Film Review: ANNA (France 2019) ***

Anna Poster
Trailer

Beneath Anna Poliatova’s striking beauty lies a secret that will unleash her indelible strength and skill to become one of the world’s most feared government assassins.

Director:

Luc Besson

Writer:

Luc Besson (screenplay)

ANNA returns flashy French director Luc Besson (THE FIFTH ELEMENT, arguably his best movie) to his NIKITA (the film re-titled LA FEMME NIKITA in North America) roots with an ultra-violent slick spy/assassin action pic.  ANNA is ridiculous, stylish, sexy and camp.  Love it or hate it.  Two of my film critic colleagues, TV personality critic Richard Crouse and NOW Magazine critic Norman Milner both hated it with a passion.  I sort of loved it, so why the enormous difference in opinion?

One reason is how one wants to look at the film.  ANNA is tacky.  It would not be a surprise if the film would be re-titled LA FEMME ANNA.  Besson has done this before and better.  This might just be a vehicle for his new muse, super model Sasha Luss.

The plot can be summed up in one line.  Quote Wikipedia: “Beneath a woman’s striking beauty lies a secret that will unleash her indelible strength and skill to become one of the most feared assassins on the planet.”  Of course there is more.  Anna (Luss) has a lesbian lover, Maud (Lera Abova) as well as two male lovers, Russian Alex Tchenkov (Luke Evans) and American Lenny Miller (Cillian Murphy).  Overlooking Anna at all times is KGB chief Olga (Helen Mirren. looking sufficiently ‘awful’ for the part, glasses and all).  The film is unveiled in non chronological order, where more than too often, an incident occurs before the story moves back 3 weeks or 3 months to explain what really happened causing the incident to occur.  The tactic is laughable but this could be Besson’s intention to mock the spy/mystery genre.

The film lasts a little under 2 hours, which is quite the chore if you hate the film from the start.  On the other hand, regardless the fact, there is enough going on in the background, exotic sets and locations, beautiful people, outrageous action set-ups (like the hot sexy closet scene).

Apart from the hours of action nonsense, there is one sad part that stands out – the subplot involving Anna’s lesbian girlfriend Maud.  Maud is oblivious of Anna’s dubbed ice and just loves her regardless.  Maud dances in happiness, often whispering sweet nothings to Anna who completely ignores her for other worries.   One wishes better for this poor character which somehow stands out in this emotionless flick.  Besides Abova, Helen Mirren as Olga and Cillian Murphy as Lenny deliver stand out performances that one wishes would save the movie.

The only thing consistent about the outrageous story is Anna’s desire to become free, which she obviously attains at the very last moment in the story.  I am sure that there are quite the few in the audience who wish they could be free as well from Besson’s movie.

Besson has had a string of flops including VALERIAN which I absolutely adored.  One has to give the man credit not for want of trying.  ANNA cost $30 million to make but looks as if it cost more than double that.  It is expected to have a soft opening at the box-office.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Ku-PkrtyUs

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Film Review: ISABELLE (UK/Canada 2018) ***

Isabelle Poster
Trailer

A young couple’s dream of starting a family shatters as they descend into the depths of paranoia and must struggle to survive an evil presence that wants nothing more than their very own … See full summary »

Director:

Robert Heydon

Writer:

Donald Martin (screenplay by)

ISABELLE is a psychological thriller that treads on the successes of past horror classics like ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE EXORCIST.  The lead character is a pregnant mother and the character is being possessed by some demon who wants to live in the human world.

Director Rob Heydon sets the stage at the film’s start with several audience anticipation moves.  An all-American couple (though the film was shot in Hamilton and Toronto, Canada) moves into a New England neighbourhood.  First comes a scream from the pregnant mother, Larissa (Amanda Crew).  “The baby kicked me.  She is strong.”  “You don’t want this baby.”  These are words that propose that things are going to get nasty.

True to expectations, things do not get better.  Larissa meets the odd next door neighbour, Ann (nicely played by Sheila McCarthy) and her wheelchair bound daughter, Isabel (Zoe Belkin), who spends all the time staring at her through her second floor bedroom window.  

