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By Vernor Rodgers
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THERON ROCKS IN "ATOMIC BLONDE"
Charlize Theron -- Action Star -- has a nice ring to it.

She's shown to be capable of the challenges. When "Mad Max: Fury Road" is mentioned, Theron's tough Furiosa comes to mind before Tom Hardy's Max. Earlier this year, her Cipher proved to be a worthy adversary for Dom Toretto and his group in the latest "Fast and Furious" adventure. Granted, she did get crushed to death in "Prometheus," but that is just a blip on Theron's most recent kick-ass filmography. Now, as British MI6 undercover agent Lorraine Broughton in "Atomic Blonde," Theron has made a case that this secret agent / espionage gig is not just for guys like James Bond, et al. 

"Atomic Blonde" is a blast from start to finish with plenty of action and intrigue along with a sensational soundtrack that resurrects some great sounds of the 1980s. The music is appropriate, as "Atomic Blonde," based upon the Oni Press graphic novel "The Coldest City" by Antony Johnston and illustrated by Sam Hart, takes place in 1989 during the tumultuous days in Germany when the Berlin Wall finally is torn down.

When an MI6 agent is murdered in Berlin, Broughton is sent to Germany to investigate as well as recover a vital list that contains names of double agents, a valuable commodity that the West obviously does not want to fall into enemy hands.

When Broughton is first seen, it appears she had a tough day on the job. Sporting a black right eye and with bruises all over her body, she looks like she should be on the disabled list and due for a long rehab. Instead she dresses and shows up at the office to attend a debriefing conducted by her superior, Eric Gray (Toby Jones) while Chief C (James Faulkner) and a CIA honcho, Emmitt Kurzfeld (John Goodman), listen in. This is in the immediate aftermath of her mission to Berlin, and it appears it did not go well.

"Atomic Blonde" unfolds via flashbacks as Broughton recalls to Gray and the others what happened in Berlin.

Like every spy or espionage caper, there are twists and turns all over the place, laced with distrust and betrayal. Broughton had been advised beforehand to not trust anyone yet is told she has to hook up with an agent named David Percival (James McAvoy), someone she has never worked with before. McAvoy seems to have carried over one or two of his many personalities from "Split" as he has his hands in a lot of questionable stuff.

Meanwhile, Broughton is being followed by Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), a surveillance that isn't too discreet, as Lorraine is quite aware she is being shadowed. Eventually they hook up and engage in some sizzling lovemaking scenes, but Broughton stays on mission and remains a bit wary of Delphine.

Almost from the moment she sets foot on the ground in Berlin, Broughton is chased, shot at and having to engage in some brutal hand-to-hand combat with members of the KGB.

A shout-out is worthy here to the entire stunt staff. John Valera, fight coordinator; Greg Rementer, fight choreography team leader; Lilla Nemeth, stunt department coordinator; Florian Hotz, stunt coordinator in Germany; Sam Hargrave, stunt coordinator; and Monique Ganderton, assistant stunt coordinator and stunt double for Theron, were responsible for leading an able crew in putting on film some of the best fight scenes witnessed in a while. While Ganderton no doubt did some of the more punishing stunts in place of Theron, there are moments when Theron clearly took some hard knocks for the team.

Director David Leitch, who is scheduled to direct "Deadpool 2," is a veteran stuntman himself and proved he is capable of tackling the challenges of the next "Deadpool" adventure.

The screenplay by Kurt Johnstad ("300: Rise of an Empire" and "Act of Valor") is well-crafted in providing just enough information to set up suspense and questions without revealing too much too fast. The result is a smart and fast-paced action thriller with Theron a solid foundation. As beat up as she is, she is poised to emerge from this chaos still on her feet, leaving a trail of vanquished.

"ATOMIC BLONDE" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/yIUube1pSC0



CAESAR CAN'T FIND PEACE IN "WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES"
Dark, touching, brutal with touches of humor and loads of simian compassion, “War for the Planet of the Apes” takes intelligent ape Caesar and his clan to their inevitable fate with tumult, sadness and triumph.

The second film of the latest “Planet” reboot series to be directed by Matt Reeves, “War” has plenty of action amid the quieter moments when Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his nemesis, The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), deal with the intricacies of conflict while battling their own inner demons.

When “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” ended, Caesar had been warned by his human friend Malcolm (Jason Clarke) that soldiers were coming down from the north, summoned when Koba undermines Caesar and ignites a war with humans. The apes find refuge in the woods but all too soon a unit of soldiers attacks the apes but is easily defeated. Caesar spares the lives of the captured soldiers so they can go back to The Colonel and  convey the ape’s proposal of peace: Just leave us alone in the forest and all will be fine.

