Friday, March 25, 2011

Sucker Punch - 1 1/2 stars

I think I have seen the trailer for Sucker Punch more than just about any trailer in the past year. It seems like every movie I saw in the theater had that trailer, and it got to the point where I was dreading the movie.

Besides just getting sick of seeing the same footage over and over, I was afraid that I had already seen the movie. It looked like a girl tries to kill her father or stepfather, goes to a mental institute, and imagines herself in some fantasy land. She is given a quest - to find 5 items (a map, fire, a knife, a key, and something unknown). If all the action that happens is all in her mind, how can it matter?

It turns out I was mostly right. In the opening sequence, we are introduced to Babydoll (Emily Browning). Her mom had just died, and her step dad is obviously a psycho. When he tries to rape her younger sister, Babydoll tries to shoot him. She misses, and accidentally kills her sister. So her step dad puts her in a mental institute.

In the institute, she meets several other girls with names like Rocket (Jena Malone) and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens). The mental institute is actually a brothel, and the girls are required to dance for perspective customers. When Babydoll dances, she is transported to a fantasy realm. The first time, she is in a Japanese courtyard out of some Samurai movie. She meets a wise old man (Scott Glenn) who tells her to find those 5 items, and then she will be free. Then she goes out into the courtyard and has a pointless battle with giant robots.

After she defeats them, she returns to reality and stops dancing. This was all in her mind - the other girls just watched her dance. Is it all her imagination, or is she hallucinating, or what? There are several more sequences like this, and each time she has a mission to accomplish. The 5 items she has to collect are required in the fantasy world as well as the real world. The end goal is to escape the mental institute.

There are a couple of problems with the fantasy sequences. First, what happens there doesn't matter. In the first one, they are trying to retrieve a map. The girls are in World War I era trenches, fighting German zombie soldiers. But in the real world, while Babydoll is dancing and distracting the staff, one of the girls is to sneak into an office and steal the map. This is more interesting than the fantasy sequence. Another problem is there is no danger in the fantasy realm. No one is ever in any danger. The only time someone gets killed is when they are about to be killed in the real world - and it is obvious when that is coming.

I did like one of the fantasy sequences. The girls have to kill a baby dragon without awakening it's mother. Of course, the mother does wake up and try to kill the girls. The dragon is very cool, and the effects are great in this sequence. But just like all the other fantasy sequences, I wish the story lived up to the action we are seeing on the screen. These sequences just serve to slow down the movie. I would rather have the entire movie take place in the institute, and just stick to the girls trying to escape.

I didn't hate the movie as much as I expected, but that was only because I went in with the lowest of expectations.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau - 2 1/2 stars

The Adjustment Bureau is one of those movies with a great setup, but weak payoff. The trailer makes it look like a very interesting sci-fi movie. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt meet cute and it's love at first sight. He just lost a senate ellection, and he goes into the men's room to be alone. It just happens that she is hiding in the men's room, they meet, flirt, and then she runs out of his life.

They meet again on a bus, and he takes her number down. But the interesting thing is that that second meeting was never supposed to happen. He was supposed to spill his coffee on his coat and return to his apartment, missing that bus. The reason he made it to the bus is fate was asleep, and neglected to intercept Damon before he could board the bus.

Fate in this movie referrs to a group of men wearing suits and fedoras, looking like they just walked out of Mad Men. When Damon returns to his office, he finds everyone frozen, as if time has stopped, and these mysterious guys are modifying their memories or something like that. Damon wasn't supposed to be there yet, so they didn't expect to be interrupted by him. Their solution is to tell him the truth.

Here is the first problem with the movie. It is far too early in the story for the protagonist to learn what is going on. They don't explain exactly who they are or where they come from (aliens? angels?) but they explain that everyone is supposed to follow the plan. He deviated from the plan, so they have to adjust things. He should never tell anyone what he knows, or they will 'reset' him, which means they will basically erase his memory and he will be an entirely different person.

I think this would drive a person nuts. The curtain has been pulled back and he has seen that life is just an illusion. Like Neo in The Matrix, he now knows that there is something going on that no one else on Earth is aware of. The bureau explains to him that he was never supposed to meet Blunt's character a second time, and he better not try to find her. They are not supposed to be together, because it is not part of the plan.

This is all set up in the trailer, so I don't think I have really spoiled anything. After seeing the trailer, the only questions left are 1) why can't the two be together? 2) who and what are the powerful men in the hats? and 3) will they end up together and live happily ever after, or will the bureau succeed in keeping them apart?

The answer to question number 1 is kind of a letdown. It has to do with his and her respective carreers. Apparently if either one is too happy, they will not be as driven to succeed and will not achieve great things. I had a hard time accepting this. I guess it is possible for some people, but others will not do great things if they are alone and unhappy. Besides, once they have revealed the plan to Damon, what's to stop them from just telling him what he needs to do to succeed. If someone saw into the future and told you that you were going to be president, wouldn't that give you more confidence that you could achieve that goal? It's like the conundrum of whether you want to know how you are going to die. If you knew how, would you be able to avoid it? Would that create a paradox?

Question 2 is not explained either, although we get the idea that they have been around since the beginning of time. A senior Bureau member named Thompson (Terence Stamp) says something about how free will is no longer an option for mankind because of all the horrible things that mankind has caused throughout history.

One thing that occurred to me is do they have a bureau in every city in the world? The movie is set in New York, and there don't seem to be enough agents to control everyone's fate. The agents have powers they can use to affect our behavior. They can use their powers to make someone trip and fall, or cause a car to go through a red light and cause an accident. When they do that, how many other people's fate did they change? They don't seem to care too much about that. Is it because Damon is so much more important than everyone else?

The movie makes me think about the ripple effect, or the butterfly effect. If you go back in time and change one small thing, that has ripples that affect things in the future. Same with the plan in this movie. If they have a plan everyone is supposed to follow, causing a car accident with change the plan for a number of people. The person driving the other car now goes to the hospital and misses whatever he was going to do, the onlookers are now witnesses and have to hand around and give their statements, and so on.

Another problem I had is that despite their powers, they still can't stop Damon. They should be able to. One minute they use their powers, the next minute they watch helplessly as he gets away. It is a problem that movies often run into when people have powers. Their powers only work when the script requires them to.

The movie brings up a lot of interesting ideas, but it isn't smart enough to pay them off. It creates an intriguing setup and then becomes a chase movie. And the ending is a real letdown. I don't want to spoil it, but it kind of boils down to the Bureau saying "Ok, fine, have it your way."

If you want to watch a movie with a somewhat similar setup that really knows how to pay it off, watch Dark City.