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Archive for April, 2011

The Bourne Adolescence.

I know one couldn’t tell from ole GitM here, which continues in its recent state of languish — hopefully not for much longer! — but the Easter holidays (and accompanying congressional recess) have finally given me a chance to catch up on some of the movies I’ve missed in recent weeks. First on the block, Joe Wright’s stylish spy thriller Hanna, a reasonably entertaining cross between Run Lola Run and one of the Bourne movies, with a splash of True Grit.

Hanna has some pacing issues for sure — The film peaks in its first forty minutes, and the middle hour, in which our young, ninjafied protagonist makes nice with a free-spirited family on European holiday, even flirts with boring at times. But the movie still has the benefit of some solid action setpieces, a soulful anchoring performance by Saiorse Ronan, fun (if sometimes over-the-top) character work by some real pros (Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hollander) and a catchy kinetic groove supplied by the Chemical Brothers. As with last April’s vaguely similar tale of father-daugher mayhem, Kick-Ass, Hanna makes for a smarter and more engaging thrill ride than we usually see this time of year.

Perhaps the main reason Hanna seems to lag out in its middle hour is that its opening moves so fast. We begin in a snowy wilderness, and a pale young girl (Ronan) is hunting an elk with a bow and arrow. As soon as she makes the kill, she is set upon by another stalker, who proceeds to pummel her for being unwary. That would be her father (Bana), who through a combination of warrior training, tough love, and choice encyclopedia-readings is instructing his daughter in the ways of the Super-Spy. Apparently, we soon discover, these two have been living hand-to-mouth and off the grid, somewhere near the Arctic Circle, since Hanna was an infant. But, now, her Jedi training is close to complete — girl, you’ll be a ninja soon — and it’s time for young Hanna to be released back into civilization, with a very specific target in mind.

That target: Marissa Wiegler (Blanchett, reprising her southern drawl from The Gift), a CIA hand with longstanding connections to the feral father and daughter duo. And so, pretending to be a guileless innocent, Hanna gets herself taken into CIA custody to meet her quarry. Alas, she misses her first shot at the ruthlessly efficient Wiegler, and soon all of the parties are engaged in a cat-and-mouse chase from Morocco to Berlin. But who’s the cat and who are the mice? The film helps clarify roles by having Wiegler enlist a creepy assassin (Hollander in a ridiculous tracksuit) to find her quarry, while Hanna falls in with a family caravan of innocents (headed by Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng.) Unfortunately, Dad never got around to explaining collateral damage…

It’s this middle section of Hanna — in which our heroine makes her first friend, has her first kiss, etc — where the impressive energy established in the early going begins to leak out of the picture, and the film never really gets it back. It is not helped in this regard by the clunky decision of the writers to have Hanna channel Data from Star Trek: TNG and/or Arnold Schwarzenegger in the second Terminator whenever she’s confronted with the vagaries of modern life. (For example, Hanna’s reaction to having a boy lean in for a kiss: “Kissing requires thirty-four muscles in the face” or somesuch.) Nor, given what we see of her skill set, does it even make much sense for Hanna to be running half the time regardless — The question of whether she is going to fight or flight her way out of any situation seems to be completely arbitrary and script-driven.

That being said, Hanna does have its share of bravura action moments. Even if it makes no sense for an underground secret CIA lair to have sequentially-flashing nightclub strobelights, I dug the heck out of an early, Chemical-Brothers-driven sequence when Hanna unleashes carnage and then makes a run for it. Later on, there’s a pretty great Batman Begins-ish reversal — the hunters becoming the hunted — in a nighttime chase scene through a container park. And, while I complained about a needlessly flashy and distracting stunt take at Dunkirk in his adaptation of Atonement, Joe Wright tries something similar here — when Bana runs into some trouble at the train station — to much better effect.

It helps that, its occasional Brothers Grimm pretensions notwithstanding, Hanna really has no subtext to live up to. If the title card (introduced with a bullet) didn’t give it away, this is a well-made genre exercise, no more, no less, and it’s really just about having fun. (It seemed like Blanchett and Hollander, the villains of this fairy tale, were especially having a blast.) Taken for what it is, and allowing for its sagging middle hour, this film mostly delivers. If you watched one movie about a young woman kicking ass and taking names while on a grand adventure this past month, I sure hope it was Hanna.

Fan-Tastic 2011.

Since it’s that particular Saturday morning in April again, time for this year’s NBA playoff picks. (Note: accuracy of picks may well be impacted by the return of the Knickerbockers after seven years of ignominy.) Here we go…


The East

Chicago Bulls (1) v. Indiana Pacers (8): What a difference a year makes. This time in 2010, Cleveland was the Court of King James and the Eastern powerhouse everyone was watching, while Chicago was the lowly 8-seed that everyone expected would just be happy to be there. Now, Cleveland is fighting it out with Minnesota for lottery balls, and it’s Derrick Rose’s multifaceted Chicago Bulls with the targets on their back. As in the past several years, the Eastern Conference 8-seed is an iffy squad — Indiana went 37-45 and are coming in on a 2-game losing streak — so I don’t expect Chicago to be tested here. Chicago in 4.

