Sucker Punch (2011)

sucker_punch

Original Theatrical Release Date: March 25, 2011
Director: Zack Snyder

Babydoll (Emily Browning) has to deal with her abusive father. He goes too far one night and directs his attention toward her younger sister in retaliation, forcing Babydoll to take drastic action. When her attempt to kill him fails, she is placed in an institution. Attempting to cope with her new situation, Babydoll escapes into her own mind and tries to find a way out of her new prison.

I really, really wanted to like this film more than I did. Zack Snyder, because he did 300 – said he wanted to do a movie with mostly women. I liked 300 and thought this could be great. It had beautiful women in scant clothing, intense action scenes, appealing music, and fantastic imagery. It seems like the perfect formula, but unfortunately the film fell short in many places.

First off – the pacing. I’m a fan of the occasional slow-motion sequence every now and then but in Sucker Punch, I felt like the entire movie was in slow motion…and most of it literally was. If done correctly, slow-motion can be a powerful tool. However, this film almost seemed more like a music video. Actually, that’s really what it became, when you look at it objectively. Lots of slow-motion sequences set to popular music. Scantily-clad women. Fantastical action sequences. Throw in some hair metal and you’re good to go.

The story was threadbare, and Babydoll’s journey felt tedious and repetitious when it should have been exciting. The action scenes were cool for the most part but the heavy use of CGI takes you out of the established narrative sometimes, creating a break in the link between belief and disbelief. The only real reason I can think of that would make anyone want to watch this film more than once is just to see the beautiful actresses doing their thing. I can admit that I’ve now seen it a few times, because that’s where the film does succeed – visuals (and I’m a visual person). All the work the artists put into creating the various worlds inhabiting the Sucker Punch universe was very good and interesting. My main question, though, is why wasn’t this movie turned into a video game? It would almost certainly be more interesting than the movie.

For all its epic aspirations, this film could have been a lot better. See it if you must, appreciate it for its visuals, but I’m sure you’ll come away feeling sort of empty and blah. Perhaps even like you’ve been….SUCKER PUNCHED?! Hahahahahahahahaha…….. *ahem* ha.

JOE Rating: ★★

Movie Trailer for Sucker Punch

 

Still Alive

Still Alive

So, just so everyone is aware, I am – in fact – still alive. I haven’t posted much because I literally haven’t had time. I am supposed to get my MFA in July but I still have a lot of work to do and I have deadlines to do it by. So, while I do have a backlog of reviews to give on various things – I won’t be doing them until I make a little headway.

I did my taxes, got my car pretty much fixed and finally got a new laptop cord so that my laptop essentially functions like new again.

The reviews, they are-a-coming….but until then – here’s me in a steampunk eye patch.

Joe The Barbarian (2011)

Joe The Barbarian (2011)

Publisher: Vertigo
Creative Team: Grant Morrison, Sean Murphy

Joe The Barbarian collects issues #1-8 of the limited DC/Vertigo series written by Grant Morrison (Batman Inc., Supergods) with artwork by Sean Murphy (Hellblazer, American Vampire: Survival Of The Fittest).

Joe Manson is an eleven-year-old kid with type 1 diabetes. On top of that, his father died overseas in the ongoing war in the Middle East. It’s no wonder that he spends all day in a dream world of action figures and drawings of noble knights and scary creatures. However, after some school bullies steal his candy he gets home and begins to go into hypoglycemia, but unexpectedly also into another world…one so real he cannot discern it from reality. Traversing this new fantasy world, in the real world he is only trying to get to the kitchen. Realities blur and soon it’s apparent that there is a purpose behind the visions and that he must stay alive.

First off, I love Morrison and I love Murphy. Two great talents working together. Can I refer to them as M&M? Haha, no, but really.

The story is evocative of Alice In Wonderland and Tellos, sort of mixed together in one awesome stew. Tellos will always be my favorite but this book managed to capture that feeling and the wonder of that book, if a little bit darker….yet it had almost as much heart.

It was nice to see a story dealing with a character who must battle diabetes. Coming from a family where diabetes is a constant concern, Joe The Barbarian was especially poignant to me. My great grandmother recently died after choosing not to continue with her dialysis treatments but she’d been battling diabetes for years.

In any case, I loved Murphy’s work on American Vampire, and I think he did an amazing job with Morrison’s fantastical vision in this book. The art has a nice steampunky type of style to it, which somehow fit the theme nicely.

You should really check it out, especially if you enjoyed Todd Dezago and Mike Weiringo’s work on Tellos.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Here’s A Sample Page From Joe The Barbarian
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Oz The Great And Powerful (2013)

Oz The Great And Powerful (2013)

Original Theatrical Release: March 8, 2013
Director: Sam Raimi

Oz (James Franco), a small-time traveling circus magician, finds himself on the run due to his philandering. He escapes the clutches of a slighted circus strongman with the aid of a hot air balloon and is hit by a tornado which transports him to the land of Oz. With his newfound companions, he must defeat the Wicked Witch and restore Oz to its former glory and also redeem himself.

