Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice Guest Review by Sean E. Ali

This is a landmark for THE FERGUSON THEATER as for the very first time I’m featuring a Guest Review written by none other than Sean E. Ali, the insanely talented graphic designer and illustrator who is currently the Director of Art & Design for Pro Se Productions. He’s also the talent responsible for the current look of Dillon on the covers of  the new editions of”Dillon and The Voice of Odin” and “Dillon and The Legend of The Golden Bell.” He’s also an avid movie fan and when I read his review of BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE on Facebook I immediately asked if I could repost it here. That was simply a courtesy because the review was so good I’d have posted it anyway if he’d said no.

So read and enjoy and if you like it then let Sean know. Maybe if we encourage him enough, he’ll write more reviews I can showcase here. Mr. Ali, the podium is yours…

From the “Batbland V Superbland” File…

So…

Twelve things I learned tonight watching BATMAN v SUPERMAN…Oh and just assume spoiler alert was said somewhere, my feelings are such that I know blabbing details won’t stop it from being number one this weekend…

…but I do what I can to save folks money so I took this bullet for you…

Let’s begin if you’re still here.

1) It’s a great movie…

…if by great you mean the part where Wonder Woman shows up in costume and does something warrior like in a full on battle. In fact, just hang out in the lobby for roughly one hour and forty-nine minutes and then go right in and it’ll be the best damn superhero fight scene…

…nah, the fight scenes are okay, but Wonder Woman made it so more than any of the others.

Also, it’s the only part of the film where someone cracks a smile…

…even if it is because she’s fighting for her life at the time.gallery-1449140319-batman-v-superman-3

2) Zack Snyder secretly hates Superman’s guts.

I don’t exaggerate, that guy just doesn’t get the character even when he’s riffing off of every overdone comics event events ever…

We get “The Dark Knight Returns” and the first half of the Doomsday saga, some Superman Godhood stuff…

…but not in the same way you do in a Marvel flick where you’re excited to see echoes of great old comic stories done with the same sense of adventure and humor that made them work in print.

This was kind of the diet root beer version of that: it kinda tastes right, but then there’s that horrible aftertaste…

However Ben Affleck might be able to bring Batman up to scratch if he does another one.

Preferably a film with an actual plot and better editing.

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3) The film cameos other characters with potential films from the DC movieverse…

…and I appreciate the advance warning on what to miss if BATMAN v SUPERMAN is the baseline for these films.

The Flash looks like a mess and he was on the screen for seconds…

However, I’m still onboard for Wonder Woman, DC may want to reset around her…

4) Ben Affleck Batman = Captain Ahab.

In fact just go read “Moby Dick”, you’ll thank me later.

5) I was in a near full theater, at the end of the film about ten folks clapped…

…and believe me, there was a pause like they had to think about it first.

6) When the credits roll? Leave.

This ain’t a Marvel flick, what you saw is all you get.

And folks who waited until the end were not thrilled about that after what they got.

7) Ben Carson has strong competition in the sleep inducement department.

8) The Batman Superman fights?

Much more exciting if you stick with the trailers.

Really, the Batman scene that got me in seat seen in context to the rest of the film?

I felt kind of gypped.

9) As a general rule, fans shouldn’t cheer Superman getting his ass kicked by Batman.

That just seems wrong when the actual villains still haven’t shown up.

Plus, the whole thing could’ve been solved if Batman had actually listened to Superman when he said “we need to talk”…

…But nooooo, he just goes all “old guy sucker punching at a Trump rally” because no reason.

10) The most basic origin story in comics, the death of Batman’s parent is finally made as confusing as any other superhero on the block.

No, you didn’t read that wrong.

…or maybe you did, whoever edited this film really muddied the waters.

11) There was no emotional connection at all.

Seriously, when what happened to Superman happened…

…folks were noticing that they just ran out of popcorn or shooting selfies and such.

I think some of us were glad Henry Cavill let that part go as is in case there is no longer a need for “Man of Steel 2”

12) Jenny, the most important intern in the history of the Daily Planet, is alive and well and still getting paid to maybe replace Jimmy Olsen but no one knows…

And to make it a Baker’s Dozen (that’s tossing in one extra over 12)…

13) I finally understood the film I saw when we got to the credits and saw that the two creative consultants and comic talents being thanked at the outset for their assistance were…

Frank Miller and…

…wait for it…

…Dan Jurgens.

