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Saturday, August 14, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW - Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

If cinematic originality is suffering, like so many internet trolling experts say, then my reply would be that it’s not always how original the story is, but how you tell it. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is an example of that reply biting me in the ass. The age-old story of a warrior battling for his true love is retold as a video game/comic book hybrid. I was originally interested in this idea and the prospect of another comedy by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz). I was even willing to set aside my hatred for Michael Cera and Beck Hanson to enjoy this film. But try as I might I just couldn’t embrace Scott Pilgrim.

When Scott Pilgrim cheats on his current girlfriend for the mysterious Ramona, karma catches up with him in the form of her seven evil exes. From there he goes through each ex, fighting for Ramona while trying to maintain a relationship with his band and roommate.

As if it were hard to choose, the best part about Scott Pilgrim is the nerd driven battles. Piled with video game nods ranging from Guitar Hero to Street Fighter, these fight scenes aren’t only creative acid trips, but hard hitting action sequences too. When Pilgrim smashed his fist in to the first “evil ex” I was really impressed with the way the visuals made me feel the impact. It makes me wonder if the wire-fu from the Matrix Trilogy is going to stand the test of time. Oh, yeah, and they’re pretty damn funny too. The fight with a vegan Brandon Routh peeks when Thomas Jane and Cliff Collins Jr. make a cameo as the “Vegan Academy” security. Brillant.

But beyond the ball breaking action scenes lies Michael Cera who was terribly miscast as Scott Pilgrim, a character far too confident to carry Cera’s trademark inelegance. (Or as I like to call, dumbassery.) Not that the writing is particularly excellent anyway. It tries to be quick and witty, but it’s handicapped by painful moments of awkward humor that made me shrivel up in my chair and wish I was watching any other movie. Why is it that Cera is a magnet for these types of moments? Is it in his contract to implement the clumsiest, eyeball puncturing moments in every movie he pollutes?

Oh, but Cera isn’t the only one to blame. There are plenty of poor actors in this movie and if it weren’t for the quick editing none of the lines would be saved. But should they be saved? It’s never a good thing when I’m halfway through a film and want to take an axe to the run time. What purpose did Pilgrim’s first meeting with the lesbian ex serve? It actually ruins the fact Ramona dated a girl. (Spoiler) Then there’s the long exposition between her and Scott. Why? This is a movie with a guy fighting a league of evil exes not My Fair Lady. Oh, right! I nearly forgot. What would we do without those important shots of Cera embarrassing himself? How would the world turn?

If you feel the need to see Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, I’ll grant you can do a lot worse this summer. But it’s not much of an improvement either. It’s an overly long venture in high-octane special effects mixed with misfired humor and the occasional L.O.L. I can understand the need to do something different; to do something fun and to try something new. I can even appreciate the effort. But when the result is as alienating as this film what did it accomplish? Mr. Wright, you’re too good for this. P.S. Dear Beck, stop. Just stop it.

** out of ****

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW - Toy Story 3

Ah, Pixar. Once again I write a review about a film that was loved before it was released. Such is the case with most Pixar films. I suppose I was one of the few not totally enthralled with Ratatouille. And I don’t think the internet has enough bandwidth to relay my scathing hatred for Cars. So what of the final episode in the Toy Story trilogy? Should I praise it because it’s another Pixar home run? Should I hail it because it’s the best ending to a trilogy I’ve ever seen? Or should I just give it a thumbs up for being a solid movie? I contemplate this with such cynicism only because of my misplaced belligerence toward Pixar’s perfectionism. I don’t think Toy Story 3 is Pixar’s best film, or even the best Toy Story; but if there’s a textbook example of it’s astonishing (see: sickening) mastery over cinema—Well, here it is.

Toy Story’s finale sends Buzz and Woody on a quest to find a new home as Andy gears up for college. Though parting ways is hard on many different levels. The toys find a replacement daycare “paradise” that turns out to be hell on Earth. Meanwhile, Woody partakes in his favorite pastime (getting lost) and plans to rescue the others.

I read one film theory that claimed this movie was actually a retelling of the Holocaust. Whether that’s true is up for debate, but it’s certainly an interesting look at the story and gives it a little more dramatic weight. But if you wish to pay attention to the film’s political construct or not, rest assured Toy Story 3 has a heavy focus on the emotional aspect of its break-neck adventure. Almost immediately the film’s heartstring-plucker gets to work when we see a grown Andy and his dwindled collection of toys eager to be played with. While the Andy's coming-of-age subplot is certainly an important aspect of the story, most of the film is about moving on-- Times of change where one must let go and embrace the future. So which is more gut wrenching? Coming-of-age? Or moving forward? I suppose it doesn’t really matter since you’ll have to contend with both ideas at the movie's tear-jerking conclusion.

Not that it's perfect. I felt like the villain was too close to the previous film’s antagonist, what with his nice-guy/troubled past persona that turns out to be a fa├žade. Then there’s the fact that the toys are fretting over Andy getting rid of them. Toy Story 2 established that they knew this day would come and they act as if they’ve forgotten about that. Perhaps my cynicism is kicking in again. Maybe the point I’m missing is that accepting fate doesn’t make the process any easier. Still, while the situational focus on the toys’ relationship with Andy is intriguing, I miss the franchise-defining camaraderie between Woody and Buzz. (Whom I felt was nearly wasted.)

Yet if the Toy Story series has shown me anything, it’s that they know how to end a movie in the most poignant way possible. After Pixar’s most armrest clenching showdown of their twenty-five year existence comes another high in emotional endings. I use the word “high” only realizing that if Toy Story 3 were a drug everyone would be on it and under Pixar’s control. Maybe we already are considering the immediate love for this film. Frankly, I can’t say it doesn’t deserve it. After all, how many beloved series end this well? Any takers?

***½ out of ****