August 27, 2010

Dads Movie Night: Scott Pilgrim vs The World

Did you ever play that game "The Movie Of My Life"? I went to school with a guy who looks just like Michael Cera.
Let's start with the skin: it's not so much that his skin has NO pigment, it's more that the skin once knew the light of day, but he's been secluded for many years in... a cave, or the dark side of the moon, or Canada, so his skin is now a marble gray color. His elbows and knees are knobby, the knuckles are pink, there's a comical lack of a chin (which the nose makes up for), and the hair. Oh the hair. Scott Pilgrim's hair is a unkempt thatch of thick brownness which is the utter despair of said Mr. Pilgrim.
This collision of awkwardness, embodied by Mister Hooded Sweatshirt himself, Michael Cera, is one of the enduring highlights of Scott Pilgrim vs The World: Pilgrim is the hero of the movie. Pilgrim endures ass kickings, brick-wall hole-making, steel beam-denting, and he not only survives, he returns in equal measure and destroys his enemies.
The premise of the movie is simple: what if our romantic and emotional battles were actual battles? And what if you are a total postmodern, 21st century baby who was born with a game controller in your hand, and you know the Super Mario Bros theme better than your national anthem? That's this movie. It's a treat to live in a world where a pasty stuttering geek can win epic battles thanks to his pure spirit, his love, and his nice-guyness... even if he loses a bass guitar solo duel!
Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Grindhouse) is simply a quintessential beauty. She doesn't even have to try hard. Kieran Culkin, last seen drinking too much Pepsi ("he's gonna wet the bed!") in Home Alone, is perfect as the wry gossipy roommate who's gay, but doesn't have to be, to be terrific.
I also love Aubrey Plaza (Parks & Recreation), as a brittle frenemy, and the rest of Pilgrim's band (Sex Bob-omb): newcomers Alison Pill (the caustic ex-girlfriend/drummer), Mark Webber (the emotional guitarist 'Stephen Stills'), and Johnny Simmons (the simple but kind roadie "Young Neil").
Director, producer, and co-screenwriter Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) lives in this world. He breathes it. He soaks the world of the movie in console gameland effortlessly. Wright's bag of magic tricks is effortless. Circa 1999, Wright produced and directed a TV comedy for BBC called "Spaced", about a group of underemployed twenty-somethings, whose love for movies and video games envelops their daily life. Spaced serves as kind of a proto-template for SPvTW, and I strongly recommend it. There are 14 episodes total, available on a two-disc DVD set.
The movie is paced like a rocket shot out of a cannon, on board the Concorde: it keeps moving and moving, and even the parts where no one's being disintegrated move along at a nice clip. The wit does not slow down to let the slowest 10% of the audience catch up: even the fastest mind will miss some of the fun the first time. Much like Hot Fuzz, this movie will reward repeat viewing.
The music is terrific, the dialog is smart and catchy, the costumes are cool, especially for Canada, and the video-game style visual enhancements are subtle enough, also varied and inventive. WARNING: If you were born before, say, 1969, you may hate this movie. I was born in 1972 and I'm giving it an A grade, even if I prefer first-person shooters and driving games over chopy-socky fighting.
THEATER NOTES: I went to see SPvTW at the Somerville Theater with new Dad George D, who enjoyed his much-needed night off! Apparently this movie is based on a comic book, or graphic novel, because George and I were literally surrounded by super-nerds who LOVED the movie, who hooted and hollered appreciatively every time something cool, or something faithful to the source material happened. There were patchy beards and overlong hair every where! (NOTE: I saw it again September 5 with my lovely wife)
TRAILERS: We saw a teaser trailer for a SMURFS movie. Oh. My. God it looks terrible. It's not as if the Smurfs are some sacred part of my cultural heritage, but does anyone really want to see this? I guess if they made TWO Chipmunks movies, and a Marmaduke movie, anything's possible.