See if they had run that first, I could’ve gone home early…

So to sum up…

…Marvel’s got nothing to worry about here.

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300: Rise Of An Empire

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Warner Bros./Legendary Pictures

Directed by Noam Murro

Produced by Zack Snyder, Gianni Nunnari, Mark Canton, Deborah Snyder and Bernie Goldmann

Screenplay by Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad

Based on “Xerxes” an unpublished graphic novel by Frank Miller

The story goes that Warner Brothers executives, delighted with the open weekend box office numbers of “300” immediately wanted a sequel.  Apparently they hadn’t taken the time to watch their own movie. It’s taken them eight years to figure out how to do a sequel to that movie and to give the filmmakers credit, they haven’t simply reshuffled elements around from the first movie. There’s an honest effort here to give us new characters in a new situation but 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE still didn’t give me that same feeling I had when I first saw “300”. I fell so much in love with that movie I wanted to marry it and take it home to meet my mother.

But that rush of adrenaline I got when I saw “300” came mainly from the visuals which were unlike anything I had seen before in movies. That’s because back in 2007 when”300” was released, the digital backlot technology/method of filming movies was still fresh and eye-popping. The only other movies I had seen using that technology were “Sin City” and “Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow”. Since then we’ve had  “Speed Racer” “The Spirit” “Avatar” “Immortals” and half a dozen other movies utilizing digital backlot techniques. So my eyes have become accustomed to the look over the years. That’s not to say there aren’t some incredible visuals in 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE. There are. It’s the story that doesn’t match the visuals.

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE did intrigue me at the start in that this isn’t your ordinary sequel or prequel. It tells a story that tells of events taking place before, during and after “300” It starts off with Gorgo, Queen of Sparta (Lena Headey) narrating to an army of Spartan warriors the story of how the war between Persia and Greece began, throwing in the origin of the Persian god king Xerxes I (Rodrigo Santoro) as a bonus. We’re also introduced to Artemisia (Eva Green) who is quite literally the woman that made Xerxes the god king he is now. She’s also the commander of his 1000 ship fleet and the best thing about the movie. More on that later.

300-A-Ascensao-de-Um-Imperio-24Nov2013-15Themistocles of Athens (Sullivan Stapleton) is attempting to unite Greece’s squabbling city states in order to present a unified nation to fight Persia but has no luck. The politics of all this is murky at best and really just gets in the way of what the movie wants to do: get to the numerous blood-saturated CGI sea battles that are the real heart of the movie. And when I say blood-saturated, I mean it. When somebody gets slashed with a sword, that worthy just doesn’t bleed. A geyser of blood throws a sheet of blood all over the screen. There’s a nice scene where Themistocles goes to ask Queen Gorgo for Sparta’s help which from the dialog I guess takes place right after Leonidas (Gerard Butler in footage from “300 is seen here and there during the movie) has gone with his 300 to hold the Persians at The Hot Gates. Rebuffed by Queen Gorgo (which is a pretty mild way of putting it.) Themistocles determines to take his 200 ships and handful of desperate warriors and go meet the Persians at sea.

300-Rise-of-an-Empire-03jan2013-03And that’s about all the set-up you need in order to watch the movie. Everything after that is bloody carnage. Halfway through the movie it seems to have forgotten that Queen Gorgo is supposed to be telling the story as now we’re seeing events and hearing dialog that she couldn’t possibly know about. And you should be warned that the violence in 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE is not the stylized, balletic action of “300” In this one it’s much more brutal and savage and I can’t remember the last movie where I’ve seen so many heads and limbs chopped off. In one scene Artemisia is carrying bunches of severed heads by the hair as if they were Pathmark shopping bags.

