Posts Tagged ‘movie review’

 

Sucker Punch's writer-director Zack Snyder described this flashy adventure flick as "Alice in Wonderland but with machine guns"

Sucker Punch isn’t your typical action movie, it’s a lot better. With its breathtaking visuals, kick-ass females and intriguing story, Sucker Punch has officially begun the Philippine summer movie season with a colossal bang. Reportedly described by its writer-director Zack Snyder as “Alice in Wonderland with machine guns,” Sucker Punch is a trippy, dreamy adventure that packs a surprisingly powerful punch (pun intended).

Babydoll (Emily Browning) is brought to the Lennox Asylum by her wicked stepfather, where she will be lobotomized after five days. Determined to escape, she  convinces four other young girls in the facility–Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens),  Amber (Jamie Chung) and Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish)–to help her escape from the asylum and its evil administrators Blue (Oscar Isaac), Madam Gorski (Carla Gugino), and the High Roller (Jon Hamm). Like other individuals who find themselves in a dire predicament, Babydoll copes by daydreaming. During one of her flights of fancy, she’s told by a Wise Man (Scott Glenn) that she needs five objects to help her get out of the asylum. With time running out, Babydoll and the four other girls plan their escape, the success of which will require sexy dancing and trips to five dreamscapes to confront  ghost Germans, fierce dragons, and persistent robots.

Sucker Punch begins its mind games immediately.  It starts, Moulin Rouge-style, with the parting of a red curtain which reveals Babydoll in her bedroom in the middle of a spacious stage, looking like she’s the star of a musical. We then hear a new version of the 80s Eurythmics song, “Sweet Dreams Are Made of These” on the soundtrack, then see the series of unfortunate events which result in her being brought to an asylum. What makes this spellbinding, pre-title sequence even more amazing is the fact that it’s filmed entirely in slow-motion. As Babydoll is driven from her home to a house for the insane, the film’s title is brilliantly revealed on the rain-splashed window of the 1960s car that’s transporting her to her new nightmare.

Stunning as the beginning is, the movie gets even better as its 109 minutes tick quickly away, plunging us into Babydoll’s imagination as it echoes the idea popularized by   Inception that dreams exist within dreams. Though the actresses who play Babydoll and her other female friends provide plenty of eye candy, the real stars of Sucker Punch are the five adventure set pieces which the female friends must try to survive in their quest for the five objects.

The first realm in Babydoll’s mind is a snow-swept Japanese temple where she’s attacked by three giant samurai warriors after she meets the Wise Man played by Scott Glenn. Kinetically choreographed and wonderfully, almost poetically visualized, the sequence evokes the climax of The Last Airbender, and had me wishing that Snyder had directed that film too instead of M. Night Shyamalan.

The next action set piece that takes place in Babydoll’s head is where the movie reveals that Sucker Punch isn’t set in the 1960s as the production design had indicated, but in contemporary times. What appears to be a World War I trench defended by German soldiers and their disfigured leader (shades of Captain America’s nemesis, Red Skull) later involves weapons that the marines in James Cameron’s Avatar might have used, including a giant mecha suit and handheld bombs with lots of colorful and bright lights. They’re objects that Babydoll may have seen in movies, tv shows, or video games which were stored in her mind.

The third set piece, which involves a World War II bomber attacking a medieval castle that’s home to two dragons, is my favorite among the five. With a splendidly gloomy castle that looks like Saruman’s stronghold from the Lord of the Rings movies, and a dragon as scary as the one in Robert Zemeckis’ inspired but underappreciated Beowulf, this part was a pure joy to behold. Though it recalls details from the opuses of Peter Jackson and Zemeckis, Snyder made the sequence his own by filming the high-flying action against the tobacco/orange skies that he used to unforgettable effect in 300. That’s one of the many cool things about Sucker Punch– though its surreal action scenes   have elements that echo great movies (another scene involving a train seems inspired by the climax of Batman Begins), it’ll never cross your mind to accuse Snyder of plagiarism, since all the shots have other eccentric details and amazing camera angles that are the product of his unique visual style and no other filmmaker’s.

It must be said though, that Snyder doesn’t always show everything. Considering his first mainstream Hollywood success was the R-rated Day of the Dead, he shows admirable restraint in the scenes where something violent happens in Babydoll’s real world, preferring to let sound effects rather than gruesome sights (e.g. people getting sliced or shot at) to let us know what’s happened. I also thought it was a brilliant touch for him to leave one important element of the story to the viewer’s imagination: the much admired, but never seen action that Babydoll does to transport herself to her dazzling fantasy world.

