Film Review: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010)

Also known as: Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life (working title)
Release Date: July 27th, 2010 (Canada – Fantasia International Film Festival)
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Written by: Michael Bacall, Edgar Wright
Based on: Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Music by: Nigel Godrich
Cast: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Alison Pill, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman, Brie Larson, Aubrey Plaza, Mae Whitman, Ellen Wong, Nelson Franklin, Thomas Jane, Clifton Collins Jr., Bill Hader (voice)

Universal Pictures, Marc Platt Productions, Big Talk Productions, 112 Minutes

Review:

“When I’m around you, I kind of feel like I’m on drugs. Not that I do drugs. Unless you do drugs, in which case I do them all the time. All of them.” – Scott Pilgrim

I haven’t watched this since it came out in theaters. From memory, I liked it at the time but strangely, I’ve never felt the urge to rewatch it until now, nine years later. And that was mainly just to review it, as I’m a fan of Edgar Wright’s work and Scott Pilgrim still seems to be beloved by comic book fans after all this time.

Well, I didn’t really enjoy it as much as I had hoped. Maybe I’m older, or since I’ve seen this, I sort of know what to expect from it so the razzle dazzle doesn’t awe me as it once did or maybe it just isn’t a good movie as far as its story, characters and purpose goes.

To start, this is an amazing looking picture on its surface. I really dig that the filmmakers committed to the bit and gave us a true live action version of the comic without trying to rework it into something more realistic. The special effects are spectacular, the musical numbers are cool and this film is really impressive in that regard. I love it for its style and how it is all conveyed on screen.

However, the whole story is focused on one of the worst romances I have ever had to sit through in a film. Scott is obsessed with Ramona, but she acts like that girl who is too cool for everyone at all the parties she feels the need to keep going to. But really, she’s just a broken person with bad hair that delivers packages for Amazon Canada like a total twentysomething normie just trying to pay for hair dye, thrift shop clothes, avocado toast and her 1/9th of the rent.

Still, her personality is off putting as fuck but then so is Scott’s, as he just acts like whatever he thinks she wants and he even treats his current girlfriend like shit and doesn’t really seem to know who he is, what he wants or where he’s going. He just knows that he’s obsessed over some hipster douche with weird hair and now has to fight a bunch of her exes in order to maybe date her. But she is so indifferent and noncommittal for almost the entire picture that Scott just comes off as a dopey puppy that needs to have his heart crushed.

Normally I wouldn’t be so harsh on something like this but it is this budding relationship that is the framework for the entire narrative. Sad pussy puts it all on the line for salty nihilist weirdo bitch that kinda maybe likes him right this minute but has no idea how she will feel in five minutes.

There is no lesson to be learned on this journey.

I’ve never read the comic because I don’t have much interest in it but I hope the relationship in the source material isn’t this shallow and stupid.

The only reason why this doesn’t get a terrible rating from me is that the visuals and the style of this film are so alluring and perfectly presented in the film medium that the picture does put me in awe in that regard. This is a really cool and fun movie to look at and I dig the music. The surface is superb, it just turns to crap when you get past the polish, bright lights and groovy tunes.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, as well as the Kick Ass movies and Zombieland.

Documentary Review: Comic-Con – Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope (2011)

Release Date: September 10th, 2011 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Morgan Spurlock
Written by: Jeremy Chilnick, Morgan Spurlock, Joss Whedon
Music by: Jeff Peters
Cast: Joss Whedon, Guillermo del Toro, Kevin Smith, Stan Lee, Kenneth Branagh, Eli Roth, Seth Rogen, Thomas Jane, Seth Green, Edgar Wright, Corey Feldman, Paul Scheer, Todd McFarlane, Matt Groening, Frank Miller, Gerard Way, Grant Morrison, Paul Dini, Joe Quesada, various

Mutant Enemy, Thomas Tull Productions, Warrior Poets, 88 Minutes

Review:

“I think the fans are the most important thing in the comic book business. And I might add, in any form of entertainment. I feel… you gotta be nice to the fans because without them… you’re nothing.” – Stan Lee

Here we go, these nerdy fan documentaries are a dime a dozen but I guess this one got some recognition for being well produced and for featuring a slew of famous nerd-centric personalities.

