‘Atomic Blonde,’ ‘Detroit’ and ‘Endless Poetry’
It’s a typical week at the cinema with half a dozen films opening, and that’s not counting special events like QFest or the Sidewalk Cinema, a video installation at the corner of Main Street and Dallas funded by the Houston Downtown Management District and Aurora Picture Show.
This week some noted directors are getting their just desserts, including vets like Alejandro Jodorowsky and Kathryn Bigelow as well as relative newcomer David Leitch.
Jodorowsky remains one of the supreme surrealists working in film, however, his latest film, Endless Poetry, is easily his most accessible to mainstream audiences. While there are surreal moments in the film, there’s nothing like the imagery we’ve come to expect from the director of such films as El Topo or Santa Sangre.
Specifically, just like in his previous autobiographical film The Dance of Reality (2013), Jodorowsky mines his youth for story elements. When his mother talks, the words come out like a diva singing opera phrases. In the film, Jodorowsky uses his sons to play his father and himself as a young man. It’s brilliant, really, when you think about how many films you see where the parents and progeny are played by movie stars who look totally unrelated by blood.
In one of Endless Poetry’s few fourth-wall breaking moments, Alejandro himself shows up behind the actor playing his son (Adan Jodorowsky) as if to conjure up the metaphor of a person looking back at his own life. Another son of Alejandro, Brontis Jodorowsky, plays his father, Jamie, not just a stern paterfamilias but rather a bit of a fascist.
Young Alejandro distances himself from his family, who are aghast that he wants to be a poet. Eventually finding a like-minded group of outcasts, Alejandro develops what is to become his singular style of story telling. Other young characters portrayed in Endless Poetry, like Enrique Lihn, Stella Diaz Varín and Nicanor Parra, went on to be renowned artists in their own right.
As in his other films, Jodorowsky never capitulates to normalcy, especially in the father/son dynamics. Young Alejandro’s romance with Stella ends on a sad note. Yet Endless Poetry follows through with its narrative in such a linear manner that it sits among the best family dramas ever made. The cinematographer of the film is Christopher Doyle.
Endless Poetry unwinds exclusively at the Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park starting today.
David Leitch may not be a household name, but you’ve seen films he’s worked on mainly as a stunt choreographer or stunt double (for instance, Brad Pitt in Fight Club). Leitch was the uncredited director for John Wick (think Ron Howard on the Han Solo film). His upcoming 2024 film is the sequel Deadpool 2, but his current film is what people will be talking about.
Atomic Blonde operates on so many levels you may be challenged as whether to describe it as a hard boiled spy film, a nostalgic trip through 1980 new wave music cues, or the latest film to celebrate female empowerment.
Charlize Theron (no stranger to bad ass distaff roles) plays secret agent Lorraine Broghton, a no-nonsense MI6 operative who’s about to tear up Berlin on the eve of the collapse of the Wall. James McAvoy, John Goodman, Til Schweiger and Sofia Boutella co-star.
Leitch lays down a soundtrack of that could be the definitive mix tape of late-80s progressive songs: “99 Luftballons,” “I Ran,” “London Calling,” “Der Kommissar,” “Major Tom” and “Blue Monday.” That’s leaving out several titles.
To accompany the music, Leitch escalates the violence of rapid-cut Bourne films to stage massive fight sequences that last for minutes, seemingly without cuts. Whether Leitch uses invisible digital editing doesn’t matter, the action flows, regardless of the technique, like a continuous means to an end.
For the film, Theron trained so hard she cracked her teeth, requiring dental surgery before principal photography. And when it comes time for her world-weary agent of change to find romance, it’s in the arms of another femme. Which is just as well, as the other available guys are probably double agents anyway.
Atomic Blond opens wide today at area theaters.
Kathryn Bigelow, first woman to win an Academy Award as Best Director (for The Hurt Locker), places her latest film during the Detroit race riots of 1967. Detroit is really about the Algiers Motel altercation, an incident that saw police kill three black men while also beating seven other men and two white women during an impromptu interrogation that occupies much of the film’s running time.
Detroit is anything but black and white. Some of the police are shown having an upstanding moral conscience, while others use their badge to literally get away with murder. Likewise, the victims display flaws that make them less than perfect, although certainly not deserving of the abuse thrown their way.
Bigelow starts out the film with a series of art panels by Jacob Lawrence depicting African-American migration in the United States that play over the opening credits. The origins of the riots started with the police busting an illegal after-hours club in the middle of the night. Events snowball from there when martial law is declared and the city has regions cordoned off by the National Guard, the State Patrol, and local Detroit Police.
Remember in The Deer Hunter (1978) when the wedding sequence at the end of the second act seemed to go on forever? There’s a similar scene in Detroit that could be its own movie.
On July 25, 1967 the Algiers Motel came under scrutiny when shots were fired from a window towards a National Guard unit across the street. The gun was actually a starter pistol shooting blanks. Eventually, some bad cops take over the situation and line up a dozen or so suspects in a dank hallway and Detroit becomes a film within a film.
Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd gives Detroit a grainy period look. Considering how much time the characters are being photographed against dark wood hues, the film still retains a sense of the character’s fear, despite the close quarters.
The aftermath comes together quickly. The officers on trial are found not guilty and the world keeps spinning, although the axis has been changed. Detroit may be hard for some audiences to sit through because the truth can really be a bitch.
Detroit opens exclusively at the Edwards Grand Palace today, opening wide on Aug. 4.