World: 1, Scott Pilgrim: 0

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World ★★
(USA, 112 min)
Dir: Edgar Wright; Writ: Edgar Wright & Michael Bacall.
Starring: Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, Anna Kendrick.
Is the comic book genre on its last legs? It seems so, given the fact that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is almost dead on arrival, despite seeming to be one of the big-screen adaptations most in tune with its graphic novel origins. The film certainly has big B.O., but from the weekend trade reports, it’s evident that I don’t mean big box office. Quite frankly, the film stinks.

The film suffers mostly because of its over-reliance on comic book conventions. One need not see the credits to realize that Scott Pilgrim is based on a series of graphic novels (by Bryan Lee O’Malley). The film clearly derives its aesthetic from the genre, as it involves plenty of split screens, animated visuals to emphasize the sounds, quirky info bubbles, and then some. While all the graphics probably thrill fans of the original Scott Pilgrim series, the film quickly loses its charm. Each scene is oversaturated in tacky graphics. When coupled with all the quick cutting, screen-splitting, and noisy bling-bling in the background, the film amounts to sensory overload. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is self-referential to the point of nausea. This is a movie after all, and if one wanted all the graphic bits, one would read the comic book. Moreover, the frequency of the flashy visuals makes Scott Pilgrim vs. the World feel like one is watching a video game instead of a movie.


American Beauty

Winter’s Bone ★★★★★
(USA, 100 min)
Dir: Debra Granik; Writ: Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Dale Dickey, Garret Dillahunt.
Somewhere across the pond, Carey Mulligan is shaking in her designer booties. Jennifer Lawrence, with her astonishing performance in Winter’s Bone, firmly stakes herself as the breakout star of 2010. Lawrence stars as Ree, a young girl struggling to survive in the desolate landscape of the American Ozarks. Thanks primarily to the strength of Lawrence’s performance, Ree is among the most fascinating and fully realized characters in the cinema this year. Living in a rundown cabin in the woods and getting by on potatoes and neighbourly charity, Ree is trash and she knows it. But beneath her cheap Wal-Mart t-shirt lies a richness of integrity and familial devotion.

Ree, the oldest of three children, looks after the family because her crystal-meth cooking dad had a run-in with the law and her mother is forever in a silent fallow state. The early scenes of Winter’s Bone depict Ree as a good mother-figure to her siblings – she toils to see that they’re fed and off to school – but Ree also exhibits a hunger to be one of the children. As Ree walks the school hallways and gazes into the classrooms of her former peers, it’s unclear whether she dropped out by choice. Regardless, it’s painfully evident that she is too young to shoulder such a heavy burden.


There Will Be Hermit

Get Low ★★★
(USA/Germany/Poland, 103 min)
Dir: Aaron Schneider
Starring: Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, Lucas Black, Bill Cobbs.
Get Low might be more appropriately titled Ye Olde Six Feete Under. Schneider’s film seems heavily inspired by the hit HBO series (that and There Will Be Blood) but it pales in comparison. Get Low, a black comedy about death and redemption, is neither funny nor deeply moving. Yes, it inspires a grin or chuckle here and there, but, overall, it conjures up a sense of indifference.

Get Low is the rather preposterous story about a hermit (Robert Duvall), who, in the opening scenes, spends his days posting “No Trespassing” signs around his property and chasing away little hooligans with his shotgun while snarling, “Get off my lawn.” Felix (the hermit) has an abrupt change of heart when an old friend of yesteryear dies of old age. Felix decides that he wants to be remembered fondly by the townspeople he’s spooked the past forty-odd years (kinda like Boo Radley), so he decides to throw a big funeral party at which people can tell their stories about him and he can finally set the record straight about his troubled past.


Liz 'Lemon' is Redeemed!

