Monthly Archives: August 2017

Fly Girl

Spunky ballerina tale takes wing but has trouble with landing

leap (72)

Starring the voices of Elle Fanning, Nat Wolff, Carly Rae Jepsen & Kate McKinnon
Directed by Eric Summer & Éric Warin

Go ahead, jump!

That was the advice of Van Halen in the 1980s. And it’s the advice of this spirited animated yarn about a spunky orphan girl who takes a leap of faith to follow her dream of becoming a ballerina.

Felicie (voiced by Elle Fanning) lives in rural Brittany, France, in the early 1880s. She escapes from the secluded orphanage with her best friend, Victor (Nat Wolff), headed for the City of Lights, nearly 400 kilometers away, and the Ballet de Paris.

Courtesy of The Weinstein CompanyAgainst a gorgeous backdrop of a partially constructed Eiffel Tower and other luminous Paris sights, Felicie manages to weasel her way into auditions for the Ballet’s big production of The Nutcracker. She’s mentored by a former star dancer, Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen), who’s now a despondent cleaning lady.

But another young dancer, the snooty rich-girl Camille (Maddie Ziegler), also has her eyes on a coveted ballerina spot. And her ice-cold, Cruella de Ville-ish dance mom (Kate McKinnon) will do whatever it takes to ensure she gets it.

Meanwhile, Victor has found a job apprenticing in the shop of an eccentric inventor who’s working on both the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty. (The movie isn’t much of a stickler for historical accuracy.) He’s making “leap” plans of his own, crafting a set of mechanical wings that will factor into the movie’s final moments, not to mention its overall theme of positivity, pluck and determination.

Felice recalls the long-ago words of her mother: “If you don’t leap, you’ll never know what it’s like to fly.”

Young tween girls, in particular, will probably love Leap!, especially those who might—like Felice—pine for tutus, tights and pointe work. The ballet sequences, animated from actual movements of star dancers from the Paris Opera, are lovely, graceful and majestic, even when they push well beyond the boundaries of real-life physics and gravity.

Courtesy of The Weinstein CompanyThis French-Canadian production, originally called Ballerina and released last year in France and the United Kingdom, was retitled for its American release, and retooled. Saturday Night Live’s McKinnon and comedy icon Mel Brooks were added to the vocal cast, and Wolff replaced Dane DeHaan, the original voice of Victor.

The filmmakers also must have felt the movie’s Old World setting needed a little freshening up, so they added some contemporary touches. They don’t quite fit, like pieces of American bubble gum tossed onto platters of French pastry. Boppin’ pop songs from Jepsen, Sia and Demi Levato bump abruptly up against Swan Lake and Sugar Plum Fairies. Much of the humor is sitcom 101. There are fart jokes, a barf joke, a pee joke and a nutcracker gag that doesn’t have anything to do with Tchaikovsky’s ballet.

Characters speak with a movie lingo that mixes American teen slang, fake French English and quasi-Euro-whatever, and their animated designs often make them look several years “older” than the tender ages they’re supposed to be.

Courtesy of The Weinstein CompanyFelice is (supposedly) only 11, which makes a scene where she dances on the tables of a Paris tavern, Coyote Ugly style, all the more unsettling—especially when the inebriated, leering men in the place excitedly cheer her on. “Anybody check her ID at the door?” someone shouts. Indeed.

Did tween ballerinas in Paris in the early 1880s really wear hip-hugger shorty shorts, leggings, little vests and booties? Did they train Karate Kid style? Or have epic snippy dance-offs that begin on the stage, continue through the seats of the theater and end up in the lobby—or high in the air of the lobby?

This sweet-natured, well-intentioned movie shows that there are other players in the animation field beyond Pixar and Disney, doing commendable work with a fraction of those company’s blockbuster budgets. Leap! boldly takes the plunge, even if it doesn’t quite nail the landing. But if you’ve got a little one who wants to someday be the swan in Swan Lake, well, as Van Halen says, you might as well jump.

