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CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: HANNA (2011)
By Michael Arruda & John Harvey
(The Scene): MICHAEL ARRUDA moves like smoke through the forest of Finland near the Arctic Circle. He holds a makeshift bow with an arrow nocked. Through the trees, he sees a caribou poking around the permafrost with its nose. Arruda pulls the arrow back, aims, lets out a breath and …
JOHN HARVEY (offscreen): Dude.
Arruda releases the arrow, but the caribou spooks at the slightly-slurred voice and bolts, revealing L.L. SOARES relieving himself against a tree. The arrow pierces his back slightly to the right of his spine. LS hits the ground. Michael breaks cover and runs into the clearing to LS).
MA: I just missed your heart.
LS: I don’t need no stinkin’ heart! (Pulls out arrow. Examines bloody wound.) I’d better get a Band-Aid. However, that means I’m gonna have to miss this review. You’ll have to review HANNA without me.
JH (sitting on a log, drinking a beer): Dude. I can help out. I just saw HANNA.
MA: That’ll work.
LS: Every time you guys review a movie together, I get horribly injured. I’m beginning to get suspicious.
JH (to LS): Bitch. Bitch. Bitch. (to MA) Let’s get back to the cabin. Let’s do this review over dinner.
MA: Sounds good. (to LS) Are you coming?
LS: No. I’m going … to the hospital. Thanks to you guys! And on the way, I think I’ll stop and see YOUR HIGHNESS (2011) instead. (disappears into woods.)
JH: So anyway, HANNA is a new high-energy pursuit thriller directed by Joe Wright (ATONEMENT (2007) and THE SOLOIST (2009)).
MA: Yes, it’s Hit Girl meets Jason Bourne.
JH: I have to admit, the last time Focus Features tried to pass off a thriller to me, it was THE AMERICAN (2010) and that turned out to be an interesting but lethargic character study, not an action-thriller. With HANNA, Focus Features and Joe Wright deliver the goods in a big, big way.
MA: Yep, I liked HANNA a lot too, and I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on it.
(MA and JH arrive at the cabin and sit down for some stew. Between them sits a metal briefcase containing a computer panel with a big red button in the middle.)
MA: Hey, what’s this button?
JH (getting another beer): If you press that, it instantly starts all the action, running, and fighting.
You see HANNA tells the story of a semi-feral 16 year-old girl named Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) who has been kept hidden in the deep forest by her rogue secret-agent father, Erik (Eric Bana). Rather than your typical home-schooling environment, he has taught her advanced hand-to-hand combat, evasion, stalking, acrobatics, gun and knife fighting, and has also managed to fill her huge, machine-like brain with massive amounts of knowledge and at least six languages.
MA: I thought these early scenes were slow and got the movie off to a cold start. Not that I expected action right off the bat, but I just didn’t find these initial scenes with Hanna and her father all that interesting. I think the film could have done without these scenes and been better for it.
JH: Yeah, the beginning could have had a bit of an edit while still establishing the characters. Regardless, Hanna’s still a 16 year-old girl struck with wanderlust, though her father warns her that very bad and powerful people want both of them captured and/or dead (hence all the hiding). Why? Well, it has a lot to do with Hannah’s ultra-secret “origin story,” which is revealed in dribs and drabs during the course of the film.
MA: I liked this “origin story,” and I wish the film had dealt with it in more detail later on in the movie. I wanted to know more about the specifics of just how her special “origins” affected her.
JH: But if they did that in this film, then what would the possible sequel be about? In any case, Erik gives her the option of pushing a button on an electronic homing beacon that will attract the undivided attention of the movie’s nemesis, Marissa Wiegler (an artfully over-the-top Cate Blanchett), a cutthroat operative from some shadowy CIA(ish) agency. Ostensibly, this is because they must draw in and then eliminate their most dangerous enemies before they can hope to safely live outside their wintery sanctuary.
MA: So, of course, she presses the button. Like so.
(MA presses the button. Instantly, the sky lights up with searchlights and they hear helicopter blades chopping through the night air.)
JH: Well, now you’ve done it.
MA: Time to crank up this review a few notches.
(As cool electronic music plays in the background, JH & MA burst out the cabin windows and sprint through the forest with a swarm of spec-ops soldiers in hot pursuit.
JH: And once HANNA literally flips the switch, the wild ride takes off. I’m talking Finland, Morocco, Spain, and then Germany. And the movie lunges forward at such a frantic pace that you’ll struggle to stay in your seat.
MA (panting): I’m struggling to figure out how you’re running so fast with that beer in your hand.
