Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Scott Pilgrim, C'est Moi! (plus a little more on Inception) [Movie Reviewery]

Spoilers for Inception maybe a bit

When I see a movie I like my brain spins around trying to figure out exactly what I thought of it, a process that can takes weeks of conversation and movie-review reading. Inception is a good example of this. Mitch and I wrote a whole blog about Inception, and talked about it with like a dozen people and I only just now feel like I can really articulate what I thought about it in a clear an specific way.

(For the record what I think of Inception this: the five levels of reality shown in Inception break down like so:

Level 1 is like the mind blowing first act of the Matrix.
Level 2 is a Steven Segal movie
Level 3 is this really excellent sci-fi thriller in a hotel starring Joseph Gordon Levitt in an awesome suit zero gravity fighting in a rotating hotel.
Level 4 is another Steven Segal movie
Level 5 is a weak version of Stephen Soderbergh's Solaris, where I see what is going on but don't feel it.

The awesomeness of the movie is not in the levels but in how the levels are edited together to make a compelling machine of a movie, which is more an engineering feat than a philosophical, emotional, or stylish feat, which sounds like more of a complaint than it is because the engineering is REALLY good. A-).

This part of my brain was always muddled reading the Scott Pilgrim comics, which I enjoyed, but was never really able to form a strong or clear opinion on. Neil Shyminsky or the Savage Critics would say things on their blogs about what is wrong or right with the comics, and I would sort of agree with both while still liking the book basically, even though they were maybe disagreeing with each other. It happens, maybe more often now than it used to. It's like Flowers for Algernon over here sometimes.

The Scott Pilgrim movie, like the comics, I liked. I liked it more than the comics probably, but I am not 100% why. Probably because it was much shorter, and as Neil pointed out this is not really a story that needs 1200 pages, however decompressed. When the movie calls itself "An Epic of Epic Epicness" this is ironic. It is harder to be ironic on that point, though not impossible, when you have 1200 pages. I liked the fight scenes and the sense of humor and the direction was always entertaining, and I loved how even though it was not always perfect, every line and scene was trying to do something interesting, and there was enough stuff so that when things did not work you were on to the next thing before you could say "That didn't work". Making a pun on "bi-curious" with "bi-furious" for example would be a weak joke if there were not so much other stuff going on, and calling Ramona a "has-bian" (as opposed to a lesbian) made me laugh, though maybe it should not have. Some people have called that ADD-addled, but it makes for a fun energetic movie. And for a summer pop movie action comedy thing energy and verve and bounce count for a lot, more than anything else maybe. I think my favorite joke was when Scott is on the phone with his sister and she says something Wallace Wells just said a moment ago as he was passing out, and Scott asks her how she knew that; she says Wallace texted her, and suddenly has a phone in his hand, though he is still passed out.

But ultimately I am not able to really judge it too specifically, or respond very well to claims that the movie is misogynist, for example, because I am too close to it, and specifically to Scott. He doesn't drink, and when he does drink he drinks gin and tonics, and he worries about his hair, and he wants to impress a girl who is clearly out of his league, and he is going nowhere, and he is weak-willed, and he only knows how to make garlic bread but is surprised and distressed to find out bread makes you fat, and screws up and he sees his life as a video-game, and everyone loves him and he gets the girl the end? Yeah that particular brand of wish-fulfilment is too close for me to judge. It just makes me want Scott Pilgrim to win so bad I don't really care about anything else.

