Tag Archive for feminism

The Personal is Political: Speaking about media and feminism while female

I wrote professionally for the online magazine California Literary Review for four years. My piece defending Hit Girl garnered something like 90,000 views. It (and some of my others) got some nasty, threatening comments – but you can’t see them anymore since my editor wisely deleted them. When CLR closed down, I began writing for PolicyMic. My first few pieces at the publication for millenials were about Mad Men (my forte) and Game of Thrones (with which I am nerdily, happily familiar – and about which I have very strong opinions). 

Silenced: Woman with Duct Tape

See bottom of post for more. Image courtesy Reductress.

I haven’t logged on to PolicyMic in eight months (until just now) because I was left so fatigued by the number of people calling me a terrible person, telling me I should just give up, that I’m obviously not invested, nor do I know a thing about Game of Thrones, Mad Men, or media criticism in general. I was completely beaten down by the number of people who think sexism in media is plainly not worth having a conversation about. It’s just a thing, and we should just deal with it. And that was a monitored forum.

re: the hopelessness of media, and why I should stop talking about it:

Could anyone in this discussion actually come up with an entertaining story line that would attract an audience globally with high ratings that did not portray sexist views of either sex and that did not objectify beauty and muddy the gain of power?

re: my comment that the casting directors didn’t portray Brienne with the kind of hideous features about which Martin writes (the hideousness that excepts Brienne from my argument – women in the canon are measured by and utilize their fuckability):

I don’t think Gwendolyne Christie is gorgeous. [Ed. This is not about your dick, dude.] 

re: not expecting more from my television:

you shouldn’t expect period pieces to reflect something antithetical to the period.

re: why I should just shut up:

It seems like you’re just looking to complain about women’s issues for no good reason other than to complain.

Point: completely, 100% missed. I’m not saying you have no right to disagree; I was, at the time, asking that people listen and consider. And I was repeatedly shot down for speaking at all. This is not to denounce the commenters on PolicyMic, who all things considered are a thoughtful, respectful bunch. But you know, not all commenters. 

Gwendoline Christie

Totally hideous. Image courtesy With An Accent.

I’ve never been super active on Twitter, for which, in circumstances like this, I’m grateful. The #YesAllWomen hashtag that appeared last weekend in the wake of the UCSB shootings took a collective fist, thrust through my ribs, and grabbed me right in the heart bits. Then it squoze. (Yeah, makin’ up words. How I do.) Not because I want to complain about women’s issues just to complain, but that I have been these women.

Two very close friends of mine were assaulted in high school and college, resulting in permanent psychological (and physical) damage. The authorities were no help. An old friend’s parents wouldn’t let her walk across campus at night for fear she would get raped (which evinces an ignorance regarding stranger danger). Even as I knew this was logically fallible – that the likelihood of some guy jumping out of the bushes and raping her because she was “pretty” – it affected me as a vulnerable 16-year-old, placing in my developing brain an insidious fear of moving independently that I had trouble shaking. I have known practically from birth that I can’t leave a drink unattended in a bar. I have, without really thinking about it, developed a set of responses to and avoidance methods for harassment (i.e. if they’re in a car and yell obscenities, I flip them off and find the nearest crowd; if they’re next to me on the sidewalk I ignore completely – which often means getting called bitch, whore, cunt; if I’m in the underpopulated country by myself, I don’t get out of the car much). I’ve been cruelly ostracized by both men and women for refusing men and for not refusing men. I carry my keys in my knuckles when I walk alone, and I know to knee the groin and then stomp the foot for maximum pain. But hey, you’ve seen all of these things on #YesAllWomen, right?

So why is it that, when I try talking to men I know and love, men I know love and respect women, their first responses are to dismiss, to say things like, “I don’t have the energy for that” or “what the fuck does hashtag activism even mean?” “You like to wallow in this stuff” and “I have never seen these things happen, but if I did…” And maybe worst of all, to say, “not all men are like that.”

