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Just as I was starting to lose faith that the show was going anywhere, a good episode like this happens. They address what I just mentioned in the last post, that sooner or later somebody’s going to catch on to the fact that he always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
So far the strongest element of Awake, aside from its premise, are the premises from episode to episode. There are strong stories here told well, but there’s little time for character growth. Michael Britten’s been pretty much the same throughout, despite his situation, which worsens and changes constantly. That aspect offers compelling television, but Awake feels unconventional in that there are no jaw-dropping character moments. Unfortunately because of this Awake seems to fall short of a genuinely great TV show, but this is only the fifth episode, and as these reviews get shorter and less timely, the episodes get better.
Return to the Awake Episode Guide
Another fine episode. It’s hard for any other TV show to really get me going right now, because I’m making my way through what might just be my favorite drama, an older show, and that’s difficult. But Awake is pretty good, it just isn’t eye-opening, ass-knocking-on-to. I like the formula, like the character, like that it deals in death and grief, something pretty rare in modern pop culture.
Britten runs into a familiar face, his son Rex’s old babysitter Kate. Only, he runs into her in both worlds, and she isn’t the same across the two. In the ‘red’ world, Kate is doing quite well for herself, and in the ‘blue’ one, she isn’t so much. It’s interesting and sad, and the things they’re doing with this dynamic seem novel each episode. The science-fiction elements may not add up to a show that really provokes thought like The X-Files, or TNG (as I hear) or even The Twilight Zone (to name three, unconnected scifi shows), but we’re still at the Lost-influenced mystery stage. I’ll enjoy it while it lasts, but genuinely hope that in the second half of the season they get deeper into mythology and uncover more tools to play around with.
In this episode I also got a greater feeling that eventually Britten’s going to be investigated by his rookie partner, because in one episode it will be suspicious that he knew that thing, and that rookie seems to second-guess everything Britten does.
El next episode airs same time, same place. Be there, be not square
Return to the Awake Episode Guide
Spoilers for The Wire, Season 2
Inception, a pretty obscure film by director Christopher Nolan (Insomnia), was a watershed event for science-fiction in film. Suddenly there was, in this new decade, what there was in the nineties — sleek, sexy, thinking man’s sci-fi in cinema. Movies like Source Code, In Time, and The Adjustment Bureau could see the light of day and get the anticipatory respect of major movies in other genres, even if not all of these turned out critically successful. At least people are going for it now. Sure, there continues to be drivel from the drivel store like Resident Evil: Underworld Awakening of the Afterlife and the flashy big budget stuff like John Carter (but I actually want to see that movie), but this new trend of smart, confident sci-fi in Hollywood brings a smile to face like the recent Drive does — all my life I’ve been complaining that we haven’t had these movies, in Drive‘s case a violent, R-rated American action movie, and then… well, shit. We get it. Bitch, and you shall receive. (Not really though, please don’t subscribe to that philosophy).
I like to think that it was this minor renaissance in film that helped NBC’s new drama Awake find its way onto TV screens everywhere, this new attitude that maybe science-fiction isn’t for jerks, and not the recent trinity of serious sci-fi on TV: Lost, Battlestar Galactica, and Heroes. Those three can be viewed as stepping stones to the genre, because Lord knows that many BSG watchers would be dumbfounded by Stargate Atlantis — these people who are real, not fanboys. While those shows did a lot to popularize the genre and give way to further serious fare like Fringe and Falling Skies, they all fizzled out at the end. Now, I didn’t see any of these save for the first season of Lost and the BSG miniseries, but reports from the field seem to indicate that Heroes went to hell fast, BSG had a WTF ending, and Lost made a lot of missteps through its long stumble to an equally WTF ending.
It’s the medium, it’s television that’s both a blessing and a curse for storytelling. On the positive side, we get something we don’t in movies, not even in a lot of long-running franchises — optimal character development. After roughly 20 hours of watching The Wire, Prez punches Major Valchek and my eyes go wide. This is a character who started out a total asshole — he’s a rookie and goes a little overboard on the streets, roughing somebody up and consequently getting stuck on desk duty. Here, he does a total 180. This guy’s got a real talent for this job, and as we discover, he’s a really good guy. At the start of season two we’re totally on the same page. Towards the end of the season he’s being yelled at by this guy Valchek, who assembled the detail, and is now ending it. Prez doesn’t like this, also doesn’t like being called a shitbird, and punches him.
I was shocked. I was totally invested in this character and couldn’t believe he did something so dangerous to himself. Lieutenant Daniels says, in his always cool but firm manner, “Detective. My office. Now,” and he turns in his gun, walks off screen. It was an amazing moment, and this is the guy who I hated, and enjoyed hating just last season. Of course, that’s twenty hours of content ago. TV is like a book — you can put it down and come back to it later (unless it’s Dexter, in which case that shit gets watched basically all at once), but such is not the case with movies. There are memorable characters in movies, but we don’t get to spend a lot of time with them. Even characters who we do, like James Bond, don’t take out ‘episodes’ to delve into character studies. In TV, we can have these episodes and moment to moment characterizations, so this is the positive aspect.
