Delighted and disappointed

It was an up and down weekend at the movies. One good movie, one disappointing one. Let’s start with the good.

Hanna

I’m historically divided on director Joe Wright. I loved his adaptation of Pride & Prejudice but I thought Atonement was really overrated. I’m happy to report that I really liked Hanna and so Joe Wright is officially a “director I don’t hate”. Hanna is a very stylish, very entertaining teenage assassin tale—a more realistic Hit Girl, if you will. Irish actress Saoirse Ronan kills it stone dead as Hanna, a wild-looking teen raised in the arctic wilderness by her father. Hanna’s dad, Erik (Eric Bana, Munich), is the ultimate Tiger Mother, educating Hanna in the killing arts with a ruthless efficiency that almost precludes filial love. Ronan is a young actress of extraordinary range—she’s probably going to be one of the few that not only crosses painlessly into adult fare but ends up defining a generation’s worth of actors. Just check out how she handles a bit of praise from Erik early in the film. Just the barest hint of a pleased smile flickers across her mouth before it settles back into its closed expression. It’s a really impressive moment.

Also impressive is Ronan and Bana’s physicality—you totally believe they’re capable of wrecking all the havoc they do. Bana has at least done this before, in Munich and Troy, but Ronan is still a kid and yet she completely sells Hanna’s deadly combat skills. She also sells Hanna’s reactions to the modern world. Raised in primitive conditions in the arctic with only her father and some wolves for company, Hanna has no social skills and has only ever heard of electricity. She is overwhelmed, believably so, by modern technology although she does adapt awfully fast. Her social graces remain nil, however, which leads to some genuinely funny scenes with a caravanning British family she encounters in Morocco (Jessica Barden, Tamara Drewe, steals a couple scenes as the spoiled daughter of hippie parents).

And then there’s Cate Blanchett, the inimitable Cate who is so often the best part of whatever she’s in. It’s no different here—as CIA operative Marissa Wiegler, Blanchett is a chilling foe but Ronan holds her own, not getting out-acted or out-shone in any scene with Blanchett. This is one of my favorite Blanchett roles of late. Her pale, almost otherworldly beauty is played as hard and cold and Marissa is the kind of woman who never has a hair out of place. Blanchett infuses her with a ruthlessness that is borderline mechanical yet when confronted with her childlessness or the ending of her career she gets jittery and angry. There is a lot of latent rage in Blanchett’s Marissa.

Hanna is a beautifully photographed film, with artfully composed scenes, especially in the arctic, and terrific action sequences. Thanks to the Chemical Brothers’ thumping techno score, Hanna’s escape from the CIA facility plays out like a music video. This is a very slick, very stylish film that explodes into shocking violence every eight minutes or so. Really, I’m kind of stunned this passed for PG-13, but I suppose the actual gore content is pretty low despite all the neck-snapping and pipe-stabbing. But herein lays the fault of Hanna: It doesn’t really have a heart. Yes, this is a well-made, well-acted, entertaining movie. But it left me curiously empty afterward. It was a bit like Chinese food—I was full for thirty minutes but then I wanted something more substantial.

Your Highness

This had one of the funniest red band trailers I’ve seen in a while, and it has the benefit of reuniting (most of) the team behind Pineapple Express. Written by Danny McBride and Ben Best, who have written two of my favorite comedy things, The Foot Fist Way and Eastbound & Down, Your Highness should have worked. It really should have. But it didn’t. For reasons that remain a mystery. The setups are all there, with references to everything from Monty Python to The Princess Bride to Clash of the Titans (the original one). Yet no joke ever really landed. The best bit in the movie is when one random Conan the Barbarian type joins the quest and is promptly and bloodily killed. Everything else fell flat, if it landed at all.

Starring McBride and the now-overexposed James Franco, Your Highness is about two medieval-ish princes—one, Fabious (Franco), is handsome and brave and is endlessly questing for the honor of his kingdom. The other, Thadeous (McBride), is a lout. When Fabious’ bride, Belladonna (a criminally misused Zooey Deschanel) is kidnapped by an evil wizard, Leezar (Justin Theroux from the John Adams miniseries), Fabious sets out to rescue her and Thadeous is forced along. Brit comic actor Rasmus Hardiker (nothing you’ve ever heard of before) plays well as Thadeous’ hapless servant, Courtney, but inevitably just as he’d start doing something funny the bit would end.

Your Highness is a big-budgeted fantasy film masterminded and controlled by a certified comic genius—how did this fail? I thought this would do for those cheesy 1980’s fantasy/adventure films like Legend, The Dark Crystal and Ladyhawke what Pineapple Express did for 1980’s bad-cop movies. But no. All Your Highness managed to do was make me sad. So much potential. So much wasted potential. McBride has stated that the original script was massive in scope and that in order to get the movie made it had to be pared back to something more reasonable—perhaps that accounts for the truncated feel of the movie. Maybe Your Highness should have been a twenty-part cable series and not a two hour movie.

Director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, Snow Angels) made a viable film, though. The failures weren’t on his part. The Northern Ireland vistas are gorgeous, the action scenes are well-shot and everyone looks really good in their Renaissance Fair clothes. There’s a carriage chase scene that works really well and the SFX manage to look both cheesy and great at the same time. Your Highness is actually a pretty good looking film. It just isn’t very funny.

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3 thoughts on “Delighted and disappointed

  1. FiN

    Saoirse Ronan is fantastic! I did not know she was Irish. Awesome! Cannot wait to check Hanna out. No interest in the other movie

  2. Clementine

    Hanna was so great! The action was (gruesome but) really well done – the one fight scene where the whole scene was one continuous shot? So amazing. How long do you think it took to choreograph and perfect? Worth it! But the quieter moments were just as good. I loved the scene where she’s watching the flamenco dancers and finally figuring out music – and the funny bit after! “As opposed to what?!” It’s nice to see an action movie featuring women that’s well done and NOT disgusting like some other movies that I won’t mentionbutyouknowimtalkingaboutsuckerpunch.

  3. Dee Dee

    I’ll tell you why this movie was doomed to fail. Natalie Portman aint funny, plain and simple. She always comes across the screen to me as cold and brittle, which is why she does so well in roles that require her to be overwhelmed and overwrought-she can do anguished and anxious really well(see…..all her other movies)

    But comedy? Where she has to be relaxed and even pliable? She just always seems to me to be too self conscious, too…just rigid. On a related note, Ive had this discussion with many friends. Some hollywood actresses may not be the best looking, but they exude sex(sophia loren, mae west). Some are truly beautiful, but they are beautiful the way a painting or a sunset is beautiful, distant, untouchable. And a rare few are both( angelina jolie in her heyday, elizabeth taylor). To me, Natalie was always sort of a cold beauty..I can never associate her with ‘sexy’ because she is too uptight and frigid, too self contained to let it all hang out. Even when I see her in a sexy photo spread, I just have to laugh because she is too self conscious, too in control . In the words of Paul Newman, she would not be a “functioning voluptuary”- the words he used to describe Elizabeth Taylor-meaning, someone who is sexy as hell without having to think about it, someone naturally in tune with their body.
    In my opinion, this is the reason that Nat should stay far away from comedy.

    Im just saying, Natalie os 0-2 in comedies thus far. Granted, anything with Ashton Kutcher is doomed to miserable failure, but in a film where you have proven comedic actors… who is the weak link?

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