So I didn’t plan on making any sort of blog post like this. I saw some of what happened in Charlottesville, viewing some news bits here and there, sighing at the inevitability of all this, that violence was bound to strike with all these insane protests and demonstrations that have been going on, that fanatics and radicals from all sides are coming out of the woodwork, and were inevitably bound to clash (no thanks to the police and the mayor/governor). I wasn’t going to talk about it. But so many are making so much noise about it on the social media sites I hang out on, that it’s become an unavoidable subject. It’s not something I wanted to get into, but got into it I did.
“The whole thing could’ve been avoided. What brought this whole thing on was that they were going to remove the statue. […] If they didn’t move it, then there wouldn’t have been some Unite The Right march, what the fuck? But also I have an issue with removing stuff like this because it kinda sanitizes history. […] Having them exist is an opportunity for conversation.” — Cory Carr
“As an angry white man, they make me look bad.” — Cory Carr
“I really think that on both the Right and on the Left, our sensibilities and leanings are becoming more authoritarian.” — Forest Taylor
“If people would just sit the fuck down, and talk about things…” — Cory Carr
* = with caveats, especially with dialogue that self-references the year. “Helloooo? This is 1967! I can do whatever I want!”
Ok, so this movie. I had reservations going in. But there are times where I get sick and tired of being on edge, of having such a high amount of skepticism, of believing I’m in the minority of seeing things as they are and wondering if I’m wrong because of that. There are times I just want to be entirely wide open, entirely accepting, entirely trusting, putting my emotions on the line. Of watching a film and accepting what is given at face value. To not be so critical, because so many others aren’t. A part of me hates having my guard up against emotional manipulation so often for so many movies (especially of films made from around 2012 and onwards).
But I’ve been emotionally manipulated too many times in the past. I’ve seen that the things I’ve believed in and been taught to believe in are lies too many times. I fought on the wrong side for too long to risk going back so easily. It’s become a part of my nature now to watch any racially charged film like this (or any documentary for that matter) with a skeptical mind. I hate myself for doing this because it means I am usually unable to fully appreciate a good film containing subject matter like this upon first watch. But I would hate myself more if I did go into this blindly and putting my faith in the idea that it’s honest, that it’s made with honest intentions, has good lessons and/or entertainment within it, only to find out later on that it wasn’t.
Things weren’t always like this. Most films made from the late 60s to the early 2000s tended to be honest about these sorts of things, about their intentions, about their entertainment. Any mistakes made tended to be made in blissful ignorance rather than with intent. Like Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus film and how it portrays gladiators as nice family friendly guys when they weren’t slaughtering each other or Roman soldiers. Or those sword and sorcery films of the 70s and 80s which, well let’s face it all of them were pretty ridiculous in several ways. But there was a charm about it all, an innocence to it. Like how a child repeats what he hears and doesn’t consider the context of his words. But in this day and age, the child is grown up, and is fully aware of the context. We should likewise be aware, and act with wisdom.
So I must confess, Atomic Blonde is a film that I initially didn’t have any interest in. That is, until I saw this little parody via Steven Crowder:
Now for the record, prior to watching the film, I assumed he was just exaggerating with the jokes, that this film wasn’t anymore beyond the realm of believability than some film like John Wick, or Commando, or The Protector (aka Tom Yum Goong). And after watching the film, I can pretty much safely say he was kind of exaggerating.
Well look at me now, I fear I’m turning into one of those stubborn thick-headed hard-ass far-right republican hillbilly redneck motherfuckers who believes women should know their place and can’t possibly ever be as strong as a man, blah blah blah. So I was getting ashamed of myself for thinking like this, and was trying desperately for the sake of fairness and for the sake of not being a big hypocrite and one-sided to suspend the disbelief factor for this film as I have for so many others with men in the roles. You know, thinking that it’s silly to believe that Hollywood has gone that far in pushing the woman power agenda, that it’s no more silly than the male power thing (which in all fairness is more natural from a biological point of view, not trying to be sexist here, at least not THAT sexist). Plus it shows she trained hard for the role.
I was even willing to accept the lesbianism halfway through, trying not to look at it in the way of, “She’s too good for a man, she needs a woman!”. I was assuming that too much of Steven Crowder and other individuals who have been trying to influence my line of thinking were getting to me too much and making me too biased towards a particular view. So I just looked at it as a smoking hot lesbian sex scene that is pleasing to the male eye (not the best I’ve seen, but it’s appreciated), and to the young female eyes who desire to experiment with lesbianism while they and those around them are still young and hot before they realize it sucks to be a lesbian when you’re middle-aged or older. Other nudity bits during the first half were nice too (the justification for at least one of them to show that she’s bruised all over from head to toe).
