Movie Review: “Atomic Blonde” punches above her throw weight

Atomic Blonde (2017)

With its adoring close-ups, lingering shots in the bath, repeated stripping and endless designer costume changes, “Atomic Blonde” plays like a vanity project for its producer-star, willowy model turned Oscar-winner Charlize Theron.

There is no cell phone application for generating generic spy movie dialogue, but if there was, this film could be an ad for it.

“Berlin is a cruel mistress…Berlin is like the Wild West…Berlin is a small town. I am sure our paths will cross again…Maybe we can make some sort of arrangement…I’ve read your file…Shall we begin?”

Yeah, it started life as a comic book, but come on.

The plot’s twists are foretold too far in advance for there to be much in the way of real suspense. The soundtrack for this set-in-1989 thriller is packed with overly-appropriate ’80s pop. You know a spy picture in ’89 Berlin will have “Der Kommissar” and “99 Luftballoons.” But setting a chase to “I Ran,” covering a secret conversation with “Voices Carry?” The songs match the situations so on the nose they become self-mocking.

But all that said, ALL of it — the short/shorter/shortest skirts, the bottomless shots of Stoli and clouds of cigarettes and hailstorms of bullets — pays off because Theron wills it so.

They’re selling this cut-and-paste parody of a spy thriller on its epic fights, and Theron in the title role takes and delivers beatings in visceral, pulse-pounding, eyes-averting stab-him-with-a-corkscrew bloodbaths.

After which, her body tattooed in bruises, our Atomic Blonde eases herself into a nice ice bath.

So yeah, we buy in.

British Agent Lorraine Broughton is sent to Berlin just as the Wall is about to come down. There’s an East German Stasi agent (Eddie Marsan) ready to defect with a vast collection of names of agents, double-agents, something or other “atomic” in its explosiveness.

Her contact in town is hard-drinking, trade bottles of Jack Daniels for information
Agent Percival (James McAvoy doing his psycho/gonzo/dissolute thing).

But the best laid plans “gang aft a-gley,” as the Scottish poet said. We’re privy to the interrogation of Agent Broughton, bruised and bloodied, by her controller (Toby Jones of “Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy”) and a CIA watchdog (John Goodman). This grilling frames the film and leads us — entirely too easily — to understanding what went wrong.


Stuntman (“Fight Club,””300”) turned director (he had a hand in “John Wick”) David Leitch proves he was the right guy for the job with every furious blast of onscreen mayhem.

The car chase is comically over-the-top, but at least the endless succession of flips and crashes are tactile and real — done by stuntfolk.

And the brawls put the beanpole-thin Theron into some of the toughest fight choreography ever staged with a woman. Theron commits, and huge chunks of these punchouts/shootouts are delivered in long-takes, no edits to protect the star or hide the presence of a stunt double.

The confrontations are so in your face that you may want to don an icepack when you get home. I certainly did.

The action beats are such spectacles that they’ll make you laugh. Not that there isn’t the odd funny line.

“David Hasselhoff is in town…Berlin is truly DOOMED.”

Not really, but you could see how they might think that back in 1989.

In between the fights, we’re reminded of how beautiful Theron is by those lingering, hair-over-one-eye close-ups, the Olivia-Wilde-in-“TRON” perfect makeup, the wondrous selection of fishnet stockings and some pretty serious grappling with the fetching Sofia Boutella (“The Mummy”) as a possible rival, or friendly agent.

The ending feels written by committee, and that laundry list of other quibbles can take you out of the picture. But the camera puts you right in the fights, in the car and facing down the barrel of a gun with our heroine.

And Theron and Leitch give this lightweight LeCarre the heft to punch well above its atomic throw-weight.


MPAA Rating: R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity

Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella

Credits:Directed by David Leitch, script by Kurt Johnstad, based on the comic book series “The Coldest City” by Anthony Johnston and Sam Hart . A Focus Features release.

Running time: 1:55

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Movie Review: Welles’ radio broadcast scares the willies out of “Brave New Jersey”


Yes, when his entry in the Big Book is written on college athlete turned Yale School of Drama character actor Raymond J. Barry, we’ll hear about “Training Day” — the movie and the TV series.

