TBT – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Brie Larson, Chris Evans, Edgar Wright, films, fuck yeah, Michael Cera, review, TBT

When I was writing one of my recent Chris Evans’ reviews I remembered that he appeared in 2010s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim. I know why I forget Evans is in this film: it’s cause he’s so good and I wasn’t used to that feeling 7 years ago. It does mean that I’ve had a deep-seated desire to watch this film ever since so I decided it would be the perfect film to talk about this TBT. It’s been a while since I saw this but I absolutely love this film. I’m also a fan of the graphic novels that it is based on. Really, Scott Pilgrim is the reason that I often get the desire to dye my hair bright pink or blue every now and then. I’ve always wanted to be more like Ramona Flowers. I mean, without the crippling emotional detachment and stuff but, you know, the coolness. It’s no wonder Scott falls in love with her at first sight. I certainly did.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s series of graphic novels. It is a special effects dream that plays out like a video game. It sees Hollywood’s favourite geek, Michael Cera, take on the role of Canadian slacker, Scott. He is living an uneventful and uninspiring life until he meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and falls head over heels. In order to win Ramona’s heart Scott discovers that he must first battle her 7 evil exes in a series of fantastic showdowns.

The genius of Scott Pilgrim is that it places itself firmly in reality whilst also amping everything up to ridiculous proportions. The characters and relationships are all very believable but every dispute is solved in an epic showdown where one combatant inevitably ends up as a pile of coins. The world of Scott Pilgrim is just that little bit more technicolor than ours and there are different laws regarding injuries and death. It’s a weird setting, then, but, director, Edgar Wright manages to pull it off.

He manages to do this by sticking fairly closely to original text and mimicking their style. It expertly mixes the crazed action sequences with the quieter moments of Scott’s slacker lifestyle. The action cuts seamlessly from one venue to another and the use of on screen captions and cartoony sound effects help to remind the audience what’s going on. Scott Pilgrim has more in common with Wright’s tv show Spaced and it’s endless supply of pop culture references than it does with his Cornetto trilogy. But the end results is smarter, sharper, and more relaxed than any of his previous work.

Wright manages to capture the mood with his manga-styling and picks up on the comedy and the drama on screen. He uses whip-pans, extreme close-ups, split screens, and changes in speed to get things moving in the right direction. The evil exes are introduced with animated sequences accompanied by Ramona’s voiceover. The game also embraces everything good about video games and becomes one of the few successful video game movies. Who can’t help but feel joy in the references to Street Fighter and 8-bit animation that keep cropping up? It’s a film that loves the world of gaming and will feel familiar to pretty much anyone who has had any contact with a game.Scott Pilgrim is a triumph of visual effects and style. It is a treat to watch and is an absolute hoot. It never takes itself seriously but it never makes the mistake of being too derisive.

The source material is treated with the utmost respect and the film works because of it. However, the fact remains that there are moments when the scipt and the narrative just don’t live up the visuals. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of the series of graphic novels but there can be no denying that a lot is lost in translation here. Scott’s story plays itself out over 6 volumes but the film chops it all up to fit into a neat 112 minutes. It all feels a bit rushed and simplistic in this form. The battles become rather repetitive and confusing here. You don’t really get any time with the exes before they explode into currency.

Of course, this isn’t enough of a problem to dampen the film. It’s sometimes difficult to connect this with the series in which it originated but, as a film in itself, it is perfect. The cast are all really well chosen and bring something fantastic to their characters. With a host of actors who have since become big or even bigger names, it’s wonderful to revisit. I keep forgetting that Chris Evans plays Lucas Lee, Ramona’s second ex, and he absolutely steals the show. He plays a brash and egotistical actor who talks a bit like Christian Bale as Batman. It’s amazing. Kieran Culkin is hilarious as Scott’s gay roommate, Wallace, and Captain Marvel herself, Brie Larson, turns up as Scott’s ex-girlfriend.

Scott Pilgrim may not be the film that fans of the comic books necessarily wanted it to be but the source material is in safe hands with Edgar Wright. The film is funny and an absolute wonder to watch. I defy anyone to watch it and not feel better afterwards.

