Tag Archive for stupid

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.

Movie Review: Avatar (12/19/09)

Movie Poster: Avatar

Avatar

Directed by James Cameron
Screenplay by James Cameron

Jake Sully – Sam Worthington
Neytiri – Zoë Saldana
Grace – Sigourney Weaver
Col. Miles Quaritch – Stephen Lang
Trudy Chacon – Michelle Rodriguez
Parker Selfridge – Giovanni Ribisi
Norm Spellman – Joel David Moore
Moat – CCH Pounder

CLR Rating: 3.5/5

Movie Still: Invictus

Sam Worthington as Jake Sully and Zoë Saldana as Neytiri
in James Cameron’s sci-fi thriller Avatar

[Photo credit: WETA. ®2009 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved]

This Visual Masterpiece is a Must-see Despite a Dreadful Script

James Cameron’s resume is extensive and vividly familiar to anyone who’s ever had the notion to watch science fiction films. The man brought us the screenplay for Alien, then he directed the first two Terminator movies, then he was behind Titanic, one of the highest-grossing films in history. It shouldn’t be a surprise that once again, he’s ahead of the technological curve with this year’s holiday release, Avatar.

For Avatar, a movie the director has dreamed about since his twenties, Cameron used a “physics based sim” and a modified version of the Fusion camera to create a three-dimensional experience like absolutely none other. The movie has been heralded as a turning point for film technology, and frankly, that is probably true. The film is, visually at least, wholly unlike any other movie you’ve ever seen. Due to the technology Cameron used (and helped to invent, according to advance press), CG in Avatar doesn’t enhance the movie, it is the movie—but watching the flora and fauna of Pandora doesn’t feel like watching CG. In 3D, the film is an experience in immersion: once the characters are placed onto the moon Pandora, the audience is drowned in gorgeous scenery the likes of which earth has never seen before.

The film follows Jake Sully, a marine who lost the use of his legs in battle, as he travels to Pandora, a moon orbiting a far off planet, ostensibly in order to play dual roles as security guard for researchers and military spy. Sully and his counterparts are Avatar drivers, which means they inhabit surrogate creatures created from a mix of human and native DNA. The natives, called the Na’vi, are twelve-foot tall, blue-skinned, cat-eyed humanoids whose behavior and rituals are similar to that of Native Americans. They are a highly spiritual and naturalistic tribe whose connection to their planet lies not just in their ancestry, but in actual biological synthesis with its creatures and vegetation. If this all sounds silly, that’s because it is.

Historically science fiction allows immense room for playing with societal concerns. The Red Scare, the Cold war, fears of the A-bomb, mistrust toward technology, racism, environmental issues: all have been tackled by sci-fi’s greatest authors and filmmakers. In the current economic and social climate, this year’s science fiction films have taken on hot-button issues including human greed, apartheid (District 9), and ecology. It can’t be a coincidence that in the year’s best science fiction humans are the enemy. In Avatar, the greedy corporate CEO (Giovanni Ribisi) and the seasoned, hardcore colonel (Stephen Lang) lock horns with biological researcher Grace (Sigourney Weaver) and her team of avid conservationists. As well as being home to the Na’vi, Pandora is populated by a natural fuel resource the government will literally kill for.

The story and script fail to create multifaceted characters, sticking instead to the inherent malevolence of military invasion and corporate America’s insatiable appetite for resources and money. In our current time of war and economic instability, these are significant social issues, but the film handles them ham-handedly, pitting stock characters against one another in an epic moral (and physical) battle between conservation and greed. The dialogue and Jake’s voice-over are terribly written (Cameron is also responsible for the screenplay), and the characters are static. Anyone who’s seen a science fiction film before will know the tropes: man travels to another world, falls in love, and ends up fighting for the culture he ostensibly came to study/gain resources from/demolish. Luckily the movie is a visual spectacle; else it would be yet another played-out sci-fi epic.

Cameron has been in the news recently regarding his tendency to write strong female roles. In a lengthy New Yorker article, he mentions that in order to create strong women, you write dialogue for men and then change the names. Sigourney Weaver’s career truly began with her role as Ripley in Alien (a character whose masculine tendencies are highly debated in feminist film criticism), and she returns to Cameron to play another strong-willed but ultimately doomed character. Grace smokes like a chimney, curses like a sailor (as much as can be done in a PG-13 film, anyway), and she’s willing to resort to physical combat for her beliefs. Zoë Saldana’s Na’vi love interest Neytiri and Michelle Rodriguez’s fighter pilot Trudy are yet other dominant females, but Cameron is no feminist ally. In a Playboy interview, he discussed how to create the perfect alien breasts for Neytiri, although the Na’vi aren’t placental mammals and therefore don’t require breasts. He knows how to appeal to teenage boys, and he does it well.

Visually, the film is truly a masterwork. Pandora is an affectionately rendered bioluminescent paradise. Characters physically link to their surroundings via grasping tentacles that appear from their long braids. Seeds float through the air like jellyfish, flora gleam with incandescent radiance when touched, and creatures unlike any you’ve seen before synthesize a world that is as unfamiliar to us as the bottom of the sea. But the magnificent flying creatures and the gorgeous vegetation feel so real you could reach into the screen and stroke them.

Though the movie is flawed and ham-handed, it’s imperative to view in the theater; the visual splendor and realism are absolutely jaw dropping. Home theater technology hasn’t advanced enough yet to be able to support a film like this one, so if there’s any movie you see in theaters this year, it should be Avatar. It’s a challenge not to be completely captivated and immersed despite the script’s laughable stupidity, and audiences searching for an escape from the winter doldrums will not be disappointed.