Review: Atomic Blonde: Kickass meets Tinker, Tailor… and not in a good way.

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Mrs Weale and I are currently ‘home alone’.  Number 1 son has just moved into his own flat; Number 2 is in India with his girlfriend for the rest of the month; and our daughter is in Spain, staying with a friend.  This has given us the opportunity to do something we don’t get to do enough: go to the movies!

Last week we saw ‘Dunkirk’.  Any review by me would be pretty much superfluous: it’s a really good film – as pretty much all the real film critics have told us – and my only niggle is that I think Christopher Nolan’s decision to eschew CGI was a mistake: a few more destroyers and a few thousand more men on the beaches would have added a lot to the epic scale of the movie.  Other than that though: brilliant.

This week it was the turn of ‘Atomic Blonde‘, the graphic novel-based Charlize Theron vehicle, directed by David Leitch.  Uh oh, not so good.

Having seen the trailers, I’d kinda, sorta formed the impression that Atomic Blonde was one of those darkly comic actioners in the mould of Kickass, Deadpool or even John Wick (which Leitch co-directed): violent and grisly but obviously rooted in a fantasy parallel universe where the characters can kick and punch the living shit out of each other and still turn up for a rendezvous in a nightclub in a skin-tight dress and thigh boots without anyone being too bothered.

But so far as I could tell, we are intended to take Atomic Blonde reasonably seriously.  The action takes place in Berlin in 1989, just as the Warsaw Pact is beginning to fall apart.  A British MI6 agent has got hold of ‘the list’ – a document which contains the identities of a whole bunch of undercover field agents and which, conveniently for the product placement department, is hidden in an expensive watch.  He gets his brains blown out by a big, bearded hipster with a foreign accent who takes the watch.  Cue Charlize.  She is sent by MI6 to Berlin to retrieve it.  The complication is that there is a double-agent – ‘Satchel’ – within MI6 (isn’t there always?) who may be compromised by the list and obviously won’t want Charlize to take it back to London:  ‘Trust nobody’, Charlize is duly told by ‘C’ (James Faulkner – last seen being barbecued by a dragon in ‘Game of Thrones’).

Mayhem ensues.  Charlize is met at the airport by a couple of blokes who are actually Soviet spies, she realises this in the car and beats the crap out of them, killing one and crashing the car.  She is then scooped up by ‘Percival’ (James McAvoy) the MI6 head of station in Berlin,  and off we go.

Over the next – nearly – two hours we bump into Eddie Marsan, playing ‘Spyglass’ – an MI6 mole in the Stasi – who originally stole the list but has also memorised it; Sofia Boutella as ‘Delphine Lasalle’, a French agent with whom Charlize has a lesbian hook-up (which will please the T&A aficionados); and an assortment of large, bearded Scandinavians playing the KGB/Stasi contingent with whom Charlize tangles violently from time to time.

Here’s the thing:  if the plotting was subtle, or the script had any wit to it, this could have been one of those guilty pleasure romps in the Guy Ritchie/Matt Vaughn style; equally, with a bit more backstory and characterisation, we could have had a semi-credible (in a good way) Jason Bourne-style high-voltage action fest.  In reality, we get neither.  The plot is mundane and cliché-ridden (the twists are chucked in with all the subtlety of a bowling ball being lobbed onto a ping-pong table), the script is leaden and the directing, with the exception of the fight sequences, is by the numbers.  I started looking at my watch about an hour in and Mrs W was doing the same.

On the positive side, the cinematography was great: I spent some time in Berlin in the 80s before the wall came down and it did capture the bleak glamour of that era, despite having Budapest as the principal location; and the soundtrack added a little of the wit that was missing from the script (though I could have done without two different versions of Nena’s ’99 Luftballoons’).

To give them some credit, the actors made the most of the poor hand that the script had dealt them.  McAvoy as the MI6 officer in Berlin came across as a petulant twat, but he was probably meant to; Boutella was pretty convincing as the ingenue French secret agent out of her depth; and Charlize Theron can certainly do a turn as a hard-case, as she demonstrated in ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’.  On the other hand, Toby Jones and John Goodman both phoned in their performances, with Jones reprising his turn as Percy Alleline (minus the Scots accent) from ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’.

I’ve seen some online reviews suggesting that Atomic Blonde has some sort of man-hating feminist agenda: if so, I didn’t notice.  In reality there are several gratuitous nude scenes – including some ‘hot girl-on-girl action’ – which don’t exactly fit with the Millie Tant worldview and I would be surprised if that was the intention.  Actually, it is moderately refreshing to see women carrying an action film like this; it’s just a little disappointing it isn’t a better movie.

So, to sum up: it isn’t dire, but neither is it worth the £28 I shelled out for two tickets and I’m pretty sure we’d have done better with pizza and iTunes.

 

Rating:  ★★☆☆☆

Review: Jurassic World

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I think I could be described as a ‘pragmatic optimist’.  If you ask me if glass is half-full or half-empty, my response is likely to be that it’s the wrong size.  So having lashed out my £13.99 on iTunes to download ‘Jurassic World’ (it’ll be cheaper here when it comes out on DVD in a week or so), I wasn’t really expecting much more than a couple of hours of dinosaur-based thrills and spills, not unlike the previous entries in the ‘Jurassic…’ genre.