The negative aspect applies doubly so to science-fiction television: it’s got to last. It’s restrained to so many things, episodic structure, content (for network television), and length. The perfect SF series are those like The X-Files, or Star Trek, where they can open a new case or travel to a new planet every episode, and the self-contained plot works like a short story adapted to the universe. Usually these series aren’t high concept like movies are. Obviously they’re brilliant ideas, and their premises are suited for TV because they allow for many stories in the future.
Awake, on the other hand, is extremely high-concept, and a brilliant idea (which as I realize now, is actually fantasy, but in this context, it’s all the same). Briefly, detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) finds himself in two worlds after a car accident left his wife and son dead. In one world, his wife is alive, and the son is gone. In the other, the son is alive, the wife a memory. He switches between these worlds involuntarily, closing his eyes at night and waking to the other, and of course — nobody believes him. As the two cases he’s investigating begin to bleed over, his two shrinks (B.D. Wong and Cherry Jones) intensify their sessions, which become increasingly distressing. Dr. Lee takes the aggressive route, asserting that he must shake this other reality, while Dr. Evans attempts to solidify their reality as true.
The future of this series is of such concern because the pilot was astonishing. Yes, good for a network TV show, but also effective drama. Jason Isaacs, who’s always awesome but rarely the lead, heads up a cast of talented TV regulars, and the script touches on intriguing areas without delving too deeply into obfuscating philosophical or psychological territory. This is one of the rarest things I’ve ever seen — and network TV’s track record for shows I like or even express interest in (Firefly, Drive, Terminator, anything with Nathan Fillion or Summer Glau, it seems) makes me think that we haven’t got much time.
The main problem is sustainability, and this is something I find myself repeating from the first and only review of the show I read, on IGN.com. Will the continuing adventures of Michael Britten be episodically structured, or is this going to feel like a 350 minute movie? What will future stories look like, how will this premise continue to hold our attention — and with this level of urgency? This is probably why speculative fiction is often rare on television, but since we have it here and now, we’ll wait and see.
350 minutes was a rough estimate for one season of TV, but either way, the show is going to be multiple hours long, and the story will have to conform to that structure. At this moment, the premise and where we are now with the story don’t seem to match up with that idea. This feels like a miniseries, if anything, or the first act in a three act movie. Of course, this is nothing to complain about, only fret. This is the only show I’ve wanted to seek out and keep up with (we don’t get Showtime), so I’m pretty excited, I’ve never had that feeling of “can’t wait for next week.” What’s coming next week will give a better indication to the future of Awake, whether we’ll see something as artistically successful as its opening, or wake up from this beautiful dream, wake to the grey realm of reality TV and sitcoms with laugh tracks and — oh, I turned the TV off.
The next episode of “Awake” premieres March 8, 10pm Eastern.
Return to the Awake Episode Guide
The Chronicles of Riddick, written and directed by David Twohy, represents one of the biggest missed opportunities in recent years. The question I have is this: did it shoot too high, or did it not try very hard? It’s a tough call but I’ll have to go with – and this is a cop-out – a bit of both. Great pains were taken to put this character from Pitch Black into a greater universe, and measured creative actions were undergone to make it as cool as possible. Unfortunately I don’t believe that Twohy thought too far out of the box, or outside the box at all. When you think ‘space story,’ the first thought you may have is Star Wars. That particular franchise is very successful I heard, and had a war going on that the heroes fought on one side of. Want to know what The Chronicles of Riddick is?
I’ll tell you what it isn’t – very successful. Its critical and commercial failure, particularly the latter, can be blamed for the eight year delay between The Chronicles of Riddick and the expertly titled sequel The Chronicles of Riddick: Dead Man Stalking. Audiences didn’t seem to respond too well to the shoddy cinematography and editing during action, nor the underdeveloped characters, nor the length. I’ll take them one further; the chief issue with Riddick is its universe. The space war template is not served well here where it is in Star Wars because the enemies are so damned stupid. Indeed Stormtroopers and then droids were absurd enemies that posed no real illusion of menace – perhaps they posed a phantom menace – but they weren’t derivative and lame creatons known as the Necromongers, which are not only derivative and lame, but go on to influence the space story universe for the worst.
The perfect The Chronicles of Riddick movie, in my opinion, and a cool sidequel (is that a term yet? I suppose only Soldier really counts as one) and sequel to Pitch Black, would have Riddick out on his own in a galaxy that’s swarming with mercenaries, PMCs, space prisons (like Mass Effect 2), bounty hunters, and the occasional clawed alien. Twohy could have expanded the Crematoria sequence in the middle of the actual film into a feature, and it would’ve been fine. It wouldn’t have needed such a huge budget, and it wouldn’t have required such a lame universe, but kept in tune with the gritty original.
