Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Late Night Trailers: 127 Hours

Since Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle's noteriety has shot into the big time.  For his first film post Oscars, he's opted to do 127 Hours, the true story of Aron Ralston, an outdoorsy type who amputated his own arm after being trapped beneath a boulder for the titular amount of time.  Starring James Franco as Ralston, rumor has it the film plays it minimal on the dialogue, with a supposedly silent hour long sequence.  It's rather a risky move for Boyle to take, and yet I can honestly say I'm less than thrilled about it.  Is it personal? Maybe.  I never liked these sorts of survivalist man-versus-nature stories.  I still think Chris McCandless was an idiot.  By the looks of it: Ralston is a fool as well.  Pack some gear, dude.  Pack some gear.

Yes, Really with Wilde.Dash #12: Irreversible (2002)

The usual caveat: Believe it or not, for someone totally obsessed with movies, I do a lot of selective editing, snubbing, and ignoring. That is to say: there are a whole lot of well-known movies I've actually never bothered to watch. I've spent a lot of time hunting down obscurities and not quite as much time seeing the movies you've probably been watching since you were 10 years old (for example: I decided maybe I should watch Saving Private Ryan in Winter 2008). Because of this, in conversation I frequently have this interaction. Me: "I've never actually seen that movie" You: "What? I've seen a movie you haven't?" Me: "Yes" You: "How have you not seen that movie?" Me: "I never wanted to" You: "Really?" Me: "Yes, really." Thus: Yes, Really with Wilde.Dash a near weekly feature in which I fill in my pop culture education, watch all the boring basics, and let you know whether or not I decided they were worth my time. Get it? Got it? Good.

If you need to get a headache really fast, you should start watching Irreversible.  Before you do, however, there are several things you need to know.  Watching Irreversible could be a decision you come to regret in that "you can't unsee it" sort of way.  I'm here to keep you informed so you can either A. avoid it for the rest of your life, or B. watch it either on a relentless quest for jaded cinematic knowledge or against your better judgement.  Maybe both.  The first thing you need to know (and one of the only things you'll learn if you do a quick skim Google search) is rape.  Actually, all caps, achtung: RAPE.  9-solid minutes of the defiling of poor Monica Bellucci in Parisian underpass.  You will see her down on the ground, pinned against her will, bleating the most horrible screams through her attacker's palm.  Gross.  Unless you've seen I Spit on Your Grave, this is probably the worst cinematic rape scene you'll ever see.  Yet, that's not all there is.  The second thing you need to know (if that wasn't enough), is that the movie progresses backwards.  The third thing you need to know: in playing avant garde games while progressing backwards, Irreversible features some of the most nauseating camerawork I have ever encountered.  The fourth point of business?  Though I've been anguishing about what to write on Irreversible, believe me when I tell you you could write a dissertation on its sexual politics.  What follows will be a largely non-analytical discussion of the film at face value. 

