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Saturday, September 18, 2010


I know it is the best interests for distributers to sell a film in the very best way they know how. At the end of the day, they want to get bums on seats, regardless of how they got them there in the first place. There has been plenty of intentionally misleading trailers over the years. Recent examples like the addition of far more alien laser sights fixed on Adrien Brody's torso in the "Predators" trailer and non stop and mindless horror thrills promised from the trailer to "The Last Exorcism" are two that immediately spring to mind. People who are forking their hard earned cash over to sit in a darkened room for two hours want to know exactly what they are getting, and more often than not, these misleading promos can usually do more harm than good. Why tell audiences that the thing that they may have paid to see the film in the first place is not there at all. It is frustrating on the audiences part and the feeling of being cheated can do nothing but harm the original films chances to do what it was originally made to do in the first place. "Predators" only had three aliens, not the multiple foes as promised in the trailer, but I still didn't let it bother me as it still proved to be entertaining in its own right. "The Last Exorcism" turned out to actually be quite a clever character study and offered more in the way (until that disastrous finale) than usual horrors have been giving us recently. That the film was actually ruined by loud and obnoxious members of the audience too impatient to sit through the subtle character details, and (very loudly) voicing their thoughts on the horror that may be in store for them only left me livid and intent on not enjoying the final film on its own terms; rather why it provoked the audience to react like this, and hence why the film was not reviewed here. That this happened to me again the following week when I sat down to "Cyrus" only provoked questions of why these distributers seem intent on harming their (sometimes very precious) films chances for finding its audience. Sure, they have to get an audience in the first place, but when it comes from such a misleading direction, prompts question of when does it change from 'selling' to 'lying' to the audience? That all these examples are very fine films in their own right begs the question; why compensate for something that isn't there? Have more faith in your film, and it will find its true audience if it is good enough. Which then brings me to this review.

Initial trailers for "Cyrus" promised a raucous indie comedy. Shades of infant, silly humour reminiscent of "Step Brothers" seemed apparant, mixed with a healthy dose of indie sensibilities so as to balance out the mad cap comedy on display. That it also featured Jonah Hill and recent comedy graduate John C. Reilly only perpetuated this. How strange it was then, to sit down and find that this was not the comedy with some occasional drama as expected; more so, a drama sprinkled with a few choice moments of humour here and there. The result as I was watching was while not disliking the film, I found myself irritated at my own preconceived notions. I believed I always let a film play on its own terms no matter what, and yet here I was, not doing so. I wanted and expected a comedy. If I had been sold the very decent and quite original drama that it is, I could have enjoyed the film more. Advertising took away from the film. This is all the more regrettable as the film is a very enjoyable one indeed. I may perhaps review this again on its own terms soon, but as for now, I am only left with my feelings as I walked out of the theatre.

John C. Reilly is John, a 40 something divocee. He still spends more time than is healthy with his ex and is seemingly unwilling to get over her. That mixed with his very lonely existence seems to be taking over his life. Imagine then his good fortune, when he meets Molly, played by Marisa Tomei. The two strike up a relationship and John believes his luck is finally changing as he finds himself, for once in a very long time, happy. This all changes however when he is introduced to Cyrus, Molly's 20-something grown son played by Hill, who immediately takes a dislike to John. The two butt heads over their affection (and in Cyrus' case, quite unhealthily so) for Molly. While this provides moments of quiet, subtle humour, focus is primarily kept on its quirky characters. There are no laugh out loud set pieces here. As befitting a cast this talented, everyone delivers knock out performances. It's been a while since Reilly has delivered a role this nuanced and reminded me of what a talented character actor he was and still continues to be. While excelling at his more recent and broader comedy output, it's refreshing to see he hasn't lost his dramatic sensibilities. Marisa Tomei continues her late career transformation into a very worthy actress, although some more character detail would be welcome for Molly (is she unaware of how unhealthy her relationship with Cyrus has become?). Catherine Keener has it in her contract to appear in every indie film ever and again gives a nice little performance. However, it is Jonah Hill who surprises the most. Previously seen very loudly spouting crude lines of dialogue for Judd Apatow, here he plays Cyrus with some very refreshing depth and respect for his character. Underneath that quite calm exterior, there is a wealth of aggression and emotion that he does not seem to be able to grasp onto. He expects and wishes everyone to treat him like an adult, and yet it seem he is still finding it hard to mature to one. This results in some very awkward conversations with John and what has to be, in this year anyway, the most cringe inducing dinner scene in recent memory. Siblings, The Duplass Brothers helmed proceedings and they inject some very real observations on human behaviour. This comes from their 'mumblecore' past, but giving the actors the scene and letting them improvise around it results in some very real moments. Of course this could have resulted in disaster, but letting the actors find their characters as opposed to being told what they are, is very refreshing. The only problem with this, is that giving the actors such free reign means that the film isn't especially good looking. Shaky hand held camera, mixed with frequent zooms means that while it adds to the realism, it hardly makes the film shine.

