Anna (2019)

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‘Leon: The Professional’ director Luc Besson hasn’t come up with something good since the first 20 minutes of ‘Lucy’, will another film with a four lettered name in the title be the return to form he needs or should ‘Anna’ be sent to the gulag?

At a Moscow market, Anna (Sasha Luss) is picked up by a model scout and jets off to Paris. Though it soon becomes clear she’s working for the KGB and under tutorage from Olga (Helen Mirren) she racks up the kills, but this grabs the attention of CIA agent Leonard (Cillian Murphy) and Anna is stuck in the middle of two opposing sides.

A film with a strong female lead is thankfully becoming more the norm but there’s something about this film; which stars a strong and combat ready woman, that doesn’t feel like it would be empowering. Luc Besson instead hands his film a near constant male gaze with Anna serving kicks and spills but also serving as a figure to be gawped at. The skills of this Russian pro are evident but you can’t help but feel they’re overshadowed by the fact she’s dressed up and mostly down to flaunt flesh and look sexy whilst dispatching numerous henchmen.

If ‘Anna’ had been released 15 years ago, then 2004 audiences would likely be more receptive. It would be a better, more explosive spy flick but as it is, here in 2019, the movie sits like off-brand vodka. It’s a film with nothing original; there’s nothing in her take-downs or style that we haven’t seen before, even with the sleek Vogue gloss mirroring her modelling looks, this story is less than fresh.

An early restaurant brawl does neatly showcase Sasha Luss as a capable and kick-ass lead and it is the point in the film where you sort of feel the narrative and action is getting into its groove. That thought is short lived however, as it soon reverts back to fairly lame spy thriller tropes and generally it screams like Besson thinks his script is cleverer than it is; the annoying time jumps and twists are not anything to write home about. Only an INXS song injects a lively section of energy and their bop punctuates through a ridiculous but enjoyable montage.

Luss does grace the screen with a believable strength and she proves to be a model, not just with killer heels but killer moves too. The coldness to her expression is very Russian and there’s no denying she’s cool and hot but not even her convincing whip-smart assassin tricks, proven further in an embassy escape, can save this film from being cheesy and only mildly entertaining.

Dodgy Russian accents, overly sexualised visuals and a run of the mill screenplay make this a tepid watch, one that keeps Besson on trend of producing poor movies and at this point his EuropaCorp brand should be re-titled You’reOverCorp.

4.5/10

 

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Ma (2019)

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There’s ridiculous and then there’s ‘Ma’; a new feature from the Blumhouse brand. Sometimes loco is enjoyable but in the case of this horror, it never reaches the entertaining heights the premise deserves.

New to a town in Ohio is Maggie (Diana Silvers) who winds up with the popular gang. Due to their youthful age, they need an adult to buy them alcohol and in walks Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer) who is more than happy to help and way too eager to please by offering the school kids a party set-up in her basement but her obsession grows, leading Maggie down a dangerous path.

Tate Taylor who directs this barmy film has some thriller know-how in his back pocket as he was the man in charge of Emily Blunt-led ‘The Girl on the Train’. However, the good handling of thriller tones in the first two acts of ‘Ma’ are totally undone by an absolutely bonkers third act. Even though the plot and dialogue within the first hour can be dumb and less than engaging, there is a credible amount of taut tension but it speedily unravels by the finale.

The basement gatherings are frequent and are an excuse to load the cinema speakers with party tracks and ply the screen with typical teen drinking and revelry but they are fairly tiresome and the only celebratory aspect of these home parties is Octavia Spencer busting moves and cavorting with high school adolescents which suitably builds up the air of unease.

Spencer is a sensational actress and has won or been nominated for many supporting roles; so it’s great to see her stride out of the sidelines and be front and centre. She definitely doesn’t waste her spotlight moment, taking a gigantic bite of the role and slathering on layers of sinister chills to the character. The mumsy costume of Sue Ann; what with the animal patterned tops, her knitwear and then her veterinary position all do wonders in setting up a lovely, cosy American Mom which makes her descent into crazed anger all the more batty to watch.

The plot is silly which is sad, because if tackled well this could have been a dumb yet really creepy horror outing. Instead it doesn’t work as a so-bad-its-good film but feels rather hollow and shuttles into an insane third act. Not even the flashbacks help round out the story or justify Sue Ann’s choices, in fact all they do is provide a cliched attempt to deepen the lead character but it’s misplaced and does very little to have you sympathise with her.

‘Ma’ is very, very B-movie material featuring a crew of students that are neither interesting or quirky enough to like or root for. It’s a silly narrative with a fairly strong suspenseful start which crashes and burns into a fiery end. Only worth the watch for Spencer lapping up the screen-time and enjoying every second.

4.5/10

The Girl on the Train (2016)

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Shuttling out the tunnel of a disappointing summer of movies is this bleak-tinged film with a harsh microscope on human flaws. It isn’t a hugely predictable turn we witness but then it’s not much of a surprise either, leaving Emily Blunt to be the biggest saving grace in quite a tepid thriller.

Frequent train passenger Rachel Watson (Blunt) spends her travelling time peering into the lives of people who live in homes along the rail-lines. She becomes fixated on the world of Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett), who she follows one day. The next day she wakes up and Megan has gone missing leaving Rachel to try and figure out the truth whilst coping with her own problems.

Tate Taylor does ensure there’s a degree of captivation in this feature, the tone of the movie is dialled down to a greyish spectrum and along the way there’s a clear burrowing sense of danger which is great. Also the little moments where time seems to slow, people shudder just a smidge as the frame blurs and zooms are neat aspects that don’t just tie in with Rachel’s addiction but also build that level of unease and question of trust.

Author Paula Hawkins, of which this movie is based on, may be getting sick of the comparisons to ‘Gone Girl’ but when the marketing team releases a trailer that looks very much like the Fincher release then audiences/fans of that will relate the two. It’s no big issue relating the two as the stories both deal with dramatic relationships and the harsh nastiness people can hide within themselves. They also both harbour a mystery and twist narrative, perhaps this is where Hawkins’ plot falls down in contrast. Though the film tries taking us down tracks of surprise, it isn’t a massive twist that we get and overall the ending section of the movie becomes a lacklustre affair with scorn driving the way.

I doubt Hawkins is to blame, in translation I can imagine her novel lost impact and dramatic build up to the reveal. The movie seems to drip-feed more hints and though I didn’t guess the figure to blame, I wasn’t exactly stunned either. It’s the focus on Rachel and her problems that is the strongest story-telling quality. Just the way she tries struggling through existence and as we learn more about her, the routine she takes and her past, it’s these signs that keep the movie interesting.

Emily Blunt is by the far the best thing in this film, she utterly buries herself under the skin of Rachel and she looks like a shattered, damaged being. Depending on the following months of movies, I can see and also hope that Blunt is up for an Oscar, because she brings the tears, strength, broken self-belief and is a wonder to watch. Haley Bennett gets an interesting role also, trying to sink her teeth into a woman that’s trying to find something she doesn’t know what whilst being a temptress, mistress and wife. Justin Theroux gets more screen time than Luke Evans, but both men like Edgar Ramirez are nothing more than mysterious possibly bad guys who flit in between the lives of Rachel and Megan.

I was hoping the film would be more intense, or at least more of a bubbling pot of tension, instead it simmers slightly and only heats up thanks to Blunt and her incredible performance. The themes of addiction, abuse and depression don’t feel like the smart traits they should be, but mind this gap and sit down for an occasionally bumpy ride that has enough of the thriller genre to keep you seated.

6/10