Friday, September 08, 2017

Seen in… August 

Charlize Theron goes atomic in Atomic Blonde, image via

My summer was soured by my own ennui but it was seeing Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip to Spain that made me really ache to not just go on vacation but to get out more and enjoy the season by eating out, catching a show, sharing some drinks and generally exploring a bit. I didn’t get to do everything but I did see some movies.

Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan enjoying coastal Spain. Image via

The Trip to Spain
Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon continue their series of trips to restaurants wherein they converse about life, culture, careers, women and anything that might lead to their duelling Michael Caine or Roger Moore impersonations. In the past these trips have been casually linked to writers such as Samuel Coleridge, Yeats, Shelley, and Byron while this trip is decidedly Quixotic with much inspiration from the 17th century Spanish writer, Cervantes. The two-hour version given a theatrical release is usually an edit of a six-hour long television series so I wonder if something wasn’t lost in the curious ending which the viewer can’t be sure whether it’s a fantasy, reality or just somewhere betwix the two.

Charlize Theron kicking ass but not really bothering to take names in Atomic Blonde. Image via

Atomic Blonde
From the creators of John Wick comes this spy movie starring Charlize Theron as super spy Lorraine Broughton. The film is set in 1989 Berlin as the Berlin Wall is about to collapse but British agent Broughton is dispatched to retrieve a master spy list which is in danger of being sold to the highest bidder. Like the John Wick movies, this film is incredibly stylish with excellent fight sequences set to only the best 80s music, but unlike John Wick, this film is a little more like a John le Carré story or a Bond film minus the gadgets. For me the balance of action, style, sexiness and plot twists was a perfect sweet spot. Plus it had 80s music to spare including two Bowie collaborations, so what’s not to like? Oh, and Charlize Theron looking fine and banging heads.
Update: so apparently, I've been informed there was plenty "not to like" in this film, like plot holes large enough to drive a Russian tank through and characters so poorly written as to be pointless. I do recall laughing at how Theron's character is known to be an enemy spy from the second she lands in Berlin but continues to use disguises or attempts to mask her face without covering her striking blonde bob. And yet… Charlize Theron fighting in sexy hosiery! Female empowerment! Right? No? No one? Like owning my own truth, I will own my own bad taste and enjoy the simple pleasures of a Hollywood starlet washed in neon blue and backlit with splashes of pink and red.

Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc. Image via

The Founder
Michael Keaton plays Ray Kroc, the businessman who turned McDonald’s from a popular well run burger joint to the worldwide behemoth it is today. Did he take credit for other people’s ideas? Yup. Did he claim to have created McDonald’s? Yup. In a sense, he did. While the McDonald brothers perfected the fast food service, their all-American principles essentially held them back. Two or three fascinating turning points made the burger chain what would become the kind of business that changed the entire food service industry. Kroc was losing money despite the restaurant chain’s growth until he was wisely advised to buy the land the restaurants were built on and in a move that became divisive, he removed ice cream from their milk shakes (the refrigeration costs were destroying profits). Interestingly, that second one, for me, was what McDonald’s stood for. They had to change the name of their milk shakes to “shakes” because they had no milk. McDonald’s is the largest purchaser of the highest quality beef in the USA yet their burgers are completely tasteless. Paper has more flavour. McDonald’s to me stood for fake, fast and cheap. Not quality or flavour. Of course, their fries are still pretty much the best money can buy but again, the process to cook them is primarily employed for cost benefit not quality. In the end, The Founder is not so much about the phenomenon of McDonald’s but the phenomenon of Ray Kroc and the idea that relentless pursuit of the next and the new are such a large part of the American business ethos.

After Lance Armstrong had finally been revealed as the greatest cheat in professional sport I was as smug as the next guy, but I always thought, “that guy survived cancer, doped himself to the gills, got on a bike and beat an entire peloton of equally bad drug cheats by out working, out doping and bullying anyone that got in his way.” I mean, would doing all that doping even make a difference to a duffer like me? Probably not, but to a highly competitive amateur it might make the difference. That’s exactly what Bryan Fogel wanted to find out. In the process, he meets a Russian scientist who just happened to be at the centre of the greatest organized drug cheating campaign in the history of sport. At some point it becomes clear that two out of every three medals won by the Russians in London and Sochi were the result of a government sponsored doping program. And while Putin’s involvement shouldn’t come as a surprise it’s still jaw-dropping to see the extent of the duplicity.

