Thursday, July 28, 2011

SUPER 8

USA
2011
115 minutes

J. J. Abrams proved successfully he could revive creaky franchises with his takes on Mission: Impossible and, especially, his superb Star Trek reboot. But Super 8 is his first shot at proving himself his own man on the big screen – and, ironically, he's decided to do so by reviving Steven Spielberg's mid-eighties formula of smalltown kids thrown into larger-than-life adventures. Super 8 is an edgier version of any movie out of the family sci-fi/fantasy Amblin mid-eighties production line (think The Goonies, Batteries Not Included, Gremlins, Harry and the Hendersons — no wonder mr. Spielberg himself threw his weight behind the film as producer). But it is one with a more trenchantly hipster, adult line in pop culture references, with George Romero's Dawn of the Dead and John Carpenter's Halloween directly referenced.

     Set in 1979 in a Ohio small town (Anywhere USA), it all starts with the zombie movie a gang of middle school kids are shooting for a competition – with the tween crew just happening to be around the town train station as a classified, armoured USAF train derails spectacularly. As people and pets disappear and the town's power lines get depleted, the five kids become intrigued by what happened that night and find themselves mixed into something out of The Twilight Zone. And as the events grow progressively weirder, Super 8 takes a path into scary movie territory that mr. Abrams does not negotiate as well as he does his superb Spielbergian set-up of kids adrift in adult territory.

     The kids are one and all superbly cast and give heartfelt performances, especially Joel Courtney and the amazing Riley Griffiths as the chubby dime-store Corman junior at the helm of the zombie shoot, and you can't help think how personal this must be for mr. Abrams. But Super 8 starts out as heartfelt nostalgic pop cinema and the best ersatz Spielberg I've seen, only to tumble three-quarters of the way into a smartly done but somewhat impersonal assembly-line entry-level scary movie, its resolution eventually failing to live up to the tantalising mystery that the director dangles before our eyes for most of the film's length.

Starring Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney, Gabriel Basso, Noah Emmerich, Ron Eldard, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills.
     Directed and written by J. J. Abrams; produced by Steven Spielberg, mr. Abrams, Bryan Burk; music by Michael Giacchino; director of photography (DeLuxe colour, Panavision widescreen), Larry Fong; production designer, Martin Whist; costume designer, Ha Nguyen; film editors, Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey; visual effects supervisors, Kim Libreri, Dennis Muren, Russell Earl.
     A Paramount Pictures presentation of an Amblin Entertainment/Bad Robot production. (US distributor and world sales, Paramount Pictures.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Paramount Pictures preview theatre (London), May 25th 2011. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

FREE RADICALS: A HISTORY OF EXPERIMENTAL FILM

France
2011
81 minutes

“Charming” isn't exactly the word you'd use to define experimental film, that underground community of artists and directors that push the boundaries of form and content in the film medium. But it's exactly the right word to describe Pip Chodorov's engaging documentary, one that doesn't want to be the definitive tome or the ultimate word on its subject. Instead, mr. Chodorov, himself a practitioner of experimental film and one of the driving forces of French experimental film distributor Re:voir, proposes a brisk, brief ride through its history and developments as seen from his own point of view, as the son of free-spirited artists in 1960s New York who grew up in the proximity of it. His father, Stephan Chodorov, was a TV producer in charge of an arts programme on public television, and names such as Hans Richter were either neighbours or family friends.

     What follows is a necessarily compact but consistently interesting journey through mr. Chodorov fils' discovery of experimental cinema, punctuated by excerpts or even full presentations of work by mr. Richter, Len Lye, Jonas Mekas, Stan Vanderbeek or Robert Breer, and interview footage with many of them, including rare archive images from mr. Vanderbeek and Stan Brakhage. The fact that this is experimental film as seen through mr. Chodorov's eyes, rather than a straight-forward chronology, lets it off the hook in many respects and is also its greater strength: the enthusiasm and pleasure the director clearly shows in sharing his discoveries with us strikes exactly the right note between breathless fan and knowledgeable professor. The clarity of language and traditional structure entices the viewer into investigating further a style usually considered too opaque and insular for mainstream consumption while pointing out the influences it had on mainstream filmmakers (underlining, for instance, Terry Gilliam's debt to mr. Vanderbeek on his Monty Python mixed-media collages).