Long before the notorious rape scene, Irreversible succeeded in making want to puke.  Pressing play on Irreversible is like drunkenly stumbling onto an amusement park ride that's all G-force.  North of Chicago, at Six Flags Great America, they used to have this ride called the Cajun Cliffhanger.  On the Cliffhanger, you would step into what was essentially a tin can stuck into the ground.  You would stand against the wall, completely unsecured, and the circular room would spin so violently that when the floor dropped out from beneath you, you would be pinned against the wall.  I loved this ride mostly because it was a merit badge.  I could ride it happily while the roller coaster thrill seekers sad faced their way through it.   The point is that the Cliffhanger wasn't really that fun.  Stepping into it blind was a bad idea that could easily end with  you being one of the embarrassed riders whose gravity defying vomit hit someone physically nowhere near you.  Irreversible is like riding the Cajun Cliffhanger.  Repeatedly.  Unawares.  With 4 shots of tequila in your blood stream.
In Irreversible, we're challenged to parse through excessive violence and decrepit action to travel to the depths of human (non) potential.  Gaspar Noe's film is a revenge tale, in essence, though we are given the act of (wrongful) revenge in the opening scenes and work through the threads of plot backwards to a happy beginning.  It has its merits.  Irreversible is a strong film, an unconventional film, and ultimately a fairly moral one (though its morals are buried deep in suffering).  In spite of this, I'll be frank: that first half hour or so was like a never ending bad trip into the sex dungeons of doom.  I've never wanted to shut off a film that badly purely for aesthetic reasons.  For what feels like forever, the camera spins.  It does somersaults simulating the complete frenzy of Vincent Cassel and Albert Dupontel's characters as they desperately scour a hellish looking gay sex club called Rectum for "The Tenia", a pimp they believe was responsible for the rape of Bellucci's girlfriend Alex earlier that same evening.  Post-party pumped full of adrenaline, illegal substances, unadulterated fury, hurt, and hate; the trauma of these men is inflicted (effectively) on the viewer before you can even get a grip on the story.  We bear witness to extended mutilated scenes, catching snippets of flesh and naked bodies as we hear (or read: it's French) bound men beg to be fisted or allude to all sorts sexual acts.   The visuals are scored by an industrial buzzing tone that throbs so heavily and repeatedly that it is actually painful.  I had to press mute a couple times because the sound was drilling into my brain.  As you watch, it feels impossible to get a grip on your surroundings.  I never want to go anywhere that comes at all close to this location.  The scene continues as Cassel and Dupontel, believing they're exacting revenge, take part in the bludgeoning of a man with a fire extinguisher to the face.  Over and over and over and over and over with bits of cheek flying here and there.  All with the red tones like a horrible earthy womb and the electric pulsing buzz and the spinning.  Blerg. Wretch.
I watched Irreversible (as is typical with me and disturbing cinema) late at night and on my own.  This is a thing that I do.  I get ahold of nasty culty movies and eagerly await the midnight showing that I will attend solo the first chance I get.  The reason I do this is because friends don't ask friends to watch Irreversible with them, and friends really don't want to hear anyone else's opinion as they're watching it anyhow.  I was exhausted, true, but I suspect that this opening scene, the scene that serves as primer for the rape to come, is terrible and sickening no matter when you watch it.  Filmed straight, it would be uncomfortable, but not as brutal.  Filmed like this, it's really almost unwatchable.  Noe hit on a combination of elements that works like a celluloid stomach flu.  Noise + movement + violence + scatological dialogue = sensory overload.  Nobody ever talks about this opening sequence and I have no idea why.  It informs everything yet to come so completely it's as brilliant as it is loathsome.  Though I can admit to a certain understanding, I hated it.  I hated it so much that the rape scene itself was comparatively easy to watch.  The camera stayed stationary.  Things slowed down. 

