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There’s something to be said for superhero movies these days that aren’t Marvel or DC produced, genrebusting film, and anything made by James Gunn. So allow me — Super, Gunn’s most recent directorial feature, is easy to get into, hard to watch, and extremely difficult to parse out. Even that assessment isn’t entirely accurate; it isn’t hard to watch like Crank 2 nipple cutting or Dune, but the violence is unexpectedly brutal, and the tone vaccilates wildly. Of course, this is a James Gunn movie, so the violence is just right, as is the immorality and profanity, and everything else that makes for a fun time. It’s got the premise to go far, and yet I must be restrained in my praise — it won’t be glowing, but it will be. The movie is very, very entertaining, but it’s also highly demented, just as knocked in the head as everyone says. The problem is that it clashes with preconcieved notions about the story and where it’s going, and this extends even to the morality of the story.
We follow a down-on-his-luck loser, Frank D’Arbo, played by Rainn Wilson, as his wife is stolen by the scheezy Jacques, Kevin Bacon no less, and decides to turn to masked vigilantism for empowerment. This is one of those goof-ball origin stories, no? So all of the resulting trial and error and crime-bashing montage is par for the course — this is familiar territory. Why then is it veering off-course, settling on the road, veering, settling, and veering again so often? I’m not just referring to the surreal sequences of being touched by God or “Bombs,” or anything — there are more than a few moments of pure what the hell in this movie, both good and bad, depending on your disposition.
If you liked Slither, you’ll probably like this movie. A better comparison though would be Kick-Ass, though I’ve yet to see that movie. Woody Harrelson was also recently in a movie like this — where there are triple A superhero blockbusters, there will persist the indie scene, and independent superhero movies like Super can’t exploit special effects and CGI for ticket sales, and they certainly don’t have the marquee value of brand names like X-Men and Spider-Man. So Super decides to go the old-fashioned route. Or does it? It’s hard to decide just where Gunn was going with this movie, what he was trying to say or what emotions he wanted the audience to feel at any given moment.
It isn’t enough for a filmmaker to simply make a movie that’s fun, whose sole purpose is to be fun, because that doesn’t always yield ‘fun movie,’ as a result. Though Machete could’ve benefitted from that formula, I suppose. The problem with Super is that it feels unfocused, but not in the usual way a movie like this could be, it’s more in an abstract area that’s difficult for an audience member like me to pin down — the actual development. This is a script that’s been sitting in James Gunn’s desk since 2002 (so no, guys, there’s no base for controversy with this and Kick-Ass, which was published in 2008), so it’s very possible that it’s been through a number of revisions, or drastic changes correlating to James Gunn then and James Gunn now.
I don’t know what the answer is. Here’s the chief issue: While I know truly nothing of superheroes or the comic world, I can gather that after Watchmen, stories about superheroes were either the genuine article or post-modern. Super is neither, though we assumed one of two going in. We think we understand what we’re watching during the first act, that Super is a slightly less zany and much more violent Scott Pilgrim–especially after that credits sequence–but as the movie goes on, we don’t know what’s coming next. Like, to the max. I figured that when his brain was touched by God, ‘we don’t know what’s coming next’ meant crazy moments, but in reality, it was sacred elements like story elements and tone and theme. Even Scott Pilgrim gets the (correct) girl at the end, but with Super, who knows what’s gonna happen.
I must applaud a film for being so audacious, though this can easily be confused for laziness, unfortunately, but it’s difficult for me to run out and hold Super over my head on the African cliffs like Simba because it’s not that the movie goes in unexpected places that counts, it’s the places themselves, and by the end of the film, we’re expecting a point. We get one, but it’s not satisfactory. I decided before the movie was over that it was an ending and a point satisfactory to the character, which would make Super doubly akin to Scott Pilgrim, because this is a movie that sort of happens in the dude’s head, and why can’t a resolution be fine just for the character? But — then we have a last shot that’s similar to the ending of A History of Violence and Oldboy. In fact, it’s the identical shot. It’s one of ambiguity. What’s going on?
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. Just let yourself go and let Super wash over you. It’s a fun movie, with a few good lol out loud moments, like the wheelchair lady, D’Arbo explaining why Robin was named after a bird (because… they’re loyal), and Ellen Page expressing discontent at the villains knowing D’Arbo’s identity. While the action isn’t exactly John Woo, when it’s got Verhoeven levels of blood and gore, it doesn’t need to be. There’s a good amount of it, but the real reason to watch Super is for the characters. The writing is priceless, and I was invested in seeing just where all of these guys were going, from the main character D’Arbo right down to the henchman played by Michael Rooker, another in the cast of James Gunn familiars.
The cast is excellent, even in those I didn’t at first recognize, like James Gunn and Rob Zombie (though after seeing Dazed and Confused and not recognizing Ben Affleck or Cole Hauser I find I’m pretty oblivious when it comes to people). I could’ve stood to see more Nathan Fillion and Kevin Bacon, but the moments they had they reveled in. The standout however would most certainly have to be Ellen Page. I’d been pretty indifferent to Ellen Page up until this point, seeing her only in Inception and five minutes of Juno, but this movie’s convinced me of her brilliance. You can tell an actor’s going all out when the accent pokes through; she handles the complicated character Libby quite well, and she’s one hell of a character. She starts out pretty normal, and by the time the movie’s over she’s been through quite a range: off-the-wall enthusiastic, psychotic, rapist, and crybaby. A number of pretty bold modes.
