The Films of 2020: Dangerous Lies (dir by Michael Scott)


As soon as Elliott Gould showed up, I knew he was going to die.

Now, of course, I should clarify that I didn’t think that Elliott Gould the actor was going to die.  Instead, I thought that the character he was playing — Leonard Wellesley — was going to die.  Leonard, after all, is a wealthy man who has no family left and who is in bad health.  He keeps trying to give money to his caregiver, Katie (Camila Mendes).  Katie consistently refuses the money, even though she could really use it.  She and her husband, Adam (Jessie T. Usher), are drowning in debt.  Even after Leonard hires Adam to work as his gardener, they’re still struggling to make ends meet. Still, Katie doesn’t want to take Leonard’s money because Katie doesn’t want to take advantage of him.

For the plot to move forwards, it’s necessary for Leonard to die, though not before changing his will to leave everything to Katie.  Normally, when this happens in a movie, it turns out that the caregiver actually manipulated her employer into changing the will before murdering him but, in this case, Katie is totally innocent.  It’s actually kind of a nice twist.  As played by Camila Medes, Katie is someone who sincerely is trying to do the right thing, even if it means her life is occasionally difficult.  As played by Elliott Gould, Leonard may be a bit eccentric but he’s still just sincerely trying to thank the person who made his final days bearable.

(Admittedly, another reason why I knew Leonard was going to die was because, whenever a veteran actor like Elliott Gould shows up in a movie like this, he’s usually going to end up playing someone who dies under mysterious circumstances.  Call it the Rule of Eric Roberts.)

Moving into Leonard’s house, Katie and Adam are surprised to discover a large trunk of cash.  While Katie wonders why exactly Leonard would have a huge trunk of money hidden away in his house, Adam is more concerned with what they can do with that money.  While Katie tries to resist the urge to get greedy, Adam starts obsessing on the money.  What else does Leonard have hidden around the house?

Meanwhile, a mysterious man named Hayden (Cam Gigandet) watches the house and plots his next move….

Dangerous Lies is a thriller that was released on Netflix back in April.  This is probably one of those low-budget movies that would have been overlooked if not for the fact that everyone was pretty much locked inside their house when it was released.  Watching Dangerous Lies provided a nice escape from the bad news of the pandemic.  Speaking for myself, it was kind of fun to watch Katie and Adam explore their new home.  After being stuck inside of mine for a month, the idea that I could suddenly inherit a mansion provided a nice bit of wish-fulfillment.

As for the film itself, it was a diverting thriller.  Elliott Gould brought some unexpected depth to the role of Leonard and Camila Mendes and Jessie T. Usher were believable as the couple at the center of the story.  They had a believable chemistry and Usher did a good job of portraying Adam’s losing struggle with his own greed.  This is the type of simple but entertaining film that you watch if you have a few hours to kill in the afternoon and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Sorority Row, Review By Case Wright


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Horror can make a political statement, it can make you reflect on your status in society, or it can just entertain.  The first two types are good, but it’s also nice to just have fun! “Sorority Row” written by Josh Stolberg & Peter Goldfinger and directed by Stewart Hendler is a 1990s throwback.  It had a real “I Know What You Did Last Summer” feel to it.  Honestly, the reviews are not fair to this film.  A lot of people want horror to be all things, but it’s supposed to be fun too.  So, just relax and have a good time.  Also, it doubled its money, which is what a movie is supposed to do- especially horror. It’s one of the few genres left that can produced by mere mortals.

What I liked mostly about the film was the writing.  It had a lot of great humor without it being campy. I’ve gotten to know Josh Stolberg on twitter the script has quite a bit of his personality: clever and quick-witted.  I especially enjoyed Jessica (Leah Pipes).  As a man who went a Greek dominated college, she was very realistic.  Her character and one-liners gave the story a mix of comic relief and reality.  I practiced Criminal Law for waaaaay too long and I can tell you that even honest people can turn to something wicked if they feel threatened.  People will invariably choose themselves over a possible life ending punishment.

The plot is similar to the original House on Sorority Row: a prank run a muck.  The girls belong to Theta Pi and they to love to party, prank, and get murdered.  Garrett a brother of the Sister “Chuggs” cheated on Megan another Theta Pi, which is not okay! So, the sisters have her fake an overdose so that Garrett believes he killed Megan.  The sisters: Jessica, Ellie, Cassidy, Claire, Megan, and Chugs are all in on the prank are a little too convincing because they make Garrett believe that they need to hide Megan’s body in a mine shaft or their lives will be ruined.  The sisters say they have to get rid of the air in Megan’s lungs or she’ll float back up. So, Garrett takes the initiative as a true go-getter and uses a tire iron to stab Megan to death.  Jessica decides very quickly that they need to hide Megan’s body for real.  When Cassidy refuses to participate, they wrap the corpse in Cassidy’s coat and throw it down the mine shaft.  Jessica really thinks fast on her feet.

