Tuesday, August 22, 2017

DOUBLE REVIEW: 'Atomic Blonde' / 'Chuck'

One's about a chick in a white wig who kicks everybody's ass and the other's about a dude who knocks down Muhammad Ali and does a lot of cocaine - and both are probably better than you'd expect them to be.

By: Jimbo X

Alright kids, I need your help settling a dispute me and an acquaintance got into recently: is it morally OK for white people to use the word "nigger" while being robbed by people who just so happen to be black

Now, I've written about the complexities of the dreaded "n-word" plenty of times for this wonderful little site of ours, and the general contemporary U.S. societal consensus is that white people can't say "nigger" or its myriad permutations for any reason other than to reflect on how terrible a word it is and how everybody who uses it ought to feel plumb ashamed of themselves.

But what if a white person has to use the word "nigger" as a survival mechanism - is it still verboten for the slur to pass through a Caucasian person's lips, even if their very lives may hinge on the utterance? 

Here's the scenario me and a buddy cooked up. Let's say you're a white person, and one day you're walking through a parking lot at night and some black fellow decides he wants to carjack you or wallet-jack you or just plain jack you up as atonement for years of perceived racial oppression. In the moment of aggression, would it be socially and ethically permissible for the white victim to use the term "nigger" as a non-physical form of linguistic self-defense

We've all read The Gift of Fear and recognize how important "posturing" is as a form of circumventing violent conflict. Furthermore, we've all read The 48 Laws of Power and recognize how important appearing unfazed and emotionless are in gaining the upper-hand in physical confrontations. So wouldn't it at least seem somewhat practical for a white victim of black aggression to attempt to protect himself from further harm by using the term "nigger" as a form of defensive posturing?

Imagine this, dear reader. The scene - the dark, nearly empty parking lot of Walgreens, 3:45 a.m. 34-year-old Chad Robinson, experiencing torrential bouts of diarrhea in the middle of the night, decides to pick up an emergency bucket of Imodium and an extra large bag of pumpkin-shaped Reese's peanut butter cups, because fuck it, they were right there next to the cash register. After making his purchase, he ambles back to his car when - out of the stillness of the night - he's immediately assailed by one 23-year-old Jethro Abraham Washington, a local low-level Oxycontin pusher high on Purple Drank who needs $100 right then and there so he can upgrade his T-Mobile plan. 

"Gimme yo wallet, yo may-naze-skinned mudda-fuggah!" Jethro screams, waving what appears to be a box cutter (or maybe a really big screwdriver, it's kinda hard to tell sometimes.) At this point, Mr. Robinson has four options; he can fork over the wallet (not that it would prevent the robber from still hurting him with the weapon, or even killing him), he can attempt to flee the scene (not smart, especially when you don't know if the other guy has a gun on him), he can attempt to physically attack the robber (definitely not smart, since he might have AIDS-tainted needles underneath his Washington Wizards baseball cap or his second-cousin once removed LeAndrew waiting in the wings with homemade shiv) or he can try to linguistically diffuse the situation

Power dynamics aren't difficult to understand. People tend to attack people they perceive as weaker than them, especially those who refrain from defending themselves. Since Chad would be risking life and limb by literally fighting his attacker, perchance there's a way he can stop the robber dead in his tracks without throwing one punch, firing one bullet or swinging one tactical army knife - that's right, he can employ nigger fu

Yep, that's right, nigger fu - from the Latin, "fu" meaning "to attack with" and the Roman "nigger," meaning "wait 'til Jesse Jackson hears about this." My thesis is simple. By using the word "nigger" against his attacker, Chad can exemplify a sense of fearlessness and dyadic superiority, which in turn would perhaps scare off the would-be robber (or, at the very least, make him second guess whether or not his target might be a Klansman or a neo-Confederate with a concealed Luger duck-taped to his butthole.) So with that in mind, let's revisit that scenario I put in your head earlier, and see what happens when Chad breaks out his fifth-degree black belt nigger fu skills:

Jethro: "Gimme yo wallet, yo may-naze-skinned mudda-fuggah!"