I didn’t know that this was a Morgan Spurlock film until I was already watching it. Had I known that, I probably wouldn’t have watched it. Reason being, I think the guy’s a f’n hack and disingenuous. His most popular film Super Size Me was unwatchable to anyone that can see through a ruse, which it was. It wasn’t science, it wasn’t a real test to see how fast food effects you, it was one man’s entertaining mockumentary, sold as a legit documentary and damnation of the fast food industry. His documentary series on FX was also mostly a big bullshit endeavor where he went into everything with a bias then cherry picked info and edited everything down to the narrative he wanted. He’s the reason behind the modern alteration to an old phrase, “No shit, Spurlock!”

Anyway, this is exactly what you’d think it is. A bunch of famous nerdy types talk about their nerdy shit and their love for the San Diego Comic Con, which is barely about comic books at this point and isn’t anywhere near as cool as it once was. You missed the boat by a decade or so, Spurlock.

The only thing I really liked about this was seeing the behind the scenes stuff on cosplay. I don’t normally give a shit about cosplay but it was interesting to see, nonetheless.

As far as the interviewees, the only one that stuck with me was Stan Lee. Everything else was edited so choppy that the vast majority of comments could have been things out of context and then just thrown together for Spurlock to manufacture whatever narrative he was going for. Stan Lee’s bit was heartwarming though but that’s because he’s Stan Lee and he always has eloquent shit to say.

You’d probably be alright if you never watched this. It doesn’t do anything to inspire you to go to San Diego Comic Con. If anything, it told me to stay away because I like comics and don’t give a crap about massive celebrity panels or Joss Whedon publicly ranting about lefty hysteria.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: any of the dozens of other documentaries about nerd conventions or nerdy hobbies, there are so many.

Film Review: Attack the Block (2011)

Release Date: March 12th, 2011 (SXSW)
Directed by: Joe Cornish
Written by: Joe Cornish
Music by: Basement Jaxx, Steven Price
Cast: Jodie Whittaker, John Boyega, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Leeon Jones, Simon Howard, Luke Treadaway, Jumayn Hunter, Nick Frost

StudioCanal, Film4 Productions, UK Film Council, Big Talk Productions, Stage 6 Films, Screen Gems, 88 Minutes

Review:

“No one is going to call you Mayhem if you keep acting like such a pussy!” – Probs

I haven’t watched this film since it initially came out in the States. But revisiting it now, I was reminded of how cool and fun this movie is. In all honesty, this is one of the coolest movies of this decade and it also helped propel the careers of a few of its stars. Plus, Nick Frost is in it and Edgar Wright was involved with the production.

Attack the Block is a fantastic picture, to put it simply. It is imaginative, energetic and a fresh take on the tired alien invasion storyline.

The film starts out with a mugging by a gang of London thugs. However, the victim (Whittaker) gets away when something falls from the sky, smashing a car next to the muggers. Investigating, the muggers discover it is some sort of vicious alien creature. It attacks the leader, Moses (Boyega), and gets away. The thugs then pursue the alien in an effort to kill it. You come to discover that the thugs are just young teenage boys and the film peeks into their lives, humanizing them after committing an atrocious act to kickoff the story. As the film progresses, the boys and the victim discover that they live in the same building and have to come together to survive the invasion and a pissed off drug dealer. Ultimately, it is a coming of age story about Moses having to rise up, become a hero and redeem himself from his bad choices and actions.

The thing that makes this picture special is the style of it. The alien creatures are incredibly original and sort of resemble a hybrid of a big wolf and a gorilla with jet black fur and a glowing neon blue mouth full of sharp teeth. The building where the majority of the film takes place is cold and lifeless but the cinematography and lighting are absolutely superb.