With wish fulfillment you want a character who is a blank slate for the audience to project themselves into, which is why you get so many movies with bland leads, characters who are just cyphers for the audience. I mean I like the Jason Bourne movies but the hero works because he has no memory, is not that specific, so he could be you. On the other end you have movies that create specific characters that are still relatable or sympathetic but also real people who are not you. You relate to them as people, without feeling like you are them. Like everyone on the Wire. Otherness is involved. Scott Pilgrim is a third thing, something that is maybe part of what makes cult movies work. The main character in Scott Pilgrim is a blank cypher like Jason Bourne, but for a much more narrow audience. Jason Bourne hits a nerve with most men I would bet. Scott Pilgrim hits the same nerve for nerdy videogame-influenced ineffective dopes like myself. This may account for its modest success at the box office. It went up against the Expendables and Eat Pray Love, both movies that I imagine most men and most women, respectively, can easily project themselves into. I imagine that in the Expendables you get to imagine you are a big action hero. The pleasures of imaging you are a mostly ineffective kid from Toronto with no job are smaller, though more intimate, even after he defeats the bad guys and gets the girl. So I don't know what to say about it other than I thought it was a blast. I can't for example, get into the debate about whether Cera was a good choice or a disaster, because anything negative I would say would be like going after myself. I want him to get the girl and save the day and be funny, and I can't see the flaws that are probably there, just as I can't see so many flaws in my own life. Scott Pilgrim, c'est moi.

On a side note, I don't know that much about homosexuality as it appears in PG-13 mainstream movies generally, or in movies attempting to be big summer movies, but it seems to me that Scott Pilgrim is pretty progressive, in the way both Wallace Wells and Ramona have same-sex relationships and it is presented as just something that is just part of life, no big deal. Scott is surprised Ramona had a girlfriend but the joke is that he failed to catch the warning sign of her correcting his "evil ex boyfriends" with "evil exes." It is presented as something he should have seen coming, but was oblivious about. Even Scott sharing a bed with his gay roommate, and even his gay roommate's boyfriends, is just like something people do and barely worth remarking on. I thought the presentation of this as unremarkable was remarkable.


neilshyminsky said...

Still haven't seen the movie, but wanted to comment on something:

"Jason Bourne hits a nerve with most men I would bet. Scott Pilgrim hits the same nerve for nerdy videogame-influenced ineffective dopes like myself. This may account for its modest success at the box office."

Along a similar line, I was wondering whether it was also that people outside their target market would find the trailer completely unintelligible. You can't tell at all what the genre is supposed to be - and that's instant death when you have 30 seconds to catch the attention of someone who has never heard of Scott Pilgrim.

Shlomo said...

I had the chance to finally go to the movie the other night, and i chose Incpetion over Scott Pilgrim.

Inception reminded me of the prestige: it feels like watching something engineered as a puzzle. Yet, I thought his batman movies (and memento) managed to overcome this problem.

ALSO the talk about nolan's motif of narcisistic obsession leading to fraying ethics, made me realize what I found so refreshing about his handling of the batman.

neilshyminsky said...

I also wanted to add that maybe my comments on the Scott Pilgrim franchise are problematic because I actively disidentify with the character - I do not want to see myself in a slacker-loser-douchebag who is with a girl who is out of his league.

scottmcdarmont said...

I REALLY LIKED Scott Pilgrim but I did not LOVE it; I do not understand why: Like Geoff, I am totally like Scott Pilgrim--- and, generally, this seems like a movie tailor made for me--- but I just couldn't get into it as much as I wanted to, however, If I had seen this movie 10 years ago, I would have loved it.

As for Cera's casting, having not even really read the comic, he did seem not quite right for it. From what I understand, the comic character was more--- Oblivious? Naive? I'm not sure the word I'm looking for here... Cera was a little too, I dunno, sincere I guess.

For example, the whole joke about the hair was supposed to be that Scott Pilgrim does not seem about the kind of guy who worries about his hair but, at the slightest nudging, he actually becomes very insecure about it. Cera just seemed more like he was the kind of guy who always worried about it...

Anonymous said...

I don't think Scott Pilgrim fits the "douchebag" label. Loser, sure, but in a mostly harmless way. When he does damage to others, he at least feels bad about it. In both the comics and the movie, he overcomes his tendency to leave relationships in shambles, and owns up to his mistakes. He's clueless, which I found kind of endearing, but others may dislike. In the end, he gets a clue and moves at least one part of his life out of neutral.

