Saturday, March 26, 2011

Review: Sucker Punch

Review subtitle: Fun, crazy flick, with one major black eye that this review will put some raw meat on to take the swelling down.

One sentence review based on my own imagined dialogue when speaking to the waiter who brought me this movie:

"Very nice, but didn't I order the half-pound sirloin?"

Note: there may be some spoilers in here, depending on your definition of spoilers. I promise not to ruin the ending... except by saying something critical about it that might, actually help you not be as disappointed with it as I was. The ending. Not the movie. Or this review. Anyway...

First of all... should you see this movie? Here's how to decide. Watch the trailer. If you watch the trailer and think, "Sweet. This is something I should see," then you should definitely see it. Unless (and this will come back to haunt us later in the review)...


I was psyched, frankly, when I saw the trailer, because, well... shit. What a great background song for some cool, graphic-novel-esque hyper-violence, eh? It wasn't in the movie. Which helped deliver the stinging blow that, perhaps, this review will help sooth with some words of warning: the ultimate fight scene you are expecting at the end does not show up.

Don't despair! There are lots and lots of fun, antic, dark, disturbing, really well imagined and interestingly filmed bits in this film. A partial list would contain:

  • Insane asylum burlesque shows

  • Clockwork Huns

  • 40-foot tall, Gatling Gun wielding demon samurai

  • Inadvertent sororicide

  • WW2 aircraft-on-dragon violence

  • Ninja chicks on everything violence

  • Naughty schoolgirl uniform ninja chicks on everything violence

  • John Hamm as "The High Roller"

  • John Hamm as "The Lobotomist"

  • Vanessa Hudgens in the latest of a long string of "last role before her first major adult role"

  • Heroes named Baby Doll, Blondie (the raven haired Ms. Hudgens, in a nod to tonsorial irony), Sweet Pea, Rocket and Amber. Yes; it's the Powderpuff Girls Go to Crazy War Teen Style

  • Tomahawk-fu, trench-fu, train-fu, cyborg-fu

  • Ancient Scott Glen wisdom

  • Gratuitous Polish dominatrix

  • Cool 1950's cars

  • Lots of great songs on the soundtrack, including really nice covers of "Sweet Dreams are Made of This," and "Ask Alice.'

See? Plenty of good eatin' on them bones. Like I said... if the trailer appeals to you at all, you should see this. If the trailer leaves you cold, you should avoid it.

If you do think you should see it, though, I expect you will be surprised by some of the depth of darkness and weirdness. I thought, from the previews, that there would be more hi-jinx and less feeling bad about how bad people do bad things to cute girls in short shorts, high heels and fishnet stockings. It's about 60/40 "bad feelings" to "batshit insane violence." I was hoping for more like a 50/50 or even 40/60 the other way split.

If I had to, I would describe this movie as a mash-up of "Brazil," "Sin City," "Girl, Interrupted," and the video game "Shadow of the Colossus." If you read that list and it makes you want to lie down, don't see the movie. If you read it and think, "That sounds perfectly logical," seek help. Then see the movie.

Here's the thing that will help you enjoy it a bit more than I did. As I said above, the fight scene that you are expecting at the end doesn't show up. There are a series of absolutely terrific fights, they are paced nicely through the film, and they build up to what feels like the penultimate battle. After which I knew... KNEW... that the ultimate cutie-pie vs. dude-you-hate-the-most violence would occur soon, and it HAS TO HAPPEN to the awesome, pounding beat of Zep's "Levy Song."

I waited. And there was a moment when... nope. Maybe now, as she's about to... nope. But now! It has to happen now because he's about to...

Nope. [le sigh]

You get your money's worth. And if you liked the visual style of "300" and "Sin City" and the dark, creepy feel of "Brazil," you'll really like this. And the ending isn't bad... it's just 1/4 pound shy of the steak I ordered.

Oh, and the title has nothing to do with the film as far as I can tell. I'm not sure what I thought it might connect to... but it didn't.