In theaters Aug. 25, 2017

Hit List

Reynolds, Jackson blast away in retro-flavored, buddy-cop road-trip action comedy

051_HB_00415_CThe Hitman’s Bodyguard
Starring Ryan Reynolds & Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by Patrick Hughes

“Boring is always best.”

That’s the motto of Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds), the crack bodyguard whose Triple A Protection Service is at the top of everyone’s list for smooth, safe efficiency. He’s “very good at keeping people alive” when other people want them dead.

Until one day, when something goes terribly wrong with a big-ticket job, sending his “ratings” plummeting. Soon Bryce has dropped to the bottom of the bodyguard business.


Gary Oldman

But he gets a shot at rebuilding and restoring his reputation with an assignment to escort a dangerous hit man, Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), who’s being released from prison to testify in Amsterdam at the trail of a notorious war criminal (Gary Oldman) from the former Soviet Union.

A lot of folks want to make sure Kincaid never makes it to the courtroom.

It doesn’t sound like a comedy, does it? But it is. Keep reminding yourself of that, especially in the opening minutes, when you see a bullet punch a bloody hole in a man’s forehead and a young child is executed in front of her father.

The highly contrived plot combines two well-worn Hollywood formulas, the buddy-cop comedy and the road trip, as Reynolds and Jackson embark on an action-packed, 27-hour race to the courthouse in Hague, blasting their way through waves of murderous Euro-assassins, trailing a wake of destruction and spewing a fountain of profanity-laced banter.

Jackson, in particular, is a maestro of expletives. He gives f-bombs syntax, if not musicality, like a Bach of bad words, and The Hitman’s Bodyguard is another of his movie mini-symphonies, like Snakes on a Plane, Pulp Fiction and The Hateful Eight.


Elodie Yung

Reynolds mixes the mad splatter with droll chatter as Bryce, who’s pining for Amelia (Elodie Yung, Elektra on TV’s The Defenders), the French Interpol agent from his past. Salma Hayek plays Kincaid’s wife, Sonya, a hilariously foul-mouthed Spanish spitfire. If Kincaid testifies, Interpol has agreed that Sonya, who’s being held in an Amsterdam prison for some unspecified crime, will go free.

The movie has a rollickingly retro throwback feel, with warmed-over Cold War baddies, big-rock anthem ballads from the ’80s and nearly nonstop, on-the-move action—armored vehicles, motorcycles, cars, a helicopter, an 18-wheeler with a bomb inside. Almost everything explodes at some point. I halfway expected to see Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone or Chuck Norris walk out of the flames.

Two of the best sequences involve a speedboat chase on the canals of Amsterdam, and a hyper-kinetic, drag-out fight that begins in a restaurant kitchen and ends up in a hardware store. If you drop your pistol, just slam someone’s head on the sizzling grill or grab a skillet, a nail gun, a hammer or a chain!


For laughs, it’s hard to top Bryce and Kincaid each trying to annoy the other in the car by singing. Or the flashback sequence where we learn how Bryce met Amelia at a funeral, making out to Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” as slow-mo mayhem erupts all around them. Or that Kincaid and Sophie met in Mexico after he watched her, gobsmacked, handle a bunch of troublemakers in a bar to the tune of Lionel Richie’s “Hello.”

At times it made me think of what Midnight Run might have been if Quentin Tarantino had directed it about 15 years later. (Interestingly, one brief little musical snippet, as Bryce and Kincaid roar out of a parking garage, echoes Danny Elfman’s theme music to that 1988 comedy.)

And having a character named Kurosawa—well, that’s either a wild coincidence, or a deliberate nod to the iconic Japanese filmmaker, considered a world cinema icon. The Hit Man’s Bodyguard isn’t exactly world cinema, but hey, at least it apparently knows what that is.

It’s funny, it’s violent and it feels like bits and pieces of a lot of other movies over the years, all held together by a couple of solid, prolific actors riffing off each other and knowing they’re really just marking time between other, better, bigger projects—like Reynolds’ Deadpool 2, coming summer of 2018.

But whatever else it is, it’s rarely ever boring.

