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Update August 2017

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Update August 26, 2017

Film Review: In ‘The Dark Tower,’ franchise visions fall flat

This image shows Idris Elba in the Columbia Pictures film, “The Dark Tower.” (Ilze Kitshoff/Columbia Pictures/Sony via AP)

Jake Coyle

Los Angeles (AP) - Ah, August.  It’s that time of year when you can head to your local multiplex to see Matthew McConaughey as an interplanetary David Copperfield who’s trying to use his “magics” to destroy a looming tower that protects the universe from ready-to-invade hordes of demons that linger just outside the universe.  So, I guess, pretty far out there in space.

To be fair, this August boasts some of the more intriguing films of the summer, like Steven Soderbergh’s triumphant return (“Logan Lucky”) and Kathryn Bigelow’s furious race-riots docudrama (“Detroit”).  “The Dark Tower,’ though, is the more traditional late-summer offering: a long-in-development, not-ready-for-prime-time studio dump.

A litany of directors, including J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard, has tried to crack Stephen King’s magnum opus, a series of seven novels he wrote over more than two decades.  But after much shuffling, “The Dark Tower” has finally arrived via director Nikolaj Arcel, who penned the 2009 Swedish adaptation of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and helmed the 18th century Danish period drama “A Royal Affair.”

The special effects-heavy fantasy is a leap in production size that outstrips Arcel.  The film, at a lean 95 minutes, has the unmistakable air of a mitigated disaster.  Its scope and running time have seemingly been reined in to keep “The Dark Tower” from completely toppling.  What’s left is an elaborate and grand scheme told briskly but emptily — like if someone tried to explain the HBO series “Westworld” in 30 seconds or less.

“Westworld” surely took some of its inspiration from “The Dark Tower,” a soupy mix of sci-fi, horror, Western and Arthurian legend.  The elaborate concoction of genres — it’s King to the max — would likely humble most any filmmaker.  We have, as a civilization, found a way to marry Taco Bells with Pizza Huts, but the combo of wizards and cowboys remains a vexing one.

After a brief hint of what’s to come, the movie opens in modern New York City with a young teenager: Jake Chambers (newcomer Tom Taylor).  His dreams are plagued by visions of an alternate world, Mid-World, where he sees a gunslinger named Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) battling the Man in Black (McConaughey), who’s hell-bent, for reasons unknown, on ending the universe.

Jake furiously sketches his visions, prompting his sensitive but uncertain mother (Abby Lee, the best and most natural thing in this mess) and comic-book-cruel stepfather to agree to send him to a psychiatric retreat upstate.  But when two arrive to retrieve him, Jake observes a feature in their faces from his dreams: the stitches of false skin.  He flees and improvises his way to a building from his visions that turns out to be a portal to Mid-World. “This is good,” he says.  “It’s all real.”  He tosses in a shoe as a test and soon thereafter plummets in.

There he quickly runs into Roland, the stone-faced, duster-wearing gunslinger with a six-shooter in a land with minimal guns or bullets.  The name comes from King’s inspiration, the Robert Browning poem “Child Rolande to the Dark Tower Came,” and King’s Roland has a grim quest of his own: to avenge the Man in Black for murdering his father.  Jake, we learn, will play a pivotal role in the battle that will decide the fate of both worlds — Mid-World and, as Roland calls it, Keystone Earth.  His “shine,” we are often told, is strong and pure.

Elba is, as usual, a powerful force on the screen who deserves better.  McConaughey’s character, though, is more outlandish.  Thanks to his team of henchmen, the Man in Black zips between worlds like no one else.  His dark powers are such that he can catch bullets between his fingers and, to nearly all but Roland, give flip commands like “Stop breathing” and the victim will promptly keel over.  If only he could stride past the movie, itself, and order “Better.”

But “The Dark Tower” is never quite a punchline.  Such actors as Elba and McConaughey are too good, the youngster Taylor acquits himself well and the tale is on fairly stable ground while on Keystone Earth.  Mid-World and its necessary special effects, however, not so much.

Reaching half-heartedly for the epic only makes “The Dark Tower” appear all the smaller, especially as it jumps back and forth between alternate worlds.  You begin to hope that midway to Mid-World, McConaughey and Elba will just call time out and start acting out a new season of “True Detective” together.

