Archives for posts with tag: what brian has been watching

In an age of information ubiquity, I will never quite accept the logic behind non-simultaneous international release dates. Ignoring the piracy issue, staggering the release of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World a few weeks after the US release date is leaving the potential audience open to the dangers of bad word of mouth. Unless you happen to be Pixar, there’s no way that won’t impact on your business, irrespective of how much or how little truth there is in it. I and mine will be there on opening day, but we’re not the ones you need to win over for the big bucks, however much we would like to believe otherwise.

Anyhoo, tirade over.

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World is a movie that I suspect I cannot be impartial or unbiased about. Aside from the earlier blog posts on the subject of Scott and his world, the series has a level of resonance for me that pushes it into a special and sheltered part of my brain that is unassailable by logic or reason. The books about the 23 year scroungabout first came out when I was a 23 year old scroungabout. Scott had a young girlfriend, I had just broken up with same. Ramona just came into his life, Olivia into mine. Gay roomates, oddly filtered perceptions of the world, inexplicable break outs into musical dance numbers… The parallels build up in a fashion that is either eerie, awesome, or the apotheosis of apophenia. The point is that objectivity is difficult at best. I want the series to be awesome. I also want the movie to be awesome. Edgar Wright has directed two of my favourite movies in recent years (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz), has the stellar Spaced under his TV belt and probably the finest taste in music of any popular culture figure in the media today.

How then does Scott’s cinematic tale fare?

Quite well, as it happens. Quite well fared indeed. First the positives: the movie looks and sounds amazing. Opening quietly, the movie quickly charges into a pop art video game frenzy that will in seconds let you know whether you are going to enjoy the movie or not. The video game references are present and plenty, but it is their subtlety that impresses: you may chuckle at the 8-bit tinkling, but you will guffaw when you realise that it is the Zelda load-screen/sleep music playing and then realise that we are seeing Scott dream… The story – such as it is – is effectively adapted from the source, chopping and changing in a way that feels natural, retaining the elements that worked and using them in novel ways. Wright realigns the action of the comic to work so well that you wish they happened that way in the source material. Without spoiling book or film, I will just say that I adore how the movie comes to show Scott’s growth and his change in motivation.

The characters are perfectly realised: people whining about Michael Cera before having even seen the movie can relax, his Scott is just as much of a lovable asshat as he was in the books. It is in the supporting cast that the movie really shines, particularly in regards to Kieran Culkin and Allison Pill as Wallace and Kim respectively. Part of the joy of the books is that the cast are all far more likeable than dear, selfish Scott, and that point is not lost here. The breakthrough, as has been stated time and again, is that of Ellen Wong as Knives Chau, who gets to show just about every emotion under the sun as she transitions from innocent school girl to hardcore jilted lover and finally as a mature adult in the space of two hours. The exes are all well realised, and even allowed some small measure of sympathy if you should feel the need to look for it: While Matthew Patel and Lucas Lee come off as idiots for the most part, Todd is – bless him – the victim of his being exceptionally dumb, while Roxy has the rather legitimate upset of being told she was “just a phase”. The movie does not shy away from the emotional carnage that both Scott and Ramona are creating with their self-involvement…

What then are the negatives? While most of the secondary and tertiary characters maintain a reasonable if reduced presence within the story, there are exceptions. Envy Adams suffers the most, having her two and a half volumes of story compressed down into ten minutes. That she is played a little too insincerely also weakens her plot, as it alters her into a throwaway opponent rather than someone Scott may have unfairly aggrieved. Ramona’s role in the climax is also verging on troubling, lacking an agency that puts her character at risk. There is at least an interesting point – that she is trapped in a series of increasingly abusive relationships and they can be hard to escape without help – but it rings oddly here. Thankfully, that it isn’t just Scott fighting removes a certain amount of the sexual politickery, and his aforementioned change in motivation makes his role in the events much more palatable. Some may quiver at the superfast transitions between the day-to-day antics and the heightened reality of Toronto Combat, but as with Speed Racer before it, that just broke my heart with glee.

It’s very hard for me to be negative about this movie, even when I try my hardest.

The movie is not for everyone, but then nothing should be. Whenever anyone tries, you end up with low grade Adam Sandler movies and monstrosities like Vampires Suck. Attention Hollywood: when you make me sympathetic to Twilight, know that you have done something evry wrong and must be punished. You may love Scott Pilgrim or you may very well hate it: it’s a divisive movie, and all the better for it. I’m tired of unimaginative, plodding movies which try to walk the middle ground between art and commerce. It’s a huge shame that it’s not storming the charts in the way it deserves to, but that’s a quiet blessing, since it means we are less likely to have a dozen shameless rip-off parodies a month which look at the artifice and miss the point.