There’ll be mention of “The X-Files,” where the white-haired character heavy played a senator, and “Steel City” and “Little Children” and “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.”

But never let it be forgotten that “Brave New Jersey,” a no-budget indie comedy with Kickstarter connections and Tony Hale as its star, just might be Barry’s finest hour.

Where else could he, as a 70something WWI vet facing down a town panicked over Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast, utter the immortal line “Don’t give me any of that half-assed half-assedness?”

Where but here will we hear him growl, “We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it!”


Barry, as the Lullaby, N.J. town curmudgeon and Hale (“Veep”), as its loopy, put-upon mayor, class up a somewhat lifeless farce about “the Night that Panicked America,” when a vivid, credulous Orson Welles Mercury Theatre of the Air broadcast convinced America’s most gullible that Martians were attacking, and that they’d made their beachhead the wilds of rural New Jersey.


It’s a village that might have become famous as the home of the Rotolactor, a mass-milking machine that village swell Paul Davison (Sam Jaeger) plans to introduce on that fateful All Hallow’s Eve in 1938. But no.

His long-suffering wife (Heather Burns) is the object of the mayor’s lovesick blues, but she can’t notice him, so long as Paul is about to make them all rich.

Then there’s the plucky school teacher (Anna Camp) whose escape from her dull local intended (Matt Oberg) might be the fact that the world is coming to an end.

Or so they all think.

The kids (Grace Kaufman) are convinced. I mean, it’s ON the RADIO, it must be TRUE.

“Mom, how MUCH more do you need to hear? We’re under ATTACK!”

As do assorted locals. And who do they turn to in their desperate hour? The town crank, at 70something entirely too old to be playing a WWI doughboy vet (Those guys would have been about 40 in 1938).

The film’s anachronistic score and assorted chronological/logical errors like that one wouldn’t be an issue if every character was as funny as Old Man Ambrose Collins (Barry) or his profane takes on their situation.

“I’ve seen things that’d make you s— a GREEN carrot!”


The TV movie “The Night that Panicked America” was the definitive spin on this story, decades old and G-rated (none of the F-bombs this movie features). But there’s no sin in taking another shot at it. It’s just that this one has nothing much to offer, archetypal characters giving rote performances of a script that needed serious workshopping and edge-adding.

At least Barry, growling and dressed in a trench coat back when we knew what TRENCH coat meant, gives fair value. Hell, the man’s seen things that…well, you know.


MPAA Rating: unrated, with profanity

Cast:Tony Hale, Anna Camp, Heather Burns, Raymond J. Barry,  Sam Jaeger

Credits:Directed by Jody Lambert, script by  Michael DowlingJody Lambert. A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:30

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“Wonder Woman” passes “Guardians II” to become #1 movie of the summer

wonderIt took seven weeks to do it, but “Wonder Woman,” holding onto more audience and more screens for a longer period of time, finally passed “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” to become the biggest hit of the summer cinema season.

With “Spider-Man” fading and “Apes” falling off dramatically, that’s going to hold true for the entire summer, all the way through Labor Day.

It happened Sunday night, with “Woman” edging over $389 million, and “Guardians,” losing screens after a long and lucrative run, topping out at $387. It won’t reach $400 million domestically, but “Woman” has a slim chance, slimmer thanks to “Atomic Blonde” coming in and taking screens and femme-powered BO punch away this coming Friday.

The actuals on “Dunkirk” were $50.5, “Girls Trip” just over $31, neither of them franchise pictures. And that will hold true next weekend and for the rest of the summer, barring some unforeseen blip in the already-released pictures staging a comeback.

“Big Sick” is hanging in the top ten, “47 Meters Down” will end up with almost $50 million in the bank — not bad for a straight-to-video loosed on theaters thanks to Mandy Moore and sharks.

