Luke Evans

Anna

11/07/19

Director Luc Besson has been having a thin time of things lately. His love project, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, was a baffling and expensive flop, so it’s little wonder he’s returned to more familiar ground with Anna, which has been awaiting release for some time. This histrionic spy-thriller has the feel of an 80s bonkbuster about it: patently absurd, but nonetheless rather enjoyable as it galumphs gleefully across the career of the titular hero (Sasha Luss), a young woman forced to become a high level assassin.

When we first meet her, she’s down at heel, addicted to drugs and enduring an abusive relationship with her no-good boyfriend, Piotr (Alexander Petrov), who gets her mixed up in some very bad business. But she is rescued (if that’s the right term) by KGB man, Alex (Luke Evans), who offers her an opportunity to ‘better herself.’ From this point, the film cuts to five years later – and from there to three years earlier; and we continue to switch back and forth in time like an out of control roller coaster. While it’s occasionally hard to keep track of exactly where we are, it means that the story often pulls the rug from under the viewer’s feet, throwing out some real surprises. It’s never dull.

Complications arise when CIA man, Lenny (Cillian Murphy), appears on the scene.  Anna carries on doing her missions, whilst longing for the freedom to walk away from something that has become an absolute chore.

Most of the familiar Luc Besson tropes are here: savage punch-ups with Anna taking on entire armies of black-suited hit men, casual executions in glamorous settings and young women slinking around in high end fashions (Anna’s cover identity has her posing as a model). There’s also a lovely turn from Helen Mirren as Anna’s chainsmoking KGB handler, Olga, having great fun in a show-off role.

Everything builds to a cross and double-cross conclusion and, while this isn’t Besson at his very best, it’ll certainly do until his next effort comes along. Just don’t think about that labyrinthine plot too much. You’ll tie your brain in knots.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Beauty and the Beast

13/04/17

We’re a little late to the party on this one, finally sitting down to watch Disney’s live action remake of Beauty and the Beast almost a full month after its UK release. Still, even without our patronage, it’s been a rip-roaring success, and so we’re able to pick from a plethora of performance times at our local Cineworld, despite the passage of time.

And it’s easy to see why this film has been so well-received. It’s lovely. Emma Watson is a perfect Belle for the modern age, conferring a sense of agency and autonomy without undermining the source material. And the CGI animations are just so very Disney – cheeky and cute and oozing personality. Sure, there’s an enchanted castle full of emotional manipulation here, but would we have it any other way?

I can’t compare this new version to the much-loved cartoon, because – gasp! – I’ve never seen the earlier incarnation of the tale. Philip tells me that it’s pretty much a frame-by-frame copy, with only subtle changes applied to reflect twenty-first century ideologies. For example, the much-vaunted ‘openly gay character’ turns out to be Le Fou, whose homosexuality is a lot less ‘open’ than I’d imagined from the on-line fervour it elicited (admiration for Gaston, and a flirtatious glance during the finale dance). I guess it’s a step in the right direction, but it seems unnecessarily restrained. This is 2017. LGBTQ characters don’t need to be so hidden and covert, do they? Still, even baby steps move us forward – and this is a film with a good heart.

Dan Stevens imbues the Beast with a deep humanity; Luke Evans relishes in denying Gaston has a heart at all. Both male leads are played with real aplomb, nimbly treading the fine line between stock-character and depth. I’m particularly fond of Kevin Kline’s bumbling Maurice; he’s just so incredibly appealing despite his neediness – no wonder Belle feels so responsible for him.

The music is great – memorable and catchy and beautifully performed (is there anything Watson can’t do?). And the choreography of the crowd scenes is truly breathtaking. This is Disney doing what Disney does, with such confidence and assurance that success was always inevitable.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield