Archive for April, 2011

A Note on “Hanna”

April 22nd, 2011 No comments

My apologizes to Ms. Hartwig, as I stole Friend-licia to watch Boston the other night so The Wife and I could catch a movie in Century City.  It was a last minute call and we got lucky that Friend-licia was on her way back from Coachella.  After a quick debate over several movies we decided to see Hanna, the new film from director Joe Wright who most recently directed The Soloist, but don’t hold that against him.  He took a departure from his usual fare of sentimental melodrama and brings us a coming-of-age tale masked as an action film.  I only wish he spent as much time working over the script as he did working over the soundtrack.

It starts off beautifully in the frozen forests of Finland with only natural light illuminating the scenes.  We’re introduced to Hanna (Saoirse Ronan from Wright’s Atonement) as a cunning hunter that takes down a majestic reindeer with a single arrow.  Make no mistake, this young sweet looking girl is a predator and dangerous.  She was trained for one mission by her father Erik (Eric Bana) and that is to be a weapon seeking revenge for the death of her mother.  She has been living with Erik her entire life, isolated in a cabin in the woods reminiscent of the Grimm Fairy tales of which she is so fond.  Soon after the script sets Hanna up as the agile predator, we see a gentler moment with her father where she asks him what music sounds like.  This girl is ready to grow up.  Knowing that she is ready Erik allows her to make the decision to activate a beacon that will signal his CIA nemesis, Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett).

From the moment Hanna activates the beacon the film is directed down a path that is part Run, Lola, Run and part coming of age tale.  The mixed genre actually played well.  She would go from driving shotgun next to Olivia Williams with gold light flickering through her blonde hair to knocking in the teeth and slitting the throats of middle-aged men set to the adrenaline-pumping score by The Chemical Brothers.  It is a refreshing change to the typical assassin-that-finds-his-heart storyline.  This is a girl who has only known only objective and as soon as she believes that objective achieved, she is free to explore the world and Ronan plays the part with an endearing innocence that makes you forget just how lethal this girl can be.

Eric Bana’s character was as cold and flat as the Finnish lake where we first met him.  At times it became difficult to tell if it were character choices Bana had made or if it were just a disconnected performance. The bond I thought we should feel between Erik and Hanna wasn’t there. I felt like he was just playing his character from Munich, at least the accent was the same as was his keen ability to kill.  He wasn’t in the film enough to be a real distraction for me, during the movie I was really just drawn into Hanna’s character as this deadly teen struck with an insatiable wanderlust and gentle spirit.  One performances that stood out, although her character was annoying, came from Jessica Barden.  If a character is written to be annoying and then succeeds in annoying you, kudos to the actress.  She provided much needed comic relief and appropriately provided an outlet for her exploration of sexuality.  They never do anything, but she does introduce Hanna to boys and they share a small kiss, but the truth is you cannot become of the world without a sexual awakening.  It was handled with delicacy and humor.  There is a temptation when handling a female coming-of-age story to exploit her sexuality and Wright avoided that temptation, which I applaud.

It would be unfair to the film to claim that major plot holes distracted me.  The only time I wasn’t fully on board with this plot was when a man named Issacs tracked down Hanna.  Issacs is played by the familiar face Tom Hollander, who was fantastic in In The Loop.  You’ll probably recognize him from the Pirates of the Carribbean movies. But he’s commissioned by Marissa to track Hanna down and he finds her almost immediately.  Perhaps I blinked, but it seemed highly unlikely that he would stumble upon the hotel she stayed in when she didn’t give her name, didn’t pay, wasn’t seen and slept in the back room.  But, let’s forget it and just enjoy the chase.

Now, after the credits had rolled and The Wife and I made it safely back to our car we started talking about things we liked about the movie.  Big questions arose (and major spoilers are a-coming). Why the elaborate plan for revenge when it seems they could have just killed Marissa without all the fanfare?  Marissa attacked Erik years ago by just stepping into the street and shooting him.  They couldn’t have done something similar? I guess then there wouldn’t be a movie, but why not track her down, follow her home and shoot her?  Then we got on the topic of who Hanna is, what she is.  It’s a typical “twist” to the story and for me that is where the third act started to go awry. I wanted Hanna to be a girl that was finely trained, nothing more.

But what can you do? These bigger questions didn’t distract me much in the moment, and Mr. Dill always said you should let your first viewing just wash over you.  Later, you can go back and analyze what worked, what didn’t and why.