Super? Check it.
“They know your secret identity? FUCK!”
1. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Note: It’s kind of confusing, but the post “1. The Ghost in the Shell,” did not mean that that was the #1 thing of the year, despite it following the other two Year End Review posts.
Here on Dreck Fiction I’ve talked about Scott Pilgrim vs. The World at length, so this will probably be retreading old territory — bear with me. In the end, the most awesome thing I saw this year came out last year, Edgar Wright’s third, and in my opinion, best movie — crazy as that sounds. When I first saw the movie over the summer, I was blown the hell away. Unfortunately I saw it the last day it was available OnDemand, one of the motivating factors behind the big decision to press enter. I always knew I was gonna like Scott Pilgrim; the trailers seemed promising and I had a lot of faith in Edgar Wright to make something that was at least entertaining. I remember very specifically — quite a feat, as I saw this perhaps five months ago — my dad came in the room and delivered some message so I had to pause the movie, and I paused it right before the Ramona/Roxy fight, maybe after Ramona threw Ann (who?) away. Sitting there, I was just thinking to myself, “I’ve really enjoyed this movie so far. I like the direction this is headed.”
As somebody who’s invested some time in learning about filmmaking, it’s hard for me not to zero in on the technical side of things, and ever since I started this blog I tend to think critically about movies when I’m watching them. Scott Pilgrim actually rewarded me for being aware of the filmmaking, because it’s such a finely crafted movie that when immersion is eschewed in this way, it’s a good thing. It allowed me to notice the details, which to director Edgar Wright are extremely important. The frame is always brimming with significant details and easter eggs — and boy does he and DP Bill Pope love the frame.
In terms of the look of the movie, it’s not even “look what we can do,” not even “look what we can do and how well” — it’s a spectacle resultant of very measured craft. Every eyepopping moment on screen, whether a product of the camera movement, clever composition, actor blocking, or visual effect, means something. Of course, the point of contention then for critics is that what it all means may not interest them, but that’s no excuse to not recognize the inspiring brilliance in this film’s making. Scott Pilgrim, appreciated today only by a small but very, very vocal minority, will have genre standing as time goes on.
It’s an outstanding example of the action-comedy, which, like the horror-comedy (of which Edgar Wright so excelled in six years earlier), requires a hefty amount of balance: tone, structure, wit — these elements aren’t enough, it’s within their combination that Scott Pilgrim and Slither and Desperado and other great, modern genre-mashups emerge. They must work with each other; this doesn’t feel like an action movie with comedic elements or a comedy with action scenes, it’s a whole film that plays out from start to finish, and by the time we reach the end, we’ve laughed, we’ve been excited, and we’re had our hearts warmed. The manufactured feel of so many other comedies and so, so many other action movies was left at the door.
The film had a predestination in terms of its artistic success, just like The Thing (2011), the next Mary Elizabeth Winstead movie, was doomed to critical and commercial failure at the point of its inception. It was based on preexisting material, which is a first for the director, though at the time of screenwriting the final volume had yet to be released, which led to some merciful reshoots* at the end of production. I’ve never read the comic, but I think the process and idea of adaptation set the wheels in motion for Edgar Wright. He took on a mission and was rather noble about it. Like Rodriguez wanting to make Frank Miller’s Sin City over Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City, Wright strove to recreate the comic, but adapt it to the moving medium of film.
With such a dedicated force at the helm, there should’ve been little doubt in my mind that Scott Pilgrim was a movie to look out for, and right now there’s little doubt in my mind that the director’s fourth movie will be one to watch. It’s a pretty bold adaptation — in these days of Nolan’s Batman and endless reboots (these X-Men weren’t gritty enough), Scott Pilgrim feels fresh. The creators behind the film obviously adore the movie medium, and don’t shy away from its possibilities. Some people (I think) have called Crank one of the best comic book movies ever, because it is exactly that, despite not being based on anything.
Crank is the antithesis to a movie like X-Men Origins: Wolverine, or any of the X-Men movies, which like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four and Ghost Rider and all these things — it revels in its form. Movies, like comic-books, have a heightened reality, but somehow this gets lost in Hollywood’s endless struggle to be super serious and realistic. I’m not saying that when Peter Parker and Mary Jane upside-down kiss that CG hearts should come out, because that would be inappropriate to its foundational laws of reality, but the dedication to realism has led filmmakers to want to play it safe in terms of spectacle.
With such high budgets, why don’t we ever see something that’s completely balls-to-the-walls? Like fucking Punisher: War Zone! Christ, every time I gotta complain about these damn comic book movies that’ll always be mentioned. War Zone wasn’t made on a $100 million budget, but it was totally fun. It had energy. Like Scott Pilgrim, which, because it was made on a very high budget, was able to go above and beyond. Very rarely in that movie has a frame been untouched by frenetic computer enhancements and craazy color.