My own personal feelings on fantasy as a genre, as a well as the sword and sandal epic, don’t enter into this because even those who enjoy sorcery and magic will find those and other traditional tropes disjointed here when applied to the science-fiction world established in the first movie. In Pitch Black there were no Necromongers, and that’s how it needed to stay, because then we also wouldn’t have elementals and soul-stealing and something called the Underverse, which at this point I can only visualize as Robot Heaven from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. These things are all reinvented pieces of fantasy bullshit – which I hate – which is coupled with planets and spaceships and guns that shoot bullets but sound like they shoot lasers. Sure, everybody likes Krull because they saw it as a young age, but that movie sucks. Perhaps that’s not due to its genre-mixing, but rather its pacing.
I’m not some genre stickler who never wants to mix things, I mean the horror/comedy is one of my favorite genres, and has only let me down once, with Zombieland, but it is very necessary to mix these genres correctly, or cleverly, or with a purpose. Star Wars, to go back to that one again, started out mixing fantasy and science-fiction very well, with all talk about planets and spaceships and lasers coming first, and the Force coming a bit later. It totally fit within the universe, but the Necromongers are more invasive in the context of the universe than the narrative. They show up and I’m just dumbfounded. They’re a religious empire on a crusade to convert all of humanity, and this is just no good for Riddick, so he goes and fights with them.
Another problem with the Necromongers comes out of their interactions with Riddick. Just like the Stormtroopers and the droids were not threatening villains that could ever scratch the heroes, these guys are in a constant badass competition with Riddick, who aspires to be the ultimate badass. He can kill anyone with anything, so that’s a really difficult character to create a sense of vulnerability. That doesn’t really matter – we still root for James Bond even though we know he’ll never die, surviving even time and the Pierce Brosnan era (my personal favorite) – but it really reflects poorly on the villains.
Even when we did have Stormtroopers we had Darth Vader, but I’m not too into Colm Feore as a badass. I liked him better as a John Woo regular and his brief but memorable turn as the First Gentleman in 24: Season 8. Not only that, but these Necromongers get taken out so easily. It’s like the badguys and cronies in a movie like The Punisher or The Marine. I’m not convinced that these dudes will be able to take out John Cena, not for a second. Riddick in the universe is the most powerful being, and the Necromongers seem to bend to his will, as do the mercs and the prison lions.
The most telling piece of the the universe of Riddick‘s haphazardness in its media world is a Franchise Collection (I think that’s the releasing company) DVD set called The Riddick Trilogy, including Pitch Black (or The Chronicles of Riddick: Pitch Black), The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury, and The Chronicles of Riddick. That they’re actually going to make a real trilogy with Pitch Black as a prequel is just perfect, because in a few year we may see, in some less sensical retailers, The Riddick Trilogy collection sharing a shelf with The Riddick Trilogy, containing The Chronicles of Riddick, The Chronicles of Riddick: Dead Man Stalking, and The Chronicles of Riddick: Live 2 Tell.
It’s not all bad. The Crematoria sequence is the closest in comes to being genuinely entertaining, rather than ironically for its B-movie dialogue and acting. There is something interesting, reflected in the killer character who finds trouble in his replication; this is speaking specifically to Kira, an older version of Jack from the first movie. The heartless killer (proven to have a heart by the end of Pitch Black so WTF) takes responsibility for his actions as measured in this killer jr. character, and the audience could potentially read remorse in our anti-hero, where he can actually see the monster he is standing in front of a mirror. I’m glad it wasn’t a romance, but every element, including this one, comes across weakly, as Kira turns about to be a whiner and not nearly as badass as she thinks. And it’s once again interrupted by the ubiquitous Necromongers. In fact, all the elements in the movie are spoiled; ruined by either the Necromongers or the audience’s inability to immerse themselves in a universe that seems to exist only in support of its eponymous character. The minor characters in Star Wars probably wouldn’t have the same sense of importance or specialness were it titled The Adventures of Starkiller.
Here’s an example of how one action scene is marred by this strangely niggling idea: the action scene is ‘the fleet is mobilized during the Necromonger invasion, several pilots go to war.’ First of all, I don’t know what the fuck planet we’re on. Let’s call it Helios Prime, going off of memory. Why should I care about this planet? Riddick has no stake in it. Oh – Keith David’s here. Space Imam. Second-of-ly, what fucking fleet? Why do we spend so much time watching the pilots fly their spaceships into the air doing their standard “WHOOO-YEAH” yelps and getting blown to pieces if they ultimately don’t do anything? I’m not just saying they ultimately didn’t defend the planet – I’m saying we could have easily not spent so much time. Riddick, from the ground level, could have been fighting Necromongers (or massacring, as it were) while in the background we see the dogfight. Eventually, towards the end of the scene we watch as the remaining pilots are taken out.
