Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Sucker Punch is an extremely difficult film to, categorize, summarize or analyze; especially in the space of a relatively short review and by a layperson such as myself - but I will try. I like to think that it is important for me to write reviews of poorly reviewed films, because I typically disagree with the so-called professional film reviewers and therefore I feel I offer a different view of these genre films that I love. However, I find that what really motivates me is that writing these reviews has helped me better understand what I loved, liked or loathed about a film. Is it possible to experience all three of these reactions to a single film? In the case of Sucker Punch, the answer is a definitive yes!

One reason Sucker Punch is a difficult film to categorize is that it is three films telling the same story from three differing realities. There is the “real” world that the film begins with, then the first “imaginary” world that the film segues into and finally the secondary “fantasy” world that the film transitions into. Because the vast majority of Sucker Punch takes place in the “imaginary” world, it would be hard to classify it as a character drama, but this is what it is. I believe that the director and writer of Sucker Punch has used the overlapping imaginary and fantasy worlds to tell a straight up drama that would be more palatable to genre fans. This odd blend of the realistic and the fantastic makes if nearly impossible for the average film fan or film reviewer slot Sucker Punch into a neat category. However, I do think that it works as a fantasy film as well, for reasons I hope to make clear in the course of this review.

I will try to summarize the plot of Sucker Punch, just so that when I make reference to specific plot points you will have an idea from which point in the film they are from. The film opens with a sequence told entirely without dialogue. A mother dies and her two daughters are emotionally distraught. The older daughter – later to be known as Baby Doll – attempts to console her young sister, but is violently separated from her by their stepfather. The stepfather has learned that the daughters are the sole inheritors of their mother’s fortune and he takes steps to correct his misfortune. The stepfather locks “Baby Doll” in her room, then chases down her younger sister and accidentally kills her. Baby Doll escapes her room, finds a gun and nearly guns down her stepfather, before the police arrest her. The stepfather blames the death of her sister on Baby Doll and has her incarcerated into an insane asylum.

Once Baby Doll is in the asylum, Baby Doll undergoes a series of therapy treatments by Dr. Vera Gorski, whose job it is to assess the proper treatment for the patients. Sensing that Baby Doll’s treatment may result in her eventual release from the asylum, the stepfather pays off the head doctor to have her lobotomized, which will rid him of her threat to his blood money forever. The film flash forwards to the day of Baby Doll’s lobotomy and just as the doctor undergoes the gruesome procedure, Baby Doll’s mind escapes to her first imaginary world… or the film flashes back to the events leading up to Baby Doll’s lobotomy.

The imaginary world that Baby Doll inhabits in her mind is hardly an escape. It appears to be a whore house that uses a nightclub as its cover and caters to rich clients who judge their tryst of chose by their dance for the evening. All the people that inhabit the Asylum reality also inhabit the Nightclub reality. The head doctor is the owner and pimp of the Nightclub-whore house, the therapist is the dance instructor-madam and the four girls that Baby Doll meets in the asylum are the dancer-prostitutes. Also paralleling the Asylum reality is the deadline hanging over Baby Doll of her impending visit by a High Roller that has a habit of making his female companions disappear after he is done with them. Learning that she has five days before the High Roller’s visit, Baby Doll plots to escape the nightclub; enlisting the aid of Sweet Pea, Rocket, Amber and Blondie to collect the five items that they need in order to make the escape plan of Baby Doll’s work.

During each one of these items thefts, Baby Doll uses her gift of her dancing to mesmerize the men of the nightclub to distract them, while one of the girls carries out the plan. It is during these hypnotic dances that Baby Doll is transported in her mind’s eye to a different fantasy setting. Each fantasy is world is different from the other and each represents the increasing difficulty of each theft in the imaginary world. Eventually, all the items are collected, but the plan goes horribly awry and Baby Doll is forced to execute her plan in a much more dangerous and haphazard manner.