“Dark Tower,” a Columbia Pictures, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action.”  Running time: 111 minutes.  Two stars out of four.

Cruise ankle break halts ‘Mission: Impossible 6’ production

Mission: Impossible star Tom Cruise. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Los Angeles (AP) - Production has shut down on “Mission: Impossible 6” due to star Tom Cruise’s broken ankle.  Paramount Pictures said that production will go on hiatus while Cruise makes a full recovery.

Cruise broke his ankle while performing a stunt for the film during its London-based shoot.

TMZ posted a video that showed a tethered Cruise leaping to a building, hitting its side and then crawling over the top and running away.  After he finished the take, Cruise is seen limping, though he was able to rappel back to the building he jumped from.

The 55-year-old actor is known for performing many of his own stunts.

The studio says that the film remains on schedule to open on July 27, 2018.

Update August 19, 2017

Film Review: ‘T2 Trainspotting’ a nostalgic trip toward adulthood

This image shows Ewan McGregor (left) and Ewen Bremner in a scene from “T2: Trainspotting.” (Graeme Hunter/Sony - TriStar Pictures via AP)

Sandy Cohen

Los Angeles (AP) - Nostalgia can be tricky, casting a rose-colored glow on memories that may not deserve it.  Do we look back fondly on our youth because it was so magical, or simply because it was our youth, with so many mistakes yet to be made?

That question is central in “T2 Trainspotting,” which is all about the hazy warmth of nostalgia, both for its characters and its audience.

Twenty-one years after “Trainspotting” shocked moviegoers with depictions of drug use and directionless Gen-Xers, “T2” reunites the original writer, director and cast for another timely look at modern life.  These characters that wiled away their 20s with heroin and petty crime in a cult film that captured the frustrated voice of a generation are now middle-aged, with all the perspective and regret the passage of time can bring.

Of course, director Danny Boyle, screenwriter John Hodge and stars Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremner and Robert Carlyle have experienced that same passage of time, making “T2” even more poignant than an ordinary movie about male friendships.  Here, the fictional characters and real filmmakers are facing the same challenges of aging and adulthood; of returning to a formative place after two decades and reflecting on what’s happened since.

Mark Renton (McGregor), who kicked drugs and ripped off his friends in the original “Trainspotting,” comes back to Edinburgh as his life is falling apart.  He pursued exactly the kind of mainstream lifestyle he railed against in the film’s famous “choose life” monologue.  Despite having a wife, a house, a corporate job and a gym membership, Renton is miserable.

He finds Sick Boy (Miller), now known as Simon, still living on the fringe.  Rocking the same bleached-blond hair he did in his 20s, Simon supports his cocaine habit by secretly filming and blackmailing men who sleep with his prostitute girlfriend.

Spud (Bremner) is still struggling with heroin addiction, and has seen his personal relationships crumble. Begbie (Carlyle) is still in jail.

All hold varying grudges against Renton, who has come to make amends.

There’s a maturity and a seriousness to “T2” that was absent from the original.  If “Trainspotting” was an irreverent kid who considered heroin a playful pastime and thievery an essential life component, “T2” is its wizened older brother who understands consequences. (Note to viewers: While “T2” offers enough explication to stand alone, those who’ve seen the original will get more from the sequel.)

There’s still a lot of fun to be had in “T2.”  Boyle plays with some of the cinematic tricks that were so eye-popping in the original, though they look less groundbreaking here.  There’s also a thrilling heist, a punchy soundtrack and an excellent update of Renton’s “choose life” speech.

And Spud emerges as the heart of the story.

Rather than romanticizing their drug-fueled youth, “T2” is about accepting that reality and finding value in it.  These guys aren’t thumbing their nose at society like they did 20 years ago.  They recognize they’re part of society, whether they like it or not, and their lives — no matter how messed up — are theirs to live.

It’s a story of redemption, as each of the characters make peace with their pasts.  For these four guys, what matters at midlife isn’t rebellion, but friendship, family and seeing things as they are.

“T2 Trainspotting,” a Sony Pictures release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “drug use, language throughout, strong sexual content, graphic nudity and some violence.” Running time: 118 minutes.  Three stars out of four.

Glen Campbell said goodbye to his life, career through music

Musician Glen Campbell is shown in this July 27, 2011 file photo. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

Sandy Cohen

Los Angeles (AP) — Glen Campbell was a rare entertainer who got to say goodbye to his life and career in every way he knew how.

