Jack Ryan (Season 1) Review by Case Wright


There are two types of streaming television series: Get a sitter and watch in rapt silence with your SO and friends and Elliptical and/or Hangover Television.  Jack Ryan is in the latter category.  It’s a solid: NOT BAD.   Ok, it was a little weird seeing Jack Ryan (John Krasinski) put Osama Bin Laden’s AK-47 in a Jello Mold, but I thought it was a nice call back.  JK!

Jack Ryan has been a staple for nerds who like action for decades.  Jack Ryan is a data analyst badass who defeats terrorism and rogue commies, in other words, fictional.  He’s been in countless books, films, and video games.  The only other character that gets this much media has to use The Force.  In this iteration, Carlton Cuse of “Lost” fame takes a crack the characters.

Jack Ryan is a young Marine Vet turned CIA officer with PTSD.  He is teamed up with Greer who in the books and previous iterations was a tough talking Admiral with shitty dialogue; whereas, in this version, Greer’s a down and out muslim CIA officer whose career is in decline after killing a Pakistani asset.  They are on the hunt for the big bad: Sulieman.

Sulieman is the product of the American intervention in the Lebanese civil war in 1986, which…checks out.  He is hell bent on causing all kinds of mayhem in America and abroad.  They make a big show about how he was treated badly throughout his life-  Boo hoo.  I guess it was supposed to make him more human. I thought it made him really really whiny.  So what, you didn’t get your dream job that gives you the right to blow everybody up?!

The big question most of my readers have: Did John Krasinski – Jim- have a passable performance as a super spy?????  KINDA. He was pretty close at times, but was he held back by some purposely slowed down plot points.  I will get to the derpy derp moments later, but really the season should’ve been 6 episodes instead of 8 because there were too many contrivances, which inhibited John’s performance.  I have to write that he was in fact believable.   I did not know what to expect, but he delivered a good performance.

What they got right:

Sleepless nights with PTSD and drinking too much.  They portrayed that spot on.  I thought, I’ve had those late nights.  Ok, Pass!

The SEAL/Ranger team: I’ve known many Special Operators over the years and they are all real salt of the Earth types.  They played those matter of fact tough guys perfectly. Ok, Pass!

The inherent turpitude of civilian government officials: Very good, they’re all presumptive Dirtbaggus Americanus.  Ok, Pass!

The director building suspense? Yep, the direction was done quite well.  No complaints.

What was so very dumb?  NO F#@#!NG Way!!! NFW!!!! NFW!!!

1.  They portrayed Jack Ryan as dealing PTSD, giving him pause to shoot his weapon.  I get that, BUT he’s still a Marine.  There’s a scene where he makes the decision to shoot and misses by a mile just so they could have fight scene later.  This is just dumb.  Marines are ALL crackshots.  If you are in a Marine’s line of fire and he’s got a clear shot, you’re dust.  When you see it, you’ll roll your eyes.

2.  There’s a terrorist strike by Sulieman and he claims responsibility.  They show his face being plastered on all television networks. He’s on tv more than Anderson Cooper. Then, with no face disguise, he’s NEVER recognized.  We’re not talking just one time, but FIVE times at least.  His face would’ve been burned in everyone’s memory.  It was just dumb,  lazy, and contrived to keep the villain the in the action.

3.  A CIA Officer meets Sulieman’s wife and he just lets her walk away the same day as a major terror attack: NFW! Anyone who said that they knew an Osama equivalent would be sequestered and interrogated immediately, but it was obvious that they needed to pad the plot to squeeze three unnecessary episodes for story arc.

4.  There’s a duo who are drone pilots that are just sort of shoehorned into the story for no reason at all.  I couldn’t even figure out the message if drones were supposed to be good or bad.  I left thinking… Man, drones work really well.  Then, one of the drone pilots gets all guilty about a mistargeting incident and flies to Syria because ya know Active Duty Soldiers just get to go anywhere they like on leave…. NFW!!!!!!! Just think about it…we shouldn’t just get to go wherever we like.  It’s dangerous for us and could lead to a Soldier getting compromised.  NFW!

5.  There’s a plot point where a doctor becomes aware of a biological threat and just sends an email.  WHAAAA?!  She would be calling everyone and their brother to report that because she’s supposed to be smart.

Is it worth watching?

Yes, yes it is.  It’s got real problems in terms of story holes, but my hope is that Carlton Cuse learns from this.  He can DM me if he likes.  I’ll consult or script doctor for a very reasonable rate.  Jack Ryan is great for watching on the Elliptical at the gym or if you’re hungover or something.  It is NOT at this time get a babysitter and everyone be quiet television, but it is …. fun.


Robocop 2014



So, I did, in fact, see Robocop 2014. It was suggested that some of our readers might have heard about this one. I will tell you right now that my own take on the film is… largely unbiased. The original Robocop never entrenched itself in my lexicon as an ‘essential’ film. I generally considered it to be a fun film, very watchable, fairly standard 80’s action fare… and, really, with the fingerprints of noted Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven all over it. I definitely remember it fondly, but I’m by no means a Robocop purist. The puzzling direction the series took after the original (Robocop 2, in particular, strikes me as one of the worst films I can recall seeing, and 3 is somehow less memorable. I’m sure that does not mean good things). One thing probably anyone would tell you about the original film is that it was violent. Controversially so. Or perhaps that it is infested with foul language? To the point where the f-bombs seem to become their own point. Well, to start with, 2014’s Robocop went for the path of least creativity, and stuck itself in a PG-13 body that is actually pretty teen-friendly. More on that in a minute. But between the absence of Verhoeven’s style, the infusion of 201X’s powerful visual effects, the over the top violence and language, and the absence of any 80s camp, this film bears very little resemblance to the original.

