A new feature from from ctvnews.ca! The Crouse Review is a quick, hot take on the weekend’s biggest movies! This week Richard looks at Charlize Theron’s Cold War spy story “Atomic Blonde,” the masterpiece theatre murder mystery “Lady Macbeth” and the found footage scares of “Phoenix Forgotten.”
Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Erin Paul to have a look at the big weekend movies including Charlize Theron’s Cold War spy story “Atomic Blonde,” the masterpiece theatre murder mystery “Lady Macbeth” and the found footage scares of “Phoenix Forgotten.”
“I got offered a lot of stuff in action movies that was either the girl behind the computer or the wife,” says Charlize Theron.
That was then, this is now. After dipping her toe in the action genre with Aeon Flux and Mad Max: Fury Road, the South African actress is kicking butt and taking names in Atomic Blonde, a wild spy thriller Variety calls “a mash-up of The Bourne Identity and Alias.”
Based on Antony Johnston’s 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City, it’s a Cold War thriller about an undercover MI6 agent sent to Berlin to investigate the murder of a fellow agent. “I didn’t just want to play a girly spy who depends on her flirty ways,” she says.
To prepare for the gruelling shoot Theron worked with eight personal trainers who taught her the stunt work.
“‘We’re going to pretend to do that, right?’” she asked director David Leitch during the preparation. “David was like, ‘No you’re actually going to throw big dudes.’ Alright, let’s throw some big dudes.”
Throwing big dudes around like rag dolls may look great on film but was a physical challenge for Theron. The Oscar winner twisted her knee, bruised her ribs and clenched her teeth so hard while shooting one of the over-the-top fight scenes she cracked two teeth, requiring dental surgery.
Theron joins a list of dangerous distaff action stars like Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), Scarlett Johansson (Lucy, The Avengers), Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Jenette Goldstein (Aliens), Angelina Jolie (Wanted, Salt, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider), Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil) and Uma Thurman (Kill Bill, Parts 1 & 2) who give Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson a run for their money.
All of those women owe a debt to two female action stars. Pam Grier and Tura Satana were larger-than-life pioneers, opening cans of whoop-ass on screen at a time when that was primarily the purview of the boys.
Quentin Tarantino directed Grier in Jackie Brown and says she may be cinema’s first female action star. Her films, like Foxy Brown and Sheba, Baby suggest he’s right. Grier could deliver a line and a punch, attributes that allowed her to cut a swathe in the male-dominated action movie market of the 1970s.
Perhaps the wildest female action movie of all time is 1965’s “ode to female violence,” Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! starring Tura Satana as the thrill-seeking go-go dancer Varla.
Experienced in martial arts, Satana did her own stunts and brought her unique style — black leather gloves, Germaine Monteil eyeliner and layers of Max Factor makeup — to the film.
She also supplied some of the movie’s most memorable lines.
When a gas station attendant ogles her cleavage while extolling the virtues of being on the open road and seeing America, Satana ad libbed, “You won’t find it down there, Columbus!”
Time critic Richard Corliss called Satana’s performance “the most honest, maybe the one honest portrayal in the (director Russ) Meyer canon and certainly the scariest.”
“I took a lot of my anger that had been stored inside of me for many years and let it loose,” Satana said of her most famous role. “I helped to create the character Varla and helped to make her someone that many women would love to be like.”
“I didn’t just want to play a girly spy who depends on her flirty ways,” Charlize Theron told W Magazine. Mission accomplished. Based on the wild ‘n woolly graphic novel “The Coldest City” by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart “Atomic Blonde” is a Cold War thriller that sees Theron dropkick Daniel Craig or Matt Damon out of the space they’ve occupied as film’s go-to super spies.
Set in 1989, just days before the fall of the Berlin wall, the film starts with the KGB assassination of an undercover MI6 operative in East Berlin. Theron plays Agent Lorraine Broughton, a high-ranking MI6 spy sent to the communist side of the wall to retrieve a dossier containing the names of other vulnerable British intelligence assets. “It’s an atomic bomb of information that could set the Cold War back 40 years!”
Toby Jones and John Goodman as MI6 and CIA head honchos respectively urge her not to trust anyone but she sparks up a personal and professional relationship with an inexperienced French agent Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella). Because everybody wants the dossier she is teamed with shady Berlin station chief David Percival (James McAvoy)—a “feral” man who moonlights selling bootlegged Jack Daniels to tourists—to beat the US, UK, USSR and France to the punch. How? By folding, spindling, mutilating, punching, kicking and head butting. There’s death by cork screw, fist and bullet and everything in between in some of the most dynamic fight scenes we’re likely to see on screen this year (and that includes “John Wick 2).
The trailers make “Atomic Bomb” look like wall-to-wall action. It isn’t. It’s a cold war spy movie with intermittent wild and woolly fisticuffs. And that’s OK. The fight scenes definite highlights and get the pulse racing but to be truly effective all movies must have hills and valleys.
If it was all action it would be like a Jason Statham movie. All talking it would be “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” As it is it hits the sweet spot between the two.
It’s a stylish film with visceral action scenes connected by an original cold war story, compelling characters and German versions of 80s pop hits.
This isn’t a Michael Bay style spectacular, it’s up-close-and-personal bare-knuckled warfare. Theron and her victims grunt and groan as fists hits faces and all manner of mayhem is unleashed. One particularly intense fight scene mixes and matches the above-mentioned grunts and groans with the catchy pop of George Michaels’ “Father Figure.” An even more effective sequence gets rid of the music completely.
The tour de force six-minute fight scene looks like a one-shot wonder. It’s hard to believe there isn’t some trickery involved but the sequence is dazzling nonetheless.
As Broughton, Theron is not a superhero. She comes out on top of most fights but emerges bruised and battered, which lends an air of unpredictability to the =storytelling.
“Atomic Blonde” is a violent, arty spy flick that doesn’t just open the door for Charlize Theron to create an effective spy franchise; it kicks it off its hinges.