     For diehards, Free Radicals will probably be a case of “too little too late”, maybe even a bowdlerization of the richness of the genre – but for most others this will undoubtedly be the perfect introduction, which may have been mr. Chodorov's intention anyway.

Directed by Pip Chodorov; produced by Ron Dyens, Aurélia Prévieu; written by mr. Chodorov, Lucy Allwood; music by Black Lake, Slink Moss, mr. Chodorov; camera (colour), mr. Chodorov, Nicolas Rideau, Ville Piippo; film editors, Nicolas Sarkissian with Jackie Raynal. 
     A Sacrebleu Productions/Re:voir presentation/production, with support from the French National Centre for Cinema and Animated Image, Île-de-France region, French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cinécinéma. (World sales, Celluloid Dreams.)
     Screened: Curtas Vila do Conde 2011 Da Curta à Longa sidebar, Teatro Municipal de Vila do Conde (screen 2), July 15th 2011.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

INSIDIOUS

USA/United Kingdom
2010
103 minutes

A nicely old-fashioned scary movie coming from the contemporary class of horror directors seems to make Insidious a bit of a contradiction in terms, but a reasonably satisfying one. Written by Leigh Whannell and directed by James Wan, the Australian duo behind the Saw franchise, and produced by Oren Peli of Paranormal Activity fame, this tale of a middle-class couple (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) whose young son's (Ty Simpkins) inexplicable coma opens a door into the world of the supernatural eschews all the blood and guts of the modern “torture porn” craze Saw helped launch and the conceptual gimmicks of mr. Peli's no-budget shocker.
     Instead, messrs. Wan and Whannell inscribe Insidious in the long tradition of haunted house and demonic possession movies, with a strong whiff of Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist on its second half. This is appropriate, since horror is a genre that thrives on recycling time-honoured codes, and mr. Whannell's script efficiently structures the film as a classic fairground scary ride, handsomely handled by mr. Wan in traditional low-budget fashion (camera movements, dark sets, smart editing, spooky music, minimal to non-existant visual effects) – even though an exposition-heavy central act and the outlandish nature of the menace to the family cools the momentum a bit too much.
     Nothing about Insidious is even remotely original, but it's clear its makers were not aiming at originality; and it is presented with such quiet confidence and professionalism by all involved that it becomes a welcome breath of fresh air in a genre currently overloaded with effects-driven, bombastic spectacles.

Starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Ty Simpkins; and Barbara Hershey.
     Directed by James Wan; produced by Jason Blum, Steven Schneider, Oren Peli; written by Leigh Whannell; music by Joseph Bishara; directors of photography (colour, digital processing by Fotokem, widescreen), John R. Leonetti, David M. Brewer; production designer, Aaron Sims; costume designer, Kristin M. Burke; film editors, mr. Wan, Kirk Morri.
     An Alliance Films presentation, in association with IM Global, of a Haunted Movies production. (US distributor, Filmdistrict. World sales, IM Global.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, UCI El Corte Inglés 12 (Lisbon), July 1st 2011.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE

USA
2009
76 minutes

You would be hard-pressed to find another director so unwilling the toe the Hollywood party line and keep experimenting and developing himself as a filmmaker while still dipping his toes in the studio pool every now and then as Steven Soderbergh. Chronologically, The Girlfriend Experience was shot and released in between Che, the two-part conceptual biopic of Che Guevara, and the major studio comedy The Informant!, and is the second of six low-budget pictures financed by Mark Cuban's Magnolia Pictures for simultaneous theatrical, VOD and DVD release (the first was the fascinatingly underrated Bubble). As Bubble, The Girlfriend Experience was shot with non-professionals in loosely structured improvisations around a script by screenwriters David Levien and Brian Koppelman, regular collaborators of the director.

     Much has been made of it being toplined by porn film star Sasha Grey as New York escort Chelsea, but if you are expecting titillation of any sort you might want to stear clear of what is a funhouse meditation on consumer society with little or no skin shots. Juxtaposing Chelsea's daily grind to her live-in boyfriend Chris's (Chris Santos) work as a personal trainer hustling to find a better position during the early days of the 2008 Wall Street bust, mr. Soderbergh deconstructs the story into a stylishly fragmented, disjointed time structure. It soon becomes clear he is using Chelsea and Chris' situation as exemplary of a society where everything is a commodity, ready to be exchanged according to value or need, and genuine affection is hard to come by – something alluded to at regular intervals in the film.

