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State of the Union is posibly the most sublime television I have seen in years.  Ten, ten minute episodes, each depicting a couple (Rosamund Pike & Chris O’Dowd) meeting in a pub before visiting a marriage counsellor.  Such short episodes requires a snappy and concise dialogue and direction, this is provided by writer/creator Nick Hornby, and director Stephen Frears.  They are as much the stars as Pike and O’Dowd.   Is it a comedy drama about people and relationships, or a metaphor for brexit? Probably both!  Rather than attempt to review the show, I will simply recommend you watch it.State of the union

Here is a quick look at the talent involved:

I first saw Rosamund Pike in Die Another Day (2002), and was less than impressed.  I found her performance wooden, in a truly terrible film.  By the end of the decade my opinion had totally changed culminating in a fantastic supporting performance in Made in Dagenham (2010).  Excellent in everything she has done in the past decade, highlights include Gone Girl (2014), and A Private War (2018).Rosamund Pike and Chris O'Dowd

Chris O’Dowd, on the other hand is a funny and compelling comedian, but limited actor, he shone in the TV show The IT Crowd (2006-2013).  He has since forged a film career in movies, starting with Bridesmaids (2011), playing largely the same character, but playing it really well!  Last year he appeared in Juliet, Naked based on a novel by Nick Hornby.

Having read Fever Pitch in the early 90’s, I have followed Nick Hornby through books and movies for three decades, the highlights for me being Fever Pitch and High Fidelity.  He has also written directly for the screen, and adapted other peoples books, including two excellent recent movies: Wild (2014) and Brooklyn (2015)stephen frears and nick hornby

Stephen Frears has bed directing movies since the 60’s with highlights including: Dangerous Liaisons (1988), High Fidelity (1998), Dirty Pretty Things (2002)

State of the Union was nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards, winning all three: Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama Series, Outstanding Actor in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series (Chris O’Dowd), Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series (Rosamund Pike).

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Spoiler warning – I have avoide any final act spoilers, but do talk about many aspects of the film in detail.  If you intend to see the film but have not as yet, I recomend you watch it before reading this.  once upon a time in hollywood poster

I was really concerned when Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was announced.  Firstly we don’t need another movie about Charles Manson, but more significantly, is Quentin Tarantino capable of the sensitivity needed to tell the story of the horrendous murder of actress Sharon Tate?  My fears were exacerbated  by the fact I didn’t particularly enjoy his last film, The Hateful Eight (2015).  Quentin Tarantino has been self indulgent ever since  Kill Bill (2003 and 2004) got so long the studio forced him to cut it in half.  Django Unchained (2012) is a good 165 minute movie that could have been a great 100 minute movie.  The Hateful Eight, just dragged!  But I am always hopeful of a return to form, after all, I love Tarantino’s first six movies (Kill Bill is officially one movie), and despite their problems Django Unchained, and The Hateful Eight had some really good moments.  It is has been suggested that his work is also hollow and shallow, and totally lacking in sensitivity.  As for lacking in sensitivity, he would probably say guilty as charged and proud of it.  Shallow, is unfounded, but they are certainly hollow, this isn’t a problem, and shouldn’t be considered a criticism.  This is partly because they are so entertaining, but mainly because it is the intention, it is part of the art, the idea of l’art pour l’art suggests true art, is free from any didactic, moral, or function.  The lack of sensitivity was a bigger hurdle to overcome knowing what happed to Sharon Tate and how it could have been depicted.  However, I had overlooked one thing: Once Upon a Time.  The title evoked the Sergio Leone Once Upon a Time movies, I had forgotten that Tarantino had started a movie Once Upon a Time, and that movie, Inglourious Basterds was revisionist at very least, bordering on a fairytale.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, falls very much in this category, revisionist and, or fairytale, and like Quentin Tarantino’s best movies Pulp Fiction (1994) and Jackie Brown (1997), its full of characters you want to spend time with.  The film is littered with a mixture of real and fictional characters, it is told from the prospective of two of the fictional characters Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt).  Dalton is an actor who had been the star of a TV western, until he quit to pursue an movie career, think Steve McQueen in Wanted: Dead or Alive.  Unlike McQueen who within a couple of years of leaving TV was making The Great Escape, Dalton’s career is in a slow but undoubted descent, playing villain of the week on other peoples shows.  Booth is Daltons stunt double whose work has dried up in line with Daltons.  He now works as a driver and general gofer for Dalton, who finds himself without a driving licence thanks to a string of DUI charges.  If not an alcoholic, Dalton is on his way to becoming one!  Racked with insecurity, Booth is also a crutch, the friend who will tell him how it is, but with a positive spin, an ego massage.once upon a time in hollywood dicaprio and pitt

