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Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World: Life as a Video Game
There isn’t a clear point of reference to pin down where Scott Pilgrim’s style, worldview or logic originated. It’s a pop culture melting pot where manga, rock n’ roll and video games are mashed up together to form something completely original with its own unique visual language. So much about Scott Pilgrim is unworldly and fantastical that by the time an emo boy smashes through the wall to duel Scott (Cera), it comes off as perfectly normal; if not inevitable.
The film is based on the comic book sensation of the same name where– almost like the classic Super Mario Bros game– Scott Pilgrim has to fight a league of evil exes to get to Ramona (Winstead), the girl of his dreams. And just like in the video game, Scott wins bonus points and collects scattered coins after he completes each level.
Set in the city of Toronto, Scott Pilgrim’s world consists mostly of hanging out at trendy venues, record-shopping, ranting with his friends over coffee and practicing with his garage band, Sex Bob-omb. His life is plagued with callousness and drenched in irony, and even his likeminded peers give him a hard time about his frivolousness. When he first meets Ramona, his infatuation finally gives him the drive to go out and aspire to something.
As Scott engages with Ramona’s exes in one eye-popping fight scene after another; his state of arrested development gets challenged. Here, the film uncovers the insecurity of a generation that is so hung up on being cool; it stifles their emotional development.
Director Edgar Wright (Sean of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) stretches the full power of his imagination here. His cinematic and pop culture wealth serves him best when he transforms the panels onto the screen, pushing the sequences through a video-game filter and then rendering them in flawless, cotton-candy veneer. The inventive pacing blurs the timeline; so the film can follow emotional threads uninterrupted without feeling tricky or conceited.
Despite the film’s visual inventiveness and joyful demeanour; there is a fundamental flaw undermining Scott Pilgrim: the vacant emotional core propelling the central romance. In the nonstop calibration of everything hip and witty, the film can never bring itself to deliver a single moment of genuine sorrow without shrugging it off instantly. When Scott breaks down in front of his roommate in a desperate plea for human compassion, his friend gives him a pep talk right out of a soap opera, which is further emphasized by a sappy score; playing the drama for laughs instead of digging for any hidden truth.
Scott Pilgrim works for the most part, and even though it consciously chooses to shun humility and heart in favour of retaining its edge; its visual and narrative invention are undeniably groundbreaking. From start to finish, the film blasts feverishly with an infectious sense of fun. It’s an invigorating ride in a world where videogame logic prevails, and love is just a push button away.
What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable force that is Nicolas Cage that hasn’t been said before? A magnet for the most troubled, muddled and just generally exasperating films to hit cinemas in the last five years, his latest work in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage does nothing to change his fortunes.
Despite being based on one a true story that has all the makings of a war epic, the Mario Van Peebles-directed USS Indianapolis bleeds all and any gravitas and emotion out of its incredibly dramatic source material.
The story goes as thus: the eponymous US Navy cruiser delivered the first parts of the atomic bomb that would go on to devastate Hiroshima, before being torpedoed by the Japanese navy, leaving some 300 of the 1000-plus crewmen dead and the rest stranded in shark-infested waters. Said sharks, along with dehydration and salt water poisoning, leave just over 300 survivors to be rescued.
At the centre of the ensuing hubbub is Cage’s Captain McVay, who many, very unreasonably, blame for the death of the 700 or so victims – so you see, it’s a very complex story, but one that very quickly descend into and exercise on how not to make a war film.
The occasional laughable CGI aside, Cage is oddly sedate, bordering on placid, in his role – yes, the central character is possibly the flattest element of the film, while seasoned actors, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane, are given little to chew on in their respective roles.
While starting exactly as one would expect a war film to, the wreckage part of the film turns into cheap disaster movie, before turning into a courtroom drama in the final act. It’s a muddle of a film that fails to really drum to the beat of McVay’s potentially brilliant arc as a firm commander that eventually buckles under the unjust pressure he receives back at home.
Bad CGI, a mammoth two hour-plus running time and Nic Cage can be forgiven, but what’s at the heart of this film’s mess is the script. Jumping from event to event, plotline to plotline, at a whim, with Cage’s soft murmured speech used to pave over the transitions, USS Indianapolis’s pacing is that of a film hurrying to stuff as many ideas and threads as possible – expect that’s not the case. Van Peebles tries so hard to build the layers of an epic, when, actually, all he needed to do was tell this simple but stirring story as it is.
As an exploration of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the military, Dito Montiel’s Man Down is a muddled story that’s pretty challenging to sit through. Though on paper there’s plenty of potential depth in this particular effect of war – and a solid cast at its disposable – the film descends into military-movie clichés, while not really keeping up with its complex set-up.
The movie to take place over four separate time periods and opens with U.S Marine Gabriel Drummer (LeBeouf) and his military buddy, Devin Roberts (Courtney), making their way through a vast and seemingly wasted American landscape which appears to have been destroyed by a chemical attack. On the look-out for survivors, the pair is hoping to find Drummer’s son, Jonathan (Shotwell), whom he believes has been kidnapped.
Before the audience gets a chance to find out what is really going in, the story flashes back to another time period where a seemingly distraught Drummer is being interviewed by Counselor Peyton (Oldman) about an ‘incident’ that occurred on the battlefield in Afghanistan. Moving on to yet to another period, we also get to see the story of Drummer and Roberts during their Marine Corps training at Camp Lejeune before, eventually, cutting to the story of Drummer’s life at home with wife, Natalie (Mara) and their son.
Taking on several narrative threads without really knowing where to take them, let alone how to put them back together, is one of Man Down’s major issues. Used to give some kind of visual interpretation of PTSD, the movie’s choppy editing is ineffective and comes across as a messy, superficial tool.
Clocking in at precisely ninety minutes, Man Down is a relatively short film but, thanks to the overworked script and slow pace, it takes forever for any of the stories to build into something bigger.
Working its way through a series of military clichés, the story works best when it is focused on digging into Drummer’s fractured mind, with the conversation between him and his counsellor – played by the seemingly wasted talent of one Gary Oldman – serving to be one of the movie’s best elements. LeBeouf is convincing as a troubled soldier desperately trying not to sink deeper into madness and his commitment to the role is commendable, making it all that more frustrating to see that the script itself is so lacking.