Anna is no Atomic Blonde

Anna is no Atomic Blonde

Anna is going to be one of those films that develops a cult following in the years to come. It’s certainly not one that’s impressed at the box office and it hasn’t been showered with kind words by influential critics. That’s a shame and an oversight. Luc Besson’s latest movie deserved a little more attention.

It’s far from a masterpiece and this isn’t a fanboy review. There is also an argument there’s nothing entirely new here. Beeson’s best film, La Femme Nikita, is effectively given a modern makeover, albeit with a Cold War take. This has led to comparisons with Atomic Blonde (another underrated film) but they are different beasts.

Atomic Blonde’s Lorraine Broughton, played by Charlize Theron, is a fully-formed MI6 agent sent to Berlin to find a double agent. There are hints of backstory and an noticeable attempt to appear flash and cool. It’s based on a graphic novel and compared to Anna the characters do feel like something pulled from the pages of a comic book. This isn’t a bad thing, it just isn’t a Luc Besson thing.

The fight sequences between the two movies take different approaches too. Atomic Blonde’s only become clear when viewed as a whole. In the early phases of the film, the action combat lacks impact, appears substandard. The final fight is so slick, clever and dynamic its as if director David Leitch found an extra set of gears.

It could be a clever trick: set the bar low, then blow them away.

Beeson’s build is more character focused. Like La Femme Nikita, violence is thrown at the viewer early on, this adds to a visceral feel. The movie is about Anna’s journey from a person who has nothing, no choices, to becoming a primed assassin. Each action sequence matches the state of her development perfectly.

Anna does subtle time jumps, back and forth, laying the breadcrumbs for everything that follows. With this being a Hollywood friendly version of the Nikita framework, nothing is unforeseen and all ambiguity explained. Beeson even reuses a closing scene from La Femme Nikita with two of Anna’s acquaintances sat at a table wondering where she is. Unlike the former film, an extra fifteen minutes is added to fully explain.

Both movies have a strong supporting cast. James McAvoy is a zany support to Theron’s blonde of the picture’s title and Cillian Murphy channels his best Michael Keaton in every scene he shares with Sasha Luss. She plays a good Anna, a woman with a singular drive – freedom. Based on this performance, she should be free to choose her next role.

We Are Daniel Blake

We Are Daniel Blake

Sometimes a film comes along that offers more than social commentary, or even with the intention of raising awareness. It becomes social responsibility. The voice of the voiceless and ignored masses. It presents a civic duty to us all. Its power doesn’t arrive by inflating issues to fill the big screen but allowing the uncomfortable truths – the government would have you ignore – stand front and centre.

Ken Loach’s film, penned by Paul Laverty, shows us what people can be reduced to in modern day Britain. A working-class man that genuinely wants to work but can’t receive assistance from the state despite medical professionals insisting he doesn’t resume activity.

A single mother that only wants the best for her children but is faced with impossible choices as she sees support slip away. Surely the net of despair is closing fast when trips to the food bank aren’t a turning point, just a brief interlude to delay starvation.

She collapses, eating in an aisle, ashamed but desperate. Apologetic to those who do care for her plight and don’t need her pleas for forgiveness. All the while, an unsympathetic state turns the screw. The starvation of her soul becomes more debilitating than malnutrition.

The cold faces of benefit officers symbolic of the callous government peddling senseless rules. These only exist to ostracise the most vulnerable, placing a buffer between real world issues and the comfy 1%.

The working-class man is the title featured Daniel Blake. A far from workshy joiner who suffers a cardiac arrest. Following this, his dignity is placed under lock and key by the benefits system.

His cardiologist flatly refuses a return to work but a work capability assessment – carried out by a person so devoid of humanity and common sense, they resemble a primitive android – declares him ineligible for support allowance.

It transpires his doctor was never consulted and he can’t challenge the judgement until contacted by the appeals officer. This racks up his phone bill and even when, in person, he explains at the benefits office he isn’t computer literate, the stock response is to consult the website.

There is one helpful face there but even she is reprimanded for offering assistance instead of letting people flounder and fail.

Katie is the single mother. A woman in Newcastle after leaving London due to a housing shortage. A long way from home and alone, her first taste of “assistance” comes in the form of a week without payment due to her late arrival.

It creates a volatile scene that begs the characters involved – along with the viewer – to realise it’s just a person that needs help. Shouldn’t the rules exist to aid, not obstruct?

The Daniel and Katie dynamic shows how people pull together when faced with insurmountable odds. If it weren’t for this, the country would collapse because the powers-that-be have stopped listening. And watching. And caring.

