A killer -- maybe even a killer franchise -- is born in “Hanna,” Joe Wright’s wildly propulsive new action film.
A spy-versus-spy thriller with an ingenuity that shames Hollywood junk, “Hanna” sprints from beginning to end, and might do more for the career of young star Saoirse Ronan than her 2008 Oscar nomination.
A sweet-faced girl with long golden locks -- the Brothers Grimm practically deserve a co-writing credit -- Hanna was raised and trained by her ex-CIA dad Erik (Eric Bana) in the extreme arts of survival.
When the day comes to leave their isolated cabin in the snowy hinterlands of Finland, Hanna becomes the target of CIA-trained assassins. Any good fairy tale needs a witch, and “Hanna” has a terrifically wicked one: Cate Blanchett plays an agent from Erik’s past, intent on hunting down and killing Hanna.
Wright, best known for adaptations of “Pride & Prejudice” and “Atonement” (the latter featured Ronan in the Oscar-nominated performance), takes to the action genre like a spy to subterfuge, working from an airtight screenplay by Seth Lochhead and David Farr.
The Chemical Brothers’ techno score is a blast, particularly a recurring music box melody amped up with a dance-club beat. Good luck getting it out of your head anytime soon.
“Hanna,” from Focus Features, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ****
The ill-conceived remake of 1981’s “Arthur” begins with a drunken car crash and never regains its footing.
Russell Brand, in the role made famous by Dudley Moore, works very hard to charm as the alcoholic millionaire playboy, but his outsize grin and grating childlike demeanor can’t put a smile on the dated, boozy humor.
Director Jason Winer makes a few feeble attempts to refresh the recipe. The caretaker, played by John Gielgud in the original, gets a gender change with Helen Mirren and Arthur’s toys now include a Batmobile.
Greta Gerwig takes over for Liza Minnelli as the working-class object of Arthur’s desire. She was a shoplifting waitress in the original; now, absurdly, she gives unlicensed tours of Grand Central Terminal.
Winer, best known for TV’s “Modern Family”, hangs on to the central contrivance: In order to keep his allowance and alcohol flowing, Arthur must marry a heartless corporate climber (Jennifer Garner, regrettably). The barracuda stereotype has aged about as well as the drunk jokes.
“Arthur,” from Warner Bros. Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: **
So this is how the West was really won: in slow, mistrustful steps.
“Meek’s Cutoff,” looking like “Days of Heaven” while putting its prairie folk through hell, is a contemplative anti-Western that should convince art-house audiences the long, dusty trail was worth the trip.
Directed by Kelly Reichardt (“Wendy and Lucy”), it details the hardships of three small families crossing the Oregon Trail in 1845. Led by mountain man Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood) -- who might be crazy, duplicitous or both -- the pioneers (played by, among other, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano and Shirley Henderson) get lost on the sun-parched lands.
Already terrified by Meek’s gruesome tales of Indian savagery, the good folk are tossed into moral quandary when they capture a Native American man (Rod Rondeaux). Is he stalking them, or offering assistance? The travelers must rely on instinct.
Poor Indian, right? But the film reveals no easy resolution -- or any resolution, for that matter. It’s a ploy that will likely leave the lovely “Meek’s Cutoff” stranded from mass appeal.
“Meek’s Cutoff,” from Oscilloscope Laboratories, is playing in New York. Rating: ***
Director Max Winkler, the son of Henry “Fonzie” Winkler, tries his own hand at comedy in his debut feature “Ceremony.”
This strenuously quirky film about a young man’s supposedly sweet obsession with an older woman strains with false notes, beginning with the casting of baby-faced Michael Angarano as lovelorn Sam and a bored-looking Uma Thurman as his ex-girlfriend Zoe.
Sam, along with a clueless buddy (Reece Thompson), crashes Zoe’s posh beachside wedding outside New York City, hoping to convince her that he is her true love.
Neither Sam nor the film do any convincing beyond proclaiming their inspirations. No one not named Salinger has any business pairing a Zoe with an Esme, and characters dropping references to Manhattan’s Ziegfeld Theater should know how to pronounce it.
“Ceremony,” from Magnolia Pictures, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: **
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)