Hanna (2011)

Some parents prep their kids for spelling bees, or quiz them on the multiplication tables. Erik Heller (Eric Bana) quizzes his teenage daughter relentlessly, preparing her for an unusual final exam... by trying to kill her. After an apparent lifetime of stealth attacks, Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is hard to kill, and capable of besting her old man, even though he's three times her size. She's fast, she's strong, she's smart, she has no fear.

Erik and Hanna live in a rustic, isolated cabin deep in the woods of Finland, surrounded by trees and snow. They wear fur from animals they have hunted themselves. They are off the grid -- way, way off. Hanna might as well have been raised by wolves for all she knows about ordinary human existence, about music, art, friendship, pop culture, romance. Erik has his reasons, which become clear as the movie progresses.

As in a fairy tale, Hanna and Erik are forced to separate. They have a plan to reunite in Berlin, after one of them kills the wicked witch of the story, Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett). According to Marissa, father and daughter are security threats -- he's a rogue CIA agent, and it's not completely clear what she is, but Marissa wants the strange, slight, blonde girl dead. Marissa is severe, ruthless, and mad -- she wears steel-colored suits and helmet hair that the wind wouldn't dare ruffle. She hires sadistic minions to track Hanna, and woe be to anyone who crosses paths with the girl as she makes her way to Berlin. Marissa wants to kill Erik and Hanna, and she's every bit as relentless and deadly as they are.

The surprises in Hanna mostly come in the beginning of the film -- the ending isn't surprising at all. It's still quite interesting and original in how it gets there, and the hyperactive tendencies of director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) serve the film well. (Likewise the throbbing, evocative musical score by The Chemical Brothers.) The screenplay by Seth Lochhead and David Farr is an agreeable amalgam of fairy tales and spy thriller tropes, with a dollop of science fiction. The story follows Hanna as she alternately flees from and pursues Marissa. Along the way she encounters an eccentric British family traveling across Morocco, and other enchanted folks, but none are as enchanted, or eccentric, as Hanna herself. She's nearly affectless, but curious, drinking in new experiences -- and they're almost all new to her. Ronan is an unusual creature, and well-suited to the role of this ageless child who is sometimes a robotic predator, but one filled with longing for the things she's never known -- the love of a mother (this being a fairy tale, her mother has died, leaving her with a wicked, murderous stepmother of sorts in Marissa), friends, freedom. 

Hanna is unexpectedly quirky, with a lot of little oddities that accumulate to make it an unusual, and unusually engrossing and strangely beguiling film. Wright adds some very nice details and flourishes, combined with striking sets and picturesque locations that add a lot of visual interest to the story without beating the symbolism to death (something Wright is sometimes inclined to do). The director sets the right tone, neither taking the story too seriously, nor treating it as throwaway action trash, but striking a balance between the energetic action sequences and the quiet, quirky interludes. Hanna is a thoroughly modern and serious take on the fairy tale (it is far better, in this, than the recent, hopelessly silly Red Riding Hood). Like the traditional fairy tale, Hanna is violent and sometimes gruesome, depicting the perilous journey of a resourceful, clever, lonely girl with enemies to vanquish and dreams to fulfill. 


Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

It was ironic when Exit Through the Gift Shop: A Banksy Film, was nominated for an Academy Award earlier this year. Ironic because the documentary, by an anonymous British street artist known as Banksy, is in part about how art gets co-opted, commercialized, and sold to those who don't know it's true value. Or maybe it's about the true value of art -- and guerilla art especially. Or maybe it's an elaborate hoax, a fantastic mockumentary by a master of subversive mockery. (Banksy denies that it's a put-on. If it is, it doesn't matter. It's still a great film.)