Larissa loses the baby.  She becomes terribly depressed and prescribed depression medication that seems to make her go all weird and paranoid.  There is only so much hubby Matt can tolerate.  The script introduces a weird looking pastor who actually is normal and tries to help the couple.  The music is also greta at creating the mood of a scary atmosphere.

The film contains some great genuinely scary moments.  “I want to see my baby,” demands Larissa after delivering her stillborn.  But they never let the audience see it, well perhaps only a glimpse.  

Director Heydon sure is adept at keeping the mood of the film successfully creepy.  The dead baby keeps appearing out of nowhere to invade Larissa’s dreams to just shock her.   The baby’s scorching red eyes add to the scares.  Red eyes are commonly used, as witnessed too with Chuck’s eyes in CHILD’S PLAY, also opening this week.  Larissa also acts weird but McCarthy’s neighbour is sufficiently creepy all on her own.  The camera shot of a newspaper article of a child abuser adds on even more.  It is assumed that Isabel is be the daughter of the child abuser, though the spelling of Isabel is different from the title of the film.

The film has a short running length of less than 90 minutes.  For this short a running time, too much happens – especially at the end, so that credibility is stretched to the limit.  It is not that audiences would believe what transpires on screen anyway, but too much occurring too fast in a hour film tends to come off as silliness.

The best thing about the film is its build up of the couple’s paranoia and how it affects both the husband and mother – and how they cope with it together.  At times, one wonders whether the film is just a psychological drama with no supernatural element.  ISABELLE ends up a satisfactory low budget horror thriller – the typical Canadian flick that stands in as an American one in order to expand its target audience but the film is up for stiff competition opening the same week as CHILD’S PLAY.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Zt23AB3MUU

Film Review: WILD ROSE (UK 2018) ***1/2

Wild Rose Poster
Trailer

A musician from Glasgow dreams of becoming a Nashville star.

Director:

Tom Harper

Writer:

Nicole Taylor

Every decade or so, one film arrives that has the premise of some dreamer travelling to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee to make it big in country music.  Clint Eastwood and his son Kyle starred in his directed HONKYTONK MAN way back in 1982, a flop at the box-office that was actually an excellent film.  Also well remembered is the Australian entry, Chris Kennedy’s 1997 DOING TIME FOR PATSY CLINE, where an Aussie teen played by Matt Day leaves his Australian farm to travel to the United States for the Opry.   The latest has a Glaswegian single mum chasing her singing dreams.

Rose-Lynn Harlan (Jessie Buckley) has always dreamt of becoming a country music star for as long as anyone can remember.  But she lives in Glasgow and has two kids.  Worst of all she is a convicted criminal, just released from prison and forced to wear an ankle bracelet for whereabouts reasons and curfew.

Jessie Buckley, Sophie Okonedo, and Julie Walters star in this inspiring comedy drama about a would-be country singer who dreams of leaving her dreary, workaday Glasgow life for the bright lights of Nashville.  After a tiff at Glasgow’s local bar, the Grand Ole Opry, she destroys any chance of returning to her job as the house-band singer.  Sporting her white cowboy hat and white leather cowboy boots, Rose-Lynn lands a new job as a housekeeper for the lovely, and very posh, Susannah (Sophie Okonedo).  After catching her singing on the job, Susannah’s kids quickly become Rose-Lynn’s biggest fans and Susannah her enthusiastic patron, determined to help her get to Nashville.  But Rose-Lynn’s dreams come at a cost. She has to leave her two kids to her reluctant mother (Julie Walters), who knows all about abandoning dreams.

WILD ROSE also plays as a coming-of-age story of an overgrown kid still chasing her dreams.  But what distinguishes WILD ROSE from the ordinary feel-good chasing ones dreams story is its insistence of dealing with reality.

The film is slightly marred by the songs sung with the lyrics that over explain what has happened, plot-wise.  For example when Rose-Lynne returns back to Glasgow, the lyrics “There’s no place like home” can be heard in the song that she sings.

