Tuesday, November 30, 2010
I know that when the idea was first floated to run such a series at the Underground, it was the start of a bet and nothing more. Alex (our lead programmer and concession stand-ista) thought that good films made in Canada could do well. Nigel (our day to day guy and general devil's advocate) thought the whole idea was more or less a waste of time. No matter how well we had promoted Canadian content in the past, no one had showed up.
Take for example one of the first films ever played at the Underground, Hard Core Logo. When I created the polling system for people to determine what films they wanted to see, there was a great deal of discussion as to whether or not to play it again or even include it in the poll since the last time we played it maybe 12 people showed up across 3 days. Fubar, which we played in advance of the sequel's premiere at TIFF played to exactly 6 people, and on the first day it wouldn't have run at all if three people didn't show up at the last possible second.
The poll was created to determine what Canadian films were most likely to draw an audience. We all know that in this digital age, films are so easy to come by that it is hard to get people out to see archival films in a cinema, so we wanted to listen to the customers to see what they wanted. The bet is still on, but the odds are stacked in the favour of a decent turnout.
The topic of what exactly constituted Canadian cinema was a heated debate from time to time that I generally avoided. Granted, while this is my adopted country and I wouldn't trade living here for living anywhere else, I just don't entirely see films as Canadian or American. Film is an artform that belongs to the world, and the films that fare the worst are the ones that try way too hard to fit into one singular culture. Personally I think a film like Score: A Hockey Musical is just as insipid to a culture as any flag waving American baiting action film. Score was actually the genesis for this bet when the film debuted at 12th place at the Canadian box office.
Films really should be made for the world. This isn't to say that a film needs to shy away from politics or issues, but the underlying message should be universal in nature. The films chosen definitely seem to reflect my feelings on the subject.
Then there is the whole issue of "where does the money come from?" Everyone castigated me for defending Porky's (one of our selections) as Can-con because it was more of a hit in the States than anywhere else. At the same time, arguments were made that the new highest grossing "Canadian" film is Resident Evil: Afterlife simply because it was produced by a famous Canadian producer who ended up using very little Canadian money to fund the production (which is mostly British-German-American in nature). It was at this point that I just gave this argument a wide berth because my head began to hurt with how backwards and cyclical everyone's thinking was. My own included.
I am going to talk about movies the way they were meant to be talked about. On their own merits. Throughout the course of the week, I will also be inviting guests to write about these films in a similar manner.
But I also want to hear from you guys and post your reactions to what you think Good Canadian Cinema is. Does it exist? Is it alive or dead? Let me know. Send your reactions to email@example.com and I will accumulate the best responses into a final summary post to be posted here on Sunday.
In addition, anyone who responds BEFORE 11:59pm on WEDNESDAY will be entered into a random draw to win a pair of passes to every screening during our Good Canadian Cinema weekend. Two runners up will receive a pair of passes to any Good Canadian Cinema screening of their choosing.
Good luck and I really hope to hear from you. Come out and support not just good Canadian cinema, but some of the best films that have been made in recent memory.
Monday, November 29, 2010
In this episode, the boys of the Toronto Underground Cinema work hard to film a group of shorts with hopes of impressing Edgar Wright. Five minutes before showtime, however, Edgar is yet to arrive. Will the boys be able to pull this one off or do they have the wrong stuff? Find out in this first of a two part episode.
Be sure to check back to Andrew Parker's blogs (Notes From the Toronto Underground and I Can't Get Laid in This Town) on Saturday for some exclusive deleted scenes and outtakes from Episode 3 of The Rep.
Episode 4 will premiere at the Toronto Underground Cinema Christmas Spectacular on December 18th.
Friday, November 26, 2010
Times and appearances are, as always, subject to change. All films will screen only once!
