Movie Review: Sucker Punch

I went and saw Sucker Punch with my friend Nick (@hawzzy) this weekend. It was bad. It was so bad that I found myself repeatedly looking at my watch throughout the movie, wondering not only how the plot would resolve itself (hint: it didn’t, at least not in any sort of satisfactory way) but also how much longer I’d have to sit in my seat watching it.  I went and saw it at Cinebarre in Mountlake Terrace (which is a totally rad place to see a movie/have a couple of beers/eat some food all at once), and if I didn’t have to drive home to Issaquah and work in the morning, I would have drank much more than one beer to get through it.

Describing exactly how and why it was so bad is kind of difficult, because there’s so much to talk about. We’ll start with the plot. Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is admitted into an insane asylum so that her stepfather can have her lobotomized under false pretenses. Shortly after being admitted, however, we get into her head where she’s recast as an orphan being introduced as the new girl at a brothel. She quickly hatches a plan to escape, and enlists a few of the girls at the brothel to help her in her task and ultimately go with her. Being an action movie, getting the key items to make this escape requires some ridiculous fantasy-within-a-dream action sequences which feature the girls fighting giant samurai, steampunk undead zombies, orcs, and robots. Unfortunately, I’m not making this up.

All of this is supposed to evoke some sort of female empowerment revenge fantasy, but all it evoked for me was a mix of boredom and revulsion. In the brothel, the girls always seem to be on the verge of being raped, abused, or otherwise in peril. Casting them as total badasses in Baby Doll’s fantasies doesn’t change this fact, and if anything kind of trivializes the idea that they really could be such heroines. It’s the opposite of empowerment.

It doesn’t help that the action sequences are incredibly formulaic and basically play out the same way each time. It becomes more and more grating, to the point where start to wish they’d hurry things up by the time the last sequence starts. The only positive thing I can say about them is that the music that bookends them works pretty well, even if some of the covers used are awful (the entire soundtrack is nothing but).

On top of everything else, the acting is pretty wooden. Nobody is going to win any awards for their work here, and everyone has done much better work. Director Zack Snyder seems to think that extreme close-ups of his actors can make up for his inability to get much emotion out of them. He’s wrong.

Really, that’s the weirdest thing to me. Snyder has made a bunch of movies that I really like (although I’ve liked them to varying degrees). I kind of had an idea what to expect out of Sucker Punch, and I read some bad reviews before I went and saw it, but even with tempered expectations and as a fan of his previous work, I was severely let down.

Here’s hoping his Superman reboot is a return to form.

Song of the Day: No Use For a Name – Fairytale of New York

I’m not a huge fan of the Christmas season. For a long time, I was cynical about the fact that people can only find it in their hearts to be exceptionally nice to each other for one month out of the year, but I recognize now that it would be unsustainable to do so year-round.

I still don’t like Christmas music very much, but this song (which is a cover by the Pogues, and takes place on and around Christmas more than anything) always reminds me of high school in the best possible way. Best experienced in a car, sung as a duet at 2:00am or later.

No Use For a Name - Fairytale of New York

Semi-Untitled

I’m currently listening to So Much for the Afterglow by Everclear, an album which I haven’t seriously listened to in a number of years. It was one of my favorite albums of junior high, and listening to it conjures a lot of different images—opening the box containing the album on Christmas, playing Final Fantasy III/VI on an emulator, having a strong affection for the song Father of Mine despite the fact that I couldn’t possibly identify with it, a discussion with my best friend about the merits of the album, Sunflowers in particular, etc. These kinds of varied thoughts and memories become permanently associated with an album when I listen to it a lot.

A minute ago when Amphetamine came on, though, my thoughts took a right turn. I listened to SMFTA a lot when I was at home, but the swearing in it always made me be a little secretive about it, despite the fact that the album was a Christmas gift. Although I was a typical male teenager, regularly turning the air blue in the company of friends, I never swore in front of my parents, and I still don’t. This ethos extended to the music I listened to in front of them.

Then I turned 16 and got a car.

In the car, suddenly I had the freedom to listen to what I wanted, and at a volume they surely would’ve found excessive—one of the first habits I developed after I started driving was hitting the mute button on my stereo as I approached my house. Because of this freedom, I’ve always found listening to music in the car to be a slightly different experience to any other venue.

A car is really a terrible place to listen to music. Virtually no cars are designed with any sort of soundstage in mind; no amount of upgrading speakers, wiring, amps, etc. will change the fact that you’re listening to music in an amorphous box. Although I have a nice set of front speakers and an amp in my trunk that powers them, the experience still can’t compare to sticking my headphones in my ears.

That said, there’s a lot of joy to be had in listening to music in the car. I’ve been an overzealous steering wheel drummer for years, to the point where I once had to take my car in because the nut or whatever that holds the wheel on had been slowly jarred loose by my incessant beating on it. There’s something deeply satisfying about slowing down to a stop as a song winds down, shifting gears in a way that makes perfect sense with the cadence, or singing at the top of your lungs with your best friend at 2 in the morning.

Hmm. Maybe sometimes perfection isn’t the point. 

Song of the Day, Whimsy Friday edition: The Aquabats – Pizza Day

I haven’t posted a song of the day in a while, but to make up for it (kind of), here’s one that’s appropriate on multiple levels. For one, it’s very silly, making it perfect for Whimsy Friday. In addition, anyone who knows me knows that I love pizza (perhaps to a fault) so the fact that this week’s dose of silliness deals specifically with the awesomeness of pizza just makes it that much better. The fact that Friday is even Pizza Day in the context of the song is the icing on the metaphorical cake.