Even though all the kids are little shits, they all become endearing in some way and you can’t help but like them, which is the point, really. You have these asshole kids but they are just kids and despite their bad life choices, they don’t deserve to die. The film does a great job of conveying the right sort of emotions from the victim and the thugs while they learn to trust each other and become not just allies but friends.

I don’t think that the story would have worked as well without the casting being just right. Jodie Whittaker, who is now the first female incarnation of the Doctor from Doctor Who, and John Boyega, a household name now because of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, had a wonderful chemistry and they carried this unique and great picture on their shoulders. Franz Drameh, who would go on to be in Edge of Tomorrow and star in The CW’s The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, also held his own as a member of Moses’ gang.

The film also benefits from a prodigious score that is actually one of the best from the past decade. It hits the right notes, keeps the energy flowing and just encapsulates the tone and style of the film in an uncanny way. It is a perfect accompaniment to the visuals.

Attack the Block is a damn good motion picture. It is straight to the point, quick moving and builds up the characters just enough without it getting in the way of the excitement. The ending is also extremely satisfying.

 

Film Review: Baby Driver (2017)

Release Date: March 11th, 2017 (SXSW)
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Written by: Edgar Wright
Music by: Steven Price
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Bernthal, Eiza González, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Flea, Paul Williams

Big Talk Productions, Working Title Films, Media Rights Capital, TriStar Pictures, 113 Minutes

Review:

“Fuck your baby.” – Bats

Edgar Wright has been one of my favorite directors of the last decade and a half. Granted, he hasn’t directed as much as I’ve liked and his last effort before this, The World’s End, was pretty lackluster and also came out four friggin’ years ago. He was involved in Marvel’s Ant-Man but left the project after putting in a lot of time, so that excuses the four year hiatus, I guess.

After the long wait, Baby Driver is not a disappointment. To be completely honest and frank, this is my favorite Edgar Wright film, which is pretty unbelievable with Hot FuzzShaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World in his oeuvre.

Now this is a film that is getting a lot of hype between the critics and other reviewers and bloggers online. This is one of those rare cases where you can believe the hype.

With fast car movies being a dime a dozen these days, Baby Driver is completely its own entity. It is better than all the films you could compare it to. The Fast & Furious movies have become cartoons and have never been able to tell a story this great. Drive, while a mesmerizing marvel to look at, doesn’t come close to having the heart of Baby Driver nor does it match its personality and characters.

Additionally, the action in Baby Driver is pretty realistic and it all seems plausible. The Fast & Furious films are ridiculous and while Drive felt authentic, it didn’t have the amount of getaways and fast action that Baby Driver does. The film shifts from car chases, foot chases and machine gun shootouts quickly and seamlessly.

All of the action, and really all of the film, revolves around music. This is not a musical, by any means, but the narrative is driven by the tunes hand-selected by Edgar Wright for this picture. The soundtrack is magnificent and I’m picking up the vinyl when the record store is open (they were closed when I swung by after seeing this at its first showing).

Not only does the music enhance the experience but so does the cast. I didn’t know much about Ansel Elgort or Lily James before seeing this but they were superb as Baby and Debora. I’ll definitely check out their future films and maybe look back at some of their earlier work.

The rest of the cast was like an all-star team of great bad asses. You had Jon Hamm (in my favorite role after Don Draper), Jon Bernthal (the Punisher, himself), Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx and Flea. All of these men were criminals and each was unique and interesting. Well, Flea and Bernthal could’ve used some more meat to chew on but that may have had a negative effect on the film’s flow.

Baby Driver is the most adrenaline heavy movie I have seen since Mad Max: Fury Road and it may even be a better film than that. They are two very different action flicks but Baby Driver is a perfect marriage of all its elements. I can’t think of a single thing that could have been better.

The film exceeded the expectations I did have and this is one of the best movies I have seen over the last decade. It is the best summer film this year and nothing else really compares to it. And the thing is, this isn’t even trying to be a tent pole film but it blows them all away. Better action, better acting and just a better movie, hands down.