JH: Honestly, do you think that this is the first time I’ve had to run away from someone with a full beer?
MA: Point taken.
I loved the use of locations in this movie. It reminded me a lot of the location use in the BOURNE movies.
However, the “wild ride,” as you put it, didn’t start for me as soon as Hanna pushed that red button, but later on, because the scene where Hanna kills the woman in the holding room, I had seen many times in the trailer, so this sequence didn’t come as a surprise at all. For me, things didn’t get moving until she hooks up with the quirky British family, a set of four characters I thought were terrific. From that point on, the movie just kept getting better and better.
(Michael and John come to a skidding halt at a table outside a Moroccan cafe. )
MA: Hold on. How did we get here from Finland … on foot?
JH: That’s a mighty fine question that I’m not going to answer, because neither does HANNA in similar situations.
MA: Good point.
JH: The most glaring problem with HANNA is the gaping plot holes as well as a certain level of blindness for logic and reality. If that’s a real issue for you, then this movie might annoy more than entertain. There’s three factors that helped me set aside the lack of believability and enjoy this film.
First, Saoirse Ronan performance in this movie is both compelling and highly engaging. Regardless of who else is on camera with her, she steals every scene she’s in. I’ve heard her role being compared to Chloe Moretz in KICK-ASS (2010), but I think it’s more of a kissing-cousin to Natalie Portman in THE PROFESSIONAL (1994).
MA: I actually liked Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl better, as well as Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross in TRUE GRIT (2010), but Saoirse Ronan certainly belongs in the same conversation as these other two. She’s almost as good. I think Moretz’s performance was the best of the bunch, and Steinfeld came off as more of a real person, but Ronan is certainly compelling and nearly as good.
JH: Second, the combat and chase scenes in this movie are phenomenal, hands down.
MA: Really? Then you liked them better than I did. I thought these scenes were very good, but I didn’t find them as impressive as some of the action scenes in, say, the BOURNE movies, which I think contained some of the best action scenes in recent years.
JH: Third, the movie also has a slight-but-enjoyable absurdist flavor that disconnects the film from the real world. This ranges from Wiegler’s shoe fetish to her gang of henchmen consisting of a preening, foppish sociopath, Isaacs (Tom Hollander), and two retro OI!-boy skinheads.
MA (pointing across the courtyard): You mean them.
(ISAACSs and his two goons crash toward them in a Land Rover. JH and MA lunge away from the table and run through the street of Morocco with the Land Rover in pursuit, wrecking market carts and historical landmarks. They sprint through a wide sandstone arch and into … a dilapidated amusement park in Berlin, Germany.)
MA (gripping his head): Jeez. I think I’m getting a bit of vertigo.
JH: Yeah. I’m just happy to be in a country that serves good beer. Anyhow, the secondary things I liked about HANNA was that Wright and the screenwriter deftly insert humor into the story. This mostly occurs when Hanna attaches herself temporarily to a slightly hippy-ish British family on a road trip. Also, the mechanics of the film, including the camerawork, the soundtrack, and sound engineering, are all brilliant and make it tons of fun to watch.
MA: Yes, I really enjoyed the quirky characters. That was clearly one of my favorite parts of the movie, that it was filled with offbeat and very engaging characters. Take the hippy-ish family, for instance. You talk about Ronan being a scene-stealer, I thought Jessica Barden as the teen girl in this family, Sophie, was a tremendous scene-stealer herself. She’s clearly in the movie in a supporting role, but when she’s on screen, she makes her mark.
JH: I’m right there with you. Barden was very funny and convincing. It’s interesting and refreshing to see so many movies giving such textured and challenging roles to young women.
MA: Credit also has to be given here to Seth Lochhead who wrote the screenplay, because he fills this film with some great lines, a lot of them spoken by Barden.
There’s also a scene where Ronan and Barden are talking in bed, and they share a kiss, that is about as erotic as you’re allowed to make a scene like this today. In other words, director Joe Wright does nothing titillating in this scene at all, yet just the act of the kiss, it works, let’s put it that way.
But back to the hippy family. Young Aldo Maland also stands out as the younger brother Miles, as do Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng as the parents. These characters were thoroughly engaging. We saw Flemyng in last year’s 3D flop CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010) as the villain Calibos, and Olivia Williams has been in a lot of movies, including the classic THE SIXTH SENSE (1999).