If you wish to appreciate this film at all, you will be forced to do so on its own merits. Looking at it through the prism of the original film will probably not satisfy you, though I may be mistaken. I suppose it depends on how much you loved the first iteration.

2014’s incarnation of Robocop is directed by José Padilha, directing his first English language film. He is best known for his work on the Elite Squad films. His background is in action, and his style is not one that we’ve been down that road before with. I suspect that if this film had been helmed by a Michael Bay, it might have been disastrous. Instead, the result is surprisingly gritty at times, especially during an early shootout between Detroit police detectives and a hit squad sent to eliminate them to cut off their investigation of a local gunrunner. Obviously, the film has plenty of antiseptically clean sets, and the sophisticated visual effects involved give us lots of clean lines and gleaming, metallic surfaces… so it was, in a way, grounding to see some sequences in an experienced hand. Sadly, this style does not hold true through the entire picture, which features some predictably infuriating shaky cam work where our ability to understand and process the action is limited by the way in which it is shot. Some would probably argue this is realistic, and that if I were actually in a gun battle, I could only understand a tiny part of it even afterward… but as an action film viewer, it turns me off like few other things do.

The ED-209 has certainly never looked better.

The ED-209 has certainly never looked better.

The plot is a significant variation on the 1987 original, though it does have some pieces of the framework still intact. The year is 2028, and the United States is now projecting its power worldwide through the use of formidable robotic drones provided by Omnicorp (a division, we learn, of the original film’s OCP. Unlike the original film, in which the ED-209 is clearly the shoddy work of a corporation trying to make money by sending to the lowest bidder, it seems that the ED-209 is an extremely efficient and deadly enforcer and peacekeeper. Its primary flaw, that it cannot reason like a human, and does not know right from wrong, is central to the questions that the film posits. To the extent that it posits anything, that is. As with the original 1987 film, 2014 is introduced to us by a nationwide news broadcast… except, this time, instead of a simple evening news program, we’re treated to an extremely high production news opinion show (something like The O’Reilly Factor, perhaps) starring Pat Novak, a highly opinionated right-wing security lobbyist (a well cast Samuel L. Jackson delivers an energetic performance). Pat Novak wants to know why these drones aren’t keeping America’s streets safe, too.

The answer, of course, is that Americans want their protectors to have a soul. The film does make it clear, incidentally, that the United States has not asked other parts of the world if they’d prefer this same consideration… and this is where the film’s satire lies… in pumping up world peacekeeper thinking until it explodes.

With the realization that public opinion has to change or Omnicorp will never be able to deploy its products to the American market, the company’s executives, Marketing Director Tom Pope (Jay Baruchel) and, Legal Department Chair Liz Kline (Jennifer Ehle) and the CEO Raymond Sellers (Michael Keaton) decide to try and create exactly what their market wants: a man inside of a machine. Using the revolutionary cybernetics developed by Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman, in a very wistful, emotional role) they scour the country’s cops debilitated in the line of duty in search of the perfect candidate – an emotionally balanced cop with the reason and the desire to get back in the game.

Enter Alex Murphy (Joel Kinaman, from AMC’s “The Killing”), grievously injured, with wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) and son David (John Paul Ruttan) desperate not to let him go. Using Dr. Norton’s technology, Omnicorp rebuilds him into the ultimate crime fighting machine… where things go from there is, frankly, fairly predictable. Throughout the narrative, Pat Novak’s show continues to break in, stitching the narrative exposition together with both more of Novak’s bluster and with interviews with other major players like CEO Sellers and the Senator who is leading the opposition to Omnicorp’s technology, Hubert Dreyfuss (Zach Grenier). You will no doubt anticipate the conclusion of the film well before it reaches those final moments, and so aside from a couple of exceptionally well crafted sequences, this film does not exactly break new ground.

What does stand out, and I apologize for stuffing those last couple paragraphs full of as many names as possible (and I still missed plenty!), is the casting, and the acting, that are on display in this film. Everyone involved stands more or less head and shoulders above what’s being asked of them. I particularly enjoyed Michael Keaton in the role of the film’s villainous CEO, who gives a very reserved performance. There is very little evil mania from Keaton, who instead comes off exactly as coldly off-putting as I would expect from a sociopath in his position, going from decision to decision with an eye for the company’s financial future. The more scenery chewing villainy is left up to Jackie Earl Haley as Omnicorp’s in-house military QC, Rick Mattox, and from some villains scattered about the mean streets of 2028’s Detroit.

The original Robocop had a kind of wry humour to it that is entirely absent this reproduction. Curiously, the film is also almost entirely without meaningful visual violence, and almost totally absent of profanity (the traditional single use of ‘fuck’ for a PG-13 film is, in fact, bleeped, since it’s delivered by Pat Novak on his live TV show), and instead feels more like playing a modern Call of Duty or Battlefield video game in its depiction of Robocop battling his foes. This film coasts by absolutely safely at a PG-13 level (seriously, this is not the film you need to be worried about protecting your kids from).