And that brings me to the best thing about the movie: Eva Green. Whenever she’s not on screen you’ll be eagerly waiting for her to come back because Artemisia is the best character in the movie. She’s far more intelligent, formidable, skilled and ambitious than anybody else and I’m willing to bet that like me, by the time you get to the halfway point you’ll be wondering why the whole movie wasn’t about her. She’s the kind of bad guy you secretly root for; the one that you hope ends up winning in the end. In fact, if 300: RISE ON AN EMPIRE had Artemisia and Queen Gorgo going at it, it would have been an immensely more interesting clash of characters as Sullivan Stapleton’s Themistocles is such a block of wood it’s excruciating. He spends most of the movie making speeches about honor and loyalty and loving your family and land that sound uncomfortably similar to the ones Leonidas made but Stapleton doesn’t even come close to the white hot energy Gerard Butler had. In fact, the only scene where Stapleton’s character comes alive is in a sex scene with Artemisia that turns into an attempted rape but we’re not really sure who’s raping who here.

300: BATTLE OF ARTEMESIUMSo should you see 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE? If you saw and liked “300” this is pretty much more of the same, only at sea and far bloodier and violent. I’d say try and catch a matinee if you can so this way you won’t feel robbed. It’s got spectacular visuals and that equally spectacular Eva Green performance going for it in its favor so enjoy.

Rated R

102 Minutes

Man of Steel

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2013

Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Pictures/DC Entertainment

Directed by Zack Snyder

Produced by Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas & Deborah Snyder

Screenplay by David S. Goyer

Based on “Superman” created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

Sooner or later it always comes down to real estate in a Superman movie, doesn’t it? I mean, in three of the previous Superman movies the plot revolved around extraordinary real estate schemes. And in MAN OF STEEL General Zod’s (Michael Shannon) plan for world conquest could be considered the ultimate form of gentrification. He intends to terraform Earth and make it uninhabitable for humans. But first he’s got to extract The Codex from the cells of Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill) and resurrect the Kryptonian race. And it’s not that it’s a bad plan at all. I just wish it wasn’t such a slog to get to it.

MAN OF STEEL is yet another retelling of the origin of Superman, which we didn’t need. So I guess that’s why Zack Snyder and David S. Goyer threw in such unnecessary details such as: a Kryptonian civil war. Making Kal-El the literal savior of the Kryptonian race by having his cellular structure infused with The Codex which if I understand it correctly pretty much means that Kal-El’s cells contains billions of DNA sequences. Making General Zod and Kal-El’s dad Jor-El (Russell Crowe) best buds who have a falling out over this pesky civil war as Jor-El insists they don’t have time for this rubbish as Krypton is going to blow up any day now. The Krypton sequence is one of the best things about the movie. And not only because we see that Jor-El knows how to rumble, young man, rumble. The architecture, technology and costuming had me wishing that we could get a “World of Krypton” movie. This is the first Superman movie that actually made Krypton look like it would be a really cool place to live. If it wasn’t for the blowing up part that is.

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Okay, so you know the drill after that: Krypton blows up, Kal-El gets rocketed to Earth, found by kindly Jonathan and Martha Kent  (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda. But then that’s when the plot goes into a whole other realm as we get scenes of Clark going walkabout, roaming the world, taking odd jobs and using his powers in secret to help out where he can. In between we have Lois Lane (Amy Adams) Colonel Hardy (Christopher Meloni) and Dr. Emil Hamilton (Richard Schiff) investigating an alien craft found in the Arctic that has a connection with Clark and ultimately leads her to Kansas.

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But here comes General Zod and his posse again, having been freed from The Phantom Zone when Krypton blew up. They’ve been wandering around the universe all this time and thanks to Clark’s fooling around, they come to Earth. Zod looks around and likes the property. He’ll take it. Clark has to convince Lt. General Swanwick (Harry Lennix) that he’s here for Truth, Justice and The American Way and they have to work together if they’re going to stop Zod.

I realize I’m being a little more flippant in this review than I usually am but that’s only because I wish MAN OF STEEL had been a little more flippant itself. This is a movie that takes itself way too seriously and moves ponderously from one drama drenched scene to another groaning under the weight of its own solemnity. It’s not a fun movie and there’s not a single moment where I felt like standing up and cheering when Superman flies in to save the day. Which is what I want to see when I go to a Superman movie.

