Wednesday, April 20, 2011

'Hanna' is among its genre's best

Cold, brutal, wickedly intelligent and a whole lot of fun, Hanna takes the rogue-CIA-asset subgenre and revitalizes it with creativity at every turn.
Hanna, played by 17-year-old Saoirse Ronan, appears to have spent almost her entire life in the forest under the tutelage of her father Erik. Knowing his daughter would need to defend herself against Marissa, a ruthless CIA agent played by Cate Blanchett, Erik taught her how to fight with various weapons and her hands. When she uses her hand-to-hand combat skills, she unleashes a torrent of hurt which would intimidate Daniel Craig’s James Bond. Ronan, whose breakthrough Oscar-nominated role in Wright’s 2007 film Atonement, is perfect in the role. She has a pixie-nymph look to her face and with her pale skin and bright, blue eyes, she looks as if she actually could be a child raised in the wilderness. Just as the character Hanna, raised and trained by her ex-CIA father, possesses an arsenal of finely tuned and expertly executed skills, the film Hanna is a showcase of tremendous filmmaking talent.

Director Joe Wright and editor Paul Tothill brilliantly blend their techniques to create nail-biting sequences out of what could easily have been rote, yawn-inducing chases. In a rousing sequence Hanna escapes from a top-secret government facility and runs through a large, round tunnel. The camera focuses on her face as she runs, circling within the tunnel, adding urgency to her getaway and providing visual flair for the audience. As it does for other action scenes in the film, the music by The Chemical Brothers adds further excitement.

Here is a portion of this sequence:

One of the wisest decisions of the filmmakers made is to let the audience discover the locations as the characters travel. When Hanna escapes from the facility, rather than have her emerge into a bustling city with the Washington Monument, smacking viewers in the face with the realization she’s in Washington, D.C., she emerges in an area with no obvious landmarks. It isn’t for some time afterward until her location is divulged. By doing this, the viewer is given a similar sense of confusion as Hanna, who is finding herself in strange places. The viewers fortunately don’t have Blanchett’s icy CIA agent on their heels.

As Hanna evades capture she uses her combat techniques and when she kills it’s with the speed and ruthlessness of an animal in a flight or flight situation. She doesn't kill for the sake of it and avoids harming some people she easily could dispatch, but when necessary there is no hesitation or remorse. Adapt or die is the mantra her father instilled in her and she is obviously a very good student.
I have so much praise and gratitude for this movie and the talented cast and crew who made it possible. As most of us cinephiles know, the past two years were among the most egregious on record. The dearth of imagination, risk-taking and excitement in movies has been sapping the most ardent movie buffs of their enthusiasm for the medium. Even someone like me has stopped looking at the movie section in Friday's paper because it's almost a guarantee nothing interesting will be playing. Hanna is one of the best movies I've seen in a long time and it reminds me of why I love movies.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Las Vegas Soundtrack is One of My Favorite Compilations

They say smell is the sense most strongly connected to memory. At least that is according to some deodorant commercials of the past.

Although I agree with this assessment, I think there is an underrated sense when it comes to recollection. That is hearing, specifically regarding music. Taking it a step further on a personal level, for me the connection to memory is strongest when the music is heard while in Las Vegas.

Here is a brief rundown of what I mean:

My first trip to Las Vegas was shortly after my 21st birthday. By shortly I mean a matter of days or maybe two weeks. As a result, virtually every bar had a panache and excitement to it which is certainly only that strong when one is that young. So, when I entered Coyote Ugly for the first time it was an incredible rush. After waiting a long time in line I finally made my way in and “Dirrty” by Christina Aguilera (or XTINA at the time) was blasting inside the raucous watering hole. I’ve never been a fan of Chrisitna but in that moment “Dirrty” became a significant song in the soundtrack of my life. Whenever I hear it, fond memories come flooding back and I feel warm inside.

In the summer of 2007 I couldn’t walk from the kitchen to the living room in my tiny apartment without hearing "Umbrella" by Rihanna and Jay-Z. This isn’t because I chose to listen to it, but because it was on constant rotation virtually everywhere. I find Jay-Z to mumble too much on his songs and in my opinion Rihanna is second only to Fran Drescher when it comes to nasal voices. As a result, I always became frustrated at having to hear this song. This changed when I jetted of to Las Vegas that June to watch Avril Lavigne perform a special concert at Pearl at The Palms. While waiting for the doors to open, "Umbrella" began playing in the Casino. These two events occurring simultaneously turned that song into a nuisance into a welcome sound of a very fun time. Now whenever I hear "Umbrella" I mention how it makes me think of that day (I’m sure my friends wish I would stop telling that story).

I could go on about other songs heard in Vegas which are gilded bookmarks in my biography, but I’m going to jump ahead to the latest. Through an amazing coincidence, Britney Spears gave a surprise performance at Rain at The Palms on March 25 while I was in town on a job hunt. I was fortunate enough to get a ticket and was probably in the second or third row in the general admission area. I’d of course already heard “Hold it Against Me” hundreds of times while driving around in Seattle, but that night marked my first full listen to “Till the World Ends” as well as my introduction to “Big Fat Bass”.

I just love listening to these two songs for the memories I have and will treasure forever. When I am an old man in the retirement home and am unable to recognize anyone around me I will listen to “Big Fat Bass” and “Till the World Ends” and be transported back to that Las Vegas club as a 28-year-old Britney fan finally getting to watch his favorite artist in his favorite city.