Thursday December 2nd
7:00pm The Sweet Hereafter
9:30pm Last Night
Friday December 3rd
9:00pm Pontypool (in association with Rue Morgue and Chizine Publications) with stars Stephen McHattie and Lisa Houle alongside writer Tony Burgess
Saturday December 4th
9:00pm Cube with writer
Sunday December 5th
7:00pm Naked Lunch
9:30pm The Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy
As for our first two Christmas films that we have confirmed. Here is one from the list (the second place finisher by only two votes!) and one that we were always going to do:
Friday December 10th at 7:00pm and Sunday December 12th at 7:00pm
One show only! Friday December 17th at 9:30pm
Thursday, November 25, 2010
I suppose it is kind of appropriate that I don't remember all that much about Inception outside of its plot. It has kind of taken on a dream like quality since I first saw it. I remember the film centered around a team of "dream extraction experts" who specialize in stealing information from the subconscious minds of their victims. I remember the film was visually stunning and having one of the best musical scores of all time. I remember loving every minute of the film while I was watching it, and I still remember talking about every theory regarding what actually happened in the film.
I am not really one for theories, but I for one do intend on checking out Inception at the Underground this coming weekend. Not so much because I don't remember much of it, but because I had an enjoyable time watching the film. Inception is essentially a high minded heist film grafted onto the dynamics that made the Nightmare on Elm Street series of films work.
Christopher Nolan has proven himself the master of what I like to call the "parlor trick" film. In The Prestige, Insomnia, and Memento, Nolan plays the audiences perceptions of a situation like a violin, only to subvert them at the last second. What sets Inception apart is that there really might not have even been a trick involved. Maybe, just maybe, the story played out exactly like it was supposed to. Every theory you might have, could just be made up by your own subconscious.
At first, I thought my forgetting of much of Inception meant that the movie didn't really stick with me. The more I think about it, I realize that isn't the case. I almost think this is a movie where you are supposed to remember very specific scenes, just like you can only remember certain parts of a dream. It just helps that these parts are wrapped up in one of the most entertaining and satisfying films of the year.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Princess Mononoke just might be the greatest film of any kind to come out of Japan not made by Kurosawa, animated or otherwise. It was the highest grossing Japanese film of all time, became a cult favourite in North America, and is regarded as famed director Hayao Miyazaki's masterpiece. Considering the man also created Howl's Moving Castle, Ponyo, and Spirited Away (to name a few), that says a lot. It is a film so visually and emotionally stunning that not even dubbing the film into English hurts it.
(Sorry guys. The only prints available in North America are dubbed. To get one of the few remaining Japansese subtitled prints would have delayed this screening for at least a full year and to just break even we would have to sell out a 700 seat theatre. 3 times. We have never once sold out a show. Considering all that, it just wasn't cost effective and a little bit insane.)
Mononoke takes place in a revisionist history version of feudal Japan. It is a rare historical epic not told through the viewpoint of a member of the warrior aristocracy, but through an alternate mythology of a time before a patriarchal system of ruling was in place. Mononoke takes place during a period of transition for Japan when the samurai class was becoming far more literate and belief in the ancient gods of Japan and nature, known as the kami, was waning. Or in Miyazaki's own words (from the introduction to his book on the making of the film):
"Contrary to the usual jidaigeki [period piece], this is a movie in which few samurai, peasants, or feudal lords appear. This is a film in which the main protagonists are those who usually do not appear on the stage of history. Instead, this is the story of the marginals of history."
Ashitaka, our protagonist, opens the film by slaying a wild boar possessed by a tatarigami (violent god) that became violent as a result of an iron ball embedded in it's body. Just before dying, the boar curses Ashitaka in the form of a growth on his right arm that will eventually consume and kill him. To rid himself of this curse he has to travel far outside the feudal culture and into the world of the natural.
He makes his way to Tatara, a weapons manufacturing enclave and refuge for outcast women, run by Lady Eboshi. Eboshi is under attack not only by forest gods, but also by a girl named San who is a mononokehime (possessed princess, hence the title). Han was raised as a wolf alongside the kami and despises all things human. Eboshi wants to rule the entire forest and to do so she needs to kill a very powerful god known as the shishigami. Ashitaka finds himself torn between doing what is right and ridding himself of his curse.
