Review- Hanna

Saoirse Ronan in Hanna (Focus Features)

It’s really easy to love a film like Hanna. It takes a tale wherein the plot upon final examination is not all that complicated but it is rendered perhaps in the most interesting fashion that can be thought of. While it may not be the most original tale ever told it still bubbles over with freshness and enthusiasm for its subject matter that makes things seem quite new indeed even though they may not be.

It’s a film that also sneakily incorporates foreign languages and many locales within the narrative but due to this being an action film those averse to reading subtitles may be quickly won over and not cringe during these sparsely scattered scenes. The locales also vary but a journey geographically can be a great way to mirror a character’s journey to understanding about themselves and that’s what’s at the crux of the matter here: understanding. Whether it be for the audience or the protagonist we both start with the basics that we need to be allowed to function and move on from there picking up pieces along the way.

New information always clarifies and adds meaning to the tale as well as raising the stakes such that it’s all very expertly done. Yet we as the audience also are taken on a wonderful journey as we not only seek to find Hanna’s place in this international intrigue but also the motives of one Marissa who is seeking to hunt her down.

The film often balances wonderful action sequences and taut dramatic scenes that have an air of mystery about them as well. It paints it characters interestingly but not blatantly. Marissa being an example, her duplicity is underscored by her ever modulating accent. Yet Isaacs is another illustration. In very short order we see him as flamboyant club owner, then informant and then assassin. This kind of building of character alongside the building of the plot is great and rare to find. Add to that a final destination that Hanna must reach and you have yourself a surefire recipe for a great flick.

Hanna features a much-hyped, and discussed score by The Chemical Brothers. Now ultimately I must say I was won over by this score for two reasons: first, director Joe Wright spotted the film beautifully in terms of where he wanted score and where he didn’t. The opening of the film was quite quiet and there was a wonderful intimacy to it all. Then I did like the music itself is very good, worlds better than was Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross just got an Oscar for, it really puts the pedal to the metal when it has to and gives an offbeat vibe to this film. It does, however, for one section get too intrusive. Now in my A.I. paper I discussed intrusiveness of score. All are to some extent but there is a line I feel it crossed in her escape where it combined with the lighting and editing just made it too much of a music video feel.

Keeping these nitpicks in perspective, however, I’d always rather see a films whose negative qualities come from it trying to hard rather than it not trying hard enough. And that’s what this film did on two occasions. The second such was a scene where Hanna has just arrived at a room in Morocco and having been sheltered she is overwhelmed by the modern conveniences and their noise and fury and the sequences is overwrought and over-edited. It makes its point but perhaps too emphatically.

Ultimately, it must be said that this movie may be standing tall by the end of the year and these little nitpicks may knock it down a peg or two but it is still a great work. The acting in this film is tremendous and not simply for the fact that nearly everyone had dialogue in a language that is not their own. Many if not all the characters had moments that are memorable. Not failing to mention, of course, a screenplay which gives all these characters chances to have their moments but still telling a good and tight story.

There are rarely action films that both get your adrenaline pumping but also allow and, in fact, require your brain to remain functioning and not take that time off and this is one of those films. It’s as smart and well-told as it is exciting.

9/10

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Review- Soul Surfer

AnnaSophia Robb in Soul Surfer (Tristar Pictures)

Soul Surfer is an interesting film that may not yet have found its audience yet for a number of reasons but if I were a betting man, and there were bets on such things, I might be inclined to back this film as one that would find an audience through video over the years to come. It’s kind of a weird property looking at it from afar: a surfing film, which is also a biopic with a religious element to it being released in April. It’s essentially a summer film that didn’t want get buried amidst blockbusters and is trying to make some waves (yes, I can be punny, sue me) in a rather tranquil time.

None of the above is meant to sound like an indictment of the film. The fact of the matter is I truly enjoyed how multi-faceted I found the film to be. When you try and tackle too much in a film it can turn into a mess but when you can connect on disparate elements and tie them together then you’ve got something really good on your hands.

Looking at it from each perspective let’s see how the film works: firstly, there’s the surfing element under the larger umbrella of sports film. As has been said frequently, the best sports films aren’t really about the game, thus, they can hit home with the largest possible audience. However, it must be said that this movie is a sneaky good sports film. Due to the different things the film is trying to accomplish there isn’t a tremendous amount of time dedicated to the varying facets of a sports film but they get it spot on with the most important one: this film communicates in spades the love of the game and it’s mostly through cinematography, sound editing and a really well-written opening voice over, which stands head-and-shoulders above the voice over opening from the Best Picture nominee The Blind Side.

