Movie review: Atomic Blonde

Movie reviews

Hello!

Accidentally, this week my blog has a theme – alternative (not DC or Marvel) comic book movies. On Tuesday, I reviewed Valerian (based on a French comic book) and today, we are talking about Atomic Blonde!

IMDb summary: An undercover MI6 agent is sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents.

Writing

The movie Atomic Blonde is based on a 2012 graphic novel ‘The Coldest City’ by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart. The screenwriter Kurt Johnstad (writer of the 300 movies) was the one who adapted this property. It was actually quite refreshing to see a film written by a single person rather than a group of screenwriters of varying experiences. And yet, the writing was still a mixed bag. I loved the main narrative and its structure – the story was presented in a flashback with the verbal exposition being given in an interrogation room. So, the plot was both told and shown. The set-up for the story and the decision to start it from almost the very end also helped to establish the main character. In the first seconds of her appearance, we realized her occupation, her relationships, and her vulnerabilities.

The spy-world was also well realized, with some of its details being quite fascinating. I loved how the film spotlighted the way spies deal with their lives, both physically and emotionally (ice baths, drinking, smoking). The historical tie-ins – the TV announcements about the state of Berlin Wall – were cool too and help to ground the movie. The ideas of spies deceiving each other and always having multiple ulterior motives were quite neat as well.

My few gripes with the film were a single logical flaw and the conclusion of the story. The thing that didn’t make much sense was the fact that James McAvoy’s character was trusted by others when he was obviously acting shady. Plus, the picture’s motto was ‘Never Trust Anyone’, so the fact that the characters turned a blind eye to his deceptions was kinda dumb. Secondly, the film’s story had a lot of twists and turns at the end, which were really heavily piled one on top of another. I wish that these reveals would have been given earlier or handled in different a way because it felt like the movie had multiple endings and didn’t know when to stop.

Directing

The longtime stunt coordinator, stuntman, and fight choreographer who recently transitioned into directing – David Leitch – helmed Atomic Blonde. His previous directing credits include the first John Wick (with Chad Stahelski), while his upcoming project is the Deadpool sequel. Not surprisingly, Atomic Blonde has been nicknamed online as the female version of John Wick and, while the comparison is valid, Atomic Blonde is also very much its own thing. It has its own cool action scenes, which were choreographed superbly and showcased fighters using a lot of everyday props rather than guns. The way these fight scenes were modified for someone, who is physically weaker (a female body) was interesting too. I also loved the car chases with all the old, now vintage, cars (no yellow Fast&Furious Lamborghinis here). 

The overall tone of Atomic Blonde was also really cool. I’d describe it as gritty glamor. The gritty part comes from the bloody action and the truthful depiction of the life of spies. The glamor could be seen in the costumes and the hairstyle of its lead – Charlize Theron had an impeccable look with her long, classic coats and platinum blonde hair. The cool color pallet added to the glamor too. The punk influences of 1989/1990s Berlin (the combo of grit and glamor) were also felt in the movie, from the locations of the underground clubs to the visuals of the graffiti on the wall. The soundtrack of the picture also emerged up from this general feel and tone. The composer of John Wick and Guardians of the Galaxy films, Tyler Bates, did a great job on the Atomic Blonde score, by mixing together 90s English and German songs as well as their more modern reworkings.

The director Leitch also did a brilliant job of filming the action in a variety of angles. Every trick in the book was used – from long panning shots and zoom ins/outs to close-ups to handheld shots with and without the cuts. That continuous action sequence in the apartment building was especially amazing. Genre wise, Atomic Blonde certainly felt more like a drama/thriller rather than just an action film. Its pacing wasn’t super fast – the movie didn’t really drag (except maybe the ending) but it never got as exciting as it could have been.

All in all, though I had some problems with the directing of the film, I enjoyed it overall and I still think that Leitch can nail Deadpool 2. We all know that he can deliver a magnificent action sequence, I just wonder whether he can do humor and comedy.

Acting

Atomic Blonde had quite a stellar cast. Charlize Theron (The Huntsman, Mad Max, FF8, Kubo) was front and center, demanding all the attention for the best reasons. She was amazing in the role, especially in its physical aspects (she did lots of stunts herself). James McAvoy (X-Men) was cool and creepy in his role. His persona in this film felt like just another personality of his character in SplitSofia Boutella (The Mummy, Star Trek, Kingsman) was also good, though her performance was brief. John Goodman (Kong, Trumbo), Eddie Marsan (Their Finest), and Toby Jones rounded out of the cast.

In short, Atomic Blonde is a very entertaining thriller that has a lot of cool aspects but also some minor flaws. Not a perfect film but definitely worth a watch.

Rate: 3.7/5

Trailer: Atomic Blonde trailer

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Movie review: Their Finest 

Movie reviews

Hello!

The first movie of the year focused on the battle of Dunkirk – Their Finest – has reached theaters, so, let’s review it.

IMDb summary: A British film crew attempts to boost morale during World War II by making a propaganda film after the Blitzkrieg.

While Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (premiering in July) will tackle and reproduce the actual battle and the evacuation, Lone Scherfig’s film Their Finest is a story about a war propaganda film, based on a fictional story related to the real-life events at Dunkirk, produced in order to raise the patriotism of the nation. The genres and tones of the 2 movies differ vastly: one looks like a grim and serious action drama, while another one is a lighter comedy drama with some romance thrown in as well.

