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The Mad Men Connection

Last night, it was time for a pair of 2011 movies, Sucker Punch and The Adjustment Bureau.   Both movies fit somewhere in the science fiction/fantasy genre and interestingly, both feature a major Mad Men character in a supporting role.  Jon Hamm (aka Don Draper) is briefly in Sucker Punch; John Slattery (aka Roger Sterling) has a bigger-but-still-supporting role in The Adjustment Bureau.  Now for my comments, complete with spoilers.

Sucker Punch is not a good movie, but it is dazzling enough that I’m sure a lot of people are fooled into thinking it is better than it is.  This movie focuses on Emily Browning’s Baby Doll, a twenty-year old whose mother has just died.  Her evil stepfather tries to rape her and when this fails, goes for her young sister.  Baby Doll averts this by going for the stepfather’s gun, but only succeeds in killing her sister (accidentally) with the shot she gets off.  The stepfather has her committed to a medieval insane asylum and arranges for her to be lobotomized in five days.

The insane asylum is apparently a prison for beautiful girls who are forced into prostitution, but Baby Doll, guided by fantasies, has come up with a way to escape.  This involves her dancing to distract others; as she dances, she retreats into overblown action sequences where she battles undead German soldiers, robots and dragons.  The escape attempt will not work out that well except for one girl who gets free.  But as it turns out, the whole thing is really a dream, a fantasy in the lobotomized brain of Baby Doll (more than a little reminiscent of the conclusion of Brazil).  Normally, I’m more than a little annoyed by the it-was-all-a-dream conclusion, but admittedly here it is okay, because it’s obvious from the beginning that it was a dream.

Not that I didn’t have major problems with this flick.  Essentially, it is all style and no substance.  None of the characters are interesting, the plot is nothing special…all this movie has going for it are some interesting set pieces.  Unfortunately, the fantasy sequences look so good they don’t look real or surreal, just unreal.  This is just director Zack Snyder having fun with special effects.

I also have to wonder about the themes of this movie:  is it misogynistic?  It seems to revel in showing women being abused in various manners.  Since all the fighting back is merely dreaming, it isn’t like it really promotes “girl-power”.  Maybe it’s even got a borderline kiddie porn element…certainly Baby Doll dresses (and often acts) like a little girl, yet at the same time is obviously supposed to be sexually attractive (as are the other girls).  I’m not saying that this movie definitely has these elements, but it is certainly up for debate.  Quality: 5/10, Fun: 3/10.

After Sucker Punch, The Adjustment Bureau just had to be better, and it was, though still a problematic film.  It’s got good source material (a Philip K Dick short story) and a couple good leads in Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, but it falls apart in the end.  Damon plays a charismatic politician whose senatorial aspirations are undone after he is caught mooning some people.  Blunt is the dancer who captivates him.  Sadly for the pair, they are destined not to be:  some angel-like beings called the Adjustment Bureau create little accidents to try and keep them apart, but Damon (accidentally aware of the Bureau’s existence) fights fate to be with his true love.  It is an intriguing enough idea and executed well enough to the end when a literal deus ex machina (god in the machine) saves the day.  Quality 7/10, Fun 6/10.


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