There’s also a sports rivalry, which as a subplot can either add depth or become an encumbrance on the narrative, it does the former and never gets in the way too much. As does the very chaste and timid love interest, just a little more humanity without over-complicating things. The ultimate example of its excelling in its sport movie mold is that it emphasizes, in the end, the joy of competing over that of victory better than most.

The personal journey works as well to fit the biopic mold. The stasis is well-established and then shattered and a new reality must be dealt with. There is also a very brief and practically perfect amount of time spent in the woe-is-me phase of her story. You also get a refreshingly good self-improvement montage and wonderful, if foreseeable, epiphany.

With regards to the religious aspect of the film it’s there, it’s a motivating factor in her recovery, it’s something Bethany questions and leans on. The film handles this very well not only in keeping it and making it a more true biography but adding some depth to the character and avoiding getting overly preachy and pedantic. Some films it seems can’t deal with any type of spirituality in it without it becoming a spiritual film. It’s an element that folds in very well.

If there’s anything that can be said against the narrative it’s just that there is a certain amount of evenness to it. The three facets while working well together allow you to stay on a rather even keel until the final competition. Yet it’s still a fun film to watch regardless of your investment level.

There is also some very impressive CG work done with the missing limb, it’s the best kind of CG work because it’s functional and doesn’t become the film. The sequence of the accident is also rather stunning and one of a few very well-handled and dramatically-rendered sequences in the film.

Much of the cast in this film does very well and the performances run rather deep down the line. You get three very strong performances just out of the family. AnnaSophia Robb has been mostly unseen since Race to Witch Mountain and before that Bridge to Terabithia but she shows here a rather seamless and graceful transformation to an adult role, and a leading one at that. It’s also wonderful to see Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid not just working but doing great and in a quality project. They each have their own moments to shine here. Ross Thomas and Chris Brochu play the usually jovial, supportive brothers but do have their dramatic moments. Kevin Sorbo also plays a refreshingly low-key and sympathetic character here and Jeremy Sumpter has a small part but plays one big scene wherein he shows flashes of greatness and how he is one of the most under-utilized young actors in films today.

Soul Surfer is a very enjoyable film that you should try to see on the big screen before it’s theatrical run ends.

8/10

Review- Hop

Hop (Universal)

Hop is a funny and entertaining enough film that tries to assert itself as the go-to movie for the Easter holiday and for lack of any real competition, at least for the moment, it just may get to be that. In the end though I wish that considering the likelihood they’d take that mantle by default they tried a little harder to create more of their own inventions. Many of the affectations of the story are merely transposed from Christmas traditions and modified to fit Easter motifs. There certainly were other twists like chicks working in the factory and being underlings such that an egg sleigh with chicks flying it rings kind of hollow.

While it is an enjoyable journey and the ending is ultimately satisfying there’s also a bit of a cop out on the frame. If you think about it the film has to have the resolution it does but it just begs the question why create the frame in the first place? Why not just save that information and have it come as a surprise? It’s a case where simpler would work better.

What does work in this film is firstly the overall plot conceived by Carlos (Hank Azaria) a chick in the factory to try and usurp power. It works both dramatically and comedically thanks to Hank Azaria who is one of the best voice over actors currently working, due in large part to the fact that you don’t automatically know it’s Azaria voicing a role when you hear it.

Truth be told the same must be said for Russell Brand’s portrayal of E.B. I’d seen the preview probably a trabillion times and hadn’t figured out it was him. Thankfully, Brand allows the situations to create the comedy and just plays the character and is rather straight about it much of the time as well so it ends up being a choice that works.

In terms of the live action performances James Marsden turns in good portrayal of an unfortunately named character (Fred O’Hare). This name made even more frustrating by the fact that some of the family scenes were the better jokes and ideas are in the film. Many of these scenes were stolen by Gary Cole, who is hilarious as always.

What really stands out in the film is the animation work, more so on E.B than on the Pink Berets but particularly the combination of it and live action elements which there hasn’t really been too much of. It’s not necessarily a quantum leap in the subgenre but it’s definitely a most pleasant progression.

Hop is an enjoyable and passable way to kill some time even for an adult like me, which is not that much different than a kid, though kids may like it quite a bit more than I did.

6/10