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Movie Review: Silver Linings Playbook (11/21/12)

Movie Poster: Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook

Directed by David O. Russell
Screenplay by David O. Russell

Starring:
Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Anupam Kher, Julia Stiles, Chris Tucker

How long is Silver Linings Playbook? 122 minutes.
What is Silver Linings Playbook rated? R for language and some sexual content/nudity.

CLR Rating: 4/5 stars

Movie still: Silver Linings Playbook

Photo: JoJo Whilden/©Weinstein Company

The Virginia Film Festival added Silver Linings Playbook to the lineup as its Centerpiece Film at the last minute. David O. Russell’s dramedy had been gently building buzz as it toured the major festivals, attracting the attention of critics with each screening. The VFF is a small festival even after twenty-five years, mainly due to the fact that Virginia, well, isn’t a movie state (though the organizers would have you know, parts of Lincoln were filmed here in the Commonwealth, so there). People travel from all across the state to attend the Festival, and often enough, they have no idea what they’re in for. (This year, a lady in line for Silver Linings Playbook thought she was seeing The Merchant of Venice for some reason. “My husband and I just noticed there were movies playing all weekend!” she said dreamily, “and I love the theater!” I traded glances with the people behind me in line, holding up my ticket to make sure I was in the right place. Silver Linings Playbook had been sold out for weeks. When I saw Black Swan a few years ago under stringent security, most of the older audience was pretty sure it was seeing a movie about the artistry of ballet. That was an entertaining screening.)

Aside from the clueless lady in line, the audience for Silver Linings Playbook is aware. There’s chatter about Russell’s directorial style: he is known to be prickly; there is a series of YouTube videos floating around of the director and actress Lily Tomlin shouting profanities at each other on the set of I Heart Huckabees while a weary and distraught Jason Schwartzman and Dustin Hoffman wander around in the background. There are excited murmurings about the next Hunger Games movie: these, more than Jennifer Lawrence’s heart-rending turn in Winter’s Bone, will now be her claim to fame. People are excited for Silver Linings Playbook, really thrilled to be in the Paramount (which, by the way, is one of the most beautiful theaters I’ve ever seen).

I went in knowing next to nothing about the plot, which is for the better. The plot of Silver Linings Playbook is kind of inane. Matthew Quick’s book, one guesses, is able to neatly tie up loose ends without going overboard. Narrative style is more fluid in a novel, and authors pad trite plot devices with character development and lively prose (see also: Yann Martel’s Life of Pi). Much of the time, a movie just can’t offer the sort of character depth and development a book does. It’s totally implausible that a man recently released from a psychiatric hospital would find himself with the weight of his family’s livelihood on his shoulders as he performs in a dance competition with a recently widowed, slightly nymphomaniac young woman. These characters, from the superstitious, obsessive-compulsive father figure, to the Eagles-loving Indian psychiatrist, are not your average Philadelphians. They’re larger than life. What’s really interesting about Silver Linings Playbook is that Russell adapted a silly plot and over-the-top characters into a movie that absolutely does offer the kind of character development you want, and does, somehow or other, create a totally plausible, mostly enjoyable yarn.

Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) allows his long-suffering mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) to pull him out of inpatient psychiatric care the moment the courts allow (and against doctors’ recommendations). At home, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) isn’t sure how to accept his son again – he can’t quit repositioning the remote controls during football games on which he bets, and he can’t look Pat in the eye. Pat Jr. goes on morning runs wrapped in a trash bag so he can win back his ex-wife Nikki with a sexy new body. Unfortunately, Nikki has a restraining order against him. As the whole story comes into view piece by piece, it becomes clear that Pat needs all the help he can get to rebuild his life. His best friend’s deplorable wife (Julia Stiles) sets him up on an ill-fated date with her younger sister Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Tiffany lost her husband recently and uses sex to dull the pain. The two of them make a deal: if Tiffany communicates Pat’s undying love to Nikki, he’ll perform in a dance competition with her. Somewhere along the line, Pat Sr. decides to bet the family’s business on the dance competition. (Like I said, it’s a wee bit farfetched.)

