Saturday, April 30, 2011

Thor: If He Had A Hammer

While the USA is literally one of the last areas of the world to see the long awaited movie version of Thor after months of hype, some lucky souls have already seen the movie thanks to many sneak previews.
There was one last weekend in Sacramento, and I was lucky to get a seat to it. It meant losing a bit of sleep, but it was worth it.
It's a variation of the origin story where a man picks up a hammer and becomes Thor by striking it. Instead, Thor gets exiled from Asgard to Earth, and becomes mortal and must prove to be worthy of his status as God of Thunder. Natalie Portman is there as the plucky love interest, but Kat Dennings was pretty funny, too. Any Norse gods out there who'd like to share a beer with her?
Chris Hemsworth, though, is great as Thor. He seems to be one of the best actors no one has seen yet due to MGM's money problems (he's in two movies made by them, including Cabin in the Woods). When he first meet Thor, he acts like the cock-sure big man on campus, sort of like Brett Farve times 20. He's let his own glory go to his head.
It's when he's tossed to Earth that he gets a crash course of how he must be a real man to be worthy of his title. One scene that really got my attention is when he finally finds his hammer in a crater outside of town. Once he realizes he can't lift it, the fact that he's lost his divinity really hits him hard. Of course, he will prove himself, or The Avengers will be missing one hero.

Against Thor is Loki, played to diabolical perfection by Tom Hiddleston. However, the movie is slightly sympathetic of Thor's brother, even revealing his real origins that Odin only knows. However, when his jealous leads to destruction, then he becomes Thor's dark rival.

The movie has some connections to the Marvelverse which will all come together in next year's Avengers movie. There's a scene that's familiar to those who saw Iron Man 2, while Dr. Selvig (Skellan Skargard) talks about a man who experimented in gamma rays. There's a scene where many locals try to lift Thor's hammer, including an old man who wrecks his truck by trying to tow it out. Let's just say the guy will look familiar to many.

Granted, the Rainbow Bridge did look like a disco floor to me, and seeing Thor fly did remind me of Green Lantern (also about an arrogant guy who learns true heroism), but the 3-D was pretty good, especially the aerial shots of Asgard.

I'd say Thor was between the two Iron Man movies in quality, and is a good start to the Summer movie season. I am still very interested in the Captain America movie, and how that will play out. In any case, with two Iron Man movies, Thor and Captain America about to be in the books, it looks like Joss Whedon's vision for The Avengers is taking shape. Can you imagine Thor dealing with Tony Stark and HIS arrogance? Or Captain America wondering about how things have changed? This year's Marvel movies are just the preliminaries to the main event next year, while the DC movies featuring Batman and Green Lantern just have to prove themselves. There's less pressure since a Justice League movie is far in the horizon.

In any case, Thor has already taken theaters around the world by storm by earning 93 million before the big premiere Friday. With good buzz so far, he just may turn a profit by Mothers' Day.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Killer Fairy Tale: A Review of "Hanna"

Commercials for Saoirse Ronan's new movie, Hanna, have been going strong. People are pretty much aware of the new movie about a teenage girl who's been trained to kill, and that her target is a CIA official who has "Evil Stepmother" written all over her. Anyone who's seen the trailer, though, wonders why the dad is leaving his snowy cabin in a suit.

During Wondercon, about 350 people, including myself, were lucky enough to get a six-day head start on finding out what Hanna is all about. Ronan and director Joe Wright, who has worked together in Atonement, were even there to talk to the fans afterwards. They both had a lot to say, and I'll include that in this review.
Here they are....

After the screening

This movie is an action thriller, but Wright says it's more than that. It's structured like the old fairy tale about an innocent girl having to leave her cozy home and go out in the big bad world to battle whatever is out there, if it's a big bad wolf, evil witch, or ogre.
Hanna is a girl who has lived with her father Erik Heller (Eric Bana) for most of her life. She hunts, learns about the world from an encyclopedia and a book of fairy tales, and is also a skilled fighter. Her dad has trained her for a specific purpose, and if that means never having Bieber fever, that's the price she'll pay.

Eventually, as kids do, they want to move on. She tells her dad "I'm ready". So, she turns on a transponder, whose signal is picked up in Washington. Specifically, it's heard by a CIA official named Marissa, played by Cate Blanchett. She passes it off as no big deal, but we soon learn Heller has done a lot of things for the CIA, and now must be captured. Naturally, she wants it kept quiet, which is a tip-off she has something to hide. Heller leaves for Berlin and tells Hanna to let herself be captured. We soon learn they want Marissa killed, and this is all part of the plan.
Once Hanna is in an underground compound, she asks to see Marissa. Someone does come but it's a decoy, who inadvertently winds up as a lamb led to a slaughter.
The chase is then on: Marissa tries to find both Hanna and Eric before they get to Berlin.
Simple, right? The hook is a teenage girl battling bad guys, and she's about as skilled as Jason Bourne.
Not so. There are other factors, such as why Hanna grabs her medical file before she leaves the compound...and discovers she's in Morocco. It's really all about what Hanna really is, and why Marissa will do anything to keep that a secret.