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Movie Review: Solid cast can’t rescue “Shot Caller” from prison pic formula


There are basically two types of “ex-con” pictures. You have the ex-con who wants to go straight, but “the life” pulls the convict back into old alliances, old habits and murderous practices (“Straight Time”). Or we’re shown a released-inmate dive back into that life with relish (The Get Away”).

“Shot Caller” is an overlong brutally clumsy attempt to have it both ways.

It’s yet another “Game of Thrones” star quickie, a place for Nikolaj Coster-Waldau to go shirtless between seasons of Blood, Sex, and Medieval Supernaturalism.

He plays a businessman whose DUI puts him in prison, into prison gangs and in a murderous place where he’ll be “validated” and “lose his cherry” as he fights to save his skin.

In writer-director Ric Roman Waugh‘s lumbering narrative, we meet Harlan, covered in tattoos, prison mustache, prison mullet and prison nickname (Money) writing a “farewell” letter to his son. But he isn’t about to die. Murky circumstances lead to his release, after ten years.

shot2The gang leader of the prison (Holt McCallany, monstrous) has something to do with Money’s early release. He’s the real “shot caller” behind those walls, with Jeffrey Donovan (“Burn Notice”) and Evan Jones (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) as lieutenants.

Money’s parole puts him back in the company of Shotgun (Jon Bernthal at his most menacing). Money is back in the game, in the middle of a big arms smuggling deal involving weapons from Afghanistan bound for Latin American drug gangs.

We also follow Money’s parole officer (Omari Hardwick) as he and other cops (Benjamin Bratt) try to zero in on this gun deal.

And then there’s the family that Money long ago left behind, though how one turns one’s back, even in prison, on Lake Bell is a mystery.

Treachery, double-crosses, drive-by shootings and brutal, bloody flashbacks to the escalating in-prison crimes that put Money in this position drag the movie’s stumbling march toward an obvious conclusion out to two hours.

I’ve summarized and summarized, boiling this down to a digestible/understandable thru-line, I hope. Writer-director Waugh does us no such favors. For such a myopic picture, “Shot Caller” is all over the place, with too many unnecessary scenes, digressions and momentum-killing flashbacks. He stages a prison riot that would have been more at home in an ex-con comedy.

There are some interesting players involved here, TV actors mostly — not a big screen headliner in the bunch. But none of them, including the brooding star, get to play anything that draws us into the story or make us connect with any character.

Unless, of course, all it takes for you to develop empathy is a ripped Dane with his shirt off.

Among the players, Bernthal shows us commitment and his usual supporting ferocity (check him out in “Baby Driver”), Bell, McCallany and Bratt don’t embarrass themselves and Hardwick’s part is both poorly written and unconvincingly played.

Coster-Waldau? He broods, and when the scene calls for violence, he brings it — sort of. His first prison fight is laughable in the blows landed and the outcome, but the other bits of savagery feel uninhibited and “Who IS this guy?” scary.

It’s the overall performance, party scene to bar scene to wife scene to teen son scene to make-a-gun-deal scene, that lacks a firm commitment and point of view. It’s as if he and the director are holding back, expecting to reveal a little more in “next week’s exciting episode” of his sword-and-sorcery TV soap. Only there isn’t one.



MPAA Rating:R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some drug use and brief nudity

Cast: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lake Bell, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Donovan, Benjamin Bratt

Credits:Written and directed by Ric Roman Waugh . A Saban Films/Lionsgate release.

Running time: 2:01


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Movie Review — “Turn it Around! The Story of East Bay Punk”



“If it’s too loud,” the ancient wisecrack about youth music goes, “you’re too old.”

The documentary film version of that saying might be, “If it’s too long, it’d damn-well better be about the Holocaust.”

“Turn it Around! The Story of East Bay Punk,” befitting its subject matter, breaks that film rule and gives us two and a half THOROUGH hours of the music scene where punk arrived in the late 1970s — and never really left.

As musical tastes waxed and waned, punk turned to hard core/thrash, seemed to die, then burst into radio-and-MTV-friendly punk pop with Green Day, the most famous band to emerge from San Francisco’s East Bay scene.

