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Archive for the ‘Films rated +1 (Enjoyed it)’ Category

Aaja Nachle (India, 2007)

My rating: +1 (Enjoyed it)
Bechdel Test:
3 out of 3
Director: Anil Mehta
Cast
Madhuri Dixit, Raghuvir Yadav, Konkona Sen Sharma, Kunal Kapoor, Akshaye Khanna, Divya Dutta, Irrfan Khan, Ranvir Shorey
Plot: A single mother from New York tries to save a theatre from demolition in the village she grew up in.


The film is available to rent or buy on youtube.

About the film

Madhuri Dixit (perhaps the only actress in Bollywood to achieve stardom on the level of the biggest male stars) made her comeback after a 5 year break with this film and it’s clear that her presence gave the makers the confidence to break all the rules. It’s unlike any Bollywood film I’ve ever seen before.

This film doesn’t just have a female protagonist, it has no leading man at all. The leading lady, on the other hand, was 40 years old at the time of the film’s release. Whether we’re talking Bollywood or Western mainstream cinema, a 40 year old female protagonist with no leading man is a huge rarity.
Even more interestingly, all of the men Dia (Madhuri’s character) has any sort of romance or innuendo with, are played by men younger than her. The actor playing Steve (the man who Dia elopes to the USA with) is 11 years younger. Akshaye Khanna (the politician who makes a very amusing pass at Dia) is 8 years younger. The actor playing Mohan (Dia’s fiance who has his heart broken when she elopes with another) is 5 years younger. Finally, there’s a sort of flirty scene in which Dia tries to make Imran take the leading role in her play. Kunal Kapoor, the actor playing Imran, is 8 years younger.
These age differences are even more striking in that nothing is made of them. Dia is not a “cougar” or anything of the sort. She’s simply an attractive woman that men take notice of. In one case (the 11 year difference) the male character appears solely in a flashback to Dia’s youth, so at that point Madhuri is playing a character much younger than she really is. But for the rest of the film she is playing more or less her actual age.
In other words, Madhuri is treated much like a leading man would be. It’s quite normal for men to be cast alongside younger women and for nothing to be made out of it. But for me it’s probably the first time I see it done with a leading woman in either Bollywood or Hollywood. I guess 5-11 years isn’t that much when in both Hollywood and Bollywood it’s not uncommon to have leading men in their forties cast alongside ladies in their twenties, but I still appreciate that this film did even that much.

Aaja Nachle starts in a very matter of fact way. In the first minutes of the film Dia gets “the phone call” during a dance class she’s teaching. The man who taught her to dance is dying. It was nicely done – that way in which those kinds of phone calls happen, one is never ready for them. Everything has to be put on hold because Dia needs to be there – both for her teacher’s sake and for her own.
Dia’s little daughter demands an explanation for the sudden plane trip to the small Indian town her mother vowed she would never ever go back to. And this is how we learn Dia’s past. She mistakes a summer romance with an American for the love of her life and elopes, despite her family’s arrangements to marry her off to a really nice guy from town. Soon after she and Steve arrive in the US, she realizes they’re not right for each other. Pregnant and divorced she makes a life for herself in New York, completely cut off from family and friends. A difficult reality, but Dia appears to have coped well with it. She loves her daughter to bits and she’s clearly enjoying a successful and fulfilling career. All of this is shown so bluntly, raw and real.

I really loved the blunt and matter of fact way in which they handle Dia’s life choices. The way Dia just lives her life as it is and the way the town judges her – nobody actually calls her a slut to her face, but it’s clear what they think. There’s a scene where she gets reaquainted with a childhood friend (Divya Dutta) and meets said friend’s husband (Irrfan Khan). The way in which Irrfan Khan reacts upon hearing she is divorced is so so real. No direct comment is made, but it’s obvious what he thinks.

As much as I loved certain aspects of the film, it does, IMO, have a very major flaw. It failed to make me care about the main storyline – saving the Ajanta theatre from demolition. Sure, it was interesting enough to watch Dia’s attempts to do so. The whole argument of why art is such an important thing to have in a town is nicely put together. But did I really care how the film would end? Did I root for Dia’s success in this endeavour? Nope, not really. And judging by other people’s reactions, I’m not the only one. IMO that’s probably why the film seriously flopped, even though there’s a lot of quality things in it.

