5-Word 365 #047 – Beauty and the Beasts*

I saw two movies today (I also baked some baguettes, but I’ll come back to that later) and I couldn’t decide which one to review, so today is going to be a little different. Today is going to be a double feature. And a more eclectic double feature you would be hard pushed to find.

This would make you want to watch the movie too, wouldn't it?

Sleeping Beauty

“Pretentious” doesn’t even come close.

So this was on Lovefilm’s home page this morning and, from the poster at least, I thought it might be a good way to pass a couple of hours. Was I ever wrong. This film is Australian novelist Julia Leigh’s debut as writer/director, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the fairy tale. A young college student named Lucy, played by Sucker Punch’s Emily Browning, is working an assortment of low-paid jobs in between attending classes and visiting her friend who never leaves his crummy bedsit and puts vodka on his cornflakes. One day she answers an ad in the paper and finds herself in a new job; one that pays exceptionally well but requires her to stand around in lingerie pouring the wine at a dinner party for rich old people. Soon enough she graduates from serving wench to sleeping partner. Her employer also offers a service whereby the rich can buy six hours in bed with a naked Lucy. Oh yes, that’s right: for the duration of these six hour sessions, Lucy has been willingly drugged into unconsciousness. Hence the title, I suppose.

Right before this, there was some old man cock on display. You don't want to watch the movie anymore, do you? I understand completely.

I haven’t read any of Julia Leigh’s novels, and on the strength of this that’s not going to change anytime soon. The story is ploddingly slow and obtuse; the camerawork is distractingly austere – every scene seems to be one or maybe two single takes except for one sequence done in Peep Show style, with both characters facing each other but shot as if they are talking directly to camera – and for a supposed “erotic drama” it is very short on eroticism. There’s plenty of nudity, yes, but as any Page 3 fan will tell you, one does not automatically lead to the other.

Vodka in the cornflakes. I should've tried that. Might have made this watchable.

There is not one likeable character or relatable situation in this whole film. If you are that desperate to see Emily Browning in the buff, just stick to Google. Avoid this amateurish nonsense.

Best Poster (that isn't Emily Browning naked) Ever.

The Expendables

“Awesome” doesn’t even come close.

How in the name of all that is holy did it take me so long to get to this film? Why did nobody tell me this was going to be that much fun?

When I first heard about the idea of The Expendables I was thrilled, but the more I thought about it I started to get hesitant. I was really worried that I was going to be let down; that all it would do would be to tarnish the memory of these guys’ previous movies. I was afraid it would ruin Commando and Rocky IV. Was I ever wrong. (Twice in one day? That hasn’t happened since the nineties.) As it turns out, this all-star gathering is like a biker Ocean’s Eleven, right down to the acrobatic Chinese man.

For those who have been living under a rock for the last couple of years, or whose entire cinematic life is taken up with dreck like Sleeping Beauty, The Expendablesare a group of mercenaries made up of a multi-generational Who’s Who of action movies, led by Stallone as Barney Ross with The Stath as his right-hand man, Lee Christmas (I know!). Jet Li, Terry Crews, Randy Couture (girly name, manly man) and Ivan Drago himself, Mr Dolph Lundgren, make up the rest of the team. Their mission, should they chose to accept it, is to go to the island of Vilena to kill the corrupt General Garza. Of course the only way to be sure if they have succeeded is to kill practically the entire army of the island of Vilena.

Stallone, I salute you.

The acting can generously be described as a bit ropey, a lot of the visual effects are noticeably heavy on the digital enhancement, and some of the fights look like they’ve been shot by an epileptic gymnast. By all rational measure this should be the unfortunate embarrassment I was afraid of. The fact that it is not is down primarily to El Statherino and Mickey Rourke, combined with the tangible fun all these guys are having getting to play together with big guns and knives the size of your arm. I may have just found the perfect Friday night, pizza-and-a-six-pack flick.

Not even Stallone with his shirt off can ruin this film.

Oh, I nearly forgot. The reason I was baking baguettes today is also the reason why the “movie a day” challenge is about to get its first proper test: I’m going away for the weekend. I’m spending all day tomorrow on an assortment of busses and boats in order to get back to the Old Country for my baby niece’s christening this Sunday. My laptop is coming with me, as well as a carefully chosen set of DVDs, so I will do my damnedest to keep this train running on schedule. By the way, the baguettes are for my packed lunch.

*I just thought of that this very second. Fucking genius, me.

5-Word 365 #046 – Sucker Punch

This is the part where I would normally do a bit of an introduction to the day’s column. Predictably enough, this is always the last bit I write, but it’s late and I’m kinda sleepy. Let’s get to it, what do you say.