All in all, it’s a triumph that places Wright three for three in his movie output to date. Even though a part of me knows I’m probably wrong about it on some level, it’s equal to Toy Story 3 in my estimation of movies this year and will be the only film I’ll go to see again in the cinema this Summer. Who cares about objectivity when you can have this much fun? Scott Pilgrim Vs The World is just that good, and if you don’t like it, then I am sorry, but I’m not sure that we can be friends any more…*

(* Hyperbole. You’re still pretty neat.)

Bonus! The prequel cartoon which spoils NOTHING and adds A BIT!

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I was out dancing back when I was in college, and there she was…

Okay, that’s a lie. I hated dancing when I was in college. A-cha cha!

How I Met Your Mother is an odd duck. Every time I ever see an advert for it, it’s presented as yet another in a long line of efforts to reverse-alchemise the Friends formula. But HIMYM is, once the superficial elements of cheap marketing have been scraped away, really nothing like Friends. For a start, it’s funny. The character dynamics are more inventive and subversive: the lead is a guy – not a girl – desperately trying to be in a relationship; his initial love interest wants to further her career, not start a family (and critically does not change in this motivation); the player is both charismatic and outright sleazy, both loved and loathed by the laides; the most emotionally stable and sensitive character is the lumbering Marshall… More importantly, it recognises and acknowledges that its characters are flawed and often odious people. Not enough American sit-coms do that: typically, there will be a character or two that is there specifically to be hated by the audience, but they are tangential to the core group. It misses the point somewhat to make them be so one dimensionally unlikeable, when a better show will create a character we care about that also happens to be a complete jerk.

Almost like what happens in real life.

I’m not just referring to Barney, by the by, although he is the most overt and obvious example of the character type. In truth, the entire cast of their moments in the dark, but it tends to be on a spectrum of morality, running from most relatively moral and decent to least, in my estimation, as Marshall, Robin, Barney, Lily to Ted. Yes, Barney is more respectable morally than either Lily or Ted, since he at least is honest to himself and those around him in his motivations and character. He may not be very nice, but he doesn’t abandon the people around him. He even has the wherewithal to be utterly distraught when he breaks his own moral code. Your mileage may, of course, vary.

The structure of the show is also fascinating. As the show goes on, it becomes increasingly obvious that the narrator is increasingly unreliable (mixing up dates and events, skewing perspectives…). When Friends had a flashback episode, it was a gimmick, and more often another excuse to shove Courtney Cox into a fat suit. When HIMYM delves into its own continuity and history, it’s not for a cheap laugh but to establish or enhance motivations. There is a purpose present which is built into the DNA of the show – it’s a continuity which stretches out beyond the six-or-so episode arc cycle.. A throwaway joke in one episode may turn out, two years later, to be a critical plot beat. It may be planned, it may be serendipitous for the writers, but it nonetheless feels natural. Once a running gag is set-up, attention is never drawn to it so as to alienate a newbie (never mind the sandwiches, who caught Ted’s current ringtone, for example?) It doesn’t operate at quite the giddy level of Arrested Development, which at its peak seeded jokes referencing future events that you could only get on the second viewing, but then again AD was a commercial failure in part because it pushed itself so hard at the audience. HIMYM is much more friendly and inviting to a new viewer, albeit with a caveat: you need to watch multiple episodes before it really begins to click (the pilot was quite dull until its twist; even then, it took a half dozen episodes or so to really take off).

Irrespective of the slow burn, the show does have more obvious and ongoing issues: Ted is the least interesting character, and his quest to find his soul mate is usually the least interesting element of the show. Both of these issues were alleviated by season 2 (when he was in what we the audience knew was a doomed relationship) and we instead got to see more of the group dynamic actively in play. It also helped that the writers finally developed an interesting take on Ted as a hopeless romantic, after nearly driving us to dementia with Ted being an insufferable bore in season 1 (that they later make him a pretentious insufferable bore is fine, because he was in that still funny). There is an impressive level of discretion in play that the more charming and insidious Barney isn’t constantly shoved into the front and center of every episode (though his player Neil Patrick Harris is so perfect in the role, you could feel the temptation). The real revelation is Jason Segel, who is rarely anything less than wonderful as the utterly relaxed and nigh-permanently conflicted Marshall.

Maybe it helps that HIMYM isn’t repeated on every station over and over and over and oh my… Maybe it helps that my recent viewing was five seasons worth of material clustered together (which helped to view the ebb and flow of gaggery both short and long term)… But it really is the best ongoing sitcom coming out of the the States at the moment. I really wish other shows would try this hard with their light entertainment.

