“Arthur,” “Your Highness,” and “Hanna”: Weekly Movie Diary

Coming several days late after Tax Day and a push to get a draft of my dissertation done, the weekly movie diary is finally being posted…

Helen Mirren and Russell Brand in "Arthur"

Arthur

Arthur isn’t bad because it’s a mediocre remake of a mediocre movie. It’s bad because it reproduces all the bland elements of the Dudley Moore film without capturing any of the few elements that worked. Russell Brand is fine as the alcohol-swilling, immature billionaire (often sounding alarmingly like Moore), but nothing around him really works. The script is flat without a genuine laugh and Brand has no chemistry with his love interest played by Greta Gerwig. We have no idea what they see in each other – she is remarkably undifferentiated from all the floozies that populate Arthur’s life. There are only slight hints of her quirkiness, which can’t be said for Liza Minnelli, who played the same part opposite Moore. With Moore and Minnelli at least we could see why he was attracted to her free-spirit. Gerwig just lays on the floor of Grand Central Terminal to look at the ceiling. And, worse yet, Helen Mirren as Arthur’s nanny Hobson nobly wades into the material, but we can’t help compare her to the brilliant performance by John Gielgud. His dry wit and deliberate delivery are the only things that really made the original Arthur worth watching. Unfortunately this incarnation is lifeless, dull, and tediously unfunny. (Rating **)

Natalie Portman, Danny McBride, James Franco, and Zooey Deschanel can't get one laugh in "Your Highness"

Your Highness

If Arthur was dull, at least that movie started from a concept that could have led to a funny movie. Your Highness, on the other hand, starts from an unfunny premise and executes it even more poorly. A friend of mine suggested that the reason I didn’t laugh once (really not even one chuckle or guffaw) in this fantasy/stoner picture is because I wasn’t high. I don’t think a movie gets a pass because potheads laugh at it. They aren’t exactly a discerning bunch. One of the few times I’ve been stoned I remember finding the alphabet hysterically funny. I can imagine that Danny McBride and this wretched movie might have made me laugh as well.

The running gag, the basis of the entire movie’s philosophy of comedy, is McBride and James Franco, as princes of a mythical medieval kingdom, deliver flowery speeches punctuated with a strategically placed curse word followed by puffing on a joint. Get it? How hilarious would it be to see Charlemagne say “motherfucker” and get hammered? Actually not very.

This might have been funny once or twice, but when it’s the only gag in the entire picture it gets more frustrating than amusing. Like in the South Park movie when the gang went to an R-rated movie and discovered curse words. They began peppering their language with expletives and that was pretty funny for a few scenes, but by the end it was stale.

All of Your Highness is stale, especially with Danny McBride in the lead (and as a co-writer of the script). He proves he can’t carry a picture; his shtick is purely supporting, like his role in Pineapple Express. James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel, Justin Theroux, and even Rasmus Hardiker as the court jester do their best but their efforts collapse under the twin weights of McBride’s groan-worthy writing and uninspired acting. This is a truly terrible movie. (Rating *)

Saorise Ronan as Hanna

Hanna

Hanna is the kind of movie that holds your attention fairly well while you watch it, but the farther away you get from it the worse it holds up in your memory. It starts off on the right track: a rogue CIA agent Erik Heller (Eric Bana) and his daughter Hanna (Saorise Ronan) live in the arctic wilderness, isolated from civilization. Erik teaches his daughter to hunt, survive, and fight for a battle he knows she will have to fight if she is ever going to be able to enter society and live safely. Another CIA agent, Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), murdered her mother and wants her dead too. Despite the danger the isolation is beginning to chafe for Hanna as she reaches puberty. She’s never seen television, electricity, or even heard music.

The movie reaches poetic heights as we watch Hanna’s journey towards revenge bringing her face to face with a world she only understands through the books she’s read. We enjoy watching her discover the joys and beauty of the world. She has always longed to hear music and, over the course of the film, she hears a lot of it, not all of which is as melodious as she had dreamed – from a homeless man belting out opera on the street to the head-splitting cacophony of street drummers banging on tin drums. It is fascinating to follow Hanna as she discovers that the natural beauty of the world carries with it an ugly counterpart.

