Atomic Blonde

For F*** Magazine

ATOMIC BLONDE 

Director : David Leitch
Cast : Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella, Eddie Marsan, James Faulkner
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 55m
Opens : 27 July 2017
Rating : R21 (Some Homosexual Content)

Charlize Theron goes from traversing the arid, scorching desert of Mad Max: Fury Road to sauntering into the coldest city in this action thriller. It is 1989, days before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and MI6 agent James Gascoine (Sam Hargrave) is killed by a KGB operative in West Berlin. Gascoine’s colleague and former lover Lorraine Broughton (Theron), one of MI6’s deadliest operatives, is sent behind the Iron Curtain to recover sensitive information stolen from Gascoine. Lorraine must work alongside MI6’s Berlin station chief David Percival (McAvoy), who is often drunk and unreliable. Lorraine’s mission is to track down a mark known only as ‘Spyglass’ (Marsan). She gets entangled with French spy Delphine Lasalle (Boutella), and Lorraine’s actions frustrate her superiors Eric Gray (Jones) of MI6 and Emmet Kurzfeld (Goodman) of CIA. Caught in a geopolitical firestorm and pitted against the most treacherous of enemies, Lorraine must retrieve the documents at all costs.

Atomic Blonde is based on the graphic novel The Coldest City, written by Antony Johnston and illustrated by Sam Hart. Directing the film is David Leitch, who co-directed John Wick with Chad Stahelski and who is also helming the upcoming Deadpool 2. Leitch employs a great deal of stylisation, crafting a brutal, sexy ‘neon-noir’. However, unlike John Wick, Atomic Blonde doesn’t lean into its heightened absurdity as much, and takes itself a little too seriously.

As with any espionage thriller, the plot is a web of double-crosses, shifting alliances and twisty reveals. Atomic Blonde hints at the fraught geopolitical climate of the time, but is far from substantive. While Atomic Blonde succeeds as a mood piece, it is too coolly detached for audiences to get involved in the story. With its title cards rendered as spray-painted graffiti text and its action set to songs by Queen, David Bowie, Depeche Mode and Kanye West, Atomic Blonde is sometimes too enamoured with its coolness for its own good.

Coming from a stunt performer/coordinator background and having co-founded the stunt collective 87Eleven Action Design, Leitch knows a thing or two about action sequences. Atomic Blonde showcases several elaborate, wince-inducing combat sequences, and doesn’t skimp on the blood splatter when people get shot in the head. It is inevitable that this gets compared to John Wick – we’ve already done that earlier in this review. As masterfully as the stunts are executed, the balletic gunfights in John Wick were more dazzling, and that film’s juxtaposition of elegance and brutality more beguiling, than the action on show in Atomic Blonde.

Theron is an outspoken feminist, and Atomic Blonde has been characterised as a feminist action movie. The screenplay is written by Kurt Johnstad, who has penned such “manly men” flicks as 300 and Act of Valour, and the film’s female characters are very much sexualised. However, Theron owns the character’s sexuality, and while it can be argued that moments like a lesbian sex scene are exploitative, she displays such conviction that it doesn’t feel sleazy. This is a role that’s right in Theron’s wheelhouse – Lorraine is slinky, lethal and unafraid to get her hands very dirty. We get very little in the way of back-story or meaningful character motivations, but Lorraine is intended to be an enigma and Theron relishes the cloak and dagger machinations her character enacts.

As is expected of McAvoy when he gets to play characters a little on the wild side, he puts in an entertaining turn. David plays second fiddle to Lorraine, and McAvoy has no qualms letting Theron take the spotlight. The openly hostile dynamic between the two ostensible allies contains glimmers of fun, but McAvoy and Theron don’t get to play off each other as much as this reviewer hoped.

Boutella’s Delphine is very much the traditional Bond girl: she’s in her over depth, and is seduced and taken advantage of by the hero(ine). It can be argued that the much buzzed-about lesbian sex scene between Lorraine and Delphine is gratuitous, but Theron has argued that it’s an example of women owning their sexuality in a mainstream film, something we don’t see a lot of. In the meantime, Goodman and Jones show up mostly to facilitate the framing device of Lorraine being debriefed/interrogated in the aftermath of her Berlin mission. Unlike Theron and Boutella, they do not have a sex scene together.

