If Zack Snyder has shown us anything with his movies, it’s that the guy has an agenda when it comes to directing that is as follows:
- Make everything look really cool
- Other stuff
This is not an attack against Snyder, it’s simply the truth. Sucker Punch is Snyder’s first movie that isn’t a remake or based on another property, so it seemed like this would be the time for him to really display what he’s all about as an artist. What we got was a collection of nutty action scenes strung together with a dream-world framing device. When I wrote about Heavy Metal in HomeVideodrome a couple of weeks ago, a Big Hollywood commenter likened it to Sucker Punch, which is an astute comparison.
Sucker Punch takes place in the sixties, and is about a young girl known as Babydoll (Emily Browning), who has been institutionalized by her evil stepfather after she accidentally kills her sister in an attempt on his life. Once inside, she enters a fantasy world where the mental asylum becomes a brothel akin to Moulin Rouge, and the various inmates and staff at the hospital fill out the roles of the characters in her head. Determined to escape, Babydoll does a seductive dance for the entertainment of their male clientele while her inmate pals steal what they need while everyone is distracted. The audience is never privy to Babydoll’s legendary dance. Instead we get another level of fantasy. Each time she dances we are treated to a crazy fantasy action scene involving Babydoll and her fellow female inmates. Scott Glenn makes an appearance in a role that would otherwise have been filled by the late David Carradine, playing Charlie to the girls’ Angels for each mission they go on.
This movie has been the subject to a great deal of criticism and controversy, specifically attacking the film’s supposed pretensions towards female empowerment as nothing more than juvenile male fantasy. The problem with this criticism is that the movie seems to be more about the idea of female empowerment via fantasy sex and violence before grim reality rears its ugly head. But critics reading are reading to deep into what Snyder is doing, as all of this is arbitrary. The whole point of Sucker Punch is to have an excuse to show off action whackadoo action sequences that have no basis in reality. Snyder has stated that this was his intent from the beginning, and I don’t see anything wrong with that.
Sucker Punch has a structure that becomes apparent once you settle in; you know when the good stuff is coming. When I saw it in the theater, I could time when a good moment would be to sneak off to the men’s room so I wouldn’t miss any of the really fun moments. The movie’s action scenes are delightful eye-candy, and they come as the delicious filling between scenes where Babydoll and her pals tick off their checklist for escape. Each set piece is another level in the video game where they must battle outlandish enemies in order to secure their freedom, and this is where Sucker Punch packs a wallop.
This here ain’t cinema that is as worthy of heavy discussion as its fans and detractors like to claim it is. Sure it has fun ideas on the periphery, but overall it’s all about kicking ass in crazy scenarios, be it girls fighting steam-powered Nazi zombies while piloting giant robots, or taking on giant machine-gun toting stone samurai in a temple while listening to Bjork. If that sounds like your joint, then queue up. Otherwise, move along.
Barney’s Version was one of the overlooked movies of 2011, featuring the best lead performance so far in Paul Giamatti’s career. Giamatti fills the titular role with the unenviable task of taking a deeply unlikable lead character, and injecting him with the nuance necessary to let the audience understand him. Normally this is the task given to actors who play the villain of a piece, but Giamatti has to work this angle as the protagonist, and he does so beautifully.
Based on the final novel by Mordecai Richler, the movie tells the life story of Barney Panofsky, a Jewish-Canadian TV soap opera producer who loves to drink booze, chain-smoke cigars, and watch hockey sans the rioting. There are two plot lines running through the film, one being Barney’s relationship with his best bud Boogie (Scott Speedman), a junkie author who moves in and out of his life the way various women do. This brings up the second plot thread, Barney’s three failed marriages, with focus on the third with a woman named Miriam (Rosamund Pike), who Barney meets at the reception for his second marriage, and ends up being the love of his life.
It’s hard to get behind a character that finds his true love at his own wedding to someone else. Barney is a character that seems incapable of having a long-term relationship with anyone but himself, yet his person is laid bare for us to examine further via Giamatti’s brilliant performance. Other standout performances include Dustin Hoffman as Barney’s oddball ex-cop father in a performance so warm it could cure frostbite. Scott Speedman is also magnificent as Barney’s bizarro buddy Boogie, whose questionable fate plays a central role in the overall plot.
It’s been awhile since we’ve seen Paul Giamatti really flex his muscles as the actor he really is, so it’s good to see a film that properly uses his considerable talents. If you missed this movie in the theater, be sure to give it a look. Keep an eye out for cameos by various famous Canadian directors, including David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan, and Ted Kotcheff.
Available on Blu-ray/DVD combo.
Other Noteworthy Releases:
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy: The extended editions are here, and on Blu-ray. While the films have the new HD transfers and the special features from the extended DVD sets are in tact, don’t expect the extras to be in HD as well, as most of them are included on DVD discs.
Available on Blu-ray.
Tetsuo – The Bullet Man: Shinya Tsukamoto is the cyberpunk David Cronenberg of Japan, and his body-horror freakout, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, is a classic low-budget oddity. Like Robert Rodriguez with El Mariachi and Desperado, Tsukamoto followed it up with a big budget remake, Tetsuo II: Body Hammer. Tsukamoto’s newest film is the third in the series, entitled Tetsuo: The Bullet Man. It’s Tsukamoto’s first film to be shot in English, and has an original theme composed by Nine Inch Nails. It’s always a shot in the dark when directors return to the material that made them famous decades down the line, but Tsukamoto is a director who always surprises me. Let’s just hope it’s better than Once Upon a Time in Mexico.
Available on DVD.
Cowboy Bebop – The Movie: The feature film based on the popular, jazzy sci-fi anime series comes to Blu-ray. Even if you don’t dig Japanese anime, Cowboy Bebop is one to check out, it has colorful characters, kinetic action, and a rockin’ soundtrack.
Available on Blu-ray.
Black Moon: Criterion releases this surrealist dream-like film from Louis Malle. The synopsis describes it as “Louis Malle meets Lewis Carroll.”
Zazie dans le metro: Another Louis Malle film from Criterion, this one being an “anarchic comedy” based on the novel by Raymond Queneau.
People on Sunday: A pre-war German silent film that involved a who’s who of future big-names in Hollywood, including the Curt and Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer, and the great Billy Wilder, who wrote the film’s screenplay. Released via Criterion.
Season of the Witch: Nic Cage and Ron Perlman crusade it up in the Middle Ages in a mix of Bergman’s Seventh Seal and Witchfinder General. I thought this one looked like fun, but the ghastly reviews made me think twice about catching it in the theater. That’s why God invented Netflix.
The Warrior’s Way: A goofy-looking kung-fu western that came & went at the box office. Being a junkie for this kind of madness, I’ll Netflix it one night when I’m not feeling productive.
Beastly: This Beauty & The Beast retelling starring Vanessa Hudgens got a lot of negative the-title-reviews-itself write-ups.