Thursday, January 31, 2013

Review: Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles

My Edition: Standard single disc edition DVD.

History: The rights for the story based on the Anne Rice novel of the same name were optioned to Paramount back in the mid-70s before the novel was even published. Anne Rice also wrote the novel with the role of Lestat to eventually be played by Rutger Hauer. However once the film was first attempted to be produced John Travolta was approached to take the role. After multiple delays the film was eventually put into production having Tom Cruise play Lestat, something she was originally very opposed to. Once she saw his performance she was so impressed that she wrote a letter of apology for being so doubtful and to express how pleased she was with the performance. Christian Slater's role was originally for River Phoenix. In memory of him Christian Slater donated his entire pay to two of River's favorite charities. Later on Brad Pitt would come out stating how miserable he was working on the film. It was a combination of his wardrobe, the contacts he wore for the vampire eyes, and playing second fiddle to Tom Cruise on and off screen. At one point during production he tried to find a way out but was unsuccessful. The film had a budget of approx. $60 Million. It earned a total of approx. $223 Million in theatres worldwide.

Personal History: This is my first full viewing. However I do remember somehow seeing a couple different scenes when I was way too young. Those scenes include when they first turn the child into a vampire and she is feeding for the first time. The other was the scene was the one at the theatre. That sort of thing will stick with you.

Review: I realized something when I was watching this title. I've never had a particular fondness for the classic monsters. That's not to say I don't like them, I just never got into them. Never got into the mummy, wolfman, invisible man, they just never tripped my trigger. I would be interesting in checking out those now but in the end I'll just have a stronger fondness for giant monster movies (Godzilla, naturally) and serial killers both realistic (Se7en) and super natural (Friday the 13th). However of all the classic monsters I have liked both Frankenstein's monster and Dracula. More so Dracula. This gave me a good lead in to watching this title cause it was a subject matter I am already interested in. Vampires are very fascinating creatures if you ask me... in it's traditional story. Don't get me started on modern vampires and how instead of their power and sexuality being feared it's more so risen to a desirable level. But that's not what we're talking about here. Interview with the Vampire is good and dark. Just the way a vampire tale should be. Over the course of the next two hours is tons of blood, sex, and dark actions. This is gonna be sweet!

However it starts out in a way that frustrates me. It starts out in the future. I've said it before and I'll say it again. This is not good storytelling when it's a story where the stakes are this high. It kills all tension that Louis (Brad Pitt) could possibly die or even be horrifically damaged. Right from the beginning he is shown as squeaky clean and alive enough to tell a story than spans two hundred years. I just can't stand when this is done. I would rather see it in chronological order unless there's a particular reason for it. I didn't feel this one had those reasons cause there was no reason to keep secrets in the "present" time that can be revealed from old secrets. Not the most concrete example but the first thing that comes to mind is the Saw franchise. There are a lot of secrets in that story that make it more exciting to reveal at a later time because it changes everything you previously understood. However that's a slow reveal over time that is then revealed at different "present" times. This on the other hand is just Brad Pitt coming on screen and saying, "I'm a vampire. Man, I've had some crazy shit happen since then. Wanna hear about it?"

Once I got beyond that I did dive myself into an incredibly engaging vampire tale. What I did like is how it started with Louis becoming a vampire. No boring back story on who he is. Enough is said in a quick monologue to start the story. Cause I could care less who he was before. I want to know who he is as a vampire. Louis is a man who welcomed death after the tragedy of his wife and child dying. He is hunted down by Lestat (Tom Cruise) who sees into him, attacks him to the point of death, but offers to have him drink of his blood so Louis can too become a vampire. He gladly accepts while on his death bed, and that's when the real story begins. What I loved was the initial transaction Louis had from losing his former self as a mortal and becoming a vampire. He has new abilities and new hungers. I absolutely loved his sense of humanity left in him when he struggles to kill to drink. You can tell he is constantly conflicted and he finds himself drinking the blood of rats over the blood of humans in some cases. It's a beautiful example of the adjustments someone would have to go through when becoming such a creature.
This is also aided by Lestat's persuasion. He is such a suave man who seems capable of taking anything or anyone that he wants to. He's smart. He's been at this for a long time and what feels like the few times he's had downfalls was not because of his actions. Not always, that is. I would say his downfalls are those he is surrounded by. It's because of the actions of Louis that he seems to have downfalls. Otherwise it would seem like he was on easy street. It's when he wasn't able to take full control over his mentee that things got worse. Sure he could have been a little better at interpersonal communication (There's that college degree at work) but I don't really feel like his direct actions caused some of the more negative things that happened. Maybe poor judgement. He is responsible for transforming both Louis and eventually Claudia (Kirsten Dunst), a child vampire, and so his judgement on bringing them on may have been his biggest mistake. But at the same time it would be hard to predict how they would turn out. Minus turning a child. That just seems logical to predict it would be trouble.
Speaking of, I felt it was pretty ballsy to have a child turned into a vampire. These are vicious, sexualized, dangerous monsters. So having a child turn is something as horrifying as that is pretty controversial right off the bat. Also I previously mentioned how Lestat should have known that turn a child and giving them that much power would be bad. Children don't think the same and therefore will make worse decisions than a fully developed adult. Their kills may be excessive or messy. Then with their special abilities in general they could do a lot of damage not just to mortals but potentially other vampires as well. So unless a child is taught well and strictly they could be a danger to all of those around them. Well, Claudia does become something of a burden, especially when she first starts off. She is going for kill after kill constantly without really thinking about it. Also when she starts rebelling (somewhat) she goes so far as finds a way to kill Lestat in a very evil, sneaky way. Some people's children.

One thing I was surprised about was how little Lestat wound up being in this movie. I guess generally speaking I understood that he was the big star when in fact it was Louis. I was a little disappointed in this because I liked the first half a lot. The second half on the other hand I felt dragged on a bit and the only part I was super into was the performance in the theatre. I believe this was because of the lack of Lestat. The relationship between him, Louis, and Claudia was way more interesting and satisfying than watching them walk around looking for other vampires for the second half of the story after they (think) they killed Lestat. I find it strange that I felt this way because at first I was not into Tom Cruise's performance.
You see, Brad Pitt right off the bat seemed like such a good fit. He did such an amazing and believable job that it made you forget who was playing the character, a plague that happens in a lot of movies with big name actors. Tom Cruise on the other hand I didn't feel was as good right away. He looked great! I loved his visual presence. However his voice is so distinct that it was hard not to think it was Tom Cruise instead of a vampire. But he was an acquired taste in this one. The more the story went on the more I was into his character. Slowly I forgot Cruise and I was all in Lestat. Then Claudia goes and she (thinks she) kills him and we're down one person in attendance. A strong character in the story is killed(?) off leaving what feels like a big hole that requires big shoes to be filled.