At the end of the movie, we know that the heroes are going to fight the villains, probably in New York, and they’ll throw cars around. With a movie like Scott Pilgrim, it’s a mystery as to what’s simply going to be seen next. And when something wild happens, it’s almost always logical or, at least, never truly out of left field. Giant animated yeti is going to fight dragons in the middle of a battle of the bands? Sounds alright to me.
Well, that’s probably enough of my Continuing Adventures in Eternal Praise for this One Movie for now. I kind of lost steam there towards the end, but those comic book movies always piss me off, so when I perceive a chance to rant, I’ll take it.
So there you have it. Those are the ten best, and two worst, things I saw this year. Overall, it was pretty solid. Last year there were actually ten movies, but hey — if TV shows are gonna be as good as Arrested Development, I’ll certainly take TV shows. Good night, and have a happy New Year! (Excuse me if you don’t celebrate New Year’s, I know that’s not very PC of me**).
*The original ending to the movie was changed when the final book was released. Originally, and you can still see these scenes in the DVD, Scott ends up with Knives. Thankfully Brian Lee O’Malley was there to save the day, and Edgar Wright was so goddamn dedicated to being true to the source…
**HAHA SOCIAL COMMENTRAY
I decided to do this about fifteen days early because the posts have been slow. This year was pretty bad for new movies (Battle: LA, Hereafter I think). Susprisingly though one made the list, and in fact there were quite a few recent titles. There were not however, enough movies, so this list extends to include TV shows.
For a quick recap, I really like the Genrebusters, so I stole their idea for Year End Reviews, where they talk about the movies they’ve seen that year, not the movies that came out. This, in my opinion, serves a better purpose, because these lists are all about recommending titles, and you’d probably have heard of any title from ’11 that I’d recommend. So here we go, with a title from ’11–
10. The Thing (2011)
Maybe not the best movie I saw this year, but definitely one of the most entertaining for my nerd-dollar. It’s sort of like fan-service; I really like the core Thing idea, and John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my favorite things. Now for more of it, but this time the creature is faster, bigger, more deadly. It actually kills people (not just dogs); it’s predatory. To the rescue is Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s flamethrower, and she goes to town on these gooey freaks.
Yes, you’re free to hate on The Thing just because it’s a remake of a cult classic (wonder what people will say when they redo Buckaroo Bonzai or Big Trouble?), but you’d be overlooking what is a very entertaining movie, one of the best horror movies to come along in recent years, and solid science-fiction entertainment. When it comes out on DVD I urge you to pick it up. Blame me if it sucks, only because I can’t spell the director’s name.
9. MST3K: The Girl in Lover’s Lane/I Accuse my Parents
I just can’t decide. I watched a couple of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes over the course of the year, including Swamp Diamonds and Gamera, but I’ve discovered that if you want the pure MSTK experience, you have to go for the cheesy black-and-white 50′s movies of questionable raison d’etre. Interesting to note is that The Girl in Lover’s Lane features Jack Elam in pre-Once Upon a Time in the West days, in something of an embarassing role in an embarassing film. Joel and the gang tear into these, and some of the one-liners made me lol out loud. Unfortunately I can’t really relate them because the jokes require the context. So a guy’s walking down the street looking frumpled and Crow says…
8. Clerks 2
This was, if I remember correctly, and if Netflix is to be believed, the first movie I saw this year. I knew while I was watching it that when I inevitably came around to doing this post I’d have to include it. Not only a very funny movie, it’s also a totally bold and necessary film. Indeed Kevin Smith has given us some rough times with movies like Zack and Miri Make a Porno, but he’s a surprisingly good writer/director, and Clerks 2 is his finest hour. It is also one of the most interesting sequels ever made, because it’s almost as if Clerks 2 should be a stand alone movie, and Clerks a prequel.
The passage of time between films has made a huge difference for the characters, and this is a major (and pretty heavy) theme. We return to Dante and Randall and discover they’ve moved on with their lives, but not up. Well, Rosario Dawson works at the new place, so that’s pretty good, but it still isn’t optimal. This movie’s all about self-actualization and coming to grips with reality. Time to grow up, but we really need to examine ourselves before we do.
If a theoretical Clerks 3 happens, and Kevin Smith has talked about this (in between airplane drama and cameo appearances in Die Hard 4), I can’t imagine it being anything but a retread of Clerks 2–it’s an essential story to… the saga of these guys’ lives, and to Kevin Smith, whose Zack and Miri was even more of a personal story, but unfortunately sucked balls. One good joke at the beginning said by Craig Robinson. And then silence.
7. Dexter: Season 5
Quinn gets an interesting subplot this time around, with Peter Weller no less, Dexter deals with a post-Rita family, and a new character enters the fold. Haters’ll hate, right? This is probably the least popular season, and there’s a reason. This one requires more suspension of disbelief than any other, with escapes and cover-ups that shy from logic. It’s also got that new character Lumen, who you could either see as a good thing like I do, or as a by the numbers revenge movie applied to the Dexter framework. I really appreciated it because I liked the relationship between Lumen and Dexter, even though I knew it had to end. The finale really shows the limitations of television as a medium of storytelling. SPOILERS. We know Lumen won’t last because she’s a movie star. Poor Dex.