That said, there is still much to appreciate in this film. It’s a good quality production with some wonderful dance scenes and good acting.
While it doesn’t have any really big names other than Madhuri in it, it has an absolutely fantastic cast of character actors – Irrfan Khan, Konkona Sen Sharma, Raghuv Yadav, Divya Dutta.
But by far the most enjoyable part of the movie for me were the scenes between Madhuri and Akshaye. Akshaye Khanna does a very small guest part in this, but it’s a really good one. The “flirtish adversary chemistry” between the two of them is awesome and the scenes where they’re trying to keep to certain standards of politeness while actually being incredibly rude and mean to each other are hilarious. It was also fun for me to have so much of the dialogue between them in English. Dia’s daughter, having been brought up in New York, is much more comfortable with English than Hindi and both Dia and Uday (Akshaye’s character) is very comfortable with English (Uday was educated abroad), so much of their conversation ends up being in English. I loved the way they intonated and played with the English dialogue. The “I’m the bad guy” line was particularly amusing.

Overall, an interesting film for quite a few reasons, but IMO it didn’t entirely come off.

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Quite a few Bollywood films are “heavily inspired” by Hollywood ones, though the original Hollywood films rarely get any credit for this (Brothers which came out last year was the first time I’ve seen an Indian movie actually marketed as a remake of an American one).
Nonetheless “Aap Ki Khatir” very clearly takes its plot from “The Wedding Date” and I figured it would be interesting to review these in tandem.

The Wedding Date (USA, 2005)

My rating: -1 (Disliked it)
Bechdel Test:
2 out of 3
Director: Clare Kilner
Cast
: Debra Messing, Dermot Mulroney, Amy Adams
Plot: A girl has to face her ex at her sister’s wedding. She hires a male escort to pretend to be her boyfriend to feel more confident at the event.

Aap Ki Khatir (India, 2006)

My rating: +1 (Enjoyed it)
Bechdel Test:
2 out of 3
Director: Dharmesh Darshan
Cast
: Akshaye Khanna, Priyanka Chopra, Ameesha Patel, Dino Morea, Sunil Shetty, Anupam Kher, Lillete Dubey
Plot: A girl who is still infatuated with her ex, has to face him at her sister’s wedding. She pays a man to pretend to be her boyfriend in the hope of making her ex jealous.

Introduction

Neither of these films is particularly groundbreaking or high quality. But Aap Ki Khatir is the one I enjoyed far more and it got me thinking about why I watch romantic comedies and what I want to get out of them.
Aap Ki Khatir lifts pretty much the whole storyline from The Wedding Date, changing only a few details here and there. It lifts a few scenes as well, but where the films are very different are in the character dynamics. And I think that’s the crux of the matter here – who actually watches a romantic comedy for the plot? Surely, it’s the interaction between the characters that truly matters in romance? And why did I enjoy the character dynamics in Aap Ki Khatir so much more?

The major difference between Kat and Anu

Kat and Anu have both been dumped by their exes in very unpleasant fashion and neither of them have got over this. But the big difference is that no matter how stuck she is in her love live, Anu is a successful career woman. As for Kat, we have no idea what her professional life is like, but it doesn’t seem she has much to boast about.
Kat and Anu both have a lot of insecurities and easily get agitated, but Anu nonetheless comes across as a much more confident and independent woman. In one scene in which she has a very bad argument with Aman, she tells him to stop pitying her and says bluntly “I don’t need anyone, Mr Aman Mehra” and I think that’s sort of true. Anu may be confused and stressed about a lot of things, but she definitely doesn’t need a man to take care of her.

Nick and Aman – completely different types of romantic heroes

Nick and Aman have very little in common. Both of them are quite cocky and that’s about it for similarities.
Nick is a professional escort. He is like a model from a catalogue, very suave, a high earner, confident and everything else you might expect. Or to put it a different way – he is sickeningly perfect. He’s also rather arrogant.
Aman is a very different kettle of fish. In his own words, he is an average-looking guy with an average wage. It’s unclear whether he’s ever done an escort job before, but probably not. This one is just side income for him. He works in Mumbai, in the same office building as Anu, but 11 floors below (and is clearly on a much lower wage than Anu). Although Anu and Aman work for the same company (in different departments) they have not interacted much previously.