...okay I won't tease any longer. By now you've noticed I've been vague about Lestat's death in the story. Here comes the big criticism again. So in the lore of the story (and with vampires, too? I really don't know so if you wanna nerd all over me feel free) a vampire can only drink the blood of those with a beating heartbeat. Once the heart stops so must the vampire or else it could be fatal. Why then the vampires can pour the blood of dead rats into a glass and enjoy it like a fine wine is beyond me but I guess that's for another day. So around the half way point (more or less) Claudia brings home a surprise to Lestat. It appears to be a pair of passed out drunkards for him to feed on. Well as double crosses work she actually brought him two dead bodies. After he drinks the dead blood he begins choking as if he were poisoned. This is followed up by his throat being slashed and blood abundantly is spraying everywhere. His body is then disposed of in a swamp and chomped on by an alligator. Now if this was it then I would be fine. It makes sense that he is now dead as a vampire could be because it looks like all the right tricks were done to kill an otherwise immortal. But (Spoilers obviously) he comes back not only once but TWICE throughout the story. I felt the first time he came back it was far fetched for the story that's been going on so far. But the second time and then he just felt like Jason Vorhees who wouldn't die. It was cheesy and almost laughable.
Speaking of laughable, I felt for a vampire tale that is otherwise taken quite seriously there were also many moments that were oddly comedic. And by it being oddly comedic I mean that I felt it didn't quite fit. The key moment that comes to mind is when Claudia is first getting a feel for when and how (and how often) she should feet. The way the montage is pulled together is very silly and feels more like a comedy than anything else. Like the scene when she feeds off a tailor working on her dress and Lestat comes in the room reacting like she spilled a glass of milk scolding her about the need to finish the outfit. Grated their perspective on death it very different, it's just that the tone of the montage felt much lighter than other parts of the film.
I guess that's one of the bigger issues I have with the film as a whole. For the most part it has an excellent dark tone that you'd expect from an old school style vampire story. But there are far too many times when the tone changes to way too light of a feel. I already mentioned the montage. But then there's the scene when Louis finds another vampire in an alleyway and the vampire is literally dancing around upside down on the overhang of a bridge. Then there's also a surprisingly lighter ending (well... death is involved) to an otherwise dark tale. I was really surprised by the lighter tone in some parts, as well as a bit disappointed. I was hoping for something darker throughout. And boy it does get dark, really dark in some parts. But having those surprisingly light parts was a mood killer.

In the end I did find this to be an absolutely fantastic film that got more right than wrong. Like I said before it is very dark. My favorite scene, the scene in the theatre, is probably the darkest scene in the movie. I mean, we're talking about a set of vampires putting on a play portraying vampires. So the audience thinks it's all just a story and don't realize that the feeding of the young woman right in front of them is actually real. It's really creepy and given the context of an unaware audience it makes it even better.
Another thing done really well is casting. As much as I didn't care for Tom Cruise at first I came around to him as the film went on. But the thing I liked the most is the look of everyone. Anyone who knows anything basic about vampires is that their nature is to seduce into the kill. So having a group of sexy and/or attractive people makes it work out better. Say what you will about Tom Cruise but he is a good looking guy if you ask me from a heterosexual position. Not to mention so is Brad Pitt but I didn't have to tell you that. Then Antonio Banderas shows up later as well. Then lastly there is Kirsten Dunst who I feel is a very beautiful woman and was very pretty at a younger age as well. So having a movie full of not entirely knockouts but good looking people it certainly helped with the nature of the vampires sexuality.
Lastly, of my main points, this movie looks good because of good direction, design, and visual effects. This was made back in the early 90s. A time when organic effects were put together really well and CG was either not present or barely present because it was still in a very early stage in development. So I felt most of the effects looked excellent throughout. Of course there will be a few that don't look good including the use of CG where it didn't need to be used. Overall it looks amazingly good. I have always enjoyed the look and feel of movies in the 90s. The way they look and feel are among the best.

You probably already knew this, but if you're into vampire tales I would say this is one of the best modern stories you'll get on screen.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Second Disc: Home Video Formats

This is a subject most people only give a second thought on if they're thinking about their childhood or how much they're willing to spend on a movie. Although in the end I would say there are a few key types when they're looking at movies on different formats:
-Gotta have the highest resolution copy of everything. Fight Club now in Blu-ray? FUCK YOU DVD! I've got a NEW copy to pick up.
-Well all I have is a cheap DVD player from Wal-Mart so I guess I'll buy it on DVD.
-Why would anyone buy anything new when they could go to Goodwill and buy movies on tape for a dollar?
-I'll buy what I can afford. If it's a good deal on Blu-ray I would rather have that.
...and the list goes on.

Then you have people like me where the format you watch it on really does matter. Now for me a theatrical format is the the ideal format for any film, but even in there it differs but only slightly. I'll save that for another second dis. But there's a list of different factors that go into this that determine what would go best with the proper home video format to give you the best experience based on what you're watching. I'll go piece by piece and provide specific examples for these to give you an idea what I'm talking about.
Please note I will only touch on formats I have extensive experience with. This list will not include formats like Betamax or HD-DVD.

VHS: This format is a classic to many people my age because this is how they experienced most of the movies they saw growing up. This is also a format I would say a lot of people still have even if it is just collecting dust in their basement. Most of the time when people revisit VHS these days is when they re-watch an old favorite from the 90s or earlier, or are too cheap to buy newer formats (I know some folks like this). I don't blame them for being cheap or nostalgic but there's one major killing factor in VHS that drives me away from it. Full screen. Now not all films on VHS are in full screen. There are some widescreen versions but those are few and far between. I only have a hand full myself. But a film being in full screen for a purist like myself is blasphemy. A film should only be viewed that way if that's how it was intended to be seen. This makes VHS almost always an awkward choice when collecting. You're more than likely getting an incomplete version of a film that looks less legitimate. There are only three situations in which I would intentionally watch or purchase a movie in the full screen format on VHS outside of the obvious:

-The first would be nostalgia. I grew up watching certain movies like this. When I watch it any different than on VHS it does feel a bit off. Two examples that come to mind is Dumb & Dumber and Airplane! A couple times I watched the same movies on DVD. They were in their proper format and the exact same movie. For some reason I couldn't get past in and wanted to go back to my VHS copies.
-The second would be temporary compromise. I have a lot of Disney movies in their old clam shell cases from the 90s. Some of these are already intended to be full screen because of their age but most aren't. Now here's another thing. The DVDs are rare and expensive. But these are great films! And if I can get them for a dollar a piece and replace them later on after I saved up enough cash I am willing to do so. This goes for any other rare/more expensive title. I would never do this with mainstream popular titles like The Dark Knight (not on VHS of course, too new) because those would be cheap really quickly anyway. I wouldn't be waiting long for those so I wouldn't bother with a potentially slightly cheaper copy just to have it.
-Lastly the rarity of an edition or cut. The only example I can think of off the top of my head is THX-1138. When I was in high school George Lucas remastered and re-released a director's cut of this early arthouse film of his in theatres and providing that DC on DVD shortly thereafter. This did not include the original cut of the film. I stumbled across a VHS copy of the original cut of the film at a video rental store a few years back and knew I had to pick it up. I am still yet to get the DVD DC but when I do I plan on keeping my tape copy for collector's purposes since it is technically different.

The obvious is that the format is already supposed to be full screen. This is why I'm okay with my VHS copy of King Kong and other older films. I don't need them on DVD since they're already in this format. It's not just because of this, though. Sometimes VHS' quality of video is what makes the film. When I watch King Kong and Son of Kong on VHS I get a different experience than when I watch Mighty Joe Young, another monkey movie I have on DVD. These were all made around the same time, all black and white, all a similar theme, all have stop motion for the apes, but it feels different between formats. The reason why is because DVD is too clean. Having the grain and fuzziness of VHS is a plus cause it puts you into the seats of the people who saw it way back when it first came out. Film was not as crisp and clean as it is on DVD way back then so it's unrealistic to watch it on DVD. It's a much richer experience with not as rich quality in image and sound.

