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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.
There is very little connective tissue in F. Gary Gray’s sprawling biopic about one of the most notorious and controversial Gansta’ Rap groups of our time, N.W.A. Written by Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff and a handful of other largely untested writers, Straight Outta Compton may not be the most cohesive of biographies, though there’s just enough affective material to draw on to pack a small punch.
The story begins in 1986, where we come to know drug dealer, Eric ‘Eazy-E’ Wright (Mitchell), aspiring DJ, musician and father, Andre ‘Dr Dre’ Young, and hip-hop poet, O’Shea ‘Ice Cube’ Jackson, who – all battling their own struggles – form what becomes N.W.A alongside M.C Ren (Hodge), D.J Yella (Brown Jr.) and The D.O.C (Yates Jr.), with Eazy E’s drug money providing funding. As is so often the case though, fame and success begin to slowly create friction between the members.
Unlike their music – a raw and an explicit depiction of everyday life in the ghetto - Straight Outta Compton feels a little bland in comparison and is almost going through the motions with its story, rarely taking the time to us the larger-than-life moments that could have been better captured. Like so many bipoics, the film seems at a loss as to how to cover so much material in a span of a feature-length film that at 2 hours and 20 minutes is already rather long. As a result the film fails to depict the group’s legacy – it’s a little unfelt.
The performances are quite pedestrian, with the sole exception of O’Shea Jackson Jr.’s brilliant portrayal of his father, while even the surprisingly versatile Giamatti isn’t able to assert his role in the overall plot. Nonetheless, Straight Outta Compton has the intangible sense of nostalgia that’s farther emphasised by its larger-than-life characters. It’s a film that needed to be made. We just wish it would have been made better.
The lingering effect of Sicario’s unrelenting and pitiless sense of anxiety will stay with its viewers long after it leaves the screen. Directed by Denis Villeneuve – see Prisoners – and astutely written by the T.V actor and first-time scripter Taylor Sheridan, this is one beautifully shot and tension-ridden action thriller that captures the reality – and cruelty – of the forever-ongoing war on drugs along the Southern US borders.
The story is centered on Kate Macer (Blunt); a skillful FBI agent who has been working on the agency’s kidnap response task force for the past three years. After successfully tracking leads in a kidnapping case, Kate and her team soon make the shocking discovery of a house full of dead bodies sealed within the house’s walls, leaving Kate and partner, Reggie (Kaluuya) wanting to seek justice for the crime.
The atrocious offence seem to be directly linked to a Mexican drug cartel organization, which Kate is soon tasked to track down and investigate in a covert operation across the border, with Department of Defense head, Matt Graves (Brolin). Unaware of what she’s getting herself into, Kate’s idealistic views on justice are soon challenged when she’s paired with a mysterious – and super silent – special-forces soldier named Alejandro (Del Toro) whose motives in the takedown of the Mexican kingpin Fausto (Cedillo) is unclear.
Boasting striking cinematography – courtesy of the twelve-time Oscar-nominee Roger Deakins – Sicario is one seemingly dark and poetic piece of cinema which has the power to entertain and horrify at the same time. Its far-reaching, bird-view shots of the vast and eerily empty Arizona desert - as well as the precarious and fraudulent streets of Juarez, Mexico – is captivating and demanding of attention; peeling your eyes away from the screen is not so easy to do.
Keeping its intentions well-hidden, the script is complex, twisted and action-heavy; the scene of vehicles whizzing through the streets of Juarez is nerve-racking and intimidating to watch unfold, with Villeneuve using the silence as the base for the startling and sudden bursts of action.
Anchoring the film with an intense and fiercely committed performance is The Devil Wears Prada’s very own Emily Blunt, who is absolutely superb as the idealistic FBI agent whose somewhat naïve and unrealistic views come crushing down right before our very eyes. Watching her unravel beneath all of the cruelty and injustice involved with the underground drug-war, is satisfying and often heartbreaking to watch while her co-stars, including Brolin as the super cocky head of mission and Del Toro as the mysterious war dog, both did their parts with a fittingly unswerving and dedicated attitude.
Exceptionally silent and disturbing, Sicario – which translates to ‘assassin’ – is an outstanding piece of art and an intriguing action-thriller that questions human decency, morality and ethics when faced with a life-or-death situation. It’s a must, must-see of the year.