There’s going to be plenty of Superman fans who are going to like this movie because they want their superhero movies to be stonefaced serious. Me, I think you can be serious and have some fun. Maybe I want too much, I dunno. I know that Superman fans desperately wanted to see a Superman movie with some action and him hitting things. Well, with a bunch of Kryptonian villains all with superpowers, there’s plenty of that. And the final throwdown between Superman and Zod will satisfy in the amount of sheer destructiveness. I myself don’t believe there’s a building left standing in Metropolis after the day the Kryptonians came to town.

I have no complaint with the acting at all. Especially Henry Cavill and Michael Shannon. Bravo, Mr. Shannon. I believe he’s one the best and most underrated actors working today. The guy’s Brando level good, trust me. And if you’re not familiar with his work then you need to be.

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As to what I didn’t like: so much added to the Superman origin story that I thought wasn’t needed was put in there simply so that audiences wouldn’t feel they were watching the same old same old. The fate of Jonathan Kent. The wonky direction by Zack Snyder in the fight sequences which really surprised me. In his past movies Snyder’s fight scene were really crisp, clean and well-choreographed, leaving no doubt as to who was getting hit and by whom. Here in MAN OF STEEL most of the fight scenes are just blurs going from one side of the screen to the other.  The ghost of Jor-El showing up just when he’s needed in places he has no business being. Superman’s resolution to the General Zod problem. I mean, I realize full well Zod left Superman with no choice but the Superman I know would have found another way.

And at the end of the day I suppose that’s really all it is. This isn’t a Superman I felt was my Superman. That’s not to say that he’s a bad Superman. He’s pretty good, in fact. Henry Cavill is a new Superman for a new generation and he does the character proud. But I’ll still stick with the 1978 model if that’s okay with you.

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143 minutes

PG-13

Watchmen

2009
Warner Bros & Paramount Pictures

Directed by Zack Snyder
Produced by Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin and Deborah Snyder
Screenplay by David Hayter and Alex Tse
Based on the comic book limited series and graphic novel created by Alan Moore (writer) and Dave Gibbons (artist)

If you were reading comic books back in 1986 then you probably read the twelve issue limited series WATCHMEN right from the beginning. You were in on the ground floor of a work of art that has come to be called ‘The Citizen Kane of graphic novels’. Actually that should be ‘The Citizen Kane of comic books’ but I’ve noticed how hard the advertising is stresses that WATCHMEN is based on a ‘graphic novel’. It’s as if Warner Bros. and Paramount are trying to hide the comic book roots of the material. They’ve got no reason to. Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, the comic book version of WATCHMEN was far more than men and women in brightly colored spandex beating the piss outta each other. It was a political thriller/satire, a murder mystery, a deconstruction of the superhero concept and an examination of the psychology of those people in the brightly colored spandex. And thankfully, the movie version of WATCHMEN is the same.

Thanks to a really cool credits sequence we’re introduced to an alternate world where superheroes came into prominence during the World War II era. Although costumed crimefighters such as Hooded Justice, Captain Metropolis, Silhouette and Dollar Bill are called superheroes they actually have no real superpowers. They’re ordinary men and women who put on masks, wear costumes and go out to fight crime. It isn’t until the 1950’s that the world gets its first real superbeing: Dr. Manhattan/Jon Osterman (Billy Crudup) who, like a lot of DC and Marvel characters gains superpowers due to a scientific accident. Ironically, its Dr. Manhattan’s creation that intensifies the Cold War between The United States and Russia. The Russians are kinda spooked that America has a glowing blue god who can reshape matter and energy at will. Thanks to Dr. Manhattan and The Comedian/Edward Blake (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) the Vietnam War is won in a week. Both Dr. Manhattan and The Comedian go to work for the U.S. government while other costumed heroes are forced into retirement due to legislation outlawing superheroes.

Things heat up rapidly when The Comedian is brutally killed and his murder is investigated by Rorschach/Walter Kovacs (Jackie Earle Haley) a vigilante who ignored the ban on masked heroes. Rorschach believes someone is out to kill all the retired heroes and goes to visit them one by one, hoping to persuade them to join him in his investigation. Silk Spectre/Laurie Jupiter (Malin Akerman) thinks he’s crazy. Dr. Manhattan doesn’t care. Nite Owl/Dan Dreiberg (Patrick Wilson) thinks he’s paranoid. And the richest, smartest man in the world, Ozymandias /Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode) is too busy trying to create a new energy source to be bothered. But before long events will drive all these former heroes back into their costumes as it soon becomes apparent that the world is on the verge of a nuclear holocaust and they may be the only ones who can prevent it.