On top of being one of the two films about Dunkirk, Their Finest interested me for 3 reasons: 1. I wanted to see the representation of the British propaganda and how it differed or was similar to the Soviet propaganda – the kind that I’m more familiar with from history classes and from just generally growing up in Eastern/Northern Europe. 2. I have always enjoyed films about filmmaking and as this one centered on screenwriters – an occupation that I would like to pursue – my interest was peaked. 3. The movie started Sam Claflin – an actor, whose career I’ve been following pretty closely. So, let’s see if Their Finest is as ‘fine’ of a picture as the title suggests!

Writing

Their Finest was written by a TV writer Gaby Chiappe, based on novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans. From the technical standpoint, the writing for the film was very nice: the narrative was well structured and rich with ideas. Whether or not the ideas worked, is a very subjective question. I, personally, really liked some of the themes but was equally frustrated by the others.

To begin with, the picture focused a lot on the relationship between Gemma Arterton’s and Sam Claflin’s characters. I highly disliked the fact that their professional relationship had to be turned into a romantic one by the end of the film. I find that this happens in a lot of stories, even in the contemporary ones. For example, the way J.K.Rowling, writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, is portraying the relationship between the two main characters in her Cormoran Strike Series irritates me a lot. And yet, going back to the relationship between the characters in Their Finest, if I considered the said relationship’s romantic aspect separately, I thought that it did work and was convincing. The two individuals seemed pretty evenly matched and their sparring was entertaining to watch. The sudden end to the relationship was also emotionally effective. At first, I deemed that the end might have been too sudden but I later I’ve realized that the scriptwriters intended it to be that way and to convey a message that one never knows what might happen in war.

The second big theme of the picture was Gemma Arterton’s character’s growth as an individual. Her personal story acted very much as a symbol for a lot of women’s stories during the war – how they have finally begun to transition from the domestic spaces into the public ones. Sadly, this process is still is progress, 70+ years later. I thought that the main character was developed quite nicely – I wish we would have found out more about her background and upbringing in Wales, but I really liked her subtle journey towards independence.

Thirdly, the movie explored the screenwriting and the filmmaking business. I really loved this particular aspect of the film and just loved the fact that Their Finest celebrated the movies and tried finding positive attributes of cinema even if it was political cinema. I simply loved Sam Claflin’s character’s enthusiasm about and love for the pictures, especially since his character otherwise seemed really pessimistic and ironic. I could identify with this type of depiction very closely. The way the movie played up the uber-poshness of the actors and of the British actors, to be specific, with Bill Nighy’s character was also really fun.

Lastly, Their Finest dealt with the propaganda filmmaking, not just simple filmmaking. Not only did this type of story provided a different perspective on war, but it also proved to me that the types of propaganda don’t vary much from country to country. Like the Soviet propaganda, some of the British propaganda was very obvious but some of it was something more, just like the-picture-within-the-picture in Their Finest or a real life example, such as Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. And yet, since both Their Finest and The Nancy Starling (a-movie-within-a-movie) stressed the importance of optimism and happy endings, I can’t help but wonder where exactly did the cinematic propaganda end?

Directing

Their Finest was directed by Lone Scherfig. Although the director is Danish, I thought that she nailed the British feeling of the film. She has already done that earlier with The Riot Club – that movie has really made me question my adoration of the British culture quite a bit. So, Their Finest resembled the previous historic UK-based movies that I’ve reviewed, like SuffragetteTestament of Youthand Far From The Madding Crowd. The fact that the movie was executed with the classical stationary camera work and the steady frame, also added an appropriate old-school yet timeless feel to the picture. The pacing of the picture was also very even. 

Acting

Gemma Arterton played the lead in the film and did a really good job. I hope that this is a career-changing role for her, as so far she has been starring in mostly B-level pictures, like Clash of the TitansPrince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and Hansel & Gretel: Witch HuntersI really loved how subtle yet powerful her performance was. My favorite line of hers was the last words to the boyfriend: ‘You shouldn’t have painted me that small’. Her delivery was brilliant. I also though that Arterton’s chemistry with the co-star Sam Claflin was really good and believable. I loved Claflin’s character and the actor’s performance. It was so interesting to see a writer who can express oneself well enough of paper but struggles to do the same face to face. After starting his big screen career by acting the big action flicks, like Pirates of the Caribbean 4 and The Hunger Games franchise, Claflin has mostly stuck to dramas recently, including 2014’s Love, Rosie and 2016’s Me Before You. His next film is also a historical drama – My Cousin Rachel. He has also previously collaborated with the director of Their Finest on The Riot Club.

The supporting cast included established English actors Bill NighyHelen McCroryEddie Marsan, and Richard E. GranJack Huston (American Hustle, Hail, Caesar!and Ben-Hur) also had a minor role.

In short, Their Finest is a brilliant little movie, which, sadly, will be overlooked by the majority of movie-goers and buried by the blockbusters, including the one it shares the topic with. I highly recommend this film for all those interested in history and the art of filmmaking.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: Their Finest trailer

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