As a platform for Charlize Theron to strut her action heroine stuff, Atomic Blonde works well. However, its convoluted spy vs. spy narrative is at odds with its stylishness and devil-may-care vibe. Atomic Blonde gets bogged down with considerable amounts of plot to get through in between the action while not possessing much depth, but Theron’s virtuosic badassery make it worthwhile.

Summary: While not as compulsively entertaining as it could’ve been, Atomic Blonde packs in plenty of style and showcases Charlize Theron in full action heroine mode.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Star Trek Beyond

For F*** Magazine

STAR TREK BEYOND 

Director : Justin Lin
Cast : Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Genre : Action/Sci-Fi
Run Time : 123 mins
Opens : 21 July 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

Star Trek Beyond poster          The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise are marooned in the third instalment of the rebooted Star Trek movie series. It is three years into the Enterprise’s five-year deep space exploration mission, and Captain James T. Kirk (Pine) is beginning to feel fatigued. Kirk, Commander Spock (Quinto), Lieutenant Nyota Uhura (Saldana), medical officer Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Urban), chief engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (Pegg), helmsman Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu (Cho), navigator Ensign Pavel Chekov (Yelchin) and the rest of the ship’s crew arrive at the Federation’s new Yorktown space station for a well-deserved break. However, they are abruptly called into action again on a rescue mission, and are suddenly besieged by an unknown enemy. The ruthless alien Krall (Elba) is after an artefact held aboard the Enterprise, and stranded on the planet Altimid with no means of escape, the crew must fend for themselves. Luckily, they have the help of a warrior named Jaylah, who has a long-standing vendetta against Krall.

Star Trek Beyond Simon Pegg, Sofia Boutella and Chris Pine

The rebooted Star Trek films, 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness in particular, have proven divisive amongst audiences. Stalwart fans of the originals 60s TV show decry the reboots as being too action-oriented and straying from the spirit of Gene Roddenberry’s sci-fi creation, while general audiences and the majority of critics have lauded the films for revitalising the franchise. Owing to his duties helming the seventh instalment of that other sci-fi juggernaut, J. J. Abrams passes the directorial baton on to Justin Lin of Fast and Furious fame. Screenwriting duo Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who have not exactly been popular amongst fans, are replaced by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung. Star Trek Beyond is very much a straightforward adventure, close enough to the spirit of the original series, while also showcasing the wham-bam action spectacle Lin has become known for.

Star Trek Beyond Zachary Quinto, Sofia Boutella and Karl Urban

Star Trek Beyond does feel a little scaled down from Into Darkness, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s still an epic sweep here: we’re treated to a jaw-dropping establishing shot of the gleaming, futuristic bauble that is the Yorktown space station, accompanied by a stirring, uplifting score from composer Michael Giacchino. The scene in which Kirk pulls off some rad motorcycle stunts did induce its share of eye-rolling when it was glimpsed in the trailer, but it doesn’t feel out of place in the movie itself. The climactic zero-g melee is reasonably inventive too. The destruction of the Enterprise is suitably intense and dramatic, but is marred by an overuse of shaky-cam, which affects most of the close quarters fights in the movie.

Star Trek Beyond Krall vs. Enterprise crew member

The biggest shortcoming here is the central villain Krall. One can’t help but feel that the layers of prosthetic makeup somewhat diminish Elba’s innately towering presence, and as a brutish baddie chasing a MacGuffin that our heroes have in their possession, he’s a somewhat generic action movie villain. Say what you will about the big twist in Into Darkness, but Benedict Cumberbatch’s performances was that film’s centre and was nothing short of electrifying. Yes, there is an element of mystery to Krall, but when his back-story is revealed, it can’t help but come off as underwhelming.

