Monday, March 28, 2011

Sucker Punch

Sucker Punch: A Review

The following review may contain spoilers which could fully live up to their name and ruin aspects of the story (read: plot and ending). If you plan on seeing this movie, you may want to either proceed with caution, or wait until after you've watched it to read this article. Consider yourselves warned. Thank you.

Last Friday, I ventured out to see Sucker Punch at the local theatre. I'd been teased with the trailer, and made a point of not reading previews or articles, because I felt I might be in for an action-packed, visually stunning ride (the trailer showed women with machine guns, gigantic warriors, and a dragon!) and I didn't want any of that ruined before I watched the movie.

Luckily, I avoided all of that until after the previews portion of my experience ended and the lights dimmed.

Within the first three minutes of watching Sucker Punch, I felt like there was the potential to become invested in the characters. We had the caring older sister, protective of her younger sibling, and quick enough to see through the veil of family treachery unfolding before her; the little sister, unable to defend herself but still resourceful; and the unscrupulous step-father, who is scheming to snare the family fortune for himself at no cost by sacrificing the lives and souls of others.

Nary a word was really spoken on the screen at this point, and I was involved, and barely thought about the giant, fire-breathing serpent I'd seen in the trailer, or even the high-caliber weapons.

Then, the younger sister was removed form the picture, and suddenly I was faced with a story about a creepy relative who commits a little girl to an asylum so he can inherit money. It's a simple premise, certainly not debuting in the form of this film, but it can set up the screenwriter for myriad possibilities as to how this unbalanced equation resolves itself.

What we're presented with is a girl who quickly assesses her surroundings and creates a world inside her mind, comprised of the characters in the mental asylum, in order to cope with the trauma she's experienced in such a short period of time. In this defense mechanism, she finds herself in another prison -- one where she is kept in a brothel of sorts, and forced to dance to please the various high paying patrons.

It is here that she learns she has a gift. She retreats even further into another fabricated world where the actions directly impact the initial world to which she has escaped. (For those of you drawing lines to The Matrix or Inception, you are correct in doing so, but you'd probably be better off watching those two, or even Tron, than giving into the urge to see this before it's available for streaming on Netflix in a few months.)

The "dancing" sequences, which start off with our heroine closing her eyes and swaying side to side, immediately cut to this new dream world, where the laws of physics only loosely apply, weapons deal massive damage, and old World War II-era bombers seem to be able to make hairpin turns in mid-flight. It should be noted that we don't actually see any dancing, and one can see where this is used as a transition convention for the story to take place. When our lead returns form this dream world, it is implied that what she acts out for her audience while she's in this fantasy world is so amazingly sensual, that all who behold her are captivated. This allows her (and a ragtag group of dancers) to carry out missions in the second-level dream world in order to acquire the items needed to escape this house of ill-repute vague dancing.

It is during these missions that we get the automatic weapons, the sword fights, a giant mech suit, and yes, a dragon. But that's not all! One also gets treated to remakes of songs such as "Where Is My Mind," "White Rabbit," and "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of These)," all performed with completely uninspired vocals.

Things happen, the writing and actors try their hardest to convey tension between characters, to make the audience sympathetic to the loss of certain players, and even to feel the sense of looming danger (there's even betrayal) -- but it just doesn't deliver. Have you ever watched a friend play a video game when you really wanted to go outside and play or watch something that was on television, but you try to become interested in order to forget your current state of frustration? It was a lot like that.

When (what's left of) our dancing, ass-kicking (?), determined ladies finally meet all of their objectives, and make their big escape, we are brought back to the reality of our lead's existence in the asylum. (As an aside, more journeys back to this reality to show a juxtaposition or what triggers her fantasy world might have helped the story throughout the film.) Then, we watch as the girl (whose only name seems to be Baby Doll, end even that is only given in her own imaginary dance hall world) has a meeting with Doctor Jon Hamm, and are treated to what seems like endless exposition before the movie ends with what should have been a giant question mark from the old science fiction films of the 1960s.

This would have been a good film if it had abandoned all hopes of a structured story. If it was just an abstract situation with refugee people in this comic book/video game land that had to fight for survival, I would have accepted that. Instead, I saw allusions to a back story, hints of emotion, characters staring at implied dance scenes like they were looking into the trunk of the car in Reservoir Dogs, and a ton of exposition (think about the three words before this parenthetical and ask yourself why this belongs in an action movie) at the end of the movie that was not put in to explain what had transpired, so much as it was a thinly veiled plea to the audience not to demand their ticket money back from the front booth.