     It's becoming clear mr. Soderbergh no longer truly differentiates between “studio” and “indie” films, applying the same inventiveness to what are essentially formal exercises in blowing genres apart and reconstructing them according to different viewpoints. The Girlfriend Experience is essentially a variation on the classic Hollywood staple of the relationship drama broken in shards and reassembled as a puzzle film about the modern world – and it's, ironically, more of a “studio picture” than the delirious subversion of The Informant! or the film noir experiments of The Good German, as well as one of the most intriguing efforts he has released in a while.

Starring Sasha Grey, Chris Santos.
     Director, director of photography (as Peter Andrews; colour by Technicolor, Panavision widescreen) and film editor (as Mary Ann Bernard), Steven Soderbergh; produced by Gregory Jacobs; written by David Levien and Brian Koppelman; music by Ross Godfrey; art director, Carlos Moore; costume designer, Christopher Peterson. 
     A Magnolia Pictures presentation, in association with 2929 Productions, of an Extension 765 production. (US distributor and world sales, Magnolia Pictures.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo screening room, Lisbon, July 5th 2011.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

AS ILHAS ENCANTADAS

France/Portugal
1965
82 minutes

Franco-Portuguese director Carlos Vilardebó's sole feature has the word “oddity” plastered all over its short length: an adaptation of Herman Melville's novella The Encantadas or Enchanted Isles shot in breathtaking Portuguese island locations, casting legendary Fado singer Amália Rodrigues against type in a rare dramatic role, directed by an untested director whose experience had been mainly in documentary shorts. Little wonder that the film literally dropped like a lead balloon at the 1960s box-office and became a seldom-seen, seldom-remembered, "cursed" film – Melville is a notoriously difficult writer to adapt, while the original novella is a loose series of geographically connected sketches, insufficiently narrative to hold a feature film together.

     Mr. Vilardebó's adaptation imposes a nested flashback framework on what seems to be a series of unconnected reminiscences from a scientific trip to the Encantadas archipelago by a former naval officer (Pierre Vaneck) - according to a prologue added to the French version of the film but apparently absent from the original Portuguese print. The central plot adresses the encounter with the forlorn widow Hunila (ms. Rodrigues), left alone in one of the islands after her husband and young brother whom she had accompanied on an expedition drown in the high seas, and with the androgynous French sailor (Pierre Clémenti) who deserts his ship to be with her.

     But, despite the stunning, angular landscapes gloriously photographed by Jean Rabier, there is little or no narrative drive in this succession of rapturous Kodachromes awkwardly stitched together, and there is really no point or resolution to the narrative leads (suggesting serious post-production attempts at salvaging the material). The cast tries its best to flesh out the characters, with a revelatory performance from ms. Rodrigues, whose soft-spoken presence suggests a true dramatic talent left untapped (she would not act again in a film after this). Even if this is a failure by most accounts, though, it is a seriously fascinating one, with a number of superb plans suggesting mr. Vilardebó was an aesthete shoehorned into a role he was under-prepared for.

Starring Pierre Vaneck, Pierre Clémenti; and Amália Rodrigues.
     Directed by Carlos Vilardebó; screenplay by Jeanne Vilardebó, mr. Vilardebó, Raymond Bellour, based on the novella by Herman Melville, The Encantadas or Enchanted Isles; music by Philippe Arthuys; director of photography (Agfacolor, processing by Ulyssea Filme and Éclair), Jean Rabier; production designer, Jacques Schmidt; film editor, Sylvie Blanc.
     A Pierre Kalfon presentation of a Les Films Number One/SETIC Distribution—Michel Peynet selection; an António da Cunha Telles presentation/production.
     Screened: Curtas Vila do Conde 2011, In Focus Pierre Clémenti sidebar, Teatro Municipal de Vila do Conde screen 2, July 11th 2011. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

SOUND OF NOISE

Sweden/France/Denmark
2010
98 minutes

“Stop and smell the roses”, goes the old-fashioned adage, but Swedish filmmakers Johannes Stjärne Nilsson and Ola Simonsson, good lateral thinkers that they are, change this into “stop and listen to the silence” — even though their debut feature (after a series of shorts with similar musical/rhythmic preoccupations) starts properly with a drummer installed in the back of a van and setting the tempo for a police chase. Sound of Noise is, in fact, a furiously inventive variation on the traditional “cops and robbers” movie; only the “robbers” are a gang of professional musicians co-opting everyday places and objects to create music that relates to the world around us, and the cop, wittingly named Amadeus Warnebring, is the tone-deaf black sheep of a family of classical musicians who desires nothing more than silence.

