26 August 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World *

The actual watching of the movie has parts that move too fast and others that move too slow as it rushes excitedly to squeeze as much of a six-book story as it can into its two hour running time. The beginning especially feels a little manic, and I kept thinking, "If audiences don't know this story or these characters, won't they feel a little alienated by how rapidly we're breezing through characterizations and introductions?" But remembering the movie, the choppy rhythm and subplot onslaught smooths down and registers just fine, and I left the theater pretty happy with it, over all.

I know the books, having just finished the series last week (and delaying seeing the film -- sorry box office numbers -- until I had), so I can't say. The internet's calling this the Movie Of This Generation, comparing it to Fight Club. The epithet may be generous but it's certainly not totally without cause. It says a lot in its style and attitude, just like Fight Club did about the 90s, and it does so in a fun and original and vaguely zeitgeist-y way.

They did a pretty good job of keeping all that story in there, of making the manic video-game-fighting/punk-love/comic-geek thing come alive and keeping the heart-on-your-sleeve/idiot-in-love/dealing-with-your-demons themes front and center. The casting worked really well. On that note, I've got to admit I'm pretty burnt out on Michael Cera -- I like his onscreen personality but it's just the one onscreen personality and I can only take that so many times in a row -- but he mostly didn't disappoint here, except for playing some of the high-emotion scenes a little too deadpan (as usual). Actually, I'd say that, much like how I declared Kung Fu Hustle the end of the kung-fu genre (it's all the standard elements of the genre, times 100, blown to beautifully absurd extremes), so too should Scott Pilgrim be the end of the Michael Cera persona for the same reasons. Time to close a chapter, redefine yourself, and move on. Please, Mr. Cera.

My one major complaint about this film, though, which I can't leave without expounding on, is the end. In terms of being a manic 16-bit video-game love story with a face-paced tongue-in-cheek action ending, it ends well, but compared to the book I was pretty let down. See, in the comic series, up until Book 6, I considered the series cute, fun, and amusing. Light, fluffy, but with a lot of elements thrown together that really played well off each other and spoke to our generation. I didn't love it, but I totally liked it, and I saw the appeal. But then in Book 6, I suddenly got really excited, really into it, the end was such a big thematic climax, bringing in elements and plotlines I hadn't even paid much attention to, evolving characters and making the whole video-game-fight stuff and subspace-travel stuff into metaphors for how we all deal with crazy love, especially young crazy love. Book 6 really won me, and almost all of Book 6 felt rewritten (and rewritten well, but definitely not up to the original) for the film. All I can say is, hey everybody who loved this movie? Go read the books. Worth it!

Seen at the Regal Lloyd Cinema.

Sidenote: distressingly, this has been my longest dry spell between movies. It's been a hell of a month.

05 August 2010


Definitely watched for research, as I'm about to try and tell a very procedural, very visually dry short story about puzzle solving and code-breaking, but man, Zodiac is a film that never disappoints. It's not that the case isn't interesting, because it obviously and totally is, but if I were to sit and tell you how much data this film needs to work, and how many years and protagonists and loose ends and paperwork you were going to have to sit through -- not to mention revisiting all that paperwork years-of-movie-time and hours-of-screen-time later -- you would probably tell me it sounds like a boring (or again, at least dry) documentary and not very dramatic. And yet, you're not bored for even a minute watching it.

I think one of the tricks that keeps so much information working -- aside from a stellar cast of more character actors than you can shake a stick at -- is the economy of the storytelling. Entire locations, scenes, weeks of someone's life take place in a single shot, lasting as few as 5 seconds of screentime, and in each scene people are doing things (the reporter team of Avery-Graysmith seem to be always drinking or discussing drinking; the cop team of Armstrong-Toschi seem to be always eating or discussing food -- am I reading too deeply to suggest that they are ingesting clues and data in totally different ways, and that each needs the other to be fruitful and survive/solve the case? in fact when Graysmith starts working with Toschi he repeatedly has to buy him meals in order to gain his cooperation and trust), but the entire scene, location and everything, is over in three or four lines of dialogue, tops. Then we move on to the next clue. There's very little to distract you (that isn't meant to distract you), but at the same time the characters and world all feel lived in, inhabited. Many moments end just as a character-related moment is about to begin. For example, at the theater, after Graysmith awkwardly fails to connect with Toschi, we slowly fade out while Melanie is just walking into frame and up to Graysmith. We get a real sense that the character drama is unfolding just outside the bounds of what we're being shown, which keeps the story from feeling dry and bare-bones, keeps the sense of a reality and a timeline while letting us focus on the meat of the story, on the mystery and the clues. Partner shorthand and quirky details (animal crackers; Aqua Velvas) keep the banter from being stale. Brilliant actors breathe life into their necessarily-few scenes. In short, everything works just right in this film, moves just exactly as it would have to for Zodiac not to be a boring info-dump of a movie.

