Trailer: The King’s Man


I love the Kingsman series. It looks like we have a third installment to the series, with a prequel showcasing the origins of the secret agent organization. Ralph Fiennes, Tom Hollander, Aaron Taylor-Johnson (who also worked with director Matthew Vaughn in Kick-Ass), Gemma Arterton, Daniel Bruhl, Djimon Hounsou, Charles Dance, Matthew Goode, and Stanley Tucci are all on board.

The King’s Man is due out February of 2020.

Film Review: Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation (dir by Christopher McQuarrie)


Rebecca FergusonEarlier tonight, Jeff and I saw Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation and now I’m pretty sure that I’m developing huge girl crush on actress Rebecca Ferguson.

She plays Ilsa Faust, a former operative for M.I.6. who is now somehow involved with a shadowy terrorist organization known as The Syndicate.  And while Ilsa may only be a supporting character (because, after all, this is a Mission Impossible film and therefore, Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is unquestionably the star), she dominates every scene that she’s in.  Whether she’s escape the scene of an attempted assassination while wearing a dress that is simply to die for or rescuing Ethan Hunt from certain death, Ilsa Faust is a woman who kicks ass, takes no prisoners, and looks great while she’s doing it.  As much as I love Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff, Ilsa Faust is my new espionage role model.

The movie attempts to suggest that there’s some sexual chemistry between Ilsa and Ethan.  Oddly enough, there’s not.  Tom Cruise looks good and he gives a confident and likable performance but, as a character, Ethan comes across as being almost asexual.  He seems to be attracted to only intrigue and danger.  And yet, that lack of authentic romantic chemistry actually works to the film’s advantage.  Ilsa is never reduced to merely being a love interest.  Instead, she’s an equal to Ethan throughout the entire film.

Of course, Ilsa has secrets of her own.  Everyone in Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation has a secret.  The film opens with the IMF being disbanded and its operatives being absorbed into the CIA.  When the CIA director (Alec Baldwin, in full jerk mode) orders Ethan to stop investigating the Syndicate, Ethan goes underground and continues his activities in secret.  His allies (Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames, and the great Simon Pegg) can only help him in secret.  The origins of the Syndicate turn out to be the biggest secret of all.  There are so many secrets in Rogue Nation that it’s sometimes hard to keep track of them all but, again, that works to the film’s advantage.  It keeps the audience off-balance.  You never know when someone’s going to suddenly pull out a gun and start shooting or rip off a mask and reveal themselves to be someone else.

Rogue Nation is an entertaining action film.  The stunts are spectacular and the set pieces are exciting and enjoyably over the top.  (There’s a scene where Ethan Hunt has to change out a security card while holding his breath underwater and I literally watched it through my fingers.)  I wouldn’t suggest trying to read too much into the film and yet, at the same time, Rogue Nation does capture the paranoid times in which we live. The film manages to both condemn the excesses of government while celebrating the toys that make those excesses possible.  The average film goer may not be able to do all of the things that Ilsa and Ethan can do but we all know what it’s like not to trust authority.

That’s what makes Solomon Lane, the main villain played by Sean Harris, such an interesting character.  I know that some reviewers have complained that Lane’s role was underwritten but I have to disagree.  Lane may not be as verbose as the typical spy movie villain but I appreciated the fact that he remained somewhat enigmatic up to the conclusion of the film.  He never made the mistake of over explaining his evil plan and accidentally giving the IMF team extra time in which to defeat him.  (Solomon Lane obviously learned his lesson from watching countless would-be world conquerors accidentally allow James Bond to get the better of them.)  Lane may be ruthless and evil but he’s also a revolutionary who is outraged by some of the same things that the rest of us are outraged by.  This brings a welcome hint of ambiguity to the film.

Though it never quite reaches the lunatic highs of either Kingsman or Furious Seven, Rogue Nation is still an enjoyable and effective action movie.  Undoubtedly, Ethan and the IMF team will return in another installment.  Here’s hoping that Ilsa Faust gets a spin-off of her very own.

 

 

The Most Underappreciated Film Of The Year: Joe Wright’s Hanna


Sometimes, it seems like it’s easier for me to write about the films I dislike as opposed to the films that I truly love.  Case in point: I had little trouble writing up my thoughts on Anonymous and Straw Dogs but it’s taken me 8 months to write a formal review of my favorite film of 2011: Joe Wright’s pulp fairy tale, Hanna.

Taking place in a world much like our own but definitely not the same, Hanna opens in the frozen wilderness of Finland where 16 year-old Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) lives in an isolated cabin with her father, Erik (Eric Bana).  In the film’s electrifying opening montage, we see that Hanna’s life revolves around training for combat, memorizing the encyclopedia, and memorizing several “false” back stories that have been prepared for her by her father.  It also quickly becomes apparent that Erik has never allowed his daughter to be exposed to the real world.  Finally, Erik tells Hanna that she is “now ready” to choose whether or not to open up a box containing an old transmitter that well alert the rest of the world of their existence.  When Hanna finally opens the box, Erik promptly disappears and Hanna is left to fend for herself.

It quickly becomes apparent why Erik has spent years training his daughter because, by opening the box, Hanna has given away her presence to a coolly corrupt and ruthless CIA agent named Marissa (Played by Cate Blanchett and one of the most compelling villains in recent film history).  Marissa has her own reasons for wanting both Erik and Hanna and she quickly sends a team to Erik’s cabin.  Hanna is captured and transported to a memorably sterile CIA safehouse.  In a shocking sudden burst of violence, Hanna escapes from the safehouse and finds herself having to survive in the “real world” while being pursued by Marissa. 

