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License to kill: ‘Atomic Blonde’ kicks butt even if its story falls on it

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Preston Barta

It truly has been a great year for women kicking butt on screen. Gender equality still has a ways to go, but there's progress afoot. Charlize Theron continues this victorious strut by taking it back to 1989 Berlin, where she excitably bruises every bad dude around.

Atomic Blonde

Rated R, 114 minutes.

Available Tuesday on DVD, Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD and Digital HD.

3 of 5 stars

Atomic Blonde unleashes Theron's savage MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton on Berlin just before the Wall comes down. The British government has sent her to recover a missing list of assets and infiltrate a Russian spy ring that's been killing off some of her fellow operatives. In order to pull it off successfully, Lorraine partners with embedded station chief David Percival (James McAvoy) to guide her through this deadly game.

As lively as the stunt work is (especially one 15-minute long sequence that starts in a stairwell and ends in a car chase), the story gets a long, dampened fuse. With the copious Mission: Impossible and James Bond movies out there, it's difficult to tell these espionage stories apart. Nearly every one of them involves some baddie with a malicious scheme, backstabbing and lots of exposition. By the end, Atomic Blonde is too complex for its own good. But it’s still gorgeous to look at, features a knockout performance from Theron and a ready-to-download '80s soundtrack.

Extras: The Universal Pictures Home Entertainment release includes deleted and extended scenes, an audio commentary with the filmmakers and a handful of fun featurettes.

November’s Criterion Collection releases (4 stars) - There’s nothing quite like watching a classic movie when the weather starts prompting you to make fire, make some hot cocoa and warm up in a snuggie (are those still around?).  The Criterion Collection has two new releases that are perfect for the approaching winter setting.

The Philadelphia Story - Like His Girl Friday (another Cary Grant-starring film that was released by Criterion this year), 1940’s The Philadelphia Story is a movie built for the stage. Every emotion is communicated through its characters’ faces and eyes, and it doesn’t need any major plot turns or big location changes to hold its audiences’ attention. It’s simply a sharp and witty film about love, flirtation and finding one’s self.

Not rated, 112 minutes.

Katharine Hepburn, left, and Jimmy Stewart in 'The Philadelphia Story.' 
Katharine Hepburn, left, and Jimmy Stewart in 'The Philadelphia Story.' 

Desert Hearts - Serving as a great companion piece to 2015’s Carol, Desert Hearts is an extremely romantic movie about two women (Helen Shaver and Patricia Charbonneau) who find true love in 1950's Nevada in the least expected situation. It’s a subtle film that doesn’t hit you over the head with its modern sensibilities or treat its characters with any disrespect. There’s a grand sense of tenderness, vulnerability and realism brought to the film by director Donna Deitch (The Women of Brewster Place), and it’s completely admirable and lovely.

Rated R, 92 minutes.

Extras: The Criterion Collection releases (available through criterion.com or at any Barnes & Noble stores) are sold separately, but both titles include many exciting supplemental materials such as audio commentaries by the filmmakers and scholars, making-of and behind-the-scenes clips, documentaries, interviews, essays and much more.

The Paul Naschy Collection II (3.5 stars) - I was introduced to the work of Paul Naschy, who is widely considered the “king of Spanish horror,” over the summer when the first volume of his Scream Factory collection released. Like I said when I reviewed that collection, it takes a certain kind of movie lover to appreciate his movies. If you are a fan of ridiculous horror movies with a B-movie appreciation, then both of these collections are worth buying.

The second five-movie collection features a wide-range of terror and fun: Hunchback of the Morgue (1973), A Dragonfly for Each Corpse (1975), The Devil’s Possessed (1974), Exorcism (1975) and The Werewolf and the Yeti (1975, also known as “Night of the Howling Beast”). I guarantee some of you just smiled or chuckled at these film titles. Well, that same feeling carries over when watching them — especially during my personal favorite, Hunchback of the Morgue.

All films are either rated R or not rated, and run about 90 minutes.

Extras: The Scream Factory (available through shoutfactory.com or at Movie Trading Co.) release includes new audio commentaries with authors and Naschy fans, theatrical trailers, still galleries and an immersive 24-page booklet.

Wind River (3.5 stars) - Did you see and enjoy last year’s crowd-pleasing Hell or High Water? Wind River is written by the same screenwriter (Taylor Sheridan, who also directs his script this time) and has that same level of intrigue. However, this film is a bit harder to swallow, as it’s a murder mystery that involves some brutal flashes of violence and rape. Thankfully, it's well-written script, performances (most notably Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen) and dialogue about the treatment of Native Americans in our culture outshine its moments of devastation.

Rated R, 107 minutes.

Extras: The Lionsgate Home Entertainment release includes a behind-the-scenes video gallery and deleted scenes.

Preacher: Season 2 (3.5 stars) - I was late to this series and only just caught up this year, but I’m sure glad I did. Series creators Sam Catlin, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen have orchestrated a blast of television show with AMC’s Preacher. Since the obscure world and energy of Buffy is no longer around, Preacher fills in that void. In the second season we pick up with our titular West Texas preacher (Dominic Cooper) and his friends (Ruth Negga and Joseph Gilgun) as they search for God and run from the Saint of Killing (Graham McTavish), an unstoppable supernatural force that’s part the entity from It Follows and Clint Eastwood. Stylish, comical and action-packed, Preacher is one hell of a good time.

TV-MA, about 578 minutes.

Extras: The Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release includes a gag reel and a featurette about raising the stakes of the show’s action.

Also available this week: 24: Legacy, 6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain, Amityville: The Awakening, Brigsby Bear, Doctor Who: The Complete Tenth Series, The Incredible Shrinking Woman (available through shoutfactory.com), In This Corner of the World (available through shoutfactory.com), Le Samouraï (1967): The Criterion Collection and The Women’s Balcony.

PRESTON BARTA is a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association. Read his work on FreshFiction.tv. Follow him on Twitter at @PrestonBarta.

FEATURED IMAGE: Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde, a breakneck action-thriller that follows MI6's most lethal assassin through a ticking time bomb of a city simmering with revolution and double-crossing hives of traitors. Jonathan Prime/Universal Studios.