On a more personal, less critical-eye note, it's frustrating that Fincher went from top of his game (The Game, Seven, Fight Club, The Panic Room, Zodiac) to Benjamin Button, an uncanny-valley point-by-point rip off of the already terrible Forrest Grump storyline that left me not just cold, but itchy to get out of a theater and never deal with it again. Rewatching this, it's good enough that I'm almost tempted to try Button one more time... but even the thought of it is unpleasant, so I guess that probably won't happen for a long while. Very excited for The Social Network, though. That feels like a very Zodiac story waiting to unfold.

03 August 2010

Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö / The Match Factory Girl

Following the order of the "Proletariat Trilogy" (only a trilogy in a thematic sense, thankfully), this one builds on the tone of the last two to be sure. The main difference that I see, the thing that separates this from its predecessors, is that Iris (the match factory girl in question) is the only main character in any of the three stories not already hardened by a certain kind of hopeless acceptance (read: surrender). She's still vulnerable, soft, and more to the point victimizable, because she's still full of hope and dreams. Part of what made Shadows in Paradise and Ariel interesting to me was the nonchalant hopelessness of the world, the way the characters had already given up trying, and took things like doors of opportunity opening up only to slam shut in their faces (in both case, due to untimely deaths) as part-and-parcel of what the universe had to offer. Notably in Shadows, within the first ten minutes, Nikander's friend and would-be benefactor says, "I'm not going to die behind the wheel." Nikander asks him, "Then where?" and without the slightest hint of irony or hesitation, he declares, "Behind a desk." There's no hope of avoiding misery and frustration and isolation. There's just choosing what you do in the meantime and how you go out. I think the reason Nikander and Kasurinen are able to find love is because they've accepted this, and so have the women they meet, and the romances are hilariously cold, straightforward, and gloomy. More like two people embracing so as not to freeze to death (so quickly) than two people hoping for any kind of joy from one another.

Iris, though, she hopes for something more. She's young, naive, and believes in love, and for that we watch her get punished by the world. What saves this from being an endlessly cruel story is her third-act turnaround, her (SPOILER) transformation (by failed suicide-by-auto?) from innocent starry-eyed wallflower into black comedy murderess. There's no question this one ups the blackness and the comedy from the last two. And it works, and it's funny -- and it's so streamlined, at 68 minutes long, that it couldn't possibly overstay its welcome. Plus, it helped me think out some "solitary humorous-pathetic" moments for the script I'm working on. Yet personally, I think my favorite of the three lies somewhere between Shadows and Ariel, somewhere closer to humor-from-hopelessness rather than humor-from-the-world's-cruelty. But I still love all three, and don't understand why nobody else knows of this guy. He falls into the same category as Teshigahara and Hong Sang-soo and many others, foreign filmmakers who are underrated (here), all tough to sell people on, but so rewarding once you bother. I guess I'll just keep pushing.

01 August 2010

Red Road

I put it on for the voyeurism and the infiltrating-another's-world angles, basically for act one's and act two's hooks, respectively, as they kind of feel like they make this film exist in the fuzzy space between the short script I'm putting together and the feature I've been working on lately. But of course Red Road isn't a film you watch casually, and once you sink into that world, well it's just like Jackie and her pain: the only way out is through.

The immersiveness of the world is one thing, but what really pulls you in is the character herself, with so much history and conflicted, confused feelings -- the primary mystery of the story is why she's doing what she's doing, and as she solves smaller mysteries (like why Clyde is doing what he's doing) we work to piece together her backstory. This works so well because the character's obtuse motivation isn't just some dramatic trick of withholding vital information for the sake of a twist; it's reflective of her own state. She doesn't know what her intentions are with Clyde, and seems to flirt with every possible emotional response within each scene. Keeping the backstory from us puts us more in her shoes. If you told us up front the nature of her interest in Clyde (and it's not like there aren't enough clues we can't get the gist of it pretty quick) we'd be busy moralizing and putting our own emotional desires ahead of hers. Since we're unsure just how she knows him or just what he's done to her, we wonder how far she's able, or willing, or even justified, to go -- just as she is wondering herself. Of course it also gives us a nice third-act reveal, as with any good mystery it all comes together at the end, and Jackie's catharsis feels genuine and earned, most likely because it isn't easy or cut-and-dry. She punishes him, cleverly and savagely, and then she forgives him, and then she reaches out to him. And tellingly, he does the same to her, in small ways, before they wander away from each other and back to their worlds -- he to his estranged daughter and petty crime and poverty, she to her authoritarian dayjob and ghosts and loving in-laws, impatiently waiting for her to finally begin the mourning process.

I wanted to say more about style and tone, as I'm kind of watching films with that in mind, and this one has a lot to chew on, but I pretty much filled up my quota and then some talking about the characters and drama -- and since that's where my heart really lies, I'll just let it be that Red Road is a film with both stylistic whizbang (haven't seen use of awkward video this good since 28 Days Later) and dramatic punch, but like it often does, the content trumped the style. Hard to complain about that.