TBT – Life After Beth (2014)

Anna Kendrick, meh, rom-com, TBT, zombies

My last post, a much longer rant than I had anticipated, concerned the realms of creepy love. It’s a worrying fact about society today that normal love stories are no longer enough to satisfy an audience’s needs. It needs to be unusual and extremely over-the-top. It’s an explanation for why the humble rom-com that kept Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in work for most of the 80s now only exists within hybrids with other genres. As time goes on these will only get fucking weirder but, for now, the supernatural romantic love story still seems to be exciting the type of pathetic people who think the latest popular YA sensation is the most romantic fucking story ever written. Hollywood knows where to place its bets and love stories featuring sexy versions of horror movies staples have been ten a penny in recent years. For the most part I’m okay with it if I can avoid it but, I have to admit, I’m a little about the potential popularity of the zombie romantic comedy (or zom-rom-com). I mean it seems to me that the moment young people start fantasising about having sex with dead people we could have a major fucking problem on our hands.

I realise that, as someone who has already admitted to being jaded with the current amount of zombie focused content filtering out of our entertainment industry, this review was never going to be glowing. However, zombie-based comedy is not a new thing. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s Shaun of the Dead was one of the earlier and strongest additions to the genre and pretty much ruined anyone else’s chances of beating it. Their film came out 10 whole years before Life After Beth so my naive heart still believed it could make a difference. I loved the premise and, as someone who desperately wants to be Aubrey Plaza, was fairly excited to see how the cast dealt with it.

The story begins with the death of Beth Slocum, a young girl bitten by a snake whilst hiking. Obviously the tragic events comes as a huge shock to her parents, Geenie and Maury, (Molly Shannon and John C. Reilly) and her boyfriend, Zach Orfman (Dane DeHaan). Zach finds comfort in visiting the mourning family until they mysteriously start to avoid him. Turns out Beth came back from the dead and her mental parents have taken to hiding their little miracle in the attic. Zach, upon discovering his undead former love, realises that he now has the chance to make amends for the shitty relationship they had before that pesky death business put a damper on things.

Of course, in the early stages the relationship is at its necrophilic best with Beth picking up where she left off. She is seemingly the same person she was but slightly more rotten skin. Much quicker than he discovers how fucking weird it is to be having sex with a zombie, Zach realises that death has had a a much greater effect on his girlfriend that it initially appeared. Beth is now super strong, quick to anger and only subdued when listening to endless hours of Smooth Jazz. Not exactly his ideal women then.

Life After Beth could have been a fucking great film if it had stayed within the domestic territory of ‘boy meets girl, boy loses girl to snake bite, girls comes back from the dead, boy happily starts sleeping with girl again’. That would have been the perfect blend of simple and funny that would have allowed the strong cast to do good work. Instead, Jeff Baena attempts to evolve this narrative into a much bigger/shitter zombie apocalypse story and manages to lose control of it all. He leaves too much unexplained and shows too little of the scale of the problem to create enough drama.

It’s a huge fucking disappointing that Life After Beth fell into such a familiar pattern because it seemed to be a fresh approach to an undeniably over-saturated genre. The cast do a great job with the material they are given and could have done much better with a stronger premise. John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon are fucking great as Beth’s overprotective and incredibly crazy parents. Dane DeHaan, not your typical rom-com lead, is sensible enough to play the grieving Zach with the right level of creepy so you can understand his actions whilst never being fully on board with them.

Of course, Aubrey Plaza is the star of the show and manages to pull a shitty concept into something vaguely watchable. She does great work as the happy-go-luck, just back from the dead Beth and as the fully fledged Zombie psycho strapped to an oven Beth. She has most of the movies funniest and most memorable moments. I’d hate to have seen what a fucking huge pile of shit this would have been without her. Especially when you consider Baena’s half-hearted introduction of the women also vying for Zach’s affection, Erica (Anna Kendrick). Kendrick has about five minutes of being nice and pretty and is basically forgotten until the films final act. It’s just another distraction that we could have done without and is fucking disrespectful to an actress as reliable as Kendrick.

Life After Beth‘s problems arise from the fact that it’s not a complete idea. The script basically came from an idea that would have produced a good-length YouTube sketch that was stretched into a 90 minute film. It proves that there might still be room to work within the zombie genre but warns anyone willing to take the risk that its going to be more difficult than they’d think. Film makers have become fucking lazy because, when it comes to zombies, we’ve seen it all before. All we need is one strong and original idea and the undead film industry could really come back to life.

Into the Woods (2015)

Anna Kendrick, boring, Chris Pine, fairy tale, meh, Meryl Streep, musical, review
When it comes to this blog I think I’m starting to come across as a bit of a grump when it comes to musicals. I don’t really understand why as I’m a not so secret lover of the genre. Whilst writing my postgraduate dissertation I listened to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat soundtrack on repeat. I have been known to portray my feelings through the songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber (especially when I’d finished the aforementioned dissertation). However, most modern musicals just don’t get me as excited. I see trailers and just get angry. Especially if they star Meryl Streep. Thankfully I have the good sense not to associate with anybody who responded to the release of Into The Woodswith any other attitude than “who the fuck cast Meryl Streep in another musical?” Don’t get me wrong I love the Streep but, you have to admit, it’s a bloody good question. After the travesty that was Mamma Miait’s difficult to see who would have decided casting big names was better than talented singers.