The dynamics of the romance

As you might expect, these character backgrounds create vastly different dynamics. Nick has the upper hand over Kat almost all the time. Kat is constantly apologetic and never really takes control of the situation even though she’s paying him to take care of her needs.
Anu, on the other hand, is a rather bossy lady and has no problem with telling Aman what to do. Aman dutifully does what she’s actually paying him for (pretending to be her boyfriend and doing whatever he can to make Danny, her ex, jealous), but doesn’t necessarily do everything else she wants. Who has the upper hand changes from scene to scene, but Anu can certainly be rather forceful.
Case in point, lets compare the two sport playing scenes from the two films. Here is the baseball scene from The Wedding Date:

And this is the cricket scene from Aap Ki Khatir:

It’s a rather striking difference in the power dynamics, isn’t it?

To be honest, I really don’t understand why The Wedding Date chose to have these sorts of dynamics. To me the “spicy” and unusual part of the premise is that a woman is paying a man to service her the way she wants. Why did The Wedding Date choose not to play into the most original part of the premise?

Also, the plot actually makes a lot more sense with the Aap Ki Khatir character backgrounds.
Nick is an escort, he’s done this so many times before without falling love, so why Kat all of a sudden? I’d maybe buy into the whole escort falls in love with his client thing if the film gave me a clear reason for why Kat was particularly attractive to Nick, but it didn’t. Not only that, but the love happens so suddenly. Until Kat drunkedly gets Nick to have sex with her there’s no indication that he loves her (I think the fact that he didn’t ask her for money before getting into bed with her was supposed to mean he loved her).
Aman falling for Anu makes a lot of sense on the other hand. Aman is not a professional escort, so he would not have been in this sort of situation before. He also openly flirts with Anu pretty much from when they board the flight to London, which indicates that he probably noticed Anu at work and found her attractive even before taking the escort job.

The ex-boyfriend dynamic

Aap Ki Khatir again chooses a much better approach IMO. Anu really pines for Danny. This makes it more uncomfortable for Aman as he starts falling for her, more painful for Anu when things don’t go according to plan, adds comedy to the situation and gives Anu very strong motivation to go the whole male escort route.

In The Wedding Date, I never got the impression that Kat was hoping to get back with Jeffrey. The motivation for going the male escort route seems to be insecurity and the whole set up is much less interesting.

Why Nick is a bigger jerk than Aman

Aman has some slightly jerkish moments. Mostly, there are a few moments when he’s a bit mean with his jokes and a bit too pushy in how he flirts with Anu (though in Bollywood romantic hero terms he’s actually unusually unstalkerish and unpossessive). Other than that, he’s quite nice and fairly polite (it helps that he’s played by Akshaye Khanna obviously, but even so I think he’s quite likeable).
Nick is not pushy, but he’s rather rude and insensitive on quite a few occasions and other than being handsome and suave doesn’t seem to have many redeeming qualities.
There are two instances in which the difference between the two characters shows up particularly well. Firstly, the sex scene (or in the case of Aap Ki Khatir – the almost sex scene). The plot is that the heroine gets really drunk and in her drunkedness, decides that having sex with the hero is a great idea. Nick takes advantage of this – he sleeps with her even though she’s so drunk she doesn’t remember anything in the morning (to be fair, at least he doesn’t charge her for this). Aman teases her about this a lot the next morning (including about how much he would have charged her if he had slept with her), but he doesn’t take advantage (I suppose her being so drunk that she calls him Danny could have had something to do with it, but he didn’t seem that bothered about it when she was trying to take his shirt off).
The second instance in which Nick’s jerkishness shows up very obviously is in how insensitively he goes about Kat’s preoccupation with her ex. Other than at the twist at the end (he hugs her when she finds out something she really didn’t want to know), he gives her very little emotional support in that regard. He also really ruffles her feathers when he lectures her about how she’s single and can’t get over her ex because that’s exactly what she wants to be at this time (this may or may not be true, but it’s certainly not a sensitive thing to say).
Aman, in contrast, is actually relatively sensitive about Anu’s infatuation with Danny. There’s a real sort of warmth about how he listens to Anu’s story of their breakup. He does lecture her on how men get over their heartbreaks much quicker and how she should be stronger, but the way he does it is a bit of a tease and it actually seems to put her in a better mood.

