Atomic Blonde is better than its trailers

When I first saw the trailers for Atomic Blonde, I was hopefully optimistic. They were rich in all the qualities a good late-summer action flick for adults should possess: high on style, visceral fight scenes, and sex appeal. But, I’d been led astray by trailers in the past, so I was somewhat cautious as I actually sat down in a (very empty) movie theater to watch it.

As it happened, I didn’t need to be cautious at all.

Atomic Blonde may be my favorite espionage action film released since GoldenEye.

This is an espionage film, so I can only give out plot generalities in order to avoid spoilers. Furthermore, while I do have a couple of complaints, these are sadly linked to events that play out late in the film the end, so I can’t actually complain about anything in this film without divulging key plot details! Since this is a spy film, that’s diabolically well played! Fortunately, these complaints are ultimately minor, and should not diminish anyone’s enjoyment of the film. So, onto the GOOD stuff (which there is plenty of)!

The film opens with the murder of a top MI6 agent in late 1989. His MacGuffin is stolen by his KGB murderer, and this sets his bosses back in London on the edge of their seats as the nature of the information stored in said MacGuffin is rather sensitive — a list containing the identities of every NATO agent in deep cover in the Soviet Bloc, which if it ends up in the hands of the KGB will obviously lead to a lot of dead agents. I imagine in real life, lists such as this don’t exist for exactly this reason, and if they do, they probably don’t ever leave the room they’re composed in for the same reasons. But, before I even have time to recite the MST3K Mantra (“It’s only a movie, so I should really just relax“), the film has gotten to the good stuff, and any chance I have for incredulity is lost before it begins — more films should do this. Don’t give the audience time to examine plot holes; keep things flowing and give them what the trailers promised them and you’ll be golden.

Charlize Theron is Lorraine Broughton, the MI6 agent tasked with retrieving the list, and for this, she is introduced to the audience having already failed in that mission, explaining to her superiors (played by the excellent Toby Jones and John Goodman) exactly what went wrong and how. It’s a brilliant use of a framing narrative, and it’s a credit to the film that knowing in advance that she makes it back to London for her debriefing doesn’t at all dull the stakes or tension. Her primary point of contact in the still-divided Berlin is David Percival, played by the ever charming and likable James McAvoy. Rounding out the primary cast is the lovely up-and-coming talent of Sofia Boutella as Delphine Lasalle, a younger and naive French operative working the same case as Lorraine, with whom she shares professional and physical chemistry.

Generally, when a movie casts Charlize Theron, you’re in for a good time regardless if the movie is of any decent quality or not — one thing you’ll always get from her is one hell of a show, and she’s a very dynamic actress with a huge range of skill and talent that is on full display through this film. Being a spy, Lorraine has to assume several identities and play different roles on her mission, which would give a sense of meta enjoyment for any actor, but Theron brings a particular relish to the part, and it feels like Lorraine is a composite made of a number of Theron’s previous roles through the years. Bits of the various heroes and villains she’s played all show up here, with a particular emphasis on her villainous qualities being played for more heroic ends. She very much is like Ian Fleming’s novelised James Bond, in that she’s a “hero” only because she happens to be working for the good guys. She’s unafraid to use any of the tools at her disposal to get what she needs, and her fight scenes really drive this home, with Lorraine frequently being physically weaker than her male opponents and thus resorting to using anything that isn’t nailed down (and even a few things that are) to get the edge in a fight.

I’m particularly fond of Boutella’s casting — she’s a beautiful young lady who has a lot of talent, as shown by her previous roles in a so-far too short career that already includes memorable roles in Kingsman: The Secret Service, Star Trek Beyond, and the ill-fated 2017 remake of The Mummy, in which she was pretty solely the only good thing worth seeing the movie for (I actually ended up rooting for her to win, despite the fact that she plays the villain in that one). As far as I’m concerned, I hope to see a lot more of her in the future. It’s a shame that she’s not used as much as she could have been in this film — it might have alleviated a lot of the impression that she was cast as someone hot to have passionate girl-sex with Charlize Theron, despite the ways she actually contributes to the plot later. Unfortunately, thanks to the trailer campaign, this is going to be exactly the impression taken by a lot of people as they leave the theater. Oh well. She’s still lovely in every sense with this character, and any time spent with her is time well spent, in my opinion.

