If you saw “John Wick” and “John Wick: Chapter 2” and thought, “it would be really cool if they made another one of these movies except this time, let’s set it in Cold War Berlin, swap out Keanu Reeves for Charlize Theron and throw in some unnecessary, convoluted plot twists,” then, well, “Atomic Blonde” is your wish come true. Lazy plotting and poor pacing aside, “Atomic Blonde” still manages to be a magnificently fun ride. Everything else about the movie is near-perfect. Theron continues to cement her status as one of the best action stars alive. She plays MI6 spy Lorraine Broughton with a steely coolness, delivering some of the best fight scenes in recent memory. Stuntman-turned-director David Leitch (co-director of “John Wick”) deserves some credit as well. He lets Theron’s martial artistry shine, eschewing the quick-cut, Bourne film style of editing and letting the beauty of the choreography speak for itself in long, unbroken fight sequences. Bolstered by an ’80s new-wave soundtrack and an attractive silver and neon color scheme, “Atomic Blonde” is a delightful film that transcends many of its faults.
“Columbus” is an understated yet moving character study set in Columbus, Indiana. The town is notable primarily for its unlikely collection of modernist architecture, a point that is central to the film as well. “Columbus” is ostensibly a love story, but not in a very strict sense. The love between Jin (John Cho) and Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), two strangers who grow attached to each other over the course of a few months, is not the stuff of Hollywood romances — we don’t get a climactic kiss scene. Instead it focuses on the value and beauty that comes from human relationships. It’s about how we can grow and understand ourselves better through other people (and, oddly enough, architecture). First-time director Kogonada (well-known as a video essayist) directs with an elegant and gentle touch. He rarely moves the camera or cuts. Instead he frames his characters both with the asymmetrical architecture of the town, as well as the less-obvious, but equally evocative, geometry of your average midwestern household. Delicate and poignant in its humanism, “Columbus” is one of my favorite dramas of the year.
Those keeping close tabs on the independent film scene in New York are likely already familiar with the Safdie Brothers (“Lenny Cooke,” “Heaven Knows What”), but, to most, “Good Time” is the first they’re hearing of the directing duo. Like it or not, the Safdies are undeniably successful in their ability to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. To call it a thriller might even be an understatement. Soundtracked by a Tangerine Dream-inspired score from Oneohtrix Point Never, Connie is a human wrecking ball, tearing through anyone or anything to save his brother. It’s an interesting study on the extremes of human desperation. And Robert Pattinson is revelatory. “Good Time” serves as the beginning of a new era for the massively underrated actor. After sticking to primarily supporting roles for the last few years, he is finally poised to break out from the looming shadow of “Twilight.” As Connie, he is a morally ambiguous bulldog with a one-track mind, but it’s hard not to root for him even as we start to realize that he may not be the hero he thinks he is.
If you’ve seen last year’s “Hell Or High Water” or 2015’s “Sicario,” then you’re already familiar with Taylor Sheridan’s work as a screenwriter. In “Wind River,” Sheridan takes on directing duties as well, crafting another tense thriller in line with his previous two scripts. This time he sets his story further north, on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Montana. Sheridan’s transition to the director’s chair is remarkably smooth; “Wind River” is a gorgeous piece of filmmaking. Helicopter shots show the sprawling, snow laden reservation, a piece of land that, despite being three times the size of Rhode Island, has a total of six police officers. And so, when the body of a teenage girl is found in the middle of the woods, it falls on a local tracker (Jeremy Renner) and an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) to solve the mystery. Though the film is supremely well-crafted, it left a sour taste in my mouth. It is, unfortunately, another story that uses violence towards women purely as a means of motivating its male characters. The exploration of male grief through vengeance is one of the most tired tropes in filmmaking, and it is a disappointingly lazy piece of writing from the typically excellent Sheridan. Regardless, for those looking for a thrilling murder mystery (and who aren’t averse to violence), “Wind River” will get the job done.