Sucker Punch (2011)
★ / ★★★★
After their mother’s death, Baby Doll (Emily Browning) and her sister were left in the hands of their evil stepfather (Gerard Plunkett). When he found out that the sisters were the heir to the fortune he hoped to receive, he was possessed by rage and tried to hurt the girls. Commotion ensued and Baby Doll was accused of accidentally killing her sister. She was sent to a mental hospital where she eventually planned her escape with other patients (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung). Directed by Zack Snyder, there was no denying that “Sucker Punch” delivered visual acrobatics galore. The action sequences looked dream-like, appropriate because much of the fantastic elements occurred in Baby Doll’s mind, and the girls looked great in their respective outfits. However, it was unfortunate that there was really nothing else to elevate the picture. The acting was atrocious. Blue (Oscar Isaac), one of the main orderlies, for some reason, always felt the need to scream in order to get his point across. I understood that Isaac wanted his character to exhibit a detestable menace, but he should have given more variety to his performance. Sometimes whispering a line in a slithery tone could actually pack a more powerful punch than yelling like a spoiled child. I was astounded that we didn’t learn much about Baby Doll’s friends. They were important because they helped our protagonist to get the four items required if she was to earn her freedom. I wondered what the sisters, Sweat Pea and Rocket, had done to deserve being sent to such a prison. They seemed very close. Maybe for a reason. The girls were supposed to have gone crazy in some way but there was no evidence that they weren’t quite right in the head. If they were sent to the mental hospital for the wrong reasons, the script should have acknowledged that instead of leaving us in the dark. They, too, could have been framed like Baby Doll. Overlooking such a basic detail proved to me how little Snyder thought about the story. “Sucker Punch” tackled three worlds: the mental institution, the brothel, and the war against Nazi zombies. Too much time was spent in the whorehouse, the least interesting of them all, and not enough time in the asylum. Though beautiful to look at due to its post-apocalyptic imagery, I could care less about the battle scenes with the dragons, giant samurais, and Nazi zombies. The reason why Snyder should have given us more scenes of Baby Doll in the asylum was because that was Baby Doll’s grim reality: in five days, she was to be lobotomized. Those who’ve played a role-playing video game in the past five years are aware that the games have mini-movies during key events in the story arc. Those images were as good as the ones found here and some of the stories in those games are quite compelling. If images were all this film had to offer, then why should we bother to watch it?
★ / ★★★★
Dr. Miranda Grey (Halle Berry) worked in a psychiatric hospital in which her current case was a woman (Penélope Cruz) claiming that she was being raped while she was in her cell. Dr. Grey surmised that the woman’s story was simply a reflection of an abused childhood. Of course, on a dark, stormy night, the psychiatrist got into a car accident because she attempted to avoid hitting a girl standing in the middle of the road. The next thing Dr. Grey knew, she woke up in a cell as if she was one of the patients in the hospital. “Gothika” was not a smart supernatural thriller. Instead of using images of a ghost as a backdrop of deeply rooted psychological problems, it used the paranormal in the most literal way. We were supposed to believe that the ghost could be touched (and possess someone despite the fact that the person didn’t believe). We were supposed to believe that the ghost was trying to communicate in order for it to find some sort of peace. We were supposed to believe that ghosts only appeared when lights flickered in quick succession.How was I supposed to believe in such things if I couldn’t believe for one second that Dr. Grey and his colleague (Robert Downey Jr.) were competent doctors? I knew they knew psychological terms because they had no problem throwing them at each other (perhaps as foreplay because the two were obviously attracted to one another), but I didn’t feel like the actors embodied their characters in such a way that I could feel an air of presence about them when they entered a room. Downey was too quirky to the point where I thought he suited being a clown more than a doctor. Berry seemed like a first-year graduate student who didn’t know how to adapt when a situation turned grim. (Initially, I thought it could work. Just take a look at Clarice Starling in Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs.”) Instead, in the most crucial times, she shrieked and hid and then did more screaming and hiding. The script needed some serious work. For supposedly intelligent individuals who ran a psychiatric hospital (where the film took place for the majority of the time), both the material and the characters lacked logic. Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, the pacing was deathly slow and borderline soporific. I didn’t find the quick editing and the booming soundtrack scary in the least. In fact, I was annoyed because I kept wondering when it would focus on the real issue at hand: the question involving Dr. Grey’s sanity. It never did. “Gothika” is a meandering picture with painfully mediocre storytelling techniques. The Best Unintentional Laugh should go to the scene when Berry’s character declared, “I don’t believe in ghosts… but they believe in me.” I don’t believe in either.
The Wolfman (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
Set in a Victorian-era Great Britain, “The Wolfman” told Lawrence Talbot’s (Benicio Del Toro) horrific transformation and the bloody mayhem he caused after surviving a werewolf attack. Emily Blunt and Anthony Hopkins also star as Lawrence’s delicate sister-in-law and mysterious father. I think this movie would have benefited greatly if it had a shorter running time. Even though the middle portion had a number of exciting scenes with bucketloads of blood and body parts flying around, it lagged because the character development felt forced. It was almost as if the movie was following a pattern of one werewolf attack after fifteen to twenty minutes of dull conversations. The acting also could have used a bit more consistency: I felt like Blunt was stuck in a sappy romantic period piece, Hopkins doing another rendition of his character in “The Silence of the Lambs,” and Del Toro was left in the middle of it all and sometimes looking confused. As for the werewolf hunter played buy Hugo Weaving, I found it difficult to root for him (or were we even supposed to?) because he lacked charm and power. He was just desperate and angry throughout the entire film and I needed to see another dimension. Moreover, I found the flashback scenes to be completely unnecessary (and irksome). Instead of cutting those out and leaving the audiences to interpret what they think happened in the past (the character did a lot of talking so the pieces were certainly there), everything was spelled out so the picture lacked a much-needed subtlety. However, there were a few stand-out scenes that I thought had real sense of dread: when Del Toro rushed into the fog to rescue a gypsy kid from the werewolf and all we could see were rocks and fog, the scene in the asylum where doctors from all over gathered to witness a “cured” man who “thought’ he was a werewolf, and the scene where Del Toro first transformed into a monster. Like most horror movies, even though this picture delivered the gore and the violence, it lacked focus because the writing was not strong enough. There was a lack of a natural flow from one scene to the next so the film at times felt disjointed and I was left to evaluate where we were in the story instead of focusing on what was happening on screen at the time. “The Wolfman,” directed by Joe Johnston, was a nice attempt at a solid horror film about cursed humans who were slaves to the full moon but it ultimately came up short. It’s not a bad DVD rental but I wouldn’t rush to see it in theaters.