Thursday, August 3, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Brute, blunt force

Charlize Theron in the spy thriller, “Atomic Blonde.” 
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Let’s Hear It For an “Atomic Blonde” Franchise!  Also — Idris Elba ... How stars are “made” today ... discovering Miranda Lambert,  and does anyone still wear a hat? 

“IT IS forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets,” said Voltaire.
WELL, there are no sounds of trumpets in the new Charlize Theron spy thriller, “Atomic Blonde.”  However, large numbers of deaths occur to a thumping 1980’s soundtrack (Duran Duran, Flock of Seagulls, The Cure, Blondie, George Michael, Til Tuesday, Queen, David Bowie, Public Enemy, Depeche Mode, etc.) 

I don’t know if Voltaire would have approved, but the audience I saw “Atomic Blonde” with, sure did!
A spread from "The Coldest City," the graphic novel on which “Atomic Blonde” is based.
Based on a graphic novel, Miss Theron is an undercover agent in Berlin, just before the fall of the wall, tasked to root out double agents.  She is partnered with sexy James McAvoy, whom she does not trust and has no interest in. (She likes the ladies.) 

Everybody double-crosses, or are assumed to be double-crossing everybody else.  Attention must be paid, because the plot becomes more than a bit confusing. (After a while there are simply no new ideas, so familiarity breeds, “I’ve kind of seen this before.” Although the film’s big fight sequence, which goes on for about six minutes, is pretty amazing.)
Theron, who remains one of the world’s great beauties, even beaten and bruised, is charismatic to the max. She is sleek and sexy, but also a brute, blunt force.  And as a brute, she is as unrealistically impervious to what would be fatal bashings and blows as are her male counterparts in such roles — John Wick, Jason Bourne, James Bond. 

The movie, directed by David Leitch, looks absolutely terrific. (Among his other accomplishments, Leitch was  a stuntman in about 80 movies!)   If “Atomic Blonde” has more style than substance — that is, one certainly wants to know more about Theron’s character — you’ll have to wait.  (She is a great enough actress, a compelling enough presence, to indicate some significant inner turmoil and fragility, in-between the brutal, and breath-taking action sequences.)
And when I say, you’ll have to wait, I mean, this needs to be a few more movies.  Theron should be allowed and encouraged to further inhabit the character of Lorraine Broughton. 

Gal Gadot will be tied up as Wonder Woman for a few years — so there’s that element of cinematic action female empowerment happening.  And while “Atomic Blonde” is not the smash that Gadot’s movie is, I think there’s no time like the present — and foreseeable future — for Ms. Theron to be Broughton for a while.  (They could move her into the '90s — think of the soundtrack!  Eminem, Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Madonna, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Spice Girls, TLC, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston.)  
Theron’s transition to action icon began with that sensational turn as one-armed Furiosa, in “Mad Max: Fury Road.”  “Atomic Blonde” almost solidifies her new position.  Almost, because next time, character will have to matter as much as the amount of damage she can dish out and take — we are dealing with a great actress here, why not use all her talent, consistently.

Two more points to make.  Theron’s romantic interest, Sofia Boutella is very good indeed.  Much more interesting here than she was in Tom Cruise’s “The Mummy.”  And, Charlize Theron disposes of a foe with her high heel, with a brio not seen since Vivien Leigh battered Lee Marvin in “Ship of Fools.”
“Atomic Blonde” is worth it for that bit alone. 

P.S.  I’ve already warned you that this movie is violent. There’s nudity. Also, if you don’t like to see two beautiful women getting it on a bit, we can prepare you for that.  However, and this might be considered the most warning-worthy warning:  Everybody smokes, a lot.  It was the '80s, after all.  People still did a lot of puffing.  (As I left the theater, I overheard more than a few people say they loved the film but: “God, did people REALLY smoke so much?!”  I guess these movie-goers never watched “Mad Men.”)

... NO matter how many times and in how many ways Idris Elba says he’s really not interested in being the next James Bond, the press can’t let the idea alone.  There he is on the cover of Esquire, “Is Idris Elba the New James Bond?”  Maybe Barbara Broccoli, the 007 producer and protector of the Fleming character and image ought to give some serious thought to Mr. Elba.  This is not simply an idea that has arrived.  It’s an idea that won’t go away.  Why not take a meeting with the man?   
... IF any of you out there remember the good old days of Lana Turner being discovered at Schwab's drugstore in Hollywood, or Janet Leigh spotted by retired screen queen Norma Shearer, or a talent scout dazzled by a photo of Ava Gardner in the window of a South Carolina shop, you can forget all that.  Aspiring young actors, or young people who simply seek to become famous, with no discernible talent, are showing off on social media. They attract thousands, sometimes millions of followers, and make their studio deals from that vantage point. 
Van Johnson, Janet Leigh, and Norma Shearer.
You can read all about it in GQ for August (John Boyega, “Star Wars” actor, on the cover.)  Writer Zac Baron’s article on how the young and ambitious launch their careers, “The Next Big Star Will Be Very Small” is eye-opening, fascinating reading.  The piece also covers the astonishing new power of Netflix, Amazon, Crackle, etc.  It’s the 21st century version of  “Who IS that girl/guy?  Baby, I’m gonna make you a star!  Sign this seven-year contract.” 

Nowadays, a lot of girls and guys are making their own stardom, before they act, sing or dance.  It’s the new glamour, the new show biz.  And it is interesting, if not quite as dramatic as Johnny Weissmuller going from the Olympics to BVD spokesman to playing Tarzan.  
... FINALLY, in perusing Billboard this week, I learned a lot about country queen Miranda Lambert, about whom I’d previously thought very little.  Matt Hendrickson’s article on the singer was so good, I might actually buy her new album, “The Weight of These Wings.”  But what really amused me about this issue of Billboard was the very last page.

It was a congratulations to ... somebody, from the Palm Restaurant in Nashville. (One of the famous chain of Palms all over the country, and beyond.) But they didn’t use a recent shot of The Palm.  The black and white photo looked to be circa 1945.   The long table is loaded with food and the group of diners appears to be having a fine time. 

What struck me — every single woman is wearing a hat. And every man is wearing a tie.  Nope, I’m not going to say, “Oh, let’s go back to that.”  (Who wants to wear a hat in a hot restaurant?)

It just clanged a sweetly nostalgic note.
Contact Liz here.