I don’t know about you, but I think Jessica would be good marriage material. Hear me out: she’s determined, quick-thinking, has a college degree, and is ruthless to protect her goals.  Also, Cassidy tried to be all above it, but as Jessica said- “you could’ve called the police, but you didn’t!”  Agreed.  You don’t get to benefit from something wicked and then look down on everyone else.  Jessica made her choice and stuck to it.  She made a good point as to protecting everyone’s future and ran with it.  Cassidy kept Hamletting over her bad choices.  Do it or Don’t.  Jessica, don’t listen to the haters.

All seems fine a year later.  They’ve all moved on except for Garrett who has become a wreck over his humiliation and accidental murdering.   Then, they all receive a threatening group text on their very old timey looking phones- 2009 was just ten years ago and these phones look like museum pieces.  Sorority-Row-Megan-s-HERO-Cell-Phone-1.jpg

This technology allowed for some extra suspense because reception and tech wasn’t that great then; therefore, the characters can be cutoff from help.  I really think horror shouldn’t be set any time after 2009 because it’s just too easy to get help now.  This lack of tech added a nice layer of suspense.  The text sender stalks and murders them one by one.

The kills were pretty clever: an electrocution, death by chardonnay, tire iron throwing, and a good ol’ fashioned stabbing or three.  It also had a fun twist at the end like the 1990s horror films of my youth.   I recommend this film.  Read my past reviews- I don’t just recommend anything.  I’m an iconoclast and can tell you that this was a lot of fun. Happy Horrorthon!

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Trailer: Big Hero 6 (2nd Official)


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Big Hero 6 is the next offering from the Walt Disney Animation Studios. While Pixar has the reputation of being the top animation house within Disney, the last couple years have seen the Walt Disney Animation house taking most of the glory. First, there was the surprise hit Tangled which was soon followed up by Wreck-It-Ralph which was both a success with critics and audiences alike. Then last year we saw the unstoppable juggernaut that was Frozen.

Frozen was originally thought to be a weak offering due to a weird marketing campaign, but it soon changed both critics and audiences minds when it came out in November 2013. From there on it just stayed in the weekly top 10 box-office for months.

Now we have Big Hero 6 which brings one of the more obscure Marvel Comics properties to the big-screen. This film looks to take the characters from the original comics, but the story itself looks to be something wholly original. So, fans who have been waiting for either Pixar or Disney to create an animated film using more recognizable heroes from Marvel’s massive library will have to wait just a bit longer.

Big Hero 6 will make it’s premiere at the Tokyo International Film Festival on October 23, 2014 with a wide release on November 7, 2014.

Trailer: Big Hero 6 (Official)


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Walt Disney Animation has always lagged behind it’s more lauded older sibling Pixar Animation. Yet, in the last couple years it’s more than held it’s own with it’s two most recent releases with Wreck-It-Ralph and Frozen. Will third time be the charm as the studio is set to release the first CG-animated feature that was greenlit after Walt Disney bought Marvel Comics over 6 years ago.

Big Hero 6 is loosely-based on the same comic book title from Marvel Comics. It tells the story of one Hiro Hamada and his sidekick balloon man….robot who must team up with an eclectic group of other would-be heroes to save the fictional city of San Fransokyo from a mysterious villain.

Big Hero 6 is set for a November 7, 2014 release date.

Trailer: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Official Teaser)


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Hard to imagine it’s been 9 years since the original Sin City hit the big screen. It was a comic book adaptation that many thought wouldn’t work, especially how Rodriguez envisioned it to be slavishly loyal to not just Miller’s dialogue but also his unique art style.

The original film’s success quickly ramped up rumors that a sequel was already being planned using the second graphic novel in the Sin City series. Rodriguez himself stated he wanted Angelina Jolie for the role of Ava Lord, the titular “Dame to Kill For”, but after years and years of delay the role finally landed on Eva Green‘s lap (not a bad choice and one I fully support).