Which turned out to be a wise thing.

(Do be aware that there are some – sort of – spoilers down below)

You can sort of imagine the script conference at the Steven Spielberg Jurassic Division offices on a smoggy LA Monday morning just before principal photography started.  There’d be a long conference table, strewn with dog-eared copies of the script and those irritating take-out coffee cups with lids, and perhaps the odd 500ml Evian bottle for the more health conscious.  Sitting slumped around the table is a small gaggle of casually dressed movie execs, some of whom are wearing baseball caps and at least one of whom – who has a beard – is wearing his cap backwards.  There’s a small flurry of activity as two men arrive and set up a big flip-chart thing on an easel at the head of the table.  Then Steven Spielberg himself comes in and they all kind of sit-up a bit.

Steven:  OK guys, we’re about to start shooting so let’s just check that this script is ready to go.

He flips up the cover of the pad to reveal ‘Check List’ written at the top in black sharpie.

Steven:  We’ll just go through the list of script elements.  Sing out if you have the answer.  First: hunky hero?

Exec 1:  Yup, Chris Pratt.

Steven:  Great.  Spunky but quirky heroine?

Exec 2:  Bryce Dallas Howard: she’s ginger and she wears high heels while running through the jungle.

Steven:  Brilliant.  Evil corporate mo’fo?

Exec 3:  Vincent d’Onofrio.  He gets eaten by a Velociraptor

Steven:  Fantastic – great casting by the way!  Corrupted clever guy?

Exec 1:  We went with that Chinese-American geneticist from Jurassic Park 1.

Steven:  Wasn’t he a good guy then?

Exec 1:  He did some sympathetic eyebrow work in Act 1 but it was kind of undeveloped.

Steven:  OK, well let’s see how it goes.  What about annoying kids?

Exec 4:  Yup.

Steven:  How many?

Exec 4:  We went with two: both boys.

Steven:  Great, well that’s new.  Anyone I’ve missed?

Exec 5 (with hat on backwards):  Yeah, we got an Indian billionaire who seems to own the Park and flies a helicopter; and we got the annoying kids’ parents who may or may not be getting divorced.

Steven:  I like the sound of the billionaire, what does he do?

Exec 5:  He crashes the helicopter and dies in the middle of Act 2.

Steven:  That’s a shame.

Exec 5:  Yeah but it was hard to see where we’d take him.  We’ve left him there as ‘lead token ethnic’.

Steven:  So we got some other ethnic minorities?

Exec 5:  Yeah, Chris Pratt has a black assistant: he’s a good guy.

Steven:  Does he make it?

Exec 5:  No idea: we don’t see a lot of him after he’s made his point.

Steven:  OK, what about the annoying kids’ parents?  What’s the story?

Exec 6:  We kind of left that hanging.  The audience can kind of fill it in for themselves.

Steven:  OK.  How about new dinos?

Exec 7: We got two: a T-Rex/Velociraptor genetically-engineered hybrid – he’s a bad dinosaur, representing global capitalism and the military-industrial complex – and a great big aquatic one which eats the bad dino and represents the awesome power of mother nature.  It eats a Great White Shark too – it’s pretty cool.

Steven:  Love it!  So what’s the story?

Exec 1:  We wanted to turn the franchise around.  So we asked the question, what happens when the military industrial complex gets interested in astonishing possibilities offered by the science of genetics, and what would the sociological impacts be, at both the macro- and micro-levels?

Steven:  So what’s the answer?

Exec 1:  It turns out it’s the same as before.  The dinosaurs escape and eat a bunch of people while the hunky hero saves the annoying kids.

Steven:  Damn right!  Let’s roll.

Mark Kermode Hatchet Job!

I’m reading Mark Kermode’s latest book ‘Hatchet Job’ at the moment.  I really like Kermode’s film reviews which are lucid, well-informed and well thought-out, even when I strongly disagree with them (for example, he liked the Gary Oldman/Benedict Cumberbatch ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ which I thought was mediocre and missed the point of the source material) and I make a point of listening to his Friday afternoon BBC 5live film review show with Simon Mayo which is always thoroughly entertaining.

But blimey his books need editing!  This is the second of them I’ve tried to read and golly it’s hard work.  He really needs someone to tell him that long-form writing is not just an excuse for drivelling, blather and padding, but an opportunity to set out thoughtful ideas and opinions of real depth.  If he reviewed a film as flabbily edited as this, he would rightly rubbish it.  Ironically, it’s a rumination on the roles and responsibilities of the film critic.

I’ll blog again if I manage to finish it but if you’re really desperate to see what I’m on about, you can buy it here

Updated to add:

Nope, I’ve given up on this: it’s unreadably discursive.  The lovely Mrs Weale had a go last night too, but cast it aside after fifteen minutes with a disgruntled – though elegant – snort.