Monday, August 30, 2010

So, 127 Hours Looks Cool

Are you guys familiar with the story of Aron Ralston?

You can click on his name there to hear about the whole story from him, Alex Cohen and Alex Chadwick at NPR, but the long and short of it is this. Aron's a mountain climber who, in May 2003, got his arm caught between a boulder and a rock wall while he was climbing somewhere in Utah. He waited for help for hours, but no one came, and the boulder was too heavy to lift off of himself, so he ended up doing what a lot of people couldn't even imagine doing in a million years. He freed himself by carving off the trapped arm with a dull knife.

I know. Jesus. And he still climbs mountains today.

Of course, it shouldn't surprise anyone that his story would make a great premise for a movie. Luckily, it seems like director Danny Boyle picked up on this:

Here's the trailer for Danny Boyle's newest project, 127 Hours. Trailer courtesy of Filmonic and Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Judging by how the trailer starts out, I kind of worry that this premise will get "hollywooded" up, if you know what I mean. Still, I know that I'm seeing 127 Hours the day it comes out, because it looks really interesting. There's a good premise, good director attached, and I really like James Franco, so, yeah, I think I may give this one a shot. More information as it develops.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Movie: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. Rating: Awesome.

Pictured here are Allison Pill and Mark Webber, laughing it up in full costume as Sex Bob Omb band mates Kim Pine and Stephen Stills.

As I’m sure most of you are aware of by now, I had been highly anticipating this movie from the day I heard about it. Being a fan of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels, I soaked up any info I could on the production, and posted about it several times here on this blog. Now that I’ve finally gotten to see this movie, I don’t regret any of it.

Did the movie turn out exactly the way I wanted it to? Not in every way. Nevertheless, watching this film was a blast. It’s the most fun I’ve had in the theater since seeing Zombieland last year. Cramming six graphic novels into one movie couldn’t have possibly been easy, but in my opinion, director Edgar Wright did a pretty good job. Inception may still stand as my favorite movie of the summer, but Scott Pilgrim vs. The World comes in at a very close second.

The story of this movie focuses on a 20-something, slacker Canadian named Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), who is currently locked into a bit of a directionless funk in his life following the break-up with his college girlfriend Envy Adams (Brie Larson). He has no job, he shares a very small and cramped apartment with his cool gay roommate Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin), and he holds a simple and poorly conceived relationship with a seventeen year old high school girl named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), which his friends and his sister Stacy (Anna Kendrick) constantly give him crap about. He is also kind of involved in an extremely small garage band, called Sex Bob Omb, with his friends, guitar player and front man Stephen Stills (Mark Webber) and drummer Kim Pine (Allison Pill). His life sort of drifts aimlessly until a girl from America comes rollerblading into it, the cool and mysterious Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Scott is immediately smitten, Ramona becomes interested as well, and pretty soon the two start dating, but there’s a catch. In order for Scott and Ramona to continue dating in peace, Scott must face off and win in several battles with the League of Ramona’s Evil Exes, consisting of mystic hipster Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha), movie star Lucas Lee (Chris Evans), bassist and vegan psychic Todd Ingram (Brandon Routh), half-ninja Roxxy Richter (Mae Whitman), the twins Kyle and Ken Katanayagi (Keita and Shota Saito), and shady record producer and perfect asshole Gideon Graves (Jason Scwartzmann). Can he get the best of all seven, and finally get his life together?

When talking about this movie, there are definitely two elephants in the room to address. The first elephant is the crazy, video-game themed atmosphere. As someone who spent a huge chunk of my youth playing video games, I'll say that there are times when it works, and times when it doesn’t. Some jokes, like the “pee bar” and whatnot, kind of fall flat, but there are other references that really do work well, such as the Legend of Zelda music being used in just the right places, the health bars during some of the fights, and a number of others. The subspace highway from the comics is present too, but it doesn’t play as big a role in the plot of the movie and is really only mentioned in the first half, so I get the sense that a lot of people not familiar with the source material may not understand its role in the story fully. There is a method to the pixelated madness that goes on in this movie, but only within the context of its own universe. So if you can just sit back and not question the mechanics of the universe too much, there’s a chance you may really enjoy how creatively free it all is. I know I did.

To be honest, it really surprised me how well the crazy special effects worked. In some of the trailers and TV spots for this movie, seeing all the WHIP and KPOW during the fights, as well as seeing some of the more classic video game stuff, kind of worried me, only because it seemed as if it would come off as cheesy. When I saw it all in motion and context, though, it helped in giving this movie its own flavor. It was a really fun addition to the fights, as well as the overall mood of the movie. I think I can say with an incredible amount of confidence that this movie is one of the few comic book movies I’ve seen where the “comic book coming to life” motif is pulled off without being cringe-worthy. That’s all thanks to some really good editing, anyway.