While elements of the film are certainly a visual feast, these sumptuous visuals are actually mostly confined to the laboratory in which Robocop is built and maintained, and in the sophisticated battle armor that the titular supercop wears. The sequences on the ground, so to speak, feel a little more real. I suppose it’s the same faint sense of grittiness that the director’s hand gives this movie, which only rarely becomes a victim of its own visual effects. This is largely a good thing, as I think we’ve all developed a little bit of special effects fatigue over several heaping courses of Michael Bay’s “Transformers”, “Star Wars” prequel films, and other overblown projects. This film struck a fair balance, I felt, between taking advantage of the visual effects available, and trying to substitute them for any kind of substance. There is something going on at the core of this film. Unfortunately, I ultimately felt that it was not enough to satisfy, but plenty to entertain. Your own mileage will, of course, vary.

For those purists out there who are decrying the necessity of this remake (there was none) and the wisdom of doing so anyway… in perfect honesty, this is a film that simply wouldn’t have been made this way in 1987. In saying that, please, let’s admit that the 1987 film would also never have been made that way today. People’s outlook has changed. They look for, fear, and hope for, different things out of the world. Robocop 2014 is by no means a perfect – or even great – film… but it is a much better film for the post 9/11 world than the original one is. It fits its era. Between that, and a slew of excellent performances, you may just find this film to be above your expectations. It certainly surpassed my own.

Review: Sucker Punch (dir. by Zack Snyder)

There have always been films through the years which will garner extreme reactions from its audiences. These reactions will always take two sides on the film. People who see these films will either love them or they will hate them. There is to be little to no middle ground reaction when it comes to these films. In 2009, we had James Cameron’s epic scifi Avatar which had two sets of fans. Those who loved it to the point that it transcended simple fandom into something these people thought as important. Then there were the vocal minority who absolutely hated the film. Whether both fans were right in their opinions was (and continues) to be irrelevent. All that mattered to these people was that they’re right and the other side was wrong.

2011 is entering it’s second season and a film finally arrived which seem to have elicited the same sort of reaction from people who have seen it. Sure, there’s some who saw it merely as entertainment and left it at that, but there’s a growing rift between those who loved the film and those who hated it. The film which seem to have caused this is the action-fantasy film Sucker Punch.

To say that Zack Snyder’s latest visual extravaganza would create discussion amongst filmgoers would be an undertstatement. Sucker Punch has arrived to much genre fandom fanfare. This was a film that seemed to take genres from all corners like scifi, fantasy, anime and manga and mashed them all up into something new and serving it up to the legion of fans who love those very things. Zack Snyder has made his reputation as a filmmaker as a visual artist. His entire filmography from the Dawn of the Dead remake all the way up to his adaptation of the Alan Moore graphic novel Watchmen have all been very strong visually. His grasp of narrative structure continues to grow and improve but it’s always been his handling of dialogue which has tripped him up.

Sucker Punch is a tale within a tale about a young woman we come to know as Baby Doll (played with an almost angelic quality by Emily Browning). The film opens up with the curtain rising on a theater stage and we soon become witness to a dialogue-free opening sequence of the events which transpired to bring Baby Doll to the Lennox House mental institution. This entire opening sequence is a great example of Snyder as a master of creating a montage of striking visuals sans dialogue with only music to break the silence. It helped that the music chosen to accompany this scene was a haunting rendition by Emily Browning herself of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)”. Just like in Watchmen‘s own intro title sequence, Snyder was able to convey the beginnings of the story without the need for dialogue and do it so well that we as an audience understand fully all that’s transpiring on the screen.

Once this prologue ends we move onto the main setting of the film where Baby Doll gets put into the care of the Lennox House’s resident boogeyman in the form of Blue as played with slimy charm and panache by one Oscar Isaac (last scene chewing up the English countryside in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood). The audience sees what Baby Doll sees as Blue gives her the tour of the facilities which finally ends at the “Theater” where all the female patients act out their problems and fears through the guidance and help of Doctor Gorski (played by the lovely and return Snyder performer, Carla Gugino).

The first 15 minutes of this film was pretty much a basic set-up of what Snyder will use as his blueprint for the rest of the film. All the different levels of fantasy Baby Doll will imagine and inhabit throughout the film is rooted deeply in this initial sequence of events which begins the film. The clues as to who the story is truely about could be found in this intro if one was paying attention to the film instead of being distracted and mesmerized by the visuals Snyder crafts to start the film. While it won’t become apparent until the reveal at the climactic events of the film. Once all are the cards were revealed, so to speak, the beginning of the film begins to make sense. From the curtain rising, the silent film-like scene to begin and the narration to open things up, all those give a hint to what the answer to the question the film’s narrative really asks: “Is what we’re seeing truly real or is it all just fantasy?”

Sucker Punch becomes a sort of a trip down the rabbit hole a la Alice In Wonderland once the film establishes Baby Doll’s predicament upon arriving at the Lennox House (she’s to be lobotomized in 5 days). The film moves from the gray and depressing confines of the Lennox House to the fantasy world centered on a burlesque establishment where Baby Doll is an orphan sold by a decadent priest (the form her stepfather takes in this fantasy) to Blue, the proprietor of this house of ill repute where orphaned young women become burlesque dancers and worst to the clientele. It is in this place we meet the rest of the gang Baby Doll will befriend to help her try to escape the place and thus avoif the “High Roller” who will come to collect her in 5 days.

