Sunday, March 27, 2011

Take that, movie-making scum!

The reviews of "Sucker Punch" (here and here) are so sneeringly negative, I'm actually starting to feel sorry for Zach Synder, of all people. It's a truly terrifying spectacle, an epic-scale, $100 million version of the public humiliation all artists have to be willing to risk in order to dredge something up and offer it to the public. The critics function as the enforcers/playground bullies in this after-school pile-on; exorcising their own free-floating embarrassment -- the timidity that led them to play it safe as critics rather than take chances as creators. Wouldn't blame any budding filmmaker who read these notices for deciding to change careers on the spot. I blush for my former profession.

A critic who does occasionally take chances:
"...["Sucker Punch"] is not convincingly feminine. (Imagine a boy playing with dolls as if they were tin soldiers.) ... It’s bloody but without menstrual awareness; just as its musical pretext neglects to express genuine feminine trauma or yearning. The girls are like Charlie’s Angels—featuring Scott Glenn as a guardian—doing a 'Kill Bill' remake. Fatally, 'Sucker Punch' has no divas. ... Despite their little-girl-wearing-Mommy’s-make-up stylization, these actresses aren’t fierce like the icons in '300.' This neuters Snyder’s video-game logic into a kid’s game."
And the most interesting taker on the film so far, from HG brother blogger Christian Lindke.
The movie is visually stunning, but it shares more with Scorsese's Shutter Island and del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth than it does with the expectations its advertisements create. It is a film of sorrow, hopelessness, loss, despair and the role that fantasy plays in dealing with these powerful emotions. The movie's tagline is "you will be unprepared" and I have never read a more apropos movie tagline. Most people think a tagline like that hints at a narrative twist in the movie, and there is one, but in this case the tagline is telling the viewer that the film's trailer isn't truly preparing the viewer for the experience.


Tulkinghorn said...

All but about two of these critics are people you'd ever have heard of if you didn't read aggregator sites. (And why, in the name of God?)

It's probably meaningful that with the exception of A.O. ("Tony") Scott these are people who are paid to be loud and crass. And even Scott has to work for the New York Times whose standards have declined (if possible) since the days of Bosley Crowther.

Besides, leaping to the defense of Zach Snyder and placing him in the role of artist facing a sea of uncreative philistines is, well, odd. Especially when this one seems to be one of those movies that isn't really, you know, a movie.

Save it for when one of these TV critic wannabes slams Hou Hsiao-Hsien because one of his movies is boring....

David Chute said...

Missing the point. It's less about this movie than about the kind of twisted creatures critics are. Besides, it's way too easy to defend an obvious great artist like Hou. This is more like free-speech advocates who feel a duty to defend the rights even of Nazis.

I cross-posted this on TOH. Anne's response: "Doris Lessing wrote that critics exist to remind everyone what the current conventional thinking is. Any artist working outside the box will offend them."

Tulkinghorn said...

I didn't miss the point -- I disagreed with you.

What you're complaining about is mostly an artifact of our raucous culture -- when hundreds of voices speak, some of them are rude.

I rather like it myself, but YMMV, as they say.

David Chute said...

Critics shouldn't be in the business of slapping artists down for the mere act of expressing themselves. You're disagreeing with that, are you?

Here's the actual Lessing quote, from the 1971 introduction to The Golden Notebook:

"These children who have spent years inside the training system becomes critics and reviewers, and cannot give what the author, the artist, so foolishly looks for – imaginative and original judgment. What they can do, and what they do very well, is to the writer how the book or play accords with current patterns of feeling and thinking – the climate of opinion. They are like litmus paper. They are wind gauges – invaluable. They are the most sensitive of barometers of public opinion. You can see changes of mood and opinion here sooner than anywhere except in the political field – it is because these are people whose whole education has been just that – to look outside themselves for their opinions, to adapt themselves to authority figures, to ‘received opinion’ – a marvelously revealing phrase."

Christian Lindke said...

Having seen "Sucker Punch," I have to say that the film is far from perfect and falls flat in a couple of places.

That said, the film is quite brave. People continually complain that no one is making "original" films. Snyder did exactly that with "Sucker Punch." It is wholly his own creation, with obvious inspirations.

The film transitions between "dream" sequences and "reality" in a way that is unnerving and odd, but when one sees the end of the film one realizes that one watched something they didn't come in to see.

Baby Doll is not only not the "protagonist" of the film, as the twist reveals, but one could argue whether the film's "angels can be anywhere" message is the real message or whether the film is all what the world is like after a lobotomy.

There is something in this film, it is as brave as "Pan's Labyrinth" but not as good.

I admire him for his effort and think this will be a film that will be watched for stylistic and visual skills for years to come. Snyder is a brave and wonderful film maker. He has made everything from "300" to "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'hoole" without the slightest sense of irony.

David Chute said...

By referring to "artifacts" is way of dismissing the point rather than discussing it. Yes, fine, artifacts. But revealing ones.

Tulkinghorn said...

Supporting my point for a second by restating it: I love living in an opinionated culture, even though it means at times that critics -- the instruments of "current patterns of feeling and thinking" become know-nothing bullies and cultural brown-shirts. By artifacts, I meant noting more than that such are the products of the internet/social-network/no-education/no-context society in which we find ourselves these days.