This fairly detailed synopsis of Sucker Punch only outlines the main plot of the film and does not touch on theme or purpose of the film’s story. I’ll start to try and explain what I thought Sucker Punch’s driving thematic objective was, with the aspect of the film that I loved. The fantasy sequences, which are shown extensively in the trailers and advertisements for the film, are truly a marvel of the imagination! The “map” fantasy sequence has a World War I motif, replete with biplanes, zeppelins and trench warfare. The “fire” sequence is a high fantasy theme, with dragons, armored knights and sword fights. The “knife” sequence is a science fiction looking world, with robots, ray guns and spaceship battles. The “key” sequence utilizes visions from all the other fantasy settings and features Baby Doll’s personal demons in the form of a gigantic warrior. Central to each of these fantasy worlds is the Wise Man, who offers Baby Doll inspirational words before she sets out on each quest. The Wise Man is the only character that has thus far not been seen in the real world and I only point this out because his revelation at the end of the film is one that either works or doesn’t work, depending on your interpretation of the overall meaning of the film. Personally, I loved the visual splendor of these fantasy sequences and I thought that they did an impressive job of amplifying the level of danger in the “imaginary” world setting. They also communicated Baby Doll’s mind set during her dances, showing her need to escape mentally from the reality that she herself had created.

I also liked the imaginary or parallel world that we are led to believe are Baby Doll’s creation during her real world escape plot from the asylum. However, I question if this is indeed the case. Why would Baby Doll envision such a repressive world to inhabit? I think a better explanation is that the entire Nightclub-whorehouse reality is a reverse visual allegory for Baby Doll’s asylum reality and entirely the creation of the filmmaker and not the character of the film. Taken in this light, the horrors that are perpetuated on the women in the nightclub world make much more sense. Why Zack Snyder chooses to add this additional layer to Sucker Punch, I’m not entirely sure. Sometimes artistic choices that make perfect sense to the artist make no sense to anyone but themselves. If art is about communication, then in this case Mr. Snyder has failed to make me understand what the significance of this particular layer to his film is. Still, if nothing else, it does offer a sort of exclamation point to the overall ill treatment of these women in the asylum reality.

Finally, the one aspect of Sucker Punch that I truly loathed was its message at the end. I will not give this away, because I think that if you’ve made your way through this review this far, you should be able to tell that I think Sucker Punch is a film worth watching. I will say that my understanding of Sucker Punch’s overall thematic vision is not one of women’s empowerment – which you might get the impression is the case from its fantasy sequences. I had a definite negative reaction to Baby Doll’s solution to her final tribulation, but this may not be shared by everyone. Sucker Punch does reward a patient viewer with a definitive conclusion; it just may not be the type of climax that everyone will find rewarding or satisfactory. Such was the case for me, but it still did not deter me from appreciating Sucker Punch as a whole or from recommending it to someone who doesn’t mind a difficult and dark journey with a less-than-uplifting finale. You will definitely not be Sucker Punched by Sucker Punch.

Friday, March 25, 2011


Firefly has a dedicated following and there are many filk songs written about it. This funny, wry and witty song is a takeoff of the song from the seventh episode of Firefly called "The Ballad of Jayne Cobb". “The Man They Call Joss” is written and performed by Bedlam Bards who have released an entire album paying tribute to Firefly titled “On The Drift”.

Here is a description of their group from their web site, bedlambards.com.:

We're a musical group with two-and-a-half members; that is to say, usually there's two of us, but sometimes there's three. That's a picture of us over to your left. The grey-haired guy with the guitar is Hawke, and the dark-haired fellow with the fiddle is Cedric. Pleased to meet you.

When people ask what kind of music we play, we often say Celtic, but in fact we play "Renfolk Music," that unique blend of Celtic, English, Scandinavian, and American folk music mixed in with period tunes from the Renaissance and Middle Ages that rubs shoulders with the occasional incognito rock song at most Renaissance festivals. And we have a lot of fun playing it.

Enjoy the creator of Firefly “The Man They Call Joss”!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


In part nine of Introducing Zombzany the Necromancer, Zombzany sighs in despair as he finds himself preparing to watch another Frankenstein movie. Perhaps because it isn’t another hated vampire film, Zombzany’s informative reading for the Hammer horror Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is nearly complimentary. Bill E. Bones' enthusiasm for the lovely Veronica Carlson knows no bones, as you can see that she lights up his un-life! Enjoy Introducing Zombzany the Necromancer- Part Nine!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Wes Craven has a long and inconsistent career as a director and writer of horror films. His early 70’s films, Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977) are now considered horror classics, but I never liked either of them. Craven’s 80’s film highlights consist of Swamp Thing (1982), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Shocker (1989), all of which I consider mediocre at best. In the 90’s Craven not only did a lot of Television work, but still directed The People Under the Stairs (1991), New Nightmare (1994), Vampire in Brooklyn (1995), Scream (1996) and Scream 2 (1997). I found the first two films unwatchable and the vampire comedy dreadfully unfunny, but Craven’s satires of the slasher genre that he had a hand in creating to me are his best and most original films. In the 2000’s Craven released Scream 3 (2000), Cursed (2005), the thriller Red Eye (2005) and finally My Soul to Take (2010). I personally liked all of these, but My Soul to Take has got to be his most maligned film yet.

