Like: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

August 14, 2010

For those of you who have not read the Scott Pilgrim books by Bryan Lee O’Malley, do yourself a favor and run (don’t walk) to your nearest store to purchase them. All read up? Okay good.

What you may have noticed in reading is that the books are surprisingly good. Not just fun, or funny, or inventive, but outright good. They’re about maturity in a decidedly immature zeitgeist; one largely dependent on style, imagery, and desperate attempts to stay young and (ir)relevant. It’s about our fleeting fascination with posture and accepting the kinds of difficult gray areas below the surface. Stuff like  personal, financial, and emotional responsibilities. In other words, heavy stuff but in a perfectly digestible context. In that regard, I think the books are transcendent.

What’s hilarious about that proclamation is that the Scott Pilgrim property gets a ton of crap from people who think it’s nothing but crappy “hipster stuff.” The irony of that is that Scott Pilgrim is essentially a careful annihilation of hipsterism.  Scott Pilgrim is not a hipster, honestly he lacks the kind of self-awareness needed to pull that off. Scott Pilgrim’s issues are deeply basic: love, insecurity, money, responsibility. He’s way more Homer Simpson than someone who’s too cool for school. Even more revealing is that the most obvious hipsters in the books are actually the bad guys. The evil ex boyfriends run the gamut of fame obsessed narcissism, pretentious dietary snobbery, militant life choices, and most of all, simply “looking cool.”  Even one of the bad guys has a horde of “evil hipster chicks.” It’s actually kind of obvious what O’Malley is going for here.

It’s not just about the outright rejection either. One of the reasons Scott Pilgrim is mistaken for being nothing more than hipster stuff is that the main characters largely wrestle with their own desires to be cool (and regardless of form, jock, rock star, hipster, etc. being cool is one of the universal goals of the immature). “Do we rock or do we suck?” is a question repeated through the series. And naturally the answered learned is that it doesn’t matter. Life amounts to everything below the surface. Besides, to lambaste hipsterism you need to outright engage it. Sure, people can toss their snarky hand grenades from afar, but they’re doing so simply as a reaction to the surface details… and thus they are essentially engaging in the same kind of surface evaluation that they decry hipsters for doing in the first place. How’s that for irony?

Okay, enough semantics. Now let’s talk about the movie.

Edgar Wright was the perfect person to handle the film. SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ are both modern classics. He’s so adept at propulsive filmmaking and genre bending. SCOTT PILGRIM continues to the trend and even manages to push the envelope in terms of story construction. Inventive transitions abound and not in a distracting way, but designed for story telling and establishing tone. The action is surprisingly well articulated. Each fight feels unique. The references (save for one or two) are not distracting in any sense whatsoever. He’s created a wholly valid world here. But what makes Edgar Wright actually good is not just the quality of work and references (something that sets him apart from contemporary filmmakers like, I dunno, McG? or something?) but how he balances them with a nicely observed emotional moments and arcs. It’s top-flight filmmaking, genre-intensive or not.

Part of Wright’s ability to weave resonance into a stylistic narrative is his seemingly innate ability to extract perfectly observed performances from all parties involved. This is an ensemble cast in the truest sense. We have our two leads of course, but the supporting figures are so richly weaved into tapestry and plot of the film that it simply would not work if anyone did not carry their respective scenes. This is largely because Wright slightly skews the of tone the books in favor of making the supporting cast be the driving force of the narrative. Seriously they are all fantastic. In order of my favorites:

Wallace Wells – Keiran Culkin balances the art of caring and supporting a friend and giving them a right proper kick in the ass (and often doing both at the same time). His deadpan lines just slay.

T0dd – Brandon Routh rocks the self entitled asshole rockstar and holier than thou lifestyle with such a nice sense of focus: meaning he goes broad, but it doesn’t feel broad. His bravado has a casualness. Tricky stuff. I loved it.

Stephen Stills – Stills always felt a little flat in the comic (or at least I wasn’t sure how to read him) and Mark Webber really makes him shine in the movie.

Knives Chau – Her story was really focused on in the movie (well, that makes more sense given the original ending) but I was originally worried that she would come off as pure slapstick (like she does in the trailers) but nope, Ellen Wong perfectly captures the shyness and soft-spoken 17  year insecurities beautifully.

