Wednesday, December 4, 2013

49. Sucker Punch (2011)

Sucker Punch [Blu-ray]

Code-name: Bjork

Writer/Director: Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen)
Type: sci-fi/fantasy, girl power, dream-within-a-dream

Babydoll- Emily Browning
Sweet Pea- Abbie Cornish
Rocket- Jena Malone
Blondie- Vanessa Hudgens
Amber- Jamie Chung
Blue- Oscar Isaac
Dr. Vera Gorski- Carla Gugino
The High-Roller/Doctor- Jon Hamm
The Wise Man- Scott Glenn


*I tried to keep the spoilers to a minimum in hopes that people who read this entry will see this movie and how it plays out will take their breath away as much as it did mine*

First Impression

I saw this trailer a couple of times throughout 2010. It blew me away so much that I knew I had to keep an eye out for it. I saw it alone, was probably one of a dozen (likely less) people in the theater.
I didn't just love it, something about it really affected me, and it was hard to put into words exactly why. Still is, in fact.

The Plot (at minimum)

The opening sequence sets the stage (pun absolutely intended) for the main story. Babydoll (Emily Browning) and her sister's mother just died. It's *hinted* that their stepfather poisoned her to claim her fortune... until he reads the will and finds she left everything to the girls. In a scuffle, Babydoll accidentally shoots/kills her sister and her stepfather sends her away to the Lennox House for the Mentally Insane. He pays off Blue, one of the orderlies (Oscar Isaac) who arranges, in 5 days' time, for her to receive a lobotomy.

At first, it appears that the movie will be a short-lived one because, one montage later, Babydoll is about to have the procedure done. Then the scene transitions and we see another girl, Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) facing down the needle. As it turns out, that was something she was acting out on stage until she changed her mind.

The recreational area Blue dubbed "the theater" during Babydoll's arrival and the rest of the institution now appear to be a brothel. Blue is a gangster who runs the place and the girls are sex slaves who "dance" for clients, both in stage productions and in private rooms. They also serve to soften these clients in order for Blue to incur favors. Babydoll starts out on cleaning duty, but when Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino) asks her to dance to music, she escapes into another world entirely. There, she meets the Wise Man (Scott Glenn) who divulges what she needs on her journey to freedom: a map, fire, a knife, a key and a mystery item.

Throughout the movie, Babydoll and the other girls escape into a number of alternate realities to retrieve these items. Simultaneously, in the brothel, Babydoll is dancing and the other girls are getting the items.

In essence, the brothel is a metaphor for the oppression the girls experienced in the mental institution. and complete with the four alternate reality worlds, it's a dream-within-a-dream type of deal. Like "Inception," but instead of Leo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, we get girls decked out in leather wielding firearms.

The Girls

...considering that last sentence and the fact that Babydoll is wearing a Japanese schoolgirl uniform in these alternate realities, I really thought this would have been a huge hit :-P but more on that later.

Vanessa Hudgens was the only name I recognized going into this. I really identified with Gabriella in "High School Musical"... until the sequels where her character's shyness disappeared. But compared to the other girls, Blondie (Vanessa) and Amber (Jamie Chung, who I've gotten to know as Mulan in "Once Upon a Time") didn't get as much screen time.

 I had seen Emily Browning in "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" (good, but not great) and I heard she was Stephenie Meyer's first pick to play Bella in "Twilight"... that would have been really interesting to see.
I saw a glimpse of her at the end of "The Host" earlier this year, but other than that, I probably will always remember her as Babydoll.

(such a cool look, so Japanese) 8-)

Other than her, the girls we get to know the best are Sweet Pea and her sister, Rocket (Jena Malone). I still find it hard to believe she was the same girl in "Step-Mom" because she looked so different. Then again, some poignant make-up, leather and lingerie will do that, not to mention the pixie haircut.
Yes, I am totally girl-crushing over here :-P

While it kinda sucks that Blondie and Amber weren't developed as well, the relationship between Rocket and Sweet Pea, and them with Babydoll is just as much as a part of this picture as Babydoll's own journey. Supposedly, Rocket didn't get along with their parents and run away from home. Sweet Pea followed, despite not having any issues with them. Either way, both ended up at the same place.

The Music and its Escapism

In football, fans who come to home games are often called "the 12th man" on the field. (The Seattle Seahawks are currently reaping those benefits).
In "Sucker Punch," the same could be said for the movie's soundtrack. By no means am I taking anything away from the art direction, costumes (super cool costumes!) and visual effects (in the alternate realities). They imprinted on my mind just as much, but as a music lover, when songs featured in a movie get my heart racing and their vibe commands my attention... I can't help but take notice.
It says a lot when I feel I have to OWN a movie soundtrack. Ironically, this one was reviewed a lot better than its correlating film (the same was said about "Graffiti Bridge," the sorta-sequel of "Purple Rain"). My only gripe is that the songs weren't in movie order, but that's what iTunes is for.

