Category Archives: Film

Hanna: A Darker Kind of Fairy Tale

Hanna is a classic case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. Part dark fairy tale and part espionage thriller, the plot is one of the most straightforward of any movie I’ve seen in quite some time.

Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is a young girl who has been kept secluded from the world by her father Erik (Eric Bana) for her entire life. Her childhood is straight out of Grimms’ Fairy Tales; she has been raised in the cold forests of Finland and taught about history, language and culture from repeated readings of the same books.

Any time she does not spend learning, she spends hunting and training. She is an expert marksman and exceptionally strong for a girl so young, and essentially has been turned into a living weapon.

The reason for all this training becomes apparent very early. Hanna and her father are being pursued by CIA handler Marissa Weigler (Cate Blanchett) – a new brand of wicked witch – and they are hiding in Finland to avoid detection. As Erik explains, Weigler will not stop hunting them until she is dead or Hanna is.

The audience is told who the main villain is before we even see her on screen, and that does not change for the entire 111-minute running time of the film. There are no enemies becoming friends or friends becoming enemies, and there is never any question about which side is right.

There is very little time wasted on providing  subplots or superfluous information. We are given just about everything we need to know up front, and the rest of the film is spent following the three main characters as they chase each other.

That concept is one of the most interesting of the film. The three characters pursuing each other all are aware of the others and know they are coming after them. There is no element of surprise to benefit either side, which adds extra tension to each scene.

And as Hanna ventures into the world for the first time, we see the inherent contradiction of her own existence. She has vast amounts of knowledge, but has no experience with which to apply it.

She can spout the theory of electricity and speak fluent Arabic, but freaks out at the sounds of ceiling fans and televisions. She is fully prepared and capable of hunting down Weigler, but it is common social etiquette she can’t grasp.

All of these thoughts are sold remarkably well by Ronan, who highlights a cast of actors who all give great performances. A film with such a direct plot can get bogged down at times (and this one occasionally does), but Hanna largely succeeds because of the actors and the direction by Joe Wright.

Wright makes sure no scenes are wasted and makes excellent use of foregrounds and backgrounds. When characters are close to being caught, scenes scroll sideways to reveal the nearby threats.

As the camera follows next to the hunted, we see the hunters lying in wait behind pillars in the foreground or following in the background. Sometimes the reveals happen so quickly you can blink and miss them.

These chases are inevitably followed by fight scenes, which are raw, visceral and well choreographed. There are no ridiculous flips or unnecessary moves, just fists, feet and elbows flying. Every fight seems real and has legitimate intensity.

It is also worth noting that the chase and fight scenes are accompanied by an outstanding soundtrack done by the Chemical Brothers. Tense at some points and frantic at others, it always complements the action and tone of the scene well.

Despite its obvious strengths, Hanna is not without its flaws. While Bana and Blanchett’s acting performances are both solid, their characters do not get nearly as much growth as the titular Hanna. In fact, there is virtually no characterization of them at all.

They are both chasing each other out of a sense of vengeance, the reason for which becomes clear throughout the film, but that is just about all they are there for. Erik provides the training necessary for Hanna to become what she is, and Weigler provides the end goal. Those are their only purposes.

And while Wright’s direction was mostly unique and appropriate, there are times his style became distracting. In a few scenes, the way he chose to frame things became the focus instead of what was actually happening on screen. And a couple times he tried to go for surprises that just didn’t work.

But for the most part, Hanna is a taut thriller that stays interesting from beginning to end. The premise may not be original and the plot may be direct, but the quality rises thanks to solid acting performances from everyone involved, interesting direction and an outstanding soundtrack.


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Why April Fools Day Sucks

I think everyone beyond adolescence is well aware that you can’t believe anything you see or hear on April Fools Day. Most stories that come out are half-assed and pretty obviously fake.

Those can get annoying in their abundance, especially when you’re a journalist and occasionally can’t tell if you should report something or not. But they’re not the reason April 1 sucks; in fact, it’s just the opposite.

The real reason April Fools Day is a kick in the pants is because every year there is a very small number of well-done fake trailers. They are planned months in advance, executed well and at least semi-believable.

This year’s version comes courtesy of website IGN, which ran an “official trailer” for The Aurors, a TV show based on the Harry Potter series of books. The trailer is below in its entirety:

There are several reasons this is clearly fake. For one, it’s April 1 and IGN is notorious for having a yearly April Fools prank. Second, something of this magnitude would have been leaked months ago. And third, all of the actors are American. J.K. Rowling would never allow that.

But despite all that, the trailer still showcases an excellent idea for a Harry Potter spin-off and one that actually could work if done properly.

The aurors in the Harry Potter universe essentially are the police officers of the wizarding world who hunt down and either capture or eliminate threats in the form of dark wizards. They were only briefly featured in the books, but a show based on them could combine the mystical elements of Harry Potter with a gritty police drama.