I first came across this song as the result of a trip to Southern California that found me and a couple of friends staying with Lisa Huey, who crammed her house so full of people the second night we were there that people literally slept on the deck outside of her apartment. Most everyone was headed toward Ska Summit, an event which was sadly happening shortly after the end of my trip.  Lisa included Pizza Day on a 2-CD compilation for the drive from LA to Vegas (if I remember the details right), and generously gave us copies of it to commemorate our inability to join them.

That’s a lot of words for one silly song. Happy Friday!

Song of the Day, Whimsy Friday edition: Facing New York – Cops on Bikes

With the weekend coming, it semeed appropriate to once again infuse Friday with a little bit of extra whimsy. I may start doing this regularly, but since “regularly” on this blog means something more like “every few weeks” that might not really mean much.

In any case, Facing New York’s Cops on Bikes is a nice, jammy way to get your weekend started, with just enough inertia to help you finish the day out.  I was initially disappointed with FNY’s Get Hot, in part because their previous self-titled album was just shy of pseudo-progressive brilliance. With Get Hot, the pretension was excised and replaced with an ease of creating and playing music that I initially mistook for a lack of vision or inspiration. After a few spins, though, I’ve come around and really like it, even if it still feels like a pretty drastic departure.

Song(s) of the Day: Theatre and Fable – Gatsbys American Dream

Gatsbys American Dream’s Volcano is one of my favorite albums (and no, there is not supposed to be an apostrophe in Gatsbys). I generally have a hard time buying into concept albums, and I’ll admit that on first listen I didn’t make many connections between tracks on this one, but this is one of those albums that rewards repeated listening. Sometimes I’ll read a review of an album where the reviewer is gushing over all the different “characters” and “story lines” present in an album, but when I listen, all I hear is a bunch of songs about a bunch of different stuff. My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade is a great album, but for me, it fails as a concept album. Or maybe I fail as a listener.

Regardless, I’m juxtaposing these songs today because of the thematic threads woven between them. All of Volcano is about human emotions and the ways they resemble a volcano, and these two songs illustrate the way the band conveys this theme with power and subtlety. In Theatre, the album’s opener, Nic Newsham begins the album with the lines, “I see the world in a swirl of hues/but my favorite color is shame,” immediately suggesting strong emotions from the author. In Fable, a disturbingly poppy allegory to Lord of the Flies, Newsham repeats that opening line as the narrator dances around the fire, about to drop the boulder on Piggy and burn the island to the ground. This callback informs the meaning and emotion of both songs, suggesting that the idea of seeing the world in a swirl of hues is associated with feelings of blind rage and hatred.

In addition, during the “violent” portions of Fable, the bass line switches from its regular poppy cadence to that of Theatre, further linking the two songs and the emotions associated with them together. This may seem obvious as you listen to both songs because I’m telling you beforehand, but I’ve been listening to the album since 2005 and just noticed this fact a few weeks ago. It was such a startling realization that it sent chills down my spine.  

Song of the Day: Ben Folds/Nick Hornby – Levi Johnston’s Blues

For the record, I meant to post this this morning, but then I ran out of time. This is what happens when you get it in your head that the only possible option for breakfast is bacon and bacon grease-infused eggs. Life is hard sometimes.

Anyway, this song represents everything that works with Ben Folds and Nick Hornby’s collaboration. It’s just the right mix of clever, poppy and smarmy. It imagines what it must’ve been like for Levi Johnston to realize that his life was never going to be the same having gotten Bristol Palin pregnant, and the way he may or may not have reeled upon hearing the news. The chorus, while a little profane, captures exactly the way a teenager might react to the news that not only was his girlfriend pregnant, but her mother was running for vice president. It’s exactly the kind of belligerent posturing you’d expect from a kid who doesn’t know what else to do with his suddenly very bizarre life circumstances.

Let’s call this an infusion of whimsy for your weekend.

Song of the Day: Swingin’ Utters – Five Lessons Learned

My taste in music didn’t really start to develop into what it is today until high school. I had a few friends with much better taste than me who introduced me to artists and genres that I’m still listening to a decade later.

At first, I liked specific songs rather than albums, and would cherry-pick from their music collections to create compilations, which doesn’t sound like anything special until you realize that the general public had no idea what an mp3 was at the time and CD burners still cost hundreds of dollars. Between the ridiculously catchy main guitar hook and the syncopation, this song got its hooks in me early and demanded that I put it on one of these compilations, though the rest of the album didn’t resonate with me until much later.

Instead of waxing too much nostalgic, I’ll just add that this song (and the same-titled album as a whole, really) is a great way to get moving on a rainy, early Monday like today.

Song of the Day: Streetlight Manifesto – Day In, Day Out

Catch 22’s Keasbey Nights is one of my favorite albums. In high school, my friends and I all shared a lot of music, but actually owning the music I grabbed from them was a big deal to me, so I can clearly remember the day I found a CD of Keasbey at now-defunct Tower Records in Bellevue. 

Many years later, Tomas Kalnoky caught wind that Victory Records was going to release a remastered (read: almost identical) version of Keasbey Nights and decided that he’d rather re-record the entire album with his more recent band, Streetlight Manifesto. He had never been particularly happy with the way the original Keasbey sounded, and savored the opportunity to right what he felt were past wrongs (I personally think he’s insane and that the original Keasbey sounds great, but Kalnoky regularly re-records single songs for different albums and projects, so it’s likely he’s just an insatiable perfectionist). 

Today’s song comes from the fruits of that labor, and while I think that in general, Streetlight’s re-recording of Keasbey Nights borders on unnecessary and is certainly non-essential, a few songs really benefited from the treatment, and this is one of them. Originally, Day In, Day Out simply repeated the same verse twice before moving on to the bridge, whereas now there are two distinct verses, the second of which adds a lot of texture to the meaning of the song. I still don’t know why the narrator ends up “alone/in my room/with a bucket full of phlegm” but I’m OK with that.