ICYMI ‘Atomic Blond’ Delivers Female Action without a Hero

I’ve been Terrible about keeping blog followers in sync with my few essays from the summer.  Pardons begged for old news if you caught this on Christianity Today last month but also if you didn’t get word of it until now.  Thanks for following!

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After seeing the new spy thriller, I still don’t know what a female action hero looks like

Many moviegoers turn to the absurdities of comedy or the happy endings of romance when looking for an escape. I’m more of a guns and explosions kind of girl, so I’d been looking forward to Atomic Blonde, the Cold War espionage thriller starring Charlize Theron as MI6 operative Lorraine Broughton.

Atomic Blonde is a highly stylized, spy-versus-spy picture based on a graphic novel. Though shot in color, the film relies on a restrained color palette and boasts carefully blocked frames and noir-inspired lighting. Set in the divided Berlin of 1989, the film also draws on an array of ’80s references, from shoulder-exposing sweatshirts and stiletto ankle boots to a soundtrack so full of beloved ’80s hits that licensing them all ranks as one of the film’s most impressive stunts.

As if in tribute to the Soviet enemies of the Cold War, the film’s plot has taken the form of so many Russian nesting dolls: Each new layer of the tale opens up to reveal another hidden inside. The crisis that sends Agent Broughton to Berlin involves a murdered MI6 agent and a missing list of all the undercover intelligence operatives in the city. Both East and West are willing to kill for the list (and do), as it poses both a security threat to their operations and an opportunity to gain the upper hand.

The list is also believed to reveal the identity of a Soviet double agent who has infiltrated MI6. While the Brits know codename “Satchel” exists, they’ve been unable to find and eliminate the traitor. In addition to the female lead, the characters involved in untangling the plot include Broughton’s fellow British spy, David Percival (played as a charming maniac by James McAvoy), a handful of East German, West German, and Russian spies that become hard to keep straight, and the CIA (embodied by John Goodman).

The cageyness and cunning of spy films is part of their fun, but this film’s number of betrayals stacks up almost as fast as its body count. After one last clever reveal that comes in the final scene, viewers get the answers to all of the story’s riddles, save one: Why should I root for Lorraine Broughton? …

Read the rest.  

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The Crown: Balancing Family and Calling Is a Royal Pain

The Netflix series focuses on the pressure around the monarch’s marriage.
I recall sitting with my mother in my childhood living room and watching Diana Spencer—about to be Princess Diana—walk slowly down the aisle toward the altar and her prince. The year was 1981, and despite my tender age, the princess fantasy did not take hold. Nor did I become a “royals watcher”… at least not until Netflix released its Queen Elizabeth II bio series, The Crown, earlier this month.

Why the change of heart? Maybe it was the promise of seeing Elizabeth, now the longest-reigning monarch in British history, as a young woman. Maybe it was the heady feminist air as the series debuted, just days before the US—it seemed—might elect its first female president. For others, maybe a love for British period dramas is enough to pull them in.

Since I’ve been aware of the royal family, of course, but not particularly interested before, the effect of the series has been something like moving a piece of furniture in your grandparents’ house only to find that behind that bookcase, the wallpaper you’d taken for granted your whole upbringing had at one time been far more bold and colorful than you’d ever realized. It’s enough to make you question the assumptions you’ve made about what sort of stories the walls would tell if they could talk.

The Crown attempts to tell those almost forgotten bits of the queen’s life that transpired before she ascended the throne and took on a relentlessly public life for the next 64 years. It begins with her marriage to Prince Philip Mountbatten, Duke of Edinburgh, in 1947 and is chiefly concerned with Elizabeth’s life during her 20s, including her coronation at a mere 25 years old and finding her footing with Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

The Crown brings into focus how much the story of Elizabeth’s transition into leadership is also the story of refining her marriage. Much like the images of gold being poured out and cast into a new shape that accompany the opening credits, the union of Elizabeth and Philip is remade in dramatic fashion. […]

Read the rest online 

originally published at ChristianityToday.com December 2, 2016.

Netflix’s The Crown: Wolferton Splash

Not quite a “recap” of The Crown Episode 1

In one minute and thirty seconds, this is what you (not just Prince Phillip) need to know:

 

But watching TV on a need-to-know basis is not really the point.

  • Netflix has typically written it’s binge-driven, drop-all-the-episodes-at-once dramas as though the chief goal of a pilot is to get you to stream the next hour almost reflexively.  The Crown is compelling but lacks that tug. Like eating a slice of cake that you’ll gladly have another piece of tomorrow but, no thank you, a second bit just now is more than required.
  • As with the above clip, foreshadowing is the overall flavor here–a work performed most often by King George (Jared Harris looking more like his father who originally played Albus Dumbledore).  He gets to say things like, “A sick king is no good to anyone. There must be no weakness, no vulnerability.” Clearly this sort of dialogue is not just set-dressing for George’s demise…
  • Yet for all its broadcasting that soon (soon!) things will change for Princess Elizabeth (and forever!), the pilot is strangely satisfying.  I’m particularly impressed at how little dialogue Elizabeth is given and the lovely effect it has on her characterization: So far the princess is a blank slate upon which both the people around her and the viewers project our expectations.  Well done.

Sidebar: Matt Smith blond and sometimes shirtless as Prince Phillip is conveying a jocular, mid-century, traditional masculinity that seems its own sort of fantastical detour into the past.  No Don Draper misgivings here, not yet anyway.  And to my happy surprised, The Doctor has not fettered Smith in the role, even when wearing bow ties–no small thing.

Matt Smith as Dr Who Bowties are Cool