Tag: luke evans

Anna


Anna (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

Luc Besson’s action-thriller “Anna” tells the story of a Russian woman (Sasha Luss) recruited by the KGB during the intelligence war against the CIA. A victim of domestic abuse and a drug addict, she considers working for the government as a short-term solution that might lead to a better life, but, after having proven her efficiency as a tyro agent, her superior (Eric Godon) demands that she serve for the long haul—or die. Occasionally entertaining are the ridiculous action scenes in which Anna must storm a place and shoot every person in a suit or uniform, but there is a disconnect between the complex, glossy choreography and the titular character’s desperation to achieve freedom. And so when the busy buzzing of bullets and cracking of bones die down, the personal drama comes across rather disingenuous most of the time. It lacks a certain abrasiveness that allows the drama to become convincing and compelling. The picture, however, is elevated somewhat by supporting actors who strive to deliver solid performances: Luke Evans the brooding KGB officer, Helen Mirren as the sharp and tough KGB handler, and Cillian Murphy as an unwavering CIA agent constantly on Anna’s heels.

Ma


Ma (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

In the middle of the camp-lite psychological thriller “Ma,” directed by Tate Taylor and written by Scotty Landes, I wished the focus were on the adult characters instead of the teenagers. The reason is because veteran performers like Octavia Spencer, Juliette Lewis, Luke Evans, Missi Pyle, and Allison Janney can effortlessly elevate a tired plot toward a legitimate good time simply by injecting a fresh line reading, giving out pointed looks, and controlling body movements a certain way. These are qualities that the young cast is lacking. They provide passable performances, but their characters are clearly, and quite simply, lambs lining up for a slaughter.

It is apparent that Spencer is having a good time with her role. As Sue Ann, known by the party-loving teens as Ma because she allows them to lay back and let loose in her basement, she is almost always creepy and quite diabolical when triggered. And yet at times we are provided glimpses of her lonely life at home and how powerless she is at work. When she is humiliated, it is difficult to determine how she will react. Following this woman over the course of one day might have made a curios short film: veterinarian’s assistant by day, stalker and deadly killer by night. She is as quick to give a smile as she is at slitting someone’s throat with a scalpel.

Flashbacks involving Sue Ann being tormented by her peers in high school are uninspired. It might have been the wiser choice to remove these completely and focus on enhancing the script. Simply referencing traumatic details from the past could have been enough given the caliber of its experienced actors. Notice the power of reunions. For instance, we feel Erica’s embarrassment of having to cross paths with a former classmate after it was believed that she moved to California to live a life of success. Erica’s sense of failure is written all over Juliette Lewis’ face. Her body does not want to be on that casino floor, skimpy clothing and all. Even though she is a mother who is strong and proud to raise her daughter by herself, at that very moment she feels like trash.

Maggie, Erica’s daughter, is played by Diana Silvers, the new girl that the popular crowd (McKaley Miller, Corey Fogelmanis, Gianni Paolo, Dante Brown) welcomes into the their group. She has a memorable face, but the screenplay fails to create a memorable heroine. For too long she is shown as a passive observer; she begins to notice strange things at Sue Ann’s home and yet she continues to return and party in the basement. When the third act rolls around, we are supposed to care about her fate simply because she is the main girl and nothing else. Never mind the familiar horror tropes of being drugged and waking up to be tormented.

It is rare when solid performances manage to save a generic screenplay. “Ma” is no exception. While entertaining on the surface, I found little value—or excitement—in it. It is one of those movies that you allow to play in the background as you perform chores, check texts, or browse social media while occasionally looking up as decibels begin to rise.

10×10


10×10 (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

As far as abduction thrillers go, “10×10,” based on the screenplay by Noel Clarke and directed by Suzi Ewing, is relatively standard in its execution in that opportunities are not taken once and for all to end the life of either the hero or villain until the very last act. It goes by the rule that the running time be as close as possible to ninety minutes. There is great frustration to be had here: Since the characters do not make desperate moves in life or death situations, we never become invested in the survival aspect of the story. However, there are enough plot twists which warrant a light recommendation for those looking to turn off their brains for passable, superficial, and forgettable entertainment.