The opening sequence plays out to "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," sung by Emily Browning, which has a very subtle haunting quality to it. It took my breath away and I was in for the long haul.
She also sings "Asleep" (which I now know as a song by The Smiths loved by "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" protagonist Charlie) and duets in "Where is my mind?" with Israeli musician Yoav. Even though the latter first appears second in movie order, I position it last because the momentum shifts in its final minutes. Those final minutes also made a scene towards the end of the movie so much more powerful than it'd be without any music

"Love is the drug" sounded like something David Bowie would perform. In the movie (extended Blu-ray edition only), it's performed by Blue and Dr. Gorski on stage, which segues in and out of a montage of the girls' stage numbers, as well as the ending credits.

What is in order are the songs that Babydoll dances to and, by extension, play while she and the girls are in the alternate realities.

1) "Army of Me" by Bjork
  • I was so enthralled by this song that it stayed with me quite some time after it ended. When I think of "Sucker Punch," this is the song that immediately jumps to mind.
  • This also happens to be my favorite world in the movie because it was like something out of Japanese animé
  • Alternate Reality #1: Feudal Japan in wintertime. The Mission: "Defend Yourself"-- Babydoll fights off three giant stone samurai dressed in armor with a samurai sword and a pistol.
  • Unfortunately, on the soundtrack, as the song progresses, Bjork starts screaming, detracting somewhat from the escapism I wish to experience... [then after listening to the original cut, I changed my mind... the final verse doesn't have the same impact without the screaming :P at least not for me]
2) "White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane (performed by Icelandic artist Emilíana Torrini)
  • Holds its own just as much as its predecessor, something I can't often say
  • Alternate Reality #2: World War I but with undead Germans. The Mission: "Get the map from the courier before he can make it to the zeppelin en route to the kaizer"
  • sci-fi nerds, specifically cosplayers, might consider the overall look of this level and its inhabitants as "steampunk" (google it, I don't know much about it, but it's kinda fascinating)
  • in reality, Sweet Pea is photocopying the map from Blue's office
"I want it all"/"We will rock you" mash-up by Queen (rap by Armageddon aka Geddy)
  • Technically, this song plays leading up to Babydoll's next dance. The client is the mayor and he requested Amber to keep him company. She will come away with his lighter
  • The critics didn't care for this particular number. I'm not crazy about rap in general, but it does help create the image they're trying to convey: the mayor's like a pimp
3) "Search and Destroy" by Skunk Anasie
  • My least favorite of the "alternate reality" songs... most of the time, I gravitated towards the music and paid little attention to the lyrics. In this case, neither stood out to me
  • Alternate Reality #3: A castle in shambles overrun by creatures who look suspiciously like Orcs from Middle Earth. The Mission: "Kill a baby dragon and steals the stones out of its throat ("if struck together produce the most brilliant fire you'll ever see")"
  • The dragons on this level were pretty cool, Amber and Blondie are in the getaway helicopter with Babydoll, Sweet Pea and Rocket on the ground
4) "Tomorrow Never Knows" by Alison Mosshart and Carla Azar (punk and indie artists)
  • Alternate Reality #4: bullet train en route to a metropolis. The Mission: "disarm the bomb before the train reaches the city" while fighting off android extras from "I, Robot"
  • Simultaneously, Babydoll is dancing for the cook (from whom she saved Rocket earlier in the movie) while Rocket keeps him company, hoping to steal his knife without him noticing
Happy Ending?

Up until this film, I had a thing about unhappy endings, especially if a) I had such a good time and the ending ruined the movie or b) the sad ending made me feel like I wasted 3-4 hours of my life ("Gone with the wind" and "Titanic").

Sadly, "Sucker Punch" doesn't have a happy ending... but I actually decided that I had such a good time with all the above that I didn't care. In an odd sort of way, the ending did work and if desired, I could always revisit in the movie or by listening to its cool music

Why all the hate?

If the IMDB message boards are any indication, "Sucker Punch" has gotten some traction and may gain an underground following in the next couple years.
As a member of my college's animé club (most of which I enjoyed), I really got into the way it was presented. The action sequences reminded me of video games as well as some the series we watched in the club.

Most likely, the dream-within-a-dream motif threw a lot of critics off, feeling as if the pieces didn't quite add up. Others have also expressed displeasure at the way the girls were dressed, as if its only purpose was to turn people on... not quite helping with this movie's goal to empower them. The fact that it involves sex slavery and takes place in a brothel, both wrought with controversy, might also be the reason people had trouble taking it seriously.

Other than keeping an open mind, all I can really say to get people check this movie out is that it just might be geared to a specific audience. You either love it or you hate it. Personally, I think it's geared towards people who frequent Comic-Con and other nerd-infested conventions. :-P

Going Beyond...

Been brainstorming for the past year, but it's still too early for me to give any details... but in some form, this movie is inspiring my latest writing project... along with music from some of my favorite artists, most of which happen to be strong women. Girl Power!

"Oh... and One More Thing"
(the Wise-Man says this leading into his last piece of advice before each mission commences)

For "Mad Men" fans, Jon Hamm has a small role as the doctor Blue hires to do the lobotomy. In the theatrical version, he only had a couple lines, but in the extended Blu-ray edition, he has a 5 minute scene in the brothel setting as "the high roller" who's reportedly paying to take Babydoll's virginity... this is an unexpected gem of a scene, the way things play out...

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