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I don’t have too much to say about this episode of Awake, particularly because I managed to see it live, and haven’t had the time to write about it since. In this episode, a new case opens and we get tension between his newly promoted partner in one universe, and more focus on his son in the other. I feel like the structure they’re beginning to get is that mix of episodic and series arc — the stand alone complex, as the Ghost in the Shell series had dubbed it, where ‘stand alone’ episodes are these cases, and the ‘complex’ episodes are the narrative reason we come back every week. In Awake, they’re both in the same episode, so we get Britten investigating between two worlds, dealing with skepticism at every turn, and learning how to cope with his family, an ongoing process.

The latter area is also an exploration of the world, which got a little bigger with the introduction of the chief character, who knows about Britten’s issue, and whose existence implies a greater mystery. Awake is the kind of show that may disappoint with its reveal, much like Lost, but I’m hoping that unlike that show, the guys behind Awake know how the series ends. In fact, I don’t know how one could start airing a show without having mapped out the story beforehand, but that’s the medium. There’s a business end of television that stands in the way a lot of the time.

I didn’t get a good read on this episode. I enjoyed it, but it felt like a continuation of the pilot in less than a good way. The jumpy style remains, which makes it feel hip, but I wonder how this show would’ve held up were I to watch it as I do all other shows, three at a time and on DVD. Luckily now I won’t have to wait long for the next episode, and hopefully I’ll have this review up sooner.

I also wanted to talk about the NBC show I sat through right before this, called Up All Night, which when paired with a show called Awake, makes me think that they’re sending me a subliminal message to stay up for the NBC late night news. So Up All Night, with Christina Applegate and Will Arnett, is a sitcom without a laugh track, so that’s one point in its favor. I don’t know what the deal is with these new shows like The Big Bang Theory and Whitney that have laugh tracks, but whatever. Aside from Will Arnett and the occasional appearance by Jason Lee, of Kevin Smith and My Name is Earl fame, that’s the only point in its favor.

This episode in particular was dreadful, talking about both feminism in the work place, and homosexuality. While the feminism part was embarassing, it’s the homosexuality part that really didn’t jibe with me. To their credit, they didn’t telegraph that they wanted to make a social statement, unlike other shows like The Simpsons, which in its 2007ish era seemed to rip topics from the local paper and say, “This week we’re gonna talk about evolution vs. creationism in schools… Go…” However, it isn’t any less flawed.

Their conceit is simple: gay people are hip. We know this, they’re so trendy because that’s just how gay people are. Setting aside that that’s in itself a dangerous stereotype (because all stereotypes by nature are dangerous), the biggest crime they perpetrate here is skipping point B in an A to C road to ‘how America sees gay people.’ Right now, we don’t see them very well. Especially in lesser TV shows, gay people have been depicted as either flamboyant and sassy males, or butchy or supermodel fantasy females. In this show, they aren’t being depicted at all, due to writing in a constrained, 22-minute format, but we’re being literall told that they’re cool.

You can’t tell us that these gay people are cool, and that gay people are now cool. That’s not gonna work on anyone. Good intentions, but you’re doing it wrong. It’s very nearly condescending, in fact — thinking that by saying “Man those gay people are cool,” I’m gonna start thinking it without thinking about anything, or letting my own personal feelings influence me. This is especially egregious for me after having started The Wire, a nearly decade old TV show whose character Omar, played by Michael Kenneth Williams, was one of its claim to fames.

Omar is a ‘stick-up boy,’ so he goes around robbing drugdealers, and he gets wrapped up in The Wire’s story by hitting the stash of the show’s main criminal group, the Barksdale organization. He carries around a shotgun and has a big old scar running down his face (Williams’s scar, in actuality), and is pretty much the most badass character on the show. Barack Obama even said so. As we discover midway in season one, Omar is gay. There you have it. McNulty didn’t say, “Man, Omar is such a badass. He makes me really think about gay people, how they aren’t just flamboyant and sassy.” He shows, doesn’t tell. His sexuality isn’t even a huge element of the show. He gets called a faggot or made fun of every now and then, but note that it’s always in a courtroom or when he’s not around.