The film shares something similar with Christopher Nolan’s Inception in that both films deal with different levels of reality or fantasy (depends on how one sees the different worlds shown in both films). Where Nolan’s ideas seem more rooted in what he would consider as more grounded to reality as much as possible Snyder goes the other way and takes the leashes off of Baby Doll’s imagination. This third level Baby Doll goes to as she begins her dance to distract the men of the burlesque house is her mind unfettered and where she’s not helpless but has power not just to protect herself but do so better than the men who inhabit this fantasy world of steampunk zombie soldiers, orcs, dragons, alien robot machines and many other scifi and fantasy tropes which define geek culture through the decades.

If there’s one reason to watch this film it would be just to bear witness to Snyder letting his imagination as a visual filmmaker take over. Some people may not like this and want a strong, structured narrative to balance out the visuals. I, too, would’ve liked to have seen something stronger in terms of story and plot, but there are just instances when the visuals are so striking and wildly imaginative that one just marvels at the scenes unfolding on the screen. If any, Snyder as a visual artist helps prop up the weakness in the story. Snyder would’ve served this film better if he went even further and turned Sucker Punch into an avant-garde silent film of the digital age. That beginning in the film just unfolded so strongly despite no dialogue that the rest of the film could’ve been done in the same manner and be the better for it.

Which brings me to what was the film’s near fatal flaw. A flaw that many of the film’s detractors have taken as the rallying cry to denounce the film as horrible and Snyder as a hack. The interesting thing is that these same people were also the ones who had been praising of Snyder prior to this film. Even those who begrudgingly gave Snyder his props for having some semblance of talent because of the very handling of the visuals that he has now have become much more vocal about how they always knew Snyder was never that good.

I would say that Snyder is not the second coming of Ridley Scott as some of his supporters have anointed him or is he a hack filmmaker who is all flash and no substance. I think he’s somewhere in the middle and still finding his true voice as a filmmaker. I’ve always seen Snyder as being weak when it comes to handling the slower scenes of dialogue and most visual filmmakers tend to be the same when starting out. The dialogue seem to get in the way of what they really want to do and tell the story through striking visual sequences. They’re like painters who don’t need words to convey the emotions they wish to convey. Sucker Punch I believe suffered from Snyder trying to combine his strength on the visual side of the equation with his handling of story through the dialogue which he still hasn’t mastered. If someone else had written, or at the very least, fixed and strengthened the script, I do believe that the film wouldn’t be getting so ripped and trounced by those who had been so excited to seeing one of Snyder’s personal projects.

The performances by the cast ranged from good to just being there. There really wasn’t anyone in particular who performed badly. Everyone from Emily Browning to Oscar Isaac all the way to Abbie Cornish did well enough with the material they were given. Oscar Isaac as both Blue in the insane asylum and as the pimp in the burlesque house did particularly well playing up the fun role of the villain in Baby Doll’s different levels of reality/fantasy. Of the ladies in the film I must point out the performance of Jena Malone and Abbie Cornish as sisters in the second level. While we only get a glimpse of Cornish’s Sweet Pea character in the Lennox House, once in the burlesque setting she becomes the anchor by which the rest of the women in the cast held onto. Jena Malone as the younger sister Rocket who still dreamed hopes of escape was a nice complement to Sweet Pea.

So, we have a film in Sucker Punch which seem to have strength on one side of the filmmaking equation and a major weakness on another. This is the kind of film that I would, in the past, have dismissed as another attempt by Hollywood to pander to the geek crowd with its mash-up of different scifi and fantasy imagery. But this time around I actually enjoyed the film both in a visual sense and how Snyder was able to play with the audience’s personal observations about the themes his film is trying to explore. It’s these very themes which have split audiences into two camps. While the gender politics and stereotypes people have brought up in discussing this film have made for some lively debate I refrain from adding my views on it in this review. I think I’m not well-qualified to debate such discussions.

For me, Sucker Punch succeeds more than it fails because Snyder didn’t play it safe with how he wanted to make his film. He was able to tell the film’s story through the different visual styles for each world the cast played in and did it quite well. While most of the time I wouldn’t give a film a pass for a weak narrative and average dialogue with this film I felt like the experience one gets from experiencing the visual canvas Snyder continued to paint with from beginning to end was enough to balance out the negative. It’s really a film that one must experience for themselves and make their decision on that experience instead of listening to other’s opinions (both good and bad) about the film. One may end up hating the film like some, but then again they may end up like me and forgive Snyder for trying to reach for the sun and failing to do so, but at least tried to with panache instead of playing it safe.

Lisa Marie Takes A Sucker Punch (dir. by Zack Snyder)

Last Friday, I went and saw Zack Snyder’s new film Sucker Punch with my sister Erin and a group of our friends.  Sucker Punch was a film that I had been looking forward to seeing for a while and not even all of the scathingly negative reviews that I read before leaving for the theater could dampen my enthusiasm.  Somehow, I knew I would love this film (despite the fact that Zack Snyder is, usually, one of my least favorite directors).  And you know what?  I did love it.

The plot has been criticized for being both overly complicated and not being complicated enough and I actually think that a case can be made for either one of those complaints.  The film opens in the 1950s.  Teenage Babydoll (Emily Browning) is sent to a mental asylum by her evil father.  Her father has made a deal with an orderly named Blue (Oscar Isaac) to have Babydoll lobotomized. (By the way, this was actually a pretty common thing back in the 50s.  I shudder to think what would have been done to me if I had been born five decades earlier.)  As Babydoll waits for her lobotomy (scheduled to occur at the end of her first week as a patient), she is subjected to the therapy of Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino) who plays music and encourages her (all female) patients to find peace by controlling their fantasies.