6. Lust, Caution
This movie is long, but stick with it because it’s absolutely beautiful. I suppose that when you hear about Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, you hear about the sex scenes, and they are quite graphic, but that’s really not a big deal. They serve a specific purpose, and this whole movie is a tragedy, so I can’t imagine being aroused by it and its sombre mood. Tony Leung’s totally awesome, and if you like this movie I’d recommend checking out the movies of Wong Kar Wai like Happy Together and Days of Being Wild. Also, great music.
5. A History of Violence
I was none partial to Eastern Promises, but I really dug A History of Violence. It’s violent, and it’s a really cool story. It’s David Cronenberg at his most entertaining; this may not be his best movie, but it’s his most enjoyable.
4. Party Down
The cast and writing of a sitcom make all the difference. Premise is usually inconsequential, and in fact some of the more high-concept stuff I usually don’t like–Parks and Recreation, which is the direct opposite of high concept (and will be mentioned again regarding this show’s cancellation), is a great show, very funny. Anyway, the cast and writing of Party Down really shine. In terms of premise, we have these caterers working in LA–it’s essentially a retread of Clerks 2, because most of them aspire to higher things. Romances come and go, parties are ruined, profanities fly–wonderful. I also really like Adam Scott; he’s one of those actors like Mary Elizabeth Winstead or Nathan Fillion that I just really like seeing in things, even if it’s Pirahna 3D. I’m sure you have a few of those. In fact, I went out of my way to watch an indie movie that really wasn’t my style just because he was in it (also JK Simmons, who’s awesome), called The Vicious Kind and I even kind of enjoyed it. Party Down streams on Netflix–highly recommended.
It’s also not a major time investment, unfortunately. Like another TV show on this list, it was cut down in its youth. A lot of it had to do with casting issues–Jane Lynch left after the first season to be on Glee, which is really sad because Constance was one of the best characters, and Adam Scott left to be on Parks and Recreation. I like Parks and Recreation, it certainly picked up steam after an okay “well this is sort of like a watered-down version of what The Office (US) was before it started blowing assholes” first season, but I like this show a whole lot better. The characters are so memorable and the things they do can be so self-destructive but it’s alright–it’s a lot like Trailer Park Boys in this regard.
3. Dexter: Season 3
Another reason why people probably don’t like Season 5 so much is because it followed Season 4. I feel the same way about 2, but I totally understand this because 4 was probably the best season. My favorite however, has got to be 3. This year I saw 3 and 5, having seen 4 last year… that’s what not seeing TV live does to one, I suppose. The stakes in this season are at an all time low, nothing major happens to any of the characters, and we get a new guy Quinn who doesn’t do much and for now isn’t an adequate replacement for the dearly departed Doakes. (That’s what the last book’s gonna be called, Dearly Departed Dexter, I’m calling it now).
However. A new character is introduced, a fellow named Miguel Prado, and the friendship that he and Dexter cultivate that eventually turns dark was very engaging. Some of the exchanges, like the rooftop scene, were extremely memorable. Dexter’s created a monster, and the show did fool me for a moment there–I thought Dexter might have actually cared for this guy, and that idea rang true with me despite probably being false. Even though I knew what was going to happen in this season before it did (he mentions Miguel once in Season 4, a minor sidenote; his absence was somewhat noticeable in retrospect), it was classic suspenseful Dexter at the top of its game.
Like number one on this list I started watching Arrested Development on a lark. I had seen the first two episodes a long time ago (a friend of mine always pushed this show), and thought they were okay, but never ventured beyond that. In fact I believe I decided on Arrested Development because of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World–I actually just wanted to see more Michael Cera (and I wasn’t gonna watch Year One). It’s funny because Arrested Development in turn made me start paying attention to Jason Bateman, which drove me to Extract and Paul, and after it was over, I needed something to ease the pain, so I tore through as many sitcoms as I could, which was only really two, and two short ones at that. Spaced and then Party Down, with their powers combined could help me stop being sad that Arrested Development was over and not coming back.
A few months later I’d find out that it was in fact coming back, and I just about pissed in my pants. Arrested Development is not only the best sitcom I’ve ever seen, but the best TV show. It was so goddamn funny I want to fill this paragraph with expletives for no reason. But I won’t. As soon as it was over I wanted to watch it again; I got my sister to watch it (work in progress), and my roommate, who was hooked and we started marathoning episodes–like ten episodes a day.
It’s so layered, so rich, so… post-modern. You can go on Wikipedia to learn about all the in-jokes and hidden things, there’s too many to list. Season 1 was good, like pretty funny and effective in setting up characters: Michael is the perfect straight man, his son is awkward and in love with his cousin, his brother GOB is an aggressive moron, his sister a selfish airhead with a closet homosexual husband, his younger brother a motherboy. His dad’s in jail, his mother probably should be. It works, but this is the weakest season and kind of a slow start.
