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Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

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In order to win the girl of his dreams, nay, just simply to survive, Scott Pilgrim must defeat The League of Evil Exes! In said League there are seven evil exes. In honor of that, here are my seven favorite things in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Chris Evans as Lucas Lee, AKA Evil Ex #2. Part of me wants to believe that his cheesy action hero character helped him land the role of Captain America. This or him as Johnny Storm did it. Hey, they’re both comic book movies! To show the level of detail that went into this film, here is an article about the fake movie posters from Lucas Lee’s career. The glimpses we get are amazing, with lines like, “Now you listen up, bucko. The next click you hear is me hanging up. The one after that…is me pulling the trigger.”

How Anna Kendrick and Kieran Culkin are already talking on the phone about what Scott has said before Scott finishes telling either of them whatever it is that he is saying. It is punchy and funny and Anna Kendrick’s bubbly character, as Scott’s sister, just fits. Sub-thing I like, how Kim Pine would cut off the lead singer of Sex Bob-omb to yell, “We are Sex Bob-Omb!! 1-2-3-4” and just start playing the drums.

The. Bass. Guitar. Michael Cera’s Scott Pilgrim plays the bass in Sex Bob-Omb—a totally sweet looking Rickenbacker. And it is great. But my favorite bass comes from Brandon Routh’s Todd Ingram, AKA Evil Ex #4(?)

michael-brie

Michael Cera and Brie Larson as Scott Pilgrim and the way cooler Envy Adams, Scott Pilgrim vs the World, © Universal 2010.

Brie Larson as Envy Adams. Sure she would make a terrible girlfriend but she has an amazing voice, beautiful look and fascinating manner. I felt legitimately bad for her when her boyfriend exploded. On a side note, I hope The Clash At Demonhead re-forms in real life and starts touring.

The end non-fight fight scene. “No. This is something I have to do for myself.” Such a classic cheeseball line! Usually the reasoning behind such a decision is rather poor and is used to even the odds, so to speak, after the hero has overcome a more difficult challenge. Then jumping to the outside where the two women who care for Scott are outside waiting to see if he has lived or died perfectly sets up the nonchalant, wound free exit Scott and Nega-Scott have.

That Edgar Wright directed this masterpiece. I have seen his Hot Fuzz about ten times and I love it very much, but this film—not The World’s End—harnessed every skill Wright had as a director, and screenwriter, and pulled off this unlikely adaptation of an English language manga.1 Going back to Lucas Lee, Wright even shot a clip from the movie within a movie that I quoted above and it was amazing and in a totally different style. Or maybe Brad Allan shot it with the second unit, who knows. The result is the same—the best film of 2010.2 

*****

1 A manga is a Japanese comic book, or a comic book done in the Japanese style, often printed in a small paperback format.
2 2010 was a good year for movies too. It also was apparently forever ago because Winter’s Bone came out that year starring a teenage Jennifer Lawrence in her first starring role. If you ever question her abilities, just go back and (re)watch that movie.

Spy Hard & The Crap Barrier

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Marty (Ernest Borgnine).

Marty (Ernest Borgnine).

Marty has a runtime of 90 minutes. Do you know Marty? The 1955 Academy Award winner for Best Picture starring Ernest Borgnine as a butcher who falls in love with Betsy Blair. Yeah, I have not seen it either, but I know someone who did that said it was a sweet movie. In any event, it is the shortest film to win Best Picture in academy history. That fittingly sets the bar at how short a movie can, or should, be. According to Kevin Smith, the ideal length for a comedy is 97 minutes. 8 of his 11 movies come within 7 minutes of that goal. All but 1 (Dogma) come within 10 minutes of it. Whether or not you like him as a director, the man clearly has skills as an editor and can put together coherent stories with good comedic timing and appropriate doses of comedy. I do not know if 97 is a magic number, but what I do know is that movies that come in under 90 minutes tend to be crappy.

Now there are exceptions to the rule. Smith’s Red State was only 88 minutes, but so was Jon Avnet’s 88 MinutesRed State was pretty good, while 88 Minutes was definitely not. And Jon Avnet can direct well, in fact he directed Fried Green Tomatoes. FGT comes in at 130 minutes. This is probably because FGT had lots of good acting and interesting dialogue from which to choose, unlike 88 Minutes which could not even cobble together 90 minutes. Therein lies the premise of my theory—short movies are short because they do not have even good stuff to reach 90 minutes. There is no corresponding converse of this, where long movies are necessarily good ones. The Transformers movies have all been over 142 minutes, with the latest, and probably crappiest, clocking in at 2 hours 43 minutes. Each one of those could have been a less bad 88 minute movie than it was at full length, if only because it would have wasted less of the viewer’s time in telling its incoherent, poorly designed plot with terrible and occasionally offensive dialogue.

