Sunday, January 22, 2012

2012 King of the Hill Movie Challenge

Hanna v Red Tails v Haywire

My wife and I went out to catch two movies on Saturday night. We had a great time, even if it means I have to do a three-way movie battle for Top Movie of January. It's getting dangerously close to the end of the month. Future challengers are growing less likely to appear.

For those who do not know, the 2012 King of the Hill Movie Challenge is my system for determining the best movie of year that I saw.  One movie from each month will be selected and, at the end of the year, I will do a tournament style showdown where they will take each other on until the final movie has been selected.

First Challenger: Red Tails
Director:  Anthony Hemmingway

Writer:  John Ridley

Starring:  Cuba Gooding Jr, Gerald McRaney, David Oyelowo

George Lucas brings to the screen the story of the Tuskegee airmen from World War 2.  The story of the Tuskegee airmen is about an all black flying squadron and the racial tensions they faced. Historically speaking, the Tuskegee airmen were originally denied flight into dangerous missions because of the perception that blacks weren't smart enough or talented enough to handle air combat. Because of this, the Tuskegee airmen sat at an airbase with shoddy planes and did training exercises and simple patrols to pass the time. When they were finally called out into the war, they were one of the best fighters to be found.

Overall, the movie was very entertaining. It did a good job of carrying over the story of the Tuskegee airmen to the silver screen. The action sequences were a great balance of excitement and bloody realism. The plot of the movie was strong and carried it well. As a movie, however, it fell far short of what was needed to top the reigning champion, Hanna. Red Tails is predictable. I don't know if the characters were based on real people, but they felt like typical war story archetypes. You have your “reckless one” character, a “drink to make it through the war” character, and even the “young and trying to prove himself” character. The dialogue also drove me crazy during some of the scenes. There were actual times during the movie that I thought I was looking at a rough draft of the script.  It is also important to note that the movie did a poor job putting it across that it was as much the experience of the pilots as it was their style of defending bombers that made them heroes of the war.  The way this movie was written, it seems like the white pilots needed only to stick with the bombers to make sure they made it through on the flight.  In reality, the Tuskegee pilots put their skills to shame.

On a side-note, I do plan on addressing the Red Tails more closely to address it from the standpoint of a writer. It just won't be this post.

Winner: Hanna

Second Challenger: Haywire
Director: Steven Sodenbergh

Writer:  Lem Dobbs

Starring:  Gina Carano, Ewan McGreggor, Michael Fassbender

Can a female protagonist action flick take down another female protagonist action flick? That's the question I was asking myself going into Haywire. Haywire is the story of Mallory Kane, a private contractor secret agent style, ex-Marine. The movie opens mid-story before it jumps back to the past and fills in some of the questions of the opening script.

For a spy flick, I was extremely impressed. All spy movies need fancy technology. This movie was no exception. Instead of getting the super strange and uniquely applicable technology of James Bond, you get straight up fancy devices that seem plausible in the real world. Speaking of plausible, the fight sequences were most definitely closer to what you'd expect in the real life. Unfortunately, the fights tended to look similar to each other. There is only so many places you can hit, throw, or choke someone before it becomes repetitive.

And then there is the chase scene. I'm not going to spoil it, you have to see this sequence. It involves off road driving and a great deal of it is done with a car in reverse. Even if you don't see the movie, you have to look this scene up. As a writer and a member of the audience I was very impressed. Another element of the movie that impressed me was the character of Mallory Cane. She is a strong, female protagonist who succeeds at what she does because of who she is. And dammit, if she doesn't have some endurance. WOW.

In the end, Haywire falls short of Hanna. It only missed the mark by a short bit. The plot of Haywire was both simple and convoluted. It utilizes “In medias res”, a technique that I can't stand. The movie opens at a scene, jumps back to the beginning of the story and eventually gets to the opening scene and moves past it. I found it difficult to keep up with the plot and the characters. When, at the ending, you learn what was going on, it was hard for me to follow what the ultimate plan was. Also, while the story is about Mallory, it doesn't have the same journey that Hanna undertakes. Overall, I liked the journey of Hanna more than the journey of Mallory.

Haywire is a “must see”, but it isn't Hanna.

Winner: Hanna

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