Eat, Pray, Love ★★★½
(USA, 133 min.)
Dir: Ryan Murphy; Writ: Ryan Murphy & Jennifer Salt
Starring: Julia Roberts, Hadi Subiyanto, Richard Jenkins, Javier Bardem, Viola Davis, James Franco, and Billy Crudup.
Bellissimo! Liz Gilbert is redeemed! When I first introduced myself to Eat, Pray, Love back in June, I had mixed feelings about it, to say the least. While I found there to be many admirable qualities about Gilbert’s memoir, I felt that Gilbert was her own hindrance, as her inspirational narrative was frequently marred by her narcissistic ranting.

Liz gets a makeover thanks to Julia Roberts and the retooled screenplay by Ryan Murphy and Jennifer Salt. Gone are Liz’s grating self-absorption and condescending sermons - the new Liz is more self-deprecating and accessible. Most of the success comes from the screenwriters’ decision to reconfigure Liz’s story and move most of her motivation to go on her trip up to the beginning of the film where it belongs. In the book, Gilbert opened by describing some of the events that led her to extricate herself from her troubled relationship, most notably the scene in which she prays to God in the bathroom. Concerning her relationship with her husband, however, she glossed over much of what went wrong, but never missed an opportunity to take a shot at him.


Two films to see on DVD

Movie the first:

Any moviegoer who, like me, is still basking in the afterglow of I am Love has reason to celebrate: A second serving of Tilda Swinton is on its way! Orlando (1993) is getting a second life on DVD. Directed by Sally Potter (Yes), Orlando is a small movie that made a big splash on the art-house circuit, mostly due to the delightfully enigmatic performance of Tilda Swinton in the title role.
Based on the biography by Virginia Woolf, Orlando is the story of an untamed nobleman who was quite popular with the ladies in Elizabethan England. In admiration of Orlando’s lust for life, the Queen commands him to forever retain his youth. Orlando thus becomes a timeless story that transports the viewer in a mesmerizing study of politics and gender as Orlando works his charm throughout the ages.


TIFF ups its CanCon

Tracy Wright and Molly Parker in Trigger. Photo from The Cultural Post
Today, the Toronto International Film Festival announced its selection of Canadian films. Among the group is Bruce McDonald's film Trigger, for which I'm most excited. One of my friends worked on the film, and my brother, friends, and I had a chance to be extras in the film. The opportunity to be "meat in the room" was a lot of fun, especially since they were filming a concert scene, as the film chronicles the reunion of a rock band. (After the filming, the extras were treated to a private show that included Carole Pope, who was amazing!) Trigger stars Molly Parker and the late Tracy Wright. It also features Sarah Polley, Callum Keith Rennie, and Don McKellar.

Eat, Lay, Love

I am Love ★★★★½
(Italy, 120 min)
Dir: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Edoardo Gabriellini, Flavio Parenti, Pippo Delbono, Marisa Berenson.
What is it about the combination of Tilda Swinton and bathrooms that enthralls so? In Michael Clayton, there were car bombings, assassinations, and other acts of risky business galore, but the scene that excited me most was the one in which Tilda Swinton’s Karen Crowder had a panic attack in a bathroom stall. As Swinton sweated it out and rubbed some Oscar-worthy pit stains, I found myself in a moment of movie magic. Similarly, in Swinton’s new film, I am Love, her character’s respite in the loo was one of the moments in which I fell in love with the film. In a post-coital moment of bliss, Swinton’s Emma finds herself in the bathroom positively giddy at her newfound joy. In an exceptional piece of silent acting, Swinton communicates the ineffable euphoria that comes when one realizes that one is in love.


Adaptation Series 1.4: The Tempest

In my last year of University, I reluctantly decided to take a Shakespeare course because it seemed like one of those things that one “just had to do” in the pursuit of an English degree. To my good fortune, I had an eccentric and excellent professor who liked to show movies/clips in her lectures. The first play she taught was Titus Andronicus, one of Shakespeare’s earlier and lesser-known plays. I loved it, but I was fonder of the film version we watched afterwards: Titus, an imaginative, audacious, and truly cinematic translation of Shakespearean verse. Released in 1999, Titus featured Anthony Hopkins in the title role and had a strong supporting cast of Jessica Lange, Alan Cumming, Colm Feore, and Harry Lennix. Titus was also the directorial debut of Julie Taymor, who found success on stage with her play of Titus and, most notably, her Broadway rendition of The Lion King.

