Sunday, March 27, 2011


Friday Night Movie Review--Sucker Punch

Saw Sucker Punch with Andrew in the hardly anyone there big screen theater at the Continental (for which privilege they charge an extra $5) on Friday. I kinda liked it, or most of it, but the divide between fantasy and reality was too wide to bridge and the thing didn't hold together. In the end you think, well, that was a whole lot over nothing. I know this is heresy coming from a guy who thinks movies are primarily sound and light shows which should not necessarily depend on a narrative, much less be almost without exception the popularization of books and stories young people either can't or won't read. Nonetheless, no matter how impressive the sound and light show is--and there are superb action scenes here-- it means nothing if it means nothing, or, as here, too little for anyone much to care.

Director Zach Snyder, known for the new Dawn of the Dead, 300, and Watchmen (we'll forgive the disappointing and huge flop the owl cartoon) certainly has attained a distinctive style, like a visual comic book, sorry, graphic novel. There's something of chiaroscuro in his later films, a gradation of gray which fits his Manichean outlook but which has to be overcome to watch the film with anything approaching a willing suspension of disbelief. There certainly was more color in Dawn of the Dead and Watchmen than in 300 and, really, here, but even the brightest is muted for everything, which, I think, was a mistake. Think of the power in 1939 when Dorothy stepped out of her black and white Kansas room to technicolor Oz. He could have had the fantasy scenes here in vivid color to counterpoint the drab of the institution. Perhaps that would be too easy, not subtle enough; but subtlety is not this guy's strong point. I was going to praise him for the economy of his exposition, the story before the title appears was pretty masterful but I missed a detail until more exposition very late in the film. I was watching closely too.

The young women are pretty good--even Vanessa Hudgens can play a simple and sympathetic role. The lead is Aussie 22 year old Emily Browning, who was the survivor little girl in the dynamite opening of Ghost Ship and later one of the children in the first (and last) of the Lemony Snicket franchise. She is quite good here in what would be ordinary Japanese cartoon costume for young women (thigh highs, open midriff version of school girl uniform, very short skirt) and after the first of the four fantasies, a medieval Japan fight, I was willing to accept her as bad ass. Why not? It made no less sense for her to be deadly as it did for her to be a faux schoolgirl. Even better was Jena Malone, who is 4 years older than Ms. Browning, and was so good in The Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys, The Ballad of Jack and Rose, and, to a lesser degree, as the mindless problem child in the superb, recent Pride and Prejudice. Her brief role in Into the Wild was stunningly good. The second in command however is 26 year old Aussie Abbie Cornish, who has yet to hit her mark in a good role in a good movie, but is quite good here. Of the grownups, Carla Guigino, late of the rapidly disintegrating Californication, and Oscar Isaac propel the 'real' side of the tale as the doctor and orderly of the institution where the boring parts take place.

OK, what's good about this thing? The fight scenes are great. The solo endeavor of Ms. Browning against three giant armored samurai is extraordinary. The next ramp up has all five girls fighting zombie like Germans in a recognizable WWI setting. Then they fight in Middle Earth and against a dragon. The team's only Asian, Jamie Chung, is stuck driving the transportation, progressing from fighting 'droid to a B-25 to a Huey. In all the fantasy fights, during which the team steals the items to make their escape from the 'real' institution, Ms. Browning is supposedly dancing provocatively, so the thefts can be accomplished, which makes the fantasy fights completely superfluous to the plot, such as it is.

If you like action flicks with improbable heroines dressed Anime, this is you film. If you want just a hint of real with your action, this might not be for you.


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