Out on Friday August 11
Balls-to-the-Berlin-Wall action with Charlize Theron. A sheet-thin meditation on life with Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. A Conjuring prequel with a suitable creaky location.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Atomic Blonde, A Ghost Story, Shin Godzilla, Anabelle: Creation, Le Doulos, Step, and Tom of Finland.
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The name’s Broughton. Lorraine Broughton. While the name might sound more like someone who works in accounts than an international superspy, don’t let the unshowy moniker deceive you. In star (and producer) Charlize Theron’s hands, Lorraine Broughton is one of the most arresting new characters you’ll meet on the big screen this year: ruthless, efficient, seductive… it’s almost like she’s on a mission to out-Bond Bond.
Where Lorraine has an edge on 007 is that this is a hard-R actioner: bones break, heads pop, sex scenes go beyond innuendo. It’s hard to imagine anyone else handling the role’s steely grit like Theron. Lorraine feels instantly iconic, from the platinum bob and chic wardrobe, to her chilly, unreadable stare and an amoral code that’ll keep you on the right side of suspicious throughout. But, most memorably of all, she’s wholly kickass, with Theron fully committing to the brutal, lengthy fight scenes that take place in locations ranging from a multi-storey apartment block to the backseat of a car.
Set in the late ’80s, with the Berlin Wall still just about standing, Atomic Blonde introduces MI6 agent Broughton as she’s debriefing suited superior Gray (Toby Jones) and a top CIA bod (John Goodman) on her recent escapade in the German capital. From the washed-out greys of the interrogation room, we’re thrust back to the neon-hued, graffiti-smattered streets, and the pace barely lets up from there. Introduced to grubby undercover operative David Percival (James McAvoy), Broughton is seeking a highly classified list of double agents who are being offed one-by-one.
In this world of shifting alliances and back-room dealing, keeping up with the plot is a fool’s errand, as there’s so much quadruple-crossing going on that no one can be entirely trusted. Don’t fret though, as the characters and set-pieces are propulsive enough. Theron is cool incarnate. In one striking shot early on, she’s soothing her bruises in a bath of ice, before dropping a couple of cubes into a glass and topping up with vodka. When she scraps, you half-suspect she might shatter rather than bleed.
If the film’s a close cousin tonally to John Wick, another action throwback about a sharply dressed badass, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. On directing duties here is David Leitch, the stunt coordinator-turned-director who co-directed JW with Chad Stahelski (who went on to direct JW: Chapter 2 solo). On the strength of Atomic Blonde, it’s no surprise that Leitch has been snapped up for Deadpool 2. He nails the succession of crunching set-pieces – including one bravura tracking shot that’ll leave you feeling pummelled – but also ensures that the film has a distinct look and hyperreal tone.
If you didn’t know Atomic Blonde was based on a graphic novel (2012’s The Coldest City), you’d probably be able to guess: this is stylised, unsubtle cinema, where actions speak much louder than words, and ’80s pop gems underscore several crucial moments. If characters are frequently more cool than complex, it’s hard to gripe when the film is such a hectic blast. A ‘Lorraine Broughton will return’ end card would certainly not be unwelcome.
THE VERDICT: Theron is totally badass in a relentless thriller that never takes its foot off the gas. Bold and brash, with some of the year’s most bruising fight scenes.
Director: David Leitch; Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, John Goodman, Eddie Marsan; Theatrical review: August 9, 2017
A Ghost Story
A Malick-y meditation on life and, mainly, death, the latest from writer/director David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, the Pete’s Dragon remake) has tabs on itself. Lots of tabs. The plot is sheet thin. Grumpy muso Casey Affleck and moon-eyed wife Rooney Mara live in a house. One day, he dies, then comes back to mope around with a Scooby-Doo-esque sheet over his head.
While the sight of Casey the not-so-friendly ghost haunting the corners of his old life is striking, he can only communicate one emotion, which gets old fast (the only thing that happens at pace). One shot of Mara eating a pie is so prolonged you suspect Affleck won’t be the only one to expire before the credits. A montage of her leaving the house, meanwhile, practically constitutes an action scene.
But there’s something here beneath the sixth-form philosophy: lovely shots of Affleck gliding through a waterlogged meadow at magic hour; clever use of Dark Rooms’ gorgeous ‘I Get Overwhelmed’; and an arresting cameo from actor/musician Will Oldman as the last person you’d want to sit next to at a party. In short, enough meat on the bones, but only just.
THE VERDICT: Like an arthouse Ghost, this is bold, original filmmaking with a pervasive sense of amused detachment.
Director: David Lowery; Starring: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Will Oldham; Theatrical review: August 11, 2017
The first Japanese G-movie since 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars sees the lumbering lizard wade from the sea to head for Tokyo, his trail of destruction spliced with inter-agency meetings full of red tape and squabbling.
The doc-flavoured approach lends both urgency and tedium, while the blend of miniatures, stop-motion and CGI references the various looks of his 63-year history.
Directors: Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi; Starring: Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara; Theatrical review: August 10, 2017
Forget 2014’s Annabelle – this is the only Conjuring prequel you need. Set in the 1950s and with a creaky single location, it unleashes the tiny terror on a nun (Stephanie Sigman) and the orphans in her care.
The script is straightforward enough, but Lights Out director David F. Sandberg’s careful visuals emphasise shivery mood for something worthy of the Conjuring label.
Director: David F. Sandberg; Starring: Stephanie Sigman, Miranda Otto, Alicia Vela-Bailey; Theatrical review: August 11, 2017
Deceptions, double-crossings and ambiguities abound in Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1963 policier. This intricately plotted tale tracks the fates of two Parisian criminals, the world-weary Faugel (Serge Reggiani) and his younger friend Silien (Jean-Paul Belmondo).
Superbly shot in high-contrast monochrome, it unfolds in a stylised universe where character is defined by actions and costumes rather than words.
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville; Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Serge Reggiani, Jean Desailly; Theatrical review: August 11, 2017
A crowdpleaser at Sundance this year, Step tracks a group of Baltimore high-school seniors as they prepare for both college and the impending step champs.
If the formula feels familiar, the girls’ personalities obliterate any chance of tedium, with Broadway producer-turned-director Amanda Lipitz providing sensitive insight into their home lives while capturing the toe-tapping with joyful aplomb.
Director: Amanda Lipitz; Theatrical review: August 11, 2017
Tom of Finland
Touko Laaksonen is best known as artist Tom of Finland, whose erotic images of bulging men in uniform upturned gay stereotypes in the 1950s. In this polished biopic, director Dome Karukoski delves into Laaksonen’s past as a closeted lieutenant and hesitant freedom fighter.
If the imagery is less racy than TOF fans may be used to, Pekka Strang’s quiet turn as Laaksonen has a simmering power.
Director: Dome Karukoski; Starring: Jakob Oftebro, Werner Daehn, Jimmy Shaw; Theatrical review: August 11, 2017