In theaters Aug. 18, 2017 

Southern Charms

All-star cast pulls off rollicking Dixie-fried hillbilly heist

Starring Channing Tatum, Adam Driver & Daniel Craig
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Director Steven Soderbergh’s high-spirited hillbilly-heist caper, about a couple of born-loser West Virginia brothers who scheme to tap into a multi-million-dollar NASCAR jackpot, sometimes feels like a rollicking, redneck riff on his Ocean’s Eleven franchise.

But Logan Lucky has its own pace and personality, a crackpot comedy yarn with a dynamite, all-star ensemble cast.

Channing Tatum stars as Jimmy Logan, a former high school football jock and divorced dad who’s just been let go from his hard-hat bulldozer job. Adam Driver is his gloomy younger brother, Clyde, who wears a prosthetic left hand as a reminder of his two tours of duty in Iraqi and now tends bar at the local watering hole.

In addition to losing his job, Jimmy has forfeited custody of his young daughter (Farrah Mackenzie, who played Dolly Parton’s sister, Stella, on the TV movie Coat of Many Colors) to his flinty ex-wife (Katie Holmes). Clyde has already served time in jail for a minor offense.


Riley Keough

Both wonder if the Logan family “curse” they’ve heard about all their lives is true.

Jimmy’s former employment had him filling in dangerous sinkholes underneath the Charlotte Motor Speedway over the state line in North Carolina, and it gives him an idea. He knows the money—a torrent of bills—from the massive complex is routed underground directly to the bank during racing events. And he knows just how to get to it…

The sets in motion a crazy-quilt, cracker-barrel scheme that involves a prison break (out as well as back in), color-coded cockroaches and a bomb made out of bleach sticks, salt substitute and Gummi Bears.


Daniel Craig

You’ll get a hoot out of seeing “James Bond” in pinstripes: Daniel Craig is a beefed-up, backwoods, buzz-cut rascal as Joe Bang, the jailbird whose expertise with explosives is key to the job. Riley Keough plays Mellie, the Logans’ firecracker little sister who works as a hairstylist. Country singer Dwight Yoakam gets a nifty role as the bully prison warden, who can’t admit his facility ever has any problems, big or small.

Seth (Family Guy) Macfarlane is almost unrecognizable as a detestably flamboyant British racing sponsor. Hillary Swank plays a dogged FBI agent determined to make her case. Sebastian Stan is a rock-star racer who treats his body as a clean machine. Katherine Waterson’s mobile health-care provider carries a long-burning torch for Jimmy. Joe Bang’s dim-bulb little brothers Sam (Brian Gleeson) and Fish (Jack Quaid) also sign on for the action, boasting of their savvy and their value to the team.

“I know all the twitters,” says Fish.

This collection of oddballs, misfits, lowlifes and small-town joes and janes clicks together into one hilarious groove, overflowing with twists, turns, screwball gimmicks and inevitable mishaps. Soderbergh certainly knows how to steer a sizeable cast through the in-and-out mechanics of a crazy caper, and he even weaves in a surprisingly sentimental subplot around a tiny-tot Little Miss West Virginia contest and John Denver’s song “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

Though it’s set in the South and it’s a comedy about Southerners and Southern culture, Logan Lucky never feels like it’s making sport of its characters, their way of living or their institutions. You laugh at them—but you also root for them.

When the heist is referred to in the movie as the “Ocean’s 7-11,” it’s a reference to the local convenience store central to some of the action as well as a meta nod by the screenplay to the movie’s pedigree in director Soderburgh’s hit trilogy of Oceans con-comedy movies.

But unlike the Oceans flicks, this Dixie-fried delight of a heist is dressed down, not spiffed up. And it’s happy to play in its own backyard instead of glitzy Las Vegas casinos or ritzy European hotels. A rowdy, fun-filled romp with an A-list cast having a summer blast, Logan Lucky will leave you feeling lucky you came along—and remind you that good fortune sometimes snaps open with a Southern drawl.

In theaters Aug. 18

Hello, Dolly

The terrifying devil doll that launched ‘The Conjuring’ is baaaaack! 