Hey hey hey! It’s time to make value judgements on unfinished products, thus exemplifying all that is wrong in the immediacy of internet culture!

THOR
(For some reason, this trailer is not embedding: here’s the direct link, I will try and fix this later)

This is a weird trailer in a lot of ways: opening in media res on an interview intercut with the preceding rough’n’tumble fight is fairly standard to shove in some exposition with Manly Testosterone Juice baiting, but the cut to Asgard is weird unless you have a pre-existing knowledge of the character and or Marvel universe. Where it proceeds from there is interesting, fine and Jim Dandy, but the tonal shift does leave you a little bit uneasy.

The sheer amount of plot revealed is odd as well: the Marvel Studios movies thus far have been pretty straightforward in terms of plot, so I can’t help but think they are a little wary of how people may interpret the mythical Thor being brought into the same world as Iron Man and the Hulk. As ridiculous as all the characters are, there is at least the thematic resonance of Science! between most of the characters, while Thor swings closer to magic (note the compromise: “What you then called magic and now call science, we call both…” or some such). It looks fine, and it should be a fun movie, but it is at more risk of being hampered by the shared universe and the Avengers movie than its predecessors and eventual successor Captain America.

SUCKER PUNCH

A part of me really wants to like this trailer. Superficially, it has that over-the-top Looney Tunes frenzy that I would love to see more of in movies. As interesting and tickling of my personal fetishes it may be however, it is hampered by the fact that it’s the newest movie by Zack Snyder. This is, unless I missed something along the way, Mr Snyder’s first original movie, his others all being remakes or adaptations. This isn’t itself his fault – the current market is obsessed with pre-established audiences – but his adaptations have been somewhat lacking. Dawn of the Dead added nudity and running zombies after 28 Days Later; Watchmen clunkingly missed the point, compressing itself to keep in and amp up the violence, yet missed all the philosophical issues which were the key elements (such as the Gordian Knot and the thesis that SUPERHEROES ARE A BAD THING). 300 meanwhile was slavish to poor material.

As a result, I’m left with the feeling that Sucker Punch will be little more than Nerdbait, throwing mad imagery at us now to build excitement, yet failing to form a cohesive whole. It doesn’t need to be deep – given the imagery, it would be difficult to see how it could be – but I expect that it will swing closer to Van Helsing than Speed Racer, and more is the pity for that. I do hope Snyder proves me wrong – it may well be that playing to the constraints of source material took its toll – but scepticism after his previous movies is warranted, alas.

THE EXPENDABLES

It’s not an official trailer, but as a piece of guerilla marketing it is perfect. Tongue in cheek and aimed precisely at the movie’s target audience, this is what I would love to see more of from trailers: something which gives the tone and style of the film without spoiling the plot or content. And it is funny. Really goddamn funny – I have broken my girlfriend’s heart over how many times I have watched this trailer and added +10 to my sublimated homosexual issues and desires BUT I DO NOT CARE.

If the Expendables is not very good I may very well weep, because this trailer makes me need to love it.

STAR WARS: THE FORCE UNLEASHED 2

I did not play the previous game on the grounds of not really caring all that much. I suspect I probably won’t play this one either, mostly due to having enough games to get on with. This is not the fault of the cinematic above, which is simply wonderful. Playing as the bad guy can be fun and this has all the hallmarks of being able to do ridiculous, glorious things even if you want to play it straight (I almost always end up playing as a paragon rather than a renegade, even when I would benefit for playing contrary to form. I am a rubbish villain player-character, I just end up feeling intensely guilty) It kills me however that the video game producers have a better idea of how to explore and express how awesome it would be to be a Jedi or a Sith, as the next trailer shows…

STAR WARS: THE OLD REPUBLIC

Thanks to the double-whammy of Dragon Age and Mass Effect, I am now a thrall to whatever Bioware put out. The aforementioned give me games that are so well written that I would gladly watch them as TV shows. The characters excite and engage me – I want to be able to talk to them more than the game can reasonably allow. It’s wonderful to see a company that considers writing an integral part of the gaming experience and who strives to make characters I want to spend time in the company of (Tali! Grunt! Morrigan! Alistair!) Even though I am beyond my Star Wars nerd days, the temptation of this company putting out a Star Wars game is over-whelming. Bringing a knife to a light saber fight! Jedi Hadouken! Dragon Age and Mass Effect are the prime time sinks of my year so far: were I to play this as well, it might very well end me.

INCEPCIÓN

Can you say BRRR? Very good!

It’s the end of the prime TV season and most shows are wrapping up – what better time to wax critical then on theoretically whole and complete story arcs? Glee, 30 Rock, Going Postal and The Losers all lie in wait underneath the cut…
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