Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The War of 2012


The cast of Avengers celebrating Ed Norton's firing

Assuming we’re not all killed by a world destroying apocalypse that year it looks like 2012 may be a good year to be a Marvel Comics fan…or a bad one. Obviously I’ve talked about the Avengers movie in great detail in the past but I’ve since learned that, as of right now, reboots of the Spider-Man and Fantastic Four film franchises are scheduled to for a 2012 release meaning that three different studios will release three different movies from Marvel Comics that summer (or so). This is either of good thing or a bad thing, but since we know almost nothing about the reboots themselves, just the upsetting legacies of the franchises themselves, we can’t say a whole lot this early. Now I could write a long essay about how Sony ruined the Spider-Man movies due to their constant meddling in director Sam Raimi’s vision (But to be fair everything I heard Raimi was doing for a third sequel sounded incredibly stupid) or how the FF movies were some of the worst embarrassments to the genre this past decade that failed on almost every conceivable intellectual level…but then I’d be here all day.

Pictured: Popular Well Respected Historically Relevant

In fact let’s ignore Spider-Man because, well, I don’t give a crap about that series. I do find it interesting that we’re looking at an Aevngers VS. Fantastic Four scenario. But like I said we don’t know much about it. There are some rumors, most of which I don’t care about, save the casting of Doctor Doom. I love Doctor Doom; he’s my favorite villain in superhero comics after all. Watching his portrayal in the two previous films was kind of like watching a train wreck where the passengers were all clowns; hilariously morbid, but ultimately only fun to watch if you’re disturbed. The current rumor pegs Stephen Moyer as the man 20th Century Fox’s choice to play the ruler of Latveria. Moyer is the male lead in the hit show about vampires who are slightly less ridiculous than the ones from Twilight called True Blood. Moyer spends most of the time on that show pretending to be American and graphically boinking Anna Paquin (Vampire celibacy is for wankers).

"Bah! Doom has no time for blogs!"

He’s a good enough actor that I’m not dreading him being cast but not good enough to make me think he’s suited for the role. If anything is finalized we may well see. Anyway the fact is that with three big Marvel films coming out in the same year it’s an understatement to say it’s is something that any good comic geek should be very excited about. I wonder if I’ll be eating those words come the end of summer of that year (See: Ghost Rider, Daredevil, The Spirit, Superman Returns. Or better yet: don’t).

Again this assumes the world isn’t destroyed. We’ll see.

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

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Appreciation [Indeterminate Amount of Time]


Even in context this scene made no damn sense

Scott Pilgrim is a comic book series created by Canadian artist Bryan Lee O’Malley in 2004 that ran until 2010 with a total of six volumes: Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Scott Pilgrim & The Infinite Sadness, Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together, Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe, and Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour. The comic is basically a cross between a video game, a rainbow, and all the happiness in the world. Finding a comic like this is the same kind of awesome as meeting a really hot girl who turns out to be a huge dork; you weren’t expecting it but damn if you don’t became obsessed with the whole thing (Of course the comic won’t make out with you…unless you’ve pre-ordered the special “Scott Pilgrim: Make-Out Edition” due out in 2011). Understand that after reading the first volume I was extremely torn bout this series. I hated most of volume one but liked the very end, but not enough to rush out and buy the next one. Plus a lot of people (Who may have been the most pretentious people reading comics) kept saying how great the series so I instantly loathed it. Eventually I picked up volume two, which was much better, and then 3 &4, which were so wonderful that I actually stopped hating the world since our society couldn’t possibly be so awful if it produced works like this (Then I remembered that Scott Pilgrim is a Canadian work and not really my society so the hate soon began flowing again).