Film Review: Grindhouse (2007)

While I have seen both Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof multiple times, I never got to see the full-length version of Grindhouse until now.

When it came out in 2007, only one theater near me carried it and it wasn’t there very long, so I missed it. Also, the films were released separately, as expanded editions, when they hit store shelves. There wasn’t a full version of Grindhouse available after its theatrical run.

When I subscribed to Starz via my Amazon Fire Stick, I saw that the full version of the movie was available and thus, I could finally rectify this cinematic injustice. I’m really glad that I did because these films actually play much better in this format, as double-billed companion pieces to one another.

Plus, I finally got to see the trailers, as a part of this overall experience, even though I have seen them on YouTube multiple times since 2007.

Robert Rodriguez’s trailer for Machete was a highlight of the film and it was so good that it became its own motion picture and then expanded into a franchise. Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS trailer was interesting enough, as a trailer, but doesn’t seem like something that will work as a full-length feature. The same can be said for Edgar Wright’s Don’t. Now Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving should be made into a full-length slasher film in the same vein as Machete. Roth has hinted at making it and I hope he eventually does.

This film also spawned a contest for fans to make fake trailers in the grindhouse style. This lead to the full-length feature Hobo With A Shotgun, which was a hell of a lot of fun. I need to re-watch it and review it in the near future.

Moving beyond the fake trailers, we have the two big films that make up the bulk of the Grindhouse experience. So let me get into each film and discuss them on their own.

Planet Terror (2007):

Release Date: April 6th, 2007
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Written by: Robert Rodriguez
Music by: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey, Josh Brolin, Marley Shelton, Stacy Ferguson, Bruce Willis, Naveen Andrews, Electra Avellan, Elise Avellan, Quentin Tarantino, Tom  Savini, Michael Parks

Rodriguez International Pictures, Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Now you’ve got a gal in your wrecked truck with a missing leg? A missing leg that’s now missing?” – Sheriff Hague

Planet Terror has always been my favorite of the two movies in Grindhouse. That still stands, as I love just about everything about it. It may even be my favorite Robert Rodriguez picture but it is a close race between this, From Dusk Till Dawn, Machete and Once Upon A Time In Mexico.

The film is essentially a zombie outbreak movie but it is really gross, even for that genre. People’s faces start bubbling into puss and there is a lot of blood and other strange bodily fluids oozing out of people throughout the movie. There are also lots of severed testicles and a melting penis. It’s a gross movie but it is still well done and it doesn’t overtake the picture making it a mindless gore festival.

Planet Terror has a lot of depth and character development for a movie loaded with a ton of people. Everyone has an interesting story and it is cool seeing it all play out as these people eventually come together in an effort to escape the growing threat of a zombie apocalypse.

It also really fits the old school 1970s exploitation style of horror pictures that populated grindhouse theaters in big cities. The cinematography really captures the right vibe and kudos to the extra graininess and inconsistent look of different shots in the same sequences.

The practical effects also work well in making this film fit the grindhouse mold. Sometimes there is obvious CGI and it is a reminder that this isn’t a true 70s grindhouse picture but it isn’t a distraction and it serves its purpose well enough.

The cast is also phenomenal. I remember that when I first saw this, that I hoped it would open up doors for Freddy Rodriguez. He’s still not anywhere close to being a household name but his character of El Wray should reappear in some way, in some other Rodriguez picture. He’s a guy too cool to just be confined to this one movie.

This is also my favorite thing that Rose McGowan has ever done. Plus you get a very evil Josh Brolin, an enchanting Marley Shelton, a bad ass Michael Biehn, plus Michael Parks, Tom Savini, Bruce Willis, Lost‘s Naveen Andrews and Quentin Tarantino as his most despicable character to date. Jeff Fahey, who is always stellar, really kills it in this movie as J.T. the Texas B-B-Q king. Also, Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas has never looked better.