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A Note on ‘Insidious’

April 16th, 2011 No comments

thanks, movie poster, now I have to look up the distinction between "further" and "farther"

With more and more close friends starting to get positions in film and television it can become difficult remain objective when watching movies they’ve worked on.  It becomes even more difficult when you’re joining that friend, along with others, to watch the movie during its opening weekend. So, from two weeks ago. Opening film: Insidious.  Location: The Grove.  In attendance: a small group of film friends, myself and my wife.  Our friend’s position: additional editor. The Wife and I arrived a bit late, right in the middle of the previews and were feeling a bit rushed, but sat comfortably, calmed down and got ready for this latest movie from James Wan, the director of the original Saw. Knowing Wan I was anticipating another gore fest style film that passes off as horror these days. Wan surprises us by resisting the temptation to “gross out” and gives us some genuine thrills – but that doesn’t excuse some very clear flaws.

He manages to build slow tension through the first two acts, which a lot of credit goes to the pacing provided by some pretty tight editing.  Alaniz, if you’re responsible for any of that, well done.  Yet, it’s a very typical horror film setup; a seemingly perfect family gets a new house and slowly things start to haunt them.  It’s a bit eerie and it’s fun to whisper back and forth with The Wife – did you see something in that shadow? didn’t she already put those books away? I think I hear children voices, why are kids’ voices so scary? oh! shit, what just crossed camera? I see a face in the drapes!! And goosebumps. Jumps. An early scare is the best in the film done with a quick edit and hard-hitting bass sound effect. It made my stomach sink through my back and I felt a throb from my heart in my abdominal cavity that was now vacant, because remember my stomach exited out my lower back.

But lulls occur.  We’re given too much time to think and inevitably logic starts to creep into your mind.  It has to.  I’ve mentioned the suspension of disbelief before, it’s essential to watching a movie and was one of the first screenwriting lessons I was ever taught (thank you William Missouri Downs).  But logic has to creep into your mind.  I’m a logical creature, we are all, aren’t we?  Most of us any way?  But when you are creating a world, which is exactly what filmmaking is, you’re creating a world and inviting an audience along, then you must create and adhere to your own logic.  I don’t care what it is. You can create a world in which gravity apparently exists in space and you can freely walk around the Millenium Falcon (and i don’t care if some fanboy knows a device that explains this phenomenon).  You can create a world where angels walk among us and listen to the sunrise (that’s a Wings of Desire reference, do not think City of Angels you damned philistine). But once you create the world you are now directly and indirectly communicating some logic of this world to your audience and they are going to see the holes.  This is when the whispers become less fun.  It’s more like you’re trying to solve a puzzle that you feel you should enjoy, but you’re starting to wonder if you were given all the right pieces.  Or many given too many!  Why do I have six corner pieces? AH!

– why is that ghost licking her face? – why does he look like Bane from Batman? – why would a ghost listen to Tiny Tim? why would a person listen to Tiny Tim? – what do you mean they aren’t ghosts? – (spoiler alert!) what do you mean the boy is haunted? then why were they going after the mother all the time? – did that chick just put on a gas mask to talk to the ghosts, or what, the what are you calling them? Entities? Just spirits then?- is this turning into a comedy horror? No? – why is this the dad’s quest all of the sudden, haven’t we been following the mom?  – who’s story is this?? – that demon is listening to Tiny Tim now, what the f#@!? – is he not a demon? – what the hell is the Further, you lazy screenwriter?

It becomes exhausting. And once it starts, it’s a slippery slope. There was a world created in which the mom is experiencing a real haunting. This has become a world where she is in need, she needs to grow, so why the shift in focus?  There weren’t many problems with the direction, there was a good mix of some comedy in the thrills.  The editing was tight and told the story, especially through the first two acts (it starts to get hairy in the third act).  The problem is solely in the script causing a big story issue and in the end distracting heavily from some of the film’s actual merit.

And we sat through the credits to see the names of people we knew, then walked next door to the Cheesecake Factory, 45 minute wait. We walked down to the Whispers lounge at The Grove, we check the menu and prices.  We walked across the street to a barbecue restaurant without giving any consideration to the vegan in our group, get a table, get a 25oz beer, a patron margarita and a steak sandwich.  During the meal we are of course regaled by stories of the post process on the film, stories about the director and we congratulate our friend because it’s fantastic that he has a movie in the theaters, he did fantastic job (as did the entire editing staff with what they were given) and if you can get past the story issues, the bizarre third act and if you can stop thinking about where you know that psychic from (it’s Lin Shaye and she was the leathery woman in There’s Something About Mary) they you might just enjoy this film for the quick scares that it provides.

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