The family

Perhaps one of the most striking differences between The Wedding Date and Aap Ki Khatir are the dynamics in the heroine’s family. Kat’s only decent family member is her stepfather really. Other than him, her family is very insensitive about her heartbreak (to the point of ridiculousness actually – I can’t quite imagine a real family behaving like that). In some ways having a good-looking man as her date brings her more relief with her family than it does with her ex-boyfriend.
Anu’s family, on the other hand, is genuinely worried for her and how she’s coping with her heartbreak. Her stepsister apologizes profusely for inviting Danny (the ex-boyfriend). Unfortunately, he’s her husband-to-be’s best friend, so they can’t easily uninvite him.

Aap Ki Khatir also has a lot more detail in all the family relationships. In particular they really flesh out the relationship between Anu’s mother and her stepfather. It’s very clear the two of them love each other very much and are still very sexually attracted to each other, which is extremely cute. You don’t often get relationships between two middle-aged characters portrayed like that. Very unusually, they even have a sort of kissing scene, which is kind of ironic in that Anu and Aman do not have one.

General comments

Aap Ki Khatir has become one of my go-to feel-good movies. Even though the quality of it is poor on a few levels, there’s something about it that brings me a lot of amusement and happiness.
I wish the dance numbers weren’t edited in such a jumpy style cause the actual choreo and dancing is rather good.
I love the chemistry between Akshaye Khanna and Priyanka Chopra – they really work well together. And I really enjoy Akshaye Khanna in this sort of romantic hero role.

Wedding Date is a film I will probably never see again. Even Amy Adams, who I usually really like, is kind of blah in this IMO.
It has better production quality and the script is much more tightly structured, but the film just doesn’t have any charm.

Finally, on a completely random note, Aap Ki Khatir seems to have some sort of weird censorship going on (or was this cut made for other reasons?). There’s a very short shot in one of the songs where Aman’s face is against Anu’s uncovered back. It’s rather sexy and a little bit more racy than standard, but not really that adventurous (especially considering it’s so so short). You can see it here as it was released in the music video, but oddly it is missing from the actual film.
For some reason he’s also wearing leather gloves in that song. I’m not really sure why since he has cotton/woollen ones for the outdoor scenes in the rest of the film. Fetish? 😛

 

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36 China Town (India, 2006)

My rating: +1 (Enjoyed it) – but only because Akshaye Khanna is in it *sigh*
Bechdel Test:
1 out of 3
Director: Abbas Alibhai Burmawalla, Mastan Alibhai Burmawalla
Cast
: Akshaye Khanna, Kareena Kapoor, Shahid Kapoor, Paresh Rawal, Payal Rohatgi, Johnny Lever, Tanaaz Currim Irani, Isha Koppikar, Upen Patel, Vivek Shaq, Rajendranath Zutshi, Priyanka Chopra (cameo)
Plot: A crime movie with a very heavy dose of comedy about a murder investigation in Goa’s Chinatown

About the film

I am going through a serious Akshaye Khanna fixation at the moment and since for the first time such a fixation has happened to me in the UK, where legal access to Bollywood films is fairly easy, I have been obsessively going through his filmography.

