Insomnia File #43: Legend (dir by Brian Helgeland)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If, last night, you were having trouble getting to sleep around two in the morning, you could have turned over to HBO and watched the 2015 British gangster film, Legend.

Tom Hardy is Reggie Kray.  Arrogant, handsome, charming, and dangerous to know, Reggie is a club owner who is also an up-and-coming gangster in 1960s London.  Scotland Yard has him under surveillance.  The East End both fears and respects him.  American gangsters want to do business with him.

Tom Hardy is also Ronny Kray!  Ronny is the ugly twin, the one who lives in a trailer and has just been released from a psychiatric institution.  Ronny is openly gay at a time when that was still illegal in the UK.  Driven by jealousy of Reggie and a desire to prove himself superior to everyone who has ever judged or looked down on him, Ronny is determined to make sure that he and his brother become the top gangsters in London.

Together …. they solve crimes!

No, actually, they do the exact opposite.  They commit a lot of crimes.  Ronny is willing to shoot anyone in the head.  Reggie tries to be a bit more respectable.  He even attempts to run a legitimate nightclub.  Reggie understand that sometimes, the threat of violence is more effective than violence itself.  Reggie and Ronny are about as close as siblings can be, even if they do spend a lot of time beating each other up.

Frances Shea (Emily Browning) is the sister of Reggie’s driver, Frankie (Colin Morgan).  She’s sixteen when she meets and falls in love with Reggie Kray.  Reggie loves her too and he even marries her.  (Of course, he has to do a stint in prison first.)  Reggie swears to Frances that he’s going to go straight and that they’re going to have a normal life.  Deep down, Frances know that will never happen so, while her husband and brother-in-law conquer London, she copes with pills.  Lots and lots of pills.

For an American viewer like myself, British gangster films are always fun to watch because they’re just as violent as American gangster films but, at the same time, everyone’s always dressed impeccably and stopping in the middle of all the mayhem to have a cup of tea.  Legend is based on a true story, which turns out to be both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.  On the one hand, it’s fascinating to see the film’s recreation of London in the early 60s.  On the other hand, the film never convinces us that we should really care about the Krays.  This isn’t a case where, like the Corleones, the Krays are tragic figures who can’t escape their destiny.  Tom Hardy does a great job playing Reggie and he’s an adequate Ronny but you can never quite escape the feeling that the two brothers are just — to use one of their own preferred insults — two wankers who aren’t really worth all the trouble.  This is a film that you watch and you ask yourself, “Why should we care?”  Beyond the novelty of the Krays being twins, the film really can’t provide an answer.

Still, I happen to be fascinated by the early 60s so I enjoyed the film as a historical recreation.  Legend isn’t a bad film.  It’s just somewhat underwhelming.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. Elektra
  42. Revenge

Horror Film Review: Ghost Ship (dir by Steve Beck)


Way back when we first started this year’s horrorthon, Arleigh shared a horror scene that he loved.  That scene was the opening few minutes of the 2002 horror-at-sea film, Ghost Ship.

That scene featured a few dozen wealthy cruise ship passengers all getting bisected by a thin wire cord.  While a young girl named Kate (Emily Browning) watches, everyone on the ship’s dance floor literally falls to pieces.  Torsos slip off of legs.  Bodies split in half.  The captain’s head literally splits in two.  While gallons of blood gush everywhere, people vainly try to reattach their limbs.  Actually, some of them can’t even figure out which limb belongs to them.  By the time everyone’s collapsed, there’s a lot of arms and legs to sort through.

In short, it’s an absolute mess.  I wouldn’t want to be the person assigned to clean up after all that.

It’s also a rather brilliant opening, one that only takes a minute to go from romance and sophistication to bloody dismemberment.  It’s definitely the one moment that everyone remembers about Ghost Ship, which is a bit of a problem because, once that scene is done, there’s still 85 minutes of film to sit through.  Ghost Ship‘s opening is so shocking and visceral that there’s no way that the rest of the film can live up to it.

As for the rest of the film, it deals with a boat salvage crew.  Gabriel Byrne is Murphy, the captain.  Julianne Margulies is Maureen Epps, whose name might as well be Ellen Ripley.  Ron Eldard is Dodge, who is in love with Epps.  And then there’s Karl Urban, Isiah Washington, and Alex Dimitriades, who are all playing characters who you know are going to be doomed as soon as you see them.  When they’re told by a pilot named Jack Ferriman (Desmond Harrington) that he’s spotted a ghost ship in international waters, they set out to claim it for themselves.

Of course, what Jack has spotted is the same cruise ship where, forty years before, everyone was chopped in half.  After Murphy, Epps, and the crew board the ship, they discover a large amount of gold.  They also end up seeing a lot of ghosts, including the young girl from the start of the movie.  To their credit, the crew decides to leave the ship as quickly as they can.  Unfortunately, after their tugboat explodes, escape appears to be impossible and it becomes obvious that they have been lured to the cruise ship for a very specific purpose.