Daniel’s neighbour, a young man that offers help when asked, provides some light relief. And in spite of the main subject matter, the spirit of good-nature and humour somehow manages to find its way out of the few available cracks of light.

Ultimately it will be viewed by those with differing political views as either observation or incitement. A warning shot or a motivational video. Those that fail to take heed of the message, are ignoring the real problems the country faces. It’s easier to look the other way: the government encourage you to do just this.

Writing this on the eve of a General Election, it seems pertinent. Right now, Daniel Blake’s problems may seem far away and unconnected to your own. As perhaps the elderly care debate, student fees or NHS funding.

But excusing one wrongdoing because it doesn’t directly affect you, gives the government carte blanche to move onto other political agendas. If you continue to allow the Daniel Blakes to grow in number, one day you will find yourself among them.

By then it will be too late to call for help or expect change.

You are Daniel Blake. They are Daniel Blake. I am Daniel Blake.

Lady Macbeth – Review

Lady Macbeth – Review

Since its release at the Toronto International Film Festival, Lady Macbeth has been teased to the general public via trailers that hint of lust and suffering. Now that it’s finally released to the wider public – receiving critical acclaim as early reports trickle in – it seems the peeks of the picture weren’t lying.

However, the scene they set isn’t the exact one we are given. And this diversion isn’t aided by those early critics and their misleading reviews. Lady Macbeth, so early into its life, faces the potential hazard of being a victim of presumed success and acclaim.

The story is a reworking of the 1865 novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Nikolai Leskov. The title was a nod to Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth. Of course, she was a woman happy to commit murder to further her gains.

In Lady Macbeth, the female lead becomes Katherine, a young woman “purchased” by Christopher Fairbank’s Boris for his distant and cold son, Alexander, played by Paul Hilton. The setting is now Victorian North East England (complete with accents). The early scenes set the tone of the marriage and the house where Katherine resides. Boris has expectations of how his son should be satisfied.

In turn, Katherine is subservient to Alexander’s demands. But her husband would rather humiliate and degrade than allow actual closeness. The reason he favours belittling over making the marriage work, and why his abuse never escalates to the physical, is a theme left to fester without direct explanation.

It moves along in the early stages where, without much appearing to happen, a lot is going on. This trick is performed in no small part to Florence Pugh’s portrayal of Katherine. Her enforced reserve, and reluctant obedience, doesn’t mask the effervescent character bubbling below the surface.

When the men of the house leave on business for a number of weeks, it gives her free reign to attempt an escape from its claustrophobic confines. She is a girl that likes the outdoors but is treated like a caged bird. Free to walk the moors an unlocking of her mind begins. With it, her inhibitions fall away, desires are allowed to be explored.

Hearing a raucous commotion in the barns, she goes to investigate. There she discovers her servant, Naomi Ackie’s Anna, has been stripped and hung in a bag. The male workers are rowdy and behaving improperly. She commands they face the wall – treatment she is personally familiar with – sends Anna away, before chastising the men.

Rather than being the end of trouble, it opens Pandora’s box. It is here she meets Cosmo Jarvis as Sebastian. A love affair ensues that appears to be based purely on lust and forbidden sins. But that would be overly simplistic and deny Pugh the credit she deserves for leading Sebastian – and the viewer – on a journey of tainted love.

We saw in The Falling she can use sexuality as a tool for captivation, here the technique is far more subtle, much more explosive. She grows before our eyes, at times appears pained with potential outcomes, reveals humanity, acts as ruthless as a heartless animal, while remaining tempered throughout.

The overwhelming positive response to this film is really an accolade for Florence Pugh.

She is the medium the claustrophobic atmosphere uses to increase throughout. By breathing life into her character, it masks other failings. There wasn’t enough screen time – presumably due to budget constraints – for the descent to madness to be fully explored.

Shakespeare’s Macbeth sees its protagonists make cold decisions as they seek power, only to endure haunting demises. Pugh is barely allowed to tap into this facet before the viewer is served up a conclusion to the story (one that differs from the novella).

It means the gravitas of each choice is lost as we move to signposted events. For all Pugh’s excellent work, it means there comes a point empathy turns to dismay to disgust without the chance to consider the human side of her drives.

If love can be illogical, Lady Macbeth is a great advert for the emotion.

In time, expectations of the film will level and the great shining light – Florence Pugh – will be the only element worthy of note. When the contents of the story are taken into account, it means the film can’t be considered a complete success.