Atomic Blonde: Red Band Trailer

Atomic Blonde is an upcoming spy thriller action film directed by David Leitch, John Wick co-creator and future director of the Deadpool sequel. The film is based upon the 2013 graphic novel The Coldest City by Anthony Johnston and will feature a script by Kurt Johnstad. The film will star Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella, and John Goodman.

Atomic Blonde, as well as its original source material, tells the story of Lorraine Broughton, an MI-6 agent sent to Berlin to investigate the death of an undercover agent and retrieve a list of every Western officer working in Berlin, which is in possession of a Stasi agent that the undercover man was able to flip, codenamed Spyglass. Set in 1989, the story is set in the backdrop of the extremely volatile and dangerous period  leading up to the eve of the collapse of the Berlin Wall on November 9th. Lorraine is forced to partner up with Berlin Section head David Percival, and the two forge an uneasy alliance with each other.

As John Wick remains possibly my favorite film of the straight-up action thriller genre, I was immediately interested in what its creators, Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, were planning next. Stahelski went on as the sole director of the equally brilliant John Wick: Chapter 2, as Leitch was busy with this new project. As he has been attached to direct this film since early 2015, I immediately purchased and read through the source material as I knew I was automatically going to see this film, as, at the time of writing this, I am automatically interested in anything either of the two men create. The graphic novel presents an old-school le Carré-esque story with much more focus on tradecraft and double agents. That type of story is very much a niche and is not for everyone, as tradecraft and mystery-driven spy thrillers are often deliberately slow moving and cerebral, which is a turn-0ff for mainstream audiences. So when it comes into converting The Coldest City into the action-focused Atomic Blonde….

I have absolutely no objections whatsoever. The trailer starts with a sampling of what I assume will be a breathtaking long take action sequence. I have often described what a long take is in other reviews; it is a portion of the film that is shot continuously, meaning no fancy camera tricks and no breaks. Normally for fight sequences, it’s “kung fu move, cut, kung fu move, cut, kung fu move, cut.” With a long take, there are no breaks. For further examples of long takes, see both seasons of  Daredevil and the first season of True Detective. I am overjoyed that both these two men know to cast people who can actually pull off action sequences like this themselves without a stunt double. Keanu Reeves is apparently immortal, and Charlize Theron has proved her action chops in Mad Max: Fury Road. The sequence in question, though it certainly stole the show in this trailer, is not the only thing of note here. There are several glimpses here of sequences that are sure to give the film’s spiritual predecessor a run for it’s money.

All of this focus on action is not to discount the fact that Charlize Theron is an Academy-Award winner and a truly talented actress in her own right, on top of being physically fit enough to pull off a film like this, and James McAvoy, though overshadowed by X-Men co-star Michael Fassbender, is a very talented actor, whom I hazard will have some awesome highlights of his own throughout the film. On top of that, the wonderfully skeevy Toby Jones is here, being wonderfully skeevy. With such plot-heavy source material to work with, even though they are certainly not following the graphic novel to the letter, there’s more than enough to create an engaging plot; if you can make one of the most engaging action films in the past few decades using a dog and a car, a good story with the material here should not be hard at all.

Atomic Blonde might sound like a cheap California-produced porno, but make no mistake; this neo-noir spy film, directed by the guy who created one of my favorite films of all time, starring a very beautiful, award-winning, and talented actress and a woefully underrated and talented Scotsman, is officially my most anticipated film of the summer. Atomic Blonde is set to be released on July 28th, 2017.

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The Accountant

The Accountant is a 2016 American action thriller film directed by Gavin O’Connor and written by Bill Dubduque. The film stars Ben Affleck, Jon Bernthal, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, J.K. Simmons, and Anna Kendrick. Affleck stars as the autistic son of a U.S. Army Psychological Operations officer. He was of the belief that his autistic son should learn to live in the harshness of the world and overcome it, rather than adapt the world to him. To that effect, the Colonel raises his son and has him train with a number of combat specialists. He essentially becomes a living weapon. He grows up and becomes a forensic accountant for a number of very dangerous criminal organizations, currently operating under the alias Christian Wolff.

Though coming under some controversy for supposedly exploiting autism, as someone very well-versed on the subject, I did not see it that way at all. No, having autism in no way makes you a super-assassin, but it is an entertaining idea, and the film in no way belittles people with autism, nor does it patronize them. The behavioral and neurological factors of autism are rather well portrayed by Affleck. It is very respectful of the condition in that aspect. There’s also some exploration of sensory overload, an aspect of autism I do not feel gets as much love as it should. Yes, autism is used in The Accountant as (half) of an explanation as to why Wolff is an effective killing machine, but I don’t have a problem with that, and don’t see why people do. Autism is portrayed rather accurately in The Accountant. Christian Wolff is never pitied and treated as an unstoppable force of sheer and abject violence and terror, just like any other highly-trained, cold, calculating assassin, as well he should be.