Before seeing this film, I’d had lots of trepidation about it. We have all (hopefully) seen the original Wizard of Oz and it’s one of those untouchable films that has withstood the test of time, and will seemingly always be a classic in our hearts. So, when I heard that Sam Raimi was doing an Oz prequel with James Franco and Mila Kunis…yikes. I was pretty scared.

However, my fears turned out to be unfounded.

The film starts out true to 1930’s/40’s film fashion and Raimi does a great job with the transition from black and white to full color. You can definitely see his influence in the film with the way some of the scenes are shot and especially with how one of the witches looks. (She looks like a Deadite from his Evil Dead series) This may or may not be a good thing, given the nature of the flavor Oz movies have.

The best part of the film, to me, was Mila Kunis as Theodora. We finally see how she became the evil witch we all love to hate, and despite the crazy makeup she still somehow exudes sexy. There were a couple of weird nods to her hotness, with a butt-shot and a bodice-ripping scene…but it didn’t jar me for too long. She looked amazing as The Wicked Witch.

All of the companions are creepy but somehow entertaining. (Doll with a knife?! Helloooooo?!) There were nods to other characters like the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow that we know we’ll eventually see. The visuals were great and the music was nice by Danny Elfman (despite the random pop song during the credits…WTF?)

All in all, I think it was a fun movie. It had some plot holes and dull moments, so it’s not perfect, but it’s nice to revisit Frank L. Baum’s universe again and see how Oz, The Great and Powerful got his start.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Movie Trailer For Oz The Great And Powerful

The Difference Engine, by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling (1990)

The Difference Engine, by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling (1990)

Release Date: September, 1990
Publisher: Victor Gollancz Ltd
Author: William Gibson, Bruce Sterling

The Difference Engine is a novel set in 1855, primarily, and concerns the invention of an analytical engine (essentially a computer by today’s standards) by a character named Charles Babbage. This sets off a spur of military and industrial advances that didn’t actually come until about a hundred years later in actual history. In this alternate history, Britain/The UK is vastly more powerful than they were in reality because of this and there are also lots of other little changes like America being fragmented (due to Britain’s involvement in hindering them in fear that they would rise in power as America does in actual history).

The Difference Engine felt more sci-fi than I am normally used to (I’m primarily a fantasy reader). Rather than dealing with time travel, like in books such as The Anubis Gates, it’s just characters from Britain in the 1800’s and the way they supposedly spoke. It was initially difficult to read because of this, and because of all the idioms and terms the characters used (One example being the word “flash” which in context meant “cool”, I think, how we use it today. One of the characters saying to Sybil, the main character, “A gal looks very flash in bed, with black silk stockings,” was the only exception to that rule. In any case, some of the idioms were a bit confusing to my American eyes, and that’s okay because it’s another time these characters live in and it’s good if they don’t sound modern. If one of us went back in time today we probably would barely be able to understand folks back then, and vice versa.

The setting was very detailed and rich in this novel. There were all sorts of little nods to things that weren’t immediately obvious but impacted how I viewed the scene. There was one part where a character named Huxley was walking back and forth and the writers threw in the fact that he was walking on a Turkish carpet. The novel was filled with examples like that, and it really helped fill out the world. It’s all in the details, man.

The characters were the real draw to The Difference Engine, and there were lots of them. We had Sybil Gerard (she’s the primary main character) who is essentially a prostitute, or a fallen woman who courts politicians and affluent men. (Sybil also happens to be a character borrowed from another novel by Benjamin Disraeli; Sybil, which I’ve never read). There is also Edward “Leviathan” Mallory and he is somewhat of an explorer/paleontologist. Finally, there is Laurence Oliphant, who is the literary version of the actual author Laurence Oliphant from the 1800’s. As in The Anubis Gates, we get to see the fictional/alternate versions of historical figures (which I always find interesting) other than Oliphant, too…including Lord Byron, who also appeared in The Anubis Gates and John Keats, who is a kinotropist…essentially someone who operates mechanical screens. Sam Houston, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Karl Marx are all mentioned and appear at various points, too.

This novel is complicated, but in a good way. If you can get the hang of the lexicon that the authors use, you’re sure to enjoy it. You may even pick up a few more words to use in your own vocabulary. (I kind of want to use “flash” now). The novel seems dense at times….but also mostly in a good way, though I did have to wade through some of it because I’m not very cerebral or sci-fi oriented. As a fantasy reader, I could definitely still appreciate the amazing alternate history world of fantastic machines and technology that Gibson and Sterling have created. Give it a shot, it’s definitely worth your time!