36 Chinatown isn’t really the best of films (it didn’t do particularly well in the box office either AFAIK), but it has stuck with me more so than some of the other films I’ve watched in my Akshaye Khanna mini-retrospective. This is because I really love his performance in this.
He plays the police detective investigating the murder. The whole point of his character is to be as ridiculously macho as possible and make all the other characters very uncomfortable the moment he appears on screen. I’ve really wanted to see a film where he has a very domineering sort of screen presence, so this made me very happy.
But it gets even better than that… I don’t know if I’m imagining this, but to me it seems like part of his intimidation tactics is to come on to his male suspects, so they’re even more uncomfortable. It’s very, very subtle and yet the body language, the winking, the unbuttoned shirt, the facial expressions… there’s something about this role that’s very sexual and it’s definitely not directed at the female characters.
The most suggestive bit IMO, happens towards the end of the movie. He tells all the suspects that he’s looking for one final piece of evidence and then he’ll know which one of them will be sent to the gallows. Then he tells them there’s a festival going on in China Town and he wants all of them to go out and enjoy themselves in the meantime (obviously they’re all too nervous to want to do so). And that’s when this song happens:

There’s no subtitles on the video, but in case you’re wondering, the line he’s singing for most of the song (while glaring at male characters) is “I’m interested in you”.
Nor is the song the only part of the movie that I find suggestive. There are other small moments in the dialogue scenes. Like the bit when he tells one of the suspects that he has some bracelets for him, takes out a pair of handcuffs and winks at him.
There’s even a scene at the end where the line he says is in that vein. One of the murder suspects is a playboy, who uses really bad pick up lines on any pretty woman he meets (married ones included) and should they respond positively, takes them on what he calls “long drives”. At the end, when the playboy tries to pick up yet another woman, the police detective gets involved in the conversation and teasingly offers a “long drive” to the playboy.
The character itself is most definitely straight, so I’m not suggesting there’s any real attempt at portraying homosexuality in this film – far from it. If it’s even there (I’m still not convinced I’m not simply imagining it), then it’s only there as a device to make the scenes look that little bit more uncomfortable and funny.

Gay innuendo and Akshaye Khanna aside, there’s not much more I really like about this film.
It’s unusually short – at just 2h 14min. it is probably the shortest commercial Hindi movie I’ve ever watched. It still manages to squeeze in 5 dance sequences (which is probably the standard number of songs in a Bollywood film nowadays), though one of them is during the ending credits.
It has an absolutely huge ensemble of characters. This abundance of characters makes for an interesting murder investigation (oh so many suspects), but it also brings in a fair share of problems. With that amount of characters, very little screen time remains for each of them and all of them suffer – particularly (oh so predictably) the female ones.
There are five female characters which drive the plot (and if we’re counting named ones we could probably add 1 or 2 onto that), which is a lot more than in most movies. Even with that many female characters it fails the Bechdel test completely – I don’t remember a single conversation between two female characters (even in a group scene). There are, naturally, plenty of conversations between men. That tells you a lot about how little focus the stories of the female characters get.

The resolution (i.e. who actually murdered) is quite predictable (turned out to be the character I suspected from the very beginning) and while there are some funny scenes and ideas, I found the comedy a bit heavy-handed most of the time. The romance between Raj (Shahid Kapoor) and Priya (Kareena Kapoor) felt rather tiresome to me. I think it would have been funnier (and much more original) had they not fallen in love and simply remained at each other’s throats for the whole duration of the murder investigation. And the production quality isn’t particularly high either.

On the positive side of things, Priyanka Chopra has a really great (and very funny) cameo at the end. It’s actually amazing how much screen presence she has.

And I did love how they dealt with India’s short-lived smoking ban. The ban made it illegal for Indian films to show smoking on screen because it supposedly makes it look cool and influences people to take up smoking. It only lasted a few years though. It was essentially censorship, and as is often the case, people always come up with ingenious ways to get around it or simply challenge it.
There was a film with Amitabh Bachchan soon after the ban came into place where they simply blatantly disregarded the ban. Then there was Don, which showed the smoke coming out of the main character’s mouth, but never showed the cigarette itself, while adding lines said in a very over the top way about how smoking kills you.
But I think this film’s way around the ban may be my favourite yet. The police detective keeps trying to light up a cigarette, but the lighter keeps failing – either no flame appears at all or the flame is way too big. And then at the end when the police detective almost succeeds in lighting his cigarette, they hilariously put up a sign about how smoking is injurious to health.

Overall, this is probably not a film I would particularly recommend, but I did find it a very pleasant way to satisfy some of my Akshaye Khanna fixation.