Boasting a rather ridiculous and unrealistic premise, The Accountant is nevertheless a solid film.The film features a very good and, as I mentioned, mostly accurate performance from Ben Affleck. The fight choreography is very well-done, using pencak silat, the martial art used in The Raid, and the shootouts are excellent, on par with John Wick, even. There is a farmhouse shootout that serves as the first major action piece of the movie; it is extremely entertaining. The Accountant, in fact, seems to draw from John Wick in several aspects. John Wick is a smarter-than-it-seems action thriller that purposefully leaves some questions about the plot unanswered, and gives an extremely limited backstory on the main character himself in order to  preserve his legend and mystique, making John Wick as a character seem a lot more interesting. The Accountant does this effectively. There really isn’t a lot we know about “Wolff,” which isn’t even his real name. His legend is very effective. Another benefit of leaving some things to the imagination is avoiding too much exposition. Some modern action movies make the mistake of thinking the “movie (plot)” part is more important than the “action” part, overburdening the audience with needless and ultimately annoying exposition that gets in the way of what the audience came to see. The Accountant does this well, to an extent, although there are some very crucial plot elements that are not explained in any detail and require explanation in order to make sense, leaving the audience confused at some places. There’s a difference between leaving things unsaid in a film, and leaving plot holes. The Accountant tends to stray too far in one direction, and really drags down what would’ve been a great film, instead ending up just a pretty good one. The film features a subplot of Treasury agents on Wolff’s trail, but they never even come close. Although it ends up being a rather sizeable chunk of the film, I wonder why they are even in there.

Anna Kendrick’s performance leaves much to be desired. Though my slight celebrity crush on her prohibits me from calling her absolutely terrible, they would have been better served here casting another actress who doesn’t look and dress like a college freshman, as her character is an accountant for a robotics firm.

One thing I can say for certain is I need more Bernthal in my life. If you are one of the poor, unlucky souls yet to feel the Bern (bringing it back), Jon Bernthal is best known for his performance as Shane in The Walking Dead and more recently for his role as Frank Castle/The Punisher in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a role that has rightfully netted more acclaim and notoriety than his Walking Dead role ever will. Also featured in a small role in SicarioBernthal is extremely effective at anti-hero roles, and is one of the most underutilized character actors in Hollywood, though hopefully not for long. Bernthal can flip on a dime, at first being absolutely horrifying and intimidating, and then empathetic and likeable. Proof of this can easily be found in the opening of Daredevil: Season 2 and his monologue a few episodes later.

In The Accountant, Bernthal plays a ruthless, yet unsettlingly likeable assassin who comes up against our protagonist, attempting to dispatch him in efficient fashion several times, yet failing to kill him, leading him to consider the The Accountant his equal. Bernthal’s character and performance is interesting and engaging; I can’t wait for the day he firmly establishes himself in Hollywood, as his performance, along with Affleck’s, serves to offset the damage done by a holey script.

The Accountant is an effective, yet flawed effort by Warrior director Gavin O’Connor. Though by no means perfect, it is unabashedly entertaining, utilizing a unique and suitably ridiculous premise to interesting and positive effect. It is at times confusing and unengaging, but ultimately enjoyable and fun, with several neat ideas and aspects littered throughout that add layers to what could have been cliché, boring, or worst, offensive. It isn’t the best film of the year, by any means, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy myself.

Iron Fist (NYCC Trailer)

Iron Fist is an upcoming Netflix Original Series. It is the fourth and final individual installment in the Defenders franchise before the big team up miniseries. Iron Fist will follow Daredevil (first and second season), Jessica Jonesand the recently released Luke Cage. The series is being helmed by Scott Buck, former writer of cult TV series like HBO’s Six Feet Under and Rome, CBS’ Everybody Loves RaymondABC’s Coach, and, most notably, Showtime’s DexterThe series will primarily be written by one Tamara Becher. Iron Fist stars Game of Thrones alum Finn Jones, Jessica Henwick, Jessica Stroup, David Wenham, Tom Pelphry, and Lewis Tan.

