Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sucker Punch


(Warning: spoilers included)

Marketed as ‘Alice In Wonderland with machine guns’, it is easy to see the instant appeal of Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch. Hot girls defying gravity and nature’s ugly gene, slicing and dicing their way through proverbial Nazi steam punk thugs should be an instant recipe for success.

The story itself is simple: a platinum blonde girl named Babydoll deals with the sudden and suspicious loss of her mother when her evil stepfather devolves into taking advantage of her. Baby doll refuses, but her younger sister is murdered by the evil stepdad and Babydoll is taken to an insane asylum to await a lobotomy to hide her stepfather’s sin.

Let me get my bias out of the way before I continue: I am a big Zack Snyder fan, having loved both 300 and Dawn of the Dead, and I respect his take on Watchmen to the point of considering it to be an improvement on lackluster source material.

As with all things visually-based, criticism abounds about story, acting and the meaning of anything beyond shiny images. Personally, I thoroughly enjoy a great visual feast (Inception) as well as a shallow action flick (The Expendables) so I’m not necessarily coming into Sucker Punch expecting a decent story. ??Dealing with dragons, Nazis, planes, and mechanical samurai, Sucker Punch uses the fantasy realm to explore real-world pain and suffering, with the intent to escape and fight back. The motif of fighting back against evil is not an uncommon theme in Snyder’s work (see 300). All of the elements are here for an awesome cinematic experience. With that out of the way, Sucker Punch is a good—even great—film up until the ending.

Yes. I will be spoiling it. Stop reading it now if you value not having the story lobotomized against your will.

Oops. Oh well. Onto the spoilers.

The traditional elements of a Disney fairy tale are taken to the next level, dealing with sexual abuse, insanity, lobotomy and the world’s oldest profession. Thematically, Sucker Punch is darker than Shutter Island and far more bleak and disturbing. Dealing with emotional trauma and one’s desire to escape from evil in the world, Snyder has crafted an emotionally compelling, visually triumphant action fantasy that embraces it’s fantastical roots only to forcibly uproot them by the final ten minutes.

It is impossible to review this film without mentioning the ending because of the narrative and philosophical implications. Frankly, a vast majority of the film takes place within the split second before and AFTER Babydoll is lobotomized. In her mind, she concocted this magnificent scheme within multiple worlds to escape, only for it to be entirely inside her own head. She is lobotomized right on schedule, thus presenting a fatalistic flow that significantly undermines the entire film. However, within the real world, there is evidence that someone did escape, which appears to be a balance to the fatalism. To be fair, the lobotomy has been foreshadowed significantly throughout the story, but the manner in which it is presented doesn’t connect with the film. In the world, there are multiple endings, and it appears that the filmmakers chose the worst of all worlds.

All of that said, Sucker Punch is not as bad as the critics smeared it to be, but I believe the ending fundamentally destroys any fun or emotional or spiritual impact that the film had going for it. Effectively, the ending reduces the film to a nice, emotionally detached screensaver, which is sadly what I wished would not happen.


Monday, March 21, 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer

I really want to begin this review with the oft cliché joke about Matthew McConaughey’s seemingly inability to appreciate the art of wearing a t-shirt. But, frankly, if I had those abs, I would parade them like it was New Years. So I can’t complain.

Thank God those abs don’t make an official appearance in The Lincoln Lawyer. Based on the novel by Michael Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer revolves around a lawyer named Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey) who works from his car, a Lincoln town car. One day, a rape and assault charge on an alter boy playboy named Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) brings an unwelcome amount of complexity to a seemingly open and shut case.

The biggest potential threat to the film was Matthew McConaughey. I say this with respect towards his past several starring roles, which have been predominantly romantic in nature and I suspected that this trend would continue. Thankfully, I was wrong. Mr. McConaughey carries the film with charisma and ease, giving us a complex look at a seemingly simple shady lawyer. From the very first frame, we think we have Mick Haller all figured out—that is, until we see him outside the courtroom. In private, he drinks to excess and shows glimmers of a lost conscience. The heart and soul of the film resides in him, and he carries it professionally and finds revival.