But then, I’m old enough to remember when this was exactly the situation that James McAvoy was in as an apiring young actor in the early 2000’s, and he’s now a pretty damn talented and successful man (you have to be in order to fill Patrick Stewart’s wheelchair in the X-Men films), and he brings his A-Game to this film as David Percival, a man of hedonistic vices, mysteries, and questionable allegiances that will have you guessing right until the credits roll. Percival is MI6’s West Berlin Station Chief, but under the stress of living in the City of Spies has resulted in the man going completely native, indulging in German synth-wave music, smuggling, strip clubs, and other forms of debauchery. Guessing at his true loyalties proved to be some of the best fun this film gave me. He bounces between seeming utter incompetence and savant-like expertise at “playing the game” and helping Lorraine accomplish their respective goals.

David Lietch, one of the co-directors of John Wick helmed this small masterpiece, and boy, it shows throughout. His eye for superb action scenes is on full display at several point in the film. The action is tight, brutal, fast, and bloody. There’s a fight scene towards the end that takes 7 or 8 minutes and it’s all done as one continuous shot. There’s no music to it, which just hammers home the brutality. It’s easily one of the best moments in an already great movie. Like Sofia Boutella, I hope to see much more from David Lietch as a solo director in the future. Lietch has once again delivered a great action film that deserves to be counted among the greats of the 2010’s with signature flair. Sadly, it’s not all wine and roses for Lietch, as while the film’s dialogue is decent and results in a mission accomplished, doesn’t always feel like it soars to the heights it could have. McAvoy’s Percival hogs all the best dialog to himself, and other characters are content to operate in his shadow, though given his boistrous nature, this may be one of those things that ends up being quietly brilliant about the film.

Tyler Bates composes a great soundtrack (honestly one of the best parts of the movie — worth the price of admission by itself) and sprinkles in over 30 hits of the late 80’s, with 99 Luftballons by Nena featuring prominently in the film. According to various articles I’ve read online, licensing all the music on display in Atomic Blonde was a nightmare more intense than most of the fight scenes. There are no moments where the on-screen actions feels overpowered by the music, but Bates clearly understood where music helped, and where it would hinder, and as such, the movie would have been significantly lesser for not having him.

If you liked John Wick or the Jason Bourne films at their zenith, or if you felt that the Daniel Craig Bond films could have used some improvement, then you’re in for a treat with this one. Atomic Blonde is pretty much everything a late Summer movie should be. The action is bombastic, the cast immaculate, the music is perfection, and despite how the trailers make it look, the plot is tense, real, high stakes, and will keep you invested for the entire run time. It’s the best kind of modern spy fiction, and it’s not for no reason that several have hailed this as “the female James Bond” and fans have called it “Jane Wick” (heh). This is a movie that is actually better than its trailers suggest, and it’s an action movie that has delivered in a way that the Summer of 2017 has so far seemingly struggled with outside of Wonder Woman and Spider-Man: Homecoming.

I will see it at least two more times in theaters and then I will be first in line to buy it on Blu-Ray.

As for you? Well, I won’t tell you how to live your life, but in case it’s been in any way unclear, I honestly think you’d be doing yourself a disservice by passing this one up.

I’m giving  this a solid 5 out of 5.

I can’t recommend this enough.


Atomic Blonde released in the United States on July 28th, 2017. I did not recieve any compensation for this review.

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Just let Alien die

So Fox is “reassessing” the future of Alien because Covenant made less than half of what Prometheus did.

People are saying they need to improve the quality of the films. I have an alternative suggestion.

Just take Alien out back and kill it humanely. Why? They won’t improve things. THEY WILL NEVER IMPROVE THINGS. And I’m not just talking out my posterior here. I can back this up with cold hard science (of a sort).

A film’s legacy can be a tricky thing to determine, but it gets easier with lengthy franchises.

We haven’t had a even MOSTLY well-liked film since 1986. For those keeping track at home, we haven’t had anything but highly divisive “love-it-or-hate-it” films in this series in over three decades. Here are the facts:


1979: Everyone agrees that Alien, the Ridley Scott original is AMAZING.

1986: Everyone agrees that Aliens, James Cameron’s follow up is AMAZING, but for different reasons.

1992: Most people dislike Alien 3, but it has a few fans who inevitably crawl out of nearby air ducts like Xenomorphs when you criticize the film online.

1997: Alien Resurrection is damn near universally hated, and by all rights should have been the end of things.

2004: Alien vs Predator was goofy and silly and felt about as good as Sharktopus or Boa Vs Python, and again, most viewers weren’t very fond of it.