I was concerned that perhaps this time the critics were right and that My Soul to Take was indeed Craven’s “most dull, joyless, and formulaic” film to date. I waited for its Blu-ray release and rented it from Netflix, just to be on the safe side. Once again, the vast majority of film reviewers did not get this latest Craven poignant epitome. I can only reason that because it is more subtle than his Scream films, they thought it was just another “dead teenager” film and dismissed it before even watching it.

The film begins sixteen years in the past, with a man named Abel who is suffering from multiple personalities and kills his wife, but doesn’t remember doing it. Just as he is about to stab his daughter to death, Paterson and other cops burst in to the master bedroom and shoot Abel. Abel fools Paterson and Dr. Blake (who Abel had called for help) into letting their guard down, and he seizes the cop's gun, shoots Paterson (who is wearing a bulletproof vest) and then the psychiatrist before being shot again. Still alive, Abel is transported to a hospital and springs to life in the back of the ambulance, slashes Jeanne-Baptiste's throat and causes the ambulance to careen out of control. The survivors of the wreck crawl out of the thrashed ambulance only to find Abel has gotten out of his restraints and disappeared. That same night, seven babies were born at a Riverton hospital. Local lore has it that, if the Ripper died that night, one of the seven may harbor the Ripper's evil soul. Thus begins the legend of The Riverton Ripper!

The film returns to the present, where one by one the “Riverton Seven” are introduced. Bug is the friendless weird kid in school who may be showing signs of early schizophrenia. Alex is the talkative kid raised by an abusive stepfather and is Bug’s only friend. Penelope is the religious girl, with a secret crush on Bug, who wants to keep her soul prepared should the Ripper return. Brittany is the beautiful girl in class who Bug has a crush on, but is dating the school jock. Brandon is the school jock and likes to bully anyone he considers weak or weird – which of course includes Bug and Alex. Jerome is a blind African-American kid whom most everyone likes, but is still somewhat of an outcast. Jay is an Asian kid who likes to live life in the fast lane and joke around, but no one sees much of because he lives out beyond the tracks.

One by one, the Riverton Seven start dying in horribly violent ways. The first to die is Jay, who has his head slammed twice against the metal side of a bridge and then stabbed in the stomach by the Ripper. The next to die is Penelope, who is grabbed from behind at the school's indoor swimming pool and has her throat slit. Gradually, blame is placed on Bug, when circumstances that I won’t divulge here reveal him to be a prime suspect. After many more revelations and plot twists the film draws to a satisfying conclusion.

I still think that one of the most important and difficult times in a person’s life is that final few years of high school, where you are still deciding what type of adult you are going to be. This is why teenagers tend to form cliques or inner circles that allow them to bond with others of their behavior. My Soul to Take demonstrates this well and maybe it is Bug’s “loser” status that makes him such an relatable character. I really liked the way Craven developed the friendship between Bug and Alex. These two become stronger together and it allows them to deal with the physical abuse of Brandon and the mental abuse of Brittany. Their hardships in high school prepare them for the eventual devastating effects of the murders of their classmates by The Riverton Ripper. Even though “the jock” and “the pretty girl” are only given a small amount of time to develop as characters, you still get an idea of why they act the way they do. One pivotal character, Fang – whose relationship to another major character is revealed as part of a plot twist, so I won’t divulge it here – is shown to be both outwardly antisocial, yet strong-willed in a positive way, as a result of a traumatic event in her childhood. Wes Craven, who wrote the script, has created some familiar archetypes, but also develops them enough to make them feel like real flesh and blood people.

Technically, Wes Craven’s direction of My Soul To Take is exceptional! Even in the early stages of the film, he never spends too much time bogged down in unimportant or trivial details. While the killings are both sudden and brutal, they are not exploitive or needlessly gory. I like it that Craven used storytelling and editing to elicit the fear at the deaths of his characters. Relative newcomer Petra Korner’s cinematography is filled with dark and disturbing imagery; especially during the chase scenes through the woods. I may have felt a certain affinity with the locations, as the entire film was shot on location in Connecticut, not far from the New England woods that I spent much of my time in as a child.