Point: completely missed

This is in response to a brilliant piece over on Pop Tortes, one that links to both Arthur Chu’s nerd call to arms around the roles of women in media (particularly geek media) and Ann Hornaday’s much-lamented piece discussing the role of women in media (particularly Judd Apatow media). Look at the differences in response to two people making exactly the same point. Just. Look. You guys, this is why my Mad Men pieces have been so like book reports, containing little other than observations about the show’s story. I am a film critic; I devoted my education to feminist criticism. I care deeply about my friends, myself, my autonomy, and my freedom to speak and write. And I’ve been unwilling to dive back into that sea because frankly, it depressed the everloving fuck out of me to be told repeatedly that I should just quit complaining. But look at what Hornaday endured; look what Zerlina Maxwell and Lindy West go through regularly. If you have a really thick skin, look what Erin Gloria Ryan witnessed as a fly on the wall for eight horrible, frightening hours in a pick-up artist forum. Speaking While Female is a dangerous prospect, emotionally and sometimes physically.

Peggy Olson tells it like it is.

Fuck yes, Peggy. Image courtesy HuffPo.

And hey, those of you who say that if you ever see this behavior, you’ll be valiant and try to stop it: THIS IS THE TIME. You see it. We are talking about it. Listen. Pay attention. Sympathize with your loved ones and don’t interrupt or speak over them. Realize that no one is accusing you, personally, of being a bad person who hates women. But realize just as the insidious fear lurking in the back of my mind as a result of my socialization is important to examine, that your own socialization is to be scrutinized and jostled and shaken up. And please realize that telling people it isn’t worth the conversation is making you part of the problem.

No, I won’t stop complaining, and no, I won’t stop Speaking While Female. I’m on hiatus right now for personal reasons. I was unable to be calm and reasoned about the UCSB shootings and #YesAllWomen earlier in the week, and this is me trying to remedy that. Anger is appropriate, and focused anger can get things done. More important than being angry, perhaps, is making sure we’re having the conversation. All of us. All the time. Otherwise, nothing is going to change.

 

P.S. I just Googled “woman with duct tape” because I’m lazy and wanted a simple, effective image on this post. You want more evidence we’ve got problems? Check it out. 

Villains, Victims, Venerable Matriarchs: Mamas in Horror

This was originally posted on my Tumblr 10 months ago, Jan 25th, 2013. Mama has been airing on HBO recently, and when it’s playing, I can’t seem to look away even though it continues to irk me. In the absence of my regular recap (next week will be a double-header), have this instead!

"A mother's love is forever." Harrumph.

“A mother’s love is forever.” Harrumph.

Mama, the newest film presented by Guillermo del Toro, took the box office by storm last weekend, probably partly as a result of lead actress Jessica Chastain’s brilliant turn in Zero Dark Thirty. Del Toro’s previous horror-oriented producer credits include The OrphanageSplice, and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark – interestingly, all centered around variations on the family and the missing or “false” mother. Mama falls into line with the rest, presenting us with two orphaned little girls haunted and fiercely protected by an evil matriarch even as a benevolent (though flawed) mother figure strives to safeguard them.

Perhaps del Toro has a few mommy issues he’d like to work through? If so, he’s not alone; although the horror genre has been both criticized and praised for its ability to subvert societal mores, sometimes it stagnates in one characterization or another. Often enough, horror film flounders around aimlessly, unsure what to do with portrayals of women. Seeing as how, even in 2013, society at large seems to be conflicted about the role of woman and matriarch, this is wholly unsurprising.

Although I enjoyed it, Mama is not without flaws. It punctuates clunky dialogue (“A ghost is an emotion bent out of shape, doomed to repeat itself” intones an employee at the Clifton Forge, Virginia Hall of Records to a psychiatric doctor – really?) with some genuine, goosebump-inducing scares. We may see a bit too much monster; there is a delicate balance, and though the ghost is well done, the explicitness takes away some of the creepy mystique. Truly spooky imagery (the girls’ animalistic behavior, a sobbing infant moments before its impending death) brings it up to par. Both Annabel (Chastain), a “punk” rocker inspired by Alice Glass, and “Mama,” also known as Mad Edith Brennan, are flawed figures, selfish/selfless women saddled with the daunting task of motherhood.

Mama pitted against mama.

Mama pitted against mama.

In her first scene, Annabel crows happily about a negative pregnancy test – neither she nor her boyfriend Luke (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) wants a baby. But when after five years of searching, Luke’s nieces are located, starved and wild, in the dark center of the George Washington National Forest, Annabel reluctantly agrees to take on the role of stepmother. When one of the girls calls her “Mama,” Annabel’s strained expression gives away her discomfort: “Don’t call me that, I’m not your mother,” she exhales before screwing on a smile. When little Lilly, who’s crawled out the window into the cold Virginia night, shows Annabel with a glance how she came to be outside, Annabel mutters a totally convincing oath: “Seriously? You’ve got to be shitting me.” She’s not the ideal mom, but she’s a helluva lot better than the other choice.

The titular Mama, also known as the ghost of Edith Brennan, is a woman who escaped from “a hospital for sad people” in the late 1800s after stealing her baby. In one of the movie’s most disturbing scenes, Annabel experiences Edith’s fate in a dream. The mad woman breaks free from her straightjacket, takes her child, stabs a nun repeatedly, and runs into the woods. When she finds herself on a cliff with a line of good old Virginia gentlemen closing in on her, she leaps, babe in arms, hundreds of feet into a lake. Anything to “save” the child. When little Victoria and Lilly (along with their late father, a madman in his own right) stumble upon Edith’s ghost, it becomes clear Edith will, as ever, do anything to protect the child. Little does she know, she has a venerable enemy in Annabel. Read more

Movie Review: Silent Hill: Revelation 3D (10/27/12)

Movie Poster: Silent Hill: Revelation 3D

Silent Hill: Revelation 3D

Directed by Michael J. Bassett
Screenplay by Michael J. Bassett

Starring:
Adelaide Clemens, Kit Harington, Deborah Kara Unger, Martin Donovan, Malcolm McDowell, Carrie-Anne Moss, Sean Bean

How long is Silent Hill: Revelation 3D? 94 minutes.
What is Silent Hill: Revelation 3D rated? R for violence and disturbing images, some language and brief nudity.

CLR Rating: 0.5/5 stars

Movie still: Silent Hill Revelation 3D

Malcolm McDowell and Adelaide Clemens in Silent Hill: Revelation 3D
© 2012 – Open Road Films

A sequel lacking in style, grace, and even the most rudimentary analysis of its own mythology (and that of the first film). The most baffling thing about this sequel is that it was made at all.

For the last three decades, filmmakers have been busily exploring the connections between video games and film; the myriad styles in which the passive viewer and the active player can intertwine; the ways in which a precise “defeat the boss, level-up” format can elevate (or destroy) a film. The gaming world facepalmed in unison when in 2006, director Christophe Gans released Silent Hill, a vague, startling movie based on the eponymous video game. Full disclosure: I’ve never been a gamer, and Konami’s Silent Hill made me bonkers. I tried playing the first one, and not only was I incapable of using the counter-intuitive control system, but the buzzing controller, ominous scenery, and seriously creepy score left me reasonably frustrated and thoroughly spooked. So of course, when the movie came out, I rushed to the theater – maybe I could enjoy it in a way that’s more natural to me!

Critics ripped apart the first Silent Hill, calling it bewildering, confused, and visually jarring. In 2006, I was deeply into feminist film study in college, and I was (and still am) intrigued by the fact that Roger Avary wrote a screenplay that featured nary a male character. Instead, Silent Hill’s speaking roles were occupied entirely by women and girls. As in Neil Marshall’s The Descent, the first iteration of Silent Hill featured women as villain, victim, and protagonist. They were flawed and maternal, insensitive and loving, and would do anything to save themselves and those they loved. Unfortunately, TriStar was deeply concerned by the lack of males and required Avary to add a guy to the mix. Enter Sean Bean’s Christopher, a grieving father chasing his wife and daughter into another dimension. Kim Coates played a small-town cop trying to protect a dark secret. You know that Facebook friend who inserts an extra question mark and exclamation point into every post because it’s just so very? That’s how the male roles in Silent Hill feel: unnecessary, pointless, and frustrating. Nonetheless, the movie was filled with severely spooky imagery, painstakingly rendered creatures, and a fascinating, essential rape-revenge theme. (Further, the first film was based loosely on the captivating ghost town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, beneath which coal fires have been burning for five decades.)