While I would agree with common criticism that the depiction of this rape veers towards excessive; in the context of the film the act is only minimally indulgent.  The rape is, like it or not, the cold little driving force of the film's flimsy narrative.  Irreversible is a film rooted in and essentially about the highs and lows of human emotion.  Noe is playing with the primal, working to shoot his characters in their darkest hours. In this case (and as Shakespeare proved many times over)  there may not be any more 'unspeakable' and upsetting catalyst than rape.  The act is criminally taboo, the ultimate violation.  When it effects the characters personally, it triggers something in them that would otherwise be unthinkable.  They become rash, brutal, violent animals.  The rape scene makes the sickness of the extended "aftermath" feel suddenly necessary and justifiable.  It also taints the entire second half with a terrible, empathetic pathos.  Believe me, I hated that rape scene too,  but it puts in some serious work here.  Did the violation have to be 9 minutes?  No.  5 minutes would likely have sufficed.  Maybe 4.  The longer it persists, however, the more real it becomes.  The more it drags.  I would not agree with critics who argue that Gaspar Noe's decision was one operating strictly for shock value.  I wouldn't even agree that it's a particularly offensive or a scarring depiction that upsets any sort of feminist value.  There is a sense, yes, of female as victim, but the sexual/gender politics are so screwy in the film that the crime feels less against womankind and more against humanity as a whole.  Noe doesn't make the scene sexy.  There's nothing leading into the rape that feels purposefully titillating here.  The scene is, for the most part, painful, spartan and stationary.  What we see for the majority of the 9 minutes in the tunnel is a skewed shot of a man astride a woman from a distant perspective.  The angle assumed is one that gives us a glimpse mostly of the tops of their heads and truncated (clothed) torsos.  What we hear is perhaps more jarring than the visual itself.  Ultimately, it's the length of the scene that cements the impact of the moment.  How wrong it is.  How long it persists.  How you are trapped, unable to help and made to experience something you don't want to experience just as she is.  There's something very powerful about this moment that is more than the breaking of simple taboo.  It's scary. 
Irreversible's crimes are perhaps most frightening because they do not feel doctored or edited to some perverse Hollywood standard of women in tattered clothing and mud-smeared thighs.  We don't get the exploitation close-up on the lacivious rapist licking his lips or the too-short hem of a miniskirt.  There is no motivation here, just circumstance.   It's an error in judgment, and how easily the situation could have been avoided makes for something chilling. As viewer, you know she never should have entered that underpass in the first place.  Yet, you've done it before.  It could happen.  This is that one time that it does.  The depiction is unflinching.  There's no safety net offered within the film itself.  The viewer isn't given the assurance that 'it will all be over in a minute'.  It's not, it never is.   Even the before picture can't offer peace of mind.  As we pass the hurtle that is the rape scene and shown Alex's life before this event; we are given the tremendous difference between the loving, romantic sex she has with her boyfriend and forced to shade it with the events of the underpass.  Noe works with a visual language we understand inherently, changing the colors and shades of his scenes to reflect the sort of Heaven/Hell duality of the film's beginning and end points. It's the easy way, sure, but the film's almost literary tropes create something that feels more like Greek tragedy than modern film narrative.  This is a cautionary tale, the story of mere mortals taking a trip into the underworld.   In the light of day, we have the happy ending, but know instead that it is false.  There are no happy endings that aren't tainted and unfair.  There is no justice served to these characters.  There are events that forever alter their lives; and this woman who is happy, peaceful, and free, is preyed upon by this society.  It's sickening, but it works.  There's nothing new to Irreversible as a film other than the guts it must have taken to meddle successfully with such dangerous, uncomfortable material...that I really want to stop writing about.  Alright. That's it. We're done.  

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Squalor: Piranha 3D

Piranha 3D was supposed to belong to that special category reserved for schlocky musicals, B-horror films, camp teen comedies, and ham-fisted dramas.  It was supposed to be a Good Bad Movie.  Cursory glances suggested that all the elements were in place and that its director, Alexandre Aja, knew it would never ascend to esteemed heights.   How could you go wrong with a stew pot full of absurd looking CGI dinosaur fish, hoards of spring break co-eds, a Jaws-alluding cameo by Richard Dreyfuss, a manic Christopher Lloyd?  These are the basic fixings of a no-brainer cult classic.  Don't get taken in by the hype,  don't fall for the promises made by the presence of Christopher Lloyd, don't pay for 3D, don't go in the water.  I'm afraid, kids, that Piranha 3D is not a Good Bad Movie.  It's just a plain old bad one.  What you'll find instead of camp cheese layered on a throwback creature feature is something explicitly not retro: a torture porn slaughterfest with an underdeveloped sense of humor.