2007: EVERYONE HATES Alien vs Predator: Requiem. By all rights, once again the franchise should REALLY have fucking ended here. It’s easily the worst film featuring the Alien brand, and again, managed to piss off just about everyone who saw it.

2012: Prometheus is very much like Alien 3: it’s got a few fans, but again, most didn’t like it.


And now it’s 20-goddamn-17. We’ve got Alien: Covenant, which shaped up WORSE than Prometheus, but at least wasn’t AVP:R level terribad (not that that’s a great compliment. Lots of things are better than AVP:R. Stepping in fresh dog excrement for example. On a day you weren’t wearing socks and shoes. Because a mugger had stolen them after murdering your mom and dad in front of you).

Seriously. Put this franchise in a little pine box and bury it already.

It’s the merciful thing to do. Keeping it around is torturing the fans of a formerly-good thing like David torturing and experimenting on Elizabeth Shaw to death off screen so he can create the very first Xenomorph.

Oops. Spoilers to a terrible film you shouldn’t waste your time with anyway.

My bad. 

I regret nothing if it saved you from the sin of being interested enough to see the film.

Stay classy, internet.

OH MY GOD I ABSOLUTELY LOVE SKY HIGH

This is my blog and I totally reserve the right to lose my shit and rant about things I absolutely adore.

Which I shall do presently.

OMG ITS SUCH A PERFECT MOVIE ABOUT GROWING UP

WTF ITS SO AWESOME ABOUT HOW IT SETS UP THE “BE COOL WITH WHO YOU REALLY ARE” ANGLE, SUBVERTS IT, THEN PLAYS IT PERFECTLY STRAIGHT.

OR HOW ABOUT THAT BIT WHERE IT ACTUALLY PULLS OFF A THIRD ACT TWIST SUPERBLY IF YOU HADN’T BEEN PAYING PERFECT ATTENTION

OMG

OMG

OMG

LYNDA CARTER HAS NO BUSINESS STILL BEING THIS AWESOME; KEEP THAT SHIT UP LYNDA!

Whew. Finally got some mileage out of my caps lock key. I could rant on, but I think you get the idea. I just really love Sky High.

Glad they’re making a sequel.

Peace. 

Ten Years After “Live Free Or Die Hard”

Can you believe that Live Free or Die Hard released June 22nd, 2007?

I mean, damn. I feel old.

Ten years later, and I have such a mixed relationship with this movie. The Hollywood Hacking cliches are offensively straight out of an early 1990’s film, but the dialogue is spot on. The action scenes are completely over the top, and yet they are fun as hell to watch.

Ten years later, I still have no idea how I feel about the film.

Ten years later, we are more dependent on computers than ever before, but if anything, the film’s premise of a dedicated group of cyberterrorists being able to shut down the entire national infrastructure seems more distant than it did in 2007. Part of that is we just have a better public understanding about how IT works today — one of the benefits of being so uniformly dependent on computers. Another part is that the technology has advanced more, and still yet another part is that the movie’s plot has always been… well, let’s be charitable and call it “highly implausible”.

So why do techies hate this movie? I mean, it’s a dumb but fun summer flick, isn’t it? Well yes, but it presented just realistically enough in 2007 that a lot of people believed it was pretty accurate. More than that though, as I’ve said before when discussing this movie: “You don’t go into an alley to get stabbed, but you still feel the knife when it happens.”

Live Free or Die Hard doesn’t mean to fool people. It doesn’t mean to cause a virtual aneuryism in techies and gadget geeks. It just wants to be a fun movie. Fortunately, for the most part, it is. So, the science underpinning the plot is hilariously and offensively wrong. Big whoop. The action scenes are fun to watch and appreciably over the top, even if the previous films felt a bit more grounded in reality. The dialogue is snappy, snarky, and sarcastic at all the right points, with Bruce Willis and Justin Long trading positions regularly as the guy calling out the absurdities of the plot, and there are plenty of those moments to be found.

Ultimately, Live Free Or Die Hard doesn’t play by the rules of reality. It plays by John McClane’s, which as the films repeatedly go out of their way to point out, don’t really ever make full sense.

Live Free or Die Hard  is a great movie. It’s fun, it’s witty, stuff blows up and Bruce Willis manages to be himself throughout.

I just wish I wasn’t so compelled to scream “OH MY GOD THAT COULDN’T BE MORE WRONG” at every single turn of technobabble.

And fuck that F-35 scene.

Here’s hoping you all get another opportunity to enjoy this underrated classic of American Summer action cinema on this upcoming Fourth of July.

Peace out.