Suddenly, we’re in a fantasy (just who exactly is having the fantasy is one of the film’s mysteries that’s never really explained but is actually kinda fun to debate).  In the fantasy, the insane asylum is actually a brothel/dance hall that is owned by Blue.  Gorski is a choreographer.  The patients are now all lingerie-clad dancers/prostitutes.  Babydoll is the latest girl to be put into service in the brothel and she is being held over for “the High Roller” who is expected to show up in five days.

(The fact that the movie explicitly compares forced lobotomy to rape is one of the many interesting facts that the majority of negative reviews have chosen to ignore.)

Babydoll soon discovers that 1) she’s such a good dancer that when she does dance, men can only watch in stunned silence and 2) whenever she does dance, she finds herself transported into a fantasy world where, along with getting advice from the Wise Old Man (Scott Glenn), she also battles (and defeats) everything from giant Samurai to dead Nazis who have been reanimated by “steam power” to a dragon.  These battle scenes, as odd as they are, are actually pretty exciting.  Say what you will, Snyder knows how to direct a battle scene and Browning and the rest of the almost entirely female cast all seem to be having a blast getting to do the type of things that usually, only boys are allowed to do.

Anyway, as a result of her fantasies, Babydoll comes up with a plan to escape the brothel.  She quickly recruits four other girls into her plan — Amber (Jamie Chung), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), the free-spirited (and really, really cool) Rocket (Jena Malone) and finally Rocket’s older sister, the world-weary Sweatpea (Abbie Cornish).  In order to escape, they need to steal four different items.  While Babydoll distracts their captors by dancing (and therefore going into one of her battle fantasies), the others steal whatever is needed.  And everything works out just fine.  Until it doesn’t….

Sucker Punch is a glorious mess of a movie and, perhaps because I’m a glorious mess myself, I loved it.  In fact, it’s probably my favorite film of 2011 so far.  In this regard, I know I’m going against the majority but so what?  Throughout history, if one thing has always been consistent, it is that the majority sucks.  Yes, Sucker Punch is a deeply flawed film that runs on for at least half-an-hour too long.  And yes, I think it can be argued quite convincingly that this film is ultimately a happy accident, a film that’s strength comes not from directorial design but instead as the result of a few random elements that resonate in the subconscious.  But no matter — happy accident or not, I loved Sucker Punch and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Hmmm…that’s a familiar pose.

Let’s start with a few obvious points.  As even those who hate this film seem to be admitting, it’s visually stunning.  The battle scenes are kinetic and exciting, the film’s over-the-top production design (a mix of German Expressionism, 50s film noir, Bob Fosse choreography and old Zack Snyder films) is always a blast to look at, and the soundtrack kicks ass.  Like other films in the so-called “Girls with Guns” genre, Sucker Punch allows its actresses to be something other than just scenery or helpless damsels.

Interestingly enough, for a film that takes place mostly in the world of fantasy, there’s no attempt to really make this film’s version of “reality” come across as anything other than an elaborate fantasy as well.  The film’s opening scenes are played out in slow-motion and the film’s asylum (which, like most movie asylums, appears to have been borrowed from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) is so gray that the film might as well be in black-and-white.  Blue and Babydoll’s father hold a melodramatic conference while standing directly behind Babydoll, their three heads filling the screen like flashes of manic paranoia.  As such, the film — at times — becomes a fantasy taking place in a fantasy taking place in a fantasy.  It takes a while for the viewer to get used to this and, at times, it can seem like there’s really nothing to give the film any sort of grounding.  However, for me, the opening sequences are not meant to be “real” as much as they serve as a reflection for the way that the real world can imprison anyone but women in particular.  As women, we know what its like to look up and suddenly realize that our entire world has somehow become gray and cold without our knowledge.  Throughout history, when everything else has been taken away from us, fantasy has been our escape and salvation, our imagination being the one of those precious things that our fathers, our husbands, and our bosses would never be able to deny us.

One problem I did have with the film is that, for all the talk about how Babydoll’s dancing is essential to the escape plan, we never actually see her dance.  Instead, we see Browning start to sway a little, her eyes cast down and then suddenly, we’re transported into a fantasy involving zombie Nazis or giant samurai.  Once this fantasy mission has been completed, we’re suddenly back in the brothel where we see Babydoll ending her dance while her audience applauds.

To a large extent, I actually agree with Snyder’s approach here because I know, for me much as with the characters in this film, dance always presented an escape from the grayness of being.  When I was dancing, I was literally living a fantasy and this seems to be the case with Babydoll as well.  However, from simply a cinematic point of view, the constant talk of the importance of Babydoll’s dance leads the audience to naturally expect that they’ll get to see at least a little bit of the dance in question.  When you don’t, it’s hard not to feel as if you’ve been teased.  (I have to admit, as well, that all this dance talk got my competitive streak going as well.  As I whispered to Erin, “They should see me dance.”  “It’s a movie, Lisa Marie, not a challenge.” Erin replied.)  Snyder, as a director, certainly probably has a strong enough visual sense that he could have found a way to make any dance that Emily Browning came up with look impressive and other worldly.