     What follows is a gently surrealist comedy following the cat-and-mouse chase between the “art terrorists” as they perform their magnum opus “Music for One City and Six Drummers” around Malmö, and the detective whose tone-deafness gives him an edge in the investigation. And the strange, budding romance that blossoms at a distance between the policeman (wonderfully played by Bengt Nilsson) and the leader of the gang (Sanna Persson Halapi), essentially bringing together two people who fail to conform to what society considers to be “normal”, introduces a sly critique of musical and social orthodoxy, while affectionately sending-up the Swedish police procedurals that have become all the rage in literary best-seller lists.

     There is, nevertheless, the feeling that messrs. Stjärne Nilsson and Simonsson don't quite have their cake and eat it too; the conceptualisation at the heart of the plot, derived from the actual found-objects compositions by Magnus Börjeson and his fellow subversives (who are actual musicians playing fictionalised versions of themselves), is more inventive that the writer/directors' essentially functional handling. Sound of Noise's more surrealist touches end up as fleeting moments whose unusual imagery wouldn't be out of place in a Roy Andersson picture but are never taken to their logical conclusions – it's all harmless fun, played for a lark. Still, it's a wonderfully entertaining, crowd-pleasing lark that, in its playfulness, reminds me of another delicious recent musical fugue, Johnnie To's Sparrow.

Starring Bengt Nilsson, Sanna Persson Halapi, Magnus Börjeson, Marcus Haraldson Boij, Johannes Björk, Fredrik Myhr, Anders Vestergård. 
     Directed by Johannes Stjärne Nilsson and Ola Simonsson; produced by Jim Birmant, Guy Péchard, Christophe Audeguis, Olivier Guerpillon; screenplay by Simonsson, mr. Stjärne Nilsson, based on a story by mr. Simonsson, mr. Stjärne Nilsson, mr. Birmant; music by Fred Avril, mr. Börjeson and Six Drummers (ms. Persson Halapi, mr. Haraldson Boij, mr. Björk, mr. Myhr, mr. Vestergård); director of photography (colour, processing by Nordisk Film and Arane-Gulliver, widescreen), Charlotta Tengroth; production designer, Cecilia Sterner; costume designer, Gabriella Dannitz; film editor, Stefan Sundlöf. 
     A Wild Bunch/Nordisk Film presentation of a Bliss/DFM Fiktion production, in co-production with Köstr Film, Wild Bunch, Nordisk Film, Film i Skåne, Film i Våst, Europa Sound Production, Touscoprod; with the participation of Sofica Cinemage 3, Swedish Television, Canal Plus Sverige, Swedish Film Institute, Danish Film Institute, Nordisk Film & TV Fund, MEDIA Programme of the European Union, Konstnärsnämden, Ljud & Bild Media, Malmö Opera House, Andykat, Anagram Filmproduktion. (Swedish distributor, Nordisk Film. World sales, Wild Bunch.)
     Screened: Curtas Vila do Conde 2011 Da Curta à Longa sidebar, Teatro Municipal de Vila do Conde, July 10th 2011. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

POLITIST, ADJECTIV

Police, Adjective


Romania
2009
109 minutes

For his second feature, Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu proposes a sort of grammatical procedural, about a young cop (Dragos Bucur) whose moral qualms about busting a high school student using marijuana, and the fate of said student, hinge on the dictionary definitions of a few key words. Working with the by now standard formula of modern Romanian cinema – long takes, absence of score, naturalistic framing -, Police, Adjective stretches it to almost breaking point in the service of a meticulously presented, progressively more disquieting deadpan satire of Kafkian bureaucracy. It's a reasonably taut highwire act; the trick lies in the precise dosage of the length of each plan, here often impossibly long takes where the camera centers on a character and only moves at specific moments, then lets the scene play out for as long as it's needed for the viewer to take in fully what is really happening.