Star Trek Beyond Enterprise crew on the bridge

Fortunately, Star Trek Beyond makes excellent use of its returning characters. The cast for Star Trek ’09 remains one of the finest remake/reboot casts ever assembled, with each actor grasping the essence of those iconic figures without doing a mere impression. The camaraderie and banter amongst the crew continues to feel earnest. Urban’s cantankerous Bones has always been this reviewer’s favourite character in the rebooted films, and here, he gets to steal the show on multiple occasions, with Urban delivering several side-splitting lines. Pine is allotted multiple moments to be the dashing action hero, while Quinto masterfully parses the humour inherent in Spock’s obtuseness and the character’s dedication to the crew.

Star Trek Beyond Anton Yelchin, Chris Pine and John Cho

There has been considerable furore surrounding the decision to establish Sulu as gay in this continuity, with original Sulu actor George Takei himself being one of the biggest opposing voices. In the film, we see Sulu greeted by his husband and their young daughter as he arrives at Yorktown spaceport. It’s a sweet scene and is really no big deal. The passing of Leonard Nimoy, who originally played Spock and appeared in the first two reboot movies as Spock Prime, is handled with admirable sensitivity within the film. The ending credits include dedications to both Nimoy and Anton Yelchin, who recently died in a freak accident. We missed Spock Prime, and will definitely miss Chekov when the fourth film arrives.

Star Trek Beyond Sofia Boutella and Simon Pegg

Jaylah was apparently inspired by Jennifer Lawrence’s character in Winter’s Bone (say the name ‘Jaylah’ out loud). The character’s design is striking and Boutella, best known as Gazelle in Kingsman: The Secret Service, possesses the requisite physicality to play the badass warrior. Unfortunately, the character can’t help but come off as a standard-issue tough, resourceful woman at times – a studio-mandated ‘strong female character’. That said, Jaylah feels like a natural addition to the Star Trek universe and allows Boutella to further exhibit the star quality which served her so well in Kingsman.

Left to right: Zoe Saldana plays Uhura and John Cho plays Sulu in Star Trek Beyond from Paramount Pictures, Skydance, Bad Robot, Sneaky Shark and Perfect Storm Entertainment

Star Trek Beyond is generally entertaining and thrives on the excellent chemistry this particular cast has fostered, but it does tend towards the generic. There aren’t too many surprises in store, but Lin’s valuing of the emotional beats in addition to the action does benefit the tone. It’s also reasonably self-contained, and newcomers unfamiliar with volumes of Trek lore won’t feel left out.

Star Trek Beyond Anton Yelchin and Chris Pine escaping explosion

Summary: Star Trek Beyond strives to reach a compromise between the feel of the original series and the rebooted films, generally succeeding in this regard. A lack of surprises and an uninteresting villain are made up for with entertaining character dynamics and well-executed action.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Kingsman: The Secret Service

For F*** Magazine

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE 

Director : Matthew Vaughn
Cast : Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Taron Egerton, Sophie Cookson, Sofia Boutella, Jack Davenport, Mark Strong, Michael Caine
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 129 mins
Opens : 12 February 2015
Rating : M18 (Coarse Language and Violence)
The gentleman spy – judging from Hollywood’s preoccupation with rough-and-tumble gritty action thrillers, it might seem like an archetype that has gone out of style. Kingsman: The Secret Serviceendeavours to bring it back. Colin Firth plays Harry Hart, codename “Galahad”, a member of the elite independent clandestine organisation Kingsman. When it comes time to recruit a new Kingsman, Harry sets his sights on Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Egerton), a ne’er do well from the wrong side of the tracks. Eggsy is put through his paces, subjected to the rigorous Kingsman training and selection process, picked on by most of the other recruits but finding a friend in the form of Roxy (Cookson). In the meantime, a global threat surfaces in the form of megalomaniacal tech billionaire Richmond Valentine (Jackson), hell-bent on unleashing a catastrophe only Kingsman can foil.

