(Dir. Edgar Wright, 2010)

This long awaited adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel series opens with a pixelated Universal Studios logo with a symphonic variation on the company’s famous theme music. The funny implication is clear – this is a video game cartoon of a movie. Each character’s stats are given in pop-up black boxes, there are subspace doors to alternate dream levels, and when our hero defeats a baddie they explode into a cloud of coins that clank into piles of pocket change on the ground.

Our hero, of course, is Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) – an unemployed 23 year old slacker who plays bass in a punk rock band called Sex Bob-Omb. Cera lives in a shabby apartment in Toronto with his “cool gay roommate” (Kieren Culkin), and he starts off his movie boasting about having a new 17 year old high school girlfriend (Ellen Wong).

This budding romance is stunted by the arrival of the girl of Cera’s dreams – literally a girl that’s been in his dreams – Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona Flowers. The spunky Winstead re-colors her hair every week and works as a delivery person for Amazon so Cera orders something just to be able to ask her out.

This is on the side of the woefully oblivious Wong who becomes very upset upon learning of her boyfriend’s cheating. This is, the least of Cera’s problems as he learns that he has to fight the “League of Evil Exes” for his new girlfriend’s hand. That is 7 of Winstead’s exes are coming to take him down mostly by way of a big battle of the bands competition.

The Evil Exes are (in order of appearance) Satya Bhabha, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Mae Whitman, twins Shota Saito and Keita Saito, with Jason Schwartzman bringing the smarm for the cluttered climax. Each of the exes has some sort of power which are all fairly well explained (I think), but Cera has mighty powers when he needs them that are not explained. I know, I know – it’s just a big surreal world they’re having fun with – why ask why?

In between the mix of Manga and Martial arts mayhem, director Wright impressively makes the most of the crowded cast that also includes Anna Kendrick as Cera’s cynical sister, a very Molly Ringwald circa 1985 looking Alison Pill as Sex Bob-Omb’s drummer, and Aubrey Plaza (Parks And Recreation) as a bad tempered co-worker of Kendrick who’s foul-mouth makes her a running gag of a character. But then in this film everybody is a running gag of a character.

The super charged movie has an enjoyable soundtrack provided by Beck who wrote Sex Bob-Omb’s material, Nigel Godrich, and Broken Music Scene. It all enhances the playing a video game while blaring punk feeling – or at least the watching somebody playing a game while blaring punk feeling.

Though he is still basically the same old Cera, it must be said that he can be detected trying to play some different notes than he has before with this character. Some of his line readings show a lot more effort than in his last few movies (YOUTH IN REVOLT, YEAR ONE, and PAPER HEART for instance) and he has some tangible chemistry with Winstead.

There’s a lot going on (split screen effects, Batman style exclamations like “POW!”, frenetic cross cutting, etc.) in every frame of SCOTT PILGRIM and it moves fast through it, but it gets way overloaded in its second half.

Not being a gamer or graphic novel enthusiast I’m sure that a lot of stuff flew by me that would give nerdgasms to the audience this is aimed at. Still I laughed a lot and it doesn’t seem out of place with the other wonderful work of Edgar Wright (Spaced, SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ) even if it’s not quite up to par with those Simon Pegg vehicles.

As I was writing this I saw that surprisingly SCOTT PILGRIM opened at #5 at the box office, beat out by THE EXPENDABLES, EAT PRAY LOVE, THE OTHER GUYS, and INCEPTION. I guess the geeks aren’t going to inherit the earth after all.

More later…

FANTASTIC MR. FOX: The Film Babble Blog Review



Dir. Wes Anderson, 2009)

The highly detailed microcosms that Wes Anderson crafts (think the theatrical productions of Max Fischer in RUSHMORE, the family townhouse in THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, the cross section of Steve Zissou’s research submarine The Belafonte in THE LIFE AQUATIC, et al) fit perfectly into the storybook world of Roald Dahl in this film that more than does its title justice. The stop motion technique may at first glance strike one as primitive in these days of CGI saturation but the results aren’t disjointed they’re jaunty and full of life.

A slick, quick talking George Clooney voices Mr. Fox, a chicken thief turned newspaper columnist, who secretly returns to a life of crime defying a promise he made to his wife (Meryl Streep). Mr. Fox targets farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean: “One short, one fat, one lean. These horrible crooks, so different in looks, were nonetheless equally mean” as Dahl described and the film quotes in its opening. Mr. Fox’s son, voiced by Anderson regular Jason Schwartzman, is struggling to be noticed at school when he finds himself in the shadow of his visiting cousin Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson) but they bond when getting wind of Fox’s 3 phase heist plan.