Before his mind evaporated into Alzheimer’s disease, Campbell was able to go out on one last big tour, star in a documentary and record an album of his favorite songs, fittingly called “Adios.”  Three of his children sing on the album, which was released earlier this summer.

The country superstar died last week in Nashville, Tennessee.  He was 81.

A guitarist since age 4, Campbell’s musical talent, boyish looks and friendly charm brought him decades of success.  He won five Grammys, sold more than 45 million records, had 12 gold albums and 75 chart hits, including No. 1 songs with “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights.”

His performance of the title song from the 1969 film “True Grit,” in which he played a Texas Ranger alongside Oscar winner John Wayne, received an Academy Award nomination.  Campbell was nominated again for an Oscar in 2015 for “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” a song from the documentary “Glen Campbell... I’ll Be Me.”

The 2014 film about Campbell’s farewell tour in 2011 and 2012 offers a poignant look at his decline from Alzheimer’s while showcasing his virtuoso guitar chops that somehow continued to shine as his mind unraveled.

His wife, Kim Campbell, announced earlier this year that her husband could no longer play guitar.

Campbell’s musical career dated back to the early years of rock ‘n roll.  He toured with the Champs of “Tequila” fame.  He was part of the house band for the ABC TV show “Shindig!” and a member of Phil Spector’s “Wrecking Crew” studio band that played on hits by the Ronettes, the Righteous Brothers and the Crystals.  Campbell also played guitar on Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers In the Night,” The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” and Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas.”

“We’d get the rock ‘n’ roll guys and play all that, then we’d get Sinatra and Dean Martin,” Campbell told The Associated Press in 2011.  “That was a kick.  I really enjoyed that.  I didn’t want to go nowhere.  I was making more money than I ever made just doing studio work.”

One of 12 children, Campbell left his native Arkansas and a life of farm work as a teenager in pursuit of music.  He moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico to join his uncle’s band and appear on his uncle’s radio show.  By his early 20s, Campbell had formed his own group, the Western Wranglers, and moved to Los Angeles.  He opened for The Doors and sang and played bass with The Beach Boys as a replacement for Brian Wilson, who in the mid-’60s had retired from touring to concentrate on studio work.  In 1966, Campbell played on The Beach Boys’ classic “Pet Sounds” album.

“I didn’t go to Nashville because Nashville at that time seemed one-dimensional to me,” he told the AP.  “I’m a jazzer.  I just love to get the guitar and play the hell out of it if I can.”

By the late ’60s, he was a performer on his own, and an appearance on Joey Bishop’s show led to his TV breakthrough.  Tommy Smothers of the Smothers Brothers saw the program and asked Campbell if he’d like to host a summertime series, “The Summer Brothers Smothers Show.”

“The whole lid just blew off,” Campbell told the AP.  “I had never had anything like that happen to me.  I got more phone calls.  It was awesome.  For the first couple of days I was like how do they know me?  I didn’t realize the power of television.”

His guests included country acts, but also The Monkees, Lucille Ball, Cream, Neil Diamond and Ella Fitzgerald.

Like his crossover contemporaries Johnny Cash, Roy Clark and Kenny Rogers, Campbell also enjoyed success on TV.  He had a weekly audience of some 50 million people for the “Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour” on CBS.

He released more than 70 of his own albums, and in the 1990s recorded a series of gospel CDs.  A 2011 album, “Ghost On the Canvas,” included contributions from Jacob Dylan, Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick and Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins. “Adios” features collaborations with Willie Nelson and Vince Gill.

Besides wife Kim and daughter Ashley, Campbell is survived by children Cal, Shannon, Debby, Kelli, Travis, Kane and Dillon, and 10 grandchildren.

Ou-yang Nana swings from Jackie Chan role to Disney album

Taiwanese actress/musician Ou-yang Nana.
(AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)

Angela Chen

Taipei, Taiwan (AP) - Ou-yang Nana may be the new ‘it girl,’ with a starring role in the next Jackie Chan movie, but she’s returning to her roots and first love: cello.

The 17-year-old actress just released her second cello album, “Cello Loves Disney,” where she plays all the classic hits from her favorite fairy tales.  Ou-yang said that it was a dream come true to record the songs she loves and knows by heart, including “Tale as Old as Time” from “Beauty and the Beast.”

