IN THE mad mish-mash which is Atomic Blonde, there’s a brief opening glimpse of Ronald Reagan, in his finest role as US President, exhorting the world to “tear down the wall.”
That wall — Trump’s Mexican battlement is still to come — is the one in Berlin, whose final days are the catalysis for this fast, furious and eminently fatuous spy thriller that’s substantially more Carry On than Le Carre.
The blonde, overplayed with gusto by Charlize Theron — who’s introduced enjoying a bath filled with ice cubes — is MI5 agent Lorraine Broughton.
She’s been despatched to Berlin to join embedded British station chief David Percival (James McAvoy) and recover a vital list of spies.
Stuntman-turned-director David Leitch prefers comic-book style action to logical storytelling which suits a supremely silly and expletive-littered screenplay based on a graphic novel.
Homage — fromage? — is paid to Le Carre by casting Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) as Broughton’s spy boss in a story told in flashback as he debriefs her on her mad mission.
Theron carries the silly show with a wild display of bone-breaking action, cynical humour and a commendably straight face.
Le Doulos (12A) Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville 5/5
“THERE’S no honour among thieves.” Or is there? The title of this 1962 film Le Doulos, directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, is the French slang for the kind of hat worn by Parisian gangsters but it’s also the derogatory term used by the hoods themselves for a police informant.
A sense of mistrust pervades the film, with double bluffs keeping the viewer constantly in suspense as swaggering young crook Silien (Jean-Paul Belmondo) prowls cat-like around the Paris streets, playing off wise-guys and cops against each other as he smart-talks his way in and out of trouble.
Along with Belmondo, Serge Reggiani excels as the dark-eyed and burnt-out burglar Maurice Faugel, who’s trying to make a final score before going to ground to avoid a further term in prison.
With crisp photography and a sassy jazz score, Melville directs with supreme confidence as he brings US noir to the Paris streets and it makes for gripping viewing.
More than just a crime thriller, the moral of the story is less that crime never pays, more that the wheel of fate cannot be stopped once it’s set in motion.
This strikingly restored re-release is well worth catching, whether you’ve seen it already or not.
A Ghost Story (12A) Directed by David Lowery 3/5
DESPITE its title, this isn’t your typical ghost film but a wonderfully imaginative and poignant exploration of love and loss, witnessed through the eyes of an apparition.
If you are expecting lots of scares you may be disappointed.
Casey Affleck plays the recently deceased C who returns, as a ghost in a white sheet, to his home to console his grief stricken wife M (Rooney Mara). Yet he discovers that all he can do is watch passively as his old life dissipates and M slowly moves on with her own, while he is moored to the house.
There is no sense of the passing of time as months and years go by in seconds as he sees new tenants come and go.
While pushing and reinventing the boundaries of the ghost flick, writer-director David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon) captures the all-consuming pain of bereavement and love lost as demonstrated so heartbreakingly by Mara’s powerhouse performance.
In Affleck’s case it is hard to tell if it’s even him under the sheet.
It’s a surreal and slow-moving drama with minimal dialogue. But the final twist is a real head-scratcher which will haunt you for days.
Annabelle: Creation (15) Directed by David F Sandberg 4/5
THE CLASSIC 1945 chiller Dead of Night memorably featured a homicidal dummy and killer dolls. They have been terrorising horror film fanatics ever since, with the demonic doll from 2013’s The Conjuring returning the next year in Annabelle and it’s back again in this sure-fire shocker.
In it, doll-maker Sam (Anthony LaPaglia) and Esther (Miranda Otto) open their home to six young orphan girls and nun Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) 12 years after their seven-year-old daughter dies in an accident, “It’s a castle,” declare the orphans when they enter a traditional Hollywood-style Olde Dark House that even the Addams Family would quit.
Then, before you can say “boo!,” the leg-brace wearing young Janice (Talitha Bateman, excellent) is being terrorised by the killer doll and some even nastier creations. Plentiful chills and thrills ensue.
David F Sandberg and screenwriter Gary Dauberman do the business, as do the actors in what may prove to be a lucrative franchise. AF
The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature (U) Directed by Cal Brunker 3/5
THESE rowdy, raucous animated adventures of urban rodents led by rambunctious squirrel Surley are perfect proof of the Hollywood axiom that: “If at first you succeed, repeat the same profitable formula only bigger and noisier.”
The Nut Job 2 has Surley, his dog-pal Precious, best rat friend Buddy and legions of fellow squirrels living happily in the basement of the food-packed Nut House until the place explodes, leaving the animals seeking a new home and futilely scavenging for food. Sexy squirrel Andie reckons the rodents should return to live in Liberty Park as nature intended.
But corrupt Mayor Muldoon decides to transform the park into a second-rate amusement park. Can animals win against mere humans? You bet!
Director Cal Brunker delivers lashings of crazy cartoon capers at a pace fast enough to keep youngsters happy watching the nutty goings-on. AF
Step (PG) Directed by Amanda Lipitz 4/5
FILM BUFFS probably know Baltimore best as the birthplace of such cinematic legends as John Waters and Barry Levinson. Now, the subjects of director Amanda Lipitz’s enthralling documentary — the true-life story of a disadvantaged African-American high-school girls’ step team who, encouraged at school and at home, win college places – could well become another Baltimore legend.
The dance sequences (“We make music with our bodies”) are rousing and vividly balanced by Lipitz with telling family discussions and the bonding between the girls.
Their comments that “This year is our time of redemption,” “Step is empowering” are underlined by compelling dancer Blessin Giraldo’s declaration that “Step is life!”