Another exception to this is the phenomenal comedy Office Space, which is 89 minutes long. That is truly a great movie and can be forgiven for coming up a minute short. It also highlights that this 90 minute “crap barrier” is a warning sign, not a determining factor. Just like when movies have the cast and crew tell me how good the movie is, instead of just showing a trailer. Does that mean that they could not splice together even 90 seconds of enticing material? Maybe, but I have yet to see a movie that was advertised in that manner that did not suck. Maybe The BFG will be good because Steven Spielberg directed it and he has two Academy Awards and only directs one not good movie each decade, which is amazing. The runtime may be correlated to the quality, but it does not cause a movie to be a good or bad.

Leslie Nielsen in Spy Hard, © Hollywood Pics. 1996.

Leslie Nielsen in Spy Hard, © Hollywood Pics. 1996.

I wanted a vehicle to discuss my long held theory, and then I saw Spy Hard available on Netflix. Netflix listed the runtime at 81 minutes…a solid 9 under the crap barrier. Now I watched the movie on VHS in the 1990s, but as a 14 year old, so I might have been too mature to appreciate it. Maybe twenty years later I would like it better. While watching I made a list of all the times I laughed out loud, and here is that list:

  1. In a nightclub a man wearing a shirt that says “I ♥ to party” gets a knife thrown into the heart symbol, and says “Why…” with a pained and confused look on his face.1

Okay that is the entire list. That said, thinking back to the scene made me smile and I started to laugh again. I have another list though, this comprises of all the other parts of the film that have any merit:

  1. “Weird Al” Yankovic’s Spy Hard theme song and video. Is it one of his best songs? No, but the parody of the classic Bond imagery is done well and the lyrics are solid.

Yup, that was it. The plot serves merely as a vehicle to move from unfunny parody to unfunny parody. James Bond was clearly pitched as the idea, but the movie takes aim at dozens of popular films from the late 80s and early 90s. In no particular order, they go after SpeedIn the Line of FireSister Act AND Nuns on the Run2Mission: Impossible, Cliffhanger, “The A-Team”, True Lies, E.T., Rambo, Jurassic ParkPulp Fiction, and Home Alone. None of which was funny. Literally everything about this movie was bad, with the exception of I Love to Party and the theme song. It makes Dracula: Dead and Loving It look like the original (almost 5 star) Naked Gun. Directed by Rick Friedberg in his sole feature film outing, the story stars Leslie Nielsen playing Leslie Nielsen AKA Dick Steele, Agent WD-40. Did reading Agent WD-40 make you laugh? If so, then you should watch this movie and then please never vote in an election again. Or drive a car. You might hear someone fart on the sidewalk, crack up, roll into the intersection, and cause a collision. Just stay home and enjoy more movies. I recommend the ones that are under 90 minutes.

1 Proofreading this post I started to laugh again remembering the scene. Unfortunately no clip or screenshot exists because no-one cared enough to make that happen.
2 I had to add this to IMDb because it has somehow been overlooked! It stars Eric Idle and Robbie Coltrane. I remember it being very amusing when I saw it as a kid. Although it is only 89 minutes…

The Beauty of Film: V for Vendetta

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V for Vendetta (2005) — Adrian Biddle (cinematographer) & James McTeigue (director).

I actually thought that the Wachowskis directed this, but was mistaken. This shot shows excellent lighting through multiple sources. Even though it is just after curfew the locale is dark and scary, while providing enough logical light, from multiple sources, to read the government’s slogans and to shine off of V’s awesome knives, all while showing the background of an authentic London street. If I am not mistaken, this is Knockturn Alley.

v-for-vendetta

Aliens

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Can you see a bit of Avatar in this shot?

Jenette Goldstein and Mark Rolston as Privates Vazquez and Drake in Fox’s 1986 Aliens.

Believe me, I’d prefer not to. I may be synthetic, but I’m not stupid.

