Film of the week: Atomic Blonde
Cert 16; Now showing
Charlize Theron was 42 last week and although she doesn't resemble the average fortysomething, it is really gratifying to see her cast as an action heroine. David Leitch, who brought you John Wick, directs Kurt Johnstad's screenplay from a graphic novel, and the end result is visually, and musically, stunning although it does end up being a bit style over substance. But as she proved in Mad Max: Fury Road, Theron is born for action roles.
It's 1989 and a heavily bruised MI6 agent, Lorraine Broughton (Theron) is being debriefed following the unexpected outcome of an operation in Berlin. The story goes back to when Lorraine-without-bruises is despatched to investigate the death of an agent who was managing the defection of a Stasi officer named Spyglass (Eddie Marsan), who has a list of every operative known to the KGB. She is also on the lookout for a double agent known as Satchel. The Berlin Broughton reaches is at boiling point. The Wall is about to fall and everyone wants Spyglass. Her contact is long-time MI6 bureau chief, now gone native, David Percival (James McAvoy). But can even colleagues be trusted?
The visuals channel Nicolas Winding Refn and the soundtrack is all 1980s. Broughton is always impeccably turned-out, she jokes about it on occasion and there is a whiff of Bond. But, where Bond needs gadgets, not so Lorraine - her distinctly low-tech approach is all hand-to-hand combat, with the odd hose, stiletto heel or set of keys. The action choreography is fantastic and better directed than the film overall. Theron is totally convincing, McAvoy's nutter schtick is wearing thin, but it's all very watchable, Le Carre-esque, Cold War fun.
A Ghost Story Cert 12A; Now Showing
This is one of those occasions where my opinion is seemingly at odds with everyone else's, as the reviews for David Lowery's film are glowing. And I hated it. A Ghost Story sees the writer/director reunited with Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck in a "meditation on life after death and the enduring connections we make to people and places". In theory, an interesting exploration of one explanation of the haunted house concept; in practice I found it slow, self-indulgent and rather infuriating. A scene where Mara eats a pie dragged on for so long, I could feel the last vestiges of my soul die. Mara and Affleck play a couple who are in love but clearly stressed over something. Mara is left pie-eatingly devastated by Affleck's sudden death but the film focuses instead on his return as a spirit. Complete with autopsy sheet, which someone thoughtfully cut-eye holes in, Affleck (and it is apparently him under the sheet) wanders back to the house they shared, his strong attachment to which then emerges as the source of stress between the couple when he was alive. Time passes, life moves on, but life after death it seems does not.
It is beautifully shot, as if through a filter. There is minimal dialogue and Lowery plays with the ghost and haunted house tropes. It lit only fires of irritation for me and the stars' dowdy low-key love felt hardly worth a haunting. Others, however, disagree so clearly some people will love this.
Annabelle: Creation Cert: 16; Now showing
The Annabelle films began as a spin-off from James Wan's largely well-received Conjuring horror franchise that was rooted in the real-life case files of paranormal sleuths Ed and Lorraine Warren. The fixed stare and deathly pallor of an antique wooden doll proved to be so effective at scaring the bejesus out of cinemagoers, that the malevolent muppet is given the "origins" treatment.
Director David F Sandberg brings some of the invention and eye for devilment he displayed in last year's Lights Out to this exhausting fright-fest set on a dust-blown prairie orphanage for girls. Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) arrives with a group of young girls in tow to the creaky gothic home run by a retired dollmaker (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife (Miranda Otto). Their daughter died 12 years previously and let's just say she is not exactly resting in peace. And with so many young, inquisitive and foolhardy children sneaking into locked bedrooms and dimly lit barns, her ghost has to work overtime to give them all their fair share of heart attacks.
Thus, Annabelle: Creation's last third is a tireless carnival of set-piece carnage, blasting your eardrums with lacerating noise to compound the litany of bumps in the long, long night. Any touches of subtlety in the opening half are swept aside in favour of bloody mayhem, as yet another movie demon finds itself with nowt to do but terrorise via a girl in a nightdress. The cast and production values lift it out of trope-heavy inanity.
Hilary A White
The Nut Job 2 Cert G; Now showing
A critical mauling for the first Nut Job film did not stop it doing well and spawning a sequel, whose full title is The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature. The mauling - and more likely a change of director and writing team, as Cal Brunker takes over direction and co-writes - has made this sequel somewhat better than the original. It's predictable animated summer fare, but the dialogue is better and it's just sharper all round.
Will Arnett is back as Surly the squirrel, unofficial leader of all the animals, who have opted to eschew foraging in favour of a la carte, now that there is an endless supply of food in an abandoned nut shop. Andie (Katherine Heigl) disapproves of this easy way out and, in what feels like a near non-sequitur, the animals' dilemma becomes about saving their park from the corrupt mayor/developer (Bobby Moynihan) with some last-minute help from a martial arts mouse gang led by Jackie Chan.
It's derivative and predictable, but there's dog puke and slapstick, so younger children will enjoy it.