Stick with it, seriously. Season 2 starts out strong, and lever lets up. Recurring jokes are abound and always rewarding: Tobias is gay gives us some of the most quotable lines in network TV, Maeby as a studio executive reveals the absurdity of Hollywood, Buster losing is hand (foreshadowed like crazy throughout the whole season ["Never thought I'd miss a hand so much" is in Episode 3: Amigos]) is classic, Michael not liking or remembering George Michael’s girlfriend Ann clues us into his flawed-father character, and Oscar being Buster’s secret father is probably my favorite recurring joke. Something like Buster announcing “I guess my father’s not here,” will prompt the camera to zoom in slowly on Jeffrey Tambor in a wig and cue the dramatic piano for him to say, “Maybe he is.” Cut to Lucille rolling her eyes.
You could just go anywhere on the Internet and people talk this show up like I’m doing. They’re not afraid. You can’t oversell Arrested Development. You either love it or you’re trying to hate it. Don’t try to hate it. Do yourself a favor.
It’s an alternate 1985 where God exists and he’s American, a retired hero must rescue people from a fire to get hard, and a vigilante screams out to be killed in a world that’s turned its back on justice. Watchmen is the most celebrated graphic novel from Alan Moore, the man who coined the term, and it remains, after all these years, an incredible story that weaves hard-hitting images with political, philosophical, and revisionist text. A sharp tale making an entire medium of entertainment take a look in the mirror – it’s small wonder Hollywood’s been scrambling for ages to get the film produced. But Watchmen is like The Lord of the Rings. It doesn’t belong to Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, or DC Comics. No, no, no. It belongs to its fans, and they are many.
Fans claimed that Watchmen was unfilmable, just like the aforementioned Rings. Indeed it does feel like an unsavory prospect; we open these pages and see superheroes sharing panels with scenes of sex, superheroes behaving rather like Mad Max in the original Mad Max, superheroes who’d rather blame the blue guy in the room for shooting a pregnant Vietnamese woman than take the responsibility for himself. Aside from graphic content and themes, Watchmen is of course a 12-issue comic, and each issue is an episode. One episode jumps around in time – how do you do that in a movie and keep things moving forward? All too often filmmakers don’t appreciate the disparaties in mediums, and believe that translations will always work.
Perhaps that is what happened here, but the end result was a fantastic experience, a movie version of a great story that maintains the great story and embodies the spirit and feel of the comic’s panel-to-panel nature. Every shot is thoughtfully composed – no doubt these guys took the Rodriguez/Miller route and went to the comics for the storyboards – the lighting and colors create a hyperreal image that only stops moving when the slow-motion button is hit. Just like in 300, Snyder’s use of slow-motion is appropriate because it slows on actions that were originally read on the page with eyes that linger and focus. It also gives the action an unusual rhythm as we move through hard streets and cavernous corporate buildings.
There’s a simple joy that fills me when watching a good adaptation, but it isn’t unqualified. As much as I like to study what actors were chosen and how well the themes translate, there’s something almost uncanny about hearing dialogue you’re familiar with. This was a major issue for me with movies like Memoirs of a Geisha and other flicks where I read the book right before watching (that one was for school): it feels very artificial when actors are speaking dialogue that originates from somewhere that’s not a screenplay; it’s difficult to fool yourself that these words came from the character’s head.
There’s also the issue that Watchmen is actually unfilmable, but I don’t believe it’s in the way that the collective masses tend to say. The problem is that Watchmen was a post-modern comic, and to nail this home (as if opening with Captain America’s death wasn’t enough) we have a comic-within-a-comic, which is read by a minor character throughout the story. We get glimpses of the macabre tale, Tales of the Black Freighter, every now and then, and it serves a purpose. Unless you’re watching the Ultimate Cut, a version that’s over 3 hours (the Director’s Cut is 2 hours and 40 minutes), you don’t get to see the Gerard Butler-narrated comic-within-a-comic. I haven’t seen it as standalone nor in the Ultimate Cut, but it doesn’t matter – it wouldn’t have the same effect.
Tales of the Black Freighter in Watchmen the movie would have no purpose because Watchmen the movie isn’t a comic. A movie that’s revisionist towards comics doesn’t have the same effect as the source material – it’d be like if Once Upon a Time in the West or Pulp Fiction were novels, and we had movie references from Shane and High Noon written out on the page.
I do feel like the problem is mitigated somewhat by the filmmakers – we hear the Ride of the Valkyries as the Comedian rides into Vietnam on a helicopter, a song that might as well just be called the Apocalypse Now song. That’s what it reminds us of, and coupled with Vietnam War imagery, we’re in familiar movie territory. That’s one instance where Watchmen the movie takes advantage of the medium’s asset to make it uniquely a movie.