****

I started watching this movie in Toledo, OH in the Summer of 2010. In August of that year I started my movielog, publishing my first review—Crimson Rivers 2–Angels of the Apocalypse. It has a rating, a quotation, and five sentences. That feels like so long ago. My internet connection sucked in Toledo, so I gave up about an hour into Aliens. Almost six years later I am flying back from Maui on American Airlines and our plane has individual screens and a sizeable movie library. After watching The Big Short I still have about 90 minutes left in my flight. Those of you who know me from my pre-movielog days probably heard me mention “the crap barrier.” The only reference in a review to this metric that I have made so far was in 2012 in my review of the horrid Ghost Dad. Thus I could either watch a movie that was probably crappy, or, clearly, finish Aliens since I had 70 minutes left according to my memory. I decided to watch Aliens (had 75 minutes left, it turned out) and finally got to find out if most of the humans survived their encounter with the Aliens—they did not.

The characters are straight forward, as one might expect from a James Cameron screenplay, but the dialogue works pretty well. That is the highest praise I can give for dialogue in Cameron’s work. Recently I chose Rambo1 for a Shot post, which reminded me that Rambo was actually written by Cameron and Stallone. I choose to imagine Cameron coming up with a cool line while writing Rambo, not wasting it, keeping it to himself, and then using it here. The similarities between Rambo and Aliens are manifold, but one had Weaver and was cool, while the other was like watching fireworks on the 4th of July, but with worse dialogue. In Aliens the mood and the environments are great at creating tension and making you feel like you are on another world. More than just being on another world, it makes you feel like you are on a dangerous foreign planet with almost no hope of survival beyond the coolheadedness of Weaver’s Ripley.

Ripley, Newt (Carrie Henn) & Bishop totally safe with no Alien Queens lurking nearby.

Ripley, Newt (Carrie Henn) & Bishop totally safe with no Alien Queens lurking nearby.

Much has been written about Ripley and Cameron, and the role of the female hero in cinema. So why add to it when my experience with women in cinema focused on Soviet films.2 Anyways, I want to add that the robots in these movies are always great, including Lance Henriksen’s Bishop. Despite my preference for Ridley Scott as a filmmaker, I think that this is better than Alien. This is James Cameron’s best film until he made Avatar, and yes that includes Titanic, for which he won Best Director and Best Picture. Aliens has two Oscars of its own for its special effects, and I support the nominations it received for Best Actress (Weaver) and Best Score (James Horner).

1 The original film in the Rambo series was First Blood which meant that when making a sequel, the producers opted to go for The Godfather Part II, except with First Blood instead of The Godfather. With the success of Rockys I–III, and Rocky IV coming out the same year, a five letter R name starring Stallone might help boost the box office on Part II. Part I made $47m domestically, and $78m internationally. The Rambo: First Blood Part II. Part II got a $44m budget, which was an increase of $30m! This made $150m domestically and internationally, more than doubling the gross on the better First Blood. Next up, Rambo III, which means no The Godfather portion at all. The budget went up another $20m, but brought in $10m less domestically than it cost to make (grossing $54m). Foreign intake dropped to $125m, making it still a huge success, despite being somehow even worse than Rambo/Part II, or whatever you want to call it.
2 If you are looking for a recommendation, Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears (Москва слезам не верит) is great, but easier to find might be the Criterion Collection’s Wings (Крылья).

The Beauty of Film: Rambo: First Blood Part II

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Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) — Jack Cardiff (cinematographer) & George P. Cosmatos (director).

Did you know that Jack Cardiff was an Oscar winner? 38 years prior he won for Black Narcissus. Now I have never seen that, but I did see his Oscar nominated War & Peace, and it was well shot despite having a small hurdle of 6′ 2″ Henry Fonda needing to look like a mountain of a man despite being a handsome son of a gun instead, which he did an okay job of. Some people might think that at 71, and over 20  years removed from his last Oscar nomination–Fanny–he must have been depressed. Not me. I bet that still being relevant and getting to work on such high budget action shots probably felt pretty damn cool. Also, just look at the lighting in the shot below! Now if only the acting and story had been deserving of the cinematography of a man such as Jack Cardiff.

rambo_2_03_758_426_81_s_c1

Sylvester Stallone as John Rambo with an explosive tipped arrow. So instead of having an Avenger named Hawkeye (M.A.S.H. surgeon), shouldn’t we have an Avenger named Rambo? Why would Nathanial Hawthorne care?

The Book Thief

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Certain devices work best in specific media. For instance, narration fits wonderfully into fantasy novels and nature documentaries. First person point of view can do wonders for an autobiography. On the other hand, certain devices may appear as crutches and cheapen a work of art. Most notably in cinema that technique would be voice-over. I mention this because the film starts off with an ethereal, voice-over from Death. The first thing Death says is that everyone dies.