Planet Terror is unique, even for a film in a tired genre. It takes the zombie formula and ups the ante in every way possible. Rodriguez made a fine picture that should be mentioned alongside other great zombie classics.

Death Proof (2007):

Release Date: April 6th, 2007
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: Rachel Levy, Jack Nitzsche, Mary Ramos
Cast: Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Rose McGowan, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Zoe Bell, Eli Roth, Quentin Tarantino, Michael Parks, James Parks, Marley Shelton

Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films, 114 Minutes

Review:

“Because it was a fifty fifty shot on wheter you’d be going left or right. You see we’re both going left. You could have just as easily been going left, too. And if that was the case… It would have been a while before you started getting scared. But since you’re going the other way, I’m afraid you’re gonna have to start getting scared… immediately!” – Stuntman Mike

When I first saw Death Proof, it didn’t resonate with me. I mean, I enjoyed it enough but it just didn’t compare to the work that Quentin Tarantino did before it. I still feel this way but I have more of an appreciation for the film now. Also, seeing it in the Grindhouse format, which is more condensed, serves the film better.

The problem I initially had with the film, and some of Tarantino’s other pictures, is that it is way too talky. Sure, he writes great dialogue but sometimes it can run on for far too long. Death Proof in its longer running time falls victim to this. The condensed Grindhouse version, however, is better balanced.

Another problem with the film, is that many of the characters just aren’t likable. This is especially true for the first group of girls we meet. At least the second group felt more like friends and their conversations came across as more natural and authentic.

Kurt Russell initially knocks it out of the park as the killer driver, Stuntman Mike. However, as the film and his character evolves, he completely loses the cool bad ass shtick and becomes a giant whining weeny. His character transformation isn’t a bad thing, it is just how it is executed that makes it a problem.

The one thing that really makes this a cool picture, however, is the cars and the stunts. Tarantino selected some seriously bad ass automobiles that were homages to films that influenced him. The stunt work and action was amazing and the sequence of the first major accident was shot and executed stupendously.

The problem with the film, being that it is supposed to be a grindhouse throwback, is that it needed more balls-to-the-wall mayhem and less chit chat. The fact that this has a lot more dialogue than Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror but somehow can’t develop characters as well is pretty baffling. Tarantino would just rather focus on cool conversations on subjects that directly interest him than to have any sort of meaningful character development. You just don’t care about these people in the same way you care about those in Planet Terror.

Regardless of my criticisms, I do still like this movie. But to be honest, I still think it is the worst film in Quentin Tarantino’s oeuvre. Granted, that doesn’t mean much, as everything he’s done has been fairly great in some way.

In the end, this is still entertaining as hell and who doesn’t love muscle car chaos and kick ass chicks?

Additional directorial credits:

Robert Rodriguez – Machete trailer
Rob Zombie – Werewolf Women of the SS trailer
Edgar Wright – Don’t trailer
Eli Roth – Thanksgiving trailer

Additional acting credits from the fake trailer segments: Danny Trejo, Nicolas Cage, Sheri Moon Zombie, Cheech Marin, Udo Kier, Tom Towles, Sybil Danning, Bill Moseley, Will Arnett, Nick Frost, Jason Issacs, Simon Pegg, Peter Serafinowicz

Film Review: Ant-Man (2015)

Release Date: June 29th, 2015 (Dolby Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Peyton Reed
Written by: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd
Based on: Ant-Man by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby
Music by: Christophe Beck
Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Anthony Mackie, Wood Harris, Judy Greer, David Dastmalchian, Michael Douglas

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 117 Minutes

Review:

*Originally written in 2015.

Ant-Man is the next film in a long line of Marvel films that are a part of the Avengers universe. Ant-Man being one of the original Avengers means that this film is long overdue. In fact, I had hoped that it would have happened in Phase One of the Avengers film line and not as the last film in the Phase Two set of movies. Regardless, it is nice to finally have Hank Pym in the Avengers fray. Oh wait, I mean Scott Lang.