            Kingsman: The Secret Service is adapted from the comic book by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. Director Matthew Vaughn previously collaborated with Millar on Kick-Ass, to smashing results. Just like the bespoke tailored suits showcased in the film, Vaughn is a perfect fit for the source material. Between this and X-Men First Class, he more than proves he’s worthy of directing an actual Bond movie. While Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman have changed a fair bit from the comics, there are still nods fans of the book will enjoy, such as Mark Hamill playing a supporting role – Hamill was one of the kidnapped celebrities featured in the comic. Kingsman: The Secret Service is filled with playful homages to classic spy-fi staples, such as The Avengers, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart (listen out for the line about the shoe phone) and of course the early Bond films. There are even shout-outs to Dr. Strangelove and The Shining. In the midst of making all those references, Vaughn manages to imbue the movie with an identity all its own, tossing several surprises into what seems like a very familiar spy yarn.

            Kingsman: The Secret Service is a throwback to the above-mentioned shows and movies and in a Tarantino-esque way, spy movies pop up as a subject of discussion in the film itself. Of course, Vaughn was never going to play it straight and that wicked, subversive streak he displayed in Kick-Assis in full force here. Vaughn takes palpable delight in juxtaposing the cultured high-society world of countryside mansions, 19th Century brandy and Saville Row tailors with lots of swearing and graphic brutality. Brace yourself for impalements, severed limbs, exploding heads and even someone getting bifurcated by way of bladed prosthetic leg. Most likely on the strength of Kick-Ass, Vaughn has managed to convince the studio bigwigs to let him go the full, gleefully R-rated hog instead of having to pull his punches and deliver a softer, friendlier product.

            The single sentence “Colin Firth kicking ass” is really all the promotion and marketing this movie needs. Expertly playing on his public persona as an evergreen Mr. Darcy, it is an absolute thrill to see the Oscar-winning thesp take out a bar full of street toughs with calculated efficiency. The physical training that the actor underwent pays off, and it really doesn’t feel as if Firth sat out the action sequences for a stunt double to take his place. One jaw-dropping, blood-soaked scene has been compared to the martial arts in The Raid, the camera-work kinetic and jittery yet stopping short of incoherent and nausea-inducing. Firth is able to bring a lot more to the role past that casting gimmick, admirably lending genuine pathos when it is required.

            This reviewer was worried about how Taron Egerton would come off in this film, as the role of the “unrefined mentee” who is taken in and shown the ropes is usually played one of two ways: insufferably annoying or just really bland. Egerton manages to be neither and does make for a convincing street kid, possessing just enough bad boy swagger without it being ridiculous. As Roxy, Sophie Cookson is appealingly spirited and cool; it’s to Vaughn and Goldman’s credit that they don’t force a predictable romance between Eggsy and Roxy into the movie, their relationship actually more satisfying for it.

            Samuel L. Jackson has the time of his life here – for an actor who’s in everything from direct-to-DVD dreck to the biggest blockbusters, he isn’t given to sleepwalking through roles. His lisping, charismatic supervillain is a hoot – it’s to Jackson’s credit that he’s able to balance the menacing and funny sides of Valentine. It also helps that Valentine’s henchwoman Gazelle (Boutella), giving new meaning to the term “blade runner”, is distinctive, graceful and terrifying. Mark Strong lends a gruff authority and trustworthiness to the role of Merlin, Kingsman quartermaster and the supervisor of the recruits’ training. It’s also fun to see Michael Caine in this – this reviewer assumed that he would merely show up as the Kingsman head and not have much to do beyond that, but there are a few more layers to “Arthur”.

            If there’s one major element that lets Kingsman: The Secret Service down, it would be the film’s reliance on sometimes-unconvincing computer-generated imagery. Sure, it’s heightened and has no aspirations to realism, but cheap-looking CGI can still pull an audience out of it. This is most noticeable during a scene set at the edge of space involving a satellite that has to be shot down. Still, the intricately-choreographed stunt work, including Firth’s martial arts mayhem and one of the most exciting skydiving scenes in recent memory, do make up for it. In Kingsman, genre aficionados will find a spy flick that’s as fresh as it is nostalgic and will come away thoroughly entertained.