Hanna, Marissa, and Erik eventually meet their fates in a desolate theme park that (in a neat bit of symbolism) is dedicated to the Brothers Grimm.  Along the way, Hanna meets and travels with a likable family of English tourists, allowing her to have her first chance to actually experience a “normal” life and Marissa recruits Issacs, one of the creepiest film henchmen ever.  Seriously. Isaacs is played by Tom Hollander and he was just so exquisitely sleazy that my skin crawled just watching him on-screen. 

In many ways, Hanna may sound like a simple action film but, in the best tradition of the French new wave and the better grindhouse filmmakers, Joe Wright both embraces the conventions of the action film while unexpectedly subverting them and using them to tell a more universal story about the struggle to both establish and maintain identity in an increasingly soulless world.  Much as Godard did before he gave up his artistic soul to political ideology, Joe Wright uses his cinematic talents to create a unique world that, while heavily stylized, also comments on our own existence.  The Chemical Brothers, meanwhile, provide the perfect soundtrack to Wright’s pulp vision.

Hanna may be my favorite film of 2011 but it’s also the most underappreciated of the year, at least as far as Oscar season is concerned.  There’s been so mention of the film’s score and a few critics’ groups have tossed a “young artist” mention or two at Saoirse Ronan but otherwise, the film has pretty much been ignored.  I think part of the problem is that Hanna was released in April and not December.  If the films had been released in December, I think Ronan would, at the very least, be a dark horse for best actress. 

The main complaint that most critics seem to come up with when discussing Hanna is that the film is too much of a genre piece.  Yes, it’s well-made and it’s well-acted and yes, it’s a compelling film with an intelligent script but, in the end, it’s just a genre piece.  A fairly typical response comes from the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw who, after praising all of the film’s virtues, concluded with, “…(I)t ultimately squanders all of them, undone by a lack of subtlety and restraint.” 

To this, I can only respond, “Oh?  Really?”  Seriously.  Amazingly enough, some of the critics who criticized Hanna for a perceived lack of subtlety are the same critics who are now falling over themselves to praise the rehash of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  I suppose the difference here is that The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was directed by David Fincher and is the product of the American film establishment whereas Hanna was directed by Joe Wright and was produced by outsiders.

Those who claim that Hanna is too genre are missing the simple fact that Hanna is an insightful film that uses the conventions of the action genre as a metaphor for the sometime painful search for identity that every teenager (and especially every teenage girl) has ever had to go through.  Myself, I never had to flee from government agents or battle assassins when I was 16 but I did have to start discovering how to survive in the real world, away from the security and comfort of home.  As opposed to the pretend feminism of Fincher’s film, Hanna is a film that truly celebrates “girl power” and promotes independence and empowerment.  It’s also, as far as I’m concerned, the best film of 2011.

Song of the Day: Container Park from Hanna (The Chemical Brothers)


Tonight I saw what would probably end up as one of the top films of 2011. I am talking about Joe Wright’s modern fairy tale, Hanna, and starring one of the industry’s finest young actress in Saoirse Ronan in the title role. The latest “song of the day” comes directly from this film which was fully scored by British electronica duo, The Chemical Brothers.

“Container Park” arrives close to the end of the second act of the film and perfectly accompanies one of the film’s best action sequences. The Chemical Brother’s give this song a very heavy and deep bassline which set’s the rhythm for the whole sequence. They begin the song very subtly with just a hint of dissonance creeping into the dark fairy tale-like melody. I just loved how they were able to combine not just the fairy tale aspect of the film, but also add in that sense of danger with subtle use of distortion and dissonance to unbalance the original melody.

This song went perfectly well with the action sequence it complemented and it was halfway through the song that I realized (like all of the music in this film) that the bassline was setting up the rhythm of the action itself. I saw this clip at WonderCon 2011 and the song was the same and as I look back to that clip to seeing the clip as part of the whole film I was impressed how The Chemical Brothers’ score for this film was very instrumental in setting up each scene and not just becoming background music.

“Container Park” is just one of several great songs from the Hanna soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers. First there’s the wonderful, cover-filled soundtrack for Sucker Punch and now this full-on electronica score for Hanna. It’s been a very good year, so far, for soundtracks and I do believe we’ve got more excellent examples coming down the pipeline.

Above is the original song used in the film while below is a remix done by the duo and found on the film’s website. The latter has been extended, but I really don’t see too much of a difference between the two other than their running times.

Hanna (Trailer)


Every year there’s always a film which seems to get little to no buzz leading up to it’s release date. One such film which seems to be sneaking up on the filmgoing public is a little action thriller called Hanna from British filmmaker Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice, Atonement) about a young girl (Saoirse Ronan) being trained by her father (Eric Bana) into some sort of assassin in the frozen wilderness of Finland. The film also stars Cate Blanchett in a role that some of her fans may not be used to. A morally ambiguous role which may or may not make her into the villain of the film.

Outside of the people who cover the film industry year in and year out this film has bypassed the radar of most film fans and are only starting to hear about it. From some of the advance reports being mentioned about Hanna, filmgoers may have something to look forward to when it finally comes out in a little over a week. Hanna has been getting some positive talk of being one of the best, if not the best, film of the year to date. Those are some pretty bold statements, but even if the film only manages to live up to half of the talk about it the last week or so then it’s going to be a film that will entertain and one that may just get strong word of mouth to get more people to watch it.

One thing which may interest some people about this film is who will be in charge of scoring it. The film’s score will be handled by the electronica duo The Chemical Brothers.

Hanna is set for an April 8, 2011 release date.