Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

What’s Good: Hey, they made a Scott Pilgrim movie! And it didn’t totally suck! And I’m happy!  
What’s Not: A curious lack of chemistry between almost every character in the movie, especially the two leads. Not all the jokes work. A lot of stuff is crammed in and the story sometimes hurries along awkwardly.

It’s funny that the movie version of “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” tries to be more of a comic book than the actual comic book which was modest and minimalist in comparison. In the movie every punch is swung with a “woosh” and lands with a “boom,” every fall lands with a “thudddd,” every bass guitar chord resonates with a deep and profound “dddddd” and every boyfriend boss defeat yields a bounty of coins and flashing one ups. That this is director Joe Wright’s first comic book movie is a surprise, but not really considering his superlative “Shaun of the Dead” and even better “Hot Fuzz” felt like high energy comic books come to life. This movie is not as good as those two but, lets face it few, modern comedies are. The good news is that “Scott Pilgrim” is it’s just as enjoyable to watch and soak in from a manic visual standpoint. The film, about a loser in love, tries very hard to push the already outlandish premise of a boy fighting a girl’s seven evil exes to earn her love. And while a degree of wacky forcefulness is almost mandatory, many jokes, puns and visual gags misfire harder than one of Scott’s dates. That is not to say that even the lame jokes such as the rhyming of “bi-curious” with “bi-FURIOUS!!!” are likable even when missing the target by about a mile. A slightly less acceptable miscalculation is that the chemistry just isn’t anywhere to be found between the Super Mario power star crossed lovers Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) and Ramona Flowers played by the fittingly anime eyed Mary Elizabeth Winstead, a girl I too have had an insane crush on for years and if you don’t believe me just ask my (non) evil exes and they will tell you many sad stories of my rather odd obsession with this not very well known actress. Ahhhhhh, uh, where was I… flaws, yes, forget them, they don’t really matter. Despite its dark color pallet “Pilgrim” is a vibrant love story/adventure that incorporates everything I love about almost everything other than movies including but not limited to music, comic books, video games and kicking the shit out of Canadian hipsters.

Earlier in the day I was lamenting the fact that more people were interested in the douchey, straight-to-DVD looking “Expendables” and self indulgent love fest “Eat, Prey, Poop.” After watching “Scott Pilgrim” I no longer tried to argue the point that more people should be into “Pilgrim.” It’s one of the most inside and esoteric video game homages ever put to film. Seriously, “Scott Pilgrim” is more of video game than the “Scott Pilgrim” video game, which is awesome by the way! I was shocked at how much the aesthetics of old school games informed this film right down to the pixelated Universal logo rocking an 8bit MIDI version of the Universal jingle. This influence is in the comic series but I was delighted to the degree at which the movie drapes itself in a feverishly kinetic embrace of all things video games. When Scott fights Ramona’s league of angry exes he does so in a way that can best be described as a Nintendoized version of “Kill Bill” meets “Kung Fu Hustle.” Anything is possible, including Scott pulling a fiery sword of love out of his heart. People who don’t know the Zelda save menu music –not the Zelda theme, mind you, because that would be too easy– might not get the full effect… so, yeah, “Eat, Prey Love” will make more money. A lot more! Fine. “Pilgrim” is a niche movie all the way and based on the audience’s (non) reaction to it, it is destined to live on as a cult movie and not much else.

Michael Cera’s shtick is getting old but, damn, the dude sure does look the part. Yet he lacks the chemistry that I mentioned as well as a certain wild and playful sense of manic-depressiveness that the original character possesses. Cera’s standoffish persona and cute/awkward verbal meanderings (not really an acting stretch for him) overcomes a lot and it’s cool to watch the actor add something, ANYTHING, new to his repertoire which is kicking ass. Seeing as how this is the last time we’ll ever get to see Cera do that, get it while you can. As a fan of the six volume comic series I always wondered who could play Scott and how his fights would be staged. Even if it’s not perfect it feels good to know those answers and I had a lot of fun watching this character (and movie) come to life. On the topic of fun: director Edgar Wright is still the most enjoyable comedy directors around. Maybe of all time. As with “Hot Fuzz” Edgar Wright does not just tell the story of a funny movie, he shows you one by incorporating all the cinematic tools at his disposal (while inventing some new ones) to serve the material. Particularly (and predictability) impressive is the rapid fire editing bridges between (and during, and after… and in the middle of) scenes and whiplash inducing cinematography that allows for anything to happen at anytime such as Scott being lifted and tossed through a wall by Superman’s (Brandon Routh) mental vegan powers (vegans can do, or at least think they can do anything, y’know) or tossed across the screen into a building by Capt. America (Chris Evans). This is the closest thing to a fully realized comic book movie since “Hulk,” except about 100x better and with 100% less daddy issues and mutant poodles. Oh, and Wright also adapted the script and did a decent if not entirely smooth job of combining everything that’s lovable and charming about the comic into the power-up film version. The end result is enormously entertaining but also kind of messy. But this really wouldn’t be a Scott Pilgrim story if messy didn’t factor into things. 
Grade: B+

