A new feature from from ctvnews.ca! The Crouse Review is a quick, hot take on the weekend’s biggest movies! This week Richard looks at Charlize Theron’s Cold War spy story “Atomic Blonde,” the masterpiece theatre murder mystery “Lady Macbeth” and the found footage scares of “Phoenix Forgotten.”
Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Erin Paul to have a look at the big weekend movies including Charlize Theron’s Cold War spy story “Atomic Blonde,” the masterpiece theatre murder mystery “Lady Macbeth” and the found footage scares of “Phoenix Forgotten.”
“I got offered a lot of stuff in action movies that was either the girl behind the computer or the wife,” says Charlize Theron.
That was then, this is now. After dipping her toe in the action genre with Aeon Flux and Mad Max: Fury Road, the South African actress is kicking butt and taking names in Atomic Blonde, a wild spy thriller Variety calls “a mash-up of The Bourne Identity and Alias.”
Based on Antony Johnston’s 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City, it’s a Cold War thriller about an undercover MI6 agent sent to Berlin to investigate the murder of a fellow agent. “I didn’t just want to play a girly spy who depends on her flirty ways,” she says.
To prepare for the gruelling shoot Theron worked with eight personal trainers who taught her the stunt work.
“‘We’re going to pretend to do that, right?’” she asked director David Leitch during the preparation. “David was like, ‘No you’re actually going to throw big dudes.’ Alright, let’s throw some big dudes.”
Throwing big dudes around like rag dolls may look great on film but was a physical challenge for Theron. The Oscar winner twisted her knee, bruised her ribs and clenched her teeth so hard while shooting one of the over-the-top fight scenes she cracked two teeth, requiring dental surgery.
Theron joins a list of dangerous distaff action stars like Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), Scarlett Johansson (Lucy, The Avengers), Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Jenette Goldstein (Aliens), Angelina Jolie (Wanted, Salt, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider), Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil) and Uma Thurman (Kill Bill, Parts 1 & 2) who give Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson a run for their money.
All of those women owe a debt to two female action stars. Pam Grier and Tura Satana were larger-than-life pioneers, opening cans of whoop-ass on screen at a time when that was primarily the purview of the boys.
Quentin Tarantino directed Grier in Jackie Brown and says she may be cinema’s first female action star. Her films, like Foxy Brown and Sheba, Baby suggest he’s right. Grier could deliver a line and a punch, attributes that allowed her to cut a swathe in the male-dominated action movie market of the 1970s.
Perhaps the wildest female action movie of all time is 1965’s “ode to female violence,” Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! starring Tura Satana as the thrill-seeking go-go dancer Varla.
Experienced in martial arts, Satana did her own stunts and brought her unique style — black leather gloves, Germaine Monteil eyeliner and layers of Max Factor makeup — to the film.
She also supplied some of the movie’s most memorable lines.
When a gas station attendant ogles her cleavage while extolling the virtues of being on the open road and seeing America, Satana ad libbed, “You won’t find it down there, Columbus!”
Time critic Richard Corliss called Satana’s performance “the most honest, maybe the one honest portrayal in the (director Russ) Meyer canon and certainly the scariest.”
“I took a lot of my anger that had been stored inside of me for many years and let it loose,” Satana said of her most famous role. “I helped to create the character Varla and helped to make her someone that many women would love to be like.”
“I didn’t just want to play a girly spy who depends on her flirty ways,” Charlize Theron told W Magazine. Mission accomplished. Based on the wild ‘n woolly graphic novel “The Coldest City” by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart “Atomic Blonde” is a Cold War thriller that sees Theron dropkick Daniel Craig or Matt Damon out of the space they’ve occupied as film’s go-to super spies.
Set in 1989, just days before the fall of the Berlin wall, the film starts with the KGB assassination of an undercover MI6 operative in East Berlin. Theron plays Agent Lorraine Broughton, a high-ranking MI6 spy sent to the communist side of the wall to retrieve a dossier containing the names of other vulnerable British intelligence assets. “It’s an atomic bomb of information that could set the Cold War back 40 years!”