Unfortunately we don’t get to watch Hanna negotiate and carve a place out for herself in the world. Early on, after being apprehended by the CIA and transported to Morocco, she escapes and hooks up with a British family on a camping trip though Morocco and Spain. I like the way their relationship played out, especially with the teenage daughter Sophie (Jessica Barden), a girl so obnoxious only someone as clueless and socially ignorant as Hanna could like her.

But Hanna’s discovery of the world and her relationships disappear (the British family simply vanishes) in favor of a typical and, truthfully, uninspired action climax. Lots of chasing and fighting that we have seen in any other action pic with lesser ambitions. We can almost see the moment when Wright decided to switch off the creative switch and glide on action movie autopilot (when Hanna jumps out of the back of a van). This wouldn’t be quite so disappointing if I hadn’t like so much of what came before.

Cate Blanchett as Marissa Wiegler, a great villain.

Despite the breakdown of the narrative, Hanna does give us a great villain: Cate Blanchett as CIA baddie Marissa Wiegler, desperate to cover up a secret genetics program of which Hanna is the last remaining evidence. Blanchett plays Wiegler with an arrogant cunning, as a woman who covets and abuses the power afforded her by the necessary secrecy of her position in the CIA. She’s matter-of-fact and business-like about the evil she does. Her slight southern draw reminds us of the cowboy (anti-)diplomacy of the Bush years and, like our former president, she loves knowing she can do whatever she wants, maybe vaguely for the national security interests of the United States, maybe for herself. It never is quite clear. I wish Wright had delved more into Wiegler’s story and motivations; we never understand exactly why she feels as though she has to kill Hanna.

Hanna is a movie with high ambitions, but conventionally executed, entertaining but uneven. (Rating ***)

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3 Comments

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3 responses to ““Arthur,” “Your Highness,” and “Hanna”: Weekly Movie Diary

  1. Another busy movie-going week for you, Jason. My son and husband went to see ‘Your Highness’ and weren’t impressed – sounds as if I didn’t miss much there! I’d like to see ‘Hanna’ after being impressed by ‘Atonement’, but am disappointed to hear that it turns into action fare later on.

    As for ‘Arthur’, I can’t imagine why they remade it in the first place – and after reading your review I won’t be rushing to see it. Must agree with you that Gielgud was by far the best thing about the original, and his role as the butler has been much imitated since.

    • “Atonement” may be false advertising for “Hanna.” They are both from the same director, but “Hanna” isn’t nearly as thoughtful or elegant as “Atonement.” There is some good stuff in it, but not enough to make it a must see.

      As for ‘Arthur’, I can’t imagine why they remade it in the first place
      I can see why this would be the prefect time to retell this story, as billionaire’s strengthen their grip on the world, but the movie avoids taking on the concentration of wealth in the upper one percent (in this country anyway). This movie could have been so much more trenchant and relevant had they had something to say about this. Instead they passed up the opportunity and did a straight and uninspired remake.

      As far as Gielgud being imitated, I do have to say the good thing about Mirren’s performance is she did not try to mimic Gielgud, but set out to make something new. Unfortunately the script wasn’t funny so it didn’t much matter what she did. The cards were stacked so high against her she (and everyone else in the picture) were doomed to fail.

      By the way, Judy, good job avoiding Your Highness. You can chalk that up as the highlight of your movie going year!

      • Interesting point about the remake of ‘Arthur’ – it hadn’t struck me about the economic context, but it sounds as if they missed the mark on that. Helen Mirren is the one thing about it that was slightly tempting me to see it, but I probably won’t bother unless other members of the family are desperate to go to it… I wasn’t all that big a fan of the original anyway. Thanks, Jason.

        And yeah, I’m very glad I avoided ‘Your Highness’!

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