The film encourages us to wonder what the ship wants from the salvage crew but the answer to that question is never really in doubt.  For that matter, it’s not really a shock when it turns out that one member of the boarding party isn’t what he claims to be.  Despite being a bit predictable, Ghost Ship isn’t a bad film.  It has a reputation for being disappointing but actually it’s an atmospheric and competently directed horror film.  Though the characters are all thinly drawn, the talented cast does their best to try to bring them to life.  If the film ultimately doesn’t seem to work as well as it should, it’s largely because nothing that follows can match the power of that opening.  You watching the film waiting for a scene that’ll match that opening scene and when it never comes, it’s hard not to be disappointed.

 

 

Horror Scenes I Love: Ghost Ship


Ghost Shp

Ghost Ship came out in 2002 and it was part of that very brief wave of Dark Castle Entertainment which began in 1999 with their remake of House On Haunted Hill and then petered out with 2005’s Gothika.

While not one of the better horror films to come out during the first decade of the new millennium, Ghost Ship was still entertaining enough to become a sort of guilty pleasure for horror aficionados.

Part of why some horror fans seem to enjoy this film, mediocre as it is through much of it’s running time, is the opening scene which takes on a grand guignol meets the Road Runner brilliance in its execution.

Just take a gander for yourself and try not to either vomit in disgust or smile gleefully at such a ludicrous gory sequence.

Two Late Reviews: The Legend of Hercules (dir by Renny Harlin) and Pompeii (dir by Paul W.S. Anderson)


As I mentioned in a previous review, I’ve only got a few months left before I’m going to have to make out my list of the 16 worst and the 26 best films of 2014.  With that in mind, I really need to get caught up on reviewing some of the films that might appear on those two lists.  For the most part, I try to review every single movie that I see but, occasionally, a movie or two will slip through the cracks.  And now, with Oscar season approaching but not quite arrived, seems like as good as time as any as to try to get caught up by reviewing two films that came out earlier this year: Renny Harlin’s The Legend of Hercules and Paul W. S. Anderson’s Pompeii.

Hercules_(2014_film)_poster

The Legend of Hercules is a film that I first saw with my BFF Evelyn way back in January.  And while I meant to review it after I first saw it, I simply never got around to actually doing so.  Some of that is because, when Kellan Lutz first showed up on screen, Evelyn said, “Nice tits,” and I ended up laughing so hard that I nearly fell out of my seat.  This led to Evelyn spending the entire film trying to make me laugh again and, in between all of the whispering and the giggling, we undoubtedly missed out on a lot of the film.

However, I recently rewatched The Legend of Hercules on Cinemax and I was quickly reminded about the other reason that I hadn’t gotten around to reviewing it.  There’s really just not that much to say about The Legend of Hercules.  It’s just not a very good film but yet it’s not bad in a fun way either.  It’s just boring.  As played by Kellan Lutz, Hercules wanders through the ancient world and he does all the stuff that you would expect Hercules to do.  Actually, he does all the stuff that you would expect any character in a rip-off of 300 to do.  The film could have just as easily been called The Legend of Eammon, an Irishman in Greece.  

In fact, I’d really like to see a movie called The Legend of Eammon, an Irishman in Greece.  Get on it, someone.

According to Wikipedia, The Legend of Hercules had a budget of 70 million dollars, which makes it a bit odd that the film itself just looks cheap and generic.  At one point, Hercules fights a lion and the CGI is so bad that, for a few minutes, the movie looks like one of those senior projects that students occasionally upload to YouTube.  (I was half-expecting to see a comment apologizing for the “crappy special effects” flash across the screen.)  During the film’s many fight scenes, director Renny Harlin does that thing where every punch is shown in slow motion.  It gets annoying after the hundredth time.

A few words about Kellan Lutz.  I happen to like Kellan Lutz.  I think he’s been likable in other roles.  But, in The Legend of Hercules, he really did spend the entire movie looking like he was wishing that he could be anywhere else.  But can you blame him?

Pompeii-posterFor a far more enjoyable trip into the past, allow me to recommend a film that came out a few months after The Legend of Hercules, Pompeii. 

Now, before I review Pompeii, I should admit that, as you all know, I am a history nerd and, as you all might not know, I’ve always been fascinated by the Roman Empire.  The summer after I graduated high school, I took a trip to Italy and I actually walked through the streets of Pompeii.  My two main memories of Pompeii: while we were touring an ancient brothel, an Australian man lay down on one of the slabs.  My other memory is that it was a very windy day and I was wearing a skirt so I can legitimately say that not only have I visited Pompeii but I’ve flashed Pompeii as well.