The good:

  • Interesting costumes
  • A dragon(which was promised)
  • It wasn't Battle L.A.
The bad:
  • The underdeveloped back story 
  • Telling, rather than showing why we were watching this and tacking it onto the end of the film
  • The soundtrack
  • The inability to become invested in any of the characters or to lose oneself to the ride
Verdict: Read a book or do anything (other than see Battle L.A.) to hold onto those precious two hours of your life.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Let the Rivers Run Amber with Ale & Malt Vinegar

Last week, I became a resident of Troy, NY, and while I'm fixing up my new abode and turning it into my own sanctuary/den of iniquity (there may be updates on bigger projects, but I make no promises, as such things need to actually be accomplished, rather than written about before action is taken), I've decided to venture out and take in the various offerings this city has for its inhabitants. I figured I'd start off this section by writing about something most of us can relate to: food.

As the sun was setting, and before the roads and sidewalks turned to treacherous sheets of ice, I ventured down by the river and walked into Brown's Brewing Company. I have been there many times over the past year or so, but there's a very different feel about a restaurant when one is visiting an area, than when one comes to the realization that a full menu is available at (almost) anytime.

Brown's (as you may have guessed by the full name) brews its own delicious beer to not only serve its patrons in pint glasses, but they use it in many of their dishes, as well. We might as well get this part out of the way, so I can tell you about the atmosphere, food, service, and anything else that I think you might find to be of interest.

If you are going to Brown's, you have to get a beverage. Okay, you don't, but you'll really be missing out on the whole experience. Of the beers I've had at Brown's in my various visits, I can recommend the brown ale (a good beer with a very full, yet mellow flavor), the porter (the touch of chocolate reminded me of some of the better porters I've had, back when I lived in Pennsylvania and near a few microbreweries), and the Rauschbier (Märzen style beer -- smoky, though slightly sweet, and reminiscent of similar beers I had many years ago, when I was in Germany). If you want something lighter or sweeter, you might want their cherry-raspberry ale, but I find the flavor to be too sweet for me to drink, though a great ingredient in dishes like the sauce for their chicken tenders. If you're not in the mood at all for an adult beverage, I highly recommend their  homemade cream soda, which is the best I've had outside of when I attempted to make my own (yes, I can be cocky, at times).

The interior of Brown's has very comfortable seating (hard wood booths with cushions), lost of dark metalwork and railings on both floors, and brick walls (the entire place is housed in a 150 year old warehouse) are lined to pictures an theatre programs from the turn of the (last) century, and older. While the seating areas are large, they are private, and for those of a more gregarious bend, there is a large bar area and (in warmer months) an open patio that overlooks the river.

The service is friendly, prompt and attentive. The wait-staff are also quite knowledgeable about how the food is prepared, and ready to answer most inquiries as to the recipes or where the restaurant gets its provisions. The cooks also don't mind special requests, in case of allergies or special diets.

The menu also isn't stagnant. Like most places, there are daily specials, but if you visit once a month or so, I can guarantee you'll see something new on the main menu itself. Last time (if I remember correctly), it was a seared tuna dish. This round, steamed clams with chorizo appeared in the appetizer section. The kitchen staff likes to be creative, but they also strike a balance between going over the top, and knowing those things that sell consistently. 

This evening, walking into the pub from the cold, dressed in my wool coat and riding cap, I felt it only appropriate to order extremely standard fare: fish and chips. 

I've had Brown's take on the Juicy Lucy burger (and it's fantastic), their grilled ahi and asparagus salad, and pan seared scallops with hoisin butter, but tonight I wanted something simple and comforting. (To not completely abandon the vegetarians reading this, Brown's also makes breaded and deep-fried portabella wedges which are out of this world.)

My meal (which was prefaced by a salad that came with the order), consisted of large pieces of cod, batter-dipped and fried, and served with homemade fries and coleslaw. I'll work backwards from the previous description. I am not a big coleslaw fan, but the lack of bitterness to the cabbage and the fact that there wasn't a ton of mayonnaise mixed in made it more than palatable. The fries were golden, crispy, and not overly seasoned or salted. The fish might be the best I've had this way in many years. It wasn't oily. The batter crust was light, flaky, crunchy, and provided a nice shell around the cod -- It wasn't hard as a rock, nor did it fall to a million pieces when I tried to cut the fish.

And they had malt vinegar! Yes, I had to request it, but at least they had it (unlike experiences I've had at other restaurants). Some people like ketchup, but I prefer malt vinegar (and on occasion garlic or other infused vinegars) with fish and chips.

When all was said and done, my stomach was filled, my thirst slaked, and I was once again warm enough to not mind the journey home. (I also didn't even break a double sawbuck in the process - before tip.)

One more thing before I stop rambling about tonight's experience -- Brown's isn't a house of secrets when it comes to their food. They feature recipes right on their site (I'm tempted to try the tomato bruchetta or the oatmeal stout butter salmon), so you can make things at home instead of going out to eat. 

So, if you're in the area on business, to visit friends or family, or just plain live here and want to go someplace for great food and atmosphere that won't leave you with only lint in your pockets, check out Brown's Brewing Co. I know I will be exploring the rest of the menu and brewery selections during my stay in this city.

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