So I went along with this, thinking it was all in my head (it’s elemental) that there was some underlying devious pro-feministic theme going on with this film. But then during the second half the lines start to show up. Lines such as a big burly man (the same guy who gave John Wick a run for his money in the first John Wick film) calling Theron a bitch, and then she kicks said individual’s ass and remarks, “Am I still a bitch!?” And then James McAvoy saying something along the lines of, “The world would be a better place without women,” prior to getting his just desserts. You know, a few scenes like that, so that the movie makes it clear that it’s pushing a female empowerment agenda. Well, goddamnit, you had me going there for a while movie!
So that’s one strike against the movie. But something like that wouldn’t be anywhere near close enough to ruin the entire thing for me. I initially went in to see this film for over-the-top action sequences that I can laugh at and make fun of, while still enjoying because of the unbelievability. You know, like Commando, and Strike Commando, and just about every martial arts flick ever made. But there aren’t that many action sequences in this. This doesn’t try to be John Wick in that department. The biggest difference between this and John Wick is that John Wick prioritizes the abundance of action sequences over the story. This film seems like it actually gives a damn about the story and thus puts more focus on the plot and characters. That ends up being to the film’s detriment, because the film never really drew me into the story. I didn’t give two shits about the story when all is said and done. Not interesting enough, and neither are the characters.
Such a pity too. Charlize Theron is definitely capable of playing a solid character and investing badass (surely Mad Max: Fury Road taught us that, and that film is better than this one in almost every way). James McAvoy managed to make an M. Night Shymalan film good, yet despite his efforts here, he only shines through in a couple instances and is otherwise just as dull as the rest.
The other thing that brings this film down is that it tries too hard to be stylish. You know, like those Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez/Frank Miller rip-off films that show up all the time on the Netflix shit-list. Except that this film has a higher budget, better actors, a better director. But it isn’t much better in the writing/pacing department. It tries to be cool for the sake of being cool, letting you know it’s based off a comic. It just doesn’t have a natural style to make its own like the John Wick films do. Plus it gets a bit annoying have almost every action scene having retro music blaring loudly in the background with the hopes of, I don’t know, making the action scenes more hip somehow.
The only action scene that stood out and made the movie worth anything is this 6 minute “long take” sequence where she’s fighting a few guys down these stairs inside a building. Not only is that sequence great, but it’s silent. There’s no fucking retro hip music playing at all during that entire sequence. Thank the heavenly host, I would’ve praised the scene over all the others just for that aspect alone, nevermind that it’s one of the best action sequences done in recent memory by an American studio. I just wish it was in a better film. Those John Wick film-makers better get their asses in gear for the 3rd and final one and make some outstanding sequence like that before Keanu gets too old for this shit.
Anyway, one good action sequence, the rest of the film is kind of a bore. It never really got me all that interested in anything that was going on, it goes out of its way to make the plot and the character motivations less coherent than necessary, and it tries too hard to be stylish. And there’s the female empowerment thing.
But no. Oh no. I’m not going to leave this review ending on a note like that. Bullshit. I’m going to review a film that shows more of what I want for a film that can be considered to have a female empowerment message, and it does so without trying to shove it down our fucking throats. And it’s a hidden gem from 1990 that you’ve probably never heard of.
So it’s not just the recent years where people didn’t go out to see a good film. This film got overlooked and bombed theaters and went practically unnoticed. I’m not even sure if this film has the cult following it deserves, let alone the HD remaster it desperately needs. It’s on DVD in America, but the video quality isn’t great and the audio quality is worse (you will need subtitles to understand what they’re saying half the time). The best edition of this film you can get that I know of is a Japanese blu-ray which seems to be region free (or at least multiple regions), has 2 versions of the film (the American cut, and the unrated European cut that goes by the alternate title Salute of the Jugger), and the audio/video quality is better than the DVD version. That being said, it’s only slightly better than the DVD version in terms of quality, which is bullshit mostly because it’s blu-ray, but mostly because it costs fifty fucking dollars to get a hold of. That’s bullshit!
With the technical video/audio qualities out of the way… This film takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. How did the world get this way and how does it currently work? Who knows and who cares? The movie certainly doesn’t. All you need to know is that, like Rollerball (the James Caan version, not that fucking 2000s remake), there’s a hard-hitting sport that is popular among everyone, but it’s more than likely you will get crippled and/or die from playing it. This sport is all about taking a cow skull that starts in the middle of the field, and try to place it on this spear on the opponent’s side of the field. Like a hardcore rugby game, where just about everyone on the team has a weapon, whether it be a club, a chain-linked net, or other things. Everyone on the team matters. If one falls, the others will wash over everyone and get an easy victory. Various teams practice this sport all around the land, hoping to get good enough and experienced enough to take on those in the big leagues, gaining an opportunity to live among the best of society should they win.