ABL202_080.tifAnnabelle: Creation
Starring Anthony LaPaglia, Talitha Bateman & Stephanie Sigman
Directed by David F. Sandberg

The demonic backstory to the evil plaything that inspired The Conjuring and later got its own spin-off, Annabelle: Creation effectively fulfills horror fans’ need to be scared—and reminds us of just how creepy dolls can be.

In the opening credits, we watch in the 1950s as a toymaker (Anthony LaPaglia, best known for playing Jack Malone on TV’s Without a Trace) carefully puts the finishing touches on the doll that will become Annabelle, a gift for his young daughter, Bee.

Bee is struck by a car in the very next scene and killed.

Then, 12 years later, the heartbroken toymaker and his mysteriously bedridden wife (Mirando Otto, Rebecca Ingram from 24: Legacy) open their home to a group of orphan girls and a young Catholic nun, Sister Catherine (Stephanie Sigman).

_T2A0373.dngThe girls are told they can freely go anywhere in the house, except for one place—Bee’s old bedroom, which is always locked.

Swedish director David F. Sandberg, whose resume includes last year’s horror flick Lights Out, doesn’t really do anything flashy or new. But he certainly knows how to solidly ramp up the suspense, and once he turns on the jolt juice, it really starts to flow.

The setting of a big, rambling, Victorian-style farmhouse, on a desolate hilltop in the middle of nowhere (actually, Southern California) makes a great place for the spooky shenanigans. Sandberg keeps gore—and slaughter—to a minimum, especially for an R-rated flick, and gets maximum value out of things that are only glimpsed briefly, seen in the shadows or stirred in the darkness of the imagination.

That’s not to say you won’t see some things that will make you gasp, and if you come to see bodies torn apart, walls smeared with blood and eye sockets missing eyeballs, well, you won’t be disappointed.

The device of a houseful of young women, or girls, is a well-worn horror cliché. Here, the orphans, who range in age from kids to older teens, provide several creative opportunities for interaction with Annabelle and the house, from telling spooky stories underneath a bedsheet to exploring the grounds and outbuildings. A game of hide-and-seek holds quite a surprise, and that sinister-looking scarecrow in the barn—well, there’s a reason he looks so sinister.

This is definitely the kind of movie you need to see in a theater with other people. It certainly adds to the enjoyment to hear a whipped-up audience chiming in, shouting at the screen, offering characters advice: “Don’t open that door!” “Close that door!” “Get away from that!” “Don’t go in there!”

A woman in front of me could barely stay in her seat; several times, she literally leaned forward, arms extended, as if reaching into the screen to extend a helping hand.

One of those times was the dumbwaiter scene, when one of the smallest girls was trying to get away from one of the other little girls—who had turned into a demon—in the shaft of the house’s dumbwaiter, and the ropes were stuck. Yikes!!!


Talitha Bateman

Much of the focus is on little Janice, played by Talitha Bateman (her brother, Gabriel, starred in Lights Out). Janice is recovering from polio, hobbling around in leg braces, and Annabelle singles her out for particular attention.

The Annabelle and Conjuring movies walk a profane line between good and evil—and evil always seems to have the upper hand. No amount of prayers, holy water, priests, nuns, rosary beads or pages from the Bible plastered over a door can keep the malevolent spirt of Annabelle from raging across the decades. The doll, a priest says, is a conduit for evil. Mullins’ wife says it’s “the devil itself.”

Whatever it is, it’s on the way to being a lynchpin of one of the most successful horror franchises ever, a nearly $900 million part of director-producer James Wan’s creepshow empire, which includes Saw (six movies and counting), Insidious and now the ever-widening world of Annabelle. Next year we’ll see The Nun, of which Annabelle: Creation provides a peek—a dark, spectral presence in the corner of a picture frame.

Even if you don’t buy into believing that Annabelle is a conduit for evil, you have to agree: This devil doll has certainly tapped into the box office. And as long as people enjoy being spooked by creepy dolls, she’ll be around—somewhere, in the shadows, behind a door, inside that locked room.