Into the Woodsis a weird fairytale mash-up of the stories of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel. These many strands are tied together through the tale of a baker and hid wife who embark on a quest to lift a curse that has left them childless. In order to get their angry neighbourhood witch to reverse her spell, the pair must enter the titular woods and track down four very specific items from each of the four tales.
The problem with cutting and pasting bits of these existing stories together is that each one ultimately loses a lot of the excitement and become a lot more complicated. Taken singly you can accept the crazy decisions that the characters make but torn into bite size pieces it becomes harder to go along with everything. The mixing of the narratives only succeeds in watering them down without adding any fresh perspectives or humour. It’s all a bit dull and unnecessary.
And fucking repetitive. The problem with musicals as a whole is the needless desire to tell the audience what is happening over and over again. Almost as soon as the baker has rescued Red Riding Hood from the belly of the wolf, she feels the need to sing about it and provide us with a flashback. Clearly targeted at the stupid or those with non-existent short-terms memories, Into the Woodsis a 2+ hour film that probably only has about an hours worth of material in it.
Which considering there has still been something of a narrative cull seems even more ridiculous. The whole plot feels as though it’s full of holes and never feels complete. Take for example the relationship between Cinderella and her Prince Charming: in the stage show Prince Charming tires of Cinders and falls for the sleeping Snow White. In the film, their relationship goes from being happily ever after to soul destroying in the blink of an eye. Despite still being pretty fucking dark compared to Disney’s big hitting musicals, Into the Woods has traded narrative integrity for being family friendly.
There is just not subtlety at work here, which, if we’re honest, is the fucking great thing about stage musicals. They are limited in how they can present their material and so can’t distract from the music and the performances. Into the Woodsis the opposite of this who steamrollers over everything else with its massive production values. The epic sets, costumes and orchestration make it almost impossible to enjoy the witty and clever work of both Sondheim and writer James Lapine, who also wrote the book for the original production.
Into the Woodsis a musical that takes itself too fucking seriously and, considering the general air of the show, is just the most ridiculous decision. I was so bored during the whole film and I say that as someone who’s natural reaction to people singing instead of talking is to jump for joy. That’s not to say that the cast don’t try their hardest and obviously many of them try too hard. Into the Woodsis full to bursting with huge names to the extent that great actors like Simon Russell Beale are mere afterthoughts. With a mix of Hollywood A-listers, musical theatre brats and classical actors, it’s exhausting.
Meryl Streep, despite the fact that I’ll never warm to her as a singer, is fabulous as the desperate witch and Anna Kendrick adds some real legitimacy to proceedings as Cinderella. Emily Blunt and James Corden make a good duo as the Baker and his wife but get sort of lost in the confusion and musical numbers. Most memorable is Chris Pine as the sleazy but charming Prince who wins Cinders’ heart. Pine, who will now forever be Captain Kirk 2.0, channels his best William Shatner for his performance. It’s a role that is a fantastic parody but never really finds its feet on the big screen.
I’m not entirely sure who Into the Woodswas made for. It doesn’t quite work for the lovers of Frozenor the faithful Sondheim audience. It’s simultaneously dumbed-down and over-complicated. The watered down script is still too edgy for children but not dark enough for an older audience. Into the Woods is all pomp and no circumstance. Getting too carried away in the spectacle that it didn’t really think about the content that they were trying to introduce people to. The whole thing just left me cold.

Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)

Anna Kendrick, films, musical, Pitch Perfect, Rebel Wilson, review, teen movie
Pitch Perfectwas one of those films that took me surprise when I eventually saw it. Expecting it to be nothing more than the story of awful teenagers whining self-indulgently in between songs, I found myself actually enjoying it. I spent most of that year trying to convince my cynical friends that, despite appearances, it was worth their time. Pitch Perfect is never going to be my favourite film but I liked it enough to be fairly excited about the sequel. Especially when it was announced that YouTube sensation Flula Borg was joining the cast. I’ve been hooked on Flula’s channel ever since I was introduced to his video on Daddy Longlegs where he bemoaned their weird appearance and “spiderweb leggies”. Flula is an underrated comedian and could easily serve as a great foil for the likes of Fat Amy.