Miami Heat (2) v. Philadelphia 76ers (7): This was looking like a return to the Knicks-Heat series of old before New York went on a late-season streak and the Celts faded down the stretch. Anyways, the Heatles (Wade, LeBron, and Bosh — does that make Mike Miller Ringo?) have been a combustible squad all season, and, after watching LeBron mentally check out of the Boston series last year, I have much less faith in his multi-ring playoff potential than I used to. Still, they were designed with the post-season in mind, and the Sixers are only slightly better than Indiana. Gonna have to go Miami in 5.

Boston Celtics (3) v. New York Knicks (6): Hey, look, it’s the Knickerbockers! Now, all the smart money has the Celtics in this match-up, and my head tells me that’s probably true. In fact, they’ll probably take the Knicks in five or six — New York is still a work in progress, and we’re really one more star and 2-3 more role players away from really contending. Still, after an ugly March, Amare and Melo seemed to be finding their groove in the last few weeks of the season, while Boston — a team I’d root for in most other situations — has looked haggard and ornery ever since they traded Kendrick Perkins away at the deadline. And, hey, it’s been seven years, so why not say New York in 7.

Orlando Magic (4) v. Atlanta Hawks (5): Like the Mavericks in the West, Orlando is a team built around a force of nature (Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard) that I’m starting to think is never going to put it together. That being said, they’re facing a team they swept last year, and one who has been struggling (10-17) since the All-Star break. Orlando in 5.

The West

San Antonio Spurs (1) v. Memphis Grizzlies (8): Much credit to the Spurs — Their transition has been extraordinary. Even as Tim Duncan’s era of dominance fades, the Spurs have been consistent all season and even managed to win the West. I don’t see them having much trouble with the Grizzlies. San Antonio in 5.

Los Angeles Lakers (2) v. New Orleans Hornets (7): Ironically, this is the first season in a long time where I might have rooted for the Lakers. Should they manage to make it to the Finals versus Cleveland, sure, I’d root for Phil Jackson to get his twelfth ring. But, like Boston, they have been showing their age down the stretch, and Bynum being hurt — again — doesn’t help matters. They’ll beat Chris Paul and the Hornets, but I’m thinking they won’t make it to June this year. Los Angeles in 6.

Dallas Mavericks (3) v. Portland Trailblazers (6): As I said in the Orlando section, I have my doubts that they’re serious contenders anymore. Unfortunately for Dirk, who’s a consistently impressive and gutty player, I’m starting to think he’s going to end up like Barkley or Ewing, a star without a ring. Especially when they’re facing a young, hungry, and dangerous Trailblazers squad, the team nobody wanted in the first round. Portland in 6.

Oklahoma City Thunder (4) v. Denver Nuggets (5): With a legitimate second option in Russell Westbrook and a playoff veteran manning the paint in Kendrick Perkins, it seems about time for Kevin Durant’s OKC to make the leap. Still, after watching Gallinari, Felton, et al play for the first half of the season, I have a soft spot for “Knicks West.” Denver in 7.

The Rest

Chicago Bulls (1) v. Orlando Magic (5): One would think Orlando might have a slight advantage here because they’re a playoff-tested team. Unfortunately, they’ve failed most of those tests. Meanwhile, the Bulls enjoy the benefit of a great and hungry coach in longtime-assistant Tom Thibodeau, a superstar floor general in Rose, a dangerous set of second and third options (Boozer, Deng, Noah), and guys who know their roles all the way down the bench. (For example, Brian Scalabrine will happily wave a towel, Kurt Thomas will pay 10 minutes, flagrantly foul Howard, and scowl, etc. etc.) Chicago in 6.

Miami Heat (2) v. New York Knicks (6): See, this is what being a Homer gets you. Now I have the Knicks outperforming the first round only to play the hated Heat in the second. And damned if I’m going to pick Miami — particularly this Miami team, the most easily dislikable since the Mourning-Hardaway outfits of the late-90’s — to beat New York, even if, you know, that probably makes a lot more sense. New York in 7.

San Antonio Spurs (1) v. Denver Nuggets (5): Like I said, I like this Denver team — but they’re gunners. If the shots aren’t falling, they are going to stink up the joint. And when you move deeper into the playoffs and the tension builds, those rims will start to clank more often than not. Plus, I have a feeling, even if the Spurs are built on speed attack these days, that Gregg Popovitch will figure out how to close Denver down with not much trouble. San Antonio in 5.