Jones stars as Danny Rand. Danny is the son of Wendell Rand,  who discovered the mystical teleporting city of  K’un-Lun as a young boy and saved its leader. After growing up, Wendell moved to New York City and became an entrepenuer, marrying a wealthy socialite named Heather Duncun. Danny is their only child. When Danny was nine, Wendell mounted an expedition with Danny, Heather, and Wendell’s unscrupulous business partner Harold Meechum. Daniel slips while on a path his tie-rope putting both him and his parents in danger. Meechum forces Wendell to his death, but offers to save Danny and Heather, whom he is in love with. She rejects him and they set out on their own. They encounter a makeshift bridge that appears out of nowhere and are attacked by wolves. She is killed even as archers from K’un-Lun attempt to save her. The grieving Danny is taken to meet Yu-Ti, the leader of K’un-Lun and the man Wendell saved all those years ago. Expressing a deep-seated desire for vengeance against Meechum, Danny is put under the tutilage of Lei Kung, the most talented martial artist in the Marvel Universe. Danny proves to be Lei Kung’s most gifted student. The almost overly-dedicated Danny used to condition his fists by plunging them into sand and gravel to toughen them. At 19, Danny is given the opportunity to become an Iron Fist. To do so he must defeat a dragon; Shou-Lao the Undying, who guards the molten heart that had been taken from him. During the battle, Danny throws himself up against the Scar of Shou-Lao, which burns a scar onto his chest. Danny is successful and gains the mystical powers of the Iron Fist. It is later revealed that he is part of a long line of Iron Fist warriors. Danny returns to Earth  when K’un-Lun teleports there after ten years. Danny swears to avenge his parents’ deaths as Iron Fist, all the while reclaiming ownership of the Rand Corporation, making Danny a billionaire.

Iron Fist has a lot to live up to. For me, though all of Marvel’s Netflix series have been great in their own right, none of them have been able to live up to Daredevil’s first season. This is primarily due to two factors. Matt Murdock, the protagonist of Daredevil, is a man who was blinded at birth, heightening his other senses to an astounding degree. He has been described as “a blind man who can see.” Murdock learns martial arts from an old man and uses his skill and extraordinary attributes to protect Hell’s Kitchen from danger. Matt Murdock is, at the end of the day, a man just like you and me. He can be, and has been, shot in the head at point blank range, stabbed, and brutally beaten. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage never have to deal with that. Even as superheroes, their struggles are internal rather than external. Matt has to deal with both. This makes him more interesting on several fronts; it’s ironic that he is sometimes known as The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, because the personal, professional, and vigilante lives of attorney Matt Murdock are quite literally a living Hell. Coming from this point, the fight sequences and action in Daredevil was and always will be top notch and completely badass, but Jessica Jones and Luke Cage seem lacking in this aspect, comparitively. Iron Fist, in the nature of itself, bring the pain. I sense Danny’s personal life will end up entirely out of control, too. One very minor criticism I have is Finn Jones kinda looks too much like a hipster Neil Patrick Harris for my tase.

I will be anticipating Iron Fist like I have anticipated all Defenders series. Iron Fist will land on Netflix on March 17th, 2017, followed by the Defenders miniseries some time later that same year. Season 1 of The Punisher spinoff will arrive either in late 2017 or early 2018, followed by Daredevil Season 3 in 2018.

Marvel’s Luke Cage: Season 1 (Spoilers)

Marvel’s Luke Cage premiered on Netflix on September 30th, 2016 with 13 episodes. It is the fourth overall installment in the Defenders franchise following the first season of Daredevil, the first season of Jessica Jones, and Daredevil’s second season. Luke Cage follows the titular hero in Harlem after being featured as a major player in Jessica Jones. Luke Cage is a wrongfully convicted man who was sent to Seagate Prision and subjected to horrible experiments that gave him super strength and unbreakable skin. Cage escaped and has been a fugitive from justice ever since. The series stars Mike Colter, Mahershala Ali (Remy Danton from House of Cards), Simone Missick, Theo Rossi, Erik LaRay Harvey, Rosario Dawson, and Alfre Woodard.

Luke Cage has been working two jobs in New York City’s iconic Harlem neighborhood, insisting to be paid in cash. He works one job as a janitor in Pops’ Barber Shop. Pops is a reformed ex-con who’s shop has turned into a safe haven for street kids, doing whatever he can to help them stay off the street. He is a father figure to many, including Detective Misty Knight, Cage himself, and even Cottonmouth, to some extent. Cage’s second job is as a dishwasher at Harlem’s Paradise, a club owned and operated by Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes, a crime boss that runs drugs and guns in Harlem. He is covertly alligned in a conspiracy with his cousin, City Councilwoman Mariah Dillard. Dillard is currently working on a series of ambitious new housing projects with the goal of bringing Harlem back to its former glory, each named after famous black heroes, most notably Crispus Attucks, the first man to die in the famed Boston Massacre for what would become America. (I put that in there just to brag that my US History class is teaching me things.) Dillard embezzled city money to back Cottonmouth’s huge gun deal with Latino crime lord Domingo, as well as an extensive renovation of Harlem’s Paradise.