The film is set at the turning point in cinema after the death of the Golden Age, and in the early days of New Hollywood when young filmmakers were making films like Bonnie and Clyde (1967),  The Wild Bunch, and Easy Rider (both 1969).  This is symbolised by Dalton who doesn’t know his place in the new order:  Idols like Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart are a thing of the past.  At the same time, he is too old to be a star of new Hollywood like Al Pacino (who appears in the film as Daltons new agent), and Dennis Hopper (who is referenced in the film).  He isn’t as good, or possibly just as lucky as Steve McQueen (who appears as a character played by Damian Lewis).  The actor who isn’t mentioned, is Clint Eastwood who went from the TV show Rawhide (1959–1965) to Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy of spaghetti Westerns (between 1964 and 1966).  But then neither is James Arness who was the star of Gunsmoke for twenty years but never found anything like that success on the big screen.TV Cowboys

In the film, Dalton lives next door Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha), and his new wife Sharon Tate (delightfully portrayed by Margot Robbie).  This both brings the story together and gives prospective to the Daltons character.  Polanski is the hottest director in town thanks to his previous film Rosemary’s Baby (1968).  His young wife Tate, is something of an enigma, groomed as a studio ingénue, in a system that no longer existed.  Married to, and working with Polanski, what could have happened if not for her tragic death?  Polanski is largely absent from the story concentrating more on Tate as she drifts through the film, an ethereal presence in the background of the story.  It has been suggested that she doesn’t have enough lines of dialogue, but that somehow misses the point of what this story is.  The film portrays Tate purchasing a first edition of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles as a gift for Polanski.  A fan of Hardy’s work, she recommended the story to her husband for a movie adaptation.  Ten years later, he made the film, with Nastassja Kinski in the title role.  It was nominated for six Oscars, winning three of them.  Would this have been a project they worked on together?  Polanski is largely absent from the story concentrating more on Tate as she drifts through the film, an ethereal presence in the background of the story.  It has been suggested that she doesn’t have enough lines of dialogue, but that somehow misses the point of what this story is, she is the heart of the movie, not the subject of it.once upon a time in hollywood margot robbie

Forgoing a traditional three act structure, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has one prolonged act, a time jump and a montage followed by a final act.  The least you know about the final act the better, I am therefore not going to mention it further.  The montage that separates the two acts is Tarantino at his best, it is snappy and fun where it could have been clunky and distracting.  Narrated by Kurt Russell, it gives a great insight into the “spaghetti” film industry, filled with too clever for their own good in jokes.  What we see is the natural conclusion to the first act, and a perfect setup for the conclusion.  This is no surprise as one of  Tarantino signatures, and expertise is the juxtaposition of narratives.   The brilliance of the montage is how it blends a little truth, and a lot of in jokes into the fiction.Rick Dalton Movie posters (1)

