Men flick directed by Bryan Singer and written by Simon Kinberg, co-written with Singer, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, we see a series in definite need of new creative blood. The story is just another powerful villain looking to annihilate mankind yarn, directed very by-the-numbers by Singer. Gone is the cleverness from his first two flicks, as well as, the energy and the fun. The film plods along for 144 minutes, taking itself way too seriously and we only see a spark of life in the last few moments, when the young members of the team must step up against a god-like being…though a god-like being that never really impresses or exudes much menace. And that is another big problem with this flick, En Sabah Nur…or Apocalypse…is a boring villain. He is never frightening, nor do we ever truly feel the power he is supposed to have. He’s just some blue guy who wants to rule the world…yawn. Even his sidekicks, including the usually impressive Magneto, are given little to do, but stand glowering behind him, till the climactic battle and even then only Olivia Munn’s Psylocke shows a little promise, despite being as underused as the rest of them. Add to that a detour into William Stryker’s (Josh Helman) lair, which serves no purpose other than to give a certain familiar face a cameo and adds at least twenty minutes to an already overlong flick. Remove the sequence entirely and it would have no bearing on the story. Even Stan Lee’s usually amusing cameo is dull, though at least we get to meet his real-life wife.

There are some positive points. There is some solid action and the FX are spectacular, even though the whole city destruction thing has been done to death in recent superhero flicks. Evan Peters has another movie stealing scene as Quicksilver and should get his own movie at this point. Mystique’s graduation to team leader works well and Lawrence again shines in the role, as does Sophie Turner as a young Jean Grey, who has a bit of a scene stealing moment of her own in the final conflict. One of the few moments to show some life and have impact. Newton Thomas Sigel returns with some crisp cinematography and John Ottoman from X2 and Days Of Future Past again scores the soundtrack…of which also contains some cool 80s tunes.

The film has a big cast and the recent regulars like McAvoy, Fassbender, Hoult, Byrne and Lawrence all perform their roles well and we wish they were given something more challenging to do. Oscar Isaac is sadly underwhelming as En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse. He just doesn’t project any power or malice, as the supposedly first and most powerful mutant. It is almost as if he was phoning in the part. Evan Peters is once again amusing as the smart-ass Quicksilver and thankfully he has a bigger role. Sophie Turner is good as young Jean Grey and in her big scene evokes the kind of power Isaac could have used to make his villain memorable. As for the rest of the newbies, Jodi Smit McPhee is fun as Nightcrawler, Tye Sheridan is fine as the new Cyclops, Ben Hardy is given very little to do as Angel, so it is hard to really comment on his performance, Alexandra Shipp shows potential for Storm and Olivia Munn, as mentioned previously, makes an impression as Psylocke, even if she is underused.

What can be said? It’s not an outright bad movie like Last Stand, but even that had some fun stuff in it. While this is a better made and written film, it is also a very drab, uninvolving and overlong one. At least Last Stand had the decency to be less than two hours long. Our main bad guy is heaps of dull and his world destroying plot is heaps of been-there-done-that. On a plus note, the FX are as well rendered, the action is well staged and the recast favorites work well enough, with Sophie Turner standing out. There are a few good new characters such as Olivia Munn’s villainous Psylocke and another fun sequence with the scene stealing Quicksilver. A ho-hum entry in a series which has too many interesting characters to run out of gas quite yet.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 sexy but underused Psylocke’s.

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REVIEW: X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014)

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X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014)

I really liked X-Men: First Class, it was a great way to reboot a series that had stumbled a bit and put together a really solid cast in both familiar and new roles. I was actually a little disappointed when I heard Matthew Vaughn had passed on the next installment, but remained hopeful upon hearing original franchise director Bryan Singer would return to the director’s chair. But sadly all the fun and energy that Vaughn gave his retro entry and even the spark and intensity Singer gave his first two films is, for the most part, lacking in this overlong and somewhat tedious entry that takes until it’s final act to really get going and by then it’s too little too late.

