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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.
Adapted from the pages of Lee Child’s eighteenth novel in the Jack Reacher franchise, Never Go Back comes four years after Christopher McQuarrie’s relatively well received Jack Reacher; a movie, regardless of its somewhat predictable and flawed premise, was largely considered an entertaining and above-average crime-thriller. Unfortunately, its 2016 sequel, an action-packed but terribly derivative story of the we-must-uncover-the-truth-and-break-a-load-of-bones-in-the-process variety, doesn’t for make for as good viewing.
Set four years after the events of the first film, the story is once again centred on the ex-military police officer, Jack Reacher (Cruise); a perpetual loner and a man of few words who hitchhikes from town to town, stumbling on corruption and crime which he usually resolves with one smouldering look and a pair of deadly fists.
After doing so in the movie’s opening sequence, Jack soon makes contact with Susan Turner (How I Met Your Mother’s Cobbie Smulders); a woman who has taken over his former position at the Virginia-based military unit and with whom he has, over time, formed a close - and relatively flirtatious - relationship with.
However, when Reacher decides to surprise her with a visit, he soon learns that Turner has been arrested on what appears to be, fake espionage charges. With the case naturally falling right in his field of expertise, Jack soon sets out to uncover the truth and, oh yeah, break a few bones in the process.
While many fans of Lee Child’s series of paperback thrillers – it seems that the British author has been churning them out once a year ever since its beginning in 1997 - are still a little stuck-up about the fact that Tom Cruise – a man of five-foot-and-seven-inches – has been cast to play a man who is his physical opposite. But you have to hand it to Cruise; regardless of his now aging physique, he once again proves why he’s paid the big bucks.
However, while the presence of Tom Cruise - who embraces his character with enough stoic bravado and fighting skills to give Jason Bourne a run for his money – elevates the film, the same cannot be said for the flimsy and often uneven storyline that surrounds him. Attempting to offer a profounder insight into Jack Reacher’s history and life - hinting that he is in fact a desperately lonely man who is looking for a deep and soulful connection to another human being - Zwick’s ill-conceived script, along with a combination of cheap one-liners, and awkward comedic tone and weak action set pieces, is not strong enough to carry its own weight.
Lacking momentum and a presence of an intimidating villain - Heusinger’s cold-blooded killer who refuses to take his gloves off is as exciting as watching paint dry - Never Go Back doesn’t know what it wants to be and even though, fans of the series won’t be too disappointed with the end-result, those with little patience might not want to stick around whilst it figure it out.
For his latest feature film, Woody Allen decides to return to Hollywood and explore his signature themes of love, passion and lost dreams in Café Society; an easygoing yet familiar comedy-drama which, although mostly watchable, lacks focus and is in need of a richer dramatic element.
Narrated by Allen himself, the story opens in 1930’s Hollywood at a pool-side party where Hollywood agent, Phil Stern (Carell), is sitting sipping drinks, looking important and commanding the attention of business associates and other admirers surrounding him. He is soon interrupted by a telephone call from his older sister, Rose (the wonderful Jeannie Berlin) who informs her brother that her youngest son, Bobby (Eisenberg playing what appears to be a younger version of Woody Allen), is headed out to Los Angeles and that Phil should help him get settled in.
After a few weeks of avoiding the initial meet, Phil soon meets with Bobby and lands him with a job at the agency where the young boy from the Bronx soon falls head-over-heels for Phil’s secretary, Vonnie (played by the refreshingly expressive Stewart).
See, although Vonnie is interested in Bobby, she can’t commit to the relationship as she’s also canoodling with his uncle, who is trying to decide whether he should leave his wife of twenty-five years or not. Learning about the twisted love-triangle, Bobby begins looking for love elsewhere while, at the same time, dreaming of his home and uncomplicated life back in NYC.
Whilst Bobby and Vonnie’s story is seemingly the centre-point of the film, Allen doesn’t spend too much time focusing on the love birds, instead whizzing the story back and forth between NY and LA, where we also get to spend some time with Bobby’s parents and his terribly clichéd gangster of a brother - played wonderfully by House of Cards’ Corey Stoll. It keeps the story moving, but the lack of focus means neither of the stories really stick.
Set against a glossy Hollywood backdrop, one thing that stands out, however, is the cinematography. With the help of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and the employment of the first-ever digital camera in a Woody Allen film, Café Society has that appropriately flashy feel to it, which successfully brings out the lavishness of its surroundings and, at the same time, ends up compensating for the writing’s occasional laziness.
The performances are solid with Eisenberg’s jittery naivety playing wonderfully against Stewart’s subtle nature and quiet beauty. It’s a shame that the rest of the picture couldn’t match their performance with Bobby’s description of life in Hollywood, “kind of half-bored, half-fascinating” serving to be the best assessment of the movie itself.