Quentin Tarantino has an interesting history of shooting people in cars talking, and making it really interesting, his first two movies, Reservoir Dogs, and Pulp Fiction are full of them.  The latter even had a key scene in a restaurant where old cars had replace booths.  This isn’t anything new, he would have grown up watching movies like American Graffiti (1973), and Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), that latter making great use of the smaller Techniscope cameras to get inside the car and changing the way cars were shot.  Here we see great conversations in cars, or one particular car, Rick Dalton’s Cadillac Coupe DeVille.  We see Dalton talking to Cliff Booth, these conversations centre around Dalton’s insecurities and fears.  But we also see Booth picking up Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) a hitchhiker; their conversations are frivolous and fun in the vein of what we expect from Tarantino.  Tate however is more a mystery, we see her driving with Polanski in his old MG, and in her Porsche giving a lift to a hitchhiker.  The two journeys have destinations, the first at the Playboy Mansion, the second at valet car park.  Despite the lack of dialogue we learn so much about the character in this moment.  The hitcher and Tate embrace and wish each other luck, an instant if temporary friend.  At the Playboy Mansion, Tate is greeted by friends Mama Cass (Rachel Redleaf) and Michelle Phillips (Rebecca Rittenhouse), the trio immediately go off to dance joyously.  We learn a little more, thanks to some exposition from Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis).  That is where we start to understand, the film is Rick Dalton, and Cliff Booth’s fictional story that we follow while the real world happens around them.  They, like everyone are witnesses to history unfolding, and they are our way into this world separated from us by almost exactly fifty years.  The reason to stay with the film, is that you want to spend more time with these people.  Booth is described as a war hero, it is suggested he may have committed, and got away with a terrible crime.  He comes across as a nice guy, the type you would like to have a beer with, but there is something under the surface, is he totally zen, or is this anger management?  Is he a coiled spring waiting to explode?  As always, Tarantino writes characters better than he rights stories, this is probably why Jackie Brown, based on Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch remains his most accessible film.  But, as all successful people are, he understands his limitations and works with them, sometimes embracing them.  Structure is his his friend, his collaborator. talking in cars

Like all the best Tarantino movies, Once Upon a Time is as much about look and mood as it is about story and character, and that is what he has created so well.  You believe that Rick Dalton, lives in that house, and that Tate and Polanski live next door (and he is afraid to talk to them), and that Booth lives out in the valley behind a drive-in.  The streets look like the 1960’s and look like a real world, not a set (except the E-type Jaguar, on Daltons road that never moves in six months), the people dress like they are from the 60’s not dressing up to look like the 60s’, and listen to music of the time.  Music has always been a big thing in Tarantino movies, and he is famous for his deep cuts, there is no exception here.  He wisely stayed away from The Beatles (referred to as, The White Album) and we get a perfect blend of Paul Revere & The Raiders, Bob Seger, Neil Diamond.  a lot of the songs I recognise, but don’t really know.  This vague recognition is all part of the shorthand that drags us in, as is Booth’s T-shirt bearing the logo for Champion spark plugs (I’m sure I had one when I was a kid, and expect to see people wearing them again now).  But, I suspect it goes deeper than that.  Tarantino isn’t just saying “remember the 60’s?” He is saying “this is what the 60’s were, and this is what they could have been!”. He is reminding us of the ideas and ideals of the day, and how they were lost, forgotten and destroyed, but for the smallest things, those ideals could have been realised.  And most significantly, he is telling us that we are at a similar tipping point today and asking the question, “what the fuck are you going to do about it”.  This is possibly the first time since Inglourious Basterds that he has had something to say.  Am I reading too much into this and attributing Tarantino depth that he doesn’t have?  I don’t think so.  This is a film that needs a second and a third viewing, and like Pulp Fiction, and Inglourious Basterds one that film students will be debating and deconstructing for a generation.

As mentioned at the top, I am not going to go into the final act, but have said enough to indicate that it isn’t an accurate depiction of events, it doesn’t try to be.  If you are interested in what happened, and how this was a turning point for the era and movies, listen to Karina Longworth’s amazing podcast You Must Remember This, where she dedicated a who season to the lead up, events, and aftermath.