With the aid of a wacky opossum named Kylie (Wally Wolodarsky), Mr. Fox pulls off his thieving schemes evoking the murderous wrath of the furious farmers who destroy his tree home forcing Fox and family to plough deep into the earth’s surface to escape. Fox’s tail gets shot off in the initial attack but it does little to discourage his plucky determination and cunning charm. The marvelous mix of quirky characters includes Willem Dafoe as a slimy security guard rat, Jarvis Cocker as a human hippy protest singer named Petey, with a few more Anderson regulars – Owen Wilson and Bill Murray as Coach Skip and a badger lawyer respectively rounding out the cast.

Anderson’s knack for setting the beats and tone with an eclectic blend of music from American standards to British rock ‘n roll pays off grandly here with composer Alexandre Desplat’s fine score filling in the rest. The Beach Boys “Heroes and Villains” (from “Smiley Smile” not Brian Wilson’s recent re-recording of “Smile”) works wonderfully in the punchy title sequence as does The Rolling Stones’ immortal “Street Fighting Man” in a chase scene set piece.

FANTASTIC MR. FOX is a clever, funny, and fiercely intelligent film. With endearing style and grace it successfully welds the warmth of an old-school children’s book sensibility with the hip humor of new-school speaking rhythms. It’s the least pretentious and possibly the most accessible of Anderson’s ouvre but it’s so much more than that; Wes’s witty and wise Fox concoction is an instant classic.

More later…

FUNNY PEOPLE: The Film Babble Blog Review

FUNNY PEOPLE (Dir. Judd Apatow, 2009)

This movie is further proof of my theory that Judd Apatow wants to be a scatological James L. Brooks. Despite his raunchy bad boy comedy pedigree, Apatow seems, to me, to be emulating the oeuvre of the writer/director/producer famous for classic TV comedy staples like Mary Tyler Moore and Taxi (not to mention extensive work on The Simpsons) and films such as BROADCAST NEWS and AS GOOD AS IT GETS. In other words Apatow wants to make his own TERMS OF ENDEARMENT with dick jokes.

Inching closer to that goal is FUNNY PEOPLE, Apatow’s 3rd film as director, which may look from the marketing to be a comedy that takes dramatic turns but it is really a drama sprinkled with a lot of comic asides. Adam Sandler, Apatow’s former ’80’s room-mate, plays a famous comedian named George Simmons who has made a lot of Adam Sandler-like stupid movies with names like “Mer-man” and “Re-do”. He lives alone in a huge mansion by the beach decorated with posters from his films and his looming loneliness. A young comic, the increasingly skinny Seth Rogen, goes quickly from a brush with celebrity moment with his idol Sandler to being his assistant and joke writer. You could be forgiven for thinking this is just another crude yet tender bromance (brom-com?) in the vein of SUPERBAD or I LOVE YOU, MAN.

A James L. Brookian factor in this is that Sandler is diagnosed with a potentially fatal blood disorder. Rogen is the only one he’s told and the tears start flowing (onscreen that is) when the comic upstart implores his mentor to tell the world of his sickness. There’s also the matter of, as Sandler says onstage: “There is always the one girl out there that got away…the one that got away. Guys have that and serial killers have that.” That comes in the form of former flame (Apatow’s wife Leslie Mann) that our ill protagonist obviously still pines for. She’s married (Eric Bana plays her amusing Australian husband) with children (Apatow and Mann’s daughters Iris and Maude) but she still holds a candle for Sandler. The film then goes from the more interesting world of stand-up comedy, to a less interesting near farce in a Marin County suburban home-set, and in the process, loses its ground.

There are many laughs and genuinely funny people (including Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Aubrey Plaza, Aziz Ansari, and cameos from just about every working comedian in LA) in FUNNY PEOPLE but at 2 hours 26 minutes its way too long with a dragging 3rd act. That’s another reason it’s not a comedy; the unwritten rule that comedies should be around 90 minutes. As such, I could’ve done with more of the backstabbing egos backstage at comedy clubs crux than the ‘will they/won’t they get back together’ relationship rigmarole overall.

There’s also that long running complaint with comedies about all the best jokes being in the trailers and commercials and that’s all too true here. The drama is what’s left, and there’s a lot of it so take note. Still, I bet it’ll be an appealing DVD down the road with an unrated cut, tons of outtakes, extended scenes that are funnier that what’s in the movie, and a crowded cut loose commentary like all Apatow productions have. So even as a mixed bag of a dramedy (or whatever you want to call it) Apatow still makes with the yuk yuks – I just hope next time he gives us more laughs and less pathos.

More later…

More Or Wes Worthwhile

Peter (Adrien Brody) : He said the train is lost.
Jack (Jason Schwartzman) : How can a train be lost? It’s on rails.