However, this brings me back to my minor quibbles with the film. The film is very well acted, and offers some very memorable characters and situations, but is not what I was expecting. These feelings were not to be put to rest as tension rose in the audience as they kept on expecting belly laughs that never came. The feeling became palpable among us. Cyrus has some very uncomfortable oedipal like tendencies to deal with, and it is a very unassuming and lonely man who is on the receiving end of his inability to deal with his emotions. While far from bleak or draining, it just isn't what most mainstream audiences will want to see. Which is fine, but why invite them in the first place?

Verdict: 66%
A very original and excellantly acted study of conflicting relationships. The film knows what it is and does it very well, just don't go in and expect the laugh riot as what was initially suggested.

Trailer - "The Fighter"

From the looks of it, this film seems to be the very definition of cliche. The underdog triumphing. It has been seen countless times before and seems completely shameless in its Oscar attention-grabbing. And usually films like this hold very little appeal for me, but right now a film like this seems to be what everybody needs. There is enough economic depression to send anyone into a slump, so a film about overcoming insurmountable odds to achieve what you want in life is a welcome sight, for me at least. Wahlberg ("Boogie Nights" aside) has never been the lead in a decent film but it all looks set to change here and Bale is delivering another method style performance reminiscent of the days before he donned the black cape. And at the very least, Director David O. Russel ("Three Kings" "I ♥ Huckabees") knows how deliver appararantly predictable and normal stories with anything but predictable results. The film is released in December this year.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

'Geek Chic', 'Hipster Cool' and 'Style Over Substance'. There were times during this film, especially near the start, when I feared that all of these things were threatening to drown it out. The film walks a very fine line in almost letting its ADD visuals and 'oh so cool and hip' sensibilities from overtaking everything. As it stands however, I can safely say, that "Scott Pilgrim" is easily one of the best films of the year and quite unlike almost any other film I have seen. Edgar Wright must have had serious confidence in the comic the film is originally based on. I mean, there are moments when the film is going absolutely bonkers on screen. How he was let away by Universal with such authorship over the film is astonishing. When that first fight happens, it will make or break it for most people. Before now, the film was coasting along nicely, obviously existing in its own universe, but nothing too outlandish has happened. But when the action kicks in, it is incredibly jolting. Wright has faith in his audience and his source material, and God knows he has the talent, because there is absolutely no other Director out there today that could pull off a film like this. It is the result of a computer game and indie/rock music mashed together; it is youth and vitality put up on screen; it makes your own humdrum life exciting and fantastical, because you can relate to Scott's outlook so easily. Everyone daydreams and adds in their own 'movie like' features into their own life all the time. Everyone has their life soundtracked by their own favourite bands. Everyone lets their favourite TV Shows influence their outlook on everything far easier than even their own family. Everyone wishes they could stand up and fight for what they believe in no matter what. Put simply, we all live our life in our head, as does the title character of the film. No doubt our life is not nearly as exciting as we aspire it to be, much like the eponymous character. But that wouldn't exactly make for the awe inducing cinema on display here would it?