Sucker Punch

Zack Snyder is probably insane.

So. Sucker Punch. Um. Well now. While it contains elements of other, better told stories, this is certainly one unique damn movie.

It’s the 1960s and Babydoll, played by Emily Browning, is a 20 year old girl whose mother has died, leaving her and her little sister with their stepfather, a sleaze of a man who tries to force himself on Babydoll the night of the funeral. Fighting him off, she locks herself in her room only for him to divert his attentions to little sis. Babydoll manages to get out her window and retrieve her stepfather’s gun from his desk but she misses him and accidentally kills her sister with a ricochet. Bad Dad then takes her to the local insane asylum and has her put on the list for a lobotomy. I’ve heard of some nasty plans made to keep someone’s silence, but this one is all kinds of creepy.

Just look at him. Damn, that is one off-putting dude.

In the last second before the procedure, Babydoll retreats into a fantasy world where the asylum is a nightclub-cum-brothel and she and the other girls are the entertainment. Dr Gorski the psychiatrist is now Madame Gorski the dance instructor, and the head orderly Blue is the boss of the club. Babydoll is expected to dance just like all the other girls, but every time she does so, she finds herself in another level of fantasy, this time populated with 20-feet tall demon samurai, orcs and dragons, steam-powered German zombie WW1 soldiers, and robots with nuclear bombs. Exactly. That’s what I said. While Babydoll’s mind is in these worlds, her body is dancing in the club and leaving everyone watching her entirely captivated. She realises that she can recruit the other girls to retrieve items they can use to escape while she distracts the target with her dancing. All kinds of weird shit ensues.

As I was saying...

Whatever else he may or may not be, there can be no dispute that Zack Snyder is an astonishing visual fantasist. Some of the imagery in this film is truly brain-melting. Every single frame of this movie has been designed to within an inch of its life. While it is entirely gorgeous to look at however, it is also somewhat soulless. Aside from the opening sequence and the coda, the whole flick takes place in one fantasy world or another which kind of cripples any investment we might have in these characters’ efforts. We already know it’s not real so how bad can it get? How that affects your overall enjoyment will depend on your tolerance for beautiful girls in skimpy – actually no, they left skimpy in the dust miles ago. What’s less than skimpy? – outfits blasting guns and taking on all-comers. My tolerance is fairly high. Even as I was enjoying it on a surface level, I was terribly aware of the fact that this story of supposed female empowerment is filled with beautiful girls in skimpy outfits with big guns. Smarter writers with more time on their hands than me have discussed the implications of this fetishised feminism/misogyny at great length, so I will merely point out that the director, both credited screenwriters and the costume designer are all male.

Hey Scott Glenn, is that a gun in your pocket?

As I was saying, Sucker Punch is breath-taking to look at, particularly in the action scenes. Two shots in particular stood out for me: a long, side angle of Babydoll facing down one of the demon samurai in a snow-dusted temple courtyard seconds before the whoop-ass is uncanned; and the moment where the dragon rears up on the castle roof, wings spread, roaring at the sky. The effects department more than earned their keep on this gig. On the flip side, the quality of the acting overall is less than stellar. Ever the apologist, I would argue that that could be the intent. Remember this is all a fantasy world, and a hyper-stylised one at that. Naturalistic acting would be as out of place here as a really, really out of place thing. I’m sorry, it’s been a long week and I’m all out of ammo for my simile gun. Credit where is due though: Oscar Isaac is effectively sinister as Blue, even in a baby-blue sequinned jacket, and Abbie Cornish and Jena Malone as the sisters Sweet Pea and Rocket are the standouts of the beautiful girl contingent.

I've got a hundred on the big du... Oh. Never mind.

Snyder has cribbed from so many other sources in this, his first “original” screenplay that it became a private running joke for me. I suppose you could turn it into a drinking game if you wanted to. His orcs are straight out of Lord of the Rings; the clockwork soldiers have walked in from Hellboy; there’s an episode of Firefly in there too (bonus points and my undying admiration if you can spot that one. Answers in the comments please); hell, he even rips himself off at one point! The flare-strapped-to-a-gas-canister bomb is a direct lift from his Dawn of the Dead remake.

I don’t love this film, I think the subtext is too at odds with itself for that to be possible, but I don’t hate it either. Snyder is at least trying to tell interesting stories in interesting ways, and I admire that. More of Jamie Chung in a corset and fishnets would have been good though.

C'mon, I think I've shown remarkable restraint with these pictures so far. I've bloody earned this!