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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.
Shot in only nineteen days, there is a lot to be said about Chazelle’s mesmerizing Whiplash – the director’s second-feature after 2009 film Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench – but dull, quiet and uninteresting are certainly none of them.
Based on the director’s eighteen-minute short of the same name, Whiplash is set in New York City and tells the story of Andrew Neyman (Teller); an aspiring nineteen-year old jazz drummer and student at the elite Shaffer Conservatory in Manhattan who dreams of one day becoming the next Buddy Rich.
So, when he’s approached by one of Shaffer’s most prestigious and respected conductors, Terence Fletcher (Simmons), and offered the chance to be the new drum alternate in his jazz orchestra, Andrew doesn’t know whether to be excited or absolutely petrified at what awaits him in the days and months to come.
Eager to get started and throw himself into the music, Andrew quickly learns that Fletcher’ teaching methods are not the most conventional ones, with his tenacious drive for perfection often resulting in both verbal and physical abuse of his students. With very little option at his disposal, Andrew – who quickly dissolves any romantic entanglement with his near-girlfriend, Nicole (Benoist) in order to completely devote to the music – pushes himself to the absolute limits and tries his best to meet Fletcher’s almost impossible standards.
One of the first things you will notice about Whiplash is how Chazelle has freed the picture from any unnecessary clutter – the focus is clear. Music is the central core of Whiplash; the energy is electrifying from the beginning and the tension - which is at times almost palpable – is compelling all the way throughout its pulsating minutes. While this is a film that can comfortably be considered as a coming-of-age story, it’s the obsession buried deep into every artist’s psyche that forces them to achieve absolute greatness that serves to be the film’s underlying exploration.
In what is probably one of his most riveting performances to date, J.K Simmons is absolutely captivating as a fearful, talented and downright frightening jazz conductor who uses fear and bullying as the main motivator in his pursuit for perfection. The veteran actor crafts his character with great complexity, though young Miles Teller deserves similar plaudits.
Ferocious and unforgiving, Whiplash never skips a beat; it will entertain, shock and enthral – a must see.
Channelling his inner-Liam Neeson, if you will, multi Oscar-winning actor and occasional humanitarian, Sean Penn, dips his toes into what is a new type of emerging genre: geriaction. While it’s unlikely that Hollywood executives and actors will be using it anytime soon, the term refers to action films starring ‘aging actors’. At 54, Penn is no spring chicken, but the California native is in tip-top shape for Pierre Morel’s surprisingly flavourless and action-less thriller, The Gunman.
The story follows special operative Jim Terrier (Penn); a mercenary stationed in Congo who provides security services for mining operations. During his time there, he meets and falls in love with a humanitarian-aid doctor, Annie (Trinca), who is also there offering medical support for those in need. However, when asked to liquidate the local Minister of Mining by his shady bosses, Cox (Rylance) and Felix (Bardem), Terrier must oblige. Soon after carrying out the hit, he flees the country without as much as a goodbye to Annie.
Eight years later, Jim is once again in Congo and soon becomes the target of an unknown hit squad. Barely making it out of there alive, he makes his way to London in order to seek out his old partners and see if they can help him figure out who is behind the mess. However, Jim’s digging and snooping is not entirely welcome and after finding his way to Annie once more, the wanted couple has no choice but to go on the run together to Barcelona where they hope to come up with a plan to get themselves out of the chaos.
One of the most surprising things about The Gunman is how its final onscreen realisation is nothing like what its trailers suggests. It’s painfully slow, very chatty – the dialogue is filled with political gobbledegook – and, in terms of action, well, there isn’t any. Apart from a couple of shockingly brutal and bloody exchanges, the rest of the story is pretty lifeless and uninspiring. On the upside, the film’s aesthetics – courtesy of cinematographer Flavio Martinez Labiano – is effective and its use of sharp and vibrant imagery adds the much-needed pizzazz to the story.
As for Mr. Penn, he spends most of the time trudging around looking bored, tired and oh yes, shirtless. His broodiness rarely translates into more than just looking plain expressionless. Then again, his stunt work is pretty impressive and there is a certain sense of gravitas that he brings to the table; unfortunately, just not enough energy to make us all care.