So there’s this long, talk-to-EVERYbody oral and cartoon-illustrated history of Hippytown Punk because, uh, Green Day is getting nostalgic in their proto-punk dotage? They’re the climax, the end-destination of the picture and they have producing credits (They got it made).

But this is much more than just an East Bay to Broadway (“American Idiot”) tale. Director Corbett Redford — a longtime member of that scene, so don’t take his name at face value — tracked down generations of Bay Area punks and tells as complete a story of the music, ethos, lifestyle and politics of this movement as anyone could want.

Musicians from Jello Biafra to Davey Havok,  Kevin Seconds and Mike Dirnt, scene participants with equally self-chosen monikers like Marshall Stax, Steve List (he compiled weekly lists of every underground punk performance, its venue, etc., and handed out The List every weekend at various shows) tell the story.

Those deep into the music, then or now, should be enthralled. And speaking as an outsider — I’ve ducked my head into many a thrash bar, and ducked back out again before tinnitus set in — it’s a fascinating history.

See the earliest stirrings of the West Coast music inspired by The Ramones, chart it through its many incarnations — Riots Girls, Thrash/Hard Core, Grunge.

Iggy Pop narrates the picture, a Detroit punk who never aged out of the ethos and is the perfect sardonic observer to the locale that produced Dead Kennedys, Rancid, Avengers, 7 Seconds and hundreds of other bands.

Punk — Iggy narrates — “is a conversation with society. Often, it’s an argument.”

So it was never just “about the music, man.” It’s spiked hair and piercings, more tattoos than any living body can use, brutally violent mosh pits, confronting Nazi skinheads when they seek to take over the clubs and seize the “scene.”

Writer/actress/filmmaker Miranda July staged her first punk play at the Gilman St. club which was the nexis of everything punk in East Bay.

And of interviews connect East Bay to the punk-turned-to-grunge music scene in Seattle and Olympia, Washington, cross-pollinating.

And yes, Green Day arrives, punk’s Apotheosis. The documentary makes it a side-mission to dismiss the cries of “sell-out” that the faithful have long slapped on the trio who had the ambition, talent and discipline to make the music popular to the masses.


Interest, for me, faded in and out, owing to the excessive length and repetition of “Turn it Around!” I enjoyed the animation — designed to look like the work from self-published/hand-penned and hand-drawn music ‘zines of the pre-Internet era.

But as valuable as it can be to call oneself an insider when plunging into a subject, maybe an outsider should have edited this. For all the old home movies of Green Day and those who preceded them, all the glorious black and white club photos of scene-photographer Murray Bowles dedicated to “showing people having a good time,” all the eyewitness accounts and opinions, “Turn it Around!” turns out to be too much of a good thing.

Trimming, polishing and shaping something into a tight, best-quotes-only/best-footage-only doc isn’t the antithesis of punk. Remember, the songs were long considered too long if they lasted more than two minutes.


MPAA Rating: Unrated, with profanity, photos of nudity

Cast: Iggy Pop, Billie Joe Armstrong, Miranda July,  Jello Biafra, Kirk HammettTre Cool, Murray Bowles, Marshall Stax, Anna Joy Springer, Kathleen Hanna, Mike Dirnt, Michelle Gonzalez

Credits: Directed by Corbett Redford, script by Anthony Marchitiello and Corbett Redford

An Abramorama release.

Running time: 2:37



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John Heard, Dad in “Home Alone,” 1945-2017


John Heard had a long, broad career in movies and on TV. He will be remembered, by most, as the flustered dad in “Home Alone,” the one who — along with Mom (Catherine O’Hara) — forgets Macaulay Culkin and leaves him to deal with burglars Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern alone.

He was what we used to call “a durable” character actor. He wasn’t often given the chance to show off a lot of range, but delivered villainy, arrogance, adult concern or guilt-ridden with skill.

He had his shot at leading man stardom — “Cutter’s Way” (1981)) was something of a cult phenomenon, its praises sung by Siskel & Ebert — to no avail.