For years WATCHMEN has stumped some of the most creative directors working in the industry today. We’re talking about guys like Terry Gilliam and Darren Aronofsky, both of who thought the graphic novel was unfilmable. And then along comes Zack Snyder who does such a terrific job and is so faithful to the source material that you wonder what the fuss was about. All of the characters look as if they stepped right out of the graphic novel and Zack Snyder recreates scenes in such detail it’s scary. And there’s plenty of Easter Eggs all through the movie for those of us who have read our copies of WATCHMEN to death but that won’t prevent those of you who haven’t from enjoying it.

The acting in this movie is top notch. Jackie Earle Haley easily walks off with the honors in this one. Rorschach is an extremely disturbed and dangerous man and Haley plays him that way, with no sugarcoating. I remember first seeing Jackie Earle Haley way back in 1983 in a raunchy comedy called “Losin’ It” which also starred Tom Cruise and Shelly Long but Haley stole that movie from them easily. He’s got great people to work with in this one such as Patrick Wilson. He plays Dan Dreiberg in such a way that you at first have a hard time imagining this overweight, quiet guy was ever a superhero. But once he puts on that Nite Owl costume his transformation is remarkable to see. And Malin Akerman is nothing short of amazing. I just couldn’t take my eyes off her anytime she was on the screen. Her character occupies a unique place in the superhero history of this world and one of the most interesting aspects of this movie is to watch her complex relationships with the other characters.

So should you see WATCHMEN? Absolutely. It’s not just a great superhero movie. It’s a great movie, period. The characterizations and story aren’t just excuses to have golly-gee-whiz special effects and big fight scenes. Even though the movie is complex and there are flashbacks and flash forwards it’s never confusing. And it’s truly a pleasure to watch a director at work who knows how to film action/fight scenes and doesn’t take the lazy way out by resorting to shaky-cam. It’s a movie with intelligence and one sign of its intelligence is that the superheroes don’t fight supervillains. They’re fighting something even more deadly: social conditions and their own moral values. It’s an amazing piece of filmmaking indeed and between this and “300” Zack Snyder has a place in movie history.

163 minutes:
Rated R:  This is most definitely a superhero movie for adults. There’s graphic violence, nudity and language.  Send the kidlets to bed before you watch this one, folks.

Sucker Punch

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2011

Warner Bros.

Directed by Zack Snyder

Produced by Deborah Snyder

Screenplay by Zack Snyder and Steve Shibuya

Based on a story by Zack Snyder

Zack Snyder has provided me with two of my favorite movie watching experiences of recent years.  “300” which I fell so in love with the first time I saw it, I wanted to marry it and take it home to meet my mother.  And “Watchman” which I thought was a brilliant adaptation of the graphic novel and actually improved upon it in certain areas, particularly the ending.  Upon hearing that his new movie SUCKER PUNCH was based on an original story by Zack Snyder I was really pumped to see it as I could imagine what his extraordinary visual style could do when applied to characters of his own creation.

I should have listened more closely to my friend Jason who upon seeing the trailers opinioned that any movie with trailers that kick-ass couldn’t live up to the promise they were making.  Know what?  Jason was totally correct.  SUCKER PUNCH isn’t as kick-ass as those trailers promised.  But neither is it the complete and total disaster some would have you believe.  At most, it’s an interesting experiment by a still young filmmaker who I think was trying to tell a story too ambitious for his still growing talents.  But we’ll get back to that in a bit, okay?  Right now, the obligatory story synopsis…

Baby Doll’s (Emily Browning) life is about as bad as it can get.  Her mother has died, her sister killed in a tragic accident and her stepfather has had her committed to a mental asylum.  The stepfather has bribed the head orderly Blue Jones (Oscar Isacc) to arraign for Baby Doll to be lobotomized.  This way, he can keep control of the vast fortune left to Baby Doll by her mother and she will unable to tell anybody the true circumstances of the death of Baby Doll’s sister.