As for the rest: This is wonderful... The Lessing quote has ironies for days -- since the relationship between critics as the creators of conventional wisdom and the reflectors of conventional wisdom is a fruitful source of conversation.

And until I read Christian's post above it had never occurred to me that the movie -- however supportable in the abstract as a victim of cool-kid abuse -- could actually be any good at all. There actually could be something going on here. And I for one welcome a new aesthetic -- even if I hate it.

Tulkinghorn said...

By the way, you will love some related comments of Lessing's from 1992 about political correctness -- she had, after all, her own problems with the savage reactions to her SF tetralogy:

The phrase “political correctness” was born as Communism was collapsing. I do not think this was chance. I am not suggesting that the torch of Communism has been handed on to the political correctors. I am suggesting that habits of mind have been absorbed, often without knowing it.

There is obviously something very attractive about telling other people what to do: I am putting it in this nursery way rather than in more intellectual language because I see it as nursery behavior. Art — the arts generally — are always unpredictable, maverick, and tend to be, at their best, uncomfortable. Literature, in particular, has always inspired the House committees, the Zhdanovs, the fits of moralizing, but, at worst, persecution. It troubles me that political correctness does not seem to know what its exemplars and predecessors are; it troubles me more that it may know and does not care.

David Chute said...

Happy to replace my point (that critics are always "know-nothing bullies and cultural brown-shirts") with yours (that when lots more people are yelling, the loudest voices rule) if that makes you feel better.

Tulkinghorn said...

I feel fine.... I'm actually agreeing with you.

Although I am by no means in accord with your point that the loudest voices rule.

If Christian is right, the loudest voices will be revealed in time as being foolishly wrong. And that's how it works.

Once more: The fact that some idiot gets quoted in some critic aggregator is no sign of anything. He or she can be safely and profitably ignored.

Christian Lindke said...

I really think that a part of the critics' reaction is that they didn't see the film they thought was advertised. It's a weird piece, and I'm increasingly coming to think that it is a strongly tragic piece. The more I think about the structure of the film, and visual clues, the more I believe that any vengeance fantasy aspect of the film is exactly that...fantasy.

It's funny. In "Pan's Labyrinth," I chose to accept the fantasy ending at the end as reality. I wanted so badly for the girl to be safe. In "Sucker Punch," it doesn't matter whether the fantasy is the reality or mere fantasy, the girl is "safe" either way. The message is very much the same as "Shutter Island."

Would you rather live life a monster, or "die" a hero?

David Chute said...

I agree that something about this particular movie seems to bug people -- and not just because they feel queasy about its sexuality. (It would perhaps be a more honest film if it was rated R, like its Japanese antecedents, but with a price tag of $100 million that obviously wasn't an option.) The vindictiveness with which SP is being ground underfoot is puzzling, unless some sort of black oil in the heart of The Critic is bubbling to the surface.

Christian Lindke said...

I agree that the film could have better met Snyder's honest intentions if it had been rated R, but I wonder if it would have reached the audience that should be watching this film.

There's something tragically humanist about this film that I think needs discussing. There is something there. I don't know that Snyder quite captured it, but I do know that one could have some genuinely interesting discussions about this picture akin to discussions after "Shutter Island."

It's a strange film that needs the idyllic fantasy segments to work, and I don't think the film would be better if we saw Baby Doll's dances -- which are only happening in one of the fantasy layers of the film. We never see the action that really happens, if there is any action to see in the first place.

David Chute said...

If there really is a "levels of fantasy" theme here I may have to see it -- though probably later on, in a plain red wrapper.

Christian Lindke said...

The story has the following layers:

Reality -- Act 1
"The Club" -- Acts 2 - 4
"The Dream within the Dance" -- Acts 2 -4
"Reality" -- Act 5, I put this Reality in quotes due to the fact that it may or may not be reality depending on the reading of the film.

Acts 2 - 4 alternate between "The Club" and "The Dream within the Dance" depending on what is happening at that moment. All dances happen at the level of "The Club" and at no time does Baby Doll dance in the real world.

David Chute said...

This is great stuff, Christian. No one else has been able to to pull their head out long enough to be intelligent about this movie. No one. Put it up on Cinerati so that I can send a link around!

Don't recall your response to "Inception." Is there a likeness? I made the mistake of watching that one on DVD; seeing the last 20 minutes again here at the Bridges, prior to this event--

Wally Pfister Q&A

--it felt majestic and operatic, and was surprisingly moving. What amazed me was the moment Pfister mentions, in fact, when they wake up in the plane and share a look that acknowledges what they've been through together. Without a word of dialog. That's when the hiring of that "overqualified" cast really pays off.

Christian Lindke said...

I found "Inception" to be remarkable and yet another argument for why it is so important to see films on the big screen if you can.

Christian Lindke said...

Oh...and I took your advice and wrote a post.

Christian Lindke said...

For sheer marketing's sake, would you mind turning your thoughts on my comments into a new post?

It may seem an odd request, but some people don't check to see if posts have been updated.

Thanks for the link, and the kind words.