“Never did I imagine that when I’m 17, I could play it and release the album.  When I was little, I’d sit on sofa and watch the movie.  I’d think, ‘Oh, Belle is so beautiful when she’s dancing with Beast.’

“This was also the first song that I recorded for the album.  There was a lot to adjust, to get used to, but I still need to sound sweet and full of love.”

Ou-yang was born into a family of entertainers.  Her aunt, Ou-yang Fei Fei, was a famous singer in Taiwan in the 1970s.  Both her parents acted in television in Taiwan.  Ou-yang Nana was trained to become a classic cellist, but dropped out of school to pursue acting full time.

Her role in the 2014 film “Beijing Love Story” jump-started her acting career.  At 15, she was a guest of Chanel at its Paris Fashion show, taking selfies with Karl Lagerfeld backstage.  She just released ‘Secret Fruit,’ a coming-of-age love story, in China.

Next, Ou-yang will be playing Jackie Chan’s daughter in his new action sci-fi film “Bleeding Steel,” scheduled for release in December.  She said the action star has shared with her words of wisdom that she has taken to heart.

“You will never see (Jackie Chan) tired.  I’ve never heard him say he’s tired, or wants to sleep or take a break. ... When I see him like that, I feel so inadequate.  He also tells me that I should work harder when I’m young, so that I don’t have any regrets when I’m old.”

Ou-yang said she is not ruling out going back to school one day, but doesn’t wish to be a normal 17-year-old.

“I choose this life. I want to be an actress, I want to be a cellist,” she said. “So I have to learn to accept all the things like paparazzi, and the reporters ... or cyberbullies. These things I have to learn.”

Scientists name prehistoric croc after Lemmy from Motorhead

Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister is shown in this June 26, 2015 file photo.. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)

London (AP) — Scientists have named a prehistoric crocodile described as “one of the nastiest sea creatures to have ever inhabited the earth” after late Motorhead frontman and British heavy metal icon Lemmy Kilmister.

London’s Natural History Museum says the fossil of what’s now known as Lemmysuchus obtusidens was dug up in England in the early 20th century but was incorrectly categorized with other sea crocodiles found in the area.

Researchers recently took another look at the specimen and gave it a new classification and a scientific name of its own.

The fossil is housed at the museum. Curator Lorna Steel suggested it be named after Kilmister, who died in 2015. She said in a statement that “we’d like to think that he would have raised a glass to Lemmysuchus.”

Update August 12, 2017

Film Review: ‘Cars 3’ steers a welcome if imperfect gender shift

This image shows Lightning McQueen, voiced by Owen Wilson (right) and Cruz Ramirez, voiced by Cristela Alonzo in a scene from “Cars 3.” (Disney-Pixar via AP)

Jake Coyle

New York (AP) - Three films in, it’s time to ask some hard questions about the world of “Cars.”

What are their interiors like?  Brains and a heart or plush leather seating and cup holders?  Do they pay life or car insurance?  And where, good God, have all the people gone?  Are they, as I fear, hidden away in the trunks?

While the cycle of life and death is movingly detailed in most every Pixar movie, particularly in the “Toy Story” series, the aluminum-thin world of “Cars” has always been the exception.  The movies and their windshield-eyed cars have none of the existential soul of “Inside Out” or “Finding Nemo.”  They’re fun enough — and still dazzlingly animated — but they’re Pixar on cruise control.

Yet kids — boys especially — love them, and so Pixar keeps making them, even while reproduction, itself, remains a foggy issue in “Cars”-land.  Thankfully, after the wayward European trip of the scattershot “Cars 2,” there’s more under the hood of “Cars 3.”  But despite all the colorful shine, this is still the used-car lot of Pixar’s high-octane fleet.  Lacking the magic of Pixar’s more tender touchstones, “Cars 3” mostly makes you pine for the halcyon summers of “Ratatouille” or “WALL-E,” an era that unfortunately continues to recede in the rearview.

Previous “Cars” director and Pixar chief John Lasseter cedes the directing to veteran Pixar storyboard artist Brian Fee for “Cars 3,” which finds an aging Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) getting outraced by a new pack of metrics-optimized young racers like the arrogant Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer).  With retirement suddenly looming after a bad crash, McQueen endeavors to train his way back to the top, ala “Rocky III.”