Julie Taymor’s Titus is among my favorite pieces of Shakespeare on film. It ranks up there with Orson Welles’s Chimes at Midnight and Akira Kurosawa’s Ran, a Samurai interpretation of King Lear. Therefore, I was quite excited when I learned that Taymor was making another Shakespeare film, The Tempest. Moreover, I was doubly excited because I realized this at the end of my Shakespeare course. By then, The Tempest was my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays.


Review: Solitary Man ★★★★

Solitary Man (USA, 90 min)
Dir: Brian Koppelman & David Levien; Writ: Brian Koppleman
Starring: Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon, Jenna Fischer, Jesse Eisenberg, Danny DeVito.
Solitude, as José Saramago wrote, “is the first sign of death.” How apt is it that Solitary Man opens with a death sentence. The audience doesn’t get to hear Ben’s fate, for the sound fades out as the protagonist bears the weight of his doctor’s prognosis. The details of his health are almost irrelevant, however, because to Ben, even the possibility of accepting his declining lifespan is a dire fate.
Michael Douglas stars as Ben, a suave, arrogant, and sixty-years-old ladies man. Ben also happens to be a sleazebag car salesman, if being a dirty old man isn’t bad enough. But the chase is what keeps Ben going: The opening credits of Solitary Man feature the man in black cruising along the sidewalks of New York. Ben is such an aged hound dog that he makes an ass-hunt out of his commute to meet his daughter and grandson for a playdate.

Review: This Movie is Broken ★★★½

This Movie is Broken (Canada, 85 min)
Dir: Bruce McDonald; Writ: Don McKellar
Starring: Broken Social Scene, Greg Calderone, Georgina Reilly, Kerr Hewitt, Tracy Wright.
In Summer 2009, some pretty amazing things happened in Toronto. When the LCBO threatened to strike, hoards of people queued up to ensure they were well stocked with booze for the summer and then breathed a sigh of relief when the board soon announced that Ontario would not have to go dry. However, when the City’s public servants walked out, citizens let the garbage pile up. The strike also thwarted concertgoers from taking the ferry over to the island to catch the Broken Social Scene concert. Fortunately, the band members are loyal Torontonians and staged a free concert at the Toronto harbor.

Summer 2009 is also when Bruno finally slept with Caroline Rush. Caroline (Georgina Reilly) is what the guys of Hot Tub Time Machine would call “The Great White Buffalo”. She’s that perfect but unattainable girl whose beauty has been out of reach for Bruno (Greg Calderone) since he first developed a crush on her at the age of ten. There’s a catch though: although Bruno is so close to attaining the girl of his dreams, Caroline is moving to Paris the next day. That gives Bruno twenty-four hours to win her heart. How? With a concert.

Review: Cyrus ★★★½

Cyrus (USA, 91 min)
Written & directed by Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass.
Starring: John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill, and Catherine Keener.
Move over, Stifler’s mom – there’s a new milf in Movieland! Marisa Tomei, the object of affection for John (John C. Reilly), is one hot mama in Cyrus. Tomei plays Molly, who John meets one night at a party when he’s had one vodka-Redbull too many.

Meeting Molly is just about the best thing to happen to John in the past few years. John is a divorced slob attempting to pull himself together at the behest of his ex-wife Jamie (played by the consistently splendid Catherine Keener). When Jamie brings John along to a posh party, his slovenly appearance makes him the elephant in the room; but, surprisingly, Molly takes a shine to John when she stumbles upon him peeing in the bushes. It’s one of the most awkward first encounters for a couple, but with how easily Molly warms to John’s self-deprecating humor, it’s one of the sweetest as well.