Anyway, Pompeii the Movie tells the story of the final days of Pompeii the City.  A Celtic slave and gladiator named Milo (Kit Harrington) is sent to Pompeii where he, in quick order, meets and romances the noble Cassia (Emily Browning), establishes a friendly rivalry with fellow gladiator Atticus (the always intimidating Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), spots the evil Roman General (Kiefer Sutherland) who killed Milo’s mother, and then eventually has to run for his life as a cloud of ash and a river of lava crashes down on Pompeii.

Pompeii is a lot of fun.  Harrington and Browning have a lot of chemistry, all of the actors are obviously having a good time with their melodramatic dialogue, and Kiefer Sutherland was born to play an evil Roman.  As opposed to the Legend of Hercules, Pompeii looks good and the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius is genuinely impressive.  Perhaps best of all, the film actually allows things to play out to their natural and logical conclusion.  For once, history is not changed just to force a happy ending on the viewers and Pompeii is all the better for it!

So, in conclusion: forget about The Legend of Hercules and give Pompeii a chance.  Actually, you’ve probably already forgotten about The Legend of Hercules so just try not to suddenly remember it.  But seriously, Pompeii is better than you might think.

AMV of the Day: Imagica


The latest AMV of the Day comes courtesy of AMV creator “Chiikaboom” whose works I’ve chosen many times for this feature. This one was just completed and released by Chiikaboom less than a month ago and, like her other AMV’s, this one truly impresses.

This latest AMV from Chiikaboom is simply called “Imagica”. She’s taken on the theme of the mahou shoujo (magical girl) genre which continues to be one of the more popular ones in anime and manga both in Japan and overseas. Casual viewers and readers of the “magical girl” genre tend to view them as just cute and peppy, but for those who have actually watched these series from start to finish know that they’re more than colorful, happy characters.

Chiikaboom latches onto the darker aspects of the mahou shoujo genre and runs with it headlong towards one of the songs which made the Sucker Punch soundtrack one of the best of 2011. The song she picks to shine a light on the darker side of the magical girls is the Emily Browning cover of the Eurythmics classic song, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”. The haunting rendition of this song by Emily Browning matches up well with the darker scenes of these magical girls. Scenes which goes beyond young girls and teens with powers, but how such powers weigh heavily on them.

“Imagica” is one of the better AMV’s to arrive on the scene in the last couple months. Once again it’s the one person who seems to have the flair for the dramatic and just the right touches which makes these AMV from Chiikaboom the best.

Anime: Sailor Moon, Houkago No Pleaides, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Movie (1st), Cardcaptor Sakura, Pretear, Mermaid Melody Pitchi Pitchi Pitch, Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne, Uta Kata, Princess Tutu, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Magic Knight Rayearth

Song: “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” by Emily Browning

Creator: Chiikaboom

Trailer: Sleeping Beauty (dir. by Julie Leigh)


This coming October we get a small indie film from Australia which has caught my attention since I saw it had been one of the entries to the main competition at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The film is Sleeping Beauty and it’s the directorial debut by Australian writer-director Julia Leigh and starring one of the industries rising young stars in Emily Browning.

Sleeping Beauty is described as an erotic drama which follows Browning’s university student who becomes involved in the hidden world of beauty and desire and those young women hired and trained to play a role in them. From what I could tell from the trailer and reading about reactions by audiences to the film at Cannes this film looks to have a similar tone and theme to British illustrator and erotic writer Erich von Götha (pseudonym used by Robin Ray).

With Cronenberg also exploring the more hidden corners of sexuality through psychoanalysis with his film A Dangerous Method it looks like the Awards season will have another sexually-charged film joining it around the discussion table with Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty. The film is set for an release in the US sometime this October 2011.

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.

Song of the Day: Sweet Dream (Are Made of These) (by. Emily Browning)


After having just seen Zack Snyder’s latest visual extravaganza with Sucker Punch my next pick for “song of the day” comes courtesy of that film’s eclectic soundtrack. The one song which stood out the most and set the tone of the film for me has to be the one which starts the film: “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)” covered by the film’s lead, Emily Browning.

“Sweet Dreams” was an instant classic when Eurthymics first unleashed it upon the music world and it continues to do so even after countless bands and artists covering the song. One cover which seems to get the most press has been Marilyn Manson’s version which helped propel the shock rocker into prominence (and helped launch an uncounted number of “goths” to the world). In Sucker Punch the song once again gets covered but this time by Emily Browning. This English actress’ haunting and ethereal rendition of the song with a symphonic rock tempo and melody to match her voice has made this cover of the song my favorite.

This cover opens up the film and almost gives the opening scene a silent film quality as the song plays over a dialogue-free sequence. It also gives the whole proceeding a dream-like quality that helped set the tone of the film. The song pretty much said that what one was about to see may or may not be real. The rest of the film’s soundtrack just got better as the film went forward, but it was the strong beginning with this song that turned a very good soundtrack into a great one.

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.