I don’t think anyone really expected the a cappella comedy to be such a runaway hit back in 2012 but as soon as it did there were whispers about a second and a third film. It’s taken a few years but the Bellas are back. Clearly not confident with their ability to strike lucky a second time, the sequel is bigger, brasher and bursting with even more pop culture references and cameo appearances. There’s a slight whiff of desperation that hangs in the air until the closing credits.
Still on the winning streak started at the end of the first film, the Bellas are given the honour of singing for President Obama. Unfortunately, with higher expectations come more complicated routines. One particular stunt in which Australian Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) is suspended in the air singing Wrecking Ball ends with her revealing her Down Unders to the President. As you can expect, this is a massive fucking scandal and the Bellas are banned from any further national competitions. It only seems fitting after all.
Luckily, the group find a loophole that allows them to compete in the World Championships in Copenhagen. Their plan is to crush the competition and regain their once flawless reputation. Much like last time, they come up against some incredibly talented opponents in the shape of Das Sound Machine, their German counterparts. They must face a ca-challenges like another riff-off, another heart-to-heart and Beca’s divided attention. Now doesn’t that all sound a little bit familiar?
To say that Pitch Perfect 2 is following the same formula as the first is a bit of a joke. It’s a copy and paste job where even most of the jokes are recycled. Where we once had weirdo Lilly freaking everyone out, we now have the awfully misjudged Flo, a Guatemalan Bella who creates awkward silences thanks to incessant references to her impoverished upbringing. Then we have the antagonists, DSM, who are relegated to horrible stereotypes whose heavily stereotyped renditions of ’90s hip-hop just feels like cheap and lazy comedy.
Although one major positive outcome to the new film is that the focus is no longer solely on Beca and Jesse, although I will say that Jesse is so underused it’s a fucking waste of a wage check. Of course, we have the awful teen movie cliché plot about Beca’s internship showing her that life isn’t as simple as the naïve student believes it is. The only positive to come out of this narrative strand is Keegan-Michael Key’s hard-assed music producer. In just a few scenes Key almost steals the film.
Pitch Perfect 2acts more like a group film and gives other characters, like the incredibly popular Fat Amy, more material to work with. There are two, yes TWO, new romance plots to contend with and some moments of heavy realisation where the Bellas realise they need to think about their life after college. This widened lens has both positives and negatives: the film actually feels like an ensemble piece but there is still too much happening to allow everyone to get their moment to shine. Most of the girls are still left in the dark.
What does work this time around, just as it did before, is the music. The arrangements are chock-a-block with modern hits and classics of recent history. Forgoing the ’80s nostalgia that was so annoying in the first film, the soundtrack is another winner. Even if the more obvious presence of auto-tune felt like we were moving more into Glee territory.
Pitch Perfect2 was never going to be a failure in terms of money and will continue to see the immense success it already has. The winning combination of Elizabeth Banks (in her directorial debut), Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson was always going to have some laughs and enough heart to work. However, there is just too much that doesn’t quite make it. I mean if you throw enough darts at a board at least one will land but the majority won’t.
This film has energy and passion, that cannot be denied. However, it is so desperate to ride the coattails of its predecessor that it becomes fucking annoying. Even the reprise of the fucking Cup Song is so obviously pandering that I couldn’t help but cringe my way through it. Pitch Perfect 2could have been better and could have been funnier; there can be no denying that. However, I can’t quite bring myself to write it off. There is enough to like about the characters, the familiarity and the underlying message to bring enough joy. Even a cynic like me found the Bella’s final performance heart-warming.

Pitch Perfect (2012)

Anna Kendrick, comedy, musical, Pitch Perfect, Rebel Wilson, review

I’m beginning to suspect that this blog is mostly going to turn into a list of the famous people I become obsessed with throughout my life. A pathetic and hyperbolic record of the varying degrees of love I have for different actors and actresses. Unfortunately, this post isn’t going to be my first step towards turning over a leaf as I am about to open with the following statement: I love Rebel Wilson. I know. I know. Who doesn’t love Rebel Wilson? She’s incredibly funny and is consistently guilty of stealing every scene she’s in. Like her fellow Bridesmaidsstar Melissa McCarthy, Wilson has often been cast in the type of roles that would solely rely on her size to gain cheap laughs but she has continued to show signs that there is a great deal more to get from her. It is down to Wilson alone that I had any desire to see this loud and shiny assault on my senses.