The female characters in Princess Mononoke are pretty gender neutral and played almost in direct opposition to their historical and patriarchal archetypes. They are also deeply flawed people, but, then again, no one in this film will be up for sainthood any time soon. Eboshi rules quite effectively on her own without any male influence and has humanitarian leanings, but she is also an autocratic, power hungry tyrant. San, whom the audience is most likely to identify with before the film's conclusion, is a ruthless killer prone to unrelenting fits of violence that are driven by a violent and righteous hatred of the human world.
Princess Mononoke can most easily be described as a story about love and loss in every possible form. It is about love of nature, family, the environment, love between the sexes, and love of self. It is also about the loss that goes hand in hand with such love. in a time of environmental and spiritual crisis like we are all living in right now, the film stands as a wake up call to people asking them to reflect on what they have already lost and what else they stand to lose. It is a vision of revisionist history based on love, but almost devoid of sentimentality. It is definitely Miyazaki's darkest and, quite probably, best work.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Buried is a film that kind of defies any real plot synopsis. It is a film that while simple on the surface and deceptively simple in execution, is actually more dense than it initially appears.
Ryan Reynolds stars a Paul Conroy, and American sub-contractor in Iraq who awakens to find he is buried alive with nothing more than a cigarette lighter and a cell phone. Paul is being held for ransom. If Paul's company pays, he lives. If they don't he dies.
That is the easiest way to describe the plot because in a film that takes place entirely within the confines of a coffin underground, you can't have a whole lot of action. The story has to be propelled by words and a great performance. It is often said that the worst thing a screenwriter can do is to include lengthy sequences where someone is talking and delivering exposition over the telephone. What most scholars and teachers fail to discount is that very few films have ever used the telephone as a life line motif as well as Buried does. The telephone also offers almost all of the plot that both Paul and the audience are privy to. Without the telephone, there is no action, and although different actors voice different characters on the other end, the phone itself is Reynolds' only real co-star.
For all the hemming and hawing being made about Ryan Reynolds starring in the Green Lantern film and being named the sexiest man alive by a subsidiary of Green Lantern's parent company, lets not forget that the man is an actor. Often best known for playing the default smart-ass in comedies and for being the sole reason to watch Blade: Trinity, Reynolds has also given some good dramatic turns. He has been great in a great film (The Nines), a mediocre film (Chaos Theory), and even once in a God awful film (The Amityville Horror). The man clearly knows what he is doing, and Buried is easily his best film to date. There just simply would not be a movie like Buried without him.
Monday, November 22, 2010
Just giving you guys a heads up that in addition to the fine coverage I provide for you here at the Toronto Underground blog, I have a new blog where I will be covering the link between popular culture and feelings. Also, if you want to see some of my short fiction that I have no other outlet for at the moment and coverage of other events in the city, head over there!
I Can't Get Laid in This Town
Friday, November 19, 2010
“I understood that the dark side of my middle-class, middle-American, suburban life was not drugs, paganism, or perversion. It was disappointment. There were no gnawing insects beneath the grass. Only dirt. I also knew that trapped inside every defeat is a small victory, and inside that small victory is the great defeat.” – John Hughes “Vacation ‘58/Foreword ‘08” Zeotrope All Story 12 Number 2 Summer 2008
“I have loved movies, but I had never seen on-screen something that looked so nearly like my life.” – Michael Gross, New York Times, Sixteen Candles May 4th, 1984
Coming hot on the heels of the 1983 one-two punch of Mr. Mom and National Lampoon’s Vacation, each of which was released within one week of each other and grossing over $100 million worldwide each, John Hughes was almost overnight anointed as the hottest new writer in Hollywood. This boded well for Hughes’ directorial effort, the Molly Ringwald starring Sixteen Candles. Unfortunately, upon its release on May 4th 1984 Sixteen Candles was lucky to break even at the box office, losing its opening weekend quite badly to the breakdancing classic Breakin’. Audiences were not yet prepared for Hughes’ style of teenage angst and wouldn’t be ready until after the formal formation of the Brat Pack later that summer upon the release of Joel Schumacher’s St. Elmo’s Fire. Critics, and most film fans, are quick to point out that box office numbers mean nothing in this case since Sixteen Candles is by far a superior movie, showing up on numerous critics’ top ten lists by the end of the year.