Russell translated Quick’s small-time yet exaggerated story into a believable, smart, and sweet film, certainly, but what makes Silver Linings Playbook a work of genius is its brilliant performances. Russell, in spite of (or perhaps because of) his alleged asshole tendencies behind the scenes, squeezes every last drop out of his actors. Cooper, previously known almost entirely in comedies (though he was good in Limitless), somehow imbues a troubled, violent person with gentle kindness veiled by abrasive potshots. De Niro doles out one of his best performances in years; the man looks nothing short of elderly these days, and his fragility is gorgeously vivid. Lawrence puts a hard, ugly face on pain. She’s a woman who hurts so badly she tortures herself and everyone around her to make it easier. Two very broken people swirl around each other, each basking in the other’s palpable anguish, and eventually realize their respective hurts can combine to put them back together again.live streaming movie Power Rangers

Watching Lawrence verbally spar against Robert De Niro, you remember that she’s a force to be reckoned with. Her chemistry with Cooper is odd and off-putting, but beneath the antagonism, both characters recognize foils of themselves. Russell took utmost care to give all the characters dynamic personalities; from Dr. Cliff Patel (Anupam Kher) to the police officer in charge of Pat’s restraining order (Dash Mihok), no one is two-dimensional. Nikki, who in some ways is the catalyst behind the entire series of events, is more of a mythical figure than anything else; though it would have been simple to make her an evil, conniving witch, Russell refused. The film’s cinematography and color scheme are pleasantly low-key, reflecting the chill of autumn and winter in Pennsylvania in a muted palette. These blue-collar people live unglamorous lives, and they’re proud of them.

The story isn’t particularly a happy one, and it’s uncomfortable to the point of cringing at times – but quite frankly, what love story goes according to plan? What profoundly broken person doesn’t make you want to laugh and cry at the same time? All you can ever hope for, according to that quote attributed to Dr. Seuss, is to fall in mutual weirdness with someone. Watching these two do just that is totally gratifying.

Silver Linings Playbook is generating Oscar buzz already, and its three leads deserve their nods. Russell, whose films are hit-or-miss, has himself a hit. It isn’t exactly a feel-good holiday romp, but for people like me, suckers for quirk and angst, it’s the perfect antidote to the usual rom-com. If you ever get enough of turkey and beer and football, do yourself a favor and check it out this season. You won’t regret a minute.

Movie Review: Pitch Perfect (10/6/12)

Ed. Note (3/20/14): I was in a bad mood. I actually rather like Pitch Perfect these days, and I still love Rebel Wilson. Damn that “Cups” song, though.

Movie Poster: Pitch Perfect

Pitch Perfect

Directed by Jason Moore
Screenplay by Kay Cannon

Starring:
Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Skylar Astin, Freddie Stroma, Alexis Knapp, Adam DeVine, Ester Dean, Brock Kelly

How long is Pitch Perfect? 112 minutes.
What is Pitch Perfect rated? PG-13 for sexual material, language and drug references.

CLR Rating: 1.5/5 stars

Movie still: Pitch Perfect

Anna Kendrick stars in Pitch Perfect.
Photo: Peter Iovino/©Universal Pictures

A cappella flick fails to hit the right notes.

 film Nerve online

A cappella is serious business, according to this weekend’s PG-13, teen-centric opener. Unfortunately, Pitch Perfect can’t expect to be taken seriously. With stars like Anna Kendrick (Oscar-nominated for Up in the Air, the best part of the Twilight movies) and Rebel Wilson (Bridesmaids), it was a good prospect – a movie featuring funny women being funny, with singing and dancing! What’s not to like? But thanks to bad writing, shallowly drawn characters, and misuse of comediennes, it just can’t hit the high notes.