This is something that I'm not that strict on in most areas because it's really hard to be. However there is one film I am the strictest with on VHS. The Shining. Arguably it's my number one favorite film of all time and I don't see that changing anytime soon. Before I get into why I prefer my VHS copy I want to go into a little history. When Stanley Kubrick was first utilizing widescreen he, of course, hated how when they went on home video they would be in full screen. This means all the work he put into making 2001: A Space Odyssey the visual beauty it is in the widescreen format was almost a waste because so much of it would be missing in the home video release. So starting with The Shining and everything he made after that (Which was just Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut) he filmed it in a unique aspect ratio. How it worked was that in theatres it would be presented widescreen but when it was on home video it would be in full screen but wouldn't lose any of the intended art or charm that went along with it. How it worked was that when in widescreen it would show more on the left and right but less on the top and bottom. Whereas on home video it would reverse that. Less on the left and right but the treat is that you get more on the top and bottom. In other words Kubrick had very specific intentions when it came to the home video releases of his films (as he was with everything else he was involved in). So one reason why I have it on that format is out of respect. He intended on me seeing it in this full screen format on home video and in the widescreen theatrically. I have seen it theatrically and it was the only time I saw it in widescreen.
The other reason why I am strict about having it on home video is again the image quality. The Shining is scary as shit! It's a freaky, freaky movie. There's a reason why it's called a masterpiece in modern horror, because it is! I feel a level of this is spoiled when it's cleaned up and released digitally mastered. Go ahead and do that with other Kubrick films but not this one. The blur and fuzziness in the screen not only takes a person back to the seats of it's original release in 1980, but it adds to the creepiness. Is cleanliness scary? Well... not typically. But a clean picture is very post 2000s with HDTVs and such. This was in a much different era of film. This one needs to have that blur and fuzzy image to keep it at the creepy level it needs to be. It may be a minor thing to some people but this makes the imagery that much more unsettling I feel. The mystery of staring directly into the unknown or not knowing exactly what horror you're looking at. You may have to lean in closer or become more involved to understand what's going on. Then when it hits you it's so much more effective because of the level of investment you put into it. When it's crisp and clear it's less of a surprise cause you may be able to see father ahead, literally, than was intended.
I will always make sure to have a VHS copy of The Shining, specifically the original run of the tape, on hand for me to watch until I can find one no more. Then the next step if I'm forced to "upgrade" to DVD I would only buy the older Stanley Kubrick Collection edition of the film that was still presented in the full screen format.

My conclusion of the format? It was good in it's day. It worked. We didn't know any better and it's what was available to us. It has not aged well, though. I only revisit this format mostly out of nostalgia. Otherwise I try not to go toward it.

Laserdisc: This is going to be the most obscure format on the list. To those of you who don't know, laserdisc is the disc format that came before DVD, and it's the size of a vinyl record. Since putting a film on a disc was such a new technology only so much video could fit onto a single side of a laserdisc. This means for a typical ninety minute film you may only have to flip over the disc once to watch the last half. However if you're watching Ben-Hur you're looking at playing part one, watch about an hour, flip the disc over, watch about the same amount, put in the next disc, watch another hour, flip over the new disc, watch the rest of the film. It's pretty prehistoric in execution but the quality of the film was greatly increased over VHS. This format would die really quickly because the mainstream chose convenience over quality, but luckily DVD wasn't too far off from here. Which is a shame because I look at laserdisc like the vinyl records of it's time, obviously. They were a nice, high quality, their cases could hold more so they looked like art books as is, and they could do more overall unlike a VHS tape. This is also when a particular film distributor started up that would help me in my journey through discovering more and more film, The Criterion Collection.

The Criterion Collection is something I will need an entire separate entry to talk about so I'll only touch on it briefly here and in the DVD segment next. In short, The Criterion Collection is a film distribution company that specializes in the most important, most unique, and rarest of films and puts them into the best package deal you'll ever need. Obviously with continuing changing technology there will always be something "better" that comes along but essentially their mission is to give you the last version you'll ever have to buy. That's because they use the format at hand (in this case laserdisc) to give the best possible picture and sound as well as include tons of bonus features. On the discs there will be interviews, special commentaries, a documented history on the film they're presenting, among many, many other things. For a point of reference think of the special features on an average modern DVD but then put it on crack cause they try and gather everything important that needs to be on there and put it on there. This may also include essays as inserts with the package deal. So this is where The Criterion Collection first started to shine and set an example. They weren't the only ones to do this. In general the laserdisc version of a film would have more to it. Most of the time with a VHS tape it would be just the movie and maybe a trailer of the film at best. Laserdisc offered much more and was presented the way the film needed to be. That's right. Laserdisc were in flippin widescreen... for the most part. There are still some laserdiscs that came out in full screen (I sadly have a few) but for the most part you'll see plastered across the cover "Letterbox Edition" or "Widescreen."

There are drawbacks to this format, more than other formats sadly. As good as the image looked, as good as it sounded, as pristine of an edition you'd be getting of many films, boy oh boy were there some issues with the format.
First was the issue I mentioned earlier, the flipping of the discs. As of this point the most people would have to do is switch to tape number two if they were watching Lawrence of Arabia or something because of how long it is. But with laserdisc only holding so much on each side of each disc you're going to see plenty of stops and starts during any movie depending on length. But unless it's a short film or a TV show episode you really are looking at getting up during any movie at least once or as much as three times to watch the whole thing. Personally I think this is a minor price to pay for what was such a great technology at the time of it's release. I think it shows laziness for this to be a drawback to the format actually. However it is pretty nice to just start a film and let it go until the end. Imagine what it would be like if you went to the movie theatre today and you had to wait about a pinch of time every 40-60 minutes for the projectionist to change reels? It would really take you out of the action.
However this is a much larger price to pay when it came to lasers back when they came out, the price itself. These were pretty expensive when they first came out. Now that's the case for any new format. For a more recent example I remember when Blu-ray first came out and you were looking at paying $30-$50 on a single movie that may only have some special features. BD is still a bit on the expensive side but it's slowly gone down, but that's because it has caught on in the mainstream. Since lasers never had that mainstream appeal they never caught on as well as other formats which meant that they didn't drop in price a whole lot up to their demise. It's just not something people were willing to invest in at the time. Too bad there wasn't a game console that played laserdiscs and then everything would have been better!
(Well, the 3DO planned to have a VCD (Video CD) player attachment but it never came out).
The last thing is more of a modern problem with the format, rarity. Unlike VHS tapes which you can still find a huge pile of for dirt cheap at any thrift store you're not as likely to find lasers. I'm lucky that I like within walking distance of a book store that has a stack of them for a reasonable price, but that's my selection. That's what I have to work with. If they don't have anything I'm particularly interested in then it's not as exciting or maybe not even worth my hard earned money. Another option is to shop online (Duff's Laserdiscs, check it out) but if you don't know, lasers are heeeeeeeeeavy. If you stack a bunch together it could potentially cost you a lot just to ship them. I have ordered lasers online before and it did cost me quite a bit to have them shipped. Good thing the initial price of the movies were really cheap. This is also a blessing in disguise cause it makes me appreciate every one that I have more. If I was buying them left and right constantly like I do with DVD it wouldn't be as special when I get a new one.