One small fact: you are going to die. Despite every effort, no one lives forever. Sorry to be such a spoiler. My advice is when the time comes, don’t panic. It doesn’t seem to help.

Right about here is where the tears start.

The Book Thief – Liesel Meminger, played by Sophie Nélisse, based on the book, The Book Thief, © 2013 Fox 2000.

Well congratulations movie about World War II and the Holocaust, you have gotten me to not invest in the life/death struggles of the characters. Even with this hurdle the film manages to get me on its side. Even higher hurdles include having the two main characters, children, dress up as Nazi youth and sing anti-semitic, anti-communist anthems. Thus the film asks you to root for certain Germans to survive, amidst World War II. Nowhere is this conflict clearer than when the book thief–Sophie Nélisse–shows the young Jewish man–Max–in her basement a newspaper. The newspaper indicates that their country, Germany, is winning against the Soviets. The little thief seems confused when this news does not please the Jew—played by Ben Schnetzer. She was too little to understand that her own country was the enemy. The question for us is, how blindly do we believe that our country, our police, our politicians, are not our enemies? What are the signs that they might be the enemy? And what is worth sacrificing in order to point this out? If the people do not stand up and say something, it is as the recently departed Elie Wiesel said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. The thief’s adopted father, played genially by the always excellent Geoffrey Rush, stands up in 1942 to say that a man being taken away is a good man. He then fears for his life and gets conscripted. What if people like him, good people, had spoken up earlier? He instantly regrets his decision. When the thief wants to know, “What did he do so wrong? Max tells her, “He reminded people of their humanity. 

Speaking of humanity, we, the descendants of the Allies, look at World War II as a just war. I certainly think so. But the end of the movie has Death explaining the last thoughts of most of the people on the thief’s block. Incorrectly targeted the street gets bombed, killing mostly nice Germans. As an American, my country is probably bombing somewhere in the world today. Or if not today, some time in the next week. The only way we can do that is by forgetting our humanity, at least in the moment, and killing people. Tough questions, at least for me, and I cannot hear V for Vendetta’s Roger Allam–as Death–providing me with answers.

***½

Money Monster

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****

Jodie Foster’s film does a good job of tackling the serious economic issues of today, in a fun and funny way. A few points are a bit over the top, but that probably goes down better for mass audiences than had this been more dour, like The Big Short. The story may be farfetched, but not as far fetched as what really happened in The Big Short. The best part of the film is the acting. And most of the actors in this movie do a fantastic job of it:

Jack O Connell;George Clooney

Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) takes TV host Lee Gates (George Clooney) hostage in TriStar Pics.’ MONEY MONSTER, © 2016.

  • George Clooney – Lee Gates is a fictional Mad Money guy. He has the flair and production values for a successful, awful Cable TV show. He also has a human side that he has tried to bury deep down inside. Unsurprisingly Clooney kills it.
  • Julia Roberts – Patty Fenn is leaving Money Monster to do real journalism again. She has a restrained personality, with feelings of guilt about abandoning her friend. She also cannot keep herself from doing her job, even when a kidnapper hijacks her show, or when the police are trying to keep people away from said kidnapper and Lee. Even without the outbursts that the other actors get, Roberts provides the backbone of the film.
  • Jack O’Connell – Kyle Budwell is a putz. He has a pregnant girlfriend, lame municipal job, and lost his inheritance when a shady investment firm “lost” $800 million dollars. Unlike Clooney & Roberts, whom I have seen in a combined 23 movies, I had never seen O’Connell before. He reminded me favorably of the now recently departed Anton Yelchin.1
  • Caitriona Balfe – Diane Lester plays a naive chief communications officer at that shady investment firm. At first she seems quite bland, but gets an opportunity to show some personality, which is nice.

The one name I have skipped so far was Dominic West’s. Everyone loved him as McNulty on “The Wire”, but can anyone name a good role he has had since? 300? Not great. 28 Days Later? Eh, he was okay. Rock Star? Amusingly bad. Punisher: War Zone? Just read the name, chief, youze know how bad dis film was.2  In this film he is not very good. As for the rest, there are a few other small roles that ran the gamut from amusing to meh. On the whole though, it is an excellent display of acting. If it gets, say, any best original screenplay nominations for Linden, DiFiore and Kouf, it will be due in great part to these performances.

1 Yelchin is best known for playing Chekhov in the new Star Trek franchise. He was a phenom, with notable tv appearances beginning as a teenager.
2 West played Jigsaw, a damaged mafioso named Billy.

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