Beca (Kendrick) starts college at Barden, the same school where her divorced father teaches. In order to avoid his well-intentioned meddling, she follows her sullen roommate Kimmy Jin to the activities fair, the place where collegiate dreams go to be corralled. In this land of school-sponsored camaraderie and ego, she encounters Chloe (Brittany Snow) and Aubrey (True Blood’s Anna Camp), the remaining members of Barden’s all-girls a cappella group, The Bellas. In a tragic incident last spring, Aubrey projectile-vomited orange goop all over the stage at last year’s International Championships of A Cappella, and they are doubly determined to regain their dignity.

Dignity, however, seems at a premium when the two women are forced to scrape from the “bottom of the barrel” at Barden to achieve their eight-person quota. Fat Amy (Wilson) is, well, The Fat One. Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) is The Weird One. Cynthia Rose (Esther Dean) is the Token Lesbian. Stacie (Alexis Knapp) is the Oversexed One. Beca, The Sullen but Actually Invested One, rounds out the group. This is how any sports comedy goes: star athlete leads team to the finals, lets team down horribly, is forced to redeem himself by taking on new, “alternative” teammates and changing his whole mindset.

As the fall semester ramps up (not that you’d know it, as no one ever goes to a class in the movie), the rival a cappella group on campus, The Troublemakers, recruits Beca’s fellow radio station intern Jesse (Skylar Astin), an adorable, geeky movie buff. (It may be that I’m a bit of a sucker for movie geeks in film, but that’s for another day.) Since part of The Bellas’ oath is “I will never engage in sexual activity with a Troublemaker, or my vocal cords will be ripped out and eaten by wolves,” Jesse’s status as rival is supposed to be an obstacle. Actually, the obstacle is Beca’s standoffishness, her determination to reach her goal. College is for suckers! She wants to be a DJ, man. After she explains she can never make it to the end of a movie because she gets bored, Jesse shows her The Breakfast Club.

By using the last scene of the movie, Pitch Perfect throws a nod to the preceding teen movies it strives to emulate – but it completely misses the point. Just before Judd Nelson does the world’s most famous fist pump, Anthony Michael Hall narrates, “You see us as you want to see us. In the simplest terms; in the most convenient definitions. What we found out is that each one of us is a Brain, and an Athlete, and a Basketcase, a Princess, and a Criminal.” Hughes’s message was that there’s more to your average kid than meets the eye; that even kids from opposite social strata struggle with the same problems, heartbreaks, and pressures. In Pitch Perfect, nobody’s more than The Fat One, The Sexy One, The Dumb One, The Alternative One, and The Gay One.

Basically, Pitch Perfect took The Breakfast Club, Bridesmaids, Glee, and Bring It On and squashed them into a messy blob that leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Characters, particularly Camp’s Aubrey, add an “aca” prefix to words, much as Bring It On’s cheerleaders said “cheerocracy” and “cheertastic.” Fortunately, the intended audience probably hasn’t seen that one. The lesbian character, sporting Fantasia Barrino hair, is also thrust to the forefront for the occasional laugh – because lesbians always take every opportunity to grope someone’s boob in a rehearsal, right? Sure, it’s great that, since Judd Apatow insisted the food poisoning scene stay in Bridesmaids after Wiig and Mumolo’s initial protests, women can now be gross in comedy. It’s a good thing. But having a character spew a CGI stream of orange liquid, then having the women roll around in it, is not only deliberately derivative, but pointlessly classless.

Rebel Wilson’s character is likewise imitative of Melissa McCarthy’s in Wiig’s 2011 film. Fat Amy, self-appointed such so “twink bitches like you don’t call me it behind my back,” is the butt of every joke, and the audience loves it. The only redeeming factor is that Fat Amy is the butt of her own joke; her confidence and random, hilarious interjections (“I once fought a crocodile and some dingoes simultaneously”) nearly save the character. Wilson’s comedic timing and enthusiasm almost make you feel comfortable laughing at Fat Amy – because you’re sort of laughing with her. Unfortunately, the character still stumbles into the “laugh at the fat chick” jokes a few too many times. Isn’t it funny that her skirt doesn’t fit her the same way as it does the other girls? Isn’t it funny that somebody throws a burrito at her from a moving vehicle? Get it, a burrito for the fat chick? Isn’t it funny she’s surrounded by hot guys? Fat girls don’t have boyfriends! Ha-ha. It’s uncomfortable, to say the least – but the audience in my theater ate it up.