Los Angeles Lakers (2) v. Portland Trailblazers (6): WIth or without Bynum, I suspect Kobe has the killer instinct to put LA on his back and get them past the Blazers (or, at the very least, he’ll yell at Pau Gasol until he does it.) Still, LA may win this season, but Portland is going to tire them out, and that’s going to be a factor in the next round. Los Angeles in 6.

EAST FINALS: Chicago Bulls (1) v. New York Knicks (6): Ok, I think here’s where reality sets in. Even if New York makes it this far, they will have had to knock off two of the three main contenders from the East. Meanwhile, Chicago has had a pretty easy road of it — nobody’s really imagining Indiana or Orlando to go anywhere deep. Plus, let’s face it, the Knicks have a lot of exposed holes still…like Denver, they rely on offense and offense only. But wait ’til next year — Chris Paul will look great in the blue-and-orange. Chicago in 6.

WEST FINALS: San Antonio Spurs (1) v. Los Angeles Lakers (2): You again, I see — The two best teams of the last decade meet for yet another go-round in the Western Conference finals. And, this year, Tim Duncan has more fresh legs on his side than Kobe. San Antonio in 7.

FINALS: Chicago Bulls (1) v. San Antonio Spurs (1): Ok, they’re both one-seeds, but a lot of you have the Heat and/or Lakers here, right? Anyways, it’s hard to bet against Gregg Popovitch and Tim Duncan in the NBA Finals. But it’s also hard not to like this Bulls team, who are both well-rounded and deep. I’ll keep it real for the East and say Chicago in 7.

So, looking back on this, I actually find myself rooting for the Bulls and the Lakers at various points. Strange times we live in, strange times. Anyway, Game 1 is starting right about now, so let’s go to it! The NBA, it’s faaaan-tastic.

50 Years Ago, Our Journey Began.

What beauty. I saw clouds and their light shadows on the distant dear earth…The water looked like darkish, slightly gleaming spots…When I watched the horizon, I saw the abrupt, contrasting transition from the earth’s light-colored surface to the absolutely black sky. I enjoyed the rich color spectrum of the earth. It is surrounded by a light blue aureole that gradually darkens, becoming turquiose, dark blue, violet, and finally coal black.

Fifty years ago this week, Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first, however briefly, to leave the cradle and get off-world. May there be many more.

100 Years Ago, A Nation Awoke.

At any rate, this was a terrible accident; 147 young people, they were all young men and women, were killed, lost their lives and a number of others were badly injured…This made a terrible impression on the people of the State of New York. I can’t begin to tell you how disturbed the people were everywhere. It was as though we had all done something wrong. It shouldn’t have been. We were sorry. Mea culpa! Mea culpa! We didn’t want it that way. We hadn’t intended to have 147 girls and boys killed in a factory. It was a terrible thing for the people of the City of New York and the State of New York to face.” — Frances Perkins

I meant to post on this a few weeks ago, but busy-ness conspired against it: 100 years ago last month, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory burned to the ground. And ultimately, from its ashes, a New Deal — something the Scott Walkers and Paul Ryans of the world might should consider.

150 Years Ago, a Union Broke.

The firing on that fort will inaugurate a civil war greater than any the world has yet seen…you will lose us every friend at the North. You will wantonly strike a hornet’s nest which extends from mountains to ocean. Legions now quiet will swarm out and sting us to death. It is unnecessary. It puts us in the wrong. It is fatal.” — Robert Toombs.

All dreaded it, all sought to avert it…Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And so, 150 years ago this week, the war came.

That Third Age Feeling.

The Hobbit has officially commenced shooting in New Zealand — at a history-making 48 frames per second, no less — and kindly keeping us in the loop is Peter Jackson, with an eleven minute tour of the final days of pre-production. If you have any love for the first films at all, I think you’ll enjoy this quite a bit.

A Plague of (Mr.)Pink-Eye.

The girls with kaleidoscope eyes? She’s got Bette Davis eyes? Nope, worse, chicks with Steve Buscemi eyes — Oddly nightmarish at times. (As seen at Quiddity and on the Twitter machine.)

The Brazil Burlesque.

2011 so far has not only been tough on the ole blog — It’s been tough on the movie-going. There have been a number of flicks I’ve been on the cusp of seeing in the weeks since The Adjustment BureauPaul, Limitless, Jane Eyre — and some I’ve even been really looking forward to, like Source Code and Hanna. Alas, the only movie I’ve actually managed to catch these past few weeks was…Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch. Oof.