The scene sticks out to me because it seems reminiscent of Star Wars – the Hoth scene or the final assault on the Death Star in Return of the Jedi where we jump around to different pilots in the cockpit radioing things to each other. But those guys were aligned with the hero, so we rooted for them somewhat. We have zero stake in the pilots of The Chronicles of Riddick, and indeed this scene happens so early that we don’t really care, and at the end, it amounts to nothing. The planet’s overtaken, and to Riddick, nothing’s changed.
This movie could have been an interesting story – dark, space-faring science-fiction about the seedy underbelly of the galaxy and the occasional alien. From what I understand this is what the video-game Prey 2 is going to be – aside from a total departure from the original. The Chronicles of Riddick is exactly what everyone says it is: overblown. It’s really too bad, and I feel like this may be science-fiction’s second Heaven’s Gate in terms of original material. I know you’re thinking ‘it’s not original – it’s a sequel,’ but I’ll take sequel over remake, reboot, or even adaptation any day. A writer who sits down to his typewriter and bangs out characters, situations, plot points, and in the case of science-fiction, sometimes an entire universe, is incredibly valuable and increasingly on the decline. These people know that you can’t turn up gold in mined areas – though you often run the risk of turning up The Chronicles of Riddick.
It hardly feels original – note how many times I brought up Star Wars in this post…
The tagline should be: There’s a fine line between anti-hero and dick. This summer, it’s crossed.
If this is the first Dreck Fiction post you’ve read, trust me – this is unprecedented; I’ll never ever write another thing this long
Seeking out the films of Chan Wook Park after being exposed to Oldboy turned out to be a lucrative affair; JSA became an important movie to me while Lady Vengeance and Thirst were dazzling if difficult to penetrate. One thing was a constant across the five films of his widely available in the United States, something compelling and somewhat startling to me: there’s a confidence in his camera, in the composition, in the movement. Whether he employs the Steadicam or decides to shake around, the lens through which we experience brutality, terror, tragedy, and a startling breadth of human emotion and suffering is organic and the action depicted is unfaltering.
All too often in a movie will an actor stand up from sitting down in a medium shot and the camera will be too slow to follow, or try to rest after a slow pan and not quite settle for the duration of the shot. It makes me wonder why the director felt satisfied with the shot if there was a slight imperfection, a minor blemish. I may be paying too much attention to unimportant details but it feels like something of a compromise. Certainly there aren’t high brow camera techniques I’m getting at here, they’re ‘the details,’ and if a director is willing to map out a film to the details like these, they’ll go the distance, and this is evident in movies by Park, who was a master of the frame, as was Hitchcock and Leone. It gives the viewer the sense that goddamn these people knew what they were doing when they made those films.
It somehow didn’t occur to me that Edgar Wright too was in this league until Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and on further inspection in a reviewing of Shaun of the Dead I’ve found confirmation of this stirring suspicion. Shaun of the Dead was beautifully orchestrated on every level; the thematic mundane demonstrated in the opening titles establish an early sense of repetition, which carries throughout and touches on the film’s thesis – which is seemingly never necessary in the first place – that we need to stop being zombies and change sometimes to be happy.
Shaun battling zombies is a visual manifestation of this thesis, its cinematic equivalent if the idea is first captured on paper or in the writer/director’s head. Shaun is a comedy film, so one might imagine that it didn’t need a message or an intricate, relatively speaking, thematic framework to be funny. But this is Edgar Wright. And this is a comedy film, and its clear that the man takes his craft seriously, regardless of genre. The humor is integral to the movie, and that’s why ultimately, Shaun of the Dead requires the message and the discussions of habit – and the zombies – it’s a vessel for the humor. It is funny when the patterns are recognized, when Shaun takes the identical trip to the convenience store and doesn’t notice anything, when we discover that the silhouetted couple making out outside the pub turn out to be one zombie feeding on another – these instances of clever comedy have depth rarely seen in other comedies, and are all in service to what Shaun of the Dead means as a movie, as the best horror/comedy in ages.
But there I go again with the superlatives. I’m not an ace at this review nonsense – I could blame it on my age but that might not bode well in the future – so I tend to praise a film by calling it the best of something (see the Reviews section of this site for dastadly confirmation). So by all means I surprised myself by the modesty in my voice when talking about Scott Pilgrim with various people. To Podcast Co-Host I said simply that it was something I was enamored of, and to another I think I just explained how embarrasingly in love with Mary Elizabeth Winstead I was/am. I hesitated to call it a truly great film, and I guess I’ll continue to do so, because it just doesn’t sound right. I will say this: it’s a movie I love and it’s the obvious work of an obvious master.
The director’s confident camera is found in Scott Pilgrim, and so are the details and all that other stuff. It’s apparent in every shot that there was a great amount of planning and artistry set to work – it’s a smooth flow of film, if there ever was such a thing.