Finally, let’s get to the reason we all went to see it: the singing and dancing. Well, what you need to know about that is that Glee does it better. The choreography, cinematography, and arrangements are fine, but Ryan Murphy’s popular show, though it occasionally traipses into movie-of-the-week territory, sports some truly brilliant stage performances. A few of the scenes in Pitch Perfect invigorate and enervate the plot, but it also falls into one of Glee’s frustrating traps: no a cappella group is going to be, ahem, “pitch perfect” and choreographed masterfully without practicing. Where are the practice montages? They would’ve been a perfect way to get to know our characters better, and for our characters to get to know one another. Missed opportunities abound.

Kendrick, who was wonderful in Up in the Air and has spot-on comedic timing, is underused; a shallow, sullen character isn’t the right role for her. Wilson, whose tiny role in Bridesmaids probably got her here, is a comedic genius, and easily the funniest part of the film – the directors did the right thing by allowing her to improvise throughout, but I wish fewer of the jokes had been about how funny fatness is. Color commentators Elizabeth Banks and Christopher Guest regular John Michael Higgins have a number of funny scenes – but the intended audience probably doesn’t actually know who they are – though when Superbad‘s Christopher Mintz Plasse appears onscreen in a cameo, the whole theater gasped. The movie gets half a star for Wilson, half a star for Banks and Higgins, and half a star for its male lead, Skylar Astin, a cute goofball who has great chemistry with Kendrick (at least until the awkward kiss). Now I’m going to watch Stick It and The Breakfast Club and wash the taste of this drivel out of my mouth.

Movie Review: The Avengers (5/5/12)

Movie Poster: The Avengers

The Avengers

Directed by Joss Whedon
Screenplay by Joss Whedon

Starring:
Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson

How long is The Avengers? 142 minutes.
What is The Avengers rated? PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference.

CLR Rating: 5/5 stars

Movie Still: The Avengers

Scarlett Johansson is Black Widow in The Avengers.
© Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Whedon pits hero against hero against villain in one of the smartest, funniest, and most exciting action movies in the last few decades.

Over the last half decade, Marvel has embarked on a massive superhero journey, explaining over half a dozen films the origins of the Avengers, a superhero supergroup comprised of Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo replacing Edward Norton), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). No matter your thoughts on the preceding movies (Iron Man 2 was not very good and Thor was stupid but fun), you’re bound to adore this weekend’s brilliant culmination, the Joss Whedon nerdfest – and I mean that in the best way – The Avengers.

When fans heard Whedon might be connected to this movie, much rejoicing was heard across the internet. This is the man who brought you “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Firefly,” and Serenity. Whedon is a bloody genius with ensemble casts and witty, intelligent dialogue – which tells you all you really need to know about The Avengers. Obviously I’m going to continue, because that’s what I’m here for – but first and foremost know that the film’s screenplay is nothing short of brilliant.

There’s no slow build to action in The Avengers. In the opening moments Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, of whom we caught a glimpse post-credits in Iron Man 2) debarks from an aircraft with his assistant, Agent Hill (Cobie Smulders), and we’re thrown into world-in-jeopardy action from the first five minutes. Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) has been assisting S.H.I.E.L.D., an international peacekeeping organization, to build a pipeline from space through which clean energy will flow like manna from heaven. Ostensibly. Unfortunately, at the end of the pipeline is, well, outer space. And who should be attracted to this open door like a moth to flame, but Loki (Tom Hiddleston), brother of Thor and son of Odin, who is poised to take his “rightful” place as ruler of earth. Loki, a boy king, petulant, cruel, and vengeful, will force the people of earth to bow to him; after all, we are made to be ruled. After a short, gripping battle, Loki escapes after veritably hypnotizing Hawkeye and Selvig.