I suppose that the superhero genre in film by the year 2009 was also in need of a revision, but of course Watchmen the movie made very little impact and like the equally R-rated Punisher War Zone a year before, didn’t make a box office splash. At least, not for a Watchmen movie. Hollywood would go on to take little notice, making Captain America, Iron Man 2, Thor, Green Latern, The Green Hornet, The Dark Knight Rises, another Superman, another Spider-Man, Kick-Ass, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men First Class, Jonah Hex, and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World from 2009-2012 (fingers crossed for Nelvedine/Taylor’s Ghost Rider). Aside from Scott Pilgrim, I saw X-Men Origins: Wolverine and thought it was the dumbest crap ever, with precisely three seconds of gold (a wonderful reaction shot to a gazing Stryker during a ‘tense’ and ‘dramatic’ scene).
Without speaking for all of those above, X-Men Origins: Wolverine really captured what was wrong with the superhero genre. It’s stale, and it panders to a fan base. Instead of rich characters we have to fill out a quota of characters – alright we got steel man, invisible man, laser man, blue devil man, mega man, ultra man, woman man, cat man, Poke mans – and instead of a compelling premise from which to draw a decent story we have oh-my-gosh-let’s-pull-pages-from-this-this-this-and-this, ‘this’ referring of course to the bountiful source material in the case of X-Men.
Watchmen, to get back on topic, isn’t of course new, but is akin to Unbreakable and The Incredibles – yes we have superheroes, but we have a different type of superhero story. Many say, and I agree with this, that Watchmen is more a science-fiction story than a superhero one. It deals with cold war anxieties, experiments gone wrong, and at the end, alien invaders and outer limits – staples of the genre. Because we have a science-fiction structure with superheroes as the players in a greater tale rather than the center of the spotlight like the bat symbol, we open up so many narrative and thematic possibilities that modern filmmakers dare not tread. At the end of X-Men we’ve learned nothing – in fact nothing has changed for anybody. There is really no point except $300 million, or however much that particular movie made.
Maybe that’s cynical, but it did feel like a very, very commercial picture that didn’t go for the bar. Not that it was set high but anyhow Watchmen had aspirations, as a comic and as a film. As a movie, it had to hit upon what the fans wanted – an easy task, as everybody involved was a fan. It had to tell a cinematic story, not a simple adaptation. And most importantly it had to maintain what Watchmen was all about, asking questions about the measure of heroism and the morals of justice. Like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Watchmen treats every frame delicately, and the product is an extremely well-made film that looks amazing even during the most mundane bits. It’s violent, but not overly so where anything extreme, like sawing through arms or repeated strikes to the head with a cleaver, are very obviously CG and don’t look so great.
It’s a very nearly literal adaptation, but it’s a smart one. The filmmakers realized that 100% direct translation wouldn’t work – perhaps they heard the shouts – and went about constructing a slick, often disturbing, sometimes affecting, and always throught-provoking experience.
If you’re worried about the length of the Director’s Cut, I honestly don’t know what to tell you. I’m no good with long movies, and I watched this over the course of two nights. Personally I don’t see it as a problem because I like that as much of the comic was reproduced on screen as possible; this Watchmen is truly the definitive movie version – disregarding the Ultimate Cut, there will never be a more complete version, although the lack of the newstand guy and Black Freighter reader was noticeable.
In the aftermath of watching Scott Pilgrim for the first time, I found myself in a strange situation. After watching movies like Hard-Boiled and Serenity, things I was very fond of, I immediately wanted to share them with everyone, and was fairly sure they’d like them. Scott Pilgrim was another, so I contacted various people and found that they had already seen it and ranged from being lukewarm on it to disliking it outright. During this summer, I’ve discovered that certain Internet circles I see myself as associating with don’t think much of the movie either. So here was a movie I loved, and nobody to share that appreciation with, which is why I wrote Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: An Appreciation rather than talk about it in real life with some person.
I’m not going to make this about some self-pity cry for help, but I will say that the movie’s poor reception on local and general levels (made no money, but hey – I didn’t see it in theatres either) has affected my perception of the film in this post-mortem period. The personal faults I have with the movie feel more glaring, like some of Michael Cera’s line delivery and a lot of the jokes, and I have had to accept that obviously this movie isn’t very well liked, but I do like it for reasons that are very personal and unique to me as an appreciator of motion pictures.
Even after all this time, I watch Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and I marvel every time and in the same magnititude. I marvel at the technical superiority employed by director Edgar Wright and Director of Photography Bill Pope, the mastery of craft that I find easy to both watch repeatedly and study (as an aspiring movie guy), the beauty of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who’s one of those people I just really enjoy watching in movies, and the crappiness of some of the jokes. It’s a movie that means a lot to me, the one movie that I could literally never stop talking about, but won’t devote the site to like I will with its flagship movie, Blade Runner. The film has so taken me, a power I thought I would have attributed to a darker, more thematically serious movie like Apocalypse Now or Oldboy, which are both amazing, but don’t match up with Edgar Wright’s PG-13 actioner for me on a personal level.