Anyway with the movie hitting theaters (And bombing, by the way) I felt the need to write a little about the series. I’ll be posting reviews of both the flick and the comic, but first I thought I’d talk a little about the series. The story is pretty well known: Scott meets the girl of his dreams, it turns out she has Seven Evil Ex-Boyfriends, he must defeat them to date her. It’s also extremely nerdy, even by comic standards (Indie comics like this don’t necessarily fall under the same “Dork” banner that Marvel/DC superhero comics usually do…those cocky bastards). The world Scott lives in is extremely video game influenced from a score system, to life bars, to save points and 1-Ups hanging out periodically…and no one really thinks of it as being terribly strange. Aside from that there are a ton of references and winks to all sorts of dorky things, my favorite probably being Scott’s coat featuring the X-Men logo. As I’m a firm believer that the best way to gauge a series to look at its cast of characters so let’s check out a few of my favorites/important ones.

Scott Pilgrim, Age: 23

Pictured: Ranma Saotome, 2004 Model

Scott is a big immature loser with no job, no money, and living almost completely completely at the charity of his roommate Wallace. Scott subscribes to the Son Goku school of protagonists in that he’s around as smart as a ton of bricks, but hits about as hard. Yes he’s a great fighter but he’s dumb. Duuuumb. Like “Dude, where do I live again?” dumb. Like “Oh man, I forgot to breathe again” dumb. Frankly there’s nothing all that redeeming about this guy in the first volume, which was the primary reason I didn’t enjoy the book so much. He’s dating a girl much too young for him, not seemingly that interested in her feelings, and basically cheats on her his first opportunity all the while contributing nothing to society because he’s so damn childish. He does get better over time, and his stupidity influenced innocence can be charming (“What’s the web address for amazon.ca?” he asks) And, truth be told, his incompetence is the source of most of the book’s humor (My favorite bit involves him attacking literally every guy he sees with glasses because they sort of resemble be one of Ramona’s ex-boyfriends). His relationship with the mysterious Ramona Flowers drives the plot. His favorite food is garlic bread or free sushi that Wallace pays for. He is the bass player for the local Toronto band Sex Bob-omb (Hell yes) but is apparently pretty mediocre in this role.

Michael Cera plays him in the movie, but I’ll leave my thoughts on that potential train wreck for another day.

Ramona Flowers, Age: ???

So long as you hate intimacy she's the perfect girlfriend

The female lead of the series Ramona is mysterious roller skating American delivery girl who Scott is smitten with. Why? Because he saw her in a dream, I guess. And she’s hot apparently. I don’t really get what the big deal about this girl is. She’s mean, has a trail of broken hearted boyfriends, treats Scott kind of badly, and sort of plays at this aloof “I may or may not give a shit about you” game that annoys me. So between her and Scott I really wasn’t sure I wanted to read this series. Luckily she eases up after a while as we get to know her but I never get into her at all. If I was dating a girl like that and some dude dressed like a hipster pirate attacked me over it I’d just shrug and say “Take her dude, this chick is too high maintenance for me”.

In the film she’s played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead and is, if anything, even more of an aloof bitch. Also Winstead looks horrible with that hair that I assume was actually series of wigs. Bleh.

Wallace Wells, Age 25


A cool gay roommate who's also gay
(He's gay)

My favorite character in the series. O’Malley loves to point out constantly that Wallace is gay. Practically every page Wallace shows up in either a caption appears reminding us he’s gay, a character blurts out how gay he is, or he talks about how little interest he has in romantic talk unless it’s about a boy. I get it, guy, he’s gay. I figured it out the seventeenth times it came up. Anyway he’s Scott’s significantly more intelligent and responsible roommate who acts as a sort of point man in the comic. He gives Scott advice throughout, gives him intel on Ramona’s exes, and provides him with food and shelter. He’s like his gay dad except he’s only two years older than him. In just about every way Wallace is the opposite of Scott, which may be why I like him so much. Also the fact that he has the best lines probably has something to do with it as well.

Wallace’s role in the movie is reduced, but not too much. He’s more of a sarcastic roommate archetype than a mentor. He’s played by...Macaulay Culkin’s little brother?

AND HE WAS AWESOME!!!

