Catch-up mini movie reviews: The Warrior’s Way, The Eagle, Hanna and Bridesmaids

I’ve just worked out that this year I’ve already watched, give or take some miscalculation, 41 cinema releases. Writing reviews for every single one of them certainly helps to keep track, and keeping notes has helped me realise that a handful of movies over the past 6 months or so have gone without Pfangirl Through the Looking Glass reviews. Here are some mini write-ups to rectify the lack of coverage – hopefully they will help with your next DVD/download decision:

The Warrior’s Way
Along with Priest (my review), The Warrior’s Way is my big guilty pleasure of 2011. With a heavy reliance of CGI-backgrounds and devastatingly choreographed wire-stunt combats, the film is hyper-stylised escapist fare in the mould of 300. It’s also probably the best video game movie not actually based on a video game. For the record, the film is a genre mash-up, with Western conventions sitting alongside those of Asian Martial Arts epics. Jang Dong-gun stars as a nearly mute assassin, the world’s greatest swordsman, who flees to the Wild West when he refuses to kill a baby girl. His attempts at living a peaceful life though are thwarted when old and new trouble comes knocking.

What I particularly liked about The Warrior’s Way, apart from its tongue-in-cheek attitude, is the fact that the film just as easily bounds into some surprisingly dark territory. This isn’t typical Hollywood fare, afraid to pull its punches or unleash unhappy endings. I would never recommend The Warrior’s Way for everyone – it’s certainly a film for a select audience – but I got more emotion out of the experience than I was expecting.

P.S. Critics of her work in Superman Returns may be surprised to discover that Kate Bosworth here turns in a convincing, brassy and quirky “Lois Lane” performance, so yeah, she was completely capable back in 2006.


The Eagle
Based on the historical adventure novel by Rosemary Sutcliff, The Eagle is very watchable but nothing special. In fact, like its source material – which falls under the children’s/youth literature banner – the film feels blunted, as if it’s been subjected to some emotional and narrative simplification. It’s hard to describe it accurately but the movie feels like the cinematic equivalent of the fiction I used to read in, say, Grades 5 through 8.

Set in 120 ADE, The Eagle centres on young centurion Marcus Flavius Aquila (Channing Tatum), who is stationed at a Roman barracks in Northern Britain, and sets out to discover what happened to the Ninth Legion, commanded by his father. Marcus heads north of Hadrian’s Wall with local slave Esca (Jamie Bell) and has to contend with the harsh environment, and even harsher Northern Tribes.

As I said, The Eagle isn’t brilliant, but in comparison to the narratively similar Centurion, this film feels far more realistic as it doesn’t try to be “hardcore” by bucketing on the bloody violence. The Eagle also features a couple of very good action scenes and an almost unrecognisable Mark Strong in a supporting role. As for criticisms of Tatum’s subdued acting in the film, I actually didn’t have a problem with it, given that his character is so unusually, and unquestionably, pious and upstanding. Hollywood rarely focuses on heroes like that anymore.


Hanna
Hanna has been frequently described as existing halfway between an action thriller blockbuster and an art house movie. And I would completely agree. At the same time I’d add that this midpoint positioning between two very different genres means that the film rarely satisfies.

Hanna comes across as an unusual blending of coming-of-age tale and Jason Bourne-esque espionage thriller. The title character (played by Saoirse Ronan) is a teenage girl who has been raised by her “father” (Eric Bana) in the remote forests of Finland, and trained to be the perfect assassin. Eventually arrives the time for Hanna to enter the world – something that CIA agent Cate Blanchett and her lackeys are desperate to stop.

Performances are excellent in Hanna, and the characters intriguing despite their blatant cartoonishness – Blanchett’s dental hygiene-obsessed operative is especially entertaining. However, the film is routinely hamstrung by irritating logic gaps; the worst being the question “Why would you train a girl to be a self-sufficient warrior but keep her ignorant of all society norms (e.g. electricity), so that she comes across as noticeably naïve to anyone she encounters?”

Also, the action scenes are routinely, and frustratingly, aborted just as the Chemical Brothers’ score starts picking up tempo. For the record, the best fight scene in the entire movie is a single take battle that involves Bana in an underground train station.


Bridesmaids
Bridesmaids is arguably the highest earning and most critically acclaimed comedy of the American Summer. Still, the film tends to just be simply labelled as "The Hangover with women", or "just another comedic chick flick". This is misleading. While you certainly don’t need to see Bridesmaids on the big screen, it is highly entertaining. And, in a rarity for comedies, it actually improves as it progresses. A lot.

Bridesmaids is scripted by and stars Kristen Wiig as Annie, a down-on-her-luck cake maker who has to suppress her problems when her best friend (Maya Rudolph) gets engaged and promptly selects Annie as her maid of honour. In the lead up to the wedding though, Annie’s organisational efforts are disastrous, and this puts her in conflict with another member of the bridal party, perfect Helen (Rose Byrne).

Bridesmaids is a Judd Apatow comedy so it’s unapologetically explicit in regards to depictions of sex and bodily functions. In other words, the film is not for the conservative or easily offended. The food poisoning scene is one of the most graphic things I’ve seen in a long time.

Refreshingly Bridesmaids isn’t a “hysterical women” comedy a la Bride Wars. Almost every time it feels like the film is going somewhere predictable, it veers in an unexpected direction. Similarly, the film also has some unexpectedly powerful things to say about things like paralysing self-pity, friendship and women’s identity.

Of the cast, Wiig makes for a relatable, likeable lead although the big scene stealer is Melissa McCarthy as the most frank, tomboyish and hilarious of the bridesmaids.

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