The drama is aided by two excellent performances, one by Buckley as Rose-Lynne and the other by Julie Walters as her mother who proves that acting can all be done with the eyes.  Her character does not have long monologues or speeches and neither does her character need to indulge in cheap theatrics.

The film’s greatest pleasure is its rooting in reality.  The decision on whether to put family or career (singing in the Opry) first is crucial and the script by Nicole Taylor never fails to remind audiences of the fact.  And the obvious message is the one on where it is to find ones dreams.  To elaborate more would spoil the film’s ending, so it is best to see the film oneself.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_o9-zcirEM

Film Review: MURDER MYSTERY (USA 2019) ***

Murder Mystery Poster
Trailer

A New York cop and his wife go on a European vacation to reinvigorate the spark in their marriage, but end up getting framed and on the run for the death of an elderly billionaire.

Director:

Kyle Newacheck

Writer:

James Vanderbilt (screenplay)

Adam Sandler’s second comedy with Netflix cannot be as bad as the dismal THE RIDICULOUS 6 which at present still holds a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  MURDER MYSTERY is actually quite funny, given a little more class with Jennifer Anniston as Sandler’s co-star, not to mention the luxury yacht and European setting.

Sandler typically plays the poor man’s fool, in this case a New York City police officer.

Nick Spitz (Sandler) finally takes his wife, Audrey (Aniston) on a long-promised European trip.  En flight, a chance meeting with a mysterious man, Charles Cavendish (Luke Evans) gets them invited to an intimate family gathering on the super yacht of an elderly billionaire, Malcolm Quince (a cameo from Terence Stamp). When the wealthy man is murdered, they become the prime suspects of French Inspector Laurent Delacroix (Dany Boon).  At one hilarious point, the Spitzes are questioned by the millionaire Quince what they are doing on his ship.

The script which is quite well composed by James Vanderbilt, who seems to understand these things, puts together several genres, the most important of which is the murder mystery genre.  At one point, Nick even puts forth the classic 3 basic motives for murder.  As they try to uncover the identity of the killer, they put together the three motives of money, revenge and love.  The murder mystery portion is played straight unlike other comedies of this sort, most notably Neil Simon’s MURDER BY DEATH or his THE CHEAP DETECTIVE.  The humour in the film arrives primarily from the  couple’s bickering and their foolhardiness in their attempts to escape the killer.  The funniest jokes are also inconsequential to the plot but they are funny.  Two notable ones (not to be revealed here) involve angry flossing (this has to be seen to be believed) and the line’Ask Siri”.

The film also contains an impressive list of international stars.  Little Britain’s David Walliams plays Tobias Quince, Malcolm’s gay son.  One wishes there is more of Waliams.  French popular Dany Boon plays his inspector quite seriously though he bumbles the investigation as much as Peter Seller’s Inspector Clouseau.  New Mexican star and heart-throb Luis Gerardo Mendez plays race car driver Juan Carlos.

Sandler and Anistan make a good movie couple, in love but still bickering over small things.  “Will you stop questioning all I do?” asks Nick at one point. “But everything you do is questionable.” is Audrey’s response.  What is also touching in the movie is the fact that each of them, being in the marriage for a while is able to tolerate and forgive each other.  Even when Nick has lied to Audrey that he was a detective.  The story illustrates how a solid relationship in a marriage can survive – a point subtly made in the film. 

MURDER MYSTERY is not the best comedy around or not a message movie that will answer questions in life, though it tries to answer the question what a maharaja is.  But for a Netflix film to be watched in the comfort of ones home, it makes an excellent choice for an evening film.  It has a good mystery, is funny and light and is what one needs after a hard day at work.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YEVQDr2f3Q

Film Review: MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL (MIB: INTERNATIONAL) (USA 2019) ***

Men in Black: International Poster
Trailer

The Men in Black have always protected the Earth from the scum of the universe. In this new adventure, they tackle their biggest threat to date: a mole in the Men in Black organization.

Director:

F. Gary Gray

The fourth of the franchise and a spinoff rather than a sequel, loosely based on the Malibu/Marvel comics of the same name by Lowell Cunningham, the series sees the cool black guy persona replaced by a cool black young female (Will Smith replaced by Tessa Thompson), teaming up with a handsome white guy played by Chris Hemsworth.  The tactic works.  Thompson and Hemsworth pair very well together.

