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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.
Created and directed by award-winning animators, Helene Giraud and Thomas Szabo – and based on a popular French animated television series – Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants is a story of friendship and courage told entirely without words.
Set in the diminutive world of insects, the film opens with a sprawling and sun-drenched forest landscape setting, where wildlife is at peace.
After witnessing the birth of ladybug triplets, their very-first flying lesson and the ill-fated separation of the youngest offspring, the story brings its focus on an abandoned picnic, left behind by a live-action couple.
It doesn’t take long before a group of animated black ants move in, delighted to get their hands on a tin box of sugar cubes. However, before they can whizz off back to their colony with their newly-found treasure, they discover a ladybug trapped in the box.
Intrigued and fascinated by their discovery, the black ants quickly make friends with the little bug, who – as they will soon learn – is set to play an important role in their quest; their plan is intermitted by an army of evil red ants, who just like everyone else, wish to get their hands on the sugary fortune.
Unlike the more flashy and boisterous Hollywood animated, Minuscule takes a whole different approach to the matter. Simple, undemanding and dialogue-free, with no star-studded cast to fill the void, the story celebrates wildlife, relishing in the glorious beauty of Mother Nature.
Shot in 3D, the visuals are wonderful, but never overbearing. Everything from the cleverly-constructed creepy-crawlies, their boggy eyes and their indistinguishable voices, to the picturesque dense-forest scenery, makes the film a truly unique, unforgettable experience.
Playful and entertaining, Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants offers a terrific insight into the world of these hard-working and untiring little soldiers, who – not unlike humans – have their own barriers to cross and battles to conqueror.
Zack Snyder wowed audiences back in 2006 with his super-slick fictionalised retelling of the infamous Battle of Thermopylae in 300. Now, the long-awaited sequel is here; bloodthirsty and unforgiving, it's safe to say that 300: Rise of an Empire will not disappoint fans of the first film.
Serving as both a sequel and a prequel, 300: Rise of an Empire takes its attention away from the Spartans and their army of noble men, this time putting its focus on the origins of their enemies and the wider ramifications of the events from the first film. The story is centred on Athenian General, Themistocles (Stapleton); a fearless warrior who, during the Battle of Marathon, fatally injured King Darius I (Naor), the great leader of Persia and father of God-King-to-be Xerxes (Santoro).
Ignited with anger and an incredible desire to spill Grecian blood, Greek-born Persian warrior, Artemisia (Green) plans to transform Prince Xerxes from a fearful Prince into a Persian God-King, to ultimately guide their people into war with the Greeks.
Ten years later, Xerxes is ready to send his troops into battle, concurrently engaging King Leonidas and his 300 Spartan men in the overwhelming Battle of Thermopylae, as well as General Themistocles, who goes on to battle Artemisia's naval army at sea. The fate of Greece lies entirely with Themistocles, whose army is once again devastatingly outnumbered, but whose determination and courage go a long way in their fight for freedom.
Santoro returns to reprise his role as the towering giant that is Xerxes and although the character’s backstory is one of the most engaging elements of the film, the Brazilian actor fails to offer any depth to the complex kind. As the lawful Queen Gorgo, Headey retains a very royal pride intensity as the wife of the fallen Leonidas, while Stapleton – as the film’s lead – delivers just enough to score a passing grade, but ultimately lacks the charm and presence of Gerard Butler.
On the other hand, adding Green into the picture is arguably one of best decisions that the filmmakers could have made; as the trouble-brewing Artemisia, she steals the show.
Sticking to the same visual aesthetic, 300: Rise of an Empire is just as absorbing as its predecessor, with director Noam Murro given the freedom to paint on a much larger – and bloodier – canvas.
Although the thrust and energy of 300 seems like an awfully difficult feature to replicate, there are still plenty of adrenaline-pumping moments behind the blood-stained battles to make 300: Rise of an Empire an enjoyable follow-up.