So Rutger Hauer leads a team across the land to have a match in some random village where Joan Chen’s character lives. And she wishes to join the team and seek a better life. She has talent, she has speed, and she has quick reflexes. But she lacks experience. But she does decent enough right away like Million Dollar Baby to show she more than belongs on the team right? Wrong!
She gets the shit kicked out of her during her first match, getting head injuries so bad I wondered how it is she wasn’t in a coma. But despite how bad she got beat, she continues on and follows them, since the team needs a new member to replace their “runner” who got his leg broken during their match. So they train her, she gets better, and soon enough seems like every bit as much of an integral part of the team as every other member. No better, no worse. And that’s what I love about this movie the most. The two central characters, Rutger Hauer and Joan Chen, even though they’re the main focus, the film makes it clear that they’re not invincible, and not necessarily much better than anyone else. The others showcase their importance as well, including Vincent D’Onofrio before he ate too many donuts and got a role in Law & Order (or whatever fucking cop-drama show he was in).
And the action scenes are very hard hitting, and quite brutal at times. I mean, shit, there were a couple moments where I was starting to think the actors actually got hurt for real on occasion.
The film moves at a quick pace for the first half, but then slows down during the second half by having none of the team members participate in any fights for a while. That’s because it’s build-up, making the audience crave the anticipation for the final match that everyone is waiting for, so that it’s a more glorious moment when it happens. And I have to admit, by the end of it all, it provides quite an inspiring sensation, with a great theme of hard work and perseverance generating a payoff.
And like Mad Max: Fury Road, even though it’s billed as having Rutger Hauer being the big name and the main character, it’s every bit Joan Chen’s film as it is his. Both are significant, and both have their own little character arcs. And not once does anyone in the film make some argument along the lines of, “But she’s a girl!” Nope. She’s treated like any other rookie. In fact, she’s not the only female on the team. There’s this big buff female mamma jamma who looks like she could kick anyone’s ass who is also on the team. And no one makes a big deal about anything gender-related, not once. And that’s the sort of female-empowerment film I like to see. Not one that’s trying to preach, but one where it’s not brought up or addressed. They are no better or worse than anyone else for the most part. They just belong. They just are. And no one has a problem with it. Why the fuck can’t we get more films like this?
Well anyway, this film is great entertainment, and it’s worth checking out. I managed to see it via Vudu.com. It’s currently free to watch, but there’s commercial breaks every 15 minutes and the video/audio quality isn’t that great. You can tell what’s going on, you can turn on subtitles to understand what everyone is saying, but just know what you’re in for. It’s a film released in the very early 90s (in some places late 80s) which never got a high definition upgrade, and this needs one badly. And it deserves one.
PS: Yes, there is a brief sex scene in this movie too. Joan Chen and Mr. Law & Order himself Vincent D’Onofrio bunk up and go at it, in what proves to be an interesting sex scene. By interesting I don’t mean it gets that particularly intense or revealing or anything like that. By interesting, I mean Rutger Hauer comes in and watches them while they’re in the middle of it. And after nearly a minute of observing them grunting and moaning, I’m pretty much wondering, “What the hell Hauer? Are you a fucking creep in this film or something?” But then he says:
“Two Juggers can’t fuck after the game. It doesn’t work. Unless you like to rub wounds against wounds.”
And it’s at that point I realized they weren’t moaning in pleasure, they were moaning in pain and frustration, trying to turn it into pleasure. But they’re so fucking sore from all the bashing they took from the game they played a few hours ago that it’s just impossible for them to enjoy themselves in this way. And Hauer was there to watch in amusement, like, “Yeah, I’d like to see you guys try to have sex after a game like that.” And sure enough, they can’t do it. I started busting up at that point. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film successfully turn a sex-scene into a joke in that way. Brilliant!
The first half, minus a few minor quibbles (like the hacking into the mind sequence, which is laughable in it’s execution), was actually solid. Fantastic cinematography, great special effects, tremendous atmosphere (even though I think they overdid it with the holograms around the city), and it’s refreshing to experience a film that knows how to handle pacing again (take note 2017’s Beauty and the Beast). And even though I had recently watched the original 1995 anime film, I was willing to overlook some of the inferior thematic/metaphorical/plot qualities this film had compared to the original. It was a solid 3 star film, minimum, and I started to get my hopes up.
But then the halfway point comes and fucks everything up.
So that’s not exactly how the quote goes, but it’s pretty frikkin’ close. This movie makes every opportunity it can to reference Krispy Kreme Donuts. Well if they’re going to go that hard with in-movie advertising, then I’m going to do some in-review advertising. Minds.com, for people who want to think.
The only other interesting thing about this movie is that they throw a cheap shot at Transformers during the finale when they toss a car that resembles Bumblebee at some monsters, and right when they do it they shout, “Sorry Bumblebee!” Hardy har har.