Unfortunately, not all of the editing in this movie is entirely perfect, as indicated by how quickly the first half of the movie and some of the scenes in between fights move along. Wright’s quick cuts, combined with the very good comedic timing of most of the actors, causes almost all the jokes to work wonderfully. One could argue, though, that some of the more exposition-heavy scenes move a little too quickly, almost as if they’re trying to get them done as soon as possible to get to the fights. There are definitely deeper plot elements here, but the movie blows through them at such a frenetic pace that they can be kind of easy to miss.

The other elephant to address is the casting. I’m mostly talking about the casting in the lead roles, especially Michael Cera’s Scott and Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Ramona. The best way I can sum up both of their performances is “reasonably well.” I felt that Cera tried really hard to break away from the role of “annoying awkward young guy” that he is always typecast in, but there are times, especially before the evil exes become part of the plot, where he regresses back into that again. In a way I can’t quite articulate, it sort of works, even more so when you consider the kind of person Scott is before he meets Ramona. In some of the lead up to the fights, though, he really needed to exert a little more energy. Winstead nails the whole “cool, mysterious girl” part of Ramona’s personality down well, but she could have sprinkled a little more warmth here and there to help make the character more likable. There were some scenes where the both of them could have stood to generate a little better chemistry between each other.

It doesn’t help that, in the rush to get to the action some sizeable bits of character development get left behind, concerning most of the supporting cast and especially concerning Ramona and her relationship with Scott. This is kind of a shame, because Ramona is obviously meant to be very important to the story. While we do get a look into her past, we don’t really get to know much about her in general. Her interest in Scott was shown in a very subtle way, but it would have helped if we had seen a little more of their time together to really get the idea that they like each other. Seeing more of that development would have made them a little more relatable as characters and added a tad more depth to the story. Don’t get me wrong, there is quite a bit of depth already, and we do see some substantial character growth from both Scott and Ramona, but it would have had more impact if the movie had just slowed down, maybe cut back a little on some of the fighting, and focused a little more on Scott and Ramona as a couple.

From left to right, Webber, Pill and Cera rehearse the songs that Beck wrote for the movie. While Beck composed and wrote the songs, the actors in the movie provided the vocals.

Most of the side characters had some really defined personalit
ies, and were really funny, especially Pill’s Kim, Aubrey Plaza’s Julie, and Webber’s Stills, and while I thought they shined brightly in the scenes they were in, I wish I had gotten to see more of them. My favorite evil exes were Routh’s Todd and Scwartzmann’s Gideon, although Whitman’s Roxxy, Bhabha’s Patel, and Evans’ Lucas stood out as well. Again, though, they all left me wanting more, since they get even less screen time than the heroes of the film, with the exception of maybe Gideon. So who has the highest score in terms of acting in this movie? The best players on the leaderboard are definitely Kieran Culkin as Wallace and Ellen Wong as Knives. These two steal scenes like Rickey Henderson stole bases. Culkin gets some of the best and snarkiest lines in the movie, and Wong has the stalker fan girl traits of her character down pat. Whatever screen time they had, they always used it to its fullest, and did their best to be absolutely hilarious every time. I certainly hope we get to see the both of them in more movies in the future.

The music and cinematography add greatly to the enjoyability of the movie as well. Nigel Godrich’s score really gets you in the mood to watch dudes fight, and we also get some wonderful tracks from Metric, Beck, and plenty of other bands that embrace the backdrop of the Toronto alternative indie scene that the movie provides. Some of the shots we see of the city at night in the snow are great as well, but the really big conversation starter is the fight choreography. There’s no shaky cam bullshit, no cutting around, just clear, straight up brawling. It’s refreshing to see that again in an action movie these days, especially when so many modern day action movies don’t even bother anymore.

While Scott Pilgrim vs. The World has its flaws, it is still one hell of a ride, and is certainly worth a look. I understand that the video game and music references and Michael Cera may scare a lot of people away, but underneath all that is a great, action-packed, coming-of-age love story that deals with themes such as growing up, owning up to your shortcomings, learning to respect yourself and others, and becoming a better person. You don’t need to be a gaming nerd, or a hipster, or in your twenties to identify with that kind of story. So yeah, go check this one out, it’s totally worth it.

All the behind the scenes pictures in this post are straight from Bryan Lee O'Malley's Flickr feed. Click here to see more.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

And now, the Expendables!

This is gonna be a real quick post for tonight, I just wanna share some pretty cool stuff promoting The Expendables, Sylvester Stallone's super fun-looking ultimate all-star explosion-fest that's coming out in a couple weeks.

Coming Soon has a new clip of the movie posted from Lionsgate. Go forth and watch Jason Statham light up an entire dock of enemy soldiers, you know you want to...

Also, the Youtube channel for the movie is really cool too. Best interview ever.

I'm probably gonna go see this after Scott Pilgrim, and I really, really hope it's good. The biggest draw for this movie is definitely the all-star cast, and Stallone, Crews, Li and of course Lundgren are the ones I'm looking forward to seeing the most. Oh, and Mickey Rourke! Got my fingers crossed for a Lundgren/Stallone rematch too.

Please please pleeeeeeease do not suck.