Chad: "Buzz off, nigger, I've got to get home and do white people things, like listen to Paul Simon's 'You Can Call Me Al.'" 

Jethro: "...whut? How dare yo, honky! Yo know yo ain't spozed to be sayin' dat! If I had my phone on me I'd take yo picture and put it on Instagram and make yo lose yo job!"

Chad: "You heard me, nigger. Part like the Red Sea and let me go back to my birthright, listening to 'The Boy in the Bubble," then skipping straight over 'Graceland' and 'I Know What I Know' so I can thumb dance to 'Gumboots.'" 

Jethro: "Well I never! You can keep yo personal belongings, I wuddn't want noze money from a RAY-CYST no how!"

And ... scene. By simply defensively using two syllables, not only did Chad avert an armed robbery, potential bodily harm and even his own demise, he was able to nonviolently disable his attacker and go on his merry way, preventing any further physical harm to himself or his attacker. Now, I think such a strategy is perfectly reasonable and justified, but don't try telling that to my mixed race amigo DeKeith (I met him at a local slam dance open mic performance, where his 37-line poem "Black Eyes, White Eyes, I's Eyes" positively tore the house down") who told me he thought the idea was both ineffective and problematic.

"Jimbo, saying 'nigger' is never, ever OK, for a white person, even if he is getting robbed," he tried to tell me. "Besides, what if hearing the word 'nigger' just makes the robber even angrier, and more likely to use physical violence to get what he wants?" 

Well, he had me there, I must admit. If there's one thing I don't want happening, it's offending the feelings of someone committing an armed robbery against an innocent victim. After all, we here in the States are A-OK with people getting the shit beat out of them and gunned down in the street like sewer rats for $20 dollars ... but don't you even think about tainting the experience with racial prejudice and bigotry.

I'm sorry, but if they're going to charge me $15 damn dollars for a movie ticket, it's my god-given consumer right to jack off right then and there in the theater.

Speaking of things that are whiter than a Ku Klux Klan snowball fight, our first flick of the week, Atomic Blonde, might just be the only major studio Hollywood movie you'll see this year that's devoid of a single person of color. Granted, you do have that one half-Algerian broad with the quasi-cleft lip from The Mummy showing up to make lesbianic advances towards Scarlett Jo, but beyond that? We're working with a virtually all-Caucasian cast here, something that in this day and age is rarer than finding a Dairy Queen staff that can speak English above a first-grade level.

This is one of those movies that's all style and no substance, which is precisely what you want out of a dumb, late summer action flick. Unfortunately, it's also one of those "visionary" neo-action movies like The Watchmen and John Wick where the filmmakers try to make it seem more artistic and culturally cognizant than it really is, so we wind up getting these long sequences where the director keeps poking the audience going "see, look at this reference to the work of Tarkovsky I put right here! Golly gee, ain't I smart?"

Subtlety is not this movie's forte. There's this one part where Scarlett Johansson walks into a contact's apartment and the camera literally zooms in on a paperback copy of The Prince on his bookcase to let us know he's not to be trusted. Then there's the part where ScarJo gets chased through a movie house by Russian goons, and what movie is playing? Why, what are the odds, it's Stalker ... you know, because SHE is getting stalked, too? And don't think these people are limiting their on-the-nose allusions to arthouse cinema and Machiavellian literature. Just wait until you get to the part where that aforementioned half-Algerian lesbo whispers a damning secret in ScarJo's ear, and fucking "Voices Carry" starts playing over the soundtrack.

As for the formal plot? Well, it's 1989 in Berlin, but it's an alternate reality where the wall never came down and the Ruskies and the Brits still hate each others' guts and ScarJo plays this one U.K. secret spy who wears half her body weight in eyeliner trying to find this one guy who literally memorized 40 years worth of classified Cold War intel so she has to keep making and breaking deals with the KGB, the CIA, the MI6, the BND, the DGSE and I'm pretty sure even AOL and KFC to find him and smuggle him across the English Channel. But the whole thing is told in flashback as John Goodman and Toby Jones grill her on why the mission was all fucked up, and you literally have no idea who's supposed to be the good guys or the bad guys because every 10 minutes some new plot twist is introduced that reveals character X is actually working for character Y, but you really don't notice it because there's also another chop socky knife fight happening every 9 minutes. And to be fair, the kung fu in this one is pretty good, even if it's yet another movie that demands we suspend our disbelief and just roll with the idea that some 110 pound skirt can fight off 13 armed Russian soldiers in a pair of stiletto heels using only an extension cord and a Hello Kitty key ring.