Kim Pine – Alison Pill’s a force of sarcastic nature.

Lucas Lee – Chris Evans does go cartoonishly broad and STILL slays.

Stacy Pilgrim – Anna Kendrick nails a role I essentially forgot about. Her comic timing is just effortless isn’t it?

Comeau- The guy who plays the guy who knows everyone and he has to convey his character entirely in, like, three well-delivered lines. He nails it and propels even one of the better meta jokes in the movie.

And then there’s the leads. As Ramona Flowers Mary Elizabeth Winstead gets the opportunity to play something other than “pretty girl.” (Seriously, in Death Proof she is just objectification objectified… which was on purpose and all but you don’t get to show range). And she’s acquits herself admirably. It’s alluring without trying to be. Sarcastic without being cold. Distancing while not shutting off. Bitchiness without being a Bitch. Like I said, most of these performances are about balancing the way we we act in real life with the raging obtuse qualities of the characters and narrative. And Winstead knows who Ramona is and how to convey her. Bravo.

And lastly there’s Michael Cera himself. He was my biggest worry going in. Not because I don’t love Cera (I do) but because I wasn’t sure what he could do with the Scott Pilgrim character. Scott is unlike most of Cera’s other characters. He wears his heart on his sleeve, talks before he thinks, voices all insecurities aloud, and is constantly unaware of his situation (instead of being painfully aware).  I’ve always wanted to see Cera show his range and hoped nothing but the best for him… but this was beloved Scott Pilgrim. People just freaking love this character (as they should, he’s sort of like a young Homer Simpson)… The stakes just seemed too high… But Cera freaking did it. He’s really does figure a way to make Scott Pilgrim work with his style and timing. He’s hilarious. Sometimes he goes subdued, sometimes he goes exasperated, but it’s always measured  while still being organic.

I obviously really like this movie.

Which is funny because walking out of it I wasn’t as enthused. I thought about how if I had my druthers I would want a lot more of the “down time” parts of the books. I wished there were some more details of how Scott was poor and siphoned off others and always needed money. I would want to see him learning about getting jobs (“It’s like a job system?) but I recognize the inherent problems of their inclusion. There is a narrative to uphold here and I was amazed how coherent it all felt. It’s part of the propulsion and maybe Scott getting a job is fittingly on the cutting room.

The more and more I thought about it the more I realized that I really loved it.

Edgar Wright.

One of the best filmmakers around.

Bryan Lee O’Malley.

One of the best comic book writers around.

Here’s to a rousing success. They’ve made something really progressive.

And to think I was once worried.


Like: The Geek Heirarchy

March 5, 2009

Warning. Do not try to read this. Click on link below.



What is the most wonderful thing about the Geek heirarchy? It’s unflagging accuracy. There isn’t a single thing I can find wrong with it in the way of discourse. It’s a wonderful achievement in the annals of fanboy and geek semantics. It also belittles your potential interests! Either way. Just great stuff.

It’s also completely hilarious.

Props go to K. for alerting me to this many moons ago.

and remember, we’re official: YAY!

Don’t Like: Metacritic

October 23, 2008

So here’s what metacritic is if you don’t know: It’s a website that takes reviews (including ones that don’t give any kind of “rating”) and finds the average scores of those ratings and positive/negative sentiments to give the most average and fair score to that film/album/dvd/show/what have you.

Sounds perfectly fair, right?

Except the system has a lot of problems. I don’t know how they put it all together but many of the results are… suspect. I think it may have to do with how each medium approaches its criticism but let’s get specific.

The chief offender is easily, easily, easily music.

Here’s the top 16 for 2008:

1 What Does It All Mean? 1983-2006 Retrospective by Steinski 2008 90
2 London Zoo by The Bug 2008 90
3 Fed by Plush 2008 89
4 For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver 2008 89
5 Dear Science, by TV On The Radio 2008 88
6 Fleet Foxes by Fleet Foxes 2008 87
7 Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds 2008 87
8 Robyn by Robyn 2008 86
9 Hercules And Love Affair by Hercules And Love Affair 2008 86
10 Fortress by Protest The Hero 2008 86
11 Rook by Shearwater 2008 85
12 Life…The Best Game In Town by Harvey Milk 2008 85
13 Third by Portishead 2008 85
14 Stay Positive by The Hold Steady 2008 85
15 Laulu Laakson Kukista by Paavoharju 2008 85
16 Harps And Angels by Randy Newman 2008 85