     It's worthwhile making a comparison to Jacques Tati's precision mechanics, since a lot of what goes on here is related to that type of slow-burn humour, and there's a sense of bungling Keystone Kops biting off more that they can chew; but mr. Porumboiu is working within a more traditionally dramatic narrative while moving away from the more openly comedic take of his previous 12:08 East of Bucharest. In this case, the director is harnessing that precision as a vise that underlines the anxiety of both his character and the spectator, as the closer the investigation gets to breaking the case it also gets closer to being shut down – suggesting simultaneously a conspiratorial take on the all-powerful past of the Communist state and the sense that Romania remains mired in a past while being dragged kicking and screaming into the future. Hilarious and nerve-wracking at the same time, Police, Adjective is a remarkable movie that pushes mr. Porumboiu into the “big leagues” of Romanian cinema alongside Cristi Puiu and Cristian Mungiu.

Starring Dragos Bucur, Vlad Ivanov.
     Directed and written by Corneliu Porumboiu; director of photography (colour, processing by Kodak Cinelabs Romania), Marius Panduru; production designer, Mihaela Poenaru; costume designer, Georgiana Bostan; film editor, Roxana Szel.
     A 42KM Film presentation/production, with the support of the Romanian Film Centre, in association with Racova and Raza Studio, with the participation of HBO Romania. (World sales, Coach 14.)
     Screened: Curtas Vila do Conde 2011, In Focus sidebar, Teatro Municipal de Vila do Conde, July 9th 2011.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

LARRY CROWNE

USA
2011
98 minutes

It has taken Tom Hanks 15 years to return to the director's chair after the endearing coming-of-age nostalgia trip that was 1996's That Thing You Do!, and a lot of what is good about Larry Crowne follows on from that film's high points: a willingness to trust the actors and let them engage as an ensemble and a modest, self-effacing approach to the work of telling a story. So far so good, and the premise of mr. Hanks' sophomore film is tailor-made for such aspirations: the titular Navy veteran and “employee of the month” is laid-off by his big-box employer and, forced to start from scratch, enrolls in college to make up for the education he never had.

     It's plain that, in these times of global crisis, rising unemployment and uncertainty about the future, mr. Hanks is appealing to America's celebrated spirit of community and can-do attitude, offering a cheerfully upbeat pep talk for disenchanted audiences. On that level it works, even though it would be hard not to point out that Larry Crowne's bright-eyed optimism is anchored in a sitcom-ish plot (by mr. Hanks and My Big Fat Greek Wedding writer/star Nia Vardalos) that never fleshes out characters beyond one-dimensional archetypes, nor gives them enough screen time for the stellar supporting cast to do something with them. And as portrayed by mr. Hanks, Larry never stoops to despair, which would be an acceptable position in the dire straits he finds himself in and might even ensure the film would gain the added edge it sorely lacks. This is particularly visible in Julia Roberts' turn as Larry's college speech teacher, whose cynicism and bitterness are a welcome change to the actress' usual squeaky clean roles but are sadly undercut by a script progression that seems like something you'd learn on Screenwriting 101.

     For all that, Larry Crowne remains a cheerful, amiable comedy, its unassuming modesty welcome in these days of inflated, plot-free blockbusters, but it lacks the boost that would kick it into a really good film.

Starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts; Bryan Cranston, Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Wilmer Valderrama, Pam Grier, Rita Wilson. 
     Directed by mr. Hanks; produced by mr. Hanks, Gary Goetzman; written by mr. Hanks and Nia Vardalos; music by James Newton Howard; director of photography (colour by DeLuxe, Panavision widescreen), Philippe Rousselot; production designer, Victor Kempster; costume designer, Albert Wolsky; film editor, Alan Cody.
     A Vendôme Pictures presentation of a Playtone production. (US distributor, Universal Pictures. World sales, Summit Entertainment.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Colombo 9, Lisbon, July 4th 2011. 