Wary of retreading an earlier review of the very same movie, I won’t talk about the technical aspects of the movie that I thought to cover before, but focus instead on the director’s craft. As mentioned earlier, Edgar Wright is a technical wizard, and not just because he keeps the camera still when an actor stands up or whatever, but because the movie’s visuals are both entertaining and significant on a higher level.
Every scene has a unique ‘gimmick,’ and that may sound bad but in the context of the film it keeps us engaged on a subconscious level. A few examples of the gimmick from scene to scene to note their differences: the Seinfeld laugh track after Scott’s second date with Ramona, which cuts off abruptly when Wallace hits a switch on the stove; Envy’s “Oh yeah’s” in between Scott and Ramon’s conversation at the Clash at Demonhead concert; the time cards during Scott’s dinner with Ramona; the censor bars over Aubrey Plaza’s dialogue; the labels for each of his friends (i.e. Stephen Stills, “The Talent”), and many more that are harder to approximate in words.
Because of the video-game influences and the ‘gimmicks,’ the latter of which were evident in Shaun of the Dead, as well as the absence of anyone over the age of 30 save the two ‘authority figures’ that later burst through a wall, it’s easy to call this a film for the ADD generation, or whatever name you give to such a thing. This makes for a high-energy experience, a film with a bizarre cadence and rapid pace. Not only does all of this translate to ‘uniquely entertaining comedy with some cool action and a distinct voice,’ but is consistent with the narrative.
Of course, one can dismiss these eye-popping visuals as eye-popping visuals and be on their merry; one complaint that I’ve heard about Scott Pilgrim is that it felt overdone, and this is not without justification. Obviously not everybody is going to appreciate a movie seemingly fixated on the ‘ADD generation’ because not everybody is from that generation (as it turns out, only one is… [laughs to himself]). Some older critics have said that the movie touches on feelings of nostalgia, while others say that it’s self-indulgent or whatever they say. Basically if you thought the only thing more nauseating and offensive than Crank was Crank 2 and that Avatar looked like a video-game cutscene (I don’t know what video-games you guys are playing, Christ) you won’t like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.
Speaking of Avatar, let’s look at the effects for a moment. Everything from the hearts emanating from kissing to the vegan superpowers; these had to be created in a computer in order to emulate the comic-book. When an audience sees a trailer for the next alleged special effects movie, though what they’re really seeing is the visual effects, they divide. One half says “Uh, give it a rest Michael Bay,” and the other half is twelve years old. This too isn’t without reason, as we as audiences have had a torturous cinematic history of bad special effects movies, exacerbated to new heights by the endless cycles of Marvel and DC $175 million dollar extravaganzas, which are rarely good.
The 90s and ’2K era’ provided many Stan Winston films that made people scratch their heads and wonder, as the late screen magician did, ‘will there ever be a balance between special effects and story?’ Winston grew up with the science-fiction of the 50′s, you know, those types where if I said, “Attack of the Mars Snakes,” as a bad joke I might have named a real film, and he was upset that these movies were just effects vehicles that didn’t even show the damn Mars Snakes that much. That’s why he eventually turned to directing, but that’s another story for the Dreck Fiction to get into.
Jurassic Park may look good, holding up 18 years later while Carnosaur languishes in the embarrasing memories of a few, and even Walking with Dinosaurs seems CG-obvious nowadays, but where’s the human drama? Same with other major sci-fi movies that aren’t just straightup popcorn farces like Independence Day or Total Recall tend to be. Or John Carpenter’s The Thing, apparently, which is the movie I always use to begin one of the special effects arguments: it may look fascinating, but it’s ‘shallow.’ How wrong you are, critic #73, how wrong.
When will film use its special effects to enhance the story, when will story necessitate the special effects – when will a sci-fi or fantasy fulfill that audio/visual promise of the cinematic medium? It’s only rare this happens, and even rarelier from Hollywood. T2 I believe comes close, but some of the CGI feels superfluous. Only a little bit, but that’s just the Cameronman for you. Scott Pilgrim does this, but it isn’t necessarily an outstanding example – the outstanding example has yet to come and be popular/successful. Blade Runner may be popular now, but that’s what… thirty years later?
The visual effects in Scott Pilgrim are used to convey the two other major pieces of the movie: video-games and music. Romance is the main piece, and all three round out what’s important in Scott’s life. Here is where we get back to that point alluded to earlier with the purpose of the effects in the narrative…
Having never read or heard of Brian Lee O’Malley’s original comic series, Scott Pilgrim (the second volume’s title was Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), I’m not sure exactly what was being said. I can make a guess however at the movie, and I have the strong feeling that it’s a movie, similar to Shaun of the Dead, about getting over yourself and moving on with your life to be happy. As much as the film was a celebration of retro-games, it was something of a criticism; I see their prevelance and significance to the fabric of the visuals as a metaphor for maturation on two levels. Not only are video-games typically ‘for kids,’ but we’re talking about retro-games like Zelda and um Tetris, which the medium left behind for our more modern Grand Theft Auto‘s and Call of Brothers in Honor Arms Battlefield Duty: Vietnam: Modern Warfare‘s.
