Monday, August 30, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Appreciation [Indeterminate Amount of Time]: Day 2


It’s Day Two of Scott Pilgrim Appreciation [However Long] and, as promised, here’s a full review of the film.


Now I won’t lie to you and claim I read the series before the hype for this film started (I’ll happily lie about other things, however). I bought the first volume, Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, a while back but wasn’t interested enough in what I read to bother buying the other ones in any real hurry...until I watched the damn trailer for this film which made my head explode in anticipation. I then picked up the pace reading through the series as much as I could before the movie would come out. And the comic turned out to be great, as any indie comic snob will surely tell you. Edgar Wright, director of the very excellent comedies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fozz, was taking the reins on this one so obviously capable hands were involved. I had been looking forward to this flick all damn year and now that I’ve seen it I think I’d better share whether it was worth the wait or not.
Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a jobless, penniless, immature, moocher who does nothing but play video games, sleep till noon, and play bass in his band Sex Bob-omb. A year removed from a horrible break-up 22 year old Scott is now dating 17 year old High School student Knives Chau (Ellen Wong, who’s like 26 in real life) to the disgust of friends and family. However his rather pathetic existence comes to a grinding halt when he meets the girl of his dreams (Literally) in Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). He convinces her to date him but soon learns a disturbing truth: in order to continue dating her Scott must first defeat her Seven Evil Ex-Boyfriends. And maybe along the way he can stop being such an asshole.
As far as adaptations go this is probably one of the better transitions from comic to film. Unlike superhero comics, whose movies are more like re-imaginings of familiar characters and situations, comics like Scott Pilgrim (And 300 and Ghost World) tend to be ported over, sometimes scene for scene. This flick definitely attempts to do what it can to achieve this, and for the most part it works. At times it felt like I watching a live action version of the comic which I assume is what they’re going for. Unfortunately, like with Kick-Ass, the comic was not finished when the film’s production began so as a result the ending is different from the source material though the comic’s writer Bryan Lee O’Malley was heavily involved in the process, passing along notes and making suggestions or whatever, and the net result is that the endings of both the comic and the film are similar though not identical. It should be pointed out that a ton of elements from the comic were taken out in order to fit as much as they could into a less than two hour film. They had to do it and honestly they make right choices for the most part but it’s depressing to have to see awesome characters have less to do, but them’s the brakes. Anyway let’s talk about the film proper.
Pictured: Bass playing psychic, powered by not eating meat
First of all this movie is incredibly stylized and it has to be. This is not only a comic book influenced film but it’s also takes a lot of inspiration from video games and it shows. Pilgrim’s version of Toronto is a live action console game: there’s points are racked up, save points, life bars and more. Add the sound effects and speed lines of comics and we have a unique looking flick. It works though as Wright manages to strike that mythical balance between “surreal and fun” that many movies fail to achieve. This carries over to the fight scenes which were fast paced and utterly silly…in an awesome way. Plus watching lanky Michael Cera fighting in Kung-Fu/Dragon Ball Z style battles against bigger and beefier dudes is so amazingly ridiculous that I couldn’t help but love it! One thing in particular I liked was the visual effects for the battle between Scott and Todd. Musically I’ve become obsessed with the soundtrack for weeks now so obviously that gets a big thumbs up.
Speaking of Cera I seriously questioned the choice of casting him in the title role. Aside from being slightly too young for the role (Actors usually play younger, not older) the main thing was that the guy has shown a very limited acting range in the movies he’s starred in. I think I made this point in my Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist review; he plays one character with small variations. As I understand it though both Wright and O’Malley didn’t really consider anyone else as Scott, which bothered me even more. I was super worried for this movie mainly for this decision. Well it’s time for me to eat crow because this flick is Michael Cera’s Finest Hour (GET IT?!?!?!?). Of course he’s not perfect or anything and it ultimately felt like a cross between his normal character and Scott form the comics, but even so it somehow works well. He displays a much greater range than I’ve ever seen from him while the same time bringing an inherent likability to the character that keeps us invested. Frankly I can’t see anyone else in this role now.
So yeah. I take it back. Good call on the casting.
That'll do, Cera. That'll do.