This is, at first, a fairly unpleasant ride.  The movie is almost as loud as a NASCAR race; Wilson’s McQueen — a confident winner, not a humble underdog — remains the most uninteresting of Pixar protagonists; and the whole thing, like previous installments, is nauseatingly male, without a female racecar in sight. (The first “Cars” film, while full of charming Route 66 nostalgia, sunk low enough to have twin girl cars “flash” McQueen with their high-beams.)

But redemption is belatedly, imperfectly at hand. After McQueen’s old sponsor, Rust-eze is bought by a tasteful billionaire named Sterling (Nathan Fillion), he’s assigned a trainer, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), who works him out like a motivation-shouting spin-class instructor.

This, at first, begs an eye roll from wiper to wiper. Cruz is blandly yellow, over-eager and named like a celebrity baby.  But as “Cars 3” chugs along, her story fuses with McQueen’s and eventually speeds away.  Her latent, untapped racing dreams emerge just as McQueen is making peace with getting older.

Pixar, a high-tech digital animator predicated on old-school storytelling, has long made calibrating progress with tradition its grand mission.  Think of WALL-E and the newer, iPhone-like model, Eve; the threat of Buzz Lightyear to a rootin’-tootin’ cowboy; or the fear Riley experiences moving from rural Minnesota to San Francisco.

Now it’s Lightning McQueen’s turn to face a new chapter in life. “Cars 3” is at its best, narratively and visually, when the story brings McQueen to a long forgotten dirt track in what appears to be the Smokey Mountains.  There, he encounters a handful of old veteran racing legends (Chris Cooper, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Junior Johnson, Margo Martindale) who school McQueen not just on racing but on the joys of mentorship.  They are old friends of Doc Hudson (Paul Newman), whose posthumous Obi-wan-like presence still steers McQueen.

“Cars” (2006) was Newman’s last movie, and one of the best things about this sequel is hearing the actor’s majestically gravelly voice again.  His words from the original are called back numerous times, and they lend a gravity these movies otherwise lack.

Still, I’m not sold on Cruz’s story line, which ultimately depends less on her own drive than the permission of the males around her.  And even while rooting for her, I wished she was a more dynamic character, defined by more than her insecurity.

Yet the left-hand, gender-flipping turn that “Cars 3” takes is the most welcome and surprising twist yet in the “Cars” movies. Pixar, as ever, has some moves left and fuel in the tank.

“Cars 3,” a Walt Disney Co. release, is rated G by the Motion Picture Association of America. Running time: 109 minutes.  Two stars out of four.

Vanity Fair stands by Angelina Jolie cover story

Angelina Jolie. (AP Photo)

Los Angeles (AP) — Vanity Fair is standing by its description of the casting process used for Angelina Jolie’s forthcoming Netflix film, “First They Killed My Father.”

The magazine wrote in a statement that it has reviewed transcripts and audio recordings from interviews with Jolie that were used to produce its September cover story about the actress.

The article described a “game” used to find the child star of Jolie’s film about the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia.  It said casting directors presented money to impoverished children only to take it away from them as an acting exercise.

Jolie said last week that the suggestion that real money was taken from children during the auditions is “false and upsetting.”  She also said parents and guardians were present throughout the audition process.

“First They Killed My Father” is set to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.  Jolie co-wrote and directed the adaptation of Loung Ung’s 2000 memoir about growing up under the brutal reign of Pol Pot.

Robert Hardy, Cornelius Fudge in ‘Harry Potter’, dies at 91


Robert Hardy, star of All Creatures Great and Small and the Harry Potter films is shown in this Oct. 29, 2015 file photo. (Nick Ansell/PA File via AP)

Jill Lawless

London (AP) — Robert Hardy, a veteran British stage and screen actor who played Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge in the “Harry Potter” movies, died last week.  He was 91.

His family said Hardy died August 3 after “a tremendous life: a giant career in theater, television and film spanning more than 70 years.”

Born in 1925, Hardy served in the Royal Air Force during World War II and studied at Oxford University, where he became friends with another aspiring actor, Richard Burton.

He began his career after the war in Shakespearean roles onstage in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Between 1978 and 1990, Hardy played the eccentric veterinarian Siegfried Farnon in “All Creatures Great and Small,” a popular TV series based on James Herriot’s books about rural life in the Yorkshire Dales.