The abductor named Lewis is played by Luke Evans—a role that any actor with an athletic physique can play. Although Evans is believable in the role—in fact, he appears unchallenged here—the character is neither written with depth nor in such a way that the drama is rooted in something real, tangible, or relatable. Relatively fresh, however, is that Lewis is no common criminal. Having stalked Cathy (Kelly Reilly) for months and finally making a move to kidnap her, in a very public place, no less, we learn quickly he is not motivated by money or sex. Then what does he want?

This reveals the weakness of the screenplay. It takes too much time to get to the point—to reveal the motivations of both predator and prey. As a result, the momentum during the middle portion remains stagnant for the most part, only punctuated by silly chases that end quickly. At least these scenes are edited in such a manner that we have a complete idea of the action. It could have been edited so manically but there is some degree of patience here. Still, viewers are certain to think or yell at the screen: “Grab the gun!” “Shoot him!” “Stab him!” When a gun is located only a few feet away, Cathy chooses to run to the kitchen drawers and search for a knife. She fails even to grab the biggest one. Common sense is far from the picture’s forté.

For a film that takes place in a limited space, it does a solid job in getting us familiar with the setting. For instance, the ten-by-ten soundproof white room surrounded by padding is initially nondescript. But as violence unfolds, it gets dirtier, we see bugs and blood, imperfections on the floors and walls. As for the living space, it is quite detailed. Because Lewis does not reveal much about himself during the first half, we look closer at the decor, photographs, paintings on walls, piles of magazines and books. Does the home look and feel as though it houses a family or a bachelor?

“10×10” is competent but never impressive, tolerable but never that interesting. Its look is rather standard and the camera angles employed are not daring or even playful for the sub-genre. In the middle of it, I began to wonder about my shopping list, whether I had jotted down everything I needed for my next trip to the supermarket.

Dracula Untold


Dracula Untold (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

It is clear after about ten minutes into “Dracula Untold” that the film, directed by Gary Shore, despite its somber look, tone and mood, is meant to be taken lightly. It is an escapist, crowd-pleasing picture filled with occasional silly dialogue, physics-defying stunts accompanied by lack of immediate fatal consequences, and special and visual effects so over-the-top that at times it may look a bit like a video game. Despite its obvious shortcomings, it still offers good entertainment.

Vlad (Luke Evans), prince of Castle Dracula, notices a Turkish scout’s helmet washed downriver and comes to the conclusion that there is likely to be more of them. Hoping to put a stop to these foreign scouts, Vlad and a few of his soldiers climb a mountain, where the river begins, because there is a cave up there that is perfect for refuge. What they find inside, however, are not the scouts. In fact, what they come across is what used to be human, a powerful, fearsome vampire that has lived for hundreds—perhaps even thousands—of years (Charles Dance).

It offers a believable leading performance. Evans plays Vlad with such a high level intensity, from facial expressions to body language, that when an amusing, awkward line comes around, we are taken out of the picture for about a second and then back into it again immediately. It helps that the screenplay by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless gives the character with a clear purpose—to save his wife (Sarah Gadon), his son (Art Parkinson), and his people—so that we are able to follow his journey from man to monster despite some of the unintentional distractions.

The visuals are quite beautiful, particularly scenes that take place indoors whether it be inside luxurious chambers of Castle Dracula or a shadowy cavern where a monstrous thing awaits. It is appropriate that there is a feeling of fantasy to these scenes as if looking into a time and place only found in gothic fantasy novels. When the visuals are subtle—unlike the battle sequences, especially one that is so literal we actually watch one man fighting an army—they enhance the experience in such a way that we cannot wait what the next scene will look like, the small surprises ahead.

The film could have been improved upon by firmly establishing the importance of religion in the characters’ daily lives. There is an important scene halfway through which shows a critical act of betrayal, the so-called evil that must be destroyed in the name of religion. What could have been an emotionally rewarding or cathartic scene comes across as abrupt, poorly executed. This is mainly due to a lack of context.

“Dracula Untold” may not be a strong fusion of fantasy and history but it does offer an entertaining, visually pleasing, and well-acted origins story that leaves enough room for a sequel. The final scene, which sets up a possible next installment, however, is best left forgotten. It is without a doubt the weakest part of the picture and it left me with furrowed brow.

