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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.
Embodying pretty much everything a bona fide espionage thriller should, Our Kind of Traitor - adapted from John Le Carre’s novel of the same name - is a solid entry into the author’s long-list of book-to-screen adaptations which include hits such as, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Constant Gardener and A Most Wanted Man. However, while it rides on an interesting premise of money, corruption and lies, there is a sense of implausibility that detracts from an otherwise thought-provoking and visually enticing basis.
The story opens in Marrakesh, Morocco where poetry professor, Perry Makepeace (McGregor,) and his semi-estranged lawyer wife, Gail (Harris), have travelled to in an attempt to rekindle their relationship after Perry’s recent indiscretion with one of his students. One evening at a bar, Perry meets an over-the-top Russian businessman named Dima (Skarsgard) who, after inviting the couple to lavish party, openly admits to having laundered money for the Russian mob.
He asks Perry for help in delivering an USB stick containing all of the vital information that the British intelligence will need to capture his boss who goes by the name of Prince (Dobrygin) in exchange for a safe passage into asylum for him and his family. Reaching out to an MI6 agent, Hector (Lewis), Perry delivers on his promise, only to find himself and Gail dragged into a dangerous game of cat and mouse which soon sends the naïve couple on an espionage escapade around the world.
Adapted to the screen by Iranian writer Hossein Amini - see Drive, 47 Ronin - Our Kind of Traitor is told entirely through the eyes of someone who is not a skilled professional but an everyday man who knows very little about the dangerous world he finds himself in, ultimately, making it easier for the viewers to identify with the leads. Filling the story with a great deal of suspense, tension and overall atmosphere, director Susanna White shows a level of confidence behind the lens, packing the screen with an unusual touch of class - very little espionage movie clichés make their way into the story - whilst the action sequences are pleasantly engaging.
The movie’s slight drawback, however, comes in the form of a series of far-fetched situations that the characters find themselves facing and a lack of chemistry between McGregor and Harris, offering very little conviction in their personal connection and overall predicament. The committed performance from Skarsgard - as the tattooed Russian mobster who will do anything to keep his family from harm - however, is what manages to save the film from completely failing, with the talented actor exuding a boisterous presence and charisma that is hard to deny.
As far as B-movies go, there’s the good kind of bad, there’s actual bad and then there is just downright awful. Chuck Russell’s latest dip into the B-grade action pool, the exceptionally dreadful and contrived I Am Wraith, has unfortunately fallen somewhere right in the middle proving once again that John Travolta’s faltering career is still very much on the decline.
Written by Paul Solan, the story is set in Columbus, Ohio and it is centred on Stanley Hill (Travolta); a former special ops agent who has decided to leave the dangers of his job behind and now works in the car industry. His wife, Vivian (De Mornay), is an EPA analyst and, as the movie opens, we watch her excitedly welcoming her husband home from a long trip away. However, their reunion is short lived when, seemingly out of nowhere, a group of thugs kill Vivian and wound Stanley before he escapes.
Devestated by the loss of his wife, Stanley is left with no choice but to return to his old line of work as a trained CIA assassin, quickly reuniting with old partner Dennis (Law & Order’s very own Meloni) who is excited to help his buddy chase down the killers. With his daughter Abbie (Schull) very much in the dark about her father’s intentions, Stanley’s plan of revenge soon gets complicated when he realises that there are people up at the top – including Governor Meserve (Esprit) and local kingpin, Lemi K (Sloan) – connected to the murder.
Juggling one too many ideas at once, director Chuck Russell doesn’t seem to have a clear idea about what he wants his movie to be; is it a bloody revenge thriller? Is it an actioner with a political conspiracy undertone? Or is it a buddy-cop movie? It’s very unclear and the story serves up a stream of tough-guy-fighting-bad-guys clichés. Switching the focus and overall tone numerous times during the course of the movie, the action sequences are decent, though the overuse of slow-mo shots proves a little tiresome at times, while the plot’s pacing and emotional is all over the place.
Sporting a ridiculous wig, Travolta switches on his macho mode and, for the most part, we believe him. However, the novelty of watching the sixty-plus year old actor fighting his way through the bad guys – all the while indulging in atrocious dialogue with the slightly more affective Meloni – wears out pretty darn soon. Generic, clichéd and exceptionally tiring, I Am Wrath fits in well within the ‘geriaction’ genre of movies that Taken kicked off, but without any of the conviction of the Liam Neeson-starring adventure.