Atomic Blonde

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Convoluted, paranoia-inspiring, and extremely violent, Atomic Blonde feels like what a Bond film would be if the brutality of 2006’s Casino Royale met the conflicted and complicated world of *actual* spy fiction.

Actually, that’s a better description of the movie than I’d thought it would be. Atomic Blonde is full of gorgeously choreographed and grimly performed fight scenes (as one might expect from David Leitch, director of John Wick), and it is definitely not a film intended for a passive or unthinking audience. The underlying story is twisty, and nearly every person’s loyalty is deeply questionable, enough so that I spent a good portion of the movie not sure who was on which side; perfect, really, for this sort of spy movie. Not so good if you’re watching this thinking that you’ll have a neatly packaged Bond-esque film, but quite possibly more fun because of that.

I kind of wish that there’d been a little more in the way of clues for me to catch throughout the movie, or that I’d put together the ones that were there faster. If I had, I wouldn’t have been quite as confused in the end. But when I reflect on it, everything holds together, and I only have a deeper appreciation for what’s there.

I won’t give you any spoilers (apart from saying that if you can’t handle visceral uncomfortable violence, you probably shouldn’t watch this movie), but I will say that I rather liked Atomic Blonde. It wasn’t exactly what I’d expected, and I’m glad that it wasn’t. While I’d happily watch Charlize Theron play Bond in some sly, neatly packaged, thoroughly sanitized version of what current American moviegoers have come to think of as “a spy-action movie,” the gnawing distrust and complicated loyalties of Atomic Blonde deliver an excellent spy movie experience, and a better one than I’d thought I’d find.

Spectre

I don’t feel just one way about Spectre; I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m ambivalent, since I did enjoy it overall, but … well, let me think through this with you.

First, perhaps most superficially, the intro song and credit sequence didn’t do it for me.  It had a hard act to follow given Skyfall’s opening, so I’ll give it that, but it felt pretty meh.

Plot-wise, Spectre builds on all of the little dribs and drabs of plot that were left hanging in the previous three movies (all the Daniel Craig ones: Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall).  This meant that I felt a little lost going into it without having seen the others recently, but when I think back on the events of the previous movies I think the requisite hooks were there.

The Daniel Craig Bond films walk a tightrope that previous Bond films haven’t really walked before.  What I mean is, it’s unusual for a Bond movie to consistently build on what’s come before in any way, so this is a bit strange.  Personally, I think they could have done better.  They laid the groundwork for this film to some extent, but it seems like they sacrificed some continuity and clarity for the sake of trying to make more traditionally individualized Bond films along the way.  Of course, if they’d done less of that, then perhaps I’d be upset about how they undid the Bond movie traditions.

So Spectre is a bit of an odd fish.  It has excellent scenes, moments in which the movie offers up the beautiful set pieces that I’ve come to hope for (and even expect) from good Bond films.  But it also feels like it fumbles itself together at times, tries to make itself one whole thing out of a number of disparate scenes that needed just a little more narrative glue to make it all gel.

I have more thoughts to share, but…

There are *SPOILERS* after this mark.

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Concept: A Tintin Adventure Flowchart

tintinI think I’ve mentioned my love of Tintin previously.  But I’ve just had a fabulous idea, so you’re going to hear about it again.

Some necessary background: Charles Stross wrote an excellent book, The Jennifer Morgue (part of the Atrocity Archives series, very much worth reading).  He based the story (careful, spoilers) on a combination of real world events and James Bond clichés, and did it excellently.  He did this in part by analyzing the Bond oeuvre (I suppose I should say the Fleming oeuvre, but Fleming really didn’t have that much to do with most of the movies) and creating flowcharts of Bond film opening scenes and general plots.

Yes, you read that correctly.  He watched all the Bond films with a friend and wrote up flowcharts to describe what they saw going on.  Here’s the flowchart of a Bond movie opening scene, and here’s the flowchart of a Bond film writ large.

Now, I love Tintin very much, but there are some problems with the old comics.  Consider:

20140112153933!Tintin-mainCastI’m amazed that Castafiore is even included in the cast of characters.

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Yeah, that’s objectionable.

So I’ve been thinking that I should try writing new Tintin stories.  Well, not Tintin per se, but adventure stories like Tintin’s, without the same racist depictions and with better representation all around.  And Stross’ flowcharts have inspired me.  I plan to go through and re-read a number of old Tintin stories, and try to make a Tintin adventure flowchart that I can follow when the time comes.  It might turn out that this is impossible, and Hergé simply had too many different stories, but I suspect that I could pull something useful out of all this.  What do you think?  Are you interested?

The Quiller Memorandum, by Adam Hall

Ah, pseudonyms.  Adam Hall was one of the pseudonyms used by the author Elleston Trevor (which was itself not the author’s original name).  It seems entirely appropriate to me that such an excellent spy novel should come from someone who felt so compelled to shroud and change their own identity.  If you like spy stories and intrigue, or would like to try dabbling in them for the very first time, look no further.  Quiller is a far better Cold War spy than the cinematic Mr. Bond ever was, more deeply focused on the details of spycraft, practicing intimate information war as a metaphoric knife fight where you’re never truly certain as to who holds the advantage.  Drawing blood is rarely the point of the duel, and secrets are more valuable than lives.  The Quiller Memorandum, as you might have guessed, is a very exciting book.

Does the title feel achingly familiar?  Just like something that you’ve read before?  Well…

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