Being someone who got a job 3 months out of college, I had a very brief semi-slacker phase (living w/ parents, working a menial job, almost no responsibility). It didn't sit well with me, but I can see how some of my friends experienced inertia in their early-20s. I have little interest in stories about people in that situation (unless they are dressed in fantasy a la Scott Pilgrim), but the humor and fighting was entertaining enough, so I enjoyed the movie.

- Mike Loughlin

Anonymous said...

I like the way the movie handled the extra life and kind of wish O'Malley had done something similar with the second half of Vol 6.

I also like that Knives Chau gets a bigger moment in the final scenes of the movie than she does in the books. The "2 Player Mode" suggests that she becomes, to a certain degree, Scott's equal.

Gideon as music producer makes more sense than whatever he turned out to be in the book.

I didn't really find either version of Nega-Scott's final appearance satisfying. The books (or at least the first five volumes) seemed to suggest something much more sinister.

In fact, my complaints about Vol. 6 are similar to (though on a smaller scale than) the LOST final season/finale - some tantalizing mysteries (What does The Glow mean? Who is Gideon Graves? Who or what is the Evil Scott?) with unsatisfying answers.

Lastly, in an attempt to tie this in with Jason's posts, I'd like to point out that O'Malley seems to be a Claremont fan, since, in Vol. 5, Scott refers to both Illyana Rasputin's demon sorceress origins and the X-Men's time in the Outback. (I also consider the red X insignia on his jacket an homage to the Claremont/Lee era.) I'm tempted to read Scott and Ramona as some kind of echo of Cyclops and Phoenix/Jean/Madelyne but I can't seem to make it work out cleanly. Scott's dream sequence at the beginning of Vol. 6 seems to be an inverse of Madelyne Pryor's where she meets S'ym for the first time.

Anyway, just random thoughts.

Mikey said...

I thought this was an interesting enough take on the box office failure of the movie, which also served as a way of touching on certain issues to do with the mainstream, fandom, hipsterdom etc.

The hipster/geek correlation in particular is something I've been thinking about lately (and how people started using the word 'geek' to apply to cool people, including cool people themselves). Part of what the article's getting at is you're not a geek if you play guitar and like Sonic Youth and retro video game t-shirts and by pretending that you are there's some sort of gap there that all the ticket sales fell into.

And in terms of identifying (or not) with Scott Pilgrim - I thought John Krasinski's character in Away We Go was a much more relatable 'heroic sadsack' than SP. In fact, in my head Away We Go is some sort of distant (older) cousin to this movie.

Geoff Klock said...

Mikey -- thanks for the link. I appreciated that.

Streebo said...

I agree with most of what's been said about this movie so far. I thought the movie was great and I want to see it in the theater as many times as I can before it is gone. It is a genuine cinematic experience from beginning to end.

Anonymous said...

Scott Pilgrim: The Last Airbender

Geoff: You mentioned awhile back that you were thinking about taking a martial arts class. Any updates? ;)

Geoff Klock said...

anon -- once I got a full time job Kung-Fu kind of got triaged to the bottom of my things to do list.

James said...

This is by far Edgar Wright's best movie, finally fulfilling the directorial promise he showed on Spaced.

It did a fair few things better than the books (anon is right re: 1-up, I'd add the Katayanagi twins fight), and I was really impressed how all 6 were synthesized into something at once new, faithful and satisfying. This is how you do it, Zack Snyder*.

I wasn't sure about the casting of Michael Cera when it was announced, but I think he was perfect in the movie. I might've imagined Scott Pilgrim talking a bit faster when I read the books? That's about the only difference I could detect.

There's certainly some problems with the script, especially towards the end - Ramona returning to Gideon makes much less sense in the movie, and the fantasy explanation comes off as mega-cheap (whereas in the book it worked on a metaphorical level as well as a literal one). For the most part, though, they leave out the nasty stuff, so I ended up liking Scott a hell of a lot more.

James said...

*I realize this is unfair - even if the page counts are comparable, there isn't nearly as much plot in the Scott Pilgrim books as there is in Watchmen - but that movie didn't even try to accommodate the new context.