Whatever it is, it's a funny, provocative movie that, among other things, documents the rise of street art and street artists, while telling the story of Thierry Guetta, an eccentric French immigrant in Los Angeles who starts out obsessively videotaping street artists (including Shepard Fairey, who famously created the iconic Obama "Hope" poster), and achieves fame and fortune with an insanely successful art show of his own. Guetta does it by standing on the shoulders of giants -- like Banksy -- and by vandalizing the art of others, much as street artists "vandalize" the public spaces they use as a canvas. Exit Through the Gift Shop is an exuberant, inventive, brilliant, inspired paean to the artistic underground, and a gleefully subversive poke in the eye to the art establishment by an artist who isn't afraid to bite the hands that feed him.


Hop (2011)

The title of Hop, as well as the posters and trailers, make it look like a cute, kid-friendly movie about the Easter Bunny. I can confirm that it is indeed about the Easter Bunny, or, as he is known in the movie, E.B. Well, it's actually more complicated than that. See, there's an Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Laurie), and, in the great 4,000 year tradition of Easter Bunnies (apparently predating the holiday we currently call Easter by thousands of years), the Easter Bunny is about to retire, and turn the family business over to his son, E.B. (Russell Brand). But E.B. doesn't want to run the massive Easter candy factory (located on Easter Island, of course) and spread joy and jellybeans to the wee tykes of the world. He just wants to bang on the drums all day. So, he runs away to Hollywood. Meanwhile, a disgruntled, oversized chick named Carlos (Hank Azaria), tired of being overlooked by the jovial rabbit overlords, schemes to take over Easter. Funny, right?

Fred O'Hare (James Marsden, exhibiting not an iota of comic timing) is, like E.B., a slacker. His parents (Gary Cole and Elizabeth Perkins) have decided to push him out of the nest, since he won't depart voluntarily. His sister (Kaley Cuoco) arranges for him to housesit a mansion and, well, you can guess the rest. E.B. and Fred end up together, and E.B. thwarts Fred's half-hearted attempts to get a job, while Fred helps E.B. land an audition for a TV talent show. Chelsea Handler and David Hasselhoff are involved, because, you know, the little kids go wild for Handler and The Hoff. Did I mention the part where E.B. tries to get into the Playboy mansion, thinking it's a crash pad for sexy bunnies such as himself? Are you laughing yet?

Most of the "jokes" in Hop will, fortunately, sail over the kids' heads, unless you parents are doing a really terrible job of protecting your children from all that is crass. You could make amends by protecting them from this basket full of Easter crass. The "jokes" in Hop are decidedly not funny, just like the rest of the movie. Admittedly, Russell Brand is a taste I've yet to acquire, although I can see, in theory, how he might be funny, and he certainly looks funny. But he's not funny in Hop. Nothing is funny in Hop.

Another thing I'm not especially a fan of is the animated critters plus live action humans combination. Director Tim Hill, who also directed Alvin and the Chipmunks and Garfield, A Tail of Two Kitties, seems to be specializing in this sub-basement genre, so he and I do not cross paths often at the cineplex. On the other hand, he had a hand in writing The Spongebob Squarepants Movie, and several Spongebob TV episodes, so he can't be all bad. 'Tis a pity he wasn't one of the three writers of Hop who, between them, couldn't find anything amusing for the humans, bunnies, and chicks to do.

Hop is an Easter-themed variation on The Santa Clause. Perhaps we can look forward to future remakes for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Passover, and Diwali. The movie takes an assortment of random personalities and combines them with some potentially comedic bits that are never quite developed into the components of a cohesive story. They're basically one-offs that go nowhere, which, if they were hilarious, might be enough. But they're not. E.B. poops jellybeans! E.B. has ninja bunny bodyguards called Pink Berets, and one of them has asthma! (I can't figure out why that's funny at all.) Fred is petsitting for two vicious dogs! Also, the Easter Bunny arrives in a flying egg-sled pulled by dozens of tiny chicks.

My notes for this movie pretty much sum it up: "Playboy mansion. Blecch. This is a LONG 90 minutes. Not good." My young sidekick gave it a 5 out of 10 stars, but I think she was just being nice because she really likes jellybeans.