The Three Musketeers


The Three Musketeers (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Aramis (Luke Evans), and Porthos (Ray Stevenson), collectively known in France as The Three Musketeers, find themselves living us bums when their services are no longer needed by their country. Petulant and cocky D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman), son of a former Musketeer, visits Paris in hopes of following his father’s footsteps.

King Louis XIII (Freddie Fox), to everyone’s knowledge, is an incompetent leader, more concerned about matters of the heart than actually running a country. Richelieu (Christoph Waltz), the Cardinal, wishes to take over the throne by making the king believe that his wife (Juno Temple) is having an affair with the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom), thrusting France and England into war.

Based on the screenplay by Alex Litvak and Andrew Davies, “The Three Musketeers” attempts to appeal to the younger crowd by featuring an overabundance of action sequences involving tricky swordplays and flying ships equipped with cannons. Still, it all feels like a slow march to the death—all technical acrobatics and ostentatious visuals but the story is a complete mess.

We learn nothing about Athos, Aramis, and Porthos prior to their group’s break-up other than they are good at fighting and working as a team. So when D’Artagnan arrives in the city and we discover that the former trio waste their days drinking and wandering in the market, they look like fools instead of fallen heroes with plenty more to give.

Despite D’Artagnan’s complete lack of likability during the early scenes, he is supposed to be our point of view considering that he is young, full of optimism, and willing to prove himself to be worthy of being on the level of his heroes. But when he finds out what they have become, neither the script nor the actor provides emotional shift—such as disappointment, anger, or regret—in D’Artagnan. I got the sense that the filmmakers are afraid to delve into real emotions because they consider it too risky, “too emotional” or “sensitive,” for an action-adventure picture. As a result, the film comes off deathly one-note and boring.

The action scenes are shot beautifully, but it has one too many slow motion montages. The more they do it, I felt increasingly less impressed and more annoyed. Over time, I became more convinced that the slow motion action sequences would have probably worked better as a three-minute fashion video. For instance, when Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich), Athos’ double-crossing lover, jumps through booby traps, the slow movements highlight how her boldly designed and colorful fluffy dresses form perfectly angled waves. When she falls and gets up, not a smidgen of dirt is found on her outfit. She does not even break a sweat despite her gymnastic-like movements worthy of the Olympics.

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, despite “The Three Musketeers” taking plenty of liberty to deviate from Alexandre Dumas’ novel, the work is as weightless as the flying ships it features. There is nothing special or heroic about the good guys because the writers fail to give them emotional complexity. The bad guys are bad because they want power. The good guys are good because they want some sort of redemption. We might as well have just watched cardboard cutouts for two hours.

Furious 6


Furious 6 (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is in a pinch: desperate to capture the group responsible for taking down an entire military convoy in Russia, he seeks help from Toretto (Vin Diesel), leader of a successful multimillion dollar heist in Rio, now a retired international criminal. The main suspect is Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), believed to be assembling a tech bomb that can blind a country for twenty-four hours. But Toretto needs a good reason to give aid. Hobbs is one step ahead: inside a manila envelope is a photo of Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Toretto’s former girlfriend, who is long believed to be dead.

“The Fast and the Furious” franchise enjoys a luxury that many other franchises do not possess: as each installment gets crazier, the more entertaining it becomes. More than ever, the chemistry among the actors feel exactly right, the action sequences are so out of this world—but well-executed—that its defiance against adhering to the laws of physics is not only welcome but expected, and it is a hell of a good time.

The wow factor is clearly present. Director Justin Lin has an eye for creating the most ridiculous chase scenes. A standout involves a chase after a botched Interpol mission in London. Though its sleek style is clearly inspired by Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” it does not settle for being a cheap carbon copy. The inspiration is in spirit but the presentation is signature: fast and ridiculously expensive cars crashing against each other and whatever is in the way. Pair these elements with a high-spirited score and sound effects as well as well-timed jokes and a sinking sensation that the good guys have little to no chance of coming out on top, a suspenseful action picture results.

The villain is interesting because Evans plays him quietly. The less he speaks, the more I wished to know more about him. His actions communicate a lot on their own. Thus, it is somewhat of a surprise that one scene rings completely false: Owen telling Toretto about his code. The former discusses the value of precision in their line of work. The entire scene feels too scripted—like it is designed solely to spell everything out for the audience.