I think that My Soul To Take is a classic example of a veteran filmmaker, who in his prime has made a film that speaks to his own personal concerns and not worried about delivering a film of illimitable commercial appeal. If you like your horror films to be more than just gore-filled hack-fests, then give My Soul To Take a try. This may not be Wes Craven’s best and it is certainly not his worst, but it is more than watchable. You might be surprised to find that the old master of horror still has a few innovative trickeries up his cinematic sleeve!

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Filk is a musical culture, genre, and community tied to science fiction/fantasy fandom and a type of fan labor.  The genre has been active since the early 1950s, and played primarily since the mid-1970s. The term (originally a typographical error) predates 1955.

This description of filker Tom Smith is from his own web site http://www.tomsmithonline.com/index.html.

Tom is NOT your ordinary comedy musician. With the lyrical complexity of Ashman and Sondheim, the vocal fireworks of Meat Loaf, the comedic timing of Robin Williams, and the dynamic physique of the Skipper from Gilligan's Island, the only thing he won't do is be boring.

The only recording artist to be featured on both NPR's Sound and Spirit and The Dr. Demento Show, and writer of the official chantey for Talk Like A Pirate Day, Tom has been praised by such diverse folk as singer-songwriter Christine Lavin, author Larry Niven, and web cartoonist Randy Milholland. He has sixteen albums so far, blending comedy, tragedy, science fiction, fantasy, romance, popular culture, technology, politics, religion, and the occasional recipe with virtually every genre of music you can imagine.

Starting out at sf/fantasy conventions, Tom has been branching out to house concerts and regular gigs the past couple of years. He arranges and records at home, using MIDI, loops, and all manner of software gadgetry... but in performance, it's just him and his guitar, in a high-energy, family-friendly show filled with laughter, shtick, and really, really bad puns.

Tom Smith performs his song "Spoiler Alert" live at Windycon 34 on November 10th 2007.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


I want to start off this review of Battle: Los Angles by stating that I am a genre fan! I watch movies outside of my three favorites genres – read the blog description under the blog title if you don’t know what those are – but I will always watch any theatrical release of my three favorite genres, at the very least, when they become available for rent on blu-ay. I am not a professional film critic, so I have limited time and financial resources that force me to choose the genre films that I see at the theater carefully. For the past decade or so, there seems to be a dearth of true science fiction films and a plethora of fantasy and horror films, so I tend to favor going to a science fiction film over the other two genres.

I went into Battle: Los Angeles knowing only two things about the plot: It was about an alien invasion of Earth and it was from the point of view of a platoon of Marines who are at the frontline of the defense of Los Angeles. The only film by director Jonathan Liebesman that I had seen was the mediocre horror film Darkness Falls (2003), so I didn’t have that as incentive to feel positive about the film. The star Aaron Eckhart I had seen in a few films like The Dark Knight (2007) and Paycheck (2003), but he never really stood out to me as a leading man type. The supporting male cast is made up of mostly unfamiliar names, but the two female co-stars were somewhat familiar to me as a genre fan: Michelle Rodriguez I liked from Resident Evil (2002) and Avatar (2009) and Bridget Moynahan I felt neutral about from I, Robot (2004). I always try to temper my expectations for any film, but the more positive the foreknowledge I have before shelling out my six bucks for the matinee showing at my local theater the more likely I will enjoy a film. Conversely, the more negative information I have before viewing a film makes it more challenging to view a film positively. With the plethora of information that is available now on the Internet before a film is even released, it takes a certain amount of restraint to gather enough background on a film to make a decision on whether to see it or not, but not so much as to take away from the surprises that the film may have in store. When the quantity of information is minimal prior to its release, as was the case with Battle: Los Angeles, it sometimes indicates a lack of confidence in a film from the production company. Still, I tried to keep an open mind.