I think his best film was one of his subtlest supporting roles, as the son trying to chase down his wandering mother (Oscar winner Geraldine Page) who has traipsed off to find the family’s ancestral home — “The Trip to Bountiful.” He was great in supporting parts in many films, “Sweet Land,” “The Guardians,” comedies like “My Fellow Americans.” Played a lot of straight arrows and sneaky heavies. “The Sopranos,” “Chumscrubber,” “Pollock,” “In the Line of Fire.” His sweet spot, it seemed to be, was as a sort of quietly put-upon Everyman — Jason Bateman without the snark.


He was found dead in a hotel this weekend, a week after back surgery. He was just 72.

Daniel Stern recalled his former “Home Alone” co-star, and roomie (they shared a place with Bruce “D-Day” McGill in New York in the mid-70s) in a piece linked by

He has lots of films in the can, but the last thing I saw him in he wasn’t even credited with. Lucas Oil produced the anti-environmental screed “Pray for Rain,” which co-starred Jane Seymour. Terrible movie, Heard is seen in a video will he’s left for his daughter (Annabelle Stephenson). Perhaps he wanted his named removed. I wouldn’t blame him.

He probably wouldn’t want to be remembered for “Sharknado,” either.

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Box Office: “Dunkirk” soars, “Girls Trip” “get turnt,” “Valerian” bombs and “Apes” go extinct


“Dunkirk” had a good Thursday night and a very good Friday at the box office, and projections now put it at $51 million+ on its opening weekend.

Christopher Nolan, name brand director, delivers. Reviews have been great, if word of mouth is as strong, expect this to carry over Saturday and Sunday — $57 -60 is now the high end of expectations.

Not bad for a $150 million war movie with little dialogue, barely a single female face in it, no true “box office” stars (Tom Hardy’s quote, however, is spiking as I type) and historical subject matter.

Will Nolan ever do another comic book movie? Not if he doesn’t want to.

Luc Besson talked a lot of folks out of a LOT of money for the potential Euro-blockbuster “Valerian.” It’s dazzling, and dumb. Spend a dime on a rewrite, Frenchy. And spend SOME of your money on actors. “Valerian” cost $200 million, and it’s on a pace to pull in just over $16 million on its opening weekend in the US. Whatever it earns, it’ll have to be in Europe and Asia. It won’t reach $35, all-in, in the US.

girls2“Girls Trip” is the other dazzling opening this weekend, a cheap New Orleans sex, sin and Stoli romp that is headed for $30 million, or damn near close to it. Name actresses, but not a box office draw among them.  BIG laughs and very good reviews  are giving this African American bacchanal cross-over appeal. Some of the dirtiest laughs you’re going to have in a theater are up front and in your face in the movie Amy Schumer would have KILLED to be in.

MEANWHILE — “Spider-Man: Homecoming” re-asserted its dominance over simians during the past week, and that is holding true this weekend. The web slinger is dropping another 50-60% of its last weekend audience, to about $20-21 — but “War for the Planet of the Apes” is in a death spiral, with audiences rejecting the glum, over-praised and downbeat finale in that series. An $18 million weekend means a 68% drop from its opening weekend.

That’s called a “Tyler Perry Plunge,” in box office terms — a second weekend where word of mouth and competition wipes out whatever mark the movie made on its opening.

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The vessel and skipper that inspired the Moonstone and Mark Rylance’s character in “Dunkirk”?

rylance.jpgAs part of “Take Dad to ‘Dunkirk’ This Weekend,” I took my father and caught the film a second time — I rarely do that, but period pieces/WWII movies and films about boats are kind of my thing(s).

BB-Day29-0076.dngOne element I fixated on, second time around, was how Nolan didn’t alter the design of the boats to suit filming purposes. Thus, a shroud (cable) holding up a mast on “Moonstone” gets in Oscar-winner Mark Rylance’s face for a few shots.

Another was the inspiration for this fictional part of the story. Moonstone’s story appears to be close to that of Sundowner, owned by Charles Lightoller, a former “Titanic” officer, sailed by that owner, his son and a friend of his son to the beach. Their story is altered for the movie in a very touching way.

sundownerHere’s Sundowner. Ran across that on Wikipedia.

