Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sucker Punch

One has to wonder if Warner Brothers watched the box office receipts roll in from this past weekend and think, "oh, crap...we gave Superman to this guy?" Sucker Punch lost out to the second Diary of a Wimpy Kid film.

"This guy" is directer Zack Snyder and his film track record is a little sketchy...at least in the monetary sense. After helping revitalize the zombie genre with 2004's Dawn of the Dead, Snyder scored his biggest hit to date with 300, a stylish and bloody actioner. It's blue-screen heavy effects gave it the appropriate comic book adaptation feel. The daunting task of adapting legendary graphic novel Watchmen to the big screen divided critics and fans and did nothing to draw word of mouth viewers past the first weekend. I enjoyed it, flaws and all, but it was definitely not meant for mass-audience acceptance.

Sucker Punch drew me in on Snyder's repuatation and the dynamic visuals of the myriad trailers bombarding us for months. As a friend put it after seeing a commercial for the first time, "Is this one of those movies that nerds are going to jerk off to?"

Crude though it might be, her statement isn't far from the target audience Sucker Punch would seem to be aiming for...which is both its blessing and curse. It was naturally doomed to face critical derision and attacks on what might seem to be sexual pandering. It is little more than two hours of fanboy cliche and comic/manga sensibility...scantily clad cuties in sci-fi/fantasy action scenarios. When your lead character is platinum blonde with pigtails in a school girl outfit complete with sword, pistol, knee-highs and heels...well, Oscar screeners probably aren't in the cards.

Here's the thing, though...perhaps I am the target audience, because I rather enjoyed Sucker Punch on its shaky merits. I don't think a single trailer, poster or flashing internet ad ever implied it was anything more than pure eye candy. If you walk in with that mindset and patiently wait through the relatively short efforts at story between the action pieces, you might enjoy it, too.

What story there is wraps around doe-eyed Babydoll (Emily Browning), abused and labeled loco by big bad men and shipped off to an asylum where she meets similarly damaged women. Babydoll apparently copes with her imprisonment by sending her mind into flights of dynamic fancy (I'm not going to pretend I always understood where the blur of fantasy and reality truly occurred). These illusions (delusions?) are part of an escape plan and each scenario is key to finding something to facilitate it.

What the movie is truly about are the four vibrant, violent and endlessly kinetic action-fx sequences. Any of them could have been lifted from four different movies and possibly fared better as such. The first sequence, in which Babydoll faces off against giant samurai-esque warriors, is easily the most exciting and memorable.

Probably what ultimately sold me in the thumbs up column was the music. Clever covers of songs like "White Rabbit" and "Where Is My Mind?" along with Bjork's "Army of Me" pump extra life into the visuals.

Sucker Punch is far from perfect and while this nerd won't be pleasuring himself to it, he wasn't offended by its blatant attempt to appeal to the gamer/fanboy/overgrown teenager in me.

Warner Bros. probably isn't too worried about Supes, either. Some guy named Christopher Nolan is producing and he knows thing or two about comic book flicks.

Rating: C+

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Can't Quit Movies

I'm an avid movie watcher, but I've found over the years that there are certain movies I come back to over and over again. Now, these films are also on my all-time favorites list, of course (which I need to redo soon), but there's something about them that makes me stop channel-surfing and watch. I'll watch even though I despise commercials and probably own these films on DVD or blu-ray.

USA has been running all of the Indiana Jones movies today which is what spurred this discussion. So naturally, the first movie on the list is one of them.

  • Raiders of the Lost Ark - Indy is really something of an anti-hero. He has no problem with killing (sure, it's Nazis, but still) and he's kind of a dick to women (who falls asleep when Karen Allen is kissing all over you?). This is possibly the best action film ever.
  • Aliens - I want this James Cameron back...the one who simply wants to make incredible genre flicks, not the guy trying to change the movie universe every decade (although, admittedly, he's doing it).
  • The Dark Knight - The newest entry has only been on TV a couple times so far, but I can already tell I'll be watching this one for many years to come. The fact that this didn't get a Best Picture nomination is a crime.
  • The Lord of the Rings - If I catch a marathon of this trilogy, my day is pretty much shot. The Extended Editions need to hurry up and get to blu-ray.
  • The Empire Strikes Back - Duh...
  • Contact - I think this movie is criminally underrated. Powerful exploration of the possibility of life in the universe.
  • Signs - Speaking of underrated, Shymalan's last truly great movie may have some plot holes but I love the idea of an alien invasion film that shows how average people would experience it and react.
  • Spider-Man 2 - Cuz I still get misty-eyed when the train passengers save Spidey.
  • Casino Royale - The movie that made James Bond truly exciting again.