“Don’t go in there!”

In theaters Aug. 11, 2017

Family Man

Hollywood buffs out rough edges of Jeannette Walls’ tough survivor’s tale

001_TGC_D02_00156_00157_COMP_R2 (4)_72The Glass Castle
Starring Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson & Naomi Watts
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton

Family, man.

That’s where it’s at. Hollywood loves family—think of the countless movie comedies and dramas you’ve seen with clueless parents, crazy relatives, squabbling spouses and precocious kids.

The Glass Castle has its own version of all that, all rolled together. It’s based on the best-selling memoir by Jeannette Walls, the former newspaper reporter, magazine writer New York City gossip columnist whose tale captivated readers with the wrenching details of her nomadic, poverty-stricken childhood.

Walls and her two young siblings were taken by their deeply dysfunctional parents across the country, from one dilapidated, often abandoned house to another, often just one step ahead of the law, creditors and child protective services. Their mother, Mary Rose, who fancied herself an artist, would rather paint than provide meals for her kids; father Rex was an alcohol-fueled, cigarette-puffing schemer and scammer who railed against the “system” and dreamed of one day building a solar-powered castle made of glass.

There was love, but there was also screaming, fighting and drinking and an apparent inability to hold down—or even seek—any kind of job.

118_TGC_D35_4286 (2)_72

Brie Larson

Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts play the parents, and three different groups of actors portray Jeannette and her brother and sisters at different ages and stages, told in overlapping flashbacks. Brie Larson anchors the tale as grown-up Jeannette prepares in the late 1980s to marry a successful young Wall Street broker (Max Greenfield, who played Schmidt on TV’s New Girl) in a final defiant act to break free from her past.

But she can’t shake off the literal and psychological scars of her childhood.

You might recognize several of the younger performers. Shree Crooks, who plays Jeannette’s younger sister Maureen, was Scarlett Lowe in American Horror Story, and also one of the kids in the Oscar-nominated Captain Fantastic. Sister Lori is played by Sadie Sink, who you’ll recall as Max if you watch Stranger Things. Iain Armitage, who has a couple of scenes as little brother Brian, will star this fall in The Big Bang Theory spinoff series Young Sheldon.

But it’s young Ella Anderson, as young Jeannette, who steals the show—and your heart. Anderson starred on the Nickelodeon series Henry Danger and had roles in the movie comedies The Boss and Mother’s Day, and her expressive face shows just how Rex’s weakness and failures eventually crushed and scattered all his children.

But the relationship between a parent and a child can be a paradoxical and complicated thing, and Jeannette later confesses that her father is the smartest man she’s ever known.


Ella Anderson & Woody Harrelson

It’s one thing to watch Swiss Family Robinson and be entertained by Walt Disney’s fanciful account of how a shipwrecked father, his wife and their kids built a life on an island with bamboo, coconuts and palm fronds. It’s another to know The Glass Castle is based on a true account grounded in issues of mental illness and addiction, of irresponsible parents who willfully let their kids live in rundown shacks with no electricity, go without food or medical attention, and do nothing when they were physically abused—and how, at least in the movie, everything comes out in the feel-good, all-is-forgiven wash.

Instead of the gritty, spunky survivor’s tale of triumph in the book, the movie is essentially a Hollywood melodrama about quirky, wayward, happy-go-lucky bohemian parenting. Harrelson and Watts give it their best, and so does Larson, who won an Oscar for Room, particularly since she’s basically little more than a recurring supporting player. But the documentary footage over the credits suggests that the real story of the real people they’re playing would likely be far more interesting than this glossed-over dramatization, which seems to buff out some rougher, tougher edges, including an attempted rape and childhood sexual assault.

At one point, the children have gone for days eating only butter because there’s no other food in the house. Then they apparently go for several days more after Rex spends all the household money on an all-night booze bender. The movie never picks up the no-food, we’re-starving idea again—and neither do the children. Did the kids get anything else to eat? What? How? When?


There are laughs, there are tears—in one scene, they actually drip off Brie Larson’s quivering chin. But mostly, there’s a sense that everything that happens brings Jeannette closer to her family—to her siblings, her mom and even to her dad.