Much like VHS there is a level of appropriateness of what should be viewed on this format. While VHS is the best, easiest solution for much older films, laserdisc is mostly appropriate for what was released in that time frame or slightly earlier. This is because the films released in this time was before the digital remastering was as popular or as intense in the cleaning up. So if you pick up, let's say, Alien 3. Say what you will about the film itself but it still has it's original, non-digitally remastered flaws within the copy on it's first release on laserdisc. Also it's in widescreen and it doesn't have the potential for lines across the screen like VHS has. It's much smoother of a home experience. Basically the feeling it gives is similar to the experience you would have in the theatres. So I would say the widescreen copies of most films released somewhere between the 70s and the 90s on laserdisc are the closest to the original experience when it was first in theatres. Not like this is going to change anyone's mind since we live in an age where sharper automatically equals better, period.
Another level of appropriateness comes alive in TV shows on laserdisc. When watching a TV show on a VHS tape, even an official release copy, it still has that taped off of TV feel to it cause a lot of the flaws of a tape come through. DVD is too sharp for older shows which I'll get into in a little bit. But with laserdisc, much like with the films, the best and most authentic experience is with shows that were released when laserdisc was out or shows a bit before that. The best example I can give is Twin Peaks. When Twin Peaks first came out I was too young to know about it nor would have my parents allowed me to watch it. I did watch a lot of TV throughout the 90s so I do have a good understanding how TV looked and felt back then. Twin Peaks has been released on multiple formats but the one I have is on laserdisc. I have never seen this show outside of laserdisc and I never would want to watch it any other way. Much like The Shining I love the way it looks on the format. I know VHS would have that taped off  TV feel like I mentioned earlier, and I've seen screenshots online taken from the DVD and it's too sharp for my tastes. Even though I never saw it when it first came out, the laserdiscs bring out the look and feeling a show in it's original run in the 90s had. Also I feel it does a great job of presenting the world properly, just like the shining. It seems to have this blended glow to the image. Not fuzzy, almost glow-like, though. And if you've never seen Twin Peaks let me tell you, it's a strange world. As I watch through it I don't really look at it existing in a universe you and I could live in. It's a whole other world filled with bizarre characters and horrid things happening underneath a pleasant looking exterior. You know, what David Lynch does best. Having the particular look to it's laserdisc execution brings alive that feeling. It looks great because of these details.

In the end laserdisc is incredibly niche, even back when it first came out. It never gained a lot of popularity. I'm just glad there's still a crowd out there that's into it enough so people like myself can discover and collect and enjoy it's greatness.

DVD: Without a doubt the most popular format available right now. It's cheap and easy to use DVDs and you can pick up a DVD player for as low as $20 now. They're everywhere and you can get almost anything you want on them. If you're looking to start a good sized collection of films I would start with collecting DVDs. You can get a lot of great, classic films to kick start it for dirt cheap. Seriously. Target has a $5 section and they always have some good classics in there (among some crap). Also DVDs will work on most devices these days because of the ease of the technology. You can use them on your computer, most modern gaming systems, watch them in your car, on a plane, built into your TV, etc, etc. Also for what they are and how cheap they are they do look really good. The average DVD has a great image for it's price. And if you're watching it on something HD compatible it upgrades the image quality to look even better than the standard definition.
Now that I'm really thinking about it, I don't know what all I can even say about DVD. Not because I have nothing good to say about it, only that I have little bad to say about it. It's a damn near perfect format. Most of the time the movie choice is in the original widescreen format. It tends to have a nice, crisp picture that suits the movie you're watching, and lots of times it at least has a fair amount of special features for the film buffs out there. There is just so much good about DVD that this will probably be my shortest blurb about any of these formats. Seriously! To put it another way, most of the movies I own are on DVD. Not even necessarily out of coincidence. It's because it's a beautiful format, they're easy to afford (I have gotten tons of great movies in the clearance bin at Half Priced Books), and you can currently watch them just about anywhere. They're even bigger than VHS ever was back in it's day.
The only downfalls I can think of for DVD are two things. For one it has the same problem of CDs when it gets scratched. If your DVD gets scratched than parts of the movie will either skip or freeze. This is one element that VHS has over DVD. When a VHS tape gets old it simply has a bit of a fuzzier image but doesn't skip or stop the movie entirely. Not a major annoyance. Just be sure to take good care of your movies. Also the problem is easy to fix if you know how to buff it.
The other problem I have with DVD is the fact that it still produces (not as much recently) in the full screen format. I don't have as much of a problem with this when it includes both. I have Little Miss Sunshine on a double sided DVD. One side is full, the other wide. Then I have Finding Nemo, it includes a second disc that has the full screen version. To each their own I guess. If that's what they want then go for it. Just remember that they're totally destroying the original vision into a cramped mess. Yes you watch the same movie but in a downgraded image, but I digress. The bigger problem I have with this is when a movie is sold as either one format or another. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. Take a look at the DVDs just below and tell me what looks different.


In case you can't tell the only sign of what the screen ratio is, is in the bottom left hand corner and is nearly invisible. This is a much more extreme example so I'll also show a more prominent example as well. 

I know people like myself who look for these things knows where to look. But if you're the average shopper, walk past the new release rack and just grab the movie you could be in for something that isn't what it should be. Also I'm sure a lot of the average shoppers will look at the two, see the different color label but then wonder what the difference is. More than once as a gift I did receive the full screen version of a movie. I have since replaced them or approached the person to see if I could get the receipt to do an exchange. They've always understood so I never offended anyone with it.
But those are essentially my two big complaints with DVD. When it comes to the special features it's always a mixed bag. Lots of times the more features it has the more expensive it will be. So if you buy the $5 bin edition of Lord of the Rings you're not gonna get as many special features as the mega, four disc edition that you have to pay around $30 for. That's a given. Also it really depends on the video quality based on who released the movie. But for the most part the format is a beauty with very few flaws. I know I'll be watching my DVDs and won't replace them until the damage done to them through multiple viewings makes then no longer watchable. It's a beautiful format and I prefer to watch about 9 out of every 10 movies on that format.

Blu-ray: This is a format I was really excited about when it first hit. Being a big fan of Playstation I knew I would be getting my hands on some BDs when the PS3 hit (which I was able to get about 3 months after launch). I actually went out and bought my first BD before I even got a PS3 (The BD was Saw 3). Just something to get me hyped up about it. I think it's safe to say I got caught up in the HD wave of entertainment that hit bigger in the mainstreams nearly a decade ago. Although it wasn't until after some time that I finally got myself an HDTV to play it on. Luckily I had other resources at the time so I could utilize the system the way it was meant to be played. So I got the system, got the movies, got the TV and I am in HD heaven. However it didn't take me too long to discover some things about BD that are big drawbacks or just plain unnecessary.

First I'll start with the good. Given the right movie the BD copy can look damn good. There are a few movies/franchises I intentionally buy on BD because of how they look or are presented. One of which is the Chris Nolan Batman film. These are big stories so I want them presented in such a way when I watch them at home. Also, getting them on BD is the best because it's the most complete version available. When The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises were in theatres there were scenes that were filed using IMAX cameras. These scenes filled up the standard square image of the IMAX screen giving more on screen at once, whereas in the standard theatrical run it was presented cropped so you're missing things on the top and bottom. While it doesn't give the full image on the BD copy, it does fill up the screen entirely giving a likeness to the experience there was in the IMAX theatres.
The movies I also like to get on BD are Pixar and select super hero movies. I could have gotten The Avengers on a great deal on DVD on Black Friday but I wanted to get in on BD. Haven't gotten it yet but I am holding out for a good deal on the HD copy. This again deals with the scope and visuals. It looks damn good and feels damn good in HD so I feel it is giving it proper treatment. But along the visual spectrum I also insist on getting the Pixar films on BD. I recently picked up Brave on BD and it looks incredible. Having that crispness in the picture enhances the visuals that were being accomplished in the CG animation. I love the way it looks and feels and I wouldn't want to watch it any other way. BD gives off amazing visuals and incredible sound. Also they tend to have way more special features by default over DVD so that's an added bonus.