If this is to be Quentin Tarantino’s penultimate movie (I don’t believe it is), it is truly a return to form, and an amazing springboard to his swansong.  Taken on its own merits it is a fun, and often funny film that somewhat recaptures my favourite of his films, Pulp Fiction.  It is also a fitting love letter to the Hollywood as a whole, and the birth of New Hollywood.  A director who has always had an eye on late 60’s,a and 1970’s cinema, he has finally visited, and it was a rich and rewarding trip.  The film has its issues, but they are easily forgotten simply because they are outweighed by everything else that is so good.  Not Tarantino’s masterpiece but an accomplished work and for only the second or third time in his career, he isn’t just entertaining us, he has something to say.  Thank you Quentin!

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The Fast and the Furious was a 1950’s Roger Corman B movie about a man charged with a murder he didn’t commit.  He kidnaps a woman to aid his escape, as you would expect for a film of this type, the two fall in love.  Only the title survived for the franchise that became The Fast and the Furious. 

The Fast and the Furious (2001) – Legend had it that director Rob Cohen and star Paul Walker dreamed up the idea of an action movie: Donnie Brasco meets Days of Thunder.  They borrowed the plot from Point Break and hired Vin Diesel in the Patrick Swayze role.  The film was dumb, but fun, most importantly it exceeded box-office expectations. The Fast and the Furious

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) – Diesel, the heart of the first film declined to return in the sequel and was replaced by Tyrese Gibson, who had previously worked with director John Singleton.   The story revolved around a new car related undercover case for FBI agent Paul Walker.2 Fast 2 Furious

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) – Walker and Diesel both declined to return for the third movie.  Justin Lin, was hired as director and Lucas Black as the star.  Vin Diesel appeared in a cameo (in exchange for the tights to the character Riddick). The Fast and the Furious Tokyo Drift

Fast & Furious (2009) – Director Justin Lin returned bringing with him Sung Kang reprising his role of Han Lue.  As Han had died in the previous film, this was set earlier.  After a string of flops, Vin Diesel was keen to return and convinced Paul Walker to join him.  Michelle Rodriguez, and Jordana Brewster also returned from the original film.  Notable for Gal Gadot’s film début. Fast & Furious

Fast Five (2011) – This is where the franchise started to morph into Mission Impossible, and also the highpoint of the franchise.  With a plot that started life as a sequel to the Italian Job remake.  As well as Diesel, Walker, Gadot, and Brewster, from the previous film, Matt Schulze from the first film returned, as did  Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and Tyrese Gibson from the second film.  The first appearance in the franchise of Dwayne Johnson as Luke Hobbs.  The final “Mission Impossible” heist (Tyrese Gibson even call it Mission Impossible) is possibly the highpoint of the franchise. Fast Five

Fast & Furious 6 (2013) – Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) returns from the dead, and Luke Hobbs recruits the team from the previous film to help take down  Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) former SAS Major turned thief.  Continuing a theam that started in the previous film, Tyrese Gibson’s character started to change from a badass, to an idiot for comic relief.  MMA fighter Gina Carano also appeared, and Jason Statham  makes a mid credit cameo. Fast & Furious 6

Furious 7 (2015) – After defeating Owen Shaw, the crew return home pardoned for past crimes and the franchise goes full mission impossible.  Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham)  tries to kill them to avenge his brother, and they have to steal a maguffin.  The film took over $1.5billion, nearly double that of the previous film that was the highest earner of the franchise up to that point.  The last film to feature Paul Walker who died before the films was completed.   Furious 7

The Fate of the Furious (2017) – Dom is coerced cyberterrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron) into betraying his team. Both the maguffins and the action gets bigger and more silly.  Another film to take over $1billion.  Previous antagonists Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) and Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) are retconned in more sympathetic roles with Helen Mirren in a cameo as their mother.  Reports from set suggested Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson didn’t get on, results of their pissing competition have never been made public!The Fate of the Furious