It takes awhile for Piranha to get going.  In its relatively brief 89-minute run, what we're treated to is an extended prologue with a scatter-shot focus on too many characters.  Instead of straight horror (or even fine tuned absurdity), we receive the slanted premise of a poorly constructed 90's action film.  On Arizona's Lake Victoria, the wild spring-breakers descend in droves for the town's biggest week of tourism.  Jake (Steven R. McQueen) is a local teen anxious to participate in the merrymaking, yet burdened by the responsibility of having a mother who just happens to be the sheriff (Elizabeth Shue) and two perkily moronic younger siblings he's trapped babysitting.  Of course, mom is working tirelessly escorting a team of scientists as they investigate the lake's recent seismic activity (of course!).   Ready to party, Jake pays off his siblings so that he can escort a Girls Gone Wild type softcore director (Jerry O'Connell) and a pair of busty actresses.  As can be expected, the siblings can't seem to master staying at home, so instead get themselves stranded on a small island in the middle of the lake.  With the family divided across three locations, all hell  (in the form of thousands of ancient, flesh-eating piranhas) breaks loose.  You can, I'm sure,  imagine the ensuing massacre and rescue mission.  For the most part, while we get our share of gore, there's not much 'creepy' about Piranha.  Any attempt at suspense is killed dead by the cheap and cheery photography and the presence of those unassuming kids.  Piranha is a wasteland in terms of stylization, and, unfortunately, we see none of the old school visual cues that could make this movie a successful little grindhouse picture.
As I watched Piranha I was, first and foremost, disappointed.  When it comes to horror, if I can't get thrills, I want laughs.  This film fell flat on both counts.  There's limited exuberance to the film, not much that suggests something purposeful as opposed to just plain cheap.  The first hour or so is actually exceptionally boring, making limited use of the 3D technology to bring us boobs, boobs, and more boobs; with some oddly placed kids and moral values in between.  McQueen is terribly cast in a role equally as bleak.  He's a non-entity as a screen presence, coming off as too nice and normal for this supposed schlock-fest.  Gossip Girl's Jessica Szohr is cast opposite him as a friend who is "not his girlfriend", and we would have been a lot better off with someone who could pull off wink-wink-nudge-nudge-i'm-not-really-sincere-about-this.  Leighton Meester, her GG cast mate would have worked the absurdity a little better, but Szohr seems stone cold serious about adding this to her resume as a dramatic role.  Jerry O'Connell attempts a fair amount of overacting, but ultimately he was perhaps the wrong actor for the role.  We needed someone with a bit more cult cred, a Patrick Warburton or ironically placed Neil Patrick Harris mugging macho for the camera.  It's impossible to look at the bulk of the cast without replacing them with more suitable alternatives (which, with this script, they likely couldn't get) then going one step further to 'fix' all its glaring little errors.

Piranha should have been effortlessly fun.  It seems so easy.  Ridiculous monsters + lots of blood + teenagers + scientists + flowing alcohol + sex = why is this so hard?  I'd argue the primary flaw of this particular piece of B-horror is that it places family at the center in some odd attempt to offset the absolutely brutal bit of wet t-shirt, boat side carnage we receive towards the conclusion.  What's family got to do with it?  What's wrong with just juxtaposing the drunk college kids with the plight of the do-right scientists?  The second biggest flaw of Piranha might just be setting it in the present.  This film would have automatically taken on a completely different tone if it had been staged in the 70's or 80's, with outdated slang, styles, hair, mustaches, and a slightly skewed sort of hedonism.  That, combined with some slightly hokier fish and you've got a comedic horror success.  Last year's low-budget House of the Devil succeeded on its retro merits partially as pastiche and partially because even if it falls flat in the thrills, something about the mode makes it nostalgic and comfortable for the horror aficionado.  Piranha 3D (which is, in fact, rooted in the 1978 Roger Corman produced film Piranha) could have been the movie its poster and opening title credit suggests.
Instead, it's a bland boat trip through the land of blood and boobs.  One of the most absurd (and thus, I suppose, the funniest) scenes involves an extended sequence of nude water ballet.  In Piranha 3D everyone seems able to hold their breath for 6-minute increments without issue.  Our Wild Wild Girls must be part mermaid, because they twist around each other in the water for what seems like forever.  These are the sorts of tropes that Good Bad Movies are built on: unrealistic abilities not to have to breathe, nude water ballet sequences, later abilities for human beings to survive screaming as their entire lower half has been consumed, etc.  But, Aja squanders everything he's given.  He runs the nudity too long, constructs scenes that serve no other entertainment purpose other than to flash a pair of tits, and forgets that what we really came for are the fish and the laughs.  Ok, maybe the 15-year old boys came for the boobs.  Not the point.  The point is that in these movies you need the right balance of boobs, blood, and humor.  This one is top heavy on the boobs, tries to make up for it with one incredibly gory water massacre (Eli Roth is present, so you know it must be true), and largely gets the humor wrong.  Sure, it tries, but the result is something too wooden, too flat to be a successful Good Bad Movie.  I mean, Aja doesn't even use Christopher Lloyd to his full potential.  And the Dreyfuss appearance?  Man, they definitely don't exploit that bit of luck to its fullest.  No, instead Piranha 3D is just a bad film wallowing in mediocrity without enough jumping fish.  This might be what 3D was made for, but I've seen better use of it in cartoons.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Late Night Trailers: The Romantics

