Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Love and Other Drugs

I never got around to seeing Love and Other Drugs when it was in the theater last winter, so now that it's out on DVD - that was fast! - I gave it a watch.

From the previews, I see that it was a romantic comedy about a drug rep for Viagra. Oh, and after it left the theater, I heard it was the movie where Anne Hathaway gets naked. What could be bad?




Love and Other Drugs isn't a romantic comedy, it's an occasionally humorous drama about a young woman with Parkinson's disease. Downer.

Anne looks good without her clothes, Jake Gyllenhaal proves he is a Movie Star, but Love and Other Drugs is a Love Story Drama. Even though we know she has Parkinson's, Anne really has Alimacgrawitis, the ailment named after Love Story star Ali MacGraw, whose character became more radiant and lovely the sicker she got.

If you want a modern illness drama, Love and Other Drugs will do fine - it's a decent movie - but if you want a nice romantic comedy, keep looking.

Monday, April 18, 2011


Hop is a fairly flat hybrid of live action & CGI about the Easter Bunny. There is nothing particularly interesting or special about Hop, in fact, I found a few things objectionable, but I'm known to be surly.

The versatile and shameless James Marsden plays a 30-ish slacker who is unfortunate enough to meet up with a slacker junior Easter Bunny. Kaley Cuoco (of The Big Bang Theory) gets second billing (for humans) but is in the movie far too little and wears far too conservative attire.


Talking at Movies

There are three kinds of people who talk during movies: people who just plain like to talk at movies; people who talk to their young children out of necessity; and people who talk at movies under the pretense of talking to their children.

Guess which of these heinous, selfish, no-good excuses for humans being sat down one seat away from me today (in an almost empty theater, no less) and talked almost non-stop for the entire* movie?

*I moved to a seat out of earshot about five minutes into the movie but I could still hear murmurs coming from that direction during quiet parts of the show.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


I went to see Hanna this afternoon, for the second time. Aside from that implied endorsement, here are a few things you need to know:

The title character is German, so her name is pronounced Honna. The lead actress is Saoirse Ronan, whose name is pronounced Sur-sha (if we believe the internet).

Although it looks like a spy movie and fully 3/4ths of the characters are current or former spies, it's not a spy movie. Hanna could be considered a full-tilt, balls to the wall action movie but it's really a coming of age movie. It's a character study about Hanna finding out who she is. Unlike your typical 17-year-old girl finding herself, Hanna is a killing machine.

Hanna has been raised by her father in seclusion in northern Finland. It's possible that she's never met another person and definitely no one her own age. She's never used electricity or heard music. Her father has raised her to be strong, independent and lethal. He drills her incessantly, repeating "Always be ready, even in your sleep," and "Adapt or die." That last mantra is really the theme of the movie.

The father never kept from Hanna that her mother was killed by a CIA officer named Marissa Weigler. That name sounds more ominous when said with a German accent. He trains Hanna to get revenge. After giving her lukewarm warnings about how dangerous it will be to start down the revenge path, he gives her a device that will attract the attention of American intelligence and allow her to come face to face with her mother's killer.  Really, he programmed her for this mission from infancy.  She had no choice.

The rest of the story is a cat & mouse game where the CIA peoples don't understand that they are the mice. Hanna has to travel across half of Europe to catch up to her father and she learns much about herself in the process.

Here's what I liked about Hanna. It ends up with a necessary confrontation but gets there in unexpected and leisurely ways, many of which you don't normally find in an action movie.

Director Joe Wright is highly talented, helming Pride and Prejudice (the Keira Knightley version) and The Soloist, and worked with Saoirse before, in 2007's Atonement, which netted her an Academy Award nomination for Supporting Actress. She was also fine in City of Ember (a terrible movie otherwise) and OK in The Lovely Bones.

Wright is so talented he couldn't resist showing off in Hanna. There is one scene that takes place with a single shot. The father steps off a bus, scoots across a lane of traffic, walks through the terminal, out the other side, down a long sidewalk, down an escalator, then gets into a fight with four spies in a large underground plaza, and then walks out. It's a three minute plus shot and it's beautiful, although unnecessary. Wright did it before in Atonement, with a much bigger wartime shot. I like the idea of continuous shots but this one seemed like showing off.

Much of Hanna involves Hanna seeing the outside world for the first time. When she escapes custody, she takes refuge in a rundown motel. The clerk turns on a light switch, which she finds mesmerizing. Same for the TV. She flips out when the phone rings. Much of this discovery is made with pounding techno music assaulting our ears so we get a hint of what she feels. Yet, Hanna adapts, as later in the movie she stops at an internet cafe and surfs as well as anyone.

There's another scene that I found remarkable yet it passes almost unnoticed. Her host in Berlin begins to make waffles and gets out a carton of eggs. Hanna asks for one, he tosses it to her, she catches it, cracks it open and swallows the contents in a single motion. It's a great scene that tells you almost everything you need to know about her yet it's over in a few seconds.

