Friday, May 06, 2011

Cheap Shot

As soon as I heard that Zach Snyder was making another movie (that wasn't about epic battles between... owls (Owls!)) I was totally pumped.  When I heard about SUCKER PUNCH it didn't really stick in my head.  It just seemed like part of the general background noise of life, you know like when your wife is asking you to pick your underwear up off the floor or that cop is yelling at you through that bullhorn to put down the gun so nobody gets hurt.  Just kind of stuff that you notice only in passing.  But when I finally realized that SUCKER PUNCH was Zack Snyder's next film I became immediately obsessed.  Ever since 300, and then WATCHMEN, but mostly 300, I have been a legitimate Snyder fan.  I even own his DAWN OF THE DEAD remake which I seem to recall watching at some point.  (That was the one with Mr. T, right?)  As I kept reading more and more about SUCKER PUNCH, and seeing all the crazy trailers with balls to the wall action and the highly stylized world and the hot chicks, and when I heard that Jon Hamm was in it, I was more excited than a strung out cocaine addict at a Charlie Sheen Violent Torpedo of Truth (yeah, that's the real name of his tour) show.

I went to the movie theatre on a Sunday evening, because that was the time I negotiated with my wife about a week before in between her asking me to pick my dirty underwear up off the floor.  My usual posse of misfits was unavailable at the time so I went with one of my back-up friends.  I'm not sure how it is with other people but I tend to categorize friends into Circles of Socialization.  I imagine a diagram with myself in the middle surrounded by a series of concentric circles.  In the smallest circle closest to me are a few close friends that I'm pretty tight with and hang out with on a consistent, regular basis.  And Christian Bale. (Call me...) There's usually about two or three in there (not counting Bale).  These are the guys I would go the extra mile for, like post bail up to $10 thousand should the need arise.  Then there's the secondary ring.  These are more casual relationships, guys I wouldn't post bail for, but guys I'd call if I needed to fill a few extra seats at games night or if I needed to fill a seat beside me at the movie theatre so I don't look like a pathetic loser who has nobody to go with the movies with.  People in the tertiary circle are most likely friends of friends or distant cousins, people I would probably never hang out with even if they asked.  These are the people I usually only talk to if I ran into them on the street and they managed to see me even though I was avoiding eye contact. People in the tertiary circle are people I would hit up for job opportunities, ask to borrow money from and then never pay it back (although people in this circle are usually more broke than I am so this only pans out about 50% of the time) or take with me when I go to a dangerous part of town or a rough bar to use as a human shield or a distraction to help me escape should the need arise.  In this case my back-up friend was from the secondary circle.

So anyway, I'm at the movie theatre with my back-up friend and I'm waiting in line, and I can tell the evening is just not going to be as kick ass as some other movie-going experiences.  Even though I should have been pumped for SUCKER PUNCH I just couldn't get my spirits up.  Maybe it was because I was stuck with a back-up friend.  Maybe it was because I had forgotten my coupon for free nachos at the concession stand.  Or maybe it was because instead of buying a ticket to see SUCKER PUNCH I was going to see HANNA.

For some reason -perhaps because it's in a smaller town and there were a s slue of mixed reviews- our local theatre stopped showing SUCKER PUNCH after only two weeks.  Two fucking weeks.  For those two first weeks life got in the way my movie watching, but I figured a giant Hollywood blockbuster movie would be in a major theatre chain (go Galaxy Cinemas!) for more than two weeks.  How wrong I was.  But seeing as I had already negotiated the terms of my release weeks in advance I figured I might as well use up my day pass on another movie.  The only other movie playing at the time that I had any interest in seeing was this little known movie that had only just recently appeared on the periphery of my radar called HANNA.  So in a surprise twist that even M. Night Shyamalan would appreciate my movie review of SUCKER PUNCH is actually a review of HANNA.

In contrast to SUCKER PUNCH I had heard very little about HANNA.  I hadn't really paid attention and all I really knew was that the titular character was some kind of teenage assassin trained by Eric "The Hulk" Bana who would presumably go on to kick some major ass.  Instead of being directed by Zach Snyder who gave us 300 and WATCHMEN,  HANNA was directed by Joe Wright, the same guy who brought us ATONEMENT and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.  Instead of highly stylized visuals and excessive yet oddly addicting use of slow motion all I had to look forward to was... well, I had no fucking idea because I've never watched shit like ATONEMENT (although it is odd that I keep referencing it my articles.  Maybe the universe is trying to tell me something...).  I wasn't stoked to see HANNA because I had not been primed by effective advertising.  Well, that and the fact that it was my back-up movie.  Going to see a back-up movie with a back-up friend.  Maybe the universe was trying to tell me something.