This is also not a deep film, though there are some spots where mystery, psycho behavior and general moodiness try to pass for depth.

Final grades:

  • Flick grade: B+ for good, new-fangled, sexy, ass-kicking, visual slickness

  • Film grade: C+ for having the balls to make the story a bit more crunchy than I'd anticipated, but points off for really not understanding the pacing and expectations that were set up. Also points off for some fairly tired dialogue, though Scott Glen tries to save the day with some pith.

Seriously... one more great fight scene at the end, and that would have been an A and a B+. Too bad. Sometimes quantity is an aspect of quality.

PS: I had more fun typing "clockwork Huns" than almost anything I've ever typed in my life. Please note, though, that by "Huns" I mean the pejorative for WW1-era German troops, not the horse-warriors of the Asian steppes. Clockwork Huns of the latter type would make no sense at all.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Review: Battle: Los:: Angeles :::

Two word review: extremely silly.

More than two word review...

I have come to the conclusion that almost all science fiction movies are *not* for fans of science fiction, but for fans of movies that go bang, boom, ping, clank, smack-wallah. Because in almost every sci-fi movie I've seen recently (exception: "Inception"), the whole house of shiny, explodey cards is built on a foundation of... WTF?

"Battle: Los Angeles" is about fighting. That's really all it's about. With "battle" in the title, this is to be expected, and I went in expecting what was to be expected. What I would have been delighted with, though, was a reason for the fighting that holds water... Spoiler alert: that's an in-joke for those of us who've seen the movie, as the aliens come to earth to suck up our sea water and use it for fuel.

Yep. They're here for the H20.

As I said: extremely silly.

The idea that you'd expend the kind of energy necessary to travel from another star system in order to spend more energy launching a massive ground attack in order to spend more energy sucking water up into space... insanely silly. Unless these aliens have figured out a way to do some kind of really amazing cold fusion, getting water out of the gravity well would almost certainly take more energy than it's worth. Especially when frozen water has been found on many asteroids in our solar system, and they wouldn't require, well... all that killin'.

At one point in the movie, an expert on the teevee says that the aliens want our liquid water because "Nowhere else does it exist on the surface of a planet... we are unique..." In our solar system, yes... H20 isn't hanging out in great limpid pools anywhere else. But you could use a LOT less energy to melt ice than it takes to go down to a planet, battle a few billion house apes, and lug it back into orbit.

Just... so silly.

ALSO... I would like to know why certain directors feel that an almost constant use of the shaky cam somehow makes things more... realistic. It doesn't. It just gives me a headache. A couple seconds of "Yow! Camera jiggles!" when a bomb hits? Sure. But why when you're doing a close up of the hero? It's just irritating, unhelpful and self indulgent. We've been seeing movies for 100+ years now. We understand how to suspend our disbelief without you making it look like you shot your $100 million movie on an iPhone.

The action? Meh. Some OK firefights, but really... nothing you wouldn't get in a good WW2 movie. The aliens aren't that alien; they're kind ooky and squishy on the inside and wear cool armor and jump around. But they're bilaterally symmetrical bipeds with fingers, feet, big heads, etc. They ride things that look like giant lawn mowers. Their drone fighter ships look like... pincushions. They shoot guns that make gun sounds with a bit of a tracer trail and some extra "radiation" damage (sometimes).

It's all very lazy, frankly. And they didn't even have the cathartic "Wow! They just blew up a huge building!" stuff. You saw broken buildings and lots of rubble... but not while it happened. Just after the fact, from the Marines' standpoint. And, to be brutally honest, the fun of watching sci-fi devastation was more than a bit dulled by all the images that are coming out of Japan after the quake/tsunami. It's not fair, of course, to compare a real world disaster with a sci-fictional one... but it's almost impossible not to.

