Ogres are like onions...

Ok, don't really want to talk about Shrek.

I finally got around to watching Sucker Punch last night. I bought it a while ago (late August, I see), because the trailers had left me curious and a bit confused. By the time I got around to watching it, all I could remember were the shots of the various fight scenes (which were very confusing because they covered several milieux), and feeling like it should be a Tarantino movie.

Well, it certainly wasn't a Tarantino movie.

Anyway, I'll come back to it in a second. To discuss it, I also need to talk about Inception, which my wife and I watched last month. I'd been meaning to write down my thoughts on it, but kept skittering away every time I thought about it a bit. But it fits in with Sucker Punch very interestingly.

Surprisingly, Inception was the easier one to follow as it went along.

Inception is all about invading people's dreams to find information. Or, at least, that's what the main characters generally do. But this time, they're hired to try to use a businessman's dreams to plant a new idea in his head. What makes that especially tricky is that the businessman must think the idea was his own.

Getting back to Sucker Punch, we're introduced to the main character as her mother passes away. Her step-dad finds that her and her sister inherit everything (apparently the big house they're living in was mom's), and goes to attack her. She fends him off until he decides to go after the (much) younger sister, and he locks her in her room. While he goes after the sister (who locks herself in the closet), she goes out her window, down a downspout to the ground, in the front door, gets his gun from his study, and gets to her sister's room. She seems to be too late, but threatens him with the gun as he's in the doorway of the sister's room.

She can't take it, and tries to shoot him. She misses, and apparently kills her sister (maybe; when it first came up, I thought he had already killed her. It was unclear). Broken by that, she stumbles out of the room, threatens to kill him again, then drops the gun and runs away. He has her arrested, then thrown in a mental institute.

What's missing, entirely, from that description of the first two or three minutes of the movie is that there is no dialogue (though there are a few sentences of narration at the beginning; the key to note there is who does the narration. It doesn't say, and I had no idea, but the choice is interesting), the only sound is a stripped down remake of the Eurhythmics' 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)', with Emily Browning (again, I had no idea while watching) performing.

What's also missing is how stylized the camerawork is. It's fantastically well done in a noir-ish sort of way. I don't really know how to describe it better.

The thing that brings it around somewhat to Inception is when she enters the institution, we find that the stepfather has arranged things with one of the keepers there that she'll get lobotomized in five days. Realizing that, she becomes detached from reality in an extended, imaginary sequence where she's an orphan left there, to be claimed soon by a high roller.

Getting back to Inception, the movie starts with a detached scene where a man (DiCaprio) is found on a beach and taken to see an old man in a Japanese-style castle next to the beach.

We then go to another scene of DiCaprio breaking in to the same castle, but there's a lot more bustle and energy, and he seems to be trying to extract information. This is used to introduce how dreams are manipulated, and some strengths and weaknesses of the strategem.

But it gets really interesting when the target of the second dream tracks down DiCaprio's character in real life, and works to convince him to plant the idea I mentioned. This is thought to be impossible, but DiCaprio doesn't brush it off as such, and he is eventually convinced to undertake the mission.

The leads to the assembling of the team; most importantly, finding the person who will design the dream worlds through which the synthetic dreams will take place. Along the way we start to get hints at why DiCaprio isn't the person doing that, as he seems to have once been.

Exploring the ability to shape dreams is a fascinating sequence, and leads to the shot that's used on the cover of the disc. Man, I would have killed to have been able to do that sort of thing when I was a bit younger; playing with both space and physics. Very neat stuff.

And the big question, of course, is how they will implant this idea; they need to work out a plan for that. We already know that dreams can be nested within dreams; we saw that in the second dream sequence. They decide that four levels of dream nesting are required for this task.

Once they get into the man's dreams, the movie really takes off, as it becomes truly action-packed.

But the action isn't an excuse to not have a real story. It really does advance the plot. This really was, if you'll excuse the phrase, a brilliantly conceived idea with excellent execution. When they encounter a couple of curve-balls, their reactions to them are very good.

Returning to Sucker Punch, she enters somewhat of a dream world where she envisions a plan to get out of the institution (or whorehouse, as she imagines it). She enlists several of the other inmates to help her, and they need to acquire several items to help them make their way out. One part that's interesting is that it actually cuts back and forth between reality and her dream, but it's easy to miss those cuts. I think I missed most of them until I looked back after the fact, and realized that that was what was going on.

But what really made it funky was when they tried to get each of those items. They don't show what is done (though there are hints); this is where the fight scenes come in. The fights scenes are straight-out allegories of what they're trying to accomplish.

And this is all very well put-together; I didn't know what was going on until the end. In fact, I was very confused several times about what the deal was. But it all came together beautifully in the end.

Inception, on the other hand, despite having more layers, was actually more straightforward to understand. I was never lost in that one. I wasn't sure how they were going to pull things together, and there were a couple of loose ends that I wasn't sure how they tied in, but the overall structure was pretty clear. And again, it was neat to see how those loose ends were tied in.

The explanation for why DiCaprio's character didn't do the dream architecture anymore was quite interesting, and very well told. And it tied in beautifully with why he agreed to take on the inception mission (as well as why he was sure that the inception mission was fundamentally possible, when others didn't believe it was). It was also pretty neat how that led to the mission having a fifth layer that was the true climax of the movie.

Overall, these were two fantastically good movies; not the happiest of movies, not ones that I'll watch repeatedly, but really, really excellent execution. I really liked their multilayered approach, and both the storytelling style and art of each one. They each have their own character (Inception outright warping reality while Sucker Punch was escaping reality), that comes through beautifully. Both movies were also pretty gritty, in that major things went wrong.

And both were very well acted as well. DiCaprio I have a love-hate relationship with; sometimes I think he's great, while other times I hate him. I liked him in this one. And Ellen Page was also excellent. Abbie Cornish, I think, gave the best performance in Sucker Punch, but everyone in it was good. Plus, major props to Sucker Punch for the music. They chose good pieces, and remade them in a way that I still liked them.

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