Knives Chau, Age: 17

Pictured: The real reason jailbait is frowned upon

If you’ve only heard a little bit about this series you’ve probably heard something about the main character “dating a high schooler.” Knives is that high schooler. This Chinese-Canadian girl starts the series cute as a button, shy and in a constant state of learning. So when she’s suddenly dumped by Scott you instantly feel horrible for her and angry at the guy who’s supposed to be our hero. O’Malley solves the problem with readers possibly turning on Scott by having Knives, in her depression over the break-up, become a psycho stalker hell bent on winning her boyfriend back. Aaaannnd she’s almost ruined for me. Seriously, she was such a likable character but she makes such a 180 that it’s painful to watch. She evens out eventually but the journey is still pretty depressing for me.

Knives is somehow even more depressing to watch in the film. She’s played by Ellen Wong, who I don’t know much about but is apparently older than the guy playing Scott Pilgrim. Really, Casting Director?

Kim Pine, Age: 23

I see hate in you eyes, Kim Pine. That's good

HATE KEEPS A MAN ALIVE!!

The drummer of Sex Bob-omb, she’s known for her misanthropic attitude, her freckles and her catchphrase of “WE ARE SEX BOB-OMB! ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR!” right before the band starts playing a gig. Along with Wallace Kim is my favorite character in the book as she gets a lot of good lines and is generally fun to read. She plays an important role in the book and is involved a secondary plot responsible for some of Scott’s character development. She’s rough around the edges but she has a heart of gold…like me.

The biggest victim of the film is easily Kim who, due to much of the B-plots being jettisoned, loses almost all of her subplot and is demoted to supporting character rather than main character. She’s played by Alison Pill and looks like a “Ginger from Hell”.

Stephen Stills, Age: 22

In retrospect he doesn't do much

Stephen Stills, “The talent” in the words of Scott, is the guitarist, singer and presumably songwriter of Sex Bob-omb. Easily the most chilled of the main cast he spends most of time sitting back looking upon the events that unfold with indifference…unless, of course, it affects the band. Then he gets a little neurotic. Stephen Stills doesn’t do that much to further the plot, as the band isn’t super important to the way the story unfolds. In the film he’s a lot more whinny. He is played by Mark Webber who I assume must be at fault.

Young Neil, Age 20

Stephen Stills’ roommate and Sex Bob-omb’s #1 fan (Out of two fans). He’s not the same type of buffoon that Scott is but he’s still pretty dopey and prone to emotional outburst. Strangely his character goes through many changes over the book but we never actually see the causes. It’s almost as if, while Scott is busy with the plot we follow, Young Neil is having his own adventures somewhere and we only catch glimpses of him when things are cooled down. If O’Malley were to make a spin-off it should totally star this guy so he can explain what the hell was going on.

"Young Neil vs. The World"

GET ON IT, O'MALLEY!

He does nothing of any importantance in the book but he’s promoted in the movie and plays a much bigger role. He’s even dumber, and funnier, in this version. He’s played by Johnny Simmons who, like with Macaulay Culkin’s Little Brother, is pretty dang sweet.

Envy Adams, Age: 24

She's like the Joker if the Joker was a hot pop star

Envy Adams is the frontwoman of The Clash at Demonhead, a national act on the verge of fame and fortune who is made reference to several times before she appears. However she is also the Scott’s ex-girlfriend who broke his heart so badly that only recently has he started getting over it (By trying to date Ramona). Despite not being a member of the League of Ramona’s Evil Ex-Boyfriends she is a major antagonist. She’s so delicious catty, cruel, manipulative and heartless but with a specific and well told back-story that it makes her significantly more interesting than every other villain in the series, including the main antagonist. I won’t get into too many details but Envy is one of the main reasons I decided to fully embrace this book. She is a perfect villainous foil to Scott Pilgrim.

Sadly, much like with Kim, most of her contribution to the story was cut in the transition from comic-to-film as we get a watered down streamlined version that is really a shell of the character I saw in the book. To make matters worse Brie Larson plays her and she’s just not very good. Also she’s blonde. I’m not sure why she’s blonde in this movie.


Long story short I love the cast of this book. Depressingly I still have more to say about this series so sometime in the near future expect a full review of both the movie and comic.