Quick notes on Framerates (for Gamer Arguments)

At the dawn of the 20th century, Thomas Edison and his company discovered that the human eye needed to see, at bare minimum, a framerate of what we would today call 10 FPS before our brains could become convinced that a single image was in fact moving and not just a fast slide show. 10 FPS is the baseline. Edison actually shot a few films at this framerate, including a short film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (beating Universal to the punch by two decades), but little of these films survived.

24 FPS was a standard of Old Hollywood, and games below this seem choppy and poorly animated to pretty much everyone. This low framerate is part of why restored versions of old films that feature a higher framerate seem so odd to watch, but it is only part of the reason.

30-45 FPS is the current Hollywood standard, and this is the range in which most console games fall, as developers consider it the “best of averages” balancing on screen details and framerate.

60 FPS is the up-coming standard of Hollywood — for instance, the Hobbit films were filmed with special 60 FPS cameras. This ended up making test audiences complain that the films felt “unnaturally smooth”, so in many theaters, the films were artificially brought back down to 45 FPS, which is how you probably saw them unless you saw them in IMAX. For PC gamers, this is often the minimum optimum framerate.

60+ FPS is the desired framerate for PC gaming, especially for games that require pixel-perfect reflex timing like serious e-sports. It will be a long while before Hollywood or consoles catches up to this.

Here endeth the lesson.

Mutants, Latex Ninjas, and Olivia Munn, oh my!

So, as we approach the release of X Men Apocalypse I’m sure that we’ll be hearing the mandatory interviews with actress Olivia Munn that she’s incredibly stoked to be playing such an “empowering” and “inspirational” character as Elizabeth Braddock, aka Psylocke from the X-Men comics. If it seems kind of inauthentic, it’s probably because there still isn’t much about Psylocke that is empowering to women or all that inspirational.

HELLO, BOYS...!
HELLO, BOYS…!

See that outfit Psylocke is wearing in that illustration? That has been her outfit, more or less unchanged, for DECADES. Sometimes she’ll switch it out for a slightly more modest painted-on body glove, but let’s not mince words: the character of Psylocke exists for two things: Tits. And. Ass.

Here's the other half of her costume if you somehow believed it magically covered something.
Here’s the other half of her costume if you somehow believed it magically covered something.

Here’s a photo of Olivia Munn in her official costume (in an official photoshoot to promote the film too; I wonder why she was asked to promote…?) so you can see how little has changed in the transition to the big live action screen. Munn even claims the outfit requires four assistants to apply body lube just so she can put it on, and she’s not exactly a chunky girl.

Points for accuracy to the comics, at least. For whatever that's worth here.
Points for accuracy to the comics, at least. For whatever that’s worth here.

Ironically, the most modest we’ve ever seen Psylocke is in her bit part in X-Men 3 (aka: the only version of the character that actually wears clothes). I love that look for the character, because it channeled the visual energy of the character without coming across as stripperiffic.

Was this look SO HORRIBLE that they couldn't have repeated this?
Was this look SO HORRIBLE that they couldn’t have repeated this?

Psylocke has definitely had superb writers over the years, and she can have the potential to be an empowering, inspirational character– it all depends on the storysmiths running her show.

But let’s make one thing clear: she was created for the male gaze, and while I appreciate that as a straight male will, and because of how her appearance has always been handled, I don’t have much reason to expect greatness from this role, or anything that indicates female empowerment, which I feel is yet another missed opportunity for the film industry.

There are characters who manage to be both sex objects and empowered women, and I hold Bayonetta as a prime example of that. She’s a very sensual, flirtatous, and sexual being, but she owns it as part of who she is, and yet she has a great many genuinely heartwarming and downright motherly moments throughout her story with the little girl she winds up rescuing early on. It doesn’t change the fact that she’s designed to look like a dominatrix librarian in a leather catsuit, but she manages to be both a sex object AND a very female-positive character who even passes the Bechdel test as we spend time with her over the course of her story.

Amazingly more girl-positive than most women in comic books.

To quote a very insightful bloggess about Bayonetta passing the Bechdel test:

  • RULE 1 It has to have at least two women in it – Bayonetta and her nemesis Jeanne are arguably the two biggest characters in the game.

  • RULE 2 Who talk to each other, – Yep. Plenty of Bayonetta vs. Jeanne scenes.

  • RULE 3 About something besides a man. – Indeed. Everything that Bayonetta and Jeanne discuss revolves around their past histories and their present disputes. I could be wrong, but I don’t think they ever talk about a man.

The Bechdel Test aside (and spoilers to Bayonetta, ahead), there were several other pro-woman outcomes at the conclusion of Bayonetta:

  • Bayonetta defeats her father, Balder, who reveals he not only manipulated Bayonetta so that he could use her to revive “the Creator”, but also used his powers to pit Jeanne against Bayonetta in the first place.

  • Towards the end of the game, Jeanne and Bayonetta abandon their previous animosity and join forces as friends to save the world and destroy the Creator Jubileus, who also appears as a woman.

  • Bayonetta does not take the romantic bait in her fanyboy-sidekick Luka. While there are moments in the game that suggest that they may end up together as Luka secretly lusts after her (while he helps care for Cereza), the coupling at the end of the game turns out to be Bayonetta and Jeanne as partners in crime.

Somehow, I doubt Psylocke will get the same (relatively) girl-positive treatment as Bayonetta did. I think someone wanted to see Olivia Munn in a pleather one-piece, wrote a portion of the script to vaguely justify this, and then waved money at Olivia Munn until she agreed.

There’s nothing empowering about that, regardless of what miss Munn might claim in the interviews. I know she’s a comic book geek at heart, and I know she’s been an enthusiastic cosplayer on several occasions, but that’s really not why she was cast here. Whatever the rationale given, they went with that costume in the film to capitalize on her sex appeal, not her acting skills, and certainly not the narrative merits of including the character.

This is one rare time I will actually subtract approval points from a comic book film for staying visually true to the source material. If I had a girlfriend, I would feel slightly embarrassed to take her to see this film as soon as Psylocke strutted into frame in that outfit, especially since the X-Men films have, until now, taken regular sizable liberties with the physical appearances of the characters (ESPECIALLY the women– they’re often better dressed in the films than they are in the comics).

Hopefully, I’ll be somewhat wrong, and Psylocke’s writing might turn out to be utterly amazing and very pro-women. I really hope so. Hopefully, Olivia Munn will turn in the role of her career that we speak of for years to come.

I hope.

But given the evidence so far, I’m not betting a single penny on that hope.

Compassionate Machines?

After being blown away by Chappie and Ex Machina (WOW YOU SHOULD SEE BOTH OF THOSE), as well as a replay of Mass Effect 2 (which leans HEAVILY on AI as a plot element between the characters of EDI and Legion), I felt I had to write a short story about a possible form AI might take in reality, and which explores themes that I feel fiction tends to dance around without really addressing.
It doesn’t have a title as of yet, but the basic plot is that Liam, the main character, buys a “Life Companion Droid” (which he names ‘Red’) after being frustrated by his chronic bachelor’s syndrome. In other words, he bought a custom tailored girlfriend the way that some guys today might buy a custom tailored RealDoll.
Each Life Companion Droid is custom built and programmed to perfectly match the buyer’s needs and specifications to be an off the shelf soulmate or brother/sister figure.
Part of what makes this work (in the story) is that each AI is not completed until the buyer’s brain has been scanned and mapped, and this data is fed into the partial AI to make it not only come alive, but in a way that it understands its partner and can empathize and sympathize as a human would (also, the original designer gave up trying to replicate certain aspects of the human body with technology, so Life Companions are about a third specially grown organic material, making them even more human, and I suppose technically cyborgs).
The end result is that they are “Droids” before being switched on, but afterwards, their legal standing changes to “Artificial Person”, and they have rights and privileges the same as “Natural Persons”.
Red in particular is very blunt and logical, but also compassionate, supportive, and loving. She cares deeply about Liam because she is built to do so, but in her own words: “I love Liam because I am meant to, but that doesn’t make it any less real for either of us.”
This is something that I really see as a potential application for AI in the real world marketplace if the technology ever got to that point. People in the real world fall in love with video game characters all the time, so it makes sense, if only from a certain market perspective: if single people fall in love with computer programs, why not make a computer program that is designed to fall in love right back?
Discounting that awful potential for robot “bunny boiler” girlfriend/boyfriends who get way too attached, or a completely detached and unempathetic one on the other end of the spectrum, if we created that right balance, and made an AI designed to be compassionate and empathetic, I think we could solve a great many problems beyond mere loneliness in a large segment of the upper middle class of the Western World.
In fact, humans may not learn to be compassionate as a species *until* our machines do (and teaching compassion to machines successfully may completely avert a Skynet/Ultron-like apocalypse, so… BONUS!).
After all, to quote Ellen Ripley in Alien Resurrection: “No Human being is that Humane.”