Friday, March 25, 2011

SUCKER PUNCH Capsules: ULTRAVIOLET, ELEKTRA, BLOODRAYNE, BITCH-SLAP, CIRCLE OF IRON, SO CLOSE, and AZUMI


Film is our ultimate escape, so when filmmakers decide they need to metatextualize all that by having characters dreaming alternate realities in their films, they create a horrific double negative, leaving you locked in a bathroom at the airport when you were hoping to travel to new destinations. Zak Snyder is to blame; the awsome failure of SUCKER PUNCH to deliver its titular promise is his Waterloo. Dude, film already is an alternate reality! Are you anxious to cover up plot holes and suffering from the compulsive need to cram as much GGI into every frame as you can? I'm sure George Lucas and Paul W.S. Anderson will think it's awesome but for those of us who like narrative, momentum, character, energy, velocity ("in one word, emotion") are shut out.

In the early days of horror there were producers, particularly at MGM, who felt the public wouldn't 'get' a horror film if you didn't bring it back down to logic at the end - the 'it was all a dream' or 'the vampire was a detective in disguise to catch a killer' or the monster is just a crook in an ape costume trying to frighten the next heir to the family fortune trope was used ad nausea. Gradually they realized no one goes to the movies--or books for that matter--wanting to be anchored to the real. Then again we also want our story to make logical sense within the context of itself, and to follow the adage: do not "show the monster in the first half-hour." If you want to have a giant samurai robot attack an orphanage, go ahead, we don't need it situated in a fantasy within a fantasy, but if you show it first thing in a movie, we'll assume we can keep talking and checking our cell phones while you get such nonsense out of your system.

THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) knew how to do it right, leaving the interconnection between Oz and Kansas and Dorothy's unconscious completely untouched. Oz is real  in the film because Dorothy sees it as real. Once you cross the line into 'the power of imagination,' you hit that vein of who gives a shit that clearly made Nick Shager so disillusioned, in his review from Slant below:
Sucker Punch follows Baby Doll as she's committed to a grimy mental institution by her stepfather (Gerard Plunkett). The old man has locked her away because she tried to prevent him from raping her younger sister (hey, he was mad about getting cut out of his dead wife's will!), and accidentally killed the young girl instead. Once inside the facility, skeezy supervisor Blue (Oscar Isaac) shows her a common area with a stage known as the Theater, which—when coupled with the intro sight of a curtain being pulled back to reveal the action proper—is Snyder's clumsy way of conveying how the locale of Baby Doll's adventure is really the theater of the mind. And as every other character seems to blurt out in one form or another, the mind affords people the power to shape their own destiny, and the world. It's a notion that also applies to a director and his films, though Snyder's self-reflexive instincts are blunt and lifeless, and his subsequent trip down the fantasies-within-fantasies rabbit hole, replete with a fem-rock cover of "White Rabbit" to boot, primarily speaks to his confusion over notions of actualization and empowerment. (cont.)

I was really hoping SUCKER would be awesome, but after I saw the extended preview during last night's Archer, I knew it was going to go the route of so much video game-based dreck that's come before--TOMB RAIDER, RESIDENT EVIL, BALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SERVER, MAX PAYNE: "To fulfill your destiny you must seek five items..." Why not get it over with and just show a bunch of girls playing Doom IV in their underwear? At least then maybe we can get Bazin on it, and not have to stare at the screen within a screen all the time.


The castrative/revengeful counter-misogynist avenger girl is one that's always been popular amongst sensitive comic book readers like me, who first found the gold vein of it in the early 1980s when Frank Miller rose to fame writing and penciling Daredevil character named Elektra, who captivated all our teenage virgin hearts. The way she wore her scarf, the way she kicked Bullseye in the face, and slashed scores of ninja with her sai, and died... tragically... Flash forward and lazy screenwriters are opening every single film with an elaborate break-in to a compound heavily guarded and usually presided over by a bald guy in an expensive suit and sunglasses, like Frank Miller cut five ways to Sunday with B-12 and sold direct to cable.  Let's meet some of SUCKER's relatives, and a mangy bunch they are to be certain:

