Charlize In Charge (feat. Oktay Ege Kozak) | Episode 68

Posted July 28, 2017

Given Mad Max: Fury Road, the Fast franchise, and now Atomic Blonde, Charlize Theron seems dead set on spending her forties as an action star. But the South African actor has been working across genres for two decades, stealing scenes, elevating co-stars, and portraying complicated, sharp-edged characters with tumultuous internal lives. On today's show, we discuss three of Theron's boldest anti-heroine roles: Atomic Blonde (2017), Young Adult (2011), and Monster (2003). With help from film critic and Theron devotee Oktay Ege Kozak, we dig into the career of one of the most interesting movie stars of our time.

Read Kozak's list of Theron's best performances for Paste here: bit.ly/therontop10.

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-"Atomic Blonde" review by Chance Solem-Pfeifer

In what has to be the eighth or ninth ‘80s hit of the movie (with more coming), Atomic Blonde bumps Re-Flex’s “The Politics of Dancing” out over the house speakers of a German discotheque. The bizarre song by a New Wave one-hitter definitely preaches something in the verse about corporate interests and big government strangling the radio waves and brainwashing the populace. But the chorus, as much as it suggests anything at all, claims some value in simply moving the human body.

“The politics of dancing / the politics of ooo feeling good.”

It’s an emblematic song for Atomic Blonde, a movie teeming with late-Cold War references and cartoon intrigue. Spies in the form of an infestation — from MI6, KGB, Stasi, CIA, French intelligence — are circling each other in a 1989 Berlin that’s both evolving and crumbling by the day. But all their maneuvering is either ancillary or unintelligible compared to the titular bombshell annihilating people by moving her body, and ooo feeling pretty good doing so. Move a knee into an East German crotch, a car key into a Russian cheek and countless elbows into countless throats.

Sure, it’s a movie that claims some knowledge about the underground politics of Cold War reunification and that’s also bound to inspire some political discussion in our own world about women in such movies kicking ass and taking lovers. But all the movie’s best moments are knockdown, drag-out brawls at their best when you think they can’t possible go on anymore. They do, and their sheer cinematic guts have little to do with the movie gorging itself on retro flavor or the cocky spy’s version of history.

But they have a lot to do with Charlize Theron — this century’s movie star who most resembles a razor blade and whose unique career is peaking in her forties as she becomes an increasingly steely and physical screen presence. And that’s not to say she’s only great at incapacitating foes; her best non-combat acting is phenomenally physical as well. Try a minor, but telling swat at a newspaper with which a superior prods her, or one of the most fervent sex scenes in recent memory.

As MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton, Theron brings an interior gravity to the part of the unflappable, but jaded spy. Her dialogue can be light, but she delivers her banter like she’s lashing out through the weariness and damage of a life no one can sustain. She’s helped along by the movie’s framing device, which early on shows us the bruises to prove she’s about to go through hell in the ensuing story. That device is Lorraine being debriefed by an MI6 higher-up and and a mysterious CIA interloper (Toby Jones and John Goodman respectively), as she pieces through the tale of traveling to Berlin to collect the body of another MI6 operative. He’s a former flame we see through old photographs and flashbacks. Of course, there’s more for her to do on the trip than retrieve and grieve. Shortly after landing and foiling the first of many attempts to kill her, Lorraine meets her agency contact, a Berlin mover, shaker, and scenester David Percival, played as a cheeky party animal by James McAvoy.

The movie trots out, but lives up to its “trust no one” cliche with an espionage plot that manages to both be confusing and shallow. There are codenamed agents whose true identities we’re waiting to be revealed and a dossier of names from both sides of the Iron Curtain hidden in a wristwatch everyone is scrambling to find.

Though fun down to its bones, Atomic Blonde is simply trying too hard to be a post-modern piece of badassery. In his directorial debut, lifelong stunt coordinator David Leitch hasn’t worked out the right balance between extravagant and cheap, between genuine spectacle and winking pulp. His film occasionally gleams with interesting visual textures: an ice bath in which Lorraine looks like she’s soaking in a vat of eggs or the light catching a marble bar top just right. At one point, our anti-heroine’s hotel looks as though she’s lodging inside the Stranger Things title card.

And as for the “Jane Wick” moniker it’s been tagged with in the press, Atomic Blonde is certainly a more ambitious, better acted, more vibrant piece of entertainment, but it can’t match the Wick pair for their flawlessly accurate sense of self: straight-faced, ridiculous executions sliding along the edge of an elegant shadow. Even if the fighting choreography and the imagination of its violent set pieces is comparable, Atomic Blonde is more of a bona fide mess.

The fourth wall is broken late in the game; Kurt Loder reports on the Berlin Wall collapse; Leitch can’t decide if he’s more inspired by Winding-Refn or Joe Carnahan. At one point, Lorraine actually refers to “the sins we committed during the Cold War” like only someone in 2017, not 1989, would do. And then there are those pop music cues so on the nose it feels like Lorraine is breaking yours —“London Calling,” “Under Pressure,” two different versions of “99 Luftballons.” It’s enough to make you say, “halt bitte.”

Even though it ought to stop explaining as much, the movie is right about its precious Berlin and how interesting it is to watch Lorraine fight her way through this cosmopolitan war zone where penthouses and warehouses are in equal supply. But show, don’t confess, Atomic Blonde. You don’t have to keep comparing it to the Wild West, even if the black hats and, well I guess the good guys are gray hats at best, do wander around from bar to back alley to night club to public square the way factions in cattle towns would always take an indirect line to a high-noon showdown. The main Stasi officer has been across the street all movie; you can just go kill him right now. But then what we do with all the songs we’ve licensed?