Friday, July 08, 2011

CARS 2

USA
2011
106 minutes

We've all been wondering about (and dreading) the moment for a while now: when is Pixar going to break their astounding 15-year golden run of back-to-back classics? (To recap: Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up, Toy Story 3.) Well, the moment has sadly arrived with this underwhelming sequel to the dazzling 2006 tale of automobile Americana – and what's most disappointing about Cars 2 isn't that the studio has finally issued a minor film. It's that the precise element that has always been key to Pixar's magic is below par: the story.
     The premise is strong enough: flashy racing car Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) enters the World Grand Prix and takes his best friend, kind-hearted redneck tow truck Mater (Larry The Cable Guy), along for the ride, only to be mistaken by British intelligence for an American spy and be swept up into industrial espionage hi-jinks in a James Bond style. The exquisite, immaculate perfection of the studio's animation remains of very high calibre – and the admission price is worth it alone for the superbly rendered reinvented cities McQueen and Mater visit (Paris, Tokyo, London) and the tons of inspired sight gags crammed into each frame.
     But the tone, rhythm and structure is disappointingly generic, and the original's heartfelt Americana stylings, its advice to slow down and enjoy the sights along the journey, is here replaced by a frenzied, busy tour-bus rhythm that is the exact opposite of everything the original Cars stood for and suggests Pixar head John Lasseter (for whom the first film was a labour of love), too distracted with his new role as president of animation for the entire Disney operation, may have left too much of the load up to untested co-director (and Dreamworks alum) Brad Lewis. The sidetracking of McQueen into supporting status to make way for Mater as an unlikely hero also brings out what's more grating and repetitive about Larry the Cable Guy's redneck shtick.
     To put things into perspective, Cars 2 is hardly a bad film: there's enough inspired gags and dazzling animation (like a lovely Italian village intermezzo) to make it worthwhile, and the voice cast is as always spot on (big kudos to Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer as the British spies Finn McMissile and Holley Shiftwell). Either Dreamworks or Blue Sky would sell their souls for something this visually handcrafted – but storywise, this could well bear the seal of either of Pixar's top competitors. And that's not good enough after the studio's recent golden run.

With the voices of Owen Wilson, Larry The Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, John Turturro, Eddie Izzard.
     Directed by John Lasseter; co-directed by Brad Lewis; produced by Denise Ream; screenplay by Ben Queen, based on a story by mr. Lasseter, mr. Lewis, Dan Fogelman; music by Michael Giacchino; directors of photography (colour, widescreen, 3D), Sharon Calahan (lighting), Jeremy Lasky (camera); production designer, Harley Jessup; film editor, Stephen Schaffer.
     A Walt Disney Pictures presentation of a Pixar Animation Studios film. (US distributor and world sales, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Colombo 9 (Lisbon), June 30th 2011.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

HANNA

USA/Germany
2010
111 minutes

British director Joe Wright's second American film is an alternately surreal and pounding coming-of-age thriller. Yes, you read that well: its titular heroine is a teenage girl homeschooled in history, geography and fighting skills in a remote Finnish cottage by her ex-double agent father, let loose in the real world as a coming-of-age experience. If you think the premise is unusual, mr. Wright's handling takes it dazzlingly over-the-top, moving from the initial scenes' matter-of-fact naturalism into a progressively more far-out fairytale surrealism as Hanna begins to navigate the world outside the snowy woods she lived in for most of her life. There's no Prince Charming on the other side of the mirror, but there is definitely a Big Bad Wolf in the shape of Evil Queen Cate Blanchett, relishing her role as the CIA handler whose work twenty years ago is the secret behind Hanna's origin story and her dad's escape into the woods.
     Reteaming with mr. Wright, Saoirse Ronan, whose graceful supporting turn in Atonement launched her career, is superb as Hanna in a performance whose high-wire balance between steely adult poise and emotional inexperience would be hard enough for an older actor, let alone a teenager; and the remainder of the well-chosen cast rises up to the challenge of making the heightened reality of the film's world look and feel credible. But although the glossy, driving handling keeps moving Hanna forward, the director doesn't always combine to taste its disparate elements of action thriller and stylized comic-book, and the Chemical Brothers' beat-driven score is a terrible fit with the film's emotional subtext. Still, its overt weirdness and risk-taking approach to a standard genre thriller are rare enough in a mainstream film; for that alone Hanna is well worth seeing.

Starring Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Tom Hollander, Olivia Williams, Jason Flemying, Jessica Barden; and Cate Blanchett.
     Directed by Joe Wright; produced by Leslie Holleran, Marty Adelstein, Scott Nemes; screenplay by Seth Lochhead and David Farr, based on a story by mr. Lochhead; music by The Chemical Brothers (Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons); director of photography (digital intermediate by Technicolor, widescreen), Alwin Küchler; production designer, Sarah Greenwood; costume designer, Lucie Bates; film editor, Paul Tothill.
     A Focus Features presentation of a Holleran Company/Sechszehnte Babelsberg/Neunte Babelsberg co-production, in association with Twins Financing; with the support of Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, Filmförderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein, Deutscher Filmförderfonds, Filmförderungsanstalt. (US distributor and world sales, Focus Features. European distributor, Sony Pictures Releasing International.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Columbia Tristar Warner screening room, Lisbon, June 20th 2011.