Since I’m a Silent Hill apologist, when news of the sequel began to circulate early this year, I jumped at the opportunity to review it. The 3D format is immensely frustrating when filmmakers utilize it as a moneymaker – but when it’s done right, 3D can elevate a movie from “stupid” to “stupid-but-awfully-pretty.” The first film was made before modern “three dimensions” were a viable option, but its sweeping zooms into glowing chasms, madly whipping razor wire, and massive villains wielding immense weapons lend to a feeling that Gans and cinematographer Dan Laustsen would have made great use of the technology epitomized by Avatar.

After years in development hell, a new director and writer, Michael J. Bassett, took the reins on Silent Hill: Revelation. It secured a Halloween weekend release date, a hot new TV star (Kit Harington, a.k.a. Game of Thrones’s Jon Snow), veteran actors Malcolm McDowell and Carrie-Anne Moss, and a beautiful young ingénue (Adelaide Clemens, an Australian who looks so like a young Michelle Williams that you will find yourself stunned she isn’t spouting Kevin Williamson’s precocious dialogue). It was, however, unable to secure a coherent plot, decent writing, or the necessary creativity in story and timing to make a good horror movie. While the original Silent Hill is intriguingly bizarre, simplistic but theatrically philosophical, and frustratingly plotted, the sequel is baffling and exasperating in that it ever got made at all.

The final scene of the original depicts Bean’s Christopher sensing, miserably, that his wife and adopted child are near; meanwhile Rose (Radha Mitchell) and Sharon (Jodelle Ferland) are trapped in another dimension, a purgatory of sorts (one guesses). The three inhabit the same physical space, but not the same metaphysical space. The sequel, in a stupid twist, posits that Rose found some kind of “seal” in the other dimension that allowed her to send Sharon back to ours. So, in the interim between the original and this weekend’s sequel, Christopher and Sharon have run wildly across the country, changing their names and leaving bodies behind. They have repeatedly, by a hair’s breadth, escaped members of the Order of Valtriel, a crew of religious weirdos who want to draw Sharon back to the damned town of Silent Hill, West Virginia, because she’s somehow part of a demon named Alessa. (In the original, Sharon was the product of rape – Alessa’s victimization at the hands of Silent Hill’s inhabitants propels the movie – but the sequel explains that Alessa didn’t give birth to Sharon, but somehow placed part of her soul in the orphan child. Way to ruin what was one of the most intriguing plot points of the first film, you idiots.)

The girl’s savior, another new kid in school named Vincent (Harington) is, to no one’s surprise but Sharon/Heather’s, has actually been dispatched from Silent Hill to bring her back. When the Order somehow kidnap Christopher, Heather/Sharon refuses to heed his note and follows him to purgatory with Vincent in tow. Vincent, of course, has decided that she’s not really evil after all! So he ends up in the hot seat with the Order, including his mother Claudia (Moss) and grandfather Leonard (McDowell) – both of whom are actually demons. Are you confused yet?

Pyramid Head, played in both movies by Roberto Campanella, is apparently no longer a bad guy – he’s Heather/Sharon’s guardian and executioner; further, cinematographer Maxime Alexandre evidently has no idea how to shoot him, resulting in a series of unnecessary close-ups and a failure to communicate his true strength and horror. The Dark Nurses, a horde of faceless, eyeless “naughty nurses” that ring all the interesting woman-as-nurturer/woman-as-villain bells, return, but Bassett has no idea what to do with them, either. Instead of terrifying the characters, the nurses cause the protagonists to enter into a slightly more high-stakes game of Red Light, Green Light.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some new features. There is some kind of mannequin creature, because mannequins are creepy, right? There is also a dark carnival, because clowns and carnivals? Also creepy. Finally, there’s an abandoned asylum, because of course. Inasmuch as the Resident Evil movies utilize the game format of “beat boss, level up,” the Silent Hill movies don’t feature much triumph at all – there’s just a lot of pointless running. At least in the first film, the various creatures and characters were new and well done. There was a shrewd, unsubtle (some might even say shrill) commentary on dogmatic thinking, rape, and female villains. The second film features nothing new, lacks even the most rudimentary analysis of its own mythology, and is laid out like an increasingly stupid haunted house.