Get Low

What’s Good: Duvall’s beard. 
What’s Not: The rest of the movie.

“Get Low” opens with a stunning visual. A house burns bright in the middle of a dark and dusty landscape. Suddenly, from far away, a figure jumps out of a window on fire and runs past the camera. My god, I though, this could be another “There Will Be Blood.” That was the last time that thought ran through my head. It’s not that “Get Low” is bad, it’s just that it’s so content with being cute and coy and reverent that it ends up being little else. The “tall tale” set in an unspecific but long time ago past stars a scruffy Robert Duvall in a sort of book end version of the “benevolent falcon” Boo Radley he played so many years ago in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The film, not quite a western and not quite a period movie, is about this “crazy old man” and his quest to throw a living funeral for all the people who hate him. The film, by the way, thinks this little plot detail is a lot more clever than it actually is and to be honest it is really not enough to sustain a feature length film. Maybe it would have worked as a short. I don’t know and I don’t really care. For mysterious reasons that will, of course, be revealed in very calculated increments, this bearded old ghost has been a shut-in for nearly 40 years, toiling away in his log cabin with only a donkey to talk to. By the film’s end I would have killed to switch places with him or, hell, even his donkey.

There is an abundance of “mystery” surrounding this figure and his dark, dark past that the film lays on very thick and with very little finesse. I hate the small town movie genera as a rule (and am rarely proven wrong) and this film indulges in almost every tired rural cliche in the book including a fight with a local bully, a old flame rekindled (Sissy Spacek), colorful locals that pop up when the script needs them to, a preacher, an honest young protégé (Lucas Black) that learns many valuable life lessons, a small town radio broadcast and of course a cranky man who is reformed by the wonders of community. The film milks its premise, or maybe just drags it along, but does little to deepen the character’s admittedly intriguing (on the surface) mythology. Instead, “Get Low” opts for exploring the man’s social connections which is the least interesting part of the movie. Now, Duvall is a good actor and this is a decent performance (aside from Duvall’s usual ticks that involve exaggerated emoting where the actor contorts his face while mumbling things like “oooohhhh-hehehe”) but it suffers from the film’s inability to gets its hand dirty with his psychology. Juicy lines like “They keep telling me to ask Jesus for forgiveness, I didn’t do anything to him” keep the film afloat and hint at the gravity that could have been but any glimmer of hope is ultimately dragged under by the corny sentiments of the director (Aaron Schneider) and writers who play it safe every chance they get.

Once Duvall’s character gets it in his head that he wants to “make right, ” which is very early on in its short but seemingly endless running time, the film begins its downward spiral into indie movie mediocrity, complete with bad music and stiff performances. Sure this is a nice and pleasant enough experience with a harmlessly stupid sense of humor and a big ol’ heart but, in a way, it’s also a waste of time. The reason being that the film draws everything out until its big finale where, in typical small town movie fashion, the town gets together for a moment of grand catharsis and transformation. Here, Duvall reveals his BIG SECRET, a contrivance that goes against the character’s personality and central motivation and does nothing to explain why he’s the way he, why the town hates/hated him and why he imprisoned himself in the first place. To say it’s an underwhelming revelation is an understatement–“Get Low” has a non-ending so cavernous that it almost eclipses “Inception!” That I have not yet mentioned Bill Murray as the shifty funeral home director is a testimony to how light weight this “Gothic mystery” is.
Grade: C-