Scott Pilgrim is a regular 22 year old slacker. He plays bass in a band, loves video games and falls in love easily. Too easily it would seem. Initially going out with 17 year old high school student Knives Chau, his head turns when he meets Ramona Flowers, the girl of his dreams. However, in order to win her heart, he must first defeat all of her 7 evil exes in 7 fights to the death. Michael Cera has many of his critics. While initially being acclaimed for his comic timing and his predilection for awkward and uncomfortable comedy moments on the now classic ''Arrested Development'' TV Show, he was then accused by many as coasting by on those sensibilities for too long. He was a one trick pony they said. Perhaps those are too hard on Cera, as no one seems to be more aware of this trait, than himself. Earlier this year he proved he can do more than 'nice and nerdy' with ''Youth In Revolt'' and now with this, he proves himself to be quite an adept actor and not only in the physical department. With the fact that Wright turned Simon Pegg into an action star in "Hot Fuzz", it will not surprise anybody that Cera convincingly kicks plenty of ass throughout 'Pilgrim'. However, what is surprising is that he is no longer playing Cera, or a shade of him anymore. Yes, Pilgrim is a dork and a dweeb; he puts his foot in his mouth and sometimes stammers uncomfortably and shyly over sentences, but Pilgrim is a different character altogether than anything we have seen from Cera. At turns fickle, moany, and arguably unsympathetic, he is in many regards, the most real part that Cera has portrayed. It is down to his talent that we stay on Pilgrims side throughout and he doesn't become irritating for the audience. He is also lovable, winningly goofy and relatable. Cera is ably supported by a fantastic supporting cast. Winstead carefully sidesteps being just a dream girl to shows layers beneath that 'too good to be true' caricature that Pilgrim paints of her. Chris Evans and Brandon Routh both hilariously convince as just 2 of those previous and very egotistical exes Pilgrim has to contend with. Mae Whitman turns up too, reuniting her with her ''Arrested Development'' co-star Cera. Kieran Culkin impresses as Scotts gay room mate Wallace, and is hilariously sardonic towards the lovelorn Scott. It is arguably all seen from Scotts perspective in his head, but the film is hardly just about him. Part of what makes the film are the supporting players whether they be part of his band 'Sex-Bob-omb', or attempting to kick his ass for the hand of the one he loves.

There is no reason given for the superhuman tendencies characters have here. Look at the film as being set in a different universe to our own, look at it as being seen through Scotts eyes, look at it as being a metaphor for coming to terms with the one you love's past. Whatever viewpoint you decide upon, nothing can quite prepare you for what Wright puts up on screen. He doesn't ease viewers into it; this is his world, like it or loathe it. When the first evil ex starts bellowing out a Bollywood style song and dance, some simply won't want to go along with the Directors sensibilities so disjointing is it. The film is after all a (deep breath) action-romance-comedy-musical. And you thought ''Shawn of the Dead''s 'rom-zom-com' was ambitious? Wrights film simply bubbles over with colour and life and fervour. It literally is far too much to take in at once. It might be easier at the start to characterise the film as a hipsters wet dream, but there is far too much imagination, wit and originality going on display here to so easily dismiss. How Wright manages to keep to movie on the rails is beyond me, but he passes with flying colours. Action scenes are fantastically staged and choreographed, with each battle getting a firm and separate distinct personality from the last. Events do not become tiring despite the fact that there are 7 epic fights to get through; Wrights pacing is impeccable. The film never once stops to take in breath or to let you digest proceedings and it is all over before you can truly take in what you have witnessed. We all knew Wright was talented before, but the staggering amount of split screens, zooms and camera tricks he throws at the audience is astonishing. All are carefully thought out, and not just of the 'see what trick will stick' variety. For a Director as visually gifted, he is also in great possession of keen writing. This is what lends ''Scott Pilgrim'' its heart and vitality; without this, the film would just be a whirlwind of colour all jumbled incoherently together.

''Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World'' could be argued as being rock music personified on film. The picture both knowingly, yet lovingly mocks its indie core audience. 'We are Sex-Bob-omb', one the characters tells his audience, 'we're here to make you think about death and make you sad and stuff'. Another rival bands song lasts only a few seconds with a screaming declaration of being 'so sad'. It laughs at itself and the audience, and the audience laughs right back. Yet music is in the films bones. Fellow Canucks 'Broken Social Scene', 'Plumtree' and 'Metric' all feature heavily, while Beck and his band performed and wrote all the Sex-Bob-omb tracks featured. The result is everything you could want from a film. It makes you fall in love with your friends, your music and those that you hold dearest all over again. It positively jumps out of the screen and grabs you, shaking you to life. A cinematic headrush of colour, humour and music, Edgar Wright yet again outdoes himself. This is a film for right now and hopefully where you are in your life and depending on your age you will get it, and admire it for everything that it is. If there is a more stunningly original vision this year, I'll burst into coins.

Verdict 85%
Edgar Wright confirms his position as one of the most exciting young film makers around, while Cera shows there is more to him than meets the eye. The cast do fantastic work and the music is all top notch. All this combined with the most humorous action you may see all year adds up to a huge cult classic in the making. Ignore the tepid Stateside response, see the film, fall in love with it and see it again.

"Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World" OST

In a soundtrack chocked full of gems, here is but one cut from it. Originally written by the excellent Canadian band 'Metric', it is performed by Scott's ex-girlfriend in the film. The entire soundtrack is very much recommended, as those who have seen the film will attest to.