Aaron Eckhart did OK. He was playing a tight-lipped, hardened Marine sergeant less than a week from retirement... Yes, they played that old saw. And they showed the nice Marine kid kissing his pregnant wife's belly. And the nice Marine kid picking out flowers for his wedding in less than a week. And the nice Marine kid who'd never had sex. All of the above. Yes.

So... the verdicts.

Flick Value (ie, Was It Fun): C-. Some good booms, some good fights, the acting was OK enough to drag you through the truly shallow and silly plot. The aliens were lackluster, but watching the nice veterinarian lady figure out how to kill them more easily was kinda fun. If you have a value cinema (the "Buck Flick" we call ours), I'd wait the two weeks until this swings around if you must see it.

Film Value (ie, Was It Good): D. Just say "no" to excessive, meaningless shaky cam. Do a bit of homework about water. Share the script with a Freshman writing professor. Give me something... anything... new.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

David Ward Havens, MD: 1939 - 2011

For those of you who hadn't heard, my Dad passed away this last Monday... I'm sorry if you're hearing about it this way. We've been personally calling and emailing as many people as possible... but there's lots to do, and so if we didn't reach out to you one-on-one, please accept my apologies.

I'll be writing more about Dad in the weeks to come. One way that writers process important things is by writing about them. It won't feel real, and I won't really know how I feel, until I have a chance to write may way through some stuff.

The quick version, though, is this:

He had a joyful life, well lived, well loved, the way he wanted it. He worked at a job he absolutely loved for more than 40 years, and only retired last December from it. He was respected by his peers, loved by his family and friends, and was deeply connected to God. While there were many conversations we still could have had, there was nothing important left unsaid between us; nothing unforgiven, nothing hidden, nothing to trouble the years between now and when I see him again.

He will be deeply missed. But he will also be well remembered, for his wisdom, humor and, most of all (to me) his great kindness. I have never met a man who more completely embodied the term "gentle-man."

The two best pieces of advice he ever gave me were, "Study what you love," and "Never pet a burning dog."

I wrote his obituary yesterday. I will be continuing his story for many years.

* * * * *

David Ward Havens, M.D., age 72 of Springfield died Monday February 28, 2011 at North Crest Medical Center.  He was born January 21, 1939 in Westhampton, NY to the late Philip Ward and Anna Roth Havens. Dr. Havens was a member of Springfield First United Methodist Church and was a retired physiatrist. He received his bachelor degree in 1960 from University of Rochester, his MD from Harvard Medical School in 1964, was a veteran of the United States Air Force, serving as a Captain at March Air Force Base from 1968-1970. Dr. Havens operated a private psychiatric practice in Boston, MA from 1970-1992, a practice with an emphasis on integrating Christian faith with treatment in Hendersonville and Springfield, TN from 1992-2007.

David has been active in the United Methodist Church, Bible study, prayer and Christian fellowship his entire life. He was a trained vocal tenor who performed with the Rochester University close-harmony group, “The Yellow Jackets” during his undergraduate days. He was an amateur organist and computer buff, spent much of his life enjoying camping, canoeing, kite building and flying, vintage radio shows and small-carpentry projects. He is also the author of, “A Heart is Healed,” a book of spiritual reflections on the nature of loss, grief and healing.

Memorial services will be held at 4:30 pm on Thursday March 10, 2011 at the Springfield First United Methodist Church, 511 South Oak Street, Springfield, TN 37172, officiated by Dr. Frank Billman and Dr. Fred Hembree, Jonathan Dow will render the musical selections. The family will receive friends at the church beginning at 3 pm on Thursday. In lieu of flowers, please consider a gift to the National Parkinson's Foundation in his name.

Surviving him are his wife of 48 years, Sarah (Sally) Dayton Havens of Springfield, sons and daughters-in-law, Andrew Ward and Christina Rosch Havens of Columbus, Ohio, John Charles and Stacy Derezinski Havens of Maplewood, New Jersey, grandsons, Daniel Ward Havens, Nathaniel Phillip Havens and granddaughter, Sophie Joan Havens.