“As of this moment, we are at war,” Fury says solemnly, and Fury closes his metaphorical fist, bringing together all our major players. Dr. Bruce Banner, who hasn’t had a “Hulk smash” incident in over a year, is treating the sick in Calcutta. Tony Stark is living in bliss with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) in the upper floors of Stark’s latest, greatest monument to himself, Stark Tower. Natasha Romanoff is doing what she does best – interrogation – in Russia. Steve Rogers, awakened after 70 years trapped in ice, has no idea what to do with himself so demolishes punching bags and mourns the death of his sweetheart. Fury sends Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) to gather the unwilling, largely unstable troops and load them aboard the helicarrier. After the earthbound heroes track down Loki, Thor pops in from the heavens to try to save the day on his own terms – which of course irks the mortals.

What follows is what we’ve really been waiting for; we didn’t pay to see how the superheroes band together – no, we want to see them fight each other. Of course, each battle between our reluctant heroes is better than the last – and they aren’t simply thrown together Mortal Kombat-style for the sake of box office dollars. Authentic, clever dialogue segues into the superhero equivalent of fisticuffs. This is where Whedon excels – he gives his casts, no matter how large, generous character development. His actors seem to have ample time to step comfortably into their characters. In the case of The Avengers, these guys are military experiments, radiation survivors, supergeniuses, and demigods. Each feels vastly different from the others about his position in the world. With egos this big, something’s bound to come undone – but in Whedon’s hands, it’s not only a pleasure to watch the interactions between our heroes, it’s also absurdly exciting.

In a further twist, it turns out S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t actually in this battle for anything so innocent as clean energy; WMDs are the name of the game. “A nuclear deterrent,” as Stark says, “’cause that always calms everything down.” After Loki escapes his cage, scattering the Avengers to the four winds and murdering a secondary but beloved player, the heroes have a reason to fight. An army from outer space soars through a portal over New York City, and the S.H.I.E.L.D’s Council sends orders to nuke Manhattan. What are heroes for, if not to save the world? Ours do just that in stylish, exhilarating fashion, punctuating the BOPs and WHAMs and roars with hilarious discourse.

Not to compare actors to superheroes, but this cast could easily have exploded in our faces; like their characters, each of these actors is famous in his or her own right. Some are A-list while others hover just below, and it takes a persuasive genius (shall we call Whedon a Nick Fury of sorts?) to gather them and get them to fight for a common cause. Rumor has it Edward Norton’s ego was a bit too large to join this cast, but that’s fine. Ruffalo makes a perfect Banner and a great Hulk. Evans is charmingly earnest, delivering more in facial expressions than with lines. Downey, Jr. spouts dozens of one-liners that still have me chuckling fourteen hours later. Johansson and Renner play out a complex, tense relationship with subtle ease. Hemsworth is certainly a pretty face – though sorry, ladies, no shirtless Thor this time around – but he plays Thor comfortably and with a lack of humor that makes the character that much funnier. Hiddleston inhabits Loki with a frightening glee – the kind you associate with a future psychopath roasting ants with a magnifying glass. Yet every actor metaphorically doffs his hat to the next; you’ll see no scenery-chewing or one-up-manship in The Avengers. These guys genuinely play nice together, and that’s the key to a great ensemble cast.

For Whedon fans and comic aficionados alike, The Avengers is a nerdgasm, a playful and intelligent opening to the summer movie season (and be sure to stick around for a few minutes into the credits for a peek at the next step in the franchise). This year is going to be a doozie – before The Avengers, you’ll see new trailers for The Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus, The Amazing Spider-Man, Battleship, Brave, and Frankenweenie – in other words, all the big movies about which we movie nerds are preliminarily salivating. If The Avengers is any indication, this summer in theaters going to be nothing short of breathtaking.