ULTRAVIOLET 
2006 - *
Milla Jovovich as a vampiric hottie out to protect a kid everyone wants to-- yawn--kill. Worse than watching moms learn to play Duke Nukem on her Dell PC.
"It is worse than Plan 9 from outerspace. For the love of ALL that is holy, do NOT see it." - Batese -- Imdb:
ELEKTRA
2005 - ***
I actually paid full price for the director's cut on DVD and I'm glad I did. This picture grows on me, namely due to Garner's doe-eyed hotness. Terence Stamp is 'Stick' - the stoic blind pool hall Zen master. Elektra's douchebag 'agent' (he call's her 'Lek' and keeps his cell phone and smarm ever at the ready) and a cliche'd 'likeable single dad next door' don't detract from the moody beauty of the Pacific Northwest imagery, Garner's amazing eyes and Garner's amazing bone structure. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll believe tattoos of animals can slither to life off an Asian assassin.
"This doesn't exactly set the world on fire, but I was charmed by its old-fashioned storytelling, which is refreshingly free of archness, self-consciousness, or Kill Bill-style wisecracks. Some of the effects recall vintage Ray Harryhausen, the villains all perish in puffs of green smoke, and Garner's sincere glumness suggests Buster Crabbe in Flash Gordon." -- Jonathan Rosenbaum
BLOODRAYNE 
2005 - *1/8
Uwe Boll's SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER (would he have gone to jail if this film ended up making money?) benefits from the presence of Michelle Rodriguez and Michael Madsen even though both are apparently hungover and in need of a script. Sir Ben Kingsley plays the head vampire, badly. With no one even noticing, the film is stolen by Billy Zane as a rival head vampire. Look at poor relation Kristanna Loken (above), basically wearing Elektra's hand-me-downs and dulled sai.
"The plot of "BloodRayne" is basically "Blade" with a white chick -- set just after the invention of gunpowder but long before the invention of humor. Kristanna Loken, who played the female cyborg in the last "Terminator" film, stars as a half-human, half-vampire who must avenge the death of her mother while stopping the evil vampire Lord Kagen (Ben Kingsley, slumming like few Oscar winners before him) from ruling the Earth." -- Peter Hartlaub - SF Gate
BITCH-SLAP
2009 - **
"Those expecting a seamy, Vaseline-uncorked ride through exploitation cinema heaven with “Bitch Slap” might be well advised to skip this picture entirely. More of an “Austin Powers” carnival of camp with YouTube production polish, “Bitch Slap” opens with a Joseph Conrad quote and ends in a hail of bullets, leaving the midsection fairly anticlimactic and insistently silly. It’s criminal to dismiss something so utterly consumed with ample feminine assets and cross-eyed ultraviolence, but the goofball pitch of this fluff grows tiresome early in the first round, rendering the picture a splendid 10-minute short film idea stretched intolerably to 100 minutes." -- Brian Orndorff
I only got ten minutes into BITCH-SLAP before I had a whopper headache and animosity towards every character, so I agree. Word to the wise: never show clips from better films in the opening credits. And I can only shudder at how bad SUCKER-PUNCH must be if Horror.com's Staci Layne sez: Let me put it this way: having seen Sucker Punch once, I'd rather watch Bitch Slap 10 times in a row.

CIRCLE OF IRON
1978 - **1/2
Basically a Zen video game "Nothing is real - and nothing to get hung over" movie before Zen video games and hangovers were invented. A wanderer on a mystic quest learns that's 'all in his mind' with the help of mystic guru David Carradine in multiple roles (just like Scott Glenn in SUCKER - the two actors even look alike). Based on a Bruce Lee storyline, IRON's got some really bad Kung Fu in its fire and Christopher Lee merrily embodying the the mystical guardian of the sacred book. Eli Wallach sleeps through his scenes in a cauldron (above); horses, Renaissance fair merriment, beaches, and wooden flutes all coax the film towards the pretty girl of meaning like friends of the shy kid at a townie dance. Does our shy kid film  ever get up the nerve to traverse the nonsense distance of the floor to talk to her? Many questions, grasshopper!
The finished film sits about half way between the meaningful, but still sappy brand of 'Zen Buddhism' that Lee taught in life, and the daft, everything and the kitchen sink brand of martial arts films the United States put out after the master’s death. Like Lee’s unfinished Game of Death, Circle of Iron (aka The Silent Flute) anticipates fighting style video games, but also features the afterglow of the insistently pointed philosophical films of the late 1960s. On top of its ridiculous imagery, and shaky plotting, the film acts as an unintentional (or perhaps intentional?) parody of Confucianism and Taoism. It's even sub-Yoda at some points, but it's continuously charming and even intentionally funny on several occasions. - Gabriel Powers - DVD Active

SO CLOSE
2002 - ***
Surely Qi Shu is one of the most beautiful women in the world, and good with a gun.  She must avenge her sister's death! You die! Karen Mok (GOD OF COOKERY) is the cop rival with whom Qi forms a semi-lesbian grrl-power connection, all while they kick each other through expensive corporate building parking lots. Hizillarious, though the ending is weak... like all men!

AZUMI
2003 - ***1/2
She takes on so many guys in a big climactic sword fight it's insane--and she's cute as a lil' button! It's set in the rainy days of the shoguns so prepare for bulky stiff white robes, funny hats, and scrolls. Even with its video-ish tinge the film leaves one whirling and out of breath, though all the side plotting might confuse the very buzzed.
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There you go... if, like me, you were pumped for SUCKER PUNCH and then felt like you'd actually been sucker punched when you saw the 'it's all in your mind' previews and negative viewer comments, stay home and watch SO CLOSE, or DEATH-PROOF, or SIN CITY, or NAKED KILLER, or ELEKTRA and keep your expectations low to the ground. I mean low!! LOWER! You die!

3 comments:

  1. I wish the full version was released. I believe there's a much bolder, more daring take in there than what's on screens right now

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  2. Right you are, Jon. Same thing with Watchmen, though I haven't seen the longer version. It's always sad when that happens. In order for a movie to be really great, it has to be over two hours long - look at Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Goodfellas, Twilight, all Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino - when will they ever learn!!

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  3. I don't know how complete the cut sections are (every girl has her own production number) but I get the feeling they're getting Sucker Punch out of the way now because Superman will start shooting in a couple of months

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