Ringwald stars as Samantha Baker, a teenager still going through the pains of growing up, who is fretting over the fact that her own family has forgotten about her sixteenth birthday. Samantha’s family has instead been focusing all of their attention on her sister’s birthday and a foreign exchange student by the infamous name of Long Duk Dong (Gedde Wantanabe). Having been spurned by her family, Samantha finds solace in her daydreams, crushing quite hard on the good looking jock Jake Ryan (former GQ cover model and current upstate New York carpenter Michael Schoeffling) who was the rare example of an early 80s jock that was actually kind and sensitive. Meanwhile, a geeky young man known simply as The Geek (Anthony Michael Hall) pines for Samantha much to her own chagrin. Much like Jake Ryan, The Geek isn’t what he appears to be, either. The Geek (sometimes referred to as Farmer Ted) is certainly nerdy, but he also has a cockiness and confidence that most of these characters forego for the sake of cheap laughs and easy punchlines. Those characters are still here, however, and one of them just happens to be played by John Cusack.
Ringwald and Michael Hall became Hughes’ muses early on his career and it is easy to see why. Both can play teenagers quite effortlessly and are tuned into the kind of dialog that Hughes is best known for. Hughes was always kind of the David Mamet of the teenage set, and while Sixteen Candles was made at the point in his career where his directing might have needed a little work, the writing was second to none. Sixteen Candles is pure farce, but with a real loving heart and a sense of earnestness that isn’t maudlin because it feels so genuine. Sixteen Candles is a film that for some people can be so close to their own personal experiences that it is downright frightening. Also, despite the somewhat dated look, the plot holds up just as well today as it did over 25 years ago. Some things never change. Especially the classics
Thursday, November 18, 2010
I am of three minds when it comes to considering the women in prison Nazisploitation flick Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS. First up, and probably most importantly, Ilsa is cheesy exploitation fare in the poorest taste possible. Second, despite all this, the film is still far from the most insidious thing you have ever seen both on an exploitation level and on a level of sensible taste. And finally, and perhaps most shockingly, there are actually some moments of feminist brilliance that have somehow snuck its way into a T&A heavy gore flick.
Trailer here and VERY NSFW. But still a pretty awesome trailer.
The plot surrounds a prison camp, mostly for women, in Nazi Germany headed by the dreaded Ilsa. This is a woman who's methods scare even the most hardened of SS members. Ilsa sees the future of espionage being the use of women. Her experiments in torture are designed to show her male superiors that women have incredibly high thresholds of pain. The tortures she puts the poor women through make it seem like the few men in the camp get off lightly. Ilsa simply emasculates them, beds them, and then castrates them. That is, unless like most men, they are surgically sterilized upon their arrival at the camp.
Dyanne Thorne stars as Ilsa, and it is a role that has not only become iconic to the grindhouse and raincoat set, but also oddly enough to the film nerd and university crowd (the script, credited to the fictional John Saxton, was actually penned by Jonah Royston, a tenured professor who used to teach at the University of Toronto). Thorne creates a vision of an unironic killer in what could have easily been a much sillier film that it already is. Ilsa predates the likes of Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, and Jason Vorhees in terms of creating a character that dies in every entry of a franchise only to come back in the next film. It is also the only major female heavy in the history of gore flicks. Her performance alone pretty much contributed to Ilsa becoming the Blair Witch Project of the 1970s.