Dante is a bartender at Harlem’s Paradise who is friends with Chico and Shameek, two of Pops’ young charges. They stage a raid of the weapons deal, ruining Domingo and Cottonmouth’s partnership. Shameek kills Dante when Dante panics. Chico does not have the stomach for this, and literally throws up after seeing Shameek brutally kill Dante. Shameek and Chico split the money. With his dying breath, Dante calls Cottonmouth’s crew and gives up the two teens. Shameek is captured and brutally murdered by Cottonmouth himself.

This murder, as well as the junkyard shootout, come to the attention of NYPD Detectives Misty Knight, a street-smart and brilliant detective who played basketball after hearing her father and Pops argue over the sport constantly when she was a child, and her partner, Detective Rafael Scarfe. The night of the initial raid, Knight was working undercover at the Harlem’s Paradise, where she began a rapport and an immediate sexual relationship with Cage.

After Shameek’s murder, the terrified Chico returns to Pops for protection. The big-hearted man is angry and saddened at Chico’s recklessness and stupidity, but still accepts the boy with open arms after a tearful reunion. Pops, through Cage, attempts to set up a meeting with Cottonmouth to negotiate the money for the boy’s life. The barber shop in Harlem has always had respect, no matter who’s side you’re on. “This place is Switzerland.” Cottonmouth, who has respect for Pops, agrees to the meeting. Chico was spotted in the barbershop, leading Cottonmouth’s lackey Tone to shoot up the barbershop, killing Pops and wounding Chico. Cage shields a young boy in the shop with his own body. This action, Cage’s lack of an explanation, and the fact that he has been at the center of everything, leads to suspicion from the two detectives. Cottonmouth throws Tone off the roof, enraged at his “executive decision.” Despite the fact Tone went against Cottonmouth’s wishes, Cage holds the unstable crime boss responsible and swears to even the score.

Luke Cage is another extremely unique and interesting addition to both the Marvel Cinematic Universe at large as well as Netflix’s growing catalogue of excellent original series. Jessica Jones was able to have a progressive and thoughtful conversation about sexual assault, domestic violence, and the nature of mental illness (specifically PTSD) without any politicizing of the subject. Luke Cage does much of the same thing with black culture. Luke Cage is the most stylized of Netlix’s Original Series so far, with overt references and homages to various 70s blaxplotation films. Shaft, the works of Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained is overtly referenced, with the series taking obvious stylistic cues from both Pulp Fiction and the underrated Jackie Brown). 

While Jessica Jones chose to approach its subject matter on a metaphorical basis, Luke Cage is very direct in its message concerning black culture in America. Cottonmouth wants money and power, believing that to be the thing people notice about others, especially African-Americans. Mariah and Cage, however, believe that respect is the single most important thing a black American could have. Like Jessica Jones, Luke Cage is able to send a powerful and thoughtful message without becoming preachy or political. Luke Cage is as much of a story about the city of Harlem and Black America as it is about Cage vs. Cottonmouth.

Luke Cage not only pulls from black culture in terms of visual style and dramatic themes, but also musically. Luke Cage has the best soundtrack in a Marvel feature since the catchy 80’s-infused tunes of Guardians of the Galaxy, but Luke Cage is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Featuring hardcore rap courtesy of artists like Method Man and Wu Tang Clan, as well as R&B from Raphael SaadiqFaith Evans, and Charles Bradley, not to mention countless other notable artists from prominent genres , Luke Cage features a catchy, specialized, yet diverse number of songs that compliment the themes of the series and will stay in your head for some time, and I even neglected to mention the great theme tune.

Overall, if I had one criticism of the series, it is concerning series lead Mike Coulter. His performance as Cage in Jessica Jones was rather impressive, but Coulter seems a little wooden in his own series. Though certainly not bad, I feel that there are some aspects of his performance that leave much to be desired. On the other hand, Mahershala Ali is an excellent villain and an excellent actor. Theo Rossi’s performance as the mysterious “Shades” was also very impressive, and Alfre Woodard is a force to be reckoned with.

Luke Cage is ultimately proof that you can make good TV out of anything. Luke Cage as a character is, at his core, simply a nigh-invincible black guy with super strength. That could wear thin very quickly, but showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker realized this, and decided to make Luke Cage about so much more than the man himself. Though not good enough to break my unwavering favorable bias towards its cousin series Daredevil, Luke Cage is highly entertaining, highly addictive, well-made, and another solid addition to the Marvel/Netflix team up; by the way, it crashed Netflix. This only makes me more excited for Iron Fist, and has me hoping for Heroes for Hire somewhere down the line.