In terms of historical accuracy, there is no actual casualty count from the evacuation. But thousands died. That is lost in much of the “Miracle of Dunkirk” historical spin associated with the withdrawal. Over 200 British and Allied ships and boats were sunk during the battle, a staggering number. We’d remember D-Day for much darker reasons had the Allies suffered similar losses in attempting to storm back into France four years later.

Among them — HMS Wakeful, a destroyer whose motto was “Si dormiam capiar,” “If I sleep, they will catch me.” Wakeful went down with 640 evacuated soldiers on board. One survived.

I was also struck, on second viewing, by the groaning, rattling nature of the Spitfire Tom Hardy’s pilot flies. Lovely sound detail, which anyone who has ever owned a vintage British roadster will recognize as British engineering. Nimble, quick, graceful — not built for comfort or quiet. Ahem.


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Box Office: “Dunkirk” and “Girls Trip” set to run off with the weekend

dunk8Christopher Nolan is taking a chance — with Warner Brothers’ money — that audiences in the US and abroad will forsake slick summer sci-fi and Spandex (comic book) pictures and show up for a little history.

That risk has been obvious ever since the movie was announced as a summer release. “Dunkirk”, with its limited-appeal all-male/all British cast, WWII subject and British history plot, always felt like a between-seasons prestige picture. Nolan could bring all his skills and technological access to a gripping real-world story, maybe nab an Oscar or three for his troubles.

But in a desultory summer of sequels and one-weekend-only film phenomena, “Dunkirk” has a chance to upset the summer applecart, win a weekend, knock the wind out of over-praised piffle like “Spider-Man” and “Caesar Scowls One More Time” (“War for the Planet of the Apes”). Reviews and Nolan fans (nominally a sci-fi and comic book film crowd) should lift it.

It earned $5.5 million in late Thursday previews, which is more than “War for the Planet of the Apes” managed. Big, very big. Not huge.

“Valerian,” a gorgeous but generally empty-headed Euro-blockbuster from Luc Besson, will suck some of the oxygen away from the fading “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” and “Apes.” Not much, but enough. It could hit $20, based on Thursday night’s $1.7 million.

Box Office Mojo says “Dunkirk” is on track to clear the $50 million dollar mark on its opening. That’s spectacular for a film that doesn’t feature a proven effects-driven comic-book hero in its title.

Box Office Guru is predicting a more-in-line with diminished expectations $38 million.  It still will win the weekend, as “Spider-Man” fell off a cliff last weekend and “Apes” look to plummet to Earth even quicker.

Both box office sites are figuring “Valerian” will not clear $20 million — $16-17. The comic book it is based on is French, and the movie — middling reviews in the US, better ones abroad — is something only a Jerry Lewis on medication could truly embrace.

That will drag “Apes” down to the low $20s, and could even send “Spider-Man XXXV” to $20 or lower. Neither of those looks to have the legs of “Wonder Woman,” legs in a box office sense.

If “Dunkirk” out-performs expectations, studio green-lighters could be given pause over their mania for “Let’s just do what’s branded and has worked before — another SPIDER-Man/BATman/SUPERman/AQUAman/Wonder WOMAN movie — and play it safe.”

“Girls Trip” looks to break a dreadful summer streak of dog comedies — bad movies that underperform with audiences. It’s an African American Lady “Hangover,” to use high concept coinage. Reviews have been terrific. It’s a slack, somewhat scruffy but UPROARIOUS farce that takes four 40something college pals back to their hedonistic past on a trip to New Orleans, which has rarely looked livelier or lovelier on film.

The Big Easy is back, and Latifah/Jada/Regina and break-out star Tiffany Haddish are about to “get turnt,” which I have no business using in a sentence, but there you. HUGE dirty laughs in this one. Upbeat reviews will help. Our prognosticators figure it should flirt with $25-30 million, but could catch fire and clear that.

So the marching orders — take dad or granddad or the history-averse teens to “Dunkirk.” Get a sitter and order drinks and catch “Girls Trip.”