Despite all of my emotional baggage and rumblings about not being able to watch the movie I wanted to watch I was pleasantly surprised.  HANNA turned out to be a pretty solid action flick with a lot more heart that I thought there was going to be.   While there was a buttload of action the core of the movie was developing the character of the title character as she tried to form an identity for herself in the midst of being hunted down by the CIA and having to kill her pursuers in increasingly violent ways.  HANNA starts off with Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) and her father Erik (Eric Bana) and their life living in the frozen wilderness of Finland.  From almost the very first scene it is established that Erik is teaching Hanna to be a lean, mean killing machine, and more than a match for three out of four of the Ninja Turtles (Leonardo will kick your ass, bro, I don't care what anybody says).  But the scenes weren't the usual training montage.  All the hunting and chin ups and martial arts training are placed into a different subtext.  In the context of HANNA these scenes establish the emotional bond between father and daughter which lends them more significance.  Even though neither one of them knows how to express their emotions effectively (Hanna because she's been isolated from society and hasn't been taught how, and Erik because he's a highly trained operative who has had to purge himself of emotion in order to be a more effective killing machine.  Plus he's a dude.)  After the relationship between these two characters has been established they are thrown into the fire when the CIA under the direction of assistant director (or whatever the fuck her title was) Marissa (Cate Blanchett) shows up and captures Hanna, who promptly escapes from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground where she still survives as a soldier of fortune helping those who have problems that no one else can solve and who can find her.  Well, she escapes anyway.

Then the movie takes an odd turn as Hanna befriends a family on her way to rendezvous with her father in Germany.  This is a relatively action-free portion of the film, but it never seems to drag.  Well, much anyway.  It was actually very interesting watching this highly-trained killing machine naively navigate a labyrinth of social interactions.  In the midst of her road trip she tries to come to terms with this new, unknown world and define herself as a human being in relation to all the other human beings around her and in the void of battle she has to find other ways to relate.  This is what made HANNA such a unique take on the action genre.  The action wasn't gratuituous in the context of the movie: it was all part of the underlying theme of self-discovery and formation of identity.  It's essentially the story of a young girl discovering herself (read into that what you will (hint: mastubation (but then again I use masturbation as a metaphor for lots of things, so read into that what you will )))In the end, of course, there is a confrontation between Hanna and Miranda whereupon the filmmakers establish the narrative wiggle room needed for the inevitable (and this time paradoxically needless yet welcome) sequel(s).

Now while the concept for Hanna and the writing was good, but not great, I think what really sold this movie wasthe solid directing by Joe Wright, and just the all around great performances by the three main characters.  I don't know if Eric Bana is considered to be a high demand A-lister, but by god he should be.  I've never seen him phone in a performance, andthe guy can definitely handle action.  In HANNA I can really buy Bana as the hardcore, indestructible, retired spy / compassionate step-father to a genetically engineered supersoldier prototype (yeah, you read that right.  I couldn't make that shit up.)  because he didn't seem arrogantly indestructible. He's just a dude doing what he was trained to do, and the whole scene where Hanna confronts him about her real parents is just really well acted both on the part of Bana and Ronan.  I don't know why but I always look forward to seing Cate Blanchett on screen now.  Aside from the fact that she's a terrific actress, I have an ongoing internal debate about whether or not I find her incredibly hot.  I still can't decide if I find her physically attractive or if there's some mysterious asymmetry that my brain is just unable to process and so I need to keep staring at her to somehow unravel this metaphysical mystery.  But I digress.  The real star of the show here (and rightfully so) is Saoirse Ronan who just completely blew me away.  She is just a phenomenal young actress and played Hanna perfectly.  I don't know any other actress working today who could have pulled off that mix of vulnerability and naivite and ass kicking skills.  An the action never seems unbelievable for a 16 year old girl, unlike some other recent movies I know where teenage girls perform ridiculous feats (looking at you KICK-ASS) even more unbelievable than Charlie Sheen doing stand up comedy (?) while obviously tripping on acid (Tiger blood?  Really?).  I have no doubt that Ronan will continue to impress us in years to come.

So, despite the local theatre sucker punching me in the proverbial nutsack, it turns out I got to see a decent movie after all.  If you're looking for a solid action flick then check out HANNA which I will dub with a 7/10 = One Decoy's Head Being Twisted Around Backwards By A Teenage Ninja.  Special thanks goes out to Cineplex Odeon for this article; if it weren't for their shortsighted policies I might have missed out on this film.  Fuck you very much, Cineplex.  



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