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All The Movies We've Reviewed

101 Dalmatians
10 Cloverfield Lane
10 Things I Hate About You
127 Hours
22 Jump Street
47 Meters Down
A Dangerous Method
A Few Good Men
Air Force One
A League of Their Own
Alien
Alien 3
Alien: Covenant
Alien: Resurrection
Aliens
American Animals
American Hustle
American Made
American Psycho
American Splendor
Annihilation
Armageddon
Arrival
A Simple Plan
A Single Man
Atomic Blonde
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
AVP: Alien Vs. Predator
Baby Driver
Baby Mama
Bad Company
Bad Lieutenant
Bad Moms
Bad Santa
Basic Instinct
Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Beasts of No Nation
Beauty And The Beast
Beetlejuice
Before Sunrise
Behind Enemy Lines
Below
Birdman
Black Hawk Down
Black Mass
Black Panther
Blade Runner 2049
Bleed For This
Body Heat
Bongwater
Boogie Nights
Bowfinger
Bridge of Spies
Bright
Bull Durham
Call Me By Your Name
Capote
Captain Fantastic
Catch Me If You Can
Chariots Of Fire
Chasing Amy
Child's Play
Christmas Vacation
Chuck
Cinderella Man
Clue
Clueless
Cocktail
Con Air
Cool Runnings
Crazy Rich Asians
Crimson Tide
Danny Collins
Dante's Peak
Dead Poets Society
Deep Blue Sea
Deep Impact
Deja Vu
Deliverance
Demolition Man
Dirty Dancing
Disclosure
Donnie Brasco
Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot
Drive
Dude, Where's My Car?
Dunkirk
Easy A
Eddie The Eagle
Ed Wood
Election
Employee of the Month
Erin Brockovich
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Event Horizon
Everybody Wants Some!!
Executive Decision
Ex Machina
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
Fargo
Fatal Attraction
Field Of Dreams
Finding Forrester
Flightplan
Flower
For Love Of The Game
Friday Night Lights
Game Night
Gangs of New York
Garden State
Gone Girl
Gone In Sixty Seconds
Grosse Pointe Blank
Hail, Caesar!
Half Baked
Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle
Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban
Head of State
Heavyweights
He Got Game
Hocus Pocus
Hollywood Ending
Hot Tub Time Machine
How High
Howl
Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Infamous
Ingrid Goes West
Inherent Vice
Inside Man
Inside Out
In The Land Of Women
In The Line of Fire
Into The Wild
Invictus
It
I, Tonya
Jaws: The Revenge
John Wick
Joshy
Jurassic Park III
Jurassic World
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Kill Bill, Vol. 1
King Cobra
Kingdom Of Heaven
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Lady Bird
La La Land
Leave No Trace
Less Than Zero
Lethal Weapon
Little Miss Sunshine
Looper
Love & Mercy
Mad Max: Fury Road
Matchstick Men
Matilda
Midnight Special
Million Dollar Arm
Miracle
Mission: Impossible
Mission: Impossible - Fallout
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Mission: Impossible II
Mission: Impossible III
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Mississippi Grind
Mo' Better Blues
Mom and Dad
Money For Nothing
Monster
Moon
Moonlight
Moonrise Kingdom
Mr. Mom
Murder at 1600
My Cousin Vinny
National Lampoon's Vacation
Network
Never Say Never
Ocean's Twelve
Old School
One Hour Photo
Open Water
Orange County
Out of Africa
Part of Me
Payback
Peter's Friends
Phantom Thread
Picture Perfect
Practical Magic
Prometheus
Public Enemies
Purple Rain
Raising Arizona
Red Dragon
Red Eye
Red Sparrow
Remember The Titans
Reversal Of Fortune
Room
Run All Night
Salt
Save The Last Dance
School Ties
Scream 2
Scrooged
Sharknado
Silence
Simply Complicated
Sleepaway Camp
Small Soldiers
Snakes On A Plane
Snowden
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Southside With You
Space Jam
Spectre
Speed
Sphere
Spy
Stargate
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
State and Main
Step Up
Steve Jobs
Sully
Sweet Home Alabama
Tag
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The Addams Family
The Big Chill
The Big Sick
The Bling Ring
The Brady Bunch Movie
The Campaign
The Cell
The Cloverfield Paradox
The Color of Money
The Disaster Artist
The End of the Tour
The Family Man
The Fast and The Furious
The Fighter
The Flintstones
The Fly
The Fugitive
The Fundamentals of Caring
The Hateful Eight
The Holiday
The Hours
The Hunt For Red October
The Illusionist
The Indian In The Cupboard
The Insider
The Judge
The Jungle Book
The Last of the Mohicans
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
The Lost World: Jurassic Park
The Martian
The Matrix
The Matrix Reloaded
The Matrix Revolutions
The Meg
The Mexican
The Mighty Ducks
The Mission
The Mosquito Coast
The Muppet Christmas Carol
The Natural
The Negotiator
The Nice Guys
The Night Before
The Pagemaster
The Perfect Storm
The Poseidon Adventure
The Prestige
The Queen
The Recruit
The Revenant
The River Wild
The Royal Tenenbaums
The Rules of Attraction
The Shallows
The Sixth Sense
The Social Network
The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three
The Truman Show
The Watch
The Witches of Eastwick
This Is Where I Leave You
Thoroughbreds
¬°Three Amigos!
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Titanic
Tombstone
Traffic
Trainwreck
Tropic Thunder
Twister
Unfriended
Van Wilder
Varsity Blues
V For Vendetta
Volcano
Wall-E
Watchmen
Welcome To Me
While You Were Sleeping
White House Down
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Wild
Wild Things
Wild Wild West
Win It All
Without A Paddle
Wyatt Earp
Young Adult
Zack and Miri Make a Porno