Movie Review: Scream 4 (4/16/11)

Movie Poster: Scream 4

Scream 4

Directed by Wes Craven
Screenplay by Kevin Williamson

Anna Paquin as Rachel
Kristen Bell as Chloe
Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott
David Arquette as Dewey Riley
Courteney Cox as Gale Weathers-Riley
Emma Roberts as Jill Roberts
Hayden Panettiere as Kirby Reed

Running time: 111 minutes
Motion Picture Rating: Rated R for strong bloody violence, language and some teen drinking.

CLR Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Movie Still: Scream 4

Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell star in Scream 4.
Photo by: Gemma La Mana / Dimension Films

New decade, same old rules…but fortunately that’s a good thing.

 

Scream 4’s tagline “New decade, new rules” may be specious. The rules of surviving a slasher film are the same as they’ve always been – don’t drink or do drugs, don’t have sex, and never say “I’ll be right back,” or you’ll end up the next victim with your guts on the floor. Fortunately though, horror master Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson’s reunion brings back the same wit, glee, and panache of, if not the original movie, at least the second one. (Let’s forget Scream 3 ever happened, shall we?)

Avid horror fans have been waiting with bated breath for the fourth Scream movie, though we’ve mostly been reaching furtively out of our closet to high five each other. In 2000 hack writer Ehren Kruger apparently murdered the franchise with the third flick (but they always get back up, didn’t you know?). For the last decade fans of the original have been pretty sheepish about their love of the movie that brought slashers back to the big screen with a gush of blood and a tragedy mask you can now find on every costume shop’s wall around October. We flocked to midnight screenings and matinees of this weekend’s release, hoping it would be fun despite its well-publicized script and cast changes. Luckily, though it won’t be the year’s biggest hit, Scream 4 is sure to please.

Williamson, who also wrote for “Dawson’s Creek,” is a film geek. Craven is a well-documented horror nerd. The Scream movies are for film geeks and horror nerds alike (and the two intersect approximately 90% of the time). Although even film geeks will grow weary of the series’ pervasive meta-commentary on horror, verbose teenagers, and society’s ills. On the other hand, the horror genre in the last fifteen years is rife with remakes, foreign imports, and sequels – and it’s been begging for someone to place it under a magnifying glass. Who better than Craven and Williamson, who rebooted the slasher film in the first place?

Scream 4 returns our original Final Girl Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) to Woodsboro, California, an idyllic, wealthy town bursting with pretty teenage knife-bait and crawling with bumbling cops. Fans of the original will revel in Marco Beltrami’s familiar basso, choral composition and the recognizable columned entrance to Woodsboro High. Reporter Gail Weathers (Courteney Cox) chronicled the events of the first Scream movie in a gratuitous exposé that was immediately repurposed in the movies into a fictional film series called Stab. Movies don’t create psychos, movies only make psychos more creative – and the Stab series helped to mold a brand spanking new Ghostface, although in the end not an innovative one. Each movie in the series begins with a murder, and Scream 4 ups that ante. Sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and wife Gail strive to unmask the killer even as the bodies pile up. (And famous bodies they are: Hayden Panettiere, Kristen Bell, Anna Paquin, Aimee Teegarden, Adam Brody, Alison Brie, Anthony Anderson, and Mary McDonnell grace the credits.) Sidney’s cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) has a sassy blond friend, Kirby (Panettiere), who’s distinctly reminiscent of Rose McGowan’s Tatum in the first film. Jill’s creepy ex-boyfriend Trevor (Nico Tortorella) lurks around every corner much like Scream’s spookshow boyfriend Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich). Sidney, one of the three survivors of the original murders, is aptly termed the Angel of Death because, well, brutal casualties follow in her wake. Things are, it appears, as they should be for a reboot.