Hardy played British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in at least half a dozen films and TV series, including the miniseries “Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years” and “War and Remembrance.”  He also played U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Churchill’s wartime ally, in both British and French TV series.

In a statement, Hardy’s family said he was also “a meticulous linguist, a fine artist, a lover of music and a champion of literature, as well a highly respected historian, and a leading specialist on the longbow.”

They said he was part of the team that raised the Tudor warship the Mary Rose, which sank off England’s south coast in 1545.

“Gruff, elegant, twinkly and always dignified, he is celebrated by all who knew him and loved him, and everyone who enjoyed his work,” the family said.

Jenna Coleman: Casting a female ‘Doctor Who’ is ‘genius’

Actress Jenna Coleman. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)

Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP) — Jenna Coleman, a former “Doctor Who” companion, says casting a female as the lead of the long-running sci-fi series is “genius.”

“Oh, I love it,” the actress said during a recent Television Critics Association panel about her Masterpiece series, “Victoria.”

Last month, Jodie Whittaker was announced as the 13th official incarnation of the galaxy-hopping Time Lord who travels in a time machine shaped like an old-fashioned British police telephone booth.

Coleman added that she thinks Whittaker is “brilliant and lovely” and she “can’t wait to hear” Whittaker’s voice as the character.

“It’s very exciting times,” she said.

On the BBC’s “Doctor Who,” the main character can regenerate into new bodies, allowing for endless recasting possibilities.

Coleman played a “Doctor Who” companion from 2012 to 2015.

Update August 5, 2017

Film Review: In ‘Atomic Blonde,’ Theron heats up the Cold War


This image shows Charlize Theron in a scene from “Atomic Blonde.” (Jonathan Prime/Focus Features via AP)

Jake Coyle

Los Angeles (AP) - People don’t usually move very fast in Cold War thrillers.  Mostly, the only time anyone runs is right before they get shot in the back.  Most of the “action” happens in a film cabinet, down a back alley or with a silencer.  The classic Cold War tale — which is to say a John le Carre one — is characterized by a deathly stillness: grave faces meeting under gray clouds.

This is not quite so in “Atomic Blonde,” a post-war thriller set in the final moments of the Cold War (1989 Berlin) starring Charlize Theron as the MI6 spy Lorraine Broughton.  She’s not your traditional European operator.  Let’s just say that if Theron’s Broughton turned up in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” the old boys would’ve soiled their trench coats.

Broughton is black and blue at the opening of David Leitch’s “Atomic Blonde,” and the first thought is that Theron must be licking her wounds from playing Furiosa in “Mad Max: Fury Road.”  If that film didn’t prove that Theron is today’s most badass action star, “Atomic Blonde” — while not anywhere near the kinetic explosion of “Fury Road” — will certainly make it official.

The bruises turn out to be from the story she soon relates.  Broughton spends the movie in a testy interrogation with her MI6 boss (Toby Jones) and a CIA chief (John Goodman).  The mission she recounts is her dispatching to West Berlin to assist the station chief there, David Percival (a zany James McAvoy), in recovering a missing list with the names of every British asset — something the Russians are rather keen to obtain.

So far, that might sound somewhat le Carre-like.  But it’s not minutes after being picked up from the airport that Lorraine finds herself jabbing an assailant with her heel, pushing him out of a moving car, and forcing the driver into flipping the car over.

Leitch is a veteran stuntman who co-directed the action hit “John Wick,” in which Keanu Reeves wrecks endless vengeance on those who killed his dog.  The backdrop is more lavish in “Atomic Blonde,” but the hand-to-hand combat is no less primary.  Whereas another spy thriller might gradually go deeper into its complex networks of allegiances, “Atomic Blonde,” based on Antony Johnston’s graphic novel “The Coldest City,” stays on the surface, keeps the body count increasing and the ’80s score blaring.

And, man, does it blare.  The soundtrack, especially early in the film, is bludgeoningly prominent.  The combination of violence with ’80s pop hits is, to Leitch, an inexhaustible cleverness.  So if you want to see someone fatally beaten with a skateboard to the tune of Nena’s “99 Luftballons” or a stabbing set to ‘Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry,” you have finally found your film.