Although I'm raving about Hanna - perhaps not in ways the studio might approve of - there are a few downsides. Cate Blanchett, one of the best actresses working today, uses a clumsy southern accent while playing Marissa Weigler. Never mind that Hanna takes place in Europe, where she was one of a very few people speaking American, and that Cate is immediately recognizable as not being from the American south, the accent really gave no additional element to the character. It seemed like a distracting quirk more than anything else.  Her shoes and flossing fetishes were much more interesting.

Worst thing about Hanna, though, is that the studio put a spoiler in the commercials. When Hanna is captured, she turns the tables and kills a CIA officer and some guards. That's no spoiler - it's in the commercials. The scene is powerful, elegant, long and shocking. It would have been gasp-worthy if the idiots in marketing hadn't used it. It may well have been considered one of the best movie moments of 2011, if only it hadn't been shown to us before we even saw the movie.

Let's end on a positive note. I mentioned that Hanna is as much of a character study as it is an action adventure. In her travels, Hanna meets up with an English family, with the mother played by Olivia Williams, a favorite of mine and late of my beloved Dollhouse. It becomes apparent rather quickly that the mother is much more in tune with Hanna than her own daughter. Hanna senses it as well but also knows that she is well beyond needing a mother anymore. She has adapted.


Friday, April 8, 2011


For the last couple of weeks, I've been watching this ridiculously addictive TV show on DVD called
Torchwood. It was produced by the BBC from 2006 to 2009. It's a sci-fi adventure crossed with a
police procedural. I devoured each episode as fast the mail and Netflix streaming could deliver
them. 31 episodes were produced.

Cardiff, Wales, sits on a rift in time and space. Things pass through the rift unfettered. Torchwood
exists to fight aliens, protect humans and appropriate alien technology for use as weapons when
malevolent and predatory aliens make an appearance later this century.

The rift is a perfect sci-fi plot device. Need an alien? Got one. Need a monster? Here. Need a
doohickey to wreak havoc? It's over there. Need a romance with a babe from 1953? Here she
comes now. Want to send your own people back in time? Would you prefer World War I or II?

Torchwood is an independent agency located in an old tube station under Cardiff. Its leader is
Captain Jack Harkness, an action hero sent over by Central Casting. Jack is played by John
Barrowman, who is possibly the most handsome man in the history of, well, men. Jack is a
confident rogue and a fearless leader, as well as a mystery. It is established early on that he is
immortal, bouncing back to life shortly after he is killed, which happens frequently. That trait is
related to him being a former Time Agent, as Torchwood is a spin-off of the BBC's 2005 recreation
of Dr Who. I've never seen Dr Who, so I just went with it whenever references came up.

The heart of the show is Gwen, a former police constable who tracks down Torchwood in the first
episode. Where Jack is often amoral or just rude, Gwen is the conscience of the show and keeps the team
focused on helping humans more than exploring alien swag. Played by Welsh actress Eve Myles,
she is more than a little adorable, despite a David Lettermanesque gap between her front teeth.
Hey, it's the UK and hot is hot.

There are a few things you need to know about Torchwood. First, it has movie-quality visuals.
This must have been an incredibly expensive show to produce. The lighting is lush and beautiful,
and the action sequences are adrenalific. Cardiff looks like a dramatic, sexy city and I'm guessing
that in real life, it might not be.

Another thing, Torchwood is unbelievably bi. Except for Gwen, every character has sexual
congress with members of both genders at some point during the series run. It's kind of strange (although welcome) to see this degree of liberation and you'll never see it on American TV. Captain Jack, born
sometime after the year 5000, hints that attitudes will change in the future but that doesn't account
for the omnivorousness of the characters from this century.

Finally, the Welsh and English accents are a bit thick, so captions were helpful and necessary for me.
Barrowman, born in Scotland but raised in the US, certainly sounds American, but you can tell his
writers had no interest in making him be American. He talks like a Brit, based on phrasing and word choice, but without the accent. For example, he addressed a couple of people as "You lot," which no American would. We'd say "You," "You two," "You guys," or even "All Y'all," but we'd never say "You lot." Maybe it's intentional, as Jack has lived in the UK for centuries. Hard to say.

I'm not sure what the story is behind Torchwood's odd production history. There were two
13-episode seasons, followed by a five-episode season. That third season took place over five
action-packed days and probably cost as much to produce as an entire 13-ep season. It was even
aired in the UK on five consecutive nights, making it quite the broadcasting event. I understand that
Torchwood season four will air ten episodes sometime this summer. It will be interesting to see
where they take the show. After you save the world, what do you do next?

First Thoughts on Hanna

This movie is not about my Onvoy co-workers John and Megan Hanna. It is not about cartoonist William Hanna of Hanna-Barbera fame. It is not even about the 11th governor of North Dakota. It's a spy movie about a girl.

I'm not sure what to think about all this.