The new Scream is a whodunit, and whether you’re the type to spend the whole movie struggling to figure out who’s behind the Ghostface mask or just like to take it all in, the end result will probably surprise you. Williamson and Craven have both made less-than-stellar films (Teaching Mrs. Tingle or Vampire in Brooklyn, anyone?), but combine the two talents and you have a smartly paced, cleverly written, and tonally even movie. Scream 4 delivers all the right lines with the correct timing and rarely slows enough to become tedious. Aside from the Ghostface reveal, there are no great revelations, no fancy death footwork (although there is more gore in Scream 4 than we’ve seen in awhile). But as one of the characters says, why bother with the ridiculous complexity of torture-porn when you can simply have a crazy villain offing people with a knife? The movie tries too hard to make a statement about our current obsession with “reality”-based entertainment and YouTube sensations, but the point is there for the taking; Paranormal Activity and Justin Bieber are a part of pop culture whether we like it or not.

Williamson repurposes older material, tweaking it just enough to entertain us. Horror film nerds are almost always male (an obnoxious phenomenon), and the ladies will be pleasantly surprised to see Kirby whip out serious classic horror knowledge. Edgar Wright’s brilliant zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead gets much-deserved recognition, Williamson pokes fun at Robert Rodriguez (with whom he’s worked multiple times), and Dario Argento’s masterpiece Suspiria gets a shout-out. In Scream 4 we have the same old tropes: a big breasted blond running up the stairs when she should be going out the front door, a masked killer with a stupid motive, a Final Girl, and too much self-awareness. But those of us who love the original for just those things will be absolutely delighted to see the 4th film blow the 3rd out of the water.

Movie Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (8/14/10)

Movie Poster: Scott Pilgrim

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Directed by Edgar Wright
Screenplay by Michael Bacall and Edgar Wright

Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim
Alison Pill as Kim Pine
Mark Webber as Stephen Stills
Johnny Simmons as Young Neil
Ellen Wong as Knives Chau
Kieran Culkin as Wallace Wells
Anna Kendrick as Stacey Pilgrim
Aubrey Plaza as Julie Powers
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona Flowers

CLR Rating: 4/5 stars

Movie Still: Scott Pilgrim

Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona V. Flowers in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Edgar Wright and lovable slacker Scott Pilgrim are a match made in hipster, gamer heaven. “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is the most fun you’ll have in a theater this summer.

Scott Pilgrim may be a “ladykiller wannabe” with no cash, aspirations of rock stardom, and a slightly emo outlook, but he’s also the most awesome thing in theaters this weekend. Director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), who also cowrote the screenplay with Michael Bacall, adapted Scott Pilgrim vs. the World from Bryan Lee O’Malley’s series of graphic novels. Wright’s style is frenetic, energetic, slightly spastic, and his favorite subject is lovable, bumbling slackers who end up saving the day—though these roles generally go to Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, or both. Wright and Scott Pilgrim are a match made in hipster, gamer heaven.

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is an unemployed, 22-year-old bassist in Toronto, Canada with a rating of awesome. He platonically shares a bed with his gay roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin), dates a seventeen-year-old named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), and is still in mourning after his last big breakup. His band Sex Bob-Omb practices all the time, and drummer Kim Pine (Allison Pill), singer Stephen Stills (Mark Webber), and hanger on Young Neil (Johnny Simmons) are eye-rollingly used to Scott’s abundant girl problems. When Scott meets the girl of his dreams—literally, as he’s dreamt about her—he’s in for trouble. Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is the hipster ideal. Her short, brightly hued hair (purple, blue, and green in the movie), contrast tights, red lips, and cynical, no-nonsense attitude make her inaccessibly lovely.