To cope with her horrific situation, Baby Doll’s mind creates an elaborate fantasy world where the asylum is now a strip club/brothel where Blue is the owner.  The asylum’s chief therapist Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino) is now the madam.  Baby Doll becomes friends with the club’s top dancers; Amber (Jamie Chung) Blondie (Vaneesa Hudgens) Rocket (Jena Malone) and her older sister Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish).  Baby Doll is informed that in five days she is to be given to ‘The High Roller’ which is paralleled in the real world by The Doctor (Jon Hamm) coming to give her a lobotomy.  Baby Doll plans to use those five days to escape and enlists the aid of the other dancers to do so.  This involves Baby Doll creating yet another fantasy world where she and her friends, guided by The Wise Man (Scott Glenn) have to collect five objects to aid in their escape.

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That sounds pretty simple and straightforward, right?  Well, it isn’t.  There’s an added dimension to this in that apparently Baby Doll can mesmerize everybody in a room when she dances.  We never see what the dance is but when she does, she and her friends are transported to the world where they have to gather the objects.  That’s at around the point you’ll probably start scratching your head.  I know I did.

Let’s get the good out of the way: I liked most of the performances.  Scott Glenn looks as if he’s having so much fun I was having fun watching him.  Jon Hamm is only in the movie for a few minutes but he really makes the most of his brief screen time to really bring an added note of horror and pathos to the movie’s bleakest moment.  And Carla Gugino is amazing as always.  Why this woman doesn’t have a bigger career infuriates me to no end.  Jena Malone I really liked in this one.  She’s got an 80’s Meg Ryan vibe going here I found appealing.  Abbie Cornish I don’t recall seeing in anything but I’m going to be looking for more from her.

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The best part of the movie?  Undoubtedly the absolutely incredible action sequences where Baby Doll and crew acquire the objects they need.  I especially loved the World War I sequence with automatic weapons, steampunk battle armor, great big honkin’ zepplins porcupined with weapons and clockwork German soldiers.  You see those sequences and you mightily wish that Zack Snyder had built a better story around them.  He’s got an astounding eye for detail that is truly gifted and visually, SUCKER PUNCH is a treat.

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The bad?  There was one too many realities to deal with.  Unlike “Inception” which was painstakingly clear about the rules concerning dream worlds, SUCKER PUNCH isn’t.  I took the movie to be an homage to “The Wizard of Oz” more than anything else since it starts off with a very dull gray look to everything but once Baby Doll starts her fantasy in the brothel, the movie switches to vibrant, eye-popping color.

But once I realized that the action sequences were little more than glorified cut scenes from a videogame, I got bored.  Because I knew they weren’t going to last.  And what I wanted to see was a whole movie with these five fightin’ females boppin’ around these incredible worlds kicking every ass in sight.  And I was frustrated because I wasn’t getting it.  I did find it amusing that Baby Doll apparently has learned Jim Kelly’s trick of switching footwear in mid-fight and that kept me active looking for when she would switch from high heels to flats and back.

So should you see SUCKER PUNCH?  See, that’s a tough one for me to call.  Let me put it to you from both sides of my movie persona:

The cheap-ass, misery, grinchy Derrick Ferguson says: even though I’m a Zack Snyder fan,  there were parts where I was bored so if you’re not a fan, I can’t see where you’d want to see this.

On the other hand…

The artistic, compassionate, film nerd Derrick Ferguson says Zack Snyder has given us something interesting that isn’t a remake or a reboot or dragging out some moldy old franchise, slapping a new coat of paint on it and going “Ta-da!”  He’s done his best to give us something original and he’s to be commended for that.  He stretched himself and didn’t play it safe and I respect that.  I’m willing to give him a pass for SUCKER PUNCH because this is only his fifth film and he’s still growing as a filmmaker.  This one got away from him because I don’t believe he’s built up enough directorial muscle to successfully pull off telling a story like this.  If SUCKER PUNCH is a failure it’s an honest one motivated by creativity and a desire to communicate with a unique storytelling style.

109 minutes

Rated PG-13