Archive for October, 2010

Dorkarama VS Scott Pilgrim VS The World

October 15, 2010

My uncle used to live in Bermuda where he learnt a very handy phrase that has proven invaluable in a wide variety of situations in day-to-day life that I would like to share with you. Dilligas. It’s an acronym for Do I Look Like I Give A Shit? What a wonderful word it is. Please share it with as many people as you can.

Scott Pilgrim struggles to be more interesting than the blank wall behind him.

I bring this up because what I found essentially wrong with Scott Pilgrim VS. The World was that the attitude of all the characters in the film, bar one, can be summed up as Dilligas. The plot is extremely straightforward. 22-year-old unemployed slacker Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is dating 17-year-old high school girl Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). That doesn’t stop Scott from falling ass-over-tip for new-girl-in-town Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). However, in order to be able to date Ramona, he must first defeat her Seven Evil Exes. He does so. The end.

Like, y'know?

That’s the whole shebang right there. It is linear, very simple and untainted by the blemishes of suspense, surprises, twists, turns or even just an ill-considered Deus Ex Machina. There are some jokes scattered sparingly throughout the dialogue that should raise a smile, many of the best ones involving Scott’s gay roommate played by Kieran Culkin, but a handful of quips don’t really add up to a compelling screenplay.

While the opposite of a protagonist is usually an antagonist, Scott Pilgrim is the negation of a protagonist. He is less active than your average sponge when it’s tuckered out from a long day being absorbent and swaying gently in the ocean currents. Scott is entirely reactive and makes only one decision of any consequence in the entire story – to introduce himself to Ramona. Every other decision is made for him or forced upon him to the extent that in the final scene of the whole movie, Scott does not choose which girl he ends up with out of Ramona and Knives, the decision is made for him. Perhaps Scott considered being indecisive but then thought he’d just wait and see what happens. He is an emotional infant, eager to be told what to think and feel. Why is this character supposed to be appealing or engaging?

The whole enterprise is permeated by an attitude of disaffection so all-pervasive that no one cares about anything.

A study of studied ennui.

When Scott receives the email from the First Evil Ex announcing their impending fight he says, ‘This is so…boring’ and deletes it. Everything is boring to Scott and his friends. He plays in a terrible band called Sex Bob-omb and they all go to a party just so, in the words of their drummer Kim, they can have something to complain about. Later on Scott leaves the band, the only thing he actually has going on in his life, but clearly it never meant anything to him anyway. He can’t be bothered to be bothered. What does he do all day? He has no job, no ambition, nothing. The script completely avoids the issue of why girls are attracted to him in the first place. He has nothing to offer – certainly not passion. In his passive fashion, it falls to Ramona to seduce Scott. He just waits for the adult to take command.

Knives Chau smiling. Loser.

The emotional range on display runs the gamut from wry detachment to bored resignation. Everything that happens, no matter how outrageous, is greeted by the characters with no more than an archly raised eyebrow. The only character that ever shows any passion or enthusiasm about anything is an object of ridicule – Knives Chau. Her youthful excitement for Sex Bob-omb is meant to be laughable – she screams when they come on stage and passes out from sheer over-stimulation. Everyone else just looks at her, eyebrows cocked. What sort of loser actually shows enthusiasm for anything in public anyway? Oh right, an Asian one, because Asian kids aren’t cool. They’re dorks. The singer of Sex Bob-omb even explicitly says that he wants Knives to geek out over the band. Those geeky Asian kids, with their maths and their good grades, they’re freaking hilarious.

As a filmmaker Edgar Wright has shown considerable style in the past. Shaun Of The Dead is a great zombie movie and his TV show Spaced was inventive and often very funny. The basis for the visual style of Scott Pilgrim VS. The World is the aesthetic of video games, particularly fighting games, which is both under-whelming and yet completely appropriate. There is nothing at stake when you play a video game, especially on a home console where you don’t have to keep feeding coins into the machine. If you lose, you just re-start. Defeat has no meaning when you can just re-load where you left off. That’s the biggest problem with the movie. Despite all the onscreen fighting, there is no sense of jeopardy in the battles. The fights take place in an aura devoid of pain or even the possibility of injury. Scott gets kicked about, thrown through the air and walloped in his all-too punchable face but he never actually gets hurt. When he is defeated, he simply returns to the start of the level and picks up from there, just like playing a video game. Some sense of danger, of there being a price to defeat and perhaps even a cost to victory, would add some much needed tension to the proceedings.

Savour the intensity. Or don't. Whatever.

All the fighting serves no actual purpose but to fill time as the plot inches slowly in a straight line to its inexorable, inevitable conclusion of boy gets girl (and hopefully syphilis). A good fight scene is a drama unto itself, a dialogue between two bodies, an exchange of techniques and a chance for the hero to defeat both his opponent and himself. In Scott Pilgrim VS. The World, the fight scenes are eye candy, devoid of drama or menace. It’s all so hip and post-modern that it collapses under the weight of all the inter-textual references that attempt to fill the void at the heart of the film. I’d be angry if I wasn’t so lethargic. You know, like the cool kids. I mean seriously, do I look like I give a shit? No? Thank crap for that.

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Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D – Or Milla Jovovich And My Private Shame

October 11, 2010

It could be argued that the following review contains spoilers. It could also be argued that the plot of Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D is beyond my power to spoil.

 

Run, Forrest, Run!