As a defender of the first movie, I am in the minority. However, under no circumstances can I defend spending fifteen of your hard-earned dollars on watching this schlock in 3D – and if the trailers are any evidence, two dimensions won’t do it any favors either. I’ve already expended unnecessary energy trying to figure out its nuances, detail its plot, and explain why you shouldn’t go. TL;DR? Go see Sinister instead. Hell, Netflix The Apparition, which is also terrible. Save yourself the money, confusion, and irritation.

Movie Review: Snow White and the Huntsman (6/2/12)

Movie Poster: Snow White and the Huntsman

Snow White and the Huntsman

Directed by Rupert Sanders
Screenplay by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, Hossein Amini

Starring:
Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Claflin, Ian McShane

How long is Snow White and the Huntsman? 127 minutes.
What is Snow White and the Huntsman rated? PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sensuality.

CLR Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Movie Still: Snow White and the Huntsman

Charlize Theron as Ravenna in Snow White and the Huntsman.
Photo: Alex Bailey/©Universal Pictures

A warrior princess, an evil queen, an overly saturated fantasy world…and a lot of cliches.

When trailers premiered for the second Snow White adaptation of 2012, I was rapt. A warrior Snow White? The devastatingly sexy Charlize Theron as the evil queen? Dark armies and huge trolls and overly saturated fantasy worlds? Done!

Everyone, everywhere, knows “Whistle While You Work” and the breathy, snub-nosed Disney princess, along with her seven faithful dwarves. But Disney’s first film (and all thereafter, from The Little Mermaid to The Hunchback of Notre Dame) glosses over the original Grimms’ tale so it’s nearly unrecognizable. The world could use a harder, darker version, I thought – aside from the truly awful one with Sigourney Weaver and Sam Neill. And hey, Kristen Stewart has a bad rap. Snow White and the Huntsman features Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth (where did these Hemsworth brothers come from, and why did it happen all at once?), as the titular Huntsman, and Stewart (Twilight’s Bella Swan) plays the princess. Charlize Theron, who is no stranger to uglification (she won an Oscar for gaining 40 pounds to play Aileen Wuornos in Monster), is every bit the chilly, throaty, bitter queen. Unfortunately, attempts at humor fall flat, shots at depth fall short, and ravishing romance? Not a chance.

Snow White and the Huntsman opens as any fairy tale should: with a gorgeous queen sidling through a beautiful, snow-blanketed courtyard. In this version, instead of sewing at the window, the queen admires a brilliant rose blooming despite the frozen earth. When the rose (rather than the spinning wheel) pricks her finger, three crimson drops of blood fall to the ivory snow. How she wishes she had a daughter with lips red as blood, skin white as snow, and hair black as the raven’s wing! Shortly thereafter (no sex in fairy tales!) she gives birth to none other than Snow White, before perishing when Snow White is still a child. The princess is revered throughout the kingdom, the narrator explains, for her beauty as much as her defiant spirit. The King, racked with grief, allows himself to be seduced by a stunningly beautiful woman named Ravenna – whose heart proves to be as hard and cold as her beauty is breathtaking. Apparently feeling a kinship with Snow White, Ravenna (whose parents were killed when she was young) imprisons the princess instead of killing her. Ravenna, cursed/blessed by her mother with youth, vanity, and exquisiteness, asks her enchanted mirror, “Who is the fairest of them all?” It is always her – and she remains the fairest by sucking the youth and beauty from lovely young things. But ten years later, Snow White comes of age and becomes (of course) the fairest of them all.

The events of the movie take place when Snow White escapes from the north tower in a Shawshank-like trip through the sewers (can you imagine Disney’s titular character drenched in excrement?) – and straight into the Dark Forest. This version of the Dark Forest features hallucinations, poison fungus, maggots, masses of dung beetles, and winged demons. Ravenna sends the Huntsman, a grieving widower, into the Forest on the promise that she’ll bring his wife back to him. Of course, he comes to his senses before capturing Snow White. As in any good romance, he tries to leave her, but realizes he cannot; he becomes her greatest protector, despite the fact that the two hardly interact and have very little to like about one another aside from their mutual desperation.

