Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Atomic Blonde

“The Nut Job 2” and “Amityville: Awakening” are also new to Blu-Ray this week. 

I’m like a moth to a flame when it comes to Cold War era spy movies. The intrigue, the double-crosses, the suspense—all set against a backdrop of the barely under the surface tensions between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. that lasted decades. Added bonus if the movie involves paperwork being forged and/or shown, and it takes place in a hot spot like Berlin at a time when the east and west sides were literally right next to each other. The extra special cherry on top of this already delectable cake is if at some point someone uses the word “attache.”

“Atomic Blonde” comes through on all of the above counts. The movie stars Charlize Theron as British MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton. The year is 1989—shortly before the fall of the Berlin wall. When we first meet her, she emerges from a tub full of ice water, covered in bumps, scrapes, and bruises. She gets out of the tub and pours herself some Stoli on the rocks. At this moment all I could think was that I hope those ice cubes weren’t from the tub.

She then heads into British Intelligence headquarters in London for a debriefing with her immediate superior (Toby Jones) plus the section chief, known as “C” (James Faulkner), and visiting CIA Agent Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman). Broughton is there to explain how and why a mission in Berlin to meet up with fellow MI6 agent David Percival (James McAvoy) and retrieve a list of double agents—cleverly code named “The List”—went so disastrously wrong.

“Atomic Blonde” takes place in the ‘80s, and the style of the movie has an ‘80s feel, as if it was made in the same year it takes place. The clothes, the cars, and the German versions of ‘80s pop classics all lend to the feeling of authenticity. The cumbersome bugging devices that involve cassette tapes and reel-to-reel audio are also very much of this time. Plus there’s the neon—it’s everywhere.

As much as I loved the story and the style of “Atomic Blonde,” I was more than a little taken aback by the brutal, bloody, excessive violence throughout the movie. It contains the same type of cheeky, over the top action as a James Bond movie but without the “it’s all in good fun” tone. Hand to hand combat in this movie gets really raw and very nasty. You can feel the dizzying pain of each person—including Broughton—as they get shot, stabbed, and beaten. At one point a man gets a key stabbed through his cheek but continues on with the fight. The sound designer added the effect of keys rattling together each time he took a step. This gives a whole new meaning to the word “cheeky,” and is about as close as the movie comes to treating its violence in an entertaining way.

For the most part, the violence is pretty vicious, though not without style. I was about three minutes into a big fight scene toward the end of “Atomic Blonde,” one that takes place in the stairwell of an apartment building, until I realized that it was all being done in one take. This is a very bold and impressive move on the part of director David Leitch (“John Wick”), and I can only imagine how many grueling hours of rehearsal that took to get right.

There’s also a disconnect between the credibility of what is happening versus the gritty, realistic violence being portrayed. It’s hard to ignore that at the center of these hard hitting fights is a 130 pound woman taking on multiple 200 pound men at the same time. Sure, she’s well trained—but so are they. Some of the moves on her part require more strength than she could realistically muster, and I couldn’t buy her ability to flip guys around and body slam them all over the place. Plus she has amazing stamina for a woman who, when not fighting, smokes in just about every scene she’s in.

Credibility stretches and wince-inducing violence aside, “Atomic Blonde” is an intriguing spy movie. With less brutality I think this movie would be just as good as “Funeral in Berlin,” my personal favorite of the Harry Palmer movies from the 1960s starring Michael Caine. While this movie isn’t quite that good, it is still worth checking out and enjoying for the well-told spy thriller that it is. Just be prepared when things turn physical. Rent it.

Also New This Week

The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature

Speaking of violence, when did children’s movies become so violent? I remember “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast” from when I was a kid. Was there violence in them? Yes, but only a little bit, mostly at the end, and never perpetrated by the heroes. The bringers of the violence were the villains and the heroes merely reacted in self-defense.

Nowadays we have movies aimed at children like “The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature,” in which the hero of the story, purple-colored squirrel Surly (voice of Will Arnett), decides that the best way to save the park he calls home is to cause mass destruction. The greedy mayor of Oakton (voice of Bobby Moynihan) wants to build an amusement park so he can turn a profit on the land that Surly and fellow animals, including blue-colored squirrel Andie (voice of Katherine Heigl) and pug Precious (voice of Maya Rudolph), live on.

To achieve this end, he bands all of the animals together to sabotage the construction, and later, wreak havoc on the amusement park. At one point a bulldozer flips over, no doubt seriously injuring the driver (though that isn’t shown), and at another point a giant runaway ferris wheel crushes a man in a haz mat suit. Based on the way that his body is contorted and immobile after the ferris wheel runs him over, I can only wonder about his well-being. Sure, the man is part of a team of exterminators, but they’re only there because Surly et al. started the trouble. And yes, it does matter who starts the violence.