August 26, 2010

Better Off Dead...

betterWhen Gran agreed to babysit, the wife and I made plans to see a movie. But what movie? August is le season mort at the cinema. Neither of us were really in the mood for Toy Story 3. I am planning on seeing Scott Pilgrim vs The World Friday night with George. There wasn't much left... until I remembered Somerville's free outdoor movies. The final feature of the summer, the Viewer's Choice: BETTER OFF DEAD! Actually, we owe a thanks to Amy, who is the Queen of the Outdoor Movie! She has kept us updated with free outdoor movie bulletins.
I have seen Better Off Dead (1985) many many times. I used to own the discount-bin laser disc! When I was a DJ and producer in Portland ME, I created a Christmas-themed bumper featuring Ricky's Mom: "Do you have Christmas in France? Crisssssmassss..." I actually paid money to see it at the Brattle Theater in December 2002.
It's still silly and funny, with a skinny 18-year-old John Cusack, Curtis "Booger" Armstrong as the world's oldest high school student, and a schizophrenic soundtrack: Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, and Muddy Waters (good), Howard Jones and Thompson Twins (bad). Then there's the laughably bad pop from schlockmeister Rupert Hine; he contributes several songs, including the saxophone-infected love theme "Arrested By Love" ("I've been arrested by love/Take me in")
It's the directing debut of the immortal Savage Steve Holland, who completed his feature film directing career with One Crazy Summer (1986) and How I Got Into College (1989). While he has had a steady career in TV, he has never directed a feature film again. (Powderhouse Park, Somerville, with Amy and Mary Beth)

August 19, 2010

Clooney Seal of Approval

My admiration for George Clooney has been growing the last few years, but I just realized how dependable he is when I saw a TV spot for his new movie, The American. I thought to myself "ooh, I gotta go see that." I like suspense thrillers with snipers, footchases, and exotic women as much as the next guy, but The American has real potential, thanks to The George Clooney Seal of Quality. Starting with From Dusk Till Dawn in 1996, George Clooney has averaged two movies per year. I have seen all but three of them, and 15 of 25 in the theater. He just kept on making quality films, one after the other, rarely falling into genre roles, usually modestly ignoring his good looks, and seeking out challenging material. Here are links to my Clooney reviews in this blog, with some superlatives:
I have also seen (on home video) Leatherheads, Ocean's Thirteen, Welcome to Collinwood, O Brother, Where Art Thou? Out of Sight, Batman & Robin, and From Dusk Till Dawn. I have not seen The Men Who Stare at Goats, Up in the Air, or The Peacemaker (1997).
  • Favorite Clooney movie (tie): O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Out of Sight, two movies I missed in theaters.
  • Least favorite Clooney movie: Ocean's Twelve

August 17, 2010

The Many Faces of Johnny Depp

I've seen 12 of the 24 Depps pictured here. Click on the photo to go to the original post. (I've seen fourteen if you count Capt. Jack Sparrow three times). The Depps I've reviewed in this blog:
I know a lot of people might say it's super-gay for a guy to be a fan of Johnny Depp, but c'mon, how often does Depp trade in on his handsomeness? He hardly ever exploits his good looks in his movies. I better stop now, I'm sounding gayer and gayer as I keep typing.

August 11, 2010

The Other Guys

As a grand experiment in first-time parenting, and for the first time since our last "rent a cabin in the woods" vacation (War of the Worlds in 2005), we went to the drive-in movies... this time, with a baby!

The Hollywood Drive-In, Wynantskill, NY is a family-owned business, with a real mom-and-pop feel. The program included a list of 101 things NOT to do at the drive in ("be sure to engage the parking brake so you don't roll backwards and crush the car behind you"). Modern drive-ins use a low-power FM transmitter to broadcast the audio: we were treated to music and goofy announcements from our own personal DJ!
I wish the movie was worth all the trouble. The Other Guys is a buddy comedy with Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg. Speaking as a big fan of Will Ferrell in Old School and Anchorman, it's sad to see him devolve onscreen, from playing characters, to basically playing a pastiche of quirks and oddities. Ferrell's movies (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Blades of Glory) are constructed by shooting as much funny shit as possible, then editing together the best of the best. Whether the results made any sense has mattered less and less over the years, until now, Ferrell isn't playing a character anymore, he's just the sum of the funniest stuff they shot.

Mark Wahlberg takes his rogue detective from The Departed and torques up the stress and anger even further. It's awesome!
The plot was just complicated enough to be distracting.
The last movie of Ferrell's that I am glad I paid to see was Talladega Nights. We saw Blades of Glory on a Friday night when my wife was desparate for some work-week stress relief, and we only saw this movie because we wanted to try going to the drive-in again. My grade: C-PLUS.
In the end, we learned a lot about how to take the baby to the drive-in. The irony is, we have only gone to the drive-in twice in five years, so, at this rate, the boy will be going on six by the time we do it again!