As for that feminist subtext I was talking about, you don't have to look much further that Ilsa herself. When she has sex, she is always on top until her eventual downfall, and she is always in control. The fact that she is a sexually liberated (but evil) woman, in no way detracts from the fact that she is damn good at her job. On the other hand, the women in the camp are also strong and constantly searching for an escape. The know they can't always rely on the horribly ineffectual men that find themselves at the camp. Ilsa is really onto something when she says that women can withstand a lot of pain, and the women on screen adequately convey that pain and anger to revolt against their aggressors.
Still, for all the good things I can say about the movie, it is all still pretty laughable, and that is pretty much the point. What can you say about a skin flick that was shot on the abandoned set of Hogan's Heroes? But this is the rare case of a film that can be deemed laughable and offensive and still make you think about what went into it. Plus, it really is a piss take against modern day neo-Nazis. When the film premiered in Boston a theatre had a woman dressed as Ilsa along two captives to promote the film. The only incident that came as a result of this was that the woman playing Ilsa was shot at by a Nazi sympathizer who did so because he felt the movie belittles their cause (which it does very well). In fact, the only backlash producer David Freeman ever saw was from actual Nazis that got pissed off about the film.
So there you have it. Go see Ilsa. Piss off some Nazis.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Vagrancy Films presents Barbed Wire Dolls at the Toronto Underground Cinema on Friday November 19th at 9:30pm. You absolutely, positively must be 18+ to attend and if you even think about asking for a refund, don't. You know what you were buying a ticket to when you saw the title of the movie.
There is nothing I can say about Jesus Franco's women in prison epic Barbed Wire Dolls to damage its reputation. It is a brilliantly damaged and deranged film and you know with the guys from Vagrancy Films promoting this event that it is going to make the Gathering of the Juggalos look like some fucking Candy Land shit.
Hell yeah I got drunk to write this blog. This isn't the kind of movie you watch sober. It is the kind of movie that needs to be seen to be believed, though. If you think you have seen everything a women in prison film has to offer, you have obviously never heard of the work of Jess Franco.
Jess Franco is one of the most enduring cult grindhouse directors because his films manage to be batshit insane, but still manage to make some amount of sense. If you are drunk. Did I mention to not come to this movie sober? At least smoke something before you show up. Not that the Underground Cinema advocates that sort of thing, but I personally advocate that sort of thing. Franco has made over 150 films in his lifetime. The man is in his 80s, but he is still making films in Spain to this day. There isn't a set genre that Franco works in, but it is all exploitation.
Oh, and this trailer is definitely NSFW
Barbed Wire Dolls (a.k.a. Frauengefängnis) really has no plot. It is a women in prison film. Why would you need or want a plot? But the film actually manages not one, but two twist endings. Oh fuck, I'm drunk. But wait. I am getting ahead of myself. Man this is taking long to type... There is this woman played by famed exhibitionist Lina Romay who is imprisoned for killing her father (played by director Franco). And that is about it. The warden makes life hell for her and some kind of pleasure I guess. I don't know. Lots of lesbian sex and beatings. There literally is no plot, and every single line of dialogue is laughable.
But the real reason to see a Franco film is to study the technique. Wow, I can't believe I just said that. Anyway, this guy has never met a zoom or a close-up he didn't like. I swear there is a close up of a vagina that is so overdone Robert Altman would have to have seen it when he filmed the live birth scene for Dr. T and the Women. I love that the only two tags on this entry are going to be be Barbed Wire Dolls and Dr. T and the Women. I love this job.
In her recently released and informative book You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried, John Hughes scholar Susannah Gora looks at the influence the Brat Pack and Hughes had on the evolution of how films are written for and marketed to teens. Her insight on films like The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Pretty in Pink are exhaustive and well written, and it is a must read for a Hughes completest. But early on in the book, she makes a point that I really beg to differ with. Gora declines to talk about Weird Science "because though it's still a late-night cable TV fixture, it has virtually no cultural resonance."