Oscar Isaac

As Arleigh has pointed out on both twitter and this site, Zack Snyder is a director who concentrates almost all of his effort on producing memorable visuals.  That’s how he tells his stories and gets the whatever response he wants from his audience.  Characters and dialogue are often kept simple so that they don’t get in the way of his visuals.  Typically, I hate films like this and I’m hardly a fan of Snyder’s previous work.  However, it didn’t bother me so much here, perhaps because I could relate to the overall theme of feeling trapped and needing an escape.  (More on that later.)  As with previous Snyder films, the performances here are mostly in service of the visuals.  The actors don’t so much perform as much as they just pose against the stunning backdrops.  As such, Emily Browning, Vanessa Hudgens, and Jamie Chung don’t really get much of a chance to make an individual impression.  Playing sisters, Abbie Cornish and Jena Malone don’t have a lot to work with but they both are strong enough personalities that they manage to bring some life to their characters beyond simply serving as figures on a landscape.

(I should also mention — and Arleigh had the same reaction — that Cornish and Malone and their character’s relationship reminded me a lot of my relationship with my older sister, Erin — especially all the times that Rocket attempted to keep things fun and interesting just to be told, by Sweetpea, that she wasn’t being boring enough.  I definitely related to that.  Erin, for her part, says that she related to all the scenes where Sweatpea nearly got killed “because her bratty, little sister did something stupid that made absolutely no sense.”)

Abbie Cornish and Jena Malone (or Erin and Lisa) In Sucker Punch

I also have to mention Oscar Isaac and Carla Gugino, both of whom seem to understand just how far they can go with their characters without descending to the level of camp.  Gugino — after this film, Sin City , and Watchmen — has got to be the Queen of digital filmmaking.  She’s also the closest thing that American film has to an old school femme fatale right now.  As well, as I told Erin as we watched the film, I can only hope that my tits look that good when I’m 60 years old.  And speaking of looking good, Oscar Isaac certainly does look good here.  Even when he has dark circles under his eyes and sports a glowering scowl, I would still throw Isaac on the ground and lick his face.  Plus, he and Gugino contribute a great performance of Love Is The Drug which plays over the end credits.

Finally, Scott Glenn — looking a lot like the late David Carradine — plays the “Wise Old Man” who pops up as a father figure of sorts in Babydoll’s fantasies.  Glenn does okay with his role though I wish his character had been a bit more clear.  To be honest, simply from the point of view of empowerment, I kinda wish his character had been known as the “Wise Woman” and had been played by Cate Blanchett.

One huge issue that seems to be coming up a lot when people talk about Sucker Punch is the issue of “empowerment.”  Does this film, which indulges in a massive schoolgirl fetish even while portraying girls kicking ass, empower or degrade women?  Well, first off, I would suggest that the question itself is an inappropriate one because to argue that a film is either “empowering” or “degrading” and nothing else is basically the same as arguing that all women are going to have the exact same response to what they see regardless of their own life experiences or personal outlook.  Quite frankly, because of some of my own personal experiences, I find the infamous, much-maligned 1970s rape/revenge film I Spit On Your Grave to be very empowering and I’m not alone in that regard.  At the same time, I also know many very intelligent, very strong women who would consider that film to be anything other than empowering.  It’s simply a matter of perspective.

I think the same can be said about Sucker Punch.  To me, Sucker Punch was a very empowering film and, honestly, that’s the main reason that I loved it even with its flaws.  First off, I think that any film in which women are allowed to do something other than stand around and panic until they’re rescued by a man, is going to be empowering because, far too often, we are taught that waiting for the right man to arrive is the only option available to us.  As well, the main theme of Sucker Punch was the theme of escape, whether that escape was physical or mental.  While I won’t presume to speak for all women, I can say that for many of us, escape is the usually the root of all fantasy and, at least to some extent, the ultimate goal.  As I watched Sucker Punch on Friday night, it seemed to me that, for far too many of us, life is a series of prisons and asylums in which the walls are constructed out of the harsh judgments of patriarchal society.  We allow ourselves to become trapped by the need to be a mother or a wife or a nurturer or a seductress or a whatever it is that society says a good woman has to be on any given day.  The women in Sucker Punch are imprisoned because they’ve gone against the expectations of society and now, whether being lobotomized or sacrificing their bodies in the fantasy brothel, they are allowing their role and personality to be defined by men.  Therefore, when Babydoll and her crew fight for their freedom, we can relate to them because that’s what we have to do every day of our lives.

My Dream Is Yours

But, the argument goes, how this be considered to be empowering when all the female images in the film are so hyper-sexualized?  And it’s true that even when the film is supposed to be portraying reality, the camera does linger over the bodies of the actresses.  In the brothel sequences, the film often looks like an outtake for some anime-inspired Victoria’s Secret fashion show.  (Seriously, this film has a major lingerie fetish but you know what?  So do I.  Lingerie is fashion poetry and when I’m wearing something pretty, I feel like a poem.)  Finally, there’s the image of Babydoll fighting her enemies and dodging explosions while flashing her underwear to the viewer.  Many have argued that this is a degrading image, that it encourages male viewers to leer and to ogle.

Well, the fact of the matter is that this film was directed by a man and often times it is obvious that we’re watching the action through a male gaze.  But, so what?  Just as I believe that women should not be ashamed of their sexuality, I don’t see why men should be expected not to look.  (Looking is not the problem.  It’s the assumption that the right to look also gives one the right to judge.)  And ultimately, I would argue, that being sexy is empowering because society, with its fucked up view of human sexuality in general, is so quick to tell us that the ideal woman is unaware of her sexuality or, at the very least, she should either hide it behind a facade of demure humility or else flaunt it to such an extent as to suggest that it’s all actually a sign of some deeper neurosis.  What is rarely given as an option is the idea that we might want to show off a little just as a matter of pride.  Men are applauded for showing off their muscles yet we are still expected to blush if we show a little cleavage.  Being sexy is not degrading.  What’s degrading are the conditions that society has attempted to impose on the right to be sexy.  To me, it’s very empowering to see strong, independent women standing up for themselves and looking good while doing it.