And we’ll see how the chips land.

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Movie Review: Plummer lends his twinkle to Kaiser Bill in “The Exception”


The long career of Christopher Plummer only truly turned “glorious” decades after his most famous turn — as the dapper, testy and sexy Captain Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music,” a movie he has long playfully dismissed as “S & M.”

He’s twinkled in his old age, turning on the charm as Tolstoy (“The Last Station”), Doctor Parnassus and  John Barrymore and won an Oscar as an old man who comes out as gay in his dotage in “Beginners.”

But it takes every bit of sparkle, every inch of his still ramrod-straight posture, every syllable delivered in his plush, plummy voice to render one of history’s great villains “cute” in “The Exception.”

Plummer plays Kaiser Wilhelm II, the headstrong poseur whose bantam rooster belligerence had a large hand in causing World War I, in this film set in the last year of the now-abdicated Kaiser’s life.

It’s a World War II thriller so out of date the only words to describe it are also obsolete — Potboiler and Cornball.

But the casting has a few delights, and the action beats — easily guessed so VERY far in advance of their revelation — go down easily, if with a requisite eye-roll.

A German officer (Jai Courtney of “Terminator Genesis” and “Divergent”) has survived wounds in the invasion of Poland and has a new mission. Capt. Brandt is put in charge of the one-time emperor’s bodyguard, in Holland. That’s where the Kaiser fled after abdicating and Capt. Brandt’s first realization that Hitler’s invasion of France and the Low Countries has begun is this new assignment.

“If anything happens to him, Captain, you will be shot. And I will do it!”

There is one paramount rule he’s given when he shows up at the estate where Wilhelm Hohenzollern now lives. “The female staff are not to be interfered with.”

So that’s the first thing he does. Screenwriter Simon Burke (working from an Alan Judd novel) and director David Leveaux deserve a few drinks tossed in their faces over the film’s initial “love” scene. It’s a laughably arch parody of brutally efficient German lovemaking.

“Take your clothes off!” Brandt says to the fetching Dutch beauty (Lily James), a maid, who breathes DEEP, bosum-filling breaths. And complies.

The old man of the house, poring over military maps with his aide as if he was still in charge, is charmed by the new Dutch maid, too.

“Tell me, my child, would YOU have invaded Holland?”

Yes, Your Highness.

“And what is your MILITARY objective?”

“It’s, uh, VERY nice!”

But Mieke the maid has a secret, and Hitler’s government has a scheme. And this Dutch House of Hohenzollern, ruled by an empress (Janet McTeer) desperate to return to Royal Court life, is willing to ignore the already-known crimes of the thugs in charge, if it will get them back to Berlin.

Plummer is delicious as the aged popinjay, a man most offended by the poor etiquette and table manners of Hitler’s gang. He must swallow all of his imperious bile when Hitler’s “pig farmer” SS chief shows up for an official visit.

The great English character actor Eddie Marsan takes on the dull, doughy, heartless corruption of Heinrich Himmler and becomes, in just a trio of scenes, a screen exemplar of Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil.”

except2.jpgJames is fetching and pouty, but can’t suggest the inner turmoil that puts Mieke into this house and into compromising positions, with big plot points given away in the trailer, film’s posters and easily guessed by any viewer five minutes after we’ve met her.

Courtney, similarly gives us nothing of the lovesick mental/moral struggle that Brandt is presented with, an allegedly civilized and ethical man wearing the uniform of monsters.

Speaking of “compromising positions,” that’s the one “exception” to how dated “The Exception” plays — its sex scenes. But even though they’re understated, they leave less to the imagination than this prim, miscalculated production intended.



MPAA Rating:R for sexuality, graphic nudity, language and brief violence

Cast: Jai Courtney, Lily James, Christopher Plummer, Janet McTeer, Eddie Marsan

Credits: Directed by David Leveaux , script by Simon Burke, based on the novel “The Kaiser’s Last Kiss,” by Alan Judd. An A24 release.

Running time 1:47

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