Sunday, August 20, 2017

A respectful reaction to Richard Brody's paragraph about Atomic Blonde

I've been lazy and shiftless this summer, disappointed in Baby Driver, respectfully confused by Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, and quick to loathe Ghost in the Shell with its numb robotic rigidity, but I was very impressed with Atomic Blonde, so I thought I'd supply some respectful annotations to Richard Brody's paragraph [in italics below] about the movie in The New Yorker:

"This standard-issue spy-by-the-pound yarn [Ha!]--set during the last days of the Berlin Wall [I happened to propose to my wife when the Berlin Wall fell, which struck me as good symbolism at the time. We're still married, and Atomic Blonde cleverly mines the historical moment for good mob scenes and dramatic juxtapositions of espionage skullduggery with joyful city-wide celebrations]--is both enlivened and deadened by its unusually realistic and numbingly plentiful violence. [I was concerned about that possibility too, but it struck me that there's all the difference in the world between Keanu Reeves realistically (?) fighting many men in John Wick (2014) and Charlize Theron doing the same in Atomic Blonde (David Leitch directed some of the former and all of the latter). The action scenes of the latter left me thrilled even to the point of wondering, when one considers Wonder Woman as well, why anyone should even watch male action heroes anymore? Haven't we pretty much seen all that they can do? But Charlize Theron's delightfully ice-cold Lorraine Broughton doesn't bother to explain herself. There's no back story for her (as some critics have complained). She just pulls off a stiletto heel and uses it to take down several guys in a speeding car. With so much post-Imperator Furiosa-infused killer attitude, she doesn't need any back story. And Brody says nothing about Broughton's fashion choices, again one of the movie's most important aspects.] Charlize Theron stars as Lorraine Broughton, an M.I.6 agent sent to the still divided to locate--with the help of British colleague (James McAvoy) [who proves impressive in part because he somehow manages to hold his own next to Theron. McAvoy's performance as David Percival is pleasantly deranged and corrupt.]--a wristwatch containing a list of Western spies [I liked the use of the fancy wristwatch as a McGuffin, having received a used black and silver Tiger Tudor watch for Christmas last year. I enjoy how such watches implicitly rebuke the moronic Apple Watch Series 2 with its emphasis on nudging people to flail around all day], and to rescue a Stasi turncoat (Eddie Marsan), who has the list memorized. This action is seen in flashbacks, intercut with scenes of the bloodied, bruised, and embittered Lorraine's chilly debriefing by her handlers (Toby James [who reminds one pleasantly of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)] and John Goodman [who has been in every movie, it seems, that I've seen in the last three years]. The deceptive twists and cynical moods of espionage [What's wrong with that? Brody writes as it that's a bad thing.] take place in nostalgically bleak Cold War cityscapes [just in Berlin--and Berlin comes off looking cool, reminding me of the Sex Pistols' song "Holidays in the Sun"--

"The Berlin wall

I got to go over the wall
I don't understand this thing at all"

I mean, really, is there a better emblem of the terminal stupidity of the cold war?], but the fine points of spycraft are either reduced to mere winks or amplified to bone-thwacking and gore-spraying martial artistry [Brody does not acknowledge that what makes this movie compelling is that Charlize Theron goes beyond any kind of usual kick-ass ability to something almost impersonally and rudely sublime. In real life, her teeth were injured! By doing her own stunts, she suffered much for her edgy contempt for ordinary women's star vehicles, but no, Brody cares about the "fine points of spycraft."] Theron keeps her cool throughout the pummeling gyrations [said begrudgingly], but the film strains to achieve a breathless panache and lurid swagger for which David Leitch's direction is too heavy-footed and literal [I thought the direction was playful and creative, the cinematography full of bruised, lurid, decadent colors.]; a deft, metal-bashing automotive ballet comes too late to help. [I don't remember exactly what he's talking about here. Brody doesn't mention a clever Hitchcock-esque moment when Broughton arranges for an entire city street full of protesters to raise their umbrellas to block a hitman's bullet.] With Sofia Boutella, as a French agent with an artistic streak." [Brody doesn't mention the movie's clever '80s soundtrack, the way Broughton's on-going discussion with the intelligence officers back in London balances the action with sharp dialogue, or, for that matter, how the movie generally has a surprisingly smart screenplay by Kurt Johnstad and Antony Johnston, in a world of lesser-written contemporary releases. I have great respect for Richard Brody often and The New Yorker always, but in this case, I beg to differ.        

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