Now as good as BD is on the surface, there's plenty about it where it doesn't necessarily fail, but just makes the format a bit unnecessary.
One thing I've noticed is that unless a film is especially strong in the visuals it's not that much of a different experience watching said movie on DVD. Now it is noticeable how much crisper it is, but I'll use The Hunger Games as a recent example. On Black Friday I picked up The Hunger Games on BD. About a month or so earlier I saw it as well on DVD from Redbox. Yes I could notice the difference between the DVD copy and the BD copy. However it was mostly in the brighter scenes (i.e. the TV interviews, the hotel rooms) but since a lot of this movie takes place in darker areas it didn't quite have that excelling visuals that other titles have. It wasn't terribly noticeable throughout the movie as a whole. And besides, if you're engaged in the movie chances are you're not focusing on the overall video content but rather the story, especially if it's a visual difference as little as the one between DVD and BD. So would have I bought The Hunger Games on DVD any other day? Of course. It was mostly because of the deal that got for the BD.

Ironically the HD quality of the image can hurt a film, too. This mostly applies to older titles, independent films, or horror films with specifically designed darker scenes/imagery. Now it may sound like I'm contradicting myself. If the crispness wasn't noticeable in the darker scenes in The Hunger Games then why would it make a difference in a horror film? Simple. The Hunger Games turned down the lights cause it was night time. A horror film is dark for the purposes of atmosphere so it is used differently. Also since a good element of horror is the unknown then why would you want to watch one in HD where the quality of the image is higher? Objectively it just doesn't make sense. As a double whammy I am thinking of the Paranormal Activity franchise. One could make the argument that the characters purchased HD cameras for the purposes of filming their events. But I think there's a big difference between homemade HD and professional HD. Watching an indie film that is supposed to have this "home-made" element in HD just doesn't make sense. It's like how a lot of movies nowadays are both intentionally messy looking yet have this crisp, bright image (see the Transformers movies). But not just with Paranormal Activity having that mixed elements of making it unnecessary HD. Another horror movie I'm thinking of that came out around the same time I was getting into BD is Silent Hill. Now say what you will about the movie, but the point is to get into this very atmospheric, terrifying world. I just can't help but feel that, that world is tainted when it all is so crystal clear in front of you. Having that slight blur and grain that goes along with DVD in a BD player can go a long way.
Now with older titles it's a different story. Yes I am guilty of owning a few older titles on BD, but again it was a matter of a heck of a deal so I'm a little bit of a hypocrite there, too. But here's the thing. Whether it was pushing boundaries of visuals at it's time it still worked with what it had then. Whenever you go back and do a digital remastering of a movie chances are something is going to look off. That's because unless it was a really well done organic effect it's not going to age well. Lots of times putting an older movie in HD does not increase it's visual value, it degrades it. It mostly brings forward what didn't look good about that movie in the first place, only it's now easier to notice them. I see this as a big problem. I can only imagine watching something like Back to the Future in HD and noticing some of the visual effects look worse than what you remember. Not because of the age of the film (although that does help), but because the HD makes it so much more obvious that they're there. When the films of the 80s and earlier (and I guess the 90s, too) were made they didn't have HD in mind. I imagine a lot of people would make the same argument toward some movies on DVD, which I can see, but you don't have a lot of other options unless you want to buy 35mm or have a full screen VHS.

Then there's the sound. You know when you watch a movie and it's a talking scene? You turn up the volume so you can hear them clearly. But then BOOM it's an action sequence and shit is blowing up left and right. It nearly kills your eardrums so you reach for the remote to turn it down as quickly as you can. In my experience with BD I have found it does this only way more extreme. Since BD has as crisp of sound as the movie will allow (and your speakers) it provides a much bigger boom when the sound is booming. I imagine this all works out a lot better and level with a surround sound but what the hell do you want? I can only work with what I've got. So when I am watching Watchmen let's say. There's a lot of talk in it that is pretty soft like in Dr Manhattan's history scene, along with a somber soundtrack. In-between points of that part and other parts of the movie are really loud, intense sound effects and music. It's almost staggering how loud it gets just after I get it to a comfortable volume for the speaking parts. So either I get an un-level sounding movie where the talking parts are super quiet with the loud parts just right, or vice versa. Whereas the only other option is to constantly turn the volume up and down which is really unnecessary  Also I'd have to stare at the yellow volume bar every few minutes of the movie which can really take you out of it.

In the end it seems like BD has a lot of problems. It's probably not as bad as I think especially since I've had some amazing movie experiences with BD since getting into the HD craze. However a lot of the movies that come out for the format are just so unnecessary. Like I stated earlier the quality of the image isn't that drastically different depending on the title. It's certainly not worth replacing your entire collection of movies on, even if you have a smaller collection. Just something to migrate to eventually. I can't think of a single title I upgraded to BD from DVD simply for the sake of having it in HD. I know people who have and it's a waste of money. Either get it that way in the first place or save your money for a different, new movie. One example I have of this is Clerks. Now I love Clerks like a lot of you do. But if you've seen it you know how old school it is. The movie was made for less than 20K (more or less) and was shot in B&W, having it in HD seems contradictory. A DVD makes sense cause it can clean up some of the problems it may have from the original print to make it look a little nicer, but to go from low-low budget to a transfer to High Def just seems so unecessary. Honestly the only reason why I have the HD version is because, again, of a sale. It has all the same special features as the Clerks X 10th Anniversary DVD, but I was able to get it cheaper. This means it includes both cuts of the film, multiple commentaries, the excellent doc The Snowball Effect, and many more things. However watching it in HD just feels somewhat off.
Strangely I love watching my BD copy of 2001: A Space Odyssey but that's a whole different story. That movie was way ahead of it's time.

Digital: I was hesitant to even bring this one up. I don't even see this as an actual format but I felt it was worth talking about anyway since it's been gaining a lot more popularity.
With digital I have a lot of mixed feelings. Companies like Netflix and Amazon provide services where you can rent a digital copy of a movie and then when you're done with it you just "return" it (or take it off your watch list I guess) and that's it. I'm guilty of using this for sure. I used to have Netflix and now use Amazon Prime. I have no problems with a rental service utilizing digital copies of movies cause it's really convenient. I just log in, choose my movie, click play, I'm good to go. It's just as easy as grabbing a movie off my shelf and popping it in. You're good to go in no time. It's when the purchase of a digital copy comes into play that I have an issue with. But there are three different types of purchases when it comes to digital copies.