Hacksaw Ridge
How does an avowed pacifist serve his country at a time of war? He becomes a field medic and never carries a weapon. This is a narrative account of Desmond Doss, played by Andrew Garfield, who during the Battle of Okinawa saved 75 infantrymen and was the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor without ever firing a weapon. I’m not a fan of Andrew Garfield and I’m still not, and though Mel Gibson was nominated for an Oscar for directing, I thought this movie was kind of heavy handed. I know people enjoy this kind of drama, but for me, the swelling score, the demented, evil, one dimensional Japanese enemy, the pointlessly dramatic court marshalling scene that led nowhere, the overwrought young wife, the bible quotes, the cartoonish violent “sarge” who becomes our protagonist’s greatest defender, all the way to the documentary interviews at the end fell into a pattern so familiar that if they hadn’t been there you would have been genuinely surprised.

David Brent: Life on the Road
From the sublime to the ridiculous comes this faux documentary from Ricky Gervais that checks in on David Brent last seen in the Office’s Christmas special. Brent wants to pursue his dream of musical stardom by hiring a band and a tour bus and hitting the open roads, no further than 4 miles from home but still… In pure Gervaisian genius, David Brent is as lonely, sad, offensive and awkward as ever only to wind up broke, returning to his sales job but much richer for the experience. If you know and love the original British version of the Office then this continues the tradition. Be prepared to wince and laugh.

Finally, the Mother of Dragons meets the King of the North, like Fire and Ice. Oh, hang on, now I get it. Image via

Game of Thrones Season 7
So many birds came home to roost in HBO’s hit fantasy series this season. Well, not “birds” but dragons. The sex has diminished (a bit), but not the violence, gore, intrigue and machinations of the many characters that make the series so addictive. In many ways, as the storylines are converging to an ultimate clash of winner take all for the seven kingdoms, the series seems so much more focussed and intense. Many of the meaningless plot lines of previous seasons seem to have found a footing in the motivation of the characters still left standing that the show’s many twists and turns feel more like a roller coaster than a sickening and pointless spinning teacup ride. If you don’t know the series then there’s nothing to discuss, but if you do know the series it is almost impossible to talk about without spoilers or lengthy discussions of unusually labyrinthian theories.

The Defenders meet cute. Image via

Marvel's The Defenders
I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. It was wrong however to think of this show as a climax to the other four series that came before it. In the Defenders, Marvel super-heroes Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist stumble upon a shared enemy, the shadowy organized crime syndicate known as The Hand. The Hand’s presence in New York is eventually revealed but in general it’s a pretty simple plot line and Netflix and Marvel were wise to make this series a relatively brief 8 part series. The real joy of this series is the strangeness of a group of “gifted” individuals who have generally walked alone their entire lives, living in secrecy, having found each other and not really knowing how to deal with it. The occasional scenes of the heroes just hanging out is everything I’ve ever wanted even if the combined fight scenes were a bit underwhelming. Again, this show isn’t so much a climax of the other shows, but a bit of a necessary connector for moving the individual stories ahead. I for one, am glad for it though it would’ve been interesting to weave the 4 individuals together within each of their own shows, which would’ve eventually led to a shared two or three-part shared episodes instead of making it one series.

Spider-man 3
I was on a Marvel Studios roll but the less said about this dud the better. Who directed this?? So many weird choices from three villains: Sandman, Venom and Hobgoblin (Green Goblin Jr) to goth Peter Parker. I can’t even… so so sad.

The Logan boys talk to Joe Bang, played by Daniel Craig. Image via

Logan Lucky
Steven Soderbergh is back in the director’s chair for what is basically a kind of rural southern version of Ocean’s 11 (there is a meta moment in the film where the heist is described as such; Soderbergh also directed the Ocean’s films). Channing Tatum and Adam Driver are brothers brought to desperate action by a rumoured family curse of bad luck which, Tatum as Jimmy Logan, is determined to break. The ingenuity of the scheme of robbing a Nascar event on race day (stealing the proceeds of the event’s vendors) is that backup and parallel plans are carried out simultaneously with only Jimmy knowing the full scope of the plan. The movie is all heart and entertainment with a side of clever wit and plotting. Soderbergh was born in the south and perhaps that gives him such affinity and affection for all the unique characters that populate this movie. From the dim-witted, clever, funny, well meaning, to the boastful and downright mean, we get a taste of them all in what surely is close to the perfect crime (movie).

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