The movie has actually had the power to push me to read more books, because I couldn’t quite find what I found with Scott Pilgrim in the other movies I’d seen this summer; movies that people really like sort of fell upon glazed eyes: Mulholland Dr., Pi, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (the best of the bunch), The Wild Bunch, The Thin Red Line, Green Zone, and Brazil. None of them matched the bizarre and difficult-to-pin-down effect Scott Pilgrim had on me.
But for how long? Assumedly when I’m 35 I won’t give a shit about a romantic comedy about 20 year olds, so maybe I feel like I have to enjoy this fleeting movie as much as I can while I still do. Or maybe, and this was something that struck me while making my way through the James Cameron biography, The Futurist, maybe Scott Pilgrim was the Avatar that never was.
Of course, the two movies have absolutely nothing to do with each other, but I expected to fall in love with James Cameron’s biggest movie to date (for now), which by his own admittance, was the wrong way to go, “I think if everybody was embracing [Avatar] before the fact, the film could never live up to that expectation … Have them go with some sense of wanting to find the answer,” (James Cameron) and didn’t. Perhaps I’ve been waiting for that hole in my heart to be filled since it was punched into creation back in December 2009, and it finally was with Scott Pilgrim.
But that doesn’t make any fucking sense because last year I saw not only top twenty movies like Ghost in the Shell 2, Jin-Roh, and Jacob’s Ladder, but a movie I’d go on to consider one of my absolute favorites, JSA. Why didn’t those fill the hole or whatever? They’re complex, intense, dramatic movies, and three of them are exemplary in my “film as suduko” philosophy, where Scott Pilgrim does not. However, JSA is a drama ending on a note of tragedy, Ghost in the Shell 2 is beautiful but contemplative and not very fun, and Jacob’s Ladder is an intense journey striking with enthusiasm upon themes I find very frightening (but intriguing). With Scott Pilgrim, I finally found a movie that very simply, makes me feel good. It’s a conventional romance with action elements – light, funny, and highly entertaining. Exactly what I need sometimes.
I understand that where it lost audiences was in it’s conception, however. It’s a Kung Fu movie that doesn’t make Kung Fu a priority, instead opting for a musical approach, where action scenes are ignored after they’re over, like they didn’t even happen. It’s a movie taking cues from retro-games, trying to appeal to a very specific generation that prefers other things and is very picky. It’s a romantic comedy, but isn’t just for girls and isn’t just for guys. So who goes to see it?
Other issues I’ve come upon with respect to Scott Pilgrim are of course, Michael Cera. I agree that he’s not really much of an actor, and some of his weaknesses are evident here, but I think he was the perfect casting choice for the character: an awkward dude who’s skinny and would look funny Kung Fu fighting Chris Evans. One of the more jolting criticisms I’ve read was from a publication I enjoy quite a bit, ScifiNow. Basically they said that Ramona wasn’t a girl worth fighting for, so they couldn’t relate to motivations of our hero.
That’s absurd. I don’t want to talk any more or ever about Mary Elizabeth Winstead unless I have to again, but needless to say, I was pretty shocked to read that. Easily my favorite piece of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is Winstead’s performance as Ramona Flowers. Not only is she attractive and easy to watch, but she’s a truly wonderful actor who’s breakout role simply hasn’t come along yet. She’s a perfect fit for Ramona Flowers, the brooding, cynical, just-trying-to-get-by chick – and yet you wouldn’t think it based on her filmography up until that point. Edgar Wright saw something in the cheery young actress, and goddamn he was so right.
This is not something I wanted to write and certainly not something I wanted to post on Dreck Fiction; it’s the third in a series of posts about one movie, and a movie that only barely makes sense being covered here on this science-fiction/movies blog. My excuse is pretty lame, that essentially I’ve found the most wonderful and endearing cinematic experience in years in a movie that… kinda sucks? I shake my head at it but I think about it constantly.
People like to think that they have good taste, and pride themselves on it. I was always one of those people. The only reason I think Scott Pilgrim is lowbrow is because of its general reception by fans and non-fans of movies, video-games, and modern media culture. But it’s very important to me, and I feel like I need to mention it as much as possible here because I’ve found hardly anybody else to talk about it with.
I wish I could have written something more conclusive on my feelings about this movie, but it’s difficult – such feelings are more puzzling to me than with any deep science-fiction movie or book, so take this Final Assessment with a grain of salt, like the titles of the fourth and ninth Friday the 13th movies. I’ll get back to you when I’m a better writer…
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…
I don’t give a rat’s ass about retro-gaming. I like Halo, I like Mass Effect. I didn’t grow up playing Mario or Zelda, and the only Final Fantasy I played was three minutes of FFIV. A lot of what happened in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World I only had a minor grasp on in terms of the references that we’d expect from Edgar Wright, but what’s important in a movie like this is that the experience comes through, and these references, while over my young head, certainly made that happen.
Here’s a movie that’s all about creating a visual world, creating a look, moving rather quickly, and being unique. The visual effects were constant, over-the-top, but organic, and perhaps that’s what keeps this from being something like ever other comic book adaptation that’s even been made: its reality is apart from our own, wheras the X-Men are grounded in our drab contemporary world, making everything embarassingly pulpy, despite it trying its damnedest not to be. By being self-aware, Scott Pilgrim feels confident in everything it does, and is technically strong.