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Check out a free preview of The Difference Engine HERE

If You’d Like To Know What A Difference Engine Actually IS – You Can See It In Motion Here

Van Helsing (2004)

Van Helsing (2004)

Original Theatrical Release: May 7, 2004
Director: Stephen Sommers

Van Helsing stars Hugh Jackman as the movie’s title character. Gabriel Van Helsing is sort of a superhero/vigilante who travels the world hunting monsters that prey on the innocent. Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) hears about his monster-hunting prowess and she summons him to Transylvania to help battle Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh), who her family has been fighting for centuries.

This is one of those movies that COULD have been really cool. I liked the idea of Van Helsing as a Blade/Punisher mashup set in the past with all sorts of steampunk-style sci-fi weapons. Unfortunately, writer/director Stephen Sommers kind of wasted his chance to really shine.

For one thing, there were WAY too many monsters. We open with Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde as well as Frankenstein and his monster. Then we move on to Dracula and other vampires, werewolves and other creatures. How does anyone even survive in this world, let alone not know that Van Helsing is there to save them and is NOT murdering folks (as he’s been framed for doing). Focus on one, or maybe two….but as a viewer I was overwhelmed.

Some of the action is cool, but most of it is too cartoonish to have any real weight. The battles are sometimes too laden with chaos to follow very closely and a disconnect happens. I never really believed Van Helsing was in danger during the battles due to its campy nature.

If the story had been amped up to make it more believable as to why all these creatures came together or exist (yes, I know, monsters aren’t believable anyway but they need to be believable in the context of the film) and maybe if there had been a darker tone instead of trying to make Helsing seem like Errol Flynn playing Robin Hood (lots of rope swinging in this film, by the way), it could have easily been a great movie.

As it is, it’s still entertaining to watch if you just want a mindless action flick. Kate Beckinsale is drop-dead gorgeous (I’m sure many people think the same thing about Hugh Jackman, too) so it’s fun to watch these attractive people fight ugly monsters. Overall, I think the film relied entirely too much on CGI/special effects.

Richard Roxburgh had no bite as Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster was just weird. The werewolves were so-so. The most interesting villain in the movie, to me, was Jekyll/Hyde…but then again, it’s hard to mess him up.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Movie Trailer For Van Helsing

 

The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers (1983)

The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers (1983)

Original Release Date: 1983
Publisher: Ace Books
Author: Tim Powers

The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers, is a very complicated novel that deals with the concept of time travel and is also considered one of the foremost classics of contemporary steampunk fiction (though I’m not one-hundred percent why that is, seeing as there really isn’t any steam or punk) .

The story is set in 1983, after a brief introduction that takes place in the 1800’s. The protagonist of the story, Brendan Doyle, is asked to a meeting by a millionaire named J. Cochran Darrow because Doyle is a poetry expert and is noted for being very intimate in his knowledge of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and a poet (created by the Tim Powers for the novel) named William Ashbless…and the romantic poets in general.

Darrow has apparently figured out the secret of time travel, in which there are multiple windows through time (able to be calculated mathematically) in which someone can just pop in for the duration, which varies from entryway to entryway. Darrow is charging people one million dollars each to go back in time and see a lecture put on by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. During the trip, Doyle is kidnapped and misses his jump back  to present-day and finds himself living on the streets of London in the 1800’s, reduced to panhandling and other money-making schemes in order to survive long enough to find a way back or at the very least live out his days in comfort with his knowledge of the future. Along the way, he meets many incredible characters such as Lord Byron, William Ashbless, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a magical and sadistic clown named Horrabin, Muhammad Ali (not the boxer…the Ottoman commander in Egypt in the 1800’s) and an evil shape-shifting werewolf serial killer named Dog Face Joe.

Yup.

Tim Powers is great at setting the scene. He uses authentic phrases and language that I actually had to look up to know what it meant. If I hadn’t looked it up, I still would have been able to glean what it meant due to his use of context, so it was sort of fun to have that choice. An example of how he did this is during a conversation between gypsies at the beginning, where two men are conversing and it goes like “Will you eat some dinner? They’ve got a hotchewitchi on the fire, smells very kushto.” Hotchewitchi is hedgehog/groundhog and Kushto means “good”. I had to look those both up but then later on it was alluded to in context and I figured out I most likely wouldn’t have had to look them up in the first place.

The characters are all very memorable and I really enjoyed getting to meet Lord Byron and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The setting was very detailed. We saw London through the eyes of a modern man seeing what had changed from 1983 to the 1800’s. It was really neat.

There were a few drawbacks, such as some pacing issues (I felt, anyway) toward the end and some confusing shifts in time where we miss entire swaths of Doyle’s shenanigans.

Overall, if you like Steampunk or Sci-Fi, time travel or fantasy (especially all of the above) then check it out. It’s a good read.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Check out a preview of the book for free, HERE