Watched a couple movies. Didn't like them. See below.
The Rite (d. Hafstrom) – I have a very strong bias in favor of William Friedkin and William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist. I’ve probably said before that, in my view, it is a perfect film, horror or otherwise, but specifically as a horror film it casts an enormous shadow over one subgenre of horror. That subgenre is, of course, films about exorcists, of which there have never been terribly many. Most if not all of those were made after The Exorcist, and the subgenre is so specific, filmmakers find that not only must they use essentially the same plot points, and some version of the same shock effects as Friedkin did, but some are even driven by desperation to comment on The Exorcist, so that this exorcist film you’re now watching is taking place in a world where The Exorcist exists. And you shouldn’t expect real life to be like a movie!
Take Mikal Halfstrom’s recent The Rite. In this one, the Max von Sydow role is played by Anthony Hopkins, who, after meeting with a possessed young woman, asks our skeptical, and possibly atheist, seminary student hero (Colin O’Donoghue) “Were you expecting spinning heads and pea soup?” Oh ho, well played, sir. In answer to your question, though, no, I wasn’t expecting spinning heads and pea soup. But something would have been nice. The film has the crisis of faith angle and demonic possession and also takes an element from the end of The Exorcist and expands it, to no discernible effect. To this, it adds precisely nothing. The film just plods through the expected story points until the credits roll.
I sort of like Hopkins, because one of his default modes these days is to play guys who are very smart and focused, and not happy to be distracted by outside information. That’s how he plays the elderly exorcist role here, and it is occasionally amusing (such as when he absent-mindedly absolves O’Donoghue of his, O’Donoghue’s, sins before meeting the possessed girl). Other than that, there’s nothing to see. There’s nothing to see in pretty much any other exorcist movie, as I’ve said. Even when a film tries something different, as when The Exorcism of Emily Rose tried to merge the exorcist movie with a courtroom drama, the filmmakers seem to have no clue about how to integrate anything new to the formula established by The Exorcist, a formula which is inherent to the genre. Why would you make a movie like this now? If I made horror films, exorcism is the last subgenre I’d ever want to work in. I’d do vampires before exorcism. There’s no upside.
[I pretty much spoil the ending to Sucker Punch here, so fair warning]
Sucker Punch (d. Snyder) Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch is sort of like what you’d get if Joe Francis was somehow inspired to rewrite The SCUM Manifesto by playing Duke Nukem. A bad and confusing analogy, no doubt, not least because there are dragons in the movie, and simply thinking about dragons would require the kind of imagination that would enable you to see past your own dick, which Francis (and Solanas, come to that) is incapable of doing.
So kudos to Zach Snyder, I guess! Sucker Punch is still a terrible mess, though. What it’s about is, this lovely young blonde lady’s (Emily Browning) mom dies, her evil stepdad tries to use his power to force a change in his wife’s will, which favored her two daughters, and then the young blonde lady snaps under the pressure and gets a gun and tries to shoot her stepdad but accidentally shoots her sister, and is then merrily (by the stepdad) whisked away to a mental institution. It is here that Sucker Punch hauls out all of its, I guess, ideas about reality and women and robot samurai. This mental institution is full of hot ladies, see, and it's less a mental institution than it is a sort of strip club, but the nice kind, classy, except that all the girls are forced to dance (they never strip, but the goal is the same) by the asshole who runs the joint (Oscar Isaac) because he likes money so much. And if they don't dance, then he'll hurt them, so the girls are taught to dance, and protected, by a Russian-or-something lady (Carla Gugino). The main thing, though, is that when that one blonde lady finally starts dancing, she, or her mind, is whisked into a majestic fantasy land -- to avoid the Male Gaze, I'm assuming -- where she's taught how to escape from her real-world prison by that one guy (Scott Glenn).
Up to this point, Sucker Punch hasn't really been very good, but it hadn't developed enough plot yet to be all that stupid. Pretty stupid, yes, but it's when Glenn is forced to explain how the film's story shall henceforth play out (and during these scenes, I imagine Scott Glenn's own mind whisking away to some fantasy land where he's still making The Right Stuff or Nashville) that Snyder doesn't just step in it, but rolls around in it. A good fantasy film, of the type that's following a well-worn formula, will not make too big a deal out of the formula itself, and will hide it as natural plot progression. But Snyder has Glenn just tell you what the formula is. He tells Browning "I can help you escape, but you'll need five things: a boot, some scrap paper, a jar of honey, and scissors" (whatever, I can't remember what they were) and Browning says "But you said five things" and Glenn says "The fifth thing is a mystery. So when you figure out what that thing is, that'll be, like, the end of the movie."
And so each quest to find one of the five things, during which she's accompanied by a group of other dancer/mental patients (even though I guess they're not consciously in the same fantasy land as Browning is, I don't think) brings the characters into a new world of battle, which feature, individually, zeppelins and zombie Nazis, dragons, robots, and so on. These are all filmed in Snyder's by now exhausting mix of digital massiveness and ramped up, or down, action. But while some of this can be partially excused as being what you pay for with Snyder, he adds new levels of obnoxiousness by making every single thing one of these girls does feel, in theory, extra cool. It can have almost no impact, or at least no substantive impact, on their quest, but he's going to add a little something to make anyone in the audience jump up and cheer, should they be so inclined. For instance, during the battle with the zombie Nazis, Jena Malone sees a potato masher grenade on the ground. Snyder shoots her in close-up, with a devious twinkle in her eye and badass smirk on her mouth, as if she's thinking "I'm going to throw that grenade at some guys." Then she picks up the grenade and throws that grenade at some guys. So she succeeded, which is good, not to mention empowering for young women everywhere, but couldn't she have just thrown it? Why'd she have to be such an arrogant dick about it? Throwing a grenade is one of the easier things you can do.
Anyway, the whole thing turns out to be more like Brazil than anything else, but shitty, except wait a minute, how can Scott Glenn be there...and also here...! So that kind of thing happens and then the voice over, which sounded to me like Carla Gugino no longer doing an accent, says something about each of us (although maybe she just means girls) having all the weapons we need. "Now fight!" she says. Fight what, you big dummy?
Oh well. Sorry, Scott Glenn. I still like you.