The film begins with a family scene as if to ensure that all sci-fi films now have a more personal and family touch.  The recent two super hero action films followed suit as in DARK PHONIX with the super hero first scene in a car as a little girl with her family and in the family picnic scene in AVENGERS ENDGAME.  Molly is a little girl who witnesses men in black in action from her bedroom window while helping an alien at the same time escape.  It takes Molly a lifetime before she finds the MIB organization.  Infiltrating into the headquarters, she convinces the head, Agent O (Emma Thompson reprising her role) into recruiting her.  She teams up with Agent H (Hemsworth) to save the world from the scum of the universe, MIB-style.

The film clearly aims at style.  When asked the reasons to wanting to join the MIB organization, Molly responds among other reasons that she looks good in black, the comment also echoed by Agent O.  The fights are also stylized, the most impressive of all being the one where Molly battles Riza (Rebecca Ferguson), an intergalactic arms dealer who also has three arms. Gray’s (STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON. THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS) film trudges along  too slowly for an action flick, which also seems derive too much off the KINGSMAN and other sci-fi movies.

The plot adds in a thinking element.  The MIB organization has a mole.  Though it is not difficult to guess who the mole is, the plot (this one) often runs too complicated and is too fast to follow.  

The film is shot in exotic locations like London, Marrakesh, New York City and Italy, as the titles proudly announce.  The coolness of the locations is reflected in several very cool scenes the best of which is the dance floor scene with the alien Twins (performed by Laurent and Larry Bourgeois, well renowned dancers from France aka Les Twins) a shape-shifting alien un-killable duo who appear a number of times in the story doing their moves.  All the MIB agents can do is look and stare.

Has the MEN IN BLACK franchise run out of steam?  Quite a few people think so from the well below 50% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes at the current wiring of this review.  But not for want of trying.  Despite the film containing the new MIB U.K. branch, more hilarious and imaginative alien creatures, politically correct updates and exotic location settings, MIB: INTERNATIONAL has regrettably only achieved minimal results.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOdWVqhDOj8

Film Review: ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE (USA 2019) ****

Always Be My Maybe Poster
Trailer

A pair of childhood friends end up falling for each other when they grow up.

Director:

Nahnatchka Khan

Reviewers had to sign a waiver not to disclose any key plot points or surprises of this rom com before given a screening link.  After watching the film, one can see the reason.  The first surprise the waiver  cautioned reviewers not to reveal is the identity of a guest celebrity which turns out to be the film’s funniest moment leading to the most laughs of the entire film within the following 15 minutes.

ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE is a romantic comedy.  Romantic comedies is the least liked of my film genres as these films are typically cliche ridden, predictable, unfunny and comes off even worse if the chemistry of the couple is off skelter.  What happened to the successful and very entertaining Rock Hudson and Doris Day romantic comedies that were so much fun and so entertaining?  This is despite the fact that Hudson was gay and Day was the over prude gal who always said no when it comes to sex.  Fortunately ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE, the new Netflix original comedy works.  And very well too.  It is much funnier that the last Asian romantic comedy CRAZY RICH ASIANS.

The plot is simple enough – the simpler, the less restrictions to tell the story and hence the more opportunity for laughs.  Childhood friends end up having an awkward sex moment when they grow up as teens leads to a misunderstanding and separation.  They meet up later in life as adults, each with a boyfriend and girlfriend which obviously do not suit them.  After all, the two are meant for each other as the rest of the film will prove.  In the 16 years since, they have grown up in vastly different circumstances: Sasha (Ali Wong), is a celebrity chef while Marcus (Randall Park) is still living in his childhood bedroom and working for his father’s air conditioning service, his life largely frozen since his mother’s premature death.  Sasha and Marcus reconnect when Sasha returns to San Francisco to open a restaurant and romantic chemistry from their teenager years remains, but Marcus’s fears and Sasha’s fame and demanding career challenge their relationship.