This trailer for generational zeitgeist film The Romantics actually looks pretty good.  Following seven college friends as they gather on the East Coast for the wedding of one of their own, it's got millennial Big Chill/St. Elmo's Fire written all over it. Set for a September release, the indie's ensemble cast includes Katie Holmes, Josh Duhamel, Anna Paquin, Elijah Wood, Adam Brody, and Malin Ackerman.  Considering how dubious some of these names are; I'd say the fact that this even looks like a potential triumph is a step in the right direction. 

Friday, August 20, 2010

Squalor: Eat Pray Love

I wasn't looking forward to Eat Pray Love.  To tell the truth, the entire phenomenon has always sort of irked me.  I've never read Elizabeth Gilbert's bestselling book.  Ask anyone and they'll tell you it's "just not my thing".  My suspicion, when it came to Gilbert and her global gallivanting, had always been that she was some sort of privileged, entitled white woman playing with cultural imperialism and throwing down preachy, self-righteously motivated affirmations.  If the movie gets it right, then my suspicions were correct...and worse: she's sort of a ridiculous, whiny human being who can't see past the end of her own nose to observe just how good she really has it.  My theory is that there's a really good reason why The Expendables trounced Eat Pray Love in the box office battle of the sexes (in which Scott Pilgrim became the maligned third party): after watching Julia Roberts wallow about in her misery in beautiful scenery, a good portion of the women in attendance walked out of the theater and immediately bought a ticket to watch mindless, bloody carnage.  That's not to say that Eat Pray Love is quite as bad as all that.  It has its bright spots and redeeming qualities, as do most middle of the road melodramas.  It's just...too bad the source material for our year long tour was already written by a true-life character who kind of annoyed the crap out of me.   

I know nothing about the real life Elizabeth Gilbert.  She may be perfectly nice.  In fact, I'm sure she's rather nice, since she seems to make perfectly nice friends everywhere she goes.  That doesn't mean she's not a raging, self-centered partial narcissist.  I mean, speaking from experience, it can take awhile for those tendencies to really surface.  Semi-fictional Liz Gilbert is a piece of work.  The premise of Eat Pray Love is driven by one woman's sort of quest for happiness and enlightenment.  When we enter the story, Liz is married to a rather immature man, is a published author a few times over (with a Pushcart Prize), and has a supportive network of friends.  The movie would have us believe that, working off of a reading of her life lines by a medicine man in Bali, Gilbert enters a prophesied slump.  Really, though, what we're shown is a woman who brings about her own miseries.  We watch her destroy her marriage.  Her basically abort her husband.  Her take up with a simply moronic navel-gazing 'actor' (James Franco).  Her lie on the floor of the navel-gazing actor's bedroom and cry because she perhaps realizes how absurd her quick change was.  The solution to all of this?  Well, though the prologue would have us believe she gets out a fair amount writing travel pieces (she did begin in Bali, after all), Liz Gilbert has some sort of meltdown in which she decides to (and apparently can afford to) take a desperately needed year off, lock her life in storage, and do a three-pronged trip to Italy, India, and Bali (1. Eat 2. Pray 3. Love).  You know, because this is a woman who never gets out and never does anything in her own best interest. 