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Belle (UK, 2013)

My rating: +1 (Enjoyed it)
Bechdel Test:
3 out of 3passes easily
DirectorAmma Asante
CastGugu Mbatha-RawSarah Gadon, Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, Miranda Richardson, James Norton, Tom Felton, Sam Reid, Matthew Goode, Penelope Wilton
Plot: Set in the 18th century and based on a true story. A Royal Navy Admiral has an illegitimate daughter with a black woman and brings the little girl back to England, where she is raised by her aunt and uncle.

About the film

Belle is basically one of those quality period dramas that regularly come out of the UK, but with a difference. It’s quite unusual to see anybody who isn’t white in a period drama and in the rare instances anybody of different racial heritage appears on screen, it’s usually as a servant. To have a woman of colour as the central character is pretty much unheard of, but it’s also what makes this film so interesting.

It has all you’d expect from a good British period film – good cinematography, a nicely structured screenplay, a great cast with many familiar faces. But it’s also a fascinating story, even more so because we know it really happened.
Little is known about the real Dido, though from what I understand the script takes quite a few liberties. But there’s no doubt about the essentials of the story – she was brought up in an aristocratic family and her uncle was the judge in the first case of its kind, against a company suspected of drowning a whole cargo of slaves because they were sick and therefore impossible to sell (it was more profitable to get insurance money for them).
The case is an interesting backdrop to what is essentially Dido’s coming of age story. Naturally, finding a suitable marriage partner is a big part of coming of age in a period film and that is a large part of the story. But as the film goes on, the court case starts dominating Dido’s thoughts more and more. To her, it is an important piece of the puzzle of who she really is and where she fits into society.

Obviously, the reason I came across this film in the first place is Tom Felton (I’m a big fan). He has a fairly small part in the film and as usual, he plays the villain – in this case simply the biggest racist (not very far from Draco Malfoy when you think about it, just a different sort of racism). There’s not that much you can do with a part like that, so I wasn’t expecting much, but was surprised. For me this was, in some ways, his creepiest villain yet. While for the most part James Ashford behaves very respectably with the occasional out of line comment here and there, there’s one particular scene that’s really nasty. The scene stayed with me for a while.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw is great as Dido. The film relies on her very heavily, she’s pretty much on screen the whole time, so that’s a lot of pressure, but she carries the film well and holds her own with some very good actors. She’s also very natural in all the 18th century manierisms.

There are quite a few familiar faces in the film and it would take too long to mention them all, but one of the stand out supporting performances definitely belongs to Tom Wilkinson. Lord Mansfield is quite a conflicted character, so there was a lot to work with there. He is a man, who tries to be very rational and proper, not allowing his emotions to get in the way of his work and behaviour. But at the same time he loves Dido very much (even while trying to keep her in her proper place – wherever that is!) and is very much disgusted with how a whole ship of slaves was murdered, even while meticulously researching the details of the case and making sure he does not overstep what the letter of the law allows him (the law does not allow him to punish the company responsible for murder, only for insurance fraud, but that needs to be proven beyond doubt).

Sam Reid is very good as John Davinier. The passion he has for human rights really comes through. There’s a beautiful clarity about him.

On the whole, a very good film with a lot of good performances (also ones I haven’t mentioned), but it’s main selling point is very much the story.

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Sucker Punch (USA/Canada, 2011)

My rating: +1 (Enjoyed it)
Bechdel Test:
3 out of 3passes easily (interestingly enough, if you did a “reverse” Bechdel test, as in two male characters talk about something other than women, I’m not sure it would pass!)
Director
: Zack Snyder
Cast: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Oscar Isaac, Carla Gugino
Plot: There are three realities stacked on top of each other in this movie. A girl is put into a mental institution by her abusive step father (reality no. 1). She imagines the hospital is in fact a brothel (reality no. 2). When she dances for men in the brothel she is mentally transported to a completely different place where girls fight with monsters and totally kick ass (reality no. 3).

But the deleted dance scene is way cooler than the trailer.