So, we’re now going back to Basin City for more tales of booze, broads and bullets in this hyper-noir film that should be loved or hated in equal measures by those who have followed Frank Miller’s career. Once again the directing duties have been split between Rodriguez and Miller. Here’s to hoping that Miller has learned how to be a much better directer after his last film, The Spirit, tanked.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is set for an August 22, 2014 release date.

Quick Review: Premium Rush (Dir. by David Koepp)


I have a love / hate relationship with David Koepp.

Loved The Shadow, Stir of Echoes, Angels & Demons, Panic Room, Jurassic Park and The Lost World (even to see him get eaten by a T-Rex while running down a busy street). I hated War of the Worlds (I’m sorry, but there’s no way Justin Chatwin’s character could have made it through that film), Mission: Impossible and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Sometimes he hits the mark, and other times he misses.

Premium Rush falls somewhere in between. I really don’t have a whole lot to say about it. It’s mostly very good, particularly the bike riding scenes, but overall, the story could have been a little stronger and Michael Shannon (to me, anyway) felt really out of place here. It’s one of those movies where you pluck your brain out of your head and place it in the seat next to you. As long as you don’t give the movie too much thought and just enjoy the ride that’s presented to you, you’ll do just fine. At only 90 minutes, it moves very quickly and you’ll find yourself at the end before you really know it. I’ve seen this type of film before with Thomas Michael Donnelly’s Quicksilver, starring Kevin Bacon and 1993’s Airborne, directed by Castle Producer and former X-Files alum, Rob Bowman.

Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the best bike messenger around. He’s so good that he rides a ‘fixee’, a bike with no brakes, no sets of gears other than the basics and where the pedals always move (no cruising). Weaving in and out of traffic, he makes his way through each delivery with lots of style. There are these decision points that happily reminded me of both my bike riding times and motorcycle ones where Wilee has to find the next available angle to ride through. Scenes like that help to keep the action moving, when it happens. Premium Rush also showcases some great areas of Manhattan as they travel around. It’s a great looking film in that sense, with low cuts of bike wheels and jumps, but again, you’re either riding through the city and hoping they don’t hit, or you’re off the bike waiting to find out if they’ll jump onto another one again.

Basically, the story is that Wilee is given a special package that he needs to deliver, and a corrupt cop is on his tail, played over the top by Michael Shannon. That’s all there is to it. Get the package where it needs to go. Levitt does well in the film, as does Dania Ramirez and Aasif Mandvi. If there’s anyone in the movie who didn’t quite gel with me, it would be Michael Shannon. Shannon’s a good actor, and he’s not bad here, just really animated. It felt like a role that would have been better suited for Willem Dafoe or someone strange like that. I never felt any kind of fear or even worry when Shannon was around. He came off more like a bumbling crook in a film like Baby’s Day Out”, than someone who really needed what Wilee was carrying.

Koepp is getting better at directing, but some of the writing is a little off. The film suffers from the same problem that Green Lantern had with it’s climax or Tron: Legacy did with some of it’s parts. You have a few scenes where it could have been stronger had things moved in one direction, but then veers off. The impact just isn’t as great. I won’t go into detail on what they are, but for me, I saw a few things that could have been changed (or at least one in particular).

Overall, Premium Rush is a fun film that may get you wanting to ride after seeing it, but just don’t ask a lot of it. Just get your popcorn, sit back and enjoy where it all goes.

Trailer: The Man with the Iron Fists (Official)


One thing that seemed destined the moment RZA (with his hip-hop group the Wu-Tang Clan) arrived on the scene in the early 1990’s was him finally making a martial arts film. Not just a martial arts film, but a wuxia kung fu film that he and the other in the Wu-Tang Clan had watched as kids and cotinued to obsess over as adults. RZA’s own brand of hip=hop was infused with many sound bites and track beats from the classic kung fu flicks of the 70’s and 80’s. Even the group’s name was taken from one of those very kung fu classics, Shaolin and the Wu-Tang.

Now RZA has teamed up with genre filmmaker Eli Roth to make his dream to a reality with the upcoming martial arts film The Man with the Iron Fists which RZA has directed from a story written by both him and Roth. It also stars RZA (making him a triple-threat in this production) with Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Rick Yune, Jamie Chung, Daniel Bautista and MMA fighter Cung Le. The fight choreography was handled by renowned martial arts fight choreographer Corey Yeun.

The first official trailer has now been released and it’s in awesome Red Band which shows just a hint of how ultra-violent the film will end up being. All I can say is that near the end of the trailer we get eyeballs!

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.

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.