The complicated Terminator-ish story takes place in a bleak and war-torn future where mutants and any human who may have the potential to give birth to a mutation, have been hunted down and almost completely destroyed by the ruling power and their army of robot Sentinels which detect the mutant gene and eliminate those with it. But there is a slight hope. Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan) have devised a plan to used Kitty Pryde’s (Ellen Page) power to send Logan’s (Hugh Jackman) consciousness back to his pre-adamantium body in 1973 to contact their younger selves (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) and try to get them to work together and stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from murdering the Sentinel’s inventor Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) and setting in motion events that will lead to the war that has ravaged the Earth and caused so many deaths. But at this point in history Xavier and Magneto are not allies and Mystique has gone rogue and Logan may only have hours to change the course of time before their time in the future is up… did you get all that?

Obviously, the film has a very complicated story that involves time travel which, always sets up it own set of difficulties, but considering that the film avoids being a mess, is more of a plus. The problem here is not the story details or the logistics of time travel and changing the course of history, but the deadpan tone with which the usually competent Singer directs this affair. Gone is the energy and fun of the first two X-Men films he directed and instead is a very by-the-numbers presentation of what should have been a fun and suspenseful tale. There are a few entertaining bits like Quicksilver’s (Evan Peters) speedy and clever way of getting our heroes out of a jam, but the film really has no spark until it reaches it’s climactic act and then we get a bit more of the movie we wanted to see, but it takes over 90 minutes of mostly ho-hum sequences to get there…sequences that should have been very tense and exciting but aren’t. The pace is also slow for a superhero film even one with a plot of such dire importance as this. And maybe that’s it. Singer just seems to take this story just a little too seriously and we rarely get those little witty character moments that made the previous film’s so fun. The camaraderie between the characters just isn’t there. Maybe it’s Simon Kinberg’s script based on a story by Kinberg, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn that simply was too bleak and left out a lot of the fun. Either way X-Men:DOFP just really lacks something till the final scenes and, to be honest, wasn’t very involving till then. I was never bored, but was never fully drawn in. For the most part I was along for the ride, but never really interested in where it was going… and I should have been.

Again Singer works with a very large and familiar cast, but unlike his previous X-Men adventures, the cast here seem to be going through the motions from Stewart to Lawrence to Jackman to McKellen and most of his principles. There is no real passion or energy in their performances despite having all played their roles before save Dinklage. They all seem like they are just performing by the numbers with the only person really giving his role some pop is the young Peters with his smart aleck Quicksilver and sadly his screen-time is limited. Even the usually excellent Fassbender seems like he’d rather be somewhere else. There are plentiful mutant cameos, some familiar and some new, but few of them really resonate other then the amusement of seeing that familiar face or someone intriguing and new. And the new characters, aside from Quicksilver, are really given very little attention, certainly not enough to endear to us to them. Is it possible that these actors have tired of their roles?

It’s not all bad. It is tedious though I never actually got to the point of being bored. The film really did pick up in the last half hour for a pretty decent finale in Washington D.C. that interweaves with the battle raging in the future, though it certainly can’t hold a candle to the Washington D.C. set finale of the Captain America sequel The Winter Soldier and could have had a little more suspense and intensity. The FX are top notch and the scale of the film seems fairly large especially when the action finally starts. Newton Thomas Sigel is back doing the cinematography though, since the film is set in the 70s, I did miss the retro look of John Mathieson’s cinematography on First Class. And maybe that is what one of the problems is, that the film is set in the 70s, but never really felt like it… like, say American Hustle did. John Ottman returns to score from X2 and also did the film editing…busy man…and his score is adequate but a bit uninspired.

So, overall, X-Men: Days Of Future Past may not be an outright disappointment, but it is a letdown and certainly could have been much livelier considering the importance of what was transpiring. Maybe the whole back in time to fix the future thing has run it’s course, or maybe Singer’s time away from Xavier and company has dulled his passion for the material…or maybe it’s still too familiar to elicit a stronger passion. Either way, it’s not the worst X-Men movie, but far from the best. Also stars Nicholas Hoult as Beast/Hank McCoy.

2 and 1/2 X-Men.

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