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Archive for July 7th, 2019

In recent years Luc Besson has been at his best when making totally bonkers films with extraordinary vision: Angel-A (2005), The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010), Lucy (2014), and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017).  At the same time he has moonlighted as a writer, producer, mentor, or just contributing a story idea for other directors.   These have resulted in some excellent B pictures: Taxi, District B13, and Lockout, as well as some not so good movies/franchises: Taken, From Paris with Love, and 3 Days to Kill.

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This makes his latest film, Anna, something of a curiosity.  On one hand it is return to the world of assassins, the subject of his best films, Nikita (1990) and Léon (1994), (or at least my favourite).  Anna has a lot more in common with Nikita, taking a young girl with a drug problem and a deadbeat boyfriend and training her as a killer.  To its credit, the film skips the usual training montage, and takes Anna from recruit to deadly killer in a moment.  The downside to this is a lack of character development.  Anna is looking for a way out of her life as an assassin before it has even begun.  The use of time is problematic.   The story keeps jumping backwards and forwards as a narrative device.  This works well in some ways, but, I’m not convinced adds up; probably best not to think too much about it.  Then we have the setting.  The main part of the story is set in 1990, so we are in Atomic Blonde territory,  the last days of the Cold War, and yet the film seems to be telling a story at the height of the tensions as seen in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  This leads to further issues of distracting technology, mobile phones, laptop computers, and USB drives appearing five, ten or even fifteen years before invented.

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The film is peppered with action set pieces all of which are well choreographed and shot, but they are interspersed with the spy stuff that is far less interesting and convincing.  This all results in the story feeling both rushed and too long.  Newcomer Sasha Luss is suitably attractive, and good in the action scenes, but doesn’t have the charisma, acting ability, or comic timing to match Charlize Theron, Scarlett Johansson, Anne Parillaud, and Jennifer Lawrence who have all played similar characters better.  Ultimately what we are left with is a film that doesn’t know if it wants to be Atomic Blonde or Red Sparrow (more the plot driven book, than its film adaptation) but ends up being an inferior retelling of Nikita. I enjoyed Anna, and would certainly watch a sequel should it be made, but will not rush to re-watch this one. 

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It was recently announced that Jill Soloway has been hired to write and direct an adaptation of Red Sonja, a film that seems to have been in development forever!  Robert Rodriguez announced at Comic-Con in 2008 that he intended to make a version of the story with then partner Rose McGowan is the title role.   He never got beyond a poster and concept art.  It was reported a couple of years later that he had failed to raise the required funding to get the movie off the ground.  The  underperformance of Conan the Barbarian (2011) probably didn’t help.  Then in 2011, Empire reported that Simon West (Con Air) had been hired to direct and Amber Heard was favourite for the lead ahead of Megan Fox and Rachel Nichols.  I haven’t heard anything since.Rose McGowan Red Sonja

I don’t know much about Jill Soloway whose writing and directing seems to be more TV than film.  The most notable thing about the appointment is that Soloway appears to be the first woman who has been linked with the job.  It seems something of a no-brainer to appoint a female director to helm the story of a strong woman.  The comic book as has been written by women for several years now, Gail Simone since 2013 and Amy Chu since 2017; more about that later.

This isn’t the first time the character has been filmed, Red Sonja (1985) was directed by Richard Fleischer and starred Brigitte Nielsen in the title role, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in a supporting role that was Conan in all but name (for contractual reasons), Schwarzenegger got top billing (probably also for contractual reasons)!  A year earlier Fleischer had made Conan the Destroyer with Schwarzenegger.  Sadly the film isn’t very good, largely due to weak script and bad acting. Red Sonja 1985

The character of Sonja is often credited as being created by Robert E. Howard, which is technically true, but the character owes as much if not more her comic book creators.  Red Sonya of Rogatino appeared in Robert E. Howard’s pulp short story “The Shadow of the Vulture” originally published in The Magic Carpet Magazine, January 1934. The story was a fictional story set in set in the 16th century around the real life Battle of Mohács and the Siege of Vienna in 1529.   Starting as a supporting character, she didn’t appear until  Chapter four of seven, she then became the co-lead for the rest of the story.  Fans of her comic book persona will be familiar with her famous scale mail bikini, but the character described by Howard dresses very differently:

“It was a woman, dressed as Von Kalmbach not seen even the dandies of France dressed. She was tall splendidly shaped, but lithe. From under a steel Escape rebellious stresses that rippled red gold in the sun over A compact shoulders. High boots of Cordovan leather came to her mid-thighs, which were cased in baggy breeches. She wore a shirt fine Turkish mash-mail tucked into her breeches. Her supple waist was confined by a flowing sash of green silk, into which with thrust a brace of pistols and a dagger, and from which depended along Hungarian Sabre. Overall was carelessly throwing a scarlet cloak.”shadowofthevulture

In 1973 Roy Thomas and Barry Smith re-imagined the character introducing her into the Conan Comics.  Published by Marvel Comics, her first appetence came in Conan the Barbarian #23.  The story was largely the same as The Shadow of the Vulture but transposing it to the Hyborian Age and with Conan taking the place of Gottfried von Kalmbach.  Shortly after this, artist Esteban Maroto is credited with creating “metal bikini” look when he submitted “an un-commissioned illustration” for Savage Sword of Conan that he considered to resemble other female characters of the time.  After a couple of years of guest appearances in Conan comics, she had her own publication that is still going today following a couple of reboots. Marvel_Feature_1_(1975)

Some of the historic storytelling is a little problematic with.  In one version of her origin, her family is killed and she is brutally raped.  The red goddess Scáthach appears to her, and gives her the strength and skill to get her revenge.  The ability came with the condition that she never lie with a man unless he defeats her in fair combat. Gail Simone rebooted the character in 2013, in this series , Sonja was neither raped, nor received her ability from a goddess, thus not making her vow of chastity.  Instead she learned to fight as a gladiator.  Her appearance that many may find problematic is brushed away in one of her early stories; when told: “Your armour, woman – it scarcely protects your modesty, let alone your vitals” she responds: “men are easily distracted. Most of them never even noticed my sword… Until their heads roll off their neck’s.”wonder woman gal gadot

What can we expect from a Red Sonja movie?  With over 40 years of comic books to work with there is plenty of stories within the source material.  As with the MCU, the best approach will be to develop a new story within the character from the comics, but not faithfully adapt a story.  I would also suggest we jump right into a fully fledged character, we have seen far too many origin stories in recent years. No word on casting yet.  It is crucial they get it right.  At 6’1″ Brigitte Nielsen looked the part in the earlier film, but didn’t have the acting ability to deliver the lines.  When Wonder Woman was cast a few years ago, there were fan suggestions for Gina Carano.  While she would have been great at the action, Gal Gadot is the better actress and is surprisingly perfect in the role.  I like the idea of an unknown actor getting the part, but suspect a studio will want/need a big name to sell the film.  And that will be the tricky thing.  Films like this worked in the 70’s and 80’s on a tiny budget, but haven’t fared as well as blockbusters.  And that is what it needs to be, a blockbuster.  Following the end of Game of Thrones, and the appetite it has created, there is probably no better time for a new sword-and-sandal’s franchise. 

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