Luc Besson

Anna

First Hit: I was surprised that I liked and enjoyed this film as much as I did.

The film starts with a bunch of assassinations by the KGB of what appears to be CIA agents, all at the same time, in Russia. We’re given little context to these opening scenes, and have to trust that the story will make sense in the end.

Then, we are introduced to Anna (Sasha Luss), a mistreated Russian young woman, who is abused at the hands of her live-in boyfriend Vlad (Nikita Pavlenko). Vlad is a scamming bum who spends his time drinking, thieving and blaming Anna for their miserable life. Walking home one evening Vlad, driving a Mercedes, picks Anna up and drives to an ATM. Vlad opens the trunk, yanks out an old man, and uses his AMEX card and pin to try and extract money from the prisoner’s bank account. Just as they are doing this the police drive by and soon there is a shootout and a car chase.

Lucky to escape the chase, Anna and Vlad arrive home to be greeted by an agent of the KGB. The agent, Alex Tchenkov (Luke Evans), is not interested in discussing anything with Vlad, shoots him as a matter of fact, and begins speaking with Anna. He knows a lot about her; that her parents died when she was young and that she’s smart and appears to have a real will to survive. Alex offers her an opportunity to be free of all this, become a KGB agent, and in five years be free of everything, even the agency.

This is the setup.

However, when Anna' meets his boss, Olga (Helen Mirren), it’s clear that Anna must impress Olga because Olga is not impressed with her background. Quick thinking and acting under pressure are critical in the agency, and in this brief interview, Anna does this by reciting quotes by famous Russian authors.

Before you know it, Anna, Olga, and Alex are in front of the head of the KGB Vassiliev (Eric Gordon) who makes it quite clear that being part of the KGB is for life. And this hits a negative tone for Anna’s primary goal in life — freedom.

She’s been controlled and managed her whole life by her parents, the state, her boyfriend, and now the KGB. As an audience member, I hoped that her freedom was where the film would lead.

How the story is told to the moviegoer, is through numerous flashbacks and flashforwards. The audience has to soon learn that each scene may not be as it appears at first, that a flashback may subsequently give more information. An example was the scene when Anna is recruited as a model.

This form of filmmaking sometimes works, and other times becomes a distraction. Here director Luc Besson almost misses the mark as it is a slight distraction early on, but then becomes the primary vehicle for understanding the choices Anna is making along the way.

These choices include being a model, KGB agent, being a lesbian, and being recruited as a CIA agent by Lenny Miller (Cillian Murphy). Miller explains, at one point, that the loss of the agents at the beginning of the film was his responsibility and he wants to right this wrong, and she can help him. Does she become a CIA agent, a double agent, where is Anna’s allegiance, or does she just disappear?

The jobs Anna is sent on by Olga are numerous and horrifying. The first assassination job teaches her to check her equipment and be ready for anything – it’s quite a battle, one single woman agent against 15 – 20 thugs. The choreography of this scene was excellent as it was easy to follow and worked.

Anyway, the film was filled with action, risks, and questions about who is Anna, and what does she want?

Luss is excellent as Anna. Her look and physical movement work for this role as a model and also being entirely in control of her body. Murphy was strong as the CIA agent wanting to make amends for losing a bunch of agents. Mirren was exquisite as Anna’s boss at the KGB. Her disapproving looks and vocal tone exemplified what we might picture as a high-level woman KGB agent. Evans was equally strong as Anna’s recruiting agent. Gordon was perfect as the head of the KGB, cold and calculating. Lera Abova, as Anna’s roommate Maud, was very good as a model, friend and Anna’s lesbian lover. Besson wrote an engaging script which, at times, bordered on losing control and engagingly entertaining. As a director, it was obvious what he wanted in the end, and I think he got it.

Overall: I was glad I saw this film because each flashback gave new context to the story.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Overall:  Visually entertaining, poignant message and fun to watch.

The “setup” I thought was a bit weak when there’s an explanation as to how and why this very large spaceship/planet/thingy named Alpha become home to species from a thousand planets. However, getting past this we are introduced to Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) who work for the government of Alpha. Therefore, the best interests of the government, not any particular species is their focus.

The film also documents, at the beginning, the destruction of planet Mul, which was occupied by highly evolved and functioning humanoids that focused on giving back what it receives.

The Defense Minister (Herbie Handcock) instructs Valerian and Laureline to guard Commander Arun Filitt (Clive Owen) because the Commander warns that the ship has an expanding radioactive bubble in the middle of the ship and they cannot figure out what it is or why it's there . Unfortunately for the film, Filitt acts in such a way that he gives it away that he’s implicated in this radioactive bubble. This could be because of the way the character was written or because Owen often plays this type of double crossing character.

Valerian and Laureline are also sent to find the “converter” which replicates items it ingests. It is a survivor from the planet Mul and really belongs to the remaining humanoids as part of their way of life. They also find a pearl which was used by the Mul members to feed the converter and then the planet itself.

