Tag Archives: 2011-01-01

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

I didn’t see Scott Pilgrim vs. The World in the cinema, because at the time there were some other movies that I felt would be better on the big screen.  Scott Pilgrim looked, from the trailers, like it would do okay on the smaller screen.  I was wrong.  This is why.

Scott Pilgrim is visually the most memorable and exciting movie I’ve seen since The Matrix.  Sure, Avatar was pretty to look at and the CGI was a step beyond anything we’ve ever seen.  Yes, 300 was a revelation in terms of colour and style.  I agree that Sin City brought us comic book visualisations like we’d never really seen.  But Scott Pilgrim vs. The World presented a mixture of real life, comic book and computer games in a single visual package that blew me away.

The clear craftsmanship that went into every single shot, the attention to detail, the mixture of sound effects, on-screen visuals and cinematography working together in a way I’ve just not seen before.  If Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was an ice-cream flavour, it would be Strawberry Mint Choc-chip with Raspberry Ripple and Cookies.  And it would work.

Stunning visuals alone don’t make a good movie, and therefore it’s with some relief that we discover Scott Pilgrim has a heart, a plot, an excellent sound track and some very funny and touching moments.

Based on a graphic novel, the reasonably simple story plays out thus.  Scott (Michael Cera) plays in a band, hangs out in the arcade, and finally meets the girl of his dreams.  But early in their relationship he discovers he must battle and defeat her seven evil exes in order to date her.  The brilliance comes from the mixture of the real and the unreal.  The fights are done very much in the style of computer games, the movie is strewn with on-screen flashes of comic book style text and computer game style popups.  They never get in the way – they simply enhance the sense of involvement.

The girl of Scott’s dreams is the enigmatic Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).  The character is both engaging and interesting.  The supporting cast around them is also excellent, the rest of the band in which Scott plays, and a small circle of friends and past-partners.  Alison Pill (as Kim Pine) steals every scene she’s in though, she is superb and delivers some of the funniest moments in the whole movie.

As we and Scott work our way through the various evil exes we learn more about all the characters, and in parallel we watch the band (Sex Bob-omb) rise in status.  The interplay between the characters is really the soul of the story and I’ve intentionally not mentioned a lot of that.  While the battle against the evil exes is the part the trailers focus on, the real story is the continuing personal development of everyone involved.  That’s where the heart of this story lies.  Although not constantly laugh out loud the movie has some excellent comic moments.  But again, it is the quality of the shots, the care with which each frame has been prepared and the beautiful cinematography that give that soul and comedy something to stand on.

The finale is both brilliant and satisfying and the final outcome was just what I hoped for.

Not everyone will like this movie.  It speaks in a language that may put some people off (some gaming culture and comic book references), although it’s more accessible I think than Watchmen.  I get that, it’s fine.  But a world with only one flavour of jam would be a terrible place (even if it was Strawberry).  And likewise, a world in which we only see huge action movies do well in the box office, or even get funding, would be a sad place.  I should have gone and supported Scott Pilgrim at the cinema.  Not just because it would have been an incredible movie going experience, not just because it’s probably the most enjoyable movie I’ve seen for a very long time, but because it deserved to get better box office numbers to show that people do want this kind of stuff.

And we do.  The DVD / Blu-ray sales will be excellent I’m sure.  But it should have gotten better box office takings.  I already apologised to Edgar Wright for my part in that.  You can do your bit.  Buy this movie, watch it, love it, and next time, go and support movies like it in the cinema.

Jonah Hex

Jonah Hex is a very short movie.  I can’t help but wonder where the rest of it went.  The film is carried by Josh Brolin, his onscreen presence propping up an otherwise ordinary story.

Jonah watched his family murdered and vowed revenge on the man who did it, only to find out he died in a fire.  He goes on a bounty hunting rampage, kept alive throughout many gun fights by his desire for revenge and the skills of the local native Americans.

Suddenly the old enemy is back with some overly complicated plan involving a bizarre weapon.  The plan involves somehow crushing the newly formed Union of States.  The president, somehow aware of Hex’s existence has him drafted in to hunt and kill his old enemy.

There’s a beautiful woman involved as well (depending on your tastes) played by Megan Fox and supported, literally, by her corset.  Her role is under-used and reasonably pointless and I wonder if the missing bits of the movie fleshed out (see what I did there?) her role in more detail?

Anyway, there is gun slinging and one liners and fights and bad guys and dark good guys.  It ticks the boxes, no more, and delivers a short but meaningless 88 minutes of nonsense.  Not bad, not good, just present.

Salt (Directors Cut)

I can’t think of many major spy action movies in the last 20 or 30 years which had women in the lead roles.  I can think of three if we count movies which include women as assassins who may or may not work for the government.  La Femme Nikita, Mr & Mrs Smith and Salt.

The last two both star Angelina Jolie.  I’m sure you folks can think of a few more (considering how narrow my movie experience is).  But it’s still pretty telling.  It’s trivial to reel off loads of spy action/thrillers starring men, and it’s no surprise that this is the case.

Salt was originally written for a male star (Edwin Salt was the character), but after negotiations didn’t work out, they turned to Angelina and re-wrote the lead as Evelyn Salt.  Personally, I love Angelina’s acting and that colours my perception of any movie she’s in.  This is an action movie first and foremost, lovingly employing many of the tropes we expect from the spy movie genre.  The role is no less physical than it would have been if the character had remained male, I suspect, and for me, Evelyn’s actions were more believable than perhaps a male characters would have been.  I expect, of course, that the bits which make a lot of sense for a female role were added after Jolie was cast, but still, it works well.

The plot is reasonably simple (I’ve seen some reviews saying how it was horribly complex, but not so for me).  Early in the movie, Evelyn Salt is accused of being a double-agent, and the movie centres around her subsequent actions and peeling back the onion-layers of her life so we can find out the truth.  Whether she is or not isn’t really that critical, it’s how she behaves and what she believes she has to do as a result that matters.

In this respect, it’s similar in story to the first Mission Impossible movie, but then, when you’re writing about spies you only have so many options.

Jolie is excellent in the lead role, supporting actors are good enough although there aren’t many other roles.  While I liked both Liev Schreiber (her CIA boss) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (CIA counter-intelligence), if I have one complaint about the movie it’s that they weren’t strong enough and could have done with more screen time.

The pace is excellent and non-stop once the initial bomb is dropped, and although I was able to work out pretty early on what was really going on, it didn’t spoil the actual film, and I did start doubting myself before the big reveal.

I cared about Jolie’s character and I cared what happened to her.  I wanted her to succeed whatever side she turned out to be working for, and she sold the emotional elements of the role very well.  The fights were choppy and I felt she was underused in some sections when she demonstrated in Wanted and Mr & Mrs Smith she’s more than capable of pulling off the physical stuff.  But that’s a minor gripe in what otherwise was an enjoyable and entertaining spy action movie.

It’s not going to turn into a classic, but it was classy, well groomed, well paced and well received in this house.