Edgar Wright tends to see the movie as something of a daydream of Scott’s, where he imagines he’s the hero of his very own film. The feeling that we are in the guy’s mind is evident in the every scene, every piece of the frame; it’s so goddamn subtle. Sounds in the background like the thudding of suspenseful music will morph into some guy tapping a distant microphone – it’s a subconscious effect, and it works. If this movie sort of happens inside his mind, it makes sense that a big ol’ “VS” slaps the screen before a battle, anticipating the massive “KO” or in one instance a “BASS BATTLE,” as in “BOSS BATTLE” from a side-scrolling beat-em-up or fighting game. It is then internally logical that he doesn’t dump quarters in when the arcade screen from ‘Ninja Ninja Revolution’ prompts him to CONTINUE? 9, 8, 7… because he’s ended up with the right girl, not just the one of his dreams but the one he’s confident enough to say he’s in love with. He’s moved on from his world of Final Fantasy II and through the door, the thingy over there.
The video-game stuff and the visual effects stuff, which serve each other, are in tandem here to elevate the main theme of romance. As much as this is an action comedy, it’s a story of romance threatened by the past and bad habits.
If Scott ended up with Knives Chau the story wouldn’t have worked in the end because we’ve followed Scott and Ramona’s development, their making peace with the past (sometimes by headbutting it so hard it bursts) and trascending dabbling in being bitches by being with each other. Staying together after they go through the door is sort of the solution to the equation of their relationship. The only character arc Knives goes through is becoming a ‘badass,’ something that I do take issue with.
So the central theme is romance, and I’m not a coinesseur in romantic films so I can’t tell if it’s a ‘good romance,’ or a hackneyed one. My perception of this romance as ‘good’ is also probably sabotaged by that aforementioned crush, which is hilarious.
Anyways, Knives is one of the only characters, perhaps the only one, that I didn’t like. She certainly changes throughout the course of the film, starting out timid and dorky (she says “I’ll be quieter” really softly even though she hadn’t been saying anything, which was kind of funny), and then being driven crazy by Scott’s relationship with Ramona, the fatass white girl. By the end of the movie we’re supposed to believe that she is indeed too cool for Scott, and that’s why she can leave and Scott can finally have a peaceful breakup.
This is derived because as I think Edgar Wright had said she’s become something of a badass by the end of the movie, note the Gideon fight where she fought both Ramona and then Gideon with swords and a rather long scarf that was quite the trouble during production. I can see what they were going for here, that this evolution of the character from timid dorky schoolgirl into rocker badass ninja was what makes her ‘too cool’ for Scott, but there’s a major problem. Crazy as it sounds – I didn’t even notice that she was a rocker badass ninja.
When she flies out of the ceiling to fight Ramona I didn’t think anything of it. I mean didn’t we just see Ramona totally kick ass like five seconds ago? Or what about Scott Pilgrim, a normal kid, when he suddenly knew kung-fu and got the first hit off in the Matthew Patel fight? The movie employs an absurd logic, but it’s consistent, so Knives being a crazy fighter didn’t seem out of the ordinary when I guess it should have.
Another issue I had with Knives was her all the time during the second act of the film, after she’s seen Scott with Ramona for the first time, and notes that this blue-haired girl must be like twenty-FIVE. That whole montage of her changing her hair to blue and plotting to get Scott back all while accompanied by her straight-man friend was played for the laughs, but that wasn’t really my type of humor. Though to think of it, the things that I tend to laugh at the most in this movie aren’t even jokes so I’m probably wrong.
I just thought that her going crazy and acting out was too much comedically for this actress to handle, or maybe it was just uncomfortable to watch because it’s a weird stalker sequence. Who knows.
But anyways, I like the jokes in the movie, like the “She dusts,” bit, or “Is that the Uma Thurman movie?” (because seriously who the hell is ever gonna reference My Super Ex-Girlfriend? Though on second thought it was a new movie when the comic was coming out… who knows who wrote the line?) but it’s actually little moments in the dialogue that get me the most, certain deliveries like Brandon Routh saying “Thanks tool,” and Chris Evans saying, “It’s called a grind bro,” or “You really think you can goad me into doing a trick like that?” or saying “Prepare-” before ripping the background on the movie set and trying again with his ‘menacing’ delivery. That’s the kind of humor that’ll stick to a movie, but there is comedy in the film that won’t last.
Like Family Guy, some of this stuff is just too cutting edge. Only instead of being so modern you’re referencing the goddamn commercials of the day like that show does, Scott Pilgrim has a lot of comedy that is meant to appeal to that ADD Generation, the kind of implaceable humor that’s hard to describe, but I know isn’t my type and isn’t many’s, and won’t be cool for very long. Stuff like “Why is he dressed like a pirate?” “Are you a pirate?” “Pirates are in this year…” Hm.