I also really enjoyed Tom Hollander as the hit man Isaacs. He makes Isaacs a colorful, eccentric killer, a guy who seems to be always whistling a tune, a far cry from the by-the-numbers hit men we usually see in movies like this. He brought to mind a couple of other colorful hit men going back many years, albeit they were a bit more colorful, Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover) and Mr. Kidd (Putter Smith) from the Sean Connery James Bond flick DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971).
I also loved the camerawork, and I thought the electronic music score by The Chemical Brothers–Tom Rolands and Ed Simons–was excellent. It really added to the energetic pacing of the second half of this film.
(Bursting out from behind a crumbling roller coaster, WIEGLER dashes toward JH and MA while shooting at them with a small handgun. JH and MA tear off into the maze of broken rides and old shacks.)
JH (screaming): I liked you better when you were an elf!
MA: I thought she was a wizard in the LORD OF THE RINGS movies?
JH: No, queen elf … ethereal but kinda hot.
MA: That’s right. It’s been a while since I’ve seen those films. My butt’s still sore from sitting in the theater so long.
(MA whips around, nocks an arrow on his bow, and fires a straight shot through her chest. WIEGLER hits the ground with a ‘thud.’)
JH: Not that I’m complaining, but I don’t remember you bringing your bow.
MA: Every so often, I don’t mind the occasional plot hole myself.
JH: Fair enough.
MA: And did I mention, that in addition to all the neat European locations, I also really enjoyed the dilapidated amusement park, the setting for the film’s conclusion? Visually, this movie was about as far from boring as you’re going to get.
JH: Agreed. Anyway, is this a fantastic movie? No, it’s not. Once the adrenaline wears off, the nagging questions start to multiply. Also, the movie has a bit of a vacuum at its center that I think has a lot to do with the underlying but intentional coldness of Hanna and Erik’s characters. In some ways, it’s hard to invest in them. Still, in terms of pure action, fun, some skillful humor, fantastic film craft, and a decent (if somewhat predictable) ending, I’m happy I saw this in the theater. I’m giving it 3.5 knives.
MA: Which means you liked it just a little bit more than I did.
I’ve mentioned a lot of the parts that I liked, but the two best parts for me were the two leads. I really enjoyed Saoirse Ronan as Hanna, and while I didn’t think her performance measured up to Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl in KICK-ASS (2010) she was still very good.
I also thought Cate Blanchett did a phenomenal job as the cold-hearted Marissa. She made for one icy witchy villain, without going too over the top.
So, you have these two strong leads supported by a host of interesting and eccentric characters, in a well-written movie that knows how to have fun, so much so that it easily overcomes its plot holes, all wrapped up in a good-looking package by director Joe Wright. Admittedly, I thought it got off to a slow start, but it picks up eventually and builds to a satisfying conclusion.
All in all, I liked HANNA a lot, and I give it three knives.
JH: Interesting. Well, I guess that about wraps things up. Wanna ride want one of those roller coasters?
MA: After all that beer you just drank? I don’t think that’s such a hot idea.
JH: I like to live dangerously.
(They suddenly hear the sound of someone creeping behind them. MA whirls around and fires off another arrow. A roaring pan of the camera settles on LS with an arrow jammed in his chest.)
LS (clutching chest): You’ve got to be kidding me!
JH: How about that roller coaster ride?
(MA and JH break into a sprint, hearing only the slowly fading stream of non PG-13 language streaming from L.L.’s throat.)
– END –
© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and John D. Harvey
Michael Arruda gives HANNA – 3 knives
John Harvey gives HANNA - 3 and a half knives!
CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: COMING ATTRACTIONS April 2011
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(The scene: A suburban neighborhood, just like the ones in the movies POLTERGIEST and E.T. (both from 1982). MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES walk along a sidewalk and stop in front of a decrepit, spooky looking house.)
MA: Let me guess: the house where you were born.
LS: Nah. It’s not scary enough. Where I was born people didn’t break into your house. They broke out.
Anyway, we’re here in front of this haunted house because we’ll be kicking off April with a review of INSIDIOUS, the new haunted house horror movie by director James Wan, the man who directed the original SAW (2004).
MA: Ugh! That doesn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside!
Take a good look at this house, folks, and where it’s situated: in a suburban neighborhood surrounded by other houses. I hope that the house in INSIDIOUS is located in a similar place. So many haunted house movies have the house in the middle of nowhere, it has grown very tiresome.
INSIDIOUS was written by Leigh Whannell. He wrote the screenplays for SAW, SAW II (2005) and SAW III (2006). This is not making me feel good at all. It stars Patrick Wilson who played Nite Owl in WATCHMEN (2009).
LS: Wilson was also good in the movies HARD CANDY (2005) and LITTLE CHILDREN (2006). This one could go either way. I’ll reserve judgment til I see it.
MA: The trailer for this one didn’t do anything for me, so I can’t say that I’m looking forward to it.
I’m actually more intrigued by SOURCE CODE starring Jake Gyllenhaal, which also opens April 1. We’ll have this one covered for you by John Harvey.
The following weekend, April 8, we’ll be reviewing two movies.
LS: We’re just busy little beavers here at CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.
MA: John Harvey will be back with us again, as he and I will be reviewing the new thriller HANNA (2011) starring Cate Blanchett. This one looks kind of weird, as it’s about a young teenage girl who happens to be an assassin. It looks like Hit Girl from KICK-ASS (2010) meets the BOURNE movies. I have to admit, I’m looking forward to seeing it.
LS: Yeah, that looks okay. While you guys are seeing that one, I’ll be reviewing YOUR HIGHNESS, the new fantasy/comedy starring Danny McBride, James Franco and Natalie Portman. It’s a tale of two princes in medieval times who go on a quest. I like the cast, especially McBride. I’m a huge fan of his HBO show, EASTBOUND AND DOWN. So I’m hoping this one is pretty good.
MA: Then, on April 15, we’ll be reviewing SCREAM 4. I know how much you’re looking forward to this one!
LS (feigns vomiting): I’d rather eat broken glass than watch SCREAM 4. Originally I was going to try to duck out of seeing this one, but it looks like I’ll get dragged into it.
(Guy with the SCREAM mask runs up behind LS and grabs him by the arm, trying to drag him away.)
LS: Let go of me, you freak, before I chop off your head! Say, that’s not such a bad idea! (suddenly lifts an axe over his head.)
MA: How is it you always seem to have a sharp implement handy?
LS: I come prepared! (chases the SCREAM guy down the street.)
MA: Hey! Come back here! We have a column to finish! Oh well. I’m sure he’ll be back soon enough. Where were we? Oh yes, SCREAM 4.
It looks like the usual suspects are back for more screaming. Wes Craven’s back directing, and L.L.’s favorite screen writer (not!) Kevin Williamson wrote the screenplay again. It also features Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette back in the cast again, reprising the same roles they’ve played in the first three movies.
(LS returns, his axe dripping with blood.)
MA: Does this mean the SCREAM movies are finished?
LS: I doubt it. His last words were “I’m just the stand-in.”
LS: Anyway, I know you were joking around before, but I want to make this clear: I am not looking forward to SCREAM 4.
MA: I can’t say that I’m looking forward it either. While I actually liked the first SCREAM (1996), that was it. I wasn’t a big fan of the second one, and the third one was even worse, so we may both hate this one.
LS: April 22 will be a surprise weekend, as we most likely will be bringing you a DVD review. APOLLO 18 was originally supposed to open this weekend, but it’s been pushed back until next year!
MA: That’s right, supposedly this one won’t be released now until January 2012! Which is too bad because the trailer looked good. I’m looking forward to it, whenever it arrives.
We’ll be finishing April with a review of DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT, which opens April 29. This horror comedy, about a private eye who fights vampires and other supernatural monsters, sounded pretty stupid to me when I first heard about it, but the trailer doesn’t look half bad.
It stars Brandon Routh (SUPERMAN RETURNS ) in the lead, and he looks pretty natural playing Dylan Dog. Routh also appeared in a small role in SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010), and he was funny in that, and so it’ll be interesting to see if he can be funny in a comedy of his own.
I can’t say that I’m excited about DYLAN DOG, but I’m not dreading it either.
LS: April’s going to be a weird month, and I might not be able to review this one with you, but it does sound interesting. And I like Routh. I even liked SUPERMAN RETURNS and thought it was much better than most reviews gave it credit for.
MA: So, that’s it for April. Not a bad line-up.
LS: I disagree. With SCREAM 4 smack dab in the middle, it’s not a good line-up!
MA: Well, it’ll still be fun, anyway. Okay, folks, we’re out of time, and it’s starting to get dark so L.L and I have to head back home.
LS (to MA): What’s the matter? You can’t stay out after dark, or something?
MA: No. It’s just that the house behind is rather spooky looking, that’s all.
MA: Besides, it’s dinner time.
LS: Well, that’s a different story altogether! Let’s get the heck out of here! I can hear that dinner bell clanging all the way from here!
MA (to audience): If you want to see something truly scary, watch him eat. Anyway, that’s it for now. We’ll see you this weekend with a review of another new movie.