Movie Bag #6 – Sucker Punch, Horrible Bosses, Transformers 2, Way Back

Sucker Punch makes me very frustrated with film critics.  I’ve disagreed with them plenty of times before with movies like Pathology, but this time I feel like I’ve seen a completely different movie from what everyone else is reviewing.  We’re told the story of a young woman who accidentally kills her sister while trying to defend them both from their homicidal stepfather.  He has her institutionalized and bribes and orderly in order to set her up for a lobotomy.  We’re shown that the ward employs a Russian therapist who tries to help the patients by teaching them to perform on stage.  The girl completely loses it, and instead reinterprets her surroundings as a place for show girls where she is being forced to work as a slave.  She sets up an escape plan with some of the other girls that involves a list of items that they’ll need to steal, and do the deed by pickpocketing certain people while the lead girl, now called Babydoll, dances for them as a distraction.  As she dances she enters a completely different world where she fights for her survival, which is exactly what she’s already doing in each of her other worlds.  The result is a Zack Snyder version of Inception in many ways, meaning a whole lot of CG action scenes.  Each battle is epic and takes place at a completely different imaginative setting.  Giant samurai, steampunk Nazi zombies, robots on a train, what’s not to love?

Sorry lady, the critics are far too far up their own asses to have any fun with your movie.

What I don’t really understand is why this movie was almost universally bashed by critics.  What went wrong?  It has a deep and intricate story that’s told in an fresh way.  Every single frame of the movie is absolutely beautiful, even when people are just standing somewhere and talking.  The angles, sets, effects, and filming techniques just turn the entire film into a visual adventure.  Better yet, each fantasy sequence is accompanied by brilliant song covers, such as “White Rabbit.”  Critics act like this movie shamelessly panders to the sexuality of young teenagers, but the girls never strip or do anything particularly sexy.  Whenever Babydoll starts to dance we’re taken into her fantasy long before she does a single move.  During the fantasy scenes the girls are all fully clothed, and in the Brothel/Ward the camera is almost always focused on characters’ faces.  Other critics claim that there was nothing at risk during the action scenes because it was all fantasy, but that’s just wrong.  If someone dies in there they die in real life.  Have we lost all track of the value of a good action scene?  One where interesting things happen and the action can be clearly followed because of talented filming?  Critics seem to treat every action scene like it’s from one of the Transformers movies, but that’s not how they all are!  Action scenes can be brilliant and memorable experiences rather than messes of brown and explosions!

I just don’t understand why it’s bad when a character engages in several levels of fantasy in Sucker Punch while it’s perfectly fine in Inception.  I’m not even going to pretend that this movie holds a candle to Inception, but I had a ton of fun with it, loved the story, and will be re-watching it in the future.  Hell, I’ve already seen it twice.  I recommend this movie to anyone who enjoyed Scott Pilgrim vs the World or 300.  At the very least it’ll be a movie that you won’t forget.

Horrible Bosses follows the story of three disgruntled employees who plot to kill their bosses.  It’s a comedy, which makes it especially hard to talk about because the most important thing is whether or not it’s funny.  Well, I thought it was funny.  Very funny, as in I laughed at some point in almost every scene of the movie.  The movie’s greatest strength lies among the widely different personalities of the employees, which are played by Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), Charlie Day (Always Sunny in Philadelphia), and Jason Sudeikis.  There are several scenes where all three of them will  be doing different things simultaneously and the pure energy just keeps the movie funny throughout.  Things get especially interesting when one of the bosses (Kevin Spacey) completely snaps and starts hunting people down.  I loved it enough to give it a 4/5 on Rotten Tomatoes, but the friend I went with said that the first act was boring and that a lot of the scenes weren’t funny.  He called it a “60% at best.”  Take that how you will.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen commits the ultimate sin of being a boring action movie.  You may have noticed by now that I love action movies, so this isn’t coming from some “old man that only loves movies like King’s Speech” point of view.  The transformers themselves are chaotic visual messes that all look the same.  This means that in most action scenes you can’t tell what’s going on, and even if you can you probably can’t tell which characters are involved in the fight unless they’re Bumble Bee, Optimus, or one of the annoying racist characters (we’ll get to them later).  Aside from the characters that I mentioned every single robot is somewhere between gray and brown with little to no distinguishing characteristics.  Worse yet, even if you can identify a character by name you probably can’t tell me a damned thing about them because the movie doesn’t bother defining or even introducing each one to the audience.  This means that the audience won’t care about the characters, which means that the action scenes have nothing at stake, which means there’s no ultimate pay off or loss when the battle is decided.  You just watch some explosions in one locale, then skip to another place to watch the same thing.  Rinse and repeat and you’ve got half of the movie.