Although to be quite honest, when it comes to moments of group singing and dance numbers I can’t help but get drawn into the moment. I love them. I’m willing to put up with even the shittest of films thanks to those precious moments of highly choreographed and rehearsed moments of spontaneous musical outbursts. Hell, I didn’t hate Blues Brothers 2000as much as it deserves thanks to the sight of Dan Aykroyd, John Goodman and that kid dancing together whilst Aretha Franklin belted out ‘Respect’. This said, I’m not a fan of Glee. I know it doesn’t make sense but there’s something about those smug 30 year olds pretending to be teenagers that just riles me. Glee takes the fun out of musicals and takes itself far too seriously. Especially considering it’s nothing more than a load of whiny school kids singing classic rock to each other. It’s like Dawson’s Creekpretending it’s Casablanca or something. Plus, why the hell is the fat one called the best singer of the group whilst being the only person who always needs to rely on auto-tuning to reach the high notes she’s entrusted with? Hmm?

Anyway, Pitch Perfecttakes us into the seedy underbelly of collegiate a capella competition and tells the touching underdog story that Hollywood was crying out for. Namely the journey undertaken by all-girl a capella group, the Barden Bellas, to save their reputation whilst bringing down their bitter rivals, the Treblemakers. Pitch Perfectisn’t exactly breaking new ground here and the narrative structure is pretty obvious from the outset. However, the slick writing and absurd characters ensure that it is far from pedestrian. Feeling less like High-School Musical: The College Yearsand more like a musical version of Mean Girls. Penned by one-time 30 Rock writer Kay Cannon it’s no wonder that we are well catered for in terms of catty humour and ridiculous scenarios.
The crux of the comedy comes in the form of Rebel Wilson’s Tasmanian diva Fat Amy (don’t worry the comedy is more sophisticated than the name suggests) and Hana Mae Lee’s whispering but deranged Lilly. Wilson is the queen of ad-libbing and she shamelessly steals every scene away from her fellow stars. She is always a delight to watch and, as Fat Amy, she gets the chance to be as outrageous and over-the-top as possible. If is wasn’t for the utterly unbelievable actions of Lilly she would stand-out as the one character to lift this out of the mainstream. Add to that Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins’ link with the likes of Dodgeballand Best In Showthanks to their cutting commentators and we have stand-out moments of pure comedy.
Whilst not as noteworthy, the rest of the cast are anything but the usual stock characters we see in so many of these films. We have great supporting roles from both Anna Camp and Brittany Snow and a slightly higher class of rom-com leads courtesy of Anna Kendrick and Skylar Astin (even if they do sit within the slightly ridiculous Hollywood view of what it is to be alternative). Kendrick has found her market playing the edgy outsider who despairs of the people around her. Beca finds herself stuck at Barden due to her father’s wishes whilst she dreams of running off to LA to pursue her DJ career. She’s not the most obvious new Bella but, as the audience will quickly pick up, she is the one they need to reinvigorate themselves. She makes quite an impression on Astin’s Jesse who, showing the apparently necessary appreciation of John Hughes movie and a misguided love of Simple Minds, plans on being a composer of film music. Romeo and Juliet they are not but there is something sweet about their flourishing romance.
My major issue with Pitch Perfectis the unmistakable sense that much of the original narrative was cut out to shave down the run time. We are introduced to interesting plot points that are quickly forgotten about before anything can really come from them. The hint of a love-triangle between Beca, Jesse and their radio station boss is sent into oblivion after a few moments of pouting jealousy on Jesse’s part. The relationship between Beca and her father is never really allowed to gain much ground and a brief discussion concerning his divorce from her mother is all we get of any real attempt at emotional reconnection between the pair. Whilst this doesn’t really take a great deal away from the film it does make it feel slightly sloppier than the script and the performances deserved. Well the part of the script that doesn’t rely too heavily on projectile vomiting anyway.
I didn’t want to like Pitch Perfect, I really didn’t. There was nothing I wanted to sit down and watch less than Gleemeets Bring It On. Although, after watching it and listening to the soundtrack non-stop for a couple of weeks I can’t deny that it’s certainly worth a watch. Pitch Perfect doesn’t rely too heavily on the ‘getting actors to sing pop mash-ups’ gimmick and if anything, the music is an after thought in the whole plot. That’s not to say it’s not good (as the number of plays on my Spotify can confirm) but it is an add-on to a compelling and entertaining film. The potentially unnecessary but slick icing on a well-structured, tasty but at times disturbing cake. By no means is it going to be a modern classic or the finest teen comedy you’ll ever see but it is arguably one of the slickest films in this genre you’ll have seen in the last few years. I can’t deny it my friends, I’ve been pitched slapped.