The Disney version of the fairy tale featured musical numbers by adorable dwarves with personality (dwarfality?) quirks to match their names. This one also features dwarves, this time played by A-list actors shrunk via CGI to miniscule proportions. Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, and Eddie Marsan inhabit the little guys – not that they have much to work with. The dwarves are usually played for laughs, and the writers of Snow White and the Huntsman struggle for some humor (how could you not laugh with Nick Frost?!). It just doesn’t pan out.

The dwarves do, however, live in Sanctuary, the land of the fairies. The Disney princess was so cute that even bunnies and fawns gather and birds flit and chirp upon her shoulders. It’s cheesy and ridiculous – but Snow White and the Huntsman does it one better. The whole world seems to come alive as the princess walks by, and though that includes the flora and fauna stretching to meet her grasp, it doesn’t feel silly. To the movie’s credit, it feels right. The princess, the dwarves teach the Huntsman, is indeed “life itself,” and they decide they’ll fight for her until they die.

All of this is interspersed with shots of Ravenna screaming at her subjects (Theron actually tore a stomach muscle during filming), staring evilly into her enchanted mirror, and surrounding herself with grimly circling ravens. Ravenna’s brother does her bidding, following Snow White and her Huntsman…at least until the Huntsman murders him. Ravenna is then forced to take the guise of Snow White’s childhood friend William to entice her to eat that poisoned apple with which we’re all so familiar. (There’s a lot of apple imagery in Stewart’s film career, it seems.)

After a kiss reawakens Snow White (though it may not be the kiss you’re expecting, which is slightly obnoxious), she rallies her men with a speech – and I do like Stewart, but this scene was horrible – and rides off to war with them. While previous Snow Whites have been pretty little princesses, this one wears leather pants beneath her skirts and looks “fetching in maille.” It’s one of the movie’s redeeming factors. And who should be the one to defeat the dark queen, but the princess herself? For Stewart, who’s been stuck playing weak, pathetic, husk Bella for years now, the role must’ve seemed a brilliant departure.

Snow White and the Huntsman falls into the category of fairy tale romance, certainly. It’s darker and uglier than some, and definitely worse than many. Its attitude toward men is pretty unforgiving, and its characters have about as much depth as a backyard pool. Theron appears to have a lot of fun with her role, though Hemsworth and Stewart have zilch chemistry. Nonetheless, it features some enjoyable moments, lovely effects, and pretty cinematography. Finally, Charlize Theron is a delight to watch under any circumstances. It can go down in history with movies like First Knight – not great, definitely stretching the lines of “adaptation,” but fun nonetheless. Come on, it’s summer. What do you expect?

Movie Review: Sucker Punch (3/26/11)

Movie Poster: Sucker Punch

Sucker Punch

Directed by Zack Snyder
Screenplay by Zack Snyder and Steve Shibuya

Emily Browning as Baby Doll
Abbie Cornish as Sweet Pea
Jena Malone as Rocket
Vanessa Hudgens as Blondie
Jamie Chung as Amber

Running time: 109 minutes
Motion Picture Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences, and for language.

CLR Rating: 1.5/5 stars

Movie Still: Sucker Punch

Jena Malone (Rocket), Abbie Cornish (Sweet Pea) and Vanessa Hudgens (Blondie) star in Sucker Punch
[Photo by Clay Enos]

A convoluted, disappointing fever dream with a muddled message.

The marketing for Zack Snyder’s new flick Sucker Punch was ingenious and ubiquitous: “Here!” the trailers proclaimed, to the tune of Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks.” “Hot girls fighting robots and dragons! Massive explosions! Archival, steampunk-influenced imagery!” What’s not to like? As it turns out, there’s a lot to hate about this newest feat in CGI. What could’ve been a powerful, cathartic fantasy turns out to be an exploitative head-scratcher that’s little more than a good-looking dragon and a lot of flesh.