First there's straight up buying a digital copy. This is done either through services like Amazon or iTunes. You pick the movie you want, purchase, and download the file to your computer where you can then watch it on many different devices like your computer, smart phone, or put it on a game console if applicable. Again a quick and simple process, and I have a lot of problems with this method. The first being that watching a movie on your phone is such a dumb idea. It turns what's great about cinema into a youtube video. Crunching down what was originally intended for a gigantic screen onto your teeny tiny phone screen is killing the overall experience. It takes away any sense of scope, impact, or excitement you would get on most other screens. I'd rather watch The Avengers on my parent's 13" square TV they keep in their kitchen over watching it on my phone. In terms of watching it on other portable formats is a mixed bag. I don't advocate watching it on your computer for a lot of the same reasons. Tends to feel more like a youtube video. But I am guilty of this one as well. I had a lot of long nights when I was working the graveyard shift at a hotel a couple of years ago. Didn't exactly have a TV sitting by my side. Basically digital downloads, while convenient, kills a lot of what makes the movie great in the first place, at least when it's put on mobile devices.
Another problem I have with digital downloads is the price. I have seen online plenty of times the options to buy a digital copy of a movie and whether it's on PSN, Amazon Instant Video, etc, it always seems to be more expensive than the DVD or even the BD copy sometimes. What a flippin waste. Basically it's as if the buyer is paying for a convenience fee even though it's just as easy to order the DVD copy, only then you'll have to wait a couple days at least if not a little longer before it comes in the mail (What will we do?!). And if you're going to buy it for keeps why would it matter if it takes a little longer to get the DVD? And if you're in such a hury that you don't have time to run down to Best Buy to get the DVD you should probably re-examine your time management skills. And you know what's included with a digital copy of a movie? Just the movie. Sometimes there's maybe one or two quick behind the scenes videos but nothing substantial. So you're essentially paying more money for a video file to download that offers nothing more than just the movie itself when you could pay around the same price for a DVD copy with more features. Basically until the prices are lowered for digital copies (it's cheaper to distribute!) then I cannot justify or recommend anyone buys any movie digitally. Unless there's a sale.
For the record I'm the type to want a physical copy of a movie. That shouldn't curb my thoughts, though. If it was cheaper I would definitely advise to buy digital if it was up their alley.

The other form of digital download is when it's included with a physical copy. This is where I think digital downloads belong for the most part. To me the main feature is the physical copy. It's the go to piece for watching a movie of any kind unless it's a rental service and in that case it's interchangeable  To me a digital copy is a special feature at best. If you buy the special edition DVD or BD it tends to include a digital copy. This means that if you really want to, you can choose to watch it on a mobile device or don't want to use up and potentially damage the physical copy.

Keep it as a special feature. Either that or start lowering the price of the digital copy. Absurd.

Conclusion: My conclusion is more of a list. My list is based on my personal preference but also in the execution in what they did in their times and how well they stand up over a longer time period. The one I would put in first place is DVD for it's consistency, current availability, and how universal it is. My second place is laserdisc because of it's underrated quality and because it's a personal favorite. Then I would put down Blu-Ray for third place because it's not a necessary upgrade unless you're a tech junkie, but it's still a pretty nice format. Then in fourth is VHS because it has not aged well but it still has that nostalgia factor to it. Lastly I'm putting digital in dead last because it doesn't really count in my opinion.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Review: The Poughkeepsie Tapes

My Edition: There has never been a proper DVD release for this in any region. My copy is an "on demand" printing thanks to the good people at Twistedanger.

History: There is very little to be found on this movie. Even the IMDB and Wikipedia pages are quite empty. Not too much of a surprise considering how difficult it is to get the movie in the first place. What I do know is that the movie's trailer had a wide release but not much buzz outside of that. The Wiki page suggests that it was released in April 2007 which was probably the film fest release date, however the official theatrical poster suggests it would be released in February of 2008. When and where it was released I'm still not sure but I know it was never released where I was at the time (like it would be released in Mankato, MN, psst). It did only wind up with a limited release. This leads me to believe it had also a limited return as well. Hard for me to say if this was a success or not because of how hard it was to see it theatrically and now how hard it was to get a DVD of it. It does appear to have been made on the cheap so it doesn't have to be Titanic in order to make money. I just wish I knew more on the history of this because of how much general interest I have in it. But maybe that's what makes it so interesting. The mystery.

Personal History: This is my first viewing but have had my eyes on it for a long time. Especially after the disappointment of it only being released very limited as well as never having a proper home video release.

Review: You ever wait and anticipate something for ages upon ages (slight exaggeration), only for it to not be as easily available as you hoped? A very specific question that you probably haven't experienced. Because of the internet and the nerds taking over the earth it feels like everything is available everywhere. Well this particular situation happened to me with The Poughkeepsie Tapes. When the trailer was released back in 2006/2007 I was highly anticipating it. It looks like an excellent and unique horror film. So I waited and I waited and I waited but nothing ever came. I looked up when it was set to release but never could find anything at my local theatre, or anywhere on anything. After a while I checked to see when it was coming out on DVD. Couldn't find a thing. As a matter of fact it's been approx. 6 years since this movie was released and there is still no formal DVD release and no plans for one, either (As I've already stated multiple times if you've read everything up to this point). I wish I knew more on the history to know why there hasn't been a release of it. It just seems so odd especially when even smaller movies get a mass/wide release. So for the last 6 years I've been on again off again trying to get my hands on this one. Luckily within the last month I finally found a website that sold it. So I put in my order right away, got the DVD, popped it in, and finally got to experience it after over half a decade of waiting. Was the hype I built up inside too much for me to enjoy it? Did I put it higher on my expectations than I should have? In short, was I disappointed? Not a chance! I. LOVED. This. Movie.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes is a combination of a found footage horror and a faux documentary. The story starts off with the police finding enough video tapes at a serial killer's home that hold approx 2400 hours of footage, all shot by the killer. These tapes contain footage of him stalking, capturing, torturing, and killing his victims. The movie goes into it like it's one of those special reports you'd see on TV, like ones about Ed Gein or Dahmer. There are numerous specialists and people who worked on the case while he was still at large throughout Poughkeepsie and the surrounding NY area. Also there are brief moments of re-enactments that are, again, much like stuff you'd see on TV special reports. This approach was something I really appreciated from this movie. Normally with the found footage movies it's about 90 minutes of stiched together footage that tells the story on it's own. However it sometime lacks depth or has a strange way of exposition because of what needs to get on camera but remain spontaneous at the same time. It's tough to do this sub-genre right. That's why I'm glad this crew took an America's Most Wanted approach. It provides insight on the killer. And it's not even necessarily the truth about him, just assumptions based on evidence they found through his tapes and leftover bodies. It brings forward a really, really engaging story. By the time this very short movie (around 82-84 minutes without credits) is over I wanted so much more! I wanted to see more footage, I wanted to hear more theories, I wanted to see more evidence, I wanted more more more!
Something else about it I absolutely loved is the raw feel to the whole thing. The killer shot all his video on old school VHS tapes. And you know what? The playback looked exactly like a VHS tape playback. There was no sense of crispness or cleanliness in the videos he was shooting. It was rough, raw, and improvised. This is something I loved for another reason as well. I love these found footage movies but sometimes the logic of where they're pointing the camera gets lost in the shuffle for the sake of seeing exposition. A few things are established to give the film the kind of shots it did when it goes to the video archive. First, he is always filming it seems. He always has the camera around him so we do get awkward shots where it's facing against a car door while he is driving. Secondly, he's careful in his crimes. There's a scene where he picks up a woman off the side of the road. During this scene he is driving a police car but he has rigged his camera to face the back seat. So for a good couple minutes of the scene all we hear is muffled dialogue while staring into the back seat of the cop car before the woman comes on camera. Lastly, he is very theatrical. Once he has his victim with him in his home he sets up the camera at a distance so he can record his torture sessions. This way he can get a good view while performing. In other words I really couldn't find a moment in his tapes that broke the logic on where it was supposed to be pointed. That's because the camera was his eyes. He saw what he wanted to see on camera, not just what would look good on camera in the heat of the moment.
#$%Oh, yes, the theatrics. The killer in this story is very theatrical. Not so much in how he kills people, more so how he presents them to the camera. When he has his victims in his basement lots of times he'll dress up. There's a scene where he is taking a body apart and is wearing a gas mask among other things. One, I'm assuming, to conceal his identity. But also to put on a character it feels. Then in a few other scenes he is wearing an Eyes Wide Shut, fidelio looking mask with a long black cape. When in this he is usually mentally torturing his victims. forcing them to say things and call him master. Then the last thing that comes to mind is how he'll dress up his victims, too. The poster I chose at the start of this review shows an image of one of his victims in costume. He is forcing her to wear a doll-like mask and the rest of her body is in a French maid outfit. Clear case of sexual violence if I ever did see any. However there is only talk about the sex. There are no actual sex scenes. Just scenes of violence. But they do talk about the sex involved quite a bit especially in regard to the French maid girl.
What I also liked were the interviews they had with the experts and people involved in the case. As always with an independent film having nothing but unknowns it works really well making it believable. Also, one criticism I read online a lot was that the acting in this movie is bad. I disagree to a point. These are supposed to be every day people. Have you ever watched the news where they interview someone off the street or has no theatre background? How awkward and stale does it usually turn out? Pretty stale? Maybe a little hard to watch? I agree. These actors are portraying people who work on cases, are witnesses, etc, they are not going to be stellar to watch. Yes the acting does go in and out every so often but overall I feel that the feeling of everyone's performance was great for what it needed to be. The best and most haunting one by far was very late in the movie. It's just after ***SPOILERS*** they rescue a female victim after finding and breaking into the killer's house. They don't get the killer (Bummer) but at least they were able to rescue this girl from being a sex slave after eight years. He follow up interview was chilling. She had a lot of clear physical damage and her left hand is missing. She has developed a bizarre crush on her "Master" as she was forced to call him when she was in captivity. She is confused most of the interview but does get out how much she loves him. Then at the end of the interview when it goes to a still image and in text it tells us how she took her own life two weeks later it felt very real ***END SPOILERS*** which is what the overall feeling is on this amazing film. It all feels so real. Way more chilling than almost any other found footage movie out there. I would even go so far as say this is in the ranks of The Blair Witch Project.