Summary: An edgy, entertaining, genre-savvy spy movie filled with winks, nods, carnage and Colin Firth kicking ass.
RATING: 4 out of 5Stars

Jedd Jong

By Royal Command: Kingsman: The Secret Service press conference

As published in Issue #60/61 of F*** Magazine

Text:

BY ROYAL COMMAND

F*** is at Comic-Con to hear the stars and creators of Kingsman: The Secret Servicediscuss the spy movie
[San Diego Exclusive] 
By Jedd Jong 
                Further into 2015, a certain famous fictional spy will be embarking on his latest cinematic adventure. But in February, moviegoers can look forward to kicking off the year with a different kind of espionage movie in the form of Kingsman: The Secret Service. In the film, Colin Firth plays Harry Hart, a dapper middle-aged gentleman who just happens to be a member of an elite covert organisation known as “Kingsman”. Harry plucks ne’er-do-well Gary Unwin, nicknamed “Eggsy” and played by newcomer Taron Egerton, off the streets to become a Kingsman recruit. The young man is put through his paces as a threat emerges in the form of maniacal biotechnology magnate Valentine, played by Samuel L. Jackson.
The film is based on the 6-issue comic book series The Secret Service by writer Mark Millar and artist Dave Gibbons. Millar is known for working on Marvel Comics titles such as Marvel Knights Spider-Man, Ultimates Fantastic Four and Civil War, in addition to creating Wanted and Kick-Ass. Matthew Vaughn, director of Kick-Ass, reunites with Millar on Kingsman, Vaughn working from a screenplay he co-wrote with writing partner Jane Goldman. F*** is in attendance for the press conference held at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, with Millar, Gibbons, stars Firth, Jackson, Egerton, Sophie Cookson and Sofia Boutella on hand to discuss the movie.
                This writer steps up to ask the panel a question regarding the tone of the film and the balance struck between that of an homage to 60s-style spy fiction and the exciting, sometimes-shocking panache director Vaughn is known for. This writer can’t help but feel a little nervous as Samuel L. Jackson replies “who do you expect to have the answer to that question?” It seems Vaughn would be best-suited to answering the query, but he is not on the panel. Luckily, Mark Millar steps in.
                “He’s a genius so he had no problem with it at all,” the Scottish author says of Vaughn. “He’s a big fan of all this stuff [spy-fi] growing up and like all of us here, probably, he’s into that eclectic pop culture, like Quentin Tarantino, [who] takes all the stuff that he loves and puts it into one movie.” It is a good move invoking Tarantino, seeing as Samuel L. Jackson is an oft-collaborator of the director and will also appear in his upcoming film The Hateful Eight. Millar reveals that the seeds for The Secret Service were planted when he and Vaughn chatted about old-school spy movies on the set of Kick-Ass. Millar credits the Roger Moore-starring The Spy Who Loved Mewith igniting his love of spy movies and bemoans how contemporary entries in that genre have become too self-serious. “When I was a kid I used to go see James Bond and say ‘I want to be him when I grow up’ and now you go and see James Bond and he’s crying in the shower!” He remarks, referencing 2006’s Casino Royale, to laughter from the crowd. Granted, Bond was comforting Vesper who was crying in the shower, but we see where he’s coming from. “I think you want to see a spy movie where you don’t want to kill yourself after!”
                Much has been made of how this will the first big action film for Colin Firth, who like fellow esteemed British thespian Helen Mirren, has gone from winning an Oscar for playing royalty to “kicking arse” in a comic book adaptation. He describes his character Harry Hart as “the Henry Higgins of the spy world.” “It was great fun,” he says of getting to play a deadly action hero. “I’ve never had to do anything this physical, unless you include having to pull Hugh Grant’s hair,” he quips to laughter from the crowd, referencing Bridget Jones’ Diary. Firth worked with various experts including gymnasts, martial artists and ex-Special Forces soldiers to prepare for the part of the superspy. “The training was extraordinarily intense and unfamiliar to me. It was long and incredibly gratifying by the end. I wish I had done more of it.”
                Firth grew up in England in the 1960s, right in the middle of the spy-fi boom. “I think to a very large extent, in terms of style and the character of the spy movies that I fell in love with, [it] has its roots in the ‘60s,” he says, name-checking The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the Harry Palmer films, The Avengers and of course the early Bond flicks. A lethal streak hidden beneath a composed, proper surface appeals to Firth: “It’s the guy in the suit who seems slick and cool and capable but very, very contained – but you cross him at your peril.” Firth reveals that he had been “sitting here waiting for the offer on Bond for long enough” and recalls, “he [Vaughn] came to me and said ‘I think you’re the last person on earth anybody would expect to kick anyone’s ass and I think it would be a big surprise but I would want you to really do it.’” Vaughn and Goldman hadn’t finished the script when they approached Firth, but the comics were enough to sell him on the idea. “I loved it, I couldn’t put them down.” Vaughn told him up front that the training process would be an arduous one but Firth was up for the challenge. “He wanted me to