After the death of her mother, Baby Doll (Emily Browning) tries to protect her younger sister from their lecherous stepfather. When this goes horribly awry the potential rapist promptly dispatches her to the Lennox House for the Mentally Insane. At Lennox House, a foreboding, Victorian structure reminiscent of Session 9’s Danvers State Hospital, Baby Doll meets Rocket (Jena Malone), her older sister Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Amber (Jamie Chung), and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens). Ostensibly presiding over them is voluptuous Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino), but in reality psychotic orderly Blue (Oscar Isaac) is pulling the strings. Baby Doll has a vision during a group therapy session in which she meets the David Carradine-like Wise Man (Scott Glenn), whose wisdom includes trite aphorisms like “Don’t write a check with your mouth you can’t cash with your ass” and “Remember: if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.” The Wise Man tells her to locate a map, fire, a knife, and a key. Somehow she convinces her cohorts to join her in an escape scheme that occurs in a fantasy within a daydream.

In Baby Doll’s head, the girls are not in a mental hospital but a brothel ruled by smarmy, unbalanced Blue. The young women are essentially slaves in miniskirts, bustiers, and fishnets. And although we never see her do it, Baby Doll can apparently dance in such a titillating fashion that her gyrations hypnotize every male within a mile, allowing her compatriots to do her dirty work. Here’s where the dual fantasy worlds come in: the Wise Man sends the five women on four missions (“Good morning, Angels. This is your mission, should you choose to accept it”), allowing them to play the roles of samurais, soldiers, pilots, and dragon slayers. Sure, these are roles that are stereotypically masculine, and it’s great to see miniscule young women fighting the baddies. What’s unfortunate is the fetishistic garb in which the women are dressed. The lingerie, stockings, and headgear the actresses don are visibly constricting—making it pretty hard to believe they’d be kicking so much ass (for reference see also: Ultraviolet, Aeon Flux). HD may extol the virtues of computerized imagery, but it is extremely unkind to the kind of pancake makeup and goopy eyeliner under which our protagonists toil. One assumes the filmmakers intended the costuming and makeup to mean Baby Doll and the other young women are embracing their sexual power in the aftermath of attempted violations. Though there’s certainly power in being an object of desire, it’s hard to take seriously when the women do so little to assert themselves in the real world—and appear to revel in the trappings of weakness. When Blue, really a nonthreatening (though creepy) character with a ridiculous pencil-mustache, confronts the women, all of our tough-as-nails heroines just weep in their skimpy burlesque costumes. Come on, ladies, were you or were you not just slaying dragons and shooting machine guns?

Disclaimer: I’m not a humorless killjoy. Who doesn’t enjoy a good old exploitation flick on occasion? Unfortunately, Sucker Punch fails even at exploiting its strengths. It’s rated PG-13. There’s not even the barest hint of actual sexuality despite all the breasts and thighs on display; there’s no real bloodshed and definitely no cathartic, satisfying culmination. In between extended fight sequences during which you’ll find yourself zoning out, the characters remain static, their stock traits on display for simplicity. Sucker Punch strove to be what the trailers made it out to be: a comic-book-influenced tale of female empowerment—Alice down the rabbit hole with big guns, robots, and mythical creatures. It didn’t succeed. Duly unfortunate is the fact that Snyder, much like M. Night “What a twist!” Shyamalan, has officially figured out his signature: slow motion. Sucker Punch could easily have cut its run time by a quarter if there had been fewer protracted, sluggish shots fetishizing either flesh or brutality.

In the past Snyder has brought us some fantastic eye candy: Watchmen, 300, and the remake of Dawn of the Dead. Sucker Punch is at times a treat for the senses; the graphics and fight sequences are well done. Bafflingly, Snyder utilized a soundtrack that includes Bjork’s “Army of Me” and covers of The Smiths’ “Asleep,” Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” and The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Normally when a filmmaker uses covers, it’s to poke fun at or make a statement about the film’s derivative or self-referential content (Snyder did this well in Watchmen); here it doesn’t work and the music simply feels incongruous.

If you see Sucker Punch, you’ll probably get the faintest grasp of what the filmmakers meant to do. It’s too bad the end product doesn’t live up to it. Some people will love it—as I said, who doesn’t love a good movie about sexy women fighting sweet battles against big bad monsters? But those of us who wished for catharsis this spring or expected the first colossal blockbuster of 2011 will probably leave wishing we’d been lobotomized—and drooling at the prospect of Captain America and X-Men: First Class.