Thursday, April 14, 2011

Googolplex Gulag with HANNA and WIN WIN

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends, we're so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside....

And this week we have two blonde haired 16 year olds who find this moment in their lives being... full of WTF (not to put down the films, they're good, read on):

Hanna only knows what her father tells her, and what he tells her should be plenty.  Maybe it is; growing up in the woods of the Arctic with her father, she knows what he reads from an encyclopedia and from a book of fairy tales - plus being a kick-ass machine.  And not in the degree of 'Hit Girl' from the movie Kick-Ass.  This is, within its own dimensions, something a little more believable once we learn more about Hanna's real state of being: she's not exactly *real* like other people, but rather created in a lab as a super soldier (one of many, you should try to pay it little mind why this program totally stopped).  So when Hanna's father, Erik Heller, sets off the switch to send the beacon to the agency where Marissa Ziegler works at, the plan is implemented and shit's on.

In a sense the film Hanna, a refreshing change of pace for previous stolid-dramatic director Joe Wright (of Atonement and the turgid The Soloist), is as much of a story of Hanna 'coming of age' and becoming aware of what is the world around her, as it is a story of a young girl kicking anyone's butt who gets in her way (by 'butt' I mean like brutally maiming and/or killing).  She's kind of like a wild child in the way that 'wild children' are left out of civilization, only instead of being primitive without guidance her guidance is a kind of brutal and calculating spy (Eric Bana), and that she has another character (Cate Blanchett) coming after her so doggedly, almost like an evil stepmother out of a fairy tale... oh yeah, there's that symbolism too, and I'll get to that in a moment.

What I mean by refreshing is that Wright shows off his skills at directing action, and damn intense and impressively 'artful' action.  By that I should mean that Wright is a director who cares about his shots and how he frames things; this is something that I could tell even during the weakest parts of Soloist, and conversely the strongest sections of Atonement.  Here he leads along action set pieces, like when Hanna has to escape from an underground mega-bunker from the agents with style and speed (this is something that leads around like a maze, but you never feel lost, the editing is fast but it never lets up from being quick enough to keep you along, like Scorsese ala The Departed in that way).  Or he'll try for something ambitious like a long (that is to say something like five minute) stedicam tracking shot of Eric Bana being followed by shady characters, leading to an underground garage that doesn't cut and move away to an angle that seems unnatural as he takes motherfuckers out.  It's not quite Oldboy, but it'll certainly do in this age of quick cutting and unnecessary hand-held in action set pieces.

Wright is so strong with the direction that it pulls everything along with it - not to mention the performances.  So far Saorise Ronan has been an actress wonderful in the background- as supporting in Wright's previous Oscar winner- or in a film that was a miss (Lovely Bones) where she tried her best but was lost.  Here she's in total command, with those striking blue eyes that go a long way (aside from, you know, basic talent and real conviction even when she's seemingly cold), and plays off of actors like the Australian family that almost becomes her surrogate family (by chance) with perfect timing and unusual grace.

She's had a string of movies that have made her 'oh, that girl!' in movies, but with Hanna one can only hope her time has come as a star.  Eric Bana, too, has a wonderful character here as a man with real conflict about what he's doing, and we feel sympathy for him despite being deceptive from the start (though not all on purpose, Marie Ziegler caused it really, but not to spoil much).  And Cate Blanchett is... Cate Blanchett, what else do I need to say about her!

Think my performance in The Aviator was overrated now, do you?

The film is stylish when it comes to its cinematography and definitely it's music - it becomes so catchy that it's villain-scum characters hum and whistle the music, which is blended in with where they work at a weird-ass club - and when it comes to symbolism the movie isn't subtle, but because it's so head-on it's charming and alarming in its sincerity (simply put, just look at the climax and where characters are placed as they face off).  But the real heart and strength comes with this character and how she comes into her own in this world.  And some of it is surprising for her just in the simple but potent shock of modernity.  She finds her first shelter after escaping in an Arab store's backroom, where the shopkeep puts on the TV and puts a kettle of tea for her.  She's transfixed by a TV, and how could she not, it being her first TV ever?

Then something happens... the tea kettle thing goes all haywire, she tries to flip switches for lights and fans turn on.  The TV turns to images of guns firing and war, she trips in the shower and that turns on, it becomes, all in all, auditory chaos in imagery and the taken-for-granted facts of electricity and TV.  How can she go on in the real world once this all ends?  Who knows.  I felt a little disappointed near the very end - is there a denouemont, I might have missed it, or it wasn't there at all - yet maybe it is fitting; Hanna will just have to go on with trying to make some sense of the rest of the world, and the simple act of being 'human'.  It's Pinocchio for the Bourne crowd, but with a director who is "old-school" in a 20th century sense... albeit with the Chemical brothers on soundtrack.  Go see it.


Win Win is a movie about a man taking responsibility (or maybe paying penance in his way) for being something of a minor ganiff (or, Yiddish for 'thief') with an old man with dementia who doesn't have anyone to take care of him.  That is until his grandson, Kyle, comes to town following a major problem with his drug addict mom.  As luck would have it, Kyle is a keen and rather instinctual-awesome wrestler, and further luck Mike (Paul Giamatti) is a wrestling coach part-time for a high school and so he takes Kyle on as his star player.  But as luck would not have it, his mother (Melanie Lyskey in a surprising performance- in that she makes the character more sympathetic than one might think, sorta) comes back to town once she's clean to take 'care' of her father and her son.  Will Mike have it?  What about his fuck-up from earlier in the film?

FOLGERS, at every wrestling event since 1955

The story comes from Thomas McCarthy, who with this being his third film comes from a run of doing work like The Station Agent and The Visitor that are about people just trying to be kind and care and so the right thing in a world where people don't give a shit and move along to their own drums.  His approach kind of straddles between being a sitcom - there's a character in this film played by Bobby Cannavale who plays a true Jersey caricature (like a grown-up Jersey Shore guy, only funnier on purpose) - and a quirky independent film where you have the character Kyle played by Alex Shaffer (pretty good as long as he's keeping things subtle and straightforward and not loud) coming close to being that sacred object that is kind of funny, kind of sad, and just kind of weird all the time.

McCarthy is able to juggle most of these elements with care and attention to character throughout the film, though Win Win gets its best marks when it focuses on the drama and conflict that Mike has with this decision he made in court with his elderly client (and Paulie from Rocky no less!) than it does with the wrestling.  It's entertaining to watch, most notably with a supporting character teenage dweeb who has to run around to get by in a match, but it never had a moment where it really blew me away with what was going on.  It was amiable and likable work, but couldn't hold a candle to seeing actors like Giamatti and Amy Ryan having really strong work with the likes of Burt Young and Lysnkey.

And, wait, which one is waiting to see the principal?

The movie never bores, and always has charm to spare... and once or twice can be a little annoying (really movie, really, going from a little chit-chat dialog about a tattoo for Jon Bon Jovi, and then a whole montage put to a crappy Bon Jovi song just cause, I dunno, it NJ power?  I'm from Jersey, that's not power, it's water torture).  It also comes down to how much you like seeing Giamatti doing his thing as an everyman leading-man who deals with the kind of things we all deal with everyday: how to pay the bills, how to keep the kids happy, and how to try and grow as a person even in middle age.  It gives enough dramatic 'umph' to justify its existence, deals with issues that are hard to deal with like abuse and neglect and earning trust with some unlikely humor, and left me happy.  Though unlike McCarthy's previous films it didn't quite resonate as strongly due to some of the weaker parts with the wrestling and a denouement that is okay but just makes the movie feel like "we need an ending, here it, um, is."

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