What are your can't ignore movies?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

2010 Best Picture Nominees

For the fourth year in a row, I attended AMC's Best Picture Showcase...now a two day (consecutive Saturdays) event to accomodate the expansion to ten nominees. I have to say this year's slate might have been the best I've seen in some time. Not a bad movie among them, but some more deserving than others.

127 Hours - B
James Franco may have seemed stoned throughout the Awards broadcast, but he was pretty riveting as the centerpiece of this docu-drama about Aron Rolston. Splashes of Danny Boyle's last nominee, Slumdog Millionaire, are evident...but Franco sells it by staying engaging and witty. The gruesome amputation scene isn't as horrific as reported (the sounds are the most disturbing part) and the story is rather uplifting.

Black Swan - A-
Oh, Darren Aronofsky, you wonderfully insane bastard. You were brilliant with Requiem for a Dream but The Fountain was terrible (I haven't seen The Wrestler). Black Swan is somewhere in between, but much closer to Requiem in form. Natalie Portman's Oscar was well-deserved as the success of the film rests solely on her shoulders. It's disturbing, sexy, mind-boggling and stirring all at once. Am I the only one that can't wait to see what this guy can do with The Wolverine?

The Fighter - A
Probably the most unexpected pleasure for me was The Fighter. Sharply directed, well-written and cast...this wasn't just a boxing movie, though the boxing scenes were amazingly filmed, realistic and a natural extension of the story. Mark Wahlberg was solid, if not a stretch...but Christian Bale...wow...he earned his trophy by playing completely outside of the box as drug-addled former champ Dicky Eklund.

Inception - A+
I skipped this film this weekend after seeing it in the theatre last summer and already owning it on Blu-ray but it's still my favorite of the nominees. Christopher Nolan was wrongly snubbed (for the second time if you count The Dark Knight) for a Best Director nomination after bringing us his best non-Bat film since Memento. The screenplay is wonderfully twisty, the visual tricks dazzle and any film that leaves so many people asking questions or pissed off because there wasn't an answer is good in my book.

The Kids Are All Right - B-
Probably the weakest of the Best Picture nominees, Kids has good performances and dialogue, but ultimately didn't seem to lead anywhere as a story. The ending was a bit too tidy for my tastes and rather than celebrate the gay relationship at its core, it mostly ignores it. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore were great, as usual.

The King's Speech - A
I'm not sure if it truly was the "Best" Picture, but I'm not surprised at the win and I enjoyed this film more than I expected. It's incredibly witty and Colin Firth's winning performance could be the pinnacle of his underappreciated career or the beginning of a long line of such roles. Geoffrey Rush would have been a winner in any other year were it not for Bale.

The Social Network - A
I expected to love the dialogue and characters of this movie. I wasn't planning on the direction being so sharp and tense. David Fincher was also robbed for making a movie about nerds building the future of the internet seem exciting and sexy. Props to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for the unconventional soundtrack.

Toy Story 3 - A
The best of the Toy Story movies and also the most guaranteed to tear at your heart.

True Grit - B+
I'm a huge fan of the original John Wayne film and the remake really isn't all that different. The dialogue was near identical and the plot only had minor tweaks. Of course, the Coen's filmed it with loving style and occasional quirk. Jeff Bridges is a gruffer Rooster Cogburn than John Wayne and Hailee Steinfeld could have a long career ahead of her...or end up like Kim Darby.

Winter's Bone - B
The "unknown" entry in the Best Picture race, Bone is a slow-burn, bleak movie about rural Ozark meth-makers and addicts. It's the kind of movie that makes you feel perpetually tense, waiting for something incredibly bad to happen at any second. Nominees Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes were recognized for a reason.

So...with all that finally said, I guess I can finally give my better late than never:

Top 10 Movies of 2010

10. Iron Man 2
9. True Grit
8. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
7. Black Swan
6. The Fighter
5. The King's Speech
4. The Social Network
3. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
2. Toy Story 3
1. Inception