Scott, ever the charmer, constantly puts his foot in his mouth around Ramona, but starts dating her anyway. Little does Scott know, before he gets anywhere with Ramona, he has to defeat her seven evil exes. Scott fights Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha), who has asymmetrical hair, dresses like a pirate, and pauses mid-battle for a Baliwood song and dance. Scott has a clash of the egos with Lucas Lee (Chris Evans, who purposely overacts better than almost anyone in Hollywood), an action star who dated Ramona in the ninth grade. Then there’s Roxy Richter (Mae Whitman), who was part of what Scott calls Ramona’s “sexy phase.” Todd Ingram (Brandon Routh, better known to most as Superman) poses a larger problem: he’s in a sell-out band with Scott’s horrible ex-girlfriend Envy (Brie Larson), formerly known as Natalie. Then there are the Katayanagi twins (Keita Saitou and Shota Saito), who create dancing dragons of sound with their synthesizers; and finally, there’s smarmy record exec and all-around jackass Gideon Gordon Graves (Jason Schwartzman), who planted a microchip in Ramona’s neck to keep her by his side. Before he can date Ramona, Scott has to defeat them all.

O’Malley’s books are a loving, ridiculous embrace of videogame culture. While the movie sticks pretty close to comic format, it’s also an oddly pleasing mixture of various geek media. Split screen and frames are a visual cue that the movie’s a comic brought to life (and at one point someone mutters, “They say the comic book’s much better”). Each character has a floating rating on a scale of awesomeness; when Scott urinates a pee bar appears in the upper corner of the screen, showing progress from full to empty bladder; Scott gets power-ups and new lives. Each fight starts like Mortal Kombat, characters poised on either side of the screen while a glowing “vs” spins between them. The fights themselves are a silly homage to the unreality of violence in videogames. Heavy on martial arts, flying through the air, and smashing through buildings, the battles are light on blood and bruises. In the Pilgrim-verse, like in Mortal Kombat and Super Mario, if you lose a life, you get to replay the level from the beginning.

As any avid gamer will tell you, there’s something comforting about having infinite lives and the ability to get thrown through a wall without getting hurt. There’s also something slightly creepy about ultraviolence without consequence (the scare tactics in the media would have you believe this is why “kids today” bring knives to school), and battles to the death to win a girl as if she’s a prize (think Princess Toadstool in Super Mario Brothers). Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is an insanely self-aware piece of filmmaking, though, and its charm lies in its ability to subvert the gaming tropes it uses so lovingly. When a character dies, change tinkles to the floor around him and a score flashes up. “Oh hey, coins!” Scott cries at one point, grabbing at the change.

O’Malley and Wright also managed to stick their thumbs right smack dab on the hipster counterculture, poking fun at garage bands with inflated egos, unemployed emo kids who manage to make scruffiness adorable, and skinny-jeans clad boys who write navel-gazing songs about dream girls who don’t want them. Those of us who’ve met that holier-than-thou vegan kid will rejoice at the line, “Didn’t you know being vegan just makes you better than most people?” When Thomas Jane and Clifton Collins pop onscreen briefly as the Vegan Police, arresting a character for breaking vegan edge, you might clap. Finally, the use of the word “hipster” in a movie means we can all quit calling skinny-jeans clad, asymmetrically hair-styled emo kids hipsters, right? They’ll have to adopt a new name.

Scott Pilgrim as played by Michael Cera is still very much Michael Cera, the slightly twee, indie man-boy who wooed audiences with his infinite awkwardness in “Arrested Development,” Juno, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and Paper Heart. The other roles are small caricatures—and they will make you laugh. Allison Pill’s hooded eyes, monotone voice, and penchant for miming shooting herself in the head will make you smile. Chris Evans’ and Brandon Routh’s all-American pretty boy looks and overacting are pitch-perfect. Wright’s directorial and cinematic style is perfectly suited for a story with such frenetic, nonstop energy. He does slackers and gamers better than anyone else working right now, and he knows the material from whence the story comes. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World combines hilarious writing, great fight scenes, tongue-in-cheek reference, and a fast-paced story with lovable characters, and it’s by far the most fun you’ll have in a theater this summer.