Thursday, December 2, 2010

Triple Whammy: Harry Potter, Outrage, and Scott Pilgrim

    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I      

     For all I know, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I could be the best and most faithful film of the series, or the least satisfying, most boring, and darkest. I only really remember the last movie that came out (Half Blood Prince), and it's been ages since I read the books, so I'm hardly the best person to judge. Harry Potter fans and moviegoers all have their own opinions anyways, and I've never been able to figure them out. Some people love the movies, some hate them, some hate the David Yates ones, some hate the Chris Columbus ones. Some people wish the movies would stand on their own and others demand that every last detail of J.K Rowling's literary masterpiece remain intact. Since the books are so popular (400 million copies sold), it's no wonder that many have a certain vision of the Harry Potter universe, and feel that it can only be cheapened by adaptation.
     My opinion: the film series has a consistent standard of quality that puts it far above the average big budget spectacle. If Deathly Hallows is a little less successful then some of the other ones, it's due to the story that it has to tell. Splitting the final book into two movies might have been a smart move financial and a necessary one to preserve faithfulness, but it was inevitable that the first of the two would would come out more as a collection of scenes than as a full story in its own right. Plus the book dragged in the middle; Harry and Hermione's journey was characterized by monotony instead of excitement. So yes, it's less satisfying than The Half-Blood Prince (which I found surprising good).
     Now does the movie make any missteps that could have been avoided? Yes to that as well. Some poor acting in parts, some unnecessarily sappy scenes (Harry and Hermione dancing, Dobby's death [oops spoiler]), some overwrought dialogue. But let's not get too nit-picky. The cinematography is excellent and a lot of thought and care were put into delivering a solid addition to the franchise.


Outrage (or Autoreiji in original Japanese)

     A totally awesome and quasi-incoherent Japanese gangster movie from Takeshi Kitano. It's very difficult to tell which Yakuza is making deals with which other Yakuza. And when that Yakuza goes and kills the other Yakuza to get vengeance for the other other Yakuza who was himself seeking vengeance for the wrongs inflicted on him by the get the point. And it's not just about keeping the characters straight; Outrage often feels choppy and poorly planned, and there's not much pushing the story forward or tying it together. Comic relief scenes with a hapless African diplomat feel out of place.
     But this does not mean the Outrage's only redemption is in stylized violence. This Kitano dude is an expert in cruelty, but if the scene where one Yakuza shoves chopsticks in a drug dealers ear is reminiscent of Pesci having fun with a pencil in Casino, the outcome of Outrage is much more bleak than anything from Scorsese or Coppola. Scorsese shows the fun stuff and then lets his characters break down or get out of gangster life, but in Kitano's world violence begets violence begets more violence. Once one mob boss dies, there's always someone to take his place.
     Kitano doesn't judge or moralize, but he observes very carefully. The lower level Yakuza reveal themselves as irrational children, impulsively seeking conflict and violence. The bosses have their sense of pride, but they are just as fickle. And when the blood starts flying, what we see is painful enough to leave us shaken.
     It's a shame the script wasn't better. I think with a couple of revisions, we could have had a real masterpiece. Kitano has an excellent command of cinematography, mise en scene, and tone and pacing within a scene. His images carry a weight that suggests something far greater than what we actually receive. For the record, Takashi Kitano is no lightweight. Outrage is apparently one of his lesser works, and other gangster movies (such as Sonatine and Fireworks) and non gangster movies (such as Kikujiru and Dolls) have received much critical acclaim. And he also has a number of devoted fans who believe he can do no wrong.


Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

     This film could be put in the same category as Kick-Ass, another stylized, action packed movie that appealed mostly to a niche group. In both cases the films were heartily embraced by their limited audience and rejected by the general populace. But despite the similarities, I refuse to lump them together (and after this sentence I will refuse to even compare the two) if only for the fact that I did not at all like      Kick-Ass whereas I very much liked Scott Pilgrim.
     Does this has something to do with me being part of the group it was intended for? Kick Ass (sorry, lied about ending the comparisons) targeted mainly comic book nerds and video game nerds. Scott Pilgrim goes for the comic book nerds (it's based on a comic book), then the video game nerds, and then...the hipsters?! I guess the participation of Beck, Jason Schwartzman, and Broken Social Scene should have given it away, but I didn't realized the full extent to which I was duped into liking the movie until I visited its' IMDB board, where every other post was there to remind me of "hipsters" and their sheep-like willingness to obey the universal standards of hipster cool. I felt like Dave Chapelle when he discovered he was "pre-genetically disposed to liking fried chicken." And me who had so wrongly thought that Scott Pilgrim was a good movie because of its heart, humor, and exuberance.
     I think I should put the sarcasm aside for now (knowing that it's the number one tool of hipsters). The point I'm trying to get at is that Scott Pilgrim is a movie told with so much joy that it should appeal even to people who don't identify with Michael Cera awkwardness.
     It tells the story of Scott Pilgrim (age 22), who has fallen madly in love (or lesbians) with the blasé Ramona, a new Yorker who has just moved to Toronto to escape her past, namely her seven exes who jealously try to destroy all her new relationships. Pilgrim soon finds himself forced to fight all of these evil exes using violence, love, self-respect, and his awesome bass skills (alone in solo bass battles or with his band, "Sex Bob-omb"). He also has his own past to escape from; he's still recovering from a breakup with the sultry Envy Adams, and he's doing his best to cope with the aftermath of a breakup with Knives Chau, a 17 year old, slightly crazy Chinese-Canadian girl who is still madly in love with him.
     This kind of story has to be handled a certain way to avoid becoming cloying, and British director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) does a great job with this difficult task. The film is enormously energetic, with hilarious lines, absurd situations, in-jokes, and video-game-like fight sequences hitting the screen in rapid succession. The precise and inventive editing is in a league of its own and turns the movie into an immensely pleasurable experience. There's a little too much action packed into the last third of Scott Pilgrim, but not much else to find fault with.


1 comment:

  1. As far as the Scott Pilgrim review goes, it's a good start but it needs some work. Have you considered for example, who is your target audience for these reviews? Is it just the general population, or people who watch a lot of movies, or what? For example, I've never heard of the movie 'kick ass' before and so the rant at the beginning is completely lost on me, and makes me lose interest in the review. You could compare or contrast it to 'kick ass' at the end of the review after you've already got the reader's attention, or go into more detail about what the differences were. Just saying, 'if only for the fact that I did not at all like Kick-Ass whereas I very much liked Scott Pilgrim.' doesn't inform the reader. Throw out some adjectives and give us your honest succinct opinion including WHY you did or didn't like them. Or else just leave the comparison out of the review because as it is it more detracts than adds from it. or compare it to more than one movie so that a larger audience can relate. Maybe 'Run Lola Run'? Well, that's a bit of a stretch. I guess there aren't a lot of movies like Scott Pilgrim, which is probably why I liked it so much.

    Later on your writing is both more eloquent and relevant when you say things like, 'The point I'm trying to get at is that Scott Pilgrim is a movie told with so much joy that it should appeal even to people who don't identify with Michael Cera awkwardness.' Just a suggestion, but wouldn't that be a better opening statement? Also, this sentence, "And me who had so wrongly thought that Scott Pilgrim was a good movie because of its heart, humor, and exuberance." would be a great first line, if maybe without the sarcasm. But don't bury your observations in the middle of your review. Put them up front where more people will see them. So I would basically say that the structure of your review is the big problem. This reads more like an unedited conversation where you're thinking out loud, which isn't always a bad thing, but I think that your general observations would work better first rather than last. Also, don't lie to your readers. You're trying to earn their respect and attention, and that's not a good way to earn trust. Make jokes at the movie, other reviews, other movies, or even yourself but don't waste the reader's time or misrepresent yourself in any way. You won't earn fans that way. Just give us your honest opinion. If you have something to say then say it. Don't pull your punches and mention a movie you don't like without telling us why. I'd rather read 10 pages of why you hated some other movie then to have you mention it and not follow-through. At least that way I would have learned something about some other movie, for better or worse.