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019) – So this brings us up to date with the film that really should be called Fast & Furious Presents: Mission Impossible.  There isn’t a single plot point in the film that hasn’t been used in Mission Impossible, most notably infecting a primary character with a doomsday virus. Forced to work together, Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) don’t like each other as played out in the previous film. The mismatched partners could have got old very quickly, fortunately Vanessa Kirby as Hattie Shaw, Deckard estranged sister is the most interesting character in the movie.  Idris Elba has fun as the villain, he even introduce himself as “bad guy”.  By far the silliest, of an already silly franchise.  Kirby and Statham play siblings of a similar age, despite the fact their ages would be better suited to farther and daughter.  I can’t say it’s a good film, if you think too much about it, it’s actually quit a poor, film, but it’s great fun to while you are a watching it, I really enjoyed it. Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw

So what next?  Fast & Furious 9 , and 10 are scheduled for 2020, and 2021, with Justin Lin returning as director, with an “Untitled female-centered film” to follow.  Vanessa Kirby seems a more likely lead than Michelle Rodriguez, or will it be a totally new cast?  XX Warning, Spoilers for Hobbs & Shaw XX Idris Elba appeared to be killed at the end of Hobbs & Shaw, a near guarantee that he will appear in a future film as a good guy!  The ultimate big bad of Hobbs & Shaw isn’t Elba’s Brixton Lore, but the unseen “director” of Eteon.  It will be a great surprise if this character doesn’t return, at which time it will also be a surprise if it doesn’t turn out to be Cipher (Charlize Theron).

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Over the weekend Marvel have made some pretty big announcements, possibly the biggest of these, not only is Natalie Portman returning to Marvel as Jane Foster, but she will also be Thor in Thor: Love and Thunder.  I wouldn’t go as far as to say I predicted it, but I certainly suggested it as a possibility, and am excited by the possibilities.  Below is an article I originally posted in March 2018: Natalie Portman Thor

 

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The beginning of the end is near.  The next movie in the MCU, Avengers: Infinity War is less than a month away.  That will just leave Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel (a prequel to existing films rather than a continuation), and then an as yet untitled Avengers film, with it Phase Three will be over.  And with the end of Phase Three we will potentially see the end of some of the characters.  It has been reported that the following actors intend to hang-up their super hero costumes next year: Chris Evans (Steve Rogers aka Captain America), Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark aka Iron Man), Chris Hemsworth (Thor). Chris Evans Robert Downey Jr Chris Hemsworth

This will leave just Tom Holland (Peter Parker aka Spider-Man), and Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa aka Black Panther) as the only remaining Avengers deemed significant enough to have their own films.  They will be joined by any surviving cast.  They can’t simply recast, this will be conspicuous at best, disastrous at worst.  There is another answer within the existing cast: Natalie Portman (Jane Foster), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes aka The Winter Soldier aka White Wolf), Don Cheadle (Lieutenant James Rhodes aka War Machine).Natalie Portman Sebastian Stan Don Cheadle

In the comic books on which the MCU is based, these characters have all taken on the part of other heroes: Bucky Barnes – Captain America, James Rhodes – Iron Man, Jane Foster – Thor. Bucky Barnes Captain America Don Cheadle Iron Man Jane Foster Thor

There have been many other incarnations of the comic books where existing characters have taken on the mantle of other heroes, they include Sam Wilson aka Falcon as Captain America and Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow as Thor. Sam Wilson Captain America and Natasha Romanoff Thor

You may remember the scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron when the Avengers take it in turns to try and lift Mjolnir, all except  Black Widow, should this tell us something?

Having said all this, they could just introduce some new characters! 

 

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Revvin’ up your engine
Listen to her howlin’ roar
Metal under tension
Beggin’ you to touch and go

Kenny Loggins, lyrics by Tom Whitlock

Belated sequels are a terrible idea right? Not always, When Martin Scorsese directed The Color Of Money in 1986, it had been 25 years since The Hustler (1961).  The brilliance of the film was that it was totally different to the original.  Paul Newman reprised his role of “Fast” Eddie Felson, but he was a supporting character to Tom Cruise’s Vincent Lauria.  The original film is regarded as the better of the two, but the sequel is still excellent, and of the two the one I have watched more frequently, and enjoy the most. Can Tom Cruise pull it off again?  We will find out June 2020, with the release of Top Gun: Maverick!