When the first ‘evil ex’ flies onto the scene, it doesn’t seem strange because the audience is trained to accept bizarre imagery, even though the previous imagery manifested out of the mundane. The opening moments of the film work to establish the new world over the one we accept as reality – transitioning us into bigger and better set pieces.
This sense of pace hasn’t been seen in a PG-13 action movie in God knows how long, probably since The Rundown from nearly a decade ago. It moves along swiftly, and the forward momentum is helped along by visual playfulness, for example during the fight with Brandon Routh, where he seems to teleport to another place once he’s off frame.
Action directing is more than choreographing and shooting fight sequences (an art that’s lost on many a filmmaker, East or West), a lot of it comes out of the storytelling. Story? Just like in Die Hard, Commando, Crank, Doomsday, Hard Boiled – it’s nothing to write home about. It’s got a good premise, but the real kicker is in the way it’s told. Plot points are hit with precision, and the characters are what drive it forward, amped up on those absurd effects.
Of course, the most noticeable thing about a character, to me anyway, is who it’s being played by. The faces that came up in this movie really shocked me. I was just as shocked and pleased to see Thomas Jane making a small appearance as I was in seeing Southland Tales, and he’s only one of the many cult actors having a laugh in this movie. Aubrey Plaza essentially reprises her role from Parks and Recreation, a show that may not sound any good, but trust me Season 2 or whichever one just ended, was shockingly good. Then we have guys like Brandon Routh and Chris Evans, your typical leading men-types, playing these comic assholes – and it works.
And then we have Kieran Culkin.
After seeing Igby Goes Down, I pretty much wrote the actor off entirely. Every delivery he made in that movie made we want to reach into the screen and punch him, and when Jeff Goldblum of all people finally did it, I cheered inside. That movie was terrible and I was under the impression that he was the worst part. When I saw that he was in this movie, I didn’t even have time to say, “God this guy sucks,” because whatever first came out of his mouth had me dying. He was easily the funniest character: Scott Pilgrim’s gay roommate who always makes the punchline and has a wonderful but subtle relationship with our hero. Very surprising.
Michael Cera, who gets a lot of hate for playing the same character, worked here because he’s a believable dweeb. He’s clumsy and the scene that best encapsulates this is his first attempt to pick up Ramona Flowers. He tries to tell some story about the origin of Pac-Man that he related earlier, and he stumbles and shares an incredibly awkward laugh with himself before stalking off and saying, “Do you mind if I never talk to you again?”
There were moments in this movie that I laughed out loud at, and since I typically try to skip watching comedy movies, making rare but important exceptions (Black Dynamite), it was refreshing. My general philosophy is ‘why spend 90 minutes watching something designed to make you laugh if you can just research Nicolas Cage Losing his Shit and get multitudinous more entertainment value in a fraction of the time and cost?’ Yeah, Step Brothers might be funny, but it wasn’t seemingly custom tailored to make me laugh like some videos you can find online are. They’re bound to be there because there’s so many, whereas there’s only a few comedy movies, and aren’t they all kind of the same?
Invariably, the two characters will have some sort of bromantic break up and there’ll be a classic walking montage right before they team up for the end of the movie. Pineapple Express was a surprisingly funny movie until this moment, and I was just too distracted by how formulaic it all became.
Unless you do find yourself watching a comedy like Black Dynamite or It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, or anything directed by Edgar Wright, there’s a good chance that the movie wasn’t a labor of love. Comedy is the biggest cash-grabbing genre I’ve observed (sci-fi is sometimes balanced by a Children of Men every five years), going for the leading men like Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller (though they are kinda… 2004), and playing it safe.
Is it just to dismiss an entire genre like that, when this site is devoted wholly (mostly) to the legitimization of one? Of course not, but too many comedy movies seem to be coming out just because damn it, we need another comedy movie. That’s why we’re going to start seeing comedy franchises like The Hangover, and pretty soon we’ll see comedy franchise reboots. You know how Hollywood is. It’s been years since I’ve been excited to see a comedy movie that was released wide in the theatres, and historically I’ve enjoyed trash like Zoolander and Anchorman, but it’s not high entertainment like Scott Pilgrim. It doesn’t fire on all cylinders, and those movies don’t have to be such extravaganzas, but at least have a fucking R-rating, for Christ’s sake.
This Unrated-Cut for the DVD nonsense is old. To be fair, it works equally poorly for horror and action like Terminator Salvation. What the hell was that? Or how about The Chronicles of Riddick? How do you make a terrible movie terribler? There’s your answer.
Well, as long as I’m keeping this informal and unorganized tone and style, I’m excited to see Super 8 this weekend. Anybody else?
One more note about Scott Pilgrim – Mary Elizabeth Winstead is definitely the actress to look out for. She’s great in every single last role I’ve seen her in (Death Proof, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), she’s super attractive, and wouldn’t you know it she’s got a great singing voice. Let’s hope The Thing prequel doesn’t suck, but I don’t think anybody was kidding themselves (except for me).