Sexual Empowerment

And therefore, for me, Sucker Punch was a very empowering film.  It’s entirely possible that this empowerment could be the result of a happy accident and that Snyder had no idea he was actually making a film that celebrated third wave feminism.  In fact, I’m sure that’s probably the case.

Even with as much as I enjoyed Sucker Punch, I’m still not really sold on Zack Snyder as a director  When his films work, they almost work despite his directorial flourishes than because of them.  The slow-mo action thingee was kinda fun at first but now, everyone’s doing it and it’s hard to see why it was so exciting in the first place.  Add to that, whenever I hear his name mentioned, I think about the Zach was on both seasons of Paradise Hotel and who, at one point, did this priceless drunken monologue about how he was apparently descended from lawyers.  Seriously, he was such a tool.  Well, why take my word for it?  Here’s a clip of Zach that I found on YouTube…

But anyway, what about Zack Snyder?  As I’ve mentioned earlier, there’s a lot of people right now who are gleefully hating on Sucker Punch in general and Zack Snyder in specific.  What’s really odd is, to judge from twitter, a lot of these haters are people who previously loved Snyder’s more male-centric films.  Which just goes to show what I’ve always said — men suck.  Well, that and nothing breeds contempt quicker than success.  The fact of the matter is that it was time, in the eyes many, for Snyder to take a fall.  Personally, I think Zack Snyder could be a truly noteworthy director but his style — the slow-mo action and all that — is running the risk of becoming less a storytelling tool and more of a nervous tic.

In many ways, Sucker Punch is a happy accident, a film that works despite itself.  I think that’s probably why so many male filmgoers are having such a negative reaction to it — in order to surrender to a happy accident, one has to surrender the illusion of control and men aren’t exactly good at that.  (Of course, neither are most women but seriously, at least we’ll admit to being lost.  I mean, goddamn, guys — if you don’t know where you are, you’re lost.  Just deal with it.)  I expect to have a lot of people disagree with me concerning my opinion of this film and I expect those same people will probably use Sucker Punch as some sort of code word for a “bad” or “disappointing” film from now until whenever David Fincher releases his Girl with The Dragon Tattoo remake.  But I think, as time goes on, Sucker Punch will probably be one of the few Zack Snyder films to truly become a cult film.  300 will be forgotten but Sucker Punch will remain.

Film Review: Limitless (dir. by Neil Burger)

This review is a little late.  I saw Limitless last Friday and I was hoping to write up this review on Sunday.  Unfortunately, I ended up 1) not sleeping at all between Saturday night and Sunday morning and 2) having a massive, life-threatening asthma attack between Sunday night and Monday morning.  Anyway, this all led to the usual Emergency Room hijinks (I’m on a first name basis with a lot of the nurses now and it was nice to get all caught up with them once I finished nearly dying) and then I came home a few hours later, intent on writing up my review but then I was ordered to rest and anyway, it all boils down to this: the review is late.

In Limitless, Bradley Cooper plays Eddie.  Eddie is a writer who is suffering from a terrible case of writer’s block.  He’s divorced, he drinks too much, and his tiny apartment is seriously so filthy that I would never step foot in it, even if it was owned by Bradley Cooper.  In short, Eddie’s a loser.

However, one day, Eddie runs into Vernon (Johnny Whitworth).  Vernon is Eddie’s former brother-in-law but even more importantly, he’s a drug dealer.  After hearing about Eddie’s troubles, Vernon gives Eddie a pill which is designed to allow Eddie to use 100% of his brain as opposed to just 20% of it.  (Wisely, the film doesn’t spend too much time trying to explain how exactly the drug works but essentially, it’s the strongest ADD medication ever.)  Reluctantly, Eddie takes the pill and, half-a-minute later, he’s the smartest man on the planet.

(Actually, the film’s advertising is deceptive.  The pill doesn’t make Eddie smarter as much as it just allows him to focus his mind and remember all of the thousands of little lessons that we learn everyday and lose track of almost immediately.  Director Neil Burger does something very clever here, making use of flashbacks to illustrate the difference between Eddie’s mind on drugs and his mind while sober.  Most importantly, the film doesn’t make Eddie the smartest man on the planet, just the most focused.)

After one day on the drug, Eddie wakes up to discover that he’s a dullard again.  He goes to Vernon to try to get more of the drugs but, during the visit, Vernon is murdered by persons unknown.  Eddie manages to escape with Vernon’s stash and quickly finds himself both addicted and succesful.  He finishes his book in a matter of days.  He makes a fortune on the stock market.  Eventually, he is hired as a financial advisor by a ruthless business tycoon (Robert De Niro) and he transforms himself into the center of the universe.

At the same time, Eddie grows more and more dependent upon the drug and, with Vernon dead, he has no way to replenish his own dwindling supply.  As he tries to find someone else with a supply, he discovers that everyone else who has tried it has ended up dying as soon as their supply ran out.  He also discovers that someone knows about his supply and they’re determined to take it away from him.  As well, he soon starts to suffer from black outs as time and space apparently skips around him.  One morning, he discovers that a woman he vaguely realizes was murdered during one of his blackouts.  Is he the murderer?  Or is there a greater conspiracy at work?

