There were better comedies released in the '80s, to be sure. But I don't think I have a stronger affection for any of them than I do for 1981's Arthur, writer/director Steve Gordon's screwball-farce throwback that featured Dudley Moore's drunken multi-millionaire sharing brilliantly barbed repartee with caretaker John Gielgud. Consequently, I came dangerously close to booing when I first saw the preview for director Jason Winer's Arthur remake. True, Russell Brand seemed the only logical choice to fill Moore's (diminutive) shoes, and while Gielgud is irreplaceable, Helen Mirren seemed a reasonable enough sparring partner. But, I mean, come on - is nothing sacred?!
Consider me delighted, then, that Winer's new Arthur isn't as cynical and uninspired as its previews suggested, and grateful that the movie is only run-of-the-mill poor, as opposed to actively awful. The baby-voiced Cockney squawk that Brand employs for his drunk routines takes some getting used to, and while several exchanges follow Gordon's script nearly line-for-line, Peter Baynham's generically functional screenplay drops a bunch of the original film's more enjoyable and biting fringe bits, replacing them with expectedly PC alternatives. (The only thing that saves Arthur's first visit to an AA meeting is his incredulous swipe: "This makes me want to drink more.") Still, it's bearable enough. The movie has a lot of fun - more than the previous Arthur did, actually - with its lead's mind-boggling wealth, and despite their gags being frequently sub-par, there are game comic turns by Jennifer Garner, Nick Nolte, Luis Guzmán, and Zooey-Deschanel-in-training Greta Gerwig. And while Mirren appears uncharacteristically glum (maybe her material was depressing her), Brand's more off-kilter readings do make you chuckle. Arthur is mostly a bummer, but it's hard to fully begrudge a movie in which its sloshed hero offers his ex-girlfriend a conciliatory check for $999,000 and casually explains, "I thought a million would be vulgar."
Saoirse Ronan's piercing blue eyes carry the day in director Joe Wright's Hanna, a fairytale action thriller that's at least a stronger vehicle for the teen actress than the fairytale World War II epic The Way Back and the fairytale serial-killer drama The Lovely Bones. Raised in wintry isolation by her father (Eric Bana) and trained to be a forceful yet smoothly efficient killer, Ronan's title character plays cat-and-mouse with Cate Blanchett's venomous CIA operative, and despite a few narrative detours, there's precious little to the movie beyond that; Ronan runs, and Blanchett and her cronies chase. (Reasoning for Hanna's superhuman strength and the operative's single-minded obsession is given, and of no real consequence.)
Yet revved up by The Chemical Brothers' frisky, inventive score, the movie's still a good time. Coming from Wright, it's also a surprising time, considering that after Atonement and The Soloist, he was beginning to look incapable of making anything that didn't smell of Oscar bait. Here, though, his expert pacing and frequently unusual compositions keep the mindlessly engaging action zipping along, and the movie features wonderfully eccentric, grin-inducing details, such as the shot of Blanchett, gun in hand, emerging from the mouth of the Big Bad Wolf. (Being a Wright film, Hanna also features the de rigueur Endless Tracking Shot, an admittedly spectacular, one-take sequence that finds Bana being tailed from an airport terminal to a subway station.) But Ronan remains the best reason to see the movie, with her tentative, enigmatic fragility and rather shocking ferocity helping fill in the blanks on a sketchy character. I don't need to see the movie again, but if Wright wants to recruit Ronan, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Hailee Steinfeld for the follow-up Hanna & Her Sisters, I'm totally there.
BORN TO BE WILD 3D
A busier-than-usual weekend kept me from the medieval stoner comedy Your Highness and the inspirational surfing drama Soul Surfer (now there's a double-feature), but I was able to squeeze in the nature documentary Born to Be Wild 3D, currently playing at the Putnam Museum & IMAX Theatre and on Rave 53's IMAX screen. And running a brisk 40 minutes, the film is an ideal entertainment for when you've got a bit of time to kill between other activities - a perfectly pleasant excuse to chill out with adorable animals and the dulcet baritone of Morgan Freeman. Director David Lickley's outing follows two naturalists as they care for orphaned orangutans and elephants in Borneo and Kenya, and it almost manages to make last spring's Babies look like Taxi Driver. The movie isn't wholly devoid of danger (one baby elephant charges its new captors with understandable aggression), but overall, this happily unthreatening, unchallenging work is cute as can be, with our plucky little orphans enjoying their playtimes and mealtimes and sponge baths and such. I'll admit that even at less than an hour, my attention began to wane around the movie's halfway point. Yet there's always something enjoyable to look at, and thankfully, Born to Be Wild never shoves its lovability down our throats. When we're already watching a baby orangutan getting tucked into bed with a lullaby and his blankie, why would it need to?