really do it, to be able to really sell it, not just cut to a stuntman. He wanted it to really be me, to be utterly, convincingly me.”

                Though certainly not a traditional “action star”, Samuel L. Jackson has markedly more experience in the action genre than Firth. When asked if he offered any advice to his co-star, Jackson recalls when Vaughn showed him Firth’s big fight scene. “I was sitting there slack-jawed. I was like ‘that’s Colin Firth? Really?!’ So he didn’t need any help from me.” Like Firth, Jackson was attracted to Kingsman because of the escapism of the spy action genre. He reminisces about playing pretend with his friends when he was growing up. “I get to do it as an adult on a grand scale. I get to have a real gun in my hand and it shoots fake bullets but now, when I shoot somebody, unlike my friends who always go ‘you missed me’, their chests explode. I love that.” 


Jackson has something of a reputation for giving reporters a hard time – he egged film journalist Jake Hamilton on to say the “n-word” and decimated a news anchor for confusing him with Laurence Fishburne. Today, we get a taste of that when a reporter’s mobile phone, placed on the table to record the press conference, starts ringing. Jackson answers. “No, this is Sam. What’s going on? Who’re you looking for? You know, whoever you were calling was in the middle of a press conference and had their phone on the desk as a voice recorder and you just f**ked that up. So you want to call him back in like 30 minutes? Awesome.” The crowd is amused; the owner of the phone probably less so. “Come on, don’t be ashamed,” Jackson chides. “Claim your f**king phone.”
It must be thrilling for the younger actors to go toe-to-toe with these titans of cinema, not to mention the other big-name supporting players Michael Caine and Mark Strong. Sophie Cookson, literally fresh out of the Oxford School of Drama, plays the lead female role of Roxy, a Kingsman recruit alongside Eggsy. She concedes, “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly intimidated but we were all in it together and we all wanted to make the film as good as possible and have as much fun doing it and doing it with titans such as these has been an absolute honour and we’re very lucky.”

          Algerian dancer and actress, Sofia Boutella, known as the face of Nike Women, plays Gazelle, henchwoman to Valentine. In the comics, Gazelle is male. The film retains the character’s deadly bladed bionic legs. Echoing Cookson’s sentiments, she says of getting to act alongside Firth and Jackson, “it was absolutely amazing. I think it was such an honour for all three of us to get to work with them and could not believe what was happening to us, to be honest. They’re all really, truly generous and they were absolutely amazing with us on set. It was a great experience.”

               Welsh actor Taron Egerton seems a little overwhelmed by just being at Comic-Con and stays quiet through most of the press conference. He starts to answer a question about the training he had to undergo in preparation for the part of Eggsy, but is cut off by the afore-mentioned phone call. However, we do get the feeling we’ll be hearing a lot more from him soon. As a young actor, he is understandably thrilled to be in the film with Firth and Jackson. “I think the two gentlemen next to me, I think it’s probably fair to say are the quintessential living English and American movie stars and for me, getting to do scenes with both of them was not only wildly different but also completely wonderful in different ways and is something I’ll always remember.”