For how amazing I felt this one is it's a shame that the flaws really stand out. Luckily I only have two major complaints. One is with the style, and the other is with the story.
First is a visual style chosen. As I stated earlier the VHS tape style is wonderful. I love the really raw feel to the whole thing. It truly feels home made instead of attempting to look home made. The only problem I have with it is how worn out all the tapes are, and worn out in the same way. They all seem to have this warped image with a green tint over it. Now as someone who grew up with VHS tapes I know very well how they get worn out. However the only way for it to get this worn out on it's own is if it was taken horrible care of, watched consistently, and/or was copied to a new tape multiple times as you can see in this example. I just find it odd that out of approx 2400 hours of video, almost all if it has this warped image with a green tint. And may I point out for a tape to be that worn out in it's own from constant viewing would take ages. I have home videos from over twenty years ago and they still look amazing after countless viewings. It just strikes me as either really unrealistic, or he is horrible at handling his tapes. And the latter would be odd because of how much he seems to cherish these killings of his.
The other thing was with the story, and I'll requote by saying a specific character in general. In the second half of the movie ***SPOILERS AGAIN*** we find out that a strong suspect on the killings is a cop who has been working on the case. Everything falls together in place enough to convict him and to punish him by death. Later on we find out he wasn't the killer but that's a different part of the story. The character I didn't care for was his son. I felt like his character was a bit shoehorned into the story. He's a depressed guy because of the accusations that were being made against his dad and of course the eventual execution. Even though he was shown as not guilty after the execution the son was still very affected by it and people on the streets still recognize him as "The son of the Butcher." ***END SPOILERS*** I guess I just felt like not only was his role shoehorned in to extend the story, but it was poorly executed. He was the only one who truly felt like a character in a story than a person going through this rough experience. Maybe it was the long hair and the cliche looking set design of his apartment. Hard to fully explain what I didn't like about him. He just didn't perform as well or pull off what everyone else was doing.

All in all this was easily one of the best horror movies I've seen in years. I said something similar with Cabin in the Woods recently but this one was far more chilling than that. Whereas CITW was more of a satire with strong horror elements, The Poughkeepsie Tapes was straight up horror all the way. One thing I will point out (if you can get your hands on it) is it's not for the squeemish. It gets pretty brutal. This isn't like the violence in Hostel or slasher flicks where it is so insanely over the top. I feel much more realistic. Also, even though it's not presented in up close, crystal clear detail it is still hard to watch at times. There are multiple scenes of dismemberment which I can imagine would be unsettling for many people. Not a ton of violence but when it is there it is serious and dark. I wouldn't say this one is overblown at all. It's all very realistic feeling. And it's all really unsettling. This makes for an amazing horror film.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Review: Sucker Punch

My Edition: Blu-ray version which included the theatrical and director's cut.

History: The film first went into pre-production back in 2007 but Snyder put it to the side for a while to work on Watchmen. Internal controversy happened during it's production because it was supposed to be filmed with a PG-13 in mind but wound up coming out with an R. A total of 18 minutes had to be cut to receive a PG-13 rating. Eventually the film was released March 25th 2011 on a budget of $82 Million. It grossed just under $90 Million, most of which was from overseas tickets. The US only pulled in less than half of it's gross.

Personal History: Didn't see this until now. It was on a great deal on Black Friday so I went ahead and picked it up having faith it would be worth the $4 price tag.

Review: I am the type of person where I like to see the way a film was put together originally first so for the purposes of this review I watched the theatrical cut.
Say what you will about Zack Snyder but I like him. I think he puts together very exciting movies if nothing else. As you may have seen in my 300 review he is far from perfect. But with how good 300 was overall and the excellence that is the Watchmen adaptation I argue that he is a great filmmaker. May not stand the test of time but something fun to get us by for the time being. I'm not calling him one of the best. But I will say that his Dawn of the Dead remake is one of the best remakes I've ever seen, period. If anything else he is great in the visuals and action. All his films have a distinct visual style, and whether that's a lot of red in front of a green screen or a lot of blue in front of a green screen at lease he can make it visually appealing. Sucker Punch was one of those titles of his I missed the first time around and just kinda forgot about it because of lackluster reviews. People didn't seem to like it. Being the stubborn person I am I still wanted to formulate my own opinion on it. And going in with low expectations means it can't get much worse, right?
There is one thing I know about Sucker Punch. If it came out about four or five years earlier I know I would have been all over this. Two hours of beautiful women kicking ass? Sounds amazing to a fresh out of high school teen. I probably would have also had one of it's many posters hanging in my bedroom/dorm room to top it all off.

So the story goes like this. A young woman, named Babydoll (Emily Browning) is submitted into a mental institute under false pretense from her stepfather. Once there she creates an alternate reality in her mind to help her cope and create an escape plan before a specialized doctor can come and force a procedure where he gives her a lobotomy. It doesn't take long before the story kicks off inside of Babydoll's head where almost the entire story takes place. In her head is a similar situation as her reality. In this fantasy she is forced into a club where she becomes an exotic dancer and befriends four other women. She soon discovers that five key items will bring her freedom. In order to escape she has to obtain these items from the help of her friends at this club who are in the same situation she is in.
What Snyder is trying to do here is tell a story about sexual abuse and a character who appears to be very weak from the beginning rise up and escape from the torment she's been put through. In theory it's a lifetime movie. On the poster it looks like a summer blockbuster for 14 year old boys. What it turned out to be was entirely different. I guess it's possible that anything can happen when a director whose previous work was a remake and a couple of adaptations puts something of his own writing together.