We’ve come a long way since loveable spider Charlotte wrote “Some Pig” in order to save her piglet friend Wilbur from being slaughtered in “Charlotte’s Web.” If that movie was made by the same folks who made “The Nut Job 2,” I’m sure the farm would have been set on fire and the farmer and his family would have wound up seriously injured in some way. Charlotte is admirable because she taught children the value of using words and persuasion. Surly is not because all he teaches is violence and destruction. In today’s social climate where terrorist groups like Antifa are taking to the streets with violence in order to get their point across, the lesson taught by Charlotte is even more important—and the lesson taught by Surly is even more dangerous. The last thing this country needs is a movie that both teaches and encourages children to be thugs who resort to violence straight away. I can’t think of a more despicable lesson for young minds. Skip it.

Amityville: The Awakening

There’s a character in “Amityville: The Awakening” who is a kid after my own heart. His name is Terrence (Thomas Mann) and he is a friend and classmate of teenager Belle (Bella Thorne). Belle and her family, including mother Joan (Jennifer Jason Leigh), little sister Juliet (Mckenna Grace), and comatose brother James (Cameron Monaghan) have just moved into the now infamous murder house in Amityville, Long Island, New York. Belle is not aware of the history of the house. Luckily enough, “Amityville: The Awakening” is a meta movie, so the previous “Amityville” movies, including the 1979 movie starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder, exists in the world of this movie. Terrence’s idea is to show Belle the history of the house by watching a DVD of the 1979 movie in the house at 3:15 a.m., which is supposedly when the house comes alive. I can’t help but admire this idea. It’s exactly the kind of thing that I would dream up. Though my connections usually wind up along the lines of eating Chinese take out while watching a kung fu movie.

If only “Amityville: The Awakening” was about Terrence. I think a “Ghost Hunter”-esque type movie could be made around a group of teens who seek to challenge themselves by watching “The Amityville Horror” in the actual Amityville house. Alas, it is not. The movie focuses on the family and on the seemingly miraculous recovery that comatose brother James slowly makes. Is it the house possessing him like it did to others, or is he really getting better? You get one guess.

“Amityville: The Awakening” is a decent enough chiller. There are some freaky moments that involve James, but no major scares. My biggest problem with the movie is the lack of continuity or consequences. For example, Kurtwood Smith plays a doctor who looks after James. Much like the priest played by Rod Steiger in the 1979 movie, he is scared away after getting attacked by a swarm of insects. In the 1979 movie it makes sense that he runs away and never returns. But to have a doctor—who has a patient to care for—do the same is just odd, especially since no one mentions it and the doctor is never seen again.

There’s also a scene that takes place in the middle of the night in which Juliet encounters the possessed James in her closet. It’s a typical jump scare in which he turns around and reveals his demon face, she screams, and the scene ends. Then nothing. She doesn’t tell Belle or her mom about it, and nothing much happens with her again. The scene might as well not exist except for the fact that it provides a cheap, mediocre scare (for comparison, a similar scare was done much better in “Annabelle: Creation”).

“Amityville: The Awakening” doesn’t break any new ground in either the horror genre or in the legend surrounding the house. The story also could have been a lot tighter. In spite of its flaws, there are worse ways to spend 90 minutes—and there certainly are better. I don’t think Terrence would add this one to his DVD collection anytime soon, but fans of the “Amityville” series have certainly seen worse. Stream it.

More New Releases: “Wind River,” in which an FBI agent teams with the town's veteran game tracker to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation, starring Elizabeth Olsen, Jeremy Renner, and Jon Bernthal; “Brigsby Bear,” about a man in his thirties whose beloved children’s show abruptly ends—so he needs to find a way to finish it, starring Kyle Mooney, Claire Danes, Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear, and Andy Samberg; “Unlocked,” about a CIA interrogator who is lured into a ruse that puts London at risk of a biological attack, starring Noomi Rapace, Orlando Bloom, Toni Collette, Michael Douglas, and John Malkovich; “6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain,” about an adrenaline seeking snowboarder who gets lost in a massive winter storm in the back country of the High Sierras, starring Josh Hartnett and Mira Sorvino; “Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas Is You,” animated holiday musical in which little Mariah must prove that she deserves a cute puppy for Christmas by dog-sitting a rascally one, featuring the voice of Mariah Carey herself; and “Gilbert,” documentary about the life and career of one of the most iconic and memorable voices in comedy, Gilbert Gottfried.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.