What follows is chronicle of that year. First, Liz aimlessly wanders Italy mastering the "sweetness of nothing" and eating whole pizzas in Naples until we get the montage of her inability to button her pants.  Next, she bums around an Indian ashram manned by an imaginary guru where she becomes bitter about not getting to eat like in Italy and having to meditate instead of "doing nothing" (funny...).  Last, she bicycles smugly in Bali transcribing the secrets of her friend the medicine man while (from what I can tell) doing a lot of sitting around in absolutely gorgeous surroundings and sleeping with a sensitive tour guide who is here played by Javier Bardem.  Yeah.  Don't you feel bad for Liz Gilbert?  Aren't we all just so inspired?  The whole time, up until the very end when she's got something good going and has literally spent the past 10-11 months simply wandering, she's moaning and groaning about the things she "shouldn't do" and how hard life can be.  Right.  I'm sorry, but if I could drop my bland day job right now and take off for an entire year for no other purpose than to "do some self-reflecting", I'd basically be in heaven right now.  I doubt I'd be fretting about going on a little 2-day camping trip with my Bali boyfriend.  Seriously, in Bali, with nothing to do but occasionally meditate, this woman goes ballistic on Bardem's character because he has the gall to be like "hey, I like you, you like me, we're sleeping together like all the time, you want to go on my boat and go to this island I love and go camping? It's super great there".  No, the crazy comes in to Julia Roberts' eyes and she's like "no no no no, why would you ask me that? I just can't do these things...".   Anyone else confused?  Anyone?
Eat Pray Love, if the faults of its protagonist weren't enough, is also rather grueling in terms of pace.  I was doing alright through Italy...and then I realized we still had another two destinations to go.  Directed by Glee's Ryan Murphy, the film seems to be finding itself as much as Gilbert supposedly is.  It meanders and pauses too long on trifles.  There are a surplus of close-ups on the oddly shaped lips of Julia Roberts (honestly, who drew that mouth on her?).  It abridges the bits that are interesting and lingers in the emotional bits.  You know, because this is a movie for women (i say that sarcastically, of course), thus it must lean towards the tragedy and the tears.  The film is an odd anomaly; a travel piece that feels rather stagnant.  Eat Pray Love's stint in Rome feels like it goes on for the entire running time of La Dolce Vita (that's 3 hours), while offering absolutely none of its artistry and insight.  That's the thing, see?  The film is its title.  She eats, she prays, she loves.  These things (particularly that center one) do not a plot make.  The aforementioned plus side is that the movie is a lovely travelogue.  The scenery is lushly beautiful, inspiring the doubtful viewer to sit back and just take it all in anyhow.  It also features a tremendous amount of delicious looking food (do not watch on an empty stomach) and, in reality, though her character leans towards insipid, Roberts plays her convincingly.  There are little sparkles of personality and humor, though none of it is successfully carried through the remainder of the film.  Ultimately: the film's biggest offense is simply that it's bland.  We would have been better off with a movie called Eat, Love, as the praying is, perhaps predictably, the point at which the film becomes the most trying... but wait, we already got that movie this summer.  It was the staggeringly better I Am Love.   

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Late Night Trailers: Black Swan

Seeing the trailer for an Aronofsky movie is still an exhilarating moment of promise for me, and the release of this teaser for Black Swan doesn't disappoint, turning what appears at first to be an uncharacteristically boring piece about the downward spiral of an artist into what looks like a horrifying and deliciously monstrous fall down the rabbit hole. Yep...those are butterflies I'm feeling.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Late Night Trailers: I'm Still Here

I'm really not sure what to feel about this. My mind is either blown in excitement and intrigue, or utterly disappointed and lacking enthusiasm, just as it was when news of this project first came out.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Love: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

I have been to the promised land, fellow Scott Pilgrim geeks, and the future is bright.  This Friday, Edgar Wright's (Shaun of the DeadHot Fuzz) much anticipated adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's cult comic series will dance toe to toe with Julia Roberts and Sly Stallone to compete for the number one spot at the box office.  Let me pass on some free (and judgmental advice): if you're a person under the age of 30 and you throw down your dollars for anything before seeing Scott Pilgrim vs. the World this weekend, congratulations, you're an idiot.  Alright, alright, maybe not an idiot, but I just don't know if we can be friends.  There are a few reasons for this: 1. This is probably the most original film you're likely to see all summer (that's right, it's not Inception), 2. It's also pretty much the funniest film of the year thus far, 3. It's like a hybrid of a half dozen generational movies you already love,  4. It's shiny, bright, fast-paced, and cast exactly right.  EXACTLY right.  Scott Pilgrim is essentially the only character who doesn't look just like his drawn counterpart, but Michael Cera plays him so convincingly it doesn't even matter. 