At a dinner—with more tears—at the end of the movie, Jeannette says simply, “I feel lucky.” And everyone gives a glowing toast to Rex, the dreamer, schemer and drunkard, ne’er-do-well father who kept them together until he finally drove everyone apart.

Wow. Score one for extremely well-adjusted kids. At least in the movies.

Family, man.

In theaters Aug. 11, 2017

Hot & Bothered

Racially charged drama about 1967 riots rings chillingly true today

Starring Algee Smith, John Boyega, Will Poulter & Anthony Mackie
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

The sweltering summer is about to get even hotter.

In Detroit, director Katheryn Bigelow turns up the heat on the 50th anniversary of one of the most deadly and destructive racially charged riots in our nation’s history.

Bigelow, who won an Oscar for The Hurt Locker (2008) and also directed the acclaimed Zero Dark Thirty (2012), recreates events that occurred in June 1967 with an ensemble cast and a wrenching sense of timeliness.

The movie points out the toxic recipe of white suburban flight, economic plight and tensions between black neighborhoods and police that were already in play, in Detroit and elsewhere, when the Motor City riots began with a police raid on an unlicensed bar in one of the city’s segregated, all-black neighborhoods.

The officers had a legal right to shut the place down, but did they have to “make an example” of everyone who was there? Herd them like cattle onto the street and into paddy wagons to take them jail? Feel up a female or two as they were “helping” them into the vehicles?

“What’d they do?! What’d they do?!” an onlooker cries out from the crowd—before a bottle flies through the air, then a Molotov cocktail. In seconds, looting has begun, and before morning, the entire neighborhood is on fire.

UDP_03647FD.psdBy day three, the Michigan governor has called in the national guard, and soldiers in jeeps and tanks patrol the streets. Neighborhood by neighborhood, the city becomes a war zone as African-American hopelessness, helplessness and rage erupt in widening spasms of destruction—and the police and the military strike back with sometimes lethal force.

In this simmering, scalding, suffocating cauldron of racial tension, we meet our central characters, whose lives soon intersect in an excruciating crux of circumstance.


John Boyega

Larry Reed (Algee Smith) is the lead singer of an up-and-coming, unsigned local vocal group, the Dramatics, who’s crushed when their big breakout gig at the Fox Theater is cancelled due to the riots. John Boyega (Finn from Star Wars: The Force Awakens) plays Melvin Dismukes, a straight-thinking overnight security guard. Will Poulter (from The Revenant, We’re The Millers and The Maze Runner) portrays Krauss, the overzealous patrolman who becomes a bully, a racist thug and a murderer.

Julie and Karen, two young women visiting from Ohio, are played by Hannah Murrah (Gilly from TV’s Game of Thrones) and Kaitlyn Dever (Eve on the sitcom Last Man Standing). Anthony Mackie is a U.S. Army veteran recently home from Viet Nam, now finding himself at the wrong place at the wrong time.


Kaitlyn Dever

The singer, the security guard, the patrolman and the vet, along with Julie and Karen and several other characters, all end up at a bustling motel, where the movie takes a turn toward the horrific after police believe there’s a sniper hiding inside. What follows is a protracted, nightmarish sequence of brutality and intimidation as raw racism flexes its ugly muscle behind the authority of a badge.

Before the night is over, the bodies of three innocent victims lie dead in pools of their blood.

The movie does a tremendous job of recreating scorched, seared late-’60s Detroit. Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, using handheld cameras much of the time, makes you feel like “you are there” in the sweat, smoke and the shaken, smashed and shattered lives.

In the modern era of cell phones and dashboard and body cams, with social media and television highlighting incidents of overreach and outrage—and #BlackLivesMatter rallying to spotlight America’s miserably ingrained culture of racial violence—the film’s themes of tragedy and injustice resonate with chilling contemporary relevance.

The film ends on a note of spiritual uplift about love overcoming hate, a message of hope and the hope of healing, one that rings across the distance of the ages.