Granted, the final act kinda' falls apart, but at least it keeps the identity politicking to a minimum and it does a pretty good job of following the number one rule of ALL action movies halfway worth a shit - at any juncture in the film, you're never more than five minutes removed from somebody getting shot, stabbed, immolated, garroted, defenestrated or pummeled to death while "Der Kommisar" ironically plays in the background

We've got 24 dead bodies. Six breasts. Two exposed female buttocks. Two motor vehicle chases. Six totaled cars, with one underwater submersion. Spike to the eyeball. Knife to the throat. Multiple people getting shot in the head at point blank range. Gratuitous vodka sipping. Gratuitous ice cube baths. Gratuitous Til' Tuesday. Gratuitous "99 Luftballoons." Kung fu. Strangulation fu. Skateboard fu. And the thing more or less responsible for this movie existing in the first place ... Cold War nostalgia fu.

Starring ScarJo as the eponymous quadruple-agent who somehow musters the cardio to regularly judo toss 300 pound assassins around like potato sacks even though she lights up a Marlboro every five minutes; James McAvoy as the guy we think is Russian who has a nasty habit of beating teenagers to death to Eurotrash pop music; Eddie Marsan as the walking Encyclopedia whose life must be protected at all costs (so you KNOW he's going to get offed sooner or later); Sofia Boutello as the French agent provocateur who spends the whole movie trying to dig into ScarJo's fish taco; Toby Jones as the huge-foreheaded CIA interrogator who almost creams his jeans when ScarJo starts recounting her Sapphic exploits in Deutschland; and John Goodman as the CIA operative with the best line in the whole movie - "the Brits got us in a royal goat fuck."

Directed by stuntman turned action movie auteur David Leitch (whose next movie is the Deadpool sequel) and written by Kurt Johnstad, who adapted the screenplay from the comic book The Coldest City, which - like every other acclaimed graphic novel - was written by some bald English fruit. 

I give it two and a half stars out of four. Jimbo says check it out, especially if you prefer your senseless, stylized movie violence without any caramel-colored people in it.

Liev Schreiber, seen here when he isn't forcing his kids to wear nail polish and kiss each other on the mouth for retweets.

But if you do like senseless, stylized movie violence with caramel-colored people in it, boy, do I have a great second bill feature for you. It only took about seven months, but they finally started showing Chuck in my neck of the woods and I've got to say this is a really, really good movie, even if it does star Liev Schreiber - you know, that washed up guy from Scream who started dressing his son up like Harley Quinn and telling him to suck on bicycle handles whenever the paparazzi sprouted up.

It's a biopic focusing on the life and times of one Chuck Wepner, the New Jersey boxer who got called up as a tomato can opponent for Muhammad Ali and shocked the shit out of everybody by not only knocking the loud and proud segregationist and Ku Klux Klan guest speaker down, but making it all the way to the last 19 seconds of the 15th and final round before the refs waved it off. 

This is one of those high-speed biopic movies that cuts right to the chase. By the half-hour mark we've already got the Ali fight and it's over and done with in six minutes. Now, in most boxing movies that would be a huge problem, but there's so much interesting shit happening before and after Chuck gets famous that you don't even really feel short-changed. 

We start off with the movie recapping Wepner's clash with Terry "The Stormin' Mormon" Hinkey and how as a kid, Chuck would just let the bullies pound on his skull Homer Simpson style until they got tired and then he'd turn their lights out. Then he tries to fuck his mailman wife, goes to a bar and hands out those novelty ink pens where the woman flashes her tits when you turn it upside down and quotes Requiem for a Heavyweight a lot. After Muhammad Ali beats George Foreman (strangely enough, though, the movie never acknowledges Chuck's third round TKO loss to George six years earlier), Wepner gets a call from his trainer (played by Hellboy, who somehow looks more intimidating without 20 pounds of latex on his face) who tells him Don King wants him a whitey for Ali's next opponent, and since Chuck's the only honky ranked in the top ten, guess who's next in line for a heavyweight title shot?