A plus of having Snyder directing is the look and feel of a movie. His movie look damn good. I mean, like really good in a modern perspective. From the perspective of the HD age he is amazing at what he does even if he uses slow-mo a little too much. Everything looks vibrant, crystal clear, sleek, sexy, it just all looks awesome no matter what it is. This translate well into how much and how well he uses music in his movies. While the choices tend to be unique he knows how to make them work out in the end. If anything Sucker Punch was a better music video than as a movie.
One of the biggest complaints this movie received was that it's full of style over substance. Everything I mentioned in the previous paragraph does show he at least does an awesome job with the style. The story and execution overall as a film is not as great. Something with it I want to address first over anything else is perspective on style over substance. Some movies can be seen as pure entertainment that don't really mean anything in the end, and if you just sit back and enjoy the ride you're in for a good time. However the way I am judging Sucker Punch is based on it's intentions.
Allow me to make a quick comparison. The first example that came to mind was Crank. Crank is wild, over the top, insane, doesn't have much substance other than "Shit I need the antidote!" but it's one of my top 10 favorite movies of all time and I consider it to be one of the best straight up action films ever made. So why does Crank get so much credit while Sucker Punch gets the axe if they have a similar level of substance. All comes back to intentions and execution. When Neveldine and Taylor got together to pitch Crank I imagine they looked at each other and said, "You know what would be cool? If we made a movie about a real life video game character!" Whereas it feels like Snyder walked into Legendary Pictures and pitched his which is about, "A young tortured woman who is trying to escape from the horrible life she's been forced into and uses an alternate reality in her mind to cope with it and help her escape." Which has deeper intentions? I think it's obvious. But Sucker Punch falls short because it clearly sets up it's higher level of deeper intentions right at the beginning. It just never follows through.

The first problem I had was with the alternate reality. First, it's established that Babydoll is in this mental hospital under false pretense. This means there's nothing medically wrong with her outside of the abuse she received from her stepfather. So she's by no means, insane. If the purposes of her alternate reality is to escape and help her situation then why would she use her mind to imagine herself as an exotic dancer in a club where the women are constantly taken advantage of? Is it just a reflection of what's going on in reality? Maybe it's a form of self torture in a way, feeling bad for herself. I just imagine she would want to put herself in a better situation in her mind where she's not as sexualized in her dressing and treatment, which she eventually does in the fantasies within the fantasy.
How the story plays out is that whenever Babydoll dances it goes into another fantasy where she is fighting all different kinds of evils alongside her fantasy friends. These dances are performed as a distraction so the other girls can steal the key items to their escape. So in these fantasies they are always in some sort of a battlefield going after a treasure or something of the like that mirrors what they need in the fantasy-reality. Honestly it all gets a tad complicated since the reality of the fantasy is a fantasy of her actual reality, and may I point out we don't get a vision of the actual reality outside of the beginning setup and the very end. Something I think which would have made the story better if it visited the actual reality more often.
I guess that's one of my main problems with the story. So okay, I can accept setting up a fantasy that is similar to your own world for the purposes of overcoming it. But if it's a reflection of her actual reality I want to know what's going on in the reality-reality. I get when they go into the fantasy-fantasy to distract the reality-fantasy people so the key items can be stolen. But what about the reality-reality? What and how is Babydoll getting around everything in the real world? These key items are directly connected to the real world. But does she have these friends in the nut house, too? It's never made fully clear if they even are real in the sense she need them to be, and if she needs the help of her imaginary (or not) friends in this fantasy world then how is she getting these items in the real world? Also, isn't security a bit higher in the real world because it's an insane asylum whereas in the fantasy they're in a club where I don't think they're locking up their dancers. It's just not adding up in the reality cause it's never shown to us how they (she) pulls it off in the real world.

I just don't see how it all pulls together in reality. If it were to cut back and forth between the fantasy world and reality world instead of just the reality in the fantasy and the fantasy in the fantasy then it may have made more sense. What was given to us was bizarre. Also I feel that Snyder is trying to say and do something with the fantasy-fantasy sequences. I definitely get it goes along with the theme of tormented girl(s) kicking ass. That's easily seen. What I don't understand are the choices with each theme. There are four different sequences of girls kicking ass and they do have a connection with the real-fantasty world. The connection is mostly in name and I can see how it's symbolic of them fighting the evil that has a hold on them. What I don't understand is why the themes chosen are not consistent with another. Each time they are in a completely different world that I don't think could exist in the same world as the last. Again, it is living in a fantasy but you'd think there would be more consistency for story telling purposes.
The fights go like this: In one the enemy is a giant samurai wielding a rail gun in a snow filled Japan, then they're fighting zombie nazis who are being kept alive by steam powered machinery, then they're fighting orcs in what looks like Mordor, and lastly they fight the robots from iRobot on a train while retrieving and deactivating a bomb. I'm sure this all made sense in Snyder's mind as well as when he explained it to the actors. It's just not coming across on screen. What comes across on screen appears to be "really cool!" scenarios for the purposes of girls kicking ass, and it has a really weak connection to the reality-fantasy portion of the story. I know these had intent and purpose to the story, I just don't know what. Now did they look cool? Hell yes. These were easily the best scenes in the movie. They were very exciting, unique, and very action packed. Some great stunts that looked amazing. It's just a shame that those stunts couldn't save the movie as a whole.
Also, as a side note, I am curious to see what Babydoll's dances looked like. All we ever see is right before she starts when she is swaying back and forth, and then the very end when she is sweating from it. It never shows even a preview of what the dance looks like.

At the end of the day I really am trying to figure out who this is for. Is it for guys? Maybe, but what age group? I feel you may need to have certain fetishes for specific interest in this. The girls are constantly being tossed around and abused. Not to mention the whole movie feels rapey. This club looks like a place where at any given time someone is being raped. And it's for that reason I feel this movie isn't necessarily for women either. Sure it's about women trying to rise up against the powers that be for their freedom. But at what cost? Also not everything ends so well so it's not like that's something to look forward to either. Action fans? Most likely. The only downside is that you have to go through a messy story to get to the action bits. There are better action options out there. So who is this for? I guess Zack Snyder. It's his baby. Clearly he's trying to say and do something but it's hard to say what. I read online that it was partially a satire of geek culture always sexualizing the roles of women, basically making them objects in sci-fi and such. However what we got in the end felt more like an excuse for Zack Snyder to rub one out on screen with his nerdy fetishes.
The ironic part of all this is that the theatrical cut had to get a good chunk of material cut to get a PG-13. The original cut got an R rating and was 18 minutes longer. I wonder if the extended cut fixes some of the issues I have with this movie but I doubt it. From what I can tell it was mostly edited down for content. I do have the director's cut available to me but I don't know if I want to sit through the movie again so soon and even longer. Not quite yet. I may one day and then revisit this review or write a follow up.

Sucker Punch just takes itself way too seriously and doesn't follow up on promises it makes. It's frankly pretty juvenile and feels more like a story a middle school boy would write so he could have some jerk off material. Everything comes off as really creepy, too. And I mean just about everything. Every man is a pig, every women is tormented, and it feels like the world in this story is going so south that there's nothing that can be done. Okay, there is one good guy, literally a guy. But his role is closer to a wise man who gives them useful information along the way.

At least it has some really cool action sequences!