As you probably already know by now, Sucker Punch is a rather terrible film. Ok, to be fair, it isn’t Gods and Generals-bad or Richard Kelly bad. Just on the basis of its occasionally diverting, fan-service-y visuals — clockwork Huns and ninjas vs. robots and whatnot — it’s probably ever-so-slightly more entertaining than recent drek like The Tourist and Alice in Wonderland. But, let’s be clear, this movie is still atrocious. Sucker Punch basically feels like sitting through an extended cutscene from a lousy, nonsensical, and rushed-to-release video game, and one with a shoddy English translation to boot.

Worse, every single lousy habit of Snyder’s — the fratboy sensibilities, the repetitive slow-fast-slow action sequences, the derivative and/or middlebrow pop culture tastes, the “Dude, that’s so extreme” Mountain Dewness of it all — is wallowed in here. If nothing else, Sucker Punch should answer once and for all whether or not the degree of difficulty for Watchmen was over Snyder’s head. It plainly was. Here, the guy the New York TImes somehow deemed “the purest geek-auteur of the geek-film era” (Uh…PJ? Del Toro? Cameron?) is given carte blanche to do pretty much anything he wants on the studio’s dime, and his big idea seems to be: “Duuuude, let’s re-make Brazil with hot chicks! That’d be so righteous!” Alan Moore, he’s not.

Oh, sorry, was that a spoiler? Well, you probably figured it out once you saw the big samurai in the trailers. In any case, as Sucker Punch begins, a young woman we come to know as Baby Doll (Emily Browning) — I’ll get to the stripper names in a bit — tries to shoot her abusive stepfather after what looks to be an attempted rape, hits her little sister instead, and ends up in a Shutter Island-like sanitarium for her troubles. See for yourself — This is all shot like a mid-90s’ music video and set to a hushed cover of the Eurythmics’ not-at-all-played-out “Sweet Dreams.” Oooh, edgy choice! (Keep an ear out for equally lazy and literal-minded picks by The Smiths (“Asleep”), Bjork (“Army of Me”), Jefferson Airplane (“White Rabbit”), and The Pixies (“Where is my Mind?” — grifted from Fight Club) also.)

Anyways, this Arkham Asylum for the Scantily Clad is run by a European psychiatrist with unorthodox methods (Carla Gugino with an appalling accent), presided over by an orderly with a dictatorial streak (Oscar “OUTLAAAAAAAAAAW” Isaac), and brimming over with young fetching patients (a la Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn), most notably sisters Sweet Pea (Abbe Cornish) and Pilot (Jena Malone). Or at least that seems to be the case — For when Baby Doll overhears she is scheduled to be lobotomized in five days (by none other than Jon Hamm, who’s apparently trying to pay the mortgage until Season 5), she escapes into a fantasy world where the asylum is actually a cabaret/bordello, her imprisoners are the proprietors, and she can simultaneously melt the mind of any man and become a ninja warrior everytime she does a risque dance. Um, what? (And, hey, wasn’t this the plot of Burlesque?)

You know, it’s not really worth talking about the story for another paragraph. Suffice to say that, to escape their plight, Baby Doll and her sisters-in-captivity kick a lot of ass in these fantasies-within-fantasies. And yet, even though these sequences all involve totally extreme fan-service stuff like robots and dragons and bi-planes and zeppelins and Scott-Glenn-playing-David-Carradine (You really want to impress the fanboys? Get Peter Weller next time), they’re increasingly boring to sit through. This is one of those movies where you’re told early on that there are FIVE (5) super-important Maguffins that must be reclaimed for the heroine(s) to prevail, and you spend the rest of the movie wishing they were looking for the last one already. As with Snyder’s 300, I tried to sit there and just lizard-brain my way through the terrible stuff, but it’s just impossible. The dialogue is awful. The story is incoherent. The exposition is cringe-worthy.

And, yes, the gender politics are rancid. Look, I paid for the ticket — I’m not above watching women in revealing outfits face down genre baddies. (I mean, wasn’t that the whole point of Underworld?) But Ellen Ripley does not exist in this dojo. Everything about Sucker Punch — the characters with zero personality but their stripper names, the whole trapped-in-the-bordello and magical-striptease angles, the constant scenes of implied sexual violence and/or Women in Peril — reeks of emotionally-stunted, puerile fratboyism, or worse. Since release, Snyder has gone out of his way to suggest his film is totally un-sexist and empowering, and, besides, he’s just giving the audience what they want, you know? Duuuuuude, it’s like he flipped it! That’s so extreme! Yeah, not so much. It is, however, more than a little embarrassing to sit through.

More than anything, I spent Sucker Punch feeling bad for the actors (especially Cornish and Isaac, and I have a soft spot for Gugino and Hamm) who were clearly better than the material. Well, that and feeling grim about Superman. It looks like the Big Blue Boy Scout will be rushing the frat scene next year. Dude, it’s gonna be so extreme.

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