It's been a while since we've seen Ronan, who was last seen in Atonement and The Lovely Bones. At Wondercon, she said Hanna is really pure because she's lived in nature for so long. She doesn't know about the media-saturated world that tries to define what a girl wants, or what girl power is. Wright knows that, and isn't happy about how powerful women have to be sexualized.
Hanna is an innocent, even if she is also deadly. She gets excited seeing a plane for the first time. She is fascinated by turning a fluorescent light on and off, then is terrified when things like an electric kettle and a TV start rattling. She also feels free in movement, whether on a scooter or RV. She's able to use the fact that she is a lost and naive girl to her advantage, and hitch a ride with a vacationing British family. Through all that, she is looking back, wondering if the Big Bad CIA Agent is about to get her.

Speaking of which, Marissa soon gets help from a very creepy strip club owner named Isaacs, played by Tom Hollander. He reminds me of a German Tennessee Williams, although someone at the screening said he seemed to be from A Clockwork Orange because he whistled while he worked. She orders him, in a southern drawl that will make your skin crawl, to find Hanna. It's just like in Snow White where she sends the Huntsman to cut Snow White's heart out. The only difference is, Isaacs the Huntsman will follow her orders, but Hanna may be more able to cut hearts out than he is. Still, it also means the family that Hanna has joined are in danger, and it's up to her to make sure they don't get hurt.

There's another great scene when Hanna is in bed with her new friend Sophie, played by Jessica Barden. Hanna is excited to have a friend, and share a part of herself. It's all closeups, because that's how she and Sophie see each other. Barden is also a riot as a very typical teen who soon gets caught in an untypical situation. Olivia Williams (Dollhouse) is there, too, as Sophie's mom Rachel. At Wondercon, Wright described Rachel as a "failed feminist". She admits she doesn't like wearing makeup, and tries to cling to a little idealism of her youth. Hanna doesn't mind, because she finally has a mother figure to be with.

The relationships between mothers and daughters is an important part of the movie. You might say Hanna is the "daughter" (note the quotes here), while Marissa is the "Evil Stepmother". Hanna has to escape Marissa's clutches to return to her dad, and to grow up. Once we learn more about Hanna's true background, and how Marissa is part of it, that becomes more clear. Compare that to the relationship between Rachel and Sophie, which is truly typical.

You may also be impressed about how Bana tries to get to Berlin, even swimming across Europe if he has to. However, his determination also leads to major damage, and one very cool fight scene at a subway stop.

You will also love the soundtrack by the Chemical Brothers. Whether it's mimicking sounds of nature early in the film, pouring our techno music as Hanna tries to run, or even a fairy tale song as Marissa finds Isaacs in a strip club that includes a hermaphrodite stripper dressed as Snow White, it's a great counterpart to the film.

Still, Wright reminds us that this is still an action movie, if it was written by the Brothers Grimm. He pointed out at the press conference the original Grimms' Fairy Tales were really violent, and happy endings aren't as guaranteed as the Disney versions of these tales. That's why the final confrontation takes place in an amusement park complete with gingerbread house, where a guy called Grimm lives.

Saoirse Ronan meets with fans

Ronan really does a great job as the teen assassin who, in the end, is the one with the purest heart compared to the adults trying to capture and/or kill her. Blanchett is a great villain as Marissa. Maybe she should be an Evil Queen/Stepmom in a future fairy tale movie. She has that role down in this movie.

Again, the screening at the Metreon attracted 350 people but could have drawn twice that if they decided on two screens. Wright was asked why we don't find out what happens to Sophie's family after Marissa questions them about Hanna. He said he left that ambigious because he did have a scene in mind, but the studio considered it too dark. When you see what happens to those who are also interviewed about Hanna, you'll see why. He also decided against having an epilogue after the fates of everyone are revealed. Actually, that decision does work out.

Check out Hanna when it comes to theaters this week. She'll be battling Russell Brand as Arthur 2.0, plus Natalie Portman as a warrior who'd also clobber Cate Blanchett, but she'll hold her own.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Rainn Wilson is Super in San Francisco

Rainn Wilson is Super

With tons of superhero fans looking for a movie to see after the first day of Wondercon, what would be better than one about a short-order cook who loses his wife to a drug dealer, and decides to become a superhero to bring her back?

Sounds like a fine, upstanding commercial project.
Now, add James Gunn, then Rainn Wilson, Kevin Bacon, Liv Tyler and Ellen Page, plus a dash of Nathan Fillion.

There. you have Super, a superhero movie that clearly is not for everyone. In fact, Super has split the critics, but it has found an audience for those who want something a bit different.
Friday night's 7:30 showing at the Landmark Embarcadero was two-thirds full, but the crowd really enjoyed the action, especially Wilson telling crime to shut up, with a wrench in his hand

Now, this movie is very violent, and not just with Wilson and his wrench. Even in the credits, there's a lot of blood. In fact, the only superhero who could be traditional is the Holy Avenger, played by Fillion. He is the inspiration that convinces Frank, the cook, to become a superhero. Fillion is incredibly cheesy as the Bibleman/Heteroy-type hero shown by a religious channel. The guy who plays the villain is kinda creepy, too. Just check the credits.

What also stunned me about this movie is Ellen Page, as a comic book store clerk who becomes Frank's kid sidekick. She was a superhero once, namely in X-Men 3, Here, though, she enjoys being Boltie a bit too much, and gets way too close to her costume.

Overall, this is a twisted superhero/revenge story, but there is heart as well. See Frank recall how he met a married Sarah, who was a recovering drug addict working with him. You can see why he'd do all this for her.

After the movie, Rainn talked about the film, and how it is an underdog story, compared to all the other superhero movies coming this year. He also said he'd like to get Page on The Office next year.

Super will be adding more screens through this month, and will also be available through on-demand cable the end of the month.