Wes Anderson’s latest opus THE DARJEELING LIMITED starts playing today in my area as it has now entered its nationwide release. It opened in New York at the end of last month and a few other places after that but now film geeks from all markets can rejoice. I caught a sneak preview of it last night so here’s my review :

THE DARJEELING LIMITED (Dir. Wes Anderson, 2007) Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, and a new addition to the Anderson reparatory company – Adrien Brody are brothers who haven’t seen each other in the year following their father’s death. In a plan initiated by Wilson they meet up to take a train ride in India to bond and take “a spiritual journey” – also suggested by Wilson. They lug a huge amount of luggage with them on this trip – of course we get the symbolism there – baggage, right? Along the way they fight, embrace, engage in odd enforced rituals, and wonder where the Hell they are really going and what they are going to achieve. It is easy to wonder that about the film as well but Anderson’s visual mastery is absorbing as usual, his soundtrack choices exquisite (including The Kinks and music from Satyajit Ray’s films), and the acting superb so it’s best to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

It is hard though, maybe impossible to not think of Owen Wilson’s real-life suicide attempt when his character here had nearly killed himself by crashing his car on purpose and spends the film with his head wrapped in bandages. What makes it so difficult to separate the art from the non-fiction is his character is given practically no back story. In fact we are given so little to go on with just about everybody on the screen – Schwartzman is a published writer but of what type and is he respected or a hack? I can’t recall at all what Brody or Wilson’s occupations are and the info given on their parents is pretty vague too – their Mother (played by Anjelica Huston in a quiet but effective manner) became a reclusive Nun at some point but again we are given little motivation. They seem to have an unlimited amount of fundage to back their trip and to buy expensive trinkets so maybe their family was old money – who knows? These people don’t appear to have any life except what we see on the screen but maybe that’s the point.

Not fully thought out narrative threads and a pungent lack of pay-offs aside this is still a worthwhile night at the movies. Anderson may be treading water in some respects but it’s his own water and he stays afloat more than he sinks. The train of the films title winds down the tracks unconcerned with any existential meaning or the lack of it and that’s how moviegoers should be too when they get on board.

Postnote : I didn’t realize before seeing the film last night that the 13 min. prequel HOTEL CHEVALIER (reviewed on the post The Darjeeling Prequel – Now Playing On My iPod Nano 10/1/07) was going to be played before the main feature theatrically. It gave me the chance to re-evaluate the short and I admit I liked it a lot better on the big screen as opposed to my previous iPod postage stamp sized viewing. Go figure.

More later…

The Darjeeling Prequel – Now Playing On My iPod Nano

“She’s kind of like a movie everyone rushes to see, and no one understands it sittin’ in their seats.”
– The Replacements (“Achin’ To Be” from Don’t Tell A Soul, 1989)

So as every online film geek knows that the official “prequel” to the highly anticipated Wes Anderson joint THE DARJEELING LIMITED (well, anticipated in my area – I know it’s already opened in other markets) was made available free though iTunes last week. It was filmed a year in advance of THE DARJEELING LIMITED and titled HOTEL CHEVALIER (the end credits list it as “PART 1 OF THE DARJEELING LIMITED“).

Since I just got an iPod Nano and am really new to the world of podcasts and video downloads I thought it would be a good tryout to download and watch this 13 min. short. I know – I could easily blow it up on my computer screen but having heard the criticism of this new gadget as a valid visual medium I decided to view and review HOTEL CHEVALIER based on my iPod experience. So here goes :

Immediately I realize how silly this venture is because it’s presented in widescreen which makes the picture much smaller than the screen provides and there’s no way to zoom or enlarge in any way. A mustached Jason Schwartzman lounges in a Parisian hotel room ordering grilled cheese sandwiches and watching STALAG 17 on TV (I could barely see it on the iPod screen – thanks for the nerdspotting The Playlist!) until Natalie Portman calls up and wants to visit. She shows up shorthaired (I guess it still hasn’t grown back from V FOR VENDETTA) and clingy. They exchange cryptic dialogue – Portman : “are you running away from me?” Schwartzman : “I thought I already did” and have a brief sex scene that is really not done justice on my iPod’s postage stamp viewpoint.

This short film seems to completely be about the song “Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)” by Peter Sarstedt – the bulk of which is played twice. The lack of back story and any further insight into either Schwartzman or Portman’s characters left me hanging and unsatisfied. Even though on my little screen it looked great – the colors and framing all held my attention and I loved the song but sadly the stylistic approach is the whole show – no real insight or memorable moments appear. The last tracking shot of the couple in question walking in slow motion is a Anderson trademark and it’s provided in this short as the payoff which uh…well, let’s just say it doesn’t bode well for THE DARLEELING LIMITED. Despite that the full length follow-up PART 2 already getting pretty scathing reviews so far I’m gonna wait and see for myself how disappointing it will be – snap! Nah, nah…we’ll just wait and see.

More later…