When he is around, people start running and shouting “Omar’s coming, yo!” I’m not saying that Will Arnett needs to carry around a shotgun for Up All Night to be a smarter show, but it needs to go in one direction or the other: commit to saying something real and do it right, or do nothing and focus on the comedy you’re attempting. I don’t 100% hate you, as you don’t have a laugh track telling me when to laugh, but I do 98% hate you, as you do this poorly conceived grab at a social statement that tells me what to think. I might agree with you (not that all gay people are hip, but that they aren’t all America-hating weasels), but a lot of people don’t, and you might be doing damage.

The next episode of Awake airs at 10:00 PM Eastern, March 15…
Up All Night right before then

Return to the Awake Episode Guide



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…


Before I talk about the number 1 on this list, which I’m not sure I even want to talk about, I figured to take a quick stop at the Worst Things of the Year, things that you must avoid. In no particular order, because I just cannot decide… (I left one thing off this list because it happens to be one of my friend’s favorite movies, and I’d feel bad trashing on it… let’s say it’s a particular Tony Scott movie with a particular actress from a particular pirate movie…)

The Takashi Miike Catalogue

Well I still have yet to finish Sukiyaki Western Django, and when I do expect to see a review; I’m torn so far. I have however seen — let’s see… two halves, one third, and one whole of his movies. None were good. He had probably the weakest segment on Three… Extremes, and everything else — 13 Assassins, Ichi the Killer, and Shinjuku Triad Society, were all terrible.

There’s no filmmaker I’ve wanted to like more than Miike but simply could not — he turns me in the opposite direction every time. I look at his filmography and see titles and recognize a few of them, but they all seem to be about ultraviolent guys busting each others’ brains out. Oh right, extreme Asian cinema — I love that stuff. Chan Wook Park n shit? No.

Park may have had some violence against women in… every movie so far, I suppose, but never rape. I don’t know rape is really where I draw the line on cinema violence. Irreversible sucks (but for more reasons than that). Cinema violence for me is very important. It’s escapism if it’s gratuitous, and it can be artful if it serves a purpose. People getting shot in Paul Verhoeven movies, people getting bludgeoned in Park movies, people getting mutilated in The Thing, which I just talked about here. I love it all, but when I have to watch for even one minute a girl screaming and being chased around by some dude — even a villain — I freaking hate that shit.

It’s not fun, and is that not what the exploitation mentality is all about? I suppose I’ve never really watched any women-in-prison movies or anything like that, but even those are supposed to be arousing. Entertainment, by some degree. This is just stupid.

So while the violence is good, the other shit is always bad.

It sucks because Sukiyaki Western Django tells me definitively, and for many reasons, that Miike is the Asian Tarantino. Not only because Tarantino’s making a Django movie, or because he’s in this movie, but Sukiyaki is totally grindhouse post-modern. I’ll talk about that later, but in premise it’s a pretty good idea.

The Office: Season 8

Before we begin, let’s do a quick recap of the fall of this TV show…
Season 5: The last time The Office was genuinely good. Once Idris Elba leaves and the Michael Scott Paper Company arc is over (which seemed troubling at the time), stop watching the show.
Season 6: Super over-the-top, some funny moments. Kind of uncomfortable to watch.
Season 7: Very worrisome. No laughs, any episode. Embarassing to watch.

For a time The Office was one of my favorite shows. But they just kept making bad decisions, and the characters got really, really terrible. I never realized but Jim was an incredibly interesting character, because his sense of superiority that the sitcom straight man usually carries (acknowledged by Lindsay on Arrested Development), must be very well balanced. Jim was always kind of an asshole, but nowadays, when that assholicism isn’t balanced by wit or realism or sympathy, he’s just a plan dick.

Dwight is annoying. He’s no longer the naïve ass-kisser — he’s an aggressive weirdo. Pam is one-dimensional, she only talks about the baby, which is… less than exciting. Robert California adds nothing, Gabe is still here for some reason. Andy is the boss and he isn’t what he used to be, Erin is strange, and their relationship is the least compelling of the five or so that’ve been on this show.

The supporting characters have become caricatures of their past selves. They jockey for the camera and act out — shout, dance — one could never possibly mistake this office for a workplace. Old Office worked so well because the comedy was not only well written, but organic. The writers applied comedy to the workplace environment, and the writers now seem to do the opposite, force the workplace into your typical bad sitcom.

The decline has been steady. Each season has gotten worse, and though there are a few glimmers of hope, like the John Krasinski-directed episode which wasn’t totally terrible, and Craig Robinson and the new warehouse. But I’m rarely optimistic. Once a show goes south, it rarely gets back.

Honorable Mentions (For Good Stuff)

Well I totally forgot about Letters from Iwo Jima, so there you have it. Also good was Hobo with a Shotgun, which you should definitely check out. Better than Machete, maybe a little less awesome than Grindhouse.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

The Terminator movies had been about one thing: a robot assassin securing the future. It’s a novel idea that’s like many of the best in science-fiction – simple. So brilliantly simple in fact, that our messiah JC would come under fire for plagiarism. Yes, that is just as idiotic as the accusations of the very same thing he dealt with during the marketing for Avatar.

Unfortunately, the simplicity of the plot works well for just one movie, and would take a creative genius to repeat for a sequel. James Cameron has always had passion fuel his every project, whether that be the feature-length adaptation of a short story he wrote when he was sixteen or the various trips he took to the bottom of the ocean. When executives offered him Terminator 2, he wasn’t going to waste the next two years of his life during its production – he was going to own it. Very clearly, he did: not only is it a great film in its own right, it pushed the boundaries of special-effects technology, an act that would inspire him and Stan Winston to push ahead and open their very own effects house in 1993.

Pushing the envelope has always been Cameron’s thing, as seen most obviously with the most ambitious movie ever just two years ago. Jonathan Mostow’s movie on the other hand was a product of pure ‘corporate soulless filmmaking,’ as I feel I’ve heard it described before. They wanted to make a sequel to a franchise, not realizing how very little the franchise could accomplish as a franchise. It was so small, so contained. The first two Terminator movies really would feel like one movie split down the middle (and at one point they pretty much were) if they didn’t look so different, and weren’t so self-contained in themselves.

It’s not even that problematic that Mostow’s picture was born out of a money-hunger, because that’s forgivable and the Terminator series wasn’t going anywhere anyway. Couldn’t hurt it, on some level. The problem extends to the first two movies as not sequel-friendly. Yes, Terminator 2 remains one of the best sequels, and at the time was one of the most profitable sequels, despite its for-the-time massive budget (doubled for Salvation), but that doesn’t mean Terminator 3 has to be a thing.

Regardless, it clearly was, and in 2003 we were treated to a fun, light-weight, action-heavy, comical, and really stupid science-fiction spectacle called Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, which was created by several Terminator regulars – Arnold Schwarzenegger, Stan Winston, to name a few – but sans the key mind, James Cameron.

Cameron’s ideal Terminator 3 was a movie that doesn’t exist, which makes more sense on a narrative level for the series. Alternatively, it’s T2 3D: Battle Across Time, which is a theme-park ride and early 3D experiment for the director. Not much of a movie, but more of a sequel to T2 than T3 could ever be.

Mostow is, as movie-critic John Scalzi put it, competent but not all that interesting. He’s by this time made two cyberpunk movies that fall under that label – Rise of the Machines and Surrogates, the latter of which was partly filmed near my hometown. With Terminator 3, he tried to do what James Cameron did with Aliens – follow an incredible act. Like James Cameron, he also took quite the departure from the original works, and played up his greatest asset – Arnold Schwarzenegger – for the laughs this time around.

The Terminator is one of the only dramatic roles Schwarzenegger has ever had, and it’s his best without question. The other roles he’s had – John Matrix, Quaid/Hauser, Dutch – have been sometimes self-aware action heroes, echoing the iconic line about being back. The T-800 was the opportunity for the star to be serious, not that jokes weren’t to be had in the first two movies.

I wouldn’t be harping on it too much if the character in Terminator 3 wasn’t so damn stupid. The appropriately intense scene early in Terminator 2 at the biker bar is attempted again in the third outing, but with a much different tone. It’s the same purpose as we’ve come to expect – he needs clothes, NOW – so we expect Bill Paxton to get his stomach punched in or a guy thrown on a super hot stovetop. Instead, a male stripper gets his hand crunched after some ‘hilarious’ sassiness.

That example is telling of the rest of the movie relative to the original movies. It’s a comedy, and it came out of left field. There are good moments, like when the T-800 takes a bullet to the tooth, or when the machines rise, but these are surrounded by some of the most maddening sequences ever committed to film.

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…

I really like this shot

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 wowyeah, 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).


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