But then Thomas Jane crashes into the wall with the bad guy from Crank 2 and he says, “Milk and eggs, bitch,” and everything’s back to normal. I swear – Edgar Wright in his technical commentary of the movie (a movie he’s made, mind you) had the same reaction to Thomas Jane that I and hopefully many others did: *laugh your ass off* “Holy shit it’s Thomas Jane!”
As great a film that I accuse Scott Pilgrim of being, it’s not something that I can just show off to people like I could with Strange Days or City of God – undeniably cool and interesting films, movies that even if you dislike, you are compelled to recognize as good. It’s a movie for teenagers, and it’s a comedy with very specific humor, some of which I don’t even appreciate. It’s also a Michael Cera movie in this post-Youth in Revolt, Year One, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Superbad world. I was clever enough to avoid all of those movies and so I never got burned out on the guy – I still think he’s funny. I’ve only seen the first season of Arrested Development and some of Clark and Michael, and both of those are hilarious, so I’m still a fan of his.
It does make me wonder though where Edgar Wright is headed next. This was his biggest financial disappointment thus far, which is not good, as it was his only American movie, and his only PG-13 rated movie. I believe he’s co-scripting the Tintin movie and he plans on doing Antman and a third “Blood and Ice Cream,” flick, rounding out a trilogy following Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz with the old Simon Pegg/Nick Frost team. My only concern there is with the Antman movie – Scott Pilgrim seemed to fit his style almost uncannily; the material and the director were a perfect match, just like the casting of Robert Downey Jr. to Barris in A Scanner Darkly. Some things, man, they just work. Will Antman allow for such visual trickery and thoughtfulness? I know it’s a humor-based superhero, but beyond that I know nothing of it.
I guess we’ll just have to wait and see, but with this guy at the helm and his three movies as evidence, I’m sure it’ll be wow… yeah, wow…
It took me two and a half viewings to realize that after all, I did enjoy the Inglourious Basterds; the experience was just muddled by some requisite qualifications. This is not the QT’s finest hour, though it does follow the path he’s always followed, which was made most obvious in his most finest hour with the first half of Kill Bill. Indeed what worked so beautifully in the Kill Bill saga begins to fall apart here, so this is one of those cases where it’s a swing and a miss, but it’s a hefty swing.
The genre filmmakers to look out for nowadays seem to dabble in making movies paying homage to the flicks they grew up with – you know, your Eli Roths and Robert Rodriguez’s, even Edgar Wright and Takashi Miike – and leading them is Tarantino. By this time we could judge what Tarantino’s favorite genres are by just reviewing his small but impressive filmography, and note that western is high up there. There are moments in Basterds that feel downright Leone (or possibly Corbucci, but I suppose we’ll see that in Django Unchained), and these are the moments that work the best.
Otherwise you can break the movie down into a few pieces: tense dialogues, lighthearted dialogues, and really boring bits that seem to do nothing. Practically every moment with the character Shoshanna was unmemorable and really rather dull to me; I didn’t care for this character when she’s so obviously standing in the shadow of a tried and true archetype – the squad. The titular Basterds are The Dirty Dozen, are the Inglorious Bastards, are every men-on-a-mission movie men on a mission we’ve ever seen. When they’re on-screen, the movie actually comes across as more of a western, and this is hugely entertaining. When Shoshanna is on-screen, she’s usually just plotting, and this is so goddamn boring.
The best that this movie can be is entertaining, and I suppose that’s just what Tarantino set out to do with this one. Whereas legitimate themes could be extrapolated out of Death Proof, I feel that Tarantino wasn’t trying to say much here. Rather, he crafts an intricate escapist fantasy where Hitler was brutally murdered by Jewish soldiers, and everything is just like it was in the movies.
The genre-mixing and film-within-a-film are what pay homage to earlier movies, and it sets up this fantasy world where the one goal is entertainment. And it is entertaining – people don’t make movies like this, QT is one of a kind and I’m thankful for his cinematic contributions. When the movie slows down and gets involved with its characters, who by purpose must be archetypes, I too slow down and check my watch.
Unfortunately for Inglourious Basterds the movie also just made me wish Tarantino had done a straight western, and nix the war setting altogether. Even if he didn’t, he really should’ve called the movie Once Upon a Time in Nazi-Occupied France. Bit of a mouthful, but the joke would’ve landed better.
Quentin Tarantino. At this point I’d say he’s infamous – after his involvement with Grindhouse and the completion of his two-part magnum opus, people began to look back on his older stuff and realize that he’s been doing the same thing the whole time; he never changed. Reservoir Dogs was an homage to movies of its ilk, and Pulp Fiction was a melting pot of just about everything. Maybe people think he’s a one trick pony because this is all he does, on top of writing cute dialogue, but hey as long as he’s the only one doing it – or the only getting it right – I’ll eagerly await the releases of his future projects.
After Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, this is one of the first movies of one of Japan’s most well-known filmmakers, Hayao Miyazaki, whose body of work has inspired environmental attitudes, joy in people of all ages, and retrohate. His other celebrated movies are Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, and most recently his Ponyo was released in America with another strong English voice cast. Miyazaki can be approximated as the Japanese equivalent of Pixar – while other anime movie directors like Mamoru Oshii and Satoshi Kon were making movies aimed at an older audience, Miyazaki continued doing family-friendly films that all ages could enjoy.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is no exception; as much as this movie is simply amazing, I think it’s a really important film to show to a growing child. All too often American animated movies that are aimed at children (100% of them) seem to be made just for the laughs, for example every Dreamworks movie, and some of the lesser Pixar flicks. They also rarely tackle the realities of the world, and this is because of an implicit attitude that goes into creating an animated film, that this world should be entirely removed from our own, and that violence and death are better left to the PG-13 animated movies, and the last one of those was… Beowulf? Star War: The Clone Wars? Cool World? These are really rather rare.
There is violence here, and there is death, but these aren’t gratuitous. In fact, everything that happens is deliberate and serves a higher purpose in the whole of the movie, and this should be a good stepping stone for children in their own journeys through early development. It’s a whole movie just as it is wholesome, with heroes and villains and brilliantly realized landscapes and creatures.
The themes dealt with in Nausicaa on the surface are environmental, that we should make peace with nature and live in harmony with the planet, but if Miyazaki never made another Nausicaa-esque picture (he did with Mononoke and countless others) the major theme we’d extrapolate from the environmental ideas is living in harmony with each other. It’s an anti-violence film just as much as it is an environmental one, something of an Avatar, but less overwrought in its message. It’s more subtle, and the characters aren’t simplistic archetypes.
Eponymous heroine Nausicaa in particular is a wonderful character, a perfect role model for kids, and – in this is significant to the themes of the movie – a female. Once again, if Miyazaki never made another movie, one would think that Nausicaa as a female was deliberate, but almost every other one of his movies has a young female hero, and they all look the same. It would seem deliberate here because action movies – never mind science-fiction action movies – rarely feature women in the heroic roles, unless they end up being romantically involved with our manly man hero.
And that really pisses me off.
In Nausicaa, it works particularly well because there is a theme of progression. It tells of a world that exists long after ours, where nature has reclaimed the Earth after the people of the past (us) destroyed it with pollution and war. Because it was the men who make war and instigate women’s rights eras and lead the politics of the world in the past, it will be up to a woman to change the world for the better in the future; essentially, guys, we’ve had our time in the sun, and we failed. This is made most obvious in the prophecy noted early on in the film, where it’s been said that a hero clad in blue will save the planet, and the accompanying picture on the tapestry depicts a male. At the end of the movie, we find that the prophecy has been fulfilled, but it’s a woman clad in blue.
Of course, there are other things that make our heroine compelling, and one of my favorite element to her character is that she’s complex. Just as she kills several badguys in a fit of rage, she breaks down and cries; she’s realistic, and in this way we can begin to sympathize with her plight. It doesn’t hurt that the adventure she goes in is equally compelling; in the events of the movie Nausicaa traverses a massive land whose scale is expertly laid out and builds up to creating a weight to the situation by the climactic battle at the end.
We are witness to giant flying snake-like creatures, the mighty Ohm, and of course, the larger-than-life God Warrior, as animated by another famous name in anime, Hideaki Anno (see my Evangelion review for more info on that… dude). The world is also full of natural wonders and even history – there is a grand sense of mythology permeating the story, and it’s also implied that an older civilization came before, but was completely obliterated.
What also makes Nausicaa a great movie to show to the younger is that this is pure storytelling, surprisingly streamlined and made simple. It’s surprising because there is a lot going on in the narrative. We have warring nations, a major threat from the planet itself, conflicting agendas, the aforementioned mythologies and prophecies, and round characters on all sides. The professionalism in the way the story is told can be analogized in the God Warrior. What’s explained isn’t what the warrior is aside from an old world-killer, but what it’s importance is in the narrative. Here we have scifi storytelling not bogged down by extraneous world-building, because that wouldn’t be appropriate in the context of the film.
Not only is the story told well, but the messages are conveyed just the same, though if I do have one complaint, it does have to do with that message. All too often does Nausicaa say “We need to stop with this violence!” and other bits of dialogue repeat to get the same points across. These instances are few, but there is some minor sense of telling but not showing in this way.
If you’re a parent, I highly suggest that this be one of the earlier movies your kid sees – it’s bound to spark imagination just as it will progressive thought in terms of feminism and environmentalist thought, and it’s realistic about death. It’s also a good entry way into the medium of Japanese animation, which is an entity very different from American animation, as we’re sure to see later.