Speaking of which there were some other badass casting choices here. First of all was Wallace Wells played by Macaulay Culkin’s Little Brother Kieran Culkin, who I had never heard of or even knew existed but the fact is that this guy steals every scene he appears in. Sadly Wallace’s role in the film was downgraded from the comic but Culkin rocks at what he’s given. Also he also has a sort of creepy look to him that reminds me of Crispin Glover...you know, if Crispin Glover was a really attractive guy. Anyway Culkin is better than his brother at everything in the world and henceforth Macaulay Culkin shall be known as Kieran Culkin’s Older Brother. Alison Pill plays Kim Pine and, like, Culkin, does a lot with the little she’s given. Pill was perfect for the role, with a few minor problems that can probably be attributed to the script rather than her. Again her character’s role was dramatically decreased and we’re all worse off as a result. Plus I find her shockingly attractive, despite the shock orange hair she has. It haunts me, man….it haunts me.
And yet...I love her, nonetheless
Most of the cast in general is really great in this film and in the interest of time I’ll just say that, including the ones I just mentioned, Johnny Simmons as the dopey hanger on of Sex Bob-omb Young Neil was really likable and Chris Evans, Brandon Routh and Jason Schwartzman as Lucas Lee, Todd Ingram and Gideon were all extremely entertaining in their hammy villain performances (Hammy villains only work in certain films, but when it’s appropriate it can be amazing). Most of the rest of the cast work well enough, even if some of them are clearly too old for the parts they play (But hey, Ellen Wong is cute, so what are you going do?)
Not everyone works, sadly. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is not terribly great as Ramona. Part of this is because the character is not all that interesting or likable as she doesn’t have nearly the time to develop as her comic counterpart. For example the scene where Scott asks Ramona out plays out almost exactly the same except that her dialogue has been altered in a way to make her sound a bit more heartless. The other reason is that Winstead sounds very insincere when she reads the lines. I’m very aware that she’s acting in a role and considering so many other of the actors kick so much ass with their characters it’s even more noticeable. She’s not bad she’s just not nearly as good as her cast mates (Plus she looks awful in those wigs). For bad acting check out Aubrey Plaza as Julie and Brie Lawson as Envy Adams. I like Plaza fine but as far as this movie goes take everything I said about Winstead’s performance and multiply by about thirteen. She comes off like a dang robot. It’s as if she took acting lessons from Micheal Cera before he learned how to emote for this movie. She’s easily the worse actor in the movie and that includes the two Japanese guys who couldn’t speak English. As for Lawson...whoever cast her needs to be tied down to a chair and beaten with rusty pipe. She lacks everything I liked about the character in the comic and just comes off as annoying and fake. Although part of the problem was that Envy’s role was decreased but even so I’m not confident that Lawson would have done much even all of the plot points from the comics were restored.
Cera, Simmons, Pill...and some other folks, I guess
I hated the damn ending. Well, not all of it but specifically certain aspects that I can’t get into for risk of spoiling it but here’s the short version: Ramona’s role in the final battle bothered me a lot and I despised  the way the love triangle played out; not the result of it, just how it was resolved seemed dumb and rushed. I heard that this may have been elements from the original ending of the film, which was shot and will probably show up on DVD, which was vastly different from the comic. It’s possible that the one they went with was somewhat thrown together to get things closer to the source material. Also the movie moves very fast in the first quarter/first half but then slows the hell down afterwards. It was a somewhat jarring transition that probably coincides with when the movie stops being so faithful to the source material. Speaking of which a weird change from the comic I noticed was, of all things, several lines of dialogue being spoken by the wrong characters. I’m not 100% sure why the lines got switched around but I guess it doesn’t hurt anyone.
Long story short this is not a perfect movie, but I couldn’t help but fall in love with it. It’s incredibly quirky in its pacing, visual effects and dialogue. It will not be enjoyed by everyone because it’s just plain too weird. However this is THE movie for dorks; made by dorks for dorks. If you liked Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog growing up then this movie was made specifically for you. If you like campy affairs that are very aware of how campy they are than this movie as made specifically for you. If you like martial arts movies...well, it was made specifically for you but you’ll probably enjoy it anyway. On an intellectual level I don’t want to give this movie a perfect score, but on an emotional level I think I enjoyed it more than any other movie I’ve seen this year. That includes Inception.
Sir, you are a handsome man
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World gets 5 Adorable Pandas Out of 5. Take that, The Expendables.

Pros
-Micheal Cera plays a different character than usual. Well mostly different
-The cast is mostly very excellent
-Great music and visuals
- I don’t know who this Kieran Culkin guy is but he is dreamy
Cons
-Aubrey Plaza picks up the “dull and redundant delivery” ball that Cera dropped
-Many great characters were cheated out of bigger roles
-The ending fills me with rage

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