If you do the math, Scott Pilgrim is about 90% perfect.  When I say perfect what I mean to say is that it's a killer combo of dead-on faithful to the graphic novels while still making for a relentlessly entertaining film in its own right.  Those who have read the books will relish seeing its characters brought into glorious, technicolor life; those who have no intention of ever picking up a comic book (shame on you, by the way) will appreciate it for its laugh out loud wit, cheery sentiment, and ADHD action sequences.  For the latter group, the 10% glitch is irrelevant, but we'll get to that later. 
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a love story for the modern age.  Scott Pilgrim (Cera), our hero, is a 20-something slacker who shares a bed in a one room apartment with his gay roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin), is embarrassing his bandmates by dating a 17-year old Chinese schoolgirl (Ellen Wong), and pining desperately after Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a mysterious American transplant with ever-changing hair.  What makes this story so different from so many pre-existing coming-of-age comedies is that it deftly blends the pop culture that so influences Scott Pilgrim's generation (read: my generation) back into the budding relationship.  Scott Pilgrim is a movie that's like a video game that's like a comic book that's all about rock music.  Scott's quest for Ramona and self-realization becomes a literal quest in which he must defeat Ramona's 7 Evil Exes to, in the context of the movie, be able to date her without peril.  The Exes, headed up by a particularly slimy Jason Schwartzman and featuring stand-out cameos by ex-Superman Brandon Routh and a particularly memorable Chris Evans, keep the film's pace at a functioning frenzy.  There are no lulls until the Boss Level, there are no cracks in the sugar rush veneer until the exact same point.
Scott Pilgrim is a sensory delight.  It's candy for the eye as well as the ear, with its dizzying array of neon glowing electric colors backed by a soundtrack chock full of original recordings by Metric, Beck, and a self-mocking Broken Social Scene.  I'd be hard pressed to believe that anyone could have done a better job than Edgar Wright.  Wright's specialty (typically alongside Simon Pegg) seems to be hacking up the rom-com, injecting it with adrenaline, infusing it with pop culture referential nerd humor and serving it to a mainstream audience without selling out the fanbase for a second.  What he did with zombies and Romero visual cues in Shaun of the Dead he manages here with Legend of Zelda and Street Fighter high-kick button mashing.  Scott Pilgrim is a zeitgeist film for those who hit their 20's in the early aughts.  It's a cartoonish John Hughes brat pack fueled by a natural-born adeptness at the mechanics of 8-bit life-snatching and dizzying high-caffeine, do everything-accomplish nothing fits of energy.  The writing remains thoroughly O'Malley's, often going frame for frame against the comic.  It's visually dazzling and phenomenally effective in its comedic timing.  There's some complicated editing to be found here.  Switching scene to scene and shot to shot in a way that's intuitive to the viewer's understanding of narrative instead of spastic.  Granted, I had the story down walking into the theater, but Scott Pilgrim vs. the World felt like an accessible, super-slick packaged good.

The one drawback?  That 10% that knocks the last half-heart from what could have easily been a 5-heart experience?  It's the ending.  Fans of the books will be disheartened to know that the movie's final scenes part ways with the sixth chapter.  The film's conclusion is less satisfying than the book.  It condenses quite a bit and halts some fairly significant development in the supporting cast of characters.  There's a reason for this, of course.  The series was not complete at the time the film was being shot.  Edgar Wright and crew were working off a general outline from Bryan Lee O'Malley with quite a bit of detail to be added later.  So, while there's no reason for nerd rage, we're left to look at the ending as its own entity.  Truth is?  It's a tad flat and a little rushed, losing much of the preceding 100 minutes' comedic momentum to arrive at a neatly wrapped up finishing point.  Really, after the gleeful ride, it becomes hard to care one way or another how it ends.  On the next viewing (and there will be another one), maybe my opinion will change.  Perhaps I'll accept the differences and take the cinematic vision as something of its own.  I'd have had no problem sitting in that theater for an additional hour, letting the subplots come to fruition and seeing Envy Adams become a more vital player.  Which is to say, if there were ever a film I'd love to see a re-shot, extended director's cut for, it's this one.   

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