Filitt is then abducted and Valerian must search the ship to find him discovers that the “radioactive” menace in the core of the ship is not what they think it is. As they figure out what really happened to Mul and why Filitt is implicated, Laureline convinces Valerian to give the converter and pearl to the rightful owners, allowing them to restart their nirvanic race. It is hard for the major to break his dutiful role and use love as the answer.

DeHann was good and embodied the youthful character required to make this film work. Delevingne was, to me, the star of the film. Her wide-eyed soulful intelligence worked and made the film complete. Owen was, and is always, good as a self-righteous villain. Rihanna was very strong as Bubble. Ethan Hawke was wonderful as Jolly the Pimp. Hancock was OK in a pivotal but distant role. Luc Beeson wrote the screenplay as well as directed this film. It was a visual extravaganza and this made it worth watching.

Overall:  The film’s visuals,  Delevingne and DeHann are what kept me watching this film with interest.

Taken 3

First Hit:  Third time was not a charm for this series.

Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is back for a third time and instead of his wife or daughter being directly held hostage, here we have a situation where his former wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) is killed to get his attention.

He is being framed for the killing and it is up to him and a LA cop Frank Dotzler (Forest Whitaker), to find the truth. As with all “Taken” films, there is a lot of violence, amazing skills of eluding his pursuers, and the righteous ending of his innocence. The frame-up is staged by his former wife’s husband and a Russian mobster.

The film felt constricted and Neeson is getting a little long in the tooth do be riding a car down an elevator shaft and magically surviving.

Neeson is good in this role he owns. However, the script, his age and the tired franchise all need to be retired with this last film. Janssen has a small and shortened role which doesn’t give her much room to show her skills. Maggie Grace, as Kim Mills, Bryan’s daughter, is good in this safe, non-eventful role. Whitaker is, as always, a scene stealer and is a strong presence in the story. Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen wrote this weak and uninspired script. Olivier Megaton was the director and the finished result was rather week.

Overall:  This was a very uninspired film.

Lucy

First Hit:  Although highly unlikely and unbelievable, it was philosophically interesting and fun to watch.

Luc Besson (director and writer) has a particular philosophical view of life, our interconnectedness, and that time is the sole component that sets our reality as something we can see, touch or feel.

The premise that we only use 10% of our brain and that if we used 100% or a partial percentage between 20% & 100% we could read others’ thoughts and alter physical reality. How Besson shows us his view is to have a young woman, Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) who starts off as not being too smart, being forced to take a drug that increases her brain usage.

Unfortunately she is given a lot of the drug and ends up having amazing skills to fend off the drug lord Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi) and his gang who wants their drugs back. Lucy gets in-touch with Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) who can help her understand what is going on with her, and more importantly, receive the information she is learning about humans, life and the universe.

So what we have is a philosophical story based in an action adventure film. Did it work? Yes, and at times I found myself wanting more of the philosophical part and other times I wanted more action and fun special effects.

Johansson has such an amazing voice and sometimes I lose my concentration on her acting when I hear her, however in this film they integrate well. She’s really good at giving looks of indifference and strength, while using her voice to denote intelligence. Choi’s character is a bit overdone but requires his relentlessness to make this film work. Freeman is believable and really good as the professor that knows most about brain use. Besson wrote an interesting script and it is clear he has strong views about how life works. His direction of this story is strong, making it fun to watch.

Overall:  This is an enjoyable action film with a philosophical twist.

3 Days to Kill

First Hit:  Parts were really funny; some were really unrealistic, but overall it was entertaining.

Does the CIA really have agents that act and look like a hooker that drive around in an Audi R8 sports cars? I doubt it. But here the head agent Vivi Delay (Amber Heard) charged with killing “The Wolf” (Richard Sammel) gets to do this and more.

The plot is a bit convoluted with “The Albino” (Tomas Lemarquis) and some other characters who work for The Wolf while he’s trying to sell a dirty bomb. To get the job done Vivi hires Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) who is a veteran at killing people for the agency. He’s grizzled yet he’s got a soft spot for his daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld) whom he hasn’t seen since she was a small child.

Each year he contacts her on her birthday but that’s it. He’s fighting what he thinks is a cold but discovers he’s got cancer and only has a few months to live. With this news he wants to spend more time with his daughter and wife Christine (Connie Nielsen). Both are reluctant to have him back in their lives while Christine makes him promise to quit doing jobs for the Agency. But Vivi hooks him in by offering him a unclassified drug that might extend his life a bit.

The funniest part was when he and Vivi are trying to decide which guy in the room is The Wolf’s accountant.

Costner is fun, craggily, physical and smooth. I enjoy watching him use his experience in these parts to make them work for the audience and story. Heard is quirky and electric as the agent. Steinfeld is very good as the daughter who is trying to figure out if she cares, why she cares, and how to express her mixed emotions. Nielsen is very good as Costner’s estranged wife. Adi Hasak and Luc Besson wrote an unbelievable script but in the end it worked. McG (Joseph McGinty Nichol) directed this and cannot figure out what impels him to use “McG” as his name, when the film pretty good – don’t we want to know his name?

Overall:  I was entertained throughout this implausible story.