As a film, Limitless is definitely uneven.  It meanders a bit in the middle, Robert De Niro is wasted in a role that seems more appropriated for an actor like Frank Langella, and there’s a lot of plot points that just seem to vanish after they’re introduced. 

However, flaws and all, Limitless is still an enjoyable little thriller that on a few very rare occasions manages to suggest something deeper going on beneath the surface.  The premise is intriguing and, though I could have done without some of Cooper’s heavy-handed, off-screen narration, the film is intelligently written and even has a few moments of genuine wit.  Director Neil Burger does a good job contrasting the drabness of Cooper’s life as a sober loser with the vibrancy of his existence as a victorious addict.  Burger also does a good job of visualizing those moments when Cooper’s mind starts to skip through time and space.  Speaking as someone who has had similar experiences while taking dexedrine (which I take for ADD, it’s all legal), these scenes ring surprisingly true.

Much like Inception, Limitless is fortunate to have an excellent cast.  Everyone in the film seems to be taking his or her role seriously and works to keep things compelling and relatable no matter how outlandish the plot might occasionally get.  Abbie Cornish (who starred in one of my favorite films of all time, Bright Star) doesn’t get to do much in the role of Cooper’s girlfriend but she does get one great scene where she has to take a pill in order to escape a pursuer.  (And after seeing that scene, I’ll never watch ice skating the same way again.)  Johnny Whitworth oozes a potent combination of sleaze and charisma while Anna Friel has a poignant cameo as Cooper’s ex-wife.  Playing a Russian mobster, Andrew Howard is both funny and scary (which is saying something since the sarcastic Russian mobster is such a familiar character archetype that I now roll my eyes whenever I hear a Russian accent in a film because I know exactly what’s coming up).

However, the film truly belongs to Bradley Cooper and he probably gives his best performance to date here.  I have to admit that I love Bradley Cooper.  I’ve loved ever since I saw the Hangover.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t love him because he was the guy making snarky comments in Vegas or encouraging his friends to be irresponsible.  Quite frankly, those scenes could have been acted by an actor with a cute smile.  No, I fell in love with Bradley Cooper at the end of the film when I saw his character at his friend’s wedding, holding his film son in his lap.  There was something surprisingly genuine about Cooper’s performance in those scenes that it forced me to reconsider everything that had happened in the film up to that point.  Those scenes offered a hint that Cooper is the type of talented movie star that Limitless proves him to be.

Sucker Punch (2nd Trailer)

Still recovering from the SF Giants winning the 2010 World Series so my review of the pilot episode of The Walking Dead is still in need of completion. To show that I haven’t been slacking off on my postings (Lisa Marie’s really been on a posting tear these past couple days. So proud of her.) I decided that what better stopgap until the review is up than to post the newly released 2nd trailer for Zack Snyder’s upcoming fantasy film, Sucker Punch, that seems to be a who’s who of the industry’s hottest young actresses. It has Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung and (one of Lisa Marie’s favorites) Jena Malone. To help chaperone this quintet of hotness are the mature stylings of Carla Gugino and Scott Glenn.

This latest trailer gives a bit more of the narrative to Sucker Punch, but even with that the visuals may be what brings in the audience. Snyder looks to be the king of the hyperstylized visuals in Hollywood today. Whether that translates into a well-made product is still being debated, but one can never accuse Snyder of not having the eye for the spectacular.

The trailer shows more action with dragons, anime-style mecha, samurai, Nazis and zombies. Interestingly enough the trailer skimps on the Moulin Rouge-type sequence the Comic-Con trailer showed. I’m sure those scenes will be in the final film, but Legendary Pictures look to be using the stylized action to sell the flick. I’m for it either way. If sex doesn’t sell then cool violence does in Hollywood.

I’m wondering how much Legendary Pictures ended up paying Led Zeppelin to use “When the Levee Breaks” to score this trailer. It has to be some major coinage which tells me that the studio has high-expectations about this film succeeding and raking in even more coinage.

SDCC Exclusive: Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch Cast Photos

Zack Snyder’s upcoming dark urban fantasy called Sucker Punch seems tailor-made for the Comic-Con crowd. It stars some of Hollywood’s loveliest young women like Emily Browning, Jena Malone, Abbie Cornish, Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung. It also stars fanboy favorite Carla Gugino who in past genre flicks wasn’t averse to baring it all for the sake of her art.

Sucker Punch has been described by Snyder himself as Alice in Wonderland but with machine guns, not to mention B-52 bombers, dragons, brothels. From some of the sneak-peeks into the production this particular Alice-themed flick also has zombie soldiers, a mecha-suit with a pink bunny painted on the armor not to mention some steampunk added into the mix.

Just in time for this year’s Comic-Con, Warner Brothers has released for this event some very great and stunning character posters. I am actually very curious as to which artist painted and created these character posters since they’re truly gorgeous. If I only had room in my room’s walls to frame and put them up.I also like the little details in the posters. I had to stifle a silly grin after I noticed the charms hanging off of Babydoll’s automatic pistol.

Take a gander at the posters below.

Emily Browning as Babydoll

Jena Malone as Rocket

Abbie Cornish as Sweet Pea

Vanessa Hudgens as Blondie

Jamie Chung as Amber

Carla Gugino as Madam Gorksi