I don't think Gora bothered to ask the kind of people who responded to our recently closed customer's choice poll if they thought Weird Science was culturally relevant. While the film didn't win the poll, it was still in the top ten, meaning at least 400 of the 700 people who responded reacted favourably towards it. Granted, John Hughes fans (myself included) are kind of a cult unto ourselves, but to say that a film that is a "cable TV fixture" has no cultural resonance is to unkindly dismiss a film that, while admittedly pretty slight (as almost all Hughes films really are), is to miss the point of nostalgia at all. Pretty much any film that can be described as a staple of the late night TV genre holds great nostalgic value and therefore is at least somewhat relevant.
Weird Science is probably the first real sex comedy that young people would have seen in the 1980s. Hughes films always toed the line between PG-13 and R, but Weird Science really deals with some pretty deep sexual fantasies amidst all the silliness surrounding the plot. It is this very memory a lot of people probably have of their first sex comedy that makes Weird Science one of the more culturally relevant comedies of the 1980s, and definitely one of the most unjustly forgotten films in the Hughes oeuvre.
Gary (Hughes' male muse Anthony Michael Hall) and Wyatt (Ilan Michael Smith) are a couple of nerdy virginal teenage males that decide to create a woman using a really improbably powered super computer. The "woman" named Lisa (supermodel Kelly LeBrock) has the libido that the two of them were originally looking for, but just like most teenage boys Gary and Wyatt have no idea what to do with a woman. Tapdancing around the sex issue for a while, Lisa ends up functioning as a genie to the young men and places them in situations where they have to step up and act a lot more mature than they really are. The biggest obstacle to Gary and Wyatt's sexual awakening is that of the other domineering male figures that they need to learn to outsmart. Wyatt needs to overcome his military minded older brother Chet (Bill Paxton, who really excels at comedy and needs to do more of them) who torments him on a daily basis. There also emerges a pair of popular kids (one of whom is played by Robert Downey Jr.) who still question the motives of Gary and Wyatt despite Lisa supplying them with fancy cars, fake IDs, and new clothes.
Weird Science is a male wish fulfilment fantasy crossed with Frankenstein. Only nothing really happens in this fantasy. For a sex comedy, it really teases the young male demographic and then gives them the somewhat subversive message that males don't need to be in relationships to be seen as good, successful people worthy of love. Of course, the 15 year old probably doesn't get that right off the bat, but Hughes injects the film with his trademark wit and love for his audience that is on display in all of his early work. Definitely not his best, but it certainly deserves a mention when you talk about his career.
It is hard for me to admit at times, but I am extremely burnt out. I have bitten off more than I can chew in terms of my professional and personal life. I really began experiencing a rough time starting at the beginning of October, but thinking back on the beginnings of this rough patch I remember one of the few bright spots was watching Easy A. I have been waiting ever since the last time I saw it to watch it again. Easy A is a film so charming and likable that it could warm the coldest of crappy days. It is the greatest John Hughes clone ever made because it follows the Hughes template so closely that even the film's flaws add to the feeling that you are watching a John Hughes film. It is hot chocolate for the soul.
Up and coming actress Emma Stone stars as Olive, a teenage girl who unwittingly gains notoriety around her high school campus when she tells her best friend that she has lost her virginity. In truth, she really didn't. Olive just wanted her best friend to shut up and stop bugging her. Through a series of events that prove profitable and because of her approachability, Olive begins to embrace her new found slutty image to help awkward boys increase their image on campus. As per usual, nothing goes exactly to plan and she has come under scrutiny from a kindly English teacher (Thomas Hayden Church), the school principal (Malcolm McDowell), and the school's resident God squadder (Amanda Bynes, clearly relishing the chance to play a jerk).
While also being a very clever take on The Scarlet Letter (which Olive is being taught in Church's English course), Easy A feels like as much of a throwback to classic teen comedies as The Expendables was a throwback to 80s action or The House of the Devil was a throwback to old school direct to VHS horror flicks. Easy A wears its heart and its influences on its sleeve for the whole world to see. Scenes are directly lifted from numerous John Hughes films (particularly Ferris Beuler's Day Off, The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles) and even from other well loved 80s flicks (Say Anything, Can't Buy Me Love). In many cases, such references become grating, but Director Will Gluck and writer Bert V. Royal have structured the film around a character who has an unabashed love for those films and wishes that her own life (and films today) were of the more nostalgic variety.
