Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sucker Punch

"Sucker Punch"

Zack Snyder has already scored a number of points with me for his adaptations of "300" and "The Watchmen", so I was very excited to hear about "Sucker Punch" and saw it as the eye-candy piece it promised to be. I marked the date on the calender, I kept up to date on any changes to that date, and I made certain that I had no other plans to interfere with the viewing of this film. Hell, damnit, I was going to take the afternoon off work just for the chance to see this film. What followed was a series of minor frustrations as reviews painted a negative picture, the theater had technical difficulties, and the bleak weather outside threatened to rain out my entire week. I nearly backed out of my trip to the theater when I found out my son might be heading home early from school but my wife insisted I should go (Saving grace yet again, she deserves so much credit). So, the previews hit the screen and then the film began...

Nothing prepared me for Zack Snyders' vision. Alot of people are not going to "get" this film. That's a given... there's so much going on and the director doesn't really "explain" anything with the films narrative, leaving plenty for the audiences interpretation. A young woman ("Babydoll", played by Emily Browning) is thrown into an insane asylum by her evil stepfather after the death of her mother. She is scheduled to undergo a lobotomy by the corrupt orderly who runs most of the asylum, and she meets the institutes psychiatrist (Carla Cugino) whose introduction sparks the sudden spiral into Babydoll's "fantasy world" where the film dives head first into a second level story. "Babydoll" is now sold into prostitution where the Orderly is actually a pimp, the other patients have become prostitutes desperate to escape their sordid world, and their psychiatrist is now a dance instructor paid to keep them in shape and in line. And Babydoll formulates a plan to escape this nightmare and her own reality, where we find a third layer when Babydoll begins her own "dance" routines... a fantasy world within her fantasy world, where a wise teacher offers tools, advice, and guides the girls through several missions. All of these things lead Babydoll to her redemption and escape from the reality of her real world nightmares.

Okay, and here is where the "fanboy" in me goes a little crazy.... STEAMPUNK-NAZI-ZOMBIES!!!! YES YES YES!!!! Missions in that third level of fantasy include fight with zombies, samurai warriors, mech robots, aliens, cyborgs, orcs, goblins, a dragon, and on and on and on... it's pure GEEK-GASM!!! Sucker Punch never lets up on the assault as Zack Snyder delivers a great story within a story and allows everything to come together nicely for a finely executed ending that goes beyond the Hollywood norm. This isn't some whitewashed film sent through marketing for approval... this is pure art and it's a great beginning for the career of Zack Snyder. His visual style and narrative techniques never condescend and he gives his audience the respect of finding their own interpretations without spelling out every detail through dialogue. I look forward to more work from this talented young man and urge everyone to check out Sucker Punch. You won't be sorry.

A Clockwork Orange: (Live at the Paper Wing Theatre)

"A Clockwork Orange"

Originally adapted for the screen by Stanley Kubrick, Anthony Burgess' novel explores free will in a dystopian society where the Government has asserted control over many facets of peoples lives. I saw the film a number of times in my youth, but it's the novel itself that has held the greatest impact for me. It's a bleak look into a dark future and leaves plenty of room for discussion, debate, and philosophical consideration of liberty, responsibility, and security. Although adapted for stage and screen in various incarnations, it's Kubricks satyrical vision that drives L.J. Brewers adaptation of the material. The set is beautifully designed with solid shapes and colors against a bleak grey backdrop and graffitti covering the walls of one third the stage. A white sheet and backlight serves as a shadow cast for a number of scenes, allowing the audience to imagine some of the plays most intense scenes. Music fills the play with synthetic and haunting sound from the film as well as some additional choices.

The shows protagonist, Alex DeLarge, is tackled by actor Tyler Vocelka. Tyler's performance is animated, his eyes delivering brilliant reactions to various situations and bringing both humor and menace to the show. He leads his "droogs" through an opening series of "ultra-violent" acts culminating in the vicious home invasion as Tyler belted out "Singin' in the Rain" to chilling effect. Nicholas Kelly, Drew Davis-Wheeler, and Jeff Collenberg are "Dim", "Georgie", and "Pete" and each performer is well suited to their role. As we explore Alex's world we meet his parents (Kelly Machado and Michael Alliman) and Mr. Deltoid (his probation officer played by Jay DeVine). Alex eventually finds himself in Prison after a betrayal from his gang.

All of the actors did a stunning job of presenting the first act. Hardened as I am to some of the scenes presented through a television screen, it was hard to watch some of the scenes taking place a mere twenty or thirty feet from my seat. The scene in the Alexander home nearly drove my eyes to my palms and sent an uncomfortable knot through my stomach as Alex and Dim went to work on the courageous woman (actress: Marlinda Mooneyham) with a pair of scissors and a song. Shane Dallman and Edward Couttolenc (as police officers) eventually bring Alex to justice and we see the mockery of justice in this dystopian society when Mr. Deltoid joins in the taunting of young Alex.

The second act begins with an incredibly humorous Chief Guard (Eric Morton)belting out a list of Alex's personal belongings. Alex is to serve a 14 year sentence, but we rejoin him after two years as he discusses the Ludovico Treatment with the Prison Chaplain (Michael Alliman). It isn't long before Alex is subjected to the Pavlovian treatment and released to a cruel world. There are so many great performances throughout the second act, but it was Tyler's very personal torture that forced this viewer to actually turn his head from the treatment itself. His choking, gagging, and horrified screams became increasingly empassioned and you could feel everything in this young actors performance. When the cold Dr. Branom (Koly McBride) questions Alex about the music, the audience can see the degree of uncertainty before the treatment continues.

So, if you live in the Monterey area and want to see a faithful adaption of one of the most controversial and brutal films ever made than I highly recommend attending the Paper Wing Theatre's adaptation of "A Clockwork Orange". It perfectly illustrates my assertion that art isn't safe and often needs to expose the ugliest parts of humanity in order to make us think. The performers courageously tackle some extremely uncomfortable material and they deserve your regard. Support your local arts.