Monday Morning Critic – Sucker Punch, Paranormal Activity 3

Every Monday morning, InsidePulse Movies Czar Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings an irreverent and oftentimes hilarious look at pop culture, politics, sports and whatever else comes to mind. And sometimes he writes about movies.

One of the more interesting franchises to come out into theatres was one I don’t think anyone saw coming: Paranormal Activity. And now, with a third film on the verge of release this week in that franchise, it’s still kind of hard to imagine that this would become the money-making franchise it would turn into.

It’s the one thing that’s always intrigued me about the series. It’s not the movies themselves, which really weren’t all that good. The first was a curiosity that had an insane level of buzz because of how it was marketed, nothing more. Midnight screenings and not revealing a whole made it seem much more impressive than it really ended up being. Paranormal Activity, and both sequels, are going to go down as triumph of marketing as opposed to movie-making in the same way that we view The Blair Witch Project, and its sequel, nowadays.

Neither of the films holds up beyond the first, initial viewings in the same way Blair Witch looks dated and becomes laughable when you watch it now. And it’s the same with Paranormal Activity, Paranormal Activity 2 and most likely the third film. You can already tell the film-makers are running out of scare tactics because everyone seems to be pulled by an unseen force every five seconds in the trailers so far.

I’m curious as to how the film will produce at the box office more than the actual film itself, to be honest. The first cleared $100 million in the U.S on a tiny budget inflated with marketing costs and some post production. That film’s alleged $3,000 budget or so is a bit of a misnomer because Dreamworks, which bought the film originally from the people behind it, did spend some cash on post-production. It still ended up being a massive success financially; it’d take some clever accounting to show this film breaking even considering it cleared almost $200 million on a total outlay of maybe $5 million at tops with marketing, advertising and publicity thrown in.

The second topped over $80 million domestically on its way to almost $180 worldwide. With worldwide grosses the second cleared almost as much as the first but not quite; a $16 million decline in overall grosses isn’t much but it’s significant. It had similar buzz as the first, with a marketing campaign that promised a similar film to the first but with more to it. It also had a much higher original budget, too, and was a sequel like how sequels used to get green-lit: by demand and not by design. But not as many came out to see it and word of mouth afterwards wasn’t as strong as the first.

And the third is on the verge of release, with similar marketing and publicity as the first two (complete with midnight screenings to foster some buzz) and yet there isn’t the same feeling in it as there was before. It’s perfunctory, like a Saw sequel, and I can imagine the fourth film (if there is one) will be much of the same. And it says to me one thing: People aren’t quite sick of the franchise, but are getting close to it.

That’s why Paranormal Activity 3‘s box office numbers will be intriguing; this is a loaded weekend in terms of new releases fighting for screen time. How it does is more intriguing to me; this is going to be profitable but will it be as profitable as the other two?

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVD – Sucker Punch

I remember watching this theatrically and loving the visuals but not the story. But I am a big fan of Zack Snyder and thus after some debate I picked this up on DVD. Mainly because it was on sale and I finally talked myself into it.

Pretty much Snyder’s version of Alice in Wonderland but with Emily Browning and other young girls with weapons, it has a simple premise.

Direct from the theatrical review:

“Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is committed to a mental asylum after the death of her mother by her stepfather (Gerald Plunkett). Overseen by Blue (Oscar Isaac) and under the medical care of Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino), she has five days to escape before a lobotomy. Recruiting fellow inmates Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocky (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung) , and advised by a wise sage (Scott Glenn), Baby Doll has less than a week to gather four items that will allow her and the girls to escape. Working together they have to garner the items in short order so they can all get away to freedom.

But this isn’t any ordinary jailbreak; they have to fight dragons and Nazi zombies, amongst others, as the film works on several levels. Baby Doll’s initial coping mechanism (for lack of a better term) of dealing with her newfound reality in an asylum is to insert a new one (them as prostitutes in a brothel) where in five days she’ll be sold to a high roller (Jon Hamm) and in the deeper reality of them in an action setting as warriors led by the wise sage in channeling Patton. Baby Doll accesses this final reality by her dancing in her coping mechanism of a hallucination, disappearing into her mind as a way of dealing with her newfound reality as a dancer.”

I’m still torn when I watch this film.

I totally get where Zack Snyder is going with this film. When it comes to using mythology and grander stories, Zack Snyder is the best in the business. It’s why I still have faith that Superman: Man of Steel is going to be the Superman film we need and deserve. Snyder gets the grander mythology of the hero in a way no director has since George Lucas unleashed Star Wars. His entire filmography has been about a modern mythology of sorts; Snyder has made a career out of exploring various aspects of humanity through film. His take on Frank Miller’s graphic novel300 was about the sacrifice of the hero. His adaptation of Watchmen was a deconstruction of the superhero. His adaptation of the novel Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole was on the myth of the hero and the sacrifices therein.

A common theme keeps coming up: it’s somebody else’s work. He’s just taking a great story and turning it into a great film, a tough task admittedly but not quite as tough as original work.

He just doesn’t do well when he doesn’t have good source material to work from like he did with the bulk of his cinematic library. For all of his arresting visuals and great use of music throughout the film, Snyder can’t tell a great story without the aid of someone strong writing the material. This is his own material and with how successful he’s been one imagines that Warner Bros gave him and Christopher Nolan $200 million apiece and said “knock yourself out” after how successful they’ve been. Honestly … if you’ve had the run of critical and commercial success both of these men have had since 2004 it becomes an easier decision to cut that check.

Nolan popped out Inception and Snyder came back with Sucker Punch.

To me this represents a major turning point for Zack Snyder in relation to the rest of his career. Man of Steel could be the film that propels him to the stratosphere and pushes him closer to being a Christopher Nolan type if it’s the sort of brilliant piece on Clark Kent/Superman that it could be. He has the cast most directors would kill for, a ton of cash and the chance to remake America’s superhero in an image he sees fit. If that film takes the visual sense of this film with the story-telling style he’s been able to pull off with the comic book film, we’re looking at the Batman Begins of Superman. If not, Sucker Punch pushes him back towards the Tony Scott territory of being great with visuals but not as good a story-teller as he could be because he loves the visuals so much.

Slight recommendation.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

Johnny English Reborn – Rowan Atkinson is back as the English spy trying to save the world in the most ridiculous manner possible.

See It – Atkinson is tremendous with physical comedy and this is the film that MacGruber tried to be and utterly failed at.

The Mighty Macs – Carla Gugino in the story of Cathy Rush, one of the greatest women’s basketball coaches of all time.

See It – I’ve already seen it, actually, and it’s perfectly acceptable entertainment. Look for the full review later this week.

Paranormal Activity 3 – More craziness from the ghost, this time ‘80s style!

Skip It – The first was ok, the 2nd miserable and this one will hopefully finish the series off. Hopefully.

The Three Musketeers – Another adaptation of the timeless action novel.

Skip It – There’s no real good adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’s work and this won’t be it.

Margin Call – The actions of employees at a large investment as the market crashes in 2008. In limited release.

See It – This has been getting fairly strong reviews and boasts an interesting cast, so it might be worth checking out.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @MMCritic_Kubryk.

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