The film is written by Ali WongRandall Park and Michael Golamcoand.  As it is written by the two stars, the written characters turn out convincing illustrating the great chemistry for a romantic comedy.   Wong is a stand up comedienne,  Park is famous for the TV series ‘Fresh off the Boat’.  Their comedic experience pays off as evident in the film.  The younger actors who play the 12 and 15 year old versions of Marcus and Sasha are also excellent and funny.

The film is directed by Khan who demonstrates a few fresh impressive innovations in her film.  One can be seen in the applauding of the audience during Park’s band performance.  That scene fades out into another with the couple together on a date.  The applause can still be heard in the background serving as approval to the new relationship of the couple.

When everything looks fine when the film has 30 minutes to go, predictability dictates that there will be a major argument between the couple.  This does not mean the film cannot still surprise with a new twist and turn, as the film does.

If you are unconvinced by this review to watch ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE, click on the trailer link below.  The trailer has sufficient bright laugh-out loud parts to get you to watch the movie which is currently playing on Netflix.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHBcWHY9lN4

Film Review: WATERGATE PART 1 (USA 2019) ****

Watergate Poster
Patient compendium drawing from 3400 hours of audio tapes, archival footage, declassified documents, et al, weaves a rich texture of understanding, particularly effective in flashbacks from…See full summary »

Director:

Charles Ferguson

Just in time for the upcoming 2020 American elections comes a doc about the dirtiest  election tactics ever committed, which resulted in the resignation of the then President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon.

WATERGATE is directed by Academy Award Winner Charles Ferguson who won the Best Documentary Feature in 2011 for INSIDE JOB, an account of the American financial crisis.

WATERGATE parts 1 and 2 tell the full story of how President Richard Nixon and his White House staff committed the crime and were brought to justice.  New interviews with journalists, senior Nixon administration officials, members of congress, and prosecutors – combined with archival footage and newly sourced information from the Nixon White House tapes – brings a fresh perspective to a well known story.  What is truly amazing are the number of interviewees on film who had participated in Watergate.

WATERGATE parts 1 and 2 together make 260 minutes of documentary.  Part 1 runs 2 hours and 10 minutes.  The doc better be good for people to stay for the second part, not to mention having to sit through 4 hours of WATERGATE information.  Fortunately, the doc is an excellent one, an absorbing one that not only will have audiences glued to their seats but wanting more.  The film is not only about Watergate alone, but more about ex-U.S. President Richard M. Nixon’s dirty and illegal political activities.   If one mouths President Trump as the bad President, one should realize that Trump is an angel compared to Nixon.  Trump is more bark than bite.  Nixon keeps it quiet with the adage running true that still waters run deep.  Nixon is truly the evil one.

Part 1 starts off with Nixon pre-Watergate.  He is setting up devices to ensure he wins the next election.  At present, his main hindrance according to the film is the losing Vietnam War.  It is at the 30 minutes mark, that the doc announces the Watergate burglary.  The film goes systematically into the cover up, the payoffs, the breakdown in the cover-up – all these under the consent and knowledge of President Nixon.  This is what the film clearly indicates, regardless of whatever else.   Part 1 ends like a court room drama, but one that is growing more intense with Nixon not yet but almost revealed as the main conspirator.  Part 1 ends with the word INTERMISSION.  It sets up the stage for Part 2.  The good thing about the length is that director Ferguson gets a chance not to leave out any essential facts about Watergate, even allowing him to insert pre-Watergate issues as he does in Part 1.

One fo the film’s most exciting segments is the story of gay anti-war activist David Mixner who met his gay lover only to find everything a set up.  He never saw his lover again and was threatened for his sexuality at the time in 196 when homosexuality was a crime.

Part 1 certainly incites the audience’s anger for numerous reasons.  The first is how conniving Nixon can be.  President Carter granted Nixon a full pardon, which he clearly did not deserve.  The rest is scary how the American or any government for that matter has the power to do whatever it takes to stay in power or to fool the people.  On the brighter side of things, there are the good and honest people, like the journalists, who fight for the truth to be known.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2Lje3lzDkQ