The idea of taking something mystical and making it more realistic in a real-world setting is not brand new. In fact, there is a precedent for success in such projects. Christopher Nolan’s more realistic take on the Batman franchise has resulted in possibly the best superhero movies to date.

And last year, a live action Mortal Kombat trailer done as an independent project – watchable below (viewer discretion advised) – has since resulted in the creator being paid to make an online web series following the characters.

Because the idea for The Aurors is so solid, I’m now upset the trailer is fake. Had this video never been made, I could have chugged along in blissful ignorance, but now I genuinely wish this were a real series. There’s no way someone could get the HP license to make a TV show out of it, but still.

The whole thing is a big tease. I’ve been shown something I didn’t know I wanted, discovered I wanted it and then was told I couldn’t have it. That sucks. Plus, the fact that someone came up with an idea like The Aurors as a prank, while someone else actually put The Cape on TV is mind boggling.

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Worship at the Altar of Christopher Nolan

The Twitterverse has been exploding with discussion of Inception since its release, and with good reason. The film is a rarity: a wholely unique summer blockbuster with a stellar cast and visionary director. It’s the kind of marriage you’ll only get to see a few times in a decade. Reviews of the film have been overwhelmingly positive, from both critics and casual moviegoers alike. But that latter group seems to have one complaint: it’s too confusing.

This was one of my main concerns going into the film’s opening weekend. Warner Bros.’ marketing ploy tagged Incepetion as being “from the director of The Dark Knight.” Therein lies the problem. The majority of America is familiar with Nolan only because of his two Batman films, and they were expecting something similar. Something dark, moody, but easy to grasp. That’s not how Nolan’s original screenplays work, but unfortunately most people never saw Memento and thus didn’t understand what they were getting into. They thought they could go into Inception expecting just another summer movie experience, where they could zone out for a few minutes and still understand what was going on.

That’s not the case with Inception, but I think calling the film “confusing” is a bit unfair. If you actually pay attention from start to finish, the story is fairly easy to follow. Nolan goes through the trouble of explaining every little detail, even going so far as to say why the team needs their flight to be on a 747. They also explain the time differences between levels of dreams, which comes into play in the film’s closing sequences. Nolan doesn’t spoon feed. He doesn’t explain things then show the necessity for that explanation in the next scene. He trusts that his audience actually has the brain power to hear something and remember it for more than an hour.

The film is one of the most visionary I’ve ever seen and is an absolute mindbender. It addresses the concepts of lost love, family, dreams and memories, and how all of them can affect each other. When we lose someone, what version of them gets locked in our head? Is it a version true to who that person really was, or is it a romanticized ideal? These are the kinds of questions the film will make you ask, and the final scene will cause you to question much of what you’d seen before. It’s the perfect movie to incite debate, with no possibility of anyone being “right” or “wrong.” But it’s important that you go into the film knowing what to expect. You’ll need all your mental facilities, and as long as you appreciate thought-provoking films that don’t talk down to you, you’ll love it.

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The Importance of Inception’s Reception

Christopher Nolan was already firmly entrenched as one of my favorite directors in recent memory, so I was excited when I first saw the trailers for Inception. An interesting original concept, a stellar cast, and Nolan at the helm could not possibly go wrong. I’m always cautious not to let my expectations get too high for fear of a let down, but the first reactions to the film have made me throw that rationale out the window. According to preliminary reports from essentially every media outlet that has done advanced reviews, Inception has the potential to be Nolan’s masterpiece.

The film has created so much buzz that I would not be shocked if it is the critical and box office hit of the year. That isn’t just great for Nolan’s career, but it could provide a much-needed adrenaline shot to Hollywood. In recent years, filmmakers have gotten stuck in the rut of remakes, reboots, sequels and adapted screenplays. I can’t even think of one legitimately great original screenplay I’ve seen so far this year. Being an aspiring screenwriter myself, I have read several accounts of writers’ pet projects being rejected in favor of the aforementioned easy sellers. Inception could help studios see that an original creation still has the ability to generate money when done right, which hopefully will make them more willing to take chances on creative films.

I understand the allure of rebooting existing franchises or turning literature into films. There is already an inherited fan base for such films, guaranteeing sales and word of mouth. People are already lining up to see the new Predator movie simply because of its name. The same thing will happen with The Green Hornet, and lets not even talk about the hype surrounding the final Harry Potter movie. So from a business standpoint, I get the recent enfatuation with these kinds of projects, especially in a down economy. But creatively, Hollywood has been in a major funk for years, with very little new blood injected into the industry. One box office blast the size that Inception has the potential to make, however, might change all that. And here’s to hoping that it does.

If you want to view the trailer for Inception, it is below. The film opens next Friday, July 16.

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