Then we've got a lot of press conference scenes, even though the guy they got to play Ali looks nothing like him, and this one reporter asks Chuck if his strategy is to "bleed into his mouth until he drowns." So he goes to the Catskills and trains harder than he's ever trained in his life and watches himself on Mike Douglas and starts having second thoughts about taking the fight. By now everybody knows how the fight turned out, so I won't tell you what you already know, but rest assured the in-ring action is surprisingly decent and realistic-looking.

From there the flick centers on Chuck dealing with his 15 minutes of fame. He goes to see Rocky and starts living up the gimmick, just ambling into discos wearing fur coats and pimp hats and doing line after line of the Bolivian booger sugar in the bathroom while "Gonna' Fly Now" plays in the background. But he starts hitting the Colombian nose candy a little too hard and starts running into money problems so he finagles Sylvester Stallone's agent into a meeting so he can try and get a few bucks from him and when he finally does run into him at a cafe the guy playing Rocky sounds just like him but has a body type closer to Paul Reiser than Rambo. While Stallone doesn't give him any pity dollars, he does give him a role in Rocky 2, but - of course - Wepner gets liquored up and dives into a pool stark-raving naked the night before his big screen test and bombs the audition like it was Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After he shows up at his daughter's parent-teacher conference coked out of his mind, you just know the next 30 minutes are going to be brutal, as Chuck spends the rest of the flick crying in bars and trying to get random skanks in the sack, only to wind up in the slammer for possession with intent to sale for 26 months, where, naturally, he gets a standing ovation from the other inmates as soon as he enters his jail cell. But there is something of a happy ending - after turning down a cameo in Stallone's prison epic Lock Up, Chuck gets paroled for good behavior and marries this one broad who dresses just like Peg Bundy and they walk around taking pictures of crappy Rocky statues at Planet Hollywood and the postscript tells us they're still happily wed to this very day.

Sure, it's a movie that borrows heavily from stuff like American Hustle and Goodfellas in terms of editing, aesthetics and overall atmosphere, but all in all it's a pretty damn solid character dramedy with a great cast, some punchy dialogue and a pace that isn't too slow or too fast. A better movie could've been made about Wepner's life, but for what it's worth, this is still one of the better sports biopics to come down the pipe in quite a while. Raging Bull, it most definitely ain't, but it's still better than a good 75 percent of stuff that's showed up at cineplexes this year - and yes, I did enjoy it more than Creed, in case you were wonderin'. 

We've got no dead bodies. No breasts. Two exposed male buttocks. One dead career (Wepner's.) Three boxing matches (including one against a bear). One wrestling match (against Andre the Giant.) Gratuitous bar crawling. Gratuitous disco. Gratuitous cocaine snorting. And the thing more or less responsible for the movie existing in the first place ... some serious fall from grace fu

Starring Liev Schreiber as the eponymous character who tells the press "the sweet science ain't so sweet when you've got a piledriver in your nuts"; Elizabeth Moss as Wepner's second wife, who keeps warning waitresses about how her husband "just falls in love with the freckles on your ass"; Ron Perlman as Chuck's trainer Al Braverman, who keeps calling him a "Polack" and refers to Muhammad Ali as "Muck Luck"; Pooch Hall as the former Cassius Clay, who asks if "they're going to lay feminine napkins in his corner" during a press conference with Chuck; and Morgan Spector as Sly Stallone, who has the absolute perfect voice for the role even though he looks more like Adam Driver than the dude from Cobra.

Written by Jeff Feuerzeig (who also directed The Devil and Daniel Johnston) and former heroin addict/ALF scribe Jerry Stahl and directed by Philippe Falardeau, some Canuck-Froth who did that one movie about Reese Witherspoon helping Sudanese war refugees get bagger jobs at Safeway.

I give it three stars out of four. Jimbo says check it out, despite it putting more money in Liev Schreiber's bank account.


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