The Colonel responds by appearing himself in the apes’ habitat and conducting a fatal assault that now makes this personal for Caesar.  While Caesar concedes the apes must flee the woods for a safer place, he opts to go out on his own vendetta mission. Naturally, two of his most loyal, Maurice (Karin Konoval) and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) tag along.

It takes awhile before The Colonel gets some decent screen time. He is definitely a nod to Marlon Brando’s  Col. Kurtz  from “Apocalypse Now.” Except that when the layers are peeled away, Harrelson’s Colonel may be a rogue, but not quite the looney Kurtz turned out to be. His motivations certainly are understandable given the perilous issues he faces. He accuses Caesar of being too emotional, and indeed, despite his own personal tragedies, The Colonel can boast that he is focused not on a mission of revenge but of survival.

Aside from trying to keep his clan and family from being annihilated, while also dealing with traitors, Caesar also struggles within himself, realizing he is close to becoming as crazed with animosity toward humans as Koba had been.

Along the way, before the inevitable bloodshed, two new characters are introduced. One is a mute girl the apes named Nova - an obvious tie-in with the Nova character in the original “Planet of the Apes” movies - befriended by Maurice. The other is a comically memorable zoo ape who calls himself Bad Ape (Steve Zahn). Bad Ape has managed to survive on his own but soon embraces the possibility of new friends with Caesar, Maurice and Luca, even though he thinks these apes might be just a little too eager to fight humans to suit his tastes. Eventually, though, Bad Ape, for all his bumbling around and near cowardice, proves to be a valuable ally.

As always, there is an ominous tone throughout “War,” especially sensed by animal lovers who abhor violence against creatures that are not motivated by anything other than surviving. They are innocent of greed and hate and do not deserve to suffer or die. Ultimately, the war Caesar must win is the one within himself — to find an inner peace that will always be hard to maintain in the world in which he and his fellow simians exist.

"WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/qxjPjPzQ1iU



"WISH UPON" A MILDLY SCARY CAUTIONARY TALE
Well, this has been explored before: the down side of a person getting what he or she wishes for. The result may not always be gratifying, or worse, it may extract a hefty price. 

“Wish Upon,” directed by John R. Leonetti (“Annabelle,” “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation”) and written by Barbara Marshall, is a nice little film that probably would better be suited for a horror anthology on television. It’s not very scary but it does make a person feel leery about anything that might open an avenue to dreams simply by saying, “I wish.”

Joey King is Claire Shannon, a teen girl who a decade earlier witnessed the suicide by hanging of her mother. Now she lives in a dilapidated house with her father, Jonathan (Ryan Phillippe — where has HE been lately?), who  barely makes a living scrounging around in trash dumpsters. Claire is a talented artist like her mother had been, but definitely among the lower echelon in popularity in high school. She pretty much hangs around her BFFs Meredith (Sydney Park) and June (Shannon Purser), while on the periphery is Ryan (Ki Hong Lee), who seems to have a crush on Claire.

One day Jonathan brings home from his trash hunts a wooden box with Chinese etchings on it. Since Claire is studying Chinese in school, Jonathan figures the box might be of interest to his daughter. Claire can only decipher some of the etchings, but learns the box is capable of granting seven wishes. Naturally, after a nasty encounter with the typical popular girl/bully Darcie (Josephine Langford) in the school lunch room, Claire wishes that Darcie “would just rot.” When news gets around the school that Darcie has been afflicted with a skin ailment and might lose a couple of her toes, Claire initially dismisses it as a coincidence. But, by the way, Claire’s faithful old dog suddenly dies.
After awhile, Claire begins to realize that the box indeed seems capable of granting her wishes. And she gives the box some wishes to grant.

Ominously, once a wish is made, the box lid opens for a few minutes and somebody subsequently dies. The deaths take on a “Final Destination” flavor as scenes show the doomed person just engaging in normal life tasks that on this particular day will have fatal consequences.

Meanwhile, Claire enlists the help of Ryan, whose cousin Gina (Alice Lee) might be able to translate the rest of the etchings on the box. When Gina refers to a language expert, this person comes back with some troubling details about the sinister background of the box.

Claire is enjoying some of the fruits of her yearnings even though she is also mourning the loss of some people. She also learns that if you wish for someone to fall in love with you, the byproduct of that might be that person becoming dangerously obsessive.

The fine print on the box includes a couple of rules. If you get rid of the box, all your wishes are rescinded. And if you make that seventh wish, the final price can be horrifying. Claire thinks she has the solution to beat the box. She should know better.

King at the core of “Wish Upon” presents Claire as a likable person, grappling with the usual issues of teen life while also fending off the emotional residue of seeing her mother kill herself.  Once she gets a taste of the good life, she finds it intoxicating, which is the real, and scary, trap.

Be sure to stick around after the credits roll. There is a little addendum that proves how entrapping a box with this kind of power can be.

"WISH UPON" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/IqJiBqQ9lyM

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