A little detour in the US involving O’Conner (Paul Walker) cripples the pacing of the film just before the halfway point. I began to wonder if the material is creating some padding. If so, why? If the point was to enhance the story or the character, it does not succeed in either. This is usually a problem with the majority of movies that are over two hours long.

But once the action picks up again, it is difficult to look away: hand-to-hand battles that climax in a subway station, a chase involving a tank that weighs thirty tons (and demolishing everything in its path), and a plane being prevented from taking off. Each one is highly entertaining. I even caught myself saying “Ooh!” (“That’s got to hurt.”) and gasping out of sheer horror or disbelief.

The script may not be the film’s strongest point—there are a few corny lines—but the visuals more than make up for it. I came out of the movie wanting to drive my car really, really fast. That’s how I know it has done its job.

No One Lives


No One Lives (2012)
★ / ★★★★

While eating in a local bar, an unnamed man (Luke Evans) and his girlfriend, Betty (Laura Ramsey), are approached by Flynn (Derek Magyar), one of the five thieves responsible for murdering an entire family. Despite Flynn’s intimidating presence, Betty is not afraid of him. In fact, she seems to be concerned for the man because he has no idea what he has gotten himself into. She glances at her boyfriend almost as if to beg telepathically not to make trouble.

The strength of “No One Lives,” written by David Cohen and directed by Ryûhei Kitamura, lies in its twists in the first half. It takes the familiar premise of people on a road trip encountering potentially violent–if not downright psychotic–strangers and plays with it until it is time to lay the cards out on the table. However, once the twists are revealed, the screenplay fails to offer anything fresh. The movie turns into standard slasher killings where blood is king and the body count increases every five minutes.

A character worth rooting for is a very necessary ingredient in horror pictures especially when it involves a prey and predator. Here, not one character is likable–not even the missing heiress, Emma (Adelaide Clemens), who is worth two million dollars. She is supposed to be one we want to see survive, given that she is a victim, but her motivations are kept in the dark for so long that we cannot help but suspect her of being a villain, too. Furthermore, Clemens plays Emma so broodingly that she looks like a scowling, cheap knock-off of Michelle Williams. Her one-dimensional acting, quite frankly, annoyed me.

A key flashback involves the killer and the kidnapped. There is no reason for it to have been broken into parts. Because each bit is inserted between scenes of torture and maiming, a potentially interesting statement embedded in the flashback is diminished. Though negligible because we do not care about the sheep for slaughter in the first place, the flashbacks hinder the flow of scenes involving the hunted panicking and scrambling whatever needed to be done in order to survive.

By the end, it has turned into a complete mess. The final confrontation involves silly hand-to-hand combat and characters wanting to have the “honor” of killing their assailant. I found it very difficult to believe that people would hesitate or fail to end the nightmare when the opportunity is staring at them in the face. This is just one example of the screenplay being rife with excuses in order to drag along a very thin–and lame-brained–plot.

The Raven


The Raven (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

Set in 1849, the Baltimore police has a mystery on their hands. As a mother and daughter are gruesomely murdered in their own home, the perpetrator is nowhere to be found despite the fact that the cops can hear the killings in action seconds before they demolish the door. Except for the entrance, there appears to be no other exit other than a window which is nailed shut. Detective Fields (Luke Evans) is assigned to solve the case. Upon closer examination of the room, he realizes something: this murder is exactly like one of the stories published by Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack).

Although the concept of “The Raven,” based on the screenplay by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare, glistens with promise, its potential is mostly hindered by miscast performers and unearned fluctuations in tone that take viewers out of the experience and prevent them from completely buying into the requisite twists and turns of the mystery.

Cusack as Poe is at times a chore to watch. He excels in capturing Poe as a drunk, desperate to get another drop of alcohol from a bartender, because his affliction is given an air of light comedy. However, when the events turn deadly serious as the body count increases, Cusack does not seem conflicted enough as someone who feels indirectly responsible for the twisted killer replicating his art.

Perhaps it has something to do with the romantic angle of the picture. Poe and Emily (Alice Eve) are in love but the two cannot be together out in the open because her father (Brendan Gleeson) despises Poe. While it might have been interesting as a subplot, eventually, however, Emily becomes a pawn in the killer’s game—too predictable, very limp in that a man’s weakness is a woman.