Yes, Scott Lang (played by Paul Rudd) is the hero here even though Hank Pym (played by Michael Douglas) is in the film. Pym however, is Lang’s mentor and the original Ant-Man, who we knew nothing about until now. Janet van Dyne, the original Wasp, is also shown in costume via flashbacks. There is kind of a nice set up, in the film’s intro, that shows us a very young Michael Douglas (thanks to CGI) bantering with Howard Stark and Agent Peggy Carter in 1989.

Scott Lang is one of the more unique characters to be on the Avengers roster, even though he hasn’t achieved that status yet, in this film. He is a thief turned hero – on a quest for redemption in order to have a normal relationship with his young daughter. The Scott Lang character kind of takes the best parts of Hawkeye’s character in Avengers: Age of Ultron and magnifies them much more. You care about Scott, his daughter and their relationship probably more intimately than the relationship of any other characters in the Marvel movie mythos except for Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter.

Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas do a superb job in bringing life to this long overdue Marvel character. Evangeline Lilly is also great, as the daughter of Pym and the Wasp. Corey Stoll was okay as the villain who eventually becomes Yellowjacket. Although, Yellowjacket isn’t a villain in the comics, he is just another alias of Hank Pym.

Yellowjacket being the villain just seems half-assed. He is essentially the same thing as Ant-Man except he can fly and shoot lasers. Ant-Man has the advantage in that he can summon armies of ants. I’m sorry, but an army of ants against a tiny guy with lasers isn’t going to bode well for the tiny guy with lasers. What could one guy with a laser gun do against an army of ravenous orcs? This also goes back to a recent comment George R.R. Martin made about how Marvel too often pits its heroes against villains with the same set of powers and it isn’t as interesting as heroes matching up with something that is a contrast to their abilities. I couldn’t agree with Martin more.

Despite the villain issue, this film is better than that mess Avengers: Age of Ultron. When I stated in my review of that film that the solo Marvel films are better due to story, character development and not being forced to fit too much into one movie, Ant-Man just solidified that point for me even more. It is more fluid, more organic and tells a human story, unlike those massive CGI-littered Joss Whedon action fests.

To be honest, Ant-Man is one of the best Marvel films to date. It is better than both Avengers, both Thor films, the first Captain America, the second and third Iron Man, that one Hulk film with the other actor and whatever else there is except for Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: Winter Soldier and the first Iron Man film.

It isn’t a picture without flaws though. At times, it got a bit too hokey. The humor was great for the most part and I loved the comedic characters, especially Lang’s crew played by Michael Peña, T.I. and David Dastmalchian (the one with the Russian accent), who you might remember as the Joker’s henchman that Harvey Dent abducted in The Dark Knight.

The film felt rushed at times and the editing was a bit shaky. Like other Marvel films, things feel like they got left on the cutting room floor. Where some characters felt well developed, others were lacking. Corey Stoll’s role just seemed disjointed at times, as his motivations were never all that clear and his slip into insanity just kind of happened. It just didn’t feel like an organic metamorphosis.

Additionally, the sound editing was problematic. When Lang is taking direction from Pym in his helmet, it sounds like voice over work and doesn’t sound natural. Other Marvel films have had similar problems. Also, when Lang is ant-sized, in some scenes he can’t be heard by normal-sized characters but in others he can. I’m not sure if this was explained and I missed it or if it is just some Marvel-sized plot hole.

Judy Greer is also in this film, which makes me wonder how many more summer blockbusters will she cameo in? And using her for a minor role was a waste of her talent, unless they have plans for her later on. I feel like she could have been used for a bigger Marvel role than the 14th Avenger’s baby mama.

I liked this film. Be sure to wait for the mid-credits scene and then for the post-credits scene. We get two special bonuses with this film. Granted, they don’t necessarily lead to anything profound but they put in motion the next steps in the Ant-Man branch of the Avengers franchise family tree.