Why make them look like this? WHY? This is just someone's face and I already have trouble telling what I'm looking at.

This problem reaches critical mass when you reach the climax, which is an hour long desert fight with seemingly random scenes that does nothing to progress the plot.  It’s just an hour of Michael Bay dangling his shiny keys and shaking them in front of a brain dead audience.  Even if you managed to care about all of the explosions, what was the big pay off?  The big bad villain that’s mentioned in the movie’s title gets killed off by Optimus effortlessly and within minutes of his first appearance on the battlefield.  Worse yet, he’s even helped by Megatron, who gets his ass handed to him just as easily.  If you look up anticlimax in the newest version of the dictionary you probably find a citation for Transformers 2.

Ruining the action wasn’t enough for Mr. Bay.  He had to keep adding human characters until they outnumbered the guys that the movie is named after.  You follow the story of some whiny teenager that’s going to an expensive college.  He’s got girl troubles, annoying parents, and new roommate.  To make things even better not a single person on this cast can act.  What, isn’t this what you paid to see when you sat down to see Transformers 2?  150 minutes of Shia LeBeouf bitching and screaming?  Shut the hell up, kid!  When they world is at stake no one gives a shit about what girl you want to stick your dick into, and the only reason you’re even in this movie is because Bay keeps inexplicably binding shiny artifact plot devices to you.  Oh, and don’t forget the hordes of one-dimensional military characters that only exist to shoot off screen or scream exposition every few minutes.

Exactly what robots always needed: gold teeth and testicles.

Transformers 2 also tries to be funny, but never in any clever way.  There’s a robot with wrecking ball testicles (not kidding), a roommate whose only role in the movie seems to be dick jokes and groin shots, and a pair of loud robots whose every line could be replaced by “nigga please” or “hay hay hay”.  It’s all low-brow humor that adds nothing to the film and is about as funny as someone farting in the car.  It might be funny once or twice if it’s loud enough but before long you’re just trying to ignore it and worrying about the well-being of its source.

I frequently hear the response that not every movie needs to be Citizen Kane.  You just want to shut off your brain and enjoy some stupid movie.  Shut up.  You don’t have the slightest clue what you want.  There’s a cloud of terrible comedies like Zookeeper and Grown Ups, so why do people always mention Superbad, Napoleon Dynamite, and the first Hangover movie?  Because they’re excellent comedies!  For action movies we have Inception, The Matrix, and others like them.  These are the kinds of movie experiences that we remember and cherish.  If you say that you don’t want to have that sort of experience, and that you want to just shut yourself down for some low-brow potty jokes and generic explosions you’re lying to me and you’re lying to yourself.

The Way Back tells the true story of a group of prisoners during WWII that escape from a Soviet Union labor camp and make their way to India.  They have to fight for survival every step of the way, and many of them don’t make it.  Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe, Fifty Dead Men Walking) plays the naive navigator, Colin Farrell (Minority Report, Horrible Bosses) plays the criminal who is the only one that had a knife, and Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones, Hanna) makes an appearance as a young girl who meets them along the way and joins their journey.  It’s all very well acted and filmed, but it’s also pretty long.  I don’t normally hold a film’s duration against it, but the entire movie is basically people walking south while dying slowly.  There are plenty of dramatic scenes along the way and the characters are interesting enough.  It just drags a bit, especially near the end.  Regardless, I still strongly recommend it.


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