With all this eye-candy to dish out, it was perhaps inevitable that some character development would be sacrificed. As a Filipino moviegoer, I certainly would have wanted to see Vanessa Hudgens in more hard-hitting action sequences than she was given. Hudgens aside though, what’s important is that Snyder gave his two most central characters, Babydoll and Sweet Pea, enough humanity to make us care about what happens to them. If he hadn’t, the flawlessly rendered visual effects would have all been for nothing, and Sucker Punch would have just been another forgettable, bloated spectacle like Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen or Snyder’s own Watchmen.

Sucker Punch is the first movie I’ve seen this year that I’m looking forward to watching on the big screen again. It’s also the reason why I no longer dread the words Superman: The Man of Steel… A Film by Zack Snyder, and why December 2012, the still subject-to-change playdate for his Superman reboot, suddenly seems so far away.

Rating: 4/5 – Perfect for a late afternoon treat!

Photos from the Sucker Punch Facebook page

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By virtue of the timing of their release, Where the Wild Things Are and The Princess and the Frog could very well be companion pieces. The lyrical melancholia of Where the Wild Things Are stems from an adult appreciation of the lost innocence of childhood from the outside, a perspective brought on by the yawning distance of time—it is really a movie about childhood for adults. But The Princess and the Frog, the latest adventure from Walt Disney Animation Studios, plunks you right back inside your childhood. It is hand-drawn, using the 2-D animation techniques that made your kids giggle at Lilo and Stitch; that made you rediscover Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid; that first made you sit in rapt attention at The Rescuers and The Lady and the Tramp…going all the way back to your grandparents’ date night 65 years ago, when they misted up over Bambi.

But make no mistake—hand-drawn does not mean musty and irrelevant, especially in this age when Disney’s A Christmas Carol features such elegant motion-capture technology, when Fantastic Mr. Fox has updated stop-motion animation with engrossing results, and the computer whiz kids at Pixar regularly hit it out of the park with likely Oscar nominee for best picture Up. Of course, The Princess and the Frog sits squarely inside the Disney formula: It features a headstrong heroine—a waitress named Tiana (DreamgirlsAnika Noni Rose) toiling in 1930s New Orleans, dreaming of opening her own restaurant. (And in the tradition of such indelible classics as Mermaid’s “Part of Your World” and the yearning lyrics of “I want much more than this provincial life” in Beauty’s “Belle”, Tiana has her own “I want” song, “Almost There.”) There are talking animals—a jazz-loving alligator named Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley) and a Cajun firefly named Ray (Jim Cummings). And last but not least, there is the adaptation of a classic fairy tale: A prince named Naveen (Nip/Tuck’s Bruno Campos) is laid low by Dr. Facilier (Keith David), a dark-hearted dabbler in the dark arts, who transforms him into a frog, needing the kiss of a princess to restore him.

But directors Ron Clements and John Musker (Aladdin) manage to pack a lot of invention inside the iron-clad Disney formula too. For one thing, they’ve introduced Disney’s first African-American heroine. For another, they’ve put a delicious twist on the fairy tale: When Tiana kisses Naveen, the amphibian prince stays the same…and the heroine is also transformed into a frog, mainly because she isn’t really a princess. The most hilarious inversion of all? Tiana only kisses froggy Naveen because he promises to help her open her restaurant if she does!

The mad scramble to set things right involves meeting the aforementioned creatures and a visit to a toothless bayou priestess named Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis). Along the way, there are the songs by Randy Newman, utilitarian enough to prop up the story and sophisticated enough to encompass flavorful genres like ragtime, gospel, zydeco, and Tin Pan Alley. The most toe-tapping: an exhortation from Mama Odie to Tiana and Naveen to look inside themselves, to see not just what they want but what they need (“Dig a Little Deeper”). The most touching: a firefly’s serenade to his distant love, an evening star (“Ma Belle Evangeline”).

While kids laugh at the frog humor (“That’s not slime you’re secreting—it’s mucus!”), their adult chaperones are rewarded with the assurance that Disney is still chugging along at its old-school best even after all these years. The animators trust not in whiz-bang technology or marquee voice talent (there are next to none in The Princess and the Frog, except for a cameo by Oprah Winfrey as Tiana’s supportive mother), relying only on the power of a good story told well. They summon the magic and romance of Jazz Age-era New Orleans, restoring the city to its place of cultural importance and obliterating the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, if just for the space of 91 minutes. Most groundbreaking of all, they insert no civil-rights agenda, taking Tiana’s right to be headstrong and independent—whether as a woman or a frog—as a given.

What matters in the Disney universe is that good triumphs over evil, wrongs are righted, love prevails over all adversity. The Princess and the Frog is joyous testament to the idea that, as long as you have the wisdom to add a few piquant ingredients here and there to spice things up, the formula can still work. Wonderfully. Magically.

RATING: 5 out of 5 OT Hours •••••

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 Photos from Walt Disney Animation Studios.