Toby Jones and John Goodman as MI6 and CIA head honchos respectively urge her not to trust anyone but she sparks up a personal and professional relationship with an inexperienced French agent Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella). Because everybody wants the dossier she is teamed with shady Berlin station chief David Percival (James McAvoy)—a “feral” man who moonlights selling bootlegged Jack Daniels to tourists—to beat the US, UK, USSR and France to the punch. How? By folding, spindling, mutilating, punching, kicking and head butting. There’s death by cork screw, fist and bullet and everything in between in some of the most dynamic fight scenes we’re likely to see on screen this year (and that includes “John Wick 2).
The trailers make “Atomic Bomb” look like wall-to-wall action. It isn’t. It’s a cold war spy movie with intermittent wild and woolly fisticuffs. And that’s OK. The fight scenes definite highlights and get the pulse racing but to be truly effective all movies must have hills and valleys.
If it was all action it would be like a Jason Statham movie. All talking it would be “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” As it is it hits the sweet spot between the two.
It’s a stylish film with visceral action scenes connected by an original cold war story, compelling characters and German versions of 80s pop hits.
This isn’t a Michael Bay style spectacular, it’s up-close-and-personal bare-knuckled warfare. Theron and her victims grunt and groan as fists hits faces and all manner of mayhem is unleashed. One particularly intense fight scene mixes and matches the above-mentioned grunts and groans with the catchy pop of George Michaels’ “Father Figure.” An even more effective sequence gets rid of the music completely.
The tour de force six-minute fight scene looks like a one-shot wonder. It’s hard to believe there isn’t some trickery involved but the sequence is dazzling nonetheless.
As Broughton, Theron is not a superhero. She comes out on top of most fights but emerges bruised and battered, which lends an air of unpredictability to the =storytelling.
“Atomic Blonde” is a violent, arty spy flick that doesn’t just open the door for Charlize Theron to create an effective spy franchise; it kicks it off its hinges.
Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the big weekend movies, the great ape flick “Kong: Skull Island,” the Shirley MacLaine dramedy “The Last Word” and the animated “Window Horses.”
Only two things are sure about Skull Island. First, it is home to Megaprimatus kong a.k.a. King Kong and a menagerie of prehistoric creatures. Second, as Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) says in this weekend’s Kong: Skull Island, “We don’t belong here.”
The latest adventures of King Kong take place almost entirely on the island but what, exactly, do we know about the place?
Not much, because Skull Island is uncharted and changes from film to film.
In the new movie, a digital map image suggests the island derived its intimidating name from its gorilla skull profile shape but originally the isle wasn’t called Skull Island. The best-known versions of the Kong story, the original 1933 Merian C. Cooper film and the 1976 Dino De Laurentiis production, never mention Skull Island.
The first movie and its subsequent novelisation describe a “high wooded island with a skull-like knob” called Skull Mountain while the ‘76 film refers to Beach of the Skull. It wasn’t until 2004’s Kong: King of Skull Island illustrated novel that the name was first used. Since then the moniker has stuck.
The same can’t be said for its location.
Over the years it’s been pegged everywhere from the coast of Indonesia and southwest of Central America to the Bermuda Triangle and the Coral Sea off the east coast of Australia.
In reality many places have subbed in for the island. In 1933 several locations were pieced together to create Kong’s home.
Outdoor scenes were shot at Long Beach, California and the caves at Bronson Canyon near Griffith Park in Los Angeles. Everything else was filmed on a soundstage in Culver City using odds and ends from other sets. The giant Skull Mountain gate was later reused in Gone with the Wind’s burning of Atlanta sequence.
De Laurentiis spared no expense bringing the island to life in 1976, moving the entire crew to the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
The shoot began at the remote Honopu Beach, a place the crew were told was deserted. Arriving in four helicopters laden with equipment they were greeted by a honeymooning couple who, thinking they had the place to themselves, had slept nude on the beach.
The impressive stone arch seen in the film — “Beyond the arch, there is danger, there is Kong!” — was natural and so huge years later when an episode of Acapulco Heat was filmed there a helicopter flew underneath it.
Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong reboot used a combination of New Zealand’s picturesque Shelly Bay and Lyall Bay as Skull Island’s “jungle from hell.” In the film’s closing credits the director paid tongue-in-cheek tribute to all the stars of the 1933 movie, calling them, “The original explorers of Skull Island.”
This weekend’s installment was shot in Vietnam, Queensland, Australia and Kualoa Ranch, Hawaii, where giant sets were built near where Jurassic World was filmed.
The scenery, as John Goodman’s character says, is “magnificent,” but there was also a practical reason to shoot in these exotic locations. The Hollywood Reporter stated the production shot in Australia to take advantage of a whopping 16.5% location offset incentive — i.e. tax break — offered by the Australian government.
Kong: Skull Island describes the isle as “a place where myth and science meet.”
On film though, it’s a spot where the imaginations of Kong fans run wild.
Set in 1973, the “Kong: Skull Island” is unrelated to the Kongs that came before. There’s no Empire State Building, no Jessica Lange, no romance between damsel and beast.
John Goodman is Bermuda Triangle conspiracy theorist William Randa, a man with some wild ideas about an uncharted island in the South Pacific. “This planet doesn’t belong to us. Ancient species owned this earth long before mankind. I spent 30 years trying to prove the truth: monsters exist.” With government funding supplied by a senator (Richard Jenkins) Randa leads an expedition to prove his ideas about certain life forms on the planet. Along for the ride are a military helicopter squadron, a handful of scientists, U.S. military commander Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), former British soldier turned mercenary James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and antiwar photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson).
Arriving at the island they are greeted by the tallest King Kong ever. “Is that a monkey?” gasps Jack Chapman (Toby Kebbell). Some monkey. At over 100 feet he dwarfs his cinematic brothers—1933’s Kong was 24 feet, the 1976 version was 55 feet while Peter Jackson knocked him back to 25 feet for his 2005 adaptation—and easily knocks many of Randa’s helicopters from the air.
The survivors hit the ground running, only to meet up with Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), a World War II fighter pilot stranded on the island for decades. “You’ve probably noticed a lot of weird things on this island,” he says in the understatement of the century. As they try and brave the treacherous landscape to meet a refuelling team at the north end of the island the motley crew soon realizes Kong isn’t their only or even biggest problem.
At its furry heart “Kong: Skull Island” feels like an anti-war movie. At least half of it does. The opening section, roughly half the movie, suggests the unintentional and deadly consequences that come from dropping bombs were you shouldn’t. “You didn’t go to someone’s house and start dropping bombs and less you’re looking for a fight.” It’s a timely message about unleashing powers we don’t understand in the name of war wrapped in a Vietnam allegory. “Sometimes the enemy doesn’t exist until you show up at his doorstep,” says Cole (Shea Whigham).
Then Reilly enters and with him comes a new shift. What was once a message movie is now a story of survival and giant beasts. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts pivots at this point, staging a series of action scenes with cool creatures, and it works as pure creature feature entertainment. It’s cool to see Kong tossing military helicopters around as though they were Tonka Toys and another scene will make you think twice about sitting on an old hollowed out log. Fans of bigly beast action will be more than satisfied with the final battle between Kong and a massive subterranean people eater.
“Kong: Skull Island’s” social commentary doesn’t fade away completely but Kong’s mighty roar does drown most of it out. Just below the roar, almost out of earshot, is the idea that displays of force aren’t always the way to deal with conflict, a rare sentiment for an action movie laden with WMDs. Mostly the flick provides a fun romp with some big budget beasts and (secondarily) an Oscar winner or two.
Richard sits in with Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the big weekend movies, Peter Berg’s ripped-from-the-headlines “Patriot’s Day,” “Live By Night” from director-actor Ben Affleck, the terrible “Monster Trucks” and the sublime “20th Century Women” and “Paterson.”