 

Why do I keep going to see the Resident Evil films? I was never a fan of the game, as I never owned a console until fairly recently and horror games aren’t really my cup of tea. The answer, of course, is Milla Jovovich. As a card-carrying member of the legion of Milla fanboys created by The Fifth Element, I am delighted and embarrassed by the fact that Milla’s movies quickly find their way to TV and keep me warm on a lonely night in. The first Resident Evil movie was a functional action/horror flick – no Romero classic by any means but if you were in the mood for zombies (and who isn’t?) it left you feeling just about full, but far from bloated. The second film, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, was awful. Not scary, not exciting, not action-packed, just dumb. It was the directorial debut of Alexander Witt, a very good cinematographer and, on the strength of this effort, a terrible director. It was full of things that looked almost-cool, but made no sense, like Alice (Milla’s character) crashing a motorcycle through the stained glass window of a church for no good reason at all. A clever critique of the materialism of the modern church? Or just, hey I know what would look cool – let’s jump a bike through that window?

 

Two Girls, One Cup. Sorry, One Gun.

 

The third film, Resident Evil: Extinction, saw Highlander director Russell Mulcahy re-inject some life back into the franchise. Plenty of different kinds of creatures, lots of zombies and new abilities for Alice. Sure, it was still a triumph of style over substance – struggling for survival in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by the undead, Alice decided that stockings and suspenders were a good idea and while food and shelter might be scarce, she never seemed to run out of lip gloss. Still, Mulcahy kept the pace charging along like a drunken rhino on a rampage so it was easy to overlook the plot holes.

 

The axe says, 'I'm here to kill you,' but the hood says, 'New people make me shy.'

 

Anderson returns to the helm for the fourth instalment and uses the first act to undo everything left over from Extinction. The legion of Alice clones and her psycho-kinetic powers are all gone inside of 20 minutes. That’s a bit surprising when you realise that Anderson wrote the previous instalment. Perhaps he felt he had written himself into a corner, making Alice too formidable, so hey presto, one reset button later, she’s de-powered and can no longer wipe out armies just by dilating her pupils. Despite now being ‘human’ again, she still manages to survive a fiery helicopter crash in a scene so completely devoid of logic and intelligence that somewhere, Stephen Hawking is weeping for humanity’s wasted potential.

So, now alone but still perfectly made-up, Alice goes looking for other survivors. She finds Claire (Ali Larter) up in Alaska then the two of them encounter a small band of humans holed up in a prison surrounded by a massive zombie horde. Inevitably, the prison is breached and a mad dash for safety ensues, with the humans battling their way towards a ship anchored off-shore that promises a haven from the T-virus.

 

You disappoint me, Mr Anderson.

 

As a director, Anderson is good at mayhem. The movie works best when it hurtles full-steam ahead, zombies lunging out of every shadow, lots of violence, the sudden deaths of characters just as you start to like them and little time to dwell on the weakness of the plot. Milla is a capable lead, but Shawn Roberts delivers a howler of a performance as the principal villain of the tale, Albert Wesker, a bigwig in the evil Umbrella Corporation. Presumably, Anderson sat Roberts down in front of The Matrix and said, ‘See this guy, Agent Smith? Be him.’ Roberts, bless his little heart, tries. But he fails. To be fair to the actor, he’s not helped by a script that seems to have been pasted together from The Big Book Of Bad Guy Clichés.

It is hard to decide whether Anderson intends his movie to pay homage to some of his favourite films, or whether he’s just ripping them off. References to The Matrix abound, including having Wesker, dressed head-to-toe in black and sporting wraparound shades, dodging bullets in slow-motion. Zombie dogs split in half in a manner eerily similar to John Carpenter’s The Thing. (Pointless side note – I much preferred the original The Thing From Another World to Carpenter’s remake. Carpenter had the gore and the special effects, but the original had all the suspense.)

 

And Contestant #4 in Miss Wet T-shirt 2010 - from Alaska, it's Claire!

 

It really does you no favours at all to pay too much attention. When Alice finds Claire in Alaska, Claire has been living alone and in the wild, her memory erased by a spider-like device on her chest, the purpose of which never actually becomes clear. Claire is a mess. Then, cut to the next scene, Claire is wearing eye-shadow and lipstick and her hair appears to have been washed. Did Alice give her a make-over between scenes? Did they have a slumber party up there in Alaska that will only appear in the Director’s Cut? The movie is Ali Larter’s second outing in the franchise and, on the plus side, she delivers one of the best action scenes in the film while battling a monstrous giant zombie armed with a colossal axe. In a shower. It’s sort of a wet t-shirt contest/fight scene thing. The fanboy in me was delighted on so many levels. Oh, the shame. It burns.

 

Ah, still waters run deep, eh? Who knows what she's thinking? Who cares?

 

Personally, I found the 3D distracting. I find it actually disrupts my suspension of disbelief as it draws too much attention to itself. I know we are all supposed to be ‘Wow, gee whiz’ about 3D but it’s just a ploy by the film studios to keep people going to cinemas. You can’t get the 3D Experience (mild, lingering headache, fuzzy vision, some dry mouth) from watching a film on the internet. So, by offering you a unique ‘experience’, film distributors want to bring people back to the theatres with more 3D films. Plus you can’t record a film on your camcorder and stick it online or make crappy DVDs if it’s in 3D. I don’t want an ‘experience’, I want to see a movie. Numerous films are currently being retro-fitted for 3D. The Green Hornet is being converted to 3D in post-production, while Titanic and Star Wars are both receiving the 3D treatment. When has 3D ever fixed a bad script, or made poor acting look any more convincing? Perhaps 3D will bring people back to cinemas. Then again, maybe making some really smart, engaging films that actually encourage you to think or make you feel something that lasts longer than your popcorn might be a good start. Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D is not that film. But if they make a fifth one (and let’s face it, they will), I’ll be back. Curse you, Milla Jovovich.