Battle: Los Angeles starts off with a flash forward to the initial destruction of L. A., as a way of jolting the audience with the anticipated violence. The movie quickly reverts to twenty-four hours prior to that and sets up our cast of characters that we’ll be following for the rest of the film. We’re introduced to Staff Sargent Michael Nantz, who is resigning after 20 years in the Marines because of a tragedy that befell him on his last mission. Before his retirement is finalized, alien machines fall to Earth into the ocean along the coastline of several major cities including Los Angeles and Nantz is assigned to a new platoon of Marines to help hold the line. Nantz must not only deal with an unknown enemy, but a young Lieutenant William Martinez, who has been given this assignment as his first command. Nantz’s platoon is ordered to a local police station, where a group of civilians have been reported to be hiding out from the initial invasion of the alien troops. The aliens have formed a beach head and are deploying groups of armed and armored troops, who are killing both military and civilians alike. The military have decided to form a line of defense just behind the beach head, but for only as long as it takes them to commit an air strike that they hope will cause them to retreat. This only gives Nantz’ platoon twelve hours to find the civilians and get them to safety.

All of the above action takes place in the first twenty minutes of Battle: Los Angeles, so you have some idea of the pacing of the film. There are almost no “time outs” in the course of the action, as most of the film is concerned with the Marines fighting through increasingly more hostile alien forces, all while protecting their civilian charges. I can honestly say that I found the brisk pace consistent with combat situational sequences and didn’t have a problem with the minimalist approach to characterization. The characters for the most part serve as drivers of the plot, which in turn fulfills the film’s ultimate goal: which is to demonstrate humanity’s ability to rise above even the most impossible of circumstances and through perseverance and cooperation accomplish a smaller task that leads to a greater good. Battle: Los Angeles is foremost a war movie and a pro-military one at that. This film is less about the aliens and their advanced technology and more about human beings and their tenacity, inner-strength and a duty to a greater good.

Technically Battle: Los Angeles is amazing! From the opening sequences of the comet-like ships hurtling into the ocean, to the individual alien soldiers with their armored shells and advanced projectile weapons; it all looks sufficiently futuristic, yet still realistic. I liked the way the film slowly revealed the various types of weapons and vehicles and how their revelation became crucial to the plot. The only complaint that I have with the aliens, is the one that I always have and that is why do aliens always seem to be humanoid? In a film with a major motion picture budget, the aliens could have looked like anything, yet they have one head, two arms and two legs. One thing that I did like was that the aliens were not furnished with a “force field”, which allowed the human weapons a chance to at least cause the aliens some damage. This created the more combat type of action that I’m sure the filmmakers were aiming for.

Is Battle: Los Angeles a good science fiction film? Maybe, because they use the aliens more as an symbol for an enormous catastrophe that humanity must overcome: such as depleted energy and resources and the declining world economy. But its main focus is on the human element, despite all the external visual devices and it still comes off as more of a contemporary war story. Let me say that Battle: Los Angeles is a mash-up of the SF and War genres and it does a good job of representing both. Best of all, this film doesn’t have the feel of a “tent-pole” movie in that it actually comes to a satisfying conclusion, while still allowing for the possibility of a sequel. I recommend Battle: Los Angeles to fans of war films first, science fiction films second and I don’t recommend it to anyone who objects to a militant perspective. I personally liked Battle: Los Angeles despite my favoring a more pacifist lifestyle, because it did a decent job of justifying the difficult decisions that are made in the heat of combat, while still demonstrating the atrocities of war. See Battle: Los Angeles and decide for yourself.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


In part eight of Introducing Zombzany the Necromancer, Zombzany our host is attempting to explain to his bone-headed side kick why he hates Dracula films and vampires in general. Barely keeping his disdain for the next feature in check, Zombzany gives some background for the Hammer horror Taste the Blood of Dracula. Bill E. Bones’ constant interruptions appear to be getting on Zombzany's dead nerves and it seems like the Overlord of the Undead is having second thoughts about digging Bill out of his grave. Enjoy Introducing Zombzany the Necromancer- Part Eight!

Thursday, March 3, 2011


In part seven of Introducing Zombzany the Necromancer it has become obvious that Zombzany is upset over the large number of Dracula films that he has had to host in this horror movie marathon. Zombzany’s love of classic zombie films, particularly White Zombie, is evident as he continues to complain about their absence. Still, the self-proclaimed Dominator of the Dead keeps a stiff upper lip and briefly sets up the next film Dracula Has Risen from the Grave. Once again, Bill E. Bones interjects a little base humor into Zombzany’s monologue and almost surprisingly Zombzany responds with a bit of levity himself. Enjoy Introducing Zombzany the Necromancer- Part Seven.