This trailer dropped today.  Don’t worry, I will say what you are thinking: this actually looks GOOD!  By the time the film comes out next summer, it will have been 34 years since Top Gun (1986).  If like me you grew up in the 80’s you will have gone through the cycle with Top Gun: “it’s the greatest film ever”, “this is fun, but it’s really dumb”, “I can’t believe I ever watched this shit”, “Oh, yea, I saw Top Gun when I was a kid”, “I’m not interested in Top Gun”, “This is really good fun”, “I actually quite like it!”top gun maverick

Director Joseph Kosinski fits quite nicely into this mix, born in 1974, he would have been eleven or twelve when the original film came out.  He has two other credits as a director; Oblivion (2013), an underrated Tom Cruise vehicle, and TRON: Legacy (2010), another belated sequel, coming out 28 years after TRON (1982).  The cast looks strong, Cruise and Val Kilmer return from the original film, and are joined by Jennifer Connelly,Jon Hamm, Miles Teller and Ed Harris who has a prominent role in the trailer. The trailer is perfect with some great visuals, a voiceover (from Ed Harris) that could easily have come from Tom Skerritt in the original film, some great visuals, and no plot details.  I’m sure this will change in future trailers, for now, I’m looking forward to Top Gun: Maverick. 

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These are the days of miracle and wonder
This is the long distance call
The way the camera follows us in slo-mo
The way we look to us all

Paul Simon

At 2:32 pm BST on 16 July 1969, exactly  50 Years ago, Apollo 11 launched.  Three days later Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first of just twelve people to walk on the moon. 

Earlier this month I watched Apollo 11, there is one word to describe it Wonder!  With no talking heads, no voiceover, and no explanation, just stunning visuals and a fantastic score, it is about the emotion and the wonder of an extraordinary event, the first men on the moon.  As well as the stunning images of the mission, there were a lot of images of people watching the from around the launch. apollo 11 movie

This made me think of two movies:  The Martian (2015), and The Dish (2000).  The Dish is about a satellite dish in the middle of nowhere in the Australian Outback integral to the satellite interface needed to receive and relay images from the moon, and how important those images were to the world.  The Martian (2015), is about a the efforts to save an astronaut stranded on Mars as the world watches.  Walking out of seeing it at the cinema, the friend I was with said the only problem he didn’t believe that all the people portrayed watching the around the world would be that interested in space exploration.  The Martian

This begs the question, have we lost the capacity for wonder?  With the MCU zooming around the galaxy, and Disney making photorealistic remakes of their animations, it is now possible to recreate anything.  To add to this, the world as we know it is out our fingertips, not just on home computers the way it was a generation ago, but on the phones we carry in our pockets, the phones that are rarely a few meters from their owners.

But it goes deeper than that, the world is in a pretty shity place at the moment.  The catalyst that accelerated the Space Race was President John F. Kennedy’s “Moon Speech” at Rice Stadium on September 12, 1962:President John F Kennedy Moon Speech at Rice Stadium

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

Today we seem to be taking the easy option.  We are destroying the natural world for our convenience.   Two great nations with proud history of immigration are becoming more insular and closing themselves off from the rest of the world.  Flying in the face of the words written on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” President Donald Trump has become obsessed with building a fence to keep out immigrants.  At the same time, Brittan is tearing itself apart over Brexit a misguided plan to leave the European Union.

But there is hope, shows like David Attenborough’s Blue Planet reminds us of the wonder of the natural world has opened many people’s eyes to the damage we are doing, such as the  legacy of single use plastic.  Ultimately,  Kennedy’s speech wasn’t about getting to the moon, and it wasn’t about winning the space race, it was about hope, and as long as we have wonder, we have hope!

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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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