Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Round-Up#46

Film Review: Sucker Punch: Ever since his directorial debut, the 2004 remake of Dawn of The Dead, Zack Snyder has established himself as a visual stylist of the first order. Just take a look at his next two films, 300 and Watchmen; two pieces of marvelous eye-candy. And pieces of candy they were, with superficial characters, convoluted plots, and unsteady paces. Snyder's fourth film, Sucker Punch, is more of the same. For better or for worse.

The story: A young woman gets locked up in an asylum by her stepfather, an evil and abusive man, who, after her mother's death, wants to take control of the family fortune. To ensure that the young woman never leaves the asylum and challenge him, he bribes a corrupt orderly to make sure that she receives an unnecessary lobotomy, thus ensuring her silence forever. Seconds before the lobotomy is performed on her, the young woman lapses into unconsciousness and into a fantasy world where she is a dancer in a whorehouse serving the rich and powerful, and where, like in the real world, she has to fight to survive. What follows is a series of incoherent, yet visually dazzling action set-pieces, that combine eye-opening CGI with masterful choreography.

I can't go into detail about the plot, because, frankly, that's all I got. The rest, a lot of fancy-schmansy talk about the power of imagination and one's inner strength, was lost on me, as I was too busy watching scantily clad attractive actresses fighting and strutting their stuff, while creatures straight out of a steam-punk novel filled the screen every five minutes.

So, is it a good movie? Not by a long shot. It's a loud, mostly mind-numbing film, with bland performances and a bleak, uninteresting story that goes nowhere. While the soundtrack, which mostly consists of atrocious hard-rock numbers and an annoying Bjork track that is replayed ad nauseum, is truly awful. But the visuals alone are worth a look, while Abbie Cornish proves that she is an actress to watch out for, delivering a nuanced performance that becomes one of the film's few redeeming features.

So if you're in the mood for some loud, mindless entertainment that pretends to be something different, Sucker Punch is the ticket.

Book Review: Helltown by Dennis O'Neil: Part of the DC Universe line of novels that came out a few years ago, Helltown focuses on the origin story of one of DC Comics' lesser known but most intriguing characters, The Question. But that's not all this book is about. No. This is a damn fine novel that combines action, pop philosophy, atmosphere and strong, smooth writing to produce something truly enjoyable.

The story: Vic Sage returns to his hometown, Hub City, in search of his parents' identity (he was brought up in an orphanage), to discover that it has become a cesspool of violence and hatred run by criminals and corrupt politicians. Soon after his arrival he attracts the attention of the mayor and his thugs, which leads to him being beaten almost to death and rescued by a mysterious warrior who calls herself Shiva. He is then taken to an enigmatic mentor named Richard Dragon, who, at the request of Shiva, begins to transform Sage into a warrior. But Sage feels that something is missing in his life, questions that need to be answered. So he decides to return to Hub City, and, as a vigilante named The Question, find those answers, no matter what the cost.

The Question, as envisioned by veteran comic book writer Dennis O'Neil, is a complex, enigmatic character, that is both unique and reminiscent of the greatest characters to ever grace the pages of comic books. He is a conflicted character on a dark quest, an intriguing, norish hero. But what truly sets him apart are his flaws, his humanity, and his background. Here is a character that's neither rich nor formally educated, has no sidekicks or friends, no gadgets other than his costume and mask (that change color at will). He is human, has no superpowers, and isn't really a great detective. But that's what makes him interesting. O'Neil, who also penned the ground-breaking comic book series about The Question back in the Eighties, has a masterful command of the complex nature of the character and his inner struggles. He also anchors the story in reality, giving the book a gritty, somewhat bleak feel, which suit the character and his quest. And despite the appearance of Batman, who plays a major role in the story, he doesn't overshadow Vic Sage/The Question, which is a testament to O'Neil's strong writing.

Although the main villains of the book are borderline caricatures and the main mystery is so slight it's almost a McGuffin, this is a multi-layered, well-written, compelling book that is a must for fans of DC Comics, comic books, and mysteries. An overlooked gem.

Extra! Bring On The Night by Jay and Don Davis: This edition's Extra! selection is the horror novel Bring On The Night by Jay and Don Davis, a superbly entertaining vampire novel from the 80's, with plenty of atmosphere, well-drawn characters, and one hell of a villain in Kane, a ruthless vampire stalking the streets of Chicago. Worth re-discovering.

That's it for me. Till next time, keep browsing those shelves.

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