“Atomic Blonde” is largely a vacant, hyper-stylistic romp that trades on the thick Cold War atmosphere of far better films (not to mention “The Americans”).  It’s all dagger, no cloak.  But it has two things going for it.

One is Leitch’s facility with an action scene.  The film, technically speaking, gets off to a rough start when a body is sent flying by a ramming car in the kind of blatantly unrealistic CGI fling that ruins movies.  But he later goes for a much more bravura scene in a seemingly uncut sequence in which Broughton takes on a number of assailants on a stairwell in a fight that eventually spills out into the streets.

It’s easy to see that Leitch is aiming for a more acrobatic version of the famous corridor scene from Park Chan-wook’s “Oldboy.”  And there’s no doubt it will have some fans cheering for its audacious seamlessness.  But the virtuosity on display is spoiled by its own showoff-y self-awareness.  The sequence, a hermetic burst of filmmaking finesse, has nothing to do with the rest of film; it’s just a calling card for a filmmakers’ highlight reel.

But the other asset of “Atomic Blonde” is altogether more formidable.  Theron doesn’t so much as dominate “Atomic Blonde” as steadily subjugate every other soul in the film — and those in the audience — into her complete command.  Like her more timid le Carre forebearers, there’s no pleasure in her victories.  There’s only ruthless survival in a grim game.

She is most definitely atomic, but I’d try to do better than calling her a blonde.

“Atomic Blonde,” a Focus Features release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sequences of strong violence, language throughout and some sexuality/nudity.”  Running time: 114 minutes.  Two stars out of four.

Dead heavy metal icon Ronnie James Dio to tour as hologram

Ronnie James Dio. (AP Photo)

New York (AP) - Late heavy metal icon Ronnie James Dio is set to tour again in hologram form.

Rolling Stone reports the “Dio Returns” world tour kicks off in Helsinki on Nov. 30.  Dio’s widow, Wendy, says the hologram “gives the fans that saw Ronnie perform an opportunity to see him again and new fans that never got to see him a chance to see him for the first time.”

Dio died of stomach cancer in 2010 at the age of 67.

In addition to his self-titled band, Dio fronted Black Sabbath for a time.

Dio isn’t the first dead performer to return to the stage as a hologram.  Holograms of Michael Jackson, Tupac Shakur and Eazy-E have been showcased in recent years.

Last duet: Kenny, Dolly announce final performance together


Kenny Rogers (left) and Dolly Parton are shown in this combination photo. (Photos by Owen Sweeney/Invision/AP)

Kristin M. Hall

Nashville, Tenn. (AP) - Two of country music’s biggest stars, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, whose onstage chemistry spawned hit duets like “Islands in the Stream” and “Real Love,” will be making their final performance together this year.

Rogers, who is retiring from touring, says his final performance with Parton will be part of an all-star farewell show to be held at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on Oct. 25.  The two have been performing together for more than 30 years since “Islands in the Stream,” written by the Bee Gees, became a pop crossover platinum hit in 1983.

Other performers for the farewell show are Little Big Town, Flaming Lips, Idina Menzel, Elle King, Jamey Johnson and Alison Krauss, with more names to be announced.

Rogers, 78, said it’s been more than a decade since he performed with Parton for a CMT special.

“I think we owe it to her to let her go on with her career, but we owe it to me to do it one more time, and we’re going to do that,” Rogers said after the press conference.

In his 60-year career, Rogers has had several successful duet partners, including Dottie West, Kim Carnes, Sheena Easton and Linda Davis, but Parton’s star power made their collaborations a tour de force.

“We can go three years without talking to each other and when we get together, it’s like we were together yesterday,” Rogers said.  “We both feel that comfort.”

“Performing with Kenny for the last time ever on October 25 is going to be emotional for both of us, but it’s also going to be very special,” Parton said in a statement.  “Even though Kenny may be retiring, as he fades from the stage, our love for each other will never fade away.”

The actor, singer and photographer with hits like “The Gambler,” ‘’Lady” and “Lucille,” announced in 2015 he would do a final farewell tour before retiring to spend more time with his family.

Rogers said he and Parton would definitely sing “Islands in the Stream,” but beyond that, he wasn’t sure yet.

“Whether we do something else, I don’t know,” Rogers said.  “That would require a rehearsal and I don’t know that Dolly or I, either one, are up for that.”



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