And the message certainly rings across the 50 years since the events of Detroit, which painfully reminds us of how close to home this harrowing history lesson hits today.

In theaters Aug. 4, 2017

Make way, James

Charlize Theron is super-sexy, kick-ass spy who’s not afraid to rumble 

Film Title: Atomic BlondeAtomic Blonde
Starring Charlize Theron, James McAvoy & Sofia Boutella
Directed by David Leitch

James Bond made it look so easy. As moviedom’s coolest, suavest, most iconic superspy, he rarely mussed his hair, wrinkled his shirt or even appeared to get so much as a scratch or a scuff.

The espionage business is a bit rougher on Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), a MI-6 agent in the late 1980s. When we first meet her, soaking in a bathtub of ice cubes, we see her blonde-haired, battered body is covered in bruises, the black and blue souvenirs of her most recent mission.

Atomic Blonde, based on the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City, unspools in flashback as we learn Broughton’s story in debriefings with her superior (Toby Jones from Bridge of Spies) and an American C.I.A. operative (John Goodman).

Film Title: Atomic Blonde

John Goodman

Her assignment had been to slip into Berlin, on the politically charged eve of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and retrieve a micro-list with names and details about British and American spies before it finds its way into enemy hands.

The list is so hot, she’s told, it’s an “atomic bomb of information.”

Ice-cold Broughton was well-suited for this hot job. She’s top-ranked in “escape and evasion, intelligence collection and hand-to-hand combat,” notes the head of MI-6, “C” (James Faulkner, Randyll Tarly on Game of Thrones).

That’s an understatement, as we quickly learn. Broughton kicks, punches, shoots and stabs her way across Berlin, brutally dispatching pursuing German and Russian agents in a series of hyper-violent, show-stopping action sequences. She uses her fists, her legs, her stilettos, a refrigerator door, a set of car keys and a corkscrew, among other more conventional weapons.

Film Title: Atomic BlondeDirector David Leitch, a former stuntman who directed Keanu Reeves in John Wick, certainly knows how stage boffo fight scenes, and he sets up a few doozies here. One in particular, which occurs toward the end of the movie, is nearly five minutes long, shot in a single unbroken take into a building, up an elevator, down a stairwell, through an apartment and finally into the streets for a slam-bang car chase.

That one scene alone is worth the price of admission. It’s an amazing piece of filmmaking, and Theron does it all (apparently) without any stunt doubling. I’ve never seen any lead actress do this kind of extreme, rough-and-tumble, knockabout, faux fighting onscreen, and certainly not for these kinds of extended scenes. She takes some very real-looking (and very real) falls, slams, slaps, throws, tumble and thwacks.

I wouldn’t be surprised if at least some of those bruises on Theron’s character weren’t real, too.

Film Title: Atomic Blonde

Theron & Boutella

Sofia Boutella (the mummy in this summer’s The Mummy) plays Delphine, a sexy French spy who becomes Broughton’s lover—their same-sex nude and makeout scenes make a first for any mainstream spy movie. (Hey, there could have been something going on between Inspector Clouseau and Cato, but they kept it off-camera and on the down-low.)

James McAvoy (Split) is Percival, MI-6’s man in Berlin, whose debauched enthusiasm for the city’s thriving black-market enticements often get in the way of his job. Eddie Marsan (Terry Donovan from TV’s Ray Donovan) plays an East German agent who has memorized some priceless information and wants to defect with it.

The plot meanders and loops and convolutes in a twisty, tangled knot of double agents, double crosses, triple crosses and traitors—I lost count and I lost track. But so what? It looks great, cool and sleek and stylish and sexy, awash in splashes of neon reds and greens on chilly monochrome greys and blues, set to a soundtrack of pumping, pulsating ’80s tunes including David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure,” Til Tuesday’s “Voice’s Carry,” Nena’s “99 Luftballons,” Re-Flex’s “The Politics of Dancing” and A Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran.”

And gliding through it all is Charlize Theron, who’s now officially earned her rank—and her bruises—in Hollywood’s spy club.

In theaters July 28, 2017