Meanwhile, Evans as the head detective is a bore. He has two reactions: looking quiet, brows furrowed, very determined to solve the case and yelling when things turn for the worse. One may expect that Fields’ lack of sense of humor might somehow complement Poe’s lighter side. They would be wrong.

This is because the screenplay fails to provide scenes in which Poe and Fields relate to one another as passionate people of their chosen professions and, on the most basic level, as human beings. When they are in the same room, it is all about business. The essence of their relationship does not at all seem to permeate through scenes when they are not the focus. In other words, their connection feels limited only in scenes that we see.

Despite a lack of chemistry between an actor and his character in addition to the character’s lack of genuine connection with others, the film looks great. I was surprised that it actually shows us bloody corpses, severed body parts, and at times the actual murder. Its most memorable piece is perhaps the giant scythe swinging like a pendulum which moves closer and closer to a man’s body, threatening to cut him in half. The tunnels underneath the city is also visually striking. The setting is given appropriate lighting and awkward camera angles are employed to induce suspicion in us that something is bound to go wrong.

“The Raven,” directed by James McTeigue, is a prime example of a story, at least on paper, that pulses with enough creativity that it might be considered a good idea to create. But since the actors recruited are not quite fit for the role, when it inevitably hits some bad notes, the discordant elements are all the more amplified.

Immortals


Immortals (2011)
★ / ★★★★

It’s always depressing when you’re watching a movie and your eyes are seemed to be programmed to check the clock, hoping that about thirty minutes had passed since the last glance, only to find out, with much dismay, that barely five minutes has gone by. In “Immortals,” written by Charley Parlapanides and Vlas Parlapanides, Theseus (Henry Cavill), a peasant whose mother (Anne Day-Jones) was regarded by the village as a whore, was chosen by Zeus (Luke Evans) to lead his people, the Hellenics, to fight against King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) and stop his blood-thirsty quest of obtaining the Epirus Bow, so powerful a weapon that it could awaken the Titans and bring destruction to the world. While I have no problem conceding that some of the images it offered were awe-inspiring, like when the action would switch into slow motion and show Theseus fiercely plunging a spear into other men’s throats as if they were made out of butter, but there were instances when it was impossible to see a thing because it was so dark. For a movie with a healthy budget, I wondered why the filmmakers didn’t seem to have enough light on set. I wished that the characters constantly carried around a torch especially during the scenes set at night and they were required to actually speak and communicate ideas. If we couldn’t see the actors’ faces, then what chance did we have in absorbing certain subtleties, if any, so we could end up having a certain level of understanding of the men and women in the brewing war? The story was messy and confusing. Aside from the fact that I had no idea how the characters got from Point A to Point B, Phaedra (Freida Pinto) being a virgin oracle who knew the location of the much desired Epirus Bow was not handled properly. We saw the first scene through her eyes, a glimpse of what was to come. But since we knew what was going to happen, the journey toward future had to be executed a certain way, loyal to the goal yet packed with enough surprises, so that we wouldn’t be bored or feel cheated. I wasn’t convinced that the screenplay was strong enough so sustain such a promise because the visuals almost always took precedence. The characters lacked logic. There was a natural sexual tension between Cavill and Pinto, covered in grime and sweat, but not between Theseus and Phaedra. While the actors looked alluring, I reckoned that the writers interpreted the actors looking good while barely clothed as actively constructing genuine sexual friction between their characters. Given that Phaedra and the people that surrounded her knew that she would lose her gift of foresight the second she lost her virginity, to have the peasant and a holy figure engage in sex was not only careless with regards to story but a tired convenience for the sake of consummating something even if the romantic angle was barely established. Surely having the ability see the future could have game-changing effects in a time of war. It would have been more interesting to watch Theseus being very attracted to the oracle yet he had to maintain his distance because, during such a critical period, he valued his responsibility to his people more than his craving for flesh. At least for me, the most interesting heroes are those who are required to practice self-denial for the sake of the bigger picture. Directed by Tarsem Singh, watching “Immortals” was like looking at a painting that you can admire because it looks good on the outside. But when a person asks why you like it, your brain panics and you quickly realize that you can’t find anything concrete about it. In order not to come off as stupid, you feel that you have to say something–anything–and you end up saying, “Oh, because it’s shiny.”