Now I like music. A lot. I like a lot of weird shit. I went to metafilter to specifically see if there was anything I didn’t know about which was pretty good. I do this about every 6 months or so. And this time I was like “that’s it, I’ve had it.” The top twelve on this list are pure balls. Seriously I in depth listened to all of them and there wasn’t anything good. The only things I kind of liked were stuff after that and things I already had like Portishead, The Hold Steady. Look, music is ultra super subjective. Moreso than the other mainstream artforms. It just is. And trying to critically rate it all just doesn’t work in the metacritic system. Look across the board,  everything gets the “green light” rating of being good. Unlike the other mediums where getting something in the green is rare. Plus it tends to overskew bad metal bands that get big love from metal magazines. Don’t get me wrong, I likes me some metals but damn Protest the Hero sucks. Bah, it makes me too angry.

Their movie scores are much less offensive, but often your favorite movie can get lost in the shuffle. Strongly mixed critical reactions are often a symbol of brave filmmaking. My favorite film so far this year “Towelhead” rated a 57. Why? Because I imagine it was so hard/uncomfortable for some critics to watch. And that becomes a huge detriment for this intensely brave and well-made movie which is tackling societal taboos and the mixed messages we send young girls. Show me a “universally adored” movie and I’ll show you a Titanic. Yeah, you go back and watch that piece of poop recently? God that was bad.

Oddly enough there is one form of media where metacritic system excels.

Video games?!?!?! Yup. Their culminations of reviews are surprisingly spot on. Universal adortation of video game is easily possible because gamers are such a specific audience. Everyone who goes to a movie doesn’t understand mise en scene. But everyone who plays video games frequently gets the subtleties of game play. So metacritic works so well for my gaming purchases purpose. Just fantastic stuff.

*shit, sorry all. I like TV on the Radio a lot. I should have mentioned that but forgot. I stand by the rest.

**double shit, I like Nick Cave and the bad seeds too.

***i more though the bug, plush, robyn, hercules and the love affair, protest the hero, and shearwater really, really, REALLY sucked.

Like: Rock Band

June 10, 2008

So this is how it went:

A bunch of video game designers were sitting around in their awesomeness and went:

“Hey let’s invent the greatest party game ever!”

“Okay, how about a game where you play simplified musical instruments collectively as a rock band”

“And we can use popular/totally awesome songs!”

“Cool, and we’ll make different difficulties so you can totally show off or if you’ve never played you’d be okay after two tries!”

“Or even play when you’re drunk!”

“Especially if you’re drunk!”

“And we could actually make the drums give you some of the same skills needed to drum”

“Not the guitar though”

“No, not the guitar”

“And you wouldn’t even really have to know the words! Just the basic tune!”

“And we’ll have the vocals real low so people’s awful, awful voices don’t ruin it!”

“And we could actually teach people the value of pitch since it’s the only thing the mic could measure!”


“Dude, be sure Gimme Shelter is one of the songs!”


Sure there were 2 versions of guitar hero as the progenitor to this so it was really just the next logical step in the evolution, but I still like this version of the events.

Don’t Like: Billy Mitchell

May 12, 2008

He’s the asshat on the left.

I finally got around to seeing The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters last night and it was really a great little documentary. It’s odd that a movie about world record Donkey Kong attempts could end up becoming a movie about the fickle nature of simple human decency. The film follows nice-guy Steve Weibe, a family man laid off from his job, as he attempts to break the world record in Donkey Kong. He mostly ends up having to deal with a whole bunch of bureaucratic BS, most of which stems from the original record holder and all-around-dick Billy Mitchell.

The guy is very definition of following: smarm, ego, opportunist, jerk-ass, scumbag, incumbent power holder, transparent, and above all hypocrite. He may even have a chance to go down as one of the all-time great hypocrites too. He’s the perfect villain and he completely puts himself into that role. I don’t think I’ve ever disliked a single person more. The best part of the whole thing is how, when pitted against a genuine human being like Steve, all of those awful things about Billy come through so clearly that slowly his co-horts start to realize the truth. Like I said, it really gets into the power of decency.

Definitely, check out King of Kong.