Next to Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Easy A is the most quotable film of the year. The dialogue is fresh and snappy without sounding unrealistic or pandering. The cast is also more than game and everyone seems to be having a great time with the material, particularly Stone, Church, and Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as Olive's parents. The characters themselves are fully realized and the relationships between them (especially that of Church and his guidance counsellor wife, played by Lisa Kudrow) are complex. The script also take a pretty major twist about half way through that I kinda saw coming, but adds layers that make it far worse for our heroine.
Easy A was a film that I saw at the right point in my life and for that I will always have a soft spot for it. I went into the movie heartbroken, stressed, and hurting, but left hurting because I simply could not stop laughing. Sure, it is pretty lightweight, but not every film has to be a heavy and brooding masterpiece. Easy A is quite possibly the most fun I had at the movies all year. Maybe not the best, but definitely the most fun.
Also, today I heard this song on the radio and I immediately thought of this scene and started doing the same thing. If you want to mimic a movie, it is a sign that you truly love it.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
"Everybody who didn't watch Scott Pilgrim is a motherfucker." - Guillermo del Toro
So before I lose my nerd cred briefly and before I regain it again, let me go back to the beginning. Let's go back to not this past summer, but the summer before that. The summer when Scott Pilgrim fever first gripped the city.
I was new to the city of Toronto. Well, new-ish. I had been living in the city for about 4 years by that point and up until the cameras were getting ready to roll on Edgar Wright's Toronto set opus, I had never even heard of Scott Pilgrim. Well, I knew of the film's existence thanks to my love of Wright's first two films, but the first I had honestly heard of the film's plot was when I saw a notice tacked up to the bulletin board in my St. Clair West apartment building that had the Universal Pictures letterhead at the top. Apparently they were filming in my neighbourhood.
It was pointed out by some of my more ravenous Scott Pilgrim loving friends, that I lived pretty much in Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O'Malley's old neighbourhood. Sure enough, when I finally picked up the books (the first 5 of which I devoured in almost a single sitting before waiting patiently for the final chapter) I recognized my whole neighbourhood laid out in front of me. There was the Goodwill store right across the street from my house (where production trucks were parked the morning I saw the memo on the bulletin board). There was the Wychwood library where I actually read scenes from a book that took place where I was reading them. The after party for the Clash at Demonhead show at Lee's Palace was shot at the Wychwood Barns, where I often liked to stroll around and have lunch. Plus, Scott and Wallace's apartment was right down the street from me. O'Malley even included the women who hang out in front of the Shopper's Drug Mart I frequented.
Needless to say, on novelty value alone I was hooked, but O'Malley's stories had something that hooked me even more. The Scott Pilgrim series of graphic novels (or manga or comics or what have you, it is all just semantics) had completely believable characters in believable situations that just happened to incorporate elements of manga, pop culture references, and video games. It was normal people doing normal things in the most extraordinary of ways. I had no idea what it would look like on screen, but with Edgar Wright at the helm, you could have been assured I would be there on opening night.
While I saw Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World on opening night in front of a packed and thoroughly appreciative audience at the Scotiabank Theatre (where the film pretty much had its entire run and due to booking restrictions we couldn't book it until it was done there), I merely liked the film. I think I was too overwhelmed the first time to really think of a proper response. Plus, by that point I was pretty exhausted from the day that came before it. Upon my second viewing of the film, I thought it was an amazing achievement and I caught so many things I missed the first time around. By the third viewing, I absolutely loved it and I knew it had ascended to the pantheon of films like Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles as comedies that I could watch again and again and never tire of. It is, quite simply, just that good of a movie.
I assume if you are reading this blog, it is because you have already seen it and are curious as to what I might think of it or if I could offer any sort of new spin. If you haven't seen it yet, please refer to the quote from Blade 2 director Guillermo del Toro that opens this piece. You don't want to be that guy or girl. Trust me. But for now, let me preach to the converted or to the people who simply want to create a discussion as to why I might be wrong about everything I am saying. I am prepared for the usual amount of zero comments, but I am also prepared for the latter.