The biggest compliment I can give the film is that, despite a meager ending, the screenplay briskly carries itself with wit and purpose. Each scene reveals something new, the beats are concise and personal, traces of information streaming in with each passing moment. Couple this with solid acting all around (William F. Macy in a superb yet underused role) and you have two of my usual cinematic gripes already taken care of.

The very theme of defending potentially murderous people is a cliché as old as calling a film contrivance a cliché, but what The Lincoln Lawyer does is something else entirely different—instead of relying on said cliché, it brings forth a fascinating question. “How does a man with something to lose represent a potential criminal, and do so convincingly and without betrayal?” My complaint in regards to the question is that the film is content merely to provide a question without any sort of exploration.

This may seem like another pet peeve, but I relish these sorts of moments in art when you have real characters visibly grappling with something that is monumental and potentially deadly to all involved. To see such an interesting idea exposed and not dealt with did put a damper on my enthusiasm.

Beyond the brisk pacing, stellar acting and solid screenplay, the biggest disappointment for me was the ending. Bringing in several unnecessary twists as to “resolve” everything in fact made everything so neat and tidy that I lost interest ten minutes before the film ended. Thus, the final ten minutes were boring and uninformative. Ending on a higher note earlier would greatly reduce this problem and be more consistent with the established pace of the film. With all said and done, what was I saying about Matthew abs? Oh, right. Happy New Year’s


Monday, March 14, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles review

By N.R. Ahern


As with all alien invasion films, it begins with a bang. Through the patchy smog and suffocating traffic, Los Angeles is as popular with the intergalactic community as a college student in Cancun during Spring Break. When mysterious (to the characters, not the audience) meteors strike the ocean outside Santa Monica, Los Angeles suddenly becomes the favored vacation spot for a whole host of extraterrestrial tourists whose favorite pastime is a little carpet-bombing on the side.

In the fray we have SSrt. Michael Nantz (Harvey Dent—err, Aaron Eckhart), a traumatized marine looking to get out and begin a new life. Pulled back in by the short hairs, Ssgt. Nantz must find a way into warn-torn Santa Monica to save trapped civilians before the Air Force bombs Santa Monica back into the Golden Age of Hollywood. Thus, time—and humanities expiration date—are on the line.

Battle: Los Angeles wants to be different. The problem is, we’ve seen the beginning before: shaky-cam archival stock footage designed to express exposition in the same way one would have Morgan Freeman give a voice over monologue. The cinematography echoes District 9 and anything directed by Paul Greengrass, except the shot composition is amateurish and distracting, often zooming in and out for no apparent reason other than to add “tension.” Couple this with kinetic editing that doesn’t last on a shot long enough to give you any memorable detail and you have an exhausting and aggravating technical grievance.

One of the most intriguing parts of Battle: Los Angeles was the aspect of psychological warfare on the part of the aliens. When the marines enter Santa Monica and encounter resistance, it is unusually quiet. The tactics of the aliens—hiding and distracting marines with otherworldly noise—worked extremely well. Especially with the aliens maintaining the high ground. From a tactical perspective, the film worked incredibly well. Crawling through the ravaged suburbs, the intensity is palpable and often intensely engaging struggle to stay alive against an unknown enemy.

Though saddled with inane dialogue and a less-than original character, Eckhart makes Ssgt. Nantz empathetic enough for us to give a gnat’s fanny whether he lives or dies. Channeling fierce loyalty and intelligence, his performance stands out beyond his faceless fellow soldiers (Ne-Yo, Michelle Rodriguez) who are simply there to scream, shoot and run away.

Battle: Los Angeles tries to put a unique spin on the alien genre by combining the “end of the world hysteria” of ID4, the war tension of Black Hawk Down and the shaky-cam of District 9. However, while the film matched my expectations in the thrilling department, it failed in fully executing the technical capabilities and resorted to cheap clichés of the screenplay variety. In many ways, this film is a disappointment. However, for a film to give aliens tactical advantage and intelligent reasons for an invasion, this deserves praise. So. I welcome all extraterrestrial life to come to Los Angeles to join us in an epic Spring Break. Just stay out of the water and try not to breathe too much.

The review can be read at: