Category: Film

Somewhere

I am one of those people: I loved Marie Antoinette. I’ve seen it three times and have taken something new from it each time. A lot of people hated Marie Antoinette. I can’t imagine that they would like Somewhere any more than that.

Somewhere is a movie that might need to incubate inside me for a few days, because its appeal is not immediately apparent. On face value, this is simply an unrelatable movie in which very little to nothing happens. If you scratch beneath the surface, well … you would probably come to the same conclusion.

Tron: Legacy

Tron: Legacy opens with a text crawl, but the words don’t tell us about the secret construction of an ultimate weapon, nor about the retirement of androids: instead, we are told that parts of the movie are presented in 2D because they were shot that way, but that we should keep our glasses on for the entirety regardless.

It’s the most inspiring crawl I’ve seen for a good many years.

JFF14 Opening Night: About Her Brother

Cancer kills more characters in Japanese movies than any other disease excepting that old standby “noble sacrifice through vehicular accident/drowning to save the life of a stupid child”, which is epidemic. Cancer can be omnipresent, it can develop alongside the plot, or it can creep up on you at the end and kill you off in a reconciliatory way.

This is a preamble to saying that the Japanese Film Festival has consistently had strong representation from characters with cancer across the years. Many movies will wear their cancer on their sleeve, while others will spring it on you in ways that can only be construed as ridiculous. About Her Brother presents itself as a “home drama” that the promo material promises will contain the spectre of terminal illness.

With that thought in the back of my mind, I eagerly waited for the titular character to be struck down. Fortunately he’s a fictional character so I’m allowed to think this, but that doesn’t mean I relished his demise.

Cars 2: You Only Drive Twice

Cars is easily my least favourite Pixar film. Lassiter took his own dream and forced it on the children of the world. It was an intensely personal and heartfelt work, but it turned out that, when it comes to motors, Lassiter’s heart is incredibly dull.

Apparently kids still liked it because they like cars and you can buy your own Lightning McQueen, but a marketable movie does not necessarily equal a good movie, as we all learned from the compromises that George Lucas made in Return of the Jedi and has been making ever since.

Cars did very well: certainly well enough to spawn a sequel. The first trailer was just released, and …

… Well, what the hell is this? It’s You Only Live Twice with cars.

If Pixar wanted to make a spy movie, could they not have made a spy movie? The Incredibles expertly combined the not significantly different hallmarks of both superhero and spy genres, and it was good. You could easily make a sequel to The Incredibles if you wanted to make a spy movie without true dramatically damaging the integrity of the property.

Equally, though, I can say this: Cars has nowhere to go but up. A severe genre shakeup might do it some favours, and Michael Caine is generally a welcome addition to anything (for example, he was the only tolerable element of Goldmember), but the elevation of Mater to a major character is a cause for concern.

Cars 2 is lucky: I’m going to see it because I have to. You can’t not see a Pixar movie, and maybe this one will be good against all odds?

Regardless of everything else, Cars 2 is keeping Larry the Cable Guy in work and for that Pixar should be ashamed.

Latest trailer for The Social Network can’t look me in the eye

“I don’t care if it hurts”.

Clearly, this is the case with David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin. How else can you explain the existence of The Social Network, which looks to be the most vacuous movie of 2010 to come from an allegedly respectable writer and director?

Now, I’m no longer convinced of David Fincher’s talent: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was bloated, the best part was Tilda Swinton and Cate Blanchett was frankly wasted.

Worse than that, of course, was the inexplicably lauded Zodiac, a film singularly lacking in tension or interest that placed guilt solely at the foot of a dead guy who can’t defend himself. It was anything but a triumph (and I was forced to see it instead of the far superior Half Nelson).

As for Aaron Sorkin – to be honest, I don’t think I’ve seen anything he’s done except for The American President. I guess that was good. Anyway, these are good names. But how can this be a good movie?

Just look at it.

A girls’ choir sings Radiohead’s “Creep” over shots of Jesse Eisenberg looking evil, people partying and “dramatic scenes of destruction”. Why is a girls’ choir singing a song about a man with crippling self-esteem issues who is fixated on a woman? Because it is a singularly bad idea. This is the only explanation.

I would say, “I don’t care that this movie is about Facebook”, but I guess I do. This trailer shows why this is the case, in that it exposes the culture that allowed Facebook to grow into the behemoth that it became. American popular culture really canonizes “college life” as the best thing ever, the only thing that anyone in America truly lives for.

“College life” of course means “keggers”, because nothing says higher education like conspicuous consumption of alcohol and possibly a bit of marijuana. (The legality of cannabis is literally the only political policy that matters to anyone – everything else is irrelevant).

Do we want a movie that shows this? What looks utterly repellent to me (upper class snoots drinking!) probably looks like the dream to a lot of people. Watching it again, I actually feel a little sick watching the bacchanalian exploits of these overstuffed youth. The tagline we’ve been given is “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies”. Deep.

We have kind of learned in recent times that Mark Zuckerberg, co-creator of Facebook, is kind of a dick. A twenty three year old billionaire is sure to get an inflated sense of self worth. He’s paradoxically quite secretive and Ben Mezrich’s book, which provided most of the “inspiration” for the book, was written more as a series of hyperbolic suppositions than anything approximating truth. Zuckerberg would not speak to him.

Here Jesse Eisenberg (some might say “the poor man’s Michael Cera” – not me, oh no) plays a baby faced Satan. He’s like Shia LaBeouf in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, except not Shia LaBeouf and therefore not an automatic failing grade. Does he look compelling in the role? No. The Social Network is the cinematic definition of “privileged white people”. If white people bore you, they’re probably going to bore you here in ways that you never knew it was possible to be bored.

I think that the problem is likely that Facebook is now part of the furniture. I’m not going to bother criticising it here because people use it in different ways, but of course Zuckerberg has done a wonderful job of compromising the privacy of everyone who doesn’t consider the implications of what they have agreed to. For some people, Facebook is all there is to the internet. “Social Networking” is the currency for the youth of today, and that’s not necessarily bad but it can lead to a myopic view of the online landscape.

My secret hope is that soon enough Facebook becomes as irrelevant as Myspace so that this movie becomes a weird curio, just as Kick-Ass was outdated before it even came out and just as Funny People was a bad idea before Adam Sandler was born.
Still, the movie has been made and there’s nothing we can do about it now. We’ll have to cope with Justin Timberlake (Justin Timberlake!) telling us “A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what is cool? A billion dollars.” which serves only to prove that Sorkin is a master of dialogue and that he absolutely deserves your ticket money.

Eisenberg himself explains why he wants the attention of “the clubs”:

“They’re exclusive. And fun. And they lead to a better life.”

I don’t know what that means, but I want no part of it.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

More than a Pilgrim!

Remember how, a couple of weeks ago, I enjoyed Scott Pilgrim as a comic but had some misgivings? In Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Edgar Wright has taken all of the aspects that I had misgivings about and vomited them onto the screen as a candy-coated exercise in overstimulation.

Yes, meth amphetamine laced cinematic upchuck, liberally applied to a silver screen near you! I know that I’m going to get in trouble for this (realistically I’m not, because no one is going to care what I think), but I really did not enjoy Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

There is too much … Everything. Except, naturally, where there’s not enough of anything. Imagine for a moment that you have to fight seven evil exes. Now imagine that you’re fighting them because you saw a girl with pink hair. That’s the only reason you’re fighting them. You don’t know anything about this girl besides her hair colour.

Thing is, you’re never going to know anything about this girl. It’s not in the script. It was never going to be in the script. What you want is break neck set pieces that get remarkably samey after a while.

Why should you give a good goddamn? It’s your beloved Michael Cera! He’s talking about video games and punching people! You know all about video games! You wish you could quell your simmering rage with the application of fists to flesh! That’s all you need in a film! You are, vicariously, Michael Cera! You’ve got to lose your virginity before graduation or the world will end!

The first, and most fundamental, problem with the movie is in the title: Wright and co writer Michael Bacall have taken the character of Scott Pilgrim and rewritten him into Michael Cera. Scott Pilgrim is supposed to be manic, enthusiastic and a little dumb: a fool who always lands on his feet, and a lovable one at that. That is to say, not Michael Cera.

I’ve always been more of a Michael Cera apologist than most, but this was the point that I realised that he must be stopped. Cera is not making an effort to refine his shtick; with each passing movie a wheel will fall off the Michael Cera wagon until eventually he loses control and is pitched off a cliff into oblivion.

Cera could stand to learn from co-star Jason Schwartzman, who has always been recognizably Schwartzman but with a career diverse enough and movies memorable enough for it not to matter. One goes to a movie because they enjoy Schwartzman’s work, but I can’t imagine anyone ever doing that for Cera’s sake; I’m convinced that a lot of people are seeing Scott Pilgrim vs. the World in spite of, rather than because of, Cera’s involvement.

Normally if I love a movie I think, but never say out loud, “this is why I love movies.” Scott Pilgrim vs. the World actually embodies a lot of what I hate about movies. I love “movie movies”, but this is a “movie movie” that tries very hard to stamp its filmic nature all over you, while simultaneously trying to assert its video game and comic credentials. It succeeds at precisely none of these ventures.

My friend Raymond said that he enjoyed the film because it was “new and novel”, but that’s exactly the problem with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: it really isn’t anything that you haven’t seen done before and done better. Inserting on screen energy bars and pee meters does not make your movie a video game. Putting sound effects on screen and constantly splitting the screen into “panels” does not make a movie a comic book. It didn’t work for Ang Lee in Hulk and it doesn’t work for Wright here.

A big deal is made of the fact that this movie is the ultimate video game experience. After Elton offered the headline “as Interesting as Watching Someone Else Play a Video Game”, which is blatantly untrue: given the right game and the right player, watching someone else play a video game is akin to an artform. Observe me playing Dead Rising or Uncharted and tell me you’re not having a good time and I’ll call you a goddamn liar.

To say that a film is like a video game is normally reserved as “the ultimate insult”, which doesn’t make much sense because video games are good and have their own place in society. Some complain that video games are becoming too cinematic, to which I say “pshaw”.

There is nothing saying there cannot be a perfect fusion of both film and game, but Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is most assuredly not it. There is only one video game conceit that works properly here, and that is the 1-Up. Even that was used better, and more deftly, in the comic. I will also make a concession for the coin outlines in the Chaos Theatre, because they were kind of cool, but by that point in proceedings they were way past second hand.

We have bred a culture that shuns the original and gleefully embraces the derivative and referential: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the embodiment of this sort of laziness. It gets off to a promising start with its application of music from A Link to the Past, but then it overeggs the pudding: potent elements are applied too liberally, and they eventually become bland, intrusive and even tiresome.

You have a Zelda reference. It sends chills down your spine because it appropriates something that you know and love into an exciting new context. It is good. Thing is, a few minutes later, there’s another Zelda reference. And another. You’re used to seeing Zelda applied to Scott Pilgrim at this stage, and consequently the reference has been rendered meaningless. Zelda has not been normalized; rather, you’ve been desensitized to Zelda. This is a tragedy in anyone’s books.

You have an underworked reference to Double Dragon, you have a pretend video game (“Ninja Ninja Revolution”) that implies that Edgar Wright somehow doesn’t know how a video game works (when you win, an arcade game should not ask you for more money if you want to continue – the whole point is that you’ve defeated the game and you only spent 25 cents in the pursuit of that victory), which I am sure is the opposite of his intent. Video games get misrepresented in movies often enough that one would think someone who actually plays them would be adamant about getting them right.

A key element of pop culture nihilism is that the audience “gets” the material and knows that the authors are throwing them a knowing wink. It’s the mutually assured destruction of original thought. That Wright would so clumsily grapple with a basic conceit of the video game form lends yet another layer of disingenuousness to an already deeply dishonest film.

In this sort of work, little things are just as likely to annoy as much as the big things. Why, for instance, do Crash and the Boys get killed off in a throwaway gag when it would be easier to leave them alive simply because it wouldn’t upset anyone (i.e. me)? It’s because Wright has tried to give the story a cleaner through line: he wants Sex Bob-omb to have a goal, to win a battle of the bands and to get a recording contract.

As a result, most of the variety of the comic is lost. Three of the seven battles involve Scott playing music and then punching people, or the other way around.  Sex Bob-omb’s music is supposedly provided by Beck but Beck has done a great job of making his music sound like so much noise. You get to enjoy it for the bass battle! And the twins battle! While you’re witnessing them, you notice that the sounds are totally indistinct. The obnoxiousness is nowhere near the level of Michael Bay, and it’s always easy to see what’s happening, but it’s damn near impossible to care about any of it.

The majority of the fights are massively predictable. Of course you know that Scott is going to win them, but not every battle should run “looks like Scott’s winning! Oh wait, now the evil ex has got him! How will Scott survive?! REVERSAL KO!”

When they’re not predictable, they are stupid. “Demon Hipster Chicks” are as discordant here as they were in the first instance, but their tomfoolery is compounded by Matthew Patel launching into an “Indian dance” for easy laughs based on cultural stereotypes (the best kind of laughs!). Lucas Lee, at least, isn’t too poorly handled except he’s dispatched too quickly. The worst offender is Roxy, who has been so violently mistreated by the film that Mae Whitman should probably have complained. That is not how you defeat a half-ninja, Edgar Wright, and you damn well know it.

Wright has colossally mismanaged the passage of time in the film, with almost no down time between most scenes. When Scott isn’t lamely wooing Ramona, he’s lurching from one evil ex to the next. It really doesn’t feel like Scott has any life outside of the fight, to the point that the only reason he’s shown walking anywhere is so a half-ninja can attack him. It feels like he’s only placed in scenes to trigger plot advancement, which seems considerably less than natural. A movie should never feel like it’s on rails; it should feel like the rest of the world is outside the confines of the narrative, and we simply don’t see it. Scott Pilgrim exists in a bubble. Every character exists solely for his convenience, to boost him. None of them have their own lives outside of Scott’s Precious Little Life. I understand that this is a movie, and it doesn’t have room for everything, but look at it like this: all of these characters are Michael Cera enablers. No one should enable Michael Cera. He is a monster.

Ramona Flowers was never much of a character to begin with. She was always an object for Scott to doggedly pursue. Mary Elizabeth Winstead somehow brings less to the character than the little that was there in the first place (I checked a few panels and saw that in the comic, at least, she had facial expressions and the good grace to be embarrassed by her past). I hate the gimmick of instant love. Scott has no reason to have any interest in Ramona and even less to fight her League of Evil Ex-Boyfriends.

The already poorly explained sway Gideon has over Ramona in the comics is even more lazily treated in the film. A stupid prop is all she gets by way of justification for her actions and somehow everything is forgiven. Jason Schwartzman is a good Gideon and the best parts of the finale are those taken directly from the final volume (which was incomplete at the time of filming), but the whole thing is clumsily handled. The whole film is clumsily handled, so slickly that it’s amazing none of the actors slipped over and face planted in production.

Believe me, every actor except for Cera tries (and Winstead just isn’t given enough to work with to bother trying to make a go of it), and they are mostly successful. Brandon Routh as Todd Ingram has the most thankless task of all with deliberately painfully clumsy dialogue, which is less “funny” than it is “painfully clumsy”. If you’re laughing it’s because you just want the scene to be over; for some reason, this particular spot of dialogue was deemed fit to make it into the trailers.

Similarly, Chris Evans is given such direction that suggests he’s playing less of a person than he is a syncopation machine, but that’s not his fault. He does what he can with his singularly lacking material, and the worst of it is that he isn’t even the most shortchanged character. Of the exes, that’s a tie between Roxy and the Katayanagi Twins.

Why the Katayanagi Twins have their robots replaced with keyboards is entirely beyond me, because people like me (i.e. nerds, your key demo!) are supposed to love robots. O’Malley knew how to escalate drama and stakes, and volume five was the most dramatic volume of Scott Pilgrim at the time of its publication. The Katayanagi Twins are little more than an afterthought, resentfully jammed in by Wright for appearance’s sake, when in reality they should have brought gravity to proceedings. Instead, Cera’s Pilgrim is allowed to float away on a cloud of his own smugness – not a character, but just a jealous Cera like so many other teen protagonists before him (and yes, I know he’s supposed to be 22).

Kieran Culkin brings a tiny ray of sunshine to proceedings with his portrayal of the super gay Wallace Wells, but he brings a different brand of gay to proceedings than his inky counterpart. Wallace manages to provide most of the films more legitimate laughs and it’s good to see that a movie made to appeal to video game nerds featuring men making out without saying “ewww” about it. That’s the best that can be said, because Culkin is also given unfortunate “reaction” shots, which means for parts of the movie he is relegated to the role of the “gag animal in a J-Lo movie”, the most shameful role that any actor can ever be asked to perform.

Anna Kendrick does well in the seemingly expanded role of Stacey Pilgrim, the normally funny Aubrey Plaza is painful in the role of Julie Powers (ahahaha, we’ve CENSORED HER SWEARING AND THE DIALOGUE DRAWS ATTENTION TO THE FACT), and Alison Pill is really rendered fourth tier as Kim Pine.

Ellen Wong probably comes off best as Knives Chau, although some of her material is simply embarrassing (the wafting “love” is not the least of it), and they’ve done strange things to make her augment the existence of Johnny Simmons’ Young Neil (who in some ways is a different character thanks to the changes in plot structure).

Similarly, Brie Larson is perfect as Envy Adams but unfortunately the character itself has been assassinated. You know how at the end of everything characters are supposed to learn vital lessons from those around them? Envy isn’t given a chance. She’s just left hanging, and consequently Scott has even less of a character than he had a right to have – and that’s one thing that’s entirely not Cera’s fault.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is less than a bubblegum film: it loses its flavour shortly after the opening credits sequence, when you realise it’s not going to get any better. There’s just going to be more Zelda music, two separate but identical Cera-excruciating “Scott explains the origins of Pac-Man”, more faux-DDR jokes, and the pounding of lesbians into the ground.

It’s the sort of movie that ambushes you later: you’re sitting around minding your own business and then you’re reminded of, say, the Seinfeld sequence (there’s seriously a Seinfeld sequence) and you cringe. You’re supposed to remember an isolated part of a movie (example: Wright’s own Hot Fuzz – “I don’t wanna be Judge Judy and executor!”) and smile or laugh at the thought of it. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a head-shaking movie characterized by regret at what never should have been.

I suspect that my stance on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is going to be unpopular. I don’t care about the whole hipster thing: everyone hates hipsters so much that I’m not convinced that they actually exist. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World does not embrace hipsters, but rather a demographic. This movie embodies modern popular culture, which is to say that it is a mirror facing another mirror; it is an endless corridor devoid of meaning.

At one point I considered saying that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is basically a cinematic version of Family Guy, but I realised that is something I would never be able to take back. I genuinely respect Edgar Wright and loved his last two films. I want Scott Pilgrim vs. the World to do well not because I liked it – and I think you can tell that I assuredly did not – but because I would like to see more films from him. Shaun of the Dead had a legitimate heart – the shot that Shaun had to take inside the Winchester horrified and saddened me even as it made others laugh awkwardly – and Hot Fuzz was the second best mainstream homosexual romance comedy of the 2000s, after Superbad.

More films are going to be made like this, and worse. If zeitgeisty films like Zombieland can sidestep annoyance (let’s not talk about the Eisenberg Principle), there’s no reason that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World could not have done the same.

In Shaun of the Dead, Wright undeniably helped to pave the way for the zombie and vampire mania of the modern age, but here has bitten off far more than he can chew. Cramming six books into 113 minutes, the first thirty of which are approximately 75% of the first volume, he has left the film with the sound and myself with the fury.

This isn’t simply a case of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World being a bad adaptation of the comic – and it is undeniably that – it’s about Scott Pilgrim vs. the World being a plainly bad movie. Noisy, heartless and empty, it is the perfect symbol of the worst excesses of modern pop culture. If this is what my generation is supposed to worship, I’m going to excuse myself – and I’m not going to go quietly.

Get Him to the Greek

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is one of my favourite comedies. I saw it three times at the cinema because I wanted to expose other people to it. Unlike other films I saw thrice, I never tired of Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

Get Him to the Greek transplants Russell Brand’s Aldous Snow from Forgetting Sarah Marshall and presents a different continuity. Jonah Hill, who featured in Forgetting Sarah Marshall as an hilarious foil for Brand (working largely because Brand almost entirely ignored him), here plays a different character: one not as funny.

The whole movie isn’t as funny, which was always going to be difficult. How do you top a puppet musical about Dracula? Short answer is: you don’t.

The slightly longer answer is that Forgetting Sarah Marshall was not your typical Apatow production, and Get Him to the Greek is … But it lacks that key ingredient that makes so many films in the Apatow Empire click.

Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 is a great argument against objectivity in the cinema. How can we be objective, when everything that we take out of a movie is informed by who we are, and who we are is at least partially informed by what we see in the movies?

Toy Story 3 is an example to me of a perfect movie. It is not a perfect movie for everyone. I don’t care about everyone and what they think of this movie, I care what I think of it. Does that make me a bad critic, even as an amateur? No, that is how the system works. A movie like Toy Story 3 is one that can be received as a personal gift from Pixar to the viewer, as I did. To take it any other way, to view it as “just another movie”, that’s not my style at all.

Toy Story 3, to me, is love. It is the distillation of fifteen years of Pixar into a single wondrous movie. That is more than enough for me. If I didn’t view ratings for movies as arbitrary and silly, I would give it full marks. There is no definitive review, but Toy Story 3 is a marvel in my eyes.

I Am Love

Melodrama: I had completely forgotten about it. Several years ago, Todd Haynes of I’m Not There fame wrote and directed Far From Heaven, a sumptuous visual feast starring Julianne Moore that very deliberately tasted of arsenic. It was a tribute to the time of Douglas Sirk, Rock Hudson, Jane Wyman, intense colour and extreme emotion.

I Am Love is an Italian return to the melodramatic form, but this fact is not so immediately pronounced as Far From Heaven. It differs in several key areas. When I started taking issue with the direction of the narrative, I recalled the conventions of melodrama and suddenly it all slotted into place, culminating in one of the most perfectly realised finales I have ever seen.

Yona Yona Penguin

What did Rintaro do to deserve this? I think that Yona Yona Penguin is a trick that the French played on the Japanese.

“We’ve got an idea about a girl who dresses as a penguin, who gets taken to the land of the Good Fellow Devils to defeat the evil being who rules their land!”

“It would never fly here … Maybe you could get the Japanese to animate it? We can pretend it was their idea!”

Rintaro made Metropolis, which was a great movie. He also made X, which was an incoherent movie. In Yona Yona Penguin he’s made a bland movie, and he’s compounded the issue by making it ugly.

Coco loves penguins. She loves them so much that a goblin thinks that she is the legendary flightless bird, and takes her to his village so that she may defeat the great evil. First, however, they have to deal with the fat kid Zammie who has been terrorising the village.

There’s not a lot to say about Yona Yona Penguin. It features unimaginative CG and ugly character designs. It lacks a lot of the sort of charm that this type of film needs to get off the ground, and amounts to nothing.

The big swelling realisation of the lead’s inner power is kind of offset by the fact that she ends up taking the credit for the work of the gods, and…

…Basically, this is a children’s movie made solely for children with no redeeming features for anyone else. It is not well crafted, nor is it nice to look at. I would not have seen it, but it had Rintaro’s name attached.

The French weren’t tricking the Japanese: this was an elaborate (and expensive) plot against me.