The biggest reason Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World works so well is because the characters created by O'Malley are so lovingly recreated on screen by Wright and co-writer Michael Bacall. Scott Pilgrim, portrayed quite wonderfully by Michael Cera, is the quintessential poster child for the 20-somethings of today. Scott is trapped in a world of his own making, but also caught with no way to get out. Such is the way of the 20-something. You have just gotten finished being told you can take on the world and once you are given the keys to it, you realize you aren't as good of a driver as you once though. Especially when it comes to matters of the heart. The relationship between Scott and Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is one that you are never sure is going to last even after the credits roll. For people my age, love is quite often just another uncertainty.
Even the 7 evil exes all have credible back stories despite their cartoonish nature. Most of the back story for these characters actually involves them getting hurt by Ramona instead of them hurting her. How funny it is then that the person with the most control over Ramona's heart is the only one to have hurt her first ?
Scott is having problems of his own. His most recent ex Envy (Brie Larson) is far more of a success as a musician than he is. The Clash at Demonhead is a great band with worldwide acclaim. Scott's band Sex Bob-omb is mediocre on a good day. To soothe his pride and not do any favours for those around him, Scott finds comfort in a chaste relationship with high schooler Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). It is apparent to everyone, but Knives that she is a rebound. Probably even deep down to Scott himself.
In this respect, Scott and Ramona could quite possibly be made for each other, but they are also not the easiest people in the world to like. It is these particular character traits that perhaps makes the characters so identifiable. Despite the upbeat and action packed climax of the film, there is always the impending sense of dread that anything could happen at any moment to keep these two apart. No amount of magic, fighting, or manipulation on the parts of the villains might even be the cause of it. It could just be life itself or a simple slip of the tongue or someone walking away at the wrong time without explanation. For all the justified hype over the fight sequences in the film, far more damage is done to characters through words (and in the case of Knives, things left unsaid) than actions.
Cena and Winstead are great, but the supporting cast threatens to walk off with the show. Of the evil exes Jason Schwartzman (as ringleader Gideon Graves) and Chris Evans (as skateboarder turned action hero Lucas Lee) know to go whole hog with their performances and throw understatement to the wind.
Wong as Knives is simply a revelation and has what appears to me to be the hardest role in the film. Wong has to play a character who is on the surface immature and naive, but also has to credibly grow somewhat by the end of the film. I don't think there is a person on Earth that could not identify with Knives' case of puppy love and having to grow up quicker than you necessarily want to because some bad news has rocked your world.
It is a shame that the Academy doesn't recognize comedy because if they did, Kieran Culkin deserves to win for Best Supporting Actor. In a movie that is already high energy and full of laughs, to have a character like Culkin's Wallace Wells is almost being far too generous. Every time Wallace appears I dare you not to at least crack a smile. Culkin has a sharp wit and you can see the wheels turning in Wallace's head; just waiting for the right moment to either build Scott up or to poke holes in his boat. Wallace's decisions are often the ones that probably the audience would make. He makes what is probably the funniest character in the film, also the most mature one.
Wright's keen eye for visuals and his ear for realistic dialogue demands multiple viewings for one to truly appreciate it. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is the epitome of the term "crowd pleaser" as there is quite literally something for everyone on display. Music lovers, video game fans, film buffs, manga readers, anime viewers, sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, dickheads, pretty much everyone will have something they adore in this film. The special effects are just top notch and thanks to some amazing camera work from Matrix lenser Bill Pope, it all looks gorgeous. The soundtrack is the stuff of legend with an amazing score combined with song choices that firmly plant Wright in the same rarefied air as Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese as people who know how to use certain songs at the most perfect of times. Scott Pilgrim throws a lot at you at once. If you don't stop to look around for a bit you might miss it. Hence why you need to see it again. And again. And again. And again...