About the film

My Oscar Isaac phase has introduced me to this really bizarre film, which (perhaps unsurprisingly considering how weird the plot is) has people completely baffled and writing lengthy texts about what it all means. People don’t seem to be able to agree on things as basic as:

  • Who the protagonist is. It would seem it’s Babydoll (Emily Browning), but the ending kind of flips it so that it’s suddenly implied that actually we were watching Sweat Pea’s (Abbie Cornish) story all along.
  • Whether the film is very feminist or very sexist. One camp says this is a film about how women are used and how they fight back, the other camp says it’s pure fetishism and uses women’s bodies to titillate in a way far worse than a regular Hollywood movie.
  • What actually happens at the end or even generally what happens
  • Whether the film is a masterpiece or a total piece of crap

For me it was a collection of interesting ideas and a few very strong scenes that didn’t make a particularly great whole.
I think my main issue with it is that I found all the fight sequences much too long and rather boring. They unfortunately take up quite a lot of the movie. The mental institution and brothel plots on the other hand were fascinating to me, though indeed both those plots were very fetishistic.

All the female characters had a lot of skin show in this (though no nudity) and there’s quite a bit of violence (both sexual and otherwise) against women in the film. But then this is also a film about women fighting back against oppression and how can you make a film about that without showing the oppression?
Men are very much on the sidelines in this film. So much so that this is the first film I’ve watched in a long while that wouldn’t pass a “reversed Bechdel test” I think. There are hardly any conversations between men in the film. The only ones I remember are Babydoll’s stepfather bribing Blue (the man running the mental hospital) to make sure Babydoll doesn’t tell anybody about the abuse she suffered. That and men during the fighting sequences exchanging some words about fighting the girls. Both of those conversations are about women.
And as much as it’s the girls getting all the skin show (which is the main reason some feel this film is sexist), it’s worth noting the men are also put in some rather fetishistic clothing. Blue (Oscar Isaac) appears for the whole film with make up almost as heavy as the girls – lots of eyeliner and even some very visible blush in there.

Sucker Punch has some pretty well-developed female characters and mostly undeveloped male ones. I didn’t care that much for Babydoll (Emily Browning) to be honest, but Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) really grew on me. There’s something about Abbie Cornish that really moves me every time I see her – a kind of beautiful vulnerability. I really love watching her. She’s awesome in the ending sequence (which I must not spoil).
The relationship between Sweet Pea and Rocket (Jena Malone) is also really nicely fleshed out. But my favourite female character is Dr Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) – the main psychiatrist and burdelmama. That’s just a really bizarre combination, but it works! And Carla Gugino is really fun to watch in that.
I obviously enjoyed Oscar Isaac in this a lot – to me it was an opportunity to see him in some very fetishistic attire with lots of over the top dominating behaviour. He gets some pretty emotionally twisted scenes, which he’s really good that, so that’s another win as far as I’m concerned.

Probably the most fascinating part of the film is the ending sequence. It’s hard to write about properly because it’s obviously a spoiler, but I shall try! The ending is the part of the film that gets the most discussion and lots of elaborate interpretations. It also happens to have been heavily cut. The uncut version is floating about on youtube and I totally get why Hollywood couldn’t handle it in uncut form – it’s perverse :] And the perversity of it is nothing to do with sexual acts – it’s the whole idea of it, the idea that that is the only way Babydoll can attain her freedom. Even with the cut that was made, it’s still a very uncomfortable sequence.
In fact, at one point in the sequence I gasped out aloud. I was surprised it hit me so hard – it’s the bit when Blue leans over to kiss a certain other character and it was just so, so disturbing… I think previously my personal winner for most disturbing kissing scene would be Closet Land (1991), but Sucker Punch is now my new winner in this prestigious category.
That said, the ending sequence isn’t just uncomfortable and disturbing, there’s also a really, really beautiful bit to it too. Both the message and the visual beauty of it is stunning and it’s going to stay with me just as long as what precedes it.

Overall, this is definitely not a film for everyone, but if something weird like that sounds interesting to you, maybe it’s a good film for you? Personally, I’m really curious what the whole uncut version of the film is like – it’s been released on bluray I think, so I may just buy it when I finally get a bluray player.

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